Thursday, December 31, 2009

It’s What’s in the Middle that Counts

Overheard on the December 18 Listener Email and Issues, Etc. Comment Line:

Producer Jeff Schwarz: Let’s talk about our own church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. We have leaders throw out terms like “Law and Gospel,” “Word and Sacrament,” and the lay people hear it, and they say “Sounds Lutheran to me.” But in practice, they don’t preach Law and Gospel, they intend to grow the Church not through Word and Sacrament. So, you know, it’s a, you could have the postmodern way, or how would you describe what we see in our own church body where we hear leadership use the right terms, the right Lutheran terms, but in practice, I don’t know if they interpret them differently, or…

Host Todd Wilken: That’s what I was just talking about. I was talking about, you know, Bishop Hanson [the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America], what he does is, his vocabulary, his native language, is no longer the language of Holy Scripture, or of the Lutheran Confessions. That’s not his native language any more. When he speaks that language, it is, he is engaging in a foreign tongue. That is the mark of a church bureaucrat when they lose the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions as their native language because they’ve also lost it as the way they think. If you don’t think in a language you’re not gonna speak in that language very comfortably. And what we have in our church body [the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod] are basically company men, institution men, who think of the church in institutional and company terms, but they’re still savvy enough to toss in a few Lutheran buzz words, to make it sound like they still think like church men rather than company men. So they’ll toss in Word and Sacrament. You ask them what they mean they might not even be able to name the Sacraments or explain what they are according to Scripture. They’ll toss in Law and Gospel, they’ll toss in other buzz words, of course also with a healthy dose of things like “missional” and “intentional” and all the little words that make them feel so warm and fuzzy inside. I mean if you’re going to be a bureaucrat and a company man just talk like a bureaucrat and a company man and then we know exactly what it is you really think and what it is you’re really saying. Drop the buzz words. We don’t need them. For the most part they don’t necessarily communicate anything at all. If you’re going to say “Word and Sacrament” then practice it, then promote it. I’m saying this to the leaders of our church. If you’re gonna throw Word and Sacrament in to make it sound Lutheran why don’t you just go all the way and be Lutheran, and promote that kind of thing? The real, solid preaching of the Word, the administration of the Sacraments. If you’re going to talk about Law and Gospel then promote that kind of preaching, and that interpretation of the Bible, rather than “how to” sermons and all this other stuff. If you’re going to talk, use the word “Confessional” or “Confessions,” really be what you say you are. And we’ll know by the way, because your Lutheranism won’t be just a few buzz words thrown in to otherwise very bland, boring, and bureaucratic speech. We’ll know when your whole vocabulary, and what you promote, and what you sanction, that is in the positive sense of the word, is genuinely Lutheran.

I couldn’t agree more. Time after time we see programs and presentations that start out and end with some nod to “Word and Sacrament,” with page after page of un-Scriptural ideas about leadership, purpose, and transformation in the middle. Call the thing what it is. You’re not fooling anyone when you say something has a “congregational bias” that is actually biased against congregations. You’re not fooling anyone when you call something a “movement” which you started yourself. You’re not fooling anyone when you say the Synod is “exceptionally unified” when you have to wear a jetpack to get from one side of the divide to the other. Let’s work towards getting back to the language of Scripture and Confession, not just at the front and the back end of what we say, but in the middle of our daily lives as well. Let’s be Confessional Lutherans once again.

photo credit: Lawrence OP

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christian Cremation?

Quoting Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller of Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora, Colorado, from his November 2 appearance on Issues, Etc.:

That body that your soul lived in all through your life is the same body that Jesus will raise on the last day, stick your soul back into it, and you’ll be a body and soul together forever in the resurrection. This is really the governing thought behind Christian burial, is how do we confess best the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the Christian. And the way we can do that is by treating the body with respect. Luther said that you know all the patriarchs, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and all these old guys, David, et cetera, they built these tombs, and they did that to confess their faith in the resurrection, because they knew that God wasn’t done with their bodies. But these bodies that are now corrupt with sin would be raised imperishable and would live forever before the face of God. So we want to treat the body of a Christian with care in order to confess our faith in the resurrection.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Glory to God In the Highest

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
Isaiah 9:2 ESV

Have a Merry Christmas as we celebrate the mystery of the Word become incarnate.

photo credit: dideo

Friday, December 18, 2009

Runnin' in San Jose del Cabo

San Jose del Cabo is a small Mexican town on the water at the tip of the Baja peninsula, just to the east of Cabo San Lucas, which is the town people are referring to when they say "Cabo." Here's a few pics from my recent run in San Jose del Cabo. You can click on the photos for a larger view.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Get Those Nominations In!

