Monday, August 31, 2009

Resource for Teaching the Church Year

I had the joy of authoring the text for CPH's new illustrated introduction to the Church's year, Ordering Our Days in His Peace. It's a sequel to Scot Kinnaman's Worshiping with Angels and Archangels, which focused on the Divine Service. A third volume by Pam Nielsen, Behold the Lamb, deals with the symbolism of the Church and is due out shortly.

Each of the 48-page, heavily illustrated books in the series is aimed at providing a text accessible to older elementary students, but with enough depth to be of interest to catechumens (or folks who need catechizing) of any age. In this volume, both the Sunday and Sanctoral cycles of the Church year are introduced - along with specifics about seasonal customs, saint's days, the readings, etc.

The editor, Scot Kinnaman, has had his hand in more than one excellent resource from CPH (for example, Treasury of Daily Prayer) and it was a pleasure to work with someone of his sensibilities. You can see his faithfulness to the Church's worship in the direction he gave the artist (Arthur Kirchhoff): fully vested celebrants, traditional depictions of our Lord and his saints, etc. You'll even find altars up against the wall and nary a glass cup in sight. The book also supports good practice by focusing on things like the Easter Vigil, the rubrics for setting aside the Greater Gloria, explanations of Lenten customs etc. It's also quite catholic and would be of benefit to anyone from a church that utilizes the Church year - the only two things in the book that are Lutheran-parochial are Luther's seal in one piece of artwork and the listing of Luther in the commemorations of the Sanctoral cycle. And shucks, even Benedict XVI has kind of admitted the old boy is singing with the choir invisible.

In a work of this nature, something always gets left out and there are always compromises. For example, since the book is meant to be helpful to the whole Church, cognizance had to be taken of both the traditional Church year and the 3-year cycle. Mostly this meant leaving out details that would have been fun to include - like the progression of the traditional Lenten readings, or a paragraph about bringing your mom a cupcake on Laetare. And sometimes it meant bowing to the majority usage: the Sundays after Pentecost, blue as the color of Advent (though we got in a shout out to violet), etc.

In short, this is a book you will be happy to place into the hands of a young Lutheran - or an old Lutheran who wants to know a little bit more about why we worship the way we do. The reader will find a traditional, informative, catholic, and evangelical look at the Church's year.

(Alas, I get no royalties. But you can buy it here for $9, or $7 each on orders of 15 copies or more.)


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gottesdienst Online, Live and in Person

Remember, all ye who enter here: you can hear these guys live and in person, and even get to know them, at the Fourteenth Annual Oktoberfest in Kewanee, Illinois, October 11-13.

Fr. Curtis, Fr. Beane, and Fr. Stuckwisch will be the guests at St. Paul's, where Fr. Eckardt is the pastor. You may register online right now, by sending an email to Fr. Eckardt. Put "Oktoberfest" in the subject line, and give us your name, title, address, and intentions: are you coming Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, or portions thereof? We'll sign you up; you may pay the registration fee when you arrive.

It's just $25 per person or $40 per couple. Students $20. That gets you a banquet meal (Sheboygan brats!), continental breakfast Monday and Tuesday, Monday lunch, in addition to all the great events. Never been to Oktoberfest? It's the best party in town . . .

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cutting Edge Missions

The mission of the Church necessarily runs together with the pastoral office (Rom. 10:14-15, John 20:21-23, Matt. 28:18-20). Where that office is vacant, there is something fundamental lacking which needs to be filled up (Acts 1:15-22, Titus 1:5).

The mission of the Church runs together with the Office of the Holy Ministry (AC V, VII-VIII) in the administration of Holy Baptism and the ongoing catechesis of the Word of Christ (Matt. 28:19-20), and in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4, Luke 24:46-47, Acts 2:38-39). This pastoral ministry calls sinners to repentance, that is, away from sin and death to faith and life in Christ Jesus, to the ongoing faithful reception of His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion (Matt. 9:10-11, Luke 15:1-2, Matt. 26:26-29, 1 Cor. 11:23-26).

These good works of the Holy Ministry are the liturgical foundation of the Church, apart from which the mission of the Church has no point or purpose; apart from which there really is no mission of the Church. The pastoral ministry of preaching, catechizing, baptizing, absolving and communing is not some "phase two" of the Church's mission, nor some final goal at the end of the rainbow. It is the Church's mission, as it is the Church's lungs and heart, by which the Holy Spirit and the Blood of Christ give life to His Body.

There is a right and wrong way to go about all of this. Something either is in harmony with the real mission of the Church, or it is not. I assume that everyone would agree with that much in principle. For "how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10; Matthew 28; AC XIV). There is no Holy Baptism without water and the Word of Christ. There is no Lord's Supper without the Lord's Words (Verba Domini). And there is no proper preaching of the Holy Scriptures without the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel (FC V).

Therefore, certain rites and ceremonies are necessary to the mission of the Church, namely, those that have been instituted by Christ Himself. Other rites and ceremonies are forbidden, because they are contrary to the Word of God. In between those parameters, among those rites and ceremonies which are relatively free because they are neither commanded nor forbidden by God, there are some that are more helpful and edifying than others (1 Cor. 10:23), because they serve and support the clarity of our catechesis and confession of the Word of God, and because they are conducive to the practice of faith and love in reverence and courtesy (1 Cor. 10:24, 31-33). We are well served in identifying such appropriate and helpful practices by considering the traditions of the Church catholic (1 Cor. 11:1-2, 16).

Those considerations ought to be actively engaged at the cutting edge of the Church's mission. The most helpful and appropriate practices, those most in harmony with the catechesis and confession of the Gospel, and those most conducive to reverence and courtesy among the people of God, ought to be established from the ground up, wherever on earth the Church may proceed.

Several months ago, Pastor Petersen offered some practical advice for new pastors, on how they might go about introducing certain ceremonies in their congregations. It was a vigorous discussion and debate that ensued upon that post. The chief concerns and criticisms were that a pastor must move very slowly and teach very carefully before introducing anything new, and that nothing should be changed too quickly (if at all), lest the people be scandalized. I maintain now, as I did in that discussion, that blanket rules are not particularly helpful, and that practical advice, such as Pastor Petersen provided, is instructive and therefore useful. However, it is true (as Pastor Petersen also indicated) that pastoral care must be exercised in such cases, and that careful discernment and conscientious discretion are by all means necessary.

The case of missions on the cutting edge presents a different scenario altogether. Where the Church is being established in a new location, there is the opportunity to do all things well, for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of faith and love. In such a case and such a place, there is no need for scruples regarding the historic practices of the Church catholic, but a good foundation can be laid from the very outset. A liturgical life can readily be arranged and fostered, that is, a congregational piety and practice that comprises evangelical preaching, ongoing catechesis, a steady emphasis on Holy Baptism, a lively practice of Holy Absolution, and a central celebration of the Holy Communion. And all of this may likewise be adorned with the beauty, decorum and reverence of churchly rites, traditional ceremonies, appropriate vestments and elegant images.

That is how it should be. Morning and evening prayer every day. The Lord's Supper every Lord's Day, and as often as there are disciples of His to receive it. Faithful observance of Sundays and seasons, of festivals and commemorations throughout the year. Regular opportunities for Individual Confession and Absolution. Preaching and catechesis, pastoral care, prayer and visitation as the pastor's primary occupations. The Church's orders and forms of the Liturgy, and genuine hymnody that honors God by confessing His Word and catechizing His people in it. Vestments that cover the man while adorning the office. Ceremonies that confess with the body what the heart believes and the lips profess.

Genuflecting, because we bend the knee at the Name of Jesus, and we worship Him who is both God and man, who comes to serve us with His very body and blood. Elevation of the Holy Sacrament, because the disciples of Christ Jesus are thus invited and encouraged to receive His gifts in peace, in the confidence of faith in His forgiveness of all their sins. Chanting, because the Word of Christ is extraordinary, full of His Spirit, divine and life-giving. Chasubles, because the celebration of the Holy Communion with praise and thanksgiving is truly meet, right and salutary.

That is how it should be. Where that sort of piety and practice were put into place and fostered from the beginning, from the foundation and formation of the Church in each new place, there would be no scandalizing of the faithful. Rather, such a liturgical life in the Ministry of the Gospel would catechize the people well and strengthen their faith in the righteousness of Christ. Surely, that is the mission of the Church.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Log in Our Own Eye

Everything's fine here! Thanks for asking!

This is the catholic faith: that we worship one God in three person and three person in one God. Everything comes back to our worship, our liturgy, our life together in Word and Sacrament, the one sent by the Lord bringing his gifts to the Lord's people and their praise sent back up to the throne of grace. That's the catholic faith.

So how could you stay in a fellowship that utterly denies the Biblical teaching of the Office of the Ministry? That throws our Confessions to the wind? And not just as a matter of mere morality – that is, not just a fellowship that is lax about weeding out adulterers, drunks, and knaves – but a fellowship that actually denies an integral and substantial aspect of this precious and holy gift of our Lord?

And so, we in the LCMS are self-condemned. No, we don't ordain women. Why bother when you can just have a layman act like a pastor? Why bother making pastors out of unrepentant homosexuals when you can get along without pastors at all? We don't ordain those we can't (non potest ordinare mulierem ad officium presbyterorum) or shouldn't (non debet ordinare molles ad officium presbyterorum) ordain, we refuse to ordain at all and pretend that we can do so by twisting the Scriptures. Which is, of course, the way the ordaining of women and unrepentant homosexuals came to pass.

So what is a pastor or a congregation whose fellowship has become errorist to do? Can he and they stay in good conscience? Now that's a question for the ages and I don't know how to answer it exactly. But I must, if not answer it, at least find a way to live with myself while trying to answer. So what I have is not an answer, but an observation and my own attempt at living piously within my calling.

The observation is this. We are in the same situation as that first generation of Reformers. The hierarchy (which now includes a strange thing called “Convention Delegates”) is errorist. And numerous individuals among the people of God have been led astray. We are living in Dark Ages. In that situation, Luther taught, and preached, and called for debate and discussion. A remnant was drawn to his teaching. He and they were later cast out unjustly by the same hierarchy and carried on as Church – by schism rent asunder, by heresies oppressed.

And so, here's how I try to live. I teach that this fellowship is in open rebellion against its own Biblical confession. I refuse to receive any sacramental act or attend any Divine Service presided over by a “licensed layman” and teach the people I'm called to serve to do the same. I discuss the topic with my brethren in the Office – and not just those who agree with me. I urge the Synod, through channels formal and informal, to stop the practice.

Full disclosure: All of that is immensely easier for me because I serve in a district that has exactly zero “lay ministers” with a district president who is publicly opposed to the Wichita Recension of the Augsburg Confession. So none of that really costs me anything. If you try to live out those statements in other districts, you will no doubt face hardship. But is there anything else one can do?

I grew up in one such district – and when invited back for my home congregation's 100th anniversary I spoke to the people, gently* but firmly, about how what the Synod is doing is wrong. That was easier for me as someone who was flying out on Monday – and even that was hard. But the people of God will surprise you, too. They have an aversion to bureaucrats. They want to see it in the Bible. The brave circuit counselor bent over backwards to make sure my home congregation got a pastor to serve them during a recent vacancy – telling the district office No Thanks to their offer (read: pressure) to just “license” a layman. He got not a little flak, and it was a burden on him personally to keep those people fed as the Lord would feed them. And God bless him for it – no one who does such a thing shall lose his reward.

And here's another aspect of the problem that I don't have to deal with out here, but which I suspect is the most important part of it. If you live next door to one of these “licensed layman:” how can you call him to repentance in gentleness and love and integrity? After all, many of these men have been lulled into their sin by Infallible Authority: the Synod said it was OK, therefore it is OK (Papism: It's not just for the Pope anymore.) These men need to hear the Scriptures and Confessions. They need true shepherds who will urge them to repent.

On the other hand. . .

It's twenty years ago now that the LCMS tossed out AC XIV. I often wonder where we would be had a goodly number of pastors ignored the advice I just gave in 1989 and said, “That's it. We're outta here.” Would we be better off today? I don't know. But 20 years later, it's a little hard to change tactics.

But is this too much to hope? What if a number of brave souls now came over from the ELCA, tossing out their own log and saying, “We were wrong about women pastors. We saw something we didn't like in God's Word and thought we could get along without it. Now we see that that's not possible. Now, brothers, we repent, and we urge you to do the same: for you, too, can't toss out something in the Scriptures and Confessions that you find inconvenient.”

Wouldn't that be something?


* How? Well, what I do is try to imagine Ron Feuerhahn in the same situation and just do and say what he would.

The Stallion Has Bolted

The fine and majestic hairs of its mane rippling in the breeze, this proud steed takes to the wind, wildly churning down along the path, kicking up the clods of earth into a wake of dust. The hearts of onlookers thrill at the sight of such a marvelous beast as she neighs in rapturous delight at having been, once again, set free:

is out of the barn.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Sturdy Liturgical House

Church architecture is an important aspect of liturgical practice, because it impacts the conduct of the Church's ceremonies in a direct and immediate way. Certainly there has been a variety of architectural designs in the Church's life on earth, and broad differences, for example, between the East and West. But there is also a rather remarkable consistency in the patterns and floor plans of church buildings; which isn't so terribly amazing, after all, since the architecture aims at serving and supporting a stable set of fundamental ceremonies that constitute the Church's life. There is a path that leads to and from the baptristy or baptismal font, and thence to and from the Lord's Altar.

Little wonder that the disciples of Jesus were first called "followers of the Way," since there is a bodily movement to this Christian faith and life, traversing space and time. If one pictures the reading of the Holy Scriptures at the horns of the Altar, and supposes the baptismal font to be located at the entrance of the nave, there is a cruciform shape to this great ship of the Church: from the font to the Altar through the intersecting crossbeam of the Word.

