Monday, September 22, 2014

In conflict with the faith, creed, and doctrine of the Church of Sweden

Swedish minister defrocked over anti-women priest sermon

The Church of Sweden has deposed a priest for having told his congregation in a sermon that those who support the ordination of women to the clergy will not be saved.

On 19 September 2014 the Bishop of Gothenburg, the Rt. Rev. Per Eckerdal, (pictured) released a statement saying that after listening to a recording of an August 2013 sermon by the Rev. Olle Fogelqvist, the cathedral chapter voted to remove him from the ordained ministry for teaching doctrines contrary to those upheld by the Church of Sweden.

Bishop Eckerdal stated Mr. Fogelqvist’s comments were “extremely injudicious,” adding that “just the thought that the sex of a priest would be decisive for salvation was startling.”

A curate at the parish church of Löftadalens in Kungsbacka Municipality, Mr. Fogelqvist argued that it was an ontological impossibility for women to be priests. Those who relied upon the efficacy of the sacraments offered by women priests were endangering their souls, he said, because those sacraments were void ab initio.

Women clergy were first ordained by the Church of Sweden in 1958 and the current archbishop of Uppsala is a woman.

Bishop Eckerdal stated that Mr. Fogelqvist had no authority to promulgate from the pulpit views contrary to the received teachings of the Church of Sweden. His false teachings, the bishop said, were compounded by his foreknowledge that two women priests were soon to join the team ministry where he served. Not only had he made statements inconsistent with the “faith, creed, and doctrine” of the Church of Sweden, he had undermined his colleagues before the start of their ministry.

Mr. Fogelqvist has the right to appeal the decision.

My Comments:

Mr. Fogelqvist was certainly intemperate in his remarks but often the truth is.  I might suggest that his issue is not simply with the ordination of women but from the implications of a secularized church which, in many respects, the Church of Sweden has become -- but that would be putting words into his mouth.

What else you might glean from this comes from the Bishop's statement that the ordination of women has become one of the essential characteristics of the "faith, creed, and doctrine" of the Church of Sweden.  And this is the rub.  Churches that ordain women have made the ordination of women part of their confession, sometimes so essential to their confession that it seems to exclude orthodox Christianity itself.  For example, I wonder what might have happened if the same priest had suggested that Jesus' resurrection was a pious myth or legend or that sin was not the reason for our Lord's sacrificial suffering or that each person had to work out his own salvation with good works...  Certainly these would be an even greater assault on the character of Christianity and the Lutheran Confession of which the Church of Sweden claims to confess and yet, my fear is that these would be overlooked or treated less seriously than this man's rather strident objection to the ordination of women.  BTW one can only wonder when the ordination of gays/lesbians will become the same essential core teaching of the "faith, creed, and doctrine" of those Lutheran churches who have headed down that road. . . OR are they already?!?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The power of labels. . .

The sting of sin is in the label.  No longer were Adam and Eve simply Adam and Eve.  They were sinners.  They wore their sins like labels shouting to the world.  Some of the labels they wore against their will -- the epithets others placed upon them.  Other labels they wore in pride -- oblivious to the stain and stigma their prideful wills proclaimed.  And we join them.  From the first gasp of breath to breathe into our lungs until it ends in our final exhale, we wear labels and they define us.  Some of them follow us like a rude odor and no matter how hard we try, we cannot shake them.  Others we gladly wear thinking that they are the real "me" and so we lift them up to the world as the proud badges of our true identities.

Time has not been kind to us.  The number of labels has grown exponentially.  Some of them are the labels of our own choosing and some chosen for us.  We are conservatives and liberals and moderates.  We are straight, gay, bi, lesbian, transgendered and how many variations in between.  We are Yankees and Southerners.  We claim a class in a society which is supposed to eschew classes.  We are what we do for a living, what we do in our free time, what we wear on our backs, what we wear in our ears, what we carry in our wallets, what we listen to on our ear buds, and a thousand other seemingly benign identities.

