How will the Global Pandemic of 2020 Impact the Christian Church?

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time. The article below is one of forecasting and prediction for the purpose of discussion among people of faith and in positions to influence congregational or institutional planning.

The Global Pandemic of 2020

21st Century

Lutheran Pastor in New Jersey preparing a Virtual Worship Service

The Christian Church in the 21st century does not have any prophets to predict the impact of the current global pandemic that impacted every country on the planet. At least 90% of the 7.5 billion people in the world were ordered by their governments to stay in their homes and practice self-distancing and wearing a mask if they left their homes for essential services or medical care. Churches were closed and maintained communication with their members via technology and social media platforms. The pandemic brought the church to where the people are (in their homes) instead of the people coming to the church for worship. This paradigm change is significant.

Here are some things that will likely have a negative impact on the Christian Church in the coming years:

1. The economic impact on churches will be significant.

2. The threat of future viruses, natural disasters, and uncertain events will continue.

3. The worship behavior of the population before the pandemic was limited to about 40% of the population and will likely be less after the pandemic.

4. People experienced significant emotional and spiritual stress during the period of the pandemic.

5. The future will likely result in the expansion of artificial intelligence, social alienation, and divided opinions on culture, religion, and social issues.

Here are some questions for discussion about the Christian Church in the next ten years:

  1. Will smaller group meetings become more effective than larger meetings as a congregation?

2. Should the emphasis on ministry and worship change from cognitive themes expressed through sermons to local actions addressing social and environmental problems?

3. How likely will technology (artificial intelligence, social media, blogs, webinars, video, podcasts, etc.) increase in popularity and effectiveness as the medium to educate people about faith and religious teachings?

4. To what extent will the pandemic change how people view and trust institutions (education, government, international forums, financial, etc.) including the Church?

5. Which voices will have the most effective influence on young people under the age of 30 in the coming years? (peers, music, artificial intelligence, therapists, parents, etc.)

6. To what extent will music become have less influential in worship and prayer, print media, video, and personal stories have greater importance and meaning?

7. How likely with the sermon become less important in worship than alternative means for educating and growing in the faith?

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

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How Historical Events Have Impacted the Christian Church – Part 6 of 7: World War 2

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time.

World War 2

20th Century (1945-2020)

Christian Crusade at Yankee Stadium in New York City with Billy Graham

World War 2 had a direct impact on the United States from December 7, 1941 through September 2, 1945. Approximately 16.5 million American men and women participated in the war effort and the domestic home front was one of sacrifice and fear. The ending of the war did not bring a lasting peace as a cold war emerged and young men were drafted into the military and sent to areas in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. On the home front, returning soldiers married and the United States was overwhelmed with the births of babies (Baby Boomers). As a result, churches organized social events for families and summer educational programs for children.

The impact of World War 2 provided a climate for the expansion of the Christian religion with the building of new churches, an increase in church membership, mega-churches, and an interest in studying the Holy Bible. This movement was supported by the evangelism of Billy Graham and the leadership of churches in combatting segregation and social injustice. Protestant and Roman Catholic churches used folk music to bring people into their churches.

Unfortunately, Protestant and Roman Catholic churches faced challenges that began in the 1960s regarding the role of women in the church, contraception, abortion, secularism, and the literal interpretation of the Holy Bible. As a result of these internal debates among clergy and scholars, many denomination churches split, which resulted in declining membership. The traditional or conservative groups within these churches identified with the basic teachings of Jesus, literal interpretation of the Bible, and conservative values. The liberal groups within these churches endorsed ecumenism, acceptance of homosexuals, women as clergy, and a Pentecostal or emotional structure to worship.

A major change in Roman Catholic churches began in 1947 with the encyclical Mediator Dei issued by Pope Pius XII who stressed the importance of the participation of the people in liturgical worship. The reforms began to be introduced in 1965 with a new order of service and worship in the language of the people. Another change was that the Roman catholic Church offered both elements of bread and wine to members.  Many Protestant churches began to distribute Holy Communion in individual cups instead of the common cup, which was the practice since the first century, as a result of the fear of contagious viruses (HIV) and the changing demographics of congregations.

In the second half of the 20th century women became more involved with education after high school, employment, and delaying decisions about marriage. Divorce rates increased to 50% of American households, communities became more mobile, and immigrant populations increased significantly as a result of the 1964 Immigration and Naturalization act. Although this provided new opportunities for the church to minister to different populations, it was difficult for denominational churches to relate to Spanish, Japanese, and Indian populations while they had some success with Korean and African populations.

Churches applied innovations with contemporary music, national gatherings, social ministry in the community, providing pre-schools and day care, television ministries, and sports programs.

