Anniston Bible Church is presenting a series of lectures led by Bob St. John on The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther. The sessions meet at 6:30 pm on Mondays in October leading up to the anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It was October 31, 1517 when the Augustinian monk nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany in an attempt to reform practices in the Catholic Church. It was the second time that the New Testament Church had experienced a major upheaval. The church had a united existence for about 1000 years when the Roman Church split off. The changes made by Rome included placing authority in a Pope instead of a council, requiring celibacy for its clergy and using unleavened bread for the Eucharist. These two Christian churches, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, existed separately for another 500 years before Luther. With the advent of Protestant churches, we were off to the races. While the Orthodox Church remains largely unchanged, it seems like a new Protestant or Evangelical church splits off daily. This is good and bad. We spend a lot of time bickering amongst ourselves about what the Bible really says and who’s really saved. But this diversity can also be positive in that whatever it is that you want from church, you can probably find it. And if not, just start your own church. One of the interesting things that I've learned from Rev. St. John is how consistent most of Luther's ideas are with the Orthodox Church. It would be interesting to know what would've happened if Luther had led a return to the Orthodox Church instead of a reform of the Catholic church.
The text that accompanies the lectures is Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought by Stephen J. Nichols. He writes of Luther's conversion which began when he acknowledged that he "hated the righteous God who punishes sinners" ... and "raged with a fierce and troubled conscience." Luther's study of the book of Romans led to a spiritual breakthrough in which he was overwhelmed by an understanding of God's gift of grace. Thus the foundation of all Protestant and evangelical churches was laid. Anyone who worships today in this stream of faith would benefit from learning of Luther's discovery of how life-changing the gospel really is.
I've never heard more beautiful music in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. The orchestra, choir, and congregation were led by Rev. Andy Bumpus in a most reverent and meaningful worship experience. I've been singing in church since I was a Sunbeam, and I've been blessed to know many dedicated music ministers, but I can honestly say that Andy is the most talented of them all. He writes music; he arranges musical scores for both choir and orchestra; he's a soloist with the civic chorale; he is a brilliant conductor; he plays a variety of instruments at the professional level; and he has taught novices to play instruments so that they could participate in worship. The really amazing thing, though, is that he's so humble that many people in our own church do not realize the depth and quality of his talents. His concern is to be faithful with his spiritual gifts, not to be the center of attention. As churches continue to blur the line between worship and entertainment, Andy is an example of humility to all of us. If possible, his wife Betsy serves even further under the radar. She's in the background providing food for socials and funerals, folding clothes for tornado victims, sending messages of encouragement, singing in the choir and even filling in on the saxophone when needed.
As beautiful as last Sunday's service was, it was also quite sad since it was the last time that Andy will lead worship for us. He and Betsy have joyfully given of themselves to our congregation for 7 years, and they will be sorely missed. His position may be filled, but they will never be replaced.
I was in New Orleans a few months back and saw a man literally standing on his soapbox preaching loudly into a microphone to a largely uninterested stream of pedestrians. Bourbon Street has no shortage of street performers vying for the attention of the crowds, and this guy was definitely losing the competition. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity or question his motives in what he was doing. Like telemarketing, it must achieve the desired effect sometimes or people wouldn't do it. About a block away a group of around fifteen young musicians was serenading a packed crowd with a fabulous blending all kinds of instruments. Their skill and dedication were admirable, and much appreciated by those of us who stopped and listened. I couldn't help but wonder which performance was more pleasing to God. The Bible tells us that life is made up of things that are clean, things that are unclean, and things that are holy. I think it is possible that offering up a gift of talent that has been honed into its highest expression might just fall into the holy category. Screaming judgment at strangers doesn’t strike me as quite so appealing.
C. S. Lewis describes humans as amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits we belong to the eternal world and as animals we inhabit time. It’s a creative structure that requires us to be in a constant state of rebalancing. Fortunately, God made it pleasant for us to tend to our physical needs. It feels good to eat when we’re hungry or sleep when we’re tired. Of course when these basic functions get out of balance, the result is misery – just ask anyone with eating issues or insomnia. Being out of balance spiritually can cause even more distress. In Romans 5, we read that our spiritual condition is a trait of our human condition and that God solved the problem of humanity with humanity --- through the Incarnation. Our free will affects our spiritual state and physical state in much the same way, but God offers rescue. We are not so much cowering before a harsh judge as receiving a father’s warm welcome into restoration and balance. Grace. It really is amazing.