This online institute is designed to give a brief analysis and discussion of all scientific disciplines through the lens of a biblical world view. +++ SDG +++

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

#98


Smoky Mountain Bible Institute (Est. 2009) Lesson #98
Where is Jesus??? In our world today, full of little churches and mega churches trying to sell you Jesus by saying ‘Come over here, we have the Jesus you didn't even know you needed or wanted’, how does one find the real Jesus? Well, first let’s make a typically Lutheran statement..."you do not find Jesus He finds you!" That is all fine and good and true but not very helpful in responding to the constant barrage of trendy Jesus marketing. So, let’s briefly review the three main marketing tools used to sell you a Jesus that is really more about you than the Savior who came to save you. That is what marketing naturally does, appeals to the individual.  

The reason for identifying these false Jesus marketing models is to help us to see them in a sort of sea of theological positions.  Even those of us who hold to sound biblical doctrine fall into these traps or to put it the way Luther did, the Church is like a drunken peasant that climbs out of one ditch only to stager across the road and fall into another. These metaphors may be a bit of an over simplification, but good books have been written to deal with this topic in detail. I would recommend these three; 1. Broken: 7 ''Christian'' Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible Dec 5, 2012, by Jonathan M. Fisk,  2. Spirituality of the Cross Revised Edition  February 1, 2010 by Gene Edward Veith, 3. The Quest for Holiness: A Biblical, Historical and Systematic Investigation August 26, 2004, by Adolf Koberle (Author), John C. Mattes (Translator). 

Even if we are aware of the “three ladders” so to speak the great deceiver does his best to disguise falsehoods in a myriad of ways. Trying to get us to focus on our; ladder 1- mind, ladder 2- feelings, or ladder 3 - work instead of our Savior. While it is important for us to keep our focus on who Jesus is, it is also helpful to know who Jesus is not, to avoid putting our focus in the wrong place.

With the eyes of faith, it is as easy to see where Jesus is to be found. Just like looking for Waldo on a busy multi-coloured page. You know exactly what Waldo looks like. His candy cane shirt and hat, the glasses and blue jeans are unmistakable. The true Jesus might make you feel good, He will bless you but not necessarily in the way you wish. Science and history are His friend, but those things are not how you will know Him. You will know Him because He is where He says He will be in His word and sacraments. You can know with absolute certainty that you are a baptized child of God whom He loves more than His own life which He gave on a cross. He regularly nurtures you through His word proclaimed and His (body / bread) and (blood / wine) put in your mouth for your forgiveness. Take comfort in His assurance "Lo I am with you always even unto the end of the world" Amen.

As I said earlier even though we know these truths about Jesus, we will still struggle with these three ladders. The first and most popular ladder is that of the shallow self-centered versions of ‘marketing Jesus’ is the, "Look at how good I feel Jesus". This version of marketing Jesus is easy to identify. Followers talk a lot about Jesus, but Jesus is not really ‘doing’ any of the verbs. This version of Jesus does not talk about what Jesus did for you or what Jesus does for you. The "Look at how good I feel Jesus" follower is always telling you about how Jesus makes you feel.  In truth, Jesus does not manipulate our emotions. How we feel is about us, not about Jesus.  Emotions are a gift from God and yes, when we sing His praises or listen to His word or read His words or share how He has blessed us, it can and should make us feel good.  But those feelings are not Jesus, and they are no indication of how close He is to us. The one who bled and died for ours sins is always close to us no matter how we feel. When I do not feel good Jesus it there whether I feel Him or not. If I do not feel good, if I am grieving, if I am hungry, if I am sick? Jesus is right there suffering with me, tending to my needs through the loving actions of others. Our feelings can fool us into thinking Jesus in not there when we need Him most.

            When we are hurting He provides means to assure us of His presence and we don’t have to doubt this truth because his word plainly spells it out. He gives us pastors to proclaim us to be absolved when we confess. He gives us baptism in which he takes ownership of us by putting His name on us, washing us into his death and resurrection. He gives us Bread and Wine that is His flesh and blood, forgiveness we can smell, taste and touch. When we need Him the most, He is there providing the peace He promised. So, if someone tries to sell you a "Look at how good I feel Jesus" say no thanks I am feeling a bit nauseous and I know he is here at my side! The official theological term for this ladder is “Enthusiasm”.
We will have to address the other two ladders next month
Until then have a blessed Summer
In Christ Pastor Portier

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #97
As promised last month, here is our discussion of the ministerial hermeneutical method. I cite a lot of texts in this article, so you may want to have a Bible handy. The main method in this category is called the “Historical Grammatical” method. This method also employs human reason, but only as far as we finite beings are able (acknowledging that we cannot fully comprehend the infinite) and lets God's word have the final say especially when it says things that are illogical to us. This method acknowledges that God is all-powerful and can reveal his truth to us in any way he chooses, and that happens to be his inerrant written word, clearly defined through history and grammar, the Bible. As such, this method produces interpretations that are clear confessions of biblical truth. If your ultimate authority is God's word, then you will acknowledge that all human life is created in his image and is intrinsically valuable. All races, locations, sizes, and conditions of humans are therefore worthy of the highest respect and protection we can provide. We also have the freedom to function within the gifted order of his creation. He put “norms” in place for our benefit and we let his word have the final say no matter how politically incorrect or illogical it may sound.

God gives men and women different roles, like mother, father, husband, wife, or pastor. Scripture attaches gender to each of these roles (see 1 Tim 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-9, 1 Cor 14:33-35, Eph 5:21-26, Col 3:18-19, 1 Tim 2:9-13, 1 Cor 11:3-10, and 1 Peter 3:1-5). History and grammar can help us better understand these things but we cannot redefine what the words mean. To be a pastor, one must be male, rightly called, and ordained. Marriage is defined for us in Genesis as being between one man and one woman. Other scriptural mandates are chastity for all, celibacy for the unmarried, and monogamy and fidelity for the married. These are the gifts of a loving God to us all regardless of our fallen sinful condition.

             To say that only God can forgive sins is most certainly correct, and he can do so however he wishes. To that end, he has established means through which forgiveness can be given, including through words spoken in his stead, by his command following confession (see John 20:22-23).

            Baptism is a gift from God, even if it does not seem logical. Water and word certainly cannot normally save and give faith miraculously, but scripture tells us that God’s word combined with water does just that (see Matt 28:19; Mark 15:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38-39; 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13; Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5-6; Heb 10:22; John 3:5; Rom 6:3-6; Col 2:11-12, and Gal 3:27-29).

             The Lord’s Supper is a gift from God, even if it does not seem logical. Bread and wine normally cannot also be flesh and blood and give forgiveness when consumed, but scripture tells us that they can, and they do (see Matt 26, Mark 14 Luke 22, and 1 Cor 11).

            As you can see, the “leaves” on these two hermeneutic trees are very different. So, the next time you are sharing your faith with someone and they argue against your “interpretation”, you can politely tell them “yes, and it is also the confession of the universal, historic, Christian faith, so your disagreement is not with me, but with the plain, clear, historic, apostolic exposition of God's truth”. Or perhaps you could just say, “your disagreement is not with me, but God's word”; that might be simpler.

            There are much more thorough treatments of this topic available, but this will help define the two main schools of thought which will appear in our discussion of American Trinitarian Christian church bodies. Next month we will begin discussion of the “three ladders” or the “three ditches” we often find ourselves falling into, regardless of our church’s confession. We all struggle with these, but some church bodies have them as part of their public confession of faith.

In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

#96


Smoky Mountain Bible Institute (Est. 2009) Lesson #96
Before discussing church bodies, we must consider a number of issues which define and explain the positions that different church bodies hold. The first and largest divide falls in the area of biblical interpretation. So lets dive into the exciting topic of Hermeneutics.

"That is your interpretation…" Such is often the response I get when I try to share God's truth with others. It is frustrating to get this response when you try to tell someone about God’s truth as you have come to understand it through the help of your family, church and especially the Holy Spirit. When people reject God's truth you can't help but feel a little rejected yourself. In an effort to assist you in this endeavor, lets briefly touch on two topics: Hermeneutics and Evangelism. These two words sometimes elicit reactions of confusion and/or fear among most Christians. Let’s first deal with confusion, so we do not need to run in fear.

            Hermeneutics is the#96 branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation of the Bible. When you are discussing the “living out” of faith with your neighbor, you may be using different methods of biblical interpretation, which will mean you will reach different conclusions. Using the metaphor of leaves on a tree, your discussion about a leaf may be confusing because you may be picturing an oak leaf while your neighbor is thinking of a maple leaf. The “leaves” or conclusions are different because they come from completely different trees. It is the same with biblical interpretation. While there are many methods or lenses out there through which people look at God’s word, they all fit into one of two categories: magisterial or ministerial. (I know, two more big words to define, but be patient as I explain how these lead to very different applications and conclusions about the unchangeable truth of God's word.)

            Magisterial hermeneutics appeal to human reason over God’s word. The “Historical Critical” method is the main one in this category. The conclusions that this method derives are based on the preconceived notions of those using it. In other words, if God's word says something they do not like or agree with, then they simply use this method to say “I know what it says, but it cannot mean that, so I’ll find a different approach which will produce a result which seems good to me”. This method puts all the authority in human reason, above the revealed truth of God’s word.  Most liberal biblical scholars, atheists, and agnostics interpret scripture using methods that fall into this category. What they have in common is the idolatry of the human mind over God's revealed truth.  This method leads to a misapplication of biblical principles or just outright denial of any biblical authority at all. If your ultimate authority is the human mind, then you (being a human) can hold the rights of one individual over and above the rights of someone else defined as less than individuals (e.g. those of other races, the opposite sex, those not yet born, those with a lifestyle you do not like, or those with a quality of life you arbitrarily decide is not worth the status of individual with protected rights.) Even those who claim that God’s word is wrong because it condemns their lifestyle.
            Those holding to a magisterial hermeneutic also have the freedom to depart from God's word completely and make new rules for themselves and society. To declare “anyone can be a pastor” is to say that call, training, ability, and gender have no bearing on who should fill the role even if scripture says otherwise. To declare “marriage is for any consenting adults at all" is to say that chastity, monogamy, heterosexuality, and fidelity are the products of a manipulative, medieval, patriarchal society, and that the oppressive cultural norms of the past are invalid. To declare “only God can forgive sins" is to say that God’s biblical directive to the church through Peter to forgive sins (Mt 16:19; 18:15–20; Jn 20:22–23; Rv 1:18) does not mean what it says. To declare "baptism and the Lord’s Supper are acts of obedience" is to say that it is not logical that water and word can save or that bread and wine can be flesh and blood. Many “conservative” Christians would agree with scripture on most of the things in this paragraph but each of them is an example of an appeal to reason over scripture, and this is what leads to error.

            I am afraid we have run out of space for this month, so we will pick up our discussion next month with the ministerial approach. Until then have a blessed Easter season.
In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

#95


Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #95

            We are going a different direction with the institute this month. I have been working on a book for quite a few years that is designed to answer the question, “Why are there so many Christian church bodies?” That, of course, is a very complex question, requiring a very complex answer. So for the foreseeable future here at the institute we will begin to work on that question. The title of the book will be “Departures”.

            Why “Departures”? In my previous career in the United States Navy I spent over a decade assigned to ships. When ships prepare to get underway they schedule a departure time. Departure times apply to planes, trains and busses as well. As I started visiting with people and explaining to them what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess, I found that I spent a lot of time explaining to people the differences between Lutherans and other Trinitarian Christian church bodies. Having to regularly answer these questions led to much research while I looked for concise ways to describe these differences.

