I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I Corinthians 1:10-13
No matter how quickly the world might be changing as a result of Covid-19, the old adage seems to remain true—the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Christian Church still fails, at least visibly, to live in the unity God intends for us. In worshipping via livestream, we all realize that we have thousands upon thousands of Christian and pseudo-Christian choices available to us at the click of a button. What makes them different? How are they united and how are they divided? You might have driven past some church a thousand times on your way to St. Paul’s and thought to yourself, “I wonder what goes on in there.” Well, thanks to Covid-19, it is pretty easy to find out anonymously. We have no idea who is watching our services, and nothing stops anyone from watching any other church’s online services.
Now is a good time, therefore, to really take a look at what makes various churches the same or different, and what makes any given difference important or unimportant. To that end, we’ve begun a Bible study via zoom in Wednesday evenings at 7:00 to examine the various teachings of different church bodies. Everyone is welcome to attend, so feel free to invite your friends, relatives, and neighbors. After all, amid all the cons of not being able to meet in person, we may as well take advantage of the huge pro of this situation, which is that people can join in from anywhere. The Zoom info is included in this update. Ask for help if you need it. We’d love to have you.
Last week we looked at the broad ways of understanding how various kinds of churches relate to each other. One way is to look at how different churches order our sources of knowledge about God—Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience, Church Councils—in terms of their authority for Christians. Another way is to trace a timeline and look at the history of how various factions broke off from each other or reconnected to each other.
Tomorrow we’re going to look at one of the most basic questions we all face. How is it that there can be more than one kind of Lutheran church in the United States? What makes them different? How did they get that way? Which differences really matter, and which are merely a matter of cultural preference or history?
In future weeks we’ll look at other church bodies and movements, comparing what they believe, teach, and confess, and how those beliefs show up in the way they worship and live, to what we believe, teach, and confess. So if nothing else, it will really help all of us delve into our own faith and refresh our sense of why we do what we do. That might be yet another good thing God brings out of this difficult situation. Hope to see you tomorrow night!
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
[Jesus said to His disciples], “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Ever since the first Pentecost fulfilled this promise to the disciples, the Gospel has spread. C.S. Lewis called it something like a good virus. It spread via contact from person to person as people told the good news and exemplified Christian living for each other. Jesus’ words picture Jerusalem as the epicenter and beginning of this good virus, which quickly spreads to the surrounding region of Judea (Judah), then Samaria (the old northern kingdom when Israel was dividing into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel) and gradually beyond that to the Gentiles all over the globe. And His words have been largely fulfilled in our day, though missionaries constantly seek out people who have had no exposure to the Good News.
Modern technology has accelerated the process by bypassing some of the person-to-person that made evangelism depend upon location and geography and spread like a good virus. Beginning especially with radio and then television but now going pedal to the metal with live-streaming, people proclaiming the Gospel can be talking to people in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth all at the same time without even knowing it. I know some people have participated in our services here at St. Paul’s from many states and even foreign countries. What a strange and wonderful tool for the Word! Not since the invention of the printing press has there been such an explosion of new opportunities for people to receive the Gospel.
One effect of St. Paul’s begin able to share our services with the entire globe is that any particular member of St. Paul’s has literally tens of thousands of services and sermons available to them at the push of a button every Sunday. Without leaving their homes, people can listen to the preaching of pastors, ministers, and priests of every denomination. Handy, convenient, amazing, and wonderful as that situation is for the propagation of the faith, it is also perplexing and in some cases dangerous. There can be too many voices contradicting each other, and some can be wolves in sheep’s clothing with spiritually poisonous teachings. After all, anyone can say anything in cyberspace. If we can make good use of live-streaming, we can bet Satan is also fully in tune with the possibilities of the internet.
While we praise and thank God that we can preach and teach online during this pandemic, we also have to be aware of the downside to every home having instant access to a veritable Babel of preaching and teaching. So next week we’re going to start a new Wednesday evening Bible study looking at the various teachings of different denominations and how they are similar or different from what we preach and teach here. Everyone is welcome to participate, and the Zoom info will come out on Monday.
We hope to continue the Wednesday evening Bible study even after things return to some semblance of normal, as we had been doing last fall and earlier in the winter. But for now we’ll do it online. Look for info in Monday’s update. Also, bear in mind that everyone is welcome to “attend” via zoom the Thursday morning Bible study, which is beginning the book of Hebrews this week, and the Sunday morning Bible study, which is doing Colossians. Please join us as you’re able, and offer to help those you may know who aren’t able to join us on their own.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana