Having served as a pastor for many years, I’ve heard my fair share of complaints about church and why some members choose not to attend: uncomfortable seating, lack of air conditioning, shortage of children’s programs, you name it. Among all of the grumbles I’ve been privy to, however, only one ever actually made sense to me: hypocrisy. No, not the sort of insincerity most complain about; for example, when a pastor or parishioners falls short of moral perfection. I know that human beings are sinners, and as such, we will fulfill our “job description” without fail. As Solomon so aptly reminds us, even a righteous man falls seven times a day (Proverbs 24:16). Instead, I mean pretending to be something we’re not in the worst possible way. Let me explain.
Every heir of Luther’s Reformation worth his or her salt will stand with the biblical witness that we are saved by grace through faith on account of Christ (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16; etc.). When it comes to the biblical witness concerning salvation, we are left with no other way: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). This is the message given to the church to teach, preach, and confess: we are redeemed, saved, and forgiven because of Christ and not because of anything we do. Salvation is an accomplished reality and Christ—not me—is the Savior.
I’d dare say that in many churches, this message still echoes loud and clear from the pulpit. Yet, surprisingly, many laypeople in the congregation simply don’t seem to “get it.” While it may be popular for pastors to blame the dull ears of their hearers, in reality, another explanation might well suffice: hypocrisy.
The question is, does the pastor take the message of a completed reconciliation, a finished salvation, a gracious God, and a perfect Savior with him from the pulpit? Is that the ethos he creates in bible study, confirmation, potlucks, board meetings, hospitals, and all of his other interactions with parishioners? Or, instead, does the sermon delivered on Sundays contradict the ethos he creates throughout the rest of the week? Are parishioners hearing about Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins consistently? Or, instead, do other messages predominate outside of the pulpit: Christian growth, fiscal responsibility, social activism, etc.? Does the ethos created by the pastor, in which the church basks, smack of the gospel or of something else? Perhaps, if the parishioners just don’t “get” salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone it may be because the pastor sends a hypocritical message: one from the pulpit and another throughout the rest of the week.
To be sure, the pastor noted above wouldn’t be the first. As the Apostle Paul reminds us: “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews’” (Galatians 2:11-14)? The gospel Peter preached was clear but in withdrawing from table fellowship with the gentiles his actions, and the ethos he created for those present in Antioch, contradicted what he preached. He stood guilty of hypocrisy in that respect.
As has been said, actions often speak louder than words. If you consider hypocrisy and the ethos of grace, what do you have in your congregation? To be sure, hearing Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins from the pulpit is indispensable for a church but what characterizes the church outside of the Sunday sermon? Do we give our communities the impression that we’re actually for something rather than just against certain things? Are we known as being congregations which exult in the grace of God won for us by Christ alone and who sincerely desire others to share in this forgiveness? Or are we instead marked out as those who simply want to discourage cultural naughtiness? It doesn’t take a Barna poll to know how our culture generally perceives us: as people more preoccupied with behavior than with a Savior.
Don’t get me wrong, the church should and must rebuke sin! However, she does so not as an end in itself but with an eye toward proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through the Gospel. This message must predominate not only from the pulpit but in the ethos created for her many members. Jesus life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins must be the ethos in which we live, move, and have our being. May we become known—first and foremost—as those who rejoice in proclaiming Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of all sins…even those we’re most known for condemning.
Prof. Steve Parks is Assistant Professor of Theology at Concordia University, Irvine. He is working on his Ph.D. at the University of Bristol in Bristol, England. His research focuses upon addressing questions relating to the authority, sufficiency, clarity, and efficacy of Scripture in the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy.
In an essay last year over at The Public Discourse, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput quite rightly noted that the legacy of the sixteenth-century Catholic statesman Sir Thomas More matters greatly—and matters, as he emphasized, “right now.” He was also quite right in pinpointing the reason for More’s legacy continuing to matter especially in contemporary America, noting that the church here has “fought loudly and hard for religious liberty over the past year.” And it has had to do so in no small part because the powers that be seem intent on “diminishing Christianity and its influence.” Further, one can hardly disagree with the Archbishop’s observation that one popular and effective manner of doing so is by “rewriting the narrative on many of Christianity’s achievements and heroes.” In short, then, I wholeheartedly share Archbishop Chaptut’s concerns.
