Ask The Pastor

This page is a collection of questions and answers that we have discussed in different Bible classes in the past. The questions and answers are not arranged in any particular order. At the very top of the page you will find a list of questions. Below that list you will find each question and the answer. If you are looking for a particular question, we recommend that you use a word search of this page using the "control" + "F" keys. 

 

List of Questions

1. Why Do Lutherans Baptize Infants?
2. Will A Person Who Commits Suicide Have Eternal Life?
3. What Is the Descent Into Hell?
4. Is homosexuality a modern practice? Is it mentioned in the Bible?
5. Are homosexuality and transgenderism mental problems or sin? How should we respond to them?
6. Is the Bible unreliable because it is so old and has been copied and translated so many times?
7. Is their salvation only in Jesus?
8. How can a loving God allow evil things (sickness, violence, etc.) to occur?
 

Questions and Answers

1. Why Do Lutherans Baptize Infants?

The Bible always speaks of Baptism in miraculous, spiritual terms. Baptism is not just a symbol of faith, it is a miracle that gives the gift of faith and helps to sustain faith. Baptism is like an exorcism. It is the power of God to overcome evil in His name. Baptism is always accompanied by the teaching of God's word... "Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28.19). But it is not the same as teaching. It is not just knowledge; it is the power of God's grace.

Baptism joins us to Christ. Galatians 3.27 "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

Baptism saves us. 1 Peter 3.21 "Baptism, which corresponds to this*, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus." *Noah was saved by the water of the Flood from the violence of unbelievers.

Baptism is a washing of regeneration. Titus 3.5 "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit."

People sometimes ask, "How can an infant have faith?" That is a good question. We would also ask, "How can an adult have faith?" Many people mistakenly think that faith is something they have accomplished on their own - a commitment or decision they have made. They know that infants aren't able to do that, so they assume that infants don't have faith. But is this what the Bible teaches about faith? St. John specifically tells us that we are "born again" not by the "will of man but by God" (John 1.13). The Bible never speaks of adults making decisions for Christ for their salvation. It always speaks of their faith and salvation as the work of God. So Luke tells us in the case of the disicple Lydia, "The Lord opened her heart to believe" (Acts 16.14). Jesus also clearly said, "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it" (Mark 10.15). So faith is a gift (Ephesians 2.8). As our faith grows and as we are able to profess that faith we certainly affirm that faith with our commitments. These commitments are not the cause of our faith but the results of it. So children who are baptized need to be taught the word of God and encourage to confess that faith in their life.

From the beginning of New Testament Christianity at Pentecost to our time, unbroken and¬†uninterrupted, the Church has baptized babies. Polycarp (69-155 AD), a disciple of the Apostle John, was¬†baptized as an infant. Justin Martyr (100-166 AD) of the next generation, about the year 150 AD, states¬†in his Dialog with Trypho The Jew that Baptism is the circumcision of the New Testament.¬†Irenaeus¬†(130-200 AD) writes in Against Heresies II 22:4 that Jesus came to save all through means of Himself -- "all, I say, who through Him are born again to God ‚Äď infants and children, boys and youth, and old men."¬†Similar expressions are found in succeeding generations by Origen (185-254 AD) and Cyprian (215-258¬†AD), and at the Council of Carthage in 254 where the 66 bishops stated: "We ought not hinder any¬†person from Baptism and the grace of God....especially infants....those newly born." Origen wrote in his¬†Commentary on Romans 5:9: "For this also it was that the Church had from the Apostles a tradition to¬†give baptism even to infants." Origen also wrote in his Homily on Luke 14: "Infants are to be baptized for¬†the remission of sins." Cyprian's reply to a bishop who wrote to him regarding the baptism of infants¬†stated: "Should we wait until the 8th day as did the Jews in the circumcision? No, the child should be¬†baptized as soon as it is born."¬†Augustine (354-430 AD) wrote in De Genesi Ad Literam, 10:39 declared, "The custom of our mother¬†Church in baptizing infants must not be counted needless, nor believed to be other than a tradition of¬†the Apostles." Augustine further states: "...the whole Church which hastens to baptize infants, because it unhesitatingly believes that otherwise they cannot possibly be vivified in Christ. In 517 AD, 10 rules of¬†discipline were framed for the Church in Spain. The fifth rule states that "...in case infants were ill...if¬†they were offered, to baptize them, even though it were the day that they were born...such¬†was to be¬†done."

