"You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free."
Opinion: Thoughts of a Lutheran Pastor Reformation Day (which is this Sunday)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto you, my Lord, and my Redeemer.
Thoughts of a Lutheran Pastor on Reformation Day
The scriptures below from John 8: 32, have a special place in my heart, because of my personal experiences.
“You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”
Before I was called to faith by the power of the Gospel, I had not only experienced slavery to sin like anyone else, but also bondage to a false religious law; Islamic law.
It is ironic that the Jews, while they were under Roman occupation, answered Jesus saying: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” What I mean is that they were lying, whether they ignored their history in Egypt under Pharaoh, their situation under the Romans then, or their bondage to sin under the Mosaic law.
It is ironic too, because Muslims also claim that Abraham was the first Muslim, and that they have priority over Jews and Christians to be called followers of Abraham, and their book says that Muslims are “nearest kin to him.”
I want to take you back to the year 1980, Beirut, Lebanon, the Middle East.
This Christian preacher was then a devout Muslim.
I used to wake up at dawn, in the dark. There were then power cut-outs. The Lebanese Civil War that raged between Christians and Muslims for 15 years destroyed most public services. I used to light a candle, do my ablutions.. Sometimes, in winter, the cold water would give me the goose bumps. Walking to the local mosque was a dangerous thing. Christian militias used to shell the residential Muslim neighborhoods with mortars arbitrarily, especially at the wee hours of the morning. So one may be forced to scamper to the mosque under shelling. In addition, local militias sometimes fought in unpredictable skirmishes. Many times innocent people were killed by their stray bullets.
A devout Muslim should pray five times a day in order to go to paradise. A devout Muslim is not supposed to skip one ritual prayer, fast from food and water for 30 days, from dawn to sunset, even if the day were 16 hours, give 2.5% of any annual savings, and go on a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, if enough money were available. These criteria are the minimum. Isn’t that slavery to the law, even if it were a false law?
In addition, a devout Muslim is encouraged to fast Mondays and Thursdays year around, exactly like the Jewish Pharisees used to do. Such voluntary fasting would add good deeds in the scales on doomsday.
On Doomsday, Allah would weigh everyone’s deeds. If you were a Muslim, and your good deeds overweigh the bad deeds, you go to paradise. If not, you go to purgatory where you fry in hell and get purified of your bad deeds until Allah grants you an entry to paradise.
Allah’s fear and the desire to earn his rewards in paradise drive a Muslim to engage in all sorts of good works, and may go on a Jihad, and maybe die while engaging the enemies of Allah, in order to secure a direct entry to paradise, without any reckoning.
However, with all the difficult legalistic demands, and the pressure to conform to the Islamic community, most Muslims become hypocrites.
With the belief in a purgatory, and salvation through works and faith together, Islam was deemed to be a heretic sect of Christianity.
In the Middle Ages, there was a popular view that held that Mohammed was a cardinal whose papal ambitions were thwarted. This is why, he caused a great schism within Christianity, took his followers away and splintered off into a new religious community. But even today, there are some Christian voices that claim that Islam could be a way of salvation, as long as a Muslim would believe in Jesus as a prophet, even if Muslims denied the crucifixion.
This is what Martin Luther was battling against when he nailed his 95 theses in Wittenberg in 1517. Luther was battling against a distorted theology that emptied Jesus’ cross of its power, and shifted the focus from the Cross of Calvary to our human works that are mere filthy rags in the sight of God.
For Luther the only theology true to the gospel is what he called a “theology of the cross.” He contrasted that to a “theology of glory” that was being taught in all the schools at that time. Popular theologians, not unlike many modern ones, were trying to get to God through other ways. Those false prophets were teaching that people can come to know God through philosophy, mysticism, and morality, by means of reason, religious exercises, and good works. Yes, it sounds like some false teachers in Luther’s days were like what we have today. It is the most dangerous thing, when Satan and his servants masquerade as ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-14).
A lie mixed in with truth is much like rat poison, which contains 99% good food and 1% poison – its that 1% of poison (or lie) that will kill you!
When I first came to America, almost 13 years ago, I landed in Michigan. Even though I was a rookie, never been yet to seminary, Fort Wayne, when I sat in a Bible study, at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church, a book was being taught there about a purpose in life, how a purpose could drive your life, and how to be in the driver’s seat. That day, I walked out of that Bible study and never went back. If I were to be in the driver’s seat, and count on my personal discipline to fulfill my purpose in life, I will be condemned.
In Chicago, some years back, I filled in a pulpit where I discovered that the president of the congregation had not heard of the Book of Concord!!
