Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thoughts on the Legacy of Loehe

Living in Ft. Wayne means enduring terrible Ft. Wayne winters and long, marriage-required pilrimages to IKEA. But there are some perks. One of them is proximity to CTS and easy access to various programs there. Thus I have just returned, after having not left, from the International Loehe Society's conference hosted by Prof. John Pless. I know you're jealous. Sorry. In order to spare your feelings, I'll try not to also bring up my smoking hot wife :).

It is hard not to leave such an excellent conference without a lot of colliding thoughts and impressions. Here are some of mine, in no particular order.

1. The cordiality between the ELCA scholars and LCMS scholars was admirable. But the theology that came through in the ELCA presentations left no doubt that the Lutheraness of the ELCA is radically different than ours, and Luther's and Loehe's. They are more interested in Luther's and Loehe's processes than in their content. Their Lutheraness is that they share a spirit of reform with Luther. They honor him and his ideas in their original context, but dismiss them as inappropriate, if not right out sexist and ignorant, for our own day. Dogmatics is not a confession of faith for them, but a historic record of what good and pious people once believed. They were very drawn to Loehe's idea that the Church's confession is every imperfect and growing on this side of glory. They were very impressed with early American Lutheran unionism as "generous." They were sad that when the emergency situations passed the unionism slowed or stopped.

2. Loehe's mission and theology is mainly misunderstood - even by the presenters. The difficulty we have in reading the histories of the LCMS and Iowa synods, etc, is that we fail to place them into the context of German migration. We know about it. It is mentioned. But we fail to see the signifigance. We are so impressed by the rapid and zealous growth of the church and of Loehe's accomplishments that we can't help by look for models that we can reproduce. It is mentioned, again and again, that the Indian mission in Frankenmuth and in Iowa were, humanely speaking, failures. They were also a very small part of what the Franconians and Iowans were doing.

3. The Gesellschaft in Neuendettelsau may have the more Loehen view on this than us. All the institutions Loehe established, the deaconess house, the school, and the immigrant communities as Gemeinde, grew directly out of immediate needs of the people. The young women who were too poor to marry needed to be rescued. He established deaconesses for the deaconesses more than he established them for service to the Church. They served the Church, to be sure. But the first order was to rescue them. Then he put them to use. The Germans were immigrating to the US for cheap land with or without Loehe. Mostly they were going and losing their religion, being swallowed up in the new land by the Methodists. They needed pastors to preach and provide the Sacraments. That was the main purpose of the emergency workers he sent and the main request of Wyneken. The outer mission of reaching the Indians was almost and afterthought. The school provided for the needs of the children and also of the deaconesses. There was a lot of talk about inner and outer missions. But it felt to me like the Americans were mainly interested in trying to recapture the outer mission success of Loehe's heirs in America.

The Gesellschaft can come off a bit arrogant to an American mind. They are the mother. We are the daughters. We owe them everything. They have no intention of reaching out and evangelizing Bavaria. But they will continue to send missionaries around the world and we can all sit at their feet in wonder. At the same time, what need is there to evangelize Bavaria? If were looking for a model, perhaps there is one in Loehe: stop evangelizing America and reach out to those already baptized. No irishmen or Italians or Indians or African slaves joined the Iowa synod. They probably didn't have more than a handful of lost Norwegians and Swedes either. They were fully, almost exclusively, German. The Indian failure was never meant to be integrated in any case. In this, at least, the Gesellschaft does seem to be faithful to Loehe's program. Loehe didn't engage in what we would recognize as Evangelism. Nor did he send missionaries to the lost. He sent pastors to the Baptized.

What is the model then? Meet the financial needs of our people. What would that look like? Setting up factories with chaplains on staff? I don't know. I am not the visionary that Loehe was. But isn't the world in a financial crisis as severe as that of Loehe's day? Perhaps we should send pastors to India to minister to the American engineers.

