Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Gottesdienst Online: Big Enough for Spam and Hate



By Larry Beane

GO must be moving to the big leagues.

A few months ago, we began to notice that we were being spammed.  Comments began to appear with user names of middle-eastern origin, with links to a variety of websites from job postings to pornography.  It has become increasingly difficult to track these down and delete them.

It speaks well of GO, as we must be generating the kind of traffic that would interest such, er, "entrepreneurship."

We've also noticed another recent phenomenon, which seems to be motivated by the same yearning desire for internet hits: comments consisting of provocative anti-Christian hate-speech in the form of screeds and rants unrelated to the topic.

In this day and age, anyone and everyone can have a blog, can spew slander and hatred against Christians, engage in lies and sensationalism, and even expressions of psychological derangement: freely and without government interference.  But, of course, such bloggers rarely get noticed, and so they resort to the same piggyback method as our middle-eastern friends in a desperate bid for attention.

I do feel compassion for such people, and we certainly should pray that they get the help they need, the forgiveness in Christ that they crave deep down inside, and that they learn the Christian values of love, tolerance, and respectful dialogue and discussion.  These qualities are becoming increasingly rare in an environment of mounting hostility to Christianity and to traditional values, in a world of increased narcissism, and where mental illness and lack of self-restraint seem to be on the rise.

In short, our culture is becoming increasingly uncivilized.

I believe that, to a man, the editors of Gottesdienst believe in freedom of speech.  Speaking for myself, I would oppose any effort to censor or outlaw repugnant or even blasphemous speech.  But having said that, nobody has the right to barge into my church or home, use profanity, blaspheme our faith, or engage in slander.  Anyone who would do such a thing would be asked to leave and practice his free speech on his own property and in his own forum.

Similarly, Gottesdienst Online is our forum for discussion.  We are unabashedly Christian in faith, Lutheran in confession, liturgical in our tradition, and catholic in our orientation.  We unreservedly and unashamedly accept the Holy Scriptures as being the inspired Word of God, without error, and divinely authoritative.  Those who hold contrary opinions are truly welcome to engage in respectful dialogue with us.

However, antics such as that of a recent commenter who dropped the name of a Lutheran layman (who sometimes comments at GO, and often disagrees with us) and falsely accused him of wearing Klan regalia, and maliciously and ruthlessly attacking several Lutheran pastors and bloggers, describing them as "evil" - as well as referring to our church body as a "hate group" - are not welcome here.  It is one thing to express disagreement; it is entirely indecent and sinful to engage in slander.  It will not happen on our watch.  We will not encourage or tolerate such comments here.

If you don't get the hits at your own blog, perhaps that is helpful feedback that no-one is interested in your attempts to provoke.  If none of the Gottesdienst editors are taking your bait and reading your material, perhaps that is helpful feedback that we're just not interested in rolling around in the mud with you.

For the time being, comments on GO will be moderated.  This is no different than a newspaper editor picking and choosing which letters to publish, or a person holding a press conference refusing to answer ridiculous questions unrelated to the topic.  We encourage spirited debate.  But rants and raves unrelated to the topic at hand, hate-speech, spam, slander, and blasphemy against our Lord and the Christian faith will simply have to be taken outside.

But we do appreciate the compliment, and are very happy that so many people care about the faith and its confession in the traditional liturgy so as to put us in the category of blogs that are spammed.

We must be doing something right to attract such attention!

Soli Deo gloria!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

No Peppermint For You!


Even the Pope of Rome can only get 33% of his acolytes to hold their hands right at Christmas.

Merry Christmas from Gottesdienst.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas - by Sir John Betjeman

CHRISTMAS

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

-Sir John Betjeman

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Out of the Barn

The Christmas issue has been mailed; it may have even reached some subscribers already. It includes our annual insert containing data for all the Sundays of the year (a color version of this is also at our web site).

Not a subscriber? You can remedy that right here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

God With Us

By Larry Beane

Like the word "sacramental," the word "incarnational" has become a kind of hackneyed expression within Christian circles.  When it is used by some - including some Lutherans - we are tempted to quote the line from The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means."

The Reverend David H. Petersen knows what it means.  

The enfleshment of the Son of God for us men and for our salvation is the essence of the new collection of sermons by Father David in Emmanuel Press's new publication God With Us: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Sermons by David H. Petersen.  This latest release is an ebullient companion to Thy Kingdom Come, Pastor Petersen's earlier published collection of Lent and Easter sermons.

This is one of those books in which underlining "the good stuff" just becomes an exercise in futility.  To paraphrase one of the lessons in The Incredibles: "When everything is underlined, nothing is underlined."

Incline your ear as the preacher does not just define, but proclaims, not merely a definition, but a meditation, on what the Incarnation means for us: 

"God is with us.  He has taken up our flesh.  He wears our skin.  He moves about with the muscles, bones, and cartilage of a man, conceived in one of us.  He has a body like ours, taken from the Virgin's womb.  And like our bodies, His body is bruised and dying, indeed, was created for the very purpose of being bruised and crucified.  He has a human soul as well, for He is an actual man.  His soul was created for the sole purpose that it be separated from His body, that He endure physical death in our place and be set Adam-like, dust to dust, into the ground.  He is one of us, in life and in death.  He is with us.  He is Emmanuel who lives our life and dies our death" (p. 52).

In the introduction, the Reverend Michael N. Frese identifies the Incarnation as the very reason, 

"why the Christian Church gathers around preaching and the Sacraments.  That's why books of sermons continue to be published and cherished in the Church.  Christ is present in His body - for us, for forgiveness.  The sermons in God With Us embody incarnational preaching.  Pr. Petersen preaches an ever-present Christ, a Christ for you, a Christ with you" (p. xii).

God With Us contains 58 sermons, covering Thanksgiving, each day in the four weeks of Advent, three Christmas sermons, daily homilies for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany, the five Sundays after Epiphany, Transfiguration, and the various saintly festivals that fall within this period (as well as Pastor Frese's thorough and thoughtful Introduction and a provocative and contemplative Preface by the Reverend Jason M. Braaten).  The book is a treasure trove for private or family devotions, as well as a solid source of homiletical material for daily chapel or Divine Services.  If you are looking for some additional spiritual refreshment this Advent through Epiphany seasons, this is a perfect combination of brevity and potency, of meditation and instruction, but most of all, of our Lord Jesus Christ who has come to save us from our sins!

Those familiar with Father David's writing, teaching, and preaching will find what they have become accustomed to: a use of language that is poetic and yet not pompous, teaching that is pensive and yet not pedantic, proclamation that is ponderable and yet not ponderous.  

Pastor Petersen keeps the material fresh by not following a set order of how he approaches any given text.  Some of the sermons are expository in nature, with succinct explanations such as how Lutheran dogmaticians use words, an explanation of how Greek articles are rendered in English, and commentary on the relative merits of modern English translations of Scripture.  And yet, this is a book of sermons, not a textbook.  The preacher's primary motive is to proclaim the Word of God, to bring the incarnate Word to the incarnate sinner.  Some of the sermons in God With Us are stunningly poetic and crying out to be read aloud.  Some make use of illustrations and observations of ancient fathers in the faith as well as contemporary pastors and scholars (footnoted in the text).  

Contrary to the stereotype of the stodgy black-shirted liturgical preacher who avoids preaching in a way that critics might call "relevant," Pastor Petersen's language and prose leap out in a provocative way that demands and commands the reader's attention while addressing matters in the lives of his hearers that challenge, and even compel, the reader to meditate on the Word of God, and to do so where we find ourselves in this fallen world.  Pastor Petersen takes on the challenges Christians face at the hands of Facebook, Twitter, Photoshop, and the lonely attention-seeking culture of duck-face selfies.  He speaks of God's love for us as as "borderline-erotic" (p. 3), and even describes our Lord as being "a bit bossy" (p. 8).  He does not shy away from the Christmas trappings of eggnog, feasting, presents, and "gaudy decorations" (p. 24), of "dry turkey, missing batteries, and family squabbles" (p. 93), the difficult questions about why God permits evil in the world, and of course, the sadness and depression that is a cross for so many at this time of year: 

"We long for our lost childhood, for the times when we had not so many loved ones buried in the earth; when we had not yet suffered so many betrayals and heartaches at the hands of those we love; when our lives didn't have so much to regret, so many mistakes and selfish acts; when Christmas seemed a time of endless possibility and magic.... The best answer to seasonal depression is the voice crying in the wilderness" (pp. 61-62).

The sermons are driven by the texts of the church's lectionary, including the Introits and Graduals used in the Divine Services.  This liturgical element of preaching draws Father David into the discipline of obediently treating the holy texts regarding Sts. Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Zechariah, the prophesies of Isaiah, the doubts of John the Baptist, the Canaanites, the Exodus, the Passover, the Scapegoat, the shepherds and the magi, the prophet Malachi; Sts. Andrew, Nicholas, Lucy, Peter, the Holy Innocents, and others.  In these pages, you will find both the manger and the cross, the womb and the tomb, the Law and the Gospel, and the oft-repeated call to "Repent!"

If you are expecting a naive view of the world into which our Lord was born, and in which we Christians find ourselves in the twenty-first century, you will be delightfully surprised.  Pastor Petersen invites you to confront the mysteries of the Incarnation, of God With Us, in ways that reflect the shocking nature of what this means for us in our fallen world.  "What kind of God is this," asks the preacher, "who suffers violence, who makes Himself weak, who is born out-of-doors and judged by unjust and petty rulers?  What kind of a God takes all the devil's violence unto Himself and doesn't lash out in righteous vengeance and anger?" (pp. 32-33).  Concerning St. Joseph: "the dirty minds and petty men of this world snickered at him and his bride all of their days.  They called the Son of God a bastard" (p. 81).  Concerning our liberty: "The Lord is a lover, not a rapist" (p. 89). Concerning the magi: "They were magicians, pagan (that is, Gentile) astrologers.  They looked to the stars for answers and are something akin to palm readers or strippers.... Ouija board-using addicts" (p. 127). On our Lord's first miracle: "He gave good wine to drunks" (p. 135).  

Pastor Petersen is not afraid to say, "Repent, O Lutherans" (p. 128), and to target those of us in the Lutheran tradition for our own pet sins and iniquities: "There is a pretend piety for those who claim they have a passion for the lost, and there is a pretend piety as well for those who claim to love doctrine and the liturgy.... One is not better than another, and do not think that God will wink at yours or not mind it as much as another's.  Repent" (p. 52).  I don't believe that Pastor Petersen's mention of Lake Ponchartrain (p. 144) was intended to see if I actually read all of the sermons.  But if that were the case, I am happy to report that the reference did not go unnoticed, and at very least I won't be called to repent for not reading the book closely enough.  There are precious few opportunities to wiggle out of Pastor Petersen's numerous calls to repentance.

Most importantly of all, at the center of each and every one of these sermons, leaping out triumphantly on each and every page, is Christ: Christ the incarnate, Christ the crucified, Christ the victorious, Christ the risen, Christ the Savior, Christ the coming-again.  As with all good Christian preaching, this collection of sermons isn't about pithy sayings, trenchant soundbites, insightful teaching, poetic turns of phrase, profound exegetical insight, but rather it is all, first and foremost, from Alpha to Omega, about Christ and the Gospel that He, our Emmanuel, our God With Us, bears to us in His very Body and in His Word.  Preaching is all about heralding the Good News and filling our very ears and souls with our Lord Jesus Christ unto our justification and everlasting life.

