Friday, October 8, 2010

Taking a Sabbath Rest

+ In Nomine Jesu +

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to
shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD
lift up his countenance upon you
and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26 ESV

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Doxology

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav'nly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Eternal Glory in Christ

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen."

1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Remain with the Word

From the August 1845 edition of Der Lutheraner, discussing Dr. Martin Luther’s final days:
At the conclusion of his last sermon, three days before his end, he took formal leave of his dear friends in Eisleben with the words: “Now after I have been here for quite a long period of time and have preached to you and now must depart and might preach no longer, so I want to bless you by this, and I have prayed that you would strive to remain with the Word, that your preachers and pastors would faithfully teach of God’s grace, and I commend you to pray that God would defend you against all the wise people and all people who despise the doctrine of the Gospel, for they have often caused great harm and still might.”

photo credit: chop1n

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Paradox Explained

Quoting from the paper of Dr. Robert D. Preus titled "Luther: Word, Doctrine, and Confession":

Luther stresses the "paradox" (contraria) by stating that the verdict of law and gospel are absolutely contradictory (contradictoria). He says, "These two things are diametrically opposed [ipsa ex diametro pugnant]: that a Christian is righteous and beloved by God, and yet he is a sinner at the same time. For God cannot deny His own nature. That is, He cannot avoid hating sin and sinners; and He does so by necessity, for otherwise He would be unjust and would love sin. Then how can these two contradictory things both be true at the same time, that I am a sinner and deserve divine wrath and hatred and that the Father loves me? Here nothing can intervene except Christ the Mediator." This last simple sentence explains the paradox. It explains the whole Christian religion. It explains the Scriptures. It is the secret to all exegesis of Scripture and all theologizing. It is the only comfort that a poor sinner has in life and in death. It is "Christ alone." So we have in the principle of solus Christus not only a hermeneutical rule, not only the basis for all comfort, not only the basis for our union with God and for reconciliation and salvation, but the principle of all human knowledge and understanding.

Preus, Robert D., “Luther: Word, Doctrine, and Confession.” Concordia Theological Quarterly 60.3 (1996): 175-228.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Lutheran Heritage Week

Last week, the other employees at the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod’s International Center drew straws to determine who would be assigned the unenviable task of informing President Harrison and Rev. Fritz Baue that it was Lutheran Heritage Week. You can take the boy out of the country…

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Gospel-Driven Life

Quoting Dr. Mike Horton, co-host of The White Horse Inn, on his October 26, 2009 appearance on Issues, Etc.:

Every one of us is going to have to give an account of our lives. We are going to be judged by works. Now the question is, whether we are going to cling to Christ and His works, or whether we are going to say “You know, I’m going to be my own lawyer here. I’m going to argue in my own defense. I’m gonna go ahead and wear those filthy rags to the courtroom.” The news on judgment day has already been delivered to those who have faith in Christ - we’ve already heard the verdict. Not only that we’re not guilty, but that we are perfectly holy, righteous, and acceptable in God’s sight because Jesus Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. There is therefore now, no condemnation, for those who are in Christ Jesus.

photo credit: jpc101

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Recoiling at the Thought

Quoting from Dr. Glenn E. Heubel's paper "A Forgotten Paradigm: The Theology of the Cross":

No theologian of the cross expects outward success to be a necessary fruit of his faithful labors in the Word. He knows very well that the outward results may well have been just the opposite. He knows that the Spirit works faith when and where He wills in those who hear the Gospel" (Augsburg Confession, Article V). The humble theologian of the cross knows how foolish it is to compare one ministry of the Word with [another], as if the results depended upon the preachers (2 Cor. 10:12), and he recoils at the thought of being regarded as faithful simply because he has impressive stats. In fact, outward success may cause a faithful pastor to do a soul searching evaluation of his ministry! He may well ask himself such questions as: Am I watering down or compromising the Word in order to be liked? Am I calling all people to repentance or am I preaching a cheap grace? Am I dealing with the specific sins of my people or am I dealing with the world's sin or only with sin in general? Am I preaching the whole counsel of God's Word or am I evading difficult doctrines which may cause me problems? Am I holding high the cross of Jesus Christ or am I "caressing the devil"? Outward success is unusual for those who preach the cross of Christ.

photo credit: jdbradley

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Golden Thread

Quoting from Rev. Rolf Preus's paper "Luther Revisited: The Doctrine of Justification Is Still the Issue":
The doctrine of church fellowship is not a matter of submitting to rules determined by the democratic processes of the synod to which we belong. It is a matter of confessing the pure gospel by which we sinners are saved from hell. The unionistic spirit is utterly incompatible with the Christian gospel. It holds the righteousness of Christ in contempt. We condemn religious unionism because we love the gospel of justification by faith alone. Why do Lutheran pastors promote participation in the Promise Keepers or similar organizations? Because they don't have enough rules on how to apply the doctrine of church fellowship? Of course not. They do it because they don't value the righteousness of Christ. If they did, they would teach their members to mark and avoid such gatherings.

Find a preacher who preaches Christ, His person, His work, His atonement, His righteousness reckoned to us, the forgiveness of sins, all within the context of preaching the law without any compromise, and you'll find someone opposed to religious unionism. The same faith which receives the righteousness of Jesus with which God clothes us is the faith which rejects the unionistic spirit of doctrinal indifference. The reason a Lutheran marks and avoids false doctrine and refuses to worship with those who don't is not because he has been sufficiently indoctrinated in his church's rules. Rather, it's a simple matter of love and hate. If you hate something, you don't express fellowship with it. If you love the pure teaching by which God has saved you, you hate the false teaching which can damn you.

And it is just this love for the gospel of justification that will find in every other article of Christian teaching the same golden thread of the righteousness of the God-man which covers us and renders us fit to enter into eternal life. Nothing is worth teaching, preaching, defending, or confessing, except for the sake of this truth which glorifies God as it reveals his mercy to poor, lost, undeserving sinners like you and me and thus saves us eternally.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Reviews of the 2010 LCMS National Youth Gathering

It’s nice that the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) thinks it’s important enough to minister to the youth of our Synod that we have the National Youth Gathering (NYG) every three years. There’s a lot of good things offered at the Gathering, but yet there were things this year that strayed from the teaching of Christ. The average congregant doesn’t know that there are theological problems with the NYG, and, given the chance, might not recognize those problems. We did not send our son to the NYG because of these problems, though he had the opportunity to attend. Instead, he taught Vacation Bible School to the First Nations people of central British Columbia. I don’t want my son being taught even a little generic Evangelical moralism or being taught that the Holy Spirit works through the rhythmic banging of a drum while in the care of the LCMS.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that those in charge of the NYG would see to it that proper doctrine is taught at this event in all of its venues, as Scripture tells us to do, yet that’s not always the case. Who is responsible for determining if our children are being properly taught? Ultimately, it is we, the parents. For those of you who might not recognize all of the error being taught and are concerned about the spiritual well-being of your kids, assembled below are blog posts, a podcast, and a video which review some of the problems at the 2010 NYG. As an alternative to the NYG I would suggest Higher Things, a Recognized Service Organization of the LCMS which will properly catechize your children, offering yearly events and much more.

Timotheos, who is one of the authors of the blog Balaam’s Ass, offers a decent summary in his comment on a speaker at one of the mass events:

But the worst of it was that when she talked about her daughter being in heaven, she said it was because she had given her life to the Lord. (Could it be that Baptist worship leads to a Baptist theology of conversion? Just asking.) Frankly, that’s simply not true. Her daughter is not in heaven because she gave her life to the Lord; she is in heaven because Jesus gave His life for her. That’s not just semantics; it’s the difference between heaven and hell, comfort and despair, life and death. It matters how we talk, and if we do not recognize how foreign the thought of “giving our life to Jesus” is to ”grace alone,” then we have ceased to be Lutheran. And that’s fine–if you don’t want to be Lutheran. But how is it acceptable for a Lutheran woman, married to a Lutheran pastor, to say things like that to teenagers who have friends who believe that salvation happens exactly how she worded it? It matters how we talk, because, ultimately, we will think and believe the same as what we say. Ask a liturgical scholar how many times the liturgy changed before the doctrine. It’s not my personal bias, it’s a fact.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lutheran Piety?

A mighty fortress is our God!

photo credit: A-Wix

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Church Growth and Persecution: Like Two Peas in a Pod

“The enmity of the world in his [St. Paul’s] estimation augurs well for the success and growth of the Church, which fares best in times of persecution.”

The following quote comes from Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, Chapter 5, verse 11, gleaned from Project Wittenberg:

VERSE 11. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offense of the cross ceased.

In his great desire to recall the Galatians, Paul draws himself into the argument. He says: "Because I refuse to recognize circumcision as a factor in our salvation, I have brought upon myself the hatred and persecution of my whole nation. If I were to acknowledge circumcision the Jews would cease to persecute me; in fact they would love and praise me. But because I preach the Gospel of Christ and the righteousness of faith I must suffer persecution. The false apostles know how to avoid the Cross and the deadly hatred of the Jewish nation. They preach circumcision and thus retain the favor of the Jews. If they had their way they would ignore all differences in doctrine and preserve unity at all cost. But their unionistic dreams cannot be realized without loss to the pure doctrine of the Cross. It would be too bad if the offense of the Cross were to cease." To the Corinthians he expressed the same conviction: "Christ sent me. . .to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." (I Cor. 1:17.)

Here someone may be tempted to call the Christians crazy. Deliberately to court danger by preaching and confessing the truth, and thus to bring upon ourselves the hatred and enmity of the whole world, is this not madness? But Paul does not mind the enmity of the world. It made him all the bolder to confess Christ. The enmity of the world in his estimation augurs well for the success and growth of the Church, which fares best in times of persecution. When the offense of the Cross ceases, when the rage of the enemies of the Cross abates, when everything is quiet, it is a sign that the devil is the door-keeper of the Church and that the pure doctrine of God's Word has been lost.

photo credit: Dayna McIsaac

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Evangelism the Lutheran Way

Quoting from Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller's article "A Lutheran Theology of Evangelism, Some Theses," posted on the Hope Lutheran Church website:

..."Evangelism Training" will be nothing more than continued study and meditation on the proper distinction between law and Gospel.

...the central act of Evangelism is not asking the unbeliever to come to Jesus, but rather, in the name of Jesus, forgiving their sins. Evangelism is the Church speaking the Absolution to the World.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What, not How

I love the note for Article X of the Augsburg Confession in A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord. It pretty much says it all:

Note: By the time the Augsburg Confession was written, deep divisions had arisen among the various reformers concerning the Lord’s Supper. The Lutherans were very careful to distance themselves from those who reject that the body and blood of Christ are in fact truly present in His Supper and distributed to all those who eat and drink. Transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or any other human speculation asks the wrong question: how is Christ present? Lutheranism has no theory or philosophical explanation of how Christ is present. Rather, Lutherans insist on answering the what of the Lord’s Supper. We believe, teach, and confess that of the bread, Christ said, “This is My body,” and of the wine, “This is My blood.” These are given and shed “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26–28). We reject any teaching that is contrary to our Lord’s Word.

Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (Edited by Paul Timothy McCain) (35). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Are You Fully Devoted?

It seems that you won’t be taken seriously as a congregation any more unless you have a mission statement – the Holy Spirit can’t possibly act without your mission statement. I bumped into this one not long ago on an LCMS church’s website:

Our mission statement is: Sharing God’s Hope by doing whatever it takes for God to transform people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

For the sake of the parishioners of this particular congregation, I sure hope that none of them are my neighbors, or their gonna be in for a miserable experience. I can assure you that no matter what they do, up to and including “whatever it takes,” I’m never going to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. I’m a poor miserable sinner, and until I’m dead, my status will remain a poor miserable sinner. I’ve discovered that the “miserable sinner” in me always gets in the way of the “fully devoted” idea. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’m too enthused about the whole “fully devoted” program – that sure sounds like a two-tiered Christianity to me, an idea with zero Biblical support. I must report that I’ll always remain, this side of heaven, in the “fully forgiven sinner” category. But that’s something I can deal with, because I know I already have eternal life, since Christ’s atoning work on the cross is in the bank and I’m declared righteous even while in my current “miserable sinner” state.

While we’re on the topic, are they really going to do whatever it takes? Will they lie to make sure you’re transformed, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Will they try flirty fishing? Or will it just be puppets in the Divine Service? And who’s doing the transformation, them or God? It seems like it’s a little of both.

The other thought that comes to mind is the fully devoted Christ follower might be devoted to environmentalism and social justice, following the politically correct Jesus rather than the Jesus who is prophet, priest, and king. This confusion is what makes mission statements a dicey proposition. You can bet they were well-intentioned when they wrote their statement, yet it falls well short of a suitable Lutheran ideal. A little like testimonials, the mission statement often turns the words inward on the Christian rather than focusing on the redemption found at the cross.

I’ll close this post out with Paul’s mission statement. While not as succinct as the one above, it still seems like a decent roadmap to follow:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 ESV

Or if that's too long for you, Acts 2:42 works nicely as well:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

photo credit: Cowtools

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stuck On You!

Last month we took the Friday morning rail to Seattle just for the fun of it, a 47 minute ride, and walked around in downtown Seattle. Here's the results:

The train, called the Sounder, at the Puyallup station.

Zach (in green) pondering relativity as another train speeds past on the southbound track.

What Wilken would wear.

Inside the Seattle Public Library. Definitely worth a visit, but you need to be adventuresome to discover all that this library has to offer.

Do you think the SPL has "Orange Chair Videos" like the LCMS convention's "Red Chair Videos?"

Zach downloading knowledge.

Paige and Cheryl figuring out where we're goin' next.

But wait! Click on "Continue Reading >>" to continue the odyssey to Seattle's fabulous gum wall.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Opening Old Wounds – A Shocking, Frank, Unrepentant Admission Revisited

I was sitting at my keyboard minding my own business yesterday when I received an email from Facebook which contained the following:

Frank Gillespie commented on your post.

Frank wrote:
"I can't remember, is that a picture of my two Ablaze! bracelets or did you get two of your own?"

Frank is referring to yesterday’s post in which I posted a photo of two Ablaze! bracelets. I find this whole conversation offensive. It’s like rubbing salt into an open wound. What’s all the hubbub about? It harkens back to a post I made a long while ago on The Wittenberg Trail. Frank just can’t seem to drop it. Here’s a copy of the original post:

Frank, at Putting Out the Fire, yesterday made an unbelievable admission. Now don’t get me wrong. Frank is a perfectly respectable guy. He even spends his free time as a volunteer fireman. But you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Here is what Frank has admitted to, broken down into three parts for ease of reading:

1) He actually owns an Ablaze!® bracelet.
2) He admits to wearing it.
3) He even mentions the time and place where he wore said bracelet.

The Horror! The Horror!

My question to you, fellow Wittenberg Trail travelers, is this:

Where do you where your Ablaze!® bracelet?

Of course, I was spring loaded to comment thusly regarding Frank’s Facebook barb:

No pietist sits behind this keyboard Frank - those are your own Ablaze! bracelets, straight from your shocking, frank, unrepentant admission!

For the rest of you pietists out there, I just checked the Ablaze! Movement Resource Exchange Bulletin Board. You can still get your own Ablaze! bracelet here, but remember to order at least two, because the page advises to “carry extras to give someone who asks about it, allowing you to share the message of Jesus Christ & Ablaze (Luke 24:32).” Nothing oozes Gospel like a bracelet that says “ABLAZE! TM” on one side and “” on the other. Don't leave home without it!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Outreach Gone Awry?

The Northwest District’s Northwest Passage reported on the Blessing of the Animals at Portland’s Zion Lutheran Church last May. As part of this outreach experience, you could bring in your favorite dog, cat, parakeet, or boa constrictor, and have them blessed (leash or cage required). As the announcement in the church’s newsletter said, “We know what a blessing the pets are to us; now it’s time for us to ask God’s blessing for them!”

This seems a bit on the gimmicky side to me, sort of like an Ablaze! bracelet. Not really befitting of Christ’s Church. Plus, the Vulcan utterance “Live long and prosper” seems to work just fine for our dog - dogs respond to signing commands more readily anyway.

If you really want to have a day of blessing for something practical, my first choice would be a day of blessing for my fleet of PCs, not my pet. I've had way more problems with computers than I've ever had with my dog. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I Shall Not Die

"I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD."

Psalms 118:17 ESV

Monday, September 13, 2010

With a Little Help from My Friends

Life wouldn’t be nearly as pleasurable if we didn’t have friends with which to joke around, to share our joys and sorrows, and of course, to discuss theology. With that in mind, here’s a few highlights for me. This is only a representative sampling. If your name isn’t on the list but should be, rest assured I haven’t forgotten you.


• to pastors who faithfully deliver Word and Sacrament, in spite of the world’s enticements to look elsewhere.

• to Pastor Tom Chryst, who holds the singular distinction of being the first person to post something I’d written.

• to you for reading.

• to the Cantankerous Curmudgeon for his counsel.

• to Kari Anderson for all her hard work.

• to Todd, Jeff, and Craig.

• to our friends who watch Fox News into the wee hours of the morning with us and still get up early and make chocolate chip pancakes.

• to Jim Pierce, for answering multiple computer questions and patiently awaiting my arrival while I’m stuck in traffic.

• to my biking friend who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and keeps me entertained with random text messages on aviation.

• to Rev. Charles Mueller and Rev. Mark Louderback for enthralling us with their captivating quest to perfect the art of the große Lüge.

• to Pastor Thomas Messer for his willingness to stay up late.

• to Frank, for his always-vigilant volunteer fireman status.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17 ESV

photo credit: __Olga__

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ah, that Feels Good!

What feels good? Life with something other than an Ablaze! logo.

As reported yesterday by Dr. Al Collver on his blog The ABC3s of Miscellany:

Today, at the LCMS Board and Commission Orientation, "Witness, Mercy, and Life Together" was presented as a way to describe the work of the Synod using Biblical categories and themes. Witness, Mercy, and Life Together is the English phrase chosen for the Greek words Martyría, Diakonía, and Koinōnía. These activities describe the work of the church and are centered on the cross of Jesus. Martyría describes the witness, proclamation work (missions) of the church. Diakonía describes the church's work as a servant of mercy to those in need (human care). Koinōnía describes the church's life together with all its accompanying activities such as worship, schools, seminaries, church relations, et al.

I look forward to many more days of refreshment as we explore together as a synod God's gifts of martyría, diakonía, and koinōnía.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Future GQ Cover Models?

Who's the two dudes? One is our son Zach and the other is our other son Nodoka. You didn't know we had two sons? We didn't either until two weeks ago, when we decided to "adopt" a foreign exchange student for the year. Nodaka is from Ogawa Town, Saitama, Japan, which is about an hour by train to the north of Tokyo. He's a junior in high school and is attending the same Lutheran high school that Zach attends.

Nodoka is rapidly adjusting to his new home and culture. We're corrupting him with American food - there's not that much rice in the Diekmann diet, but we do eat a fair amount of fish. He wasn't too impressed though with the oatmeal I made him for breakfast yesterday. We are cosmopolitan enough to have chopsticks in the house. I offered them to Nodoka but he declined.

He likes music, and brought his electric guitar with him, but fortunately not the amp. Actually, he plays it very well. He also plays varying degrees of trombone, trumpet, saxophone, keyboard, flute, drums, and who knows what else. With Zach on his tenor sax and Nodoka on bass guitar, we've got the beginnings of a pretty solid jazz band. He says he wants to be on the baseball team at school too. He hasn't played in a couple of years, and says he can throw hard but doesn't have any control.

Like most of the Japanese people, Nodoka says he isn't Christian or any other religion, but he's happy to go to church with us. He does a great job singing the hymns - he can sight read the music and does a pretty good job with pronunciation. And since God's Word is powerful, I'm hopeful that the Word will work on his heart and we'll be sending a missionary back to Japan in June. We're excited to have Nodoka. Stop by and say "hi."

Last Friday we went to a Mariners game in Seattle. Here's a few of the pics.

We sat about a dozen rows up by the right field foul pole. I chose those seats because that's Area 51. (For you non-Mariners, Ichiro's number is #51, and since he plays right field, they call it Area 51. As Nodoka says "Ichiro is Japanese hero.")

After having a look at this, I'm not that enthused about eating cod.

Nodoka at the gum wall thinking "I'd look really good on that bike." (More on the gum wall next week.)

Two young men looking to the future.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Building a Bigger Pipeline

If you're a Thrivent member and you recently received a mailing regarding Choice Dollars, might I suggest directing those funds to Issues, Etc.? Just select Lutheran Public Radio as your preferred organization and you're all set. These are monies which Thrivent donates, not money that comes out of your own pocket, and you can set it up so that they route your selection into the Lutheran Public Radio pipeline on a recurring basis! An easy way to ensure that Christ-centered cross-focused talk radio continues to thrive. Of course, they're still taking direct donations as well. Send that big fat check to

Lutheran Public Radio
P.O. Box 912
Collinsville, IL 62234

photo credit: David C. Foster

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Oh Give Thanks Unto the Lord

Now is always a good time to give thanks:

Of David. I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased. All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.
Psalms 138:1-8 ESV

I give thanks on this day for all of my Christian friends, brothers and sisters in Christ joined together by water and blood.

I give thanks for God’s wondrous creation that sustains our bodies and expounds His glory. I give thanks for curiosity and joy, for art and music. I give thanks for my God-given vocations, through which I can serve my neighbor. I give thanks for the opportunity God has given me to serve the Gospel through this blog.

I give thanks for you.

Oh give thanks unto the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever.

photo credit: Timothy K. Hamilton

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

More of the Same

Around the beginning of the year the LCMS Northwest District's Northwest Passage newsletter had a plug for their media library, so I stopped by and had a look. What I found was more than a little disconcerting, with offerings in the library from Beth Moore, and 23 of 24 of Rob Bell's Nooma series DVD's. At the same time in February that I was emailing District President Diefenthaler about the mysticism and enthusiasm running rampant in the prayer practices of the Southeastern District I also emailed Northwest District President Paul Linnemann about the Nooma videos.

I sent emails to President Linnemann in February and March of this year and received no response. After that I called the District office in April and left President Linnemann a message; shortly thereafter he emailed me back. I wasn't surprised that he related that he was incredibly busy, especially since having just been elected to his position. He stated that he was interested in the resources which the District makes available to its congregations, and was going to delegate the investigation of this issue to someone he trusted. I figure five months is a reasonable length of time to review a single series of videos and make a decision, yet the videos remain on the library list. I assume this fell through the cracks. I'd have to say though, if I were the District President and somebody came to me pointing out a resource that they thought taught false doctrine, I wouldn't be able to scramble over my desk fast enough to find the librarian and the webmaster and remove the offending materials until they were properly reviewed.

In an effort to get the word out to those who are being exposed to Pastor Bell's false teaching, I'm offering to you the same thing I wrote to District President Linnemann, minus the pleasantries at the front and back ends of the email. There are 24 videos in the Nooma series, each around 12-15 minutes long. I watched every one of them online, most on YouTube. Email me if you'd like exact references and I'll dig them up for you. Here's what I told President Linnemann:

Rob Bell is one of the leading lights in the Emerging Church and is Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. He a very influential guy, especially among younger postmodern types, and if you watch any of the Nooma videos you’ll see why. (I watched all of the videos, which are also available on the internet.) He really has an amazing ability to teach, being very personable and engaging, using metaphors that are first rate. He’s got a great personality – I enjoy his wry sense of humor. Unfortunately, it’s the “what” of what he’s teaching that is of concern.

Pastor Bell uses many of the same terms we would use - sin, love, truth, forgiveness, but he has redefined them. You can see this right away when you look at the “soundbite” on the home page of

Jesus lived with the awareness that God is doing something, right here, right now, and anybody can be a part of it. He encouraged his listeners to search, to question, to wrestle with the implications of what he was saying and doing. He inspired, challenged, provoked, comforted, and invited people to be open to God’s work in this world. Wherever he went, whatever he did, Jesus started discussions about what matters most, because for Jesus, God is always inviting us to open our eyes and join in.

It never gets any better than that. For Pastor Bell, Jesus is all about now, a savior sent to show us a better way to live. “What matters most” to Pastor Bell isn’t justification, it’s life in the here and now. For him, there is no original sin. Sin is failing to help out the “least of these,” or walking around angry: “He created you to be free from anger and revenge.” Without original sin, there’s no need for a suffering Savior. Instead, we’re in need of a little tweaking here and there, but basically we’re all good:

“Faith in Jesus is important, but what about Jesus faith in us?”

“God loves everybody. “

“Nothing can separate you from the love of God. May your whole life be a response to the fact that you’ve always been loved.”

“May you believe in God, but may you come to see that God believes in you. May you have faith in Jesus, but may you come to see that Jesus has faith, and you can be.…”

And since we’re all loved by God and all we need is a little behavior modification, everyone is saved:

“The divine breath is flowing through you, and the person next to you. There’s a holiness in the people around you.”

“A person doesn’t have to agree with this for it already to be true.”

“This isn’t a statement about one religion being better than all the other religions.”

And since we’re obviously saved, there’s no room for hell in Pastor Bell’s theology. There is room for mysticism however:

“Still small voice. God was in the silence.”

“Maybe the healing and guidance [not forgiveness] we desperately need is not going to come from one more meeting or therapy session or sermon or self-help book but from simply listening for the voice of God.”

“When Jesus prayed He’s tapping into this divine creative energy that made everything.”

“Prayer is tapping into the same energy that formed the universe.”

There’s also room for the popular assignment of female characteristics to God:

“This is a feminine image for God.”

“God is a Spirit. God is in essence beyond male and female. There is a feminine dimension to God.”

Pastor Bell preaches a social gospel and liberation theology:

“Jesus has identified Himself with an injustice larger than himself. There’s something divine about his anger because some things are worth getting angry about. Which is more disturbing? A God who gets angry or a God who can see exploitation and abuse and injustice and not get angry. War, violence, somebody using their strength to take advantage of the weakness of another. God is love and when a human is abused, mistreated, dehumanized, there is going to be divine anger. The kind that identifies with anybody that is being mistreated or harmed.”

“There’s so many people with basic needs like food and shelter and clothing, and we have the resources to help them.”

“Our lives are either more and more about us, more stuff, more unsatisfying consumption, or we’re on a different path, and this is why Jesus talked so much about serving.”

The above quotes are representative of what he’s teaching. In the interest of time, I didn’t reference which film each quote came from, and they may not be completely word-for-word accurate since I haven’t double checked them. If you’d like to quote any of them, let me know and I can verify them and provide the proper reference. I’ve also read Pastor Bell’s book Velvet Elvis, and his teachings there are consistent with his teachings in Nooma, it’s not something I’m reading into the videos. He preaches a social gospel that is devoid of the true Gospel. It’s about works apart from the grace of God procured for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection. There’s no sin, no hell, and no need for a Savior, only a world that needs to be fixed up, and we’re here to do it.

From this sampling, it’s obvious that what Pastor Bell is teaching is inimical to the Gospel. It appeals to the old Adam’s desire to be in control of his own destiny via the works superhighway. Sometimes this is readily apparent and at other times it’s subtle. There are spots where he relates things well and preaches bits and pieces of articles of faith that you might think are orthodox if taken out of context, but within the scheme of the whole Nooma series, it is heterodox teaching and not suitable for consumption. If anyone catechized by Pastor Bell is saved, I’d think it’s because of felicitous inconsistency. Therefore, I’m hopeful that you will remove the Nooma series from the library. Its potential for spiritual harm is great.

Let me know what you think, and thanks for your time.

That pretty well sums up Rob Bell and his Nooma series. You can draw your own conclusions on why this type of material would be on a District website. From where I type, it seems like an undiscerning flaunting of "relevant" but false teaching at the expense of the truth.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Gospel According to Starbucks?

I wonder if Starbucks has a cup with the true Gospel on it?

photo credit: Colin Purrington

Friday, September 3, 2010

Noteworthy Business Cards

I was digging through a drawer and came across a few business cards that I thought you might be interested in.

A card that might seem a little out of place in Nebraska, but not in Seattle.

The back side of the same card.

The card of a former patient of mine.

One of my friends owns this bar.

A patient gave me this one while I was a resident at Denver General Hospital in, you guessed it, Denver. I used to make frequent trips to the emergency room to piece people back together again, DG being the big trauma hospital in Denver. There was a book published about the emergency room there. The title: The Knife and Gun Club. That was no exaggeration. For years after I left that hospital, any time I smelled alcohol, I was immediately reminded of the smell of blood as well. Too many sleepless nights treating gunshot wounds, car accident "victims," and people who had their faces rearranged by their buddies. The fun part was doing forensics on the customers down in the morgue - those patients held still much better than their drunk counterparts up in the ER.

We met Lloyd while on the beach at Brown's Point in Tacoma. He was salmon fishing and we were goofing off. I like his homemade card. The motorcycle dude was made with a rubber stamp and the "Lloyd" was added with a typewriter. The only other thing on the card was his phone number, which I omitted for privacy purposes.

If you ever need a book on apologetics or especially cults, Rich is the guy to call. They rent a house that's filled with books on every cult imaginable. By filled, I don't mean a few shelves here and there - I mean there's mostly no furniture other than some tables and shelves and a desk and everything else is books stacked floor to ceiling, every room, including the basement. You can just barely walk through the place. I don't know how Rich finds anything, but he seems to know right where everything is. Some day I need to go back and take a few photos. It's the only way you'd believe it.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Getting Used to the New Pic

As you may or may not have noticed, yesterday was the first day of the changing of the guard at the International Center of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. You should get used to the new pic (which I swiped off the President’s page of the LCMS website – I feel reasonably certain our new President won’t come after me).

I like the ‘stache on that “mug.” Kind of irreverent for the second day of our new President, Matthew C. Harrison, isn’t it? Let it be known, as the two or three of you who read this blog regularly I’m sure have already figured out, that I only make fun of those people whom I admire and am friends with. I guess you should be thankful if I don’t know you.

So now that I’m in this jovial mood, I’ll go ahead and continue my train of thought. Another person deserving a little “attention” is Dr. Albert B. Collver III. I knew Dr. Collver’s title when he was still at the now-defunct LCMS World Relief and Human Care, but now that he’s got some fancy new title I can’t remember what it is – hang on, I’ll look it up. O.K. I’m back. It’s a good thing I looked, because it’s really two titles: “Dr. Albert B. Collver III, Director of Church Relations and Assistant to the President.” I wonder if he gets double pay since he’s got two titles? If he doesn’t get double pay, maybe we can start a petition. It could be the first petition of President Harrison’s young presidency.

On his blog The ABC3s of Miscellany, Dr. Collver has a few pics of the move into the new digs at the International Center, including photos of President Harrison, 1st Vice-President Herb Mueller, Mrs. Barbara Below, Assistant to the President, Rev. Jon Vieker, Senior Assistant to the President, and himself. I’d have to say that President Harrison has a lot of books, VP Mueller is looking pretty sharp, and Barb Below’s desk is way too small.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dr. Collver, he’s been on Issues, Etc. a couple of times in the past year, including an appearance discussing the Haitian relief efforts and an excellent interview on the relationship between the ordination of women and the ordination of homosexuals.

I’m looking forward to the days ahead as this group of humble people serve the LCMS.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Luther on Leadership

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther:

I cannot guide myself, and yet would fain guide the world! Many a time I have made fine articles and rules, and brought them to our Lord God to guide Him. But the good God has let me see in the end how all my mastering has come to nothing.

Elizabeth Charles, Watchwords for the Warfare of Life. From Dr. Martin Luther (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1869) 156.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bored? Try One of These LCMS Events

Maybe you’re looking for a stiff challenge to fine tune your apologetics skills, or maybe you like the sound of the Latin phrase opinio legis, or maybe, let’s be really honest here, you’re tired of the same old Lutheran Word and Sacrament gig and want to do something that will take your faith to the next level. If so, have I got a deal for you. Here are three upcoming events that may be just what you’re looking for, courtesy of various groups in the LCMS:

If you’d like to be taught by a man whose world view is based on his belief that God is in everything (panentheism), check out the South Wisconsin District’s upcoming Professional Growth Workshop featuring Dr. Leonard Sweet. Personally, I believe that Dr. Sweet’s worldview will influence his ideas on education in a negative way. My two kids attended Lutheran schools for a total of twenty years. They turned out pretty good in spite of the fact that none of the three Lutheran schools we attended were enlightened by Leonard Sweet’s ideas. For a good review of Dr. Sweet’s futuristic ideas, check out Pastor Ken Silva’s blog post “Emergence Christianity: Quantum Shift to Panentheism,” and a portion of Warren B. Smith’s book A Wonderful Deception.

If you’d like to improve your life by embracing the false idea that the driving force in your own sanctification is you, and Christianity will make your life better and better, be sure to catch Beth Moore’s “Living Proof Live” Fall 2010 simulcast by giving Our Savior Lutheran Church in Tacoma, Washington a call. This event will be less burdensome if you’ve managed to expunge from your conscience God’s command to ordain only women. To hear more about Beth Moore, read what Susan Disston has to say in Modern Reformation Magazine, or listen to Ellie Corrow on this segment of Issues, Etc.

If you’d like to link up with others who believe that God works without means (enthusiasm), the Northwest District’s prayer retreat, put on by the Center for Prayer Renewal looks like a safe bet. They’re looking for people interested in “deepening their Spiritual Formation” through such practices as quieting exercises, mediation, lectio divina, and the Jesus Prayer. For a review of enthusiasm and the whole spiritual formation process check out all of last week’s posts here at Stand Firm.

What does this mean? Be a Berean. The Bereans verified that what the apostle Paul himself said agreed with Scripture. In the case of these three events, you can probably figure out that they won’t agree with Scripture before you ever get there. Save yourself the money you’d spend on gas and buy something that properly distinguishes Law and Gospel, possibly Concordia Publishing House’s latest offering of C.F.W. Walther’s classic Law & Gospel. It’ll be money well spent.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Impersonating a Christian

Out here on the left coast, Mormons are as thick as ticks on a dog’s back, as we used to say back on the farm. Alright – I didn’t really live on a farm but I did grow up in Nebraska and a lot of my relatives were farmers, so I spent plenty of time there. Anyway, we see a lot of Mormons around the Seattle area. They’re easy to spot because they’re the two guys who seem oddly out of place. Find another set of two guys in black pants, white shirt with tie, name tag that says “ELDER” (even though they’re twenty-somethings) and they’re on bikes! In our household we call them the “Mormon patrol.”

Don’t get me wrong. We love the Mormon patrol. I sometimes stop and say “hi” to them. Address them as “elder” and you’re friends for life. Mormons are very nice people. We’ve got friends out here who are Mormons that we send Christmas cards to and Mormon friends in Salt Lake City where we lived for two years. Great people – but when it comes to theology, while they want to be part of the Christian “club,” they don’t meet the membership requirements.

The vexing thing about this is that the Mormon patrol will come to your door and do their very best to make it look like their beliefs are just like yours, so that you can be assimilated into the collective hive of Mormonism. But their beliefs and Christian beliefs are worlds apart. My friend Pastor Ken Silva, a Baptist pastor and a heckuva good apologist, does an excellent job of describing the Mormon Jesus on his blog Apprising Ministries titled “The Jesus of Glenn Beck.” As Pastor Silva points out, Christians don’t believe that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers like the Mormons do. We do believe in the Trinity, which the Mormons don’t. Knowing who Jesus is is absolutely critical – “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins" (John 8:24 ESV).

You might just want to keep Pastor Silva’s post handy, and read it to the Mormon missionaries the next time they show up at your door. It’s an easy way to demonstrate the difference between the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus of the Book of Mormon. As the Athanasian Creed says, "Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance...." As always, be nice, be patient, invite them back, and speak the truth in love.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mysticism in the SED: Part 5, Closing the Door

Therefore, mindful of our duty (we know this has been divinely commanded to us) we think that we should apply ourselves diligently to the work of attacking the false teachings that have been spread in our provinces and realms. Such teachings are gradually gaining favor for themselves in the manner and familiarity of the people. We should see to it that the subjects in our government may persevere in the straight way of godliness [Hebrews 12:13] and in the truth of the heavenly doctrine (Preface to the Book of Concord).
We concluded Part 4 after reviewing quotations from some of the authors the SED (Southeastern District of the LCMS) recommends. These authors speak about conversations with “God,” altered states of consciousness, and an embrace of eastern practices and beliefs. These seem like things that are unlikely to entangle a bunch of generally non-charismatic Lutherans, but are they?

Luther warns us in the Smalcald articles that “it is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments.” The fantastic claim is made in the SED workshops that people contact the Holy Spirit through such means as journaling, or contemplative prayer, or dreams. Since these techniques are done without the Word or the Sacraments, the responses received while practicing these techniques are not from God, they are from the devil. When God is sought where He does not promise to be found, you are at best creating your own idol via a theology of glory, and at worst, you may be carrying on a conversation with Satan. For example, sitting in silence while trying to avoid conscious thought will open your mind to contact by Satan’s demons rather than the Triune God. What evidence is there of this in the case of the SED? The facilitator of the workshop that Frank Gillespie attended, SED Director for Spiritual Life Rev. Arthur Umbach, may be used as an example.

Rev. Umbach related to the workshop attendees the following encounter, as reported by Frank Gillespie, who taped the workshop:
After recounting a visit from Christ who told him that He will always [sic] with him in everything he does (we were assured that this was indeed Scriptural) in one of his dreams the presenter recommended [38:47] that the easiest way to remember our dreams might be to start journaling and after some practice we could learn to remember our dreams. The presenter recommended [40:25] several books for our reading in the hope that we might not limit God in how he communicates with us. He said that dream work was next to impossible alone and recommended we seek out a spiritual director.
Regarding journaling, Rev. Umbach made the following statement:
You do this in a time of prayer. And when I look back at some of those dialogues after I’m finished, I don’t remember writing what God said. I can not explain that, but God sometimes basically takes a hold of it, my hand and writes what is there, I believe that. Now I can’t explain it at all. But Ben (the presenter’s spiritual director) encouraged me to do that as well with my dreams.
These things are not of God, they are of the devil. God does not communicate with us through dreams. He doesn’t grab hold of your hand during an altered state of consciousness and cause you to involuntarily write down what He’d like you to know. There’s a dictionary definition for this demonic activity – automatic writing. The Encarta Dictionary defines it as “the production of writing while in a trance or similar state as an attempt to make contact with the writer's unconscious or telepathically with a supposed spirit.” (For a more adventuresome look at automatic writing, check out the discussion at Creepy Hollows Forum.) There is no Christian form of automatic writing. Shouldn’t this be obvious to a Lutheran?

Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, during a recent appearance on Issues, Etc., had this to say about mystical practices:
Do you hear the voice of Jesus in this mystical experience…? Well that’s not the voice of Jesus. …It’s not this mystical experience, this mysticism, which is a kind of form of Gnosticism, and it’s just rampant in Evangelicalism. Everything is internalized. And it’s terrible. It’s not just wrong, it’s soul-destroying wrong, because now, I mean I go around listening for Jesus and these mystical experiences, and this, I don’t think is just, is not only open to the deception of our own emotions and our own state but it’s open to the deception of the devil, because if the devil can get you believing that you hear the Lord’s Word when you feel something, then oh man, this spiritual destruction that can result from that is just catastrophic.
Remember the door in Part 1 that the SED is opening? The mystical one? Unlike The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling, who posited that there was a land of both shadow and substance, things and ideas beyond the door, this “Christian” mysticism attempts to move beyond the realm of words and ideas, as mystic Thomas Merton points out:
Personally, in matters where dogmatic beliefs differ, I think that controversy is of little value because it takes us away from the spiritual realities into the realm of words and ideas words there are apt to be infinite complexities and subtleties which are beyond resolution.... But much more important is the sharing of the experience of divine light.... (A Time of Departing, p. 60)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mysticism in the SED: Part 4, Full of Things from the East

For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of things from the east… Isaiah 2:6a ESV

After examining both Luther’s and Pieper’s warnings regarding the dangers of Enthusiasm, we will now take a look at what the SED’s recommended reading list provides for our continuing spiritual direction. Their list of authors reads like a “Who’s Who” of mystical / contemplative aficionados from across the world and throughout time. You unlikely to find a less discerning list of reading materials – presented to the student without a single caution or word of warning. They recommend you read mystics of old such as the anonymous monk who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing, plus Brother Lawrence, Francis de Sales, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila, as well as modern day mystics such as Ruth Haley Barton, Henry Blackaby, Anthony DeMello, Tilden Edwards, Richard Foster, Charles de Foucauld, Thomas Keating, Morton Kelsey, Gerald May, Thomas Merton, M. Robert Mulholland, Henri Nouwen, Parker Palmer, Leanne Payne, Basil Pennington, Eugene Peterson, Philip St. Romain, and Philip Yancey.

Found below are quotes and discussion on fourteen of these authors, all from Mr. Ray Yungen’s excellent book A Time of Departing: How Ancient Mystical Practices are Uniting Christians with the World’s Religions (Lighthouse Trails Publishing Company, 2002). All emphases and brackets are Ray’s. Included with the quotes of the first three authors are Ray’s comments. The remaining group of 11 authors are quotes of the individual authors only.

The first author discussed is Philip St. Romain, chosen because Ray uses him as a poster boy for contemplative / mystical practices. Following that are discussion and quotes on Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. Note that the SED naively gives both of them a hearty endorsement, recommending all of the works of these two authors. It will be very apparent from the quotes that none of these authors should be recommended without a warning to read with discernment.
What commonality do these authors have? An eastern form of mysticism that seeks God in the silence, rather than where He promises to be found, in His Word and Sacraments. When you look in the wrong place, you receive the wrong answer. In this case, the “answer” is that all is one, and all is God. Mantras, seeking God in the silence, altered states of consciousness, conversations with “God,” a mystical union of all created things, universalism, and a general embrace of non-Christian eastern practices and beliefs. As you read through these quotes, ask yourself if these authors should be recommended for the “spiritual formation” of Christians.

For a brief hint of where you’re headed, consider this excerpt from the SED’s “Prayer and Spirituality Resources” page, endorsing recommended author Anthony de Mello’s book Sadhana: A Way to God:

“Sadhana” is an Indian word rich in meanings, such as discipline, technique, spiritual exercise, one’s own personal means for approaching God. This book presents many such exercises to lead the person who uses it into the path of prayer and contemplation. The book thoughtfully and practically blends insights and techniques from sources such as Scripture and Christian teaching, modern psychology, and the traditions of Eastern and Western spiritual masters.

Quotes from SED Workshop Recommended Authors

Philip St. Romain

     Many Christians might have great difficulty accepting the assessment that what is termed Christian mysticism is, in truth, not Christian at all. They might feel this rejection is spawned by a heresy hunting mentality that completely ignores the love and devotion to God that also accompanies the mystical life. To those who are still skeptical, I suggest examining the writings of Philip St. Romain, who wrote a book about his journey into contemplative prayer called Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality. This title is revealing because Kundalini is a Hindu term for the mystical power or force that underlies Hindu spirituality. In Hinduism it is commonly referred to as the serpent power.
     St. Romain, a substance abuse counselor and devout Catholic lay minister, began his journey while practicing contemplative prayer of resting in the still point, as he called it. What happened to him following this practice should bear the utmost scrutiny from the evangelical community—especially from its leadership. The future course of evangelical Christianity rests on whether St. Romain’s path is just a fluke or if it is the norm for contemplative spirituality.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mysticism in the SED: Part 3, What Did Pieper Say?

Continuing where we left off with Dr. Luther’s comments on Enthusiasm – the idea that the Holy Spirit is given through your own practices apart from the Word, today we’re going to examine Dr. Pieper’s thoughts.

Dr. Francis Pieper was considered the chief dogmatician of the LCMS at the turn of the 20th century, and his work remains refreshingly relevant to this day. His three-volume Christian Dogmatics is in the study of every Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod pastor, and is the work we’ll be quoting from today. Like Luther, Pieper labels those who believe that the Holy Spirit will operate immediately, such as in speaking directly to us in response to prayer without the external means of grace, as enthusiasts:

In general, all who divorce the operation of the Holy Ghost from the Word of Scripture make private or immediate revelations their principle in theology. It is essentially correct to embrace them all under the general title Schwaermer, or “enthusiasts” (fanatici, enthusiastae). Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950) 208

Francis Pieper calls the Quakers the most consistent of all groups in separating grace from the means of grace.

They teach that on the day of visitation appointed by Him the Holy Ghost illumines man immediately, without the Word, and by this illumination enables man to understand the Word of Scripture, which before was a dead letter to him. The Quakers therefore hold so-called “silent meetings.” Their theologian Robert Barclay (d. 1690) reports: “In these meetings everyone’s great task should be to await God and, withdrawing from his own thoughts and ideas, to feel the presence of God…. There no one confines the Spirit of God, nor does he set forth material he has memorized and assembled, but everyone reports whatever the Lord puts in his heart. It may happen among us, and often has happened, that numerous meetings were held without a word being said, and still our souls were much edified and refreshed, and our hearts were overwhelmed by the hidden feeling of God’s Spirit and power passing from vessel to vessel without words” (Vol. III, p. 127-128).

It is remarkable how similar Pieper’s comments on the characteristics of the Quakers are to the characteristics of the SED’s “Spiritual Discernment” or “Listening Prayer” (see Part 1 for a description of Listening Prayer”). While the SED starts out in the right place with Scripture and prayer, they then drift off into Enthusiasm, looking for answers via direct revelation by God’s “divine presence” and the “movement in your heart,” rather than looking for answers in the pages of Scripture. Compare the following quotes of the Quakers with those of the SED:

Quakers: “…Everyone’s great task should be to await God…”
SED: “Wait for God’s timing.”

Quakers: “…Withdrawing from his own thoughts and ideas…”
SED: “…draws us beyond our own limited reason…”

Quakers: “…To feel the presence of God…”
SED: “…Listening to God’s ‘tugging and hints of His direction.”

Quakers: “…Everyone reports whatever the Lord puts in his heart.”
SED: “Share with the group what you have seen, heard, and felt in your reflection time.”
SED: “…Each person writes down the option, direction or guidance that came to them.”
SED: “Expect further confirmation of what you have discerned.”

Quakers: “…Often has happened, that numerous meetings were held without a word being said…”
SED: “Often there is silence during the wait.”

Quakers: “…Our hearts were overwhelmed by the hidden feeling of God’s Spirit…”
SED: “Your focus is on God and His movement in your heart…”

Quakers: “…No one confines the Spirit of God, nor does he set forth material he has memorized and assembled…”
SED: “…Intentional effort to distinguish God’s voice from other voices that influence us.”
SED: “…Open yourself to the Spirit’s leading.”

Quakers: “…To feel the presence of God….”
SED: “…To seek divine presence...”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mysticism in the SED: Part 2, What Did Luther Say?

Dr. Martin Luther had plenty to say about the types of mystical practices which the Southeastern District of the LCMS (SED) is spreading. He warns that the Holy Spirit is not given through your own practices apart from the Word (enthusiasm), which he calls “counterfeit spiritualities.” He condemns dream interpretations, and warns that “whatever is praised as from the Spirit—without the Word and Sacraments—is the devil himself.” In a prophetic way, he describes some of the “spirituality” which is being introduced by the SED: “Away with our schismatics, who spurn the Word while they sit in corners waiting for the Spirit’s revelation, but apart from the voice of the Word! They say one must sit still in a corner and empty the mind of all speculations, and then the Holy Spirit will fill it.” His description sounds an awfully lot like breathing prayer and centering prayer.

Luther condemns the SED’s practice of silence, which they describe as “clearing your mind of all thoughts, which results in the beginning of our understanding and acceptance of a relationship with God who wishes to communicate with us through our ‘imaginations, feelings, and dreams.’ ” (quoted from Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1, by Frank Gillespie)

Unlike the SED lectio divina prayer advice to avoid being “caught by the literal meaning” of Scripture, Luther advises to “shun such contemplations and have a high opinion of the ministry,” and to “let him who wants to contemplate in the right way reflect on his Baptism; let him read his Bible, hear sermons, honor father and mother, and come to the aid of a brother in distress” (see full quotes below).

The first two Luther quotes below are taken from The Book of Concord, which contains the confessions of the Lutheran Church. All LCMS pastors take an oath binding themselves to the doctrinal content of these confessions.

Quoted from the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII

13 It is helpful, so far as can be done, to honor the ministry of the Word with every kind of praise against fanatical people. These fanatics imagine that the Holy Spirit is given not through the Word, but through certain preparations of their own. For example, they imagine He is given if they sit unoccupied and silent in far-off places, waiting for illumination, as the Enthusiasts formerly taught and the Anabaptists now teach.

Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, ed. Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis: CPH, 2006) 185.

Quoted from the Smalcald Articles; Part III, Article VIII

3 In issues relating to the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one except through or with the preceding outward Word [Galatians 3:2, 5]. This protects us from the enthusiasts (i.e., souls who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word). They judge Scripture or the spoken Word and explain and stretch it at their pleasure, as Münzer did. Many still do this today, wanting to be sharp judges between the Spirit and the letter, and yet they do not know what they are saying [2 Corinthians 3:6]. 4 Actually, the papacy too is nothing but sheer enthusiasm. The pope boasts that all rights exist in the shrine of his heart. Whatever he decides and commands within his church is from the Spirit and is right, even though it is above and contrary to Scripture and the spoken Word.
5 All this is the old devil and old serpent [Revelation 12:9], who also turned Adam and Eve into enthusiasts. He led them away from God’s outward Word to spiritualizing and self-pride [Genesis 3:2–5]. And yet, he did this through other outward words. 6 In the same way, our enthusiasts today condemn the outward Word. Yet they themselves are not silent. They fill the world with their babbling and writings, as if the Spirit could not come through the apostles’ writings and spoken Word, but has to come through their writings and words. Why don’t they leave out their own sermons and writings and let the Spirit Himself come to people without their writings before them, as they boast that He has come into them without the preaching of the Scriptures? We do not have time now to argue about this in more detail. We have treated this well enough elsewhere.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mysticism in the SED: Part 1, Embracing False Doctrine

“We should not and cannot pass judgment on the Holy Spirit’s presence, operations, and gifts merely on the basis of our feeling, how and when we perceive it in our hearts. On the contrary, because the Holy Spirit’s activity often is hidden, and happens under cover of great weakness, we should be certain, because of and on the basis of his promise, that the Word which is heard and preached is an office and work of the Holy Spirit, whereby he assuredly is potent and active in our hearts (II Cor. 2:14 ff.).” (Solid Declaration, Article II, 56)

You may remember Rod Serling’s introduction to the original version of the TV show The Twilight Zone:

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, things, and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into The Twilight Zone.

Much like a journey into The Twilight Zone, the Southeastern District (SED) of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is opening a door to another dimension, and you unlock this door with the key of imagination as well. It is a door that beckons, enticing the unwary to turn the forbidden key. It is the door of mysticism.

The SED offers seminars on spiritual formation, prayer, and meditation. They state that the spiritual disciplines that they will teach you

are patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us. They are places where the power of God is experienced. In the end, these are not ultimately our practices but forms of participation in the practice of God.

If you read that carefully, you might have the same reaction that the then-future LCMS President Freidrich Wyneken had when he stumbled into a Methodist pentecostal-like prayer meeting in 1838 where they were barking and howling,

Well, I don’t know if it was from God or the devil, but it certainly wasn’t Lutheran.

The SED invites us to unlock the mystical door through such practices as listening prayer, healing prayer, lectio divina, praying without words, the Jesus Prayer, breathing prayer, centering prayer (also called contemplative prayer), journaling, dream interpretation, labyrinths, and use of a spirit director. All of these practices taken together are called “spiritual formation,” and all can be thought of as mystical practices when placed in the SED context. If you don’t recognize all of these practices, or don’t see how they relate to mysticism, please review the glossary provided at the end of this post, which gives a definition of each using the SED’s own terminology, complete with references to SED documentation as well as references for apologetic purposes. Their own words will prove that their practices are blatant mysticism. When they say
  • “express to God your intention to know God’s love through your breath and body,”
  • “being present to God through breathing and stretching,” and
  • “the work of silence is a way of gently saying ‘no’ to the endless stream of thoughts and feelings that make up our world in order to listen for and say ‘yes’ to the thoughts and feelings that are the voice of God,”
you know something has gone terribly wrong.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Push Me - Pull You and Other Oddities

Paige and I went on a photographic expedition near our house in the beautiful Puyallup River Valley. Here's a few of the results.