Monday, April 17, 2017

Sacramental Order

By Larry Beane

I recently drove a festive couple of Uber passengers who were trying to remember the mnemonic for Beverage Order: Was it "beer before liquor" or "liquor before beer"?  There are different opinions on this matter, but there is indeed an old adage concerning this order that has apparently been debunked as a myth.

Unless I'm quite mistaken, it's a universal practice in the Christian Church across denominational lines that Holy Baptism precedes the Holy Eucharist, that disciples are made by the former rather than by the latter, and that only the disciples are to participate in the Lord's Supper.  

Of course, admittance to the table is a thorny and contentious issue in our Synod, which has historically - with some limited pastoral exceptions - endorsed Eucharistic fellowship only with members of LCMS congregations and of those church bodies in altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS.  This practice is sometimes called "closed" or "close" or "close(d)" communion - although I find these distinctions hard to understand.  Actual admission practice varies widely, as any visitor to other LCMS parishes will conclude just by looking at various communion statements.

In the above Facebook post, a non-baptized visitor has taken part in the Eucharist on Good Friday at an LCMS congregation.  He is now ready to take the "next" step by being "signed up" for the next "baptism."

Of course, keeping track of communicant visitors from other LCMS congregations is difficult at times (and this is exacerbated during festival services), and certainly any pastor who has served for any amount of time in the parish has, no doubt, accidentally and inadvertently communed people whom he mistook for someone else, or mistakenly believed should have been communed.  The best construction is that this is the case here.

However, this post does raise an interesting question: are we bound by the traditional Sacramental Order: "Baptism before Supper is proper, Supper before Baptism is schism"?  Or is this just a New Wives' Tale that Snopes and Mythbusters will denounce as Fake Sacramentology?  Is there good reason to retain the traditional Sacramental Order?  What would the ramifications be of communing people prior to Holy Baptism?

By the way, the old saying goes:

Liquor before beer, you're in the clear.
Beer before liquor, never been sicker.

To my knowledge, Gottesdienst has never taken an official position on Beverage Order, nor have the Scriptures, the Confessions, the COP, the CTCR, nor the CCM... though it is quite possible, if not probable, that the issue has been taken up in conventions.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Out of the barn

Oh, and by the way, the Easter issue is out of the barn. Coming to a mailbox near you, hopefully just in time. Unless you're not a subscriber, which you can easily fix.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Calling all subscribers: APB

Dear subscribers and friends of Gottesdienst

This, as you may have heard, is our 25th anniversary year. Our Christmas issue will be our 100th.

In the course of looking the last 25 years over, we discovered that there is a missing issue. So, we're putting out a BOLO, an All Points Bulletin.

We need your help!

And here's an offer: the first person who can come up with this missing issue and provide us with the issue itself, or photocopies of its pages, or a pdf or Word or some other version of it receives a prize: 

we are prepared to offer a four year subscription, or addition to your subscription to this helpful Gottesdienster.

Here's the missing issue we need:

Advent - Epiphany 1994 - 1995 (Volume 3 Number 1)

Anyone finding this, please let us know!

Friday, February 24, 2017

A New Heart

a guest editorial by Pfarrer Dr Gottfried Martens
translated by Dr. John Stephenson

God says, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26 RSV): comments on the ecumenical text (Losung) chosen for the year 2017, which happens to be the Five Hundredth Jubilee of the Reformation.

When we engage in electronic communication with other people these days, we often employ so-called emojis, symbols that aim to give non-verbal form to feelings. By this point there are so many emojis that we can even find an Emojiwiki on the Internet where we can look up the meaning of all the many emojis. We there find explanations of what a yellow heart stands for in an electronic message; it stands for optimism, encouragement, and joy in life.

We see nearby a yellow heart on the image with which the artist Ulrike Wilke-Müller interprets the Text for the Year (Jahreslosung). And yet we would completely misunderstand this picture if we saw in it only an emoji offering a brief and instantly comprehensible message that could be put in words as “Hold your heads up high and think positively!” No, it would be worthwhile to subject this image to a much more precise inspection.

Whatever may be the case with emojis, a yellow heart is and remains unusual; we are much more familiar with a red heart as a sign of love. And yet Holy Scripture makes it abundantly plain that our human heart, that which stands for our inmost essence, that which pushes us on and defines us, has a radically different colour. From our first heartbeat on it is black, closed to God’s love, hard, and turned in on itself. And this black heart has no future, it cannot endure before the eyes of God when He examines and judges our hearts, our inmost essence, that which defines and stamps our lives.