So we baptize children in the power of the promises of God. We take comfort in the fact that Jesus specifically said "of such is the kingdom of God" when people were bringing infants to him (Luke 18.15-17). 

2. Will a Person Who Commits Suicide Have Eternal Life?

All of us will die in sin in some way or another because we are constantly sinning (1 John 1.8). We live by grace (1 John 1.9). A boy once asked this question in a confirmation class. He didn't think that anyone who committed suicide would have eternal life because they died in unrepentant sin. He said this while he was leaning back in a folding chair. The day before I had told the class not to lean back in their chairs. So I asked him what he thought might happen if while leaning back, the chair suddenly slipped and he cracked his head on the concrete floor. We took him to the ER, but he died. He died without repenting of disobeying his teacher. Does he go to hell? Answer: No. People go to hell not because they failed to repent of one last sin. They go to hell because they have turned against God, and they quit repenting of sins altogether. 

In the case of a suicide it's not always easy to tell whether a person has true faith. Have they turned against God and hardened their heart against Him? They probably have if a lot of time has passed since they listened to God's word or showed any faith - and if they've spurned all efforts on the part of their pastor or family to bring them closer to Christ. Suicide in that case is probably the result of unbelief. It is probably a last defiant renunciation of God. In that case there is no hope. But suicide can also be the result of mental illness. Sometimes people commit suicide struggling in their faith. It is very unfortunate that they often keep this struggle to themselves. In the case of a Christian who worships, or is remorseful when they don't, and when they do not renounce their faith before suicide - I think we can trust such promises as "Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8.28) still hold for them. Martin Luther once said that in this case the person was really murdered by Satan who tormented them in their minds and drove them to suicide. Notice that in this paragraph I've used the word "probably" a few times. There are always gray areas between the two positions that I've described. Suicide always leaves us with question marks. That is why it is always important to stress that suicide is not God's will at all. Anyone who has any thoughts about suicide should talk about it with a good Christian friend, counselor or pastor. Pastor Michael Walther

3. What About the "Descent Into Hell"?

The Apostles' Creed is a very ancient confession of faith that was used to teach the Gospel to those who were being baptized. It captures all the basic teachings of the Gospel including creation, salvation, and sanctification. In the second part the creed says that Jesus "descended into hell." This phrase is based on 1 Peter 3.18-19: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison..."  Another similar verse is found in Ephesians 4.9-10: "Now this 'He ascended' - what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things."

The phrase "He descended in hell" is simply a description of a very important part of Jesus victory over sin, death and the devil. He didn't go to the "spirits in prison" (hell) in order to suffer but to preach. He went to show the completeness of His victory. Humans try to subdue evil but are never able to do so completely. When two U.S. presidents visited Bagdad after the Iraq war, they both had to enter and depart stealthily. Whenever presidents, the most powerful people in the world travel, they are always surrounded by heavy security. This is because they haven't really overcome evil. They are still vulnerable. Christ's descent into hell shows that He is not vulnerable. He has nothing to fear and needs no security. He can go to hell itself and proclaim His victory. 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the greatest Baptist preachers, said in one of his sermons: "God determined that Christ should be born of the Virgin Mary, that He should suffer under Pontius Pilate, that He should descend into hades, that thence He should rise again, leading captivity captive, and then should reign forever and ever at the right hand of the Majesty on high" ("The Death of Christ," January 14, 1858, the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens). 

4. Is "homosexuality" a modern practice? Is it mentioned in the Bible?

It is true that the King James Version did not use the term "homosexual" or "homosexuality." The term didn't come into the English language until 1891 (Merriam-Webster). But the Bible clearly speaks of this practice using different terms. As the term "homosexuality" became more widely used in the English language, it was used in English translations. 

These are some of the main passages that speak about homosexuality. Note that the Bible has different ways of saying the same thing:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites... 1 Cor 6.9  In the KJV this is rendered: "nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind." 

the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine... 1 Timothy 1.10

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. Leviticus 18.22

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature... Romans 1.26

Some people try to make the case that the homosexuality described in the Bible is different than the homosexuality of today. There certainly were different things going on in different settings. The homosexuality of Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah) was tantamount to rape. Some of the homosexuality in Bible was related to religious practices. But the Bible is very clear that sex between the same gender is wrong no matter what the setting may be. The same is true of adultery. Sometimes adultery is rape, and sometimes adultery was associated with idolatrous religion. But it is still sex apart from marriage, and therefore it is wrong. 

The sin of homosexual behavior, like any other sin, is forgiven by God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 6.11 the Apostle Paul was speaking to those who had practiced homosexuality along with those who had sinned in other ways. To all of them he said: "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." For more on the question of homosexual behavior and its forgiveness, take a look at our Bible study The Ethics of Sex, Part 4. Pastor Michael Walther 20170717

5. Is homosexuality or transgenderism a mental problem or a sin? What should we say about them?

In the Ethics of Sex (Session Four) class I tried to address these problems. In the handout I go over some of the mental illness issues. 

The bottom line throughout the entire class is that sexual relations are designed by God for three things: 1. The Marriage Bond (husband & wife). 2. Procreation (family). 3. A Sign or Symbol of God's Love for the Church (Ephesians 5). It is not God's will for us to use sex for any other purpose. The only exception to this is celibacy, which is a special case since it involves not using sex at all. 

Homosexuality, transgenderism, pedophilia, beastiality, etc may or not be mental disorders. They might be both a mental disorder and sin. But they are certainly not natural and not a part of the order of creation. In the handout I distinguish between sinful desires, sinful actions and our attitude toward both. We all struggle with sinful desires and actions. The key is in the "struggle." A person who has homosexual desires is no different than the person who desires pornography. The sin comes in when we try to say that these desires are good and that there is nothing wrong or harmful by acting on them. 

As Christians we have to struggle against these unnatural desires. God's word and natural law tell us not to act on these desires and show that the outcome of doing so will ultimately diminish life rather than increase it. It will lead to "unfruitfulness" rather than "fruitfulness" (Genesis 1). I'm thinking here in very broad terms... Overall, I think it can be shown that these behaviors are not helpful or beneficial to the individual doing them or to the community in which they are living. 

So what do I say to a person with homosexual or transgender desires?  1. Be careful with your desires. Many desires are not good. This is part of our fallen condition. I desire to eat to much, be lazy, get angry, cheat, steal, seek sexual pleasure outside of marriage, etc. 2. Think about where this desire will lead you? Does it lead to marriage or family? Will it help you to love your neighbor? Will it really make you happy? 3. What does God want me to do with this desire? Will it help me be a better Christian, or is it a thorn in the flesh that I have to control? 4. I can't affirm desires that the Bible says are wrong or unnatural. To do so would be to go against God's will and, just as important, would contribute to a lifestyle that I believe is ultimately harmful to the individual and to the society. 5. I urge you to resist those desires just as I am resisting other sinful, unnatural and harmful desires. 6. If you disagree with me about this, I want you to know that I do not hate you. I hope that you do not hate me. We are each trying to follow God's will as we know it. God help us and have mercy on us. Pastor Michael Walther 20170718

6. Is the Bible unreliable because it is so old and has been copied and translated so many times?

The Bible was written over a period of 1500 years beginning about 1400 B.C with Moses and finishing with the Apostle John about A.D. 90. The portions of the Bible before Jesus were written in the Hebrew language (Old Testament). The teachings of Jesus and the Apostles were written in the Greek language (New Testament). The earliest copies of the Greek New Testament range between A.D.200-400. The oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Old Testament is the Ben Asher text of A.D. 1009. However many portions of the Hebrew Old Testament were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls which date from 250-50 B.C. The Hebrews had a strict practice of carefully copying the Old Testament and then destroying worn out copies. Their extreme care in copying is proved by the close similarity between the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Ben Asher text. Today these Hebrew and Greek texts are the main Bibles used to teach and translate the Bible. The idea that the Bible has been "lost in translation" is a myth. Today we have better tools to study the Bible than at any point in history. Recommended Videos:  The Bible on Trial (1), The Bible on Trial (2), The Bible on Trial (3), Pastor Walther 20170718