How can the Christian Church today regain the popularity it experienced in the years following World War 2?

How effective are the decisions to modernize the Christian Church with new forms of liturgy, music, and changing with the times?

Are there changes the Christian Church could have taken to address the diversity of populations in America and Europe and the changes within the family.

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series

How Historical Events Have Impacted the Christian Church – Part 4 of 7: The Industrial Revolution

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time.

The Industrial Revolution

19th Century

Sunday School in England

In 1765 James Watt improved on the earlier steam engine of Thomas Newcomen. The steam engine changed the way people worked and lived. Instead of producing goods in the home, factories emerged in new towns along rivers and near water falls. In the first 25 years of the 19th century canals, railroads, and clipper ships moved resources and products. People worked long hours for low wages seven days a week. As a result of the low wages (10 cents an hour), young children had to perform work.  There were no schools and sickness and injuries were common.

The first Sunday School started in England by William King in 1751. By 1785, there were 250,000 English children attending Sunday School. It was the only education available as public education will slowly evolve after 1850. The first Sunday School in the United States was started in Brooklyn in 1838 and Brooklyn Queens Day is still a holiday. The Sunday School movement led the way to public education in the United States and continued to increase in popularity through most of the 20th century. Even with the decline in Sunday Schools after 1975, they continued to be an important part of church ministry into the 21st century. This period also embraced the holidays of Christmas with Christmas trees and pageants of the birth of Jesus and Lent with fasting, confession, prayers, and resurrection themed sermons.

The problems of poverty, homeless, immigration motivated church groups in the United States to organize social ministries. This movement was less popular in Europe. Walter Rauschenbusch was a pastor in New York City and promoted the social gospel. The Salvation Army was organized by William Booth in London to aid the homeless and destitute. The mission is based on the call of the disciples of Jesus Christ to assist people in need.  Today they are an international organization. The Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) also began in London and promoted its evangelical mission in cities around the world. The social gospel movement was prominent with denominational Protestant churches and evangelical churches. During the civil rights movement, the social gospel evolved in promoting social justice in the United States.  The popularity of the Sunday School and social gospel ministries sparked the establishment of the parish church structure we have today in communities and neighborhoods around the world.

The Industrial Revolution also led to globalization in the name of imperialism and colonialism. As capitalist businesses acquired natural resources in other countries and looked for new markets to sell products, the Christian Church saw the need to convert people in other countries to their faith.  Missionary work first began with Ignatius Loyola at the University of Paris with the Society of the Jesus. His followers traveled throughout Europe, Africa and Asia to convert Muslims, counter the teachings of Martin Luther with the Roman Catholic faith, and eventually organizing schools.

The missionary work of the Christian Church began around 1820 in Europe with the end of the Napoleonic wars. In the United States, the missionary work before the Civil War was mostly invested in spreading the gospel with the expansion west to California. After 1850, the work of foreign missions exploded in China, Korea, India, Africa and continued on a global scale with the translation of the Holy Bible into vernacular languages. Missionary work was an opportunity for men and women to start hospitals, orphanages, and schools. Missionary work continued to increase throughout the 20th century and continues to be important to the goals of Protestant, evangelical, and Roman Catholic institutions.  

With 21st century people concerned about social injustice, are there lessons to be learned from the social ministries of the 19th century?

How did the Christian Church meet the needs of the people during this time?

Is missionary work in other countries critical to the vision of the Christian Church today or does the Church need to focus on different needs and issues?

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series

How Historical Events Have Impacted the Christian Church – Part 3 of 7: The Enlightenment

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time.

The Enlightenment (Age of Reason)

18th Century

Attacks Against the Roman Catholic Church in France

Unfortunately, the Enlightenment forced the Christian Church underground. The extremely conservative Puritan Revolution in England introduced a strict moralism on religious beliefs while the extremely radical French Revolution banned the Roman Catholic Church and removed statues and monuments. This was the Age of Reason, not the Age of Faith or Grace. Although many people identify with the liberal democratic principles and values of this era, it was not a productive period for the Christian faith.

While many Americans celebrate the political ideas of Thomas Paine in Common Sense and the Rights of Man, his book, The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology, exposed the corruption of the Christian Church and celebrated the laws of nature (Newton) as superior to the laws of God. The world accepted Deism, removed the miracles from the Bible, and deemphasized worship.

Actually, Thomas Paine’s ideas were conservative, although 21st century Christians would view them as extreme. He argued for religious toleration and the freedom of worship. Paine had the acceptance of the educated in Europe.

