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Faith Related Q and A


» My wife comes from a charismatic background. Nothing unusual came out on the subject while dating, but now I am getting some "surprises." She is starting to become negative on our liturgy and wants to see more "gifts of the Holy Spirit" again in church service, like tongue speaking, prophetic prayer and stuff like that. When I say I want to concentrate on what Jesus did for me, not gifts God has not promised to us, she gets pretty defensive. She has also claimed to have miraculously healed people through prayer on mission trips and that she has driven out demons on those same trips, so those gifts are still available to any who asks for them. Suffice it to say, this has become kind of an issue. Any advice on how to handle such claims? I am under the impression that I can't rule out her claims on healing and casting out demons because God could still actively do that stuff, if he so desired, but it is a bit of tricky subject.
The best course of action, of course, is for you and your wife to examine what the Bible does and does not say about spiritual gifts. If you have not studied and discussed together these sections of Scripture—Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11-13; 1 Peter 4:10-11—it would be good for both of you to do that. When it comes to gifts of the Holy Spirit in biblical days and today, our church body makes these points in This We Believe, a statement of belief of our church body. “The Holy Spirit also equips the church with all the spiritual gifts it needs for its well-being (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). During the beginning of the New Testament era, special charismatic gifts were given to the church, such as signs, miracles, and speaking in tongues. These gifts were connected with the ministry of the apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12). There is no evidence in Scripture that we today should expect the continuation of such charismatic gifts.” God can do anything. As you noted, if God chooses to give a person special gifts, he can do so. The key statement in the section I passed along is the last sentence: “There is no evidence in Scripture that we today should expect the continuation of such charismatic gifts.” Our focus is best directed on the object of our faith, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit’s greatest gift, given to all Christians, is the gift of saving faith (1 Corinthians 12:3; Ephesians 2:8; 4:5).

» Some in our church say our pastor is preaching too much of the law and some feel as if they are being scolded. One of our council members said that if a new person attends one of our services, they won’t come back; it doesn’t make them feel good. I have talked to several of members and some don’t like the changes that our pastor has made, but they do enjoy his services and the energy he brings. My wife and I thoroughly enjoy his sermons. He has made us look deeper into our faith and to learn. I guess I don’t see how his style would upset or scare away anyone. Can too much law be preached? Is it a minister's job to make people “feel good”?
Part of the silent prayer I offer before preaching is that God would use me to “convict and comfort” the people who are on the receiving end of my sermon. I ask that God convict them and me through the preaching of the law and comfort us through the preaching of the gospel. Can too much law be preached? Yes, if there is little to no gospel content in a sermon. Is it a minister’s job to make people feel good? No. The minister’s job is to be faithful in preaching God’s word to people. God will take over after that. The person preaching the sermon cannot bring about reactions or feelings to his sermon. Pastors will look to have a balance of law and gospel in their preaching, with greater emphasis on the gospel message. The gospel is “good news.” There is certainly reason for joy and happiness when the good news is received in faith. The apostle Paul first gave these inspired words and instructions to Timothy, a young pastor: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5). Those instructions are valuable for pastors of all ages. God’s law can be an unpopular message with people because it stirs up consciences and makes them feel uncomfortable. Regardless, pastors are to preach God’s law. God’s gospel can also be an unpopular message with people because they consider the idea of salvation through Jesus Christ alone an offensive, exclusive message. Regardless, pastors are to preach God’s gospel. The right kind of conversations about sermons in your church are the ones that take place between the members and the pastor. Do encourage your fellow members to have that kind of conversation.

» Are all sins equal to God? Like would stealing a package of gum be the same as murdering someone in God’s eyes?
Society and governments make distinctions when it comes to breaking established laws. In the Bible God makes it clear that the failure to keep his laws—in any way—is sin. Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22). And, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). The apostle John wrote: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Thankfully, we have a loving Savior who has won forgiveness for the transgressions we commit in thought, word and deed, and for the sins we commit when we fail to do the good that God commands.

