Friday, April 30, 2010

Late Nights

Blogging really burns the midnight oil.

photo credit: Will Brenner

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Congress of the Lutheran Confessions: Worth the Trip

I attended the Congress of the Lutheran Confessions last week in Minneapolis, with my wife joining me on the last day (don’t tell Pastor Fehrmann – I wouldn’t want to get busted). The Congress is jointly held by the Association for Confessional Lutherans and the Luther Academy, and was really nothing short of spectacular. They had great speakers, snacks (although no chocolate), lots of displays and books to buy – even a book signing by a guy named Pastor Matt Harrison.

It was encouraging to see so many laymen at the conference, comprising nearly half of the 200 total attendees.

Fellow blogger Norman Teigen introduced himself. He’s a former LCMS member who’s now in the ELS. Now there’s a dedicated blogger! He was on tour, attending the events of several synods to get an idea of what’s going on across Lutheranism. This was his second stop (with a couple more to go), after first attending the Word Alone convention. His blog, Lutheran Colportage, has a liturgical emphasis, including a wealth of wonderful music.

I bumped into a few Stand Firm readers, including Mary, who though she checks in to see what’s going on once in a while, says she hasn’t left any comments yet. That’s probably wise. I also met up with Kari Anderson, who I’ve been corresponding with for years, although this is the first time we’ve met in person.

If you’re into Preus sightings, there were plenty of those to go around, with Pastors Daniel, Klemet, Rolf, and Peter Preus in attendance, as well as brother Christian, mom Donna, Klemet’s very sweet wife Janet, and probably a couple of others I missed since I don’t know all of them.

Sitting at my table the first day was another fellow blogger (although in a state of semi-retirement at the moment), Pastor Christopher Esget. He’s taking a sabbatical from his blog Esgetology. He also happens to be the pastor of my friend Mollie Ziegler Hemingway. Oddly enough, later on that night I met Mollie’s dad, Pastor Larry Ziegler. Pastor Ziegler had the singular honor of being awarded the 2010 Neo-Methodist Award the next evening at the banquet, a memory I’m sure he will cherish for years to come. If Zieglers keep winning awards, I might begin to think this thing is rigged, since Mollie won the 2009 Confessional Lutheran of the Year Award.

Pastor Klemet Preus and his wife Janet hosted a fun party at their house the first night. Lots of people and delicious food. Pastor Preus definitely knows how to fix up salmon the correct way – tasty and moist. We hung out by the fire outside. It got a little chilly in the late evening Minnesota darkness, and so I borrowed one of Pastor Preus’s jackets. Being downwind from the fire, I’m not sure that jacket is ever going to recover from the smell of smoke. I sheepishly hung it back up in the closet before I left. They may have to fumigate the closet as well.

Pastor Burnell Eckardt and his seminarian son Peter were also at the party, so I got to say “hi” to them. Pastor Eckardt informed me that he’s quoting something I wrote in the next issue of Gottesdienst. Fortunately I was able to dispel his notion that I’m a pastor, or I would have been elevated to the ministry without a rightly ordered call, right there in the sacred pages of Gottesdienst. I wonder if that wouldn’t work out okay though, sort of like an honorary doctorate. Rt. Rev. Scott Diekmann has a nice ring to it, although it should probably say the Less-than-Reverend Scott Diekmann. My copies of Gottesdienst have been arriving in the mailbox addressed to “Rev. Scott Diekmann.” I told my wife our postman must be the most confused guy around, since I get mail addressed to Mr., Rev., Capt., and Dr. He asked me one day what I “do,” and all I told him was that I’m a pilot, not admitting to also being a dentist. Now he probably thinks I’m some kind of impersonator, like Frank Abagnale Jr. in the movie “Catch Me if You Can.”

Though we stayed with friends, the hotel is decent, although a little dated. It’s very close to the airport, and only a block away from the Mall of America, in case you’re in the mood for a roller coaster ride and some shopping on your lunch break. They plan to have the conference there again next year.

Receiving the layman Confessional Lutheran of the Year Award was Robert Van Gundy, and the pastor’s version of the award was given to Pastor Matt Harrison. The banquet featured Dr. David Scaer as the speaker. While I’ve heard Dr. Scaer speak before, this was the first time it’s been on a non-theological topic. I figured if the speech headed south I had an alternative form of entertainment in the person of Pastor Charlie Henrickson, who was seated at my table and is always good for a laugh or two. Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to my backup plan. Dr. Scaer’s assigned topic was “Witnessing: the Power of Personal Testimony,” but let’s just say he strayed from the assignment a bit. His speech was certainly humorous, and could best be described as a rambling stroll down memory lane as he examined the accuracy of a printed media report in which he was described during a Paris(?) dinner with Robert Preus and John Warwick Montgomery as an ugly American dressed like a lumberjack.

If my memory lasts that long, next week I’ll give you a rundown on the presentations of the speakers. If not, I give the Congress of the Lutheran Confessions a big thumbs up. It’s definitely worth the trip.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pastor Harrison's Convention Report

One of the bright spots in the Convention Workbook for the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s upcoming Regular Convention is the report of Pastor Matt Harrison, the Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC). Beginning on page 102, Pastor Harrison joyously reports on the accomplishments and challenges of WR-HC over the last triennium. “It is impossible to adequately express the profound honor, thankfulness, and joy that we at LCMS World Relief and Human Care have and experience as a result of the unfathomable generosity of you, the dear members and congregations of the LCMS.”

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll discuss several aspects of his report. I’ve copied his remarks at the end of this post. Today I’d like to discuss Pastor Harrison’s candid remarks on WR-HC’s dealings with the ELCA.

Reflecting on the work that has been done over the past nine years, Pastor Harrison states
It has been a blessed endeavor, but a very hard road. Our offices have had more direct contact and involvement with the ELCA than any other in the LCMS. The complications brought about by the recent decision on homosexuality are only the most recent high-water mark of what has been a rising tide of pain, sorrow, and frustration in dealing with ELCA leadership, whom I have personally heard confess that there is salvation outside of faith in Christ. The decisions on homosexuality are symptomatic of a fundamental difference with them on what the Bible is and what the Gospel is. It has been supremely challenging to kindly but firmly insist on respect for the LCMS’s biblical positions, and to do as little damage as possible to agencies that serve so many with mercy. That said, the status quo with the ELCA cannot hold.
He is spot on when he states that the ELCA decisions on homosexuality are symptomatic of fundamental differences. Some in the ELCA don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God, but rather that it contains the Word of God. Once you’ve crossed that line, you rule over the text of Scripture, not the other way around. You may not realize how serious this has become. The ELCA preaches another Gospel. If it sounds far-fetched that Pastor Harrison has personally heard ELCA leadership “confess that there is salvation outside of faith in Christ,” consider this: On the official ELCA Synodical website, under the “What We Believe” heading, the salvation section comes with a near full-fledged endorsement of universalism:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mollie Hits a Home Run

On The Brothers of John the Steadfast website, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway has dug up a confidential report from consultants hired by President Kieschnick in 2008 (to the tune of $500,000) which sheds light on the construction of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance recommendations. Among other things, it’s readily apparent from the report that the consultants’ high priced recommendations were often ignored. The consultants make it clear that trying to sell a polity that results in more centralization of power and the need for drastic structural changes would be a difficult task – which explains much of the sense of urgency language that we’ve been hearing from the Task Force for the last couple of years. Pasted below are several quotes from Mollie’s article. I’d encourage you to make the trip over to BJS and read the whole thing. It’s a rather sobering commentary on the way the Task Force recommendations have been designed and marketed. The entire confidential report can be found here.
In a “Confidential Final Report on the President’s Blue Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance,” dated June 2008, the President’s own consultants noted that a number of the proposals would be a hard sell to pastors and congregations of the Synod. Despite President Kieschnick’s claim that the BRTFSSG was an independent entity, the consultant’s report makes it clear that it was Kieschnick and his staff’s task force all along.

…In fact, considering that people in the Synod do not see a need for change, the consultant noted, “Given that there is no groundswell of a call for change, the Blue Ribbon Task Force’s most critical task is to make clear to LCMS members the need for change.” (pg. 18) As we saw in the preconvention delegate gatherings this past year, President Kieschnick and his team have tried to create a sense of urgency and “need for change” in the structure and governance on the basis of financial reasons. It has been reported that President Kieschnick stated at these regional gatherings that if the recommendations of the BRTFSSG were not implemented there would be severe financial consequences forcing the Synod BoD to take drastic action. President Kieschnick holds this position despite the public statement of Tom Kutcha, the Synod’s Treasurer in last June’s Reporter, “In my opinion, the current recommendations by the BRTFSSG will have an immaterial effect on the financial operations of the Synod.” In other words, according to the Synod’s Treasurer, the recommendations of the BRTFSSG will NOT help the Synod’s finances – hardly showing a compelling reason for change. …What is apparent is that President Kieschnick has expended a lot of energy, time, and money trying to make his proposals seem “reasonable.”

…Again on page 84, the consultant notes, “most people believe there is no need for change in the structure and governance of the LCMS.” In light of this, it is interesting that President Kieschnick is so adamant on changing the structure of the LCMS. Each day, the BRTFSSG looks more and more like Obama’s health care bill – a top down proposal that is force-fed into the mouths of Americans. Regarding this top down approach the consultant noted, “The centralization of power and authority on the office of the president could certainly be viewed as anathema to the history and traditions of the LCMS. Certainly a number of study participants commented on the intrinsic distrust of a centralization of authority within the LCMS. This observation did not surface to any substantial extent among the advisory panel members. However, one advisory panel member believed this model placed too great a concentration of power in the office of the Synod president, and was particularly concerned about the communications function reporting to him. Overall, advisory panel members did not feel this model would gain the support necessary for adoption.” (pg. 88) This is why President Kieschnick and the BRTFSSG members spent so much time saying, “We have a congregational bias.” It is as if by repeating “congregational bias” they could over come what the consultant noted and advised against – the centralization of power and authority.

Shepherds Without Sheep

Written by Pastor Doug Taylor. Reprinted with permission.

For many men at at least one seminary of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, today is a day of sorrow. They have received, or will soon receive, the word that there is no congregational placement for them at this time. All of them at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne four or more years ago to study for one purpose: to serve the Lord Jesus and His Church as a pastor, a steward of the mysteries of God. They worked ardently, immersing themselves in the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Concord, the Church Fathers and the proper and reverent conduct of the Divine Service. They spent, or are spending, a year on vicarage, where they took on more of the public work of the Church under the supervision of a pastor. They then returned to seminary to complete their studies, circling, back in the fall, Wednesday of this week on their calendars, the day when they would hear where they would first serve as a pastor.

Wednesday was to be a joyous culmination of all their preparation, a day of excitement and wonder enjoined by the weight and responsibility of the cure of souls. It was to be a day that would spark dreams of a quickly arriving future of preaching and teaching, baptizing and celebrating, absolving and retaining, marrying and burying. Instead, for these men, it is, to borrow from the poet Langston Hughes, “a dream deferred,” a delay of the future that feels like the cancellation of a wedding. Fighting through feelings of loss and rejection, they will celebrate with those men who have received their placements into the Office of the Holy Ministry, but the knot in their hearts will firmly tighten in these next 48 to 72 hours. Despite their best efforts, they will envy their brothers in Christ who are heading out to labor in the harvest, who get to fully participate in the pomp and circumstance that is Call Day. They will refocus on their studies, finish their coursework, possibly look for employment in a suffering economy, and also figure out whether to move back near family or continue their current living arrangements. They are, as of this moment, shepherds without sheep, a challenging and stressful position to be in.

In this context, it seems a cruel irony that the respective lectionaries of the church year have spent the last two successive Sundays on the concept of shepherding. The cure of souls has been ringing in our ears in the last eight days, whether your congregation uses the 1-year or 3-year lectionary. Last Sunday, those following the 1-year heard the Lord bring word to the prophet Ezekiel, declaring that He Himself would search for His sheep and seek them out, seeking the lost and bringing back the strayed and binding the injured, all tasks given to the pastoral office by the Lord Jesus after His resurrection. St. Peter, in the epistle for Misericordias Domini, refers to Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls,” the same Jesus who works His shepherding and overseeing through called and ordained servants of the Word. In the 3-year lectionary, today were heard St. Paul’s words to the overseers of the church of Ephesus, of his imploring them “to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood,” the blood of the Good Shepherd who gathers His flock to hear His voice and receive the means of grace through men He places in His stead and by His command. The lessons for the last two weeks have inundated us with the work of the pastoral office: the burden and responsibility of the task; the great sense of duty and service that comes with it; and most importantly, the One who surely and certainly accomplishes His work through pastors, our Lord Jesus. To hear the Word of the Lord in the last two weeks, to prepare for certification for four years and then be informed that work will not be yours to do, for an indefinite period of time, must be immensely difficult. To all of you not receiving placements this week, and to your families, my most sincere and true condolences to you. To quote St. Paul in the 3-year’s first reading for today, “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

You Didn’t See Any of These in the BRTFSSG Recommendations

If you missed it, the Convention Workbook for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) 2010 Regular Convention is out, and can be downloaded here.

The most interesting section of the Workbook contains the overtures, found on pages 149-248. The overtures are broken down by section. I’ve included the number of overtures for each section, as follows:

p. 149    Missions – 11
p. 153    District and Congregational Services – 25
p. 165    Theology and Church Relations – 33
p. 179    Administration and Finance – 23
p. 189    Seminary and University Education – 36
p. 207    Human Care – 8
p. 211    Ecclesial Matters - 21
p. 221    Synod Structure and Governance – 81

The greatest number of overtures, by far, relate to the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG). Having read through the list, I don’t think it would be too strong of a statement to say that confusion rules. It's going to take a whole room full of Solomons to figure out this mess. It's entirely possible that multiple resolutions could be passed at the convention which contradict each other. If these overtures are any indication of the overall feelings of the Synod, the BRTFSSG recommendations are going to be in for a rough ride.

While there are, significantly, six overtures which request that these decisions be postponed for further study over the next three-year convention cycle, one that requests they be rejected in toto, and one that recommends none of the changes to the Constitution be considered at this convention, it is the glowingly favorable overture of the Pacific Southwest District that is the first overture listed. They seem to think that the Task Force has allowed more than an adequate amount of time for the members of Synod to have considered the recommendations and be prepared to vote on them, although even they recommend that the language of Article II of the Constitution remain unaltered, because “it most fully expresses the confession of our church.” I wonder if the selection of this particular overture as the first one in this section is a blatant attempt to influence the delegates - call it a große Lüge.

There is one overture that really stands out in my mind as the best of the bunch – overture 8-13 of the Montana District. They really get to the core of the issue:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Out with the Old…

My computer wallpaper gets changed fairly often. I get tired of looking at the same old thing. The same can’t be said of my profile photo over there on the right. I kinda figured for the sake of consistency and “brand recognition” I wouldn’t change it, although that technique has been fraught with peril.

My wife and daughter don’t like the sunglasses look, although I do. Maybe it’s the pilot in me.

One of my fellow parishioners at church says I look like an alien.

Another of our friends says I must be having a midlife crisis. No, that’s not it, although I might be having a midlife monetary crisis with one kid in college and another soon to be there.

But anyway, I’ve succumbed to peer pressure.

It’s out with the old:

And in with the new:

Hope you like it. It might be there for a while.

Friday, April 23, 2010

77 Days, Plus a Couple?

Get the full story here.


Filled with the Fullness of God

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Are You Worthy?

Quoting from Pastor Charlie Henrickson's sermon titled "How Do We Receive It Worthily? The Reception of the Sacrament of the Altar,” posted on his Wittenberg Trail blog page:

“That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” You see, the right reception of the Sacrament is not a matter of how personally worthy you are in yourself. No. Indeed, Christ says this sacrament is “for the forgiveness of sins,” and that means you must be unworthy in order to receive it! You must qualify as a sinner! You must have sins to forgive--that’s the whole point! So a worthy reception is not based on how worthy of persons we are in ourselves.

No, a worthy reception consists in faith. And even that is not a matter of what we can muster up, how strong of a believer I am, how pious I feel on a given day. No, it is faith in Christ’s words. Faith has value only because of its object, and that object, the thing we believe in, is Christ Jesus and his words and his gift for us. It’s all about Jesus. He is our worthiness, from start to finish.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Set Me as a Seal Upon Your Heart

Oh that you were like a brother to me who nursed at my mother's breasts! If I found you outside, I would kiss you, and none would despise me. I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother-- she who used to teach me. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the juice of my pomegranate. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me! I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases. Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved? Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in labor with you; there she who bore you was in labor. Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.

Song of Solomon 8:1-7

photo credit: Lawrence OP

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Teaching the Whole Counsel of God

Quoting from Pastor John Frahm's paper "Give Attention to the Public Reading of Scripture: I Timothy 4:13: Lectors, Pastoral Stewardship, and Gender Considerations":

While the reading of a text is not particularly teaching in the strict sense, there is an aspect of text selection (choosing pericopes or references) which is related to teaching. The use of a lectionary is a discipline for teaching the whole counsel of God in an orthodox way. The selection of texts is not to be done for riding hobby horses, promoting programs or movements, or to steer the church into a “personal vision.” It is the Lord’s church and the whole counsel of God is to be taught and proclaimed for the sake of the flock (Acts 20:27-28; Matthew 28:19-20). The selection of texts or a lectionary certainly comes under the domain of pastors as stewards of the mysteries of God (which includes but goes beyond the sacraments in the narrowest sense). This goes along with the call to the office and the requirement that such men be “apt to teach” and holding the apostolic faith with purity.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Ultimate Christian Apologetic

If you're looking for the best way to defend and explain the Christian faith, this Issues, Etc. segment from March 30 is the ultimate Christian apologetic. Listen along as Pastor Wil Weedon describes the Church's historic Holy Week liturgy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Visions of Success and Prosperity

Heard on the October 23, 2009 Issues, Etc. segment on "The Reformation Today" with Dr. Laurence White, Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston:
We have allowed ourselves to be lured into visions of success and prosperity and institutional growth and bucks and bodies and so forth. Instead of recognizing that all these things are trivial and irrelevant in the eyes of God, what’s essential here is the faithful proclamation of the Gospel and the message of salvation, that it alone can convey. And we need to recognize once again that that message, and that faithfulness to Bible truth that it entails, has never been, and cannot be, popular in the world or acceptable to the world. And we’ve got to be ready, and eager, to face the challenge of making that unpopular presentation, and the scorn and the rejection that will go with it, because whenever the Church and the world manage to co-exist comfortably, it’s not because the world has become Christian, it’s because the Church has become worldly. And that’s what has happened to Christendom in America today, and even, most tragically and ironically, to Lutheranism in America today.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Is This a Theology of Glory?

This document from the Northwest District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod starts out:

The word Synod, means “walking together.” The congregations of the Northwest District LCMS are Synod in this geographic location. We believe that Prayer Vigils throughout the district will bring deeper relationships with Christ and one another as we emphasize “walking together” by joining hands and hearts in the unity of prayer. Consider making dedicated time and space at your locations for active prayer as one body in Christ – filling each day with prayer vigils in congregations throughout the Northwest District.

Later on in the document, the following statement is made:

The Lord uses our prayers in acting as He desires. (does this express the meaning here?) In Ezekiel 22:23-31 (especially verse 30), prayer is absolutely necessary for the Lord to work. In the Scriptures, no phrase identifies intercessory prayer better than this phrase: “stand before me…on behalf of…” An intercessor stands before the Lord on behalf of other people. In these verses of Ezekiel, the Lord did not want to destroy His people and was looking for someone to intercede for them. But, He could find no one. So, “I have poured out my indignation on them…” Would Israel’s history have been different if the Lord had found an intercessor? What about the church today? Our local congregations? Our Northwest District? In Psalm 8, our Lord makes us partners with Him (Psalm 8:6). The Lord asks us to pray, not because He can’t rule without our prayers. He asks us to pray because in His grace and His sovereign nature, he determined that He will rule through our partnership in prayer. He has chosen to partner with us in order to accomplish His purposes in the Church and the world.

Is prayer absolutely necessary for the Lord to work?

HT: Suzee

photo credit: 217church

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ketef Hinnom: An Important Archeological Find

In 1979 an archeological team led by Garbriel Barkay discovered two tiny silver scrolls, thought to be amulets worn around the neck, that tell a very large story.

The discovery was made in a burial tomb across the Hinnom Valley to the southwest from the old city wall of Jerusalem, the site being called Ketef Hinnom. The significance of this find has been slow in developing. The scrolls are so fragile that it was three years before they were opened. When finally opened, they revealed Hebrew text that contained God’s personal name, YHWH, as well as what appeared to be quotes from the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.

The text was photographed in the 1980s and analyzed over the years by scholars, who dated the text to the post-exilic era. Their analysis, however, was skewed by the less-than-ideal quality of the photographs.

In 1994 the amulets were again photographed with much improved photographic techniques. These new photos revealed detail that was previously unobserved, allowing the scholars to re-date to scrolls to a time prior to the Babylonian exile of the Jews in 586 B.C.

Amulet I, 3.8” x 1.1” in size, reads:
[...]YHW...the grea[t...who keeps] the covenant and [G]raciousness toward those who love [Him] and those who keep [His commandments...]. The Eternal? [...]. [the?] blessing more than any [sna]re and more than Evil. For redemption is in Him. For YHWH is our restorer [and] rock. May YHWH bles[s] you and keep you. [May] YHWH make [His face] shine…”.

Amulet II, 1.5” x .4” in size, reads:
[First line almost completely illegible.] May h[e]/sh[e] be blessed by Yahweh, the warrior [or “helper”] and the rebuker of [E]vil: May Yahweh bless you, keep you. May Yahweh make His face shine upon you and grant you p[ea]ce”. (online reference)

Notice that both of these texts contain a form of the Aaronic Benediction of Numbers 6:24-26. “The importance of this find can hardly be overstated. It proves this section of Numbers was written at least 2,600 years ago. This Old Testament passage is 400 years older than the oldest Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts, and perhaps even older yet. This makes the silver scrolls the oldest Biblical text confirmed through archaeology. The age of the text may prove a nail in the coffin of the Documentary Hypothesis theories that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, or that it was not even known in Moses’ time. Those theories speculate that large segments of the first five books of the Bible originated in the period of Ezra: 400–500 BC. In this debate, some of the arguments revolve around the use of YHWH, the divine name of God (often rendered ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Yahweh’), which is said not to have been in use before this time. The silver scrolls, dated before 586 BC, contain that name. In fact, this is the earliest the name had been found in any dig in Jerusalem.” (online reference)

So these tiny scrolls really do tell an important story. They confirm what Christians already believe, that the books of the Bible reflect an accurate historical timeline and weren’t fabricated at a later date as higher critics would have you believe. That some pious Jew wore these sacred texts around their neck as they went about their daily life teaches us something else as well:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:5-9

Of course, if you’re waiting for the Discovery Channel special on Ketef Hinnom, you’ll be waiting for a long time. While the world clamors around archeological finds that purportedly demonstrate this month’s version of “the missing link,” we Christians take comfort in the words of our Lord in John 20:29b, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Easter Sermon Fail

Last week’s post titled “This Is Embarrassing” generated a flurry of comments, including former members, visitors, and current members of Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, Michigan. The post quoted a non-Lutheran who visited Faith and evaluated the service. This non-Lutheran reviewer summarized their visit by saying “On my trek home, I felt inexplicably sad that another Lutheran church has all but abandoned its beautiful, historic liturgy and intellectual tradition in favor of a very bland ministry. Help!” The reviewers comment was followed by my own:

Ouch! When the first time visitor is pointing out the non-Lutheran practices of an LCMS church, maybe it’s time to trade those seeker-sensitive lenses in for something ground a little closer to the Church of the Augsburg Confession.

One anonymous commenter who had been to Faith opined:

Yes, the format is contemporary. Evidently there are lots of people that like that because of their high attendance. The doctrine of Faith is Lutheran; the style of worship is not traditional but the message is always Biblical. This is not a church that waters down its message to attract the unchurched - though they welcome the unchurched. Go back.. .take a class.. listen to another sermon. I believe that pastor will be in a suit or at least a shirt and tie and that should make you happy if nothing else does.
while there, walk around the building and notice the ethnic worship service taking place in another part of the building. I suggest you try Sunday worship to get an more accurate picture of this or any other church. That's normally when Christians worship.

I believe it was the same anonymous commenter who also said this:

Your arguments are weak because anyone who has attended Faith more than casually knows that the sermons are Bible based; that scripture is always the basis for the sermon message and that Jesus is the center of all we do. We have some preconceived notions about this church; too bad.
Very strange but you mention the "all me" ;sermons. Just a few weeks ago, One of the points of the sermon message was about the "entitlement mentality" of our country. (yes, the sermon did relate to our daily lives- to me that's important) And yes, the pastors do preach the Gospel. What part of what has been written on this blog don't you understand. I suggest you be a man and go talk with one of the pastors. Make your accusattions to them- "man" to man. Hold them accountable for their teachings which you so piously criticize OR try attending again and listen for the law and the gospel; it's there... vestments or not.

I took the commenter up on his or her initial offer to listen to a sermon. I’d already listened to one sermon before doing the post, and found it to be “pretty weak from a Law/Gospel perspective” (see the comments section in the old post for a fuller review). The second sermon I listened to was the Easter sermon preached by Pastor Warren Arndt. I chose this sermon because it seemed reasonable to assume that in an Easter sermon the pastor would be at his best.

Pastor Arndt certainly did preach his sermon with conviction. He had a number of good sermon illustrations that I’m sure held the attention of the “audience” as well. Towards the end of the sermon he did mention the problem of sin, saying this:

Isn’t it incredible that when your life is all messed up, and your family is all messed up, and everything seems to be falling apart, and you went back to that thing you said you’d never go back to again, and you said “I’d never disobey you God in that way,” and there you are, you’re finding yourself in disobedience. You’re experiencing shame, and guilt, and “Oh no, I did it again.” Isn’t it incredible that God says my grace is greater than that mess in your life. Isn’t it incredible that He comes in Matthew chapter 11 and says “Come to me, all of you who are weary and you carry your burdens, and I’ll give you rest. I’ll give you rest.” Isn’t it wonderfully incredible that in Romans 3 it says we’re, we are made right in God’s sight when what? When we trust. When we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved. We all can be saved in the same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. No matter who we are or what we have done. Last night after the service a woman comes up and she’s just weeping. She grabs ahold of me, pulls me aside. Took her awhile to calm down. I said “What is it? What’s happened?” She said “Pastor. This is the first time I’ve come to the Lord’s Table in fourteen years.” She said “I’m not from your church. I go to a different church. I come here just to visit with my family and on holidays.” But she says “I was taught in that church ‘Oh, no, you can’t come to church and take Communion if you’ve sinned greatly or you are burdened with guilt or whatever.’” And I said “Whoa, wait a minute. We’ve all sinned greatly and we’re all burdened.” She says “I know.” She said “When you said those words ‘No matter who you are or what we have done,’” she says “something happened.” I said “Whoa. This is incredible, incredible moment.” The Holy Spirit touched her heart and her mind, and to say just for that reason of your sin and your shame and your guilt, that’s why He invites you to come.

So why would this sermon be a failure? Because it doesn’t properly distinguish Law and Gospel. Luther said “Is it not blindness, yea, worse than blindness that [one] does not want to preach the Law without and before the Gospel? How can one preach forgiveness of sins before sins are known? How can one announce life before death is known? For grace must wage war, and be victorious in us, against the Law and sin, lest we despair” (online reference). Unfortunately, aside from this brief mention of sin toward the end of the sermon, the majority of the sermon avoided the mention of sin, removing it from the text of the verses that were alluded to in the sermon. The sermon fails to heed C.F.W. Walther’s demand that “a preacher must proclaim the Law in such a manner that there remains in it nothing pleasant to lost and condemned sinners. Every sweet ingredient injected into the Law is poison; it renders this heavenly medicine ineffective, neutralizes its operation” (The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, p., 80).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Der Lutheraner Returns – In English!

Pastor Joel Basely is Associate Pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dearborn, Michigan. In his “spare time” he translates the works of German theologians such as Luther and Walther into English, and has set up his own publishing company called Mark V Publications.

Recently, Pastor Basely has begun sending out free biweekly copies of C.F.W. Walther’s first publication Der Lutheraner, whose initial publication was on September 1, 1844. These copies are translated into English, and formatted to look identical to their original German counterpart. Accompanying each emailed pdf edition of Der Lutheraner is a cover letter which provides a very insightful commentary on that particular edition, as well as hyperlinked references for topics covered in the paper. I highly recommend subscribing. To subscribe, send your name and email address to Pastor Basely here. Pastor Basely will send you the back issues as well as the current issue so you’ll be up to date. You can also check out the corresponding facebook page.

The book Ebenezer, published in 1922, had this to say about Der Lutheraner:

Modest as was the appearance of the newcomer in the field of Lutheran journalism, there nevertheless was something about Der Lutheraner that differentiated if from other Lutheran church-papers of that day; something that at once attracted attention and called forth comment, favorable or otherwise. But what must have struck the reader as the most distinctive feature was the authoritative and decided tone in which it spoke on matters Lutheran, the firm stand it took in defense of pure Lutheranism, and the intrepid courage with which it proposed to attach error wherever found, whether with the sects or among the pseudo-Lutherans.

To give you a sense of the writing contained in Der Lutheraner, here’s a portion of the third issue, in which Walther discusses the reason for using the name Lutheran, rather than just Christian, or Catholic, or Reformed, Evangelical, Protestant, or Methodist – as timely today as it was then:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Coming to Bloomington?

The Congress on the Lutheran Confessions is being held in Bloomington, Minnesota April 21-23. It is sponsored by The Luther Academy and The Association of Confessional Lutherans. I’ll be heading up to attend, so track me down if you’re going to be there.

The speakers include Rev. Dr. Holger Sonntag, Rev. Glenn Huebel, Rev. Rolf Preus, Rev. Fredrik Sidenvall, Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Rev. Matt Harrison, Rev. Dr. David Scaer, Rev. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, and Rev. Dr. K. Detlev Schulz. This year’s topic is “Confessing the Faith in Light of the Lutheran Confessions." I hope I’ll see you there.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Great Liturgy of the Church Revives

Professor John Pless from his paper "Hermann Sasse and the Liturgical Movement," who in turn is quoting Hermann Sasse:

Wherever the pure Gospel comes, there the great liturgy of the true church revives. And wherever men seek genuine liturgy they cannot avoid facing the question, "What is the Gospel?"

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

LCMS President and VP Nomination Results Released

You've heard the phrase "the handwriting is on the wall".... I've been told no Synod President has ever won without receiving a majority of the nominations.

As reported today by The Reporter Online:

Official Notice
Nominations for President and Vice-Presidents

The nominations process for the offices of President, First Vice-President, and other vice-presidents of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod has been completed.

Of those receiving the highest number of nominating votes for the office of President, the following have given their consent to serve if elected:

Matthew Harrison -- 1,332

Gerald Kieschnick -- 755

Herbert Mueller Jr. -- 503

Carl Fickenscher II -- 5

Daniel Gard -- 3

Of those receiving the highest number of nominating votes for the office of First Vice-President, the following have given their consent to serve if elected:

A Sacramental Theology

Quoting from Pastor David H. Petersen’s article “A Sacramental Church: A Call for Reformation” in the Trinity 2009 issue of Gottesdienst:

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

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

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

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

photo credit: Loci Lenar

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This is Embarrassing

It’s really embarrassing when it’s left to a non-Lutheran to point out the less-than-Lutheran practices of a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregation, but that’s what’s happened in this case.

I took a trip to Ship of Fools, a non-denominational website that includes a plethora of offerings in the way of things churchly. The Ship’s editor, Simon Jenkins, states that “our aim is to help Christians be self-critical and honest about the failings of Christianity, as we believe honesty can only strengthen faith." On board the ship are an online community, religious headlines, features and projects ranging from the satirical to the theological, regular columnist articles, and other miscellany including a “gadgets for god” section with items worthy of inclusion in The Museum of Idolatry.

Ship of Fools also has a feature called the “Mystery Worshipper,” described thusly:

Since ancient times (ok, 1998), Ship of Fools has been sending Mystery Worshippers to churches worldwide. Travelling incognito, they ask those questions which go to the heart of church life: How long was the sermon? How hard the pew? How cold was the coffee? How warm the welcome?

They seem to have a large stable of Mystery Worshippers, all of whom answer the same set of questions about the church they’ve visited. I read through quite a few of the reviews, mostly reviews of Lutheran churches. I didn’t detect any sort of agenda among the reviewers, and they generally offered matter-of-fact responses that were both insightful and sometimes humorous. First time visitors often offer observations and annoyances that the regular crowd no longer notices.

One of the Lutheran churches visited was an LCMS church in Troy, Michigan. This is a big church with “a splashy 1000 seat (plus) venue,” “served by five ministers (all male) and a support staff of nearly 40 employees.”

To set the stage, here are a few of non-Lutheran Mystery Worshipper Angel Unaware’s comments on his or her visit to the “family life center”:

How full was the building?
160 souls in the 1000 (plus) seat worship center.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one greeted me before or after the service. Mercifully, the service started almost as soon as I was seated.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfy and plush cineplex-style upholstered theater seats. They must have busted their budget for these beauties.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet. Empty. Three cameramen were practicing swiveling their cameras about. It was so abandoned that I consulted my bulletin twice to make sure I was at the correct place at the correct time for worship. Soon the praise band warmed up, and then vocalists began to sing the prelude – or rehearse for the service, I wasn't sure which.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Bible verses were projected up on a screen, as were all the songs, karaoke-style, over photos of seagulls, sunsets, ocean waves and bedewed roses. Even with such appealing graphics, though, no one around me participated in the singing.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, digital keyboard, guitars, and two percussions sets (one encased in a plexiglas “fishbowl”). A large, amplified choir, all dressed in street clothes, stood behind the musicians.

Angel Unaware also reports that the pastor wore khakis and a silky, open-necked camp shirt. At this point I’m beginning to wonder if this is one of the mega-churches that the LCMS uses to discover its “best practices” for church growth. This is also where the story takes a really sordid swing to the non-Lutheran side of the tracks. Our reviewer continues:

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Satisfactory Explanation for Begotten

I’ve never read a really satisfactory explanation for the word “begotten,” as in the Nicene Creed’s “begotten, not made…,” until recently. Pastor Wil Weedon cited J.N.D. Kelly’s book Early Christian Creeds on Issues, Etc. a while back, which I just happened to have on my shelf, and from which this discussion is derived.

In 325 A.D. there was a Church council held at Antioch, not long before the Nicene Creed was written. The purpose of the Council was to fill the vacant see of Antioch, but while they were there they also condemned the Arian heresy by writing this statement, now informally called the Antiochan Council’s creed. Kelly mentions that “possibly they were aware of Constantine’s determination himself to settle a controversy which was becoming a festering sore in the Church’s body [the Pelagian controversy], and wanted to anticipate by a fait accompli any chance there might be of the imperial decision going the wrong way."

Around the turn of the 20th century E. Schwartz discovered the manuscript containing the creedal document, which was written in Syriac. He translated it back into the original Greek, and the following is a translation of the Greek retroversion into English. The applicable portion that contains the mention of begotten reads:

…And in one Lord Jesus Christ, only begotten Son, begotten not from that which is not but from the Father, not as made but as properly an offspring, but begotten in an ineffable, indescribable manner, because only the Father Who begot and the Son Who was begotten know (for ‘no one knows the Father but the Son, nor the Son but the Father’), …in a way which passes all understanding or conception or reasoning we confess Him to have been begotten of the unbegotten Father, the divine Logos, true light, righteousness, Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour of all.

So there you have it. A completely understandable explanation for begotten that clears the whole thing up. Scott’s paraphrase: “Only God knows how the Son was begotten, so we need not trouble ourselves with understanding it, because we can’t understand it.” What a relief to have that figured out! Or that's the simplified version anyway. It's of course important to have some inkling of what begotten, monogenes in the Greek, means, but we'll never be able to totally grasp the concept this side of heaven. Which makes the Antiochan creed's explanation rather refreshing.

When I bought my copy of Early Christian Creeds quite a few years ago the book was out of print, and I paid a lot of money for it. Mine is a discard from the Houston Public Library. Apparently the good people of Houston weren’t all that interested in doctrinal details. Fortunately the book is now back in print, and you can buy the paperback version for a mere $42.70 at Amazon. Pretty pricey for a paperback, although it’s 656 pages long.

For your edification I’ve typed out the entire Antiochan creed, found on pages 209-210 of Early Christian Creeds:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

He Is Risen!

Hebrews 7:23-8:13

   23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
   26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

8 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, "See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain." 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

8 For he finds fault with them when he says:

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
       when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
       and with the house of Judah,
9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
       on the day when I took them by the hand
       to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
       and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
       after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
       and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
       and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
       and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'
for they shall all know me,
       from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
       and I will remember their sins no more."

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Be Not Far from Me, for Trouble Is Near

Psalm 22

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn.
A Psalm of David.

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
       Why are you so far from saving me,
       from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
       and by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy,
       enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our fathers trusted;
       they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried and were rescued;
       in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
       scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
       they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 "He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
       let him rescue him, for he delights in him!"
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
       you made me trust you at my mother's breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
       and from my mother's womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
       for trouble is near,
       and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me;
       strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
       like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
       and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Lamb Without Blemish

Exodus 12

    1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 "This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
    7 "Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.