Both the shape and the stability of good Church architecture assists the people of God in their approach to Him through Christ in the Holy Spirit. If the floorplan were constantly shifting and the furnishings were regularly rearranged, the people would be utterly confused and distracted from the things of Christ. The unease and discomfort of their bodies in the midst of such chaos would contribute to a corresponding lack of security in their hearts, minds and spirits. No peace or rest, but either aggravation or else the adrenaline rush of personal bravado in those who thrill at the challenge of keeping up and delight in demonstrating how quick on their feet they can be.

Our family homes provide another case in point. The first time we enter a new house, everything in it and everything about it is new. That can be exciting to some extent, as we explore and discover its patterns and its personality, but there is also some frustration as we endeavor to get on with the business of living in this place that is to be our home. Until we figure out where the light switches are, and where the dishes and the food are to be kept, and where the bed sits in relation to the door, and how to find the bathroom in the darkness and sleepiness of the night, and how to adjust the temperature of the shower, there is some fumbling about to be expected and tolerated, some missteps and occasional bumping into things. For little children, and maybe for all of us, there may also be moments of fascination with some feature of the house that we've never noticed anywhere else. In time, all of this will be quite normal and so natural as to fade into the background of our attention. That is also to expected, and it is good and helpful.

When our house has truly become our home, we go about living there with our families and are able to focus on the rhythms of each day, each week, each season and each year without missing a beat. The stability of the house itself, its floors and walls and ceiling, and the relative stability of the rooms, the way they are furnished and arranged, provides the security we need to savor our meals, to enjoy the company of our family and friends, and to lay down in peace and rest each night.

Church architecture assists the household and family of God in much the same way. So, too, in continuity with the buildings in which we are gathered to live by the grace of God in the Name of Christ Jesus, there is also a sturdy liturgical house in which we likewise find security and peaceful rest. By this I do not refer to the space and its accouterments, but to the order and form, the rites and ceremonies of the Liturgy. These are built upon the necessary foundation of the means of grace, and structured by the orthodox administration of those gifts: namely, the catechesis that leads to and from Holy Baptism; the preaching of repentance that returns us Christians daily to the significance of our Baptism and raises us with Christ in His forgiveness of our sins; and the administration of the Holy Communion, which is the definitive ceremony and the beating heart of the Church's life on earth. These are the floor, the walls, the ceiling and the rooms of the sturdy liturgical house in which the family of God lives and moves and has its being.

When a person is new to that house, whether as a guest or as a brand new member of the family, there may be some frustration with things that seem unusual at first, and perhaps an out-of-proportion fascination with some details that are not quite at the heart and center of things, but which are part of the family's heritage and decorum. The person acclamating to this household and family needs to learn, to some extent by trial and error, how to navigate the doorways and hallways from one room to the next, and where to sit in the living room and at the dining table, and how to wash up before the supper is served. The arrangement of things, the artwork and adornments of the home, and the routines of the family in moving about together in this place will become familiar in due time, gradually and naturally. That is how it is with families.

As that happens, the stability of the Church's liturgical "house" enables the household to savor the family meal, to enjoy the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ, and to rest securely in the peace of the Gospel. One is not troubled or distracted by things that once were new and unusual, but finds in them the comforts of a house that is truly a home. Things do not change at random or arbitrarily in such a place. If there are seasonal decorations or occasional rearrangements of the furniture, those transitions occur within the safety of a sound foundation, solid walls and a suitable ceiling, none of which are moving about or going anywhere.

The family of the Church on earth has more than one liturgical "house," that is true. But those homes that are truly "liturgical," that is, those that are built upon the foundation of catholic catechesis, Holy Baptism, evangelical preaching and the Holy Communion, will have more in common with each other than any differences between them. A cousin visiting from one such house will know how to find his way around and make himself at home in the liturgical house of another. There is no harm in this; for differences in fasting do not divide the Body of Christ.

How different, though, when the house is not liturgical at all, but built upon the shifting sands of cultural trends, marketing ploys, various and sundry demographics, special interest groups, and the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the current minister-of-what's-happening-now. The doors are always moving about, and the rooms are constantly being rearranged, and the furnishings are never quite the same, and the light switches keep getting switched, and the artwork goes from bad to worse to who-knows-what. One has no idea how to enter the house in the first place, or where the family gathers, or if there is going to be any meal or not, or how and when it might be served, or whether there is any soap and water in what used to be the bathroom. By the time one may or may not be seated at the table, or sent to the counter for alá carte, there is no sense of calm security in which to enjoy and digest the food. There is no peace in which to rest, but only uncertainty and disquiet.

So, for my part, this poor child of God is glad to live in the liturgical house that his wise fathers and mothers have built and furnished and arranged on the foundation of the One who is wiser than Solomon. Indeed, dear Solomon, He has outdone thee in His Hagia Sophia. And as a father myself, I would not have my children live in frantic chaos and confusion, either, but in the security, peace and rest of a sturgy liturgical house. Therefore, the home which I have inherited from my fathers, I also bequeath to my progeny, unto my children's children, with every hope and prayer that my Sarena and all her kin will live in this same old house.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gottedienst is in the barn

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Duration of the Presence: Luther's Wolferinus Letter

In the comments to the previous post we reached a point where recourse to Luther's letter in the Wolferinus episode was necessary. Rather than post it down there in the comments, I thought it better to bring it up to its own post - which I had intended to do anyway, just a little sooner than I anticipated now.

To Wolferinus, the pastor who's theory of the Presence appears to have been "cessationist," Luther wrote on July 20, 1543 [my text is from B. Teigen's article, "The Case of the Lost Luther Reference" in CTQ 43.4]:

Indeed, Dr. Philip wrote rightly that there is no sacrament outside of the sacramental action: but you are defining the sacramental action much too hastily and abruptly. If you do it in this way, you will appear to have absolutely no sacrament. For if such a quick breaking off of the action really exists, it will follow that after the speaking of the Words [of Institution], which is the most powerful and principle action in the sacrament, no one would receive the body and blood of Christ, because the action would have ceased. Certainly Dr. Philip does not want that. But such a definition of the action would bring about infinite scruples of conscience and endless questions, such as are disputed among the papists, as, for example, whether the body and blood of Christ, are present at the first, middle, or last syllable. Therefore, one must look not only upon this movement of instant or present action but also on the time. Not in terms of mathematical but of physical breadth, that is, one must give this action a certain period of time, in a period of appropriate breadth of tim, as they say, "in breadth."

Therefore, we shall define the time or [sic in CTQ. Typo for "of"?] the sacramental action in this way: that it starts with the oratio Dominica [CTQ: Our Father. Corrected to the Latin in a personal note from Dr. BTG Mayes]and lasts until all have communicated, have emptied the chalice, have consumed the Hosts, until the people have been dismissed and [the priest] has left the altar. In this way we shall be safe and free from the scruples and scandals of such endless questions. Dr. Philip defines the sacramental action in relation to what is outside it, that is, against reservation of and processions with the sacrament. He does not split it up within [the action] itself, nor does he define it in a way that it contradicts itself. Therefore, see to it that if anything is left over of the sacrament, either some communicants or the priest himself and his assistant receive it, so that it is not only a curate or someone else who drinks what is left over in the chalice, but that he gives it to the others who were also participants in the body [of Christ], so that you do not appear to divide the sacrament by a bad example or to treat the sacramental action irreverently. This is my opinion and I know that it is also Philip's opinion too."

