Thursday, November 20, 2014

#154 Insanity

Smoky Mountain Reflections #154

            You have heard it said before, and maybe you yourself have even quoted this familiar adage: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. The question I would like to ponder this month is: “Does that apply to what we do as God’s church?”. Is it possible that the repetition of the action is not really the issue? Maybe we should examine what our expectations are instead of simply adjusting the ways that we try to meet them.

          Some would argue that worship styles should follow a marketing strategy (read: man-centered). While others would argue that there is only one kind of worship: historic (stubborn opposition to any change is also
man-centered). The church historically has incorporated new things that enrich the worship experience while respecting the beautiful gifts from the past. For our worship to be Christ-centered, we must, in all aspects, seek first God’s will, not our own. What is our motive? Even though we may be lobbying for the right thing, if our motive is “I want my way”, it is a sinful motive. I would argue that what we do in worship is a direct public confession of what we believe and by its very nature outreach. Therefore, what we do should be driven not by what we may think is the best method (e.g., new and dynamic vs. ancient and transcendent), but rather driven and motivated by what God’s word says and how best to convey that truth in worship.

            There really is no debate about what Christ calls His bride (the church) to do; to go and make disciples. How we go about making disciples, however, is what causes debate among Trinitarian Christians. A good Armenian Baptist would point out the need for an altar call, while a solid “double-predestinarian” Calvinist would ponder the futility of outreach while still agreeing that outreach is necessary.  
        Evaluation of  things like worship attendance, demographic trends in the congregation and the community, and evaluating the cost effectiveness of any activity the church does or participates in can and should be part of good stewardship of God’s time and resources. But the most important question is how does this worship proclaim and confess Christ?  Is this activity in accord with God’s will? Results can inform our actions and decisions but should not be what drive us. Likewise repetition and comfort are great tools for teaching the faith and discipling (as we are called to do), but empty mindless or vain repetition and ‘my personal comfort’ should also not be what drive us.

In my humble opinion: Our primary motivation for any change, in all things, should be love for God and neighbor.  Using love for God and neighbor as our motivation for any change respects the mystery of what takes place in worship and confesses faith in the truth of God’s love for us and ours for Him. We confess our faith in worship in these ways: First, by using God’s own words in our worship wherever and whenever possible.  Second, by always evaluating and considering proposed additions or changes to the church’s practices, and using only those that confess Christ as well as or better than what they are replacing while expressing the creative power of God through His people. Lastly, keeping Christ central by keeping His Gospel and the administration of His sacraments central. The ancient historic liturgy does these things best because it uses God’s own words, while respecting and accepting the work of God’s people over millennia  (which also confesses the ancient and apostolic nature of Christ’s creedal church). These things are and have been very helpful throughout history in keeping the focus on Christ, His Gospel, and His sacraments.

If the church follows these principals, much of what is done in worship and other activities will be repetitive, .… even if it uses some new musical forms or new liturgical arrangements that look and sound nothing like the historic liturgy, new teaching methods, new technologies, it still uses God’s words wherever and whenever possible. Confessing and teaching the faith in every worship service is what the church does and should do. In a market-centered world, you look to give people what they want, but what God tells us to do is to give them what they need. The ‘other-worldly’ and ‘counter-cultural’ nature of truly divine worship, being confronted with our sinful nature and a bleeding dying Savior, is not and will never be palatable to an unrepentant sinner. But the Holy Spirit works in ways that are not our ways, so we press on, living out our faith and speaking the truth in love to our neighbors, over and over again. We go to His house and receive His gifts the way the church has for millennia… over and over again. Concerning the results, we leave them to the God of creation, in accordance with God’s word through St. Paul speaking to the church at Corinth: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase(emphasis added).

Have a reflective Advent, a blessed Christmas, and a wonderful new year.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier

Friday, October 17, 2014


Smoky Mountain Reflections #153

As we prepare to go the the polls in Tennessee, there are four amendment initiatives on the ballot. All four are important and every citizen should take a few minutes to read, understand, and make an informed decision. This goes for any ballot you cast; take the time to make an informed decision. Vote in accordance with your ‘educated’ conscience; do not just pick the candidates with an R or a D in front of their names.
Any proposed amendment that is put on the ballot in Tennessee is not a simple yes-or-no referendum for which a simple majority vote decides the issue. In order for an amendment to be added to the Tennessee State Constitution, it must get a number of “yes” votes equal to 50% of the votes cast in the Governor’s race plus one. A majority vote is not enough. If someone votes in the Governor’s race and leaves the amendment slots blank, that, in essence, counts as a “no” vote.  For example, if 10 people vote for a Governor, but with regard to an amendment, 5 vote yes and 1 votes no, the amendment fails.
While the other amendments are also important, they do not have the potential to save lives that Amendment 1 has. If it passes, Tennessee will again be allowed to make common sense regulations about abortion. The states that surround us have common sense regulations that protect their citizens, if we had similar regulations, the number of abortions in Tennessee would fall. This amendment would not affect the freedom of a woman to choose, but because it would reduce the number of abortions chosen, it would negatively impact the abortion industry’s bottom line. Because of this, the industry is spending lots of money to spread lies and negative propaganda about this amendment.     

Lie number 1: “The Amendment will ban abortions in Tennessee.” FALSE! Absolutely nothing in the amendment would ban any abortion. Furthermore, nothing in the amendment would empower the legislature to make laws that violate the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion rulings.

Lie number 2: “The Amendment needs to contain exceptions for incest and rape, or to save the life of the mother.” FALSE! No provision is needed since the amendment does not ban any abortions.

Lie number 3: “This Amendment will put us out of step with other states.” FALSE! Two-thirds of our sister states recognize no state constitutional right to abortion.

Because surrounding states have regulations and we do not, Tennessee has become an abortion destination. Tennessee is the only state in the southeastern United States that does not have at least an abortion-related informed consent law or a law requiring a waiting period (period of reflection). As a result, 25% of the abortions that take place in our state are women from surrounding states, making Tennessee number 3 in the nation for out-of-state abortions. I don’t know about you, but that isn’t what I want my state known for. Vote “Yes on 1” and make Tennessee a safer place to live.

In Christ,
Pastor Robert Portier
Saint Paul Lutheran Church 


Smoky Mountain Reflections #152

Greetings in Christ. As you all know I like to keep my Reflections articles clear and Christ-centered while addressing current issues in our community. This November we will all be asked to do our civic duty and make informed decisions on leaders and issues that affect our day-to-day lives. I would like to help you make an informed decision on Amendment 1 to our state’s constitution because Christians and the church should speak loudly on the issue of protecting innocent life.

Whom we elect and how we vote on other issues are also important, but this amendment should be particularly important to every Christian who loves life. Therefore, we should all vote “Yes on 1”. The facts about abortion in Tennessee are quite clear. Before 2000, the Tennessee Legislature passed a series of sensible laws regulating abortion, including a waiting period and informed consent laws, creating an environment where innocent human life was protected as much as legally possible. That changed dramatically in the year 2000 when the Tennessee state Supreme Court “found” a right to abortion in the state constitution. This decision struck down abortion regulations, in effect, prohibiting any restriction on abortion in Tennessee.

Justice Mickey Barker, who disagreed with the court’s decision, said, “Plainly stated, the effect of the Court’s holding today is to remove from the people all power, except by constitutional amendment, to enact reasonable regulations of abortion.” In response to the court’s overreaching action, state legislators adopted
Senate Joint Resolution 127 (on the ballot as Amendment 1). This resolution will allow Tennesseans to vote this November to amend the state constitution making it “neutral” on abortion and allowing the people of Tennessee to  once again enact common sense abortion regulations regarding licensing, hospital admitting privileges for clinic doctors, waiting periods, and simple health inspections of abortion clinics.

            Those of us who support this common sense amendment have been called the Tennessee Taliban by deep pockets who have a financial interest in the abortion industry here. Out-of-state customers make up 25% of the abortions in Tennessee because there are no regulations protecting young women who have abortions here. Supporters of Amendment 1 desire not to oppress women but to protect them and help them make informed decisions instead of being coerced into making decisions that line the pockets of clinic owners.

            The text of Amendment 1 is fairly simple, and short enough to include here. “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”

            As a resident of Tennessee, it pains me to know that we are an abortion destination. Please help to protect women, both born and unborn, and vote “Yes on 1” in November.

In Christ,
Pastor Robert Portier
Saint Paul Lutheran Chruch

Sevierville TN

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Smoky Mountain Reflections
August 2014 #151

            Why does it matter who does what a pastor does? Couldn’t any competent lay person fill his role? In order to explore this question, we first need to explore the meaning of a couple of words: “laity” and “expert”.

