HS Winter Retreat

On Reading Old Books

One of the greatest things C.S. Lewis ever said is:lewis

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.

Why? Each age, each period of time has its own set of cultural blinders; things that it assumes to be true. There is a certain agreed upon common sense if you will. Take for example, in our modern day there is a common assumption that religious faith should have little to do with politics. Now I realize this may seem strange because you may be one who liked Dr. Ben Carson for president because he is a good Christian man or similarly Marco Rubio. (It does seem many of the Republican Candidates this go around touted their religious credentials.  Apologizes to you who are Democratic, I am not ignoring you, it is just that most of the people I know are Republican so I know their reasons better.) And I will agree that we should take one’s religious beliefs into account. But this is not where the issue lies. Our assumption, our blinder if you will, is found buried beneath our pick for president. It is the assumption that freedom of religion is an inalienable right. What if I were to tell you that the premise that we are free to believe what we wish is completely antithetical to Scripture? When God says things such as the First Commandment “You shall have no other gods.” or “no god but Me.” (Dt 32:39 and others) there are some pretty hefty implications. Namely that we are not free to believe as we will. We either rightly believe in the One God or we believe falsely in dead idols. Take it all in and it boils down freedom of religion is a figment of our imagination. We are required to believe in God. It took me a little while to come to grips with this premise, but we created a secular spiritual divide in ourselves without even realizing it because we adopted the assumptions of our day. It is entirely possible to operate with both premises and not realize the contradiction.  We assumed that both are true. We are bound by God’s Law to accept only one religion and that we have an inalienable right to believe as we wish.  The reality is that if God’s word is true than the second cannot be.  So, what happened I think is that we created a divide between temporal – politics – and eternal – religion – and relegated them to completely separate realms.I bring this up as an illustration not as an advocating of the over turning of the Bill of Rights (I actually really like the 1st Amendment because it leaves us free to believe rightly. Also faith is something that cannot be forced, but that is a topic for another article).  As I read Luther, I realized that even as he spoke about two kingdoms, the earthly realm – government – and the heavenly realm – church – he never saw them as separate entities.  Rather he saw them as related entities with different but overlapping responsibilities.  Over the years we lost this sense as we adopted various philosophical world views and in the end we created this cognitive dissonance without even realizing it.  We just simply assumed both were true because we had a common assumption drawn from our contemporaries who also assumed it is true.  In doing so we created a divide that doesn’t exist. I didn’t realize this until I made a concerted effort to read old books. And it all happened by accident.

Over a year ago, maybe two years ago, I can’t actually remember when I started, I began an effort to improve the quality of my preaching. As a part of that effort, I started listening to some preachers of today that I admired, but I also started reading the sermons and works of preachers of days gone by that I admired – namely Martin Luther. Adding Luther to my studies was an easy step for me. I have a nifty Bible program called Logos that also has an extensive theological library that can be added and it can link that library to the Bible. So that, when I look up a passage a second window will display related passages from Luther’s writings – particularly his lectures on the various books of the Bible. I started reading those for my sermon prep. I would read a bit here and there as I studied and slowly how I was thinking began to change. It was so subtle it wasn’t until I was talking with somebody recently that I noticed I have changed – I used to think one way but now I think in another. Reading an old book, namely Luther broke through my cultural blinders.

C.S. Lewis knew what he was talking about in his article On the Reading of Old Books. We need to be able to examine our world and our thoughts, but to do so we need to look through the eyes of others so that we can see beyond our blinders. It is going to throw you down a rabbit hole though because, to understand the old books you need to read even older books so you can understand the old book’s assumptions. That rabbit hole is worth it. Having my blinders removed brings the world into better perspective and hopefully is helping me do better as a pastor, parent, husband, and citizen. It’s helped me to recapture something that was lost. And I suspect it will continue as I read more old books.

 

Cited

On The Reading of Old Books” by C.S. Lewis

HS Winter Retreat

Passing on a Christian Worldview – The Overlooked Radical Tool

The year is 1529, the Reformation is well under way.   Martin Luther and his fellow pastors and professors had been teaching and proclaiming the Gospel for nearly 12 years. Now, their influence had spread throughout Germany and other parts of the Holy Roman Empire. Yet, even as their influence spread, the reformers in Wittenberg possessed little idea of how the Gospel and Scriptures were understood amongst the priests and laity outside of the city. So, Luther and some of his fellows began visiting congregations throughout the country. What they found was incredibly distressing. For all that the unleashed Gospel had spread the people were fairly ignorant of Scripture and their worldview was still largely affected by the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.

The result of these visits is what is probably the most overlooked worldview shaping tool ever devised, the Small Catechism. Yes, the book that has been gathering dust since your days in confirmation is one of the most radical worldview shaping tools ever created.

Sadly, over the years we have created an environment that allowed us to overlook the value of the Small Catechism. It became a text book. Nothing kills a book faster than becoming a text book for a class. Because, what do you do with a textbook after you finish a class? You either put it on a shelf to never look at it again or you get rid of it. As a pastor nothing makes me sadder than to see somebody put their Small Catechism in the for sale pile. But, we did it to ourselves. I must confess, I did it myself. The catechism was just a means for getting head knowledge.small catechism

The catechism is so much more than head knowledge. Comprised mostly of Scripture the Small Catechism can be understood as almost as the Bible in miniature. In the Small Catechism we are given the basic frame work of God’s Word and the means to understand what God is telling us. What is more is that we are even given a frame work by which to live and understand our own lives. In short, these 30 some pages (as formatted by CPH’s Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation) contain the greatest tool the average person can have.

What we have been given.

A means to understand the Bible.

The six chief parts of the catechism are set up the way they are specifically. They chart out how we can understand the Word of God by using God’s Word. Most of the Small Catechism is either a direct Scripture quote or a paraphrase of the Scriptures. So, it is possible for us to read the Scripture and see how the various events, songs, and prophesies illustrate the Six Chief parts and demonstrate a fundamental principle of understanding the Bible – Scripture interprets Scripture.

The Ten Commandments

Luther placed the Ten Commandments first because the Ten Commandments identify the problem by showing us our sin. Essentially, they summarize the various statements of God’s Law in the Scriptures. I’d like to point out briefly that the explanations draw heavily on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which is essentially a commentary on the Ten Commandments.

The Apostles’ Creed

There are three main creeds that Luther could have chosen for the Small Catechism, but the Apostles’ Creed serves best because it shares the redemption story. Essentially, we can understand the Apostles’ Creed as the summary of the Redemption story. The creed confesses the Gospel truth that God is our Father and creator and how He as our loving Father restores us through the work of Jesus. Plus, the creed confesses the Scriptural promises of how God makes us His in Christ and sustains us. In doing so, the Apostles’ Creed truly is a summary of the Bible, because the entirety of Scripture revolves around the Redemption story.

The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is God given faith’s response to hearing the Law and the Gospel of the Redemption story. It is the prayer that asks for the very things God has promised to give – forgiveness, what we need to live, and protection from evil.

Baptism, Absolution, and Communion

These three things along with God’s word are God’s answer to the petition “deliver us from evil.” I will be treating these sections individually later but for now they are collectively God’s answer to the Lord’s Prayer. For it is by the means of Baptism, Absolution, and Communion that we are given forgiveness of sins and deliverance from Evil. They give us the very bread that we need to survive the onslaught of Satan and his minions.  They bring us out of this dead world by bringing Jesus, the Lord of Life, to us.

Table of Duties

This is the answer to the question, “What does a holy life look like?” Here you will find Scripture verses pertaining to many of the stations of life we will find ourselves in through the course of our lives. And so, it serves as the starting point for figuring out what God would have us do in our life.

All of these Six Chief parts come together into one fantastic tool that can shape our worldview and enable us to pass on the worldview.   The first step we take is memorizing it. For many of us that may mean re-memorizing it. I will suggest to ways to memorizing the Small Catechism. The first is to read one of the Six Chief parts each day. The other is this nifty little CD from Concordia Publishing House called Singing the Faith. I highly recommend Singing the Faith because music is a fantastic mnemonic device (a tool to aid memory recall).

Why memorize?

You cannot form a worldview unless it is so solidly engrained into your mind that it becomes a natural part of your thinking. And working to memorize something will do just that. When learning a new language, one of the best ways to learn is to be completely immersed in that language. People who have studied abroad have experienced this phenomenon. When we work to memorize something, and I don’t mean the cramming so many school kids do before a test, rather the intentional work designed to promote long term retention, we end up immersed in the work we are memorizing. The shear act of memorization requires regular exposure. For example, Pastor Schlote gets up every morning and does a series of stretches while reciting bible verses. Every day begins with that memory work. Another example, is in my own family we have been using the Singing The Faith CD, music gets into your head. I catch myself singing “The First commandment…What does this mean?…” while sitting in my office or driving around town. At first, it made me laugh, but then it drove home how powerful a memory tool music is. But this is what means to become immersed.  You are exposed in such a way that even when you are not actively thinking about it, it comes to mind.

So if you want to start passing on a Christian Worldview begin with the greatest most overlooked Worldview tool – the Small Catechism.  I’ll spend the next six or so entries going into each part and how they affect our worldview.

HS Winter Retreat

Crosses

I’m the son of a carpenter…….. No, I’m not writing about Jesus, I’m writing in the ‘first person’ about me; my dad was a carpenter.  When my dad’s church decided to remodel their 100-year-old sanctuary, my dad did the work.  New altar, pulpit, lectern, communion rails, and of course, new 20 foot tall oak cross.  Beautiful white-stained oak, framed with a red and gold tapestry; very inspirational and ‘modern’ for 1962.  One of my proudest accomplishments in life is having the opportunity to build the LCMS Cross in our sanctuary!  For me, it’s another connection to my earthly father – as in ‘Like father, like son’.  But it’s more than that, it’s a connection to my Heavenly Father too.

I think of the words to that well-known hymn I grew up with ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ on which the Prince of Glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.  Or those words from ‘Alas, and did my Savior Bleed’ and this stanza: ‘Thus might I hide my blushing face While His dear cross appears, Dissolve my heart in thankfulness, And melt mine eyes to tears.’  Or maybe the most inspirational of all ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and these words:  ‘On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame; And I love that old cross where the dearest and best, For a world of lost sinners was slain.’

In a way, the cross my dad built was a testimony to his faith, and I feel the same way about the one I built –  it is a testimony to our Lord and when I see it, I think about these words in Hebrews 12:  ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’  In a month when we celebrate the Reformation and Martin Luther, let us fix our eyes on the Cross and on our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

HS Winter Retreat

‘A Mighty Fortress is our God….’

What powerful words penned by Martin Luther those many centuries ago!  He goes on to talk about our God in terms of warfare – a ‘trusty shield’ and a ‘weapon’.  Did you know that, as Christians, we possess the ultimate ‘Weapon of Mass Destruction’?  And that would be God’s Almighty Word!  The Apostle Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 10: ‘For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’

As we commemorate and celebrate the Reformation and the work of Martin Luther this month, consider the Power of God’s Word – the ‘Holy dynamite’ we use to demolish arguments and pretensions through the work of the Holy Spirit!  Hear again the word of Ephesians 6 as you’ve never heard them before:  ‘Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.’