Tag Archives: Evangelical

Are We Ready for a Flood?

I live in a desert and living in a desert means that we do not get rain very often. And when we do get rain we aren’t prepared to handle it. Our streets flood, our power flickers and our drivers seem to loose their minds. The funny thing is- these things happen every time we get any substantial rain. We pray for rain, we want rain but when it comes we discover that we aren’t prepared for the effects of the rain.

I wonder if the same is true for us spiritually. In the last year or two, I have heard so many prayers asking God pour out his spirit on our church, our community and our country, but I wonder if we would be prepared if God answered our prayers. If God brought an awakening to our churches, to our communities and to our country, would we be unprepared for the effects?

Before we answer that question, we need to know what the effects of a spiritual awakening would be. I think we see a number of effects in Scripture.

  1. A rejection of idols (2 Kings 23:4). We may not worship images of wood or stone but we have idols that we worship: money, possessions, status- anything we set above God to give us what only God can give us.
  2. A reformation within the clergy (2 King 23:7-14, 20). Within the context of 2 Kings, Josiah has the priests of Baal and the other gods killed. I’m not suggesting that we need to kill clergy but there are some attitudes, traditions and expectations within the clergy that need to be killed.
  3. A rediscovery of heritage. (2 Kings 21-23/ Nehemiah 8:13-18). As Christians we have a vast and diverse heritage. There are the Desert Fathers, Mystics, Eastern Christianity, Western Christianity, Anabaptists and many, many others- we need to learn from them and embrace the things they have taught us about God.
  4. A renewed spirit of worship (Nehemiah 8:6). In the text, the people heard the words of God and it resulted in worship. Through the Word, the people came face to face with God and rediscovered the greatness of God and they worshiped. Notice that this worship was not an individual act but an act of the community. While awakening occurs first within the individual, unless it spreads to the community a revival cannot take place.
  5. Confession of sin (Nehemiah 9:1-3). When God pours out his spirit, people start pouring out their junk.
  6. Growth (Acts 2:41, 47). 3,000 new members in one day? How many churches would love that? How many churches could logistically or spiritually handle those kinds of number?

There are certainly more effects than just these six but they are a start, at least. Now that we have seen some of the effects of spiritual awakening, we can return to the question we asked earlier, are we prepared for the effects? Are we ready to reject our idols? Are the clergy ready for a reformation? Are we willing to rediscover our heritage and renew our worship? Could our churches accept and disciple thousands of people coming to Christ? Most importantly, are we ready to pour out the sin and the junk within our lives?

I’m not sure we are ready for that. How do we get ready? That is a topic for another post.

© Ryan Vanderland 2013

The Church in 2040 (?/!): Part 2

Last week, we began a discussion on where the church, specifically the church in America, will be in the year 2040. Twenty-seven years from now, when I’m 54 years old and my kids are 30 and 27, will we be talking about the state of the “church?” or the “church!”? What kind of church will be left for me? What kind of church will I leave my kids?

Hopefully, not a church like this.

Hopefully, not a church like this.

In part one, I introduced the topic for the series and acknowledged that predicting the future is one of the hardest things to do. However, luckily for us, when we talk about the future of the church, we have some options of possible outcomes from which we can choose. We find these in Jesus’ words to the seven churches in Revelation. When we look at these seven churches we see two realities- where we are and where we want to be. In this post, I want to look at the current state of the church and see where we are now.

Hopefully, not like this either.

Not like this, either.

There have been several studies conducted in the last few years that help frame the picture of how those outside the church view the church. One of these studies was published by The Barna Group in their book Unchristian, in the book they list the top seven characteristics of the church, as seen by those outside the church, as:

91% see the church as anti-homosexual

87% see the church as judgmental

85% see the church as hypocritical

78% see the church as old-fashioned

74% see the church as too involved in politics

72% see the church as out of touch with reality

70% see the church as insensitive to others

That is not a good reputation: judgmental, old-fashioned, out of touch with reality, insensitive. How about those inside the church? I have not been able to find a study that is as wide in scope as the one given to church outsiders, but here are a few statistics worth noting from The Barna Group:

70% of Protestant pastors believe that the personal faith of their congregants is the top priority in their lives, however, only 23% of congregants say God is their top priority.

