Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bored? Try One of These LCMS Events

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Impersonating a Christian

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mysticism in the SED: Part 5, Closing the Door

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quotes from SED Workshop Recommended Authors

Philip St. Romain

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Quoted from the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII

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

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

Quoted from the Smalcald Articles; Part III, Article VIII

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

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mysticism in the SED: Part 1, Embracing False Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Push Me - Pull You and Other Oddities

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

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Speak the Amen Firmly

Quoting from Luther's "A Simple Way to Pray (...for Master Peter the Barber)":

Finally, mark this, that you must always speak the Amen firmly. Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say "yes" to your prayers. Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain. Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, "Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth." That is what Amen means.

photo credit: tray

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I’m Looking for that Double-Wide

The great thing about being a Christian is that there’s no gray area when it comes to salvation. He that believes and is baptized is saved. There’s nothing you’ve got to do to be saved, since it’s already all been done for you in Christ. Even your faith has been given to you. You didn’t do anything, yet you still get the credit for Christ’s merit.

Unfortunately, not all people understand the meaning of grace. Pastor Jim Wilson, on the June 17 Table Talk Radio Table Scraps show, talks about his time in the Assemblies of God denomination, and their requirement to speak in tongues – an entertaining and informative segment:

This is how it goes. This is what you’re supposed to do. This is when you really get to be a real Christian in the fullest sense, because now you’ve got the Holy Spirit. Of course you could be a Christian “without” the Holy Spirit, but that was just, you know, kind of a bargain basement K-Mart level of Christianity. You’d get the single-wide trailer at the edge of heaven.

Thanks be to God that my salvation and sanctification aren’t based on my own merit, or I’d be living in this, right along with you (and I don’t think it’d be on the edge of heaven either):

photo credit: escapo

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Great Temptation

     This is surely a great temptation. With it Satan tries to induce Eves mind to reach the conclusion that God is not inconsistent. Accordingly, if He turned over all the other creatures, He also turned over all the trees. Therefore it follows that the command about not eating of the tree is not God’s command, or at least is not to be understood as though He did not want anyone to eat from this tree.
     Thus a twofold temptation is put before Eve, by which, however, Satan has the same end in view. The first is: “God did not say this; therefore you may eat from this tree.” The second is: “God has given you everything; therefore you have everything in your possession; therefore this one single tree is not forbidden you.” However, each aims at the same end: that Eve be drawn away from the Word and from faith. This command about not eating from the tree, which was given them by God, is a convincing proof that even if his nature had remained perfect, Adam, together with his descendants, would have lived in faith until he would have been translated from this physical life to the spiritual life. Where the Word is, there necessarily faith also is. Here is the Word that he should not eat of this tree; otherwise he would die. Therefore Adam and Eve ought to have believed that this tree was detrimental to their welfare. Thus faith is included in this very commandment.
     We who are being brought out of sin into righteousness and from our mortal body to the immortal body also live in faith. But we have a different Word, which Adam did not have when his nature was perfect, since he would have been directly translated from the physical life to the spiritual. For this reason I said above that this tree in the middle of the garden would have been like a temple in which this Word would be preached: that all the other trees were wholesome, but that this one was destructive.9 Therefore they should have learned to obey God and to render Him the service of refraining from eating of it, since God had forbidden it.
     In this way uncorrupted nature, which had the true knowledge of God, nevertheless had a Word or command which was beyond Adam’s understanding and had to be believed. Moreover, this command was given to Adam’s innocent nature that he might have a directive or form for worshiping God, for giving thanks to God, and for instructing his children. Since the devil sees this and knows that this command is beyond the understanding of the human being, he tempts Eve so that she herself may proceed to ponder whether this is God’s command and will or not. This is the beginning and the main part of every temptation, when reason tries to reach a decision about the Word and God on its own without the Word.
     It was God’s intention that this command should provide man with an opportunity for obedience and outward worship, and that this tree should be a sort of sign by which man would give evidence that he was obeying God. But by getting a discussion under way as to whether God had commanded this, Satan is trying to lead man away from this obedience to sin. In this situation the only salvation would have been if Eve had laid emphasis on God’s command and had not allowed herself to be drawn away to other discussions about whether God had commanded this, or whether, since God had created everything for the sake of man, this one tree had been created for the ruin of man. It seems a matter of wisdom to investigate these questions rather carefully; but the moment the mind engages in discussions of this kind, it is done for. Now let us hear what Eve’s reply was.

Luther, M. (1999, c1958). Vol. 1: Luther's works, vol. 1 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (1:153). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

photo credit: Sint-Katelijne-Waver

Friday, August 13, 2010

Who Knew?

Rev. Dr. Martin Noland, the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Evansville, Indiana, is one of those guys who generally stays out of the limelight. As a parish pastor he does a great job of preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, drawing attention to Christ rather than to himself. With only the occasional appearance on Issues, Etc. or the infrequent article on The Brothers of John the Steadfast, we don’t often see him. Thus it should come as no surprise that Dr. Noland doesn’t often allude to his colorful past in the music business.

Dr. Noland’s musical talents are no secret. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree with a Director of Parish Music (DPM) certificate from Concordia River Forest. But what few people know is that Dr. Noland also lived a past life as a famous jazz musician. That’s right – he went by a stage name back then, Alan Rubin. Alan Rubin’s nickname was “Mr. Fabulous,” and he's played with greats such as Paul Simon, Bill Joel, and Eric Clapton, as well as playing his trumpet for such famous bands as The Saturday Night Live Band and The Blues Brothers. Did you see “The Blues Brothers” movie? He’s in it! Still doubting? Here’s the photographic proof.

Note the same flashy but yet conservative dress, and the wavy hair nearly touching the collar in the back. He’s aged very little over the years. About the only change is a bit of a graceful receding hairline. Who knew?

So the next time you run into Dr. Noland, ask him to play a lick or two on his trumpet. You’ll be glad you did.

For other factual oddities and LCMS secrets, check out these past groundbreaking stories on Stand Firm:

Pastor Walter Snyder moonlighting as Dr. Demento.

Pastor Todd Wilken making an exception to his no-autograph rule.

Pastor Bill Cwirla in his fatigues.

President-Elect Matt Harrison and his clone.

Pastor Todd Wilken wearing his kilt.

Dr. Larry Rast in dreadlocks.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Against Universalism

Quoting Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz from Loci Theologici, Locus 7:

Thus with the original depravity there are always actual sins, which in the unregenerate are all mortal. And the total person is damned with his fruits, as John says: “He that believeth not the Son…, the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). Although there are the great virtues of Aristides, Fabius, Pomponius Atticus, and others, we know that the original depravity nevertheless remained in them, and that their hearts were full of doubts and corrupt desires. The knowledge of Christ was lacking and there was no true worship of God.

Let us never forget that many excellent men of outstanding virtue were nevertheless defiled by extraordinary vices, demonstrating that they were in the power of the devil. How great was the depravity in the morals of Hercules, Themistocles, Pausanias, Alexander, and many others, who in the beginning were very restrained. These examples warn us that we may not disparage the knowledge of Christ, as many do by transferring the heathen to heaven. Let us rather fear the wrath of God the more, because we see them rejected and defiled in various and fearful ways, even though there were many excellent qualities in them. Let us not despise the Son of God; let us not imagine that men have been saved without the Son of God; let us not trample upon the blood of the Son of God. These matters we have prefaced concerning the unregenerate, in whom all actual sins are mortal, even as is original sin.

Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard, The Doctrine of Man in the Writings of Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard, ed. Herman A. Preus and Edmund Smits, (St. Louis: CPH, 2005) 196.
photo credit: Darren Hester

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What is Baptism?

Quoting from Luther's Large Catechism on Baptism:

14 Now you can understand how to answer properly the question, What is Baptism? It is not simply common water, but water comprehended in God’s Word and commandment and sanctified by them. It is nothing else than a divine water, not that the water in itself is nobler than other water but that God’s Word and commandment are added to it.
15 Therefore it is sheer wickedness and devilish blasphemy when our new spirits, in order to slander Baptism, ignore God’s Word and ordinance, consider nothing but the water drawn from the well, and then babble, “How can a handful of water help the soul?” 16 Of course, my friend! Who does not know that water is water, if such a separation is proper? But how dare you tamper thus with God’s ordinance and tear from it the precious jeweled clasp with which God has fastened and enclosed it and from which he does not wish his ordinance to be separated? For the nucleus in the water is God’s Word or commandment and God’s name, and this is a treasure greater and nobler than heaven and earth.
17 Note the distinction, then: Baptism is a very different thing from all other water, not by virtue of the natural substance but because here something nobler is added. God himself stakes his honor, his power, and his might on it. Therefore it is (tr-737) not simply a natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water — praise it in any other terms you can — all by virtue of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word which no one can sufficiently extol, for it contains and conveys all the fullness of God. 18 From the Word it derives its nature as a sacrament, as St. Augustine taught, “Accedat verbum ad elementum et fit sacramentum.”9 This means that when the Word is added to the element or the natural substance, it becomes a sacrament, that is, a holy, divine thing and sign.
19 Therefore, we constantly teach that the sacraments and all the external things ordained and instituted by God should be regarded not according to the gross, external mask (as we see the shell of a nut) but as that in which God’s Word is enclosed. 20 In the same way we speak about the parental estate and civil authority. If we regard these persons with reference to their noses, eyes, skin and hair, flesh and bones, they look no different from Turks and heathen. Someone might come and say, “Why should I think more of this person than of others?” But because the commandment is added, “You shall honor father and mother,” I see another man, adorned and clothed with the majesty and glory of God. The commandment, I say, is the golden chain about his neck, yes, the crown on his head, which shows me how and why I should honor this particular flesh and blood.
21 In the same manner, and even much more, you should honor and exalt Baptism on account of the Word, since God himself has honored it by words and deeds and has confirmed it by wonders from heaven. Do you think it was a jest that the heavens opened when Christ allowed himself to be baptized, that the Holy Spirit descended visibly,1 and that the divine glory and majesty were manifested everywhere?
22 I therefore admonish you again that these two, the Word and the water, must by no means be separated from each other. For where the Word is separated from the water, the water is no different from that which the maid cooks with and could indeed be called a bathkeeper’s baptism.2 But when the Word is present according to God’s ordinance, Baptism is a sacrament, and it is called Christ’s Baptism. This is the first point to be emphasized: the nature and dignity of this holy sacrament.

Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (438). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Monday, August 9, 2010

This Does Not Concern Me!

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther:

Let us remember this well in our personal temptations, when the devil accuses and terrifies our conscience to bring it to the point of despair. He is the father of lies (John 8:44) and the enemy of Christian freedom. At every moment, therefore, he troubles us with false terrors, so that when this freedom has been lost, the conscience is in continual fear and feels guilt and anxiety. When that “great dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil, the deceiver of the whole world, who accuses our brethren day and night before God” (Rev. 12:9–10)—when, I say, he comes to you and accuses you not only of failing to do anything good but of transgressing against the Law of God, then you must say: “You are troubling me with the memory of past sins; in addition, you are telling me that I have not done anything good. This does not concern me. For if I either trusted in my performance of good works or lost my trust because I failed to perform them, in either case Christ would be of no avail to me. Therefore whether you base your objections to me on my sins or on my good works, I do not care; for I put both of them out of sight and depend only on the freedom for which Christ has set me free. Therefore I shall not render Him useless to me, which is what would happen if I either presumed that I shall attain grace and eternal life because of my good works or despaired of my salvation on account of my sins.”

Luther, M. (1999, c1964). Vol. 27: Luther's works, vol. 27 : Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6; 1519, Chapters 1-6 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (27:11). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

District Websites: Asleep at the Wheel?

Perhaps one reason more parishioners don’t know what’s going on in our synod is because no one tells them. I stopped by the website of all 35 Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod districts, and found that at least nine of them made no mention of the recent LCMS convention (which ended on July 17). Another six districts had nothing other than a link to the LCMS website convention page. It seems that the districts ought to be interested in keeping the people in their care informed about major events in the synod, and there is no event more major than the national convention.

In their “News” section, the Iowa East District doesn’t report on the national convention, but they do report on their district convention – the one held in 2006. To their credit, they also have a blog that reported on the convention, although they never note the election of Rev. Matthew Harrison as President. A couple of districts linked to the Red Chair videos that featured their District President, but not much else.

I was annoyed by Ohio District President Terry Cripe’s comments, but maybe you’ll have a different reaction. Southeastern District President Jon Diefenthaler, in his post titled "Remaining Ablaze!," seemed most excited about the continuation of Ablaze!, and “the fact that two out the three congregations that received special recognition for their participation in the Ablaze! fundraising effort were from the SED.” Sorry, but I really don’t share his enthusiasm.

Mid-South District President Kenneth Lampe and Minnesota North District President Donald Fondau both gave decent one page overviews of the convention. The best review in my book was that of Rocky Mountain District President Randy Golter, whose four page review was insightful and pastoral – exactly what you’d expect from a District President.

Overall, the district website tour was a bust. With most sites offering very little information on the convention, it’s disappointing that momentous restructuring changes and the election of a new President were largely a non-event judging from the district website reactions. District Presidents, as well as the parish pastors out there in the trenches, should be encouraged to keep their parishioners informed on synod news. An informed laity goes a long way in fostering unity and making sure the synod’s doctrine remains on solid ground.

photo credit: Watt_Dabney

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What's in the Box?

What's in the ammo box that Dumb Dumb is guarding? Click on "Read More..." to find out.

It's an ammo box full of old (really old, as in before the divorce) Issues, Etc. discs and tapes. They'd been laying around church and somebody sent them home with my wife. We've listened to them all, so now we've got our own Issues, Etc. mini time capsule. Let me know if you haven't entered the digital age yet and are still listening on that old Panasonic cassette player - these guys are looking for a new home.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Doctrine Doesn't Evolve

Quoting from an essay of C.F.W. Walther's discussed at the Eastern District Convention in 1867:

…In recent times people actually think one has to make additions, that church doctrine evolves gradually and grows in scope as the church grows older. [They maintain that] in apostolic days, so to speak, the church was in its infancy, but that now it is gradually maturing into full adulthood in Christ [cf. Eph. 4:13]. But it is not doctrine we are to develop, so that new doctrines are introduced, as among the newer theologians; rather we are diligently to use our reason, so that we truly know and understand the doctrines the church has always had. It is not our task to develop new doctrines, but to master our comprehension of the doctrines already revealed and always known to the church. God has by His grace enabled us here in America to realize that it is and can be neither man’s enlightened reason nor anything else, but only God’s Word, that is to be the source of all doctrine. As long as we cling to it, we will be unshaken, as on the rock [cf. Matt. 7:24-25]. Let us gratefully cling to it, refusing to let Satan drive us away. (brackets in original)

C.F.W. Walther, Essays for the Church, Vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1992) 157.

photo credit: un_owen

Monday, August 2, 2010

Issues, Etc.: Behind the Scenes

This video was created by Rob Olson, and gives you a sense of a little of what's going on the other side of the glass during the airing of Issues, Etc.