Christus Victor

Making Christ Known

We are an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) congregation growing in the likeness of Christ by:

Worshiping, praying, and studying God’s word;
Being together with other people; and
Acting in faith through words and deeds both inside and outside our church walls.

What is "Green Theology"?

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof; the world and all that dwell therein. :(KJV)

Rooted in Scripture, Martin Luther’s thought and the Lutheran confessional tradition, we affirm God as creator of all, with an incarnational theology that cherishes the ongoing presence and creative activity of God. Creation is not a single, Big-Bang event in the distant past, after which `God steps back and occasionally intervenes. On the contrary, God invests continuously in every part of creation throughout the universe and throughout time. “The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love” (Psalm 119:64). Luther considered that God is fully present in every grain and leaf, and by extension everywhere: “God is substantially present everywhere, in and through all creatures, in all their parts and places, so that the world is full of God and He fills all. ... His own divine essence can be in all creatures collectively and in each one individually more profoundly, more intimately, more present than the creature is in itself ...”

While the world is presented as secular, the Spirit provides us with the gift of “beholding” creation as holy ground, drenched with God’s presence and abuzz with divine activity. God is not acting as

a master-puppeteer nor intervening here and there from time to time. God, even though hidden, works always and everywhere for health and wholeness amid the independence and freedom of creation. As Word made flesh, Jesus reveals the nature and activity of God’s presence in all creation as a force working for good in all things with grace and love. As we discern this presence, our amazement and awe move us to care for God’s world.

With the assurance of God’s presence in all things and a force of love behind all things, we are freed to see the world as it is without seeking to romanticize it or be blind to the evil and tragedy in life. We also welcome all that we can learn about our world through our strong reception of science, with openness to ecological realities and biological evolution. Science is so fundamental to understanding the environmental crisis and so significant as part of our human efforts to address it. We do not fear the truth about ourselves and our world. Indeed, it is part of God’s relation to the world.

For Christians, care of the Earth is not an “environmental cause.”                                                                        Rather, it is central to our holy calling to treasure the Earth and to care for it as our common home, fully integrating creation-care into our love of God and neighbor.

The incarnational movement of God’s salvation is toward embodiment in this life. And human beings collectively are called to see the Earth as our home through time and to care for it for all generations. Recall that the Old Testament reflects a world without belief in life after death, a world in which God guides Israel and works among the nations to bring God’s purposes to fruition in this life. The focus is on this life. The Word became flesh and “lived” among us. Jesus prayed that God’s will be done “on earth.” Paul affirms that we are waiting with eager longing for the redemption of creation. The book of Revelation envisions a world in which God comes to dwell on a renewed Earth in a new Jerusalem of justice and equity with all creatures thriving and singing their praises to God. The whole movement of God in our Scriptures is Earthward—becoming manifested in this life and showing human beings what it means to be truly human.

Often, we have seen ourselves as creatures who live on the Earth rather than being embedded in it. We frequently have assumed that the Earth belongs to us instead of recognizing that we belong to

the Earth. Changing our viewpoint is a critical transformation. It is a matter of shifting our thinking from seeing ourselves apart from and living upon the rest of nature to seeing ourselves as an integral part of creation in which our human fate is dependent upon the fate of the Earth as a whole. We used to read the Bible by interpreting salvation history as human history. Now we see that the Bible depicts salvation history as creation history. And the endpoint of salvation is the redemption and fulfillment of all life. And, of course, humans have a special role in caring for each other and all creation.

The sacraments of baptism and eucharist manifest God’s healing presence in the natural elements of water, bread and wine. The elements do not change. Rather, the assurance of God’s healing and forgiving presence through the words of promise affirms that the material world of creation is good and capable of bearing the divine to us. Through Christ’s presence in the ordinary elements of grapes, grain and water, we are transformed to experience newness in, with and under every part of creation—and moved to treasure it. If we can see this presence with the eyes of faith in the sacraments, then we can also catch glimpses of it anywhere and everywhere. Such is the basis for our delight in and reverence for all creation.

