In the early 1980s, around the time the Voyager space craft were making discoveries, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos premiered. Growing up in the 1980s, I remember watching Cosmos and traveling on the “Ship of the Imagination,” soaring through the solar system out through the galaxy and beyond. Cosmos taught about how vast is the universe, about the Voyager program, atoms, the Big Bang, evolution and natural selection, and the future of mankind in the universe. Even as a child, I recognized that much of what Cosmos taught was not in accord with the faith I had been taught. The show had value in showing the wonders of creation, how vast creation is, and to make one familiar contemporary scientific theory on the origins of the world. From the perspective of contemporary cosmology, contemporary theory on multiverses, and contemporary physics many of the ideas in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is outdated, passé, or even incorrect. For instance, Carl Sagan did not have a conception of “dark matter” or “multi-verse.” This is why a new, updated and improved series was needed. Although creators of the new show acknowledge that there is new science, the stated purpose is not to teach but “The goal is to show why this new understanding of the world continues to affect us deeply as an individual, as a nations, as a species.”
The new show is called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium, and created by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of “Family Guy” and other comedies. President Barack Obama even introduced Cosmos calling for us to open our eyes and imaginations to what could be the next new discoveries. Perhaps, President Obama’s endorsement of the show is part of what he meant when he he vowed in his first Inaugural Address to “restore science to its rightful place.” Neil Tyson believes that religious dogma hinders science, and in an interview said, “If you don’t know science in the 21st century, just move back to the cave, because that’s where we’re going to leave you as we move forward.” The new Cosmos is updated with the latest in computer generated special effects and with the latest cosmological theories, many of which were not conceived of or were incipient when Carl Sagan hosted the show in the early 1980s. Rather than hosting the show on PBS, the show was hosted on the Fox Network with the intention of reaching millions more viewers than might otherwise be possible. In many ways, the new Cosmos is a significant effort utilizing the President of the Unites States, a famous astrophysicist, the creator and executive producer of a major sit-com, and a large television network to proselytize many people into a secular-humanist view of the origins of the universe that seeks to demonstrate that there is really no benevolent force organizing the universe and that human beings are insignificant specs among the vast cosmos.
The first episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is “Standing Up in the Milky Way.” Tyson on the “Ship of the Imagination,” takes us on a tour of the Solar System, across the Milky Way identifying the location of the sun in the galaxy, and beyond into the local cluster of galaxies. A tenet of astronomy is that the further away from the earth one goes, the further back in time one goes, all the way to the very beginning of the universe. Eventually, Tyson reaches the beginning of the universe at the moment of the Big Bang. He also discusses how our universe might be one universe among many, a bubble among many other bubbles. The conclusion of all of this is that the earth is one planet among an almost uncountable number of other planets within the Milky Way galaxy, orbiting a nearly uncountable number of stars among a nearly uncountable number of galaxies that make up the universe, and as suggested by the episode, our universe might be only one among an unknowable number of other universes. Such thoughts might recall the words of the Psalmist, “What is man that you are mindful of him.” (Psalm 8:4) Indeed, the vastness of creation can make human beings feel rather insignificant. Yet the Christian faith holds that human beings are not insignificant, but the very special creation of God. Such believe lives in the realm of faith. However, much of what is presented as science, particularly regarding the origin of the universe, is not science as science is usually defined as a “testable explanations and predictions.” Much of what is presented in Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is not testable, reproducible, or predictive, especially in regards to the origins of the universe. What is presented as science really enters the realm of metaphysics, which is the same realm occupied by faith and religion.
|Bronze statue of Giordano Bruno by Ettore Ferrari from Wikipedia|
The first episode delved deeply into religion when it featured Giordano Bruno (1548 – February 17, 1600), who was one of the last people executed by the Roman Inquisition. Giordano Bruno is presented as a 16th century visionary who wanted to help people understand the infinite creation made by the infinite God he believed in (Watch the short clip by visiting this link). The message of Cosmos is that religious dogma hurts science, and leads to the persecution and execution of people like Giordano Bruno. However, according to this episode of Cosmos, the Roman Catholic church was not alone in persecuting 16th century “astronomers” and “scientists” but also guilty were the Calvinists and Lutherans. In fact, Tyson explicitly mentions Martin Luther as rejecting the views of Copernicus. As for poor Giordano Bruno, Tyson states that both the Calvinists and the Lutherans excommunicated him. Apparently, historical facts are not of great concern to scientists, in particular regarding Giordano Bruno, about what he taught, or how the Lutherans regarded him.
