Saturday, January 31, 2009

Curing Souls

Most of us don’t consider our pastor to be a psychotherapist, and some pastors shy away from the realm of psychotherapy. Yet theology and psychotherapy do overlap. Pastor Randy Asburry, author of the blog Rasburry’s Res, reports on his trip to DOXOLOGY in two of his recent blog posts, posts that I hope you’ll take a look at if you’re a Lutheran pastor.

The purpose of DOXOLOGY, according to their website, is “to provide ongoing spiritual care opportunities for Lutheran pastors. Participants will be refreshed and equipped as a result of their participation in a program of soul care grounded in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. The Center provides an excellent setting for clergy to reflect on their own spiritual health and offers a program carefully crafted to help them review and enhance their professional competencies and skills.”

The event Pastor Asburry attended was taught by Dr. Harold Senkbeil and Dr. Beverly Yahnke, and judging from Pastor Asburry’s reaction, is well worth the time spent for those pastors interested in their own renewal, and the improvement of their spiritual care and counsel. You can read his blog posts here and here.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Coming Soon: The Lutheran Study Bible

My e-Sword program has for several years now included a copy of the English Standard Version translation (ESV) of the Bible, to which I make frequent reference. If you haven’t noticed, the ESV has rapidly become the unofficial “official” translation of the LCMS. It’s used in The Lutheran Service Book and The Treasury of Daily Prayer. It’s probably used in your church bulletin, and the Small Catechism is now available in an ESV version. The ESV is more faithful to the text of the original languages, and doesn’t carry the hint of Reformed theology that a translation like the NIV contains.

So why don’t I have a bound version of the ESV you ask? Because I’m waiting for the release of the Concordia Publishing House version of the ESV, called The Lutheran Study Bible, which is due to be released in October of 2009.

The Lutheran Study Bible is not just an ESV version of the old Concordia Self-Study Bible, it’s new from the ground up. And it’s a pan-Lutheran project, with Lutheran theologians and pastors from over twenty Lutheran church bodies working on the project.

Lutherans have always viewed reading the Bible as a devotional act, and I like how that belief is reflected in the structure of The Lutheran Study Bible, which includes notes which explain Law and Gospel in the particular passage, and “provide a petition or praise to guide the reader into prayer.” There are also quotes from the Lutheran Confessions, Luther, and the Small Catechism, as well as quotes from early church fathers, and other Medieval and Reformation era Christian writers to add depth.

Starting in February, you can pre-order The Lutheran Study Bible, which I’d recommend, since it will save you dollars, and bring out the richness of the Scriptures in a way that only Lutheran theology can do. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalm 119:103 ESV

For further info:

The official TLSB site at CPH

The Lutheran Study Bible group on Facebook, which currently has 1,469 members. Join the party!

Pastor Paul McCain’s sneak preview of TLSB, complete with screenshots

Finally, Pastor McCain’s review of that “other” ESV Bible that was recently released, the ESV Study Bible. This study Bible contains notes of a Reformed Calvinist-Zwinglian variety. I mention it for two reasons: 1) So you don’t get confused and buy this one by mistake, and 2) To recommend that you read Pastor McCain’s excellent review of it. Once you’ve read the review, you’ll have a fuller appreciation of how important the notes in a study Bible can be, and why you’ll want to run out and grab a copy of TLSB post-haste.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Aiming Low

Quoting former LCMS President J.A.O. Preus, from the preface to Essays for the Church:
Perhaps in our day of sleazy advertising and ecclesiastical gimmickry we greatly underestimate the capacity of pastors, teachers, and lay people to understand and appreciate good, sound and practical theology.

