Friday, October 31, 2014

Martin Luther is my name. . .

Remember my kudos to The Lutheran Witness???

Perhaps we should loan out Adriane Heins to the ELCA's The Lutheran.  While I was praising the reinvigorated monthly journal for our church body, I had occasion to peruse some back issues of The Lutheran only to find it a less than salutary experience.

Perhaps the article that stands out most in my mind was one subtitled The Most Real Church I Know and it was written by Kaethe Schwehn, a summary of her year as a 20 something coming to terms with her floundering faith..."  I cannot tell the state of her heart but if her article is any reflection of the state of her faith today, it still seems to be floundering to me.

She describes Vespers at Holden Village as a requirement for all who live there "whether or not God is your thing."  Schwehn calls it a quiet time together, with either feigned or artificial but unison liturgical conversation.  I agree with her, "to practice a religion is, in some ways, to take responsibility for it.  This is why it is easier to be spiritual than religious..."  But then things got dicey.  By remaining aloof from religion, "you don't have to deal with the idiots who still think God is a man [I hope she would agree Jesus was/is], who still think marriage is just about men and women [I guess that position is so over for folks of her age], who want to preach the tomb without the resurrection [what about those who want to preach the resurrection without the tomb?], or damnation instead of grace [but no problem with preaching grace without consequences]..."  Anyway, if this represents the caliber of The Lutheran, I cannot recommend it, and, apparently, many within the ELCA agree with me because I am told subscriptions are dropping precipitously....

Let me leave you with one more choice statement:  "I go [to Vespers] because I love the space where we worship. . . with its acid trip ceiling and altar standing just to the left of the free throw line, is the most real church I know..."

I don't wanna

The heirs of the Great Reformation gather on this day to trumpet the accomplishments of Martin Luther and his cohort of renewers of the faith.  We may not be happy to be Lutheran the rest of the year but on October 31 we are proud to beat our pumped out chests, sing A Mighty Fortress, and bemoan the wretched state of the church before Luther made it a personal cause!

Don't get me wrong.  I love Reformation Day.  I love being Lutheran (most all the time).  But I fear for the future of Lutheran churches (not so much for Lutheranism).  The Lutheranism that is the Book of Concord confessed, the great Lutheran chorales sung, the Divine Service with all of its reverence and awe, the Small Catechism and its explanations -- these will endure.  Sometimes I am not so sure about the Lutherans.

We Lutherans might have been undone by our pride in the man Luther and in our hero worship of his person but not so much anymore...  We Lutherans might have been undone by our flirtations with evangelicals and others -- the folks we might be if we were not Lutheran and still try to be while attempting to be Lutheran -- and we still could be.  We Lutherans might have been undone by those who have given up on the Reformation entirely and who are resigned to reconciliation with another communion (Rome or Constantinople) but the numbers swimming in either direction is fewer than the publicity implies.

What will be our undoing is our laziness, our infatuation with preference and feeling, and our unwillingness to work very hard at anything spiritual.  If Lutherans disappear, it will be because I just don't wanna will end up ruling the day.  I just don't wanna do anything so I will just stand here and watch from the sidelines of Sunday morning...  I just don't wanna learn anything, so I will just assume that all churches basically believe the same things or their errors and virtues complement the other churches so that none of us really knows what is truth...  I just don't wanna speak the words of the Divine Service or sing the hymns so I will let others do it and stand there like a lump on log...  I just don't wanna pay attention to doctrine and truth so I will content myself to measure what happens on Sunday morning on whether or not I feel better, got anything out of it, were entertained, educated, or got to do my thing in the spotlight...  I just don't wanna be responsible for raising my child in the faith, taking him or her to catechism and Sunday school, or modeling for him or her how to participate in the Divine Service...   I just don't wanna be accountable to anyone for anything and I don't want others to look over my shoulder and presume to tell me anything...   I just don't wanna do anything I don't wanna do!  Believe!  Practice!  Sing!  etc...

If Lutheran churches end up disappearing, it will not happen because Rome won or Geneva won but because Lutherans ended up giving up on their confession, congregation, catechism, and conscience.  That is the real danger facing us -- look in the mirror.  When Lutherans find other things to do on Sunday morning they are saying the Divine Service, the Word and the Sacraments, and their local congregation don't matter so much after all.  This is what threatens our existence.  The devil is counting on our lackadaisical attitudes that leave the believing, the confessing, the singing, the worshiping, the teaching, the serving, the caring to others. 

We are our own worst enemies.  Some of us have forgotten the voices of our fathers in the faith and have attempted to reinvent Lutheranism (in the image of evangelicalism, fundamentalism, mainline Protestantism).  Some of us have forgotten the witness side of confession and treat the stranger as the oddity to be ignored rather than the stranger to be welcomed.  Some of us have forgotten that pure doctrine matters because their people believe and confess it and not as an ornament for the shelf.  Some of us have forgotten that unless we pass on faithfully the legacy passed on to us we have little to be proud of.  Some of us have forgotten that Lutheran is not antithetical to Christian but claim to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith.

Lutherans unite -- not against the world but for the Divine Service as source and summit of our Christian lives EVERY week...  not as a people whose every word is "no" but as those who speak also and with even greater vigor God's "yes" in Christ crucified... not as a people willing to let others do what is our baptismal calling but as the people convinced that what we believe, confess, teach, and do matters... not as a people happy to beat our chest for the victories of yesterday but as those who fight the good fight of faith today...  not as a people who secretly wish we were somebody else but as those whose convictions are solid, sure, and deep in the faith called Lutheranism...

Come on, Lutherans, be Lutheran -- not just on Sunday morning either.  We are our own worst enemies.  Either we believe the efficacious Word and have confidence in the means of grace to deliver what they sign or we have no business wearing the name that others wore so nobly before us.  If Lutherans disappear we can blame no one but ourselves.  Today is Halloween -- when folks dress up in costume.  Lutheran is not a costume -- it is a confession upheld, a conviction shared, a community gathered around Word and Sacrament, a catechism to be taught, and a cause too important to be left to others. . .  Don't wear your Lutheranism as a costume.  Wear it as the face of faithful catholic Christianity.  Then Lutherans and Lutheranism will have a sure future.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

No domino effect here. . .

“Incest between siblings appears to be very rare in Western societies according to the available data but those affected describe how difficult their situation is in light of the threat of punishment. They feel their fundamental freedoms have been violated and are forced into secrecy or to deny their love.The majority of the German Ethics Council is of the opinion that it is not appropriate for a criminal law to preserve a social taboo.In the case of consensual incest among adult siblings, neither the fear of negative consequences for the family, nor the possibility of the birth of children from such incestuous relationships can justify a criminal prohibition. The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination has more weight in such cases than the abstract protection of the family.”

Read more here. . .

Sexual self-determination is, according to the German Ethics Council, the most fundamental of rights.  Given the secularization of Europe, apparently a right more profound than the freedom of religion even.  Once we thought Germany was solid -- after all the people who brought you Mercedes Benz and BMW and Audi and VW were surely common sense people, right?  Such foolishness is shocking but not completely unpredictable.  We have had an uncommon shortage of common sense of late, Germany included.  But my point in this is to remind folks that once the sacred barriers of morality and family were vitiated, all the once solid prohibitions would eventually fall.  If it is not a direct consequence of gay marriage, cohabitation, and the sexual revolution, it is an indirect one.  As Europe goes, so goes America -- only a generation or so behind, perhaps.  Polygamy can no longer be prohibited -- say the courts.  Marriage is whatever the people marrying choose it to be -- say the courts.  Pedophilia maybe a different sexual orientation and not a perversion -- says psychiatry now and probably the courts soon.  Incest is an unfair ban against the fundamental right of sexual self-determination.  What is next?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The last gasps of church. . .