4. Loehe's greatness. It seems to me even more unfair to Loehe than it is to Luther to try and systematize his works and theology. He was a parish pastor. He had no advanced degrees. He had a few kooky ideas. They weren't the prevalent or dominant mark of his theology and preaching. He changed his mind about this, probably forgetting his earlier opinions. He responded to the needs and pain of the people with the Gospel. He preached. He prayed. He taught. His emphasis upon the Holy Communion was not a dogma or an exegetical opinion. It arose from his service in the Office. The same is true, I think, of his pseudo-charismatic views. Dr. David Scaer makes a great joke by constantly claiming that the Holy Spirit came upon him. I've only recently realized that it is not completely a joke. Those who serve in the Office where the Holy Spirit works, those who breathe Him out as He has been breathed into them in preaching and the Holy Absolution, become aware of His presence and inspiration. Loehe's theology grew naturally from the prayers of the Church. Thus also, his so-called "high view" of the Office.

5. Walther can't help but look bad in comparison. The comparison may be unfair, but there it is. Walther's context is different. So is his work. It is terribly unfortunate that his letter criticizing Loehe was published and also that he was unable to bring these to Loehe face-to-face when he had the opportunity. It was, however, an unequal relationship. Walther had nothing to give to Loehe. Loehe had already bestowed great, financial gifts upon Walther. So also, Walther was younger and had been quickly forced into a fledgling bureaucracy. He was not as immersed in the Predigamt as Loehe was. He was looking for answers to questions that probably didn't even make sense to Loehe. I don't think anyone, Walther included, fully understood how completely different society and the State were in the US and how that must impact the Church. To his credit, I think Walther probably had the firmest grasp upon this of anyone at the time. It is more than the separation of Church and State, though that is critical. It was also the pluralistic and diverse culture of all aspects of American society, the impending loss of German, the intermarriage of Germans and other ethnicities and also of diverging Faiths. I am not sure Loehe even had to face the Reformed in Bavaria. But if he did, that was it. There were only two flavors of "protestants" and there was Rome. The government kept things in control. I think, though I may be wrong, the union pressure was mainly in Saxony. In any case, yes, Walther looks bad. I think that is unfortunate. In fairness, we all look bad compared to Loehe. He was truly a great man. Walther has his weaknesses but also had incredible gifts and he also deserves his due.

I hope you find these quick reflections of some interest. Please remember that they are not fully formed thoughts, just general impressions. I mean no offense to the ELCA, or Waltherians, or Loehe men. I am open to correction. I am simply trying to put these things into perspective and think about Loehe's legacy and example.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Consider the Flowers

Not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these. Which is saying rather a lot, actually, given that Solomon was quite a king, the son of David, the Lord's anointed, and a type of the Christ who was to come. But it was Jesus, after all, who made the comparison and called our attention to it, so it must not only be true but worth considering.

The flowers neither toil nor spin, and like the grass they are but here today, then gone tomorrow, yet they are adorned with such beauty that not even Solomon could compete. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven clothe you, who are beloved of God and redeemed in body and soul by the Lord Jesus for the resurrection and the life everlasting.

It is a thought-provoking argument. Jesus moves from the lesser to the greater, from the perishable flowers of the field to men and women, created in the Image of God for eternal life with Him, who are granted His Kingdom and His Righteousness in Christ. If God adorns the flowers, as He does so gloriously, so beautifully, much more shall He do for His children. For the time being, however, it is a matter of faith: the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Because, for now, it remains the case that the perishable flowers are arrayed more beautifully than any of us. Not even Father Petersen in all his vestments outdoes them. If the great King Solomon was not able to exceed the flowers, then we shall not make ourselves more beautiful than these.

But now a greater than Solomon has come in the flesh, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily among us. And He has given Himself for us, in order to adorn us for Himself, as a Bride in all her glory made ready for her Husband, having no blemish or flaw or any such thing, but cleansed and sanctified, holy and blameless. Beautiful. Clothed with Christ in Holy Baptism.