It seems to me that Luther rather forcefully advocates no reservation at all - even for the purposes of distribution. That's the "deal" I mentioned earlier. I characterized it as a "deal" between Melanchthon and Luther because as Timothy Wengert makes clear in this salient article from Lutheran Quarterly, Melanchthon's take on the issue was much more stridently cessationist, or perhaps even receptionist. I highly recommend reading this article - I found it to be necessary to really understanding the points being made.

After reading what Melanchthon had written via Wengert's article, this second letter of Luther quoted above suddenly takes on new meaning. It seems clear to me that Luther is:

* jealously guarding against receptionism - especially with his comments on the Words being the chief action (not eating, as per Missourian Receptionism).

* seeking to remain in unity with Melanchthon by charitably recasting Melanchthon's words (if not outright putting words in his mouth!).

* advocating a practice (complete consummation at the altar) that will make the lasting area of disagreement with Melanchthon moot.

And yes, I think the status of consecrated elements reserved for distribution to the sick remains an area of disagreement between them. Luther's comments in the letter above strongly hint that he would not consider the sacramental action (and therefore the Real Presence) ended until all was distributed - thus leaving open the durationist understanding of elements reserved for distribution to the sick. Melanchthon's comments were at pains to explain how what was once consecrated might not be the Body and Blood of Christ after the "action" was at an end:

"It is sheer raving to imagine that when the celebrant speaks the words the Body
of Christ migrates into the bread in such a way that it is forced to remain there,
as wine poured into a flagon always remains there unless it is again poured out." (Melanchthon, quoted in Wengert).

Here's the historical question to which I do not have the answer: in post-1543 Lutheran lands, was the sacrament reserved for distribution? If so, how were such consecrated elements treated between the end of Mass and the distribution to the sick or shut-in? What, if any, justification did those who reserved for distribution give for jettisoning Luther's strongly worded advice for the pastors in Eisleben?

For my part, I think Luther is right: the sacramental action is, well, the whole sacrament. Indeed, I find this letter a typically refreshing bit of Luther's refusal to play theology. You don't have to read much between the lines to see that he is expressing his usual contempt for theological concepts forced on the text and the church. "Sacramental action"? Where's that in the Bible?

But for the sake of peace, he doesn't quite say that - instead, he uses the term but utterly guts it of Melanchthon's content. The action, and therefore the Presence, is from the Words of the Lord until all has been consumed. Makes sense to me. And if some were to be reserved for the sick? Luther leaves it unanswered - mostly. For his comments about the action lasting until all has been consummed seem to me to be a gentle rebuke to what Melanchthon had written.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Duration of the Presence

OK, so we have our taxonomy below with two additions and one clarification.

In the Receptionism vs. Consecrationism debate we have an Agnostic option: We just don't know whether or not our Lord's Body and Blood are present after the consecration while the host remains on the paten before a communicant receives the host.

Likewise, an Agnostic option for the debate within the ranks of Consecrationists (Durationist vs. Cessationist) as to the continuance of the Real Presence after everyone has communed and there remain consecrated elements in paten and chalice: We just don't know whether or not that is our Lord's Body and Blood or not.

And the clarification for Fr. Petersen: An open question is something the Scriptures do not speak to at all, or in such a passing manner that they give no clear answer; for an "unclear answer" is no answer at all.

I was sorry to see that we had no Receptionist commentators. This is a widely held belief in the Missouri Synod, and is certainly the explict and official teaching of WELS. If any advocates of Receptionism want to take up their cause in the comments, that would be an important and worthy debate and you will, at least by the editors, be treated with respect and seriousness.

Likewise, we didn't have anyone take up the Cessationist stance - though a couple advocated Agnosticism: that the Bible does not clearly answer this question and therefore it is an open question.

So the live issue for Gottesdienst readers (apparently all Consecrationists) would seem to be this. Many Lutheran parishes reserve consecrated elements for distribution to the sick, or to be used at the next week's Communion service. While these are thus being reserved, are they in fact the Body and Blood of Christ?

I think the answer is an unequivocal Yes. The Scriptures are clear. Jesus says, "Take drink, FOR this is my blood" (Matt. 26:28). It is thus Jesus' blood when those Words of the Lord are brought to those elements. And the Word of the Lord endures forever. We have no Word from Jesus that would overturn those Words of Institution. Certainly time does not diminish his Word. Certainly human action (leaving the building, singing the Nunc Dimittis) do not change his Word either.

So my question to the Cessationists is: where is your clear Word of God overturning the Words of Institution?

My question to Agnostics on this question is more complicated, because I can't ask them to prove a negative. They contend that the Scriptures don't answer this question or don't answer it clearly. Well, tell me more about that. What's wrong with the Bible passages I quoted above? How did I misquote them? How on earth could the Scriptures be understood otherwise than I have understood them?

But there is something more: you just can't be Agnostic on this one. You can be agnostic on the Pertpetual Virginity of our Lady because that doctrine has no translation into the life of the Church. That is, a Lutheran who believes Mary and Joseph had children will not live his Christian life any differently that one who believes that she remained a Virgin until her dormition. Furthermore, it's pious to think one or the other. It's no slander on her to say she was a normal, married woman. And it's no slander to say she had a higher calling and gift, celibacy.

But you can't be Agnostic on whether or not the host in Fr. Eckardt's tabernacle is the Body of Christ. That is, since congregations are, in fact, reserving the consecrated elements that forces a decision. This is not an abstract question in a book. If the Body and Blood of Christ are there, and are not treated with their due honor but instead called mere bread and wine: that's the blasphemy of unbelief. If it's just bread and wine in that Tabernacle and folks are genuflecting, imagining that it is the Body and Blood of Christ, then those people are committing idolatry.

The binary choice emerges, as the philosophers say. This is a real pastoral issue. It can't just be "pious opinion" - it's not pious to think that a piece of bread is the Body of Christ if it isn't, it's idolatry. And it's certainly not pious to treat the Body of Christ like a mere piece of bread.

Here's the rub. Luther and Melanchthon struck a deal over this between themselves and with the other participants in the Wolferinus episode. The deal was this: since we're not all agreed, and since this Unavoidable Either/Or question arises if there are Reliquae - let us have no Reliquae. Once there was no Reliquae it all became Hypothetical - and folks could afford the charity of being Agnostic. "What if there were Reliquae? Would they be the Body of Christ? Maybe so - or maybe not. Doesn't matter though - think what you want, it's all hypothetical." To men of peace with bigger fish to fry, like Luther and Melanchthon (and their peace loving heirs like Sasse) this was a perfect solution - it was a churchmanly deal struck for the right reasons.

But their deal has fallen apart, for good or ill, and we can't turn back the clock. We have Reliquae now, all over the Synod. Treating these Reliquae like the Body and Blood of Christ because they might be is no solution: for you also might be committing idolatry. Agnosticism is not an option now that this is a real, rather than hypothetical problem.