Giordano Bruno was a Dominican Friar and a philosopher, who traveled from Italy, to Geneva, to France, to Germany, and back to Italy where he died at the hands of the Inquisition in 1600. He went from place to place seeking patrons to support him and to find universities where he might teach. In 1584, Giordano Bruno wrote a work (cited by Cosmos) called, “On the Infinite Universe and Worlds.” In this work, Bruno argues that there is no source of certainty and that truth may be inferred from many sources (one might argue that he is proposing a relativism that would be attractive to Western people in the 21st century). He also argues that the universe is infinite. Following Lucretius and his work On the Nature of Things (a book well known in the 16th century contrary to what Cosmos reported), Bruno reasoned just as matter was made up up an infinite number of “atoms” (Lucretius), so the universe is made up of an infinite number of stars, of which the sun was one of them. Bruno also held, “Innumerable suns exist; innumerable earths revolve around these suns in a manner similar
to the way the seven planets revolve around our sun. Living beings inhabit these worlds.” Contrary to common thought, the notion of “atomism” (that all we see is made up of tiny composite parts) is not a modern theory but dates back before the ancient Greeks, and was represented by Epicurean philosophy. Lucretius argued that everything that happens is caused by chance and not by divine intervention (another idea favored by many in the contemporary world). Both Lucretius and Bruno’s works are more philosophical and theological than “scientific” or “astronomical.” In fact, Bruno is considered by many to have a rather poor understanding of astronomy even by 16th century standards; for instance, Tycho Brahe (14 December 1546 – 24 October 1601), a Danish Lutheran astronomy, born the year of Martin Luther’s death and died a year after Bruno, rejected Giordano Bruno’s theories.
In 1585, Giordano Bruno matriculated to German lands. First he went to Mainz where he remained for twelve days, but was unable to find any means of sustenance. Then he went on to Wittenberg, Germany, where he taught at Wittenberg University. (Boulting, William. GIORDANO BRUNO HIS LIFE, THOUGHT, AND MARTYRDOM. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd, 1914, 195.) Bruno called the University of Wittenberg, the “German Athens.” Contrary to how Tyson portrayed the Lutherans, Bruno found life at the University of Wittenberg to be rather free. Boulting writes, “Bruno never before breathed so free an atmosphere as Wittenberg had generally enjoyed since Luther s days up to those when he first came there: there was no small measure of such religious toleration and philosophic liberty as the sixteenth century understood.” (198) While in Wittenberg, Bruno published three books. The books were neo-platonic in nature and corrected certain errors in the philosophy of the medievel scholastic theologians. In Wittenberg, anything that attacked the “schoolman” would be received with some favor.
One of the books published in Wittenberg, The Lamp Of Thirty Statues, provides a glimpse into some of the thoughts that would later play a role in his heresy trial. In this work, he cloaked his philosophical ideas, a theory of the atomic constitution of the material world, with the “vestments of orthodox Christianity.” (203) Everything material in the world is an accident of one substance. This view could be understood in an atheist materialistic way (such as some of the Greek Epicureans might desire) or in a panentheistic way (one of the heresies the Roman Inquisition charged him). His anti-Trinitarian views, another heresy the Roman Inquisition charged him, also took shape. “The Trinity becomes a philosophic concept; the Father is Substance; the Son, Universal Intellect; the Spirit, the Soul of the World; or the Father may be said to be Immediate Universal Intuition; the Son, Intellect; the Spirit, Love with Power; but these are merely distinguishable aspects of the One Absolute, to whom past is not past, nor is the future to come, but to whom eternity is entirely present, all things together and complete.” (203) He also writes that the individual is a spark of the Universal Spirit. He believes that the Son of God came “to raise us up from brutality and barbarism to the practice of love.” (204) For Bruno, the essence of Christianity is found in love, not dogmas.
