Friday, May 28, 2010

"Why Traditionalism Matters" or "Paved With Good Intentions"

By Larry Beane

The above video shows a bizarre reception of Holy Communion by the girlfriend of a politician, made possible by liturgical anti-traditionalism.

One of the reforms resulting from the Roman Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was that the rubrics regarding the reception of Holy Communion would change. Instead of kneeling as the priest placed the host on the tongue as had been done for centuries, people would now stand up and receive it in their own hands, in a sense, "communing themselves." This was hailed as a liturgical triumph by those who held tradition in contempt back in the turbulent sixties.

I'm sure that this liturgical change - like all the rest of them - had "good intentions" and seemed like a great idea at the time. Of course, the practice of giving people communion on the tongue had been around for centuries, and was a way of safeguarding the integrity of the sacrament - protecting the Lord's body from abuse - whether accidental or intentional - or even in the name of anti-Christian hatred. There was a very good reason for the tradition to have developed by the Church over many centuries of practice.

And like other Roman Catholic liturgical changes of the radical 1960s, these answers-in-search-of-problems made their way into Vatican-aping churches of the Augsburg Confession.

And so, as a result of the new "more friendly" touchy-feely method of lay-self-communion, it is once again easy to desecrate the Holy Sacrament.

This is the problem with leaving the safe and trodden paths of tradition for untried roads that seem better. Obviously, traditions that deny or obscure the Gospel or contradict Scripture have to go (which includes the pre-1960s denial of the cup to the laity - that was a good change and a restoration of a better and older tradition). But all other things being equal, if communing people orally is a way to diminish and discourage the Lord from being desecrated, what possible argument could anyone make for doing away with it? If after 40 years, it has proven a failure, why is there reticence to go back to tradition?

The way to best safeguard the holy elements is to distribute them in the traditional manner practiced by western Christians for centuries - having the host placed on the tongue and having the blood served orally from a common chalice. And while it is true that a person can smuggle out a consecrated host even when it is placed in the mouth, and while it is true that the blood of Christ can be spilled from a chalice - it is simply more likely that such bizarre behavior as this video above (a repeat of a similar alleged event involving the non-Roman Catholic prime minister of Canada who presented himself for communion and may have pocketed the host (the video is not conclusive and politicians are not particularly known for their candor...) will happen by ignorance or by ignominy.

I honestly don't know what is gained by giving the hosts into the hand. For the life of me, especially in this day and age of rampant disrespect and grandstanding against Christians, what in the world is wrong with placing the Lord's most holy body on the tongue as we have been doing for centuries?

Another possible title for this little reflection: "If it ain't broke..."

Out of the Barn

The Trinity issue of Gottesdienst was sent out about a week ago, and since it goes to most people via bulk mail, it should be in the mailboxes of most subscribers within a week or two.

If you've been thinking of subcribing, now's the time. Put your name down here and we'll send you this superb issue.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Church Growth Book Worth Reading

The Churching of America 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy

by R. Finke and R. Stark
Rutgers University Press

The American Evangelical church growth movement seeks to turn the church into a marketing firm for Jesus and the pastor into a visionary CEO who is held accountable for how much revenue, er, conversions he gets for Jesus. Many Lutherans have bought into this vision hook, line, and sinker - and many, many Lutherans are smaller scale stock holders.

So the American Evangelicals - that is, the Willow Creek Association, Saddleback, Billy Graham, etc. - are keen on bringing a bit of American marketing into the church. But what would happen to their theories and methods if they were examined on their own merits? What would a hardcore, free-market economic analysis of American religion show?

Finke and Stark subject the data of American church membership to just this sort of rigorous statistical analysis from the colonial period down to today.

I find their analysis intriguing and ultimately persuasive. The story runs like this. In a free market for religion the high tension "sect" always does better than the accommodating "church." For Finke and Stark, a sect is a group that is as odds with society at large. They are different. They hold to very specific doctrines very tenaciously. They are demanding on their adherents.

"to the degree that denominations rejected traditional doctrines and ceased to make serious demands on their followers, they ceased to prosper." p. 1

A church, on the other hand, is staid. They are comfortable. They line up, more or less, with the world. They get along. They don't believe anything outlandish and are part and parcel of the culture.

