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Vol. 79 - No. 6
June 2008

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

               

More “Ask the Pastor”

            The questions keep rolling in!  So I’m devoting this month’s newsletter to a few “Ask the Pastor” items.  I’ll also be doing an “Ask the Pastor” sermon on June 22.  If you wish to submit a question, please place it in the box on the narthex counter.  And now to a few questions:

            What is the Lutheran church’s view on predestination? A few months ago, I was on a local radio show, “Iron Sharpens Iron”, with two other pastors, one a Methodist, one from the Calvinist tradition.  The two other pastors were talking about how much the Methodist and the Calvinist traditions disagree on the issue of predestination–with Calvinists teaching a rigid predestination where God chooses the saved and the damned, and the Methodists teaching that we choose our own destiny by exercising our free will.  When the question came to me, I rather flippantly said, “My tradition, the Lutheran tradition, disagrees with itself on this issue.”

            That got a laugh from the moderator and the participants, but I wasn’t totally joking–because we Lutherans try to have it both ways.  We teach that:

            If you’re saved, it’s all because of God--God has chosen you to be saved.  God gets all the credit for my salvation.

            –If you’re not saved, it’s all because of you–you have rejected God’s offer of salvation.  I get all the blame for my damnation.

            So Lutherans believe God predestines people to salvation, but not to damnation.  Our Calvinist friends, who think that God predestines some to eternal life and some to eternal punishment, would say that our view is incoherent and illogical.  And to that I (and I suspect most Lutherans) would say that coherence and logic are highly overrated, especially when it comes to religious concepts.  One could say that the idea of God as One and yet Three is incoherent and illogical; one could say that the idea of God as both just and merciful is incoherent and illogical; one could say that the idea of Jesus as both God and man is incoherent and illogical.  But really, these beliefs represent not illogic, but mystery and paradox.  Each of these beliefs involves two truths that seem contradictory–yet both are true.  Christianity is full of that kind of paradox, that kind of mystery.  Why should the view of predestination be any different?

            Lutherans would also add one more absolutely important component: the cross.  We should not spend too much time thinking about who God was predestining before the foundation of the world–that involves a little too much nosing into God’s business.  What we should focus on, rather, is what happened on the cross: Jesus Christ died for all people, to take away all our sins.  If we are troubled by predestination, the place to look is the cross. When we think about predestination, Lutherans don’t pry into what God was doing before the foundation of the world–rather, we focus on Calvary, because we know what God was doing there: giving His very self for the salvation of the world.   Indeed, the cross is one event we know was predestined: Jesus is “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).

            Another question: Could you clarify Mary’s role in the Lutheran church?  Mary is important for Lutherans in two  ways:

            (1) As the mother of the Saviour.  God took human nature from the Virgin.  Through her, God has been born into the world as our human brother.  This is one of the core teachings of Christianity–“for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and became incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary”. (Nicene Creed).   Mary, then, stands as a reminder and an assurance that God has become “one of us”.

            (2) As a model of what it means to be a Christian.  Mary was the first person to “receive Jesus”.  She expressed faith and submission to God when she said to the angel Gabriel: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  And thirty-some years later, she showed a similar faith and a similar submission to God when, at the wedding at Cana, she told the wine steward: “Do whatever [Jesus] tells you” (John 2:5).  She is, therefore, a great role model for us–like she, we are to place our faith in God and surrender to His will.

            Think of what happened to Mary: the Holy Spirit came to her, and Jesus came to life within her.  Isn’t that a picture of what happens to us?  In baptism, the Holy Spirit came to us, and brought Jesus into our hearts.  What happened to Mary physically happens to us spiritually.  So we can look at her as a great model and picture of what being a Christian is all about.

            The questioner also asked about Mary’s status as Virgin Mother.  All Christians believe that Mary was a virgin at least up until the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:25).  Some Christians also believe that Mary remained a Virgin throughout her life.  This is the official view of our Roman Catholic friends; it also was the view of Martin Luther and John Calvin.  The Scriptures, however, speak of Jesus having brothers (Mark 3:31, Galatians 1:19, numerous other verses)–some see these as children of Joseph and Mary; others as children of Joseph from a previous marriage; others as cousins.  The Lutheran Church takes no official position on whether or not Mary remained a Virgin throughout her life, and Lutherans are free to believe either way.   Oddly enough, some of the most intense debates I’ve ever seen among Lutheran pastors have been about this question.  Bringing it up at a pastors’ gathering is like rolling a live hand grenade into the room!   But it’s not an issue that’s going to affect anyone’s salvation.  As with

many questions: We’ll find out when we get to heaven.  The truly important fact is that Jesus was born,

through the power of the Holy Spirit, of a human mother, so that He could be our brother, bear our sins on the cross, and bring us back to God.             God loves you and so do I!

 

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