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Christianity is in decline in America and most mainline churches have more and more empty pews on Sunday mornings.

According to a November 2017 article in The Lutheran Witness, a publication of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Christianity is on the decline in America and almost every major denomination in the United States is feeling the effects.

The LCMS reports an approximate 10 percent decline in members per decade.

The article cites an attack on Christianity and Biblical values on every side as the cause. As an example, the attacks on family and family values have caused a reduction in family size and contributed to divorce and split homes, which in turn contributes to fewer children being baptized and instructed in the Christian Faith.

One paragraph summarizes the problem this way: In short: From a young age, Americans are indoctrinated by their televisions and their schools to have an anti-biblical worldview on the origins of life, the meaning of the human condition, sexuality and a hundred other topics. This puts up barriers to the Word in evangelism that must be torn down. And even more insidiously, this is an attack on the hearts and minds of Lutheran youth, alienating them from the faith.

What can be done to change the course in America? The Biblical answer is to preach the Word and pray for the Holy Spirit to use the Word to reach the lost and change hearts. Christians, both young and old, need to be studying the Word and be able to answer the objections of the world and point out the errors of the modern worldview taught in our public schools and advanced by almost every form of the media.

Apologetics is important, and Christians should be reading and studying so they might defend the faith against the attacks of the secular world. Peter writes (1 Peter 3:15-16): “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”

As this passage of Scripture makes clear, Christians need to know how to defend their faith against those who would speak against and defame the truth revealed in the Scriptures, including pointing out the fallacy of modern-day views which contradict the Bible’s teaching. And, Christians need to live in such a way that the world may not discredit them as hypocrites and evildoers.

It is most certainly a time to heed the words of the apostle Paul to the Christians in Colosse and “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16); and to do as Paul directed Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2ff.: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

The full “Lutheran Witness” article may be read here.

Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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The Bible forbids murder. Do Christians have the right and duty to protect themselves and others?

With the recent church shootings, the question has often arisen as to whether Christians have the right and duty to defend themselves and others and even to take lives to save lives when such becomes necessary. Numerous editorial pieces have been written on the subject, many of which would make it appear that being a Christian and carrying a gun for self-defense is totally incompatible. And carrying a weapon inside a church has been viewed as totally incongruous with the Gospel. But what is God’s answer?

Perhaps, first and foremost in arguments against Christians bearing arms, the commandment against murder is cited: “Thou shalt not kill” – often translated “You shall not murder” – (Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17). While it is clear that this commandment of God forbids murder, does it forbid all taking of human life, including doing so in an effort to defend life and property? A deeper look into the Scriptures provides the answer.

  • Genesis 9:6 commands taking the life of murderers: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” This passage makes clear that murder is wrong but makes provision for the punishment of murderers with death to prevent further murders.
  • Abraham and his servants were trained to bear arms and fought to deliver his nephew Lot and Lot’s family when they were taken captive by invading kings from the north (cf. Genesis 14).
  • God said no blood should be shed (no penalty for murder) if a man catches a thief in the act of breaking into his house and kills him. Exodus 22:2 says: “If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.” If, however, he later hunts down the thief and kills him, he is subject to being put to death for killing a person rather than turning him over to the judges to pay restitution (cf. Exodus 22:3).
  • David and his armed men defended the people and cities of Judah from invading marauders and even pursued them to rescue those taken captive (cf. 1 Samuel 25 and 30).
  • When Haman’s plot would have allowed the Jews to be killed and plundered, “the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey…” (Esther 8:11).
  • Nehemiah commanded the people of Israel who were building the walls of Jerusalem to be armed and defend themselves and their brethren that the work might go forward (Nehemiah 4:16-18): “And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.”
  • Jesus told His disciples to carry a sword for self-defense as they traveled to spread the Gospel of the kingdom: “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one” (Luke 22:36).

Thus, we see from the Word of God that murder is prohibited but bearing arms and even using arms to protect human life and property is enjoined.

Making it clear that Christians have a duty to defend the lives of others, Proverbs 24:10-12 states: “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small. If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?”

While it speaks about much more than just risking one’s life to defend another, Jesus also said: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

And, though we have been blessed for generations to be safe in our houses of worship, it was not always so in America and bringing guns to church was not an uncommon practice.

In 1623, a Virginia statute forbade anyone to travel unless he was well armed and required all men working in fields likewise to be armed. And 1631 laws repeated the same requirements and added to them the requirement that all able men should bear arms and engage in practice with their arms on holy days. The law specifically required that all men fit to bear arms bring their guns to the church. And, there were fines and penalties for those who failed to do so.

Following the Civil War, Rev. Andrew Jackson Potter, a former cowboy and Confederate soldier turned Methodist minister and circuit rider, preached in numerous towns and villages of the old West. He was known to lay his colt revolvers across the pulpit and preach, or to preach with a Bible in one hand and a pistol in the other. He maintained order and security at his services and encouraged an atmosphere of respect.

So, in light of God’s Word, do Christians sin if they are armed and use those arms in defense of life and property? No. Do they sin if they use arms to commit murder or other criminal acts? Yes. Do they sin if they are able and do nothing to defend themselves, their families, fellow Christians or others when evil men would inflict great bodily harm or death? The answer of God’s Word most certainly appears to be “Yes!”