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

For centuries, Martin Luther’s explanation of the authority of the divine right of authority in the Fourth Commandment was challenged as democratic ideals in the name of popular sovereignty changed this deterministic view of God’s role in history.

In America, the voices of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and the missionary work of John and Charles Wesley opposed the worldly views of the Age of Reason and called people to the theological ideas of John Calvin and Martin Luther. This was not an awakening of God’s love but one of fear of an angry God calling sinners to repentance. Predestination was a popular belief as was the truth of God’s Word in the Holy Bible. The Great Awakening occurred in the middle of 18th century colonial America. It was theologically powerful, supported by the new universities of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton and popular with the people.

How should the Christian Church have responded to the philosophy of the Enlightenment?

How did the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin provide different answers to the spiritual needs of people?

Are there lessons to be learned from the Great Awakening that might apply to the 21st century?

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series

How Historical Events Have Impacted the Christian Church – Part 2 of 7: The Renaissance

The Renaissance

The Response of the Christian Church to Significant Changes in World History

Introduction: One of the themes in world history is continuity and change over time. The Christian Church emerged during the first century during a time when the Roman Empire was flourishing during the Pax Romano. The first centuries of the early church were faced with persecution, death, and a deliberate effort by the government to prohibit it.  In 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan ending the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., the Roman government recognized Christianity as an official religion. Historical events lead to change and the Christian Church is now in the third millennium of historical time. However, the Christian Church is not static or passive; instead its role is one of change in response to world events.

In the first part of the 21st century, the world is experiencing an historic event that will likely change the lives of humans around the world in a significant way. This event is the arrival of a powerful and pervasive virus, COVID-19, which is already changing government budgets, the way people respond to information, educational institutions, and our consumer economy. The global pandemic will also change the institution of the Christian Church (and other religious institutions) and may also affect the way people respond to the message of the Christian Church. There is no “normal” for the coming years and likely the “new normal” will evolve over a decade or longer. After the Attack on America on September 11, 2001, the way people traveled changed dramatically.

This point of view essay may be used as a discussion with small groups interested in the evolution of the institution of the church over time.

The Renaissance

16th Century

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

The Renaissance took place over many years, even centuries, in Europe.  However, if we were to document a date for when the Christian Church began to change, it would likely be December 25, 800 with the coronation of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or we could use the year the Crusades ended with relinquishing Acre (in Syria) to the Muslims in 1291 A.D.  The date is less important than how the Renaissance changed the Church.

During this time the Christian Church (the Roman Catholic Church) was the most powerful institution in Europe.  It was a time of trade with China and the Middle East, people were moving to towns, cathedrals were constructed in these new towns, universities developed, and merchants emerged as a new class. It was also a time of a short life expectancy (perhaps 35) because of unsanitary conditions, plagues, pollution, and crowded living conditions. As a result, people looked to the messages of the Church in the promise of baptism, faithful and obedient worship, and Christian burial.

The teachings of church councils and Pope were perceived as infallible. Anyone who challenged the teachings of the church was likely declared a heretic and put to death. Kings received their power from the blessings of popes and in return they used the threats of excommunication and interdicts (excommunication of a large territory) to check the power and decisions of kings. As a result of the political and religious power of the Roman Catholic Church, corruption was widespread. Because the corruption (bribery, immorality, nepotism) involving the clergy was well-known, it negatively impacted the laity or the masses. Although monasteries continued in some places, many were closed and properties sold in northern Europe and England. The Reformed or Protestant churches allowed the clergy to marry.

The Christian Church supported the ideology of scholasticism. The Scholastics combined the truth of the Holy Bible with the reasoning of church councils and theologians. The source of truth came from reason, experience, and authority of Church Councils and the Pope. When competing ideas or arguments emerged, universities provided the forum for debates and disputations as did church councils. This pattern of reason would continue in the 16th century until it was challenged by the Christian humanism of Martin Luther.

The Church also changed as a result of the Renaissance as three-dimensional images were created to educate the illiterate about the teachings of the Bible, the lives of saints, and the printed word. The Renaissance motivated the “Golden Age” of religious art in painting and sculpture. While the 15th century was dominated by Roman Catholic artists, the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century became the catalyst for the humanistic art of Durer, Rembrandt, Bruegel, Cranach, Gerung, and Holbein.  The Protestant Reformation and the translation of the New Testament into the languages of the people in Europe contributed to new styles of music and literature. The music of Bach, Mendelssohn, Gerhardt, Schutz inspired the faith of people that sustained Christian worship for centuries.

The Renaissance changed worship from passive worship to active worship. As people left Europe because of persecution and religious wars for the opportunity to worship freely in America, the Christian Church faced new challenges with Native Americans, the absence of trained clergy, and theocratic governments in some of the colonies.