“Laity” is a term often used in religious circles to differentiate clergy (pastors) from everyone else. However, a broader understanding of the term will be helpful in answering this question.  The word “lay” derives from the Anglo-French lai” (influenced by Latin and Greek) meaning basically, “of the people”, or “the people at large”. So by this general definition, everyone is a lay person, even pastors, depending on the context. A pastor is a lay person in relation to a pilot on an airplane, a cook in a kitchen, a lawyer in a court room, a doctor in a hospital, a sanitation engineer on the back of a garbage collection truck, and a milk maid delivering a pail of fresh milk. So, you get the point that laity is “everyone else” in relation to a group of experts with regard to a particular occupation that requires some level of training, if you want it done well.

“Expert” is a term rarely used in reference to pastors, and in some cases justifiably so. The requirements for becoming a pastor range widely, because the ways different groups define the role of pastor range widely. For the sake of this article, let’s go with the Augsburg Confession article 14 definition of “Order in the Church” as our definition of expert with regard to the pastoral office (which is so short I can quote it here). “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.” A rightly ordered call in normal cases assumes a proper amount of training, (to follow the apostolic model, about three and a half years at the foot of a master) combined with all the biblical qualifications for an “under-shepherd” found in scripture.

            The first reason that only pastors should do what pastors are trained and paid to do is the same practical reason that lay people should not do the work of any given expert; because the work of the pastoral office is what the pastor is paid and trained to do. This in no way means that any expert is more important than any lay person, it simply acknowledges that churches, communities, and families all have many parts, and for us to get the most out of these, God ordained structures in which we need to do our part, and let others do their parts.

            I am not against training up young men and women to serve in the church under proper supervision. However, if we encouraged children or inexperienced or untrained individuals to do some of the things that pastors and leaders should be doing (as is done in some churches in the name of maximum participation of the laity) then by the same reasoning, we should have those same inexperienced or untrained novices flying planes, practicing law, doing surgery, and administrating our government. I am not talking about this in a “bring your child to work” sense. I am talking about them performing the regular tasks on a regular basis, while the paid experts sit at a distance nodding and smiling, or they are alltogether absent. Please do not tell me that proper worship and right administration of word and sacrament is not life and death business, as practicing medicine or  the law or flying a plane are.  God’s word and sacrament deliver sinners, redeemed from eternal torment. That is serious business.

            Our society has come to have a low regard for those in positions of authority, and I think even more so for pastors. But I do not blame our society for this; because many who call themselves pastors are paid to do a job they are ill equipped to do, while watching those who pay them do the work instead. There are also many church bodies that set no qualifications for individuals taking on the role of pastor. As a result, the American melting pot has many people wearing the mantle of pastor who do not wear it well.

            To compare the occupation of pastor to that of medical doctor shows many similarities. Both occupations are regularly called upon to meet with people to evaluate a situation, present a prognosis, and prescribe effective care or management options based on that prognosis. A pastor or doctor should not try to do the jobs of the other people in the church or hospital. A doctor or pastor should be held responsible by those they serve to provide the best medical or spiritual care possible. And finally, we do not charge untrained quacks with malpractice; we remove them from the roll for the protection of the patients. In the same way, untrained, uncalled, non-ordained theological quacks should not only be corrected, they should be removed for the protection of the flock.

I pray that all your needs for experts in life are covered by well-trained, dedicated individuals.

In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Saturday, July 26, 2014

# 150

Smoky Mountain Reflections
August 2014 #150

            So why the “#150” in this title? Well, I decided to start numbering my reflection articles and I began writing a monthly article about 14 years ago. If I were counting, this would be article #168 but I missed a few months over the past 14 years so this is actually article #152.  I decided to start at #150 now though, because I can :-). The rest of this year will have a month and a # and starting in 2015 articles will be numbered only.

            So what shall I reflect on in #150? Let's tackle tolerance, love, and marriage, shall we? These are light topics! First let me say "thanks for the tolerance" to all those enlightened, tolerant individuals who accuse the pro-life, pro-traditional-family movement of being hateful and bigoted while trying to force us to accept and fund the results of following their precepts of a non-traditional, non-biblical lifestyle. You know what funding I am talking about; they want to use your tax and healthcare premiums to pay for medications to deal with epidemic diseases and to "terminate unwanted pregnancies" (murder innocent unborn children).

