Monday, June 08, 2009

Is change inevitable?

Like many readers of this site, when I was growing up there was no such thing as the internet, or the world wide web. The main source of media during that time was television, but like so many Laestadians "of a certain age," in our congregation no television was allowed.

In some branches of Laestadianism, in some congregations, this has changed during the last 10-20 years. Some Laestadians have TVs now, and even some of the ones that still don't have internet access. So I am always interested when a Laestadian church decides to put up a web site. Remembering how the internal politics of these congregations work, I think we can safely assume that if a congregation has a web site, use of the internet is not a major "controversy" within that congregation.

This weekend someone sent me a link to the Apostolic Lutheran Church of Kingston. It's a very nice site design, professionally done. It has an RSS feed, sermon podcasts, the pastor's blog, and the promise of constant updates with new content of interest to the congregation or visitors.

Housed within all that technological newness, however, are the very old ideas that most of us are so familiar with. One page in particular jumped out at me:


In Jerusalem, Israel, in the year 33, the Apostles Church was established upon the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the authority of God, our creator. This was the beginning of our present church.

In Germany, in 1517, Martin Luther fathered the reformation, hence we use Lutheran in our church name.

Within the Lutheran Church of Sweden, in the 1700's and 1800's, the quickening and awakening work of God began to stir the hearts of men. . . By 1845, in the Northern parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway, the Apostle Church experienced a revival by Lars Levi Laestadius.


On one level I fully realize that this capsule history is a cute way of unpacking "Apostolic Lutheran Church" in a few short paragraphs. On the other hand, it also perpetuates an idea that was certainly alive during my youth and lives on today in many fundamentalist protestant denominations --that nothing of any real theological or spiritual relevance has happened in the last 2,000 years.

This understanding of church history would have us believe that Jesus died, the apostles lived, skip ahead to the reformation and Laestadius (or insert your own sects founder's name), and here we are today. It completely hides the wealth of riches to be found in all the myriad and diverse understandings of the faith that have arisen between then and now, as well as the dark and shameful episodes of the tradition we call our own.

Thankfully, we live in an age where information has never been more freely available. It was easy to remain in the dark growing up, but it's much more difficult to control the message today. It's all here for anyone who cares to look.

12 comments:

  1. Hmmm. Very interesting the Kingston site. Arnold Anderson one of the earlier preachers, is my Great Uncle. I know many of the others, of course.

    My take is that Christianity doesn't change, religion does. People change, becoming more knowledgable and free in the word- which is why you begin to see church websites and t.v.'s in the homes. These things were never a sin, so I think it is the church that changes, not the scripture.

    Of course there is alot of history between the death of Jesus and the reformation- I don't think it has been ignored on purpose, it is just that the ALC's understanding is based alot on the time and people of the reformation.

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  2. No surprise that I disagree. ;-)

    There's been such a diversity of Christian faith and practice over the centuries (and even at the beginning, modern scholarship is finding) that attempting to winnow out the "pure" or "true" version is problematic at best.

    Even scripture changes, although much more slowly than most other things. Compare the scripture Christians were reading in 50AD with the scripture Marcion advocated in 300AD with the canon Christians were reading (or having read to them) in 1000AD with the changes Martin Luther made to the canon in 1500AD.

    Even ignoring translation issues and manuscript issues (which are huge) the list of books included in these various "scriptures" are not the same.

    Here's a provocative question for everyone reading this: if you could add a book to the Bible, what book would it be? If you could remove one book, which would it be?

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  3. I know of someone who knows Hebrew, greek and several other languages. He has read the actual dead sea scrolls. He said that the scrolls are exactly as the King James version. (gasp) Word for word. (I don't generally use the K.J. version)

    The scripture is pure and unchanging, handed down through the generations for us today and those-tommorow. How do I know? Faith.

    That does not discount that there has been plenty of history made since then. But as Jesus died he said "it is finished." and so it was. Perhaps scripture was translated into other languages and era's. (speak) but the message is and was strong and fast.

    I am beginning to get a bit more insight here. It seems some people have no boundries and anything goes. It would stand to reason if you believed christianity changes with the times. And...if it seems some people get away with insults and slander...Perhaps it is because they post topics on behalf of the host- leading me to believe there might be unfair bias here.

    Where did everyone Go???

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  4. PS, where did everyone go? My guess is that they have better things to do than watch us bicker. :)

    Nothing you've said about the Dead Sea Scrolls, even if it is true, touches my point. My point was that Christians haven't even been in agreement over history over what books to include in the Bible.