My shared unease regarding attempts to “rewrite the narrative,” however, compel me to raise questions and concerns about Chaput’s own narrative. The revisionism he laments especially is that on display in Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning novel Wolf Hall, which “trashed” More as “proud, intolerant, and devious.” He complains that Mantel’s work, leaning partly on the scholarship of Geoffrey Elton, presents “a revisionist Thomas More wrapped in popular melodrama.”
From the outset I should be clear that I have no interest in defending Mantel’s work of fiction, either on its literary or historical merits. It does strike me as problematic, though, to upbraid Mantel’s revisionism by measuring it against what Chaput calls “Robert Bolt’s brilliant 1960 play A Man for All Seasons.” Brilliant it may have been as a piece of literature (as, one might even say, “popular melodrama”); but historically speaking, it suffers no less than Wolf Hall for “rewriting the narrative.” As Notre Dame historian Father Marvin O’Connell—among many others—accurately observes, Bolt’s “‘man for all seasons’ is radically different from the person so painfully, so incompletely reconstructed from the evidence that has come down to us.” More concisely, British historian John Guy describes it pointedly as “sumptuous drama but appalling history.”
The importance of this simply must be acknowledged because, at least until Mantel’s novel rolled off the press, popular perceptions of More derived almost entirely from the portrait provided by Bolt’s play (and subsequent 1966 film), supplemented occasionally by encounters with the most widely read of More’s own works, Utopia. Both, however, pose real problems for understanding the historical Thomas More. His own Utopia is rather famously problematic in this respect, describing as it does an idyllic land of complete religious tolerance, married priests, female priests, and provisions for relatively easy divorce and euthanasia. Part of the work’s enduring popularity, of course, is the sheer liberality and modernity of such ideas—which the uncritical reader may not recognize as being ideas, to put it mildly, not at all embraced by More himself.
If More’s own views are ambiguous or obscured in his Utopia, More as liberal modern is hardly ambiguous at all in Bolt’s play. Chaput is perhaps correct to suspect that Mantel’s portrayal of More is unhelpfully influenced by her being “a lapsed Catholic whose disgust for the Church is a matter of public record.” If such suspicion is warranted, however, one is no less warranted in suspecting that Bolt—a professed agnostic with some fondness for existentialism—has “rewritten the narrative” to reflect his own personal quirks and biases. It is, for example, exceedingly easy to imagine a modern existentialist agnostic (and exceedingly difficult to imagine the historical Thomas More) uttering the following words, put in More’s mouth by Bolt: “what matters to me is not whether it’s true or not but that I believe it to be true, or rather, not that I believe it, but that I believe it.”
Korey D. Maas (DPhil, Oxford) is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan.
One of the strongest elements in the evangelicalism of my youth has a place in Lutheranism that might be surprising to many. This is what our confessions call “The Mutual Conversation and Consolation of the Brethren” (Smalcald Articles, III, 4). The Smalcald Articles list it among the means of grace. I think this is something that needs to be promoted more in our circles. It is part of our heritage. In some Lutheran circles it is still very alive. But I think we need to be aware of it. This is the first in a series of posts on this topic, which will discuss examples of the practice from my own life (both before and after becoming Lutheran) and from history.
One of my favorite experiences of this happened in my Calvary Chapel days. I had been reading my way into Calvinism, and was even considering theonomy. I had been blazing my way through R.J. Rushdooney’s Institutes of Biblical Law. While the book did not espouse a Sabbatarian position, the whole status of the Law of Moses was something I was wrestling with. In a new job, should I say I can’t work Sunday? What if they say I have to? And I knew whichever direction I went could involve uncomfortable changes. I was anxious. I went to a midweek meeting and started talking to one of the brighter women. She got wind of my Sabbath questions and reached for her Bible. She opened to Galatians chapter three and started to read it to me like I was the foolish Galatian:
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-5 NASB)
She saw an obvious parallel between Sabbath-keeping and circumcision. The warning from chapter five about being “severed from Christ” (Galatians 5:4) sounded especially scary. Severed? Me? That was not what I wanted, especially as the result of what would be great sacrifice on my part. Doing a sort of Pascal’s wager in my head, I would rather be a law-breaker with other Christians (and hope to be forgiven by grace) than be severed from Christ.