            These are political issues but they are also moral issues and the church cannot stand silently by and politely nod when innocent helpless people are being murdered. How did we become a society so bent on sacrificing our children on the altar of materialism and success? It is simple, we are all selfish sinful human beings, that is why Christ had to suffer and die on the cross. Maybe if we look at this through the lens of love, with Christ’s help, we can find a better way.  The English language falls short on defining love. We only have one word for it and a lot of meaning has to be carried in the context. The Greek language, on the other hand, has four words for love: filos (brotherly love), eros (physical love), storge (familial love), and agapa (unconditional love). Notice none of these definitions speak of feelings, they are all about relationships and how we function within those relationships. In Saint Paul's famous “love chapter” to the Church at Corinth, we get some great insights on love. He tells us what it is and what it is not. First, he tells us that love is not smooth-talking, prophetic, wise, or appearing to have faith, or appearing to be self-sacrificial, because without love all of these actions are only one thing, self-serving. Without faith, forgivness, and love, all of our actions center on ourselves. And if self-service is at the source of anything we do, it is without love and therefore only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal; equal to nothing, gaining nothing.

            God-pleasing love on the other hand, is selfless and it is made so by Christ’s redeeming death on the cross. True love can be patient and kind because it selflessly desires to serve the one to whom patience and kindness is given. Love does not envy or boast and is not arrogant or rude, because it desires to serve selflessly the one to whom the honor or deference is given. Love does not insist on its own way, because it enjoys the object of one’s love having their way. Love is not irritable or resentful, because it enjoys being pleasing and pleasant toward others. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, because that means someone who is loved is being harmed. Love rejoices with the truth, because truth is where the Gospel is found. Forgiveness is the glue that binds all God pleasing relationships and is where the peace that surpasses all human understanding is found.

            A recent study published in the AFA journal noted that today's young adults have a number of enlightened prerequisites for getting married. Our young people did not think these things up. Society instilled these values in them. Here are some of those prerequisites: 24%  purchase a home; 33%  pay for a wedding; 50%  have 1 to 2 years of full time work under their belts; 51%  have a career underway;  90%  finish education;  and 91%  be financially independent. Had I applied that last one I would: still be a single man and would have missed out on over 31 years of marriage to my best friend; would burn with passion in a violation of the 10th commandment sort of way; and three of my favorite people would not exist. Maybe getting married at the age of 21 is too young in the opinion of many, but I say that all of the above prerequisites can be worked on much better if you have a life mate at your side to work on them with.

            With God's help we can provide the kind of love that bears all things, believes all things,   hopes in all things, and endures all things, because true selfless love is connected to the gospel. We know this because of these three little words in Paul's letter, "love never ends." If love is eternal it can only flow from an eternal source, and there is only one eternal being. The omnipresent triune God is the only possible source for a love that never dies. In marriage, in accordance with God’s design, we get a little glimpse of what the pre-sin creation must have been like.

            I pray that your summer is blessed with true tolerance and true love, living out your God-given role in whatever kind of family you are a part of, while holding up the Biblical model for the family as the anchor in our society for the selfless commitment of a married couple to each other and to the children they are blessed to raise.

In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Saturday, June 28, 2014

SMR 0614

Smoky Mountain Reflections
June 2014
            Summer is here and it is time to finish that series on historic heresies. We discussed Legalism, Gnosticism and Arianism, so let's wrap things up and discuss Pelagianism and Socinianism.

            PELAGIANISM: The next great heresy in the church was Pelagianism. This heresy is named after the British monk named Pelagius (354-420 or 440) who first popularized the view. Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special divine aid. Modern day Pelagians reject the doctrine of original sin or what Calvinists call total depravity, and they reject the practice of infant baptism. This heresy leads to works righteousness or partial works righteousness known as semi-pelagianism. 

            Pelagius and Augustine were opponents and the conflict between Pelagius and Augustine involved some of the very same issues Calvinists and Armenians (believing in decision theology) still argue over today. Pelagius was motivated by a concern to elevate human free will, because he was (wrongly) convinced it was the only way to preserve human responsibility. Augustine defended the sovereignty of God, because he (rightly) knew it was the only way to preserve the centrality of divine grace in salvation.

            Augustine responded by demonstrating from scripture that the human will is not free in the sense Pelagius taught; our wills are hopelessly bound by sin (Romans 8:7–8). Sinners are utterly helpless to change for the better apart from the external working of divine grace in their hearts (Jeremiah 13:23). The Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Pelagianism as heretical.