The top three measures of spiritual health used by pastors are 1) Volunteering   2) Church attendance   3) Life change experience.

22% of self-identifying Christians say that Jesus sinned while on earth.

58% of self-identifying Christians believe the Holy Spirit is a symbol and not a living being.

41% of self-identifying Christians see the Bible as being on the same level as the Koran or Book of Mormon.

I would say that the church stands precariously on the ledge of total irrelevance- as much from the failures of those within the church- as from the perceptions of those outside the church. When only 23% of Protestant church goers admit to holding God as their top priority, when pastors judge spiritual health by church attendance and self-identifying Christians fail on basic matters of Christian orthodoxy, the future is pretty bleak.

However, must churches and most people within the church believe that the problem is with “them.” If “they” would shape up… If “they” would just come… Things are bad because of “them”… Meanwhile, as long as the money is coming in, old pastors can collect their paychecks and cruise to retirement, the occasional family joins the church or the children of church members are “saved,” things can continue as they always have- the church is fine, the church shouldn’t change.

The next generation, however, continues to walk away. Of Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000, which numbers 78 million Americans), 70% see the American church as irrelevant and only 13% see any type of spirituality as being important to their lives.

I see a disconnect. A church in Revelation had a disconnect too, the church of Laodicea. In Revelation 3:14-22, Jesus speaks to the church. He tells that there is a disconnect in how the church sees itself and how Jesus see it.

The church believed it was rich, wealthy, and in need of nothing. Jesus, on the other hand, said that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.

On a whole, is there anywhere else in the world where the church is richer than in America? Is there anywhere else in the world where Christians can rely more on themselves, their own wealth, education and comforts, than in America? Our churches have large buildings (in the case of FBC Dallas, one that cost $130 million), million dollar budgets (according to Forbes,  Second Baptist Houston has the largest budget of any church in America at $53 million- and that was  in 2009!), worship bands, light shows, celebrity pastors (Ed Young, Jr. owns an airplane and started a clothing line, no seriously- pastorfashion.com) and ministry spaces that rival Disney World- what else could we possibly need? Perhaps Jesus.

Jesus tells the Laodicean church, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Perhaps the issue isn’t with “them,” perhaps the problem is with us? Maybe we are the ones walking around in the “emperor’s new clothes” and wondering why the world is starring at us.

If that is who we are, what are we going to choose to become? We’ll tackle that question next week.

Comments? Questions? Join the discussion.

© Ryan Vanderland 2013

The Louie Giglio Controversy and the Cover the Inauguration in Prayer Campaign

This week, I was planning two write the second part of my series on Les Miserables, however, I want to push that series back a week and spend a moment on the “controversy” surrounding Louie Giglio and the benedictory prayer at President Obama’s upcoming inauguration.

Unknown-1The relationship between Giglio and Obama has been widely publicized as Giglio has requested the White House’s help in the fight against modern-day slavery. In June 2012, Louie was invited (along with representatives of the IJM) to the White House to present a petition of over 73,000 signatures calling for the US government to actively combat slavery and human trafficking. President Obama also praised Giglio for the work of Passion on the issue of slavery during the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast. Given this history, it was not surprising that the White House Inauguration Committee sent an invitation to Louie to give the benedictory prayer at the upcoming inauguration.

This is where the controversy began. On January 9, a blog came out on the Think Progress website describing Giglio as a “pastor who gave [a] vehemently anti-gay sermon.” The sermon in question comes from sometime in the mid 1990s and is entitled “In Search of a Standard- Christian Response to Homosexuality.” The article outlines the author’s issues with the sermon and contains lengthy quotes from the sermon itself. You can follow the link above to view the article in its entirety.

Because of this, Giglio felt it was necessary to withdrawn from the inaugural proceedings. He wrote on his website, in part: “Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years, Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.” He goes on to state, “The issue of homosexuality (which a particular message of mine some 20 years ago addressed) is one of the most difficult our nation will navigate. However, individuals’ rights of freedom, and the collective right to hold differing views on any subject is a critical balance we, as a people, must recover and preserve.”

Naturally this has caused a number of evangelicals to come out in support of Giglio and denounce the President and the current state of affairs in our country. Think Progress published a follow up article with some of those opinions, here.