It is a hidden beauty: hidden under the Cross in the field of the fallen world. It is the hidden beauty of faith in the heart, the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God, even when rejected by men. It is not the external adornment of braided hair and gold jewelry, nor of diamonds and pearls and expensive garments. It is not the vanity of an outward appearance that fails to enliven but merely conceals the dust and bones beneath. It does not rely on any pretense or show of self-righteousness, but rests in Christ.

Nevertheless, the true beauty of the Bride of Christ does manifest itself bodily, by means of good works befitting a godly woman, and through her chaste and respectful behavior, at times without a word. It is precisely at this point that I am considering the flowers, which are arrayed in such glorious and outward beauty — which the Church on earth also uses, not only metaphorically but actually, to adorn the Sanctuary and the Altar of her Lord.

I've been mulling over the significance of the flowers for a while now, and it has been instructive, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around the lesson to be learned. It first came to mind when I was asked about the purpose of vestments and the various colors of the liturgical year. On the one hand, it's easy enough to identify the history of these things and the relative significance that has come to be assigned to them. On the other hand, such answers still beg the question. Giving the history does not yet explain the present-day purpose or benefit, and when it comes to the meaning of such things, I often find the supposed symbolism rather contrived and arbitrary.

Where the life of the Church is concerned, I've never been comfortable with doing things arbitrarily, nor with even the appearance of doing things arbitrarily. That caution and concern serves as a discipline against my own idiosyncrasies and personal whimsies, and as an aspect pastoral care for the people of God. Whether in the case of long-standing traditions, current practices, or changes in practice, I should be able to give an answer as to why we are doing something in a certain way.

In considering my answers and my reasons for doing this-or-that in the past, I realize that I have tended to rely upon practical, productive, and pedagogical purposes. That is to say, I have much preferred to have a clear function and identifiable goal in mind, as though anything else, or anything "less," would in fact be arbitrary and insufficient. In many cases, if not most, perhaps that's fair enough, and I suppose it usually works out fine. But the flowers have been teaching me to rethink many other cases rather differently, and in general to resist my proclivities for "practical, productive, and pedagogical purposes." In fact, I strongly suspect that a desire and demand for such purposes betrays an undercurrent of works-righteousness and a kind of evolutionary model that fails to grasp the grace and glory of God.

The flowers with their God-given beauty, arrayed in more colors and configurations than most of us could ever identify or count, are really not practical or productive by any of the usual standards. And though they are in fact teaching me a lesson, by and with the Word of Christ, the flowers of the field are certainly not "pedagogical" in the usual sense. Whatever they may symbolize within some context or another, they are not merely nor mainly symbolic. What they are is pretty, and with their prettiness they glorify the Lord, their Creator, and give pleasure to His children on earth. When the Church adorns the same Lord's Altar with pretty flowers, she does so for the same reasons: not to achieve or accomplish any other agenda, but to glorify God, to delight in His good gifts, and to rejoice in His goodness. Such outward beauty and adornment is not only okay, permissible and tolerable; it is quite good and right. In such a case, the outward appearance is not attempting to conceal a contrary inner reality, nor is it attempting to achieve some other reality than it has received, but it is simply confessing the otherwise hidden reality of God's grace, mercy and peace. It boldly confesses what is most certainly true concerning the beautiful glory of the Cross, despite all appearances and experiences to the contrary.

The beauty of flowers is attractive, not only to people (universally so), but also to the pollinators of the animal kingdom, by which the Lord our God causes more beautiful flowers to spring forth, and by which He also blesses us with the good gift of honey. So, too, the sweetness of the honey is appealing, as the flowers are attractive, that man and beast might be drawn to it and delight in it. Everything could have been quite functional, practical and productive, without such adornments and frills, but in love for His creatures the Holy Trinity makes things beautiful and delicious. He adorns the world with color and light, graces it with lovely sounds, fills it with pleasing aromas, sweetens it and spices it with delectable tastes, in the way a good father enjoys giving pleasant gifts and treats to his children. All of this while the fallen world is perishing! How much more beautiful and lovely shall the new heavens and the new earth be. But for now, the Lord attaches His Word and promises of the New Creation to the gracious beauty of the present age — calling our attention to the flowers, comparing His Word to honey, with which the promised land flows, describing His Church as a beautiful bride, and giving us a covenant in the rainbow with its full spectrum of radiant colors. So did He likewise instruct Moses in the construction of the tabernacle, and in the making of the priestly vestments — involving skilled artistry and fine craftsmanship and excellent materials, including gold and other precious metals — that the earthly tent and the temporal priesthood might be a pattern and a copy of the heavenly things, which are now given to us in Christ Jesus.

The Church, too, that godly woman who fears the Lord, looks for wool and flax, and she stretches out her hands to the distaff, to grasp the spindle, in order to clothe her household with scarlet, and to make coverings for herself of fine linen and purple. With vestments she covers the servants of her Lord, and by doing so she also adorns their office, not only in the most pragmatic and functional way possible, but as beautifully as she is able. Not as a pretense, but as a confession of the One who clothes her and all her children with Himself by the Ministry of the Gospel. Such adornments are "pedagogical" in the way that flowers are, that is, not by their "practical productivity," but by their colorful beauty. They are attractive and appealing, so that men and women, boys and girls, might be drawn to the hidden beauty of the Cross, and to the sweetness of the Word of God, which is even sweeter than honey.

For so are we invited to consider the flowers, that we might know the providence of our gracious God and Father in heaven. And as the perishable flowers point thus beyond themselves — as they point beyond even the great and glorious King Solomon to the One who is greater by far than Solomon — so do the Church's vestments and other beautiful adornments point beyond themselves, and beyond this temporal life on earth, to the glories of the age to come: to the revealing of the sons of God in Christ, when we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like Him.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trouble in our sister church, SELK

Editor's Note: This comes from the Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, a pastor in the SELK and visiting professor this coming fall at St. Catharines. He has asked us to post this update regarding the efforts of some in SELK to push for women's ordination, and the counter-efforts to remain faithful to the Scriptures. He includes an open letter for which he is soliciting signatures from LCMS and LCC clergyman. If you would like your name attached, please email Dr. Torgerson directly at: concordia AT lutherwb DOT de - +HRC

Latest Turns in the Theological Debate on Women’s Ordination in the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) of Germany:

An Update from Wilhelm Torgerson

With a Concluding Appeal for Help

A formal (but hollow?) reiteration of orthodoxy

On 20 June 2011, in the course of its regular Church Synod (=National Convention), representatives of the SELK adopted the following three propositions almost unanimously (with no votes to the contrary, but three abstentions):

The matter of the ordination of women to the holy ministry of the Church is not an open question but rather a disputed one

SELK’s official position in regard to WO continues to be what is set forth in Art. 7,2 of her constitution. Since the foundation of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1972, this section has clearly stated that only men (in the male sense of the word, i.e., Männer) may hold the office of the public ministry.

The Consistory (Kirchenleitung) is to establish a commission, made up of equal numbers of men and women, clergy and laity respectively, to guide the ongoing discussion of WO within the SELK.

The June resolution apparently represents the sixth or seventh formal decision by an official assembly of the SELK that has reiterated our Church’s official stance with respect to WO.

Specific background: an errant sister synod provokes crisis in the SELK!

This time around, such a public decision was particularly necessary because of a dramatic series of events immediately preceding the Synod.

On 2 March 2011, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baden (ELKiB), with which SELK has long stood in altar and pulpit fellowship, decided to call a female pastor from the United Protestant Church in the Netherlands to serve as assistant minister in its Freiburg congregation. Mrs. Cornelia Huebner had hitherto served both a nominally Lutheran and a Calvinist parish in the Netherlands, a fact that immediately raises the additional issue of her (and the ELKiB’s) doctrine and practice concerning the Sacrament of the Altar.

