Thursday, 7/2, we'll continue our Bible Study discussion topic is what's a Christian, and how do you become one?
Join us, 7:30-8:30pm, on Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/703956236.
On Thursday we may discuss (depending on interest of the group):
Thursday, 6/25, we'll continue our Bible Study discussion topic is church and society. Join us, 7:30-8:30pm, on Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/703956236
What do you consider as the relationship between church/faith and society? And/or what should it be?
A new resource published by our denomination (ELCA) week of 6/22, Being a Public Church, outlines what's acceptable and not for congregations and clergy's public engagement in elections and campaigns.
From this morning's daily prayer, the reading was Ezekiel 34:1-16 - about the leaders of the people who are false shepherds, and God's promise to be a good shepherd. God has a lot to say in scripture about leaders, governments, kings, leaders, and the weaknesses of societies, for the sake of the people. What does that mean for how we as people of faith are to respond?
Any study of this topic often begins or can be helped by starting with (but not necessarily sticking to or accepting) H. Richard Niebuhr's categories in his book Christ & Culture (as summarized by Pt. Bob Benne here, with some edits):
But like most things, Lutherans believe all of these things, and find themselves all across this spectrum, and some find these categories unhelpful, to simple, or bound by modern thinking to begin with. I (Pastor Brett) personally believe that while Lutherans technically believe in the "in paradox" type above, that foundational belief moves us toward the "transforming" position - when it comes to living out our faith, and I personally find that reflected in Luther and subsequent Lutheran theologians.
One key thing we often consider or respond to when we consider this topic, is religious freedom and the "separation of church and state" which comes from the "establishment clause" in the First Amendment. Much of our thinking also flows from Jefferson's language in a letter he wrote regarding the First Amendment:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."
Ok. But what does that mean to you?
What are the scripture verses/concepts/religious teachings that come to mind when you consider this topic?
Check back later here and I'll update this with some for us to discuss - feel free to add yours in the comments below.
Some other questions to consider:
What is the Christian call/duty to advocate to change society?
How much did Jesus talk about social/civil/political matters?
What does it mean to you for a topic to be "political?" Where is the line?
A couple examples for you to consider/question the church and society place here:
There is an ELCA Social Statement on Church and Society - click here for the brief summary (1pg) or the full social statement (8pg), which was approved in 1991.
Free will. Do we have it? Yes? No? About some things but not about others?
Where does your belief about that come from?
Were you explicitly taught, reasoned it out, or have you read scripture or theology that informed your thinking?
What are the implications about your beliefs about free will?
How does this belief interplay with beliefs about choice, blame (since people can/cannot choose/will themselves), fate/destiny/God's plan...
Furthermore, how does you belief about free will (or lack thereof)
OR are you just like - I never think about this at all!
Question - if you've been in Lutheran worship, about every time we worship together we start with confession, using these or similar words: "we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves." What does that mean to you?
Also informing or a part of the conversation - Martin Luther writes in the explanation of the third article of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel..."
Christians, generally, believe a wide spectrum of things about free will - from none at all and complete predestination and God's plan, to none at all and humanity has complete will/choice.
This is a topic on which there is a pretty specific Lutheran doctrinal position - however, as with other things, believing differently would not exclude anyone, and realistically there is a wide spectrum of belief about this among Lutherans as well.
Here is a succinct summation of the Lutheran doctrinal position on free will, as explained in the book, Lutheran Questions, Lutheran Answers.
However, if you'd like further reading, one of Martin Luther's most important (and debated, and still one of his most-read today) writings is The Bondage of the Will, which is a relatively short and digestible read... kind of, if you like that kind of thing.
This "Lutheran" position on the question of free will is actually a quite radical and impactful belief, if you think about it. Let's engage it, and your opinions, openly in Bible study, this Thursday, 6/4, at 7:30, on Zoom here: https://zoom.us/j/703956236
Here are a couple further texts to consider and possibly discuss:
Romans 7:14-25: For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
The Augsburg Confession (the Confessional Doctrine of the Lutheran Church), Article 18, Free Will:
Regarding free will, this is what we teach: Humans have a free will to a certain extent. They have the ability to live an outwardly honorable life and can make choices among those things that pertain to reason.1 But without the grace, help, and working of the Holy Spirit they are not capable of becoming pleasing to God, of fearing or believing God from the heart, or of expelling the innate, evil inclinations from their hearts. This rather takes place through the Holy Spirit, who is given through God’s word. For Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2, “The natural man understands nothing from the Spirit of God.”2
And so that it may be recognized that we are not teaching anything new and strange, we include here the clear words of Augustine on free will, from the third book of his Hypognosticon:3
We concede that there is a free will in all people, for all of them have natural, innate understanding and reason. We are not saying that they are capable of dealing with God in some respect, such as loving and fearing God from the heart; only in the outward works of this life do they have freedom to choose good or evil. By “good” I mean what their nature is capable of, such as working in the field or not, eating or drinking, going to see a friend or not, putting on or taking off a piece of clothing, taking a wife, pursuing a trade, and doing something useful and good of that sort. Of course without God none of these exists or continues; everything is from him and through him. On the other hand, man can also undertake something evil by his own choice, such as bowing down to an idol, committing a murder, etc.