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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Learning from History


History is a great teacher. What better authority do we have for understanding history—than the one true God who begins the Book of Genesis in the Bible, with a recorded history that starts from the very beginning of created time? Confessional Lutherans, likewise, approach history by tracing their beginnings back to the foundations of the Christian church—when it all began. There in the founding documents, the Lutheran Confessions, our Lutheran forefathers began their testimony with the Ecumenical creeds of the Christian church. One therefore would and should expect true Lutheran churches to follow in the footsteps of the biblically based Lutheran saints that have gone before them—resting on the foundation of God’s inspired Word.
The church that I serve (Agnus Dei Lutheran Church) is a new church, yet it grows out of this well trod history. They have used history rightly—having learned from the mistakes and successes of Lutherans past. The innovation that one sees in the more popular Christian churches is refreshingly and thankfully absent there. There are no fads of worship and practice that come and go. What one sees and experiences instead—is the slow, meticulous, and steady spiritual growth that comes out of the rich soil of God's Living Word. The children especially benefit from a Lutheran philosophy of education that builds upon repetition and Word-based tradition.
As a pastor, I would not expect a church like this to grow very big. And that is okay. Just as God can work through one large church or many little churches, that is His choice. Now, for many people, even those very knowledgeable about churches that may be counterintuitive. That is, however, one way in which God grows His church. He uses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27) and this little church may just be one more example that. He chose for example, the smallest tribe of Benjamin, from which to call His Son Jesus Christ (Micah 5:2). He chose the great enemy of the Christian church Saul of Tarsus to be one of the great missionaries of his church.
I do not know why God chooses big things at some times and small things at others. But I do know based upon a clear reading of the Holy Scriptures and my personal experience of seeing God's will come to pass in this world (Matthew 6:10), that He is the one calling the shots and therefore He will use whatever is at His disposal—and all in His good timing. And if all of a sudden people start discovering this hidden gem of Christendom, that will be good—and God will get credit for that increase too.
We live in great times here in America. There are all kinds of opportunities or people to grow in the faith, fall from the faith, and be introduced to the faith. When, where, how, that all comes to pass is God's call. Our challenge as a group of faithful Lutheran Christians gathered around Word and sacrament is simply to be faithful, tell the truth, explain it well, and let God get credit for whatever increase He chooses to bring about in His creation (1 Cor. 3:7).
-Rev. James R Shaw

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Opportunities for the Future of Online Education


A couple of months ago I was conversing with a Lutheran in another state regarding means for learning and growing in the faith. This person is isolated from a “normal” down the street relationship with a confessional Lutheran church and thus had problems getting good information and content for growing in the faith. I had directed this person to both a Lutheran and a secular web site and asked the person what they thought. Their answer surprised me but now that I think about it a bit, it really shouldn’t be a surprise. For the secular site was one of these high flying heavily promoted sites that had won accolades from various educators and well-known foundations. Yet the secular site fell flat for this person. Why? With all the money, time, and the good reputation did this particular means for educating fall flat? People learn differently, and different subjects may require different methods for teaching.
This is perhaps the biggest challenge of mass-education. While perhaps 75-80% of all students learn well in a lecture type presentation format, what do you do with the other 20-25%? In the past (based upon my own personal experience,) you tell the non-conforming students to suck it up and learn. They need to adapt because that is just the way it is. It will be good for them we think. Many of them just drop out and quit. Such is an example of one of the great failures of the one-size-fits-all education model. I believe we can do better.
When there is a learning gap, we have two choices. One is to force the student to adapt to the existing system. The other is for the teacher and system to adapt to the student. When we as educators force students into a one-size-fits-all model of teaching, we run the risk of putting potential learners through unnecessary stress and strain simply because we as parents or educators fail to adapt our teaching to their modes and means of learning. New technology and learning distribution models are on the horizon that hopefully can help in adapting the right teaching for the better learning modes of individual students.
An example of this is MIT who is in the process of preparing a beta version of their MITx online learning platform which appears to do just that. Part of the goal of this momentous project is to refine and improve the learning effectiveness of online learning tools. As one reads between the lines of their plans, one is lead to anticipate that part of this project is to provide a variety of common modes of learning for the same material. So if you are an auditory learner, there would be plenty of content directed at that learning style. If you are a visual learner, there would be plenty of videos available. For the reader, there would be plenty of reading material both condensed and in great detail to meet those learning needs. If you need drills and practice they provide the adaptable and progressive means for challenging the learner at their own pace. Need a group and collaborative learning environment, that appears to be part of the package.
How can this help upper education and Christian education in general? I was reading an article on the effective use of e-books the other day and was amazed to learn that one of the great failings of the medium was the inability or clunkiness of being able to annotate and highlight text. I thought it was just me as I personally have experienced this myself. I bought a common top-rated ereader with the intention of migrating over from my large book and paper library into an all electronic format that I could read on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The current software just was not yet able to quickly and easily do this. I was disappointed. I had high hopes for the medium and due to growing pains, the software and related hardware was not just there yet. For all you ereader developers out there, solve this problem and a huge educational market will open up and beat a path to your door with cash in hand.
As the Vice President of Administration for a higher education institution, it is my hope that the education market will quickly adapt and make available a variety of tools through ereaders and Learning Management Systems like that of MITx so that the warehouse of knowledge that God has permitted man to accumulate may be readily made available at a reduced cost for future generations to use and exploit for the benefit of our secular neighbor and fellow Christian.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Remembering Rev. David Ritoch