I think this exchange happened at just the right time for me. I could have gone on weighing and re-weighing evidence for some time, all the while falling into deeper despair. Instead, one of the laity knew her Bible and how to apply it. This happened during a period of heavy reading, and it would have been easy for me to have allowed a kind of scholarly conscience to become a harsh taskmaster that wouldn’t have allowed any rest until I had an elusive final certainty. But it is the nature of academic questions to spawn more questions. As helpful as much of the reading turned out to be, the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren filled a greater need.
I hope this kind of conversation is common in Lutheran circles. Not perhaps with the Sabbatarian subject matter, unless one of the parties is coming from outside Lutheran circles. But this use of Scripture for correction and comfort. This is a practice we put a name to. I’m happy to know that it has a life outside our congregations. But I would like us to be famous for it being alive and well in our parishes.
Rick Ritchie resides in Southern California and is a graduate of Christ College Irvine and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has contributed to the books Christ the Lord: The Reformation and the Lordship Controversy, Let Christ be Christ, and Theologia and Apologia.
I am not a pastor and I have a hard time staying in one place for a long time. As a result, I have spent the last several years visiting many different churches. The sad reality is, even in the blessed LC-MS, that “the goods” are rarely handed over on Sunday morning. By “the goods,” I mean to say that Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of my sins is rarely proclaimed to me at church.
Let me explain what I mean. There is a difference between preaching about Christ and preaching Christ. Under the category of preaching about Christ I will hear the history or biography of the life and times of a man named Jesus who roamed around the ancient near east some two thousand years ago seemingly doing some amazing things. Under the category of preaching about Christ I will be told that this same man serves as a great moral example for me and mine. Under the category of preaching about Christ I will learn that this person, if I follow His precepts, may help me to have a better marriage, a balanced check book, and a happier life in general. Under the category of preaching about Christ I may even hear that this Person died to take away the sins of the world. This is sometimes referred to as second order proclamation, and I hate it.
Conversely, when Christ is preached, sins are forgiven, my sins are forgiven, directly. This is in turn sometimes referred to as first order proclamation. This occurs when the preacher proclaims Christ not as a paragon of historical virtue, but as my savior because He is God. He is the God that loves and forgives me now, this day, on account of the great mercy He has shown and is showing on me. This Christ, through the mouth of the preacher, reaches His pierced hands out to the congregation and places them on my head proclaiming that my sins are forgiven in Him. This proclamation is personal and it brings me forgiveness and salvation. It is the Gospel! Not just some good news but the good news that Christ came to save sinners among whom I am the chief.
My first theological mentor, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, used to love to quote Romans 1:16 in class. That passage reads: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” This Gospel, he used to say, was the “dynamite of salvation” while smacking his hand loudly on the desk shocking us all as if that dynamite had just exploded in the room. I have come to believe that the Gospel is not only dynamite, but that this dynamite, this power, is Christ Himself.
God delivers salvation to me on the lips of another. When the preacher preaches Christ, an explosion occurs and that Explosion is Christ Himself coming to me in that Gospel and changing the reality of the world; my world. My world is changed because all that is old, dirty, rotten, decaying, and corroded in me is made new when the Lamb of God is brought to me personally forgiving through the preaching of the Gospel that is Christ. This is what it means to hand over the goods.
So to all of you pastors out there, if you are willing to take some preaching advice from a lowly layman who certainly does not fully understand what it means to live in your shoes, please take some of that advice now. Preach Christ, not about Christ. It is the difference between a history lesson which may contain the details of the Gospel message, and handing over the Lamb of God, the Christ, to me. You never know, I may be in one of your pews on Sunday morning, and trust me, I need that forgiveness as often as I can get it.