Giordano Bruno departed Wittenberg in the spring of 1588 over a dispute between the gnesio-Lutherans (the genuine or authentic Lutherans who signed the Formula of Concord — those who founded the Missouri Synod would be in agreement with the gnesio-Lutherans) and the Philippist Lutherans (Crypto-Calvinists). Ironically, it was the gnesio-Lutherans who generally favored Bruno, while the Philippists (Crypto-Calvinists) did not. At his trial before the Inquisition, Bruno told his Roman Catholic judges, “At Wittenberg, in Saxony, I found two factions the philosophic faculty were Calvinists and the theologic were Lutherans. The old Duke was a Lutheran, but the son, who succeeded him at that time, was a Calvinist and favoured the opposite party to the one which favoured me ; wherefore I left.” (207) Bruno delivered his final lecture and farewell address at the University of Wittenberg on 8 March 1588. In his address he praised wisdom and wise Germans in particularly such as Albert Magnus, Landegrave William of Hesse, the patron of Copernicus, and of course, Martin Luther. Of Luther, Bruno said, “From Germany, from the banks of the Elbe. . . .
Out of the darkness of Orcus your Hercules dragged forth the monster with the triple crown, bursting open the steely gates of Hell, triumphing over the city guarded by triple walls and the nine-fold stream of Styx. Thou hast seen the light, O Luther ; thou hast regarded it ; thou hast heard the awakening spirit of the Lord and hast obeyed it; thou hast confronted and overcome the adversary girt about with power, and thou hast despoiled him.” (208) Despite this praise of Luther and his praise for opposing ecclesiastical tyranny, Bruno was no fan of Luther or Lutheranism. Bruno considered the Lutheran Reformers to be more ignorant than himself. (209)
Despite some of Giordano Bruno’s teaching which departed from orthodox Christianity, Bruno found Wittenberg to a place of academic and intellectual freedom. His stay at Wittenberg might have been the freest of his academic career. From Wittenberg, Bruno traveled to Prague and Helmstedt (1588-1590). In Helmstedt, Bruno encountered Lutherans once again. Like in the past, Bruno found favor with princes while encountering problems with the theologians. The Lutheran superintendent of Helmstedt excommunicated Giordano Bruno. In a letter to the rector of the university, Bruno complains of his excommunication and states that he was given no ability to publicly respond to the charges. With no other means of support, Bruno left Helmstedt and in the middle of 1590. It should be noted that the Luther pastor did not excommunicate Bruno due to his views on cosmology, or for holding to Copernican views as Tyson suggested in Cosmos, but for doctrinal reasons.
|Giorando Bruno Trial Before the Inquisition|
In 1591, Bruno returned to Venice, eventually this led to his arrest and trial by the Roman Inquisition. His trial lasted for 8 years. He was charged with holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith, holding opinions against the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and the incarnation, the virginity of Mary, and the existence of a plurality of worlds and holding to their eternity (in other words Panentheism). He was not tried and executed for holding to the Copernican view of the solar system, but primarily for being anti-Trinitian and rejecting the divinity of Christ. On 17 February 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake as one of the last people tried by the Inquisition.
Although we should not condone the execution of a person by the Roman Inquisition, we must recognize that Giordano Bruno was not “persecuted” for holding advanced scientific theories only finally accepted in the 20th century, but Bruno fell out of favor with Reformed, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic theologians for holding views against Orthodox Christianity. Bruno was not a martyr for science. Also despite being excommunicated in Helmstedt by the Lutheran superintendent, he found academic freedom at the University of Wittenberg among the Lutherans until he attempted to ingratiate himself to a crypto-Calvinist prince. The Lutherans themselves held a variety of views regarding cosmology. Tycho Brahe and Kelper studied the solar system and developed mathematical solutions to calculating the orbits of planets. The Lutheran faith was not challenged by such theories, even if some or most theologians did not agree with them.
