Saturday, February 27, 2010

A New Wittenberg Trail

There's a new Wittenberg Trail being started by Norm Fisher at the same address as the old Wittenberg Trail:

Stop by, get in on the ground floor, and offer suggestions on what you want for the new website.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Websites come and websites go, and now is the time, I'm told, for The Wittenberg Trail to go.

I will miss it.


Here's the comment Jim Pierce left explaining the demise of The Wittenberg Trail:

Hello all,

It is with great difficulty that I write this post and it is not a post that I wanted to write, since I wanted to contact each member personally via email, but alas a computer mishap with the email list of Wittenberg Trail membership rendered the list unusable.

On Wednesday of this week I finalized the decision to shut down the Wittenberg Trail on-line community and did so. The reasons were many and it was a terribly difficult decision to make. The main reasons for the site closure dealt with a lack of resources to keep the site viable. Also, the WT was in membership decline and with no financial resources coming in, was nearly impossible to promote.

I am terribly sorry for any negative impact closing the WT down has had on anyone else. I know I will miss the WT.

Finally, I have been in discussions with others, and while I can't make promises, or name names, a new concept for the Wittenberg Trail is already in the works and perhaps by late fall of this year we can see a new and improved (and free) Wittenberg Trail rise up, God willing.

Yours in Christ,

Jim Pierce

photo credit: Amy Messere

Deliverance from Distress

Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
Psalms 107:23-32

photo credit: Bob Jagendorf

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Downward Spiral

You don't have to be a Lutheran to figure out that the "seeker sensitive" church isn't being faithful. Calvinist brother Les Lanphere nails it when he answers the question "What happens when the importance of numbers outweighs the importance of truth?" in his blog post titled "The Downward Spiral of Seeker Sensitivity." You can read his post on his blog Killer Robot Ninja.

A highlight:
Before too long the subtle changes turn to blatant shifts. The management begins asking for money for future needs as they look forward to bigger buildings and bigger staff. In reality, they have no choice. The people who understand what it means to give money to the Kingdom are leaving. The growing audience of unbelievers doesn’t know what sacrificial giving means, so they must be convinced to donate. Promises of prosperity, through twisted Scripture, are the obvious next step. The poor donations of the ‘new converts’ and unbelievers just compounds the need for an even bigger audience to ask for contributions from.
His conclusion:
If you are in a Church like this, or you know of one that is falling into this hopeless pattern, pray to God for restoration. He is the only hope. The flesh will never repent of this greed, only through the Spirit can God wake this kind of Church up.

Let’s love our brothers who may have made mistakes. Let’s sympathize with their good intentions. Let’s point out their error in love, and call them to repentance in gentleness. With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

photo credit: domnit

HT: Florence

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Words of Christ Still Stand

Quoting Professor John Pless from his paper “The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Congregation”:

It was from the Formula [of Concord, Article VII] that Sasse would argue that the difference between the Lutherans and the Reformed on the doctrine of the Lord's Supper is as lively today as it was in the sixteenth century. It is not merely a debate over the how of Christ's presence but rather what is present. No Christian believes in a real absence. That was not the issue at the time of the Reformation nor is it the issue now. Thus communion announcements that ask that those who come to the altar "believe in the real presence of Christ in the sacrament" are meaningless. As Dr. Albert Collver has demonstrated the language of the real presence is not yet a confession of Christ's body and blood.

…The words of Christ still stand. He gives us His body to eat. He gives us the blood of His new testament to drink for the forgiveness of our sins. "Around the Lord's Table is gathered the church. At the Table of the Lord, the church knows what it most profoundly is: the body of Christ. There has been no doubt of this since the days of the apostles. Where the Lord's Supper is no longer known or celebrated, there the church dies, irretrievably lost" wrote Hermann Sasse in 1941.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Universalism: The Gospel Message of Emergent and New Age Spirituality

The following post is reproduced from the blog Sola Sisters. The Sola Sisters are two sisters who do a great job of keeping track of threats to Christ's Church from such things as the Emerging Church and New Age thought (which are often highly intertwined). I like their blog because they've both been saved from the very things they now speak against, and are thus well suited for their apologetic task - plus they explain things without bowling me over with a bewildering array of esoterica. Thanks to the Sola Sisters for sharing their thoughts with us:

One of the greatest misconceptions in this country today is that the New Age Movement of the 80s and 90s is (1) a thing of the past and (2) has nothing whatsoever in common with Christianity. Nothing could be further from the truth on either count. Let me explain.

Most Americans today have sort of an eye-rolling, amused response to the phrase "New Age." Perhaps their minds are conjuring up an image of Shirley MacLaine on the beach, talking to the sky, a spiritual eccentric who became the punch line of many jokes for her interest in reincarnation and channeling. Perhaps they think that, like Shirley MacLaine, the New Age has passed gently into history, much like the rubix cube and Duran Duran. Well, the truth is that the New Age is still very much with us today. It never really went away, it just went mainstream. New Age practices or beliefs that were once considered borderline occultic or kooky are now widely accepted and embraced, including yoga, mantra meditation, muscle testing, acupuncture, reiki, sustainable living and going green. Don't believe it? Just pick up any newspaper or popular magazine today (Reader's Digest, Ladies' Home Journal, Parade) and you will most likely read at least one, usually multiple articles, on the benefits of these practices. Heck, even my husband's Golf World had a lengthy article in the February 2010 issue on how golf courses around the country are trying to "go green."

So just how did this New Age worldview get so powerful so fast? The short answer is that although it's actually been around for a very long time, it got its greatest push into the mainstream through America's most beloved talk show host, Oprah Winfrey. For some reason, people think that this New Age Spirituality direction that Oprah has taken is a new thing. It is not. I know this because I was on the same path that she was for a very long time, and at about the same time. Along with Oprah, I became completely immersed in New Age beliefs and practices, about 20 year ago, and yet at the same time used Christian terminology for all that I was doing. But the catch was this: all the Christian terminology I used had been redefined to fit the theology of my New Age belief system. And this is exactly how Oprah has made the New Age worldview palatable to the average Americans who were watching: she was using the same terminology that many Americans were. We were still, at least at that time, a "Christian" nation, and by that I mean, the majority of Americans made some kind of Christian profession and had at least some knowledge of the Christian faith. So although Oprah was going in a distinctly occultic, eastern direction spiritually, she was using words like "Holy Spirit," "God," "Jesus," "atonement," and "salvation." And because Oprah was using terminology that everyone was familiar with, everybody's guard went down....and that's how the deception flooded in. Not to get too creepy about it, but this is exactly how many cults "reprogram" their new recruits. Same terminology, redefined terms.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Cloud of Witnesses

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV).

Thanks to Pastor David Gallas for creating another great video.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Miss Me Yet?

From the Humor Department:

The recent George W. Bush "MISS ME YET?" billboard reminded me of this photo I took in 2004. I spoke with this gentleman and war veteran holding the "Re-elect BUSH" sign when I was on a run in Boston. He was doing a little campaigning in his neighborhood. I guess he just thought we oughta vote for Bush. The catch? The house that's behind him over his left shoulder is that of Senator John Kerry.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Consider the Lilies

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:25-34 ESV

photo credit: B G

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Quotable Blog Quotes #12

Quotable Quotes From Around the Blogosphere

Reformation Underground: Dead Theologians Society
David Appold

Theology must begin with God’s Word. Apart from that, as post-modernity would have it, there is no such thing as an objective truth. If spirituality is the search for the objective truth, then those who are spiritual but non-religious will cut themselves off from the very thing they desire by searching for experiential communion with God and denying the objective doctrines taught by Scripture. Those who are Christian but place little value on doctrine put their faith in experiences over God’s Word. Christian doctrine after all, is always a confession. Faith must express itself as a confession.

Weedon’s Blog
Pastor Wil Weedon

The Church as eschatological reality does not exist solely in the Eucharistic Assembly. Rather, her particular mode of existence in Eucharistic assembly is the source of her strength for her perpetual task in this world: the invasion. We are part of an alien invasion, make no bones about it. We are here to rescue as many "earthlings" as we can for the joys of that heavenly life that we certainly taste in Eucharistic assembly - our secret "visit home" each week. Strengthened to orient our lives toward the unseen realities that our Master Invader has revealed to us, He sends us out to BE His Church in this world.

More Pastor Weedon

Divine worship is a battle to strengthen faith for holding onto the promises. We know faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God. Faith comes from the promises - they are what the Holy Spirit uses to give and to strengthen faith! So we hurl the promises at each other, drench each other in them, wrap each other up in them to help one another in the struggle as we live in this very broken and damaged world, stumbling on, crawling toward the joys of the Age that is to come - where everything that is not Love will at last and blessedly be history!

Pastor Jonathan Fisk
From a comment on The Brothers of John the Steadfast website

Interestingly enough, the word “mission” is not really a biblical word at all. It comes into Christian vocabulary from the latin translation of the word Apostle. The Jesuit “missions” were the Apostolic sending of priests to convert the heathen.
If we rightly want to get our missiology nailed down, and get missional, then biblically speaking we are talking about the Office of the Ministry, the Keys, etc. This is a far cry from the word “mission” as generally bandied about, even in Lutheran circles 50 years ago. That, rather, is the “go” of Matthew 28, which has been expanded into an entire paradigm for hermeneutics. Ironically, the “go” in Matthew 28 is not even an imperative at all! It’s a participle, and thus has far more to do with “being ready to give an answer” wherever your vocation happens to leave you then with any mandate to “go go go go go.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance: List of Articles

Here is a list of some of the best articles on the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance recommendations. I'll update and republish the list as time goes on.

Top Down Work on a Bottom Up Denomination: A Look at the Final Report of The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance

President Keischnick’s Task Force Recommendation: Power to the President

Issues, Etc.
PDF transcripts of Dr. Ken Schurb discussing the BRTFSSG

Questions for President Kieschnick’s Task Force PDF

Comprehensive Analysis on the Blue Ribbon Proposals Part 9 – Recommendation #6: Proof of the Great Deception by the Blue Ribbon Committee

LCMS Regional Gathering – Part 2

LCMS Regional Gathering – Part 1

Dr. Kuhn Sets the Record Straight on the BRTFSSG Final Report

Cross-Focused Leadership for Missouri, 1-2
An Alternate Plan for LCMS National Offices

Monday, February 15, 2010

Help Yourself - and Others

All of you bloggers out there feel free to copy this graphic and use it on your blog or wherever else you might want to use it. Y'all can use your imagination in determining to which election and to which theologian said graphic might apply.

The Brother’s of John the Steadfast Conference 2010

Where to start? If you enjoy hanging out with fellow confessional Lutherans like I do, you’d certainly have a great time at the BJS Conference.

We gathered on Friday afternoon in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and departed on Saturday afternoon filled with God’s Word and Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. There is no greater joy.

This year’s speakers included Pastor Klemet Preus, journalist Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, and Pastor Todd Wilken - "The Fired and the Staff."  The "fired" is of course a reference to Pastor Wilken who was fired from his host duties at KFUO.  The staff refers to Mollie and Pastor Preus, who are both staff writers for BJS, and also to Pastor Preus's book The Fire and the Staff.

Pastor Preus described how the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has become more and more a body which emphasizes what we do rather than what we get. Due to the influence of Evangelicalism in the Synod, our understandings of unity, worship, and the Office of the Ministry are being corrupted. He taught us and encouraged us to “defend the unity of Christ’s church based upon what He gives and what we all receive by grace. Defend and use the Divine Service of Christ’s Word and Sacrament as gifts which he freely gives and which we, by grace, get. Defend the pastor’s call as a divine responsibility to give.”

Mollie described her journey as a journalist, relating the ups and downs of a Christian journalist in a secular world, and the ups and downs of a Lutheran journalist in a sometimes less-than-Lutheran LCMS bureaucracy. Mollie’s smiling face really exemplified her love for her job, which shines through in her writing. I escorted Mollie to and from one of the No-Pietists-Allowed parties, as well as taking her to the airport, so we had plenty of time to compare notes. It was fun discussing writing with a professional journalist – I found that the two of us share many of the same experiences, challenges, and goals when it comes to our writing venues.

Pastor Todd Wilken, was nothing less than the usual Wilken. Sending out emails and talking to Jeff on the phone about Issues Etc. business when he wasn’t speaking, and insightfully describing the current state of affairs of the LCMS when at the podium. He discussed “the myth of LCMS exceptionalism” – how the LCMS pictures itself to be incapable of error or calamity simply because it’s the LCMS. He recommended that if you want to believe the myth of LCMS exceptionalism, read President Gerald Kieschnick’s new book Waking the Sleeping Giant. Our belief in LCMS “manifest destiny” has led to confessional complacency, led to the failure of church discipline, led to the idea that pure doctrine and practice are enemies of evangelism, and led to a corporate culture that values image over integrity. By contrast, he pointed out that our founders knew that the LCMS wasn’t exceptional, and suggested that we might have to do a man hunt to find the real Lutherans.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Please Pray

I invite you to pray with me for all of the confessional Lutherans in the ELCA who are enduring heartache and struggle as their congregations are torn apart – parishioners who no longer have a church home and pastors who no longer have a congregation, fired from their divine call for standing on God’s truth. Surely this must be some of what Jesus was referring to when He said “For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:52-53 ESV). Please pray that God would grant them solace and safe haven from false doctrine and the flaming arrows of the evil one.

O Wondrous Type!

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, 2010

O wondrous type! O vision fair
Of glory that the Church may share,
Which Christ upon the mountain shows,
Where brighter than the sun He glows!

With Moses and Elijah nigh
The incarnate Lord holds converse high;
And from the cloud the holy One
Bears record to the only Son.

With shining face and bright array
Christ deigns to manifest today
What glory shall be theirs above
Who joy in God with perfect love.

And faithful hearts are raised on high
By this great vision's mystery,
For which in joyful strains we raise
The voice of prayer, the hymn of praise.

O Father, with the eternal Son
And Holy Spirit ever one,
We pray Thee, bring us by Thy grace
To see Thy glory face to face.

LSB 413

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winning the Daily Double

I met up with my friend Jim Pierce and a few other Lutherans a week ago for the monthly extravaganza “Pieper at the Pub.” We got together to compare notes on a section in Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics. Everybody had a great time discussing Pieper and other theological topics and generally goofing off.

When I got home, I discovered that Jim’s blog Confessional’s Bytes and Stand Firm had each been selected that day for the prestigious Issues, Etc. Blog of the Week Award. Jim’s blog post was titled “Why Liberals Stay,” and the post on Stand Firm was titled "Run to the Lord’s Table."

That brings Stand Firm up to 4 ½ Blog of the Week awards; not 4, but 4 ½. Not that I keep track of such things of course. The ½ was for a day when the link for Pastor Wilken’s original selection was dead, so he picked a Stand Firm post as his backup. That extra ½ is good in case of tie-breakers. I’m not sure how many times Confessional’s Bytes has won, but I know it’s a bunch. Jim always has interesting things to say; Confessional’s Bytes is a class act.

Thanks to Jeff Schwarz for selecting Stand Firm for Blog of the Week.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

No Less Culpable

On the January 13 Issues, Etc., host Todd Wilken asked guest Pastor Matt Harrison what he thought of televangelist Pat Robertson’s statement that the earthquake in Haiti was an act of God sent as punishment for Haiti’s previous “pact with the devil” to escape from French rule. Pastor Harrison’s response was particularly enlightening:
I don’t know. There’s really no need to respond to it. I think it’s simplistic and ridiculous frankly. The Law condemns all. No one is righteous – no, not one. The Lord’s wrath is shed upon unrighteousness in many and various ways all over the world. There’s not a single person or culture on earth that somehow is less culpable than any other, and certainly voodoo might be, I’m sure he’s thinking about voodoo as “the pact with the devil.” Voodoo might be Haiti’s issue, but look at the most blessed countries on the earth. They have no less sin, no less dark hearts, no less unbelief, etc., so I just think it’s ridiculous.
Listen to the whole thing:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Prayer: Sustained by the Word of the Lord

Quoting from Prof. John Pless's article Prayer: The Voice of Faith:
Prayer does not begin in the human heart but in the hearing of God's gracious words of life and salvation spoken to us in the Gospel of His Son. Thus Luther explains the introductory words of the Our Father saying "With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father." Just as faith comes by the hearing of Christ's words so prayer is created and sustained by the Word of the Lord.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cultural Silly Putty?

You might surmise, based on the name of the organization, that a paper presented to the Association for the Scientific Study of Religion would be one which would have high praise for Church Growth Movement methods, but in the case of the quotes that follow, you’d be mistaken. The quotes come from Dr. Walt Scalen’s paper “Lost in Translation: Evangelicals Failed Attempt at Relevance,” which he presented last spring. Dr. Scalen is an assistant professor in the Department of Government at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, and has taught both college and university classes in sociology, psychology, anthropology, and criminal justice. How does someone with Dr. Scalen’s credentials become involved in apologetics? I’m not really sure, but I’d guess it’s because of a love of revealed truth. He emailed me his paper, and I’m glad he did. As he points out in his email, “Hope you find it helpful in fighting for the Faith once delivered to the saints. We have much to do.” Indeed we do. His paper can be found here, beginning on page 22. Here’s a sampling of what Dr. Scalen has to say:
"It's interesting to note that, in spite of the current emphasis on the various formulas for ministry success, the Scriptures are all but silent on the subject of church growth. As you survey the New Testament writings of the apostle Paul, you can't help but be struck by the stark absence of any advice or specific recommendations that even remotely resemble today's church-growth strategies. Instead, there seems to be an almost obsessive focus on faithfulness in ministry and standing firm against the pervasive pull of a crumbling and godless culture. There is nothing said about attempting to appeal to popular culture. On the contrary, there seems to be a strong emphasis on remaining free from the influence of culture and focusing on the simple proclamation of the "foolish" gospel (Rima, 2002, pp. 36-37). [Dr. Scalen is quoting Pastor Samuel Rima in this quote.]

...It is probably not too simplistic to say that the core ideas driving the New Paradigm Church movement are simply inconsistent with historic Christianity. In a way nothing could be more ironic, and transparently simple. But, the devil is in the details. Despite its enormous popularity and early "success," this movement was doomed from the beginning, which is all the more tragic because its leaders, who have invested their careers, fortunes, and reputations, will likely push forward without ever examining the foundational flaws on which their efforts are based.

Monday, February 8, 2010

True Divine Service

From the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article V, 104-107:

But they object that love is preferred to faith and hope. For Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “The greatest of these is love.” Now, it is reasonable that the greatest and chief virtue should justify. Yet Paul, in this passage, properly speaks about love toward one’s neighbor and indicates that love is the greatest, because it has the most fruit. Faith and hope have to do only with God. But love has infinite offices outwardly toward humanity. Indeed, let us grant to the adversaries that love toward God and our neighbor is the greatest virtue, because the chief commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God” (Matthew 22:37). But how will they conclude from this that love justifies? They say, “The greatest virtue justifies.” By no means! For just as the greatest, or first, Law does not justify, so also the Law’s greatest virtue does not justify. But the virtue that justifies receives Christ, which brings to us Christ’s merits, by which we receive grace and peace from God. This virtue is faith. As it has often been said, faith is not just knowledge. But it is willing to receive or take hold of those things that are offered in the promise about Christ. Furthermore, this obedience toward God (i.e., to want to receive the offered promise) is no less a divine service (latreia) than is love. God wants us to believe Him and to receive from Him blessings. He declares this to be true divine service.

Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, ed. Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis: CPH, 2006) 115-116.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What Do You Mean, There’s No Theme?

Part of the phone conversation between me and my daughter:

Paige: I’m going on a retreat with my church this weekend.

Me: Yeah, I know [me being the awesome dad that I am].

Me: What’s the theme going to be?

Paige: There is no theme – it’s Lutheran.

Me: Oh, so it’s not your grandfather’s church?

Paige: No, it is my grandfather’s church. It’s Luther Memorial Chapel.

Me: Well maybe you’ll come back with a theme. Something about how you can improve your life or something.

Luther Memorial Chapel is located in Shorewood, Wisconsin. If you're in the Milwaukee area, you might want to check it out. Its pastor is Rev. Dr. Kenneth Wieting, and its Vicar is Kyle Krueger.

photo credit: Bergius

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Run to the Lord's Table

From Luther's preface to the Small Catechism, which inexplicably is located in the back of the Catechism:
For a person not to prize highly the Sacrament is tantamount to saying that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell. That is to say, he believes in none of these although he is overwhelmed by them and is the devil’s possession twice over. On the other hand, he needs no grace, life, paradise, kingdom of heaven, Christ, God, or any good thing. Surely, if he recognized how much evil is in him and how much he needs all the good things he lacks, he would not neglect the Sacrament, which gives help against such evil and bestows so much goodness. He will not need to be forced by law to the Sacrament but will himself come running in a hurry to the Lord’s Table, constrained within himself and pressing you to give him the Sacrament.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Church Divided

The parishioners of St. John Lutheran Church in Kendallville, Indiana are blessed as they sing hymns during the Divine Service in their beautiful and ornate sanctuary – at the north end of the building. Concurrently, at the south end of the building, a different group of parishioners are singing praise songs in the “worship center.” They are a church divided.

St. John’s sounds a lot like a generic evangelical church-growth type church, similar to many other churches in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod that have compromised their Lutheran identity in order to “church the unchurched.” According to their website, St. John’s is “here to give glory to God by using as many ways as possible to bring as many people as possible into:

• a life-long personal relationship with Christ;
• a life-long, growing commitment to Christ;
• and a lifetime of joyfully serving Christ.”

These goals mimic the evangelical church theology that has been imported along with the praise bands and Hawaiian shirts – they emphasize the Christian, not the Christ. By now you’re probably yawning – you’ve heard it all before. But wait! Now you can have the video to go along with the text, courtesy of YouTube. The following video’s music and lyrics were created by the Principal of the school at St. John’s. He’s an integral part of the congregation, having preached there (though he’s not a pastor), and is a member of their “worship team.” He takes “using as many ways as possible to bring as many people as possible” to a whole new level:

Woe is me. Our theology has become so poor and shallow that in a synod whose liturgical services begin in the name of the Triune God, we can now tuck a football under Jesus’ arm and contrast Him with sweaty smack-talking football players. While I assume the intent of the artist is to present a God-pleasing Gospel message, doesn’t this video rob Jesus of His honor, reducing Him to a cheesy quarterback? God incarnate, who created the universe, and the radiance of the glory of God, is assigned a place of honor a little higher than Peyton Manning, the MVP quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. In keeping with evangelicalism’s frequent theme, Jesus has become our spiritual cheerleader. Instead of singing “the Savior arose, and death, hell, and Satan He vanquished, His foes,” and “hail Him as thy matchless king through all eternity,” we’re singing “third and long he rose again” and “touchdowns all around got nothing on what God can do!” It’s a little like contrasting Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel to the fine art on the front of that Wheaties box that’s sitting in your pantry. The difference ought to be alarmingly obvious.

On a larger stage, isn’t this church emblematic of the LCMS as a whole? A sanctuary at one end, and a worship center at the other. At one end, the people humbly bow as the crucifix passes by. The chasuble-clothed pastor, gathered in the midst of the parishioners, speaks Christ’s salvific Word of the Gospel. At the other end, the people gaze at the screen as the polo-shirted pastor (or not), stands on stage and delivers today’s key Bible passage. Was there ever a more stark contrast in theology than this? Luther and Zwingli “got nothing” on this contradiction.

A long dark metaphorical corridor separates the sanctuary and the worship center. On the floor of the corridor is a string with a Dixie cup affixed to each end in case either side wants to speak to the other. Those Dixie cups have been laying there gathering dust for a long, long time. While the dust gathers, the lifeblood of the LCMS, the doctrine of Christ, slips between our fingers. We must close our hand to grasp the didache of Christ, before it entirely slips away. This isn’t a time for either “side” to sit smugly and point fingers at the other. It’s a time for repentance. Like Hilkiah’s rediscovery of the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22), we must, like King Josiah upon hearing its words, tear our clothes and repent of our own disobedience to the Word of the Lord. We must reaffirm that which we have sworn to confess, so that we may come before the Lord’s throne with boldness, receiving His good gifts and rightly proclaiming to the world what He has done.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Don’t Wipe My Nose!

One of my friends on facebook wondered out loud why her two year old son wouldn’t let her wipe his runny nose. Two words: original sin. If my dear toddler friend were not a sinner, he would gladly submit to his mother’s entreaties. Instead, he fights against her with all his might, to his own detriment. While she is acting as a mask of God through her vocation as a mother, administering to her son his heavenly Father’s care, he wants to do his own will, not that of his heavenly Father. At the same time, he is breaking the Fourth Commandment. In his rebellion, he is no different than the rest of us sinners, wanting to do what we want in our lives, rather than following the good and perfect will of our Father. Yet my little friend is a baptized child of God, and thus simultaneously saint and sinner – simul justus et peccator. Through our Baptism our sins are buried with Christ in his death, that by His resurrection we arise each day, renewed to walk in newness of life and in His will. Thanks be to God, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.