Scott Keith is the Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Adjunct Professor of Theology at Concordia University Irvine.
Ever experience a congregation with the word “Grace” in its name that was nonetheless ironically ungracious and legalistic? I have. Indeed, throughout my experiences within American Christianity, my greatest frustration has been the frequent dissimilarity between our official doctrines and our concrete ethos. “Ethos” refers to the overall character and culture of a community. Here, I’m not primarily about the problem of hypocrisy. The ill to which I refer is more about wrongheadedness than moral failure. The common ill of having an ethos that counteracts our core beliefs is a serious one. It’s something we need to remedy if we want to avoid having our good intentions do more harm than good. In short, our ethos matters.
Perhaps you read George Orwell’s 1984. If you did, you might remember the concept of doublethink, where characters dealt with cognitive dissonance by adopting self-contradictory ideas. It is related to the concept of doublespeak, where leaders use words in deceptive ways, often using terms to mean the direct opposite of their original meaning.
Christians don’t usually use doublespeak on purpose. Granted, there are fringe, sectarian situations (and some old-school cults) where folks use doublespeak to manipulate their followers. More often however, the strange ways Christians use language reflects self-deception rather than authoritarian mind control. Christians sometimes think they are speaking in ways that reflect the core values of theology—after all, they studied and memorized the proper ways of speaking about doctrine—when in fact correct memorization of the right words can obscure the unfortunate fact that one doesn’t actually understand what those words mean. The problem is that even if we can consciously suppress our sinful desire to let self-righteousness into our explicit theology, we have a harder time spotting ways that this same sinful desire infects the ethos we create in our churches and larger religious communities.
Let me illustrate with a tongue-in-cheek set of false definitions. No matter how good our official statements are on these matters, many communities seem to operate as if these are the working definitions of important theological words.
Forgiveness(noun): 1. The act of letting an offender off the hook after he or she has paid for their offense ten times over, through groveling, self-deprecation, and acts of penance. 2. A disposition or willingness to let an offender off the hook if they promise to remember that they owe the offended one forever and do occasional favors as tokens of their contrition. 3. Something believers can receive from God once they have cried earnestly about their offenses and demonstrated enough progress to earn God’s good favor.
Evangelism(noun): 1. Moving over in your pew, slightly, to make room for those who are bold enough to open the door to your worship space, which you had accidentally left ajar, without too much sighing. 2. Making sure, through obnoxious, trite and mean-spirited shouting that neighbors or tourists in public areas know to run whenever they find out that someone is a Christian. 3. The name of a church committee that meets together to complain about outsiders and speculates about nonbelievers’ sins that are so bad that they hate God and church. 4. The phenomenon of a pastor complaining to an unusually large congregation on Easter or Christmas that they can come to church on other days too.
Church(noun): 1. A gathering of decent people who know the right afterlife passwords and are decent folks who offer weekly nagging sessions. These are free until you join up, after which you should be putting some money in an offering plate. 2. A swanky building for accommodating decent people who know the right afterlife passwords, as well as the proper kind of music for making spiritual nagging sessions tolerable.
Apologetics(noun): 1. A sport derived from Lucha Libre style wrestling, wherein a Christian debates an atheist and the crowd cheers for the fighter their friends like best at the end. 2. The art of intellectually embarrassing one’s nonbelieving opponents. 3. Concocting strange hypotheses to make one’s faith seem intellectually acceptable to those who already believe.
I intend no harm with these definitions. My point is simply that we sometimes spend so much time learning how to get our words right that our ethos redefines them in disastrous ways. I’m reminded of an informal study conducted by Rabbi Brian Field, of Denver. He surveyed several religious communities and asked them to provide words that expressed the ethos of their religious communities’ religious education (Protestants can think “Sunday School” here). When he shared his findings, I found the way American Protestants characterized their traditions to be the most tragic:
1. hiddenness and embarrassment: giving up on showing ourselves because of repeatedly being told about our flaws; hiding or muting passion for being Protestant 2. harshness: enduring rather than changing or resisting; lessons reinforced with punishment 3. hopelessness: cheerfulness on top of a deep belief that there is no external help to be found; parents had difficulty showing that they liked or cared for us 4. independence: one should be independent from an early age; autonomy valued to the detriment of interpersonal connection 5. hardness: work hard, try hard, and be hard on oneself
It would be helpful to know which traditions were represented in this informal survey. Nonetheless, none of this speaks to the supposed heart of Protestant theology: the good news of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone.