So - Octoberfest is coming. You'll walk into St. Paul's and the sanctuary lamp will be lit: will you kneel to the Body and Blood of Christ or just bow to an altar where they once rested? I can't see a third, agnostic option. . . well, you could yell at Fritz for being so divisive and disrupting the Luther-Melanchthon pact, I guess.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Taxonomy: What is/are the Lutheran position/s on the Real Presence?

What's that?

Gottesdienst is a journal of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy. We concern ourselves with the study of Christian worship in the Lutheran tradition. Therefore, we necessarily discuss theology and history - because what we say and do in worship should be determined by our theology, and most certainly is influenced by our history.

One topic that has come up over and over again in contemporary Lutheranism is the question of the exact Lutheran theology of the Real Presence of our Lord's Body and Blood in the Supper. It's come up again and again because there is disagreement within our fellowship over the matter - not only among contemporary theologians, but also historically. Furthermore, it's come up again and again in the pages and blog of Gottesidenst because one's thinking here will influence one's ceremony.

The purpose of this post is not to rehash all those endless, looping, and often acrimonious debates that have raged on the Lutheran blogosphere concerning this topic. Rather, I'd like to reboot the conversation in the hopes of exploring the topic more systematically and with greater understanding - and this early fall seems a great time to do that, because the topic will fit nicely into the presentations we're planning on having at Octoberfest in Kewanee.

So here's what I'd like to do in this post. No debate, per se - I just want to make sure I understand the various points of view and give them each an appropriate name. We need a taxonomy of the positions, a common language of debate, before we can have a clear debate. I'll take a shot at it here, attempting to explain each position as a proponent of that position would want it explained. I would be very grateful if proponents of each position would then affirm or correct my wording. Here-a-goes.

Receptionism: The teaching that only those elements which are actually received by the communicants are in fact the true Body and Blood of Christ. If a host is dropped, it is not the Body of Christ that has fallen to the ground, but only bread. This is so because part of the Sacrament is consumption: no consumption, no Sacrament, no Sacrament, no Real Presence. This is the historic teaching of American Confessional Lutheranism from the 19th century until the mid-20th century, and appears to have its foundation in the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy; that is, the generation or two after the Fathers of the Formula.

Receptionism: Genuflection toward paten does not compute.

Concecrationism: The teaching that once the Words of Institution have been used to bless the elements in accordance with the Institution of Christ, and by His almighty power alone, the bread is the Body of Christ and the wine is His Blood. This is so because the Lord's Word makes reality, when he says This is My Body, it is. Further, this is indicated in the fact that Jesus says in Matt. 28:28, "Take, drink for this is my Blood..." If a consecrated host is dropped, it is the Body of Christ that hits the floor. This was the teaching of Martin Chemnitz (as demonstrably proven in the 20th century by Teigen) and appears to have been Luther's understanding in the Wolferinus correspondence. It did not find purchase in modern Lutheranism until the mid-20th century Luther Revival.

Consecrationism: Kneel away.

Within Consecrationist ranks there is a division between Durationists and Cessationists.

Durationism: The teaching that once a host (or cup) is consecrated as stated above, it is and remains the true Body (or Blood) of Christ and is not mere bread (or wine) anymore. This is so because Christ's Almighty power makes his Presence, and what the Lord does, sticks. Furthermore, there is no Word of God that promises that the consecrated host stops being the Body of Christ. This would appear to be Luther's contention in the Wolferinus episode.

Durationism for the Reading Impaired:


Cessationism: The teaching that once the Supper is ended - that is, that once all who wish to commune have communed - any remaining elements (the reliquae) are mere bread and wine. This is so because outside of the use, there is no Sacrament. Once the Sacrament is over, the Sacramental presence is over. To say otherwise, would necessarily imply the Roman transubstantiation. This would appear to be Melanchthon's contention in the Wolferinus episode.

Cessationism for the Reading Impaired:


In a subsequent post I will seek to narrate the Wolferinus episode in some detail, but that belongs more properly to the debate on the merits of the case. Right now I want to make sure we're all using the same language and that the terms are defined in ways recognizable and agreeable to the proponents of each position.

And one further definition that needs to be made, as I've noticed it being used in different ways in these sorts of debates: open questions.

An open question,
most properly speaking, is a question that is not answered by the Holy Scriptures (this is Pieper's definition, and therefore the one most North American confessional Lutherans students learn). An example would be whether or not St. Peter had any children: the Scriptures just don't say either way. Another famous example, from Pieper, is whether or not Mary had any biological children other than Jesus.

My friend, and Gottesdienst editor, Fr.Petersen, has used the term "open question" to mean "issues we can agree to disagree on while continuing in fellowship with each other, even though each side in the disagreement believes that the Scriptures do indeed answer the question and that the other side is technically in error."

That concept needs a name, as it will surely enter into this debate once we get going - but since Pieper has defined "open question" as something else altogether, we should not use that term. Furthermore, the term "non-fundamental doctrine" from the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy does not cover the concept, as those theologians advocated the severing of fellowship over entrenched differences in confession over non-fundamental doctrines (often listed example of such are the doctrines of angels, church and ministry, and Antichrist).

So, unless someone knows of a well-used term to cover the concept Fr. Petersen is fond of mentioning, I propose:

Non-divisive doctrine: Some non-fundamental doctrine taught in the Scriptures, but which an otherwise orthodox teacher may deny, through weakness or ignorance, without suffering a severing of fellowship from other orthodox teachers. Thus a non-divisive doctrinal dispute arises when two theologians each believes that he is teaching a Scriptural truth and that his opponent is teaching against the Scriptures, but they both nevertheless agree to accept each other as brothers in the faith.

One would either deny the existence of such non-divisive doctrines and disputes or accept their existence. The historical position of the Missouri Synod in the area of fellowship would seem to deny them - her practice, of course, obviously accepts their existence as a fact in a few cases. The modern, mainline churches (ELCA and ECUSA especially) positively affirm their existence over a wide range of doctrinal topics going well beyond the list traditionally included in the "non-fundamental" category.

So, there's my attempt at a taxonomy and lexicon on the issues before us. Now I need your help in getting it straight. In the comments, please observe these guidelines.

* I would appreciate it if readers would comment on whether or not they recognize their own position in the definitions given, and if not, then to suggest changes in wording. Please do not suggest changes in wording for a position you do not hold. I'm interested in hearing only from the horse's mouth. If you hold a completely different opinion on the questions before us, then offer a name and definition for your position.

* Therefore, please first identify the position you hold, and then suggest changes or affirm the accuracy of the definitions given. (For my part, I am a Durationist Consecrationist. I also think the existence of non-divisive doctrines is like the existence of divorce certificates in the Old Testament: it was not this way from the beginning, and it is not godly, but our hearts are hard. . .)

* Please refrain from debate in the comments to this post. We'll have time for that later.

