Who were (are?) the Puritans?

Most Americans know little to nothing about who the Puritans were and what they taught….and a major part of what people do know is wrong!  Puritanism was nothing more or less than an English expression of the doctrines of the Reformation as formulated by Luther and his associates and other Reformed figures such as Calvin, Bucer and Zwingli.

For Lutherans it is interesting to compare Puritan thought with Lutheran Pietism–a movement which has profoundly affected Lutheranism in the United States.  The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations has its background in that Pietist movement brought here in the 18th and 19th centuries by immigrants.  When we look at the two movements (Puritanism and Pietism) we can see the relationship is not just between two past movements, but has to do with what we believe, teach and confess today at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Leitersburg.

Both Puritans and the Pietists sought to teach and experience a faith that was truly guiding their lives, the kind of faith we say we desire today.

If you are interested in learning more about the Puritans, my husband, Pastor Terry Culler, will be teaching a continuing education class through Shepherd University via Zoom.  The class will begin on Wednesday, March 17 from 3:30PM-5PM and will continue for 6 weeks at the same day and time.  To learn more follow the link below:

Shepherd University | Lifelonglearning

You can also contact Pastor Culler at St. Paul’s at 301-739-5443 or email him at freelutherans@myactv.net.

For other posts about the Puritans see:

Heaven is a World of Love by Jonathan Edwards — Book Review

An Introduction to John Owen by Crawford Gribben–Book Review

Beyond Stateliest Marble by Douglas Wilson — Book Review

For more on pietism see:

What is Pietism?

Lutheran Pietism

 

 

What Am I Here For?

This article was originally published in the Lutheran Ambassador, April 2008.

In The Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren poses a very important question:  “What on earth am I here for?”  Most of us readily acknowledge that pastors, missionaries, evangelists and the like have a God-given calling.  But what about the rest of us?  Aren’t we called by God as well?

I believe that we are.  In the book of Ephesians we read that:

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

The good works we were made by God to do could be considered our personal vocation or calling.

Vocation is a topic that has been much written about and discussed in Christian circles.  Before the Reformation only those in religious orders were seen as having a vocation.  Martin Luther and other reformers extended to concept to secular occupations and activities as well.  Luther insisted that the farmer, the cobbler, the milkmaid or the parent had a religious calling as significant as that of a priest or nun.

Vocation has been defined in many ways.  Luther send that in your calling you must “lend yourself as a means and a mask to God.”  Frederick Buechner, Christian chaplain and author describes it as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  Thomas Kelly, a Quaker, writes that it is “God’s burdened heart particularizing His burdens in us.”  And Erik Rees, a minister at Saddleback church calls it, “your serving sweet spot.”  One vocation is very clear:  its purpose is service to others.  It has everything to do with Christ’s command to love our neighbor and little to do with worldly accomplishments or success.

Although you cannot choose your vocation (it seems to choose you), there are clues for recognizing it.  You will most likely find it in your own backyard.  Look for your vocation in your career or job, your family, among your acquaintances or fellow church members.  You will have an aptitude for it.  Others will often commend you for it.  It will arouse your passions.  It will energize you.  It may be challenging, but never onerous, for as Jesus says,

“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matt.  11:30

In accomplishing it you will feel God’s pleasure, a sense of fulfillment that means you are being true to what God made you to be.  Knowing your vocation helps you to distinguish between the things you can and should do and those that are best left to others.

Your vocation may evolve over time even if it involves the same set of skills and gifts.  For example, I see my vocation as encouraging others.  When my children were young, I wrote and directed our congregation’s Vacation Bible School programs;  later I led small groups and retreats;  and now I find myself writing for the Lutheran Ambassador (and more recently this blog).  One author says your vocation “keeps making more of you.”  Discover and follow your vocation.  It will lead you into a continuing adventure with God!

For more on the topic of vocation, see these posts:

What the Bible Says About Purpose by David Ramos–Book Review

Stewardship of Our Life

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

 

Charles Porterfield Krauth on the Importance of Doctrine

 