7. Is there salvation only in Jesus?

We live in a world that for the most part rejects the God of the Bible and replaces Him with ideas of God that are more to its liking. The God of the Bible is powerful beyond all imagination. He is adamantly opposed to all forms of sin and wickedness because they destroy His creation and separate His creatures from Him. He intensely loves this world and wants to save it from its unrighteousness. He did this by coming into the fallen world through His Son, Jesus. Jesus suffered the judgment we have all deserved by dying in righteousness on the cross. Those who repent of their sins and look to God‚Äôs forgiveness in Jesus will be saved. This is what the Bible means by the Gospel ‚Äď the Good News.

People driven by their own pride resist this Gospel and seek a way of salvation that does not rest on repentance and forgiveness. In one way or another they imagine themselves being saved by their own efforts. Centered on themselves they naturally think that any ‚Äúform of God‚ÄĚ will work for them as for anyone else. There is no exclusivity but rather diversity when it comes to God‚Ķ All spiritual paths lead to heaven. But the Bible warns against this falsehood over and over again. It affirms that salvation is found in Jesus.

Deut. 32.39      See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

Psalm 3.8          Salvation belongs to the LORD.

Isaiah 43.11      I am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior.

Matt. 7.13-14   Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

John 14.6          I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Acts 4.12          Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Gal. 1.8             But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

This teaching is a great comfort to those who believe. But it is a great consternation to those who do not believe. They ask: ‚ÄúAre you saying that all who do not believe in Jesus are not saved?‚ÄĚ We must answer that troubling question with another troubling question: ‚ÄúWhy do people reject the Gospel?‚ÄĚ Is it not because people do not want to be saved, rather, they want to save themselves? This, the Bible teaches, is not possible. Doesn‚Äôt our conscience teach us this as we find ourselves continually falling short of what we know to be right and wrong? We would urge everyone to realize their inability to save themselves and to believe in God‚Äôs gift of salvation in the Gospel.¬† Pastor Walther 20170719

8. How can a loving God allow evil (sickness, violence, etc.) to occur?

A young man came home from college one Thanksgiving and announced to his family that he no longer believed in God. "How," he asked, "could God allow evil and suffering in the world if He was both good and all powerful?" This was one of the ideas he had picked up at college. His father was disappointed but decided not to say anything until the son was ready to return. During their supper his father announced that he was selling the family farm. Stunned, his son asked "Why?" "Because," his father said, "I'm a bad farmer, and I have no business being a farmer." "What!" the son asked in exasperation. "You're one of the best farmers in the state. You've won awards!" "But," his father responded, "I still have weeds in my fields every year, and I continually have machinery breaking down. There are many problems with this farm." The son replied, "But dad, you kill the weeds with herbicide, and you fix the broken equipment. Just because there are some things wrong, doesn't mean the whole thing is bad!" His dad then replied, "Son, couldn't you have the same outlook about God? Just because there are many problems in this world doesn't mean that God is not working on them and is fixing them." The son then realized that perhaps his father was a little wiser than his professor! 

People sometimes reject God because they want perfection right now without understanding what that implies. God has promised to bring perfection to this world in the final judgment (Isaiah 65.17). But when that time comes, all opportunity for repentance, forgiveness and renewal will be over. The reason God allows the existence of evil in this world is because He is patiently waiting for more people to be brought to faith (2 Peter 3.9). In Lamentations 3.33, He says He does not "afflict from the heart." God wants to save people from sin and its consequences (Ezekiel 33.11), make all things new (Revelation 21.1-5), and ultimately destroy death itself (1 Corinthians 15.26). For more on this subject please go to God's Biggest Problem.  Pastor Walther 20170918

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