I will be the first to support Giglio in whatever decision he came to. In his statement, he describes his decision was made by he and his team who feel it is not in the best interest of “the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing.”

I do not seek in any way to suggest that much thought and prayer did not go into Louie’s decision but it makes me wonder why evangelicals have such thin skin when it comes to absorbing the same verbiage that it so often uses itself.

The rights that protect Giglio to preach what he believes on homosexuality (whether he believes that same things today that he expressed in the sermon in question, I don’t know) also protects the rights of those to disagree. Let’s just be fair all around. If Gabe Lyons can call Giglio the victim of a “hate crime,” then what many “evangelical” leaders have said in response could also qualify.* (To understand why evangelical is in quotes, please read an earlier blog series entitled, “I’m a Protesting Good News-er.” Click here for Part 1 of that series.)

Exchanging venom for venom, slap for slap, hate for hate, does nothing to advance the kingdom of God. Within Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he directly declares that two types of people will inherent the kingdom of God: the poor in spirit and the persecuted. Jesus also declares in that sermon that peacemakers will be called sons of God.

Now my question is, who is acting spiritually poor through this situation? Who is being a peacemaker? Who are the groups of people truly experiencing persecution?

In light of those questions, a prayer, even at the presidential inauguration, seems pretty insignificant. And maybe that is what Louie Giglio, by stepping back, wants us to remember.

Louie closes his statement by saying, “I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.” Based on what I’ve seen, I wonder how many other “evangelical” leaders will be doing the same?

Cover the Inauguration In Prayer Campaign Covertheinauguration

Because of all the emotions accompanying this inauguration- both new and left over from a heated election- I want to challenge you, the reader, to cover the inauguration in prayer. I’ve posted this a couple of days early so that there will be time to promote this campaign and pray for seven days prior to the inauguration. These seven days of prayer will focus on reconciliation, understanding and peace for President Obama, as well as, the Vice President and members of congress.

Also feel free to take the logo and place it on your Facebook page. If you are an email follower, you will receive a JPEG version of the logo and a PDF prayer guide.

Cover the Inauguration In Prayer Guide

Monday, January 14: Pray for healing and reconciliation for American citizens and elected leaders in the wake the past election. Pray that differences can be put aside for the betterment of the country.

Tuesday, January 15: Pray for our nation. Pray that, as a nation, we remember that we believe in liberty and justice for all.

Wednesday, January 16: Pray for American churches and Christians. Pray that our message returns the essence of the gospel- Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again- and how we are to live out that message in our lives. Pray that the American church would be redeemed in such a way that it will, once again, be invited to the table to find positive solutions to social issues.

Thursday, January 17: Pray for your local elected officials: mayor, city council, state governor, and state legislators. Pray, also, for the national leaders of countries around the world- especially those currently in conflict. Pray for peace. Pray that all nations could agree on basic rights of all humans: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Friday, January 18: Pray for the US House of Representatives. Pray that these legislators will truly know, understand and care about the needs and concerns of the people. Pray that they will be able to put differences aside and make the best decisions for the country.

Saturday, January 19: Pray for the member of the US Senate. Pray that these legislators will truly know, understand and care about the needs and concerns of the people. Pray that they will be able to put differences aside and make the best decisions for the country.

Sunday, January 20: Pray for Vice President Joe Biden. Pray that God would grant him wisdom and peace in the many decisions that he will make during the upcoming term. Pray that he will be a person in integrity and be committed to promoting freedom and justice to all people.

Monday, January 21: Pray for President Barak Obama. Pray that God would grant him wisdom and peace in the many decisions that he will make during the upcoming term. Pray that he will be a person in integrity and be committed to promoting freedom and justice to all people. Pray that will make good decisions as Commander and Chief. Pray for the safety of military personnel stationed around the world who will carry out those orders.

Will you commit to cover the inauguration in prayer?

* Gabe Lyons later retracted that statement and said on his Twitter account: “I regret my use of “hate crime” and retracted it. Was an overreach. Thanks to those pointing it out.”

© Ryan Vanderland 2013

I’m a Protesting Good News-er: Part 5

We have now come to Part 5, the finale, of this series “I’m a Protesting Good News-er.” Before we dive into the conclusion of this series, I want to say thank you for everyone who has followed this series. I hope that this series has been enlightening as we have sought to un-define the modern definitions of “protestant,” “evangelical” and “Christian” and return to what they really have meant by examining a few (of many) historical examples of the “great cloud of witnesses” who have proceeded us in the faith.