* If you have a correction to offer on a point of history (my characterization's of the teachings of Luther, Melanchthon, etc.) please offer an exact citation from a historical source to provide the correction. I've striven only to include "common knowledge" in those characterizations: if I'm in error, others likely are, too, and we'll need to see the chapter and verse proof to have our minds changed, not a mere assertion.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Frivolous, Disorderly, and Indecorous

The Church has her own culture and language – even call it a style if you wish. It is a culture and language informed by the Word of God and blessed and handed down to us by generations of the faithful. That culture and language will find slightly different expression across time and place – but it will always be recognizable as the Church's own. Ceremonies and orders will differ across time and place – but they will always comport with the Church's culture and language. If it were possible, you could pick up King David and drop into St. Chrysostom's sanctuary in the fifth century AD and he would know what was going on. Likewise, you could take John the Golden-Mouthed and plop him into a Lutheran sanctuary during Divine Service and he would know what was going on.

That's pretty amazing when you think about it. There are plenty of differences in the earthly culture and language of David, Chrysostom, and Grandma Schickelgr├╝ber. But despite their different earthly tongues, cultural expectations, incidental ceremonies, etc., their worship is all of a piece. Well, of course it is: the Church is the Church.

This is nothing other than our dear Fathers and Confessors said when they wrote,

Therefore, we believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every time and place has the right, power, and authority to change, reduce, or expand such practices according to circumstances in an orderly and appropriate manner, without frivolity or offense, as seems most useful, beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and the building up of the church. (FC SD X.9)

The Church in every time and place will give expression to who she is as the Church. The Church is the Bride of Christ. She is not frivolous. She does not seek to give needless offense, for she is a kind Mother. She seeks for her children's benefit, discipline, decorum, and edification.

Those principles are at the foundation of the outlook of the “traditional” camp in the Worship Wars – otherwise summed up as the Reverent Worship Movement. The principles and outlook of those pushing for the radical, abrupt, and overt departure from the Church's culture and language – otherwise known as the Contemporary/Relevant/Emerging Worship Movement – are quite different. They would tend to stress only the first part of that quotation from the Formula: the Church in each time and place has the right to change ceremonies. The Church has a doctrine – not a culture or language – which must be brought to each earthly culture in relevant and meaningful ways. Furthermore, the second part of the Formula's quotation is too subjective to be worthy of comment. Who says what's frivolous or good for decorum? Surely the only judge must be the Church in each time and place: quidquid it, bonum est.

I am not persuaded that they are right. I think a person steeped in the the Scriptural description of the worship of Israel, the Book of Acts, and St. Paul's epistles can know what is frivolous and what is good for evangelical decorum. And there is that helpful mental experiment: if King David, or St. Peter, or Bl. Dr. Luther were transported into your worship service – what would he think? Would he know what's going on?

All that went through my mind again as I watched a video of the ELCA Youth Gathering's Divine Service – specifically the Sanctus – able to be seen by clicking here and then clicking on Part 7 once you arrive at the page. Go watch it. Go ahead....


Augustinus interrogat: Quid est? Rex Davidus respondet: Nescio. Lutherus: Crepitus ventris.

Exeunt Omnes.

Friends, that was frivolous. David, St. Augustine, and Luther would have no idea what that Sanctus was. The actions of the folks jumping around did not match their words – at least if the Seraphim in Isaiah 6 know what they are doing. What they were doing was in no sense Scriptural – for just saying Scripture's words doesn't make it Scriptural, see Matt. 4 if you've forgotten that lesson. That “Sanctus” was not indicative of evangelical decorum – even the Gentiles tip their hats to the Dali Lama and reverently ask Bono for an autograph.

And I most certainly do not mean this as a kick to the ELCA when she's down. A similar example could easily be found at a score of LCMS parishes and district or Synod events. There are sincere believers in the tenants of the Contemporary/Relevant/Emerging Worship Movement in every Lutheran body. Just look at the Celebrant in that video. He obviously thinks this is good stuff – though it is equally obvious that he is not the “target audience” of this display. But he thinks it's what those other folks need, so he's going to go along with it.

And that, of course, is why the Contemporary folks think the Gottesdienst Crowd to be worse than a bunch of young fogey sourpusses. It's not just that we are square: we are narrow minded and tryannical, desirous to force all people to go along with our style when acquiescing to a different style would bring more people into the Church. No wonder they have an S.O.B. award.

But that is not so. What we are saying is something much more strident. We are accusing the Contemporary Worship Movement of being frivolous, divisive, destructive to evangelical decorum and good order, and offensive. And that is not a matter of style. It is a matter of being soaked in the language, practices, and culture of Scripture and then asking: “Does this ceremony, this order, this song, fit that? And among those that do fit, which is most beneficial to unity in the Church?” It is about looking around at the Church after 40 years of this Movement and asking, “Is the Church more united today than she was back before this started? How many parishes have been divided and relationships broken because of this Movement? Have our Lutheran churches become more or less Lutheran in their language, doctrine, and outlook after this movement?”

Those should be the questions the proponents of each side should be asking each other. We should be able to have a conversation about any given ceremony, order of worship, or song along the lines laid down for us in FC SD X.9.

So let's start with this Sanctus: does anyone want to provide an opposing view? For those who find this particular Sanctus offensive but who love their own congregation's praise band modeled on soft rock rather than rap, why? Does anyone think that this Sanctus promotes unity and harmony and evangelical decorum? Did the standard five piece, suburban, middle class, white folks praise band from your parish support those ideals when it started in your parish? Does it support them today?


Monday, August 17, 2009

The Things that Belong unto Thy Peace

While preparing and preaching the St. Luke 19 Gospel about Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem, I also happened, coincidentally, to have been reading through Jeremiah and Lamentations. When you get your fill of lachrymose prophecies in one week, it's kind of hard to escape the fact that divine sorrow (and anger) erupt not so much over those who have no religion as over those who do.

Jerusalem, the object of weeping in both Jeremiah's and Jesus' case, was for all intents and purposes the capital of religious life. "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord," was the refrain to which the prophet referred, and when our Lord dropped in on the holy place, he didn't find it empty. It was full of bustling commerce.

Religious life means nothing to God if it is not centered in the true religion, notwithstanding the fervor of those religious convictions. It was, after all, out of ostensibly religious convictions that the Jews insisted that Jesus be crucified.

And here we are a religious nation, and a people whom Gallup would tell us are among the more religious people on earth.

Well, so what? Jesus wept over the religion he saw, and soon his sadness turned to anger, when he lost his temper in the temple.

Isn't it all rather chilling?

It seems to me that sincerity and fervency mean little to him, if their object is not the things which belong unto our peace. Those are the things, we are reminded by the same evangelist, of which the angels sang in Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus.

Hence it behooves us not to be swayed by sincerity or fervency, but only by the truth of the Gospel.


Saturday, August 15, 2009


Lutheran parishes and parishioners start down the American Evangelical worship road for a variety of reasons - I think most would agree that a desire to be relevant in the current culture is most widely stated as the starting point. The idea is that this culture in this time, unlike any before it, must have the whole of Christian worship turned toward its own expectations, musical styles, cultural symbols, etc. The liturgy, of course, is always being tweaked, grows, changes, etc. In the past, this had been a slow (and not always steady) process. But this generation of (American Boomer) Christians needed something more. The Church's liturgy was putting people off. They couldn't connect. The liturgy had become a stumbling block - a barrier to people hearing the Word.

