Last Sunday, I went to what I call the “Word of Faith” church, and also the Missouri Synod Lutheran church. Here are some notes:
A. There is a new sermon series at the “Word of Faith” church. It
is about being surprised by God. The pastor was saying that we can
either be surprised by God, or we can be shocked, which leads to
I am not sure what entirely the pastor has in mind when it comes to
the latter (shock leading to emotional pain). But he cited Zechariah in
the Gospel of Luke as an example of the latter. Zechariah in Luke 1
was told by an angel of God that his wife would bear John, even though
she was barren and elderly. Zechariah, out of disbelief, asked for a
sign, and the angel told him that the sign would be that Zechariah would
keep his unbelieving mouth shut until John was born (or so the pastor
paraphrased the text!). The pastor said that Zechariah, had he been
allowed to speak, would have talked his wife Elizabeth out of having
sex, and John never would have been born. Whereas Zechariah doubted God
and experienced shock, Mary was surprised by God, but she still
believed that God could do what God said and assented to what God wanted
to do. The pastor was likening that to God using us, with our
Do I want for God to surprise me? On the one hand, I would love to
be assured that God knows my address and would use me for something
important. I would feel validated. Plus, adventure sounds appealing,
on some level. On the other hand, I would like a quiet, predictable
B. The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church commented on Luke 1:6,
which says about Zechariah and Elizabeth: “And they were both righteous
before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord
I had not thought about this verse for a while. I called Harold
Camping (remember him?) on his radio show over a decade ago and asked
him about it. “How can this say that Zechariah and Elizabeth kept the
commandments and were blameless, when Paul says that there is none
righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10)?” Camping replied that Zechariah
and Elizabeth had imputed righteousness: God reckoned them as righteous,
even though they (like all people) were sinful, because they had faith
in the Christ who was to come. In short, they were justified by grace
through faith, not works.
Over the past week or so, I have been listening to a Lutheran podcast
that goes through the Bible. The hosts were talking about II Peter
2:8, which says regarding Lot from the Book of Genesis, as he dwelt in
the wicked city of Sodom: “For that righteous man dwelling among them,
in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with
their unlawful deeds” (KJV).
The hosts struggled with the reference to Lot as righteous. They
rejected the idea that Lot was righteous on account of his good works,
for they believed that Lot, like everyone, had to be justified by grace
through faith. Plus, when one reads the Book of Genesis, one reads that
Lot did things that we might consider unrighteous: he selfishly picked
the better land for himself, he dwelt in wicked Sodom, and he offered
his daughters to the wicked Sodomites. Righteous Lot? For these hosts,
Lot’s righteousness was imputed: it was not something that he possessed
on account of his good works, merit, or lack of sin, for he was sinful;
rather, God reckoned him as righteous on account of his faith.
The hosts made a similar point about Noah. Genesis 6:5 states
regarding the antediluvian people: “And GOD saw that the wickedness of
man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts
of his heart was only evil continually” (KJV). The hosts were saying
that such a description fits, not only the pre-Flood people, but every
human being. That would include Noah. According to the hosts, Noah was
saved, not because he was righteous in his deeds or merited salvation,
but because he found grace in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:8). Noah
had faith: he believed God.
Getting back to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the pastor at the “Word of
Faith” church was interpreting Luke 1:6 to mean that Zechariah and
Elizabeth were connected to God and were comfortable in their own skin
in that relationship. “Blameless” means this, the pastor said, not that
Zechariah and Elizabeth were morally and spiritually perfect.
I have problems with the idea that these biblical figures’
righteousness was imputed rather than practical. II Peter 2:8
highlights Lot’s righteous soul and how it was grieved over the
sinfulness of the Sodomites. Luke 1:6 focuses on the religious walk of
Zechariah and Elizabeth: they walked in God’s commandments and
Yet, they obviously were not perfect. Lot had his character flaws.
Zechariah stumbled in his faith. Plus, even though Luke 1:6 states that
Zechariah and Elizabeth walked in God’s commandments and were
blameless, Luke in Acts 13:38-39 depicts Paul saying that forgiveness
comes through Christ, and that the Jews could not be justified through
the law of Moses. The law of Moses was a dead end, in terms of becoming
Perhaps one can say that these figures had faith, and good works
flowed from it. Their faith was what saved them and led to their
righteous status before God. Maybe. I will not deny that they had
faith, even though they stumbled over it quite a bit (and the hosts of
the podcast had an interesting discussion about why it is wrong to make
faith into a law, for most of us fall short of even the mustard-seed
faith that moves mountains or trees, a la Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6).
Faith probably formed the basis for their works. Still, the biblical
passages seem to focus on their deeds or attitudes (i.e., love of
righteousness and hatred of wickedness) when it calls them righteous.
C. The theme at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church was Jesus’
Parable of the Talents, which is found in Matthew 25:14-30. You can
read the parable here.
I liked how the speakers were conceptualizing the lesson of the
parable: we should make use of the gifts that God gave us to help
others, or to accomplish something good. And we all can give something,
even if it’s just a smile.
The Parable of the Talents troubles me because the servant who hides
his talent in the ground is sent into outer darkness where there is
weeping and gnashing of teeth. The place of weeping and gnashing of
teeth is arguably hell (see Matthew 13:42, 50; Luke 13:28).
I would say that I am a productive person. I am not a people-person,
but I try to do something. Getting back to that Lutheran podcast, the
hosts said on one episode that there is such a thing as passively
serving one’s neighbor: a sick person in the hospital is serving the
doctors and nurses by giving them the opportunity to use their gifts.
By that standard, I serve others by being a consumer: by watching TV,
reading books, etc.
Maybe I am not like the unprofitable servant who does absolutely
nothing with the talent that is given him. Still, I think it is wrong
for the master to cast him into hell. Should heaven-and-hell decisions
be based on a person’s productivity or accomplishment? That strikes me
as rather grisly. What if a person cannot do anything? What if he or
she is blind and cannot read? What if he or she does not feel like
smiling? What if I do not feel like blogging? And, before I had
Internet connection, there were times when I did not interact with human
beings. Did God condemn me as an unprofitable servant in that time?
Can’t God just let me be (by which I don’t mean leaving me alone, but
accepting me even when about the only thing I do is exist)?
I have had a similar issue with Jesus’ statement that God will not
forgive us if we do not forgive others (Matthew 6:15; 18:35; Mark
11:26). Lately, I have done better in the forgiveness department than I
usually do. A resentful thought enters my head, I think to myself “I
forgive that person or that deed,” and the resentment fades. I am not
sure how long this will work, but it works for now. Still, I have
issues with God conditioning God’s forgiveness of people on their
forgiveness of others. I think that God should cut people more slack
than that. “But how canst thou expect God to cut thee slack, when thou
wilt not cut slack unto thy neighbour?” (I am watching the American
Experience documentary on the Pilgrims as I write this.) Because he’s
God. I am just a human being.
D. I will leave the comments open, in case someone wants to shed
light on these issues. Just please don’t get into lewd or controversial
I didn't get the answers
3 hours ago