30 October 2010

Halloween Controversy

Every year the debate rages among Christians: celebrate Halloween or not.

Lutherans typically wave off any unease about Halloween, unlike some other Evangelical communions who eschew any and all involvement with Halloween.  I have always found Halloween to be an innocent time of costumes and candy.  And even though some of the costumes have always been over the top - either sexually inappropriate or violent - Halloween is mostly about being silly and getting goodies.

There is, however, an increasingly disturbing darkness and fascination with evil as well as a pushing of the modesty envelope.  Concerning the increasingly occult element is this article from the Times-Picayune that juxtaposes family fun with gore, Satanism, and mockery of Christianity.  An few excerpts:
In the 1990s, protesters picketed, decrying the place (House of Shock) as Satanic. Some even broke in and scattered holy water over the sets and props, which included a decapitated statue of the Virgin Mary....
Almost nothing stopped him (Larry Breaux) — except his wife, Brandi, the mother of his young twins, who told him she didn’t want him to spend all his family time in a place like that. If he wanted to be part of the House of Shock, he knew he had to figure out a way for his family to be part of it, too....
His next role did nothing to persuade Brandi, a Catholic, that the House of Shock was a legitimate family hobby: Breaux became the sullen-faced preacher of the haunted house’s Satanic Church.
Standing atop a pulpit holding a microphone, Breaux, clad in all black, taunted patrons with his deep, raspy voice: “Hail Satan!” “Where is your God now?” “Join us!” “Feed me your soul!”
Actresses portraying bloodied girls in white communion dresses rushed guests, reached out to them with their arms and shrieked, “Help me! Make it stop!” Demons with heads of cow skulls and evil altar boys wielding fake swords pretended to drag the maidens by their hair, lift them off the ground and choke them....
The children asked to join the cast. Brandi thought they were old enough, and Larry secured them gigs – in his “church.” Strawberry-haired Brianna became one of the victimized communion girls. Gage, his dark hair growing past his shoulders, became an altar boy....
Brandi explained, “Larry is not in barrooms. My kids aren’t running the streets with God-knows-who. If this is what it takes to bring our family together, so be it.”
While my family does indeed celebrate Halloween, I can foresee a time when Christians may want to opt out of entirely.  It's getting pretty disturbing when "trick or treat" has been replaced by "hail Satan" and the jack-o-lantern has given way to the pentagram.

--- Rev. Larry Beane

27 October 2010

Addiction or Disease; Sin or nature; Confession or rehab

I went to a seminar yesterday that appeared promising by its invitation. It was to be about drug addiction and how the Church might help to not only stem the tide, but aide those who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. There is a new organization here in Porter County that was putting on this seminar and their object is substance abuse recovery exclusively for young adults. This is a commendable objective and Porter County, IN has a very high incidence of Heroin addiction beginning with young children.

Although I was not able to stay for the entire seminar, I was there long enough to hear the primary speaker talk about addiction as a disease not unlike cancer. The more he spoke the more he emphasized this point and the more and more distant would become the help of the Church. With all of his psycho speech and inclusive language designed to not stigmatize those addicted to drugs, there became no room for confessing the use of drugs as a sin.

The language used made using drugs not a matter of sinful choices but rather problems with nature and nurture. Although there was talk about the guilt and shame an addict might feel or experience, that was to be solved by including them in church, welcoming them and not ostracizing them. There was no place for confession and absolution.

There were many lay people from non-Lutheran denominations in attendance to whom the idea of confession and absolution would be either entirely foreign or "Roman" and in either case would in their opinion make for more guilt rather than relieving guilt and shame in the absolution.

I found this to be very sad, and with the exception of a brother LC-MS pastor who stated that they were making a two legged stool (biology and psychology) that was missing the third leg, theology, there were none who saw the Church's place as one of reconciliation, forgiveness, or peace apart from inclusiveness. They all missed the point that Christ removes sins, grants peace and gives us a clean conscience before God in the absolution.

Although there may be some pre-disposition to alcohol abuse via heredity, I do not believe there is such a thing for drugs with the possible exception of those who have been exposed to them while in utero. Taking drugs or drinking alcohol is a choice and choices come with consequences. All sin has consequences. Sometimes severe, hence we have prisons and jails, sometimes less severe thus we have rehab facilities and support groups. But they are sins none the less and confession and absolution is or should be an integral part of any recovery or rehabilitation plan. The same would be true for those addicted to pornography.

As a brother spoke about that yesterday he said that for all of these there must be a resignation to a great deal of hard work and discipline to eliminate these addictions from ones life. There was no intimation that such things would be easy but I believe that he would also agree that these are not diseases for which some medical or psychological remedy is the real answer but rather confession and absolution followed by a mixture of medical and or psychological helps, self-discipline and of course a regular diet of the gifts of God in Christ Jesus.