» One thing I constantly battle is the thought, "Do I really believe?" All I tend to see at times are my doubts, my worries about life, etc. I confess my sins and look to Jesus' forgiveness, but it seems as soon as I'm done I go right back to what I was doing before. I desire to grow in my faith, but I get afraid of where my faith is right now. Paul talked about not preaching in a way that would disqualify himself from the prize. I get scared about what Jesus sees about me right now. Does he see a believer or someone that just speaks the right words but really doesn't have saving faith? I get scared that I'll be rejected because my faith was fake!
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) That was the confession and request of the father who came to Jesus for help for his demon-possessed son. Many Christians can identify with that man’s words. Because of the Holy Spirit’s working in our hearts, we profess faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, we know and confess that there is much room for growth in our faith. Doubt and worry chip away at our trust in God. We confess those sins to God. We receive his forgiveness in faith and with joy. We resolve not to fall into those sins again, but we do. What is the antidote for doubt and worry? It is the gospel in word and sacrament that our new self treasures so much. Faith is built up—and doubt and worry are correspondingly reduced—when God feeds our souls with his gospel (Acts 20:32; Romans 1:16; Ephesians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:13). So the same gospel that brings you the news of forgiveness for your sins of worry and doubt also deepens your faith and trust in God. That is why we want to immerse ourselves in the word of God—reading it in our homes and hearing it in his house with the congregation of believers. That is why we want to be frequent guests at the Lord’s Supper. Worry and doubt take place when we focus on ourselves and what we can and cannot do. Worry and doubt take place when we take our eyes off God, minimizing his power and love. We want to “fix our eyes on Jesus” always (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus once asked his followers, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13) After receiving their answers, he asked: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15). That is when Peter gave his beautiful confession of faith, saying that he regarded Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Peter knew what was in his heart, and so did Jesus. Was Peter’s faith without doubt and worries? Not at all. But his faith was saving faith because Jesus was the object of his faith. Similarly, you know how you would answer Jesus’ question (Matthew 16:15) if it were posed to you. (God also knows how you would answer that question.) The Holy Spirit has led you to confess Jesus as your Savior (1 Corinthians 12:3). Praise God for that! Recognize that our faith is not perfect, but the object of our faith—Jesus—is. Stay focused on Jesus.

» The Bible says that Jesus was three days in the tomb. He died approximately at 3:00 PM on Friday and rose sometime in the morning on Sunday. 3:00 PM Friday -> Saturday -> Sunday AM is less than 2 days. Is this a situation where we need to look at the times? Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are three different days. But the total time is less than two days.
Allow me to pass along the explanation I included in When Christ Walked Among Us. “Crucified on Friday, raised to life on Sunday. Three days or two? The answer depends on one’s culture and that culture’s methods for tracking time. In the Jewish way of reckoning time, it was three days. That is because of the way in which Jews determined the beginning and ending point of a day and their understanding that any part of a day equaled an entire day. Because the Genesis creation account describes the days consisting of evening and morning, the Jews understood that a day began with the evening. As sunset on Friday marked the beginning of Saturday and the Jews were rushing to remove the bodies from the crosses before twilight, that would mean Jesus’ body was in the grave for a very short time on Friday. One day. His body was in Joseph’s tomb all of Saturday. Two days. Sunset on Saturday denoted the commencement of Sunday. Jesus’ body was in the tomb at that point. Three days. Part of one day, an entire second day and a part of the third day equaled three days according to Jewish thinking. ‘On the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures’” (p. 208).

» In his state of humiliation, would Jesus have been able to sin when he was tempted?
I can point you to an article that appeared in the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly that succinctly addressed your question. The article is worth a read. Below are some thoughts from the conclusion of the article: “On the basis of a well-meant desire to affirm the authenticity of Christ’s temptations some Christians have asserted that it was theoretically possible for Christ to have sinned. When the question is raised how it would have been possible for Christ to have sinned if he was truly God, the answer is usually that Jesus could have sinned only in his human nature, not in his divine nature. To claim that Jesus or his human nature could have sinned without God sinning requires that Jesus’ humanity had an existence separate from God. Jesus, then, is not truly God. He is just a man inhabited or possessed by God in a special way, much like a person possessed by the devil. When we limit Christ’s actions to one of his natures rather than his person, we destroy the unity of his person and end up with a Nestorian Christ, one whose two natures are just glued together like boards and which can be pulled apart. If we accept this principle, then it follows that his death was simply the death of his human nature, not the death of God’s Son, that is, the death of God. Jesus certainly could not have been tempted if he had no human nature, just as he could not die without a human nature. But both of these were acts of the person, just as all his acts for our salvation were. “For Jesus to sin would have meant either that God sinned or that the personal union was broken. Biblical Christology allows neither of these possibilities.” Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was perfect in our place. He did what we cannot do: he rejected temptation. Because we fail to reject temptation and avoid sin, Jesus suffered the punishment we deserved. Jesus lived up to his name, which means “Savior,” by living a holy life in our place and suffering the punishment our sins deserved. Jesus’ active obedience and passive obedience were both necessary for our salvation. This link will take you to the article I cited.

