Joke of the Week
Joan was married to Charles, a mean, stingy man. He gave her $50/week for groceries and household expenses and told her he was generous, berating her for her extravagance: “You should be able to get by on $45,” he would say. Charles never gave her anything else. She drove a 1985 Toyota; he drove a new BMW. No birthday gifts, not even a card; no Christmas gifts. Charles spent money on power tools for his shop; she had to do with 20 year-old appliances. You get the idea.
Charles died and Joan was able to live a little. A couple months after Charles’ death Joan had lunch with some friends. They noticed that she was wearing a ring with a huge diamond. “Where did you get that?” a friend asked. “I got it from Charles” she replied. Surprised, another friend said, “Charles! He was the cheapest man alive! How did you get him to give you that magnificent diamond?” Joan replied, “Charles knew he was dying. Before he died he called me to his bedside and said, ‘After I die I want you to go out to my shop. There’s a coffee can on the workbench with $25,000. I want you to buy the most expensive coffin available. I want the funeral parlor filled with flowers. Bury me in the most expensive plot in Forest Lawn, and put the rest into a stone.’ So I did.”
Bill Nye and the dogfish
Bill Nye the Science Guy has been active of late in promoting his views of science issues that are in the news. Some with other views have criticized him, questioning his knowledge of science. I won’t weigh in on that debate, but I do have a story to tell about him that may speak to the breadth of his scientific knowledge or lack thereof.
Twenty years ago or so I took a group of my science students to the Tacoma Zoo and Aquarium on a field trip. While at the aquarium a student told me what he had observed. I didn’t see it, but I had then and have now no reason to doubt what my student reported. He saw Bill Nye and a bunch of elementary school age kids around the giant central tank of the aquarium filming something. The tank contains a variety of North Pacific marine species, including dogfish, a small, harmless shark found in Puget Sound. Dogfish periodically rise to the surface and stick their noses out of the water; that I have observed myself. One of Bill Nye’s rug rats asked him why they do that. He replied that they have to breathe. An aquarium attendant reminded him that dogfish have gills for that purpose.
FYI, some boney fish gulp air to replenish their swim bladder, but cartilaginous fish, including dogfish, have no swim bladder. I have no idea why dogfish stick their noses out of the water. Neither did Bill Nye, though he thought he did(to be charitable, perhaps he took steps to find out the reason later.)
Why does Saluda Press publish Bible study guides in a crowded market?
Of the making of Bible study guides there is no end. Go to Amazon and type in the name of any book of the Bible followed by the words “Bible study guide” and you will find many choices. Some of the Bible study guides for sale are written by eminent pastors and teachers, men and women with more formal Bible study than I. Why then does Saluda Press publish Bible study guides? Here’s why:
Saluda Press publishes study guides that have several features not found in a great many other study guides.
(1) Like other study guides, our study guides contain questions for thought and/or discussion. But ours also contain answers to the questions. That’s because they are intended for individuals studying on their own as well as members of Bible classes or study groups. People studying on their own don’t have fellow class members or teachers to check and compare answers. Those who have used Saluda Press’s study guides have expressed appreciation for the answers.
(2) Saluda Press study guides contain not only references to other relevant Bible passages, but prints out the text of many of those passages . This helps one preserve his or her train of thought, which can be broken by flipping back and forth in your Bible.
(3) The study questions focus first on what the passage being studied says and on the context of the passage for the original readers. Some other study guides jump immediately to personal application: “What does this mean for me and my life now?” Saluda Press guides do get to personal application, but first they lay a groundwork by elucidating what the text says and what it meant to the original readers.
(4) Saluda Press guides don’t assume the student has prior knowledge of the concepts and vocabulary of the passage. They don’t insult the intelligence of those who do have prior knowledge, but they define terms and explain matters of biblical history for someone who may come to the text without knowing things that long-time church members or Bible students know. A person new to Bible study won’t be embarrassed or puzzled because he or she lacks background; the study guides supply the background.