If your congregation hasn't yet sent in its form to nominate a candidate for LCMS President and other postitions for the 2010 elections, you'd better get going. Congregational wheels of progress often turn slowly, and the nominations are due by March 10, 2010.

My congregation is nominating Pastor Matt Harrison for President, and I hope your congregation will as well. Pastor Harrison is the Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care. He's certainly got the upper level bureaucratic experience required for the job, and I like him because he's a regular guy. Matt is from Iowa, and being a Midwesterner myself, I appreciate his down to earth demeanor. He's also someone who is interested in theology, and knows how to apply it to everyday life.

Rather than listen to me blather on, check out these resources if you don't already know Pastor Harrison. The trip will be worth your time, as will sending in that nomination form!

A good interview of Pastor Harrison by Pastors Donofrio and Cwirla on The God Whisperers:

Pastor Harrison's recent appearance on Issues, Etc.:

The Harrison for President website:

And of course, Pastor Harrison's blog, Mercy Journeys With Pastor Harrison:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

You Wouldn't Hear This on the Old Issues, Etc.

Pastor Wilken, the host of Issues, Etc., and Producer Jeff Schwarz, comment on the "format change" of the music at their previous place of employ, KFUO AM, on the November 6 show. You definitely wouldn't have heard this on the show back in the day, when it was operated under the auspices of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

President Kieschnick Announces Extension of 2010 Convention

This just in from a frequent Stand Firm reader:

Citing “the huge amount of confusion and misunderstandings about the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance,” President Gerald Kieschnick announced today that the 2010 Synodical Convention will be extended by 10 days. “We need much more time to consider the Task Force’s recommendations,” Kieschnick said, “and 12 days ought to do it.” The entire additional cost will be borne by congregations with membership over 1,000, Kieschnick added. “They hope to get more delegates in future conventions, and we thought it only fair that they should up the ante in return.” Rev. Charles Mueller, Jr. of Trinity, Roselle, Illinois, one of the LCMS’ bigger congregations said, “It ain’t fair. We wuz robbed.” The original schedule called for two days to consider the Task Force’s proposals, however, it became apparent after “gatherings” in Denver and Dearborn that two days would be far too little time. Citing a particularly hostile atmosphere in Dearborn, Kieschnick said, “We didn’t like it, but we heard them loud and clear.” When told that several district presidents violently opposed this move, Kieschnick said, “They can take it through the dispute resolution process.” (That process, adopted by the 2004 Convention, takes about eight years to complete.) The convention will begin as originally scheduled on July 10, and will be extended to July 27.

Johannes Bach-Atyu, a descendent of J.S. Bach, has penned a “carol” describing this 12 day structure component of the upcoming convention. CPH and Augsburg-Fortress have declined to publish it, so he has decided to place it in the public domain.


On the first day of structure, the Task Force gave to me, More Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the second day of Structure, the Task Force gave to me, Two Mission Commissions, and More Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the third day of Structure, the Task Force gave to me, Constitution meddling, two mission commissions, and More Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the fourth day of Structure, the Task Force gave to me, Four-year convention cycles, constitution meddling, two mission commissions, and more Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the fifth day of Structure, the Task Force gave to me, "Five Districts New", four-year convention cycles, constitution meddling, two mission commissions, and more Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the sixth day of Structure, the Task Force gave to me—Six hundred delegates (more or less) a-voting, "Five Districts New", four-year convention cycles, constitution meddling, two mission commissions, and more Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the seventh day of Structure, the Task Force gave to me, Seven hundred by-laws a-changin’, Six hundred delegates (more or less) a-voting, "Five Districts New", four-year convention cycles, constitution meddling, two mission commissions, and more Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the eighth day of Structure, the Task Force gave to me, V-P Mates A-Running, Seven hundred by-laws a-changin’, Six hundred delegates (more or less) a-voting, "Five Districts New", four-year convention cycles, constitution meddling, two mission commissions, and more Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the ninth day of Structure, the Task Force gave to me, Board-Appointed Members, V-P Mates A-Running, Seven hundred by-laws a-changin’, Six hundred delegates (more or less) a-voting, "Five Districts New", four-year convention cycles, constitution meddling, two mission commissions, and more Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the tenth day of Structure, The Task Force gave to me, E-fish-un-cee, Board-Appointed Members, V-P Mates A-Running, Seven hundred by-laws a-changin’, Six hundred delegates (more or less) a-voting, "Five Districts New", four-year convention cycles, constitution meddling, two mission commissions, and more Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the eleventh day of Structure, the Task Force gave to me, “E-fec-tive-ness”, E-fish-un-cee, Board-Appointed Members, V-P Mates A-Running, Seven hundred by-laws a-changin’, Six hundred delegates (more or less) a-voting, "Five Districts New", four-year convention cycles, constitution meddling, two mission commissions, and more Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