In this season of Thanksgiving we give thanks for family, friends, and our Heavenly Father who sustains all in both good times and bad. Amy , the writer of this piece (posted by Rev. Walt Snyder), I was privileged to meet years ago at a Reformation party held at her parent’s country home in rural Missouri when I served an LCMS congregation in the Concordia North Circuit. I had just completed preaching a joint Reformation service and the pastors had gathered at the Ritoch home. As a homeschooler, Amy showed herself to be very wise for her age back then and very knowledgeable about Luther (who would be an apt topic that evening). May her profession of faith and hope in the face of tragedy give your encouragement this Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Harold Camping Agrees: Harold Camping was Wrong


We are getting closer to the end of the church year as we approach the Christian Church year begins with the season of Advent November 27, 2011. So it is at this time that we as Lutherans need to call out those fellow Christians who have gone overboard in predicting The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOWAWKI). The current poster child for this genre of Christian thought is Harold Camping of Family Radio, who after 3 tries (Sept-1994, May-2011, Oct-2011), struck out on predicting the “end”. Thankfully Harold has done the church a great service and admitted his error. Not all false teachers have the guts to do this and for his admission we have to give him due credit. Most people perpetuate their error and never admit their wrongdoing. We frequently see this in politics. Harold has taken the high road and admitted his error.

Some may think it would be nice to sweep some of these failings of church leaders under the rug. Due to the clearly public nature of Harold’s proclamations, we are forced in light of Martin Luther’s explanation to the 8th commandment as recorded in the Large Catechism, to respond publicly so that other Christians may likewise be publicly warned of his error. We should learn from other people’s mistakes as the saying goes. We should also note these sins so that others can learn from them (Galatians 6:1).

As we have stated before in public teaching at Agnus DeiLutheran Church every week, the “supposed” and anticipated event of May 21, 2011 that Harold Camping had predicted was flat out wrong. When one starts with bad and incorrect assumptions, it is clear that incorrect results will not be far behind.We have been proved right by that statement as the millions of people that were slated to begin dying around the world beginning May 22, 2011 did not occur as Harold had said they would.

So as expected with the historically wrong date setters, Harold moved the goalposts setting a new date: October 21, 2011. We said he would be wrong in September, 1994. We said he would be wrong on May 21, 2011. We publicly predicted that He would be wrong again on October 21, 2011. The calendar has let the public decide who is more believable. Date setters are always wrong. A few of these erring predictors may be right some day—j ust like a stopped clock is always right two times a day.

