Monthly Archives: February 2009

Church History Post 1

I have been taking a class through Covenant Theological Seminary on Reformation through Modern Church History. Every week we are asked to post our thoughts on a certain prompt. I will begin posting these responses; below is the first.

As you study the life of Martin Luther, where are you challenged in your own life? How will you use the history of people like Luther and the other Reformers in your ministries?

There are many things that are welcomed as I read the account of Luther`s life. His coarseness, vulgarity, sharpness with opponents, all are close to my own failings and tendencies. His tenderness to Katie Von Bora, love of God`s word and people and willingness to stand for the truth are all things that I would aspire to.

The most surprising thing, noted in lectures and readings, was how aloof he was of all things political. Obviously he was aware of the great politico-religious monolith whose fury and wrath he was welcoming by his work. Yet he never once courted political support. It`s almost as if he didn`t care one way or another what the tides of political favor were, given their changing nature. He followed the instruction of his political superiors, but never sought to maneuver or manipulate for his own advantage. He ventured himself and his family (no less), completely on God`s care and kindness to him. It seems he never consulted the polls, but simply sailed out on God`s faithfulness into the very tumultuous sea in which he had no clout.

Despite his intentional ignorance of all things political, he continually benefited from the protection of Frederick the Wise. As well, much of Frederick`s ability to protect him derived from the constantly changing political-military landscape. Had it not been for the Turkish invasion on the East, Charles V would have been able to to prosecute Luther, and sharply so. As well, Francis I`s continual provocation of Charles left the Emperor in need of unified German support. The peace signed at Nuremberg seems mostly to have been negotiated by Lutheran princes. Some of these princes were involved in the Lutheran cause not for any theological convictions but because of their disdain for the Pope`s meddling in their lands. Nationalism was quickly joined to the protestant theology as dual force for the removal of Papal and Imperial authority from Germany.

All of this, of course, is a testament to Luther`s own trust in his `mighty fortress`. Moreover, it is a great picture in favor of his two kingdoms view. Much of the trouble he got himself into was when he dabbled in the civil (i.e. advising a violent suppression of the peasant rebellion.) As much as his two kingdom view has against it, it is certainly not in danger of any sort of Constantinian submission to evil authority. The church is preserved by its separation from temporal power.

What is striking in all of this, and convinces me of the value of particular ministries, is Luther`s keen focus on the Word, and ultimately on the education of the people in that Word. He was intentionally aloof from the political realm, it seems, because of his intense devotion to the Word of God. As well, he was not simply concerned with his own appropriation of Biblical truth, but of all people`s. He was deeply concerned with changing the worldview of people, and not the governmental structures. So much in missions (and sometimes in church work,) is focused on development and partnering with the government. While this is certainly a good goal, it succinctly ignores the primacy of the Church as God`s tool. Development is preferred to gospel teaching, changing men and women`s hearts. Much can be said in defense of either side, both having real merit. Yet, looking at Luther and the other reformer`s I am convinced that education, devotion to the word, study, preaching, and education of the polis are the means I am to be committed to in ministry. My work is to be a co-worker in the changing of men and women`s hearts and minds. Much energy is spent elsewhere on good things, but I (and I am convinced all of us), am called to be the Church to the local church and to the world through the ministry of the word.


Philosophy of Education

More and more as I read critiques of our time it seems to me that one thing is lacking: a right understanding of man as God’s image bearer. This has a direct effect in the way we view education.

One author I read recently described what he called the ‘stewardship principle’, which was basically the cultural mandate.  I think he was right to emphasize this. The only reason we value education is that it enables us to think about the world in an orderly way, allowing us to cultivate it. The ways in which it enables us to take raw creation and make something beautiful from it, are the ways in which God’s image is reflected.

Obviously there are benefits to businesses for hiring employees who have been well-educated etc. But, I submit that this benefit is subservient to the ultimate motive; cultivating a beautiful society thereby reflecting God’s image.  Prosperous businesses are only good insofar as they benefit society. The emphasis on the trade-training aspects of education for the sake of job preparation puts the cart before the horse. Rather, it exalts one aspect of education and sacrifices the real goal.

I would think that education has three reasons for which we Christians ought to value it:

– It enables us to bear God’s image on many levels

– It enables us to make things beautiful and learn to see beauty

– It enables us to create cultural vocations or ‘covenants’ of specialized knowledge. (Here businesses would fit in. More like it would be trades, both the glorious and gritty.) This allows greater cultivation and greater prosperity.


PS. This is borrowed from Gene Edward Veith’s blog, where he quotes David Brooks discussing vocation. Its good and its what I had in mind for the third benefit of education:

“In this way of living, to borrow an old phrase, we are not defined by what we ask of life. We are defined by what life asks of us. As we go through life, we travel through institutions — first family and school, then the institutions of a profession or a craft.

Each of these institutions comes with certain rules and obligations that tell us how to do what we’re supposed to do. Journalism imposes habits that help reporters keep a mental distance from those they cover. Scientists have obligations to the community of researchers. In the process of absorbing the rules of the institutions we inhabit, we become who we are.

New generations don’t invent institutional practices. These practices are passed down and evolve. So the institutionalist has a deep reverence for those who came before and built up the rules that he has temporarily taken delivery of. “In taking delivery,” Heclo writes, “institutionalists see themselves as debtors who owe something, not creditors to whom something is owed.”

The rules of a profession or an institution are not like traffic regulations. They are deeply woven into the identity of the people who practice them. A teacher’s relationship to the craft of teaching, an athlete’s relationship to her sport, a farmer’s relation to her land is not an individual choice that can be easily reversed when psychic losses exceed psychic profits. Her social function defines who she is. The connection is more like a covenant.