            SOCINIANISM: Socinianism is a system of Christian doctrine named for Fausto Sozzini (Latin: Faustus Socinus), which was developed among the Polish Brethren in the Minor Reformed Church of Poland during the 16th and 17th centuries, and embraced by the Unitarian Church of Transylvania during the same period. It is most famous for its Non-Trinitarian Christology but contains a number of other unorthodox beliefs.

            Socinianism is the culmination of heresy—an amalgamation of all the other heresies—and it is without a doubt the most widespread of all the heresies in our generation. Modern theological liberalism is nothing more than a variety of Socinianism. Rejecting everything Catholic, the Socinians ended up with a doctrine that embraced virtually every serious error that had ever assaulted the church. Like the legalists and the Pelagians, they taught salvation by works. Like the Gnostics and the Arians, they were Anti-Trinitarian. In fact, they denied not only the deity of Christ but also every miraculous element of scripture, just as many do today. They blended the skepticism of the Sadducees with the humanistic rationalism of the enlightenment era, and that combination is what gave birth to this heresy. Modern day Unitarian Universalism is a clear representation of this heresy. This heresy does away with the authority of scripture and makes human reason supreme. Socinians would say that Jesus came to show us how to live not to die for our sins.

            Every cult and every false doctrine that exists today has something in common with one or more of these five false doctrines. Now you are equipped to take on any serious heretic. So remember, if you run into a any of these garden variety heretics, let them know the church condemned Legalism in the first century, Gnosticism in the second century, Arianism in the third century, Pelagianism in the fifth century, and Socinianism around 400 years ago. Or, just tell them to read the Bible.

Blessed Summer,

Pastor Portier

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 2014

Smoky Mountain Reflections
May 2014
            Words and phrases can mean different things in different contexts to different people. We should be very careful to know what our words mean before we say them.  I cannot change the meaning of a word/s to suit my own needs and desires. I will acknowledge that word usage and meanings can and do change over time, but sadly, some words are used today that mean one thing for one group and a different thing for another. We as Christians should be careful how we use words. Let's look at some words and see how they are commonly misused, and how we might communicate more clearly by saying what we really mean.

            Let's start with the word “tolerance”. According to, this word has many definitions, but let's exclude its medical and technical definitions, and focus on the second of the three general definitions, which is "a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own."   We do not need to pick this definition apart; let's just say one can be civil toward those whose opinions and practices are different than their own. This does not say that you must agree, just that you have a kind permissive attitude toward them. As
conservative biblical Christians these days, we find a strong double standard applied to us when it comes to the word “tolerance”. We are called intolerant and judgmental of others when we stand with the clear teaching of God's word on the definition of family and the sanctity of human life. At the same time those who accuse us of being intolerant are at the very same time being very intolerant of us and our consciences with regard to the authority of God's word. Now some of this is because some Christians try to judge others and tell them how they should act or what they should do. But that is not our call as Christians. We are to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in our hearts; this means that I, as a forgiven sinner, want others to know how great it is to be forgiven, so I stand ready to tell others that Christ died for our sins, and in order to understand what sins are, we must accept God’s definitions and not make up our own. So if you find yourself being called an intolerant bigot, thank the person who says that to you, letting them know how much you appreciate their tolerance of your convictions.

            There are also common words and phrases that Christians use that should be used with caution. You have probably heard me say before "I am too blessed to be depressed". This is a catchy phrase, but it carries, I think, a dangerous assumption that only happy, well-to-do people, are blessed. This is of course not what is meant, but
consider the next time you are sharing your struggles, pains, or anxieties in life, that this is also a time to acknowledge that you are blessed because God's blessings upon us are constant. He is always there caring for us and working for our good even if we are ignorant of it during times of suffering. 

            Another dangerous phrase is "It’s a God thing" not because something is not “a God thing” (because He is in control of everything, so everything is a God thing). Unfortunately, we often use this not to acknowledge that God is in control (and it amazes us how He works through the things in our life to both discipline and care for us), but it is used to recognize things that we feel are good. This again implies that the bad things that we don’t like are not “God things”, but He is working there as well.    

