Sunday, April 20, 2014

Should we tell ex-Christians that they are going to hell?

A fellow reader on another blog asked me this question:  "I am a former believer, a former Christian.  Do you believe that I and other ex-Christians who no longer believe in Jesus as our Savior will go to hell?"

My response:

I still believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. If I stop believing that I will stop being orthodox. And if I stop being orthodox, I will stop being Christian. Liberal Christianity is just to wishy-washy for me.

So will I go up to people on the street, or go onto the blogs of other people on the internet, and tell them that they are going to hell unless they repent and return to Jesus?

I intend to share my beliefs in a much different way. I will share my beliefs by my actions: love, forgiveness, and compassion. I'm not going to beat anyone over the head with "hell-fire and damnation".

If someone asks me about my beliefs and specifically about what happens to persons who reject Christ, I will tell them what I believe that the Bible says. But if someone asks me, "Do you think that I, Bob, and Jane are going to hell because we are not believers in Jesus?" I will say, "Your eternal destination is known only to God. I am not going to venture a guess. God offers you the free gift of eternal life. Call out to God and he will give it to you, even if you can't say for sure that you believe."

So how can someone do that who has read all of Bart Ehrman's books and no longer believes that the Resurrection really occurred? How can someone believe who has seen all the evidence that "proves" that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions?

I would tell that person, "Do you want to believe? If so, that is enough. Pray to God to help your unbelief...and stop reading Bart Ehrman." The more a person listens to people telling them that they are wrong, the more likely that person is to finally believe them.

I know that Christians will think that this analogy is horrible but I think it is true: Believe in a resurrected Jesus with the same evidence that a child believes in Santa Claus. Believe because you WANT TO, not because of the evidence.

Christianity is silly foolishness, plain and simple. It is based on the supernatural. In today's science-based culture, such a supernatural belief system is no different than believing in Santa Claus.

I choose to believe, not based on evidence, but just because I want to.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Secular Media touting Bart Ehrman at Easter

I can't get away from Bart Ehrman!

I was surfing online on Yahoo today when I came across an article about the lack of evidence of the Empty Tomb.  I didn't look at the name of the author when I started reading. When I got to about the third paragraph, I said to myself:  "WHO is writing this stuff??"  I scrolled up and who was it:  Yep, Bart Ehrman!

Isn't sad that the secular media can't show a little respect for the Christian Faith during our most Holy Days of the year?  Why not present articles by us regarding our beliefs instead of articles by those who attack our beliefs?

But...controversy sells, doesn't it?

Here is the comment that I left below this Yahoo article:

I've read three of Bart Ehrman's books.  If you are a fundamentalist or evangelical Christian the facts that he presents can really rock your Christian Faith.  I almost stopped believing after reading his books.  But here is why I still believe in a physical resurrection of a truly dead Jesus of Nazareth.

1.  Bart Ehrman and all reputable scholars like him believe that Jesus was a real historical person.

2.  Bart Ehrman and all reputable scholars believe that Saul of Tarus, Paul, was a real historical person.

3.  Bart Ehrman and all reputable scholars believe that Paul was a reliable person.  He was not a liar or fabricator of facts.

4.  Bart Ehrman and all reputable scholars believe that Paul wrote I Corinthians.

5.  In I Corinthians Paul says that he "saw" Jesus.  He mentions that several other persons whom Paul personally knew and spent time with had also seen Jesus.  Paul also says that 500 persons saw Jesus all at the same time, and that he personally knows that many of these 500 persons are still living at the time he wrote I Corinthians.
6.  In none of these "sightings" does Paul talk about "dreams", "visions", etc.  Paul said "Have I not SEEN him?"

Summary:  All agree that Paul was a real man, that his testimony was trustworthy, that he met with Peter, Jesus's chief disciple and with James, Jesus's brother, that he said he "saw" Jesus, and that he knew many other persons who said they saw him too.
-Liar?  No.

-Lunatic?  Doubtful.

-He only saw a vision, not a real person?  No indication that Paul believed this.

-A supernatural miracle happened:  a dead man came back to life after being dead for three days?  Yes, it is the least likely, as Ehrman says, of all possible explanations according to human reason, logic and the rules of science.  However, it was enough evidence to change the mind of an educated, devout, orthodox Jew like Paul.