And yet in the Losung for this New Year 2017 we hear a grandiose promise of God: He Himself removes this black heart and replaces it with a new heart; with us as the patients, He undertakes a lifesaving heart transplant. Let us pay close attention to what God promises here. He doesn’t say, “You must make an effort to purify your hearts”! He doesn’t say, “I’ll give you tips how to change your hearts”! He doesn’t say, “You have to take a decision for Me, and then I’ll give you a new heart”! On the contrary, God Himself sees quite clearly that we ourselves can do nothing to get a new heart and a new spirit; we can do zilch to cooperate in our own salvation.  He Himself really must do the whole thing for us, He must turn us into people who are open to Him and His Word, to Him and His love.

Yellow indeed, as a sign of God’s presence, as a sign of something completely new that God creates. A yellow new heart bestowed by God and suffused with His presence—what  a marvellous promise! And now it behoves us to look more closely at Frau Wilke-Müller’s artwork.

We see as it were rays that shine fom above into this heart and suffuse it: God places His new spirit in us and suffuses it with His own Spirit. Shades of blue surround the heart on the left side, a reminder of Holy Baptism in which God carried out this heart transplant upon us, in which God gave us a new heart and bestowed His Spirit upon us.

We see here how a Cross shines above the heart and reaches into it. The new heart is determined by the love that God Himself has proved to us by surrendering His own Son to the Cross.  Our heart only becomes luminously bright through the Cross, only through the forgiveness we receive by the Cross do our black guilt and failure retreat from the centre of our lives.

In the centre of the heart we see an opened door. The One who has bestowed the new heart does not remain outside, but lives within us and makes our hearts His dwelling. No, we must not “let God into our hearts”. God already invites Himself inside and comes in. Shades of red dominate the right side of the picture, a reminder of the blood of Christ that washes us clean from our sin, the blood that we receive in the holy sacrament of the altar, the blood in which Christ takes up residenc e in us and continually nurtures and strengthens our new heart.

If we look closely, we see that the heart is formed by the two Tables of the Law, by the Tables of the Ten Commandments. What a marvellous image—as Christians we don’t need to adhere to thousands of discrete legal prescriptions. On the contrary, God’s will itself is written in our heart, when we have received this new heart. The way we follow God’s will is for God’s Spirit to move us, the Spirit who makes us God’s children, people whose hearts cling wholly to their Father and His Word.

And when we take a final look at the image, in the very centre of the heart, where the two sides intersect, we notice a grain of wheat. Yes, we already have the new heart, we can already live as new people. And yet there is oftentimes so little outward evidence of this in our lives. The grain of wheat is already planted in us, but everything that is still to develop from this will only be fully perceived at the goal of our lives, in God’s new world. And that we arrive at that point, despite all our failure, this is something that God Himself takes care of, He who bestows the new heart upon us and places the new spirit within us. This is the whole point of the Lutheran Reformation past and present!

I wish you a blessed Reformation Jubilee Year 2017,

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Memento, homo...

... that you are dust, and you look fabulous!"

Here is a new rubric for Ash Wednesday.

It seems that they are missing the entire point of the ashes.  

Lex Pulchritudinis, Lex Credendi

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Restoring the Sacred

This is a remarkable true story of a church on the verge of ruin that managed to come back to life by restoring the focus of the church on the sacred, on the Mass, on the transcendent. We have much to learn by the experience of St. John Cantius,

Note: We are confessing Lutherans. We are well-aware of the theological differences between Rome and Augsburg. Snark and trolling comments will not be published.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review: My Little ABC Liturgy Book

By Larry Beane

The Rev. Gaven Mize, pastor of Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hickory, NC is the father of a newborn.

And he is already thinking about catechesis.

Father Mize and his wife Ashlee have actually been teaching their son Oliver already - as have parents of all the little ones in the parish - by means of the liturgy: the perfect vehicle to teach the very young. Especially for infants and children, learning is experiential and multi-sensory, embedding sights, sounds, and smells into the minds of the faithful from the start.  In the church, we have songs and gestures and brightly colored things to see.  Movement, music, and repetition grab and hold the attention of the little ones - even when we may not think they are really learning at all.  When they are brought to the communion rail, their eyes grow large as they see grownups kneel and reverently receive Jesus, and the pastor traces a cross upon their foreheads and blesses them as they look around and see majestic crosses and crucifixes and exotic Greek letters and captivating art depicting our Lord and flickering candles. They drink it all in, Sunday after Sunday, and grow into the liturgy as they hear the Scriptures and sermons and are taught to pray by their parents.  The church's liturgy is the children's teacher.

We confess that "ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ" (AC 24:3).

Along with illustrator Ryan Porter, Father Mize has authored an elegant and welcoming book for the littlest catechumens in our midst: My Little ABC Liturgy Book.

