Friday, June 30, 2017

The Verdict Is In. . .

Here is the summary of the issue at stake before the Supreme Court:
"The Trinity Lutheran Church Child Learning Center is a Missouri pre- school and daycare center. Originally established as a nonprofit organization, the Center later merged with Trinity Lutheran Church and now operates under its auspices on church property. Among the facilities at the Center is a playground, which has a coarse pea gravel surface beneath much of the play equipment. In 2012, the Center sought to replace a large portion of the pea gravel with a pour-in-place rubber surface by participating in Missouri’s Scrap Tire Program. The program, run by the State’s Department of Natural Resources, offers reimbursement grants to qualifying nonprofit organizations that install playground surfaces made from recycled tires. The Department had a strict and express policy of denying grants to any applicant owned or controlled by a church, sect, or other religious entity. Pursuant to that policy, the Department denied the Center’s application. In a letter rejecting that application, the Department explained that under Article I, Section 7 of the Missouri Constitution, the Department could not provide financial assistance directly to a church. The Department ultimately awarded 14 grants as part of the 2012 program. Although the Center ranked fifth out of the 44 applicants, it did not receive a grant because it is a church."

Seven justices supported the result in this case. Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, dissented.  Justice Breyer supported the result, but did not join the Court's opinion.  The Chief Justice wrote the Court's opinion, joined by Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Kagan.    “The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch joined except for Footnote 3.  Here's the entire footnote:
 "3 This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination."
In a concurring opinion joined by Justice Thomas, Justice Gorsuch writes that Footnote 3 "leaves open the possibility a useful distinction might be drawn between laws that discriminate on the basis of religious status and religious use."  Gorsuch "doubts" the "stability" of such a distinction:
"Does a religious man say grace before dinner? Or does a man begin his meal in a religious manner? Is it a religious group that built the playground? Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission? The distinction blurs in much the same way the line between acts and omissions can blur when stared at too long, leaving us to ask (for example) whether the man who drowns by awaiting the incoming tide does so by act (coming upon the sea) or omission (allowing the sea to come upon him). See Cruzan v. Director, Mo. Dept. of Health, 497 U. S. 261, 296 (1990) (Scalia, J., dissenting). Often enough the same facts can be described both ways." 
Gorsuch believes that the distinction is irrelevant and that Constitutional protection applies in either case.  In some respects, Justice Sotomayor begins her opinion at the same place as Justice Gorsuch begins his.  The distinction between religious status and religious use is not meaningful.  But for her, this leads in the opposite direction: 
"The Court today dismantles a core protection for religious freedom provided in these Clauses. It holds not just that a government may support houses of worship with taxpayer funds, but that—at least in this case and per- haps in others, see ante at 14, n. 3—it must do so whenever it decides to create a funding program. History shows that the Religion Clauses separate the public treasury from religious coffers as one measure to secure the kind of freedom of conscience that benefits both religion and government. If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment. I dissent."

Most beautiful church ceilings. . .

Click here for the article with all the glorious pictures. . .   Some of them are shown below. . .

Too beautiful to skip. . . do yourself a favor and listen!

We, who mystically represent the Cherubim,
And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity,
Let us set aside the cares of life
That we may receive the King of all,
Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

JEDP questioned. . .

For the past century, most Old Testament scholarship has been dominated one major theory, Documentary Hypothesis, which is best known for the idea that the Old Testament is in reality an amalgamation of four editors, namely the Yahwist, the Elohist, Deuteronomist and the Priestly -- usually know simply as JEDP.  Inherent in this theory is the idea is that the oldest parts of ld Testament (J) were compiled during an early period of Hebrew polytheism, later combined with other accounts (E). Much later, under the influence of the Israelite prophets and their strict monotheistic preaching, the sacred books were edited to remove embarrassing material dated to the earlier time and redact the text to adopt the theology of the late kingdom period, the D documents. Finally, after the period of the Exile, and under the influence of the priestly revival under Ezra, the liturgical elements of the Old Testament (such as the Book of Leviticus) were added in the so-called P accretions. The end result is an Old Testament that is seen as an incoherent mishmash of different theologies, even different names of God, that dates to a much later time than the material itself presents.

If the central theory that the bulk of the OT material is post-exilic is allowed, then that material is legend and myth more than real history and its portrayal of figures like Moses or David to be literally made up and not factual or historical.  The conventional wisdom of this theory is that pre-exilic Israel was not monotheistic and was functionally incapable of such complex prose such as Genesis or Psalms represent.  According to the Documentary Hypothesis theory, this literary culture was not Israels but was borrowed from other cultures more advanced, from the culture of Mesopotamia.  

When a set of ostraca was discovered in the Negev, the assumptions underlying the Documentary Hypothesis theory were called into question. Ostraca are simply shards of pottery used to jot down notes -- essentially scrap paper.  These ostraca were unearthed at Tel Arad, a fortress city in southern Judea on the border of the Negev. Although Tel Arad predates ancient Israel, it was used as a fortress during the reigns of David and Solomon. It was expanded and eventually used even in the Roman period when it was finally abandoned. Many artifacts recovered from Tel Arad, including these ostraca, date from 850-600 BC, during the time of Elijah and Elisha, as well as Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Though discovered in the 1960s, they were largely unreadable until modern technology creating imaging software allowed archaeologists to more accurately reconstruct the text of the ostraca. What was found conflicts with the basic assumptions of the Documentary Hypothesis.  Reconstructed Hebrew letters revealed a surprising level of literacy among the Israelites of the period. While most of the ostraca were about military subjects, others preserved priestly details proving a level of literacy even for the average ordinary Israelite.  If a culture had literacy so deeply embedded to such a common level, it casts doubt on the need for or the reality of literary borrowing by the Israelites from the Babylonians.  It gives evidence of an independent literary tradition that adds credence to the text of the OT as real history.