    Go ahead and play the victim card if you want, but you have not been personally attacked by me here. I'm sure you're a fine and lovely person in real life.

    I do strongly disagree with you, however, and believe that many of your views are simplistic and uninformed.

    I have not pulled any punches in expressing that.

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  5. I think its fascinating and wonderful that there is so much more info available today, especially so easily available. So many, many sources we no longer have to rely on just one.

    The key indeed is "for anyone who cares to look."

    In the OALC setting I grew up in, its still the mindset of not being open to "outside" ideas, keeping to themselves, seperating themselves, "knowledge wont save you" so dont know too much, making things like education not very desirable and things like the internet a "sin"

    Thankfully we have a natural curiosity, (although thats categorized as "lack of faith" or questioning the preachers is likened to sin.)

    Its kind of wierd how they seem to have thought of "everything" and I wonder who and how they come up with those "rules" I mean, do they sit and actually talk it out, plan it, discuss the things they're trying to stifle and why? I would love to be a fly on the wall, maybe in thier ear to whisper a few, mind opening ideas in... (they could "come from God" ;)

    Because of the new availability, change should be inevitable, but it still boils down to the weapon of fear being used for mind control. And thats something we each have had to deal with in our own ways, as will anyone who wants to "break free"

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  6. Tomte, I disagree that understanding of church history has been skipped over. It's always been there for anyone interested in learning more about it. Christian History magazine is an example. A website isn't going to post the complete story of Christianity, that wouldn't be practical. A good website is going to assume that further information on Christianity is the reader's responsibility to ferret out. There are many ALCers who love Christian history and are very knowledgable and well read.

    It's interesting that you mention the wealth of information available today.. I recently heard someone on tv say something similar in regard to US and world history. Public schools and universities have neglected and revised so much of history, but now it's all readily available. It's a good thing.

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  7. "Here's a provocative question for everyone reading this: if you could add a book to the Bible, what book would it be? If you could remove one book, which would it be?"

    cvow mentioned this question on another thread.. would I add a book? no. would I remove a book? no. See Revelation 22:18-19. Does that make me the anti-scholar? So be it.

    The only variation that I can think of is including the books of the Apocrypha. They appear in the Finnish and Catholic Bibles, but aren't typically found in Protestant editions.

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  8. I don't doubt that a few ALCers are well read in church history. But when was the last time any ALC pastor brought insights from say, the early church Fathers, or medieval monasticism into a sermon? In general, I think a kind of Christian primitivism sentiment prevails.

    And of course, there is the uneasy tension within the ALC regarding whether pastors should have any kind of formal seminary training at all. At this point in time are the majority of ALC pastors seminary trained? When I was there, seminary training was in the minority. Most ALC pastors were construction contractors, farmers or small businessmen who took pastoring on as a weekend itinerant calling.

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  9. Norah,
    That's an interesting thought -- perhaps including some fo the writings in the Gnostic gospels and/or Apocrypha. I admit I don't know much about them -- but would like to know more. I know that early church fathers made decisions about which books would be included, and with fairly limited variation, the Bible is pretty much the same for all. As you mention, there are soem inclusions to the Catholic version, but I did not realize that the Finnish version includes those as well. Interesting! Now I gotta go do some studying.

    So, if those early writings were inspired -- which most of us I think believe to one extent or another -- then what criteria led the early church to reject some fo the writings? Was it early bickering and schisms being generated already, or was there divine guidance in the selection of what was appropriate and what was not? Hmmmm.....

    I've cast an eye on some books on the Gnostic gospels in bookstores over the years but did not ever pick one up. Now this has piqued my curiosity. Guess it's off to the Olde Book Shoppe for me!

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  10. The early Church fathers or medieval monasticism might be what you are hearing a lot of in the church you are attending now. What I'm saying is that many ALC pastors are very familiar with the Church fathers, in particular. And not only pastors, but I have known many quiet, scholarly people who were/are very knowledgeable. Each church denomination has a different flavor, or focus.. and trying to compare them is like comparing apples and oranges.

    Christian primitivism according to link you provided is also called Restorationism. "Occupy until I come". I would submit that the ALC does not fit that description because at one time I found fault with it for its focus on the spiritual rather than the earthly political issues. At that time I was very influenced by Christian media. Maybe I'm not understanding this term correctly, but if not maybe you could expand on it.