In case I have not been clear: in the sermons archived in God With Us, the Reverend David Petersen preaches the whole counsel of God in Christ Jesus: the Law to call us to repent, and, most emphatically, the Gospel to deliver unto us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And that is simply what it means for preachers to preach, and for hearers to hear, incarnationally.  And the Reverend David H. Petersen knows what it means.  

I will leave you with one more passage:

"Nothing can ruin Christmas.  Not sticks, not stones, not broken bones.  Not lies or false names, nor cruel words, nor even divorce.  Not war.  Not hunger.  Not drunkenness, nor neglect.  Not old grudges.  Not fresh wounds.  Not bad news from doctors, teachers, or the stock market.  None of that.  And if none of that, then certainly not dry turkey or boring presents or disgruntled children and boorish guests.  Nothing can ruin Christmas.  Not even death" (p. 104).

Amen!

God With Us: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Sermons by David H. Petersen (Paperback, 186 pp., 9″ x 6″, 2014 ISBN 978-1-934328-11-8) is available from Emmanuel Press for $20.00.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Oktoberfest Videos

Here is  link to the YouTube channel that has the videos of this year's Oktoberfest, courtesy of Mr. Gene Wilken. Featuring Dr. John Stephenson, speaking on the Blessed Sacrament in the Theology of Wilhelm Loehe.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Tale of Two Renditions

Here  are two renditions of the old standard Isaac Watts hymn "O That The Lord Would Guide My Ways." This hymn is weak thematically, having no reference to Christ or His work. There is nothing objectionable in the lyrics, and certainly no false doctrine. It's what it lacks that makes it weak.

But the following comparison is not about the content of the hymn.

You will also note that in neither of the two renditions is there an organ.

But it isn't about the use of an organ either.

It's only about the style.

And there is no absolutely no question that style matters.

Here's the first rendition.

And here's the second.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cheapening the Pulpit

While I sympathize with preachers who want to exert their freedom from government intrusion, I think the idea of endorsing candidates from the pulpit is beneath the dignity of God's House. I live in a small town and I've lived here a while now. My parishioners who care to know certainly do know about my political leanings. But not from listening to my sermons. Indeed, I think it's important for preachers to make the disclaimer "not the Lord, but I say" whenever they discuss politics with layfolks, even just over a cup of coffee at the local greasy spoon.

But then again, part of my political leaning is that I don't put much stock in elections...so I may be biased.

+HRC

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Funny from Gerhard

Another benefit of the long form, multivolume dogmatics is that the author has the time to include funny stuff. Gerhard's volume On the Church has a lot of great laughs, especially when examining Romanist "miracles." And here's a line from the volume I'm currently editing, On Repentance. 

Most often they [the Romanists] pronounce the absolution in Latin, a language unknown to the people. Thus in his memoirs Johannes Gastius tells of a priest who absolved a noble who did not know Latin, was not repentant, and was not willing to abstain from sins in the future, with the following form in order to get a gold coin from him: “May our Lord, Jesus Christ, absolve you if He wills, and may He forgive you your sins, something I do not believe will happen. Finally, may he bring you to eternal life, which is impossible.”

+HRC 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Authentic Alternative

By Larry Beane

This post is intended as a follow-up to an earlier recent post about worship style and the latest battles within the LCMS over worship.

The church growth movement (the term may no longer be popular, but let us call a thing what it is) and its defenders accept the premise that style is divorced from substance, that doctrine is unrelated to practice.  This is a longstanding debate that has continued to foster disagreements in the LCMS since the emergence of the church growth movement (and this latest discussion is just yet another incarnation of that philosophy).

The Lutheran confessions themselves routinely link doctrine and practice.  The ancient connection between "lex credendi" and "lex orandi" is made explicit in the Book of Concord.  So, it does matter whether the pastor wears vestments or casual wear.  It is a confession of what is happening at the altar and an expression of a pastor's commitment to the church's confession of Catholic continuity.  If it is a case of need, want, poverty, or extenuating circumstances, that's obviously a different story.

But the church growth movement is a deliberate theological thrust away from the Book of Concord and a rejection of the Catholic tradition, just as was the state of general American Lutheranism when our forbears founded the LCMS.  This different thrust is what led the early LCMS into clearly articulating an explicit "quia" position on confessional subscription as well as a more unpopular stance against Lutheran unity, and likewise against incorporation of popular, but non-Lutheran, elements in worship.  This current debate actually gets to the very roots of the LCMS, and is in part why we've tended not to join in fellowship with other Lutherans, and have been parodied as grumpy sticks in the mud.

The current discussion is similar to when people link Lutheranism to the "Lutheran" church down the street with the "nice lady pastor."  One could argue that she is teaching the same doctrine, and is maybe even a better law/gospel preacher than many LCMS men.  She is truly officiating over valid sacraments (an argument that I don't accept) and saving people from hell (I don't believe this either), and so we should not be critical.  Whether or not to ordain women is merely a style issue, based on individual tastes and preferences, not a matter of doctrine (so the argument goes), and therefore we should be "nice" about it all and offer no criticism.  But to the contrary, this is a doctrinal issue, it does scandalize the faithful, and it destroys faith.  It's wrong, and we should say so.