This only shows that we need a daily reformation in our church, and that labels like Lutheran may not mean much, if we are not preaching Christ and Him crucified, and we are set free by the Truth.
It is not enough to say that our teaching is based on the Bible. This is a general statement that many theologians of glory hide behind. We have to make it clear that we preach Christ Crucified, as well as do it. We need to examine closely what is popular and attractive, and weigh it with the scales of the Word of God. It seems that we need to sort out the real Christ from that of the American Evangelical culture.
Theologians of glory flee from the hidden and crucified God. Ashamed to find God in the cross of Christ, their pride tells them to look for God in loftier places, in peak experiences, in which people scale the heights of their own human potential, their reason, creativity, their emotions and imagination.
Only in mere Christianity do we find this idea that God and the gallows go together. In other major religions, God is high in his heaven and far away. We humans are supposed to go there on the wings of our own reason and experience, our religious rituals and good deeds. Eventually, man would be worshiping himself.
It is ironic that, at the American University of Beirut, where I went to college, there was a humanistic thread or theme that went through all Western cultural studies taught to the students. It said that during the Middle Ages, God was the center of the universe, but after the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, Man became the center of the universe. It is ironic that it was there, at the American university of Beirut that I first heard the Gospel in a course of cultural studies, from the mouth of a secular professor. The Word of God “shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” – Isaiah 55: 10
But that year, in 1980, I was a freshman student at the American University in Beirut, when my only brother, my only sibling was killed by a Christian militia, in November 1980.
I vowed to kill my enemies. I got a silencer and a gun, and I started stalking my enemies in the streets at night. Some of them were my classmates. I planned to befriend them so that I could learn their movements, where they live in order to ambush them easier at night.
At that time, there was a course of cultural studies required from all students. The course included selections from Greek mythology, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and some Western philosophy. Then, I had known half of the Qur’an by heart, but the Bible was a new thing to me. The selection required from the NT in that course was the Sermon on the Mount. At the climax of my hate and thirst for vengeance I heard Christ’s exhortation: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:45) The Word of God struck me with full force. I sensed that Jesus’ exhortation was superhuman and cannot emanate from an ordinary human being, but from a divine source.
Then, the professor quoted Matthew 22: 37. When the Pharisees asked Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ESV
That started me thinking. I thought Muslims with their struggle to fulfill the five pillars of Islam and maybe go on a Jihad are the ones who are trying to love God with all their hearts, but this Jesus Christ is overdoing it. Who could do what He demanded? I though that I am missing the Truth with a capital “T” here.
Looking for the Truth I did not want to leave any stone unturned. I wondered about Hinduism and eastern philosophy, and asked how they viewed God. But reading about something is not enough. Only first hand experience may help me judge if Hinduism would be the answer; the Truth!!
I found a Yoga teacher, a British woman, a disciple of the disciples of Mahatma Gandhi. She stayed in Beirut, in spite of the Civil War.
To make a long story short, I did very well at Yoga, and was one of the best students in her class. This got me to Transcendental Meditation. I was given a Mantra and was told that the more I repeated that Mantra the more it would dig in my soul. Then I will rise up to God through seven steps. The last one would be union with God; called Samadhi, in Sanskrit. The more I repeated that mantra, the more stupid I felt. The more I repeated that mantra, the more I knew that I am not climbing up to God, but I am, instead, going down in my filth.
It dawned on me. We try to ascend to God with our spiritual exercises, we try to ascend to God with our good works, but we cannot do it on our own. Only in Jesus Christ, God Himself descended to us, and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.
And God gave me peace beyond human understanding. His peace that made me forgive my enemies.
I left a false god who wanted me to die for him, and followed the true God who died for my sins.
What is so great about this salvation is that we receive it through faith alone on account of Christ alone. What hangs in the balance is the issue of bondage or freedom. Freedom is the very essence of salvation. In his letter to Pope Leo X , known as “The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther wrote, echoing 1 Cor. 9; 19: “A Christian is free. . .and in bondage to no one.” Yet, at the same time, he said, “A Christian is a servant, and owing a duty to everyone.”
Two things are necessary for the life of the Church, justification, and Christian liberty. And it all hinges on the Holy Word of God, the Gospel of Christ.
Freedom is ours as the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word as we abide in the Word of Jesus Christ. Only His Word brings freedom and life. Only through His Word does the Son set us free and if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Amen.
Pastor, Salam Christian Fellowship
21w500 Butterfield Rd
Lombard, IL 60148
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