Why did Scholasticism become discredited as a source of truth?

How did music, literature, and the translation of the Bible significantly change the way people worshipped?

Did the Christian Church capitalize or miss opportunities in the settlement of North and South America?

Contact: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Link to Home Page for this Series

Bible verses about Hope

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Hope-1

Acts 20:35  In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Hope-3

John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

Hope-2

John 15:7  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Hope-7

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” 

Hope-4

Strategies for Life’s Most Challenging Struggles!

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022
The Bible in 3-D 

Our Victory Lap!
Strategies for Life’s Most Challenging Struggles

Romans 8:31-39:  What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

romans8-37
Martin Luther on Romans 8:

St. Paul comforts fighters of sinful desires. He tells us that Christ has given us his Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit makes us spiritual and restrains the flesh. The Holy Spirit assures us that we are God’s children no matter how furiously sin may rage within us, so long as we follow the Spirit and struggle against sin in order to kill it. Because nothing is so effective in deadening the flesh as the cross and suffering, Paul comforts us in our suffering. He says that the Spirit, love and all creatures will stand by us; the Spirit in us groans and all creatures long with us that we be freed from the flesh and from sin.
Luther made four points for us to think about.

First, “in this way [God] wants to make us conformed to the image of his dear Son, Christ, so that we may become like him here in suffering and there in that life to come in honor and glory.” So, we suffer in this life, so that we would be like our Lord Jesus who suffered in this life. Being like Him here in this life, we will be like Him in the life to come, with honor and glory.
Second, “even though God does not want to assault and torment us, the devil does, and he cannot abide the Word.” What does Luther mean ? He means that the devil wants us to suffer because of God’s Word, but God uses this suffering so that we may learn that the Word is greater than the devil: “Then our Lord God looks on for a while and puts us in a tight place, so that we may learn from our own experience that the small, weak, miserable Word is stronger than the devil and the gates of hell.”

Third, Luther says, “it is also highly necessary that we suffer not only that God may prove his honor, power, and strength against the devil, but also in order that when we are not in trouble and suffering this excellent treasure which we have may not merely make us sleepy and secure.” God gives suffering so that we wouldn’t get sleepy in this life, but always look to the treasure we have in Jesus and His eternal promises which will be ours forever—as Paul says, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Lastly, Luther says, “Christian suffering is nobler and precious above all other human suffering because, since Christ himself suffered, he also hallowed the suffering of all his Christians.” When Christians suffer, it is a suffering which Christ Himself has made holy for them.

In fact, Luther says, “when people without faith run into affliction and suffering, they have nothing to comfort them, for they do not have the mighty promises and the confidence in God which Christians have. Therefore, they cannot comfort themselves with the assurance that God will help them to bear the affliction, much less can they count on it that he will turn their affliction and suffering to good.”

There is a special component to sufferings for the Christian. Not only has Christ made their suffering holy, but there is also special hope. There is the hope that points to this work of God, this work which conforms us to the image of Jesus. This work points to God’s own words and promises to overcome the world and the evil one. This work draws us to eternal hope. There is hope in who this God is as the Almighty One who loves us and cares for us. He is the God who proved His love and sent His Son to suffer and die for us. If He has done this, will He not certainly in His love do what is best for us in all things? Yes, yes, it shall be so.

On a personal note, my wife and I selected this Bible verse for our wedding as a reminder that we would always remain connected to God and His love in the face of unknown challenges we might face together in this life.

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org  

Our Most Important Decision!

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

Our Most Important Decision

In life we only have this choice: Accept God’s Grace or Reject God’s Grace!

Ephesians 2: 4-10:  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.Saved by Grace

Martin Luther on grace

There are two kinds of Christian righteousness, just as man’s sin is of two kinds. The first is alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith, as it is written in I Corinthians. 1:30: “whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” In John 11:25-26, Christ himself states: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me…..shall never die.” Later he adds in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

This righteousness, then, is given to men in baptism and whenever they are truly repentant. Therefore, a man can with confidence boast in Christ and say: “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.” Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is his bride’s and she all that is his—for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh [Gen. 2:24]—so Christ and the church are one spirit [Ephesians 5:29-32]. Thus, the blessed God and Father of mercies has, according to Peter, granted to us very great and precious gifts in Christ [II Peter 1:4]. Paul writes in II Corinthians 1:3; “Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

This inexpressible grace and blessing was long ago promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:3; “And in thy seed (that is in Christ) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” “To us,” it says, because he is entirely ours with all his benefits if we believe in him, as we read in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” Therefore, everything which Christ has is ours, graciously bestowed on us unworthy men out of God’s sheer mercy, although we have rather deserved wrath and condemnation, and hell also. Even Christ himself, therefore, who says he came to do the most sacred will of his Father [John 6:38], became obedient to him; and whatever he did, he did it for us and desired it to be ours, saying, “I am among you as one who serves” [Luke 22:27]. He also states, “This is my body, which is given for you” [Luke 22:19]. Isaiah 43:24 says, “You have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities.”

Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours. Therefore, the Apostle calls it “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17; For in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed…; as it is written, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” Finally, in the same epistle, chapter 3:28, such a faith is called “the righteousness of God”: “We hold that a man is justified by faith.” This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ. On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he. It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him. This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam. It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more.

It is in this sense that we are to understand the prayer in Psalm 30: “in thee, O Lord, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame; in thy righteousness deliver me!” It does not say “in my” but “in thy righteousness,” that is, in the righteousness of Christ my God which becomes ours through faith and by the grace and mercy of god. In many passages of the Psalter, faith is called “the work of the Lord,” “confession,” “power of God,” “mercy,” “truth,” “righteousness.” All these are names for faith in Christ, rather, for the righteousness which is in Christ. The Apostle therefore dares to say in Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” He further states in Ephesians 3:14-17: “I bow my knee before the Father . . . that . . . he may grant . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

Therefore, this alien righteousness, instilled in us without our works by grace alone—while the Father, to be sure, inwardly draws us to Christ—is set opposite original sin, likewise alien, which we acquire without our works by birth alone. Christ daily drives out the old Adam more and more in accordance with the extent to which faith and knowledge of Christ grow. For alien righteousness is not instilled all at once, but it begins, makes progress, and is finally perfected at the end through death.

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org 

Why are Brick and Mortar Churches Essential in a Digital World?

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People          1522 – 2022

The First Churches

Why are brick and mortar churches essential in a digital world?

Acts 2:41-47: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

From Martin Luther’s sermon on Acts 2: “It is not enough simply that Christ be preached; the Word must be believed. Therefore, God sends the Holy Spirit to impress the preaching upon the heart–to make it in here and live therein. Unquestionably, Christ accomplished all–took away our sins and overcame every obstacle, enabling us to become, through him, lord over all things. But the treasure lies in a heap; it is not everywhere distributed and applied. Before we can enjoy it, the Holy Spirit comes and communicates it to the heart, enabling us to believe and say, “I too, am one who shall have the blessing.” To everyone who hears is grace offered through the Gospel; to grace is he called, as Christ says (Matthew 11:28), “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden.”

Now, with the belief that God has come to our rescue and given us this priceless blessing, inevitably the human heart must be filled with joy and with gratitude to God, and must exultingly cry: “Dear Father, since it is thy will to manifest toward me inexpressible love and fidelity, I will love thee sincerely, and willingly do what is pleasing to thee.”

The believing heart never sees God with jealous eye. It does not fear being cast into hell as it did before the Holy Spirit came, when it was conscious of no love, no goodness, no faithfulness, on God’s part, but only wrath and displeasure. But once let the Holy Spirit impress the heart with the fact of God’s good will and graciousness towards it, and the resulting joy and confidence will impel it to do and suffer for God’s sake whatever necessity demands.

Let us, then, learn to recognize the Holy Spirit–to know that his mission is to present to us the priceless Christ and all his blessings; to reveal them to us through the Gospel and apply them to the heart, making them ours. When our hearts are sensible of this work of the Spirit, naturally we are compelled to say: “If our works avail naught, and the Holy Spirit alone must accomplish our salvation, then why burden ourselves with works and laws?”

By the doctrine of the Spirit, all human works and laws are excluded, even the laws of Moses. The Holy Spirit’s instruction is superior to that of all books. The Spirit-taught individual understands the Scriptures better than does he who is occupied solely with the Law.

Hence, our only use for books is to strengthen our faith and to show others written testimony to the Spirit’s teaching. For we may not keep our faith to ourselves, but must let it shine out; and to establish it the Scriptures are necessary. Be careful, therefore, not to regard the Holy Spirit as a Law-maker, but as proclaiming to your heart the Gospel of Christ and setting you so free from the literal law that not a letter of it remains, except as a medium for preaching the Gospel.”

community

These Bible verses and excerpt from Martin Luther emphasize the importance and power of the church as a community of people who come together to read, pray, listen, serve, and share. We come to know Jesus through the struggles in our heart which leads us to believe in a very personal way. After the Resurrection of Jesus from the grave, the disciples lived in fear because the Jesus they had come to know and trust was no longer with them. But just as Jesus promised, He came to them on Pentecost in a powerful and visible way and they believed. The dimension of their belief after witnessing Christ’s Resurrection, the baptism of thousands of people from many different countries and cultures, and the breaking of bread is what changed the world! This is documented historical evidence.