“It is the distinctive position of the Reformation with which, over against Rome, it stands or falls, that that which properly constitutes, defines, and perpetuates in unity a Church, is its doctrine, not its name or organization. While a Church retains its proper identity it retains of necessity its proper doctrine. Deserting its doctrine it loses its identity. The Church is not a body which bears its name like England, or America, which remain equally England and America, whether savage or civilized, Pagan or Christian, Monarchical or Republican. Its name is one which properly indicates its faith–and the faith changing, the Church loses its identity. Pagans may become Mohammedans, but then they are no longer Pagans–they are Mohammedans. Jews may become Christians, but then they are no longer Jews in religion. A Manichean man, or Manichean Church, might become Catholic, but then they would be Manichean no more. A Romish Church is Romish; a Pelagian Church is Pelagian; a Socinian Church is Socinian, though they call themselves Protestant, Evangelical, or Trinitarian. If the whole nominally Lutheran Church on earth should repudiate the Lutheran doctrine, that doctrine would remain as really Lutheran as it ever was. A man, or body of men, may cease to be Lutherans, but a doctrine which is Lutheran once, is Lutheran forever. Hence, now, as from the first, that is not a Lutheran Church, in the proper and historical sense, which cannot ex animo declare that it shares in the accord and unanimity with which each of the Doctrines of the Augsburg Confession was set forth.”
For more on Charles Porterfield Krauth see this post:
You can also email freelutherans@myactv.net to receive an invitation to a free zoom discussion of Krauth on July 14th at 10:30AM, offered by my husband Pastor Terry Culler through Shepherd University.

Learning Grace: Book Learning #3

We Lutherans are big on grace.  It’s one of the five “solas” of the reformation:  we are saved by grace alone.  If you’re interested in reading a spiritual autobiography about someone who believed in God’s grace in his life, check this one out:  it’s an easy read, I finished in one day..

Brennan Manning was a Catholic priest who left the priesthood to marry;  he eventually divorced;  he was an alcoholic who struggled with his addiction on and off throughout his life.  He made many mistakes.  He was also a writer, speaker, teacher and evangelist who touched many with his spiritual insights.  Throughout everything he continued to believe that God loves us, and extends grace to us, wherever we are in our lives.

“Like Christian, the everyman character in The Pilgrim’s Progress, he progressed not always by making right decisions, but by responding appropriately to wrong ones”

from “All is Grace” by Brennan Manning

I like this quote because isn’t it true of most of the “heroes” of the Bible, David, for instance?  His life was a mess, too.  He committed adultery and murder, among other things.  However, he was also “a man after God’s heart.”  He sinned, but he repented, he never turned away from God, he accepted what came from God’s hand, the good and the bad.  Like all of us, he was saint and sinner.  Just like Brennan Manning.  Just like you and me.

Remembering the Reformers

October 13, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, so we Lutherans have been hearing a lot about the people and events that played a role in the world changing movement called the Reformation.  In our sermon Sunday, my husband discussed what the Reformers went through to make the Bible available to everyone. He said that these days the Bible has been called the most purchased and least read book in America.  Almost everybody has one …or more, as there are a myriad of different translations and specialty versions….but do we remember to give thanks for that gift, and realize what a privilege it is to have God’s Word readily available to us in our own language? We take this for granted but many people were persecuted and killed in order to make that happen.  Here are a few:

  • Johanm Esch & Henrich Voes–the first Lutheran martyrs burned in Brussels in 1523
  • Martin Luther–condemned by Papal Bull in 1520 and by the Diet of Worms in 1521
  • Jan Hus–burned in 1415
  • Girolama Savonarola–Hanged in 1498
  • Hugh Latimer & Nicolas Ridley–Burned in 1555
  • Thomas Cranmer–Burned in 1556
  • John Knox–Condemned to be a gallery slave 1547-1549
  • George Wishart–Hanged in 1546
  • William Tyndale–Burned in 1536 in Brussels
  • John Wycliffe–Died a natural death in 1384 but his bones were later dug up and burned, scattered in the Thames

So next time you read your Bible–or the next time you put off reading your Bible–remember how many people risked or gave their lives so that you could have it.  Your Bible was purchased for you by the blood of martyrs.  Take that seriously and take time to read it.

Prayer for the Growth of the Church

This prayer comes from the book Prayers of the Reformers compiled by Clyde Manschreck.  It was written by John Calvin.