Paul's testimony convinces me.

The Tomb was Empty

The Christian Faith is exactly  If you need concrete evidence to believe in the Resurrection, I can save you some time and effort.  There is none.

Faith is not something that you achieve by studying the evidence or lack thereof.  Faith is a gift from God, a supernatural being, whose existence cannot be proven.  You either have faith or you don't, its that simple.  God has either given it to you or he hasn't.

I know that sounds like ignorant, uneducated, nonsense.  But even the Christian Holy Book, the Bible, says that the Christian Faith will appear as foolishness to nonbelievers.

The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be proven, but neither can it be disproven...the body has never been found.
The tomb was empty. 

Thanks be to God!

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Reasons Lutherans have Crucifixes

On this Holy day in which we remember the death on the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Lutherans are reminded by LCMS Pastor Tim Rossow why we have (or should have) crucifixes in our churches (and our homes). 

Copied from:  BJS

 Another Reason to Have the Corpus on the Cross

April 18th, 2014 Post by
The Processional Cross at Bethany Lutheran, Naperville
The Processional Cross at Bethany Lutheran, Naperville

We have all heard it from our protestant friends and sometimes even from our Lutheran acquaintances – “Why do you have Jesus on the cross, that is so Catholic? That is so negative. We believe in the resurrected Jesus so we have empty crosses.” That last phrase is quite profound. They do indeed have empty crosses.

I and the other two pastors here at Bethany Lutheran Church and School, Naperville, Illinois, have taken to pointing to the processional cross during the sermons when we speak of Christ crucified for our sins. In some sermons that can be as many as three or four times. Because Christ on the cross serves as a helpful homiletical illustration is another good reason to fill our crosses up with the corpus of Christ. This is a fitting matter to consider on this most holy and good day of the church year.
The main reason we have Christ on our crosses is for theological reasons. These theological reasons are both positive and negative.

 Here are a few positive reasons.
  1. The Bible says we preach Christ crucified (I Cor. 1:23). Therefore, good church art which is to reflect what we preach and teach has Christ on the cross being crucified for our sins.
  2. The heart and core of the faith is the forgiveness of sins and that forgiveness takes place on the cross. It is there that Jesus says “It is finished.”
  3. The resurrection from the dead is a vital teaching and cannot be separated from the crucifixion but it must always be remembered that death is a by-product of sin and sin was paid for on the cross. Paul says in I Corinthians 15:56 that the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. Both sin and the law are put to death in Jesus body on the cross.

Here are a couple of negative reasons.
  1. Leaving Jesus off the cross is a theology of glory. The theology of glory is a Calvinist invention preferred by the Methabapticosals. It takes the emphasis off the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins and puts it on the triumphal Jesus who leads us to morally upright and effective lives.
  2. Leaving Jesus off the cross diminishes the significance of the sacraments of Holy Absolution and Holy Communion because the pastor is not seen as a mouthpiece of forgiveness nor an administrator of the body and blood of Christ but as a life coach exhorting believers on to glorified resurrection living.
  3. Leaving Jesus off the cross supports the erroneous theology of “church growth.” This faulty theology is reflected in sermon series on the purpose driven life (individual purpose is not a scriptural category), money management tactics (the Bible says very little about personal money management – the parables on money are about the Gospel, not the proper use of money) and good parenting skills (the Bible says very little about proper parenting).
Following in the footsteps of St. Pau, true Confessional Christians proudly placard Jesus Christ crucified (Galatians 3:1).

We have numerous crucifixes throughout our church and school but recently I noticed that while teaching adult confirmation in our conference room I kept reaching to point to the corpus and was frustrated because we did not have a crucifix in there. We recently did the work to get one there and in all the rooms of the church and school where we teach the Gospel so that we can clearly preach Christ crucified.

May God bless your Good Friday devotion that your eyes may be fixed more securely on Christ crucified that you may know for sure that your sins are forgiven.

Lord, I want to believe, help Thou my unbelief!

If you follow this blog, you know that over the last month or so I have been engaged in an ongoing discussion with several ex-Christians turned atheists.  This conversation started when I went onto the blog of one of these atheists in an attempt to share the Gospel with him.  Boy, was I in for a rude surprise!