Many also accept the premise that none of this church growthism is spiritually harmful.  It is.  People are scandalized by this.  I nearly left Lutheranism when I moved to a different part of the country as a layman and found all sorts of LCMS congregations and pastors that wanted to be entertainers.  My own parishioners are scandalized when they go on vacation and find this kind of thing.  It's not simply that these churches have blue doors and our door is red, this is a deviation from (among others) Article 24 (an article that one church growth pastor actually told me is no longer binding on Lutherans!).  There is also an obsession with numbers among church-growthers that is at odds with our confession of the Holy Spirit, predestination, election, and our condemnation of Arminianism.  This touches upon the article of justification itself, and is no mere window-dressing - all the protestations that "we're all just like you" notwithstanding.

We traditionalists/conservatives are routinely told to shut up and go with the flow.  Don't like gay marriage?  Then don't marry someone of your own sex.  Don't like abortion?  Don't have one.  Don't want a woman pastor?  Don't call one.  Above all, don't criticize others who are different, but coexist, just like the bumper sticker tells us to do.  Our churches all have LCMS on the sign out front, and even if they don't, they're secretly part of the LCMS - as evidenced by the church worker benefit plans, and possibly even financial support and subsidization from their districts.

I believe the church growth movement is a deviation away from our confessional heritage, that it seeks to drive a wedge between doctrine and practice, necessarily leads to splitting the Lutheran confessions into articles that are bonding vs. articles that are not binding, and harms people spiritually.

I have no doubt that church growth pastors and lay leaders are sincere and mean well.  But a lot of people are sincere and mean well.  That isn't the hallmark of what is orthodox, godly, or within the rubric of what is authentically Lutheran.  When we traditionalists are compared to the Taliban, mocked as being "Romanizers" or "chancel prancers," when our sacred liturgy is cast as a losing proposition that chases people away, when our Book of Concord is marginalized and actually laughed at (and yes, I have heard this repeatedly my entire ministry by church growth advocates), when we are told to shut up about the nice lady "pastor" or the congregation with the big screens and charismatic worship style - that's all okay.  When we write critiques - be they systematic arguments against such practices, or tongue in cheek parodies and satire, and we're told we're being divisive or engaging in polemics.  Luther was likewise criticized when he would not link arms with Zwingli over what many perceived to be a minor issue that did not actually divide us.

It did, and it does.

The good news is that in the long run, the fads always burn themselves out.  Traditional worship was here when we were all born, it will be here after we are all dead.  It was here when our Lord manifested Himself in the Tabernacle, and it will abide even until Christ returns.  First-world fad worship - be it cowboy church, biker church, dancing girls and rock music, secular narcissism, entertainment worship, and everything of that ilk - will ultimately end up like 8-track players and leisure suits.  The problem is that in the mean time, people are confused about Christianity, worship of the one true God, and the Lutheran confession of the faith by being told diametrically opposite things by groups all claiming to be teaching the same things.  The church growth movement cheapens the faith by recasting the profound as shallow, by shifting the focus from eternal transcendence to the life-cycle of a 140 character tweet, from the theological to the anthropological, from atonement to enjoyment.

"In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc."  If a pastor and congregation can't say that - and it is by intention and design (rather than an inherited anomaly to be changed pastorally) - then such pastors and congregations are simply not part of the "our churches" - unless the Book of Concord is no longer relevant, binding, normal (in the sense of being the norma normata of "our churches"), and that which defines what it means to be authentically Lutheran.

One of the tenets of the church-growth movement - to which its advocates pay lip-service - one that I actually agree with, is the need for authenticity.  People will inevitably sniff out the inauthentic.  Authenticity for us Lutherans is spelled out in our confessions.  Anything contrary to what Dr. Kenneth Korby called "our Catholic Book of Concord" invalidates claims to such a pastor or congregation being truly Lutheran, and is a big red flag that says "counterfeit."  I think people are tired of counterfeit religiosity and are increasingly wary of being manipulated.  I think the church growth movement is not just wrong, contrary to the Lutheran confession of the catholic faith, and spiritually toxic, but will ultimately prove ineffective of even its own goals, because it is, by definition, inauthentic.  It is rationally self-defeating and logically self-contradictory.  Its necessary postmodernist gymnastics are incongruous with the exclusive truth claims of the Christian faith itself.

Love, both for the sinners for whom Christ died as well as for the truth itself, demands that we expose the church growth movement for what it is, articulate this reality in different ways, and present people with an authentic alternative.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Symposium Week Preparations -- special rate at Hotel Fort Wayne

The annual Fort Wayne Symposia on the Lutheran Confessions are scheduled for 20-23 January 2015 at Concordia Theological Seminary. On Monday the 19th there is also a one-day retreat at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, where Rev. David Petersen, one of our associate editors, is the pastor. During this week the Gottesdienst crowd will again be at the Hotel Fort Wayne.  It’s at 305 East Washington Center Road. We have again obtained a special discount rate @ $89.00, including a voucher for free breakfasts at their superb buffet. Just minutes from the seminary.  Reservations, just click here, or call 260-484-0411 or toll free 855-322-3224; ask for the group rate for Gottesdienst.
Be sure to mention Gottesdienst, and reserve by January 7th.
The high point of Symposium week for us Gottesdiensters is the announcement of the recipient of our prestigious Sabre of Boldness award, in the student commons after the symposia banquet, on Thursday, January 22nd.
The Sabre ceremony is in its twentieth year.  The list of recipients is below.
Nominations are invited.  The award is given “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity on behalf of the Holy Church of Christ while engaged in the confession of His pure Gospel in the face of hostile forces and at the greatest personal risk.” Submit a signed nomination to Fr. Eckardt via e-mail (click here).  State the name, address, and telephone number of the nominee and the reasons why he or she is a fitting choice for Sabre Bearer.  The degree of the adversity, steadfast resistance to pressures to compromise, heedlessness of threats, and a clear confession of faith are considered.  The slate will close on Tuesday, January 20tht
Join the Gottesdienst crowd at Hotel Fort Wayne! X

