When one realizes the Bible is a collection of books written over 2,000 years with different theologies, the question seems daunting. But when one realizes that the Bible was crafted by at least 3 major meetings of the best minds of the age and surrounded and sustained by prayer for centuries, one marvels. When one takes it as a book of faith and uses it to ask and answer questions of faith, they are truly blessed. As a book of faith, the Bible can absolutely be trusted.
How do religion and science coexist? Do they counter each other or are they completely different things?
Science and religion, the dogmas and teachings, do contradict each other. Yet, at Christus Victor Lutheran Church we teach faith, not religion. Science and faith fit like hand and glove. Whereas science uses facts to explain the “how,” faith uses paradigms to explain the “why.” While the “big bang theory” may explain from where the universe came, the first particle had to be created by something. Our faith tells us the “why,” our loving God.
Why is Lord, God, and He sometimes capitalized in the Bible and sometimes not? It would seem to me that these should always be in caps.
Because these are different names for God, and they come out of different traditions. As I said last month, the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) are the result of at least 4 different traditions being merged together. In Genesis 1 the Hebrew word for God is Elohim, in pre-Hebrew “council of the Gods.” That is one tradition. There is a second tradition in Genesis 2:4b. The name for God is Yahweh Elohim, LORD God. A third tradition can be found in Genesis 4:1 where the name for God becomes simply Yahweh, “LORD.”
The fourth tradition is found in Deuteronomy where the name for God becomes Yahweh sholem Elohim, “LORD our God.”
As to the pronoun issue; Genesis 1:27 refers to God being both male and female as well as God being plural. I ask you which pronoun should we use? As to capitalization, do we really want to put an emphasis on the gender of God? I believe that God is beyond being bound to gender or being put in a box.
Genesis 1:26 – Who was with God? Genesis 1:27 – Was this Adam and Eve? Genesis 2:20-22 – Are these two writings of the creation story?
When the Hebrew people sat down to write the Torah (Pentatuech), a miracle occurred: a peaceful Church Council meeting. The most incredible thing was the final product, a seamless mesh of at least four disparate (different) traditions. There are two distinct creation stories in Genesis: one by the Elohists (Genesis 1-2:3) and one by the Yahwists (Genesis 2:4ff). Each has its own theological point to make.
The Elohists (you can tell by how they name God) refer to “God” in Hebrew as Elohim, literally “council of the gods” in pre-Hebrew. Their theological point was that God made an orderly universe—and it was good.
The Yahwists (Jahwists auf Deutsch) refer to God as Yahweh in Hebrew and “LORD God” in English. Their theological point has a more relational God. This God believes in free will as well as sin and its consequences.
As to your specific questions:
**Genesis 1:26 – Who was with God? Who was the man? In Genesis 1 Elohim is plural. Genesis 1 and 2 are separate stories. If you want to say the man was Adam, go ahead. Realize it is not necessarily so.
**Genesis 1:27 – Was this Adam and Eve? Could be. See above.
**Genesis 2:20-22 – Are these two writings of the creation story? Yes.
December 25th seems an unlikely date. The church chose that date because the pagan festival of Saturnalia was celebrated then. The church wanted to replace the pagan festivals with Christian celebrations.
It seems that modern scholarship believes Jesus was born in September or October between the years 6 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and 1 A.D. (Anno Domini—year of our Lord). The shepherds would be in the fields at that time, and it would be 6 months after John the Baptist was born. John, it is calculated, was born in March.
As far as my research can go, the year depends on the date of Herod the Great’s death and whether it was a full or partial eclipse to which Josephus refers. (Josephus is a first century historian.) It gets so involved that I am confused.
There are several things I would do. I would pray for them and with them; I would listen to them; I would check on their family; I would grieve for myself outside their presence; I would support their faith.
Pray for her/him: Has s/he a fighting spirit or have they resigned themselves to dying? Their attitude would tell me whether to pray for a miracle or not. And when they do resign themselves, pray that s/he be graciously accepted into the arms of our merciful Savior as a lamb of Jesus' flock, and a sinner of his own redeeming.
Pray with her/him: Follow their lead as far as wishes go. If they wish to fight, embrace that. If they wish to go, there are many prayers in our hymnal that can easily be adapted.
Above all, listen to her/him. Let them share whatever they wish. You are in a sacred position of bearing witness to their life. Let them talk freely, and if appropriate, talk freely yourself. After all, you are their friend.
Check in with family members. Ask if there is some way you can help them. Listen to their concerns. If it seems right, pray with them. Include them in your prayers for your friend.
Grieve yourself, away from the friend and family. Do it by yourself or with friends and family. If that includes being angry with God, so be it. You are losing a friend. God can take it. Trust me on that.
Support their faith. Pray with them if you feel it. If you can, bring along music. A favorite hymn or song can be a refuge to both of you. Read favorite passages or stories from the Bible.
Be their friend. Share stories. Laugh at jokes. Cry together.
In summary, pray, listen, grieve, support. Know that God is there. To be their friend is sacred. Cherish it.
Why does one pastor war the religious collar (not sure what it’s called) during a service but another one does not?
A religious collar, or clerical collar, is a symbol that a person is an ordained clergy. Its symbolism is that this person speaks light, a white collar over the throat, in a dark, sinful world, a black shirt. As time has gone on, we have realized that sin comes in every color (and so do the shirts).
The origin of the clerical collar may be the cassock, the black robe, and surplice, the white loose-fitting, broad-sleeved vestment, worn over the cassock. Some of you might remember these garments worn by pastors in bygone years. The cassock, symbolizing our sinful world, and the surplice, our baptismal robe, showing in visual form Luther’s simul justus et peccator-at the same time saint and sinner.
To wear a clerical collar is a personal preference. Some say it’s a relic from years past, others say it’s a useful reminder that they are to speak forgiveness to a sinful world. I can see both sides of the issue.
QUESTION: I grew up Roman Catholic but have been a member at Christus Victor for years now. I always wondered about the difference in the way the two religions view Mary, Jesus' mother. The Catholic church reveres Mary (Hail Mary prayer, etc.) but I see nothing like that at all on the Lutheran side. Why is this?
ANSWER: Lutherans view Mary as the theotokos, the God-bearer, the mother of God. As we confess in the Apostles’ Creed: “He (Jesus) was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” and also in the Nicene Creed: I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, who, for us and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.” August 15 is the day set aside to honor and commemorate her.
Yet, coming from the Roman Catholic Church where she is “Queen of All Saints” and a chief intercessor on our behalf, this must seem like a small deal. The difference lies in our understanding of saints. For Lutherans, we become saints at our baptism, and remain so. As Martin Luther says, “We are at the same time both saint and sinner.” Whereas in the Roman Catholic Church there is a whole list of requirements to become a saint, and the saints intercede for us, etc. Instead of such a hierarchy, we as Lutherans pray to God and to God alone with our own intercessions.
If you want to pray to Mary or use a rosary, go ahead. I’ve heard that a rosary is a great meditation on the passion of Christ. For Lutherans, praying to Mary is adiaphora—not necessary for salvation.
What makes an institution a church?
1. "In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administrating the sacraments was instituted." —Augsburg Confession Article V, Book of Concord
2. The proper use of the means of grace, that is the grace-filled, Christ-centered preaching of the Gospel and the administration the sacraments (Baptism and Communion) regularly exercised.
a) For Holy Baptism, this means the person is baptized in the name of the Triune God with water, committing to live in the Christian Community, hearing God's Word and sharing in the Lord's Supper, proclaiming Christ through word and deed, serving all people, and striving for justice and peace throughout the earth.
b) For Holy Communion, this means that the elements of bread and wine are present/used and that the story of the Lord's Supper is told as accurately as possible.
c) The preaching of God's word from a Lutheran perspective, namely we are saved by grace through faith by means of Jesus' death and resurrection. Moreover, we are saved from sin, death, and from the power of the devil freely by our baptism into life and death of Jesus.