So that the reader may be well informed, let us take a few sentences to explode some of the myths and misunderstandings about Biblical exegesis—an effort at which Harold (and many similar prognosticators) so blatantly fail. In an article posted at WND, Harold was quoted saying the following:
"The Bible is a very spiritual book. There are a lot of things that are very factual, very factual, of course, but there are a lot of things that are very spiritual. How to know whether to look at it with a spiritual understanding or a factual understanding is hard to know," Camping said. "The fact is when we look at it more spiritually then we find that He did come."
Camping then predicted the world would be brought to an end on Oct. 21, 2011.[1]
Harold has many things mixed up in his understanding of the Bible. Yes, Jesus the Son of God has come into the world in the flesh back around 2000 years ago, was crucified on Good Friday, appeared on Easter morning, and following 40 days, ascended into heaven. He will come again on a day of His choosing—a day Christians frequently refer to as “judgment Day” or “The Last Day”. Since we are all here talking and writing about these things, Jesus has not yet returned as Harold predicted on neither May 21 nor October 21. Harold as with many predictors before him and after him is wrong. This idea of intermediating periods of time whether they be days, months (May 21 through October 21), or years is a fiction—an invention of Harold and others that is not found in clear Scripture. Sure you can find some people who advocate such a thing based upon their interpretation of symbolic and visionary biblical literature. We as Lutherans have over many centuries however, found no clear evidence of this kind of prophecy in the scriptures. Quite simply what we clearly find is that there will be trouble in the world until Jesus comes on a day which will be a surprise to everyone. Following that day, time (if you want to call it that) continues for the saints with their Lord Jesus Christ forever in heaven. It’s a very simple and uncomplicated approach to the end times that has served the church quite well for centuries. We still believe it and invite others to join us.

One other clear error in exegesis is Harold’s view that 1,000 years is like a day and a day is like a 1,000 years to God (as taken from 2Peter 3:8). Harold has taken this to mean a literal 1,000 years. We do not. What this really means to us as Christians and as Lutherans is that God invented time as part of creation. God is outside of time. He is after all eternal. He has no beginning and has no end. So he is not restricted by time as we are since God is uncreated (as one confesses in the Athanasian Creed). Thus the limitations that time and space put on man are not a problem for God. So the ability to know the future and to be in many places at the same time are non-issues with our all powerful God.

One cannot help but feel sorry for those people fooled into believing an end on a specific date will come to pass. Our best help is to teach them correctly and guide them back to a biblical truth. 

While these church leaders may be charismatic and able to lead, they however have shown themselves to not be infallible prophets of God as we have already seen and will continue to see. One does not follow those who lead others into error. In the Old Testament God’s faithful people would stone false prophets like this. We in this day and age deal with false prophets similarly in that we simply leave them (Romans 16:17-18). We separate from them. It is as effective as a stoning (they cannot falsely influence believers any more), yet it still by the grace and mercy of God, gives the false prophet the opportunity to repent, amend their ways, and come back to the truth.

This is what separates Christianity from other modern day religions such as an Islam that in dealing with a similar situation, would quite literally kill the false prophet or errant follower of their religion. Since we believe in a merciful God, we likewise show mercy to the wayward believer so that they can turn from their error and return to the truth as presented freely to all in The Bible—the Holy Scriptures.

As a Lutheran pastor, I have over the years dealt with a number of Christians who have been wronged and hurt by false prophets like Harold. Often times the key problem is that the people who get caught up in the movement focus on the person (like Harold) instead of the teaching or doctrine. In the history of the Christian Church over the centuries, erring leaders may come and go, but the inspired Living Word of God—the teaching and doctrine as presented by God through His prophets and through Jesus Christ always remains unchanged. 

The good pastor or prophet will always demure himself to the one true shepherd Jesus Christ. That is what we do in the Lutheran church where I serve in Fredericksburg, VA. That is what all believers in Jesus Christ should require of their churches and church leaders. That way if the leader is somehow mislead to teach something false and against what Jesus taught in the Bible, the people can ignore that false teaching and remain faithful to the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles that we find recorded in the Bible. That is what the Berean Christians did (Acts 17:10-12). We should continue to follow their fine example.