The key tenet of Lutheran ethics has been faith-active-in-love (Galatians 5:6). We respond to God’s love for us and we express our love for God by loving our neighbor. When we expand the definition of “neighbor” to include the plant and animal life that surrounds us and upon which we depend, we are called to embrace not only the “two kingdoms” of church and society but also the “kingdoms” of the plant, animal and geologic worlds—the entire orbit of our life.

This is an “integral ethic” that brings together social justice and ecological justice, expressed in the term “creation justice.” Creation justice calls us to see beyond our interpersonal behavior to encompass behavior in which we contribute, often unwittingly, to systemic evils that disadvantage and ruin the vulnerable of the world. We are called, for example, to overcome environmental racism against minority communities and against the global south (Africa, Central and Latin America, and most of Asia) because those who contribute least to our ecological problems often suffer first and foremost from those problems and have the least capacity to cope with ecological disasters. Such an ethical stance prevents us from building walls of affluence to protect ourselves and, at one and the same time, frees us to serve the most at-risk members of the Earth community.

The congregation is where the faithful are nourished by the word, invigorated by the sacraments and sent to share this generative love with the creation. The very same energy that enables us to care for one another within our church community sends us out to build justice within the larger community and the natural world. The church—no matter what level—does not exist for its own sake, but for the sake of the world. As such, the church addresses social discrimination and economic disparity intertwined with the ecological stresses and environmental crises we face in our world. So, no matter what the issue—whether racism or economic inequities, runoff of agricultural chemicals or climate change—the church is the tradition, we affirm God as creator of all, with an incarnational theology that cherishes the ongoing presence and creative activity of God.

(8) The church.  The congregation is where the faithful are nourished by the word, invigorated by the sacraments and sent to share this generative love with the creation. The very same energy that enables us to care for one another within our church community sends us out to build justice within the larger community and the natural world. The church—no matter what level—does not exist for its own sake, but for the sake of the world. As such, the church addresses social discrimination and

economic disparity intertwined with the ecological stresses and environmental crises we face in our world. So, no matter what the issue—whether racism or economic inequities, runoff of agricultural chemicals or climate change—the church is there.

The History of the destruction of Bel and the Dragon

The Prayer of Manasseh king of Judah

1 Maccabee

2 Maccabee

What is Apocrypha?

Apocrypha comes from the Greek meaning “concealed” or “hidden.” Generally, this means the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) apocrypha. It generally includes the following;

I.                      1 Esdras

II.                    2 Esdras

III.                   Tobit

IV.                  Judith

V.                    The rest of the chapters of the book of Esther

VI.                  The Wisdom of Solomon

VII.                 The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus

VIII.                Baruch

IX.                   The Song of the Three Holy Children

X.                    The History of Susanna

XI.                   The History of the destruction of Bel and the Dragon

XII.                 The Prayer of Manasseh king of Judah

XIII.                1 Maccabee

XIV.               2 Maccabee

These books were not part of the Jewish canon, in other words not considered inspired.  Yet all Christian translations had them in a separate section, including the original King James Version (1611) and Luther’s translation (not to be confused with the Gutenberg Bible).  Until the Westminster Confession (1646-48), which declared them secular and omitted them. There was a practical reason too--out of economics (shorter Bibles are less expensive to print).  The Eastern Orthodox tradition included not only these, but thought also 1 Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, 3 and 4 Maccabees, and Psalm 151 as canonical.

Luther considered the Apocrypha as “profitable reading” and readings from the Apocrypha are in both Anglican and Lutheran lectionaries.  In the Roman Catholic Church, the Apocrypha is “deuterocanonical,” which means part of the “second canon.” Perhaps that is the short answer: the apocrypha as a whole is not inspired Scripture, but portions of it are inspired Scripture. “All (Biblical) Scripture is inspired, but not all of inspired Scripture is in the (canonical) Bible.”—Dr. Ralph Klein, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago

What is the difference between Justification and Sanctification?

Put simply, Justification has to do with Jesus and the 2nd Article of the Creed and Sanctification is concerned with the Holy Spirit and the 3rd Article.