Like the SELK, the ELKiB is not one of the Territorial Churches of Germany that replaced the old State Churches after the First World War. Indeed, ELKiB’s roots are in the Old Lutheran movement of the 19th century, and at one time the ELKiB was part of the Hannover Synod that joined the SELK in the merger of several distinct Old Lutheran bodies in 1972.

Despite its roots in orthodox Lutheranism, the ELKiB officially approved the introduction of WO at its 1994 Synod, though it did not act on this decision at that time.

Unfortunately, SELK did not promptly react at that fateful juncture, e.g., by discontinuing church fellowship with a body that had just opted for heterodoxy in doctrine and practice. The maxim on which SELK failed to act was the misguided notion that “it’s only theory, so long as they don’t implement it.”

Informal - and controversial! - response from some in the SELK

On 28 March 2011 the Pro Ecclesia group of confessional SELK pastors met in Hannover,

and after thorough discussion addressed an Open Letter to the Superintendent of ELKiB.

This letter decried both the 1994 decision of his church body with respect to WO in principle and the Freiburg congregation’s issue of a solemn call to Mrs Hübner in particular. Moreover, it informed the Superintendent that its signatories could no longer in good conscience practise communion fellowship with his church. 45 clergymen of the SELK have by now signed the Open Letter.

Here is a translation of the text of the Open Letter of 28 March:

Esteemed Superintendent Schorling,

We, the undersigned, are disconcerted and sad that we had to take note of the fact that the Freiburg Parish of ELKiB has called a woman to serve a vacant pastoral position in its midst. Mrs. Hübner is active in a committee of the Lutheran World Federation with the goal of securing the introduction of women’s ordination also in those LWF churches that have not yet on theological grounds practised WO.

This now creates an entirely new situation in the relationship between our two churches. Now as before we support the Resolution of SELK’s 2001 General Pastoral Conference and of its 2003 National Convention “that it is not possible for a SELK pastor to officiate together with an ordained woman”. In calling a woman into the Office of the Proclamation of the Word and the Administration of the Sacraments instituted by Christ, the undersigned recognize an offence against clear apostolic instructions. “This offence not only indicates a broken relationship with the Word of God, but is also irreconcilable with the Evangelical Lutheran understanding of the ministry as the Pastoral Office” (Commentary by SELK’s first Bishop, The Rt Rev Dr Gerhard Rost, on Art. 7 of the proposed constitution of SELK, 1970). The ordination of a woman to the Office of the Church creates a situation that touches upon the Gospel itself. For the Gospel needs to be proclaimed and handled legitimately, properly, and in an authorised way. According to Christ’s will and command, it not possible for a woman to do so. In this sense there is doubt that the sacraments administered by a woman can be considered valid and in accord with Christ’s institution.

On the basis of Art. 7,2 of SELK’s constitution in connection with Art. 7,1, as well as with a conscience bound by the authority of the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, we therefore state publicly: The actions of ELKiB make it impossible for us to practise altar and pulpit fellowship with ELKiB.

S i g n a t u r e s

Hostility within some quarters of the SELK to Pro Ecclesia Open Letter –and an attempt at damage control by Bishop Voigt

The above letter was duly posted to ELKiB in Freiburg and to the SELK Consistory in Hannover. At SELK headquarters it was by no means received entirely with favour or approval. On the one hand, some SELK officials offered the procedural argument that Pro Ecclesia had no right to speak for the Church as a whole to the leader of another church body. And then, on the other hand, some church officials and pastors—especially in Western and Southern Germany—loudly proclaimed the view that Pro Ecclesia was maliciously “rocking the boat”, wilfully causing a disturbance in the relationship between the two churches. Most shockingly, some from this wing of the SELK were even fully supportive of the ELKiB’s decision, and there were some calls from these quarters for church discipline to be exercised against the Pro Ecclesia signatories.

As may be imagined, a rather disruptive debate promptly ensued within the SELK.