Bearers of the Sabre of Boldness
1996  The Reverend Peter C. Bender
1997  The Reverend Jonathan G. Lange
1998  The Reverend Dr. Edwin S. Suelflow
1999  The Reverend Gary V. Gehlbach
2000  The Reverend Peter M. Berg
2001  The Reverend Dr. John C. Wohlrabe
2002  The Reverend Erich Fickel
2003  The Reverend Dr. Wallace Schulz
2004  The Reverend Charles M. Henrickson
2005  The Reverend Edward J. Balfour
2006  Bishop Walter Obare
2007  The Reverend Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn
2008  The Reverend Aaron Moldenhauer
2009  The Reverend Juhana Pohjola
2010  The Right Reverend Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn
2011  The Reverend Brian Saunders
2012  The Reverend Paul Rydecki
2013  Mrs. Katie Schuermann
2014  The Reverend Michael Brockman



Friday, October 24, 2014

Reformation, All Saints, All Souls

This year November 2nd falls on a Sunday. All Souls Day, also called the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is a Feast of the First Class, so may appropriately take precedence.  
            It’s not uncommon for this to be confused with All Saints’ Day, November 1st, since Lutherans tend to think of all the faithful departed as saints; and indeed in an important respect, of course they are saints. They are translated to the Church Triumphant, with all the company of heaven.
            Traditionally, however (dating to the seventh century), All Saints was a day on which to commemorate especially those saints of yore whose lives were marked by a special confession of Christ unto death; that is, who were martyred. Many of those martyrs have days appointed specifically for them on the Western Calendar, such as the Apostles, or St. Laurence (August 10), or the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (August 29). There are in fact many post-biblical martyrs whose days are on the full Western Calendar. But there are many more, who never had dates attached to their martyrdom in any calendars, so All Saints was a day meant for commemorating all of them. That is why the more traditional color for All Saints is red, not white. In the Roman Catholic Church it is officially called the Solemnity of All Saints or Hallowmas or All Hallows (from which, of course, the evening before derives its name: Halloween).
            And that is also why the day for commemorating all of the faithful departed is not November 1st, but November 2nd. Incidentally, in recent years The Catholic Church has, like many other churches these days, also dropped the specific distinction of martyrs for All Saints, and remembers all the faithful who are in the Church Triumphant. The way they then distinguish between All Saints and All Souls is to count All Souls as those who are still in purgatory and have not yet achieved the beatific state of having been purified of all sins and arrived in heaven. We Lutherans, of course, have always firmly condemned such nonsense as not only contrary to Scripture, but contrary to the merit and worthiness of Christ: He alone is our Purifier. There is no such thing as purgatory.
            Providentially, ironically, and most fittingly, we have traditionally observed the Festival of the Reformation on the Eve of All Saints, October 31st. The Reformation was for us a recovery of the Gospel in its purity; so it is right then, that we note in an evangelical way the difference between All Saints and All Souls as something other than the folly of purgatory. We rejoice in the confession of martyrs unto death on All Saints, and in all the faithful departed, who are in the Church Triumphant, on All Souls. The color for that day is historically black, and a requiem mass is said (though again, requiems ought never be said among us in according to the false view that our prayers help souls fly from some imaginary purgatory). Since as most parishes do not have black paraments, white is used to emphasize the Church Triumphant, from which, in glory, the faithful departed all await the resurrection of the body at the Last Day.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A fresh new approach to church