Who am I to say one has fullness of the faith, or that receiving Jesus in one church is any less valid?
QUESTION: I enjoy worship at a Lutheran church, as well as Communion. As a Catholic, I got really uncomfortable with the thought that only Catholics have the fullness of the faith, or that Lutheran Communion is somehow not valid or acceptable, especially for Catholics. I see it as this: Catholics and Lutherans share many beliefs, but they do some things differently. Who am I to say one has fullness of the faith, or that receiving Jesus in one church is any less valid? Exactly how the host changes...we've been arguing for 500 years! Suffice to say, the host changes! Also, as a Catholic I can't accept just a few teachings if I want to be a true Catholic, but it comes as a package, and that's HARD. I have NO idea what happens after we die (I'm a human being after all), so how can Catholics possibly say there is purgatory? I am not denying anything; I am saying I think only God can know some things. So, I attend a Lutheran church where I am welcome, and I enjoy it. I still go to the Catholic church a lot, too. I can't turn around and be uncharitable to it, or I'd be doing what makes me uncomfortable in the first place, which is saying someone else is "wrong.”
But I wanted to ask the Lutheran side. For all I know, maybe they think only they have the fullness of faith and validity of sacraments. Would you tell a fellow Lutheran not to get Communion in a Catholic church? Does it need to be that Catholics are "right" or, vice versa, that Lutherans are "right (and thus the other is wrong)," or can it be that we worship differently in some respects while respecting both churches? It was the "I'm right, you're wrong (but still our brothers/sisters in Christ)” mentality that left me a bit bummed in the Catholic church.
I do NOT think anybody is right or wrong. I don't KNOW. All I know is that God said to love Him and others, and "Do this in memory of me." Is this OK? Or even as a Lutheran, would I have to take the attitude that I was right? I can understand that people need to have beliefs (otherwise what constitutes a faith?) and defend them. Many Catholics say there HAS to be a TRUTH, and that is where we need to look to the Church. And then I do, sheepishly, agree. How can we say just believe whatever we want or what feels right? That can be dangerous. As a Catholic, some of the teachings make me scratch my head (I am just not sure), but also some of the Lutheran teachings make me feel the same way. Is that OK? Do I need to be 100% something? Can God expect that? God didn't say you have to be one denomination, right?
The reason I go regularly to worship at the Lutheran church is because I find them more accepting, and to me, that's what Jesus was! (Also the Catholic church says no Communion if I use birth control, and again...that makes me sad because I do use it, having had many, many kids in our marriage). I don't want to sit out Communion or feel like if I don't, it's sin. That is NOT in the Bible. At the same time, I think we can't take the Bible literally or without considering the historical context. As for gays, I can't imagine Jesus would judge. I would never hate or do anything to judge anyone. Yet I guess the Bible does says it's a sin. But what does that mean? That I have to be anti-gay? I'm not. I try to accept everyone. What would you, as an educated Lutheran say about all this? Do I have to choose Catholic or Lutheran? Is it enough to worship each Sunday and try to grow in faith, borrowing from both denominations? I’m very confused!
RESPONSE: You are so right—there are many things that Catholics and Lutherans agree on, including the Eucharist. And yes, I have taken Communion in several different Catholic churches, including Holy Name Cathedral. In fact, for all of my ministry, it has been the policy that in Chicago, a Catholic priest and an ELCA Lutheran pastor could concelebrate the Eucharist and serve the Eucharist to the whole congregation of Catholics and Lutherans. This is a concordat that Bishop Sherman Hicks and Cardinal Bernardin worked out. In addition, the same year the concordat was signed, the Catholic-Lutheran joint commission concluded that the issue they were fighting about 500 years ago (see Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification) no longer separated them theologically. Justification by grace through faith was the basis of the Reformation 500 years ago. There is now agreement on that doctrine. To overstate the importance of this shift of theology is difficult. Suffice it to say, the major theological differences of the Catholics and Lutherans is shrinking rapidly.