In the prevailing situation, after consultation with SELK’s Consistory and the College of Superintendents, the Bishop of the SELK, The Rt Revd Hans-Jörg Voigt, felt constrained to issue a Pastoral Letter to the church at large, dated 1 April 2011. The Bishop made several points, of which I offer this summary:

The Bishop reminded the Church that SELK’s 2003 Church Synod had formally reiterated the position that the Church is bound to her Constitution, especially Art. 7,2, and to the decisions taken at successive conventions to confirm her official position on WO.

He stated that, until the discussion process on WO within the SELK is resolved, church fellowship with ELKiB may continue to be practised; at the same time, however, he cautioned that such altar and pulpit fellowship cannot not be insisted on.

Even where church fellowship is practised, no pastor of the SELK may officiate together with an ordained woman.

The Consistory and the College of Superintendents enjoin all pastors to refrain from creating any kind of offence or confusion in their congregations and in the church at large.

The Bishop continued his letter as follows:

As the Bishop of the Church I am deeply concerned for our sisters and brothers in the Baden sister church. In a fraternal letter “from Bishop to Bishop” I wrote to Superintendent Schorling, that WO and the service of ordained women in the church are not “catholic” in the proper sense of that word. This means WO does not reflect what has been believed on the basis of Holy Scripture at all times and in all places. And also the debate among our Baden brothers and sisters in regard to a possible subscription to the Leuenberg Concord causes me real anguish. But I feel equal anguish about the tensions in SELK with an increased nervousness prior to our church convention. …It is my observation that both sides, the opponents and the proponents of WO, are pushing hard. With good intentions we increase the pressure on others, especially in view of the coming convention. The understandable desire for clarity and for the resolving of all conflicts and tensions is becoming ever stronger. I have the impression that an internal separation has already taken place in our church and that the “faithful” on both sides of the issue are counting their troops. It is my task as Bishop to serve the unity of the church. Therefore I’m asking all pastors, workers and parishioners deliberately to live with the tensions in our church, to bear with them and, by working with one another and not against each other, to help reduce them. The unity of the church is not an emotional daydream but rather a mandate and instruction of Christ, as is His command to stay with the truth and pure doctrine. I recommend that in the coming period of time we consider the theological and spiritual question of the church’s unity, the value thereof, and under what conditions this is to be achieved. Let us not grow tired of praying for the unity of the Church, something that was in danger from its very beginning and yet has always existed. In Christ, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt

The Bishop felt compelled to follow up this missive with a brief letter in which he explained that in the Pastoral Letter he did not mean to plead for unity at the expense of pure doctrine—so obviously this is exactly the impression that it made among some members of the SELK. The very fact that the Pastoral Letter kept referring to Einheit (= outward unity) instead of Einigkeit (= unity of mind and spirit) makes one wonder about its underlying theological agenda.

Is it high time for pastors in LCMS and LCC to express solidarity with Pro Ecclesia and concern to Bishop Voigt?

Since, as the sainted Dr Marquart used to say, altar and pulpit fellowship between church bodies involves joint responsibility for doctrine and practice, I thank the editors of Gottesdienstonline for permitting me to update our North American brothers and sisters in the faith on the recent dramatic developments within the SELK, which will ultimately have consequences on the other (your) side of the ocean. And I am particularly grateful that they are making it possible for pastors in LCMS and LCC to sign the following Open Letter to Bishop Hans Jörg Voigt:

Open Letter to Bishop Voigt

Dear Bishop Voigt,

We, the undersigned, rejoice in the fellowship that binds us to the SELK as the mother church of the branch of Holy Christendom that has grown out of the Lutheran Reformation. The high value we place on our fellowship with the SELK causes us to look with great alarm upon the recent unhappy events in your Baden sister synod that threaten to impair the communion we enjoy with you, your pastors, and your people as a good gift of God.

We hereby voice our solidarity with the good confession made by the pastors of the Pro Ecclesia group in their Open Letter of 28 March 2011.

We respectfully ask you to put the whole weight of your office behind the position taken by Pro Ecclesia with respect to the consequences of the intended installation of Mrs Hübner as a “pastor” of the ELKiB.