This former fundamentalist pastor, now avowed atheist and blogger, tore into me like a grizzly would a spring lamb.  He knew his stuff!  He and other atheists pointed out things about the Bible and Christianity that I had never heard of.  My faith was really shaken.  I began to ask myself, "Am I following a myth, no different from the Greek myths of the ancient world?  Is my God no more real than Zeus??"

I came very, very close to walking away from Christianity.

But something in me (hopefully God) just wouldn't let me do it.  I still believe.  But my belief in a resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, as King of Heaven and Earth, is based on much more limited "evidence" than what I would have given in the past.  My beliefs are now based on:   child-like faith...and the testimony of Saul of Tarsus.

Below is a comment I left on the blog of my online friend, Dagood, a former evangelical Christian, turned atheist.  I had asked him for some references to support his belief that Saul of Tarsus only had a vision of Jesus, not a true face to face encounter with a living, breathing being.  He was kind enough to give me that information.  But as I read his reading recommendations, I could hear a voice inside me asking this question, "Do you REALLY want to read this information?  Do you really want to lose your faith, just as Dagood did, by reading all this atheist literature?"

The more you read and listen to persons telling you why you are wrong, the greater the chance that you may one day believe them.  Here was my response to Dagood's reading recommendations:

The issue is this: I WANT to believe. So the more I read authors who tell me why I shouldn't, the more of that innocent (foolish?) childish faith I grew up with will fade away. I'm afraid of becoming you, Dagood.  I don't want to wake up one morning and look in the bathroom mirror, as you did, and realize that I no longer believe; not because I want to stop believing, as you did not want to stop believing, but because the "evidence" has convinced me otherwise.

I have decided to desperately hold on to the following evidence to retain my Christian Faith:

1. Paul was a real person and a credible witness. All scholars agree on that.
2. Paul was a devout, very educated Jew. Devout, very educated Jews rarely ever convert to Christianity. Possible? Yes. Probable? No.
3. In his own writings in I Corinthians, a book which all scholars agree is Paul's, he states that he "saw" Jesus. He doesn't say he had a dream. He doesn't say that he saw Jesus in a cloud formation. He says that Jesus appeared to him, that he "saw" him, and we can safely assume from other Pauline statements that "Jesus" spoke to him, telling him that he was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
4. Paul met with Peter, Jesus's closest disciple, and with James, Jesus' brother. No indication is given that either one questioned Paul's truthfulness.
5. Paul states that many of the five hundred who saw Jesus at the same (moment in) time (after his public execution) are still living. He does not say this as hearsay, as the previous information, but as a statement of what he knew as fact, during the same period of time that he was writing I Corinthians.
6. Paul, an educated, orthodox, Jewish leader and teacher, was willing to be beaten, persecuted, and eventually executed for his belief that an illiterate, Galilean peasant, executed as a common criminal, and hung on a tree to be cursed by God, was the Jewish messiah, was resurrected from the dead, and is the Lord God of heaven and earth.

I choose to believe the testimony of this one devout Jew.

Thank you, Dagood, for your patience with me.  I am not sorry that I "met" you. Yes, you and Bruce really shook my faith, but I believe that I have come out the other side of this "crises" with my faith strengthened.

I wish you the very best, my friend.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A German Prayer remembered

When I was a teenager I spent a week with the family of one of my old grade school friends who lived in Loveland, Colorado.  They were a wonderful German-American family.  Before every meal they would say a prayer in German.  After a week of hearing this short German prayer three times per day, some of the words, and the rhythm of the prayer, became ingrained in my brain.

Many years later, after moving half the country away, I tried to remember this prayer.  All I could remember was this broken phrase:

"Danke dem Herren, .............ericka froinlick, und............ewagleeck, Amen."

For the last year, I and my children have been learning German.  Tonight while looking at some traditional German prayers online, I came across this prayer:

Danket dem Herrn; denn er ist freundlich, und seine Güte währet ewiglich.  Amen.

Pslam 107:1  Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bart Ehrman believes that Jesus DID exist

Many conservative/orthodox Christians loathe Bart Ehrman, a prominent New Testament scholar, one-time evangelical Christian, now a very outspoken agnostic/atheist.  He has published several books which dispute the inerrancy of the Bible and the Resurrection of Christ.  To Bart Ehrman, the Bible is a man-made book, chock-full of man-made errors.

