The Second Commandment.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
What does this mean?–Answer.
We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
Last Thursday, when I was visiting my parents, my mother plopped a magazine in front of me and asked me what I thought of the article she had opened to. The article was this one:
“Bearing Comfort: Pat Bewley is spreading God’s love one teddy bear at a time.” By Sarah Asp Olson,
in Thrivent Magazine Summer 2013, page 5.
“This is witchcraft and idolatry!” My voice was louder than it should have been. As I read through it each sentence of the article was more and more ludicrous.
Here’s the basic idea:
- Take teddy bears to a church service, take them to the communion rail,
- then take them out to the sick and infirm.
- The bears are labeled with special words describing their powers.
- The teddy bears will then have the special powers to convey comfort, love, and especially God’s love.
From the article:
Thanks to member Pat (Menges) Bewley’s vision for spreading God’s love and comfort through stuffed bears, more than 65 furry friends take part in Calvary’s Sunday morning services each week – some even sit with the choir or go up with congregants for communion. At the end of services, members are invited to take the bears into the community and give them to friends, family members or strangers who may need a reminder of God’s love.
“None of our bears go out without first going through a church service,” says Bewley. “On their little tag it says they’ve been loved by our congregation, and now they’re coming to you with that love and the love of God.”
Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) of Apollo Beach, Florida is the church.
Really, though, one should not be surprised that superstition over a charm or modern relic has gained such a strong foothold in a supposedly Lutheran congregation.
But we are required by God to warn His Church against these false teachings, regardless of how sincere and nicely intended the false teacher is.
Clearly there is no Word of Scripture that says or even implies that we should take things, whether teddy bears or any other thing, and claim that it has some special blessing or benefit from God. This is just an invention of men, and as Christ quoted His prophet, Isaiah:
‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” (Matthew 15:8-9)
This kind of idolatry has a long history in the church, described in detail from the time of Elijah. This veneration of charms and works of the hands was the reason the Bronze Serpent was destroyed in the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4).
It is certainly superstition, and it falls within the definitions of both the 1st and 2nd commandments as idolatry and witchcraft.
Regarding this kind of idolatry, Luther wrote in the Large Catechism on the First Commandment:
17] you can easily see and judge how the world practices only false worship and idolatry. For no people has ever been so reprobate as not to institute and observe some divine worship; every one has set up as his special god whatever he looked to for blessings, help, and comfort.
18] Thus, for example, the heathen who put their trust in power and dominion elevated Jupiter as the supreme god; the others, who were bent upon riches, happiness, or pleasure, and a life of ease, Hercules, Mercury, Venus, or others; women with child, Diana or Lucina, and so on; thus every one made that his god to which his heart was inclined, so that even in the mind of the heathen to have a god means to trust and believe. 19] But their error is this, that their trust is false and wrong; for it is not placed in the only God, besides whom there is truly no God in heaven or upon earth. 20] Therefore the heathen really make their self-invented notions and dreams of God an idol, and put their trust in that which is altogether nothing. 21] Thus it is with all idolatry; for it consists not merely in erecting an image and worshiping it, but rather in the heart, which stands gaping at something else, and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils, and neither cares for God, nor looks to Him for so much good as to believe that He is willing to help, neither believes that whatever good it experiences comes from God. (LC 1st Commandment)
But someone might object, “Hey, Pastor Abrahamson, they didn’t say they were worshipping the teddy bears, they just said that they were reminders of God’s love.”
That is actually only part of what they said. And it is the partial truth that makes the lie even more appealing to those who promote and receive such magic charms or relics given in God’s name.
We do not have the authority to claim God is doing something where God has not explicitly told us He is doing something. That is why we can proclaim His grace and forgiveness in Baptism, the Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. But we cannot proclaim His grace through the recitation of the rosary, the veneration of Gabriel’s wing feather, or passing on a teddy bear, medicine bag, or a rabbit’s foot.
The fact that they claim this is God pleasing is a violation of the 2nd Commandment. And it is of a kind that Lutherans confess is the worst kind of violation of the Second Commandment:
54] But, the greatest abuse occurs in spiritual matters, which pertain to the conscience, when false preachers rise up and offer their lying vanities as God’s Word.