While an astrophysicist like Neil deGrasse Tyson may not be able to distinguish between the teachings of orthodox Christianity and that the teachings of those who deny the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, he (or the researchers) should be able to check the historic record. The goal of Cosmos was not to accurately reflect how Calvinists, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics regarded Giordano Bruno, but to show that the Christian religion is against science, not just Roman Catholics, but also Lutherans and other Protestants. Whatever education and entertainment value of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey must be tempered against its desire to discredit religion and to promote secular humanism. Indeed in the end, both those who accept the Christian’s confession of the Creation of the world in 6 days and those who accept the Big Bang and perhaps a multiverses live by faith not science. The question is where is that faith placed, in the Word of God, or in various scientific theories. One also would hope that scientists dedicated to “knowledge” and “testable theories” might get history right, particularly when it comes to Lutherans.
Last weekend I had the privilege of being in Santiago, Dominican Republic with the mission team and several mission partners from the United States and Argentina. We have been meeting to discuss the strategic plan for the mission, learn of updates and hear the current needs of the field.
The mission is extremely busy with supporting the congregations that have been formed, several worship services throughout the week, many confirmation classes, ongoing and intense outreach to people with disabilities, a Lutheran elementary school of Pre-K to 5th grade, a Lutheran pre-school, Christ For All Nations (LHM) radio broadcastings, and theological education to deacons, deaconesses, and seminarians.
We had the privilege of participating in the Amigos de Jesus Bible Club for people with disabilities in the community of Palmar Arriba. Individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, along with several children in the community and church members, gathered for Bible Club activities. We began with everyone joining in songs, followed by a lesson taught by a young adult of the congregation, enjoyed more singing and finished with helping attendees to complete a coloring sheet with crayons. After we were finished, everyone enjoyed a cool beverage and participated in a Vespers service.
The Lutheran congregation in Licey (suburb of Santiago) that worships weekly was planted and formed from one of these Bible Clubs shared in that community.
If you would like more information about the Dominican Republic Lutheran Mission, would like someone to speak to your congregation about the mission, or desire to support one of the missionaries, please contact me anytime at email@example.com.
In the Office of the President we are presently engaged in a series of visits to all of our 35 districts of the Synod. This is part of the work of visitation our Synod as a whole seeks to strengthen throughout our life together – see 2013 Synod Resolution 7-01A.
Visitation of the districts consists of several elements. The district visitation team (consisting of the President of the Synod or the First Vice President, plus the appropriate regional Vice President) meets with the district board of directors to hear what the Lord is doing in that district and to communicate how God is at work through our joint efforts in the national Synod. We talk about what we can do to support one another in the work God has given us. We also spend time with the district president to encourage him (from the Word of God) in his difficult work of visitation and ecclesiastical supervision. Depending on local circumstances in each district, we spend time with the district staff and/or circuit counselors/visitors and in some cases have conducted an open forum for anyone interested.
In all cases, our main purpose is to listen, to encourage from the Word of God, and to listen even more. We seek to foster evangelical visitation throughout our life together as a Synod, in the spirit of the apostles who said,
“Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36).
As our Lord animates our witness and mercy, so visitation is part of our life together.
This visitation is not in the way of the law as though our primary purpose is to come and check on you to see where you are wrong. Instead, visitation is in the way of the Gospel, through which we strengthen one another in the Word of God, as Paul sought to do with the Church in Rome,
“I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12).
It is in the way of Christ Himself, in whom God was visiting and redeeming His people (Luke 1:68; 7:16).
Christ is our life. We visit one another to share in that life together He gives in His Word. We visit one another to encourage one another in witness and mercy so that more will receive life in Jesus. We recognize much visitation already takes place, in districts and congregations, but we pray that it may grow and increase. As of this writing 3 districts have been visited. That means we have 32 more to visit this year and next! Pray for us. Pray for your district president. Pray for your pastors in their work of visitation with the Word of God.
Yours in the peace of Christ,
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
On a recent trip I noticed the roadway sign “CONTINENTAL DIVIDE,” the point where the flow of North American rivers changes direction from eastward to westward. I happened to think that our Synod right now is crossing its own “contiventional divide,” the time when the flow of our Synod-wide activity changes directions from backward to the 2013 convention to forward to the 2016 convention.