Many Christians may be unaware, however, that Dr. Ehrman has published a book which strongly defends the most central of Christian beleifs:  that Jesus Christ actually existed.  Jesus of Nazareth, according to Bart Ehrman, was NOT a myth.  He really did exist in first century Palestine.  He was a Jew.  He came from a real town called Nazareth.  And he was executed by the Romans by crucifixion.  Here is a quote from Dr. Ehrman's book, Did Jesus Exist?, that in my opinion, bolsters my belief that Paul most definitely would have discussed and compared the appearance of Jesus to him (on the Damascus Road) with the Jesus known by Peter, his closest disciple, and James, his very brother:

"Paul came to know about Jesus within a year, or at most, two of his death.  Paul too preserves traditions that stem from the early period of his Christian life, right after his conversion around 32-33 CE.  There is no doubt that Paul knew that Jesus existed.  He mentions Jesus's birth, his Jewish heritage, his descent from David, his brothers, his ministry to Jews, his twelve disciples, several of his teachings, his Last Supper, and most important for Paul, his crucifixion.  Paul states that he received most of these traditions from those who came before him and it is relatively easy to determine when.  Paul claims to have visited with Jesus's closest disciple, Peter, and with his brother James three years after his conversion, that is, around 35-36 CE.  Much of what Paul has to say about Jesus, therefore, stems from the same early layer of tradition that we can trace, completely independently, in the Gospels.

Even more impressive than what Paul says about Jesus is whom he knew.  Paul was personally acquainted, as I've pointed out, with Peter and James.  Peter was Jesus's closest confidant throughout his public ministry, and James was his actual brother.  Paul knew them for decades, starting in the mid 30's CE.  It is hard to imagine how Jesus could have been made up.  Paul knew his best friend and his brother."

Ehrman's point here is to prove the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, whose historicity, according to Ehrman, is believed by every credible scholar on the subject, Christian and non-Christian.  According to Ehrman, the "mythicists" who deny that Jesus even existed,  have no leg to stand on.

But I believe that Ehrman's statement here also gives support to my position that Paul would have compared his conversion experience of "seeing" Jesus, as he states in I Corinthians, with the facts about Jesus known by Jesus's best friend and brother.  Whether or not Luke's account of the Damascus Road is historically accurate, Paul himself says that he "saw" Jesus.  He didn't say that he saw him in a dream or in a vision.  I believe that skeptics are reading their biases into the simple word "saw".  In any other historical document if someone states that they "saw" someone, we would assume that the person is saying that they saw a real flesh and blood human being, not an apparition.

Unless we believe that Paul was a nutcase, or worse, a liar, is it really credible to believe that such an intelligent, educated Jewish teacher and scholar (Paul was a Pharisee) could be duped by a one time vivid "vision" or dream of Jesus, and continue to be duped by the tall tales of two uneducated, illiterate Galilean peasants in Jerusalem, into believing that a wild-eyed, parable-talking peasant from some unknown "one-donkey town" in Galilee, executed as a common criminal on a tree by the Romans, was the almighty, conquering messiah for whom the Jewish people had been so desperately waiting??

Isn't that pretty far-fetched to believe? 

I believe that Saul of Tarsus saw Jesus of Nazareth on the Damascus Road, and confirmed his identity with Jesus's best friend and brother while in Jerusalem.  If we believe Paul to be a credible witness, which even skeptic Bart Ehrman does, we don't need Luke's account in the Book of Acts to know that Paul saw Jesus in the flesh...not in a "vision".  That fact that Paul saw Jesus after his public execution does not prove the Resurrection, but combined with the statement that Paul met with Peter and James, and most assuredly "compared notes" with them regarding Jesus, strongly suggests that Jesus of Nazareth was seen alive after his public execution; his execution by the best executioners of his day:  the Romans.  So the next question is:  What are the chances that the Romans would fail to kill a prisoner executed by crucifixion?

I do not believe for one second that a one time "vision" during a night's sleep is going to convince an orthodox Jew that a pacifist Galilean peasant, who defied all the OT prophesies regarding the Jewish messiah, who hung on a tree as a common criminal until dead, thereby cursed by God according to the OT, was truly the Jewish messiah.