Using the alphabet as a foil (which itself reminds us that our Lord is the Word), Mize gives the children a tour of the Divine Service, beginning with "A is for Altar" - not only teaching liturgical vocabulary to the children, but showing them what these words mean in their context within the church's culture and worship.

The illustrations are bright and colorful without being garish or cartoonish.  Here we see vestments proclaiming Christ instead of veggies telling a tale.  The children are shown ecclesiastical architecture and furnishings, books and candles and fonts and censors and symbols of our Lord that their young eyes will be trained to joyfully recognize in person on Sunday morning.  The pages show a pastor and his assistants carrying out their work to bring Jesus to the people, as well as families reverently worshiping together in the pews.

There are a few explanatory notes for the parents who themselves may not know why chasubles are worn or what the significance of frankincense is.  There are also a few "Easter eggs" in the illustrations - such as the halo of Jesus that has the word "Logos" written in Greek.  The words chosen and depicted are from the very best of our liturgical tradition and the book makes no apologies for doing so.

Pastor Mize and Mr. Porter have given the Lord's dear children a gift - which is in turn a vehicle to the gift of the liturgy, in which we receive Word and Sacrament, communion with the Most Holy Trinity, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

My Little ABC Liturgy Book is set to be released some time before Easter and is being published and sold by Grail Quest Books.  It will also be available on Amazon.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Catholics and/or Protestants

By Larry Beane

There is a discussion on a Lutheran Facebook group about whether we Lutherans are Protestant or Catholic.

Maybe we should let our confessions have the final say:

"This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known by its writers."


"...our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons."

The Book of Concord is filled with this kind of language.

Not counting the creeds, the word "Catholic" occurs 13 times in our Book of Concord, including the description of our confession explicitly as "the belief of the true and genuine catholic Church."

The word "Protestant" is not found even once in our confessional writings, although it was in common usage for decades by the time the Smalcald Articles and the Formula of Concord were written.

To call ourselves "Protestant" lumps us in with the Reformed, the Anabaptists, and their heirs of today - which are all quite different from each other. When we confess as Protestant, we unite with those who ordain women, refuse to baptize babies, speak in "tongues," and deny the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This does not describe our confession.

The word Protestant is a useless catch-all word that cannot be defined positively for anyone.
However, when we confess as Catholic, we confess exactly as our confessional documents do, as orthodox Christians in continuity with Scripture, with the apostles, and with the fathers; not innovators, not heretics.

We should return to the font of our Book of Concord and not yield to others who wish to define us as something we aren't.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2017 Sabre Goes to Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens and Trinity Lutheran Church of Berlin

The Sabre of Boldness for 2017 went to the Reverend Dr. Gottfried Martens and his congregation Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin, Germany, for their steadfastness in the face of possible deportations, beatings, and threats of death for conversion to Christianity as over a thousand members of the congregation have come from Persia and other Muslim lands to the joy of knowing and being baptized into Christ.

Pastor Martens was a nominee for the second straight year. He had been pastor of St. Mary’s Lutheran Church in Berlin for many years, a church which has seen hundreds of refugees come in, Muslims seeking the truth and finding it under his preaching and catechesis, being baptized and brought into his congregation. His success among the immigrants has put his name in the German news, and so has put him personally at risk, due to the violence that so easily attaches itself to the Muslim extremists who do not take kindly to losing nearly a thousand converts to Christianity.

Dr. Martens has recently become pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin-Steglitz, which is almost entirely comprised of immigrants who have converted to the Lutheran faith. But the German governmenthas recently begun to deny en masse the refugee claims of many of these converts, following what Dr. Martens is calling deeply flawed refugee hearings. The problem, Dr. Martens says, is that “Many [of those hearing the cases] are manifestly clueless about the situation of Christians in Iran and Afghanistan, and worse yet they are utterly clueless concerning questions relating to the Christian faith. But all of this does not prevent them from assuming the role of self-appointed experts, whose questions ‘unmask’ the supposedly deceitful Iranian asylum applicants one after another, even when those hearing the cases don’t even know the difference between the [Apostle’s] Creed, and the Our Father [Lord’s Prayer].” The challenges come after a year of other difficulties, as converts to Christianity have faced increasing persecution from Muslim refugees angry at their conversions from Islam. Congregational members and candidates for baptism are being attacked, sometimes beaten and threatened them with death, both in Germany and from their homeland to which deportation is threatened The refugees are instructed in the Christian faith prior to baptism—or excluded, if a genuine conversion is not evident. Currently baptisms sit at between 30 and 40 a month.