The leading sects of today are the Pentecostal groups. They are ferocious about doctrine: just try talking one of them out of the need to speak in tongues. Today's accommodating churches are the United Methodist Church (a very successful sect of the 19th century), the Episcopal Church USA, the ELCA, etc. I dare you to go read the proceedings from any recent UCC or ELCA convention - you'll find pages of resolutions on boycotting China and giving justice to lesbian barbershop owners but precious little of traditional doctrinal fare. They are part of the culture at large. And they are hemorrhaging members.

But you knew that today's mainline denominations were losing members at a breakneck pace. Finke's and Stark's most significant finding is that it has always been this way. The accommodating churches are always fading. The doctrine crazy sects are always growing. It has been this way since the yoke of a State Church was first thrown off.

"By the latter half of the twentieth century, sociologists and historians scrambled to explain the sudden rise of the conservative faiths and the rapid decline of the more liberal "mainline" denominations. We will show that this trend was well underway two centuries earlier. The trend of growing upstart sects and declining mainline denominations has been in place since at least 1776." p3

The Methodists are the most notorious case of a growing, doctrinal, demanding sect becoming a shrinking, institutional, undoctrinal, accommodating church. The Southern Baptist Convention is the textbook case for how a doctrinal sect does not have to give up its strengths when it becomes large, bureaucratic, and well-educated (the hallmarks of a church). The key is to remain doctrinal and "high tension" - that is, to be at odds with the world.

What of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States? Finke and Stark point out that the Missouri Synod was the fastest growing sect from 1916 to 1926. During that time period the Missouri Synod also had the highest number of adherents who rejected ecumenism (89.5% in a 1932 survey) and the greatest perceived differences between themselves and others (as measured by reluctance to marry a member of another church, receive communion elsewhere, etc.). In fact, the Missouri Synod's "perceived differences" factor was three times the nearest competitor (which, it so happens, were all other Lutheran groups combined).

So much for the hard numbers from disinterested sociologists. What to make of this theologically? That, of course, depends on your theology. A free-will Baptist will see in this book new insights and techniques to apply to gaining more converts. But a Lutheran who believes in election will see something else.

I explore this analysis based on the doctrine of election further in the paper I'll be presenting, Lord willing, at the Gottesdienst West conference in June - but here let me just say this. If we cease to look at our countrymen as potential converts whom God has called us to convince into the faith and start looking at God's own elect as the folks we are called to serve who happen to be scattered among the nations...well, things fall into place. Not everybody is a believer, nor is everyone ever going to be one. Narrow is the gate and all that. So I'm not called to minister unto a huge population of "the lost." I'm called by God through the Church to minister to his elect, who happen to be scattered among the nations and will be called through the Word. And what do his elect like? What does God expect me to give them? Oddly enough - just those things that Finke and Stark identify as the marks of a strong, vibrant, and growing religious group: doctrine and a marked difference from the world around us.

Could it be that the sin we are committing is not some imagined lack of preaching the Gospel accessibly and relevantly to the lost, but rather driving God's elect into the arms of Pentecostalism and Roman Catholicism because we've turned down the intensity of our Lutheranism in a vain attempt to appeal to the world?


Monday, May 17, 2010

Liturgy as Beacon for God's Elect Conference

One Day Gottesdienst Conference

Liturgy as the Beacon for God's Elect

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Bethlehem Lutheran Church

Ravenna, NE

To register, email Fr. Micah Gaunt: blcpastor AT

Just a few short weeks until the one-day conference and liturgical workshop in Ravenna, NE. The morning session will be a paper and discussion, the afternoon will be a detailed look at and how-to session on the ceremonies of a traditional Lutheran Divine Service.

It is a proverbial truth that the seminaries (including field work assignments and vicarage) do not, on the whole, do a good job of preparing pastors to conduct the Divine Service. That is, they spend very little time on the actual rubrics either eschewing them as “mere chancel prancing” or taking it for granted that seminarists will pick it up on vicarage. This leads to a common complaint (and not only among the newly ordained): I want to conduct a reverent, traditional Lutheran Divine Service, but I don't know even know where to look. . .

Participants in the conference will receive a print out of the Common Service with the traditional rubrics noted in the margins (an ersatz altar book with rubrics) as well as a sneak peek at Daily Divine Service Book: A Lutheran Daily Missal (publication by early 2011, we hope!).

The morning's paper will ask what the doctrine of election has to do with worship and mission – and deconstruct the functional Arminianism that seems to be dominant in today's North American Lutheranism. Here's a teaser trailer and the full schedule:

We are the living among the dying. We are those who know the cure to the world's ailment of sin. So it is up to us spread the message of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, what judgment will come upon us if we refuse! Just think of how many will go down to hell this day. I wonder how many of them could have been saved if we had just done a little more. How many would be entering the pearly gates if each of our members had just told one more person about Jesus? How many could we save if we were willing to give up our sacred cows and make Sunday worship speak to the outsider a little more rather than just to the insider? How many people have needlessly been turned off of the Gospel because of stodgy Lutheran hymns and cushionless pews? If the lost shall be saved, then we must repent, rethink, and reform what worship in our midst has been. We must open the doors, both physically and metaphorically, so that the seeking unbeliever will be drawn in and hear the Gospel and perhaps be saved.

Sound familiar? You've heard one version or another of that speech from Synod and district officials from time immemorial. No doubt you've heard that speech and felt a twinge of guilt: am I doing enough for the lost? On the other hand, if you've bothered to come here on a Friday in June, when sensible pastors are fishing, you have probably also not quite been comfortable with that speech. Is the liturgy really an impediment to missions? Will a praise band really save more people? Something just seems off with this line of reasoning. On the one hand, doesn't God tell us to go forth and preach the Gospel to all nations? “Woe to me if I do not preach” and all that. And surely we've got to be intelligible so that others can understand us. “All things to all men that I might save some” - right?

Today I'm going to try to untangle those questions, clear up the modern Lutheran confusion about worship and missions, and try to built an authentically Lutheran theology and practice of worship and mission based on the central doctrine of the Scriptures: salvation by grace alone, also known as the doctrine of election.

8:30 Matins

9:00 registration, coffee and rolls.

9:15 First Presentation: The Liturgy as Beacon for God's Elect

10:30 Break & discussion

11:30 Lunch

12:15 Walk through the rubrics

1:30 Break

2:00 Divine Service

3:00 Beer


Saturday, May 15, 2010


The Pastor's Information Form (PIF) and the Self-Evaluation Tool (SET - a bit of an Orwellian title for the form others will use to evaluate me, no?) together form the instrumental cause of the widening gap between LCMS parishes and districts when it comes to worship (and overall pastoral) practice. I don't know the exact year they came into existence - mid-1980's I think, someone commenting will know.

Whereas in years past a piety of almost random selection of pastors insured that all pastors had to at least be in the same ballpark, now a congregation that wants open communion will find it much easier to get a pastor who supports that: it's right there on the SET. So also DPs with an agenda find it easier to populate call lists with their sort of men...until, one day, you have a whole district in revolt against closed communion (FL-GA in 1995, and still today even after the convention's slapping down of their resolution). Seminarists recently called continue to report that certain DPs in the after-Call Service meeting say things like, "Now, we don't practice open communion in our district, but it's certainly not closed communion either. . . "

Well, all that was enabled by the PIF and SET which serve brilliantly to line up likes with likes. And who can blame us for inventing this system? Don't we want pastors and congregations to get along? Of course - but our pastors and congregations should not be expressing differences in theology or in degree of willingness to live as Lutherans live - which is exactly what the PIF and SET allow for and encourage.

That said: it's the system we are stuck with for now. You've got to fill it out. And especially if you are looking to fill out your PIF and SET for the first time - or the first time in a long time as you are looking to get on call lists - you've got to be....wise as serpents and meek as doves.

Father Petersen has the most excellent advice here. Here are a couple of other thoughts, for what they may be worth.