Now, when we find that we are doing it wrong, there’s no need to despair, but we better make some changes. If you are active in a church or some other religious community, I encourage you to ask the young people in your midst (preferably in some anonymous or safe way) to describe the top five characteristics of your community. This isn’t some silly exercise you find in a magazine side bar; this goes to the heart of everything you are about, so why not try it and take it seriously? Meanwhile, make a list of the characteristic you hope they will identify. If they don’t match up, ask yourself what it is that is being miscommunicated and work to fix it.
One thing I hope your young people note as a mark of your community is comfort. By this I don’t mean affluence and a life free from discomfort or pain. I’m talking about a deep, joyful comfort rooted in the God who through Christ has made all manner of things well. Christians around the world, each week, speak about the Lamb of God Who offers a peace that the world cannot give. Woe to us if we burden young people with an unbiblical approach to the law that compels them to flee the church and into the arms of a world that is glad to remove the weight of religious legalism. Of course, the world will exchange this burden for a new one based on the multitude of ideologies on the market, whether sacred or secular. And if your young people do in fact flee your midst, don’t be too quick to castigate them as apostates and hellions. Instead, remember that millstones might belong on necks of both those who cause the little ones to stumble through heresy and also those who cause them to stumble through an uncharitable, Christless ethos.
Dr. Jeff Mallinson is Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Concordia University and Director of the League of Faithful Masks, through which he co-hosts the Virtue in the Wasteland Podcast. He earned his D.Phil. from the University of Oxford. His book, several chapter contributions, and articles reflect his interest in the intersections of Reformation thought, philosophy of religion, and culture.
Philip Melanchthon once said, “Those who disparage philosophy not only wage war against human nature, but they also severely injure the glory of the Gospel.” Bold words considering Martin Luther, a rather important figure to 1517, called reason the devil’s whore and Colossians 2:8 declares, “see to it that nobody takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (NASB). This tension brings to mind the iconic phrase of Ricky Ricardo, “Lucy, you got some splainin’ to do!”
And some splainin’ is what I intend to do. Let me begin by bearing my philosophical conscience. This is a good way to begin any extended discussion, regardless of the mode of communication.
First, I am a philosopher by trade, with a particular interest in the relationship between science and religion. Philosophically, this means that my posts will generally fall under the category of faith and reason. Psychologically, this means that my mind has been twisted in ways that I would not wish upon friend or foe.
Second, my interest in philosophy was kindled through the study of apologetics. This means that a little voice in the back of my mind is always asking about the practical import of my philosophical rumination to my neighbor.
Lastly, I am a confessional Lutheran teaching at a Lutheran liberal arts college. Thus, my discussions are influenced from a certain theological persuasion. The philosophy, apologetics, and confessional theology mean that my interests lie at the intersection of faith, reason, and society. If this interests you as well, then welcome to the conversation.
I conclude with an observation regarding the contemporary Lutheran intellectual landscape, in hopes of purveying the ethos of this series. We, confessional Lutherans, have engaged the faith, reason, society dialogue poorly. Our standard operating procedure is to pillage the intellectual work of others, reinterpret the impurities, and seek a stamp of approval from doctrinal review. Perhaps this “minds all of our theoretical p’s and q’s,” but, practically, it binds us to the mindset of the tradition we are borrowing. In consequence, our voice is not offering anything unique to the conversation, but is bound to promote a “standard christian worldview.” The difficult task of thinking through troubling issues is removed in favor of cookie cutter responses, particularly when conversing in the secular public square.