Source: The Times of Israel, "New look at ancient shards suggests Bible even older than thought", Tamar Pileggi (Apr 12, 20016).

Once again Dr. Paul Maier is proven correct.  The more we excavate and find archeological clues to the past, the better the history of the Bible looks in comparison.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Early Music in a different way . . .

Brazilian Eduardo Antonello has created something of a stir with his Crumhorne Consort and his one man show of early music in a, well, different way. . .   So enjoy. . . It is a lot of fun!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The voice of Augsburg then and now. . .

Sermon for the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, using the ordinary pericopes of Proper 7A for Pentecost 3, preached on Sunday, June 25, 2017.

    It is easy to think that the power of Christian witness has been stolen from us.  After all, it seems that the Gospel is under attack from every enemy outside the Church and even from those within who doubt the truthfulness of what we believe.  As much as we are under attack, could it that we have also willingly surrendered our voice to silence before the world?  Yes, of course, the world is filled with threats but could it be that we have turned the Gospel into something weak and fragile that must be protected instead of something strong and powerful that must be proclaimed?
    God does not call us to proclaim something as fragile as our opinions before the world or even our ideas.  He calls us to proclaim the powerful, living Word of the Lord wherein Christ is known and the Spirit works.  This is the Word that has the power to break down the barriers of unbelief, to forgive the sinner of his or her sins, and to give new life to those marked with the power of death.
    Today we acknowledge the day when but a few stood before the powers of the day to confess Jesus Christ.  Everything was against them and yet they confessed boldly in the face of the threats they faced.  When the Augsburg Confession was placed before the Holy Roman Emperor, the world was forever changed.  This was not the power of the men confessing or the strength of their ideas or simply the moment in history.  This was and is the power of the Word of the Lord.  What was true nearly 500 years ago at the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession is no less true for us today.
    Jesus says “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will acknowledge before My Father in heaven.”  That is a bold promise and yet so often we forget the promise attached to the witness we make by speaking God’s Word in our own generation. 
    When did faith become the domain of mere private opinion instead of the sturdy truth of Christ and Him crucified?  When did what we believe, confess, and teach become little different than our whims or tastes of the moment?  We do not confess a private opinion or idea or personal preference but the Word made flesh to suffer for us and for all people and to rise to lead us to everlasting life.  This is no private idea but a very public Gospel that refuses to be bound. God will not have it.
    When did feelings become the barometer of belief or success?  When did we surrender the eternal Word to the judgment of what feels good now?  When did Scripture take a back seat to personal preference?  Yet that is exactly what Christians have done.  We have exchanged the Word of the Lord that is forever for what feels good or right to us in the moment.  Our witness is weak before the world because it is a witness built upon the weakness of human whim, idea, or desire instead of the strong and sturdy truth of God's Word that endures forever and the powerful Word that rescues sinners from condemnation and the mortal from death.
    Those who stood at Augsburg were not fighting for the right to think or believe as they chose but for the Word of the Lord that endures forever.  Those who stand in Christ today cannot stand for anything less.  We remain, with Luther, captive to the Word of God and on this Word we stand or fall.
    When Jesus said “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will acknowledge before My Father in heaven” He was making a promise.  His Word is not turned over to us to do with as we desire but remains His own domain.  It is the Word that will not return to Him empty but will accomplish His purpose in sending it.   God is at work in that Word.  Just as in creation He spoke and all things came to be, faith comes by hearing the Word of God and by that Word sins are forgiven and lives are reborn.  The Spirit is the power of that Word.
    So Jesus encourages us.  Do not be afraid.  Do not fear.  You are more valuable to God than many sparrows yet no sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge.  When you stand up for Christ, you are not alone.  God is the power of Your words of witness and God’s purpose will be accomplished by Your speaking and He will guide and guard you.
    What the Lord tells us in the shadows we are to shout from the housetops.  Have you noticed how quick we are to weigh in on a sport or team or restaurant or brand name?  Have you noticed how easily and quickly we argue our position in politics?  If we will speak up for a mere opinion, why will we not speak up for the sake of the truth that endures forever?  God did not mean us to shout behind the closed doors of the church only to whisper in fear when we head back out into the world.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  Before the Lord we whisper in awe of His love but outside the House of the Lord our voices cannot be silenced for the cause is too marvelous and the good news too great.
    The Reformation was never about private opinion.  If that is all it was about, then we ought to be ashamed to wear the name Lutheran.  No, the Reformation was not about opinions or feelings or ideas but about the Word of the Lord that is living and active, a two edged sword with power to condemn and love to heal and redeem.  In that Augsburg Confession we insisted that the faith we held was the yesterday, today and forever faith of the apostles and saints.  It is the faith we shall pass on to those who come after us.  And that Confession is fulfilled when fathers teach their sons and mothers their daughters and pray together this faith in the home.  It is fulfilled when we as people enter our neighborhoods, workplaces, and street corners with the Word of Hope upon our lips and the voice of God speaking His truth in our throats.
    If we have something to celebrate in our history, then our own time demands nothing less than what we honor of those who went before us.  We cannot be quiet about the Word of the cross.  We must teach it carefully, proclaim it without embarrassment, and hold fast to its doctrine and truth even in the face of persecution.  God is watching.   He knows what is against us.  Do we know who is with us and for us?  The promise is clear.  Hold up Christ in Word and deed today and in the everlasting day Christ will hold you up before the Father in heaven.  This is not some consolation prize but the promise of His presence, His power, and His peace today and forever.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Baptist Catholicity. . .