Later this summer Saluda Press will publish a study guide for the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Watch for it.
Luther’s 95 Theses for 21st Century Christians
We continue our study of the 95 theses in this, the 500th anniversary year of their publication, the event that triggered the Protestant Reformation.
- The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
The penitential canons of the Roman Catholic Church are rules regarding acts of penance that offenders must do in order to be restored to communion with the church. Penalties might be prescribed prayers, visiting a certain church or, in Luther’s day, even paying for public works such as bridges. Such acts can be done only by the living, but priests imposed them on the dying, who would have no means of carrying them out before they died. See Theses 9, 10, and 11 regarding what the church substituted for acts of penance imposed on the dying.
- Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
Luther tells us that the pope himself always remitted the acts of penance normally required for restoration to communion with the church in the case of the dying and in the case of those who by necessity were prevented from performing them. Luther speaks well of the pope here, but he was soon to find that the pope viewed his theses as subversive of his authority in spite of his favorable words. Luther would ultimately reject all papal authority, including the remission of required acts of penance.
- Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.
In Thesis 10 Luther says it is both ignorant and wicked for a priest to say that suffering in purgatory substitutes for canonical penalties not completed before death. These priests act ignorantly, for (so Luther thought at the time) the pope always remits acts of penance that cannot be carried out before death (Thesis 9, above). Luther says they act wickedly as well as ignorantly, possibly because they make up their own rules.
Here is Luther’s first mention of purgatory. In 1517 he accepted the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. It was not till 1528, eleven years after posting the 95 theses, that he finally came to reject that doctrine. Most of the remaining theses deal with the selling of indulgences. Indulgences are writs of remission of time to be spent in purgatory.
- Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Mt. 13:25).
Matthew 13:25 is part of the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, which Jesus spoke in his sermon by the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” Matthew 13:24-30
Jesus interpreted the parable for his disciples:
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. Matthew 13:36-43
Luther’s reference to the parable is by way of analogy. The weeds in the parable were false Christians, not canon laws. Luther is suggesting that an enemy—the Evil One—is responsible for substituting a wicked canon law for a wholesome one. To decree that a Christian must undergo the pains of purgatory if he or she has not performed acts of penance prescribed by the priest is a wicked lie, a device of the devil. The bishops should have been alert to this change and quashed it, but they “slept,” unaware or unconcerned about the change.
For 21st century Christians the danger is different. Unbiblical practices and doctrines have crept into the church, even the evangelical church, while church leaders have slept. Even worse, some have embraced the changes. Examples follow.
Some have perverted the gospel message into “therapeutic, moralistic deism,” as critics have termed it. Certain preachers and television ministries proclaim that God wants to heal your anxieties, feelings of inadequacy, and unhappiness. God wants you happy; he wants you to feel good about yourself and your abilities and potential. Sin? We can talk about that some other time if you insist. We call on God when we need or want something; we ignore him the rest of the time. God is our cosmic servant, ever ready to satisfy our wants. Sure, he wants us to be kind and loving, but that’s his desire, not a command with consequences.
The Bible’s demands for a holy life have been perverted into a message that says “love, as we personally and subjectively understand love, is the only rule. If two people love each other, anything they do together is permissible, whether or not those two people are married, whether or not they are of the same or different sexes. Just be sure you don’t hurt the other person. The coming judgment is never, never mentioned; that would be too negative. Moreover, God is love and would never send anyone to hell.
These changes are not a recent thing; they have been creeping into the church for a century or so. As a song from the 1950’s put it, “Though it makes Him sad to see the way we live, He’ll always say, ‘I forgive’.” That same decade saw Norman Vincent Peale, a minister, television preacher and author, rocket to popularity by preaching “the power of positive thinking.”
In my observation, a majority of ministers have not confronted this false gospel the way the apostle Paul confronted the false gospel that had crept into the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:6-10). Perhaps, like the bishops in Luther’s day, ministers of the 20th and 21st centuries have been sleeping.