They followed the teachings of the apostles, which is the Gospel that Jesus loves each of us and gave His life that we might be saved, be free from sin and death, and experience His grace through an intimate relationship with Him. This is the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of a loving church. Many churches involve passive listening but the church described above involves active engagement!

There are many good and uplifting philosophies that inspire us. They teach us to do good, show kindness, accept others, and help people in need. There are many who call themselves Christian and speak enthusiastically about God, Jesus, and the Spirit. Acts 2:44 tells us that the Christians in Jerusalem had one thing in common – they knew Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior!

Faith is a long-distance journey, it is a calling and gift, it involves constant work because we stumble with the challenges of life in a sinful world.

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Leipzig Debate – 500 Year Anniversary One of the world’s most important debates!

June 27 – July 16, 1519

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The Leipzig Debate took place 500 years ago in June and July 1519. It was a public debate between three Wittenberg University professors – Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon and Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt on the affirmative against Johann Eck, who supported the status quo, the pope and Roman Catholic theology. The debate opened on June 27 in Pleissenburg Castle in the presence of George the Bearded, the Duke of Saxony who was critical of Martin Luther. Luther entered the debate on July 4, 1519.

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Although the debate judges from the University of Paris took two years to decide and the judges from the University of Erfurt never reached a decision, the debate was won by Johann Eck. It marks the defining moment for understanding the authority of the Holy Bible, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, and God’s grace in our lives. Related arguments include the importance of the Nicene Creed, if faith is a matter of our free will or if we are called to faith by God through the Holy Spirit, and the authority of the church or a pope. Although Eck may have won the debate, Luther’s ideas have prevailed for the past 500 years! Years later, Eck admitted that he could have accepted many of Luther’s arguments, but not on the authority of the pope and the church.

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How will we remember this historic event which involves more than theology?

The Leipzig Debate marks one of the top ten most important events in World History and in the Christian Church. It is significant because it was clear to the people of Europe that the Holy Bible was the truth and divine Word of God. The Bible had authority over the Church, church councils, and the pope. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. While the Reformation resulted in the Ninety-five Theses; the public debate at Leipzig presented the truth and evidence behind these arguments.

Whether you consider your Christian faith as a private and personal matter between God and you or as faith that is evangelical and needs to be shared with others, the Leipzig Debate clearly stated that the good news of God’s grace is for all people and the love of Jesus Christ is the enduring legacy that has changed the world. The Leipzig Debate was a victory for the eternal values of redemption, forgiveness and love!

Map-Leipzig

Top Ten Events in World History (My Suggestions – you can create your own order)

Industrial Revolution

Renaissance

Life, death, resurrection of Jesus Christ

Life of Mohammad

Reformation

9/11 Attack on America

World War 1 and II

Medical Science

French Revolution

Discovery of America

Top Ten Events in Christian Church (My suggestions – you can create your own order)

Conversion of Constantine/Edict of Milan

Nicene Creed

Conversion of St. Augustine

Jerome’s translation of the Bible to Latin

Erasmus’ publication of the New Testament to Greek

Gutenberg’s Printing Press

Reformation and Leipzig Debate

Dead Sea Scrolls

Split between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches

Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

In the year 1519

LETTER FROM LUTHER TO SPALATIN CONCERNING THE LEIPZIG DEBATE

Wittenberg, July 20, 1519

To the Illustrious Georg Spalatin, Court Chaplain and Librarian of His Highness the Elector of Saxony, His Friend in Christ.

Greetings! That our highness the prince and you all have returned safely pleases me, my dear Spalatin. May Christ claim the soul of Pfeffinger, Amen. I should have written you long ago about our famous debate, but I did not know where or about what. Certain people of Leipzig, neither sincere nor upright, are celebrating victory with Eck. It is from this nonsense that rumor has spread, but the truth of the matter will not bring everything to light.

Almost at the very moment of our arrival, even before we had gotten out of our wagon, the Inhibition of the bishop of Merseburg was affixed to the doors of the churches to the effect that the debate should not be held, together with that newly published explanation concerning this matter of indulgences. This Inhibition was disregarded and the person who had posted it was thrown into jail by the city council because he had acted without its knowledge.