The world churches are growing closer since Vatican II. The local churches with old-fashioned bishops are the ones who insist on keeping the old attitudes alive. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Neither the Catholic church nor the Lutheran church hold the whole truth. Jesus does. It is on that which we depend.
The New Testament has the Gospels first because they are of prime importance. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are the synoptic gospels for they give a “synopsis” of the life of Jesus. These and the “theological” gospel of John form the basis of our faith. Martin Luther called the Gospels “the cradle of Christ.” The Gospels contain the good news of Jesus, the Christ, which is the essential message of salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil. (That is why we stand during the reading of the Gospel—out of sheer respect for its importance!)
The book of Acts is next in importance for two reasons: a) the books of Luke-Acts form ¼ of the New Testament and b) Acts tells of the creation of the church, which is the body of Christ on earth.
Next in importance are the letters of Paul, the chief theologian of the church. It leads off with Romans, from which Lutheran theologians (and Luther) get their basics. The books of Romans through Philemon were written by Paul or one of Paul’s disciples.
The next set of books we find are the General Letters (Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude) which are filled with alternative theologies to Paul. The final book of the New Testament is the Revelation to John. This often-misunderstood book is actually a liturgy of hope for and by the ancient Christian Church. It is a liturgy of hope for all ages as well as a fitting way to end the New Testament.
There is a hierarchy to the Hebrew Scriptures and a different order to the books. The most sacred books are the Torah – the first 5 books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These are the equivalent to our Gospels, the central event through which everything else is shaped.
The second level of books are the Prophets – the Nevi'im: Joshua, Judges I & II, Samuel I & II, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. These are important, serving the function of the Second Reading. Certainly, something to which to pay attention, perhaps a lens to point to the central message. The third level of books are the twelve minor prophets – definitely to be included, but notably less significant. The fourth level is the Writings – the Kethuvim, books to be included but not theological treatises: Psalms, Job, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, etc. These are storybooks meant to go along with the central message of the Torah.
Together, all of these books form the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures: “Ta” for Torah, “Na” for Nevi'im, and “Kh” for Kethuvim.
Next month: The New Testament and why its order is important.
Saul's rise to power was Samuel's answer to the cry of the people for a king. Saul was anointed king by Samuel, even though Saul was from the smallest clan of the smallest tribe (Benjamin). When Saul followed God's instructions, all went well. But when Saul went his own way, Samuel was immediately dispatched to find a new one—David. Initially this worked (see David & Goliath). There was a many-layered relationship between David and Jonathan (Saul's son), much more than The Story speaks about. Nevertheless, that belongs to the lower story, not the upper. Eventually this turned into a huge game of cat and mouse that lasted seven years, climaxing with the story of David cutting a piece of Saul's robe. It is remarkable to me that The Story doesn't make a bigger deal out of the line, "You are more righteous than I am." This is one of the few stories (Ruth being another) where righteousness is defined by a story.
To summarize, initially Saul loved David, but as the people of Israel praised David more than Saul, Saul grew jealous of David. This eventually meant David fleeing the royal palace and the seven years David was on the run. Saul committing suicide on the field of battle ended David's exile.
Some people make an analogy between a person's spiritual journey and "maturity,"... Please comment on the concept of spiritual maturity.
QUESTION: Some people make an analogy between a person's spiritual journey and "maturity," and the stages of human life. Perhaps this is based on 1 Corinthians 3:1. They think they can measure, or at least sense, where another person is on a linear spiritual path. These people usually think they are farther along on the spiritual path than most other people, especially people whose views differ from their own. Please comment on the concept of spiritual maturity.