No way!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Did Jesus really appear to Saul on the Damascus Road?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe that the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is the strongest evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Why?

1.  It would take some pretty incredible evidence to convince an educated Jew, a Pharisee, a hater of Christians, a persecutor of the Church, of the outrageous, unimaginable concept that a pacifist Galilean peasant, who was crucified and killed on a tree as a common criminal by the hated enemy, the Romans, was the Jewish messiah.

There has never been a concept of a "suffering messiah" in Judaism.  Never.  All the passages in the OT that Christians use to support the concept of a suffering messiah are viewed by Jews as having nothing to do with the coming messiah, but of someone else.  For instance in Isaiah 53, Jews believe that this passage is talking about Israel, not the messiah.  And the same for the other "suffering messiah passages" in the OT.  No educated, theologically trained Jew is going to accept such a messiah without overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

2.  Saul/Paul met with Peter, the chief apostle, and James, the brother of Jesus within a short period of time after his conversion.   Paul records that he spent 15 days with these two apostles.

3.  The historicity of Paul is unquestioned even by skeptics such as Bart Ehrman.  Bart Ehrman also believes that Paul is a reliable witness (Paul is not spinning a tale; Paul is not lying) and Ehrman believes that Paul really did meet with Peter and James, as Paul says in one of his epistles.

So how does this information prove that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead? Answer:  Peter, James, and Paul all say that they saw the same dead man...alive again.  They had 15 days together to discuss Jesus and their experience(s) with him.  Does anyone with an unbiased mind really believe that Peter and James did not question Paul to verify that his story was not the fabrication of a mad man...or the fabrication of a Jewish spy trying to infiltrate and destroy the Church?

Let me give you an analogy:

Let's say that "Pastor Bob" is my pastor.  I am the head elder of Pastor Bob's church.  Pastor Bob's brother, Jim, is also an elder in the church.   

One day, Pastor Bob is killed by an angry, anti-Christian mob.

The entire congregation is devastated.  Some of us witnessed his death.  Some of us witnessed his burial preparation at the morgue.  Some of us attended the funeral, saw his body in the casket, and saw his casket placed into the ground.  As we mourn his death, we are advised that no one has ever taken a photo of Pastor Bob!  Pastor Bob will only exist in our memories.

Three days later, I, Jim, and some women from the church go to the cemetery to visit Pastor Bob's grave.  We arrive and find the casket dug up, cast to the side of the open grave, lid open, and casket empty.  Pastor Bob's body is gone!

A few days later, the elders of the church, including myself and Jim, are holding an emergency, closed door meeting in the parish hall, when Pastor Bob walks through the closed, locked door.  We are in shock.  Pastor Bob tells us to touch his wounds.  We do.  Pastor Bob eats dinner with us.  Pastor Bob spends another 40 days with us.  Then we watch Pastor Bob ascend into the sky and have not seen him since.

A year or so later, a guy named Paul, a well-known anti-Christian agitator and persecutor, shows up in town.  He tells Jim and I that while on a road trip to Las Vegas to attack some Christians living there, Pastor Bob appeared to him in the middle of the road and gave him an important, personal message:  Paul states that Pastor Bob told him in this personal appearance, seen by no one but Paul, that he, Pastor Bob, was appointing Paul to be one of the primary elders of our church and the Director of Foreign Missions!  Paul states that he is here, not to ask us, the elders, or the church, for the job, but to announce his Pastor Bob's decree and authority!

Now, what do you think is going to be the first question that I and Jim are going to ask Paul?

Monday, April 14, 2014

What is the Strongest Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?

Did a man living in Palestine in the first century AD really die and come back from the dead three days later?  Such an idea defies all laws of science, reason, and common sense.  But did it happen?  What evidence do we have of the Resurrection?

Video?  No.

Testimony from non-biased eye witnesses during the 40 days after the event?  No.

The empty tomb?  Yes, but there are multiple possible explanations for that.

Testimony of his disciples?  Biased.  They wanted to believe he was alive.  Maybe someone thought they saw a risen Jesus, and a wild story snowballed over the subsequent years about disciples touching nail-pierced hands and eating with a person who walked through closed doors.  Such tall tales of seeing ghosts are common among uneducated, lower-class peoples, even today.

So what is it?  What is the evidence that convinces me of the real, bodily Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?  Answer:  the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.