On the twelfth day of Structure, the Task Force gave to me, No Budget Savings, "E-fec-tive-ness," E-fish-un-cee, Board-Appointed Members, V-P Mates A-Running, Seven hundred by-laws a-changin’, Six hundred delegates (more or less) a-voting, "Five Districts New", four-year convention cycles, constitution meddling, two mission commissions, and more Pow’r to the Pres-i-den-cy.

photo credit: Leo Reynolds

Monday, December 14, 2009

Making Church Work More Effective?

Quoting from Dr. Theodore Graebner's essay "The Leprosy of Unionism," written in 1918. Dr. Graebner was a long-time Professor at Concordia Seminary. All ellipses are in the original.
The Lutheran Church in the United States has not been immune to unionism in the past, and it is not immune today.

No one believes that any Missouri Synod man would dare to propose at this time (1918) official synodical collaboration with the Reformed sects in church-work. That is a late development at which one does not arrive at a jump. On the other hand, the danger is ever present that on the specious plea of advancing the cause of "Lutheranism," we be tempted to enter into fellowship with members of synods Lutheran in name, but only partly Lutheran in doctrine and practice. There is danger that we get a taste of applause and flattery; that we become eager for "recognition" as a great church-body; that we compromise our doctrinal stand for the purpose of meeting emergencies. And the time to become aware of that danger is NOW.

It is a bad sign when hearers become angry at their pastor for "preaching against other churches." It is a worse sign when pastors, bowing to such disapproval, begin to withhold instructions concerning the errors of the sects. It is a most alarming symptom when pastors and parishoners fraternize. . . with those who represent a different conception of Lutheranism. It becomes denial of the Truth when they associate with such for the purpose of "making church-work more effective" or "keeping the Lutheran Church on the map."

As we love our church, let us so teach our people so that they will fear the contagion of error as they would fear to breathe the air of a small-pox hospital. Let us exhibit to them the damnableness of false doctrine. Let us preach Luther on this point, who saw only the work of Satan in every deviation from the truth of Scripture. If our people learn to recognize every false doctrine as a snare of the devil, spread to catch victims for hell, they will not need to be held with a rein lest they stampede into unionism. . .

Let it be understood that any undertaking or activity which is, in effect, the doing of religious work jointly with those from whom we ought, according to Scripture to separate, is unionism. Here, if ever, the old sayings must apply: "Nip the evil in the bud." Our first duty is that of watchfulness. There is no higher duty now because there is no greater danger.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Tree Is Up

We put up our Christmas tree last night. For you purist theologians out there, which hopefully is all of you, we’re a little ahead on the Church calendar, but the baby Jesus is not yet in His manger. It’s a 13 foot beauty, complete with lights to joyously welcome Jesus, the light of the world, and presents, to celebrate the gift of a Savior, who redeems all people from their sins.

“He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.”

-From Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Our Eyes Are Blind

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther from one of his Advent sermons:

If we don't want to understand this with our ears, but accept only that which our eyes see and our hands touch, we will miss our King and be lost. There's a big difference between this King and other kings. With the latter everything is outward pomp, great and gallant appearance, magnificent air. But not so with Christ. His mission and work is to help against sin and death, to justify and bring to life. He has placed his help in baptism and the sacrament, and incorporated it in the Word and preaching. To our eyes baptism appears to be nothing more than ordinary water, and the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood simple bread and wine, like other bread and wine, and the sermon, hot air from a man's mouth. But we must not trust what our eyes see, but listen to what this King is teaching us in his Word and Sacrament, namely, I poured out my blood to save you from your sins, to rescue you from death and bring you to heaven; to that end I have given you baptism as a gift for the forgiveness of sins, and preach to you unceasingly by word of mouth concerning this treasure, sealing it to you with the Sacrament of my body and blood, so that you need never doubt. True, it seems little and insignificant, that by the washing of water, the Word, and the Sacrament this should all be effected. But don't let your eyes deceive you. At that time, it seemed like a small and insignificant thing for him to come riding on a borrowed donkey and later be crucified, in order to take away sin, death, and hell. No one could tell this by his appearance, but the prophet foretold it, and his work later fulfilled it. Therefore we must simply grasp it with our ears and believe it with our hearts, for our eyes are blind.

