Sunday, July 31, 2016

Common vocabulary is an important first step. . .

As everyone in Missouri knows, discussions have been going on with the North American Lutheran Church (break off from the ELCA), the LCMS, and the Lutheran Church-Canada.  These have been fruitful discussions and there is much to commend the kind of dialog whereby a solid future can be set with careful and thoughtful conversations.  Some have insisted that this kind of debate should not happen until the issue of the ordination of women is resolved but I believe that this kind of statement is the needful groundwork that may indeed lead to a resolution of that significant impediment to a final step of full altar and pulpit fellowship.

Now the partners have prepared a common statement on Holy Scripture.  Here you can read the common confession that forms this important step in the ongoing consultation between the Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).  The joint statement on Holy Scripture is called “God’s Word Forever Shall Abide: A Guiding Statement on the Character and Proper Use of the Sacred Scriptures” and it is available for your review here.

The introduction to the document states:
We confess that the Bible is God’s written Word as part and parcel of our deepest confession — that Jesus Christ is the very Son of God, God incarnate, “very God of very God” and the Savior and Redeemer of all humankind. We confess that the Bible is God’s Word because its entire message is focused on Jesus Christ and His saving work. He is the heart and center of Scripture and the key to its true meaning.

The statement concludes:
We rejoice in our consensus in these truths. We pray that our shared understanding will be a sure and solid foundation for us to address future conversations and discussions, both in matters of agreement and areas where we do not share a common teaching or practice.

The statement is not long, 11 pages or so, and it is incumbent upon all of us who stand for the unchanging Word of God and who desire to see this faith flourish to read this statement and consider it well.  I commend the participants for their work so far.  They include the Rev. Dr. Albert Collver III (LCMS), the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer (LCMS), the Rev. Larry Vogel (LCMS), the Rev. John Pless (LCMS), the Rev. Robert Bugbee (LCC president), the Rev. John Bradosky (NALC bishop), the Rev.  Mark Chavez (NALC), the Rev. Dr. Jim Nestingen (NALC), the Rev. Paull Spring (NALC) and the  Rev. Dr. David Wendel (NALC).

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A plea. . . the Word of God in season and out. . .

As I write this I just finished preparing for the adult Bible study I lead on Sunday mornings -- yes, we continue all summer long without break!  More than this, we do not break for the children's Sunday school either.  The full educational ministry of Sunday mornings is year round at Grace Lutheran Church.  This is not a minor thing.  First of all it is more difficult to obtain regular teachers through the summer than it is the fall, winter, and spring.  Second, the attendance varies and on certain holiday weekends it can be downright embarrassing.  Finally, there are those who complain that it is too much to expect people to be in church and Sunday school during the vacation period of June through August and so we face an attitudinal hurdle as well.  But we trudge on.  The cause is too great to flag in the face of challenge and the call of the Word rises above the sound of complaint and the naysayers.

I write this as a plea to those who do take a hiatus from the Word of God by ending Sunday school sometime around Memorial Day and beginning it again sometime around Labor Day.  It is a thoroughly reasonable and understandable thing to do but we ought to do better.  We ought to do more than cover the school year.  We ought to make sure that the full measure of opportunity to study the Word is provided for our people all year long.  This is not only good for those who attend but a reminder to those who do not and a witness to those who are not yet Christian.  Being together in the Word counts as an important priority - one that goes hand in hand with weekly worship.

When I first came to this parish and faced the problems of finding teachers and maintaining the full complement of adult studies year round, I was tempted to throw in the towel and do what the public schools do and take a break.  A few faithful folks talked me back into putting the energy of staff and parish into maintaining this schedule and calling God's people of all ages to be together in the Word.  I am glad they held me steadfast and glad I listened.

It is now the end of July, our own public schools begin the term anew in a few weeks.  Things are gearing up all around us.  Stores have school supply sales, the state is offering a sales tax free weekend on everything from clothing to computers to school supplies (tied to the beginning of the school term), and parents are beginning to delight in that most wonderful time of the year (remember that Staples commercial?).  As we gear up again, let us as Lutherans begin to plan not to wind down but to continue the educational endeavor all through next summer.  Now is the warning shot and now is the time to plan, promote, and pursue the Word of God all year round.  If you are among those in the pew, agitate for this with your pastor and parish leaders.  If you are clergy, then rally your people to the cause.  The study of the Word of God is far too important to be absent for a season from the daily life of God's people.

