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 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.

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.