            "God placed it on my heart" is a phrase that implies special divine revelation, when we know God reveals Himself through His word.  When we have an idea or make a decision it is possible, if not probable, that God uses our environment, friends, family, and our prayer to help us come to a God pleasing idea or decision, but to say "God placed it on my heart" implies divine authority behind the words we speak, and unless we are proclaiming biblical truth, what we say is our opinion, not God's Word.   

            There is one phrase, however, that I think we as Lutherans should never use, because I feel it is based on a theology that is not biblical. "Come to Jesus". We as Christians do not “come” to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit plants faith in our hearts at our Baptism or when God’s word is preached and we hear and believe. Either way we are not coming to faith, faith is coming to us.
Ok, enough rambling with words about words. Have a "blessed" (no matter how good or bad it is) :-) Spring.
In Christ,

Thursday, May 1, 2014

April a little late

Smoky Mountain Reflections
April 2014
            Spring is upon us, and as I clear my head from a busy winter I have noticed that I started a series of articles in January that I neglected to finish. Now that it is spring and I am thinking more clearly, let’s return to the series I started on the five historic heresies. We already discussed the oldest (legalism), and right on its heels came Gnosticism and Arianism, so let’s look at these.
            Gnosticism: The word Gnosticism comes from the Ancient Greek “gnosis” meaning knowledge. This heresy first shows up in a number of ancient religions which taught that people should shun the material world and embrace the spiritual world. Gnostic ideas influenced many religions, including Christianity. Gnosticism is basically a pendulum swing away from the first heresy, legalism.  Where the Judaizers combined Jewish practice with Christianity, Gnosticism combined pagan philosophy with Christianity. The Judaizers were holding on to the past, while Gnostics broke with the past looking to be attractive to the society of their day.... sound familiar?
            Ancient Gnosticism is hard to pin down. It requires a “special knowledge” but that special knowledge is never clearly defined, much like today’s New Age movement (which is already decades old, so it is no longer new and therefore has faded from popularity like all fads).  Christian varieties of Gnosticism did not really come into full form until sometime in the second century. That is when we see things such as Gnostic gospels show up. Christianity survived Gnosticism by confronting it head-on. Many of the early church fathers fought for Biblical truth, laying down their lives rather than compromising their faith in Christ by mixing it with Paganism.
            Gnosticism made numerous claims over the years, and as one version was squashed by the church, another would pop up in its place. However, most forms of Gnosticism fall into three categories. Dualism claims that everything in the universe is reducible to two fundamental realities, for example Good & Evil or Flesh & Spirit. Syncretism is the merging of two different systems of belief, for example, modern day Unitarian Universalism, or the beliefs of many Americans who claim to be Christian but will say "all paths lead to God". The last category is Docetism, which claims that Christ only appeared to be human. Modern historic critics make a similar sort of claim when they try to explain away all of Christ’s miracles with human reason, making him an aberration of a collective consciousness or the creation of a deluded individual or individuals.
            Arianism shows us how heresy can arise from within the church. During a climate of tolerance after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, Arianism became a movement within the church before anyone rose up to oppose it. This is Satan’s favorite tactic; disguising himself as an angel of light. Arianism is an attack on the deity of Christ. The Arians claimed that Jesus Christ was a created being, higher than humanity, but less than truly God. The Gnostic attacked the church from outside the church, but Arianism brought false doctrine to the church from within. Arius was the heretic for whom this doctrine is named. He devised a view of Christ that made Him a created being, neither divine nor truly human, but a mediator between God and humanity. According to Arius, Christ was the firstborn of all creation, higher than other creatures, but a creature nonetheless. This is exactly what modern Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. Jehovah's Witnesses use the very same arguments Arius did.
            The Nicene Creed was the church’s response to Arianism, but it marked the beginning, not the end,
of the controversy in the church. After their doctrine was condemned by the council, the Arians pleaded for tolerance, and they succeeded in infecting the church worldwide with their doctrine. Emperor Constantine was frustrated when the Nicene Council was not successful in quelling the Arian controversy, because he wanted harmony in the church to promote harmony in his land. Arianism became so popular that only one man ended up standing against it—Athanasius (the same Athanasius after whom the Athanasian Creed is named).
            Although Athanasius stood alone against the majority of the church in his day, his arguments won out, because he employed Scripture skillfully and persuasively to demonstrate the error of the heresy. This episode is a classic example of why Scripture, not majority opinion, is the first and last test of every doctrine. This is why we hold to the Book of Concord as the clearest exposition of biblical truth.