Justification is being set right in our relationship with God.  It has to do with Jesus and Salvation. In short, Jesus was crucified, died, was buried and rose again so that we could share in his victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil. "For by grace we are saved through faith. It is a gift of God, not by works, so no one could boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Therefore, Justification is God's work, not ours. 

Sanctification is being made “holy,” hallowed, other, put out of the world. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit and participating in God’s presence in the world.  It is “faith active in love” said Martin Luther. Sanctification is living counter to the world’s values. According to the “Affirmation of Baptism”

Sanctification is:

 

To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through Word and deed,

To serve all people, following the example of Jesus,

And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

 

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

This is not what I’d say to a suffering person:

 God allows pain and suffering because we turned our back on God and exercised our free will in a rebellious way.  Way back in the Garden of Eden, God gave us one rule.  One!  Not a whole set; not complicated—one.  And, we intentionally broke it. As stewards of creation, we broke God’s relationship with creation, too.  As Romans 8 says: 

 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[a]the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (NIV)

 Therefore, earthquakes happen; tsunamis happen; hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes take place; all because of our broken relationship with God. BUT THROUGH THE LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS, we once again are the baptized children of God and await the new creation that is being realized in Christ Jesus. As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20:  

 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, s/he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (RSV) {Paul Uhl recension]

 This is what I would say to a person who is suffering through a tragedy:

God is crying with you. We have a God who knows what it is like to suffer, to die, to lose his only Son. Yet, nothing can separate us from God’s love. 

 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV)

Some people seem to pray, always finding the right words. Can you teach me how to pray?

When Jesus was asked that question, he replied with the Lord's Prayer, using that as a model…

  1. Name God: This can be from the Bible or from your heart.  Jesus prayed to "Daddy" (Abba in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.)

  2. List your needs: Get to the point.  Jesus was never impressed by flowery language or good grammar.

  3. Ask for forgiveness and to be forgiving: "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

  4. Ask for protection: Evil is real and working against those doing God's will.

  5. Silence: Listen for God's voice as you still the many voices of this world. (Hint: Turn off your cell phone while praying.)

  6. Finish praying with a doxology or a heartfelt "Amen," (Amen means yes in Hebrew.)

What does it mean to pray “9 times a day?”

Praying 9 days in a row is a somewhat common Roman Catholic practice, especially in Latino countries.  The Novena, praying 9 days in a row, is common in Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, etc.  The problem is that sometimes the concern won’t last 9 days.  Hence, the solution is praying 9 times a day, one prayer each hour for 9 hours.  For Roman Catholics, praying the rosary and the Our Father would be the norm.

I would suggest praying a simple prayer from the heart. 

Footnote:  There is such a thing as a Lutheran Rosary.  See wikihow.com/Pray-the-Lutheran-Rosary

 

 

 

Is it okay to doubt God's existence?

It is not only okay to doubt God’s existence, but it is a very human thing to do.  Everyone doubts God’s existence at some point in their lives.  Whether it is breaking up with a girlfriend, being betrayed by a friend, the death of a loved one, or an unanswered prayer, every person doubts at some point.

That is why it is so important to be part of a faith community, or especially to have friends who are Christians - not to have them solve our problems or assuage our guilt for doubting God, but to have them reassure us and affirm whom we are.

It is even okay to yell at God and tell God all the ways the world is unfair.  I’ve done this and found it therapeutic at times.

A friend once said to me, “If you didn’t struggle with beliefs, it would show they weren’t important to you.”  To quote a picture from my office, “Where there is struggle, there also is strength.”

Don’t be afraid of struggles or doubts with faith.  Share them with Christian friends and mentors and ask for prayers.  You will get through it and find your faith stronger because of it!

Can sources like the Bible be trusted?

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.

When was Jesus actually born?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

My friend is dying. What do I say to him?

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.

Mother Mary - Why do Lutherans and Catholics view her differently?

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 Christus Victor a Lutheran church?

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.

Why is the order of the New Testament important?

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.

How are the Hebrew Scriptures different than the Old 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.

Talk about Saul's rise to power and his relationsip with David.

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.