New pastor brings new style to church

Lead Pastor Burnell Petersen leads fresh new worship style at local church
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COLUMBUS — A church is about to embark on a new journey as it welcomes new Lead Pastor Burnell H.R. Petersen.
The 35-year-old father of five said it was the Holy Spirit that called him to the Missouri-Synod Lutheran congregation accompanied by his wife, Concordia, to Columbus. “As radical as it sounds," the black-shirted pastor - bereft of hipster glasses, wispy beard, and shaved head - explained, ”I didn't scope out this place through marketing, surveys, or focus groups, but rather God called me here to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments without regard to human manipulation."  
“The mission of Jesus Christ is what got me here: to reach unbelievers (not the unchurched, dechurched, underchurched, overchurched, or entertainment-deprived); but rather people who need Law and Gospel, but are being deprived of it in their tired old feckless baby-boomer churches, or maybe they’ve been hurt or are struggling in some way with being manipulated like a focus group,” Petersen said.
He went on to explain what sets his congregation apart from other churches in the community.
“We actually believe in this stuff.  We aren't giving people hipster gobbledygook and hackneyed warmed over phony religiosity, but the actual Gospel ” said the 2005 graduate of a certain Lutheran Seminary.  I like my motorcycle just fine, but I won't be riding it into the chancel."
He believes shallow postmodernism and silly innovations are often placed above the real reason someone attends church.
“If you asked someone off the street their idea of a church, they would think praise bands, a guy in jeans and an untucked shirt cracking jokes, just some of those older worn-out postmodern ideas of what church is, cookie cutter crap that just makes young people want to hurl," Petersen said. "Our congregation is not really any of those things. We don’t have praise bands, no middle aged pastor desperately trying to be relevant but just looking like a clown.  We understand or try to project in our culture that church is more than just trying to bait and switch people and downplaying Jesus, the cross, redemption, and the Gospel.  We don't throw our blessed Lord under the bus."
“It’s a challenge to minister as an actual believer instead of a poser, but if you simply carry out the Lord's instructions from Scripture, it's not really hard to understand that this isn't posing for selfies."
Petersen is excited about becoming part of the mission that the Holy Catholic Church has set out to accomplish since its opening in 30 AD.
“The neat thing about this body of Christ is we’re all broken, we’re all sinful and we all struggle. That grace and mercy that’s poured on us in Holy Baptism, we’re overjoyed by it.  And in spite of the crosses we bear as disciples, we can’t help but want to share it, by inviting people to the Divine Service,” he said.
There is no target age or demographic, Petersen said with the Church's culture-transcending hymnody and multisensory experience of the Western Mass in its fullness, along with the Law and Gospel he uses within his sermons, the congregation has no intended age, race, or status of wealth.
“It’s liturgical and dignified so that’s attractive to young families. It’s an authentic atmosphere on Sundays so parents feel comfortable bringing their kids here,” he said.
His congregation tends to be a little different than other churches as actually worshiping God through the miracle of the physical presence of Jesus in Word and sacrament is a normal scene - as opposed to projection screens, bad guitar music, skits, lattes, cup-holders, couches, dancing girls, and mind-numbing praise choruses,
Petersen is confident that by virtue of the Lord's incarnation and mission to seek and save the lost, Jesus will continue to interact physically and miraculously as the Holy Spirit grows the church according to the will of the Father, a reality he gladly invites.  He has no idea what the "numbers" will look like.
“It’s a really good problem to have,” he said.
Petersen describes himself as a "poor miserable sinner" who has been "called into the preaching office and set apart through Holy Ordination" with a preaching style that shuns gimmicks, current events, and modern media examples such as video clips and slideshows - focusing rather on Christ and His work on the cross for the salvation of sinners.  It's a radical idea, and one certain to raise eyebrows, but Petersen is convinced that this new way is superior to the old, traditional shuck-and-jive contemporary nonsense that turns people off with its shallowness.
“We have not abolished the Mass," said Petersen, in a shocking quotation of the Book of Concord, "Moreover, in our churches 'Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc.'" 

It's an idea so radical and fresh that it's a wonder this has not been tried before.

For more information about what authentic worship does not look like, visit any number of LCMS congregations.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola

  by Burnell F Eckardt Jr
  in collaboration with the editorial staff

          There’s been plenty of well-founded worry about the Ebola virus these days. As I write this, we’re already tracking the possibilities of its spread through two Dallas nurses who contracted the disease from the Liberian man who came here and has died. One of those nurses took a flight to and from Cleveland, and that plane has been to Florida. Some schools have closed as precautions. Who knows where this can go? By the time you read this it may have been stanched, or it may have become epidemic, official reassurances to the contrary notwithstanding.
            One cannot help but think of the plagues of the Middle Ages to find points of comparison, most especially the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century in which over a third of all Europeans died. But we can also make a more recent comparison. Having just recently updated the chronicles of St. Paul’s in Kewanee, I happen to be somewhat versed in the ease with which a plague can suddenly sweep across even a nation that has the advantage of knowing more than medieval folk did about how disease is spread.
            In 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic reached the shores of America, probably through the U.S. Government War Exhibition in Chicago, which opened in September of that year and brought a quarter of a million visitors. Chicago was the nation’s largest rail hub at the time.   As was the case across Illinois, Kewanee’s first announced victims were servicemen who were still away from home, but soon the ravages of the disease were felt by families here and across the nation.  By the end of October, over 40,000 new cases were reported in Chicago in one week alone. In the same month Kewanee noted its first local death of an influenza victim.
            Articles appearing in the Kewanee Star Courier appear to have been written with the aim of quelling people’s fears.  Weekly stories would announce the reported decline of new cases, or of good news on the flu front.  An often-reprinted article entitled “Spanish Influenza—What It Is and How It Should Be Treated,” confidently averred that it is “nothing new . . . simply the old ‘grippe’” of 1889-90, and insisted that there was “no occasion for panic.”  When the war ended in November, the newspaper declared that the city received the news with “unbridled joy.”   At year’s end a half-page artist’s sketch chronicled the year’s mostly significant events, and most of it was devoted to excitement about the war’s drawing to a close, while allowing only a small corner to note that “Uncle Sam got the flu.”
            But obituaries didn’t lie, and since the middle of October there had been a steady stream of reports of new local victims who had died of “the flu and pneumonia.” And since it was customary in those days to print obituaries on the front page of the paper, their daily appearance seemed almost to mock the newspaper’s valiant if pitiful attempts to maintain a bright outlook.
            One of the particularly odious facets of a plague—and this pandemic certainly qualified as a plague—is that spiritual care became difficult to obtain in a time when it was most sorely needed.  The city of Kewanee closed all its public places, and all the local churches had agreed to cooperate.  By the year’s end they had all ceased to conduct services, with the sole exception of the funerals, which of necessity were held away from the church, and at which attendance was kept to an absolute minimum. St. Paul’s closed its doors with an announcement that arrangements could be made with the pastor for private catechetical instruction.   The church stayed closed for thirteen weeks.
Usually the victims of influenza would die within a single week of their contraction of the disease.  Delirium was not uncommon.  People everywhere were getting sick.  The city of Chicago ran out of hearses.  Morgues were stacked to the ceiling with bodies.
The pandemic didn’t actually abate until the late spring and summer of 1919.  Researchers estimate that between 30 and 50 million people died worldwide, with an estimated 675,000 Americans being among the dead.
St. Paul’s was able to open its doors sometime early in 1919, though people were still dying.  In one week alone during that period there were five funerals.  The official church record puts the number of deaths from influenza at 11.  It took until sometime in the year 1920 for the horrendous chapter of the influenza plague to come, thankfully, to an end, and, as was the case in all of mankind’s previous plagues, an awareness began to settle in that it was not yet the end of the world.
So today we are facing the threat of Ebola. We have received word that some of our Liberian brothers have questions about our communion practice and we realize these questions might soon afflict us as well. What of the common cup? What of the reliquae (leftover elements)? Should this disease take on the marks of an actual pandemic among us, we may once again be in need of extraordinary measures, and history can guide us. Under extraordinary circumstances, it might be proper for churches to take extraordinary measures, to quell fears where possible. There will surely be a temptation to attempt a sterile distribution of the Lord's Supper. The pastor should wash his hands thoroughly before the Service, but extra care might be taken and public awareness of this precaution could be raised. Hand-shaking could be forbidden. And certainly, the idea that glass individual cups could be used, perhaps with vodka dampened purificators or other precautions, will be brought up as more sanitary than the chalice.
The editors have considered all these things, and it seems to us all that such precautions are really no guarantee of complete sterility and that our fathers felt that the best course was not to change the mode of distribution but to abstain from public communion services; and we think that if we do face an actual pandemic of plague proportions, this would still be the best and safest course. Pastoral care would have to be handled mostly in a private way and may even require at times, if the communicant is quarantined or some such thing, the use of rubber gloves and a face mask by the celebrant. Unless the pandemic shuts down the power grid and the internet, we will enjoy ways of preaching to and catechizing our people that our fathers did not have. If things do get out of hand, it might become necessary, once again, to close our churches altogether for awhile and rely solely on individualized pastoral care and electronic media.