Relatively early in my first call (as an assistant in a part-time arrangement while doing some grad work) I realized that I wanted to serve as a sole pastor. The DP invited me to his office and we went over the PIF together. Here is what he told me: on the PIF there are a couple of things with right and wrong answers. Period. They are these: Theological Position and Liturgical Attitudes.

On Theological Position you are supposed to check a number from 1 to 5. They try to clue you in that there is a right answer by putting the word "Evangelical" under number 3. That's the right answer. Check that one.

The Liturgical Attitudes question includes a 3x2 chart right out of Catechetical Helps. The rows are Traditional, High Liturgical, and Contemporary. The columns are Rigid and Flexible. You are to check between one and three boxes. The right answer, you guessed it, is anything in the flexible column. Guys who read this blog will probably want to check two boxes: Traditional-flexible and High liturgical-flexible.

What is the point of this little exercise? Who knows. Everyone who has actually sat down with a DP to go over this stuff is told what the right answers are. I offer this little nugget to those who have not had the experience. To the DPs anything rigid means you are a bull in a china shop - either for starting a praise band or incensing the choir loft. Anything other than a middle of the road Size 3 Evangelical indicates a dangerous boat rocker with an ax to grind.

Now for the SET, here's a little something I figured out when pondering Fr. Petersen's advice. The people who will actually be reading this - call committees in congregations - often don't want to hear a theological discourse, they just want to know what you are going to do. The questions are often worded, "what do you think..." or "what is your position..." and we are tempted to go into theological overdrive. But that's often counter productive.

For example, there is a question about women voters. What do you think about the 1969 resolution, it asks, and the practice of women voters today? As for me and my house, I think a lot. I have a nuanced position. I could (and have) written pages and pages on MO, women, and the Order of Creation. But the congregation doesn't actually give a rip what I think, and the space is too small for it to come across right anyway. But that's OK, because they just care about what I am going to do and the space is more than adequate for that. So just tell them what you are going to do: are you going to work to get women voters where they are not or to get rid of them where they are? Then just say so. Mine simply says: I would not seek to change the local practice on this matter whatever it may be.

On the other hand, I make it clear that I will live within the Lutheran liturgical heritage and move to do away with the practice of lay readers and lay assistants in the distribution of the Sacrament. Those take a little more explaining since you are advocating for a specific side - but not much. Again, they just want to know what you'll do and that you have a reason for it. Thoughtful, not verbose, and fatherly firm, not arbitrarily insistent, is the tone to aim for. Read that insightful paragraph from Fr. Petersen again for a good approach.

So that's my advice, for you to take or leave, sitting here after a few years out. If you are a seasoned veteran or have through good or ill learned other pointers worth sharing, please do so in the comments for the benefit of our seminarist readers.

One more thing: there is a story that one guy filled out his whole SET in rhyming, Seussian poetry. I really hope that is true. And if it is, and you are reading this: Sir, I salute you.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Extraordinary Christians in Russia

There is a video that you simply must see. I know that some of our Gottesdienst editors have taught at Novosibirsk.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Update: A District President speaks forthrightly

The large number of 2010 graduates without calls is getting discussed all over the place. Today I was pointed to a very lengthy, and for the most part very worthwhile, discussion of the topic over at the ALBP forums.

The Rt. Rev. David Benke, Bishop and President of the Atlantic District, had much to say - all of it forthright and useful.

I'm posting a couple of quotes here with links to the pages on which the entire comments appear. If you wish to interact with Rt. Rev. Benke and respond to him, you should do so over at ALBP.


Clergy shortage or Paying parish shortage?

"I have spoken to any and everyone including those on this forum for years now in an attempt to lay the problem where the problem really is at the root - we have a shortage of parishes with a viable pastoral compensation package. The SMP program in many cases is producing ordained pastors who can serve in a less-than-full compensation role. The "regular" route seminarians will without question face this same dilemna - full compensation is not guaranteed upon graduation and certification. I'm convinced, in fact, that placements being made in recent years at the end of the process in an attempt to find a spot for everyone have not helped, since the candidate is not going to be receiving a realistic compensation in these little parishes, and is going to be expected personally to turn things around in six months to a year. Too much expectation too soon." Link to page with entire comment and context.