In Part 4, we looked at the curious case of John Calvin, who although he tried to create a society built solely Christian values ended up creating a society of biblical terror. We also saw how Calvin’s “ecclesiastical policing” culminated in the trial and martyrdom of Michael Servetus. This led us to ask the question: If Christians vote their “Christian values” will the result be “ecclesiastical policing?” How should Christians influence the culture without legislating culture? And I concluded that the answer is truth but not a truth leading to tyranny but a truth that, as Jesus said, will set you free.

How does truth set us free? Let’s take a brief look at the life of William of Orange and see how it differs from Calvin. William of Orange was born in 1533 in Germany and became Prince of Orange in the Netherlands upon the death of his cousin (who was childless) in 1544. During this period of history the Netherlands was under the control of Charles V, who held the titles of Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, then later Charles’ son Philip II who both wanted to squelch all Reformation ideology.

William, however, saw them as tyrants and became head of a rebellion for the freedom of the Netherlands from under the control of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. As many things did during the years of the Reformation, the fight for the sovereignty of the Netherlands turned into a Protestant vs. Catholic fight.

In 1576, a treaty was signed that united the provinces of Holland and Zeeland as a free state under the authority of William and the Reformation church, specifically a form of Calvinism. Now the people of the Netherlands who previously worshiped under intense persecution, now found themselves in place of peace, comfort and prosperity- “success, however, is sometimes more difficult to manage than persecution.”*

As the ruler, how was William going to handle the new freedoms and prosperity of the Reformation church? He had the chance to rule the vain of Calvin- upon the signing of the treaty, William received a mandate “to maintain and preserve the exercise of the Reformed evangelical religion, causing to cease and desist the exercise of other religions, which are contrary to the Gospel.”*

William would not fall into this trap and rule as a same kind of tyrant that they just won freedom from. He sought another way; “William of Orange had resisted turning the revolt against Spain into a religious crusade, and he strove to create a tolerant environment in the Dutch Republic. As a consequence, Lutherans, Mennonites, various dissident groups, and even Catholics all managed to provide their own religious services.”*

What can we, in 2012, learn from John Calvin and William of Orange about influencing our culture? I think we can draw three conclusions.

First, a tyrant is a tyrant no matter what their ideology. William of Orange led the Dutch to fight against tyranny and persecution and he would not allow himself to be a tyrant toward others. Calvin took his theological convictions and forced them upon others under the guise of ecclesiastical authority. God is King but God is not a tyrant and we should be very wary of being tyrannical as we try to influence our culture. We need to be proponents of truth that leads to freedom, not terror that leads to fear.

Second, disagreements should not be discouraging. Because of the leadership of William, the Netherlands became a place where theological issues and controversies could bloom out in the open, not fester under the surface. An earlier blog post of mine become relevant in this discussion, you can read it here https://ryanvanderland.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/tug-of-war-or-tight-rope-why-diversity-in-christian-thought-is-essential/

Third, as Protesting Good New-ers, we need to live up to our name. This whole series of posts boils down to this point and it is the point that I hope you have reached as you have engaged with this series and the ideas presented therein. I believe it is a fact of history that the church has grown when Christians have fought for the inclusion, rather than, the exclusions of others. Sometimes this happens when Christians stand up for minorities, the oppressed or the exploited and sometimes this happens as missionaries go to reach unreached people groups.

Perhaps the Western Church is in decline because we have been protesting the wrong things and have preached bad news instead of Good News. Perhaps we have made people fear us rather then love God. Perhaps we have misunderstood what it means to be a Protestant Evangelical Christian.

I don’t want to be a Protestant Evangelical, I want to be a Protesting Good News-er.

I want to protest toward the inclusion of others.

I want to be a person who lives out the conviction that the person, message and work of Jesus Christ is the Good News for which all of creation has been waiting and through whom all of creation is longing to be redeemed.

I’m a Protesting Good News-er.

* The European Reformations: Second Edition by Carter Lindberg; Blackwell Publishing, 2010.