We do have plenty of reason, however, even from a medical point of view, to be hopeful that no such thing will befall us in these days. It is certainly true that the Lord will provide and that He might well deliver us to Himself through Ebola or some other horrific disease. We trust, without flinching, that if the Lord deliver us to that fate through the Chalice or the Services of the Church that it is His good and gracious will to do so and that the forgiveness of sins that always comes to the faithful through the Lord's Supper will be what we truly need. Indeed, such an end, as all those that God gives, will be a blessing. But we should not shirk our duty to the 5th commandment in all of this or engage in extra-Biblical fantasy that the Lord never delivers crosses through the means of grace. The Lord never hurts or harms His children in any place or time and certainly He never harms them in the Lord's Supper, but the Lord does call His people home and allow them to suffer trials on this side of glory. We do not refuse medical care because the Lord provides and we should not ignore the dangers of plague if it is visited upon us. Again: extraordinary and temporary measures may be necessary. Meanwhile, like many before who have not only been threatened by plagues, but have actually suffered them, we can, and should, pray. For the prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

St. Michael's Liturgical Conference

Materials from the 2014 St. Michael's Liturgical Conference at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Detroit are being posted at Zion's website.  A number of our Gottesdienst editors were involved in the conference in a variety of ways: Fr. Mark Braden hosted and presided, Fr. David Petersen preached for the St. Michaelmas, Fr. Burnell Eckardt presented a sectional paper, the undersigned presented a paper on the pastoral care of catechumens and communicants, and all of the above participated in a panel discussion on the topic of Confirmation and First Communion.  Other presenters included Fr. Joel Baseley of Dearborn, Michigan, and Fr. Daniel Reuning of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Who Cut the Cheese?


By Larry Beane

This is a video released by Pastor Mark Junkans (LCMS) who serves a call at Lutheran Inter-City Coalition in Houston, Texas (Texas District).

Pr. Junkans uses the word "communion" - but it sounds more like a house party to me.  Although I would prefer meat hors d'oeuvres or cocktail weenies, since I don't eat bread (Holy Communion excepted) - I would never attempt to bind consciences regarding the proper finger foods to go with Lutheran beverages.  To each his own!  Though (and I realize I am on shaky 8th Commandment and Matthew 18 ground here), I do think some research is in order to determine the propriety of omitting cheese in such contexts.  Is this an adiaphoron?  That question is certainly above my pay grade.

Passing around a bottle sounds like a great time (not that Lutheran pastors know anything about that...) - and is certainly of the order of First Article gifts.  But I don't know if Pr. Junkans is trying to say this communion is a simply bunch of parishioners quaffing at a cocktail party, or rather if this is supposed to be the Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Holy Eucharist, the Mass, the body and blood of Christ?

At any rate, what about the cheese?  Can we at least have consensus on that?

Maybe Pr. Junkans will clarify the matter.  Maybe the Texas District President could help.  I would be interested to know what President Harrison thinks, not to mention President Rast, as Pr. Junkans is a graduate of Fort Wayne's DELTO program.  Reverend Presidents, we need direction on this caseous casuistry matter!  Silence is not an option!

I am not being critical of Pr. Junkans.  I know the rules of the synod.  I'm not an ecclesiastical supervisor.  Nor am I going to invest the time and money to try to meet my brother face to face to confront him about omitting cheese at an otherwise perfectly good cocktail party - as scandalous a matter as that might be - especially to our brethren in Wisconsin.  Love covers a multitude of Sbrinz.