C.F.W. Walther, Essays for the Church, Vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1992) 8.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Surveys

This Synodical restructuring thing is serious business. We’re not just deciding how to route the interoffice mail here. As several fellow LCMS members whom I trust have pointed out, what we decide at the 2010 Synodical Convention may change the structure of our Synod from one which is based on a doctrinal orientation to one which is based on a hierarchical command structure. If that happens, doctrine will take a seat somewhere towards the rear of the airplane, right at a time when one engine has already flamed out, there’s a load of ice on the wings, and we’re headed right for the mountains. Unfortunately, the majority of the passengers are unaware of what’s going on, because it’s dark outside.

In what seems like a different lifetime, I once took an online survey being taken by the “leadership” of the congregation I was a member of at the time. There were several things I’ve never forgotten about that poll. First off, the survey was obviously written by somebody who was not a Lutheran based on the questions that were asked (it was administered by a well known organization in Evangelicalism). Second, it was ridiculously skewed towards finding out just how great the congregational leadership was doing. They asked questions like “What aspects or parts of our church do you particularly like or appreciate and find helpful to you?” I had to leave some of the questions blank, because there was no selection offered which reflected how I felt, and there was nowhere on the form to type in your comments. It was pretty upsetting that they spent church funds on that. I later found out that the results of the survey weren’t quite what they were looking for (the results were never released to the congregation). This particular expensive survey likely found its way to the mouth of the paper shredder. Fast forward to present time.

At the recent North Dakota District Convention the delegates were presented a very brief summary of the twenty proposed Synodical changes recommended by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG) and were then asked to take a survey. (You can view the entire NDD survey form here.) The third “slide” of the Task Force presentation made the following statement: “The Synod faces significant challenges in accomplishing mission and ministry today in the unchurched culture. Now is the time to find ways to improve support for....” Those of you who are familiar with the steps used by experts to facilitate a paradigm shift may have noted that the presentation’s wording presents two of the classic steps used to facilitate change. First, it creates a sense of “discontent” with the current situation – “The Synod faces significant challenges in accomplishing mission and ministry today...,” implying something is wrong with the way we have previously done our mission and ministry. Then, it creates a sense of urgency, that we must act now to avert our doom, “Now is the time....” Their statement is strategically placed to soften you up for the suggested changes to follow in their presentation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

God Works Through Means

We all need a reminder once in a while. Quoting from the Solid Declaration, II, 54.

God works through means (i.e., the preaching and hearing of His Word). He breaks our hearts [Jeremiah 4:3-4] and draws us to Him [John 6:44]. Through the preaching of the Law, a person comes to know his sins and God's wrath. He experiences in his heart true terrors, contrition, and sorrow. Through the preaching of, and reflection on, the Holy Gospel about the gracious forgiveness of sins in Christ, a spark of faith is kindled in him. This faith accepts the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake and comforts itself with the Gospel promise. So the Holy Spirit (who does all this) is sent into the heart [Galatians 4:6].

Friday, January 23, 2009

Stacking the Deck in Favor of the Blue Ribbon Proposals: Forewarned is Forearmed

Buckle your seatbelts. It’s going to be a rough ride. The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG for “short”) is in the months-long-process of giving a presentation to each of the Synod’s District Conventions on their proposed restructuring of the Synod. Earlier in the week I was told by one of my friends that officials in their district were discouraged by someone higher up in the Synod from spending much time at the District level discussing the restructuring issues. Since this was essentially hearsay, I didn’t mention it. Now, however, this “rumor” seems as though it may be valid.

The North Dakota District Convention was held this week. In attendance was Pastor Arie Bertsch, the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Minot, North Dakota. Here is what Pastor Bertsch had to say, which I reprint with his permission and encouragement:

To all,

The North Dakota District Convention closed yesterday. Be aware that the Blue Ribbon Task Force does a survey the first hour of their presentation. As they present the 20 points of restructuring you are asked to respond with "Strongly Agree" "Agree" "Unsure" "Disagree" and "Strongly Disagree". That gives you about 3 minutes to think through and make a decision. After the first hour presentation we had a break. When I returned to change some of my responses the survey had been collected. The second hour of presentation was the chance to question any of the 20 points. There was not enough time to get through them all. There were 4 overtures that the floor committee were holding until after the Task Force presentation and the floor committee decided that they were irrelevant after the presentation, and they were not going to bring them to the floor. I tried to bring them back to the floor but the question was called before there was opportune time to discuss if they should be brought to the floor. The vocal vote was close but was decided in favor of keeping the overtures from going to the assembly. The overtures were in the Convention work book. My concern for the rest of the District Conventions is that you do not allow them to ask for a survey without proper discussion first. Also, watch your floor committees on overtures that they do not keep the overtures offered from reaching the floor.

Rev. Arie Bertsch
Now, 2nd Vice President North Dakota District
After receiving Pastor Bertsch’s note, I corroborated his statements with several other pastors who were in attendance. One pastor said “I can verify that what Arie said about how things went down is 100% accurate and his opinions are well founded and well thought out.” A second said “I believe that Pastor Bertsch’s comments are accurate.” A third said “Yes, I can confirm that what Arie says is accurate.” Pastor Michael Swofford stated “The comments made by our 2nd Vice President, Arie Bertch, are most defiantly true and I agree with him and stand behind him 100%.”

Pastor Scott Hojnacki had this to say:

The presentation to the North Dakota District Convention was made collaboratively by President Kieschnick, Vice-President Diekelman, and Task Force Chairman Greene. Two hours were allotted for the presentation on Tuesday afternoon, January 20.

At the beginning of the first hour, delegates were provided with a survey and invited to respond to each of the twenty points of the proposal (some of which were divided into subpoints), using a numerical ranking system: Strongly Agree (5), Agree (4), Not Sure (3), Disagree (2), Strongly Disagree (1). No space or opportunity was provided on the survey for written comments.

During the first hour, the presentation was given as it appears on the Synod website. The presenters primarily read verbatim from the slides, occasionally adding an explanatory comment. At the conclusion of each of the twenty points, delegates were instructed to respond on the survey to that particular point, and were given approximately 15-20 seconds to do so. Questions or comments from the floor were strongly discouraged, with the assurance that the second hour of the presentation would be available for delegate questions. With twenty points to cover in one hour, the presentation needed to proceed efficiently and without interruption. At the end of the first hour, the surveys were collected by the Task Force and the convention took a short break.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dr. Noland on Issues, Etc.

Dr. Martin Noland, former director of the Concordia Historical Institute, was recently interviewed on Issues, Etc. concerning Lutheran denominations in America. Here are a couple of quotes of Dr. Noland being interviewed by Host Todd Wilken:

Pastor Wilken:

One of the most conservative theologians in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Dr. James Nestingen, was once asked on this program, “Why don’t you just join the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod if your concerns are so great about your own?” And his answer was “The Church Growth movement.” What do you think Dr. Nestigen meant?...

Dr. Noland:

His concern is that we’re heading down the path of ruin as far as the Lutheran Church is concerned, because when you replace doctrine with growth or numbers, growth is gonna win and doctrine’s gonna lose. And I think Nestigen, he’s using what time he has in retirement to shore up what’s left of Lutheranism in the ELCA, and I commend him for that. But no, he’s right. The point, this has been a big problem and will continue to be until our leadership takes a firm stand on these issues of church growth.

A little later in the show:

Pastor Wilken:

In the vein of kind of the future of denominations, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, its current President Gerald Kieschnick, has through various actions been asking big questions about whether or not the structure of this Lutheran Church body should remain the way it is. It appears to me that what’s being pushed here is the switch from a doctrinal model of organization, that is, for ecclesiastical supervision, congregations are the basic unit, and we have a sound theological understanding of ourselves as a synod, as a church body. A switch from a doctrinal model to a kind of a corporate business model. How does that bode for the future of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?

Dr. Noland:

Well it bodes very badly if this is the direction the Synod goes, and I’m saying “if.” I’m not making an assumption that the Synod is going to accept that at the next convention or maybe the one thereafter. But there are actually two things. First off, you’re right, that the doctrine would take second, third, maybe last place in order of priorities under that type of organization. But the other issue that I see is collegiality. I’ve been around, my family, my ancestors have been around the Missouri Synod for a long time, and one thing I can tell the difference under the current generation of leaders in the Missouri Synod compared to previous generations, and I’m talking about pastors that retired in the 1960's, is the pastors in the 1960's were collegial. They viewed each other as equals even when they were in a higher office, or in a professorship position. And I’m not sure that I can say about this group that’s here today, and with the type of proposals that they’re suggesting for structure it will be the end of collegiality. What they really want is various classes of pastors and laymen and church workers, and not to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, because that used to be one of the strengths of the Missouri Synod. Not just a democratic organization, but a sense of equality. And I’m afraid that we’re losing that. I don’t want to lose it, because I think it’s a great gift that was given to our church by its original founders.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Throw Us a Bone!

Sir Winston Churchill gave a speech to the House of Commons in 1940 entitled “Never Was So Much Owed By So Many To So Few.” Reflecting on the Synod’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, you could flip Sir Winston’s words around, and instead say “Never before was so much owed to so many by so few.” Since the release of the BRTFSSG document there have been many comments and speculations on what it all means, but no follow up with us peons out here in the trenches - the ones whom all of this directly affects. Aren’t the “so many” owed some sort of explanation? A few questions answered? Come on, throw us a bone here! According to the Synod’s timeline, “Presentations and feedback on task force recommendations are being planned for all 35 LCMS district conventions next year [that’s now!], beginning in North Dakota (Jan. 18-21) and ending in Central Illinois (July 5-7).” Apparently we’re all to go into our district conventions cold, with no prior information or ability to think these important issues through. If there’s a reason they can’t provide us with further details, they could at least provide us with the reason why they can’t provide details, especially since their original document, “Walking Together - The LCMS Future,” was released a full five months ago.

The most recent response I’ve seen to the Task Force proposals comes from Dr. George Adams, member of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jackson, WY. Here are a couple of the highlights of Dr. Adams’ comments. The non-italicized wording is part of the original “Walking Together” document; the italicized wording is that of Dr. Adams’. You can find Dr. Adams’ comments here.
Doctrinal Resolutions and Statements: The current Bylaws provide excellent summary statements of the Synod’s confession of faith, doctrinal resolutions and statements, and a dissent process.
How many erring district presidents and pastors are reproved for violating the summary statements? When are we to start confessing the Bylaws instead of The Word, The Creed, the Lutheran Confessions?

• Features of a focused convention:
• Focus on theology, contemporary issues, common confession and mission, nurture, inspiration, and celebration
The underlined words appear to be buzz words – what is the definition of each? Do we not already have a common confession and mission? What appears to be hidden here is an agenda for watering down of theology and worship practices. Before we buy into any of these, there needs to be a detailed, Scripturally and doctrinally based definition of the purpose of each.
The entire list looks like agenda matters for various conferences, whether national, regional, or district, rather than “convention” issues. This proposal begins to look like the normal nature of “professional society” conventions – a little business, a lot of “conventioneering”. What an opportunity for good works to abound!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Inherent Problem With Our Polity

Quoting Pastor Todd Peperkorn, from his paper "How Two Missouri Synod Leaders Handled False Doctrine and Dissent in the Twentieth Century: Francis Pieper and John Behnken," available at Consensus:

...I would also suggest to you that perhaps there is an inherent problem with our polity that makes it difficult, perhaps even impossible, to have real, substantive theological debate and supervision in our church. As long as every theological issue will be decided by voting, in either elections or resolutions, it will be nigh well impossible for us to approach them as a church.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Result of Theological Quackery

Quoting Professor John T. Pless from his book Handling the Word of Truth:

Only where the Law has crushed sinners does the Gospel do its gracious work of healing the broken-hearted. The Law must kill the old Adam if the Gospel is to resurrect a new man to walk before God in righteousness and holiness. The Law cannot be reasoned away be theological sleight of hand. That is why Gerhard Forde calls antinomianism a “fake theology.” It is a fake theology, “for if you want to remove the law, it is necessary to remove sin and death,” says Luther. Only Christ can to [sic] that! When antinomians ancient or modern try to make the Law go away by theological quackery, they only succeed in relocating the Law. They end up inserting it into the Gospel. That makes for a legalized Gospel, which is no comfort to sinners. It only encourages them to live in the fantasy that sin is not so lethal after all.

John T. Pless, Handling the Word of Truth: Law and Gospel in the Church Today, (St. Louis: CPH, 2004) 44-45.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pulling Spines

My daughter and I flew on the big jet down to Phoenix to spend time with my mom and step dad. It was a fun time hanging out and chowing down.

Paige and I went on a run through the desert. Midway through the run we stopped to climb a small mountain, which we named Barrel Pass Mountain in honor of the lovely little “pass” between two parts of the mountain that had four barrel cacti in a row. We saw a couple of mule deer on the mountain, quail, and some cottontails. Towards the top we did a little minor rock climbing, to be rewarded by a beautiful view of the Valley of the Sun. I only managed to acquire one cactus spine in my leg on the way down. Sort of weird to see your skin lift up when you pull on the spine.

Alas, it was a short stay, and we were back at the airport awaiting our flight back, covering several states and a forty degree temperature drop. Paige was humming a Christian tune while we were waiting. What was it? “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord” or “Glorify Your Name?” Although Paige has had ample exposure to contemporary Christian songs, including praise songs all the way through elementary school at Concordia and a two-year stint in an LCMS CGM church, she still seems to gravitate to the more doctrinal hymns. She was humming the reformation era hymn “Salvation Unto Us Has Come” by Paul Speratus, which is one of my favorites. This is a wonderful hymn that catechizes Law and Gospel, punctuated with a Trinitarian finale.

I’m thrilled to hear her humming that tune, because the lyrics bespeak a faith in the promises of the Gospel: “Baptized into Your precious name, My faith cannot be put to shame, And I shall never perish.”

Here’s the whole hymn, page 555 in the Lutheran Service Book:

Salvation unto us has come
By God’s free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

True Christian Perfection

Quoting the Augsburg Confession, Article XXVII, 49:

True Christian perfection is to fear God from the heart, to have great faith, and to trust that for Christ’s sake we have a God who has been reconciled. It means to ask for and expect from God His help in all things with confident assurance that we are to live according to our calling in life, being diligent in outward good works, serving in our calling. This is where true perfection and true service of God is to be found.

photo credit: Pete Baer

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Excuse

If you ask the pastor of a church that has abandoned traditional Lutheran worship forms why they use a contemporary worship style, one of the first things out of his mouth will be "The Liturgy isn’t in the Bible." That in itself is a bit of a sleight of hand, since the Liturgy consists of us speaking back to God what He’s already spoken to us in His Word. It is very definitely "in the Bible."

If you press him a little further and annoy him enough, he might crack open the Book of Concord and point out Article VII of the Augsburg Confession:

For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies instituted by men, should be the same everywhere.

He might also point to Article X of the Solid Declaration, which reads "We believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority to change and decrease or increase ceremonies <that are truly adiaphora>." Of course, he’ll skip the next sentence:

They should do this thoughtfully and without giving offense, in an orderly and appropriate way, whenever it is considered most profitable, most beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, and the Church’s edification.

"Giving offense" in many of our Synod’s church services is precisely what’s happening, and one of the reasons why we coexist in a divided Synod. I once suffered through an LCMS service in which a clip of the movie "Braveheart" was shown on the screen, and an elder waved a sword around and shouted something about the blessing we were bound to receive – a reference to The Prayer of Jabez book study this church had foisted on its parishioners. I’ve yet to make the topical link between that film clip and the Gospel, but I did note the link between the elder’s display and paragraph 7 of Article X:

Likewise, when there are useless, foolish displays that are not profitable for good order, Christian disciple, or evangelical practice in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference.

This particular service had all the marks of useless and foolish, and these types of offense are gradually becoming the approved norm. To quote Pastor Larry Beane, from his article "Are the Confessions Prescriptive or Descriptive?":

When the confessions are taken seriously, one is hard-pressed to find that any of these innovations are in any way compatible with Lutheranism. Indeed, it deems that by their very definition, such willful expressions of worship effectively remove these churches and pastors from our very fellowship.

Our current twisting of the Confession to make it appear as though it favors a liturgical free-for-all in the Divine Service is related to the error of a previous generation. Though the festering wound of the Seminex era of the ‘70's is hidden by a gauze bandage, tape, and a flannel shirt, the wound still weeps. The issue that confronted us at the time of Seminex, the authority of Scripture, is still with us in one form or another. In this sense the threat to our Synod is no different than the horrific threat that is confronting, or has overtaken, other church bodies – but that is no excuse. Though you may claim that you’re not a theologian, ignorance of theology, Synod history, and a willful disregard of our Confession is no excuse for tacking the Synodical boat off the proverbial edge of the earth.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. That we are divided in our worship practice is indicative of a bigger problem, that we are divided in our doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. It is these fundamental articles of faith that are under attack. If it were not so, there would be no divide. Now is the time to stand up and take notice, to take action, and to return our Synod to the Confessional course we once sailed.

photo credit: Mikett

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dread Realized

I’ve been dreading this day for a long time, and it’s finally arrived. The Commission on Worship released its list of 100-plus contemporary songs to which it has affixed the official LCMS imprimatur, forever sanctioning the use of vacuous songs in our congregations. Not that they weren’t already being used. These are the songs that are generally called "praise songs," or lovingly called "7-11 songs" by some, because they repeat the same seven words eleven times. This list was culled from an even larger list of songs that were already in use in the Synod. They were kind enough to throw out the songs that were ambiguous and “those potentially compromising or confusing Lutheran doctrine and practice.”

The good news is that they recognize that these are songs, not hymns. They point out that “The words of songs frequently convey simple scriptural thoughts that are wedded to stirring rhythmic melodies.” Hymns, by contrast “provide sequences of poetic stanzas that expound on the life of Christ and the life of the Church.” One of the disturbing things to note is that in many of the congregations who use these types of songs, it is the only music provided. They stick to simple thoughts – no profound Scriptural truths for those parishioners! The lack of teaching in these songs fits in well with their anthropocentric nature. Note that in 24 of the song titles listed there is some derivative of “me” or “us” in the title. The “stirring rhythmic melodies” and lyrics that speak of me and my emotions and my commitment fit in well with the “Contempogelical worship” described by Pastor William Cwirla. These types of songs are designed to wring out of you an emotional response, not equip you with the sword of the spirit.

It’s not surprising how many of these songs speak of “seeing God” and other such experiential motivations, since many of them were written by the Contempogelical crowd that values an internal search for God, rather than the sure and certain promises of God, found not within us, but within the pages of Scripture. This type of self-focused thinking is contrary to Lutheranism and Scripture.

The reviewers point out that “The songs listed in the chart have not been subjected to the same in-depth process that selected hymns receive before being included in a synodically approved hymnal.” Why not? They’re still being used in a church service aren’t they? The reviewers should be thanked for their effort, it’s the standards used that should be questioned. I hope you like repetition.

photo credit: 365bunnies

Quotable Blog Quotes #5

Quotable Quotes From Around the Blogosphere

Brothers of John the Steadfast
Pastor Charles Henrickson’s two parodies of the Ablaze! hymn, offered as comments following Mollie Ziegler Hemingway’s post on the same topic.

Tune: “Amazing Grace”

Ablaze disgrace, the heat profound
That makes it rest on me:
I’ve won the lost, but more abound–
It’s high anxiety!

Ablaze has taught my heart to burn,
Ablaze my guilt increased.
What pressures did Ablaze apply–
Statistics never ceased!

Through many programs Synod shares
The kingdom surely comes.
‘Tis doctrine that gets in the way
And causes us speed bumps.

When we’ve filled up ten thousand pews,
Igniting every one,
We’ve no less days to stay ablaze,
Till Jerry says we’re done.

One Mission, Mission, Mission One!
One Mission, Mission One!
One Mission, Mission, Mission, Mission!
One Mission, Mission One!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Middle-of-the-Road Men

Quoting from a sermon of Dr. Martin Luther:

Some jurists think: Even though an agreement with the pope is made, no one shall take the doctrine from us. Well, I hold that I, too, am considered a Doctor of Holy Scripture; yet I must pray daily that God may sustain me and stand at my side. Such jurists have little knowledge of this, nay, have never even tasted it. And if you do not pray and cry to God, He has taken faith and the doctrine of the divine Word away.

Therefore avoid and flee those who seek the middle of the road. Think of me after I am dead and such middle-of-the road men arise, for nothing good will come of it. There can be no compromise.

Quoted from What Luther Says (St Louis: CPH, 1959) 1019.

photo credit: BGLewandowski

Post Script:

Pastor Weedon commented: "You need the proverbial armadillo in that pic...."

Here you go Pastor Weedon:

photo credit: Visual Burn

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Concerning Public Worship and Concord

Rick at Light From Light quotes Luther's letter “A Christian Exhortation to the Livonians Concerning Public Worship and Concord,” in which Luther discusses uniformity in external worship practices. Here are a couple of the highlights from Rick's excellent post:
Now even though external rites and orders—such as masses, singing, reading, baptizing—add nothing to salvation, yet it is un-Christian to quarrel over such things and thereby to confuse the common people. We should consider the edification of the lay folk more important than our own ideas and opinions. Therefore, I pray all of you, my dear sirs, let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters, so that there will be one uniform practice throughout your district instead of disorder—one thing being done here and another there—lest the common people get confused and discouraged.

...This I said to the preachers so that they may consider love and their obligation toward the people, dealing with the people not in faith’s freedom but in love’s submission and service, preserving the freedom of faith before God. Therefore, when you hold mass, sing and read uniformly, according to a common order—the same in one place as in another—because you see that the people want and need it and you wish to edify rather than confuse them. For you are there for their edification, as St. Paul says, “We have received authority not to destroy but to build up” [2 Cor. 10:8]. If for yourselves you have no need of such uniformity, thank God. But the people need it. And what are you but servants of the people, as St. Paul says, 2 Corinthians 2 [1:24], “We are not lords over your faith, but rather your servants for the sake of Jesus Christ.”

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Office

Quoting Pastor Luke T. Zimmerman from his blog post "A Brief Introduction to Church & Ministry" on the Lutheran Theology blog:

Because salvation is dependent upon having faith which must be created through the Gospel of Christ and that Gospel must be presented to humans, Jesus instituted the office of the ministry. The holders of the Office of the Holy Ministry deliver the forgiveness of sins by preaching the aural Gospel [preaching and teaching] and distributing the visible Gospel [Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper]. For Lutherans, that is the raison d’etre of the Church and her ministers. Lutherans teach that anyone who substitutes a different purpose for the office of the holy ministry either holds a different understanding than Christ who instituted it or a different understanding of how the Holy Spirit is given to humans in order to create faith.

photo credit: valvados

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

In Synod We Trust?

Quoting the closing words of Host Todd Wilken on the December 3 Issues, Etc. show, in which the election of a new leader in the Orthodox Church in America was discussed. Pastor Wilken’s comments are certainly words we in the LCMS should take to heart:

I am struck, every time we have a conversation like this, and there were two here in this hour alone of this program. Every time we have a conversation about the church bodies great and small in the United States, how the problems that plague one plague all. What do we see there in the Orthodox Church of America? Up to this point they’re trying to make a good faith effort to restore trust. Now the breaches in trust take many forms in church bodies. The breaches in trust may be financial, they may be administrative, they may be in terms of church discipline, but they exist. The worst thing that any church body, any church can do, in the face of a deteriorating and crumbling trust, is to deny that it exists, is to say “No, we trust each other, and if we don’t, those who are pointing out the breaches in trust, they’re are the ones who are really destroying the trust.” Worst thing you can do. You want to know the best way, and perhaps Metropolitan Jonah has shown us a bit of an example here, the best way for a church body to restore trust is to admit that it’s broken, and then to get to the real heart of the matter. The worst thing you can do if the breach in trust is say financial is to deny that there are financial problems. The worst thing you can do if it’s administrative is to deny that there are administrative problems. If it’s doctrinal, the worst thing you can do is to deny there are real doctrinal differences in your church body, if you want trust, and you should. The first step is honesty. Honesty becomes the church.

If you're still wondering why I used that particular photo for the post, hover your mouse pointer over the photo!

photo credit: siesja

Monday, January 5, 2009

I See the Heavens Opened

We sang “A Great and Mighty Wonder” in the Divine Service yesterday. The final verse reads, in part:

All Idols then shall perish
And Satan’s lying cease,
And Christ shall raise His scepter,
Decreeing endless peace.

As I sang “And Christ shall raise His scepter, Decreeing endless peace,” I thought to myself, “Now that would be a sight to see.” Then I thought, “Wait a minute – I’ll be there to see it!” The endless peace of Christ’s final proclamation unites us and transports us directly back to the angelic proclamation made to the shepherds at Christ’s birth:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

In that moment, heaven and earth, past, present, and future are united in a song that truly has no end. The “not yet” of the eschaton becomes the “yet now.” In the same way, in the Divine Service heaven and earth are united, as the Word incarnate comes from heaven above to us in Word and Sacrament. The future promises of heavenly joy are a present reality as we sing “Holy, holy, holy Lord of Sabaoth; heav’n and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.” As the shepherds returned to the fields glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, we join with them and all the company of heaven, glorifying God for all we have heard, seen, and received in the Divine Service. Our praises combine with those of all the saints in an eschatological stanza of the final angelic song that occurs when Christ raises His scepter, decreeing endless peace.

For as in the beginning,
Is now, shall ever be,
God’s triune name resounding
Through all eternity.

God’s blessings to you and your family on this 12th and final day of Christmas.

photo credit: lant 70

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A “New” Book of Concord Available

When you grab your careworn copy of the Book of Concord off the shelf, it’s probably a translation of the Latin version of the Book of Concord published in 1584. There is also a German version of the Book of Concord, which was published in 1580. It’s very helpful to have access to a translation of the German version as well as its Latin counterpart for study purposes. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been easy, since the only complete English translation of the German version was published by Solomon D. Henkel & Brs. in 1851 and 1854. Copies of this book are hard to come by, with the only other option being an online copy – but that hurdle has been eliminated.

There is now an electronic version of the 2nd Edition Henkel Book of Concord, available at This downloadable version is donationware, meaning you make a small donation, and receive download access and a license to use the software. This is not a commercial production – it was produced by a group of Lutheran volunteers and proceeds go to a fund for the training of faithful Lutheran pastors in Sri Lanka. The Electronic Edition will soon be followed by a new Print Edition as well. I hope you’ll avail yourself of this valuable resource. Go to for details.

photo credit: v.max1978