Perhaps an analogy is helpful. The first decade of the 21st century saw an explosion of microbrew beer. Craft beer is the new norm, with domestics and imports occupying fewer tap handles at the local watering hole. The effect of this fermented revolution is that Joe Sixpack is rarely satisfied with the standard domestics and imports. He desires more depth to his beverage. Likewise, if we desire to stand apart in the tap line, we must be willing to offer more than standard, domestic responses to pressing issues of faith, reason, and society. Otherwise we risk being neglected as people search for a draught with more character.
Bondage to other traditions is not our heritage. In 1517 Martin Luther broke from rulebound tradition such that the sweet purity of the Gospel could be heard by many, often for the first time. Bringing clarity to the Gospel message is rightly Luther’s crowning achievement. However, the theological freedom dependent upon Christ’s blood has ramifications beyond the spiritual. The result of Luther’s reform extends into the intellectual. I am free to pursue intellectual pursuits as I see fit and as they provide service to my neighbor. This is my mindset. I believe the starting place for a Lutheran perspective regarding faith, reason, and society is an openness or humbleness of the intellect, coupled with an intellectual courage to engage society on the terms it dictates with honesty and wisdom (1 Cor. 9:22; Col. 4:5-6).
Honestly engaging with the thoughts of secular society may sometimes appear to transgress standard christian piety. The old Adam within is begging to make a few choice comments about piety, however, I’ll simply conclude with a disclaimer. This series will ride a fine line between the praises of Melanchthon and the admonitions of Luther. If it turns out my philosophical forays lead the mind into the arms of Luther’s whore, then I’ll have some splainin’ to do; but, we’ll have learned something. However, I take the converse of Melanchthon’s quote to imply that the value off this conversation is too great to ignore, even if it means conversing with a whore.
Prof. Daniel Deen is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University Irvine. He is completing a Ph.D. from Florida State University addressing questions at the intersection of science and religion.
We as Christians believe in resurrection from the dead, but how often do we get to see it? Obviously this is a little tongue-in-cheek, but we at NRP have been so busy for so long now – causing this blog to be dormant for more than a year – that I’m sure most of our readership has long since assumed the NRP blog had assumed room temperature for good.
Typically, when it comes to something dying, that’s a proper assumption.
But wait, we have movement! I’m here to tell you that things are coming. Big things. We have been working feverishly behind the scenes and this year you will finally get to begin seeing the fruits of our labor.
We are publishing our first book. We will be revealing a whole new organization and website dedicated to an entirely different (yet related) project. We have an entirely new set of scholars and authors, colleagues of Dr. Rosenbladt as well as Dr. Rosenbladt himself, who will be dedicating their time and talent to the success of the mission, vision, objective and goals of the new organization. And more! (Okay, I know that last bit sounds a little ‘late night infomercial-ly’ – couldn’t help myself.)
But you aren’t going to have to wait to get a taste of the new content and materials we will be offering. Starting immediately, we will be posting guest posts from these brilliant scholars here on the New Reformation Press blog for your edification.
Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter keep up with us this year. It’s going to be interesting and I guarantee you won’t be bored. You aren’t going to find content like this anywhere else. And who knows, maybe you’ll end up having a whole lot of fun!
We have alluded before to the changes which we are working on behind the scenes here at NRP. I can’t reveal much yet, so I apologize for continuing to string you along, but there are a couple updates on which I would like to let you in.
You may have noticed that our physical inventory in our online store has been taken down from the catalog. As we transition in the coming months, this is a necessary and temporary step. (Please note that I stress the temporary part!) We will be adding more new downloadable products into the store shortly which I believe will have some of you jumping up and down with excitement. The rest of you won’t know why some around here may start jumping up and down, but as time wears on, you will come to understand.
Which leads me into my next update. We can officially announce that New Reformation Press will be the primary distributor of the works of Dr. John Warwick Montgomery!
“Who?” I hear some of you say?
Well, if you know about Dr. Rod Rosenbladt and his work, Dr. Montgomery was the professor who trained him. Formerly, the organization which made Dr. Montgomery’s works available was the Canadian Institute for Law, Theology and Public Policy (CILTPP). We have officially purchased all of Dr. Montgomery’s materials from them and will be making them available as we begin to work our way through it all.