“Grant, almighty God, since thou dost try the faith of thy people by many tests that they may obtain strength from the unconquered fortitude of thy Holy Spirit.  May we constantly march under thy standard, even to the end, and never succumb to any temptation.  May we join intelligence with zeal in building up thy church.  As each of us is endowed with superior gifts so may he strive for the edification of his brethren with greater boldness, manliness and fervor, while he endeavors to add numbers to the cause.  And should the number diminish, yet may some seed always remain, until abundant produce shall flow forth from it, and such fruitfulness arise as shall cause thy name to be glorified throughout the world, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

All the Glory to God

This is the talk given by one of our congregational members during a recent workshop held. The amazing thing about this is that he is young and autistic, but he managed to grasp the concept better than some adults. The Lord was definitely speaking through him, It is with his permission that I post this. Thank you Nicolas for a heartfelt look into the Glory that should always be God’s.
Worthy Are You
Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. Revelation 4:11.
The topic I have chosen is Glory to God. For my starting point, I would like to acknowledge that some people without knowledge of the Lord and his works might think its “selfish” of God to expect us to give glory to him. So I would like to start off with “why” should we give glory to God, and I will try to explain his works by putting them into perspective to do so.
Let me start off in the Old Testament with the Israelites. God’s people were in slavery in Egypt, but Moses did as God told him, and was able to lead them out. God even provided them with food and water in the wilderness. They still disobeyed God however, and were stuck there for 40 years. But even so, God still provided for them, and even allowed them to conquer Jericho as time passed. History went on with a similar cycle, that being: God lets Israel thrive and prosper, they disobey God and are disciplined for it, and God forgives and lets them prosper again and so on. There were several more specifics and details, but that sums up most of it until Jesus came. No matter how much they disobeyed, God always made things well in due time, he constantly forgave without limit.
Now let me talk about my own life for a bit. My Mom and Dad didn’t mean to start a family, they didn’t even love each other, and obviously this was a dysfunctional family. Eventually, they divorced, and took turns with the kids. One hand, you have a guy with a really loud and scary voice, coupled with a short temper. On the other hand, you have a woman who has anxiety, and is now has low income working day care. Combine both with two 6-8 year olds with autism, and a big sister to boot, and that will not go well with my Dad’s temper, or my Mom’s anxiety. They were put in this situation in the first place by disobeying God, by being intimate before marriage. But just like with the Israelites, God provided. My Mom got remarried to the ultimate male role model that is my stepdad, and is now so very happy. My brother & I were also put in a small Christian school, and a social skills group. It’s safe to say we have been much happier, and become more mature ever since. Also just like the Israelites however, I have done and said many things that I regret, and overall sinned against God, and I’m sure my family has too. And just like the Israelites, God has always forgiven me. To ensure that, he has his own son, Jesus, die on the cross, taking my sins with him. At this point, I hope it’s really been put into perspective.
Not only did he send his son to die so myself, and all of you can have a reserved seat in heaven with our names on it, because no matter how much I endlessly sin and disobey, he endlessly forgives me to no end! On top of that, he takes the time to provide for me and my family, and makes hard times good while we’re still here on earth! He did this exact same thing with the Israelites over 2000 years ago, and is still doing that now with no signs of stopping or slowing down in sight! He provides for us all, even when we sin, we may have to be disciplined, but he always forgives and continues to provide no matter what. He’s been doing that forever at this point.
The amount of mercy, grace, and love it takes to do that is so massive, it’s far beyond comprehension, and always will be. Every human has a breaking point for that sort of thing, a point where they snap, but God has been doing this for years and counting for everyone on earth! That’s a lot of tolerance, a lot of mercy, and most of all, a lot of love. For him to love, give, and provide unconditionally for thousands of years, for all his servants at once, deserves far more glory than we could ever give. If that doesn’t deserve the highest amount of glory we could possibly give and more, than nothing will.
Now we know, and hopefully understand why we should give glory to God, now we ask “how do I do it”? Well, to put it simply, we should thank, praise, and acknowledge God in everything we experience and do. We can lead by example doing God’s work, and by that, I mean showing Gods love to everyone around us, and making sure to acknowledge it is God’s love. To do that, we are to humble ourselves, if we are not acknowledging that it is God’s love we are showing, we would be getting all the credit, therefore glorifying ourselves, not God.
One simple, but effective way to glorify God is simply by thanking him for everything we have. An important thing to note however, is that even if we glorify God, that doesn’t mean everything is just going to be unicorns and rainbows in our lives. However, just like I mentioned earlier, when times are bad, God will still provide. So when we are in these times, it is important that we still take time to glorify God. If you glorify him in the good times, but neglect him in the bad, then did you really mean any of it at all?