© Ryan Vanderland 2012

I’m a Protesting Good News-er: Part 4 – The Curious Case of Calvin

In Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series, we have spoken mostly about definitions- what does it mean to get back to heart of Christian Protestant Evangelicalism? We have seen that to be “Protestant” means to be protesters toward the inclusion of others. We have seen that “Evangelical” means to be people who believe and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. Finally, in Part 3, we discovered that to be “Christian” means to be followers of Jesus.

In the final two posts in this series, we will examine the socio-political aspect of Christian Protestant Evangelicalism through the diverging views of John Calvin and William of Orange.

In Post 3, I mentioned that when Jesus ascended into heaven he gave us, as his followers, two things: his name and his command or his mission. In Acts 1:8 Jesus gives the disciples the command or the mission to be his witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” As followers of Jesus there is an understanding that we will tell others the Good News of the Gospel with the belief that God’s Holy Spirit will show them that the message of Jesus is real and is true.

The question is not whether Christians should or should not be telling others the Good News of Jesus, we know we should. The question becomes- how should Christians tell others and how should our message affect the social and political aspects of our lives?

These two questions are at the forefront of many people’s minds at the moment. Within the current presidential race, people are faced with a decision about which candidate to vote for and one criterion many people use, whether right or wrong, is religious conviction. At the same time a recent Pew Research survey reported that 1 in 5 American adults now profess no religious affiliation and 88% of those who reported their religion as “nothing in particular” noted that they are not looking into any religion. * Another Pew Research study found that 38% of Americans say that religion has an influence on their voting decisions but 60% of “highly committed evangelicals” said that religious beliefs “frequently affect their electoral choices.” **

With those statistics as a framework, let’s look at the second of the two questions previously mentioned with a look at the life of John Calvin.

John Calvin (1509-1564) was one of the first second-generation reformers, being 26 years younger than Martin Luther. Calvin was born and raised in France and while we know that Calvin’s father worked a secretary for the bishop in their town, we do not know much about his conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism. Calvin’s embrace of Protestantism eventually forced him to leave France and settle in Switzerland where he finished Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1535. The wide publishing of this work made Calvin slightly famous and while, literally, on his way to a life of scholarly pursuits he was compelled by an old friend to remain in Geneva (where he had stopped for one night) and aid in the reform movement within the cityDuring these years in Geneva, there was a constant struggle over who would control the religious and political affairs of the city- Catholics, Protestants, the Gevevan Council, other Swiss cities, and Calvin with his friend William Farel- all sought control. In 1538, both Calvin and Farel were forced to leave Geneva in exile.

After several years in exile, Calvin was invited back to Geneva to continue where he left off in his reform efforts. Only this time, he was given the authority that he lacked in his previous time in Geneva.

Calvin took this authority and proceeded to forcefully create an “authentic” Christian community. Calvin created a “not-so-secret ecclesiastical police” who would bring punishment for Genevan citizens who sang indecent songs, danced, played games of chance, insulted French immigrants or missed worship. Calvin’s “ecclesiastical policing” came to a head in the case of Michael Servetus. For several years Servetus and Calvin exchanged letters on theological issues. While Seretus’ positions on many theological issues would still be considered outside Christian orthodoxy, it also appears that Servetus simply enjoyed the rigors of debate and didn’t have a problem with thoroughly insulting an opponent then inviting him over for dinner. However, when Servetus decided to visit Geneva and his “friend” Calvin he was put on trial for heresy and burned at the stake.

For Calvin, a natural expression of his Christianity was moral obedience. This is, of itself, not a wrong expression, how Calvin instituted his obedience should concern every Christian- especially as we approach the upcoming elections. Christians who look to politics to accomplish what the Church should accomplish turn truth into tyranny.

When truth becomes tyranny, Christianity becomes conformity, God becomes government and grace becomes a grave.

Is that the inevitable conclusion? If Christians vote their “Christian values” will the result be “ecclesiastical policing?” How should Christians influence the culture without legislating culture?

The answer is truth but not a truth leading to tyranny but a truth that, as Jesus said, will set you free.

What is the truth that sets us free? Look for the final installment of this series as we explore that question through the example of William of Orange.