What the editors have chosen decided for this year is to offer the Sabre of Boldness for 2017 to Rev. Dr. Martens and his congregation, Trinity in Berlin-Steglitz.

Rev. Wilhelm Torgeson, a close acquaintance of Dr. Martens and an adjunct professor at the Lutheran seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, was on hand to receive the award on their behalf.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sabre of Boldness Nominees Sought

The Sabre ceremony, with which regular Gottesdienst subscribers are familiar, is in its twenty-second year.  Nominations are hereby invited and encouraged THIS WEEK (ASAP) in anticipation of the Symposia in Fort Wayne January 16th-19th.  

Please submit your nominations via email: full name of nominee, reason for nomination, with as many details as you can, nominee's address, phone number if you have it, and your own name.

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.” 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 17th

What is the Sabre of Boldness?  – an excerpt from Fr. Eckardt’s Sabre speech in 2003:

The Sabre of Boldness is a venture which has been undertaken annually since 1996 by the editors of Gottesdienst as a gesture, however inadequate, toward the acknowledgment of unsung heroism which sometimes defines the deeds springing from Christian faith.  Maybe you aren’t supposed to know this, but the original idea was not quite so earnest.  If you haven’t already guessed it, the Sabre of Boldness was conceived in a bit of jest.  There was a fully intended and not-too-subtle double-entendre in the awarding of the S. O. B.: the recipient was on the one hand bold in the faith indeed, so much so that for his boldness, on the other hand, he had certainly gained recognition, of the kind not generally sought after, a page in someone’s Who’s Who among the Infamous.  But the Geist of the award very quickly changed, when it became evident that there were not a few readers who had a genuine and very serious desire to stand in solidarity with unsung heroes of the faith; heroes such as we seek to note, ordinary people whose boldness of confession, we imagine, must be recognizable as extraordinary at least to the angels, however unnoticed or even disdained by the masses who prefer to recognize status or reputation in accord with the norms of the world.
Those norms, we hasten to add, are often and routinely used to judge honor not only in the world, but also by people who like to go to church, and even in the judging of churchly matters.  Wherever they see compromise, call it virtue; whenever they find people willing to back down a bit from their principles, they call them wise.  Conversely when they see fidelity and dedication to one’s ideals they call it stubbornness, and when they find someone delaying the whole train just for the sake of conscience they call him a fool.  And since their kind of wisdom resonates well with the wisdom of the world, they sometimes even get lucky enough to find themselves in the world’s craved limelight, where the world in turn calls them wise, honorable, and even holy men.

So it is really no wonder, in retrospect, that this award began to take on such an aura of dignity among our readers, who have always been hungry for things which resonate well with the mind of our holy Christ. After all, He certainly did not fare well according to the wisdom of this world. The world certainly did not account Him virtuous or wise, at least not until after it saw that it would be advantageous to do so. Before that they easily scoffed, and reckoned that His stubborn fidelity to His Father’s ideals brought Him nothing but grief, crucifixion and death. Whoever has the mind of Christ must also acknowledge that what is lovely to the world is an abomination to God, and the world’s rejection or acceptance ought never be the allowed to determine the difference between a fool and a hero of the faith. As it is written, He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.
Thus the Sabre of Boldness has become our own meager way of saluting not merely its bearer, but anyone who, in however otherwise unnoticed a way, did the very kind of bold deeds that we saw in other heroes of the faith: Moses before Pharaoh, Joshua against the kings of Canaan, or Jael in the tent against Sisera.  The Sabre is fittingly a sword, reminiscent of Gideon’s against the Midianites, Ehud’s against Eglon, or even Goliath’s, against himself in the hands of our David. It signifies most of all the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God against our greatest foe, running him through by the stubborn, unbending, and fierce resolve of our Lord Jesus Christ to endure crucifixion and so to redeem us all. That Sword, in the hands of the Christian warrior, is what produces the kind of spirit which the world and its minions find so annoying, since it is ever so intractable and unyielding. Therefore we salute herewith every Christian who has such a spirit: first of all, those saints in glory for whom martyrdom was preferable to compromise, and after them also any who gave up some claim for worldly adulation, because they deigned instead to do the right thing for conscience’ sake, and closed their ears to the clamor of the world’s folly.
The Sabre certainly does not get any legitimacy from us clumsy louts at Gottesdienst who now find ourselves annually in this awkward position of being a kind of judges’ panel for something which, though we don’t quite feel qualified to judge, we really do consider a very highly honorable and salutary thing to recognize. The highest honor is the honor of suffering for the name of Jesus. He who suffers for Christ is honored already. The Sabre only seeks to emphasize this truth.