Copied from: here

Paul briefly refers to his own conversion experience in only four places in but two of his Letters. In 1 Corinthians 9:1, Paul asks an emphatic question, "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord" Later in the letter, Paul is describing the Gospel teaching that Jesus died for our sins, was raised on the third day, and began appearing to the Apostles; in 1 Corinthians 15:8-9, he relates, "Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the Apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."

He writes in Galatians 1:11-12 that "the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ." He adds in Galatians 1:15-16, "When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles." 5

But it is in the Acts of the Apostles, written by his frequent companion the Gentile Luke, where the description of Paul's conversion is most complete. Paul calls Luke "the beloved physician" in Colossians 4:14, advises Timothy that "only Luke is with me" in 2 Timothy 4:11, and that Luke is his "fellow worker" in Philemon 24. We also know that Luke accompanied Paul on his second, third, and fourth missionary journeys from the "we" passages in Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, and 27:1 to 28:16. Paul's conversion is recorded in Acts 9:1-28, and Paul relates his conversion experience to the Jews of Jerusalem in Acts 22:1-21, and to King Agrippa in Acts 26:4-23. Hedrick makes two important observations: first, that the three episodes should be considered as a whole as they supplement each other, and second, that Paul's mission initially was to Gentiles and Israelites (Acts 9:15). 6

Acts 9:1-19 (ESV)

The Conversion of Saul

9 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Gary:  Saul was an educated, very devout Jew.  He was also a Roman citizen.  He had it all!  He was such a reliable, devout Jew that the high priests hired him to hunt down the Christians who were making the blasphemous claim that a Jewish peasant named Jesus, from the backwaters of Galilee, a common criminal, nailed to a tree and executed by the hated Romans, was the Jewish messiah, the messiah that every Jew believed would deliver them from their oppressors.  So, why would this devout, educated, upper class, Jew convert to a religious sect of lower class, uneducated, peasants and fisherman who were being hunted down and killed for a concept of a messiah which no educated Jew would ever imagine in his wildest dreams??  The Jews then and now do not see any passages in the Hebrew Bible that discuss a "suffering messiah".  None.  Isaiah 53 is talking about Israel, not the messiah.  The Jewish messiah would be a conqueror of the enemies of the Jewish people and would sit on the throne of David.  Jesus of Nazareth did not do this.  Jesus of Nazareth was a fraud or a lunatic.

Some skeptics will say:  Anyone can have a "vision" in their dreams that is so real that it changes one's mind, even someone who is very educated.  Maybe.  But Saul's conversion occurred while traveling on a road, accompanied by other "Christian-hunters", not while dreaming.  Although his traveling companions did not see Jesus as Paul claimed he did, they did hear his voice.  And,...Saul is blinded for several days after the event. 

Again, I must emphasize, the concept that a crucified criminal was the Jewish messiah was not something that any educated Jew would dream up or even dream.  You aren't going to win very many Jewish converts with this message.  So a crucified messiah was unthinkable to Saul the Christian-hunter.  Something very out of the ordinary had to have happened to convince this devout, educated Jew of this outrageous "crucified messiah" concept which even he considered a "stumbling block" for any Jew to believe.

So we have:

1.  Saul, a devout, educated, upper class Jew and Roman citizen.
2.  He hates and persecutes Christians.
3.  He is on his way to persecute more Christians in Damascus.
4.  While traveling to persecute Christians, he sees a man, surrounded by bright light, who says that he is Jesus of Nazareth.  His traveling companions hear the voice of this man but do not see him.
5.  Saul is left blind for several days after the event.
6.  Saul converts to the faith of these ignorant peasants; he becomes their greatest preacher and missionary; he suffers terrible persecution for his conversion and is eventually executed because of it.

And another point:  Some time later, Saul (now Paul) meets with Peter in Jerusalem for fifteen days and during that time he also meets with James, the brother of Jesus.  If Paul saw Jesus, (and obviously Peter and James knew what Jesus looked like), wouldn't these two men ask Paul to describe the man that he saw and heard speak on the Damascus Road?  What are the chances that Paul saw a man (who was not Jesus) but looked similar enough that Paul was able to convince Peter and James that he had seen Jesus?  If Paul had not seen Jesus, but had seen or imagined seeing another man, wouldn't the encounter with Peter and James more than likely have have gone like this:

"So, Paul, you say that you saw Jesus on the Damascus Road.  Tell us what he looked like."

"Well, he was about six feet tall, Caucasian skin, with a very Northern European looking face, shoulder-length, flowing auburn hair, lean, muscular, construction worker build, and blue eyes."

"Really, Paul?  That is what the man you saw on the Damascus Road looked like?  And it is this man who told you that he was Jesus of Nazareth?  Well, let me tell you how Jesus of Nazareth really looked:  He was just over five feet tall, round face, very large, prominent nose, balding, dark, brown eyes, slightly overweight, dark complexion, with a prominent birth mark on the right side of his neck.  You didn't see the birth mark, Paul??"

My friend, Dagood, a former evangelical Christian/now atheist, asked me in one of my conversations with him, if there was enough proof of the Resurrection that it would convince a jury in a court of law.  At that time, I came to the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to convince a jury...although there was enough for me.  However, I may have been hasty in coming to that conclusion.  Let me tell you why:

In a previous post I mentioned that asking a non-believer to believe that a man in first century Palestine was publically crucified until he was verifiably dead, placed in a tomb for three days, and that he then came back to life at the end of those three days, is equivalent to asking someone to believe that Farmer Brown's milk cow speaks French and can fly through the sky like an F-15.  Neither event happens in our reality.  Both events defy the laws of science, reason, logic, and common sense.  No matter how many uneducated, lower-class people claim to have seen either event, a jury would never reach a verdict based on such "evidence".

However...what if...the following occurred in our story of Farmer Brown's French-speaking, flying milk cow?:

The United States Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious scientific society in the United States, representing all the major scientists and scientific research organizations in the country, decides that they have had enough of this ridiculous nonsense of French-speaking flying milk cows, and they decide to send their best, most highly qualified, scientific investigator to Farmer Brown's Farm to prove beyond any doubt, to the entire world, that these "ignorant, uneducated, hicks" who claim to have heard and seen this French-speaking, flying cow are certifiably and undeniably...nuts!

The investigator, himself a very educated, highly respected scientist and linguist in the fields of animal behavior, aeronautics, and the French language, sets out in a van, accompanied by a team of assistants, for Farmer Brown's Farm.  While on the road, according to the investigator, a bright light appears, causing the van to come to a stop in the road.  There in the bright light, the investigator sees a milk cow, hovering in mid-air, speaking to him in perfect, Parisien French.  The investigator's associates and traveling companions do not see the milk cow, but can hear someone...or something..speaking, and as they all speak fluent French, they hear the exact same voice and testify to the exact same words as does the investigator, but again, they saw no one... or no thing.

The investigator states that he was completely blind for several days after this event until a member of the French-speaking, flying milk cow religious cult, showed up at the house in which he was staying, preached to him the Gospel of the Cow, baptized him in the name of the Cow, and suddenly he regained his sight.

Now, if this nationally recognized, very educated, very logical and reasonable scientist swears on his life that he saw and spoke to a French speaking, flying cow...and...his description of this cow perfectly matches the description of the cow seen by the original followers of said flying cow...and...the traveling companions of this renowned scientist attest to hearing the exact same French words from a non-visible entity in front of them, if you were a member of a jury, would you vote in favor of a verdict that states that there is enough eye-witness testimony of the existence of this miraculous cow to state that it really does exist??

No scholar, including Bart Ehrman, questions the historicity of Saul/Paul of Tarsus.  Nor do they question his integrity.  No top-tier scholar questions the historicity of Jesus Christ.
So if Paul says he saw Christ; his traveling companions heard the same voice and message; and the description of the man that Paul saw was identical to the known Jesus of Nazareth as described by his closest disciple, Peter, and his brother, James, isn't that enough to convince a jury??

Friday, April 11, 2014

LCMS Lutherans refusing to commune LCMS Lutherans

I really must stop looking at the website,, because I end up reading articles by ultra-conservative Lutheran bloggers, some of whom I have strongly criticized and swore I would no longer read.  But this one is just too precious to pass up.

Why don't these ultra-conservative Lutherans either merge with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod or start their own synod?