If you or someone you know has been caught up in this or similar end of times movements that try and scare you into the Kingdom of God through fear, intimidation, or other scare tactics, tell them about us. We are ready and willing to take people who have been hurt, abused, or mislead by previous churches and using the Word alone, help guide them back to a path where they can experience the freedom and liberty enjoyed under the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The chances of Jesus returning tomorrow is 50/50. He either will or He will not. One should always plan for both contingencies for as Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42).


[1] 'Rapture' of sorts takes place at site of doomsday preacher http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=302681

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Celebrating the Reformation

I was reading an article over on Cyberbrethren on some insightful aspects of Reformation day celebrations (What was tragic about the Lutheran Reformation? / How Should We Celebrate Reformation Sunday?). It appears that the whole idea of celebrating Reformation stirs up some angst in some folks. This is understandable since over the years I have seen many a naïve person who cannot grasp the whole idea of winning a war whether it be a spiritual one or a physical one. These are the people who will complain to the pastor when he selects a hymn from the section of the hymnbook labeled church militant. These are the ones who are always caught up in an erroneous idea that all wars are wrong, therefore victory should never be celebrated. Well then, let us quit calling Good Friday good and let us quit celebrating Easter if that be the case. This is all part of that liberal guilt mindset that some really need to get over. But we as conservative Lutherans celebrate in spite of the naysayers who mistakenly think celebration of any victory is a bad idea.

We as Lutherans do celebrate these two occasions because we recognize the victory that has been won by Jesus Christ over sin, death, and power of the devil. Years ago I remember hearing a missionary story of Christians in a far-off land, who took the phrase Good Friday, quite literally—celebrating Christ's death with upbeat music and the like in contrast to the somberness of German Lenten hymnody. This treatment of Good Friday seems quite odd to an American Lutheran who tends to over-emphasize the penitential side of Good Friday (in opposition to the reformed tendency to gloss sin and its consequences). Be that as it may, in an effort to solve one problem, we have perhaps created another. Thus those excessively penitential Lutherans tend to fail to grasp the offsetting and balancing victory that has transpired as a result of Christ’s death. So let us as Lutherans not let worldly culture divert us from celebrating all three events because they truly signify God's victory over sin, death, and error.

The writer at First Things (Joshua Genig), even has a problem with the liturgical color red assigned for the day. After listing some of the principal Lutheran Reformation actors of the day who survived Rome’s fury unscathed, the author lets his fractured view of Reformation history steer his angst. For if one reads beyond the sanitized and Sunday School friendly versions of 16th and 17th century Reformation history, one finds the cold, dark reality of many, many Lutheran martyrs in Martin Luther's day and beyond whose deaths are often ignored or forgotten by those who think only the elite leaders of the church are worthy of their commemoration. To the contrary, LSB hymn number 678 speaks of these "unsung saints" whose story will never be told, but whose sacrifice will never be forgotten by those of us who respect and honor these unknown saints who died for the Faith. So bloody red it should be!

The Reformation needs no apology. False doctrine is false doctrine and it is always wrong. One should never be sad or apologetic for being right with God on the basis of Holy Scripture alone. The people that need to repent are the ones who martyred the unsung Lutheran saints and many others mentioned above. John Paul II has apologized (2000, 2004) for the deaths of those Christian souls who died in the Inquisition. Us Lutherans are still waiting for a pope to lift the anathemas announced at the Council of Trent against those Lutherans who believe with that of God the Holy Spirit and St. Paul: justification by grace through faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9).

All of this eventually comes down to arguments of how to accomplish Christian unity between brothers who hold diametrically opposing doctrines. Our position as Lutherans towards the Roman Catholics is: come join us and believe what the Holy Scriptures say alone. And for good measure, throw in the clarification of God's Word that one finds in the Lutheran Confessions. Roman Catholics on the other hand, make the siren call: come join us and believe what we believe, based on tradition and the counsel of men. These approaches are miles apart and irreconcilable in this life. 

One side will have to blink. Biblical Lutherans need to continue to show their patience and wait for the errorists to blink. In the meantime, I'm not going to let some hand wringer spoil my celebrating the Reformation—a period of time when God and his Reformation people came out victorious over errorists in His church.