55] Behold, all this is decking one’s self out with God’s name, or making a pretty show, or claiming to be right, whether it occur in gross, worldly business or in sublime, subtle matters of faith and doctrine. And among liars belong also blasphemers, not alone the very gross, well known to every one, who disgrace God’s name without fear (these are not for us, but for the hangman to discipline); but also those who publicly defame the truth and God’s Word and consign it to the devil. Of this there is no need now to speak further. (LC 2nd Commandment)
This abuse of charms, relics, and other kinds of talismans in the Church has been thoroughly condemned and exposed as idolatry that dares to speak in God’s name. In the Smalcald Articles we confess:
The relics, in which there are found so many falsehoods and tomfooleries concerning the bones of dogs and horses, that even the devil has laughed at such swindle. Relics ought to have been condemned long ago, even if there were some good in them; and all the much the more because they are without God’s Word. They are neither commanded nor counseled. Relics are an entirely unnecessary and useless. 23] Worst of all is that these relics have been imagined to work indulgence and the forgiveness of sins. And people have revered them as a good work and service of God, like the Mass, and other such practices.(SA II:II.22)
By now there are probably readers who are convinced all I am doing is a hatefilled attack against a well meaning effort of loving Christians. Such “well meaning” christians, if they can be called by that name, should take into account both the words of those on the left-hand in Matthew 24:41-44, as well as Matthew 7:21-23:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
The Thrivent article has the required heart rending testimonial about how well these little charms work in the life of a cancer survivor.
Testimonials like this are a threat to those who would criticize. The threat is that if you speak against the practice you must be a hater. “How could you write or speak such hateful words against a woman who has benefited so greatly from these tokens of love?”
Why? Because these tokens of love are a substitute gospel which is no gospel at all. They replace the love of Christ with a soft, fuzzy, non-specific inanimate charm that does not preach Christ crucified. Rather, the charm is an intentional way to avoid the real preaching of God’s Word while pretending to proclaim God’s love.
The trust is directed to the charm, the relic, the magic teddy bear:
“As I was recovering at a girlfriend’s house, her neighbor brought me a teddy bear. I was in tears when I got that little bear from a gal that was practically a stranger. It was like God was there with me.”
The name of Christ appears nowhere in the article. His death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, sin, and the Word of God are not mentioned in the article anywhere. The The Lord’s Supper is mentioned, but only as a magical place to which the teddy bears are taken as if it confers upon the teddy bears some divine power to comfort the ill or distressed.
Faith is directed toward the teddy bears and the good intentions of those who formed this so-called ministry.
So, we should all feel warm and fuzzy. Isn’t this nice. They’re doing something to make people feel better. They’re taking teddy bears to church, and the teddy bears are taking God’s love to the sick and infirm.
I can just predict some of the comments.
Biggest comment complaint would probably be: “Why do you have so much hate?”
To those who think that I respond: Seriously? Is this what you think? You think that anyone and everyone who differs from you must therefore be a hater? You really need to rethink your life. You and your opinions are not the center of what defines love. God’s Word, particularly the 10 Commandments and Christ’s fulfillment of the Law are what define love. And it is particularly out of love for lost sinners that I wrote this criticism of the Thrivent article.
It is not love to allow people to be directed to idols no matter how supposedly well intentioned this effort might be. Love considers the real consequences. Love listens to what God’s Word actually says.
Pointing people toward some kind of Christianized magic charm is nothing other than witchcraft in a sanctified disguise. There’s something about wolves in sheep’s clothing in book we’re supposed to read.
Thrivent, this is why I do not direct people to you as a “Christian” fraternal organization. You might have Christians as members of your financial group, but concern for them doesn’t seem to keep your organization from caring about preventing such damning false doctrine as this article.
Second biggest complaint in the comments might probably be that I’m daring to write against Thrivent, as if that should be a concern.
But the fact is that I’m writing against the promotion of false doctrine by a group that claims to be Christian. And writing and speaking against this promotion of false doctrine is what I am required to do as a pastor.
It won’t matter what investments and insurance you have if you are directed by that organization to trust in magic charms rather than in Christ. There’s something in that book we’re supposed to read about bigger barns, and then taking life easy.
If you really want to comment in a way that is significant, then direct your writing to Thrivent about their promotion of false doctrine in an effort to correct them.