Read it here:  The ultra-conservative Lutheran's closed communion

In contrast to the extreme position of the LCMS pastor who wrote the BJS article in the link above, below is one LCMS pastor's criteria for whom he will and will not commune.  He left this comment in the comment section below the post in the link above.  I like it!  (And my favorable impression of this LCMS pastor is growing).  I think his criteria maintains the LCMS position on the scriptural necessity, and early Church practice, of closed communion, without taking it to the ridiculous extremes of some ultra-conservatives:

With regard to admission to the Sacrament, I follow Walther’s practice as found in his Pastoral Theology (published by Lutheran News, the publisher of Christian News). This is found in: C.F.W. Walther, American Lutheran Pastoral Theology, tr. from 5th German ed by John Drickamer (New Haven, MO: 1995). Page 116 notes that the pastor should examine the communicant:

“1. whether the person considers God’s Word to be God’s Word;
2. whether he knows what is necessary for salvation;
3. whether he recognizes himself to be a miserable sinner, finds comfort only in Christ’s merit, and has no wicked intentions (Ps 66:18);
4. whether he believes in the mystery of the holy Supper and seeks in it forgiveness as well as strengthening in faith and godliness;
5. whether he confesses the Lutheran faith, as it is laid down in Luther’s Small Catechism, as the correct Christian doctrine”

I have this business about the Small Catechism published in the header of our church bulletin, as part of our communion policy–and I have done that because of reading Walther on this page. Actually the entire chapter is worth reading to understand Walther’s thinking (Chapter 15, pp. 107-119). Walther discusses the matter of church discipline in a separate place (Chapters 39-43, pp. 234-253).

These are the criteria I use for all communion services, both public and private (i.e., for shut-ins and hospital calls), along with the criterion of membership in the LCMS. So if a member of the LCMS agrees to points #1-5, I will commune him without further questions, as was Walther’s consistent practice in his Pastorale. If a member of the LCMS did not agree to any one of points #1-5, then I would not commune him.

Addendum:  April 12, 2014

The comment below was posted on BJS today by Rev. Greg Shultz.  It sends a dagger right through the heart of the argument made by the blogger who wrote the BJS article and his cadre of ultra-conservative LCMS Lutherans; the Far Right of the LCMS that is stirring up trouble in our Synod by refusing to commune LCMS Lutherans who do not follow the dictates of their Far Right agenda.  Here it is:

Here’s the deal, Missourians. In an opinion of the CCM (11-2610) given in December, 2011, you have the following statement of understanding of fellowship within the LCMS and a warning not to mess with it:

“Disparate and alien avenues within the Synod such as withholding funds, shunning one another, failure to relate to one another (disassociate with, exclude one another), and failure to discuss disagreements and differences with one another as well as refusal to meet together, *refusal to commune or commune with another* while having no desire, decision, or action to carry out the mutually accepted provision of dispute/conflict resolution (Bylaw 1.10), are divisive, unbrotherly and are themselves destructive of the fellowship or a ‘walking together’ and ‘militate against the essential unity intended by the structure of the Synod as provided by the Constitution and Bylaws.”

More: “By virtue of having voluntarily ‘joined together to form the Synod and relate to one another through it’ (Bylaw 1.3.1) and, by virtue of its fellowship being compelled by love for each other, *members of the Synod accept the ‘brethren’ (‘brotherhood’) ‘as they are.’ Together with accepting the ‘brethren,’ members of the Synod accept the responsibility for carrying out the established provisions within the fellowship of the Synod to resolve brotherly dissent (Bylaw 1.8) and disputes (Bylaw 1.10) and to carry out any expulsion as set forth in the Bylaws (cf. Constitution, Art. XIII and Bylaw sections 2.14-2.17).

Simply stated, you are NOT ALLOWED to withhold communion from ANYONE who is part of the Synod without the express knowledge and permission of the Synod and unless and until you work through completely the dissent process. Because you are a member of and in fellowship with the Synod, you are in communion fellowship with all, even the David Benkes and Jerry Kieschnicks, and all the stupidity from left to right. It is undeniable.

It is also true that any pastor of the Synod who communes anyone NOT in outward, official fellowship with the Synod is committing ‘selective fellowship,” which is dishonest, confusing, and in violation of any and all outward fellowship agreements.

Has this blog changed your views on the Christian faith?