Christ Lutheran Church August, 2016
Church: (812)695-3241 / e-mail: email@example.com / Parsonage: (812)695-5741
Pastor Kraemer’s cell phone: (812)631-9372 / e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our church had a beautiful float for the Haysville Bi-Centennial parade on July 3, 2016. The photo above doesn’t do it justice, and even if it was in color, you had to have to seen it from every direction. It featured the Bible verse, Ephesians 2:8-9 which emphasizes our dependence on the Grace of God, a large rough hewn cross set off with red, and the original Christ Lutheran Church sign from the old church on the back. Everything about it, including the people who walked along passing out seeds (as the Gospel grows) and candy was well done. Impressive indeed! Thank-you to all of the people who worked so creatively and so hard to make such a fine float!
I have been asked recently about the subject of “re-Baptism” and whether it is “O.K.”. Re-Baptism is the habit of some church denominations to require new members to get Baptized again even if they were previously Baptized in another church. The short answer is that if someone was Baptized with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit any re-Baptism is totally unnecessary. More specifically, being re-Baptized won’t hurt anything, but it is unnecessary. Although, it raises the question to the person being re-Baptized, “Who do you think did your Baptism last time? Was it only a mortal Pastor or was it God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit?”
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus gives us His Great Commission where He tells us to “…Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That’s it. When a church insists on someone being re-Baptized they are basically saying that their human forms are more important that what God has already done. Re-Baptizing is often a result of a church that does not understand how big Baptism really is - they cannot see it as an act of God, but instead see it as something pastors and local churches do. Sometimes those churches will use one of the following excuses for their insistence on re-Baptizing someone who has been Baptized in a church other than their own:
We are re-Baptizing because this person was not immersed. Nowhere does Jesus ever say how much water is necessary for Baptism. After all, it’s not the water that makes a Baptism - it is the water together with the WORD - the Word of God. I remember when I was doing some travel in Israel I was with a group of people who wanted to get re-Baptized by immersion in the Jordan river near where Jesus was possibly Baptized. I’m sure it wouldn’t have done any harm, but it made no sense to re-do what God had already done for all eternity. There is no problem with a remembrance of Baptism (like we can have on Maundy Thursday); but in a re-Baptism the same Word of God is spoken over some other source of water(maybe a larger container of water, maybe a river, or whatever) and somehow that is supposed to be better than “the sprinkling systems”.
We are re-Baptizing because the first time this person was Baptized they were an infant, before he/she was at the “age of accountability.” It is true that the first people Baptized with Jesus’ supervision were adults who proclaimed faith, but that’s because Christianity was just starting out. By the time Jesus had physically left the world and His apostles were Baptizing people we read that they frequently Baptized entire households - which undoubtedly included babies. The notion of the “age of accountability” is the idea that a person needs to be old enough (usually 12) to understand what Baptism is about, know the 10 Commandments, know about the Gospel, etc. before they can be Baptized. The idea is that the person is expected to “know enough” to be worthy of Baptism. Then they are supposed to make a decision on whether they want to be Baptized. The bottom line is that Baptism is an act of God (that’s why we call on the Trinity when we Baptize) not an act of a pastor, a parent, a 12 year old, a church or even a denomination. Notice how this idea of “accountability” moves things from Baptism as an act of God’s loving grace - to Baptism as something a person earns for having learned their assigned lessons. Let’s just put aside the fact that no one truly understands God’s Grace, Baptism, etc. and look at the fact that this idea automatically cuts some people out of Baptism. I remember years ago doing service projects with young people who had been born blind, deaf and mentally deficient. They would never understand much of anything as long as they lived. Does this idea of “accountability” mean that because they were born deficient they should be denied being made children of God? Of course not! That is, unless a church believes in “accountability” before Baptism.
Everyone who wants to become a member of our church needs to be Baptized by our church. As if no other church has the authority to Baptize, and they believe their Baptism is superior to anyone else’s using the same water God created and the same words Jesus gave us. Basically, this is someone claiming that their church ranks higher in authority than God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. When we are Baptized we are Baptized into the one, eternal, world-wide body of Jesus Christ called the Universal Church which is part of the Kingdom of God in history and will be the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven in eternity. We are not Baptized into some local club.
People need to be re-Baptized when they have renewed their faith after a time of apostasy. Every once in a while someone who is recovering from alcoholism or drug abuse or who has been away from the Church for a long time asks me to re-Baptize them. But Luther writes in the explanation of the Third Article, that the Holy Spirit “… calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth …” and Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 6:6) This means that if a person has wandered away from Jesus and then returned, they came back because they responded to the calls of the Holy Spirit - the same Holy Spirit that was present at the first Baptism.