Plan today for adult Bible study and Sunday school all year long, without summer break, to fortify the Word in people and people in the Word and in witness to those around us.  The Divine Service every Sunday and adult Bible study and Sunday school every Sunday go hand in hand.  Oh, and one more thing, among the various topics for Bible study, take at least a portion of every year to cover a catechetical topic -- one of the six chief parts.  Bring catechism and Scripture and the hymnal (with the actual rite) together for one of the Bible study topics.  In fact, why not start the summer of 2017 with this!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Some more off the cuff Pope Francis. . .

Question to the Pope:  Seeing that you will go in I believe four months to Lund for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides but also to recognize the gifts of the reformation. Perhaps also – this is a heretical question – perhaps to annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of some sort of rehabilitation. Thank you. Francis: I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct. But in that time, if we read the story of the Pastor, a German Lutheran who then converted when he saw reality – he became Catholic – in that time, the Church was not exactly a model to imitate. There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power...and this he protested. Then he was intelligent and took some steps forward justifying, and because he did this. And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification. On this point, which is very important, he did not err. He made a medicine for the Church, but then this medicine consolidated into a state of things, into a state of a discipline, into a way of believing, into a way of doing, into a liturgical way and he wasn’t alone; there was Zwingli, there was Calvin, each one of them different, and behind them were who? Principals! We must put ourselves in the story of that time. It’s a story that’s not easy to understand, not easy. Then things went forward, and today the dialogue is very good. That document of justification I think is one of the richest ecumenical documents in the world, one in most agreement. But there are divisions, and these also depend on the Churches. In Buenos Aires there were two Lutheran churches, and one thought in one way and the other...even in the same Lutheran church there was no unity; but they respected each other, they loved each other, and the difference is perhaps what hurt all of us so badly and today we seek to take up the path of encountering each other after 500 years. I think that we have to pray together, pray. Prayer is important for this. Second, to work together for the poor, for the persecuted, for many people, for refugees, for the many who suffer; to work together and pray together and the theologians who study together try...but this is a long path, very long. One time jokingly I said: I know when full unity will happen. - “when?” - “the day after the Son of Man comes,” because we don’t know...the Holy Spirit will give the grace, but in the meantime, praying, loving each other and working together. Above all for the poor, for the people who suffer and for peace and many things...against the exploitation of people and many things in which they are jointly working together.


My Comments:

As with any off the cuff remarks from Pope Francis, there is some good, some bad, some confusion, and some outright mistakes.  I have read some blogs from conservative Roman Catholics who took the remarks as an affront against what they consider to be the open and unacceptable errors of Lutheranism.  I have also read comments from Lutherans who stuck out their chests and insisted they did not need the Pope to tell them about justification or to get their Lutheran house united and in order.

That said, I think there are some hopeful words in the Pope's pastoral meanderings (?!).  On the one hand it is clear from Luther himself and from the Lutheran Confessions that the Reformation was begun with precisely the goal of reforming the Church, recalling the Church from error to the truth of Scripture and the consistent catholic doctrine of the fathers.  No matter that this was the intention, the events did not pan out this way.  Luther's theological heirs only reluctantly set up parallel church structures for the sake of the people who were not being served and a communion that resisted even the discussion of reformation.  It is also clear that the many who claimed kinship with Luther and the Sixteenth Century Reformation in Germany were not kissing cousins but opponents and opposites -- rejecting the liturgy, the sacraments, and all the church usages and ceremonies the Lutheran's affirmed.  That they went where Lutherans refused to go and ended up chastising Luther and his cohorts for failing to go far enough, only underscores the distinction between the Conservative Reformation and the Radical Reformation.

But to blame Luther for those who rejected catholic doctrine and practice is to miss the reason for the Reformation in the first place.  To quote Pope Francis:  There was corruption in the Church, there was worldliness, attachment to money, to power...  This is the reason why schism took place and this is the only lens by which the Reformation may be legitimately understood.  The backdrop of it all was not Luther's rebellious attitude or willful rejection of truth but the errors, worldliness, greed, and jealous concern for temporal power that provided the catalyst for the foment that gave birth to the Reformation.  Here Francis is spot on.

Now with respect to the grand ecumenical consensus on justification between Rome, Wittenberg, Geneva, and all points in between, I only wish it were so.  The JDDJ document does allow a great amount of wiggle room (as do most ecumenical declarations) and does not do justice to the nuance and difference that can shade the meaning of it all to a great degree.  I am happy for the conversation but it is clear the talking has a long way to go before Francis' declaration of unanimity is true.

No, we do not need the Pope to tell us Lutherans we are a mess, but it is kind of him to be concerned for us.  We should not take any comfort from the fact that most theological houses are a mess (even and especially Rome's) but neither should we let this mess prevent us from dialoging for the truth of the Gospel, for the primacy of the Word, and for the cause of genuine and authentic unity.

Catholicity and Biblical faithfulness are not some mountains to be climbed but fights that must be fought with vigilance and diligence to turn away heresy, clarify confusion, witness to the world, and catechize the faithful.  We are always but a generation away from losing the faith either to error or to indifference.  Only by remembering, reaffirming, and reforming the Church through the means of grace (Word and Sacrament) can we be sure that gates of hell will not prevail.  Until the day when Jesus does come again in His glory, the gates of hell will come very close to us and must be fought off without fail or Jesus will not find faith on earth.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

An almost forgotten giant. . .

We often forget that gift and skill do not always result in fame, fortune, or a memory.  Some of our most gifted composers were largely forgotten after their deaths.  I think first of Bach in this regard but not only Bach, also a composer to greatly influenced Bach -- Antonio Lucio Vivaldi.

Born into a musical family on March 4, 1678, in Venice, Italy, Antonio Vivaldi was to end up as a priest whose musical genius was the fruit of a life spent mostly in an orphanage.  He composed hundreds of works and is well known today though it was not always so.  On July 28, 1741, he died in poverty and was buried, oddly enough, in a funeral service devoid of music.

His father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, was a professional violinist who taught his young son to play as well. Through his father, Vivaldi met and learned from some of the finest musicians and composers in Venice at the time. While his violin practice flourished, a chronic case of asthma shadowed his every accomplishment.
It was not unusual to marry music and religion since the priesthood gave the student access to an education that might otherwise have escaped him.  Vivaldi was ordained a priest in 1703, known as  "il Prete Rosso," or "the Red Priest" for his red hair.  At the age of 25, Antonio Vivaldi was named master of violin at the Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy) in Venice, where he fulfilled both priestly responsibility and composed most of his major works in this position over three decades. The Ospedale was an orphan school -- the boys in trades and the girls in music. The most talented musicians joined an orchestra that played Vivaldi's compositions, including religious choral music. 
In addition to his choral music and concerti, Vivaldi wrote opera scores (about 50 remain) with his two most successful being La constanza trionfante and Farnace.  In addition to the orphan school work, Vivaldi accepted commissions from patrons in Mantua and Rome. In Mantua, from around 1717 to 1721, he wrote his secular masterpiece, The Four Seasons.  His cantata, Gloria e Imeneo, was written for the wedding of King Louis XV.

That said, Vivaldi's success as composer and musician did not translate into great financial success or long memory. When he left Venice for Vienna, other composers and musicians had already caught the public eye.  Without a patron after the death of Charles VI, Vivaldi died in poverty in Vienna on July 28, 1741, and was buried in a simple grave after a funeral service without music.

It was not until the early 20th century that interest in Vivaldi's music was rekindled and his scores rescued from obscurity.  Alfredo Casella organized a Vivaldi Week in 1939 and following WWII the world rediscovered this musical genius. His Gloria remains a staple of Christmas celebrations -- just a few of his nearly hundreds of compositions that attest to his skill and gift.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The development of doctrine. . .

Fr. Hunwicke, always a good read, describes the take off from the opening speech of Pope John XXIII at Vatican II.  It seems that some try to invent in his words the idea that doctrine changes while Hunwicke reminds us of a quote which says that doctrine, while it does develop and become clarified over time, does not change or even evolve but eodem sensu eademque sententia -- keeps the same meaning and the same judgment or sense.  Goodness knows that Rome has had its problems with those who believe in the macro evolution of the church's teaching and practice and this has resulted in the rather remarkable disconnect between life and worship prior to Vatican II and thereafter.  But Lutherans also fall victim to the same notion.

St. Vincent of Lerins: 'Development' in the Christian Church and in her Doctrine: Development must take place eodem sensu eademque sententia [keeping the same meaning and the same judgment/sense].  Of course doctrine develops in the sense that the Church clarifies and sharpens its teaching -- especially in response to challenge or heresy.  Think here how the Nicene Creed further elucidates the two natures of Christ in response to the challenge and heresy of Arianism.  What is at stake here is not how the doctrine unfolds in response to need or challenge but rather if that doctrine itself changes -- moves from one thing to another.  Does God change His mind?  Do the Scriptures speak differently to different times and to different circumstances?  Does the Spirit move the Church beyond the past into a future which represents at least an evolution if not revolutionary disconnect from what has gone before?  These are the questions at work within the world today.

Of course churches that have adopted the GLBT agenda on everything from marriage to holy orders have admitted as much.  They acknowledge that the churches had in the past forbidden marriage to GLBT or restricted ordination to men only but they believe the Spirit is blowing a new wind and God is adapting to the changes of the world around us -- that the former constraints were rooted in culture and in the moment and are not the stuff of yesterday, today, and forever.  Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum not.  The Word of God evolves like the world around it and change is inevitable even for the truths of God revealed.

We find ourselves as Lutherans surrounded by those who would joyfully affirm that doctrine does develop -- not the elucidation or the clarification (iron sharpens iron) of it but the essence of it so that it is possible for God to say one thing at one time and another contradictory thing at another.  But of course that is the problem.  How do you know what is eternal and what is momentary, what you can count on forever and what may not be trusted so resolutely, and what to hang your faith upon and what to be open to change or adapt?  That is why the catholic principle is so very important and why the Lutheran reformers wrote in the Augustana that they were not promoting novelty but claiming that which had always been confessed and taught -- catholic doctrine and practice.  Anything less is to be subject to the tyrrany not of the certain but of the uncertain, of opinion that trumps the Verbum Dei and the Word incarnate.

Rome has its own challenges but we Lutherans are not so different.  We are not so much divided by different opinions as different understandings of the lifespan of doctrine and truth.  Some are holding on to the sacred deposit as the only thing which endures and others are holding to an idea of the sacred that takes many forms and shapes as the world evolves.  So for the first eighteen centuries creation meant Adam and Eve were real people and that God unfolded the world according to His Word in the mystery of power and grace but now that means God began the spark that evolution took over and ran with until it got us where we are today.  So for the first nineteen and a half centuries, no women were ordained but now God has opened a new door.  So for the first twenty centuries marriage was a lifelong union between a man and a woman with children being an essential component to their love and fidelity but now it is a temporary friendship with benefits between consenting people.  We argue the issues but under the issue remains this question -- does God and His Word and His truth change (one sense of develop) or is this development merely the elucidation or understanding of an eternal truth and Word that does not change?  Deal with this first and you will see how many other issues fall into place.  Fail to deal with this question and the arguments continue without progress on either side.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

It's my fault. . .

An honest Roman Catholic priest by the name of Richard Heilman wrote humbly and profoundly about the urgency of catechesis and the consequence of remaining silent or aloof from the changes of this culture and our society.  His words ought to compel every orthodox Christian pastor who is tempted not to speak or to speak in an oblique way the challenges we face and the pressing priority of knowing who we are, what we are here to do, and how we must accomplish it for the cause of Christ and His kingdom.  I urge you to read his words and consider what he has said.

After that, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that it does not continue to be our fault.  In other words, if we will acknowledge what it is that is our failure, let us make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent this from being the continuing error of Christians unable to know the difference between the ways of the world around them and their own faith rooted and planted in Christ and ill-equipped to respond to the ways of the world except to conform.  The real issue for us is not simply pointing out the problem, but marshaling every resource to prevent this problem from being the constant crutch of a crippled Church, unwilling or unable to prepare our people to see through the fog to know who they are in Christ and what Gospel they are here to confess and live.

I am a Roman Catholic priest. I believe the Catholic Church was instituted by the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity. If our Church’s claim is true (and it is), then this Catholic Church was given to us as the very “hope for humanity” … as a way to lift civilization out of self-centered barbarism to a civilization of altruistic love. That’s no small thing. It is everything! This choice to establish this Church was “God’s Way” of redeeming His children.

As we look at this horrible, horrible 2016 Presidential election, I believe the problem is not the Party. The problem is us. Better yet, the problem is me. I am not going to get into what I believe all of us priests and bishops have done or have not done … I leave that up to their own personal discernment. I can only speak for myself.

I am a weak spiritual leader who has led us to a place where “conservatives” cannot get elected or stay in office without making horrible compromises. I take the blame on this one.

I sat by and allowed sappy, effeminate, profane liturgies demoralize and deaden the hearts of our Catholic men (and many Catholic women). I remained mostly silent as feminists stripped our men of their dignity as husbands and fathers and spiritual heads of their households. I remained mostly silent as men slipped into the soul-deadening addiction of internet pornography. I remained mostly silent as liberal ideologues captured the attention of our youth. I remained mostly silent when our own Catholic leadership watered down and compromised the values and principles and morals of a once solid bedrock of faith in a tempted world. I remained mostly silent as our beloved Catholic Church was turned from a powerhouse of prayer and supernatural grace into one among many secular non-government organizations.

As I stated, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity established this Catholic Church as the hope for humanity, but I have allowed it to become something of little relevance in most people’s lives. Now, less then 25% bother coming to worship God on a regular basis (closer to only 5% in Europe). Now, it seems, even a vast majority of those who attend no longer even believe the Eucharist is God.

As a result of all of this, our world is unmoored from the Presence and Power of God, and so we have quickly reverted to the barbarism of those who once never knew God at all. Evil has accelerated on all sides, and we have no defense against its expansion.

Lord, teach us to pray. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 12C, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich, on Sunday, July 24, 2016.

          We all know prayer is important.  It’s necessary for our Christian lives.  God has commanded us to pray and we want to obey this command.  All of us want a rich prayer life, to always come before God with our petitions and supplications.  But we don’t always do this, because prayer is difficult for us.  It’s not natural, it’s not something we automatically do.  Prayer is something we must learn, something that our Lord must teach us. 
          The disciples knew this.  They came to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1).  The Twelve saw John the Baptist teach his followers to pray, and they saw Jesus praying all the time.  Obviously, prayer was a good thing, and they wanted to do it, but they didn’t know how.  They needed Jesus to teach them, and so do we.  We need to be taught, we need to be taught what to say, what to pray for. 
It’s a familiar scene.  We’re in a group of people and someone asks for a volunteer to pray.  What usually follows is a brief period of awkward silence that seems to last an eternity.  Everyone looks at each other wondering who’s going to speak up first.  No one wants to volunteer because they're afraid they don’t know how to pray.  They’re at a loss for words, worried about what to say.  We become speechless.  This sudden muteness is understandable though.  Prayer is a big thing.  In prayer we come before and petition the Almighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  What can we say before Him? 
We say the words that He gives us.  Just as Jesus opened the closed mouth of a demon possessed man in the next few verses of Luke 11, Jesus opens your mouth, and what comes out is His prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer specifically given to His disciples, given to you. 
When you pray you say, “Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation” (Lk 11:2-4). 
This prayer encompasses everything we could possibly pray for.  In just these few petitions, we ask for all we need, both for this life and the life to come.  When we pray “hallowed be Your name,” we ask God to preserve His Word among us.  We ask Him to protect us from false teaching.  When we petition for the coming of His kingdom, we pray that He would rule our lives, that He would send His Holy Spirit to lead us into lives of godliness.  We pray for daily bread, for sustenance, the things needed for life.  We ask Him to provide us with food to nourish our bodies and food to nourish our souls.  When we say, “forgive us our sins,” we confess our sinfulness to Him and we beg Him to remove it, to not look at our transgressions for Christ’s sake.  And we ask Him to lead us away from all sorts of temptations, to protect us from the traps of Satan, the world, and our sinful nature.  All of this is needful for life; all of this is according to God’s will.  These are good things and God wants to give us these good things.  This is why Jesus tells us to pray for them, and we do.  When we don’t know what to pray for, we pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer, and as we pray these words, the Holy Spirit will lead us to continue in prayer with words of our own. 
          But the words we pray are only one part of prayer.  The other part is how we pray, the attitude with which we pray.  Praying isn’t unique to Christianity.  People from all religions and faith traditions pray.  However, the attitude with which we pray is different.  When non-Christians pray, they pray with uncertainty and wishes.  They don’t know if their prayers will be answered.  They don’t even know if their prayers will be heard.  This isn’t the case for you.  When you pray, you pray with certainty and confidence, knowing that your prayers are heard and answered because you pray to the one true God, and He promises to hear and answer you. 
          Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Lk 11:9).  In these words is the promise that God hears us when we pray and that when we pray according to His will, He will give us our prayer. 
          To illustrate this Jesus tells two stories.  First, He tells the story of a man who knocks on his neighbor’s door late at night requesting bread to feed a friend who’s came to visit.  If this happened to us, how many of us would get up out of bed, go to the kitchen, and then give our neighbor the bread?  Probably none of us, and neither would this man, even though they were friends.  But because of the persistent asking and the expectation to help show hospitality to travelers, the neighbor will get up and give the bread, albeit, probably begrudgingly. 
          The second story is that of a father and son.  Jesus rhetorically asks the question “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?”  (Lk 11:11-12).  Obviously no father would do this.  As parents, we only want to give good things to our children.  We’d never purposefully give them bad and harmful things. 
          These two examples are illustrations from least to greatest.  If we who are evil, that is, if we who are sinners know how to give good things to our neighbors and to our children, “how much more will our heavenly Father give us the good thing of the Holy Spirit?” (Lk 11:13)  God will most certainly give us the good things, He’ll give us the Holy Spirit because He is our gracious Father. 
We’re God’s children.  That’s our identity in Christ alone, given to us in our baptism.  In those waters, you’re connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Your sin was crucified with Him on the cross and you’re made a new creation, adopted by God and brought into His eternal family.  That’s what happened to Hannah just moments ago.  She began the day as a sinner to her core.  That’s who she was.  But God has claimed her as His very own and made her His forgiven child, just as He has claimed each and every one of us, making us His forgiven children.
And because of this, He answers our petitions.  He has hallowed His name by preserving His Word and keeping His Church so that we might know Him and our Savior, Christ Jesus.  His kingdom has come and He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit who creates faith within us, leading us to live out our identity in Christ as God’s children.  Our Father answers our prayers for daily bread.  He gives us food on our tables and the food of Jesus’ body and blood on the table of His altar.  And He most certainly has forgiven us our sins.  With the blood of Christ’s cross our heavenly Father wipes away our sin.  He cancels our debt. 
You’re children of God, and as such, your Father has given you the privilege to come to Him in prayer, asking of Him just as a child asks of their father.  He commands you to pray because He promises to hear you, to answer your prayers.  So you pray to your heavenly Father in faith, with all confidence and certainty, knowing that He hears you and answers you.  You’re assured that He’ll always give you the good things, because He already has.  He’s given you forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ.  He’s adopted you in your baptism and made you His child through His Son Jesus.  In His name...Amen.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Another Encylical. . . notably less provacative. . .

Read the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Orthodox Council here. . .

There is much to laud and affirm, much to consider and contemplate, and much that challenges.  The fathers of this great document have succeeded in writing an eloquent document filled with the kind of rich words and elegant constructions that I envy (example:  The Orthodox Church sets against the “man-god’ of the contemporary world the ‘God-man’ as the ultimate measure of all things.)  Yes, it is a committee style document that does not address certain things as clearly as one might desire and there is enough wiggle room in some of the phraseology to allow many to confess it comfortably, but the Orthodox have presented us with a very insightful and thoughtful confession.

Addressing everything from marriage and family to science and technology, the document presents us with a challenge to the modern penchant for equating capability with virtue or moral imperative.  That is a good thing.  Perhaps the best achievement was simply holding the Council, writing an encyclical, and speaking together as an Orthodox voice (though not the full voice).  There were many who did not think it would come off and perhaps some who had bet on it.  In the end the bishops met and they conversed and came to an accord, of sorts, that represents the first such endeavor in my lifetime.  Whether or how what was said will affect the life of the Orthodox mission and identity is something that no one can answer at this time.  There is surely enough in this statement worthy of Orthodoxy and yet enough to challenge Orthodoxy as well.

One of the statements that I truly appreciated was this article on dialogs and ecumnism:

It also knows that the Orthodox Church has never accepted theological minimalism or permitted its dogmatic tradition and evangelical ethos to be called into question. Inter-Christian dialogues have provided Orthodoxy with the opportunity to display her respect for the teaching of the Fathers and to bear a trustworthy witness to the genuine tradition of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. 

To quote a final paragraph. . .

Proclaiming the Gospel to all the world in accord with the Lord’s command and “preaching in His name repentance and remission of sins to all the nations” (Luke 22.47), we have the obligation to commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God and to love one another, confessing with one mind: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided.” Addressing these things in Council to the children throughout the world of our most holy Orthodox Church, as well as to the entire world, following the holy Fathers and the Conciliar decrees so as to preserve the faith received from our fathers and to “uphold good ways” in our daily life in the hope of the common resurrection, we glorify God in three hypostases with divine songs:

O Father almighty, and Word and Spirit, one nature united in three persons, God beyond being and beyond divinity, in You we have been baptized, and You we bless to the ages of ages. (Paschal Canon, Ode 8.)

By ending with the call to proclaim the Gospel to all the world in accord,  “preaching in His name repentance and remission of sins to all the nations” (Luke 22.47), the Orthodox have concluded where the life of the Church begins.  We do not exist for ourselves but for Him and He for the sake of the world.  Until and unless Orthodoxy takes this as seriously as their ethnic and cultural backgrounds, the world will see in Orthodoxy a quaint church and not one as seriously intent upon addressing the world with the mystery of salvation as it is preserving and maintaining an ancient tradition.  Clearly this is not unlike the challenge facing Lutherans who continue to pit mission against maintenance as if either were secondary to who we are and what we are about as the people of God, confessing with one mind: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided.”

Sunday, July 24, 2016

What's in a name?

Now that the Pope has brought up the idea of studying the idea of female deacons (deaconesses), the internet is abuzz with voices about what this means. Some of the same tired old ideas of the past have been trotted out to suggest that female deacons were the "norm" in the early church and that they had a status the same or similar to male deacons. The problem for those both for and against deaconesses is that the early history is somewhat vague and confusing. That said, the reality is that no form of deaconesses had "holy orders" as such nor were they the functional equivalent of the male deacons -- something more clearly true as the diaconate evolved into a step on the ladder to priestly ordination but no less true in the earlier days as well. Furthermore, an official ecclesiastical function is a modern day term and not one ordinarily used by the early church where such practices originated.

There seems to be little question that some women deacons, even so-called "ordained" women deacons, performed what might be described as an official ecclesiastical function for many centuries in the early Church. The problem lies in figuring out what that function was. Neither the terminology nor the descriptions of these women and what they did were uniform or explicit. Nor was the practice ever normative or ordinary -- it appears to have been localized and limited if at all.

The Phoebe, “deacon of the church,” whom Paul mentions in his letter to the Romans, may or may not represent a female deacon since the Greek “diakonos” that Paul uses more typically meant “servant” at the time Paul wrote. For example, John used the same noun in reference to the servants who filled the stone jars of water at the wedding feast at Cana. Though the Acts of the Apostles references the seven men chosen to feed to the poor (tend the tables) so that the apostles would be free to focus on prayer and preaching, it does appear that Stephen did preach -- was it in a liturgical context or was it in public witness only?

Early Christian literature provides a little more detail. Women began to assume more formal roles (from widows to the female deacons). Some of these documents use the term deaconesses (“diakonissai”), and it is possible to find a rare reference to the bishop’s ordination ("laying his hands") on these women. That said, there is nothing to suggest that this was normative and could have been an aberration. From the East there are some women named as “deaconesses” but those so named were nearly always widows (referencing St. Paul's mention of this class or order) or some form of early nun or women who chose the celibate life. We do know that their primary duties and role consisted mostly of charitable works (similar to the male deacons but directly toward women) and work both assisting in the catechization and baptism of adult women. This is certainly understandable when baptism was by immersion and cultural prohibitions and a sense of modesty would have made it hard for males to act alone with respect to the instruction and baptism of women. Whether these deaconesses assisted priests in the liturgy is a different matter. While it was certainly conceivable within monastic communities of nuns who had contact with males only through their priest (similar to cloistered orders still to this day), this did not appear to have taken place within the ordinary parish exercise of the liturgy. Furthermore, the women who did assist were most likely the leaders of their communities (abbesses).

In other words, how many and what these deaconesses did does not automatically translate into the debate for the ordination of women or even the wider role of women within the church. In fact, it contributes little since the issue before us is not whether or not to have women serving officially in caring roles in the work of the church but directly the question of whether or not women may be ordained to the diaconate with equal status to either permanent deacons or the transitional deacons heading toward priestly ordination.

In fact, much to the chagrin of those who champion the priestly ordination of women and who therefore are encouraged by the discussion of deaconesses, the very nunnishness of these early Christian women who were called deaconesses is often considered both demeaning and a hindrance to the cause of women's ordination.

The argument for the ordination of deaconesses to an office the exact counterpart to the male diactonate and as a first step toward priestly ordination is still without clear precedent and an invention of a modernity sifting through history for anything and everything that might justify this departure from clear apostolic and consistent catholic practice.

I say this not to disparage what we in the LCMS call deaconesses -- not at all -- but to distinguish this godly service with the same name from what those pursuing the ordination of women are looking for from any evidence for or prospect of an ordained female diaconate. Indeed, the Lutheran history of deaconesses is a heroic legacy of women who served in places where others refused to serve, in conditions that tried and tested their lives and faith, without recognition or material reward. But this is a different story than those who are using Francis' words to make a big jump between the mercy work of the Gospel and the ordination to the pastoral office.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Lutherans and the ACNA. . .

On June 23, 2016 the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America gave their consent to the election of the Reverend Jim Hobby as the next bishop of the ACNA Diocese of Pittsburgh. Fr. Hobby will become yet another bishop of the ACNA married to a woman priest.  The truth is that this reflects the unsettled nature of the question of the ordination of women within the ACNA.  It left the question to the individual dioceses primarily because there was not a churchly consensus upon this within the ACNA. 
Such bishops are not only compromised on the question of women's ordination but seem intent upon continuing the tenuous relationship of dioceses which do and those which do not ordain women.. I suspect that the hope of many Anglicans for a catholic resolution of this issue within the ACNA will be further dashed by this election and consent. Perhaps those Anglicans who hold to catholicity on this issue will be disappointed but it may well be that they have hoped for the impossible.