© Ryan Vanderland 2012


* ““Nones” on the Rise: One-in-five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation.” The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life; October 9, 2012.  http://www.pewforum.org

** “Religion and Politics: Contention and Consensus (Part II).” The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life; July 24, 2003. http://www.pewforum.org

Biographical information on John Calvin and Michael Servetus in this post taken from The European Reformations: Second Edition by Carter Lindberg; Blackwell Publishing, 2010.

I’m a Protesting Good News-er: Part 3- “Follow Me.”

If you made it though Parts 1 and 2 of this series and are back for Part 3, I commend you. If you are new and you are beginning this post without the background of Parts 1 and 2, I encourage you to take a couple of minutes and read Part 1 and Part 2 so that you will understand the full discussion.

As we look at reclaiming the words “Protestant” and “Evangelical” we have seen that to be Protestant means that we should be people of protest; not protesting “them” toward exclusion but protesting the barriers we ourselves have erected and protest toward the inclusion of people. We have also seen that to be evangelical doesn’t mean to be registered as a member of a certain voting block but it means to be Good News-ers. It means that we are people who proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In this post, we will examine the need to follow though the life and death of Janneken Mustdorp.

As the flames rose around Janneken Munstdorp on October 5, 1573, her mind remained focused on two thoughts- one was the reward awaiting her as she entered into the glory of her Savior, the second was the love she possessed for her infant daughter – who she gave birth in prison and who was taken away from her. 

The flames burned her body, smoke choked her lungs and Janneken Munstrdorp died- burned at the stake and joining her husband, as well as untold others, as a martyr. While awaiting execution, Janneken wrote a letter to her daughter, also named Janneken. Its words are words of pure love, steadfast faith and deep sadness.

Written to Janneken, my own dearest daughter, while I was (unworthily) confined for the Lord’s sake, in prison, at Antwerp, A.D. 1573.

           The true love of God and wisdom of the Father strengthen you in virtue, my dearest child…I commend you to the Almighty, great and terrible God, who only is wise, that He will keep you, and let you grow up in His fear, or that He will take you home in your youth, this is my heart’s request of the Lord…Since, then, the Lord has so ordered and foreordained it, that I must leave you here, and you are here deprived of father and mother, I will commend you to the Lord…He will govern you and be a Father to you, so that you shall have no lack here…for He will be that Father of the orphans and the Protector of the widows…

           Hence, my young lamb, for whose sake I still have, and have had, great sorrow, seek, when you have attained your understanding, this narrow way…if we would with Christ seek and inherit salvation, we must also help bear his cross…for His sake all must be forsaken, father, mother, sister, brother, husband, child, yea, one’s own life…

           Hence, when you have attained your understanding, follow this example of your father and mother. And, my dear child, this is my request of you, since you are still very little and young; I wrote this when you were but one month old. As I am soon now to offer up my sacrifice…I pray you, that wherever you live when you are grown up…you conduct yourself well and honestly, so that no one need have cause to complain of you… My dear lamb, we can merit nothing, but must through grace inherit salvation…O my dearest lamb, that you might know the truth…and that you might follow your dear father and mother, who went before you; for your dear father demonstrated with his blood that it is the genuine truth, and I also hope to attest the same with my blood…

           And now, Janneken, my dear lamb, who are yet very little and young, I leave you this letter…for a perpetual adieu…And I herewith bid you adieu, my dear Janneken Munstdorp, and kiss you heartily, my dear lamb, with a perpetual kiss of peace…

           I herewith bid you adieu and farewell; I hope to seal this letter with my blood at the stake…Once more, adieu, my dearest upon the earth; adieu, and nothing more; adieu, follow me; adieu and farewell.

I cannot read this letter without wondering what happened to Janneken’s daughter. Did she survive her childhood? Was she ever able to read this letter? Did she find a Father in God?

Did she follow in the footsteps of her father and mother?

In the recent history of Protestant Evangelical Christianity, we have replaced the true meaning of what “Christian” really means. Is Christianity more about the rules one follows or the person one follows? We’ve made it all about the rules but it’s really all about following Jesus.

How did Jesus recruit his disciples? He didn’t ask them fifty questions about their theological convictions, family history, synagogue attendance, spiritual gift evaluations or stance on certain social issues.

Jesus’ words were simply: “Follow me.” What I find remarkable is that they actually left their lives and followed him. But isn’t that what Jesus asks us to do today? Isn’t being a “Christian,” being a “little Christ,” simply mean that we have chosen to follow? That we have left our old lives behind and chosen to follow Jesus?