That's the theory - or rather the explanation given by the American/Evangelical/Contemporary/Relevant Worship Movement within Lutheranism. Of course, behind that explanation often lies at least sympathy with (and often full on agreement with) the Arminian view of conversion. Thus the numbers game: if your church is not growing and the community around you is growing, you are, ipso facto, being unfaithful.

In fact, that is the best test to find out where a person is on the road from American-Evangelical worship to American-Evagelical theology (of course, that is where the road leads! What'd'ya think?): "What would you say about a church in a growing community that is itself stagnant in membership or shrinking? Is it a faithful church?" If a person says, "No, obviously unfaithful" you know they are approaching the end of the road. If a person says, "Faithful! They are obviously martyrs for the truth" then he is a sad victim of fighting on his oppenents ground (NB: I have never actually met with such a one - but I've been told more than once by interlocutors that they exist.) The correct answer, of course is, "Not enough information to make that call."

At any rate...all this came to mind as I was reading over what appears to be the latest evidence that the LCMS bureaucracy has followed the American Evangelical Worship road right into downtown Grahamsville: Pray2009. Pardon me, that's, "PRAY2009."

PRAY2009 LCMS Intercessors Gathering
We have no conception of what the Lord desires to birth through a group of consecrated Lutheran intercessors that will be obedient to gather and seek His face, celebrate His salvation, proclaim His glory, and lift the great name of Jesus. You really ...want to be in the number to see what the Lord is going to do as he meets us in St. Louis. Peace . . .

(No conception, indeed. And then "birth" later in the same sentence - a joke? After all, the Lord's going to "meet [us] in Saint Louiee". . . )

Now, you can debate the theology of prayer all you want. I'm sure it would be a profitable discussion. A pastor of any experience has surely had an encounter with a prayer answered beyond what he had dared to hope for - and such a response often chastises the Christian for his indolence in prayer. Prayer is a gift of God - and we should boldly and with all confidence ask our heavenly Father as true children would.

But is the PRAY2009 hullaboo what true children do in speaking to their true Father? I'm open to having the debate - but this much is undebatable: such things are incontrovertably foreign to Lutheran theology and practice. So where did this "consecrated intercessor" business come from? Sir, thou knowest. And how did Lutherans come into contact with such a theology of prayer? With people who practiced it? Again, sir, thou knowest.

With apologies to Bunyan, once young Lutheran starts walking down the Worshipful Road to Terrestrial Relevance he's going to encounter folks who don't exactly have the Small Catechism on the Lord's Prayer memorized. And it's going to rub off. And here we are.

But that's the bureaucracy - and reflects their experience in walking that road. They learned to worship from the "successful, growing" churches in American Evangelicalism. And they went to their conferences and learned more from them on church management, prayer, and everything else. And they followed the techniques, and sure enough, their churches grew. So they became successful. And they got elected.

But this is not the Synod as a whole by a long shot. Thanks be to God for hardscrabble, Midwestern farmers and hardnosed rustbelt union factory workers and truckdrivers - they can smell the Baptist in this a mile away. And these folks like beer. And they know what Biblical prayer is like: more like, O Lord, open my lips... than Father God, I just want to praise You...

Our verbal ticks, our "pattern of sound [or unsound] words," the accent of our prayers, if you will, confesses more about our theology that we might think. Say a prayer, and it won't take a Dr. Higgins to tell you where you grew up, what your influences are, maybe even how often your parish offers communion.

Not a matter of indifferent things, indeed.


"It is liturgy or it is nothing."

by Larry Beane

In this day and age when well-intentioned Lutherans see the main focus of the Christian life, including the Divine Service, to be personal evangelism and/or catechesis (both good, noble, and necessary things, but neither are the most important thing that a creature of God has been created to do), we often lose track of just what the Christian faith is, the primary reason we exist: to worship God.

The following refreshing reminder of the real reason for worship and for the liturgy comes from the pen of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in memory of his blessed professor, Dr. Arthur Carl Piepkorn:
"Piepkorn was, then, a theologian of the Church. And the Church, he insisted, is the community at worship. Of course the Church does many things, but worship is the source and the summit of its life. We do not worship in order to assist, to facilitate, to serve any other end, no matter how honorable or urgent that end may be. We worship God because God is to be worshiped. Worship is as close as we come here on earth to discovering an end in itself, for it is our end eternally. Piepkorn repeatedly invoked the words of the Athanasian Creed (which he would remind us is properly titled the 'Quicunque Vult'): 'The Catholic Faith is this that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.' All of our believing and all of our obeying, including all of our theology, is brought to the altar. It is liturgy or it is nothing."
("Afterward: Richard John Neuhaus On the Occasion of the First Awarding of the Arthur Carl Piepkorn Prize, 10 October 1984," The Church: Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn, 338-339).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Vacationing in Missouri, Part II

In our last episode, we explored the distressing side of vacationing in the Missouri Synod. Now for the other side of the coin.

What a joy to walk into a sanctuary in another town and immediately feel at home. While no two places are alike - here are the signs of faith, there are the signposts of a place set aside for the worship of God.

What a relief to feel at home to worship in words already known by heart, rather than befuddled at trying to flip through the bulletin of a service never seen before (or read the same off a screen up front).

In such a place, the local customs of the parish are easily absorbed by the visitor. At one place they sit to read the Introit, at another they stand to chant it. At home the pastor intones the Greater Gloria, here the people sing the whole thing together. Since the words are so well known, since the flow of the service is so natural, these local customs are felt as just that. They are not perplexing or bothersome, they make this place this place as opposed to that. And yet it is clear that both are of a piece, the warp and woof of the same cloth are visible even if the pattern of design shows shades of variation.

So many thanks to our kind hosts on this last scheduled Sunday off of the year. We were away, but we were home.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Tale of Two Shops in One City

Jakarta is predominantly Muslim, something like 85% of the population. However, it is a large enough city that even the relatively small percentage of Christians amounts to a substantial number of people, roughly divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants. There are barely any Lutherans to speak of; only a small handful who are really Lutheran in anything more than name. All of the Protestants, including almost all of those churches claiming some affiliation with Lutheranism, belong to a unionistic fellowship with pulpits and altars open amongst them.

Serving the Christians in Jakarta are two shops: one, a Roman Catholic church supply store, the other a Protestant book store. I had the opportunity to visit both shops this afternoon. The contrast between them was striking and significant.

The Roman Catholic church supply store was practically wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling covered in crucifixes of every size and a variety of styles. There was some of the usual kitsch, but not much. A few of the crucifixes seemed a bit on the cheap and cheesy side, but nothing tawdry or distasteful. The vast majority were quite nice, and a number of them were magnificent. Oh, what I wouldn't give to bring a couple of the gianormous ones homes with me, which I could purchase at a fraction of what they would cost in the United States.