We are single or married or in a relationship.  We are mom or dad to some and kid to others.  We are boss to some and servants to others.  We are alumni of some schools, natives of this place or that, and willing or unwilling citizens of this locale or another.  We are black, white, brown, yellow, olive, red, and a thousand other variations of color.  Sometimes we complain that our whole identity is reduced to this or that label and others we make this label or that what it is that defines us above all things.

We are sinners.  We idol worshipers, ingrates, selfish, prurient, deviant, murderers, gossips, liars, cheaters, gossips, and all the other classic terms for sinners.  We are also fags, sluts, posers, rejects, jerks, addicts, drunks, bigots, and all the other hip terms for the same old dirty sins.  Labels.  Labels of our own choosing in which we scream who we are.  Labels chosen by others that we cannot escape.

But there is one thing we are that is not a label.  In fact, it is the end of all labels.  It is THE identity that now defines us -- even amid our failure to be what God has declared us to be.  We are the baptized, the children of God by His gracious favor.  We wear Christ's righteousness not as a badge but as the clothing He put upon us when into the water we drowned and out of the water came up a new creature.  The word Christian is not a label.  Christian is an identity that transcends our choice and comes from the work of the Spirit.  Christian is not a path we choose to follow or a series of truths we choose to believe.  Christian is God's making.  He takes us with all the labels that others have placed upon us and those we have chosen for ourselves, and He strips us naked and afraid before Him.  Where we expect condemnation, we find instead mercy and grace -- the surprise of a people who have learned to fear the worst and you will not be disappointed.  He washes us not as a symbol but with the cleansing water empowered by the Word..  He drags us down until every proud and self-centered breath has left us and raises up the lifeless to life, the sinner to redemption, and the lost by grace found.

Yet we are not yet complete.  We have a part of us that still views the world with labels and is not so sure we should give up the ones we think should fit us still.  He cannot redeem us and walk away or we will be lost to the same dead ends and detours that kept us captive to evil before our baptism into Christ.  So every day the Spirit has to work to teach us to lay aside the labels we toss at others and the labels we still claim to define ourselves.  Every day the Spirit has to teach us anew to say the word, the one word, that is not a label but an identity:  God's own child I gladly say it.  I am baptized into Christ.  This is why I must go to Church every Sunday.  The power of labels still haunts me and its familiar old ways still beckon me.  I would go their in a minute and be lost forever unless the Lord stood guard over me, reminded me that I am His own baptized child, restored me from my fall before sin and temptation, and renewed my soul with the grace that comes down from heaven.  Without Him I am a prisoner to the labels of my own choosing and those that others have chosen to mark me.  In Him I am reborn, stripped of the labels, and given a brand new identity.  That is where I fight the good fight of faith... where do you?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Punching, clawing, kicking, and beating your way into the hearts of men. . .

Pastor With a Punch from The New York Times - Video on Vimeo.

“Can you love your neighbor as yourself and at the same time knee him in the face as hard as you can?”  So wondered Pastor Paul Burress, as we interviewed him about his “fight ministry,” which he started to bring his take on Christianity to more people in Rochester, N.Y. For Mr. Burress and his ministry, the answer is yes — members of his congregation fight one another in church on a regular basis.

Mr. Burress is one of a growing number of pastors who incorporate mixed martial arts (M.M.A.), a violent sport also known as cage fighting that embraces kickboxing and wrestling, into their parishes. Pastors like him feel that the church’s traditional evangelizing is not resonating with young men anymore, and they are resolved to change that. They justify their unorthodox approach by arguing that many of the Bible’s core tenets involve fighting: for freedom, for one’s beliefs, and for Jesus, too.

Though it was banned in nearly every state a decade ago, M.M.A. is now one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. (Mr. Burress is a retired M.M.A. fighter; New York State prohibits professional M.M.A.) Churches like Mr. Burress’s integrate fighting into many elements of their worship, which they supplement with M.M.A. viewing parties and even, in Mr. Burress’s case, live fighting events (Several pastors have estimated that 700 churches have incorporated M.M.A. into their ministries).
From the New York Times. . .