C.S. Lewis will go down as the greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century, and by all accounts, Dr. Montgomery would be number two. His stuff is that good.
In the mean time, I invite you to peruse the website of the original publisher of Dr. Montgomery’s works, the Canadian Institute for Law, Theology and Public Policy, to learn more about Dr. Montgomery. As we begin to make his works available through our store, the Institute will be removing those titles from their website.
The Institute has made Dr. Montgomery’s audio recordings available as cassette tapes and CDs for years now, but we will now be able to make them available as MP3s for the first time, so you will be able to download them in the highest quality available and listen to them on your portable device. For some of you this will probably be an answer to prayer.
We plan to make some significant upgrades to our store this year, and there is much work to do with all the material we have acquired, so we will be making some titles available immediately and more will be added over time. Expect that it will take some months before the entirety of Dr. Montgomery’s works is available on our website.
Today we offer a guest blog post from our good friend Chaplain Charlie Mallie, whose newborn son has had some physical complications which have required surgery the day after being born. Please read below what he wrote for us all as he waited through the surgery today.
As a pastor with more than a decade under my belt, I’m no stranger to ERs, ICUs, NICUs and all the other scary letters in the hospital. As a Navy Chaplain, I’ve seen… well, I’ve seen more than anyone should.
I can say with great certainty that things don’t always go like we think, like we plan or even like we hope and pray. In a fallen world, things can go horribly wrong and sometimes do.
She did everything right, my wife. Prenatal vitamins, regular exercise, scads of check ups and ultrasounds. No issues. None until the delivery, that is. Double nuchal cord and then… something not quite right. Rushed to NICU, a smart intern and a chest scan revealed a diaphragmatic hernia. Basically a hole in the membrane that controls breathing. A hole that allowed the bowels to slip up into the thoracic cavity and consequently push the heart out of location and not allow the lungs to fully develop nor fully function. A biological jigsaw puzzle as an object lesson for the severity of the fall, and my son.
Ultimately it’s my fault. Not that I did something wrong, or that I didn’t do something right – like not pray enough, or have enough quiet times or any of that. (All of that is true by the way, I am a poor miserable sinner, and don’t have much hope in myself for being better.) My only hope is in Christ. But still, it’s my fault. And yours, too, by the way. Unless you’re somehow perfect, your sin contributed to this whole mess just as much as mine did.
Sin is an inherited disease, from Adam on down the line to me, to you, and to my son. Through sin, death entered the world – death in all its forms. Hair going gray and falling out, eyesight getting worse, metabolism crashing. And the more dire forms we’re all too familiar with – cancer, disease, conditions, syndromes, diaphragmatic hernias, the whole stinking mess. And not just us, but the whole creation. From earthquakes to tornados, tsunamis to drought, the whole enchilada ‘is done broke.’ The really bad news is, there ain’t no fixin’ it either. Not by us, anyway. The problem was so immense, so huge, on such a cosmic level, it actually took the death of the Son of God to set things right. There it is. I said it. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
Back to the hospital. Now the parade of doctors, interns, residents, nurses, techs and consent forms is enough to frighten any pagan into instant conversion, but more concerning to a pastor-type like me, and I’d think any God fearing Christian would be the state of his soul should things take a turn for the worse.
What would you do? Pray, surely, but what else? Commit it to God and hope for the best? I’ve seen really solid believers reach for all kinds of superstitions for comfort. I’ve seen the bargaining with God, the deals we try to make, as if we could offer anything He’d deem worthy or useful. Isaiah says something about filthy rags… I’ll let you look it up.
The good news is that our Lord has not left us without aid and comfort in such situations. He doesn’t sit back and do nothing. He doesn’t wait for us to come to Him. He has promised to extend His salvation even to the little ones. He has provided a means that not only delivers the gift of the Holy Spirit, but real assurance through the promise of salvation delivered by a Watery Flood of grace and gift. Not unlike Noah being preserved by the promise of God through the flood nor unlike Israel being brought through the water of the Jordan into the promised land, these events are but foreshadowings of a greater flood, a greater promise and a greater deliverance from sin, death and the devil.