Yesterday (March 1) marked the final official action remaining from our Synod’s 2013 convention, i.e., the deadline for congregational ballots to determine whether the constitutional amendment changing the word “counselor” (as in “circuit counselor”) to “visitor” (as in “circuit visitor”) throughout our Handbook was supported and ratified by two-thirds of the congregations that returned ballots. All that remains now is to prepare the report and announce the results, a first order of business this coming week.
But already during the past two weeks the Board of Directors and the Council of Presidents, turning their attention forward, have met to determine the designation of regions for the 2016 convention elections (a determination to be made at least 24 months prior to conventions). The board and council agreed that the same regional boundaries designated for 2013 convention elections will also be the regional boundaries for the 2016 convention.
And so we begin our sometimes-whitewater journey toward the convention of the summer of 2016. Already meetings are taking place to determine how better or best to navigate the flow of pre-convention requirements provided in our Synod’s Bylaws. My intention is again to alert the congregations of the Synod via a series of appropriately timed postcards of the next turns of events that will require their participation.
We have managed this flow of events once before, and we have learned a few things that should be helpful in making our way even more smoothly through certain frothy areas. But the entire process is still quite new and begins with expectations that will beg our attention almost immediately, as districts prepare for their own conventions in 2015. Let’s enjoy the ride.
Are sinners really welcome in our churches? Well, of course! Lutherans know this instinctively. Our Divine Service almost always begins with a clear confession of sin followed by absolution. If we ask if some are better off than others, we know the Scriptures:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
In other words, we know that when we say the creed, we can believe the “holy Christian Church” is “the communion of saints” only because of the next phrase in the creed: we believe in “the forgiveness of sins.” So… there’s only one kind of people: those who every day need the forgiveness of sins.
Is there any class of sinner excluded? Well, no. We take the Gospel everywhere we can. We go with Jesus into prisons, into hospitals, wherever there are broken people (since we are all at some point broken). We take the Gospel to the streets, wherever the Lord leads. Are we always good at doing so? If we’re honest, no we’re not. But theoretically, at least, we know that if any class of sinner were to be excluded, then we might someday also be excluded.
All sinners are welcome. That’s why with our mercy work we care for people, all people in need. We cannot ask first – do you have faith? – before we extend care. We seek to help PEOPLE with the church’s work of mercy. That’s how some are drawn to Christ, because someone cared when they were hurt or broken.
What about becoming part of the church? A full professing member of the body of Christ? Are sinners welcome? Of course! Every member of the church is a member of the body of Christ for one reason. The Spirit of God is leading them to repentance and faith in Jesus. When Peter finished his sermon on Pentecost, his hearers were cut to the heart and were asking, “Men, brothers, what shall we do?” To that Peter responded,
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:37-39).
That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the one way in. Repentance and faith in Jesus!
So we welcome sinners. But we do not welcome or condone sin. We cannot excuse sin, for if we do, we miss out on forgiveness. We can never minimize sin, for living in unrepented sin can separate us from God forever. The Scriptures say,
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of The Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Our hope is only in Christ. So there are two sides to our answer. The church welcomes sinners – always! The church cannot welcome sin – not ever.
For if we minimize sin, or if we say that something God has called sin really is not sin, we are saying that Jesus is not really needed for that part of life. I don’t need Jesus to be Lord there, but I can be in control of that aspect of life myself. Minimizing sin, we minimize Jesus, the Savior from sin.
Whoever we are, whatever we have done or not done, there is only one way to stand before God, and that is by faith in the shed blood of Jesus. Anything we put forward ourselves will be swept away as tainted by sin. Only in Jesus, God in our flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us can we stand. Again, here’s the Scripture in Romans 3:
“There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (3:22-25).
Propitiation means Jesus stood in our place, took our punishment, suffered our death. That’s why it’s all gift, all grace, and it’s all for you. It covers every sin.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
So yes, sinners are welcome! All of them! Even you. Even me. Every day through repentance and forgiveness in Jesus. It is just as Jesus said to a woman caught in sin,
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
Every day, we live by God’s grace alone in Jesus. Every day, the Word of God leads us to repent of sin. But even more, every day His grace abounds.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Now go revel in that grace – it’s for you!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS