Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Is Our Spirtual Life Preserved?

Since all our daily sins automatically register in our conscience as guilt, our spiritual life is preserved only in this way that the handwriting of our guilt is daily and continuously blotted out by faith in the reconciliation which Christ has accomplished.
Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950) 411.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Bag Full of Mercy, Grace, and Love

Quoting Pastor Matt Harrison on the June 30th Issues, Etc. segment on mercy:

God is mercy. He is compassion. He is eternal love, and in Jesus Christ that mercy and compassion is planted in our hearts. We’re forgiven, we cannot help but forgive. We’ve been loved, we cannot help but love. Luther says, “When you go to church, you come with an empty sack, and in the confession and absolution, you confess ‘Dear God, I’ve got an empty sack,' and God piles it full with forgiveness, and He gives more forgiveness and grace and mercy in the lessons, and then the sermon preaches you full of forgiveness and grace and forgives you, fills your bag up. You go to the Lord’s Supper - ‘take and eat for the forgiveness’ of your sins. Your bag is even heaped fuller, and then at the end of the service, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you His peace.' Your bag is packed full overflowing. You tie it up and you say ‘Amen, Amen, Amen, it’s in the bag.’ And you leave church, and then you meet somebody who sins against you or needs something, or your children, you can’t help but open the bag and say ‘Here. I’ve got a bag full of mercy and grace and love. I can’t help but give it to you - it’s who I am. That’s what God has created me to do. I’ve been given this rich treasure,’ and you come back to church the next week and you pray, you say in the confession, ‘Dear God, I got an empty sack.’”

Pastor Harrison is Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, and author of the book Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action, and the soon to be released At Home in the House of My Fathers. His personal blog is titled “Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

VBS 2009 - Jesus Makes All Things New

120 little sinners at our church this week for Vacation Bible School - every one with an angelic face. It's great to see such enthusiasm on those little faces as they hear and see the Gospel. Here's a few photos.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Take Hold of the Promise

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther from his lectures on Galatians:

Therefore the afflicted conscience has no remedy against despair and eternal death except to take hold of the promise of grace offered in Christ, that is, this righteousness of faith, this passive or Christian righteousness, which says with confidence: “I do not seek active righteousness. I ought to have and perform it; but I declare that even if I did have it and perform it, I cannot trust in it or stand up before the judgment of God on the basis of it. Thus I put myself beyond all active righteousness, all righteousness of my own or of the divine Law, and I embrace only that passive righteousness which is the righteousness of grace, mercy, and the forgiveness of sins.” In other words, this is the righteousness of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, which we do not perform but receive, which we do not have but accept, when God the Father grants it to us through Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther, Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut Lehmann. vol. 26, Lectures on Galatians, CD-ROM (Saint Louis: CPH, 1999).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is Your Sword Blunted?

Worn out from passing all of those resolutions on evangelizing this or that demographic at your District Convention? Tired of hearing Evangelical speeches about “vision” and reaching the “unchurched?” Worried that your ministry may not be “effective?” Feeling like your Confessional sword has been blunted a little? Not to worry. Time for a little “revitalization!” Listen to Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, the Pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora, Colorado and co-host of Table Talk Radio, on this excellent Issues, Etc. segment, where he answers the question: “Is it possible to care more about evangelism than the Evangel?”

It’s 20 minutes in length. Go ahead, give it a listen. I guarantee you your sword will be sharpened up after listening to this, restoring it to its pre-convention knife-edged readiness. You’ve got 20 minutes don’t ya?

photo credit: th3ph17

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Put the Sacraments Back Together Again

In yesterday’s blog post, Pastor David Petersen spoke of the Sacraments, and how they should be seen together as our life in Christ. To take his thought a step further, we often live our lives as though we’re disconnected from the Sacraments altogether, even in the Church. The old Adam in us likes to bypass the Sacraments, in favor of our own plans, forgetting where our life comes from. Passive righteousness is shunned in favor of our own active righteousness. We tend to focus on our own activities and wander from that which nourishes us. The Lord’s Supper becomes a sideshow on the midway that we might stop in to see on our way to the main event. But once we get to the big top, it’s all about us.

The “all about us” show isn’t always advertised as such though – it’s usually disguised by a colorful painting on the side of the tent, along with a guy on stilts in a top hat holding a bamboo cane, drawing attention to the painting. The message trumpets what we’re going to accomplish as foot soldier’s in the army of the Lord. But the message, which may revolve around the Gospel, doesn’t preach the Gospel. It’s a message of Law instead, designed to motivate you to do something.

Our recently concluded District Conventions illustrate how we’re being drawn into the Law-driven big top. Here are several of the themes from this year’s Conventions:

  • "The Love of Christ urges us on"
  • "Make a World for Christ My Goal"
  • "Transformed for His Mission"
  • "Faith Aflame: Communicating the Gospel"
  • "Ignited in Christ to be Ablaze in HIS Mission!"
  • "Called Into Partnership"
  • "Chosen for a Purpose"

Aren’t we forgetting something here? Are we so far off-topic that we can no longer properly distinguish Law and Gospel? Yes, we are. Our life in Christ revolves around Him and his life giving gifts first, not us and our mission. Get that message backwards, and you’re wasting your time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Synod, with Sacraments

Quoting from Pastor David H. Petersen’s article “A Sacramental Church: A Call for Reformation” in the latest edition of Gottesdienst (Vol. 17, No. 2; Trinity 2009). Reprinted with permission:

Dr. Norman Nagel is reported to have once quipped that the LCMS is not truly a liturgical church, but simply a church with a liturgy. We might say the same thing of the Sacraments. We aren’t so much a sacramental church as we are a church with various means of grace, with Sacraments. Our theology isn’t sacramental. It is scholastic, a collections [sic] of lists and categories and ways that God might work or interact with us.

This sort of confusion abuses the gifts of God by trying to hold them equal. In communist style we equalize by lowering everything to the lowest common denominator and running after bare minimums. Christians who come to the Mass “for the sermon” miss the point of the sermon, which should, ideally, lead to the Sacrament. This is not to say that one gift is better or more necessary than another. Each gift has its place and time. Each stands in relation to the other. None is a substitute for another or stands alone. They all serve together to bestow the fullness of grace. For all the gifts of God flow from Christ, and Christ, our Lord, is one. To divide the Sacraments is tantamount to dividing Christ.

The Lord creates faith and makes for Himself a people by Holy Baptism. He absolves the baptized in the Holy Absolution and preaching. He then gives Himself to them and joins them to Himself in the Sacrament of the Altar. We misunderstand and misappropriate these things when we try to understand them separately or as avenues of grace rather than as grace itself. When they are seen together, as our life in Christ, the Holy Communion is obviously the center of our faith. This is not because it is greater than the other gifts God bestows, but because it is where the Lord Incarnate comes to us and enters our flesh in His flesh.

The ceremonies of the Mass indicate something of high points and distinctions. The Lord comes to us in the reading of the Bible, preaching, and in the Absolution. So also does He come to us in His crucified and risen flesh in the Holy Communion. We stand for the reading of the Holy Gospel because the Gospels contain the very words and actions of our Incarnate Lord. This is not a confession against the rest of the Bible. Instead it is a confession of the significance and centrality of the Incarnation. To place the Lord’s Supper in the highest position ceremonially and theologically is like standing for the reading of the Gospel. it is not a confession against the other gifts. it does not lower them or dismiss them. It simply recognizes and confesses the centrality of the Incarnation. This is how God has loved and saved us in the Son. This is the fulfillment of all prophecy, the culmination of history and creation. Thus does the Holy Communion have more elaborate ceremonies than preaching or the reading of the Scriptures. So also it should have a more central place in our theology and piety.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Chair of the New LCMS Task Force

Here's a recent photo of the Chair of the newly formed Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Blue Ribbon Task Force on Doctrinal Harmony (LCMSBRTFDH), taken at the Downtown Doubletree Hotel in San Diego.

Lex supellectilis, lex credendi.

Remember, it's a joke. Only a joke.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Being Blindfolded

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther:

We have the same experience a man has whose head is dizzy. When he is to climb a high tower or to pass over a bridge under which deep water is flowing, one must simply blind him, must hang a coat over his head and lead and carry him blindfolded; otherwise he falls from the tower and breaks his neck or falls into the water and drowns. Just so we, too, must follow our Guide if we would be saved. Then we are safe. We, too, must simply close our eyes, follow the leader, the divine Word, and say: I will let myself by wrapped in swaddling clothes, will let a coat be put about my head, and will let myself be led to that which I believe and do not see; and thus will I live and die.
Ewald M. Plass, compiler, What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, (St. Louis: CPH, 1959) §640, 216.

photo credit: practicalowl

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Fountain of Life

5 Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
       your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
       your judgments are like the great deep;
       man and beast you save, O Lord.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
       The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
       and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
       in your light do we see light.

Psalm 36:5-9 ESV

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

With Great Liberty Comes Great Responsibility

Quoting C.F.W. Walther from the 16th Central District Convention in 1871:

We would emphasize particularly that confession by deed and action is here demanded of every Christian. Many are often of the opinion that they are not responsible for what their pastors do or do not do, or that they have no right to do anything against the majority which depart from the confession. That is, however, a dangerous error! Does not every individual belong to the whole? And ought he not to be responsible for everything he permits to be done? If church discipline languishes, if false doctrine forces its way into the church, if wrong remains unrebuked, then the responsibility rests on every member who does not witness against it. Truly, the great liberty of a Christian also imposes a great responsibility on him!

C.F.W. Walther, Essays for the Church, Vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1992) 198.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Fog of War

This post is based on my experiences during the Northwest District Convention. My guess is that your experiences at your District Convention were similar. We are all sinners, a fact perhaps demonstrated nowhere better than at a District Convention. The “above reproach” attribute that Paul describes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:2 is often forgotten in the heat of battle. All of our actions are tainted with sin. Thanks be to God that through the all-availing sacrifice of our Lord we are rescued from this body of death. This post points out some of the inequities of our current convention system in the hope that a better system will be employed in the future, one whose structure will further encourage us to be “above reproach.”

Just getting there is a challenge. The helpful girl at the front desk gave me directions. After only a couple of blocks of slogging through the mud made worse by the passage of creaking tank treads on their way to the unknown, I realize I am a victim of disinformation and am marching in the wrong direction. Having asked a couple of other people for help, I still have a sense of apprehension, with no clear idea of where I’m headed. The MP in his jeep finally gives me definitive directions.

Arriving in the vicinity of the field of battle, scratched into the side of a crumbling brick wall is the familiar graffito “Kilroy was here.” I find a couple of signs that say something like “Only a little way to go” and “You’re almost there.” I wonder if these signs apply to me. I guess they must. It’s only later that I realize that there is more than one battlefield; luckily the signs were for my platoon. Had I instead taken a “right” at the intersection, I’d have ended up engaging the Scientologists, who are also deployed in the area – a worthy assignment to be sure, but not a part of my orders for this day.

Once I arrive, I overlook a vast array of numbered foxholes. Naturally, people see these numbers and assume this is their circuit number, so they often end up in enemy territory. Another example of the fog of war. Being the first in my squad to arrive, I immediately dig in and reconnoiter the area. The latrine is a mile away, with nary a Coke machine in site. Looks like I’m stuck with my canteen and C rations.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sound Familiar?

The following quote feels a lot like where some in the LCMS leadership are attempting to position the Synod. Quoted from Brent Kuhlman's "Oscar Feucht's Everyone a Minister: Pietismus Revivivus," as quoted in Dr. John C. Wohlrabe, Jr.'s paper "Doctrinal Integrity and Outreach Within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod":

The parallels between Everyone a Minister and pietism are unmistakable. Both Spener and Feucht offer proposals for reforming the church. Both of their proposals reflect a shift in theology from God’s objective external gifts [Word and Sacrament] to the subjectivity and activism of the believer.

For both Spener and Feucht the real center of the church’s life is not the divine service where Jesus delivers the benefits of his dying and rising through the preached gospel and the sacraments…For Feucht, the goal is changing the believer’s life so that he exercises his priesthood by doing his ministry of evangelism. When the believer carries out this one vocation, Christ is present, and an irrelevant church becomes a most relevant church….

The Pietism of Pia Desideria and Everyone a Minister is quite dangerous. The extra nos character of the preached gospel and the sacramental gospel are exchanged for an intra nos subjectivity and activism of the believer. This is a confusion of law and gospel that does not serve the church faithfully or well.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Quotable Blog Quotes #9

Quotable Quotes From Around the Blogosphere

One Lutheran ...AblogTM
Pastor Paul Beisel

I did not go to the seminary to learn how Church budgets work, or to learn how to be an administrator. I went to the seminary to study theology, to prepare for the Ministry of the Word. I am a preacher. I am a herald of God’s Word. Don’t expect me to be a great administrator. I’m not. It’s not my ’spiritual gift.’ If that means that I will only serve small parishes for the rest of my life, so be it.

The Brothers of John the Steadfast
Pastor Toby Byrd

As I witness the decline of orthodoxy within the LCMS I am more than ever committed to defending the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church against an ever encroaching adoption of what has become commonly known as a MethoBaptoPentocostal approach to worship and doctrine. Such an approach will have serious negative affects on what we believe, teach, and confess regarding the sacraments. It cannot be otherwise for the “Church Growth” movement does not subscribe to a Lutheran understanding of the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. They reject the truth that these are mysteries by which God has joined His Word of promise to a visible element in which He offers gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ. Moreover, they reject the presence of our Lord’s body and blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion, calling it simply a memorial of His death. Therefore, unless this encroachment of non-Lutheran doctrine is stopped, we can rest assured the LCMS will be no more confessional than our sister synod, the ELCA.

Extreme Theology
Chris Rosebrough

Paul gives thanks to God for the faith of church in Rome. This is the highest from of praise. Paul did not talk about what the church did but what they believe. Today, we hear that faith is not enough to please God, we have to more. This is not true faith since faith never requires anything else.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Case of Mistaken Identity?

It was pointed out to me by someone on Facebook, I think his name was P. Weedon or something like that, that the person in the photo signing the autograph in the previous blog post couldn’t be Pastor Wilken, because “Todd’s hair is gray and shortish, not brown and longish. :)”

I responded “Umm..., yeah, I think he was trying to recreate his high school look or something.” I’ll have to admit that was just speculation on my part. After admiring the photo for a bit longer I responded to P. Weedon, “I took another look at the photo. I guess I was wrong. It must be the lighting. I think I recognize the lady that Todd is providing the autograph for, and I'm pretty sure her hair is actually gray and shortish as well. It must be either the lighting or the camera 'exposure' setting!”

I’m willing to entertain the idea that it could be a case of mistaken identity. I make note of the fact that Pastor Wilken in the comments section of the previous post states “Definitely not me in the picture.” Still, there’s that nagging thought in the back of my head that he could be using that time honored celebrity tactic of “deny, deny, deny,” more formally know as plausible deniability. That doesn't really make sense though - after all, what's the harm in giving out a simple autograph?

The best way to solve the mystery is to let the reader decide. Here is a photo of Pastor Wilken that I’m sure is actually him, since I took it (unlike the photo in the previous post, taken by Thomas Hawk). Note the uncanny resemblance to the photo in the previous post. There’s no hint of the “shortish” hair that P. Weedon alluded to. Note the curly locks playfully flirting with the back of the jacket collar. The only disparity that remains unresolved is the question of gray or brown hair. Could it be the camera exposure? What do you think?

All right, I’ll admit it. It isn’t really Pastor Wilken in the previous post's photo. But wait! Maybe it’s Jeff!