Friday, September 19, 2014

Suicide of a Church?

Borrowed from the Bonfire of the Vanities:

‘Gay marriage’ is church suicide

Give into the Zeitgeist? Not a plan of success:

Episcopal Church:           -18% (2002-2012)
United Church of Christ:  -20% (2005-2012)
Presbyterian (USA):        -22% (2006-2012)
Evangelical Lutheran        -12% (2009-2012)

Of course, the declines are likely explained by many other factors; many, if not all, these denominations were already on a downward trajectory, as their liberalizing trends didn’t begin with endorsing a redefinition of marriage.

What’s more, Catholics and others committed to an orthodox understanding of morality and marriage in particular should not take comfort too easily. When our Lord walked the earth, people walked away from him because of things he taught, and in the end, the crowd chanted “crucify him” instead of “my Lord and my God.” So we should not expect to be popular when we offer the Lord’s message.  But embracing an “evolution” of marriage didn’t help, and almost certainly accelerated the decline.

My Comments:

Diversity which stands for nothing except tolerance, liberalism which abandons truth to the altar of expediency, and morality which becomes everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes has only one outcome -- death by irrelevance!  Those in pursuit of the ultimate relevance have made themselves irrelevant by standing for nothing except the freedom to believe or dismiss belief all in the name of being true to self.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Obsessed with a theme. . .

One of the modern day obsessions in worship, preaching, and, it seems, life itself is the penchant for the thematic.  We have thematic worship services, sermons, sermon series, etc...  It is as if we were acting by the twitter rules requiring that everything be distilled into 140 characters or less.  We have thematic liturgies (especially in Roman Catholicism) and thematic sermons in which the goal is to reduce everything to a words or a few words -- a synopsis of the whole that tends to dominate everything else.

What danger we do to the liturgy and preaching when we attempt to summarize, condense, and caricature the Christian faith and worship into soundbites!  I blame it in part to the PowerPoint culture of few words and few images to illustrate and define the most difficult and complex concepts.  Truth to be told, PowerPoint did not invent our fascination with thematic worship -- it only raised it to a much higher level.

Of course, there is a legitimate thematic character to the pericopes for the day.  In the lectionary we find the lessons pointing (generally) to the Gospel and the Gospel is supported by a collect of the day and by hymns chosen to coordinate with the thrust of the readings.  I am not talking about this.  I am talking about Sundays defined by groups (LWML Sunday), causes (Malaria Sunday), or issues (Marriage Sunday).  There would be no need of the church year at all if we used all the thematic suggestions by church related organizations, causes, and issues.  That is exactly what some have done.  The liturgical year has been shifted to revolve around the named Sundays and their causes or sublet to a preaching series of 117 sermons on how to raise better children.

It is killing the church and the people of the church.  We are all caused out.  We have become blinded to the faith by the stead stream of themes and foci that compete with the Divine Service and Christ's presence in the Word and Sacraments.  It needs to stop.  One of these days we will wake up to shark week in church and no one will find it strange.  The wisdom of an ordered church year will have given way to the strange, the titillating, and the exotic.  Our people will come not for the gifts of God in the means of grace but to find out what the pastor is going to do this week that could possibly outdo last week.  The Gospel is not a cause.  Faith should not be treated like a fad.  Soundbites should not define what we believe, what we hear, or what we confess.  The preacher of Ecclesiastes (12:12-14) calls us to simplicity but warns against trivializing the faith and what happens on Sunday morning.  I fear the prophet's words of gloom and doom, while appropriate to the church today, are falling on deaf ears.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.  So says the preacher.  I fear that the worst condemnation of all is the God who will ask us why we have fashioned faith as triviality and made the Lord Himself into merely an idea for the moment.