I once received these lists of the dying breaths and last words of churches (or denominations) as notes from lay folks asking me if they should be worried.  I once read these lists thinking that these so-called experts ought to be heard and maybe they had something to say.  Not anymore.

The latest incarnation I had emailed to me was written by Brian Dodd (whoever he is) and his last gasps of a dying church are:
  1. “Isn’t it great that our music is never too loud?”
  2. “Isn’t it nice seeing people in coats and ties and not disrespecting God by wearing jeans and shorts?”
  3. “We’re more spiritual and doctrinally pure than that fast-growing, watered-down gospel, baptizing-hundreds–maybe-thousands-every-year church down the street.”
  4. “Can you believe that church is stealing all our young people?”
  5. “I hear we’re having to cut the budget because giving is not what it used to be.”
  6. “Isn’t it great having all this room on the pew to spread out.”
  7. “I love singing all four verses.”
  8. “Don’t worry about our attendance. Let me tell you how large our membership is.”
  9. “Are you coming to Monday night visitation? How about the Wednesday night prayer service?”
  10. “Remember the good ‘ole days.”
  11. “Visitors, please stand.”
  12. “I hear it’s just a show over there.”
  13. “We just formed a Committee on Committees.”
  14. “We don’t talk about money. We preach the Bible.”
  15. “You don’t want that fast growth. Slooooow growth is what you need.”
  16. “Isn’t it great getting out of the parking lot quickly?”
  17. “The poor will always be with us.”
  18. “I’m really tired of having to hear about lost people all the time.”
  19. “Pastor, I think we need to start praying for revival.”
Do these phrases hit close to home for you? Are there any more comments you want to add that you’ve heard?

I suppose there is truth to all of those lists but the answer offered by the gurus of growth are generally the same -- reinvent yourself, ditch the focus on doctrine and liturgy, take up entertainment/seeker worship, put a praise band in place of the organ, put a stage where the chancel was, dress down, act casual, try for relevance, preach trendy stuff that hits people's felt needs, shy away from mentioning sin and Jesus (except in the most generic sense), and take time to listen to the experts who know better than you or the Word of God what makes a church grow...

Here is another one. . . sent to me by a reader of this blog and written by George Bullard, the topic here is not a dying congregation but a denomination committing suicide.

Many denominations are slowly committing suicide. Suicide is not an intentional destination. It is, however, the unintended consequence of their collective actions over multiple years.  Denominational movements reach a point that they institutionalize. They do this because it is fashionable, to create organizations that will guarantee their survival, in response to requests from parts of the constituency that they provide more programs and management, to complete their rebellion against other Christian groups they do not want to emulate, because focusing on institutional things keep them busy and gains them greater status and notoriety, and because the opportunity was available to them.
Eventually they become hooked and even if they wanted to quit, many cannot or are in denial they are killing themselves. Here are seven ways their suicide is becoming increasingly inevitable. These are not the only ways, but they are effective ways of committing suicide.

First, they lose their first love which is congregations. They focus time, energy, and resources on social and political issues as well as supporting auxiliary institutions rather than congregations. They focus their efforts directly rather than in ways that cooperate with congregations. Rather than building up congregations who can impact issues and institutions, they strive to build up their own role in impacting issues and institutions.

Second, they fail to create and sustain a congregational multiplication movement that launches a number of new congregations each year equal to three percent of the number of congregations they have at the beginning of each new year. The three percent figure is minimal to sustain the denomination when a certain percentage of congregations are dying each year, and a majority of existing congregations are plateaued and declining.

Third, culturally, if not officially, denominations formalize education requirements. All ministers are expected to have a master’s degree from a seminary or divinity school and true leaders are expected to have some type of doctoral degree. This empowers the upward socioeconomic mobility of the denomination and leaves behind masses of demographics who need to be engaged missionally.

Fourth, officially they formalize and perhaps centralize the ordination of ministers. At least it is no longer a local congregational issue—if it ever was. Attempts are made to create and sustain a higher quality of clergy through the ordination process. Too often the excellence in character and competency sought for is a target missed.

Fifth, understanding and hearing the voice of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit is misplaced. When denominations believe the voice of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit is greater in denominational headquarters than it is at the grassroots, they lessen the power and impact of the Triune God throughout their movement.

Sixth, when denominational headquarters does not understand the difference between a strategic framework and a strategy it may be committing suicide. A strategic framework is what is needed at denominational headquarters, and even in many middle judicatories. Specific contextual strategies are what emerge at the grassroots through individual congregations and networks of congregations.

Seventh, when denominations regularly restructure, their focus is usually on rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. The primary outcome of denominational restructuring is often setting that denomination up to restructure again within five years. Even when there are attempts at broad-based ownership among congregational leaders for restructuring efforts the focus is still on managing the past rather than leading into the future.

Bingo.  It hit the LCMS in nearly every place we are vulnerable...  congregationalism reigns supreme, church planting is the only real goal and purpose, everyone a minister, listen to the people, find which direction the wind is blowing, set people free to do things on their own, forget constitutions and by-laws. . .  Again, there is a measure of truth in all of these lists but the solutions are never as simple or as idyllic as the writers of such lists think.  By this list, the Roman Catholic Church should be dying because it is the most controlling of all denominational structures but instead it is flourishing.  By this list, the Southern Baptist Church should be flourishing but it is no longer growing free and easy.  In other words, be careful about re-inventing yourselves to fit the lists of the self-appointed experts who know better than everyone else.

You want my take on all of this?  Be faithful.  Be faithful in proclaiming the Word, the full counsel of God's Words, rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel.  Be faithful in administering the Sacraments according to Christ's institution.  Be faithful in welcoming the stranger, loving the poor, and serving those in need.  Be faithful in maintaining the sacred tradition handed down to you and deliver it faithfully to those who come after you.  Be faithful in catechizing youth and converts.  Be faithful in raising up the faith whether it is received or not, whether it is among friends or enemies of the Gospel.  Be faithful and God will grow the congregation and denomination or not -- maybe He has a different future in mind than the one we anticipate -- but God will deliver whatever growth the kingdom of God finds.  Do what He has called us to do and do it faithfully, taking the work of the Kingdom, the Word of God, and the Sacraments seriously while not taking ourselves overly seriously and the will and desire of God shall be done -- not because of us but through us!

That is enough.  And skip the reading of lists of why your church is dying... it only distracts you from what you ought to be reading, wasting time that should be given to the faithful work God has given us to do, and instilling fear that we make church grow or die when, if we are faithful, it is God's domain to bring growth to His Church. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Who are we Lutherans?

Sermon for Reformation Sunday, preached on Sunday, October 26, 2014.