But I would like to know what those charged with ecclesiastical supervision do have to say about this.  I mean, if we can't agree on something so basic, what does it mean to walk together?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Idolatry Is Boring

From Peter Leithart's commentary on 1 Kings 15–16:
Once Jeroboam I sets the pattern of rebellion and resistance to the prophets, Israel descends into turmoil, and the turmoil is depicted literarily in the acceleration of the narrative. . . . As a result, 1 Kings 15-16 is a school child's nightmare, the kind of chronicle that evokes lifelong loathing of history.  A king rises, a king reigns, a king sins, a king dies. . . . Meaningless and confusing dates for indistinguishable kings, all told in a colorless and repetitive prose.  The setting and events are themselves repetitive and boring. . . . Rise, reign, sin, die.  War and sin, sin and war. . . . 
[T]his is precisely the author's point: idolatry is boring.  Idolatry produces nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing fresh, nothing adventurous.  Jeraboam pretends to take a walk on the wild side, pretends to be doing something slick and edgy.  His wildness is not just tame.  It is somnolescent and acts as a soporific for the northern kingdom.  Rehoboam permits high places in Judah, but that just leads to drudgery of the same.  Solomon's reign, by contrast, is full of excitement: political intrigue to secure the throne, clever sleuthing to determine which prostitute is telling the truth, a continuous party in Israel, adventurous endeavors on the high seas, a court visit from the exotic queen of Sheba.  When prophets show up, the world suddenly opens up even wider: hands wither and heal, altars are split, lions leap into the text and onto a prophet but do not eat the donkey, jars of oil never empty, dead children are raised, bears come crashing out of the woods to slaughter mocking young men, and dead bodies thrown into the wrong grave come catapulting out again.  The moon turns to blood, the sun is black as sackcloth, stars fall from the sky; dreams, signs, visions; blood, fire, and vapor of smoke.
Idols are lifeless and therefore cannot impart life.  Lifeless idols only make for lifeless people.  When the initial titillation has passed, idolatry quickly yields to dryness and death.  The signs of this spiritual exhaustion are everywhere in twenty-first-century culture, which has become a culture of "whatever" -- not only the whatever of "anything goes," but the whatever of "and who cares anyway?"  This is the end result of a culture that has been built on idols of success, money, pleasure, self-indulgence, sex.  Such a culture becomes slothful, thoroughly infused with what the Christian tradition calls acedia.
Traditionally, sloth is seen as an enemy of faith and hope.  The Latin word acedia ("lack of concern, lack of care") is used to describe these dimensions of sloth. . . . [A]cedia or sloth can coexist with frantic activity. . . . Our culture is a frenetic 24/7 culture precisely as a way of masking the emptiness of it all. . . .
This is the story of Israel and the story of humanity.  Adam thinks that seizing the fruit of the tree of knowledge will enrich his life with wisdom; it does not, but instead condemns him to an endless round of sweat and sadness. . . . Yahweh's word is the main participant in the battles of history, and it is Yahweh's (s)word that cuts into the boring round of idolatry and sin to make things new.
HT: Fr. Scott Adle

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Tale of Two Conferences

By Larry Beane

The LCMS is quite a diverse church body when it comes to things like conferences.

By way of example, here are descriptions of two upcoming conferences that will be happening shortly, less than one month apart, both of which will include speakers and worship services.

The first example is one of the official district conferences to be held this month (September).

Three of the four main scheduled speakers are pastors.  One of the three is a Lutheran, and his presentation is first.  His topic will be: "Toward Effective Ministry in Transitional Times" and is described as follows:

"Living and serving in God's grace in these changing times involves balance, clarity of purpose and values as well as personal and organizational health.  This time will be interactive, informative, and hopefully a time of introducing you to introspection and possible life ministry changes during this conference."

The two remaining ordained speakers come from outside the Lutheran tradition.  The first is a senior pastor of a Baptist congregation in Virginia.  He is the author of Bod4God: Four Keys to Weight Loss and Get off the Couch.  He is also the creator of the Losing to Live Weight Loss Competition....  The media has labeled him 'The Anti-Fat Pastor.'"  One has to wonder if he'll be attending the "Taco/Nacho/Chicken Wing Buffet (enough to call it dinner)" that includes "free beer, margaritas and sangria/wine."

Next up will be a pastor representing Cornerstone Fellowship, who is going to speak on "rediscovering a New Small Church filled with hope, passion, and innovative spark of the Holy Spirit."

The "opening worship" is not described other than that it will be held at a local parish, while the "closing worship" will be held at the resort where the conference will take place.

***

Less than a month later, another conference will take place, not a district function, but rather an annual congregational event.

The keynote speaker will be a Lutheran seminary professor with degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham.  He is the "author of volumes 12 (Lord's Supper) and 13 (Eschatology) of the series Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics.  His topic will be "The Blessed Sacrament in the Theology of Wilhelm Loehe."  There will also be a discussion on "the rubrics and significance of the Mass from the Preface to the Nunc Dimittis."

Like the other conference, there will be food, including a banquet featuring "brats and beer" and an "after the party party" at the pastor's home.

This conference will likewise include worship services, and will open with "choral vespers" and will include "mass" on the next day, as well as a "low mass" and "vespers" on the final day of the conference - all held in the sanctuary of the parish.

If it is true that diversity is our strength, the LCMS must be one of the mightiest church bodies on the planet.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Out of the barn!

The Michaelmas 2014 issue of Gottesdienst is heading to a mailbox near you (that is, if you're a subscriber; if not, click here). Here's what's inside:

Sermons
Trinity 21                              Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.
Trinity 26                              Benjamin T. Ball
Funeral Sermon                     Larry L. Beane II
The Ritual of the Body            Larry L. Beane II

   Liturgical Observer   Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.
Purpose of Gottesdienst       
Patience Pays Off

  Commentary on the War  David H. Petersen
How to Write Better Sermons
Part 2: Writing 


Taking Pains  Mark P. Braden
The Cope 

Poems
He Shall Give His Angels Charge Over You
Kathryn Ann Hill
Then Shall Arise Michael T. David Demarest

Musing on the Mysteries  Karl F. Fabrizius
The Earth Is Filled with Violence
Genesis 6:8-13