RESPONSE: I object to linear geometrics. I don't think we ever arrive at a mature faith. I see faith more as a spiral. We keep repeating seasons as well as mistakes (sin – some serious and some we only think of as serious). There are at least 2 ways to think of time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos refers to clock time: if-then, linear chunks, time and date history. Kairos means seasonal, mystical, the "right time,” cyclical, anecdotal history. Another way to look at is Chronos is dates and facts and Kairos is story telling.
Those who receive the Bible as a compendium of inter-related facts – the Bible-believing Christians – tend to be transactional and see life in black and white. They stand on the rock of an immortal, invisible, unchanging God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. They may or may not be predestinationalists.
Those who receive the Bible as a library of faith stories – the Jesus-believing Christians – tend to be relational and see life as textured, filled with a rainbow of colors. They stand with a living God who is not finished creating, directing, or caring for a universe that constantly surprises.
There are many things on which we agree:
We take the Bible seriously, i.e. the Bible is the source and norm of Christian life.
God is the creator of all things, seen and unseen.
The Holy Spirit is active in the world today
Jesus is the Christ and rose physically from the dead.
Yes, there were earlier versions of the Bible and not every Bible says the same thing. For instance: Many Roman Catholic and Episcopalian Bibles contain the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is a series of "Biblical Stories" that cover the time between the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament. Another example is that your local Jehovah's Witness has a Bible where the translation choices may skew their theology into the Christian heresy.
Yet over 50 translations of the Bible in English tell The Story of God's amazing love for all people. Some of the 50 are in Old English (1600s), others in contemporary English, some are literal, translating word for word, others are paraphrase, translating phrase for phrase, idea for idea.
That is why in seminary (school for pastors) they train the students to read ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek so that they can consult the original texts, (I still have my Biblica Hebaica and my Greek New Testament on my shelves.)
Perhaps the most famous translation is Martin Luther's translation into common German in 1522. The first English translation was by John Wycliffe in 1384. The most famous English translation is the King James Version in 1611. Other translations of note are the Revised Standard Version (1946), the Living Bible (1971), the New International Version (1978), and the New Revised Standard Version (1998).
My favorite story about translations is this: A Filipino class was given the assignment to write an essay on someone famous. One essay began "My favorite person is General Douglas MacArthur who said the famous words "I'll be right back!" Was the translation correct? Yes … and no. What it lacked was the majesty, the firmness, the conviction of "I shall return!" That is why translations are important.
The word “catholic” with a lowercase “C” means universal. If you look it up in the dictionary, you will find this definition:
1. broad or wide ranging in tastes, interests, or the like; having sympathies with all; broad minded; liberal.
2. universal in extent; involving all; of interest to all.
3. pertaining to the whole Christian body or church.
So we are part of the universal church. That means we are part of the church in every time and every place. During communion I am united with my best friend in St. Petersburg, Russia and I'm united with my friend who is a seminary professor in Nigeria, at the same time I'm united with my grandmother who is playing organ at St. Paul, Pontiac 70 years ago. During communion I'm also serving communion at my ordination service at United Lutheran, Oak Park just as I am taking communion for the first time with friends I haven't seen in 41 years. You fill in your people and places. It's an amazing concept.
Also we are Lutheran. As part of the Lutheran World Federation. we are part of 72 million Lutherans who are part of 145 churches across the world. As part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) we also share communion with the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Moravian Church, Reformed Church in America, the United Methodist Church, and the United Church of Christ. Do you have any friends who are members of these churches? When we have communion we share our unity in Christ with these people too. That is what "catholic" means.
I served in 2 rural congregations in Illinois. My internship was at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa. My first call was to Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ashkum, which is about 20 minutes south of Kankakee. I served there for almost 8 years. My second call was to Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church near Lee, located 30 minutes southwest of DeKalb. I served there less than 2 years until Parkinson’s Disease caught up with me. Before I became a pastor, I taught high school mathematics for 5 years at Luther High School North in Chicago and 1 year at Kankakee Junior High School.