So, in short, we show Gods love to our neighbors, acknowledging that it is God’s love, and thanking God for everything we have, any chance we can get, no matter our current situations. Those are just some examples, but the main point, is that we are to be “channels” of God’s love and glory to others, not sources of our own glory.
However, many Christians today misunderstand glorifying God, it is important to note things we should not do, as to not misunderstand. There are three main points I will mention, however, all can stem from one thing, pride.
The first is idol worship; idol worship is putting anything above God. An example for me, and probably many of you, is most forms of entertainment. Think for a moment, are there any movies or shows you watch, games you play, or books or stories you have read, that God would not be a fan of? If you’re like me, chances are there is for all three of those categories. For me to use these, is basically me saying “well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt, it’s just a game/show/book”. By me thinking that, it’s basically me saying “I don’t really care enough”. I’m putting my own interests over Gods, and that is my own pride at work. There has to be a line, where if we cross it, we just say no, and turn it off.
The second is hypocrisy, or judging, they fall into similar categories. This seems to be the most noticeable problem Christians of today have. We say we should obey the law, but many of us drive 5 miles higher than the speed limit on the highway. We say to turn the other cheek when wronged, yet we often feel the need to provoke another when they insulted us. There are more examples that many modern Christians tend to condemn. Homosexuality or transgender, abortion, believing in evolution, and many others. We know all of these things are not what God has willed, but if we see others doing these things, we should not condemn, or look down upon them in any way. Not to mention God can forgive any of those sins if asked, just like he can forgive any of ours. Even though we have not done those things specifically, if he can forgive them all the same, then what reason do we have to condemn them, and not our own sins? When we judge others, we think we are better than them. That is your own pride taking over, but that’s not the only sin here. By judging others for their sins, it gives others the impression that God is a God of condemnation and hate, which is not true. By doing this, we are not glorifying God, we are tarnishing his name.
The last of these things is lying. When we lie to others, it is most likely to protect ourselves or our reputation. But if found out, what does that say about God? It gives the impression that our priority is our own wellbeing, rather than that of God’s, which is not true. By lying, you are putting your own reputation above Gods reputation; you think you’re better than him. You know what that is? You guessed it, pride.
When we glorify God, it is important to not let our own pride get in the way. If you do, it will lead to various other things that do not glorify his reputation, but tarnishes it. If we are humble, and acknowledge it is all God’s work and love, we are most definitely glorifying him, but letting pride take over, does the exact opposite.
Now, are we expected to always do this without fail? Of course not, we may be the channels for Gods glory to others, but we are not God. We will make mistakes, we will disobey him, and we will do things that tarnish Gods reputation. Why? Because we are human! We have a sinful nature by heart, so we will continue to sin, that’s why it is important to keep a level head, and be understanding. If someone does bother us, if we lose our temper, and get angry or upset, we are more likely to have an irrational way of thinking. When in this state, we are more likely to say, and do things we will regret, and do things that tarnish God’s reputation.
So, in summary, to glorify God, we must keep a level head, be humble, understanding, and free of self-pride, acknowledge God in all things, at all times-good or bad, and show his love to others, through us.
Now, is this something we absolutely have to do to gain God’s forgiveness or salvation, in other words, are we forced to glorify him? No! We shouldn’t think we give glory to God because we have to, we should as a way to thank him for all he has done for us, it’s the least we could do. And after seeing, hearing, and experiencing Gods love firsthand in our own lives, what joy it would bring to show that same love of God to others who don’t know, haven’t seen, or don’t realize it yet. It makes God happy, and it makes us happy too.
Glory be to God everyone, it’s the least we could do, and it will make us and others happy too.

By: Nicholas Marquez

In a Sea of Princesses, Be Batman!!

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Ok, so maybe this seems a little off-topic for reformation, but I thought the picture was appropriate given that it is Halloween. When I think of the reformation, I try to put myself in the shoes of the leaders of this reform. What must it have been like to go up against something as mighty as the church? For them to say ‘nope- I don’t agree with your interpretation of God’s word’. Can you imagine the strength of conviction it would take to do that? The leaders at the time were telling them that they could ‘buy’ salvation and forgiveness, which as we know is not the truth of the word. Did the reformers ever have any self doubt? Did they ever think about what it would mean if they were wrong and the church was correct- would they lose their salvation? No, because they had read and studied God’s word, rather than just depending on the thoughts of others. In this world today, we are constantly bombarded by similar wolves in sheep’s clothing- telling us everything that we might want to hear. Television ‘pastors’ tell us that what God wants is for us to be rich, to have material things, to serve and love only ourselves. It is by attending a true church with members who both serve the Lord and study his word that we are able to combat and avoid this. In some ways, our church members are todays reformers- reformers of the current society that we live in. So we must continue to go to church, study the bible, and share his word. Be Batman!!