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“You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness, who remembers You in Your ways. You are indeed angry, for we have sinned — in these ways we continue; and we need to be saved. But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities.” Isaiah 64:5-7 (Read v. 1-9)

Isaiah was a prophet of God who spoke God’s Word to the visible church of his day in Judah and Jerusalem. His words are still fitting words for the visible church in our day and, through them, God warns us concerning our sinful and erring ways and offers us mercy and comfort in Jesus, God’s Son and the long-promised Messiah and Savior!

As the Scriptures teach, God is a God who shows mercy to those who repent of their evil ways and trust in Him for pardon and forgiveness. He acts on behalf of those who, as a fruit of their faith, rejoice in God and His salvation and seek to walk in His ways. Cf. Psalm 103:6-18.

But, as Isaiah testifies to the visible church of his day, we have sinned and continue to sin. We wander like lost sheep and err in our ways (Isaiah 64:4 – LXX; Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:25) and we need our God to find us and save us. I think of the words in our Setting Four liturgy which say: “We have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and … we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.”

We are unclean and cannot stand in the presence of the Lord God. Our “righteous works” are like an unclean (menstrual) rag in God’s eyes. Because of our sins, we fade like a leaf in the fall and our sins, like the wind, blow us away. Cf. Psalm 103:14-16.

And, because of our sinfulness and our sinful inclination, we do not turn to the Lord, call upon Him or take hold of Him and His mercy. We need the Lord to intervene and save us! We need the God who formed us and gave us life to grant us His Holy Spirit and regenerate us, moving us to repent of our sins and take hold of God and His mercy toward us in Christ Jesus, who took our sins upon Himself and suffered our just punishment that we might be saved (cf. v. 8-9; Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 31:18).

And what does God promise when we turn to the Lord God in humble repentance? “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Isaiah 1:18). Indeed, God does save us – through the innocent sufferings, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Lord. He sent His Son to die for us and redeem us, and He sent His Spirit to call us to faith in Jesus, our Savior!

“For You are the Father’s Son who in flesh the vict’ry won. By Your mighty pow’r make whole all our ills of flesh and soul.” (Lutheran Service Book, Page 332, Verse 6)

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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Advent is a season of expectation and repentance to prepare for Christ's second advent as our Judge and King.

While many churches no longer observe the season of Advent, its observance can bring many blessings to those who take the time to consider the Scriptural message which is the focus of this season in the church year.

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas — this coming Sunday — and is often associated with all the preparations for Christmas celebrations, but its real focus is on spiritual preparations for the advent or coming of Christ, not just His first coming as a babe born in Bethlehem, but especially His return as the Judge of the living and the dead. Thus, Advent is a penitential season in the church year, a time when special attention is placed upon repentance and faith in Christ, the Savior and Judge of all the earth.

Purple is the traditional color for the season — a color of penitence but also the color of kingly robes like that which Herod placed upon Jesus before He was sentenced to death upon the cross. Some churches use blue — also a royal color — as a reminder that Christ will soon appear in the sky on clouds of glory to judge all mankind. Advent wreaths, too, use violet and rose colors.

The season and the colors are a reminder to us of the Biblical doctrine that Jesus is the LORD God Himself in the flesh, who came into this world to redeem us and who is coming again as King of kings and Lord of lords to judge this world and establish His everlasting kingdom in which only righteousness dwells.

Scripture readings traditionally read and expounded upon by ministers focus on Christ’s second coming, His judgment and being ready for His advent by repenting of sin and placing our faith in God’s mercy and forgiveness for the sake of Christ Jesus and His blood shed upon the cross to atone for the sins of all mankind. Biblical preaching in the season calls upon all to examine themselves, repent of the sin and evil in their lives and place their faith and hope solely in the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus at His first advent into this world.

And, indeed, when one considers Christ’s imminent coming and our shortcomings and utter sinfulness, confessing our sins and looking to Christ Jesus in faith for mercy and pardon is the only fitting response.

Though many churches no longer sing the ancient hymns of the Advent season, I find it amazing to join in the praises of all believers of all times for the God who both created us and sent His only-begotten Son into this world a true man to redeem us and save us from the sinful mess we have made of our lives and of His creation. After all, the Bible describes the prayers and praises of the saints (believers in Christ) rising like incense before His throne (Revelation 5).

During Advent, we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” — a hymn of waiting for the advent of Emmanuel, the son of David and Son of God, God with us — which has been sung by believers for more than a thousand years. We sing “Savior of the Nations, Come” — speaking of God sending His Son into the world as the virgin-born Savior to redeem fallen mankind — attributed to Ambrose of Milan, who lived from 340-397 A.D.

We also sing Johann Horn’s hymn from the early 1500s, “Once He Came in Blessing.” The first and last of those verses read: “Once He came in blessing, all our sins redressing; came in likeness lowly, Son of God most holy; bore the cross to save us; hope and freedom gave us … Come, then, O Lord Jesus, from our sins release us. Keep our hearts believing, that we, grace receiving, ever may confess You till in heav’n we bless You.”

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