On retirement of Boomers and the proper level of vacancy:

"There are (at least) three chaplains at Luther Manor - one full time, two part-time; Missouri and ELCA. One of the part-time men is 80. I frankly don't see 65 as a meaningful number for many pastors in the 21st century. The vocation doesn't have a retirement date on it. Some may choose to be less active but remain in visitation and preaching assignments that would have been those "#2" position in parishes and can be done by someone who has great seasoning. As times change, not all those who have left their main parish assignment are heading to warmer climes,either, and the northern parishes will have more available part-time assignees. The other caveat is that with volunteers and parish-trained visitors, the larger church that used to have a second or third pastor is doing more with less from the ordained perspective.

"That being said, the 4%-6% parish vacancy rate was the benchmark when parishes were larger and more compensationally able. Even if X amount were "messy" or temporarily unable to extend a call, a six month timeframe was what could be advised for pastors wanting or needing to move. No such timeframe exists now." Link to page with entire comment and context.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Update on Don't go the seminary: The Hard Numbers

Here are the official numbers of vacancies from the Synod.

You'll note that the most recent numbers are pre-Call Day. The raw vacancy number: 934. But we've got to subtract those from that number that are non-calling (342), "temporarily" non-calling (219), and those placed at Call Day (about 130). So there are about 243 actually calling vacancies right now. Or fewer than 7 per district.

I ask again: How many guys are on CRM? There are two in our circuit. . .

And how much "wiggle room" is good for a church body? That is, how many vacancies should we have to allow for pastors to move around as appropriate and healthy? More or less than 4%? Because, 243 is 4% of our 6,000 congregations.

What if US unemployment were 4%? Would you consider that a strong economy? Would you call it a "labor shortage"?

Oh, by the way. You can see here that we actually have 9,010 pastors. Of whom only 5,359 are serving parishes.

So....there are 243 real vacancies, an untold number of men on CRM, and 3,651 pastors who are not serving congregations. Now, of course that number includes synodocrats and retirees. But are 93.4% of them synodocrats and retirees? Because 243 is only 6.6% of 3,651.

There is no clergy shortage. There is a clergy glut.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lectionary resource

Here is a great resource for students of the historic Western lectionary - it includes some great 16th century woodcuts geared to the Gospel lessons.

This is a Roman resource, so you'll have to consult your copy of Luther Reed's The Lutheran Liturgy for those places in which the Lutheran lectionary differs from Rome. These differences, more often than not, are because the Lutherans are maintaining the northern European lessons which differed slightly from what was current in Rome, mostly in the order of certain Gospel lessons.

What? Don't have a copy of Reed? It's one you just have to have. Go to and pick up a used copy. There are a couple going right now for $14 shipped. That's a deal. Rush out now in a buying frenzy.

Monday, May 3, 2010

To do list

It'd be nice if the Churches of the Augsburg Confession in this land would return to the organizational life advocated by our Confessions - namely, evangelical bishops who would teach the parish pastors and make ordinances regarding ceremonies and church practice to insure peace in the church, reverence in worship, and common confession.

But while we're waiting for the current bureaucracies of the current synods to finally crumble, faithful Lutheran ministers need to support one another in living up to our Confession. Here's my short list of what we should be working toward and helping each other achieve. It is modest, yet in many places will be quite a climb. I put it down with the new crop of ordinands especially in mind. What would you add, subtract, or edit on this list?

* Communion offered every Lord's Day and on the other feasts of the year.

* A reverent celebration of the Lutheran Divine Service as contained in the jurisdiction's agenda. See Ap. XXIV.1 for a short list of what a "reverent celebration" will include. In today's Lutheranism, I think teaching the Real Presence with a genuflection after each consecration to be an important ceremony to recover.

* The use of one of the jurisdiction's approved lectionaries and calendars - I believe that the lectionary used by Luther and the other Lutheran fathers - corresponding, more or less, to LSB's One Year Lectionary - has the most the recommend it among the options.

* Re-introducing the Common Service, at least as one among other orders used, in places where it has fallen into disuse.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Comfort, comfort ye my people

Our fellow editor, Fr. Petersen, who serves in Ft. Wayne has some words for you. And here are the words to which he referred.