Since our enemies got nowhere with this trick, they tried another. Having called Andreas Karlstadt to meet alone with them, they tried hard to get him to agree to hold the debate orally, according to Eck’s wishes, without stenographers taking down the proceedings in writing. Eck hoped that he might carry off the victory by his loud shouting and impressive delivery, means which he had long used to his advantage. Karlstadt, however, opposed this and insisted that they proceed according to a previous agreement, that is, that the statements of the disputants be written down by stenographers. Finally, to attain this, he was compelled to agree that the account of the debate made by the stenographers should not be published prior to a hearing by a court of judged.

At this point a new dispute arose over the choice of the judges. At length they compelled him also to consent to postpone coming to an agreement concerning the judges until after the debate had be concluded. Otherwise they did not wish to permit the debate. Thus they attacked us with the syllogistic horns of a dilemma, so that we should be confounded by both alternatives, whether we gave up the debate or placed the outcome into the hands of unfair judges. So you see how barbarous was their cunning, by means of which they robbed us of the freedom which had been agreed upon. For it is certain that the universities and the people will never make a pronouncement, or they would make one against us, and this is what they want.

The next day they called me to appear before them and proposed the same thing. Suspecting, however, the pope as the instigator of this procedure, I refused to accept these conditions, having been persuaded to do so by my colleagues. Then they proposed other universities as judges, without the pope. I requested that the freedom upon which we had agreed be respected. When they were unwilling to do this, I became reluctant and repudiated the debate. Then the rumor spread that I did not want to risk participating in the debate and, what is particularly unfair, that I wished to have no judges. All these accusations were hatefully and malignantly hurled at me and were interpreted in such a way that now they were turning even our best friends against us; and already permanent disgrace to our university was in prospect. After this, upon the advice of friends, I went to them and indignantly accepted their conditions. I did this in such a way and with the exclusion of the Roman Curia so that my power of appeal would be safeguarded and my case would be not prejudged.

Eck and Karlstadt at first debated for seven days over the freedom of the will. With God’s help Karlstadt advanced his arguments and explanations excellently and in great abundance from books which he had brought with him. Then when Karlstadt had also been given the opportunity of rebuttal, Eck refused to debate unless the books were left at home. Andreas [Karlstadt] had used the books to demonstrate to Eck’s face that he had correctly quoted the words of Scripture and the church fathers that he had not done violence to them as Eck was now shown to have done. This marked the beginning of another uproar until at length it was decided to Eck’s advantage that the books should be left at home. But who was not aware of the fact that if the debate were concerned with the cause of truth, it would be advisable to have all possible books at hand? Never did hatred and ambition show themselves more impudently than here.

Finally this deceitful man conceded everything that Karlstadt had asserted, although he had vehemently attacked it, and agreed with him in everything, boasting that he had led Karlstadt to his own way of thinking. He accordingly rejected Scotus and the Scotuistis and Capreolus and the Thomists, as saying that all other scholastic had thought and taught the same as he. So Scotus and Capreolus toppled to the ground, together with their respective schools, the two celebrated divisions of scholasticism.

The next week Eck debated with me, at first very acrimoniously, concerning the primacy of the pope. His proof rested on the words “You are Peter…” [Matt. 16:18] and “Feed my sheep…follow me” [John 21:17, 22], and “strengthen your brethren” [Luke 22:32], adding to these passages many quotations from the church fathers. What I answered you will soon see. Then, coming to the last point, he rested his case entirely on the Council of Constance which had condemned Huss’s article alleging that papal authority derived from the emperor instead of from God. Then Eck stamped about with much ado as though he were in an arena, holding up the Bohemians before me and publically accusing me of the heresy and support of the Bohemian heretics, for he is a sophist, no less impudent than rash. These accusations tickled the Leipzig audience more than the debate itself.

In rebuttal I brought up the Greek Christians during the past thousand years, and also the ancient church fathers, who had not been under the authority of the Roman pontiff, although I did not deny the primacy of honor due the pope. Finally we also debated the authority of a council. I publically acknowledged that some articles had been wrongly condemned [by the Council of Constance], articles which had been taught in plain and clear words by Paul, Augustine, and even Christ himself. At this point the adder swelled up, exaggerated my crime, and nearly went insane in his adulation of the Leipzig audience. Then I proved by words of the council itself that not all the articles which it condemned were actually heretical and erroneous. So Eck’s proofs had accomplished nothing. There the matter rested.