            In the process of answering these questions, I found myself using the words “depart” and “departure” quite regularly. In trying to show the difference I would explain how our confessions were a clear exposition of Biblical truth while the positions others held were in some way a “departure” from what scripture clearly teaches. It is my hope that a series of articles could eventually be used as a quick reference tool for both pastors and laity to see how some doctrinal positions depart from scripture.

In order to do this, I will address many Trinitarian Christian church bodies in America coming from 15 different traditions. This will be by no means an exhaustive treatment of the over 230 church bodies in America, however, every Trinitarian Christian church in America falls into one of these 15 different traditions and those not addressed will be listed at the end of that section.

It would be impossible to address the different beliefs of all Christians because many people do not even understand or agree with the complete doctrinal position of the church bodies they claim to be members of. I will, however, address the public confessions of official church bodies and how their doctrinal positions depart from scripture. I will in each case cite the biblical position against the departure. I will address each of these church bodies in 20 doctrinal categories. Hermeneutics (biblical interpretation), each of the 10 Commandments, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Prayer, Baptism, Forgiveness, Communion, Ordination, and Family. I propose that the ways Trinitarian Christians depart from scripture in these 20 areas fall into three categories (3 ladders) and have something in common with the five historic heresies. This will be explained in the articles that deal with each church body.

I will not address American church bodies that are not Trinitarian in accord with the historic creeds; for example, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, or Muslims. A common nautical term for a good ship is a “tight ship”, because when a wooden ship is new, all the seams and joints are properly fitted and caulked; the water then causes the wood to swell, and the ship does not creak or leak because she is a “tight ship”. When we are out there in the world, taking in our lines from the pier of the church to get underway and live our lives in a way that reflects well our Lord and redeemer, it is helpful to have a doctrinal “ship” of sorts that is tight. If I understand what God’s word teaches, it is helpful in strengthening me to boldly live my faith in the presence of others. When a tight ship is underway she must also have defensive measures to protect herself against being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:14) The best way to build a solid foundation is to read and be well versed in scripture and its clearest reduced explanation Luther’s Small Catechism. I am not claiming that those who hold to these departures are in any way lesser Christians, but departures from biblical truth are harmful, not helpful, to those who hold them. It is my hope that this humble project will be of some assistance to the church in defense against biblical positions that are in error and will be edifying to God’s people on both sides of the discussion.
In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Thursday, February 8, 2018

#94

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #94

            We last left off in 1580 with the Book of Concord, which was published for the first time in Dresden. This book is the confessional standard for all orthodox Lutheran church bodies. LCMS pastors publicly commit to teach in accord with its confessions at their ordinations and installations. All LCMS congregations also have an unalterable article in their constitution that commits them to teach in accord with the Book of Concord’s confessions.

            That being said, a lot has happened in church history over the past 438 years. Here is a smattering of significant events as I see them from the 16th century (1500s) to the present.

            In 1525, the Anabaptist (re-baptism) movement began. They were considered part of the radical reformation, rejecting baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s supper. Ulrich Zwingli is often misidentified with this group because he did not believe in the real presence, however, he did believe in baptismal regeneration and infant baptism.

            In 1529, King Henry the 8th of England began a break from the Roman Catholic Church, and after a number of parliamentary acts (the final being 1534), the Church of England (COE) was established with the King being given the title “Supreme Head of the Church of England”. Initially, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were doctrinally very similar. Over time, however, some protestant reforms became part of COE doctrine, developing over time into what we know today in America as the Episcopal or Anglican churches. A number of church bodies can trace their roots to the COE: Puritan, some Baptist, Methodist, Quaker, Unitarian, Universalist.

            In the late 1530s, John Calvin began his reform efforts, publishing his institutes in 1536. Having been born in France, he spent much of his adult life in Strasburg and Geneva. Reformed, Presbyterian, Unitarian /Universalist, Pentecostal, and many other church bodies can trace their roots to John Calvin.

            In the 1600s, the many Baptist, Puritan, and Presbyterian churches became what is known as congregationalist. The polity of the LCMS is heavily influenced by congregational practices.

            In the early 1800s, the Adventist and Holiness movements splintered from Methodism, and later in the early 1900s, the Pentecostal movement splintered from the holiness movement.

            In 1854, Rome established the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and in 1870, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. However, Papal Infallibility is only said to apply when the Pope makes a doctrinal proclamation Ex cathedra (Latin for “from the chair”), meaning the seat or throne of authority.

            While Eastern Orthodoxy has about 14 self-governing bodies that are all doctrinally very similar, the western Christian church is split into many. About half of the world’s Christians claim to be Roman Catholic, but the rest of Christianity is in as many as 25,000 denominations.

            That will wrap up our discussion of history. The next topic I had planned on addressing was the social sciences, then theology, but this discussion of so many Christian church bodies makes me think that you may wonder more about them and their differences, so I think we will begin to address that question next month and see where it takes us.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Lesson #93

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #93
            Previously we focused primarily on the first 1500 years of Christianity’s history. Now, we will proceed from there forward, focusing on the Lutheran perspective. We just celebrated the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses to the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517. This is seen by most of the world as the beginning of the Reformation. The 95 Theses themselves were primarily concerned with the practice of selling indulgences; full-fledged Lutheran theology was “hammered out” much more thoroughly in the years that followed. From the time of 1517 and on, the Reformation can be covered from many historical angles, but I would like to track it through its clear confession of biblical truth as we believe, teach, and confess it today. Because of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, these confessional documents were mass-produced and distributed, spreading the faith eventually all over the world.

            1529 is the next significant date. Luther wanted to produce a simple tool for parents to use to teach their children the faith. So, he produced The Large and Small Catechisms, which give the clearest and briefest explanations of what the 10 commandments, creeds, Lord’s Prayer, baptism, confession & absolution, and Lord’s Supper mean in the daily life of every Christian. In the same year Luther was brought before the diet (a royal legislative court) at Worms and on the 18th of April, refused to recant his writings with the famous “Here I Stand” speech. On the 25th of May (the next month), Luther was made an outlaw by that same court.

            Many would contend that June the 25th, 1530 is the date that should be celebrated as the birth of the Reformation, because this is when The Augsburg Confession was presented. In order to exclude the people, the little chapel of the episcopal palace was appointed in place of the spacious city hall where the meetings of the diet were held. Written copies in German and Latin were presented. The document was read before Emperor Charles V (initially against his wishes) and the electors of the Roman Empire from 3 to 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Christian Beyer, a Saxon chancellor, read it aloud in German quite loudly, so that the crowds in the courtyard could hear each word through the open windows. The originals no longer exist, but it was soon published and widely distributed.

            In 1531, The Apology to the Augsburg Confession was published. The Roman Catholic church refuted the Augsburg Confession, and the Apology was published to clarify and explain the misconceptions, misunderstandings, and misrepresentations contained in their response and asserted by many others who disagreed with the Augsburg confession.

            In 1537, Luther wrote The Smalcald Articles in preparation for an ecumenical council. When the council took place, however, the Lutherans were not allowed to make any presentations. Luther was very ill when he wrote it, and many refer to the document as his theological last will and testament.

            Philip Melancthon wrote The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope in 1540 at a conference of theologians and princes in Smalcald. It summarized the view of the papacy taught by Luther and was endorsed along with the Augsburg Confession and The Apology by all present.

            Due to doctrinal disagreement between Lutherans on a number of issues, the elector (a regional prince who votes for or “elects” the emperor) of Saxony assembled respected theologians to produce The Formula of Concord in 1577 to provide a common confession regarding the disputed issues.  