The experience we have had with the Latvian Lutherans shows that progress is slow and that it takes close to a generation to turn back the tide and stand with the unbroken practice of the Church prior to modern times.  Still, though some may say it is time for Missouri to distance itself from the ACNA, if there is to be a change the ACNA needs the voice of Missouri now more than ever.  Since we are not yet in fellowship, we have nothing to lose by continuing the conversation and everything to gain.  Yet we can make a difference and help those within the ACNA to gain the courage and the wisdom to turn back the progress of modernity.  Let us not be too quick to discharge this ecumenical conversation because not enough progress has been made.  We talked with Lutherans who ordained women for years and years before finally slowing the dialogue due to lack of progress.  Yes, it is a disappointment but if we are serious about the mission and the faith, we will continue to stand for the truth while speaking it in love to all who will listen.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Those darn Lutherans are the source of Vatican II errors. . .

Cardinal Gerhard L. Müller wrote on the occasion of the 65th ordination of Pope Emeritas Benedict XVI:
Vatican Council II sought to reopen a new path to the authentic understanding of the identity of the priesthood. So why in the world did there come, just after the Council, a crisis in its identity comparable historically only to the consequences of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century?

I am thinking of the crisis in the teaching of the priesthood that took place during the Protestant Reformation, a crisis on the dogmatic level, by which the priest was reduced to a mere representative of the community, through an elimination of the essential difference between the ordained priesthood and the common one of all the faithful. And then of the existential and spiritual crisis that took place in the second half of the 20th century, which in chronological terms exploded after Vatican Council II - but certainly not because of the Council - the consequences of which we are still suffering from today.
As I have often observed, it is typical of all parties to stereotype the positions of their theological opponents and although the guilt can be equally shared this does not justify the practice.  For Lutherans the priest is NOT a representative of the community nor is the office of the minister derived from the spiritual priesthood of all the baptized.  The priest (pastor) represents Christ to the community, not on the basis of an ontological difference between the priest and those to whom his priestly ministry is addressed but as the one on whom the Church confers by examination, call, and ordination the office which belongs to the whole church.  The real problem with so many is that individual and often isolated statements of Martin Luther are used to define what Lutherans believe, confess, and teach.  In reality, the Lutheran position is born not of Luther's many words but the specific words of the Lutheran Confessions (of which Luther's words form a part of these Confessions).

The truth is that Rome had not much to say about Augustana XIV except to note that it presumed that rite vocatus referred to the ordinary understanding (examination, call, and ordination).  While Rome may complain about the lack of episcopal ordination, this was an emergency required when there were not evangelical bishops to ordain (at least not in Germany since there were in Sweden, for example).  Rome should not complain that for Lutherans the priest or pastor is a glorified layman who represents the congregation.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If anything, Lutherans were tarred and feathered by the radical reformers for not being reformed enough in this regard and for retaining far too much of a sacramental priesthood to make Zwingli and others comfortable. 

I know it is fashionable to blame Vatican II and the aftermath upon the Reformation and Luther, but this argument is a good example of the straw man fallacy.  I would have expected Müller to be more careful since he, like BXVI, is German and should have had more than a passing familiarity with Lutherans.  We have many problems to be sure and there are some Lutherans who would sell their soul to the Reformed for a song but Lutherans in their confessional documents do NOT define the ministry as a functional office nor do they derive the office from the common priesthood of all the baptized and they most certainly do not describe the pastor as merely a glorified layman, a representative layman, or a functionary who exists only for the sake of good order.  Yet, I find it hard to fault Müller since it is sadly true that Lutherans themselves talk out of both sides of their mouths on this and often feel more comfortable with an evangelical preacher than a catholic and evangelical pastor.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Divine Service from the LCMS Convention. . .

How positively neanderthal of you!

Birth Control.  Once all Christians were against it.  Now it appears unthinkable that such a medieval and patronizing view of sex and reproduction could survive at all -- not even among Roman Catholics.  The truth is the Roman Catholics were not and are not alone in their belief that birth control is a sin against God.

Father Patrick Henry Reardon, pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Chicago, who’s also an author and senior editor for the Christian magazine Touchstone, spoke in a recently published YouTube video of how throughout history until the 20th century all Christians, not just the Orthodox, but the Church fathers and Protestants as well, regarded birth control use as immoral and a sin.  “Now it’s lost,” he states in the video. “And the Church really must not go with the flow on this matter. Because this really is an insult to God.”

This is a not a settled question and worth an open debate.  The common acceptance of birth control has had a profound impact upon our sexual behavior as a people, the way we connect sex, love, marriage, and children, and the whole abortion issue.  Perhaps Fr. Reardon is raising just the right point at just the right time before we are swept away by our own desires and overcome by our belief that we can control everything with little help from God.