The most common route to become a pastor is to go to seminary after college. Seminary training consists of 3 years of academics (theology, church history, Bible study, Biblical languages, worship, and pastoral care) and one year of internship at a congregation. I am aware of 9 seminaries supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I graduated from Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.
I would suggest that God is talking to you if two of these three conditions are met:
a) "God's voice" is persistent.
b) It comes from several different sources.
c) What it is telling you to do is out of your "comfort zone."
My personal story begins when I was a senior in high school. I had to make a decision on which college to attend. I woke up in the morning with college A on my mind. By evening, I decided that I was going to college B. The same thing happened the next day. This went on for two weeks. Finally, I got the message. I was going to college A. God is persistent.
When you hear sources – people, books, Facebook, magazine articles, YouTube – from different areas of your life saying the same thing, PAY ATTENTION. God might be trying to get an idea across to you. I remember reading in an article that ecumenism starts from the ground up. A few weeks later, after Vacation Bible School, my 3-year old son told me, "Our church has Jesus loves me. The Methodist church has Jesus loves me too!" All of a sudden, joining the ministries of the churches in town became a higher priority.
Back then I wasn't a prophetic, visionary sort of preacher. I learned to be. It was not in my comfort zone. I had found working with pastors of other denominations intimidating and uncomfortable. I learned to get over it. By the time I left, we ran a joint Vacation Bible School, a joint choir, a joint men's prayer breakfast, and a SHARE food group. I was not in my comfort zone, but God had other plans.
The Bible is not a single book; it is a library of 66 books that were written over a period of over 2000 years in two (or possibly 3) dead languages – Koine Greek, ancient Hebrew, and ancient Aramaic. The confusing part for me is that it still speaks to us today and its message is still relevant.
Each of the authors was writing to a specific group of people with a certain purpose. Amazingly, the Bible hangs together and has hung together since the first Council of Nicaea in 325 AD (the first church convention). When one thinks about it, it is amazing that one book can contain so many different points of view. Genesis 1 says the world was created in 7 days. Genesis 2 tells a different creation story. The central message of the Bible is unchanged—that Jesus is the risen Christ.
The Bible can be long and confusing or it can be interesting and inspiring. If you READ it from the basis of faith, I am sure you can find some viewpoints you agree with, and other things you disagree with or find confusing. That's ok! Many of us will agree with you. I have one friend that is compiling a list of "Jesus Questions” – questions of things in the Bible or life that confuse her on Earth. She plans to ask Jesus these questions when she gets to heaven. The one thing I'm certain of is that all these books were written by people of faith, giving witness to the God who raised Jesus from the dead. If you read it as a book of faith stories, perhaps you won't get hung up on the details.
Jesus said: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
While it says that in Matthew 16:18, Mark 8:27-33 has a much different version of the story. In fact, according to Mark, shortly after Peter's declaration that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus yells at Peter "Out of my sight Satan!" Luke, on the other hand, does not mention the incident at all (see Luke 9:18-27). First of all, Martin Luther did not want to start a new church. The main reason he brought the 95 Theses (points for scholarly discussion) was to simply point out that we are saved by grace through faith and that forgiveness is not for sale. At that time, the Catholic Church was selling indulgences—papers signed by Archbishop Tetzel, authorized by the Pope, guaranteeing less time in purgatory. Luther viewed this as wrong and fought against it. In fact, he was embarrassed that his followers were called "Lutherans." By the end of his life, he called the movement he started "the Evangelical Church" (the Gospel centered church). Since then the Lutheran Church has not always been "Gospel centered,” so other denominations and movements have begun to correct the errors of the Lutheran Church. Perhaps the most concise answer to your question lies in Luther's satis est: It is enough if the sacraments are administered rightly and the gospel preached in its purity." If you find a denomination or congregation where that statement is true, you will have found Christ on earth.