I must say that I was disturbed by the direction this presentation went. Am I missing something or is this just another work of Satan to lead men away from the mercy and forgiveness of sin in Christ and into self-help, societal blame and tolerated inclusion of unrepentant sinners.

I am not insensitive to this problem nor to those who are faced with it as it is devastating to families and communities as well as hard on the Church. Yet I believe we must keep things in proper focus and call a thing what it is. We know that all that is not good is the result of sin in the world. Not necessarily the sin of the person afflicted but the result of sin and all that God might be given the glory and not men. Confession and absolution puts these things in the proper perspective. We are sinners in need of forgiveness.

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us." First John 1:8-10

Let us begin here, confessing our sins and receiving His absolution and then move from that place of a good conscience with God to strive to do better. But let us always return to confession for we daily sin much. Yes, I have inherited sin and inherited depravity from my first parents. May I never deny this or presume that somehow it has been removed and thus I can be good by myself by my own desire. Our disease is sin and Jesus is the cure. All of these other things are symptoms, manifestations of our sinful nature.

19 October 2010

A Warning From Sasse

Herman Sasse writes the following:

"This word [reformation] had a long history before it was first applied to the movement which had its origin in the posting of Luther's Theses. For more than two centuries before, a reformation of the church in the sense of both a moral-religious and a legal-organizational renovation (renovatio being synonymous with reformatio) was being demanded. Theologians and humanistic scholars, clergymen and laymen, prelates and heretics, reform councils and popes, statesmn and monks had formulated theories for such a reformation and had tried to put them into practice. This was the problem which all of them had in common: What can be done in order that the church might once again become what it ought to be according to God's Will? All of them also had in common the conviction that there are ultimate authoritative norms according to which the church must again get its bearings after it had strayed from the right path; that there are commands which it must again obey; and that this obedience, this heeding of the ultimate authority, and the doing of what this authority requires, represents the reformation, or renovation, of the church. Councils and popes, the theological exponents of conciliarism and curialism, the Hussites, the monastic reformers, the humanists, Erasmus and Zwingli, Calvin and Bucer, Carlstadt and Munzer, together with the reform popes, the Anabaptists of Munster, and the Council of Trent - all of them agreed in this. . . " (Here We Stand, pgs 63-64)

This is the danger. Reform is not a matter of simply finding the right rules and all agreeing to follow them. Reform is not accomplished when we kick the louts out, when we all agree to just say the black and do the red. Even if these are good and salutary, they are not reform. Reform is not a specific "act" that is accomplished, that we agree to, and then we can all go home happy and content for having "won" the battle. Rather...

"Lutheran theology denies this characterization [reform as simply a return to Scripture] of the nature of that great event of church history which makes it a reformation, hits the mark. A renovation of the Church through a return to the Scriptures, through a renewed consideration of what God tell us in the Scriptures - this is by no means the essential characteristic of that event of the 16th Century. Reformation, so understood, is a continuous process. It is a continuous process not only in the sense that this renewal from the Word of God ought to take place again and again, but also in the sens that it is actually happening all the time. Every real sermon contributes to such a renewal. This kind of reformation takes place every Sunday - every day, in fact. For the church literally lives by the Word of God. It would not exist any longer, if it did not experience a renovation by the Word of God again and again. (Here We Stand, pgs 65-66)

And what is this Word that we live by? Is it your rules and laws to keep the wicked out as the reformed would say? To make people behave better - either in service or out? Sasse says no.

" For the church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God's law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins. Hence reformation does not consist, as the Middle Ages beleived, and as has even been believed in wide circles of the Protestant world, of an ethico-relgiious correction, of a moral quickening and a spiritual deepening throughout the chruch. It consists, rather, according to its own peculiar nature, of the revival of the preaching of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake. That such a revival of the church's message must have important consequences also in reviving the life of its members and in renovating the external forms of the church is only natural. But these are only consequences." (Here We Stand, pgs 69-70)

If you want the Church to be a better place - quit trying to come up with new standards and guidelines. Quit trying to figure out who doesn't make it into your holy club, whatever your standards of your own personal holy club are. Simply this. Proclaim Christ for sinners slain. When something doesn't point to Christ for sinners slain, say, "That is off focus - our focus is to be here - upon Christ winning us forgiveness."

Then let the chips fall where they may. It is God's Church, He will tend to it. As for you - proclaim and confess Christ. Be not a new Moses yourself, for you are not called to be one. Be a new John, pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Let your own wants and desires decrease, that the focus on Christ may increase.

You will not make the Church perfect. You will not make people perfect. But you are called to proclaim Christ Jesus, who does justify, and who does make perfect on the last day.