The third week Eck and I debated penance, purgatory, indulgences, and the power of a priest to grant absolution, for Eck did not like to debate with Karlstadt and asked me to debate alone with him. The debate over indulgences fell completely flat, for Eck agreed with me in nearly all respects and his former defense of indulgences came to appear like mockery and derision, whereas I had hoped that this would be the main topic of the debate. He finally acknowledged his position in public sermons so that even the common people could see that he was not concerned with indulgences. He also is supposed to have said that if I had not questioned the power of the pope, he would readily have agreed with me in all matters. Then he said to Karlstadt, “If I could agree with Martin in as many points as I do with you, I could be his friend.” He is such a fickle and deceitful person that he is ready to do anything. Whereas he conceded to Karlstadt that all the scholastics agreed in their teaching, in debating with me he rejected Gregory of Rimini as one who alone supported my opinion against all other scholastics. Thus he does not seem to consider it wrong to affirm and deny the same thing at different times. The people of Leipzig do not see this, so great is their stupidity. Much more fantastic was the following: He conceded one thing in the disputation hall but taught the people the opposite in church. When confronted by Karlstadt with the reason for his changeableness, the man answered without blinking an eye that it was not necessary to teach the people that which was debatable.

When I had concluded my part of the disputation, Eck debated once more with Karlstadt on new topics during the last three days, again making concessions in all points, agreeing that it is sin to do that which is in one, that free will without grace can do nothing but sin, that there is sin in every good work, and that it is grace itself which enables man to do what is in him in preparing for the reception of grace. All these things the scholastics deny. Therefore virtually nothing was treated in the manner which it deserved except my thirteenth thesis. Meanwhile Eck is pleased with himself, celebrates his victory, and rules the roost; but he will do so only until we have published our side of the debate. Because the debate turned out badly, I shall republish my Explanations Concerning the Value of Indulgences.

The citizens of Leipzig neither greeted nor called on us but treated us as though we were their bitterest enemies. Eck, however, they followed around town, clung to, banqueted, entertained, and finally presented with a robe and added a chamois-hair grown. They also rode horseback with him. In short, they did whatever they could to insult us. Furthermore they persuaded Caesar Pflug [the official host] and the prince [Duke George] that this pleased all concerned. One thing they did for us; they honored us, according to custom, with a drink of wine, which it would not have been safe for them to overlook. Those who were well disposed towards us, on the other hand, came to us in secret. Yet Dr. Auerbach, a very fair and just man, and Pistorious the younger, professor in ordinary, invited us. Even Duke George invited the three of us together on one occasion.

The most illustrious prince also called me to visit him alone and talked with me at length about my writings, especially my exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. He stated that the Bohemians were greatly encouraged by me and also that with my Lord’s Prayer I had caused confusion among many conscientious people who complained that they would not be able to pray one Lord’s Prayer in four days if they were compelled to listen to me, and much of a similar nature. But I was not so dull that I could not distinguish between the pipe and the piper. I was grieved that such a wise and pious prince as open to the influence of others and followed their opinions, especially when I saw and experienced how like a prince he spoke when he spoke his own thoughts.

The most recent exhibition of hatred was this: When on the day of Peter and Paul [June 29] I was summoned by our lord rector, the duke of Pomerania, to preach a sermon before his grace in the chapel of the castle, the report of this quickly filled the city, and men and women gathered in such numbers that I was compelled to preach in the debating hall, where all our professors and hostile observers had been stationed by invitation. The Gospel for this day [Matt. 16:13-19] clearly embraces both subjects of the debate. I got little thanks from the people of Leipzig.

Then Eck, stirred up against me, preached four sermons in different churches, publicly twisting and cutting into pieces what I had said. The would-be theologians had urged him to do this. No further opportunity was given me to preach, however, no matter how many people requested it. I could be accused and incriminated but not cleared. This is the way my enemies also acted in the debate, so that Eck, even though he represented the negative, always had the last word, which I did not have an opportunity to refute.

Finally, when Caesar Pflug heard that I had preached (he had not been present), he said, “I wish that Dr. Martin had saved his sermon for Wittenberg.” In short, I have experienced hatred before, but never more shameless or more impudent.

So here you have the whole tragedy. Dr. Hohannes Plawnitzer will tell you the rest, for he himself was also present and helped not a little in preventing the debate from being a complete fiasco. Since Eck and the people of Leipzig sought their own glory and not the truth at the debate, it is no wonder that it began badly and ended worse. Whereas we had hoped for harmony between the people of Wittenberg and Leipzig, they acted so hatefully that I fear that it will seem that discord and dislike were actually born here. This is the fruit of human glory. I, who really restrain my impetuosity, am still not able to dispel all dislike of them, for I am flesh and their hatred was very shameless and their injustice was very malicious in a matter so sacred and divine.

Farewell and commend me to the most illustrious prince

Your Martin Luther

Wednesday, July 20, 1519.

I met the honorable Vicar Staupitz in Grimma