» Are members of the WELS required to accept everything the WELS teaches?
In This We Believe, a statement of belief of our church body, we state: “We believe…that individuals through their membership in a church body commit themselves to the doctrine and practice of that church.” Church membership sends the signal that the individual member’s faith and the church’s teachings are in harmony with one another. We reflect that consistent profession of faith in our rite of Confirmation. At the Confirmation of youths and adults, there is often a question that asks the confirmands if they acknowledge that the doctrines and teachings the church presented to them are in line with God’s word. It would make sense that a person who disagreed with our teachings would not want to join our church. On the other hand, an acknowledgement that our church teaches biblical doctrines accurately would welcome and also receive church membership. It is possible that a person who intends to join one of our churches struggles with a particular teaching of the Bible. If the person was willing to be instructed in God’s word, it is possible that the person could join the congregation under those circumstances. That would be a pastoral decision.

» Concerning marriage, how would you handle a situation in which a marriage is recognized in one country but not another? Would this constitute a valid marriage in the eyes of God? Could the couple engage in legitimate sexual activity? Or what if a government makes changes in the civil law, so that a previously recognized marriage is declared not valid?
There may be a specific situation behind your questions, but I am not aware of it. Because of that, I can offer only a general response. The Bible defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6). Governments might define marriage differently and regulate it with laws, but marriage in God’s eyes follows the directives of his word. “Legitimate sexual activity” is that which takes place in marriage—as God, in the Bible, defines marriage.

» What role or place should businesses have in our churches? I am referring specifically to the prominent place Thrivent seems to have in our church's activities (many funded in part by Thrivent action grants). This seems problematic on many levels. I am wondering if the WELS leadership has studied this practice which is common in many WELS churches. Pastors of WELS churches with whom I have spoken have expressed differing opinions about this issue, and there does not seem to be a consensus or any study they can point me to when I voice my concerns.
About four years, changes in Thrivent’s policies resulted in WELS issuing a statement. Here are excerpts from that statement. “Late last year [2013], it was learned that Thrivent had permitted its members to direct their Choice dollars to Planned Parenthood, one of the largest providers of abortion services in the nation. Many conservative and confessional Lutherans expressed their dismay and even outrage that a self-described ‘faith-based’ organization would allow people to direct their funding to an abortion provider. Thrivent’s response to those concerns came in the form of a new ‘neutrality’ policy, in which it stated that it would no longer permit Choice dollars to be directed to any organization whose primary purpose was to advocate for or to oppose controversial social issues such as abortion, sexual orientation, or guns. While organizations providing abortion services were no longer eligible, funding was also cut off from organizations dedicated to protecting the unborn and promoting the biblical teaching of marriage and sexuality. By adopting this policy, which Thrivent had every right to do, it clearly took the position that it is an organization that is not willing to take the correct stand on issues that we recognize to be clearly decided by the Word of God. “After thorough consideration, we have concluded that, on a synodical level, to do nothing or say nothing would be a failure to make a faithful confession. “For that reason, our synod’s relationship with Thrivent, small and informal as it has been, has come to an end. As a result, regular meetings will no longer take place, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod will neither seek nor accept any funding from Thrivent. “This decision of the synod should not be understood to bind the consciences and decisions of congregations, organizations, or individuals. Individual members of Thrivent will need to make their own decisions regarding their use of Thrivent’s financial services, evaluating it with the same standards that they use to evaluate and patronize any other financial services company. Members will need to make their own decision as to whether or not they continue to direct their Choice dollars to organizations. Congregations, schools, and organizations, while not compelled to refuse Choice dollars, are encouraged to consider carefully whether or not the Thrivent name should be publicly promoted in congregational or organizational literature.”

» Where in the Bible do I find that we rise to the East at the resurrection?
There is no passage in the Bible that states that, but over the years Christians have used some Bible passages as reason for burying the dead with an eastward orientation: facing the east. Matthew 24:27 is one of those passages. Jesus said about himself: “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” The thrust of Jesus’ words is that his visible return on the last day will be evident to all at once—like a flash of lightning that instantly illumines the sky. Other Bible passages with an eastward orientation that people have used for burial practices and the floor plans of churches (to face east when worshiping) are Genesis 2:8; Ezekiel 43:1-2; Isaiah 63:1; and, Zechariah 14:4. It finally makes no difference in which direction a body is buried in a cemetery or how ashes from a cremation are scattered. “…A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his [the Son of Man’s] voice and come out…” (John 5:28-29). For Christians, the last day will be a glorious day. We have Jesus’ own word on that: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:40). Because Jesus lives, we too will live forevermore!