    Yes, there is an uneasy tension within the ALC about formal training. The trend, however, does seem to be more training through seminars, especially as the mission field grows and there are greater needs for teaching basic Biblical foundations and truths. Graduates from the seminary are being placed in many congregations as full time pastors. I don't believe the majority are seminary trained, but I attended last year's convention and meetings (first time in many years), and was somewhat surprised by the blending of seminary and non-seminary trained pastors currently serving. Also, many of those who are not seminary trained are educated in other fields - teachers and professors, or highly placed in corporate or technical positions.

    The title of this thread is "is change inevitable", and I will say yes, it is. The current ALC is not the church that I grew up in, and I think that's similar to the church you grew up in also. When I grew up, most of the preachers most likely did not have a high school education. And even though I am still in the ALC, in my mind the church should still be what it was then - the church which carries the tone and flavor of Finnish immigrants. What is hard for me to comprehend is that the church today is made up of people who never knew the immigrant generation. They are more likely influenced by Myspace and Facebook than by Grandma and Grandpa. Not that I can't comprehend it exactly, but that when I think of the ALC, I think of those people. I relate to them more than I relate to younger ALCers. Maybe this sounds complicated, and I'm hesitant to write publicly about these things (people know who I am lol)..but maybe others of my age feel the same way..especially if they've lived in rural communities where the Finnish heritage is a large part of life outside the church even more than inside the church.

    At any rate, things are not what they once were, for better or worse. There are many areas of disagreement as there always have been. Among current differences are KJV versus NIV, and worship/music styles, which are rapidly changing. Calvinist doctrines are popping up in various places. At this point I don't think there is disagreement about women in the pulpit or gay marriage, and that's fine with me.

    For more info on current ALC focus, here are some websites you might be interested in:

    http://www.foreignmissionnewsblog.blogspot.com/

    Here is a website of two sisters on a 2 year trip around the world:

    http://leo-leyla-lena.blogspot.com/

    And a good friend who is currently on a mission trip to Russia. His blog is down until he returns home..

    http://gregorygreve.wordpress.com/

    (now, that turned into a tangent! so much for a 'lunch break' lol)

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  11. cvow, it really is interesting that the Apocrypha is included in the Finnish Bible -- at least, the old Finnish Bibles have it in there. And I've come across old, old sermons that included quotes from the Apocrypha. I was kind of horrified at the time lol. But now I think that in the days of old they were not so concerned with these things. The Finnish Bible is not KJV, and has been used to cast better light on obscure passages many times in my own experience...

    so, methinks it is NOT a bad thing to be open-minded! And that they were more open-minded 100 years ago than we became in modern times. Yikes, who'da thunk it! lol

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  12. The Old Testament Apocrypha are usually included in Bibles of the Finnish 1776 translation, which is used at least by the OALC and the LLC, but not in the 1933/38 and the 1992 translations. However, the Lutheran church of Finland (the "state church") is currently working on a new translation of the OT Apocrypha, and I think it's possible they will be included in future editions of the 1992 Bible as soon as all the books have been translated. The explanation I've heard about the omission of the Apocrypha in the newer Finnish Bibles is that the Bible societies that were responsible for the printing of Bibles in the 19th century became influenced by Calvinist (=radical protestant) thinking, and as a result they didn't want to include the Apocrypha in the Bibles they printed. The Calvinist/Reformed branch of Protestantism has traditionally been hostile to the Apocrypha, while the Lutheran branch has been more approving.

    The Old Testament Apocrypha shouldn't be confused with the New Testament Apocrypha. No Christian churches include the New Testament Apocrypha in their Bibles, while the traditional Christian churches (Catholic, Orthodox, to some extent also Lutheran) do include the Old Testament Apocrypha. The New Testament Apocrypha consists of documents produced during the first centuries after Christ, and some of the material is completely consistent with the canonical (=approved) New Testament books and the mainstream Christian faith, while some of the texts include heretical (e.g. Gnostic) ideas. This means that one should be very careful when reading New Testament Apocrypha, while the Old Testament Apocrypha is safe. This shouldn't stop anyone from reading the New Testament Apocrypha. There are a lot of texts that are extremely good an beneficial in order to understand the Christianity of the first centuries. It's relatively easy to find out what the background of the different texts is, and if they are considered heretical. I've read also quite a few Gnostic texts because it's interesting to learn how they thought, but always keeping in mind that what they are saying is not to be trusted.

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