When Christ commanded all nations to be baptized he was not unclear. Even “ready, fire, aim!” Peter got it. And if he got it, so should you. He explained the power of the promise that Baptism delivers, namely the gift of the Holy Spirit. And in case you need it spelled out for you, that gift, it ain’t just for you when you get around to it, when you feel like it, when you understand it. The gift is for you and your children. That gift, the Holy Spirit, is for your children. Don’t be stingy, don’t create barriers where there aren’t any, and don’t relegate the gift of baptism to mere superstition, because you can’t make sense of it in that big brain of yours. Its the greatest, best thing you could ever do for your children. Why would you ever withhold that kind of gift from your own kids?
St. Paul tells us that baptism delivers us into the promise of the resurrection as well– through Christ. Baptized into his death, we are united with Christ. And if united with Him in His death, surely united with Him in His resurrection. Romans 6, you might take a look.
Now all of that is truly good, right and salutary… and solid Biblical theology that some have been trying to poke holes in for mmmm… about 2000 yrs. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what is true. As I write this, Nikolas lies on a table in the next room under the knife. I can tell you good theology counts in times like these. No amount of human comfort is going to do a thing for me at this point. I have only one thought, one concern, one prayer. Now is not the time for fond wishes and hoping for the best. Now is the time to take the Word of God seriously, take His gifts seriously, take His promises to heart. Knowing the promises of God matters. God promised to save my son in Baptism. 1 Peter 3:21 says so. The rest of the world can be made liars, so long as God remains true. Kyrie Eleison! So taking that Word to heart, Nikolas was baptized by my hand right there in the middle of NICU, shortly after he was transported to the Naval Hospital. Baptized into Christ.
Lord knows, I’m thankful for all the prayers, good thoughts, well wishes and casseroles being delivered to my Facebook page and front door. But more than that, I take real comfort that my son’s name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. It was penned in the ink of Christ’s blood shed for Nikolas and every darned one of us.
Should things go terribly wrong, as they sometimes do… well… we will surely grieve, but not as those who have no hope. (1 Thes 4:13) Because more than anything else in this life we’re banking on that Word and Promise of God, applied through baptism and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. All of that means, as far as whatever the next few hours bring, the biggest concern of any Christian parent is covered. Death is a defeated enemy. Should we lose the privilege of watching our little man grow up, it’ll surely be the toughest thing my wife and I will ever go through, but the truth of it is it’ll be okay. We’ll see him again.
In the meantime, I love this hymn from the Lutheran Service Book. It just about says it all.
God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It
Lutheran Service Book #594
God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!
He, because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth’s treasures many? I have one worth more than any
That brought me salvation free, Lasting to eternity!
Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me, since my baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?
Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!
Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine.
There is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!
Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I’ll sleep secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising:
I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!
Nikolas Evangelos Mallie
Baptized into Christ 07OCT2012 His name in Greek means “The victory of the people is through the Gospel.”
Written from surgery waiting room 1
4th deck, bldg 1
Naval Medical Center San Diego
LT Mallie is a Navy Chaplain currently serving as tactical Chaplain for 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, the Magnificent Bastards!
“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”” Acts 2:38-39
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:3-4
“baptism now saves you” 1 Peter 3:21
“Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Acts 22:16
“Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas” 1 Cor 1:16
“And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.”” Acts 16:15
“And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.” Acts 16:33
“But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”” Mark 10:14-15
** UPDATE -
From Chaplain Mallie: “Successful surgery! In record time. They even had time to do the circumcision. Things must have been better than anticipated.”
From Mrs. Mallie: “Here he is about an hour+ post op. What a miracle! He looks so much better than before surgery. Most of his bowels were up with his lungs. Now that they are in the right spot, he can breathe!! We are waiting for him to wake up from the anesthesia and then they are hoping to start the process of weening him off the ventilator.”
Your prayers for little Nikolas and the Mallie family are greatly appreciated.