            We only have two left, so next month we will address Pelagianism and Socinianism. See you then.

In Christ, Pastor Portier

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March 2013

Smoky Mountain Reflections
March 2014

            So as we enter this Lenten season what should we reflect on....What Christ did for us and why He had to do it.  As I ponder this thinking of lent as solemn, melancholy, struggling, suffering...lets tackle one of those difficult "in the world but not of it" questions that we as Christians do struggle with seeking to maintain a good conscience before God to do His will in our lives when it seems there are not good options.     

            Specifically I would like to discuss boycotting and / or associating ourselves with organizations or businesses that either aggressively support positions that encourage people to live in a state of unrepentant sin or take no position at all on behavior which God's word clearly condemns as sinful and harmful. Our society has in essence normalized sinful behaviors such as: murder through assisted suicide, starving the infirmed to death and abortion, and adultery through cohabitation, same gender and polyamorous relationships.

            Even more specifically I would like to address three organizations that have always been purveyors of good moral character but have in recent years succumb to the pressures of seeking to keep everybody happy.  In a customer is always right driven society that is a normal turn of events however the customer is not always right because all customers are sinners which means that sometimes we want what is not good or good for us. Just as any parent who has said not to a child can tell you the results are often unpleasant. The three organizations are "The Boy Scouts of America," BSA "The Girl Scouts USA," GSUSA and "Thrivent financial for Lutherans". (Which recently voted to change its name to Thrivent Financial for Christians)

            Let me first say that that it is virtually impossible to do business today without directly or indirectly supporting some sinful behavior because we are sinners doing business with sinners. The hard part of being in but not of the world is that we must sometimes do business with companies that we know have policies that scripture condemns. When you buy a nail, a sandwich or a shirt while you may be indirectly supporting a sinful policy or behavior, this act of business is not seen as approval of something which scripture clearly condemns. This however does not relieve us of doing our best to defund and condemn with our words and our patronage that which is evil, while supporting and being good customers to those businesses who are proactive in their support of sound biblical morality.          

            That being said the BSA and the GSUSA have nondiscriminatory policies with regard to sexual orientation. While both organizations proclaim neutrality on the sanctity of human life, every person that the national office of the GSUSA holds up as a role models for girls to follow are vocally pro-choice. Also consider  that over 90 Girl Scouts and their leaders  marched in the Gay pride parade last year. So while their policies are neutral their actions are not. So what about those tasty cookies they sell each spring, Should we by them? First I would like to point out that our local Girl scout council is not connected to many of these  issues that the national office of the organization is responsible for. If you by cookies the latest figures they provide say 70% stays in the local council and troops while and 30% goes to the bakeries. What they do not tell you is that the bakeries must pay millions to the national organization every year for the privilege of providing the cookies. So what I have chosen to do is tell the nice little girl I have been getting my annul supply of cookies form that this is the last year we will be purchasing any cookies. The same can be said for BSA popcorn. That does not mean you cannot still support your local troop in either organization, Just make your donation directly to the troop as long as they do not support or agree with the policies that violate God's word. This way you can be an influence for positive change without becoming an isolationist.      

            I expect secular organizations such as the BSA and the GSUSA to take neutral positions on moral issues, However I feel that it is inexcusable for a Christian organization to be claim neutrality on issue of biblical morality. That is what Thrivent has done, they issued a statement in January that says they are neutral on  issues such as abortion and sexual orientation. The result of this decision is that pro-choice organizations which have since 2006 received from Thrivent over $8400, and Pro-live organizations like the Woman's Care Center here in Sevierville will no longer receive the over $878,000 dollars that were given out annually to support pregnancy resource centers. It saddens me that my life insurance company which I chose because all of its profits were to be used to support the Gospel, Could be said to be indirectly responsible for over 30 abortions in the past 7 years. I am not saying to divest yourself from Thrivent, however as we are in but not of the world we must speak the truth in love. So sign the online petition to get Thrivent to refund those Pro-life organizations, and make it clear that if they do not make some changes for the good you may be doing business elsewhere.

            How we as individuals can be a positive influence and how we as a church body are a positive influence will look a little different.  The church must not be seen to associate itself with public organizations that hold positions that are in clear violation of God's word. Because a public association is in affect an endorsement of that organization. That is why we did not re-charter the boy scout troop which used to meet here. however it is possible for individuals to be involved in local troops that hold to biblical morality and stand for that truth in that organization. The same can be said for any organization as long as it does not require oaths or that conflict with or imply support for sinful activity.                    