            In 1580, The Book of Concord (a collection of the aforementioned documents) was published for the first time in Dresden. This book is the confessional standard for all orthodox Lutheran church bodies today. LCMS pastors publicly commit to teach in accord with its confessions at their ordinations and installations. All LCMS congregations also have an unalterable article in their constitution that commits them to teach in accord with the Book of Concord’s confessions.


            We believe, teach, and confess that The Book of Concord is the clearest expression of biblical truth currently in existence. In 2006, CPH published a readers’ edition of The Book of Concord, which I recommend as a great historical and theological reference to have in your home library.

Lesson #92

Smoky Mountain Bible Institute
(Est. 2009) Lesson #92
            Dark ages, Middle ages, Renaissance, many western Christian historians define the general period from around 500 to around 1500 with these titles more specifically the fall of Rome’s western empire in 476 followed by the Dark ages which in some areas lasted until the 1300’s. The Middle ages begin when King Charlemagne of the Franks is crowned first Holy Roman Emperor of the West by Pope Leo III in 800, also known as the Western Christian Medieval period. The event that marks the end of this period is when the Last Crusader city (Acre) falls to the Mamelukes in 1291. The late middle ages or Renaissance begins with Dante’s writings know as the Divine Comedy written between 1307–1314. This period comes to a close with a number of key events such as the discovery of the Americas by the west in 1492 by Christopher Columbus and the beginning of the Reformation in 1517. Some carry the time of the renaissance to 1700.

            We spent the last two sessions on the crusades which take place right in the middle of this 1000-year period. Now let’s take a little time on this window to see some of the major world history events taking place primarily in the western Christian World.

            Dark Ages: After the fall of Rome as is the case in any fall of a society decades or even centuries of chaos, disease and war tend to leave less written history than the times before and after ergo the title dark ages.  The first big blow to civilization was the devastation of some 40% of Europe’s population due to a plague in 541 & 542.  Another reason it is often called the dark ages is various Germanic peoples conquered the former Roman Empire in the West (including Europe and North Africa), shoving aside ancient Roman traditions in favor of their own. The negative view of the so-called “Dark Ages” became popular largely because most of the written records of the time (including St. Jerome and St. Patrick in the fifth century, Gregory of Tours in the sixth and Bede in the eighth) had a strong Rome-centric bias. A good read on the History Channels website is “6 Reasons the Dark Ages Weren’t So Dark”

            The Middle Ages: AKA Early Medieval period in the Christian west circa 800-1300. As the church climbed in the leadership vacuum of in the west during the dark ages this led to quite a disagreement on who the actual pope was. The Western Schism or Papal Schism as it is called was a split within the Catholic Church which lasted from 1378 to 1417. Three men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. Driven by politics rather than any theological disagreement, one in southern France and two in Rome.  the schism was ended by the Council of Constance (1414–1418). For a good read on this I suggest Christianity Today’s article titled “1378 The Great Papal Schism”. As we call these ages Dark and middle I like to point out again that many great advances came to pass in the human condition, it is just that as progressive moderns we often look down our noses at the past not realizing that just because they lacked some of our technologies and suffered plagues, war and stife, does not mean they were not as intelligent if not more intelligent than we are today.

            Renaissance:  or Late Medieval period in the Christian west circa 1300-1700. Is regarded by most historians as the cultural bridge between the Middle Ages and modern history. It started as a cultural movement Florence Italy in the Late Medieval period and later spread to the rest of Europe, marking the beginning of the Early Modern Age. It was a time when all forms of art, architecture, Humanism, Science, Music, Religion began grow and flourish in many cultures. Leading to the age of enlightenment beginning in the 1600’s. but we will save the enlightenment for another lesson. I thing we will kick things off next month with the Reformation in 1517.

Till then
In Christ Pastor Portier