Apparently there is a newly formed Center for Baptist Renewal, organized by two professors, Matthew Emerson of Oklahoma Baptist University and Lucas Stamps of California Baptist University, which is calling for “Baptist catholicity.”  It sounds like these Baptists are trying to find some way to engage the Great Tradition of Christian. They insist that they are not Anglican or Roman wannabes.  Rather, by Baptist catholicity, they hope to find a way to better situate Baptists "within the broader body of Christ and the historic Christian tradition.”

I have to admit that the Baptists are among those least likely, in my view, to either desire catholicity or to give it much of any importance to their overall identity.  Baptists dispute a couple of the most catholic of the catholic doctrines -- infant baptism (and baptismal regeneration) and the Real Presence (vs the real absence) of Christ's flesh and blood in the Sacrament.  But if Baptists want to find a better place within the catholic history, tradition, and identity, well, who am I to say "no way."

Apparently, they have made specific proposals regarding Baptist church life and the goal of catholicity. These proposals include the use of the classic creeds of the early church and the confessions of the Reformation (including Baptist confessions), the use of lectionary readings, the liturgical calendar, the biblical and historical prayers of the church (especially the Lord’s Prayer), corporate confession of sin, and the assurance of pardon, among other things. They also promote seeing Baptism and the Lord’s Supper less as ordinances and more as signs and seals of God’s grace, expressions of individual faith and bonds of the church’s covenantal unity in Christ.”  In other words, the Lord's Table is about more than mere memory.  But how much more?

What leaves me scratching my head is the fact that this is actually a movement for renewal within the Southern Baptist Convention -- in other words, the SBC, America’s largest Protestant denomination, has a group ready to temper its traditional revivalism and individualism with things liturgical, creedal, or ecumenical.  That is indeed a mouthful to say (even to write).

Whether or not this movement has legs, well, time will tell.  What is shocking is that the Baptists have been rather successful at promoting their individualist tradition which has eschewed the whole idea of the means of grace, liturgy, sacramentalism, and catholicity.   At least until now.  It seems adult baptisms are down, the evangelistic fervor that once characterized the Baptist churches is a bit on decline, and the Baptists are wondering if perhaps there is a way to be Baptist and to engage those more catholic inclined individuals who may be committed to an inerrant Scripture but not only that.  Hmmmm.  Could they really be talking about the WELS?  Okay, it was a bad joke.  These Baptists are not Wisconsin Synod folk in costume.  Well, at least not yet, anyway.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Less precious than gold?

An old movie called Krull has a scene in which the heroic figure is aided by an older version who failed when he was young.  He has a series of tests or trials to go through, one of them being a giant spider web.  He enters the Widow's cave which contains a giant spider web. He is immediately pursued by the Widow's guardian, a large white spider. He calls out the Widow's name, which is the same as Colwyn's bride, Lyssa, and the Widow turns over an hourglass, stopping the spider until Ynyr can enter her chamber at the center of the web. Ynyr and the Widow have a history of unrequited love and the Widow reveals that she is trapped forever in the web because she killed the newborn son that resulted from their romance. She agrees to help Ynyr; but for Ynyr to leave the web alive, she gives him the sand from the hourglass. Ynyr cannot stop the sand from leaking out of his hands and the widow gravely warns him that his own life will run out when all the sand has run out. In the movie, Ynyr holds the sand in his hand, alarmed that this precious sand cannot be fully contained and that he is losing it with every passing moment.  In the end his time runs out and he surrenders his life as the last of the sand passes through his fingers.\

What I find so interesting is the truth common to all things precious -- we hold them tightly in our hands and fear losing any bit of it.  To use another image, how would you hold on to a handful of gold dust?  That is exactly the point of St. Cyril in talking about the reverent reception of the Lord's body in the Holy Communion.  He describes reception in the hand -- but not the typical was so many receive today.  No, he commands that the Host be received  onto the right hand which is supported by the left hand as by a throne, and received by lifting the palm of the hand to their mouths, and then checked, as St. Cyril insists, that no crumb remained ("be careful that no particles fall, for what you lose would be to you as if you had lost some of your members. Tell me, if anybody had given you gold dust, would you not hold fast to it with all care, and watch lest some of it fall and be lost to you? Must you not then be even more careful with what is more precious than gold and diamonds, so that no particles are lost?"

Writing in 350 A.D. Theodore of Mospsuestia, in Homily XV wrote of communion in the hand, "do not approach with hands extended and fingers open wide. Rather make of your left hand a throne for your right as it is about to receive your King, and receive the Body of Christ in the fold of your hand, responding ‘Amen.’.... Take care that you do not even lose one piece of that which is more precious than gold or precious stones."

It is an act of reverence and pious faith.  The Lord's body is precious.  The most solemn and reverent care must be taken.  But fast forward and today it is typical to find people treating these precious gifts of God without much care or concern at all.  I have watched as people grabbed the host as if it were snack food and the cup treated as if it were mere wine for the taste buds.  I have seen spills treated as if nothing mattered -- certainly not the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament.   It is clear that this is nothing precious but rather something common and ordinary.  How can it be that we would treat other things so carefully and then treat the body and blood of our Lord as something routine -- no bid deal at all?

I do not mind reverent reception in the hand although I prefer communion on the tongue.  It is not so much the method but the attitude which bugs me most.  Solemnity and reverence are not the enemies of joy but the fruits of a holy joy that cannot but remember how the Lord has condescended to bestow upon us what which is not ours by right.  We have turned the things of God into casual moments and the problem is that we no longer are aware of or concerned about the consequences of meeting God where He has promised to be.  If we thought the food God gives us was as precious as a handful of gold dust, how different might we treat the bread that is His body?  We use a chalice and paten and ciborium of precious metal that reflects the precious food of Holy Communion.  We kneel in humility honoring the Lord who comes to us in this Blessed Sacrament.  We care not only for the distribution but for the manner of distribution as a sign of faith, the recognition of our awe before the grand mystery of His presence.  Faith can do nothing less.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A worship video explaining the rubrics of the Divine Service. . .

There is no better way to commemorate the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (487th anniversary) than by commending this helpful video from Gottesdienst and the Worship Director of the LCMS.  The Augustana is not a theoretical confession to speak of ideas but a confession borne of a people in worship, at prayer, receiving the Word of the Lord in their ears and the flesh and blood of the Lord upon their lips.  We believe, teach, and confess arises from a people who actually do this, they believe, teach, and confess and it flows from the Divine Service, the fount and summit of our life together and the core of our witness to the world (As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. . . ).

This is an instructional video.  It is not play acting but an actual Divine Service in which we see these best practices at work within the context of an assembled congregation (though perhaps an unusual one due to the numbers of pastors in that congregation).  I urge you to watch it and learn from it.  This is not an attempt at a crude rigidity of form and practice but our best and most reverent usage within the liturgy and hymnal of our Church and within the circumstances of the parish and its architecture.

May God bless you through this commentary and instruction.  Thanks to all who assisted in providing such a worthy resource for pastor and lay who seek the best practices of our liturgical tradition, honoring the rubrics as aids to that tradition and for the benefit and protection of both pastor and people.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Considering Christ and Mohammed. . .

Those who would equate the sins of Christianity with the sins of Islam might think better. . .
‘Mohammed and his immediate successors were warlords who, when chance offered, massacred their non-conforming prisoners; Jesus was not, and did not. Mohammed specifically wanted to assimilate the state to the kingdom of God; Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world. Although a number of Muslims argue that Islam respects the value of all human beings, religious history shows that Islam neither did so nor has learned to do so; some would argue that Islam would cease to be Islam if it was prepared to accept pluralist liberal democracy. And the word “pluralist” matters: many Muslims (as in Egypt) may accept a “democracy” amounting to dictatorship of the majority, but not that pluralist democracy whereby other religions are even tolerated where there are Muslim majorities. It seems thus far apparent that in the real world the larger the number of Muslims in the population, the more killings for blasphemy, apostasy, proselytizing by non-Muslims, there will regularly be. Which is not to suggest that the number of the violent is necessarily large: rather that the number of condoners, whether or not intimidated, is very substantial.

from a recent review of Miroslav Volf, FlourishingWhy we need Religion in a Globalized World (Yale U.P. 2015)  by Professor John Rist
There are those who insist that a moral equivalence exists between Jesus and Mohammed, though all might agree that the followers of both are perhaps worse than either.  Such a conclusion rests upon a fallacy.  Jesus never calls on His followers to act as judge and jury and sentence those who will not believe to death on earth before they meet their heavenly Judge.  No, indeed.  Yet this is exactly what the Quran requires of those who would faithfully follow Mohammed.

While there are those (including former Pres. George Bush) who would insist that Islam has been hijacked by those who turned it into a religion of violence, the deafening sound of silence from the so-called "moderate" Muslims in the face of atrocity after atrocity cannot be ignored.  While we in the West might live in fear, the truth is that the worst of the violence Islam has perpetrated has been against Christians living in the Middle East and against those who wear the name of Mohammed but belong to the wrong "denomination."  One might expect some difficulty in moderate Muslims when it comes to condemning violence against the West but surely it would expected that those who live under the umbrella of Islam would find it in their hearts to condemn the violence against their own brothers and sisters in the faith?

Christianity is a missionary religion and those who embrace Christianity do so not under the veil of fear and threat but from the love that reaches out through the cross to all people.  Islam is also a missionary religion but it pursues the unbeliever with threat and fear.  The two are not equivalent in any way, shape, or form.

Friday, June 23, 2017

They just do not get it. . .

From a National Catholic Reporter critique of Cardinal Sarah (and, by extension, Benedict XVI):
My problem with those who favor the traditional worship of the church is not their taste, it is that they twist that taste into an ideological framework.
That is, in a nutshell, the point.  It is NOT about taste, has never been about taste, and will not be about taste in the future.  The cause of worship and liturgy has nothing to do with high brow or low brow, high culture or low culture, traditional or contemporary.  It has everything to do with worship that is consistent what we believe, confess, and teach.  What is sad is that Rome does not get it and so in Rome there still those trying to frame their worship wars into culture wars.  What is even sadder is that Lutherans are mired in the same darn rut -- as if we are also fighting a battle of taste or preference instead of fighting for the heart and soul of the faith and our confessional identity.

Traditionalists (not my term but the one everyone seems to be using) are not trying to wrap their taste into an ideological framework, it is already about ideology, identity, theology, and confession.  What the trads are trying to do is UNWRAP the whole war from the false framework of personal preference and taste.  It never was about guitars or pipe organs, chanting or speaking, vestments or suits, casual or formal, or anything else.  It was and always has been about WHO WE ARE and what we confess.

Our Lutheran Confessions were not merely describing who we were, they were addressing who we were, are, and, in their minds, should always be.  We have not abolished the mass, we have not abandoned ceremony, we have not departed from catholic doctrine and practice, and we have not introduced novelty or been creative with the tradition handed down to us.  We confess that we have been faithful, that this faithfulness required us to agitate for reform in the face of accretions that had obscured the Gospel and turned the hearts of the faithful from God's sufficient grace in Christ to the fragile hope of works that might be good enough.  We confess that this faith, the one we confess, is and will always be (not that a Lutheran Church is, was, and ever shall be).  We confess that to depart from this faith and practice is to surrender Christ and His atoning work AND that to make this practice into a work required for salvation is also a surrender of Christ's atoning work.  Freedom is not freedom without boundary but freedom FOR that which is faithful, authentic, and consistent with what we believe, confess, and teach.

Ooooooh does this get my goat!  Lutherans were slow to change the liturgy because they knew it had confessional implications and the changes they made were hardly noticeable to those in the pews (except for the sermon, of course, and hymnody).  But modern day Lutherans have forgotten it all and passed our confessional identity off as merely a statement for that moment in time with no lasting consequences or implications for us today.  It is the tyranny of the spiritual but not religious but it is framed as freedom (spirit) from the letter (law).  Furthermore, it is the false understanding of what we inherited (usually called "German" and not catholic) and a false understanding of faithfulness (we are good to go as long we keep the doctrine in theory but practice what we want or think works).

Worship wars are not fought over guitar strings or praise bands.  They are fought over doctrine, confession, and identity.  What is a Lutheran and how does a Lutheran worship?  (BTW that is not a question you or I get to answer but one our Confessions answer for us.)  This whole thing is not about who we want to be or how we can pack them in but about who we are.  This identity is framed not simply in theory (doctrine) but also in practice that flows from and is consistent with what we believe.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Australian Update. . .

I have been told that there are currently about 320 'active' pastors and about 210 emeriti in the Lutheran Church in Australia. The good news is that those who are leading the charge against the ordination of women tend to be younger pastors. Indeed, they represent some of the strongest voices against the top down (LCA Bishop) orchestrated campaign to approve the ordination of women. It is certainly a possibility that of the pastors who attend the General Pastors' Conference a majority would hold to the Scriptures and tradition in affirming a male only pastorate.  It is certainly true that most of the bishops think otherwise and they are doing everything in their power to make the ordination of women seem reasonable, logical, and unstoppable.  Yet there are those who are risking all to expose the weakness of the arguments in favor of the change and who are holding the church accountable to the Word of God.

Consultations have been held throughout the LCA to discuss the Draft Doctrinal Statement (DDS) in favor of the ordination of women. The consultations were to that end. The document was read, small groups formed, and, among the six questions asked of the participants:

1) Are there parts of DDS that you do not understand?
4) The fact that the 12 apostles were male is descriptive of the preaching office at the time of Jesus, but is not prescriptive of the office for all time. Discuss.
5) Paul's unchanging goal was that the church be built up in love. This requires different regulations at different times and in different places. Discuss.
6) How does the DDS interpret the prohibitions of 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2 in terms of their implications for the office of the public ministry?
The national journal has put a temporary stop to all letters to the editor. 'The purpose of this decision is to allow LCA members who wish to be part of the consultation process to have ‘clear air’ in which to listen to each other in a respectful manner, as they prayerfully consider and discuss the implications of all of the resources available to them on this subject.' The discussion was led in the usual points: women are competent to assume the role of pastor; Phoebe was akin to a pastor; Gal 3 is the great charter of liberation for women in the church; men and women are equal therefore their roles can be the same in the church; the church has not got it wrong through the centuries because it was in the interests of mission that they did not previously ordain women, but now that our culture has changed it is incumbent on the church to go with the flow in the interests of mission. The problem is that Scripture over all is missing from this discussion, history is descriptive only, and mission and love are pitted against doctrine and unchanging truth.

If you want to read a good, solid, Lutheran approach to the question of the ordination of women, you might want to click here and read a document from one of the younger pastors in the LCA. Clearly, if the debate is to be framed on the basis of what Scripture teaches and Lutherans have affirmed in confession and practice, there is nothing to fear from the topic of women's ordination. However, if Scripture is not allowed to speak, the LCA has a problem.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Playing the blame game. . .

It is fashionable to self-identify as victims and to lay the responsibility for all that is wrong at the feet of others.  Sometimes it even works.  But the sad truth is that playing the blame game generally does little to solve the problem.  I have heard it said over and over again that fewer than 5% of those surveyed give credit to the pastor as the reason for joining a church but 35% blame pastors as the reason for heading for the exit.  So we give little credit to the pastor for church growth but whenever folks fall away it is usually safe to blame the pastor for the loss.  I have heard it said over and over again that if the Church would only get on the bandwagon and get with the times, the Church would not see so many head for the door.  It is a good idea but not true.  The churches that have gotten with the times are in worse shape than those the world loves to hate for being judgmental or hateful.

In the Archdiocese of Hartford (CT) the report is that 127 newly formed parishes will replace the 212 current parishes.  Undoubtedly there will be complaints about evil bishops and a priest shortage that deprive people of their home church.  I have no stake in this so it is easy for me to talk about it.  Guess what, the reason churches are closing or being consolidated in Connecticut has little to do with bad bishops or few priests and it has everything to do with fewer people in Mass on Sunday morning.  I am told that attendance is down to 15% or less of those who identify as Roman Catholic in that diocese.  I am pretty certain that if attendance were up in those parishes, none would close or merged.  The problem lies less with the administrator than it does with the catechetical failure of priests and teachers of the faith and the failure of those catechized to take it to heart.

Before we Lutherans smugly nod our heads, the same problem lies on our own doorstep.  We have congregations where attendance is dropping, where they are unable to afford a full-time pastor, and where they are in danger of closing.  The mythology can lay blame at bad leadership at the national or district level or bad pastors.  But the real problem is that the majority of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod people are not in their pews on Sunday morning.  It is not a new problem but the poisoned fruits of such a decline of catechesis and a lack of attendance ARE a major problem even for us.  I am pretty certain that if we had double the attendance we have now (still far less than the number of members on paper) we would NOT be seeing congregations closing or finding it impossible to afford a full-time pastor.  We need to be honest.  There are many problems that we face but one of the biggest is the small percentage of our people who are in worship on Sunday morning (and Sunday school and Bible study).

All I am saying is this.  We can all look in the mirror and see part of the problem.  Pastors have not done the kind of catechesis that both informs and shapes people into Lutheranism.  We are not aware of the Confessions of our Church as we should and we are not confident of our doctrine.  This is a real problem.  But we do not need to waste our time wringing our hands over this.  Confess our failure to our people and do better.  The people in the pew have allowed anything and everything to distract them from worship -- including blaming the pastors for being dull or stupid or uncaring.  But let me say that if your pastor is preaching the Law and Gospel and administering the Sacraments faithfully, you have no complaint.  He may be a dullard or slow or disheveled or lack excitement or a polished style or personality but, last time I looked, the Lord did not list these as justification for your absence on Sunday morning.  We all share the blame for the statistics heading in the wrong direction.  We do not need a revolution nor do we need to reinvent the Church or her liturgy.  What we do need is to teach and preach without apology the full counsel of God's Word and the Catechism.  We we do need are people who will put the Lord and His Word and Table as their first priority on Sunday morning.

How many of our current problems could be solved simply by the people of God doubling the average church attendance from 25-30% to 50-60%?  More than you could imagine.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A mission, a plan, a warning and a promise. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 2A preached on Sunday, June 18, 2017

    In the Gospel today we heard Jesus give a mission, a plan, a warning, and a promise.  The mission:  Go to the lost sheep and proclaim to them the Kingdom of God.  The plan:  Travel light and trust the generosity of God’s people.  Heal the sick.  Raise the dead.  Cleanse the leper.  Cast out the demon with the name of His name.  The warning:  You are sheep among wolves – the government and society is against you.  But the promise is clear: Do not be anxious for the Spirit is with you and will give you the words to say.  None of this is time limited; it remains for us.
    This mission, plan, warning and promise are given to every pastor.  37 years ago when they called out my name with the place Cairo, NY this became my calling.  2 years ago when they called out Pastor Ulrich’s name, this became his calling as well.  Every pastor has this calling.  We don’t get to define our mission or make our own plan.  We don’t get to lay out the battle or pick who is our enemy or who are our allies.  And we dare not.  For the Lord has not put us in charge.  It is His mission and plan. He but He has equipped us with a promise that will not fail us.
    Go to the lost sheep of God and proclaim the Kingdom to them.  God’s Word and Sacraments are the means by which God manifests His Kingdom.  These are the means of grace.
The kingdom comes not by the will and desire of anyone but by the will of God and the means of grace.  No pastor is on his own. We serve the Lord and do only the Lord’s bidding.
    With that comes the plan.  Travel light.  In other words, do not get caught up in the world and its things, in the pursuit of an earthly kingdom.  Do not judge by earthly indicators of success but be faithful and God will do what He has pledged and promised.  Trust in the people’s generosity.  You don’t know how hard it is for a pastor to depend upon the Lord and the people of God.  But every pastor has only the Lord and the generosity of God’s people.  Jesus says that is enough.  Every day every pastor struggles to believe that.
    Instead of worrying about these other things, the Lord has sent the pastor forth to heal those sick with sin through the absolution, to raise those dead in trespasses and sin through forgiveness, to cleanse the unclean in the waters of baptism, to cast out evil with the Word of the Lord, and to feed the people of God upon the flesh and blood of Jesus in the Holy Communion.
    Every pastor has also a warning.  You are sheep among wolves, be wise as serpents but innocent as doves.  Don’t depend upon a friendly culture or benign government to be your friend or ally.  You cannot delegate the work of the Kingdom to others to whom it has not been given.  Yet with this warning comes a promise.  Lo, I am with you always.  I will not leave you orphans or comfortless. 
    Every pastor is weak and vulnerable.  Only Christ is his strength and power.  The ministry is not about success but about faithfulness.  Every pastor knows this and struggles with this every day.  In His strength, we are strong and in Him we are made perfect.  Everything depends upon Christ.
    But is it not also true for you as God's people?  Has Jesus not given you a mission and vocation?  Is not your home your Israel and the domain what you serve the Lord?  Do you not also live by faith alone despite what your eyes see around you?  Are you not called to speak and live out this faith within your home, neighborhood, and workplace?  His Word is not only in your heart but on your lips.
    And on this day when we honor those who have shown us a Father’s love, it would be easy for us to list all the things our dads have not done for us.  Hidden underneath all of this and too often missed, are the unglamourous and ordinary things that dads do and we don’t even notice.  Dads are best judged not by the exceptional things they might do but by their faithfulness in the simple things of their calling – providing for their families, protecting their household, teaching the faith in the home, taking them to church, and by being willing to sacrifice his dreams for the dreams of his family.  And if a dad will do that, he will have fulfilled his mission as a father.  All a dad has to do is be faithful and it will be enough.

    Yet the world is filled with wolves.  We wrestle daily with our fears, don’t we?  Yet we are not alone.  Christ is with you.  His Spirit is upon you.  His Word lives in your ears.  His flesh and blood are on your lips.  His Spirit is upon you.  His name has become your name.  His grace is sufficient for you as it is for me.  It is enough for His mission, to fulfill His plan, to keep you in the face of your enemies, and to deliver you to your eternal home.  And everyday you fight to believe this is enough.
    Every pastor needs to hear this.  Everyone of you needs to hear this.  This is why we come here week after week.  It may seem crazy to us, even chaotic, but the Lord owns the mission we are part of; it is His kingdom.  He will deliver us to the future He has prepared for us.  All we have to do is be faithful.  Amen

The difference between tidying up and being made new. . .

I don't know how you are but when we have people coming over, it is a mad rush to tidy up and put things in their places to put on the best face.  We are not unclean people but we live in our house and sometimes you just need to tidy up for company.

Now is also the time of year when we go through our stuff and decide what stuff stays and what stuff goes.  Maybe you do that as well.  They say if you have not worn it in a year or used it in that same time, you might think about letting it go.  I am not sure about that one.  Yes, I know I have a lot of stuff that I have not worn in a while or used in a long time but, well, I am not ready to set it out with the garbage or give it to the church yard sale. . . at least not yet.

There are some who think of repentance in the same way we think of folks dropping in or doing a little spring cleaning.  But it is not a fair analogy.  Repentance is not a clean up exercise nor is it a matter of getting rid of the things you no longer need, want, or use.  Repentance is not house cleaning. . .in fact, it is just the opposite.

Repentance involves getting rid of the very things you love most, the things that form the daily routines of your ordinary life, and the things that go to the heart and core of who you are.  If repentance were any less, we could do it on our own and salvation would be merely a matter of our own willpower.  But it is not.  Repentance means a change of heart that only the Spirit can accomplish.  This is not a decision or a choice but the Spirit working in us daily to reinforce the new identity and the new desires of the heart implanted in us in our baptism.

The problem with sin is not that I am weak and give into something I really do not desire.  No, indeed.  The problem with sin is that this is exactly where my heart is.  Repentance does not mean letting go of things I am not really attached to but giving up the very things I have learned to love and life for.  I cannot tidy up my life.  My life needs to die so that Christ can raise it up brand new.

As Christians we are always up for a little house cleaning or tidying up.  We are always ready to sort through our stuff and let go of the things we no longer want and need.  But this is not what repentance is.  Repentance is not a make over or a flip but a tear down and rebuild.  This is why only the Spirit can accomplish this in our lives, why repentance is not something that can be tied down to a day and a date but is ongoing throughout the earthly life of the baptized, and why each day Christ must increase and I must decrease.  Living out this baptismal reality means not simply an external face lift but an internal rebirth, learning to love the things of God above all things and learning to follow where Christ has led the way.  This is the Spirit at work in our lives.  It is God's power and God's work but sanctification surely involves us and the cooperation of our wills with His will.  While this does nothing to earn or supplement the salvation won for us already in Christ, it does reflect the salvation ours in Christ which we grasp by baptism and faith.

Sadly, too many churches trivialize repentance and treat it like a TV makeover of our wardrobe or homes.  We do not need help tidying up nor do we need help cleaning out.  But we surely need the grace, power, and presence of God to inaugurate repentance in our lives and to keep that repentance going.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Fake News. . .

According to a Charlotte Observer story, another group has claimed to ordain a female priest in the Roman Catholic Church.  The only problem is that the woman who was ordained, maybe even the so-called bishop who ordained her, had been Roman Catholic lay people at one time but that lends nothing to their action or to its legitimacy.  According to the news release, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, 250 women in 10 countries have been ordained as Catholic priests. In the United States, it said, women priests serve in 65 “inclusive churches.” That includes women priests affiliated with the association and with a second allied group – Roman Catholic Women Priests – that has the same mission.  The only problem is that none of these are recognized by or in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
ad more here:
An international group defiantly opposed to the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests Sunday [April 30, 2017] ordained its first woman Catholic priest in the 46 counties that make up the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.
The ordination ceremony for Abigail Eltzroth happened in Asheville at Jubilee! – a nondenominational faith community – with Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan presiding. Eltzroth, 64, said she is the second woman in North Carolina ordained by the rebel group, called the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.
The article notes:  Many, but not all, Protestant denominations in the United States have women clergy. The Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church do, but most Southern Baptist churches do not. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ordains women, but the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod does not. And the Presbyterian Church (USA) has women clergy, while the Presbyterian Church in America does not.  So, why did the woman not join one of those who does ordain women?  It is not like she has a shortage of choices.

My point is this.  The media love to flaunt those who live outside of or on the fringes of the churches because of their rebellious or heretical positions or actions.  That says little or nothing about those churches.  Not Missouri Synod Lutherans who choose to support the ordination of women in a church that does not, who see Adam and Eve as mythological characters in a church that believes them to be real people, or who believe everyone and anyone ought to commune in a church that practices close(d) communion.  The media is simply trying to corner churches into a gotcha position and since it accords with the media's own bias against objective truth, doctrinal integrity, and the like, they delight in false and misleading headlines like Rebel Catholic Group Defies Church - Ordains Woman in NC.  I wish the media were smart enough to know the difference between fake news and real news.  It should have been clue enough WHERE she was ordained that she was not ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest, but that would have ruined the headline and emptied the story of its steam.  Even Francis has not gone that far, for pete's sake, but if they are not smart enough to distinguish between the trivial and titilatious [why is THAT not a word?], you ought to be. 

Read more here:

The The
Read more here:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The wrong kind of ecumenism. . .

Read the whole article by Terry Mattingly:
Soumaya Khalifah's sermon fell in the usual place in the Holy Week rite in which Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta clergy renewed their vows – after a Gospel passage and before the consecration of bread and wine as Holy Communion.  In this Mass, the Liturgy of the Word also included a Quran reading, including: "God, there is no god but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting. Neither slumber overtakes Him nor sleep. Unto Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is on the earth. Who is there who may intercede with Him save by His leave?"
Khalifah asked leaders from the region's 96 Episcopal parishes an obvious question: Was this an historic moment, with a Muslim woman preaching in a liturgy for an entire Christian diocese?  
After her sermon, Atlanta Bishop Robert C. Wright invited Khalifah to join clergy and others at the altar for the Eucharistic prayers consecrating the bread and wine. As the worshippers stepped forward to receive Holy Communion, the bishop said Khalifah took part.  "She held out her hand to receive the Host and it is not my practice to refuse people," said Wright, reached by telephone. He noted that "open Communion" is common across his diocese, especially with visitors. Khalifah returned to her seat without receiving the consecrated wine, the bishop said.
"They gave me the bread," said Khalifah, in a separate interview. "I am a Muslim. I am not a Christian. … This service was about what we have in common, the work we can do together."
Quite a story.  A Muslim woman not only preaching but receiving the host in an Episcopal Service of Holy Communion.  Whether it should or should not have happened, it did.  The mere fact that it happened should have raised questions, not only within the Episcopal communion but for those who are in fellowship with the Episcopal Church.  How is it possible to offer the Christian pulpit which is there to expound the Word of God and Christ crucified to anyone, Muslim or other, to preach another god and another truth that conflicts with Jesus Christ?  How is it possible to use such a moment to then offer what -- at least some within the greater Episcopal communion -- is not mere bread but the Body of Christ to someone whose faith contradicts this presence?  It is not a mere matter of unbelief but of a faith that refuses to believe the essential, creedal, Christian claim of who Christ is and what He has done. It is a strange kind of ecumenism in which conflicts stand but communion is offered, when competing gospels from competing holy books can be proclaimed in the same place. 

At some point, practice will overpower the claim of faith.  I fear that this time either has come or is soon to come for those who claim to be creedal, catholic  Christians in faith and worship but whose practice casts doubt upon such confession.  I write with deep regret that such as point has come for the Episcopal Church.  It was once a noble communion that produced legendary preachers, teachers, hymnwriters, liturgists, and authors who gave eloquent voice to English words.  I do not see how many more moments like this can come and go without the essential Christian character of such a church being lost, willingly surrendered upon the altar of expediency toward the most shallow and vacuous kind of ecumenism.

And where the Episcopal Church has gone, the ELCA is soon to follow.  Mark my words.  This is why we as Missouri Synod Lutherans continue to have such a conversation about supervision of doctrine and practice and why this is not a theoretical conversation.