            I know this month's reflection is a little long however I wanted to give you some solid advice on hot to be in but not of the world in these difficult times. Our suffering for the Gospel is relatively light compared with those of the early church or even those who today live in lands where they are terribly persecuted for faith in Christ.  However it is still suffering and at the end of every day we all have to live with our consciences guided by His will. So as you carry your cross this Lenten season remember, Matthew 11:30 "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Blessed Lententide
In Christ

Pastor Portier 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

SMR 114

Smoky Mountain Reflections
January 2014

            Happy New Year. As we begin this New Year I would like to use my reflection articles in the coming months to examine five historic heresies. Legalism, Gnosticism, Arianism, Pelagianism, and Socinianism are five errors or departures from biblical truth that just refuse to die. All modern departures from biblical truth (either directly or indirectly) fall into one of these five categories. I chose two commonly parroted phrases to begin the series: "All paths lead to god" and "There is nothing new under the sun." The first phrase is a clear heresy and the second is a sound biblical truth found in the ninth verse of Ecclesiastes chapter one. Heresies are like viruses that infect sound doctrine and grow within the church, attacking biblical truth and sound practices. So before we discuss the five historic types, we must first define ‘heresy’.

            Heresy: A doctrine or practice contrary to clear biblical truth. This is of course, a confessional Lutheran definition of this word. Some will argue that "clear biblical truth" is a topic for debate and I will refer that debate to my Reflection in November of 2013 when I discussed the topic of Hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation. So what biblical truth does the statement "All paths lead to god" depart from? The biblical principal of exclusivity. This is a clear principal taught throughout scripture. It is the first commandment, and Christ himself claimed this exclusivity in John 14 verse 6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." The issue of exclusivity is offensive in our postmodern society.  Interestingly, those who condemn this principal as too exclusive....exclude those who hold this view, while claiming to be inclusive of all....except of course those who are too exclusive. If that seems a bit circular, illogical, and ridiculous to you...welcome to the club. 

            Now that we know what a heresy is, let's look at the five historic heresies and their many permutations, or various methods of expression. We will then see that when the devil seeks to decieve God's people he just repackages his same old lies. "There is nothing new under the sun." We examine and understand heresy so that we can clearly understand the many ways Satan tries to lead us away from God so that we can in essence protect ourselves from these false doctrines and practices, just like a vaccine protects us from a virus.  The first and oldest of the heresies is Legalism, which made its first appearance in the Garden of Eden when Eve added to God's instruction by saying they should not touch the fruit. God said they shall not eat of it, but He did not prohibit touching.  I find it interesting that this first form of legalism could be seen as laying the ground work for the first real sinful act of disobedience.  When we create our own rules it leads to confusion which leads to sin. The early Christian church dealt with this heresy in the form of the Judaizers. Again, the problem with this form of heresy is that it makes rules where God does not and in so doing drives a wedge between God and man. It could be said that this is what all heresies do, but each one does it in a different way.  With legalism, you end up with rules that are works you must do in order to be saved or have access to salvation.  In the case of the Judaizers, they required circumcision, in essence saying that you had to first become Jewish in order to become a Christian. This shifts the work of salvation away from Jesus and puts it on our shoulders. We see St. Paul and the other Apostles working hard to root out this heresy in the early Church in the book of Acts and in many of Paul's epistles, especially Galatians. They came together specifically to deal with this question in Acts 15.  We know from Romans 4: 5 & 6 that we are justified objectively by works outside of ourselves in the person and work of Christ. "5.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6.  just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works…" All of chapter four is a good read on how we are made righteous and justified before God.

             We see legalism sadly alive and well within Trinitarian Christianity today in many forms. They are man-made rules that are not biblical. For example, the idea that some form of penance is required for forgiveness, or that some form of decision on my part is required for a heart troubled by its own sinful nature to be given the gift of faith, turning Baptism and the Lord’s Supper into works of obedience, or requiring speaking in tongues as evidence of faith. Whenever we require a rule or activity that is not based on a clear biblical doctrine, as I pointed out earlier with the doctrine of exclusivity, we fall into the same legalistic trap Eve did when she put words in God’s mouth about touching the fruit. Blessings, see you next month when Gnosticism and Arianism will be our topics of discussion.

In Christ,

Pastor Portier