Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reformation Day 2012

A hymn of the reformer Dr. Martin Luther, written in 1524:

O Lord, look down from heav'n, behold,
And let Thy pity waken;
How few are we within Thy fold,
Thy saints by men forsaken!
True faith is quenched on ev'ry hand,
Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
Dark times have us o'ertaken.

With fraud which they themselves invent
Thy truth they have confounded;
Their hearts are not with one consent
On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
While they parade with outward show,
They lead the people to and fro,
In error's maze astounded.

May God root out all heresy
And of false teachers rid us
Who proudly say: "Now where is he
That shall our speech forbid us?
By right or might we shall prevail;
What we determine cannot fail;
We own no lord and master."

Therefore saith God: "I must arise,
The poor My help are needing;
To Me ascend My people's cries,
And I have heard their pleading.
For them My saving Word shall fight
And fearlessly and sharply smite,
The poor with might defending.

As silver tried by fire is pure
From all adulteration,
So through God's Word shall men endure
Each trial and temptation.
Its light beams brighter through the cross,
And, purified from human dross,
It shines through every nation.

Defend Thy truth, O God, and stay
This evil generation;
And from the error of its way
Keep Thine own congregation.
The wicked everywhere abound
And would Thy little flock confound;
But Thou art our Salvation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Notice the Difference?

From the April 16, 2012 Christian Science Sentinel:
Each of us has spiritual sense that moves us fearlessly to take remedial action when something goes wrong. Motivated and regulated by a higher law of harmony, it doesn’t entice us into reckless abandon, na├»ve impulse, or some lesser type of bravery, however instant our response may have to be. It impels us to do what is selfless and morally right. We make room for it above our own willful tendencies and ahead of our commitment to our daily affairs. If this abiding sense is part of our spirituality (and why wouldn’t it be?), our hearts can be open to exercising it more for the good of the world. First by acknowledging its legitimacy and accessibility. Then, by carrying out is authoritative commands when they come.

From the Holy Bible:
Who can say, "I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin"? Proverbs 20:9 ESV

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." Mark 7:20-23 ESV

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. John 2:24-25 ESV

Monday, October 29, 2012

“I hope you’re not superstitious.”

Before a flight, air traffic control assigns a code which is put into the transponder on the flight deck, allowing the flight to be more easily identified on radar. One day our transponder code contained three sixes. The First Officer commented “I hope you’re not superstitious.” Nope. I’m not superstitious.

666 is the number of the second beast in Revelation 13, sent by Satan to deceive those who dwell on earth. The beast is allowed to slay those who refuse to worship the image of the first beast, a fearsome picture of the war that Satan wages against Christ’s bride, the Church. Yet we Christians need not be afraid. The beast and its image and the number of its name are conquered:
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire--and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." Revelation 15:2-4 ESV
In Christ’s death and resurrection, He defeats Satan, and we can join with our fellow redeemed to sing God’s praises forevermore: “For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." We need not fear the number of the beast.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fix Your Eyes on Jesus

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Psalm 119:15-16 ESV

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  Luke 4:16-21 ESV

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2 NIV

photo credit: swissrolli

Friday, October 26, 2012

Come and Die

photo credit: Diane Leigh

Coming Soon, Pastor Jonathan Fisk's New Book Broken

I'm looking forward to Pastor Jonathan Fisk's upcoming book, Broken: 7 "Christian" Rules That Every Christian Should Break as Often as Possible, published by CPH and coming out in December. You can pre-order a copy here. Here's a sneak preview from Pastor Fisk.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Heart of the Christian Experience

Quoting from Anglican Dr. Phillip Cary's article "Why Luther is Not Quite Protestant: The Logic of Faith in a Sacramental Promise" in the Fall 2005 issue of Pro Ecclesia:
I do not find faith or any other good thing in myself, so I must look at Christ instead—and precisely this is faith. So if there is to be any comfort or consolation for me I must find myself outside myself—by faith alone, which means, simply by believing what Christ has to say about me in the promise of the Gospel. Who I really am is one for whom Christ died and rose, one whom Christ baptized and absolves, one to whom he gives his body and blood.

This refusal to rely on experience is at the heart of Christian experience, as Luther understands it. When he speaks of experience he thinks immediately of Anfechtung, temptation or (more literally) assault: the recurrent experience of being attacked by an awareness of how offensive I am to God, a consciousness of sin and death and the devil which also shows me the weakness of my faith. In this regard Luther stresses that there is no substitute for experience:
This cannot be adequately expressed in words, but our own experience is necessary in addition. This teaches what hard work it is to climb over the mountain of our own unworthiness and sins standing between God and us as we are about to pray….it is here that we feel the weakness of faith most.
Christian experience is the experience of the inadequacy of our own faith. The only comfort we feel at these times of Anfechtung is the inexpressible sigh of the spirit that Paul describes, which in fact we barely feel at all:
it is time to turn your eyes away from the Law, from works and from your own feelings and conscience, to lay hold of the Gospel and to depend solely on the promise of God. Then there is emitted a little sigh…and nothing remains in your heart but the sigh that says 'Abba! Father!' And so the promise produces the sigh that cries: 'Father!'
At the heart of Christian experience for Luther is therefore this "sighing, of which we are hardly aware" because "we do not hear this cry. We have only the Word." The sigh of the Christian spirit is the anxious prayer of one who has no reassuring experience or feeling, and certainly not the experience of a strong faith, but only the word of promise to cling to. But the word alone is enough. That is precisely what we are to learn by experience—not by mere words, as Luther often puts it. This contrast between experience and words is not meant, of course, to devalue the word of Christ but rather to criticize the discourse of reflective faith. Talking about faith does me no good in times of Anfechtung, when only the word of God can help me. How many preachers have failed to learn this lesson? You cannot help me to have faith by telling me about faith or the experience of faith but only by preaching the Gospel, which tells me about Christ. Thus good preaching conforms to the essential shape of Christian experience, which is uninterested in faith, feeling or experience but only in the external word of Christ.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Explaining the Trinity to the Jehovah's Witnesses

The Jehovah's Witnesses are well trained in deflecting common arguments trying to disprove their theology, including those on their rejection of the Trinity. Their arguments are generally based on what they've been taught by the Watchtower, which in the case of the Trinity is derived by misquoting Church Fathers and Scripture twisting. Yet the Witnesses can sometimes be reached with the truth by combining kindness with a proper Scriptural presentation.

In the following lecture from several decades ago, Dr. Walter Martin respectfully explains the Watchtower position on the Trinity and then relates it to the doctrine of the Trinity as found in the Bible. Since this recording was made many years ago, some of the information contained in the lecture has been superceded by changing Watchtower doctrine, but the Trinitarian truths found in Scripture do not change. Dr. Martin established the Christian Research Institute in 1960, which is still with us today; it publishes the apologetics magazine Christian Research Journal.  He also authored the still-in-print and updated book The Kingdom of the Cults.

Listen in as Dr. Martin delivers a great apologetics lecture on the Trinity:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Running Through History

What’s with the rather non-descript railroad photo, taken while on a run near the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport? This Norfolk & Southern rail was once in the vicinity of another rail line, the Macon & Western Railroad, which on August 31, 1864 was the last vein of life supporting the Confederate city of Atlanta. At the time Atlanta was under siege by the artillery of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. Directly abeam this spot stood the Rough and Ready Tavern, a retreat for Confederates fleeing the city, and likely the temporary command post for Confederate Lt. General William J. Hardee.

General Sherman, after weeks of standoff because of Atlanta’s stiff defensive fortifications, opted to move the majority of his forces south and west of the city in a flanking move to cut off the two remaining rail lines into the city. The Atlanta & West Point Railroad line was cut on August 30, and the Macon & Western was cut just south of where I took the photo on August 31. A few miles further south, one of the most significant battles of the Civil War was fought at Jonesborough (now spelled Jonesboro). On September 1 the vastly outnumbered Confederate force was defeated, spelling the end of Atlanta’s resistance. Nearly 7,000 Confederate and Union soldiers were killed. That evening, Confederate General John Bell Hood ordered the evacuation of Atlanta, which was occupied by Sherman the next day. While much of Hood’s Army of Tennessee, led by Hardee, was able to escape, they were no longer able to stop General Sherman’s famous march to the sea. The Confederacy was dealt a severe blow.

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman
Like many war battles, Atlanta was not just militarily significant, but of equal political importance. The war was not going well for the Union. With General U.S. Grant unable to take Richmond, the upcoming Presidential election hung in the balance. Had Atlanta not been taken, Democratic candidate George McClellan might very well have defeated the incumbent, Abraham Lincoln, in the election and sued for peace. Had that happened, the United States we know today would not exist. Not unlike today, the fates of politicians and citizens alike are often determined on the battlefield.

You romanticists will remember the famous burning building scene in the movie Gone with the Wind as Rhett and Scarlett flee Atlanta. This scene takes place on August 31, 1864. Rhett decides to join the cause against the Yankees, leaving Scarlett to fend for herself with the memorable and apt words “God help the Yankees if they should get you.” Scarlett must slip past the Union forces located in the area of Rough and Ready (now called Mountain View) and Jonesborough to make it back to the family plantation, Tara. The book is historically accurate at this point. You can read this particular part of the dialogue here. You can also read about the background, and the interesting twists and turns of the Battle of Jonesborough, that helped seal the fate of the Confederacy, from an excerpt of William R. Scaife’s book The Campaign for Atlanta here. The area around Jonesboro and its history was one of the inspirations for Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. There are still several antebellum homes in the area, as well as a couple of Confederate cemeteries – the final resting place for those Confederate soldiers who fought and died in the Battle of Jonesborough.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It Pays to Know Your Books

While thumbing through the religion books at Brused Books in Pullman, Washington, I came across a book I knew I had to buy. “What was it?” you ask, in eager anticipation. Why, it was The Emphatic Diaglott. “Oh, awesome!” you say, unsure of what that might be, other than that it’s something with two tongues.

The Emphatic Diaglott is an interlinear Bible – but not just any interlinear Bible, it’s a bad interlinear Bible. Originally published by Benjamin Wilson, who was anti-Trinitarian in his beliefs (being a Christadelphian). His anti-Trinitarian leanings show up in his translation, originally published in 1865 and based on the Codex Vaticanus. Where this monologue finally gets interesting is the entrance of a mystery person who buys the rights to Wilson’s Bible. The mystery man is Charles Taze Russell, the inventor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Russell was interested in The Emphatic Diaglott because of its anti-Trinitarian and anti-hell bias, as well as its usefulness in backing up Russell’s belief in Christ’s invisible return to earth in the 19th century.

The Watchtower printed the Diaglott, using the original plates obtained from Wilson, in 1902. They reset the type for publication on their own printing presses, running editions in 1927 and 1942. Eventually, the Watchtower tired of this Bible, translating and adding and subtracting to their own Bible, The New World Translation, in 1961. The Diaglott is useful because it can be used to show the Witnesses, using their own materials, how the Diaglott and The New World Translation differ. Of course, the easier route to take is to obtain a copy of the Watchtower’s own interlinear, called the Kingdom Interlinear Translation, and use it to show how the Greek markedly differs with their translation. You can download the Kingdom Interlinear (lovingly called the Purple People Eater by Christian apologists because of the purple cover of the 1965 edition) here.

So why was I so intent on buying The Emphatic Diaglott? Partly because I didn’t have one – it’s one of the few significant JW books I didn’t have. The other reason? It was $9.00, and the actual value for this early print edition is at least ten times that price – not that I’d sell it. It pays to know your books.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

You Don’t See This Every Day: Space Shuttle Endeavour Rolls Through L.A.

While on a layover last Saturday, I was enjoying the panoramic view of balmy Los Angeles from my room at the Westin on Century Boulevard. I noticed four helicopters hanging around to the north of the hotel, just to the north of the final approach for runway 24R. I figured it was another sensationalized media coverage of some jet inbound to LAX with a landing gear problem – except that the helicopters just kept hanging out. A couple of hours later I glanced out the window and immediately knew why the helicopters were there – a mile-and-a-half to the north was the unmistakable sight of a space shuttle tail sticking up above the urban sprawl. I immediately grabbed my wheels (i.e. my running shoes) and camera and was out the door within 60 seconds for my second run of the day. This was one piece of history I wasn’t going to miss.

Rewind to earlier in the morning. As we were inbound to LAX, the First Officer mentioned that they were moving the space shuttle today. I didn’t give it much of a thought as to from where and to where. The shuttle was making its way from the airport to the California Science Center, its final home, retiring after 25 missions. This was a really big deal. The total cost of the two day, two mph drive from the airport to the museum was estimated at $10 million. They removed 200 streetlights and nearly 60 traffic signals, and cut down 393 trees. Clearly nobody in L.A. planned on hauling an orbiter across town.

This was the closest I’d ever gotten to a shuttle. Though I’d seen the shuttle piggybacked to its 747 taxi cab in Salt Lake City, this time the wingtip went nearly right over my head. It was great seeing the reaction of the crowds. Michael Jackson wouldn’t have caused this much of a stir – people everywhere clapping and hollering with more cameras than I’d ever seen before. Coupled with the warm weather and sunshine, it certainly seemed like an appropriate ending for this historic piece of America’s space program.

Click on the photos for a larger view.


Endeavour in its prime. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Denying Justification

Quoting Dr. Carl Fickenscher, from  the October 18, 2010 Issues, Etc. segment on the doctrine of justification:
Denial of justification isn’t just a matter of official church teachings that say if you believe in justification by grace by faith alone you are condemned, you are anathema. Not just that at all. It really is a denial of justification to put it on the back burner, to make it unimportant, to fail to mention it. And then there are even ways that in fact deny justification much more subtly even among those who would affirm it. For example, a church that denies the efficacy of the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion often has behind that denial an implicit idea that something like Baptism couldn’t save a baby, because something in that baby isn’t quite right yet, quite mature yet, like the baby for example isn’t yet able to make a decision for Christ. Ultimately what that’s doing is saying there has to be some kind of work, something in a person that can’t be present yet at a very very early age. And any time some kind of work, even a work as seemingly attractive as confessing your faith in Christ, is required for right standing before God, that actually is a denial of justification. And that’s done as I said by churches that absolutely would say “Oh no no no no no, you’re of course not justified by what you do, solely by what Christ has done.” The de facto denial of justification is certainly widespread.

Cataphatic Mysticism?

“Contemporary songs aren't necessarily trying to teach the faith, so much as proclaim it. The point is to provide a vehicle for praise or prayer. Instead of singing doctrinal discourse or narrative content, the relatively simple message is sung repeatedly as a meditation. The repetition serves as an opportunity to reflect on the point of the text so as to deepen awareness, appreciation, and experience of the truth that is being sung. The purpose of singing the song is to lead the worshipper to this point of meditation and reflection, and so hopefully engage the worshipper in a way that goes beyond the intellectual or cognitive. …The ultimate purpose of the contemporary song is meditation on God in the presence of God.”

Does that quote sound a little “off” to you? I thought so too. It was written by LCMS pastor Michael Schmid, and quoted in Pastor Paul Strawn’s paper titled “The Praise Chorus as Unwitting Introduction of Cataphatic Mysticism into Christian Worship.” What’s cataphatic mysticism? Ah, for that answer, you’ll have to read Pastor Strawn’s paper. You can find it here. It’ll be worth the trip.

photo credit: Krisztina Tordai

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"...My wife dragged me, kicking and screaming...."

On Higher Things Radio episode 137 on May 27th, 2011, Pastor Jon Sollberger shared his experiences while in a church praise band. This is a powerful quote, because it contrasts the often un-evangelical emotional roller coaster ride that you're treated to at many "contemporary" church services with a doctrinally sound proclamation of the Gospel, in which the Word does its work. This quote comes at the 31:15 minute mark : 
This was a couple lifetimes ago, and I was very much involved in the church where I grew up – that church was all about the show and how it made you feel. And so I was a guitarist and I got into that, and we really did the whole thing where we got everyone going via the music, the beat, the feeling, the great progression of the music. That’s how we equated successful worship. And then I took my act out on the road, I traveled all across the country, I did recordings of this so-called Christian contemporary music, I lived it, I performed it, I produced it, I recorded it, and spent a good decade doing this until I actually found out that I was burnt out on it. …It’s a very successful thing outwardly speaking. I mean, all we had to do was show up, plug in, and play, and we had an instant reaction and enthusiasm from all the people, young and old, both, and it was really something. But then you start to – it becomes normal to us, all the music and the generational feeling that it creates – and we started evaluating our worship experience on how the people were reacting to what we played. I mean we could get ‘em up there with some fast paced high energy music, we could get them to be very very mellow and contemplative with some slower, more heartfelt type of music, and when we didn’t get those reactions we didn’t feel that the Holy Spirit was at work because obviously the people weren’t reacting – there was no “success.” After a while you kind of just get burnt out on this sort of thing and that’s when I kind of quit the whole church thing for quite a while and my wife dragged me, kicking and screaming, into a Lutheran church, and I really saw that there was a difference there. I thought it was a cult. I thought it was spare, Spartan. I didn’t think there was any spiritual energy there. I thought it was way too formal, and I could not wait to get back for the next service. And I didn’t know why obviously, but it was because the Gospel had been not only preached, but presented within a context and in such a manner that nothing else got in the way, not my feelings, not how I was doing, not how well dressed the people up front were or anything like that, or how impressive they were to me, but simply the Gospel – that I was a sinner who had been saved by the grace and merit of Jesus only.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Difference Between a Hymn and a Ditty

Here's a clip from the October 4 Issues, Etc. show on the historic liturgy, with Pastor Will Weedon explaining the difference between a hymn and a ditty:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sasse on Catholicism: Gospel or Anti-Christ?

There are more than a few Reformed bloggers out there who present a rather merciless view of Catholicism, and at times go out of their way to bash the “Una Sancta.” On the other hand, there are a few Lutheran writers who seem to have a love affair with the Roman Catholic Church, at times giving her more credit than she is due. While reading through the We Confess Anthology, a collection of writings by the now sainted Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse, Sasse certainly takes a realistic approach to those who call themselves Roman Catholics. Sasse takes a charitable and reasonable approach towards Catholics as he revisits the oft-described death of Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas:
Thomas Aquinas, when he was not yet 50 years old, died on his way to the Council of Lyon. When he received the Lord's Supper for the last time, he said, "I receive you, ransom price of my soul. For love of you I have studied and worn myself out. You I have preached and taught...." Thus the greatest thinker of the Middle Ages took leave of the uncompleted work to which he had given his life. Forgotten is all the wealth of his philosophical and theological knowledge. His system, which takes in heaven and earth, world and super-world, has now shrunk to the "one thing needful." Now, like Paul, he knows only "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2), whose body and blood he receives for the last time on this earth, the price paid to redeem his soul. This Christ is the content of all theology. Forgotten is the theology of glory of the half-heathen proofs for the existence of God at the beginning of the Summa theologiae. Forgotten is the belief in the abilities of the natural man. Forgotten is the "triumph of theology" which Thomas celebrated in overthrowing Averroism, which had become a subject of art.
We dare never forget this genuinely Christian, evangelical side of the Middle Ages if we would rightly understand the Reformation. The original evangelical elements that are preserved in the Mass, with its "You alone are the Holy One" in the Gloria, the "Not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences" in the Canon of the Mass, the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei, the Words of Institution and the formula of Baptism, the "King of majesty tremendous, who dost free salvation send us" in the Mass for the dead, the constant pointing to the thief on the cross-all this, as Luther recognized, sustained the life of the church in the Middle Ages, and sustains it still in Catholicism today. We should never forget that "by grace alone" (sola gratia) is a possibility also in Roman Catholicism, though only one possibility among others, and only in such a way that it can never become "by faith alone" (sola fide). Whatever else the Roman Church may be, it wants to be-and is-church of the cross, church of the Crucified One. His sacrificial death means more in its life and thought than in the life and thought of many a Protestant church. Only God knows whether in our day there are not many more Catholics who die with faith in the saving merit of Christ than Protestants. (44)
At the same time, Sasse doesn’t hesitate to point out, and agree with, the historical Lutheran view that the office of the pope is the Antichrist (though not the only Antichrist):
That there may be no doubt about our position, let it be clearly said: A theologian who merely because it happens to be in the Confessions lets the doctrine stand that the pope is the Antichrist, and is not solidly convinced that it is so, cannot truthfully be called a Lutheran. (118)
He continues:
If there was any doubt on the part of some Lutherans as to the correctness of Luther’s judgment, then this was removed when Pius IX, with the consent of the Vatican Council, on 18 July 1870 promulgated the constitution Pastor aeternus. In it eternal salvation was denied to those who consciously oppose the dogma that the pope has the exercise of direct episcopal power over the whole church, over the infallibility with which Christ has equipped His church, and that his ex cathedra decisions in questions of faith and morals are, “of themselves, and not from the consensus of the church,” true and irreformable (ex sese, non autem ex consensus Ecclesiae irreformabiles [Denzinger 3074]). And when the first of these new ex cathedra decisions was proclaimed—the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, in 1950, on All Saints’ Day, the day inseparably connected with the Reformation—the shock wave hit all Christendom. Here became visible something of the reality which Luther had recognized with deep dread—the reality of the man who puts himself in God’s place and proclaims his fantasies as divine revelation. (120)
Sasse further mentions:
It was Luther’s deep understanding of the Gospel that enabled him on the one hand to recognize its fearful perversion in the papacy, and on the other hand to give a positive evaluation of those elements of the true church of Christ that still live on in the Roman Church. The same Smalcald Articles which so sharply delineate the doctrine of the Antichrist also acknowledge that “the sublime articles of the divine majesty” “are not matters of dispute or contention,” and give a considerable list of those matters which they wish to discuss with the Roman theologians. (124)
The Council of Trent, which established Roman Catholic doctrine and which remains their official position, states in Canon XII: “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.” This is a clear repudiation of justification by grace through faith, and thus a clear rejection of the Gospel. Thus, while we can be thankful that there are Christians to be found within the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, we must also point out their church’s false doctrine and be willing to gently instruct those we might have opportunity to speak with and lead them to the truth.

Hermann Sasse, We Confess Anthology, Trans. Norman Nagel (St. Louis: CPH, 1999)

photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Regulated Garbage

What is it?  Specifically, it's an airplane catering truck.  This is the truck that brings the pilots' crew meals to the jet.  Let's just say that most of the crew meals that are put on the plane in Seattle, which is the majority of the meals I receive since that's where I'm based, are less than salutary.  Meals catered in any other city, or country, any time, anywhere, are more edible. In what can't possibly be a coincidence, notice what it says on the back of the truck: "REGULATED GARBAGE." It's all part of the glamorous life of the airline pilot.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Most Difficult Word in Scripture

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther; written down by Veit Dietrich at Luther's table in the fall of 1531:
I wonder whether Peter, Paul, Moses, and all the saints fully and thoroughly understood a single word of God so that they had nothing more to learn from it, for the understanding of God is beyond measure. To be sure, the saints understood the Word of God and could also speak about it, but their practice did not keep pace with it. Here one forever remains a learner. The scholastics illustrated this with a ball which only at one point touches the table on which it rests, although the whole weight of the ball is supported by the table.

Though I am a great doctor, I haven’t yet progressed beyond the instruction of children in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. I still learn and pray these every day with my Hans and my little Lena. Who understands in all of its ramifications even the opening words, ‘Our Father who art in heaven’? For if I understood these words in faith—that the God who holds heaven and earth in his hand is my Father—I would conclude that therefore I am lord of heaven and earth, therefore Christ is my brother, therefore all things are mine, Gabriel is my servant, Raphael is my coachman, and all the other angels are ministering spirits sent forth by my Father in heaven to serve me in all my necessities, lest I strike my foot against a stone. In order that this faith should not remain untested, my Father comes along and allows me to be thrown into prison or to be drowned in water. Then it will finally become apparent how well we understand these words. Our faith wavers. Our weakness gives rise to the question, ’Who knows if it is true?’ So this one word ‘your’ or ‘our’ is the most difficult of all in the whole Scripture. It’s like the word ‘your’ in the first commandment, ‘I am the Lord your God’ [Exod. 20:2].
Luther, M. (1999, c1967). Vol. 54: Luther's Works, vol. 54 : Table Talk (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (54:III-10). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

photo credit: moria

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Listen to Lutheran Public Radio

Did you know, that while you're reading this, you could be reading it while listening to sacred music?  Listen to Lutheran Public Radio 24/7:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Liturgy: A Two-way Street Based on Christ

Quoting from Pastor Bill Cwirla's article "The Law and the Gospel in the Liturgy":
The Liturgy runs in both a "sacramental" and a "sacrificial" direction. God justifies man sacramentally, and justified man serves God sacrificially. God speaks his Word and as his Word has its mortifying and vivifying way with us, we speak to God and to one another. God opens our lips, and our mouths declare his praise (Ps 51:15).
Jesus Christ always remains the center and focus in the liturgy, whether we are speaking sacramentally or sacrificially. Through Jesus Christ, the Father bestows forgiveness, life, and salvation by the Holy Spirit who works through the Word. And through the same Jesus Christ, the church renders her thanks and praise sacrificially to the Father in the Holy Spirit. In both directions, Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5).
Where sacrament and sacrifice are confused, there will be a corresponding confusion of the Law and the Gospel. Worship that is focused on our prayer, praise, good works, love, caring, outreach, mission, stewardship, and sanctification instead of on Christ's saving death and resurrection, is focused on the Law and not the Gospel. Sacrifice without sacrament is Law without Gospel. To worship God according to the Law is idolatry, even if the God whom we are worshiping is the one, true God.
This distinction of sacrament and sacrifice provides a Christocentric litmus test for worship. If what is said, sung, or preached in the liturgy could be said, sung, or preached had Jesus Christ never died on the cross and rose from the dead for the salvation of the world, then that worship is not uniquely Christian. The sacrificial death of Jesus for the life of the world is the essential, core of the Liturgy. "For as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

Monday, October 8, 2012

We’re So Serious About Being Church We’re Going to Cancel Church!

Notice the difference? 

Rev. Terry Tieman, head of the Transforming Churches Network (TCN), from his blog post titled “3 BIG IDEAS (AND 2 SMALL ONES) ON REVITALIZATION: WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM 500 CHURCHES IN 5 YEARS!,” written in 2012:
Shorten or Cancel Worship [for Service Project Sunday]. Whoa! Are you kidding? No, because this demonstrates that you are serious about being the church “in” your community and that you care about your “neighbors” around you. If it’s too uncomfortable to completely cancel your formal service(s), then shorten or provide an alternative on Saturday or Sunday evening. 
Dr. Martin Luther, reformer, from his Heidelberg Disputation, written in 1518:
THESIS 21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. (LW, v. 31, IV)  

Read more about the Transforming Churches Network by downloading Scott's article on TCN here.

photo credit: Lawrence OP 

Friday, October 5, 2012

To Damnation and Back

Cheryl and I ventured out on an impromptu road trip, heading southbound through Oregon and northern California.  We spent our first night in "Track Town USA," Eugene, Oregon.  We saw Hayward Field, where the legendary Steve Prefontaine once ran for the University of Oregon.  Heading south, we circumnavigated Crater Lake. We spent the next night in Medford, Oregon, and had an enjoyable dinner with the legendary theological game show host Pastor Evan Goeglein, of Table Talk Radio fame. The next day we headed southwest towards northern California, hiking through the redwoods down to the coast, and then driving the coast northwards on U.S. 101 to Coos Bay, Oregon, where we bunked for the night. The next day we hiked the sand dunes of the coast, and then headed for McMinnville to visit the Evergreen Air & Space Museum before heading home. If you're into aviation, it's be worth the trip. Here's a few photos.

              Crater Lake from the north rim. It's the deepest lake in the U.S. at 1,949 feet.

        That's incredibly blue water! Click on the photo and take a close look at the shoreline.

The laked formed after the collapse of an old volcano. The little cone called Wizard Island formed from a subsequent eruption.

                                      Mt. Thielsen on the horizon in the distance.

Many of you may not recognize this guy hermaphrodite, the banana slug. They're quite common on the west coast, often munching on the leaves of your garden. Note the iridescent dried slug slime.

We came across these National Park Service workers while hiking the Damnation Trail from U.S. 101 down to the coast, about 2 1/2 miles one way and a 1,000 foot elevation change. A redwood had fallen across the trail. They'd been there for a day-and-a-half already, working on getting it off the trail. When we climbed back out, they had a section of the tree cut out so we could walk on the trail between the remaining portions of the trunk. This was a little tree - only about five feet in diameter. The Husqvarna-wielding man in the orange chaps is on top of the tree's trunk.

               Cheryl is dwarfed by redwood giants as they pierce the low-hanging clouds.

Sand dunes inhabit much of the Oregon coast. Here on the John Dellenback Trail they extend in nearly two miles from the beach.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Good Fortune?

This quote of 20th century Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse comes from the We Confess Anthology, in the "Jesus Christ is Lord" section. The excerpt comes in the midst of a superb discussion on the theology of the cross. For me, this quote is strangely comforting. I've seen too many friends and relatives suffer, yet even in all these things, God is there. He hides Himself where we may not think to look.
What human wisdom considers good fortune and therefore strives for— health, success, affluence—these things God in His wisdom may see as harmful for a person’s good and so deny them. In God’s judgment sickness, failure, and poverty may be far better. And God’s judgment is not mistaken, even when it contradicts all human reason. There can be no good, as we see things, in someone lying for years in a sickbed with an incurable ailment and then slowly and painfully dying. Yet God may see something very good in such an apparently meaningless fate. 
Hermann Sasse, We Confess Anthology, Trans. Norman Nagel (St. Louis: CPH, 1999) 50-51.

photo credit: The Doctr

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Oh, You Forgot About the Water, Did You?

Here's a clip of Pastor Will Weedon, in his wonderful Weedonish way, discussing Baptism - from the September 14 Issues, Etc. segment reviewing the hymn “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It.” You can listen to the whole segment here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pastor Bender Belts It Out

Here's the video of Pastor Peter Bender hitting a grand slam at the October 1 Cubs game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. His singing voice is matched by his confessional prowess. If you'd like to hear Pastor Bender speak, he'll be at the Lutheran Concerns Association Annual Conference on January 21.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Purpose of the District, by Joe Strieter

This post is written by my friend Joe Strieter, who is on the Ohio District Board of Directors. He provides a nice summary of what our Districts are to do.


The recent controversy in the Minnesota South District (MNS) has had an unexpected side effect.  People are starting to ask, “What is a district all about?”  The suspicion voiced by some bloggers toward MNS District President Rev. Lane Seitz, and the MNS Board of Directors is palpable, and disturbing.  The question hangs in the air, unanswered: “What is the purpose of our Districts?”  The hostility and indifference towards that entity known simply as “the district” remain:

       “Who needs them?”
       “What has the district ever done for me?”
       “If I ever need the district, I’ll let them know.” 

Those questions and comments were not dreamed up—as a member of the Ohio District Board of Directors I’ve heard all of them and a few more.  Such comments give us pause—they cause us to question ourselves, and what we as a district are about.  A friend asked me to write a paper on the purpose of districts, which he intended to post on his blog.  I submit it today for your consideration.  It is necessarily brief, and undoubtedly will serve to raise many more questions.  It is my hope that is will also foster further discussion.

During the discussions on forming a synod, C.F.W. Walther expressed the opinion “That the chief function of the Synod shall be directed toward the maintenance and furtherance and guarding of the unity and purity of Lutheran doctrine.”1  Not surprisingly, the Synod’s first Constitution of 1847 reflects that view:
“ARTICLE I. Reasons for forming a synodical organization.
  1. The example of the apostolic Church. (Acts 15:1-31.)
  2. The preservation and furthering of the unity of pure
    confession (Eph. 4:3-6; 1 Cor. 1:10) and to provide common
    defense against separatism and sectarianism. (Rom. 16:17).

ARTICLE IV. Business of Synod
  1. To stand guard over the purity and unity of doctrine within
    the synodical circle, and to oppose false doctrine.
  2. Supervision over the performance of the official duties on
    the part of the pastors and teachers of Synod.”2
To this end, the President was to visit every congregation at least once during each triennium, and report his findings to the Synod’s convention.
 “Why was this doctrinal unity, this unity in the Word, so important to the founders of the Missouri Synod? It was precisely because of the churchly character of the synod. We know that the marks of the church are the Word and the sacraments. According to the Lutheran Confessions, the Word of God and the sacraments are the marks of the Church because they are the only means by which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith.  Synod's commitment to maintaining the right preaching of the gospel and the correct administration of the sacraments arises, therefore, out of a concern for the salvation of those for whom the means of grace are intended. For false doctrine dishonors God's name and endangers salvation by leading people away from God's grace in Christ.   Our Lord Himself said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’" (John 8:31-32).3 
LCMS Historian August Suelflow gives us some background:
“In the Synod’s earliest years there were no districts. Some strongly opposed the idea when it first came up. They feared “splintering” the Synod.  However, the rapid growth of the Synod made it impossible for the President to make the required visitations.  Friedrich Wyneken gave two eloquent addresses dealing with the issue of division into districts, which you can find in “At Home in the House of My Fathers.”  Finally, between 1852 and 1854 the Synod decided to create four regional districts into which its member congregations would be divided. (By 1854, the baptized membership of all these congregations was 10,551.) The Synod acted with these understandings:

• Theological unity throughout the Synod would be preserved by the general president continuing to visit each parish (a provision that lasted until 1864). The 1854 Constitution made the president the greatest coordinating factor in the church body, assigning him total supervision of all synodical work, within constitutional limitations, and supervision of all district and synodical officials.

• The district presidents were to assist the synodical president. They were given basically the rights and duties originally given the general president, including status as CAO of the district and the duty to ordain, install, and suspend.
“The 1854 Constitution set out Synod/District functions and duties, reserving to Synod, among other things:

• General supervision of doctrine and its application in each district, with assistance from the District Presidents, in other words, visitation.

“Districts were to administer their own affairs. The 1854 Constitution said each could adopt bylaws necessary for its own conditions. But the synodical constitution was to be the constitution of each district. District bylaws could not conflict with it.

“Finally in 1866, visitation circuits were established to lessen the duties of district presidents. Circuits were created at the discretion of the districts, and so the office of Circuit Visitor was established—today we use the term circuit counselor.

“Between 1854 and 1874, there was an explosion of districts. Thirty were created or redefined, over one a year on average!  It’s interesting to review some reasons for district division given during these years:
• Too many pastors and congregations in one district already
• District too big to conduct effective conventions.
• Serve the Kingdom better
• Make “Synod” more personal to congregations and people
• Give more opportunity for involvement in synodical-district matters
• Districts wanted to give more attention to their peculiar problems.”4
Suelflow notes that by the mid-twentieth century, one of the primary functions of the district was to bring the synodical program on a personal basis to the district constituency.  At the same time, he also notes that growth of districts had increased the distance between congregations and districts, something with which our Board of Directors has been dealing for several years.

Building a Poorer Concordia

At Concordia University Chicago, Dr. Jodie Dewey is in the process of being tenured. This process is in its final stage, the Board of Regents having given notice in the August Lutheran Witness of its intent to grant her tenure. Having reviewed her curriculum vitae, some of what she’s written, her professional associations, and what others have reported about her, I don’t believe she should be tenured.

According to her curriculum vitae, Dr. Dewey teaches Social Research Methods, Juvenile Delinquency, Sociology of Gender and Sexualities, Sociology of Corrections, Sociology of Health Care, Criminology, Social Deviance and Directed Study courses. Among her areas of research are medical sociology, gender and sexualities.

A portion of what she has written and spoken about involves transgendered people. Dr. Dewey seems to advocate a position of normalizing and affirming these types of behavior, a position that is contrary to that of Scripture and God’s created order. She refers to God’s creation of male and female as “our strict binary gender system” and refers to “the dichotomous gender structure,” and “gender policing” (ref. here and here).

While I am loathe to develop a “guilt by association” mentality, at the same time, the organizations one joins, especially those that are listed on a curriculum vitae, do reflect to some degree what one affirms. If you join an organization with whom you disagree, it calls into question your judgment. Dr. Dewey is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as the World Professional Association of Transgender Health, both of which promote the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) agenda, a position which is contrary to Holy Scripture.

While Stand Firm has never taken any political stand, the comment of one of her students at would cause most anybody to raise an eyebrow: “She approaches everything from a cynical, neo-Marxist perspective, which was fine with me.”

It shouldn’t be necessary to quote Synod bylaws to understand that the faculty of all of our schools, whether they’re teaching theology or some other subject, must teach and write what is in keeping with Scripture. Presenting positions to students contrary to Scripture is one thing, to advocate them, quite another. One of the key principles of the Concordia University System is to “work to maintain and enhance the Christ-centered Lutheran character of its institutions” (Bylaw Granting tenure to Dr. Dewey would not be in keeping with this God-pleasing principle. I must therefore regretfully oppose the Board of Regents plan to grant tenure to Dr. Jodie Dewey.

I hope you will do your own research, and if you agree, send a letter stating your beliefs to the following people. Do so expeditiously. The Concordia Chicago Board of Regents will be making their final decision in the near future.

Dr. John F. Johnson
President Concordia University – Chicago

7400 Augusta Street
River Forest, IL 60305-1499

Rev. Dan P. Gilbert
Chairman, Board of Regents
Northern Illinois District – LCMS

2301 S. Wolf Rd.
Hillside, IL 60162