    When somebody wants me to eat what I do not want to try, I am always told but it tastes like chicken.  Since chicken can taste like anything we choose to use for seasoning, I suppose there is an element of truth to it.  But if I wanted chicken, I would have asked for it.
    Definitions born of comparison are inherently flawed.  They may sometimes be helpful but they are never fully accurate or complete.  One of the great temptations for Lutherans in a sea awash with Protestants of various stripes and Roman Catholics is to explain ourselves in relation to others.  We are like Roman Catholics, except... we are like Methodists except... But we must be more than just not Roman Catholics and not Methodists and not Baptists. We can't merely be against but must positively stand for what we believe and confess.  If we would claim to be heirs of the great Reformation we must speak boldly and positively who we are and why it matters to the world.
    The heart and core of the Reformation is not an antagonism   against Rome or the Pope but a quest for authority – what can I trust.  We know that even the best intended people fail us.  We have to have something more than our own feelings or the opinions of one or many on which to base our faith.  So Lutherans confess Scripture alone.
    Scripture alone is trustworthy and reliable.  God cannot lie to us or deceive us.  Scripture alone reveals God to us and is that which norms or shapes what we believe, confess, and teach.  Yet this Scripture is more than just error free, it is efficacious.  The Word of the Lord is factual but not just a book of facts.  It is the living voice of God who speaks and in His speaking, His work is done, faith is imparted, and His grace delivered to His people.
    Yet this Scripture is not the domain for the individual to decide what it says.  If this were true, we would have exchanged one pope for everyone a pope and ended up even further removed from knowing the truth that sets us free. The Scripture speaks consistently, yesterday, today and forever the same truth.  This is what that word catholic means – unchanging!  The Reformation was not about change but about continuity with Scripture and the catholic tradition.
    The quest of the Reformation was not a better morality but hope for the sinner, caught up in sin, guilt, shame, and death. This was personal for Luther and it is personal for us.  Our salvation is sure because we fickle people contribute nothing to that salvation.  It is God's grace alone that we are saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  His free gift and unmerited favor has redeemed us lost and condemned sinners, not with silver or gold but with the holy and precious blood of Christ.
    The power of the Reformation is Christ alone. Christ reveals the Scriptures to us.  He is the key to that Word.  He alone fulfills the Father's will and apart from Him we have no certain knowledge of God at all.  He is the face of God, the voice of God, and the power of God to release us sinners from our sins and restore us to our place as His children, that we may know Him and live under Him in His kingdom now and forevermore.  Therefore the Gospel is THE message of God to us – Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
    Our Lord Himself insists that the Law, the prophets, and the writings – the whole of the Old Testament – testifies of Him. This is our confidence.  If we know Christ by baptism and faith, then we are saved, then we have the Spirit working in us His purpose, to display the good works that do not earn our salvation but do show forth who we are and whose we are.
    We make a great claim.  We insist that we have departed not from the catholic faith delivered to the saints and handed down from generation to generation.  That claim is true ONLY when we affirm God's Word as the infallible truth that does what it says to and for us, that grace alone is our glory and our confidence in salvation, and that Christ alone has shown to us the face of God as our Savior and Redeemer.  These will remain only words until we speak them to our children and tell them to the world.
    Today we will witness the baptismal affirmation of some of our youth.  They will speak forth their faith and make bold promises of lifelong faithfulness.  But these remain only words unless we support them, unless we hold them accountable, and unless we encourage them in these vows with our prayers and example.  All of us are bound together in Christ to do just that – hold each other accountable and encourage one another in the faith. 
    Those confirmed today will, like us, have to wear our faith before the world.  The faith we wear before the world cannot be defined by comparison.  We cannot afford to define ourselves as like Roman Catholics except or like Baptists except or like Methodists except...  We must learn to identify who we are why it matters in a positive sense.  We are Word alone, Grace alone, Christ alone people.  We insist that who we are and what we confess is not sectarian.  We insist that we confess the fullness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith, once delivered to the saints.  This great confession IS a confession of Scripture, of grace, and of Christ. 
    What we have received, we pass on.  To those confirmed today, and to those who will hear the Gospel... and to a world waiting to know the Gospel that forgives, restores, sustains, and saves.  So from us the Word goes forth to the world.  Unless we are willing to do this, we are unworthy of the name Lutheran and of the great heritage of the Reformation.  Therefore, let us do no less for the future than was done by the faithful who went before us.  Amen.

Sacramental or devotional. . .

One of the more profound difficulties of the modern age is the way the liturgy, even among its friends, is more likely to be seen in the context of the devotional life of the individual, as one of many tools or sources of spiritual growth, rather than the source and summit of Christian life.  In other words, there remains a distinct tension between the Divine Service as the fount from which our lives in Christ flow and the summit or peak to which our lives are addressed and the idea that corporate worship, the Divine Service, the means of grace, are all one of several or even many sources of our spiritual lives and not the goal or peak of that spiritual life.  The tension is between individual and corporate, to be sure, but it is far more than this.  The Eucharist is the singular and gracious source of our life together, koinonia, as well as the focus to which our lives return in the unbroken cycle of the eighth day and our lives planted within God's kingdom and time by baptism.

I encountered this in an article, of all things, on the tension between the Benedictine and Jesuit models of spiritual life.  Peter Kwasniewski wrote an article at the New Liturgical Movement website called The Ironic Outcome of the Benedictine-Jesuit Controversy.  According to Kwasniewski (a mouthful),  A “Benedictine” liturgical model, drawing from monastic life and its corporate worship and devotional life, and paralleling the classical liturgical movement, views the liturgy as the source and summit of Christian life.  On the other hand, a “Jesuit” liturgical model sees the Mass as “one among many tools of personal spiritual growth, with private meditation having a certain pride of place.” 

The fruits of the Liturgical Reform include, among other things, a kind of merging of the two models.  The liturgy is a chief priority for the individual devotional life of the baptized, but, it is a liturgy which is less communal gathering than it is a more intensely personal and subjective liturgy which is both perceived and valued individually.  

Certainly it is not much disputed that the path of liturgical development, demonstrated especially by the medieval period, has been a move from the more corporate sense of the gift received and celebrated to a more individual piety in which the value and blessing of the Mass is viewed through the lens of the individual.  Perhaps this mirrored the eventual silence and spectator role of the faithful as the Mass became less the domain of the people's response than the arena of the clergy, minor clergy, and choir.  The somewhat Romantic view of the development of the liturgy and a desire to replicate the more pristine forms of the church's earliest life were not without their own lens of judgment by the individual.  

The author of the article insists:  The legacy of the post-conciliar reform is a Benedictine insistence on the primacy of liturgy, fused with a Jesuitized re-conception of liturgy as collective private devotion. It is as if new Jesuit wine has been poured into old Benedictine wineskins, causing them to rupture. The moment of triumph was the moment of disaster, as the very notion of a rite—a formal ritualized act of common worship based on a common orthodox tradition—gave way to a pluralistic, relaxed, malleable, and privatized praxis of variations on a more or less Catholic theme. In short, the Consilium’s exploitation of Sacrosanctum Concilium left us with a volatile mixture that makes genuine reform today much more difficult.  

While he speaks from and to a Roman Catholic perspective, his words are not without application within the larger world of liturgical reform.  The point is that liturgical reform is made more complicated and because it is not simply about forms, change, texts, antiquity, and modernity but about a more modern idea of an individual spiritual life of which corporate worship and the Mass/Divine Service is but one component (albeit very important) vs the idea that the personal and individual devotional life of the Christian draws upon many sources and is encompassed less toward God than it is the fullness of the life of the individual.  I think that is exactly the key.

Folks fighting the worship wars are often seen as battling musical styles or ancient words and forms that have meaning only because they are ancient.  In essence, we tend to take for granted that everyone looks to the Mass/Divine Service as the same thing and for the same purpose.  This is a fallacy.  Lutherans also find liturgical renewal challenging because our people no longer see the Divine Service as source and summit of their baptismal lives together (first) and individually (as a consequence).  Rather, the hard truth to admit is that our people no longer see the essential need for the Divine Service or even the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood.  Their devotional lives have many sources and the summit of their devotional lives is shaped by individual need and focus -- a better life, marriage, family, work, etc... or happiness.

When I visit delinquent members and even when I speak with regular folks who sometimes absent themselves for somewhat prolonged times from the Divine Service, I hear them assure me that they are still Christians, still believe, still read the Bible, etc... but that they do not need to attend corporate worship or to receive the Sacrament to nurture their lives in Christ.  They draw from many sources and the Eucharist is but one.  This is surely open to debate but my point is that they are saying that their individual devotional lives are neither rooted from nor directed to return to the Divine Service.  This surely applies to Lutherans the same difficulty that the author of the article sees as one of the fruits of modern liturgical renewal -- yes the Eucharist is important but it is not the source and summit of the Christian life but rather one of many different sources and peaks of my individual piety.  This has to change before we can address the actual changes in form and words that also marked the time of modern liturgical renewal.  Increasingly we are finding folks less attached to the Divine Service and more individualized both in their expectation of and their appreciation for what happens within the Divine Service.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Made real by our experience. . .

Experience is many things.  It is not bad -- in fact it is good.  Our experience of the Christian faith and even our emotions within that experience are good things. . . but they are not that which makes the faith real.  Experience and emotion are a response to the reality which exists by virtue of God's Word that speaks and creates, that is efficacious delivering what it promises, and that does not fail to accomplish God's purpose in sending it.

The idea that something of the faith is made real by our experience is dangerous for that means it can be rendered unreal by our failure to experience it or our rejection of that experience.  In a sense this is no different from those who complain about their pastor not because he fails to preach God's Word rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel or faithfully administering the Sacraments according to Christ's institution but because they don't like him.  They claim to get nothing out of his sermons and even to find their faith hindered by his ministry.  But what they get out of his preaching and ministry (of Word and Sacrament) is neither created nor prevented by their like or dislike of the man.  It is the nature of the Word that it does what it promises and delivers what it says.  Period.

Yeah, I know what he means.  I have had those moments when emotion, experience, and faith all come together.  They are good moments and not bad.  But good or bad, our experience of Christ, our experience of His Gospel, and our experience of His grace is rendered neither real nor unreal by special moments or memories or a lack of them.  We pastors need to be careful lest we turn folks to the uncertain ground of feelings and experiences from the solid foundation of God's Word.  Especially when we broadcast these words across the internet.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lutheran Satire Strikes Again

Horus reads the internet. . .

I would laugh more if I did not cry... through my tears I lament that his judgment is truer than I wish:
... because ... you’re ... a ... Biblically-illiterate buffoon who has never listened to a single Christian sermon on the issue, talked with a single Christian theologian about this subject, read a single one of the countless words that Christians have written on this subject and your only familiarity with the matter is what you’ve learned from the website of another hopelessly ignorant unbeliever who is convinced that after a 20 second glance at 4 context-free passages from Leviticus he is already a greater Biblical scholar than every Christian in the last 2,000 years including the very men who wrote the Bible.
 On target, Hans!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Islamic Dilemma. . .

Well, it seems to clear it up for me... though I am not so sure that the Islamic adherents are ready to pay attention and follow this lead...

Friday, October 24, 2014

There is that word again. . .

Every now and then one who comes from a church body called the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod can be thankful that in Rome there was an Extraordinary Synod (we Lutherans are too self-deprecating to call ourselves anything but ordinary).  There is that word again.  Synod.  Somebody else is using it!  Wheeew.  I thought we were the only ones?!

Then I stumbled across a traditional Catholic blog which not only mentions synod but talks about various aspects of its meaning. 

The Pope Emeritus tells us that the word used in Luke for Jesus, Joseph and Mary's travelling up to Jerusalem is synodia meaning a "pilgrim community", or a travelling caravan. The other word, which seems similar, is synodos, meaning an "assembly" or "meeting".

The synod in the past week represented more of a synodia than a synodos. But, are not both definitions true? The Church at large now sees the great divisions many of us have seen locally. Those with a "gay agenda" are trying to steer Holy Mother Church way from the truth concerning marriage and the family. 

But, a synodia has to go somewhere, a pilgrimage always has a goal. And, a true pilgrimage must be penitential.

Some leaders want synodia not synodos. Some want constant change and new horizons in doctrine or even pastoral care.
Read the whole of it here.   I am marginally disappointed that this author has not used precisely the same terminology the by now legendary definition of synod that we in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod use -- walking together on the way -- but close enough.

Sure, some of you will say that ELCAites use Synod to refer to Districts and there are some micro synods among the myriad of Lutheran acronyms.  All I can say is that the ELCAites do not really mean it and the only micro anythings I pay attention to are breweries (as is salutary and good).

If you are Missouri Synod and reading this, you can also be relieved that someone else is preoccupied by an obscure term which we hold near and dear.  Ahhhhh, it is a good day in Synodland when somebody besides us is defining the term that nobody on earth seems to know but a few Missourians (and even fewer micro Lutherans) -- and even most of them are not sure what the word actually means!

Sacramental entrepreneur. . .

Rev. Bill Woolsey. . . Founding & Sr Pastor of CrossPoint Community Church and Founding Leader & President of FiveTwo

Bill’s passion for reaching God’s lost people has resulted in two unique ministries: CrossPoint Community Church (LCMS), a multi-site church with two campuses and two partner churches it is helping launch, with a vision for 20 campuses and partner churches by 2020; and FiveTwo, a “how-to” network for sacramental church leaders who want to more effectively reach God’s lost people in the U.S. and around the world. FiveTwo desires to equip 10,000 sacramental entrepreneurs who launch 1,000,000 sacramental communities for lost people by 2044.

Watch snippets of him here. . .

Does he sound Lutheran to you?  Not to me either. . . but he is the guru of the Texas District LCMS and trying to awaken the sleeping giant of the LCMS using the poison pill of Evangelicalism (worship, theology, and style). . .

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Random thoughts on a random day. . .

We spend less time cooking, cleaning, working, and otherwise providing for life's essentials than ever before.  No generation has enjoyed as much free time as we do and no generation has had as many choices available for that free time as the options we routinely expect.  Yet the common complaint of us all is that we are too busy to do what we want and we seldom get close to completing all we intend.  Somehow that did not seem all that important to me when organizing one of my days this past month.

Sitting with a few shut-ins puts some of these things into a slightly different perspective.  One couple spends too much of their time shuffling from one doctor appointment to another.  They are not overly busy but overly tired -- weary of the endless litany of ailments, tests, diagnoses, and pills.  They know what is wrong with them.  They are old and old age brings a certain unpleasantness that is unavoidable (no matter what the pleasant mythology of aging tries to say).  This is a wisdom which they wish they had not learned.  They have found their length of days a mixed blessing -- as it surely is -- but they are wonderfully happy to spend time with their Pastor, who has come to inquire about them, to speak God's Word to them, and to feed them upon the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.

In the same day, another set of shut-ins finds a slightly different twist to their day.  Time moves ever so slowly during the day but quickly through the months.  One is suffering from the ever increasing ills of memory loss and his world grow ever smaller with each passing day.  His wife watches with a measure of sadness and relief -- sadness that their golden years have lost some of the shine and relief when he wakes, when they manage to get through the day without falling or some other household trouble.  They are also happy when their Pastor stops by to break the routine, bring news from their church and church family, and listen to the measure of the day so far.  Visitors do not stop as often as they would like and come more often because of need and not simply to say "hi".  The memory lost has not yet left him unable to speak the Our Father and ask to receive the body and blood of the Lord Jesus but he does have trouble swallowing and receives the Sacrament from a spoon.

The ministry of Word and Sacrament is all that but it is also a ministry of presence.  Amid the press of time, the urgency of a thousand problems, emails, phone calls, social media alerts, lessons to prepare, sermons to write, parish calendars and publications to prepare, etc... there is time just to sit, to talk, to look around, and to look into the lives of those entrusted to your care.  It is not always the kind of stuff that seems urgent or the kind of stuff that fits on a report or the kind of stuff that leaves you with statistics to share... but this is the stuff of a Pastor's day.

How we care for the youngest and for the oldest within the church is often a truer measure of the church's life and health than the raw statistics of attendance, giving, visitor follow ups, etc... that supervisors want to see.  How do you report these indicators of faithfulness also essential to the life of a Christian (Lutheran) congregation?

So after spend about half the day with shut-ins, there are still some phone messages to hear, calls to return, and a 90 minute youth catechism class to teach (finishing up a unit on baptism).  At the end of the day, it is sometimes hard to point to concrete accomplishments ("This is what I made/did") -- but there is purpose, value, and importance to it.  One of the great lessons of pastoral ministry is learning that pastoral care is not glamorous, it is hard to chart on your schedule, and difficult to report but it is often one of the most valuable things you will ever do.

PS...  The phone calls were about baptisms to schedule (5 so far) and new families to bring into the family of faith hat is this congregation.  These things are easier to chart and report.  So at the end of the day a little something for the statistics after all -- though it is a darn shame to characterize the great mystery of water and God's Word as a statistic!?!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Stand Up for Jesus. . .

All over the media is the buzz about the Houston pastors whose sermons were subpenaed.  What is a strange and foolish act on the part of the openly gay Houston mayor in support of her measures to help the cause of GLBT there has backfired.  It was an outrageous overstep.  Of all the responses, one of the most thoughtful is that penned by LCMS 4th Vice President and also Pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church in Houston.  Read it here.  It is good stuff.

Why I stand with the Houston five.

You believe the Word too much. . .

It was a discussion of sacramental theology, of the water of baptism that saves and of the bread and wine that is now Christ's body and blood in the same manner as the incarnation married divinity to humanity.  It was an argument of sorts over infants and children -- whether they were somehow aloof from sin and its consequences and therefore not in need of baptismal gift and grace or if they possessed some kind of rudimentary faith or must await an age of accountability.  It was a frustration of wills conflicting, of theological lenses that precluded the other from seeing what the one saw, and of posturing defined less by what the Scripture said than by rational and reasonable theological presupposition.

And then the arrow broke through...  But even then, once the point was understood, it was not granted.

"You believe the Word too much..." 

A blessed accusation, to be sure!  If one is left with the choice, the Lutheran chooses to believe more in the Word than in human work or act as the basis or promise of salvation.  It is the all encompassing sacramental theology of Lutheranism boiled down to the fewest of words -- you believe the Word too much...

But we do.  Hidden in the water of baptism is the ark that saves us.  The Word put it there.  No matter that you cannot see it with the eyes in your head.  It is there.  The Word has promised it.  Hidden in bread is the Body of Christ and in the cup His blood.  The Word put it there.  No matter that it still looks and tastes like the bread and wine it was, and still is, by earthly sense, it is the Body and Blood of Christ.  The Word has promised it.

We believe the Word too much.  If there was ever a Lutheran fault, I think it might be this.  But what we might call a fault in our world of seeing is believing is the greatest of all virtues.  We learned it from Mary, Blessed Virgin, who heard and at once became the Mother of God, the Son of the everlasting Father living in her womb!  Yes, shocking as it is, the BVM is the Mother of All Lutherans.  She believed the Word too much.  We believe the Word too much.

That is why I am not Roman Catholic or generic Protestant or even Orthodox.  This is why I am Lutheran.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Whose image do YOU wear?

Sermon preached for Pentecost 19, Proper 20A, on Sunday, October 19, 2014.

    Undoubtedly you have heard the Gospel reading before and undoubtedly you have heard stewardship and citizenship sermons and some of them undoubtedly came from me.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  But today I think we need to  explore another aspect of Jesus’ words about what belongs to Caesar or government and what belongs to the Lord.
    What began as a typical conversation complaining about taxes – one that might very well take place here and now – turned into something much different.  It was nothing less than an attempt to trap Jesus between God and Caesar.  We always talk about taxes and how to relieve ourselves of this burden so that we can do what we please with OUR money.  But Jesus offers us no out.   He asked for a coin and pointed to Caesar’s image.  Pay what you owe.  In other words, Jesus refused to justify avoiding paying what is rightfully owed to Uncle Sam. 
    It is sinful to refuse to pay what you owe because it proceeds from a selfish heart.  None of us is trying to keep from paying more to the government in order to give more to the Church or have more money for the poor.  Jesus knows this.  He is blunt. Yet, as hard as this is, this is the easy part of Jesus’ words.  Taxes to pay for the common good, such as defense, are sanctioned by God, just law, and just responsibility.
    Living as a citizen means sharing obligations for the common good and for the common need.  In other words, we have a duty to our neighbor and even to the stranger with whom we share both privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.  We may glory at cheating the government of their due but Jesus offers us no cover and refuses to countenance such behavior.
    But the conversation is not over.  Then comes the part that is much more difficult.  Uncle Sam wants only a part of you, a small percentage.  God is not content with a little bit of you, with a part of you, or with sharing you.  He has invested the blood of His Son to redeem you and you belong to Him.  You were bought with a price.  You belong to Him.  To run from this is to cheapen Jesus’ suffering and death and to act like the tenants we heard about last week who refused to give what was the right and duty owed to the owner.
    Let us approach this a different way.  Instead of thinking about a coin, think of YOU.  Whose image do YOU wear?  For that is what tells us what is due and to whom it is due.  Whose image do YOU wear?  Do you belong to the world?  Or, do you belong to the Lord who became Your Savior? 
    God’s claim would be easy if it were merely a claim on the time or money we call our own.  But that is not His claim.  His claim is on US – all that we are.  Our very selves belong to Him.  This is where it gets hard.  God claims all of us or none of us.
    We were created by God and marked with His image, made in His likeness.  His claim on us is the breath that gave us life and the life that we live out before Him.  But God claimed even more.  He also claimed our sins.  He sent forth His own Son to pay the sacrificial cost of that sin and to enter into the horror of death and tame it for us. We are therefore twice His.  Once in creation and once in our baptism when He marked us again as His own, setting us free from our captivity to sin and death and allowing us to live under Him in His kingdom as was His creative intention.  What the world owned died in your baptism and what arose belongs to God.
    St. Paul says the same thing.  You are not your own.  You were bought with a price.  Therefore glorify God in your body.  It is easy to give Caesar what is his due – it is but a percentage of our money.  But to give God what is His, to acknowledge His ownership over the whole of us, that demands nothing less than absolute faith. For just as God has claimed us, cleansed us from our sin, and set us free from death, so does He continue to provide for us, for this body and this life, and His mercies are new every morning.
    We are tempted to cheapen God’s claim on those who wear His image – 10% of our money, one day a week for worship and only a couple of hours then.  God is not satisfied with token ownership of those whom He has purchased and won with the very blood of His Son.  He demands all of you.  Nothing less.  How is that for stewardship!  Yet our jealous God is not selfish about us in the sense that we are over our things.  He is jealous for us out of love, desiring to save us and providing for us to keep us in this blessed faith and hope until no distraction or distortion of life can afflict us again and we are His in everlasting life.
    We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works... present yourselves as living sacrifices to the God whose image you wear.  Well, what do we sing every Sunday? What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? It is not a rhetorical question.  It expects an answer.  You belong to the Lord.  You wear His image.  So do not sing it on Sunday unless you are prepared to live it Monday through Saturday.  Do not try to live as if you had two masters.  One is Lord, even Jesus Christ, and it is His domain in which we live this mortal life of ordinary responsibilities and duties to nation and neighbor even as it is His domain in which we live the new life that marks us for eternity.  God help us to wear His blessed image born in us by baptism now and to endure in this faith and hope to everlasting life.

Pastoral VS Doctrinal

I have said this more than once.  When did "pastoral" become an antonym of "doctrinal" or "dogmatic"?  When we describe pastors as pastoral what we tend to mean is that they do not follow the rules but bend the rules out of love or charity.  So a pastoral pastor will open the altar rail to whomever while a doctrinal or dogmatic pastor will insist upon following the rules and allowing only people in fellowship to commune.  There are a thousand other issues we could use to juxtapose pastoral with doctrinal or dogmatic and we would probably not cover them all.

It seems that Rome has picked up on this idea as well.  The designated replacement of Francis Cardinal George of Chicago is described as a "pastoral" bishop.  In other words, unlike, say, Cardinal Burke, this fellow will not be so intent upon enforcing the doctrinal stance of the Roman Catholic Church and will be more likely to, say, bend the rules rather than follow them.  No one is saying he is a heretic or out on the fringes but he is described as a moderate or pastoral -- sort of like Francis.

Frankly, I am sick and tied of the way we use pastoral to describe those who are more likely to ignore doctrine and toe the line on its practice.  There is nothing pastoral about a pastor (bishop, pope, you name it) who thinks doctrine is less important than people.  There is nothing pastoral about a pastor who has decided that dogma is optional and it has no particular practice associated with its belief.  Whether you are Lutheran or Roman Catholic or Orthodox or Methodist -- it does not matter -- holding to doctrine should not be a bad thing.  In fact, we have far too many people questioning doctrine, challenging the truth of Scripture, wondering about the historicity of this person or that event, dismissing the historic boundaries of morality, and discounting the ability of anyone to know for sure about much of anything of Scripture, truth, and God.

There is little love in the person who refuses to tell the truth to people who might be offended by it.  The Gospel is just as offensive as the Law, just as scandalous to the modern heart, and just as far fetched to the modern mind.  Love means telling the truth, telling it not as a weapon to wound but as the only means to salvation, healing, forgiveness, and life.  No church body needs people who are less likely to be truth tellers because people might not understand it, might be offended by it, or might use this truth as an excuse for keeping their distance from the God who made and saves them.  Just the opposite!  We believe that God's Word is truth and that this truth has the power to save, to bring about repentance, and to create faith.  It is the promise of Isaiah 55 that God will not find His Word empty but will rejoice in the fruit for which He has issued that Word (through the mouths of His people and through the faithfulness of pastors who are not ashamed of doctrine and dogma).

A wise retired Army chaplain once said to me that the kiss of death for a chaplain is to only say "no" to his commander.  "No, I cannot do that, but I can do this."  said the same chaplain.  In other words the real distinction here should be between those who only say no to wrong and those who say no to wrong but find in it the occasion to speak the yes of God's grace.  Pastoral should not mean that you do not say God's "no" but rather that in addition to speaking God's "no", you also speak God's "yes".

The real pastoral pastor (bishop, pope) will seek the truth of God's Word and its faithful confession and practice and follow it.  This is not in antithesis to love but its fullest expression.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The end of imagination. . .

Not a few have complained about a lack of creative thinking -- especially within our educational systems.  Many on all sides have lamented that tests are the single factors used to measure knowledge and that these tests are designed simply to regurgitate answers rather than stimulate thinking.  I remain somewhat conflicted in my own point of view on the value of such monolithic testing. 

One of the things that does trouble me is the impact of education and, perhaps even greater, the consequences of a video/tech culture on the imagination of youth.  Few would seriously challenge the idea that colleges today tend to have the most rigid boundaries of thought policed by teachers, administrators, and students alike.  But I cannot blame this all on the college.

Michael J. Lewis writing for First Things has put my concerns very clearly within the framework of education and play and the results of the choices we have made for ourselves.  He writes:  Students in my history of architecture course are amused to discover that the final exam offers a choice of questions. Some are bone dry (“discuss the development of the monumental staircase from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, citing examples”) and others deliberately open-ended (“General Meade overslept at Gettysburg and the South has won the Civil War; you are commissioner for the new national capital and must tell us which architects you will choose and what instructions you will give them.”) In offering this whimsical range of options, I do nothing original; my own professors at Haverford College did much the same in their day.

But a peculiar thing has happened. When I began teaching twenty-five years ago, almost all students would answer the imaginative question but year in, year out, their numbers dwindled, until almost all now take the dry and dutiful one. Baffled, I tried varying the questions but still the pattern held: Given the choice, each successive cohort preferred to recite tangible facts rather than to arrange them in a speculative and potentially risky structure. In other respects, today’s students are stronger than their predecessors; they are conspicuously more socialized, more personally obliging, and considerably more self-disciplined. To teach them is a joy, but they will risk nothing, not even for one facetious question on a minor exam.

Free play is not free when it happens under the control the choices and direction of others.  Our preoccupation with video games and technology means that we may be learning to follow more than we are learning to think, to risk, and to joy in our own imaginations.  This is a troubling thought.  I am not simply speaking theologically here but of the impact upon this directed play upon the imagination of the artist, the musician, the sculptor -- all the creative arts and vocations!

We seem to believe that play is too important to be left to the imagination of children and so we have directed and supervised this play.  Our attempts to create a egalitarian playing field, devoid of competition, bullying, intimidation, and victories have noble intentions but serious consequences upon the imagination of youth and adulthood.

...the process of producing the well-socialized, well-tempered contemporary child has inadvertently blunted some of those qualities that can only be acquired, as it were, when no one is looking. Chief of these is initiative—the capacity to size up a situation and take quick decisive action. Only those children who play under minimal supervision—“free range kids” in the happy phrase of Lenore Skenazy—get the chance to develop this sense of dash or pluck. They do this in the process of deciding what to play, establishing the rules, choosing sides, and resolving the inevitable dispute. In short, by acting as miniature citizens with autonomy rather than as passive subjects to be directed.

For adults to have imagination, they must have learned to play, to risk, to create, to inspire, etc...  I worry about what our well meaning attempts to insulate our kids from hurt, loss, defeat, and disappointment have won us.  Our kids may become not only couch potatoes who depend upon their technological toys to entertain them but end up with brittle imaginations fearful of the risk of creative thought.  That is not a good thing.

I well recall a line from an older movie in which Uncle Buck goes to school to meet with the principal who has charged his 6 year old niece with failing to take seriously her academic career.  I don't think I want to know a six-year-old who isn't a dreamer, or a sillyheart. And I sure don't want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don't have a college degree. I don't even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they're ALL good kids, until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they're no good.  Maybe we don't need to convince them they are no good.  All we have to do is convince them that the only way to play is to follow somebody else's imagination and that dreams are for others.  We have done more than abuse our children by taking away their play and insisting they act like smaller sized adults -- we may have also lost out on the giants of the creative arts who could endow us with some beauty, wonder, and joy in a world too full of sorrow, fear, and despair.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Billy Graham -- Secret Anglican???

Graham told one reporter that if he was starting over again he would be ‘an evangelical Anglican’. He once told veteran journalist Kenneth Woodward he saw ‘spiritual beauty in Anglican order’. Leighton Ford has revealed in an email to Wacker that Graham has asked Richard Bewes, former Rector of All Souls, Langham Place, to help officiate at his funeral service.

You can read about it here.

To those who seem to think that mission and liturgy are antithetical terms, here is affirmation from one unmistakable proponent of mission orientation that liturgy, beauty, and order are not antagonists to the work of God's kingdom.  Strangely, though, there are Lutherans who would argue with Graham and insist that in order for us to reach the lost and grow the church, we must ditch the liturgy, hymnody, and beauty all for the sake of relevance.  Hmmmm.... What do you think?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Different ideas of time. . .

The family member of one of the confirmands was a most polite and kind guest.  He was definitely a Christian, this I knew, but what kind of Christian I did not know.  It was a festival service and the confirmation of fifteen youth had extended the normal 75 minutes to nearly 2 hours.  I was extremely self-conscious of the length of the service and wondered if I did not owe the congregation an apology -- or at least an explanation.  Especially the many visitors!

When the majority had left the nave and we waited for the inevitable photo session to follow the confirmation rite, our visitor came over and took the opportunity to speak to me.  I was ready to apologize for the untimely length of the service when the man interjected, "Such a short liturgy!"  I was stunned into silence.  I had nothing to say in response.  It caught me completely off guard.  He was not being sarcastic at all.  "Is is always this brief?"  What had seemed to me interminably long was to him, shockingly brief!

The man was Orthodox and he had never been to a Lutheran service before.  He was most kind as a guest and praised the character of the liturgy, the preaching, and the music.  He was not used to the organ leading all the singing but he though it was done well.  He complimented me and the parish but it was clear that we operated with a completely different sense of time.  In fact, it was more than a different sense of time, I operated within a sense of time but he did not -- at least not within the Lord's House.  I had a watch but he watched no clock -- not while he was in the House of the Lord, anyway.

Our people were not shy about complaining of the length of the service.  Even though they understood, some of them complained that it would have been much shorter if we had skipped Holy Communion that day.  Others were not shy about what might have been omitted to shorten the length of the service.  But this only made the visitor stand out even more in comparison to the perspectives of most of the rest of us.  He was correct and we were wrong.  He was focused upon what was going on and we were focused on how long it was taking.

We live within the constraints of time and none of us are able to deny it.  Yet we have a choice about whether this time will define us or whether or not we will live outside the moment.  Sunday morning is one of those occasions when time should not dominate our thinking.  Yet this is a hard habit to shake.  We live in a world that has grown very impatient.  We do not like to wait.  We do not appreciate being left unentertained in our waiting.  You can lie to us, you can fool us, but you dare not bore us.  That is the heavy burden of our mortality which we find hard to shake even for the Lord, for His Word, and for His Table.

A clock does not belong in the House of the Lord.  Neither does the watch.  I have abandoned my own watch -- at least for Sunday morning.  It is not that I am free a schedule but that I choose not to be a slave to the minutes ticking by or to the idea that God must be captive to our schedules and our timetables.  Our time is in His hands and not the other way around.  Only faith can see this.  Every faith must learn this -- not just once but over and over and over again.  Our time is in His hands.  Not the other way around.

Would that we could free ourselves from the dominion of time long enough to exclaim at the end of the services, "Is it over already?"

Friday, October 17, 2014

Maybe then I could see the danged thing without glasses!!

Does anyone remember when Pontiac's motto was "longer, lower, wider"?

Maybe technology is heading in the wrong direction.

Just a funny to make you laugh today.

Impressive. . .

While many denominational journals are waning and others completely electronic or gone, the LCMS keeps on plugging away with The Lutheran Witness.  Well, that is not quite accurate.  We are not plugging along.  We are shining like stars.  The Lutheran Witness has never been so great -- great graphics and appearance but even greater content.  Wow!  Articles are short but meaty.  Topics are timely and challenging.  Graphics are contemporary without being edgy.  We are in good shape here.  So if you have not subscribed to The Lutheran Witness in years, now is the time to re-up and begin getting the full deal in print and digital content every month.  If you are one of those who once called it The Lutheran Witless, now is time to get your wits about you and find out what a wonderful resource this monthly magazine of the LCMS truly is.  Our thanks and appreciation to Adriane Heins and her whole crew for the fine work they do month after month after month.  Just when you think it cannot get better, it does. 

Click here to find out more...

Click here to subscribe via CPH OR check out your District or Congregational subscription through them...

Click here for Lutheran Witness on Facebook. . .

Thursday, October 16, 2014

But somebody might be reached or some good done. . .

The sad truth is that some of our best intentions end up as miserable failures.  I certainly don't fault the intention of those who struggle to find a cause for unity, who seek in some way to work together for a larger cause of good (say the poor, for example), and who decide to use mostly secular and often somewhat embarrassing occasions to try and speak a witness to the Truth of Christ.  But I also don't fault those who say enough already to the manifold expressions of unity and unanimity that try to paper over differences, substantial differences, for the sake of a noble goal.

A while ago one blog writer came out against the St. Patrick's Day Parade, the Al Smith Dinner, and the other events the likes of these.  He presented a cogent and lucid argument against the Roman Catholic Church having anything to do with these anymore.  Although his blog post was shut down by superiors, you can read his words here.  His words may not be well received by those still desirous of some cooperation in externals with folks opposed to nearly everything you stand for, but his point is well taken.  Again, I do not fault those folks who attempt some sort of rapprochement with the diverse and often opposed aims of others but I fear the Church and her representatives are being duped in all of this to the point where we lose more than we gain.

In my own church body there was a big dust up over the participation of several of our clergy in ecumenical observances (they were not church services but neither were they simply secular gatherings either) that our American civil religion loves so well.  Whether Yankee Stadium in the wake of 9-11 or a civic event after a community tragedy, we think it is an opportunity to speak the name and Gospel of Christ in the hopes that somebody might be reached or some good might be done but the world sees only subjective truth in which Christ's is but one among many voices and His truth only big enough for those who like it.

Again, I do not fault those who stood and prayed in those occasions but I think the time has come to admit that we lose more than we Christians gain from such appearances as one of many equal but conflicting voices of God.  Msgr. Pope had it about right, I think.  The time for happy-clappy, lighthearted engagement of our culture may be nearing an end. Sometimes it takes a while to understand that what used to work no longer works.

He goes on:  as for St Patrick’s Day, it’s time to stop wearin’ the green and instead take up the purple of Lent and mean it. Enough of the celebration of stupidity, frivolity, and drunkenness that St Paddy’s day has become. We need penance now, not foolishness. We don’t need parades and dinner with people who scoff at our teachings, insist we compromise, use us for publicity, and make money off of us. We’re being played for (and are?) fools.

We need repentance.  We need piety.  We need prayer.  We need faithfulness.  We need quiet acts of love that do not trumpet or exploit good.  We don't need to share the stage to be relevant or noticed.  There are better ways for the Church to show Christ and proclaim His Gospel faithfully and with more integrity.  Again, I do not fault those whose intentions are good; I just think the train has left the station and it is time for Christians to use other and better venues to engage the culture and speak Christ's voice to the world. 

I direct this at no one person -- certainly not to rebuke the intentions of those who chose to find a way to participate in these endeavors -- but I hope that we can seriously stop fighting over what was done and come together to find better ways to address the world with the Gospel than these civic events that seem to be hijacked against us more than they do anything for the cause of Christ.  The world is different than it was 40-50 years ago and it is time for us to acknowledge that what might have had some credibility at another time is no longer a credible means of engaging the world with the Gospel of Christ crucified.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The onerous burden of goodness. . .

Goodness is not exactly popular.  Good guys (and girls) still finish last.  Good guys (and girls) are great friends but not necessarily marital prospects.  Good guys (and girls) are hopeless out of touch with reality, with their own bodies, and with their own desires.

The truth is that we Christians have for a very long time tacitly agreed with those who disagree with goodness.  We have suggested that the naysayers are correct.  Being good is too hard.  It is an onerous burden and an impossible demand to place on people to try and be good.  For example, sexual desire is too powerful to be controlled so we must make it safe to indulge.  Who would want to???  Christians are simply unhappy people who believe that sacrifice is glory and that the key to God's kingdom is sacrificing first of all your own happiness.

A while ago Victoria Osteen got in trouble (rightly so) for suggesting, at least in part, that our happiness is the primary motivator for the good things we do.  “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . .”  Of course, she spoke poorly and perhaps did not even realize how poorly she spoke.  But we Christians of the orthodox persuasion were quick to jump on her case (as we should have) and yet there is a way in which she is kind of correct (albeit a backhanded sort of way).

Holiness, goodness, purity, truth, and obedience are not terrible impositions upon us that steal away our happiness and require us to give up that happiness in exchange for the kingdom of God.  Yes, she got it wrong.  We obey (read that not simple outward obedience or behavior but the trust of the heart first and foremost) not just nor even primarily to make us happy so that God can be happy we are happy.  We love God because He first loved us, we seek righteousness because we have been declared righteous in Christ and put on His righteousness in baptism, and we learn the true pleasure of Him, His kingdom, and His good and gracious will (think third use of the law here and the commandments).

But why we do we Christians act as if this is some impossible, terrible, onerous, and unpleasant duty -- this thing call the obedience of faith and the life that reflects this?  As another blogger put it:  The moral life is not a burden; it is a precious gift. One of the dangers in trying to understand the Christian moral life is seeing it as simply a list of dos and don’ts. In addition, many Christians tend the think of the moral life in terms of something they must accomplish out of their own flesh and through their own will. This turns the great moral vision of God into a kind of heavy burden rather than a freeing transformation that God works through His grace.

Or to put it in the words of another bloggerPaul experienced constant hardships: poorly clad, poorly sheltered, poorly fed, beaten by rods by Roman rulers and whipped in the synagogues 40 lashes minus one, shipwrecked, imprisoned, stoned (not drugs), inflicted with a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from exalting himself (2 Cor 11-12). Yet Paul talks about the joy of believers in the midst of affliction and great poverty (1 Cor 8:2), about delighting in various material/physical deprivations or rejoicing in the midst of sufferings (2 Cor 12:10; Col 1:24). 

Surely Osteen's words cannot be separated from the prosperity Gospel and the message devoid of sin and the cross that has come to characterize the smiling duo a little too slick for credibility.  I am not defending her.  But I am defending the notion that for the faithful, joy is part of our life in the kingdom and that this joy transforms the onerous and impossible burden of goodness into something which those who live in Christ by baptism and faith both desire and seek -- under the power of the Holy Spirit.  We need to make sure we do not forget this part of the preaching lest our people hear only the burdens and trials of the faith and too little of the joy of life in the Kingdom, a life rooted in grace and bearing the good fruit of Him who has called us from darkness into His marvelous light!!

No, the appeal to those outside the Church is not how to be happy and make God happy too...  But to those of faith who have met the Lord in the waters of baptism and arisen from them as the new people God alone makes us to be, the appeal to joy is not off the mark at all. Al Mohler is rightMere happiness cannot bear the weight of the Gospel... but the weight of the Gospel is not an enemy of happiness, rightly understood.

Or perhaps a hymn can sing this better than I can write it:    (LSB 533)

Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal,
Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End;
Godhead, humanity, union supernal,
O great Redeemer, You come as our friend!
Heaven and earth, now proclaim this great wonder:
Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal!

Jesus has come! Now see bonds rent asunder!
Fetters of death now dissolve, disappear.
See Him burst through with a voice as of thunder!
He sets us free from our guilt and our fear,
Lifts us from shame to the place of His honor.
Jesus has come! Hear the roll of God’s thunder!

Jesus has come as the mighty Redeemer.
See now the threatening strong one disarmed!
Jesus breaks down all the walls of death’s fortress,
Brings forth the pris’ners triumphant, unharmed.
Satan, you wicked one, own now your master!
Jesus has come! He, the mighty Redeemer!

Jesus has come as the King of all glory!
Heaven and earth, O declare His great pow’r,
Capturing hearts with the heavenly story;
Welcome Him now in this fast-fleeting hour!
Ponder His love! Take the crown He has for you!
Jesus has come! He, the King of all glory! - See more at:

Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal,
Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End;
Godhead, humanity, union supernal,
O great Redeemer, You come as our friend!
Heaven and earth, now proclaim this great wonder:
Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal!

Jesus has come! Now see bonds rent asunder!
Fetters of death now dissolve, disappear.
See Him burst through with a voice as of thunder!
He sets us free from our guilt and our fear,
Lifts us from shame to the place of His honor.
Jesus has come! Hear the roll of God’s thunder!

Jesus has come as the mighty Redeemer.
See now the threatening strong one disarmed!
Jesus breaks down all the walls of death’s fortress,
Brings forth the pris’ners triumphant, unharmed.
Satan, you wicked one, own now your master!
Jesus has come! He, the mighty Redeemer!

Jesus has come as the King of all glory!
Heaven and earth, O declare His great pow’r,
Capturing hearts with the heavenly story;
Welcome Him now in this fast-fleeting hour!
Ponder His love! Take the crown He has for you!
Jesus has come! He, the King of all glory!

Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal,
Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End;
Godhead, humanity, union supernal,
O great Redeemer, You come as our friend!
Heaven and earth, now proclaim this great wonder:
Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal!

Jesus has come! Now see bonds rent asunder!
Fetters of death now dissolve, disappear.
See Him burst through with a voice as of thunder!
He sets us free from our guilt and our fear,
Lifts us from shame to the place of His honor.
Jesus has come! Hear the roll of God’s thunder!

Jesus has come as the mighty Redeemer.
See now the threatening strong one disarmed!
Jesus breaks down all the walls of death’s fortress,
Brings forth the pris’ners triumphant, unharmed.
Satan, you wicked one, own now your master!
Jesus has come! He, the mighty Redeemer!

Jesus has come as the King of all glory!
Heaven and earth, O declare His great pow’r,
Capturing hearts with the heavenly story;
Welcome Him now in this fast-fleeting hour!
Ponder His love! Take the crown He has for you!
Jesus has come! He, the King of all glory! - See more at:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

No intolerance more hateful than the intolerance of the tolerant. . .

From First Things. . . read it all here:

To protect against discrimination, liberals increasingly seek to discriminate. News broke over the weekend that all twenty-three schools within the California State University system have taken steps to “derecognize” InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), a para-church Christian ministry organization that’s had a longstanding presence within university life religious settings.  What is Intervarsity’s crime? Christian orthodoxy. According to IVCF,
This new CSU policy does not allow us to require that our leaders be Christian. It is essentially asking InterVarsity chapters to change the core of their identity, and to change the way they operate in order to be an officially recognized student group.
To be fair, these ministries Christians are not banned from campus. They’re simply “derecognized,” which is a bureaucratic way of saying, “You’re Not Welcome.” At Christianity Today, a spokesman for InterVarsity noted what derecognition entails:
Loss of recognition means we lose 3 things: free access to rooms (this will cost our chapters $13k-30k/year to reserve room). We also lose access to student activities programs, including the new student fairs where we meet most students. We also lose standing when we engage faculty, students and administrators.

Okay, no one is beheading Christians in America nor are they being rounded up and put into camps.  They are not being detained by the police nor are they put on trial for their Christian beliefs.  But if you think that Christianity is under attack only is Islamic countries, you just do not get it.  Christianity is being singled out by the great PC thought police on college campuses like never before.  We won't kick you out for being Christian but we will isolate you, make it hard for you to connect to others who share your beliefs, restrict your access on campus, and make you open to people who not only do not believe but openly challenge your faith.  The truth is that we might be more upset if there were some more obvious form of persecution but one could hardly imagine a form of intolerance more acute than what happens on a typical college campus against orthodox Christianity.  Is it no wonder our kids are going to college and coming home atheists????


The liberals tolerate everything except disagreement with their views.  Sad update to the examples above is the attempt by the Mayor of Houston to intimidate pastors and churches opposing “HERO,” the latest city ordinance that forbids discrimination against homosexuals and a petition to put the whole thing on the ballot for voter approval.  Read the story below:

The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.

“The city’s subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Christina Holcomb said in a statement. “The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.”

ADF, a nationally-known law firm specializing in religious liberty cases, is representing five Houston pastors. They filed a motion in Harris County court to stop the subpoenas arguing they are “overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious.”

“Political and social commentary is not a crime,” Holcomb said. “It is protected by the First Amendment.”  The subpoenas are just the latest twist in an ongoing saga over the Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance. The law, among other things, would allow men to use the ladies room and vice versa. The city council approved the law in June.

The Houston Chronicle reported opponents of the ordinance launched a petition drive that generated more than 50,000 signatures – far more than the 17,269 needed to put a referendum on the ballot.  However, the city threw out the petition in August over alleged irregularities.  After opponents of the bathroom bill filed a lawsuit the city’s attorneys responded by issuing the subpoenas against the pastors.  The pastors were not part of the lawsuit. However, they were part of a coalition of some 400 Houston-area churches that opposed the ordinance. The churches represent a number of faith groups – from Southern Baptist to non-denominational.

“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,” said ADF attorney Erik Stanley. “This is designed to intimidate pastors.”