The quote comes from Professor John Pless's paper "Learning to Preach from Luther in Advent and Christmas," which he in turn quoted from The House Postils, volume 1, edited by Eugene Klug.

photo credit: Mike West

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Missional: What Does This Mean?

My friend Jim Pierce, on his blog Confessional's Bytes, has a post that gets to the heart of the use of the word "missional." Here's a portion of his post:

"Missional" means something more than "missions", where I have read the word in use. Typically the word "missional" is used to define the Church pragmatically, the Church is a body doing missions. How about that? I think there in is why both of my eyebrows are raised and my teeth clench when I hear or read the word "missional". The Church is no longer defined as "the congregation of saints" where the "outward marks" of the Church "are the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ" (Apology VII and VIII). In other words, "missional" defines the Church on the basis of what it's members do to promote the Gospel; where as, the Scriptural definition of the Church is grounded upon what Christ is doing in the world through His means of grace: the preached Word of God, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

We Have Confidence

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bursting the BRTFSSG Bubble, Part 5: Is This What “Mission” Sounds Like?

You back out your driveway, and head down the road. At first you don’t notice it, but as you round the corner and pick up speed it intrudes upon your consciousness. The faster you go, the more intrusive it becomes, the low frequency “thump, thump, thump” of an out of balance tire. As you accelerate, the sound becomes louder and more insistent and the car starts to shudder, so you hurriedly find a place to pull over and reconsider your options. That trip to the store no longer seems quite so important. You’re now so focused on the tire that you’ve got tunnel vision.

The recommendations of the LCMS Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG) are like that out of balance tire – the harder you look, the louder the “thump, thump, thump” becomes, until you think these recommendations are about to fly off their rim.

What is it about the Task Force proposals that are so out of balance? Consider the following quote from President Gerald Kieschnick’s original assignment to the Task Force:

Our work together as a Synod should enhance and enable achievement of the mission that God has given His church, a mission clearly articulated in many places, including especially the first two objectives in Article III of our Synod‘s Constitution:

Article III. Objectives
The Synod, under Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, shall—
1. Conserve and promote the unity of the true faith (Eph. 4:3–6; 1 Cor.1:10), work through its official structure toward fellowship with other Christian church bodies, and provide a united defense against schism, sectarianism (Rom. 16:17), and heresy;
2. Strengthen congregations and their members in giving bold witness by word and deed to the love and work of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and extend that Gospel witness into all the world;

These are certainly worthy objectives. Without the conservation and promotion of unity, and the constant vigilance against schism, sectarianism, and heresy, there can be no witness by word or deed, only discord and failure. Yet the Task Force has no balance, emphasizing “mission” to the near exclusion of unity and defense, to the point where the “thump, thump, thump” is deafening. The word “mission,” or a definitional derivative thereof (like “missions” or “missional,” excluding “commission”) is used 206 times in the searchable portion of the Task Force Final report, whereas “unity” is used only eight other times, and “defense,” none. Thump, thump, thump. There is something radically wrong with the hermeneutic of the Task Force. (The searchable portion of the Task Force report includes the main body of the report and all appendices, with the exception of Appendix 1, which is the Constitution and Bylaw changes.)

In an effort to put my finger on the root cause of this imbalance, I spent some time reading through old essays from Synodical conventions in the first half of the twentieth century, a time when the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod experienced rapid growth. Specifically, I read those essays related to “mission” and Synod structure. There was certainly no lack of Synod officials who emphasized “mission,” yet their understanding of it included a more balanced hermeneutic. In many of these essays, there was much more talk of sound catechesis and the pervasiveness of Word and Sacrament in the life of the congregation, with mission being the consequence of the power of the Word. There was a great deal more discussion of unity and sound doctrine. By comparison, these BRTFSSF suggestions seem a bit empty. Thump, thump, thump.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Respect the Crust

My wife is a great cook. She can make the lowliest meal taste wonderful, often without a recipe. Plus, I never know what I’ll be eating next – and it’s frequently something new. But even the great cooks need a day off every now and then, and this was one of those days.

In deference to my childhood, my wife baked Zach and I a pot pie – the old Swanson kind with the previously-aluminum pie plate to boot. When I was a kid I ate quite a few of those things for lunch when my mom worked, and you know what they say, “Old habits die hard.” I pretty much can’t stand the gorp in the center of the pie, but I love the crust. What my wife doesn’t seem to understand is that it’s important that the crust remain intact. (By crust I mean the fragile rim of the crust that’s crunchy and golden brown on the top outer edge before you invert it, not the part that annoyingly sticks to the bottom of the pie plate.) She generally unceremoniously dumps said pie on my plate with nary a consideration for the integrity of the crust. Which leads to my new motto: “RESPECT THE CRUST.”

Of course, my new motto can’t supplant the more dignified motto that’s on the Diekmann family coat of arms: “Carpe Chocolate.” The Latin adds a sense of savoir-faire, don’t you think?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Did You Know…

…that the budgeted convention expenses for the LCMS Officers, Board of Directors, and Council of Presidents for the 2010 Regular Convention increased a whopping 270% over the 2007 Regular Convention?

Calculating for inflation and a convention that is two days longer, the increase should be 29%. The cost per person for this group of individuals is $3,833 per person (figuring 68 people, which includes 10 extra people just to be conservative). If all the delegates rang up the same bill, it would cost the LCMS $4,791,250, nearly double the cost of the entire convention. That’s a lot of greenbacks.

photo credit: ZagatBuzz

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Is the Purpose of Singing in Church?

Quoting Dr. Mike Horton, co-host of the Christian apologetics radio program The White Horse Inn, on his October 26 visit to Issues, Etc.:
Paul says that the purpose of singing in church is so that the Word of Christ may dwell in you richly, admonishing and teaching each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs making joyful melody in our hearts to the Lord. So even the purpose of singing is to train our thoughts and our hearts toward the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Are we doing that? Are the prayers that we hear in church, the Scripture reading, public reading of Scripture, the benedictions, the salutations, everything in the Liturgy, not just the sermon, everything in the Liturgy pointing to the Triune God who has saved us in His Son? That’s the question we have to ask, even more important than whether we use organ or guitars, what our favorite playlist is on our iPod. The most important question is “Is Christ being deeply planted within our hearts, creating faith in Him, through this ministry of the Word, in everything that is done in the service?”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

CORE: Continuation Of Real Eisegesis

On a November 19 Issues, Etc. segment, Pastor Todd Wilken interviewed Pastor Paull Spring, the Chair of Lutheran Coalition for Renewal, or Lutheran CORE. CORE was formed in response to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Americas’ (ELCA) propensity to “wander away from Lutheran positions,” and specifically to its blessing of same sex unions and the ordination and ministry of clergy who are in active same sex relationships. The intent of CORE is to form a new Lutheran church body.

Here is a portion of the interview:

TW: "Will the new Lutheran church body take a stronger stand on inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, and what about the ordination of women in the new Lutheran church body?"

PS: "We really, I doubt, I doubt very much if we’ll take a stronger stand on inerrancy of Scripture… Regarding the ordination of women, we fully accept the ordination of women… So for us, I think it’s fair to say, the ordination of women is not going to be an issue for us."

TW: "How would you respond, and this would be my warning there, that the very way of reading the Bible that lead to the ordination of women, could potentially again lead to the ordination of active homosexuals, lesbians, and transectored bisexual?"

PW: "No, I would say, with respect, that the argument for the ordination of women can be Biblically supported. There are references in Scripture to men alone doing ministry, but we also know of the significant role of women in the history of God’s people all the way back to Miriam and even going beyond that, and the witnesses of the resurrection who were initially women. So there is a strong evidence of Biblical support for the ministry of women in the Church, even the ministry of Word and Sacrament. We find no evidence whatsoever in the Bible, no evidence that would in any way endorse a homosexual lifestyle."

I had high hopes for CORE. I really thought this was their chance to correct the un-Scriptural errors that the ELCA has embraced, and was totally crushed by the responses of Pastor Spring. The ELCA has given up on the inerrancy of Scripture, instead believing that the Bible contains the Word of God, rather than that the Bible is the Word of God. Taking this position allows them to rule over the text of the Bible, making it say whatever they’d like in this particular time and sociological underpinning.

Pastor Spring rightly points out that the Bible doesn’t endorse a homosexual lifestyle, yet in the same breath upholds women’s ordination. The same types of arguments that he uses here to defend women’s ordination are also used by those who support homosexual ordination. Both groups ignore the clear words of Scripture in favor of their own interpretation. It’s good that CORE condemns the ELCA’s warm embrace of homosexuality, but its stance on women’s ordination indicates it will continue to follow the erring ways of its soon-to-be former Synod.

“But test everything; hold fast what is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 ESV

If you’re interested, pasted below are a few of the “highlights” from the ELCA website’s “The Bible” page which demonstrate their low view of Scripture: