Monday, December 18, 2017

What he should have said. . .

Have you ever encountered a saying attributed to someone you admire only to find out that this person did not say it, or perhaps anything remotely like it?  What a bummer!

Most folks insist that St. Augustine did say The truth is like a lion; you don't have to defend it. Let it loose and it will defend itself.  But I cannot find it and better scholars than I have tried and failed to find it within Augustine's many words.  He could have said it but he probably didn't.  Surprise then when I find that Charles Haddon Spurgeon said something very close:  "The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.”  Oh well. . . I am going to proceed with the assumption that Augustine could have said it and probably should have and just might have, even if the esteemed English Particular Baptist preacher of the 19th century did say it -- if only because as a Lutheran I am more wedded to Augustine of Hippo than I am to Spurgeon.

Too often we as Christians proceed with the idea that the truth we believe and confess is fragile, weak, and powerless.  We circle wagons around it and filter it out to the world.  We treat the Word of God as if it were filled with contradictions, half-truths, and untruths that, if people found out, would render our witness weak and vulnerable.  So the end result is that we are more comfortable talking about what we think God said than what He did say, what we feel about what He has said, and what God means (as if His Word is either obtuse or unreliable).  No wonder our witness has seemed shallow and without great effect.

We believe the Word of the Lord endures forever.  Why?  Because God said it.  God said it over and over again.  We will not endure forever and neither will human institutions we erect.  We cannot even pass on monuments and memorials to our children and grandchildren without someone second guessing us and then tearing down what we have set up.  But the point here is that if we pass on the Word of God to our children, we are passing on to them an eternal Word that does not change and that always accomplishes its purpose so that its words are a promise.

When we say, for example, train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it, we are attesting to the power of the Word to speak into the heart and mind of the child long after he has grown up, rejected it, and walked away from its promise.  No one can run from that which God has planted within them.  They may still and may always reject it and refuse to believe it but it will stand in them and, on judgment day, will eventually stand against them.  In the same way, when we speak the Word of God to our children, we are speaking to them the efficacious Word that does what it says and bestows that of which it speaks.  Feelings fail and promises may be broken but failed and broken person who has this Word spoken into their minds has a place to which he or she may return where forgiveness restores.

We may think that the Word of Truth is not capable of withstanding scrutiny but the reality is that God does not need us to defend Him against His detractors.  Vengeance is His.  Time is on His side.  All naysayers will die (just like the believers) and in the awakening of the day of accountability God will have His last word.  We do not need to defend the Scriptures as much as speak them.  We do not need to reconcile every seeming contradiction or explain away everything that confounds our reason.  The Word of the Lord, like His ways, are as far above us as He is.  Yet He has granted His Holy Spirit to work through that Word so that faith comes by hearing (not by comprehending) the mystery of God who graciously saves.  His Spirit will bring reluctant and confused hearts to faith according to His own will.  The elect will not miss even one whom God has appointed.  God's time and purpose and power are all on His side.

We may fear that His Word is not enough to address friends, family, and those around us where we live and work.  We may fear that we need to add something or even provide some sort of gimmick to make faith easier on an unbelieving world but we were there once and for the sake of the Word and promise of God and the work of the Spirit, have we not believed?  But in the end, we only contribute to the false idea that God is helpless to meet the world without us intervening on His behalf.  And I am convinced that this is one of the reasons why our evangelization efforts have not been more fruitful.  We are too often our own worst enemies.  We need to take God at His Word, not only for us and our salvation but for the sake of the waiting world, for the sake of children entrusted to our care, and for the sake of the Kingdom.  God is no toothless lion.  He is fierce.  His Word is a sword.  It cuts both ways.  Let it speak and believe what it says and loan your voices so it can speak to those not yet of the Kingdom.  If we have done all of this and our churches still decline, then it is God's responsibility.  But if we have not done this and our churches decline, then we shall be held accountable.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Perhaps not a fan. . .

So Pope Francis went to Lund, official representatives of both Lutherans and Roman Catholics are positively fawning all over each other at the 500th Anniversary of the 95 Theses, and some are already talking about intercommunion.  Right?  Well, apparently not everyone got the memo.

One Roman Catholic blogger is pushing another way to celebrate the Anniversary.  He is pushing a book that is not so kind to Luther.  In fact, the subtitle to the book says it bluntly:  “Half a Millennium of Total Depravity (1517-2017): A Critique of Luther’s Impact in the Year of His ‘Catholic’ Apotheosis”.  According to his own estimation:  In other words, this is not an unqualified “RAH! RAH! FOR THE REFORMATION!”

While I am not one to buy all that much into some nice words exchanged by some Lutherans who are probably not all that Lutheran and by a Roman Catholic Pope some suggest is not all that Catholic, it is not a little disconcerting that old straw men are being addressed instead of the real issues that divide.  Luther may be to blame for much but the disintegration of the Church, State, and Society cannot all be lumped upon him and the Reformation.  Luther and His progeny are certainly guilty of taking the medieval Mass literally and squaring this Sacrament against the Scriptures and the early Church.  Luther and His progeny are certainly guilty of looking at the common corruption of the clergy and the institutions of the Church and calling both for repentance and renewal.  Luther and His progeny are certainly guilty of restoring the bright and shining gemstone of God's treasure in His Church, the Gospel, to preaching and teaching.  Luther and His progeny are certainly guilty of agitating for the Word to be read, known, and prayed by a people who can read it and reflect upon it.  Luther and His progeny are certainly guilty of many things in the great split that gave birth to Protestantism and Rome is, as well.  That said, the wholesale destruction of the Christian West is putting too much on Luther and not enough on the institutions that reacted to him and excommunicated him.  For that, there is plenty of blame to go around!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

So which is better?

We live in an age intent upon separating form from content, style from substance, and rite from belief.  Books have been written on that subjects with some of those words in their titles.  Plenty of toner and ink has been spent on papers devoted to passionately pleading for one or the other and more digital ink than can be counted (is my own blog an exception?). 

On one hand we have churches like the Church of England or the Anglicans, as they are wont to be called, who have more faithfully preserved the form but not so much the content.  Go into any Anglican Church of any jurisdiction or theological bent and you will generally find the liturgy done well, whether high, broad, or low church.  Ceremonies matter, if at least in form if not content, and, like the royal weddings and funerals and coronations, the Anglicans have fully mastered the art of the form.  Yet we often complain that the form is just form.  That these same Anglicans seem intent upon doing things in conflict with how they pray.  Having preserved a catholic liturgical tradition and having bishops seems not to have slowed their detour into heresy and apostasy.  It is downright painful to see them unable to condemn, much less discipline, those who stick it in the eye of Christian orthodoxy.

On the other hand, Lutherans of the Missouri stripe love to talk about how they are free to craft forms however they choose for Sunday morning while claiming to maintain a higher loyalty to content.  In Missouri there are those who act, speak, and sing like evangelicals and the big box non-denominational churches on Sunday morning and yet who claim with equal vigor to believe, confess, and teach as real Lutherans.  Part of this real Lutheranism is the refusal to be told what they must do and with it is the false etymology of adiaphora which has come to mean "anything goes."  Officially and unofficially we are told that Missourians retain a higher degree of doctrinal homogeneity than nearly any other branch of Lutheranism and the key to this is knowing how to walk the narrow line between form and content, evangelical style and Lutheran substance.  Of course, we know that this is hardly the case.  The harsh reality is that Missouri has virtual fellowships within the fellowship -- people who would not think of going to one of those anything goes congregations and those who would die rather than open a hymnal in one of the other kind of congregations.  Yet on paper we are all happily loving each other while each is doing what seems right in his or her own eyes.

A few months ago I was at a wedding reception gabbing with my favorite curmudgeon (the Rev. Dr. 
David Scaer) and the topic was about just this subject.  Which IS better?  Is it better hold onto content while failing to have an identifiable form to orthodoxy or is it better to hold on to liturgical integrity even when some of the people (or, in some cases, most) leading that rite cannot speak the words (or sing them) and believe them?  For the early part of my pastoral ministry I had thought that the Missourian compromise of free form with established content was as good as it was going to get.  After all, this same landscape made it impossible for someone to come into the parish I served and say "no chasuble, no chanting, no bowing, no elevation, etc... Mr. Peters."  However, I have been uncomfortable with what the outcome of our so-called preservation of content within the context of free form has got us.  Dr. Scaer is certainly not so sure about that conventional wisdom.  And therein lies the rub.  Which IS better?

I suppose it is better from the leaders point of view to have the pastors and those who lead Sunday morning fully invested in what they are doing, believing and practicing consistently.  But I am not at all sure this is the best for the people in the pew or for the children growing up in our churches.  In fact, I am more and more of the opinion that our indifference to form and our slavish investment in content (more theory than practice) has left us a church confused, divided, and suspicious.  You can go nearly everywhere you want and an Anglican congregation will worship like an Anglican church (even though the sermon may very well make you wince).  Yet the people in the pews have the faith preserved in the rite if not in the mind of the priest leading it and that is not a bad thing.  The faith is always there in the hymnal or prayerbook and does not need to reinvented.  It just needs to be used. 

In contrast, go into a Lutheran congregation which has had a praise band, screens, contemporary Christian music, and not used the hymnal or the historic liturgy for some time and it means reinventing that parish to return to sacred hymnody, the liturgy, and the book.  Changing them back means starting over, literally. And so most parishes never go back.  They end up having too much invested in what they are doing now.  To tell you the truth, I am about sick and tired of hearing pastors tell me that they personally are edified by the great hymns of the faith and the liturgy but they must put their personal preference on the back burner for the sake of winning the masses to Jesus with forms that are, in effect, at odds with our Confessional identity.

Dr. Scaer knows it only too well.  The kinds of choices we are making are not wise and they are not without consequence.  Surrendering the Divine Service and the great hymns of the faith on Sunday morning means changing what is believed in the pews.  So, if you ask me, I would rather keep the faith of those in the pews consistent through our use of the catholic forms preserved in our hymnal (even with added ceremonial optional to that liturgical minimum) rather settle for a theoretical faith that has no real orthodox practice.  For the sake of the people in the pew and the faith preserved to the baptized, it is better to use the right rite than it is to discard the rite for our right to do what we deem preferable or effective.  It is easier to reclaim a lost Lutheranism by reminding them of what we have said and sung on Sunday morning for as long as anyone can remember than it is to take down the screens, ditch the pop Gospel music, put on vestments, and haul out the hymnals and then say, "Hey folks, this is really who we were all the time."

Friday, December 15, 2017

Too much. . .

Have you decorated yet for Christmas?  Here are some ideas. . .

At least it emphasizes the miraculous nature of the conception and birth. . .

Doncha just love Joseph(s) in pink?

Pick your choice -- two Joes or two Marys. . .

Oh, well. . . I guess this is what happens when the SCTOUS decides that a creche is no longer a religious symbol. . . it becomes a political one. . .

An atheist asking some of the right questions. . .

Camille Paglia considers herself transgender, is a liberal Democrat, does not believe in God, and one of America's fearless writers when it comes to confronting the politically correct.  She is not the kind of person you warm to but as you listen to her scathing critiques on a variety of subjects, you find out that she is relentless in cutting through the baloney in pursuit of real truth.  Pantheon has just published a collection of some of her essays on sex, gender, and feminism, under the title Free Women, Free MenShe is raw and blunt and takes no prisoners.  But underneath it all is a skepticism about current accepted wisdom and truth that is honest.
Read more of her here.   Allow me to quote her here with regard to transgender: 

Feminists have clashed with transgender activists much more publicly in the United Kingdom than here. For example, two years ago there was an acrimonious organized campaign, including a petition with 3,000 claimed signatures, to cancel a lecture by Germaine Greer at Cardiff University because of her "offensive" views of transgenderism. Greer, a literary scholar who was one of the great pioneers of second-wave feminism, has always denied that men who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery are actually "women." Her Cardiff lecture (on "Women and Power" in the twentieth century) eventually went forward, under heavy security.

And in 2014, Gender Hurts, a book by radical Australian feminist Sheila Jeffreys, created a heated controversy in the United Kingdom. Jeffreys identifies transsexualism with misogyny and describes it as a form of "mutilation." She and her feminist allies encountered prolonged difficulties in securing a London speaking venue because of threats and agitation by transgender activists. Finally, Conway Hall was made available: Jeffrey's forceful, detailed lecture there in July of last year is fully available on YouTube. In it she argues among other things, that the pharmaceutical industry, having lost income when routine estrogen therapy for menopausal women was abandoned because of its health risks, has been promoting the relatively new idea of transgenderism in order to create a permanent class of customers who will need to take prescribed hormones for life.

Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave, which I think has been produced by far more complicated psychological and sociological factors than current gender discourse allows. Furthermore, I condemn the escalating prescription of puberty blockers (whose long-term effects are unknown) for children. I regard this practice as a criminal violation of human rights.

It is certainly ironic how liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warming (a sentimental myth unsupported by evidence) flee all reference to biology when it comes to gender. Biology has been programmatically excluded from women's studies and gender studies programs for almost 50 years now. Thus very few current gender studies professors and theorists, here and abroad, are intellectually or scientifically prepared to teach their subjects.

The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body remains coded with one's birth gender for life. Intersex ambiguities can occur, but they are developmental anomalies that represent a tiny proportion of all human births.

In a democracy, everyone, no matter how nonconformist or eccentric, should be free from harassment and abuse. But at the same time, no one deserves special rights, protections, or privileges on the basis of their eccentricity. The categories "trans-man" and "trans-woman" are highly accurate and deserving of respect. But like Germaine Greer and Sheila Jeffreys, I reject state-sponsored coercion to call someone a "woman" or a "man" simply on the basis of his or her subjective feeling about it.
All of this then begs the question of why the media, why progressives, and why some of the most politically elite in America are pushing a point of view which cannot stand up to scrutiny.  If someone who does not believe in God, who considers themselves transgender, and who is an unabashed liberal politically can poke holes through the fog that is transgender, why do we find it so hard to stand up for what we believe, teach, and confess -- that God made them male and female?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Like a cancer. . .

Some in Rome are complaining about the caustic atmosphere within the church, especially on the subject of Amoris Laetitia and also regarding the olive branch seemingly offered by Fr. Joseph Martin, SJ, to the GLBTQ community.  The filial criticism, petitions, and dubia sent to Pope Francis as well as the progressive wing and its attempt to make some sort of rapprochement with the gay community have certainly stirred the pot but part of the reason for all the controversy is that there has not been an open discussion, much less debate, over these issues.  The criticisms, it is said, have become like a cancer in the church.

Perhaps these folks should spend time in the Missouri Synod.  We know a little something of public controversy.  We have not always played by the rules of decorum in theological debates. While I would agree that personal criticism and caricature can, indeed, be caustic and destructive, like a cancer upon the church, public debate and an open conversation on the things which divide us can be exactly what we need as a church body.  Nevertheless, such debate needs to happen openly and not clandestinely.  It also needs to have the sanction of the church so that it is not simply a peripheral conversation but a primary dialogue.

When the ELCA began to change the face of Lutheranism, it did not happen within an open forum but behind closed doors.  A quota system virtually ensured that the greatest minds of that communion would not be part of the debate, at least not directly.  The voice of that church's own confessions and congregations was virtually unheard except in the fringes.  When it was finally an open debate, the players had already begun to change practice before the doctrine and dogma had even been subject to  debate.  This happened already with the ordination of women long before it happened about same sex marriage and its related issues.  Scripture was not heard, the Confessions were ignored, history was forgotten, and the radical nature of the path chosen was minimized until victory was assured.

I  have no idea how this will play out between the so-called progressives in Rome and the traditionalists.  I do know that Francis is not helping things by keeping a lid on things at the same time he is keeping quiet about where he stands and what future he intends.  I am convinced that the enhanced communications of our technological age could work for that debate but in order for that to happen the principals would have to own their positions and let the conversation play out.

Within Missouri we have yet to have a formal conversation about the things that divide us.  What is the Confessional expectation with respect to what happens on Sunday morning?  Are those Confessions merely descriptive of that time or do they prescribe what is Lutheran and proscribe against what is not?  What does adiaphora really mean and how do we deal with things called adiaphora?  What is ecclesiastical supervision and how does it work out in the life of our church body?  What are the limits of our embrace of culture before the tension against the faith always the same becomes untenable?  How do we best confess our faith, live out that faith within the means of grace, and pass on that faith to others in the best Lutheran tradition and for the best consequence?  What is the Ministry and who should be the Ministers of the Church (also addressing issues of pastoral formation)?  These are real questions for us and we would all be better served by addressing them together instead merely having the debate in pointed publications, on blog sites and through unofficial gatherings.  Note, I am NOT saying that these should not be used as venues for part of this debate but they cannot carry the full weight of the discussion that needs to happen.

For Missouri, in particular, I would also warn against trying to find by-law solutions to theological problems.  Our constitution and by-laws are not unimportant but the great issues we are facing cannot be resolved simply by tinkering with by-laws every three years.  Again, I am all for careful review and revision of our by-laws and even constitution, where warranted.  But this is not a substitute for dealing with the profound and serious theological issues before us.  It has been good for our church to put out semi-official position statements like we did with a book on the ordination of women and now a new one on closed communion.  We need to talk about these books and their content on every level within the structures of the church.  These significant issues and others beg an open debate and an honest conversation.  This kind of conversation is not cancerous but healing.  And the answers will most certainly lie not with what we think or feel or desire but with what Scripture teaches, what is the creedal, confessional, and catholic perspective, and whether or not we are willing to be normed by the Scriptural witness and the catholic tradition.