Again, if a person is re-Baptized it doesn’t do any eternal harm although it doesn’t do anything that wasn’t already there from the first Baptism. This is not to say that churches which insist upon re-Baptism are not good churches. This is not to say that churches that insist upon re-Baptism in order to join do not faithfully follow Jesus and do not faithfully lead their members to walk with our Lord. It’s just that such churches don’t understand how big Baptism really is, and so an insistence on re-Baptism is more of an ego need of certain churches and denominations than anything else.
The Recent Police and Black Violence
There has been a lot of black and police violence lately, and unfortunately, it may get worse before it gets better. It seems like the late ‘60’s again. Interviews seem to show that both the black neighborhoods and the police departments are demoralized and fearful.
When I was growing up they drilled us at the public school about how great the Civil Rights leaders were and to reject all forms of racism. I think they did a pretty well on my generation in helping us not to see other people only in terms of their skin color. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that my experience in society is the only one. For example, I remember the 1950’sand early 1960’s as a great time for society but it was a tough time for blacks when Jim Crow and separate but equal were legal. Even today the average black person still has to think about a hundred things I never have to think about or face as a middle-class white in America. On the one side we can say that most of the issues have racism and racial injustice as their original cause, but I also remember what a black police chief said to me once, ”Yes, the problems in the black neighborhood are undoubtedly racial in their genesis. But what does racism have to do with a black teenager who gets free food, free health care wearing $120 sneakers knocking over a little old black woman to steal her purse?”
I’d like to divide up the rest of this into two parts. The first part is a thumbnail sketch of an analysis by David Kennedy. The second part is more faith centered.
David Kennedy wrote an interesting book called, “Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America”. He has one chapter called, “Across the Racial Divide.” Kennedy comes from the other end of the political spectrum from me, but he has over 25 years of work with both police and black neighborhoods. He is the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control and a professor of criminal justice, and he knows and cares about police officers and knows and cares about the inner-city communities he’s been working in.
I can’t agree with everything he says especially since my first parish was a predominantly black, high crime inner city setting; and from that experience I don’t think his observations fit all situations very well. Nevertheless, he has some useful insights, which I have to take seriously because he has been successful in coordinating big improvements in relations between police and black communities along with a decline in crime. (I hope this cut down overview does justice to what Kennedy is saying.)
Black people in their communities remember a lot of things that have happened. Things that most whites tend to think of as something in the past. But in living memory for many in the black community, are memories of police dogs and fire hoses against peaceful demonstrators, of Bloody Sunday, of Klan-directed terrorism, of real racial injustices in our judicial system - and to them it’s not so long ago if such things happened to your grandma or to your pastor. Unfortunately, illegal police activities like “clearing corners,” still persist in many inner cities. A suspected drug house can receive damage that would get the police commissioner in serious trouble if it happened in any other community.
Another factor is that one in nine black men between the age of 20 and 34 is in prison. Kennedy isn’t arguing about criminal justice reform at this point and we can assume that they are there for real crimes committed. What he’s emphasizing is the cultural and psychological effect of such widespread imprisonment: “People who know someone who’s been imprisoned tend to think that criminal justice authorities are racist, are less likely to call the police when they need help, are less likely to support community standards and actions against crime.”
The communities think the police are predators doing them horrendous harm on purpose. The see it as a continuation of their history: overseer, slave catcher, Ku Klux Klan, cop, DEA - all the same to them.
As for the police Kennedy believes there is disproportionate treatment of blacks all the way through the system and that this treatment is evil and wrong. But he doesn’t think racism is the driving force. “I’ve never heard a racist word spoken in all my years with cops–never” (page 154). But Kennedy doesn’t discount the presence of unconscious stereotyping. The police have not written off black people; they’ve written off certain neighborhoods.
Kennedy writes that, “They think the community likes what’s going on, or at least doesn’t care enough to stop it”. Many people in law enforcement, both black and white, come from pretty gritty backgrounds themselves and are apt to think, My parents taught me right from wrong. I worked hard. I stayed out of trouble. I took responsibility when I made mistakes. Why don’t people try raising their own kids and stop looking for someone else to blame? Whether that’s a fair indictment of those in the inner-city, or whether it takes into account the problems inherent in rampant fatherlessness and imprisonment, the fact is that many in the police force see a community they are supposed to serve that doesn’t give a rip about its own problems. Basically, many police think the community is completely corrupt, from top to bottom.
Kennedy continues, “It’s why what many hoped would change these dynamics, having more black cops, hasn’t. Black cops don’t hate black people. This isn’t about black and white. It’s about the community of the cops and the community of the neighborhoods. The first has given up on the second”. And the second doesn’t trust the first.
Then the big issue is the way the relationship between the police and community gets poisoned by toxic racial narratives.