Before he ascended into heaven Jesus Christ left us two things: his name and his command. As “Christians” we carry the name of Christ- with all the authority (through the Holy Spirit), rights, responsibilities and privileges therein. And we have a command: make disciples as witnesses of Jesus Christ.

God wrote you and I a letter, we call it the Bible, and in that letter God uses the same themes that are found in the letter of Jenneken Munstdorp, and the question we are left with is the same- will we follow?

*Quotes in the post taken from A Reformation Reader, Second Edition edited by Denis R. Janz; Fortress Press, 2008.

© Ryan Vanderland 2012


I’m a Protesting Good News-er: Part 2- A Heart Among Ashes

In Part 1 of I’m a Protesting Good News-er, I gave a little background in regard to the title of this series, as well as, the reason why I chose to write this series in the month of October. If you missed Part 1, I encourage you to read it so that you will understand the progression of these posts. In Part 1, I focused on the protesting aspect of Protestantism by using the example of Martin Luther. Now in Part 2, I want to take a closer look at challenge of being a “Good News-er” by looking at the example of Ulrich Zwingli (1448-1531).

Most American Christians, indeed most Americans, have heard of the “culture wars.” The culture wars stand as a testimony to how far the term “evangelical” has fallen over, particularly, the last three decades. As I see it, the culture wars are nothing more than a propaganda-filled approach to somehow differentiate between “good Evangelical Christian Americans” and those who believe anything else. “Evangelical” means more to Americans as a political voting group than it does a group of people with certain theological convictions- namely that the person, message and work of Jesus Christ is the Good News for which all of creation has been waiting and through whom all of creation is longing to be redeemed.

Which brings us to the life of Ulrich Zwingli.

Ulrich Zwingli was a pastoral theologian in Switzerland. He was also highly patriotic; he loved his country and the people of his country but hated that Switzerland’s largest export business was in mercenary soldiers who were paid to fight, sometimes each other, in the armies of other countries.

It was Zwingli’s patriotism, as much as his pastoral responsibilities or theological curiosities, which drove him deeper and deeper into the Bible. As he went deeper and deeper into the Bible he came to two conclusions- first, knowledge of the Bible needed to be taught to the people and second, he realized that “everything was to be judged by Scripture.”

These two convictions, ultimately lead Zwingli to the question of authority. What stands as the ultimate authority? The church? The Pope? The councils? Scripture?

For modern day Evangelicals, the same question needs to be answered. What stands as the ultimate authority? Is it our political convictions? It is our dislike of “them?”

Or, when we have a question of ultimate authority do we draw the conclusion of Zwingli and dive deeper and deeper into the pages of Scripture? When we dive into Scripture we are confronted on every side with the Gospel- with the Good News. When we are confronted with the Good News we discover that there isn’t “us” versus “them,” we find we are all sinners in need of Good News. Once we find that Good News we are called to be Good News-ers to others, for if we do not we stand condemned of the worst kind of pride, arrogance and hatred of our fellow human beings.

[Don’t hear me say what I am not saying. I am not saying that Christian Evangelicals should not be patriotic or vote their convictions (Zwingli was highly patriotic) but when we are looking at politics to do what only the Good News of Jesus can do, we have missed it.] 

On October 11, 1531, Zwingli himself took up arms in the second battle of Kappel to defend the beliefs he held so dear. During the battle, Zwingli suffered a serious wound and was left injured on the battlefield. When the opposing army discovered him, he was killed on the spot. His body was then cut into four pieces and burned. After his death, “the story soon circulated that his heart was found intact in the ashes of his body.”

The concept of the “culture wars” makes me sick. It’s the one of the ultimate forms of exclusivity. My prayer is that a heart would be found within the ashes that we have created and my prayer is that we find the heart of Jesus and the heart of Scripture.

*Quotes in this post taken from The European Reformations: Second Edition by Carter Lindberg; Blackwell Publishing, 2010.

(c) Ryan Vanderland 2012

I’m a Protesting “Good News-er”

Before diving into the topic at hand, let me take a moment to explain the title of this series of blogs and why I am choosing to write this series during the month of October. First, the title; the title comes from the two historic words that mark the version of Christianity that I ascribe to: Protestant and Evangelical. The word “protestant” comes straight from the Reformation and is a derivative of the word “protest.” The historic Reformers of the Church- Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others- protested against the direction that the Catholic Church had taken over the previous centuries and many times they protested against each other as they sought to interpret the Bible through new eyes. Denominations like the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Anabaptists/ Baptists all share their birth to the “Protesters.” At the risk of being overly simplistic, the Protestant Reformers protested against the established church on two major issues: who could interpret the Bible and how could one enter into salvation. It is important to note, here at the beginning, that both of these protests were made for the inclusion, not the exclusion, of people into the Church and into salvation.

The word “evangelical” comes from the word “evangelize” which comes from the Greek word “euangelion” which means “gospel” or “good news.” It is the word that the New Testament writers use to describe and encompass the full scope and depth of the person, message and work of Jesus Christ. The branch of Christianity known as “evangelical” arose primarily through the work of John and Charles Wesley in the mid 1700s. The Wesleys were, essentially, missionaries- not to far off people- but to the forgotten among their own people. Again, evangelicalism was a means for the inclusion, not exclusion, of people into the Church and into salvation in Jesus Christ.

As a Protestant Evangelical, I am a Protesting Good News-er.

Over the last several decades, however, these words have come to mean something very different than their historical meanings. Today, being a Protestants simply means that one is not Catholic. Evangelical, on the other hand, brings to the surface a wide range of connotations- a large number of them being negative.

Second, why October? I am choosing to write this series in October as a precursor to Reformation Day, All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day and St. Martin’s Day which are celebrated on October 31, November 1 and November 2, November 11 respectively. All of these festivals are reminders of, as the writer of Hebrews says, “a great cloud of witnesses” which has gone before us and can teach us as we walk our own Christian journey. In addition, we’ll see that several of the events mentioned take place in October.

Through this series of posts, I want to explore how Protestant Evangelicalism has strayed from its roots, been high jacked as a means for exclusion, share stories of Saints, martyrs and reformers who have gone before us and show how we can get back to being Protesting Good News-ers.

There are many places to begin this discussion but if we are going to talk about returning to our protesting roots, we need to start with Martin Luther (1483-1546).

Luther began his career as a lawyer but ended up leaving his initial profession and became a monk. As a monk, Luther worked diligently, at times close to the point of death, to perfect himself before God. During this time in his life, God was not a God of love but a God of terror for Luther as he tried to pile up good works in order to absolve his sins and obtain salvation. For those, during this time, who could not devote themselves to prayer, meditation, mass and the other exercises of faith could, with the help of an indulgence, pay off their sins and pay their way into salvation.

Luther, however, through his diligent study of scripture, specifically the book of Romans, came to two dramatic conclusions. First, salvation, or justification, does not come through works but by grace alone, through faith alone and spurs us to do good works. Second, God alone- not the Pope, not good works, not spiritual exercises, not the paying of indulgences- forgives sins.

On October 31, 1517, Luther took these observations along with many others, ninety-five specifically, and nailed them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, thus calling for a formal debate of these points- and the Protestant Reformation was begun.

Luther had no intention to divide the church and he had plenty of chances to fall back into line with the prevailing mentality of his day. Or Luther could have kept his observations and conclusions to himself and developed his own private way to understand and interact with God.

Luther understood, however, that he couldn’t protest internally or silently. Ultimately this lead him to the conclusion that he had to serve God within his own conscience and open his way of viewing God and Scripture to others. Luther achieved this through his translation of the Bible from Latin into German.

Luther’s protests lead to the opening of Christianity to the inclusion of more people- people who couldn’t mediate on Scripture because it was in a language they couldn’t read, people who’s struggle for salvation caused them to fear a God of terror, people who were tricked into believing that they could buy salvation and forgiveness of sins. All of a sudden forgiveness and salvation became accessible to everyone and not just to the few.

Inclusion is at the heart of Protestantism.

As a Protesting Good News-ers, we need to get back to protesting. Not protesting against homosexuals, Democrats, environmentalists or the ambiguous “them.” We need modern day reformers who will stand upon God given conscience and protest against the barriers our own systems have erected toward the exclusion of people.

(c) Ryan Vanderland 2012