The entire store sang with a marvelous confession of the Lord's holy Passion; not only with the wide array of crucifixes, but with chalices, ciboriums, and chasubles for the Holy Communion. Like St. John the Baptist, everything pointed to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The selection of books ran along a similar vein. They dealt primarily with pastoral care and catechesis. Along with that were liturgical and devotional materials, and some simple things for children. I'm sure it wasn't all worthwhile, and I'm not presuming to assess or comment on the theological content of everything (I don't read Indonesian, anyway). However, the focus of the books was churchly and centered in the means of grace, the Ministry of Word & Sacrament. The focus of the entire Roman Catholic church supply store was clearly on the Gospel.

Even the ambience of the Protestant book store was different, from the moment I walked in the door. I was immediately hit by the pop music being piped over the speakers; no doubt the latest in "Contemporary Christian Music," but nondescript and indistinguishable from any slightly-outdated Top 40 station. That's when I realized that, either there had been no music in the background of the Roman Catholic store, or else it had been quieter and more tasteful; if there was any there, it didn't call attention to itself. At the Protestant store, I couldn't escape it.

The Protestant store had very few crosses, and, except for a few small necklaces, all of the crosses on display were barren and plain. No Jesus there. There were some pictures of Jesus, smiling and welcoming, friendly and happy, but not suffering to atone for the sins of the world. If there were any depictions of His Passion, none of them managed to catch my eye. I did spot the small selection of individual-cup communion trays (no chalices), and the supply of "sacramental drink" (not wine) in plastic bottles along a bottom shelf. Really, though, what dominated the entire store were books of the Joel Osteen sort. There weren't books on pastoral care and catechesis, nor on liturgical practice, leastwise not that I could find anywhere. There were some Bibles, so far as I could tell, but not a large selection. No, mostly there were books on how to live a better, more disciplined life, with rules for this and principles for that, cautions against this and warnings against that. Okay, so I'm not saying that all of these things were necessarily bad, though the gist of what I could discern from the English titles was not promising. There certainly is a place for discipline and guidance in the Christian life. But the Law always accuses; and the Law without the Gospel does not bring real life but only death. And yet, the focus of the Protestant book store was not only centered in the Law (or some bastardized version of it), but predominantly consumed by it.

This contrast between the Roman Catholic and Protestant shops probably ought to seem ironic, but somehow it doesn't anymore. It reminded me of the similar contrast I encountered many years ago, when I was making my institutional visits as part of my seminary training. At the nursing home where I made those visitations, there were little old ladies of various Christian confessions. I did my best, as a novice seminarian, to speak the Word of God to them, the Law and the Gospel, but many of them did as much or more of the talking than I did. I tried to listen, and to learn something from them in the process. To this day I vividly remember how surprised I was by some of those conversations. The little old lady Protestants (none of them Lutheran) would, more often than not, tell me about their good works and good intentions; about how hard they had tried and how much they had contributed to their congregations; and about some of the other parishioners who had certainly done far less of the good stuff and far more of the bad stuff. The little old lady Roman Catholics, on the other hand, would tell me about their hope in Christ Jesus, their love for His Cross and His Sacrament, and above all their trust in His mercy.

After what I saw in Jakarta this afternoon, if it is at all typical of the contrast between Roman Catholics and Protestants, I could hardly be surprised anymore by the difference in those little old ladies I visited once upon a time in Fort Wayne.

If the Cross and Passion of our Savior are left in the past, out of sight and out of mind, instead of being preached and distributed in the ongoing Ministry of the Gospel, then the people have to keep themselves busy and preoccupied with something other than His work. But if His Cross and Passion are constantly set before the eyes of His people, preached into their ears and placed upon their tongues in the Holy Sacrament, then their own works and efforts are submerged in His grace, mercy and peace. How much better when the teaching and confession of the faith also coincide with such salutary practice; which is why I am grateful to be an evangelical catholic, otherwise known as "Lutheran."

Friday, August 7, 2009

This is What the Liturgy Prevents

by Larry Beane

When the altar is transformed into a stage, and worship moves from received ritual to given performance, there is an inevitable shift of emphasis from Christ to the performer, from the reception of the forgiveness of sins to the expectation of some means of entertainment. The result has become common in American Christianity: replacing the Word of God with a theatrical spectacle with a few perfunctory references to Jesus thrown in.

This is also the predictable result of seeing worship as an adiaphoron and the Gospel as information. Worship, as the argument goes, is not mapped out in Scripture, and as long as one's doctrine is correct, any and all techniques to communicate that information are not only acceptable, but preferable.

And this is lived out in such sad displays as above.

Standing in the way of this decay is the traditional Liturgy, which serves as a boundary between the holy and the secular, between the City of Man and the City of God, a signpost to indicate where one leaves the temporal and its sinful corruption for the eternal and its divine glory. When that boundary is transgressed, the result is not the blessed spilling over of the sacred into the profane, but rather the very opposite: the cursed encroachment of the world - with its never-satisfied promotion of the self and of the flesh - into the Most Holy Place where the Lord should be the center and the focus.

This sad reality has become a huge blind-spot to pastors, "worship leaders," bureaucrats, and "experts" who argue that the Liturgy is outmoded, or at very least, insufficient in some contexts and among some demographics.

There is the old saying about good neighbors and fences. The Liturgy is not an adiaphoron. It is a fence that makes for a good neighborly relationship between the Church (our eternal citizenship) and the world (where we sojourn as pilgrims) in which, but not of which, we Christians are part. This is what we mean when we confess together:
In this case the words of Paul must be heeded: "Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Therefore come out from them and be separate from them, says the Lord." (II Cor. 6:14, 17). Neither are useless and foolish spectacles [unnueze, naerrische Spektakel [Shauspiele]; inutiles nugas et puerilia spectacula], which serve neither good order, Christian discipline, nor evangelical decorum in the church, true adiaphora or things indifferent. (FC SD X: 6-7, Tappert)
Rather than drag the Church down to the world and make it "krunk," it has always been the desire and strategy of the Christian missionary endeavor to draw those in the world up to Christ and make them "blessed."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bread and Body "inseparably united"?

6th Century icon confessing the
Two Natures of our Blessed Lord

by Larry Beane

FC SD VIII: 37 (what follows is the text from McCain, first edition, emphasis added) :
Many eminent ancient teachers, such as Justin, Cyprian, Augustine, Leo, Gelasius, Chrysostom, and others use this comparison [Gleichnis, similitudine; Tappert translates this as "analogy", Triglot renders it as "simile"] about the words of Christ's testament, "This is My body." Just as in Christ two distinct, unchanged natures are inseparably united [unzertrennlich vereinigt, inseparabiliter... unitae], so [also, ita] in the Holy Supper the two substances - the natural bread and Christ's true natural body - are present together here on earth in the appointed administration of the Sacrament.
Tappert's translation reads: "indivisibly united."

Does this mean the authors of the Formula are accepting the "indivisible" or " inseparable" union part of the analogy between the Personal Union and the Sacramental Union? If so, then the bread and body - and the wine and blood - can no more be separated one from another by some passage of time or by a liturgical landmark than the human and divine natures can be separated in our Lord.