You and I may not agree with all those points, but it’s worth listening. Someone else who is worth listening to (and for a solution he is worth even more than Kennedy to listen to) is Rev. Tony Evans, an African-American who speaks Biblical wisdom to the subject of race. As a member of Christ Lutheran Church you can listen to his 6 relatively short talks with your RightNow Media subscription. His series is called “Oneness Embraced”. It is good and points to faithful solutions. I have not included a “thumbnail sketch” for his talks because you really need more than that to appreciate it.
So, what can you and I do about it? As you might guess, I have my own ideas about what should be done, but I will spare you my personal thoughts because that’s not the purpose of a newsletter. However, here are some things that we as Christians are called to do (in no particular order).
1) Of course, pray! We read in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God”. Then in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your cares on God, because he cares for you…” Prayer is not what we do because we can’t do anything else. Prayer is what we do because we can do something.
2) Read the Bible. Remember the admonition, “May the mind of Christ my Savior, live in me from day to day. By his love and power controlling, all I do and say.” That’s not going to happen if we follow news, social media and everything else while ignoring the Scriptures. The theologian Karl Barth once said, “Read the newspaper in your left hand, while reading the bible in your right.”
3) Strive to understand. Hopefully, the first part of this article will help start to do this.
4) There are many people who want to find justice and goodness. The majority of Christians in this country - Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, everyone - want to see all people treated fairly and humanely by the police. They also want to see police officers respected and come home each night. We agree that black lives matter and blue lives matter. We agree that we are against racial bias and violent retaliation, that traffic stops should not end in gunshots, and that cops need to protect themselves. More of us may be closer together than we may be led to think.
5) Don’t forget that it’s not simple. There is a lot of pressure for us to take sides and make every tragedy part of an us-versus-them, all-or-nothing, you-win-I-lose, good-against-evil fight. Sometimes the fight is that clear, but not usually, especially if we are thinking about fellow Christians who may vote differently or watch a different cable news channel. These are complicated issues, grounded in problems that go back a long ways. If the solution was easy we would have done it by now.
6) Don’t forget that the news agencies and Internet posts all make money on bad news because it gets people’s attention and boosts their ratings and hits. Crises and chaos makes for good ratings the longer the news outlets can get people to listen to them. Moreover, now-a-days we have so many sources of news (and opinion and speculations and pictures, etc.) that we can’t avoid getting more information than is really useful. I think a strong case could be made that the way the news operates has contributed to the severity of the problem. Which leads to the next point …
7) Don’t let it get out of perspective. At any given moment, the world is so much worse and so much better than we can imagine. On the one hand, if we could see every failed marriage, every abusive situation, and every dying person, let alone inside every sinful heart, the world would look unbelievably grim. But that’s not the only picture. Crime rates have actually been going down for several decades. Grinding poverty across the globe is much less than it used to be. There are, wonderful stories we never hear about involving racial harmony, police and goodness, forgiveness and hope.
8) Look at yourself (repent). Each of us carries the causes of problems in the world starts with our hearts. What sinful attitudes or behaviors do you have? Among other things, every tragedy is an opportunity for the Lord to show us our sin and lead us to the Savior (Luke 13:1-5).
9) Be the Church The Church can show the world a better way. What do we have to offer the world? An insistence on truth, a commitment to grace, and a hope that does not disappoint (Rom. 5:5). One of the historic roles of the Church (not only the institution, but especially the members - the “salt of the earth” Jesus talked about) has been to act as a dam to hold back the evil surrounding it; to reflect and live the truth of God.
When I was working in the inner city it seemed like there were two broad groups of young people coming up in the midst of that bad environment. The largest group were becoming products of their environment. But then, there were also young people who were very different. They got along with the rest of their neighborhood, but they were obviously not like their environment. They would grow up and some of them would leave the community and do something with their lives like get a job, go to school and make a good life. A few others would stay in the community and start up a small business, get involved in community leadership, work with a community center, etc. I soon noticed that EVERY one of them had a relative (grandparent, uncle, aunt) who was an active Christian who would have a strong influence on that kid and get him/her involved with a church.
Even more important is that God has designed humanity with a lot of uniqueness and variety. Yet, at the same time, Jesus in what is called His “high-priestly prayer” prays that all may be One in Him - one in His body called the worldwide Church. Like a sports team - each member is unique, but they all wear the same uniform and play on the same team.
Furthermore, (quoting DeYoung) We worship a God who created the world out of nothing, brought the slaves out of Egypt, and raised Jesus out of the grave. Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear (Isa. 59:1)
10) God is still here. Even though we often wonder why God allows evil, we are reminded that He has given human beings a lot of freedom and too often we use that freedom to sin against God and others. As Christians we walk with our Lord as He works with us in our lives and in the world.