We note that women’s ordination is not a matter of secondary importance. To the contrary, its introduction has gravely challenged the Christian integrity of all those church bodies that have adopted it. Indeed, to speak colloquially and sharply, it might be said without exaggeration that all churches that introduce women’s ordination to the Pastoral Office instituted by Christ our Lord find themselves sooner or later as it were on the exit ramp from the highway of Holy Christendom. Since the crystal-clear testimony of Holy Scripture as received by the historic Church makes WO as much an “open” question as are the Divinity of our Lord and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture, we earnestly ask that the SELK promptly break church fellowship with the ELKiB and that discipline be exercised on those pastors of the SELK who continue to practise altar and pulpit fellowship with the ELKiB.

Let us pray for each other as we endeavour to heed Christ’s call for faithfulness in these ominous times of mounting apostasy. And let us encourage each other to hold fast to Christ’s whole truth in all matters of faith and practice, firmly resisting the contrary pressures of the devil, the world, and our own flesh.

Yours, in Christ,

[If you are an LCMS or LCC clergyman and would like your name attached, please email Dr. Torgerson directly at: concordia AT lutherwb DOT de - +HRC]

Put not your trust in prince[esse]s

Lutheranism has an odd history when it comes to politics. We proclaimed the proper division of the Two Kingdoms forcefully against the papacy - only to fall into caesaro-papism and a shameful obeisance to the various princes of Germany which led to all sorts of messes when many of them decided they liked Calvinism. Then the forced unions and the emigration to these shores. Then a time of quietly keeping to ourselves and quite separate from Anglo politics. But then The War Against Prussian Militarism scared the sauerkraut out of us, the Battle Flag came into the Chancel and by the time the next war with Germany came, the requirement to be able to preach in German was withdrawn at CSL and we (LCMS and WELS) were as American as apple pie, part of the mainstream, including politics. Jack Preus (son of a governor) prayed with Nixon just as WAM wrapped up his career somewhere between Billy Graham and Father Coughlin. Today, the LCMS and WELS are reliably neo-conservative Red State Republicans - with plenty of exceptions to prove the rule, of course.

But if you really want to go somewhere, Lutheranism is a tad embarrassing. Did you know they believe the pope is the Antichrist? WTF? That nice man who kisses the Koran and prays with Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims? What jerks!

So what's a guy/girl to do? Here's an example from the recently ex-WELS Mrs. Bachmann:

During an appearance this week hosted by the Christian Chamber of Commerce in Columbia, S.C., she was asked about her personal faith.

"I'm a believer in Jesus Christ," Bachmann answered. "I was born into a family where we were Lutherans. I'm sure that the Gospel was preached from the pulpit. I just didn't hear it."

Bachman then went on to describe how at 16 she gave her heart to Jesus Christ.


Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.

2While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.

3Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

4His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

5Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:

6Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:

7Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners:

8The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous:

9The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.

10The LORD shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the LORD.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The chief expositor of the "Evangelical Style, Lutheran Substance" paradigm among our readers, the redoubtable Fr. Louderback, hatched quite the canard in the comments below. His remark is so common on that side of the debate, and the simple reply to it so needed in the debate, that I thought I would elevate this exchange of comments to its own post.

Fr. Louderback wrote, quoting me in italics:

Folks, if you import non-Lutheran stuff into your Lutheran church it won't be, you know, so Lutheran anymore.

Except of course if it is Roman Catholic—that can imported with impunity. :)

To which I replied:

I refer you to the conclusion to Part I of the AC and to its final conclusion:

"5] This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers. . . . 8] For it is a false and malicious charge that all the ceremonies, all the things instituted of old, are abolished in our churches. 9] But it has been a common complaint that some abuses were connected with the ordinary rites. These, inasmuch as they could not be approved with a good conscience, have been to some extent corrected."

"Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches."

That, according to the Lutheran Confessions, is what Lutherans are like: nothing in ceremonies contrary to the Church Catholic.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Bait and Switch

A guest post from Fr. Scott Adle:

Here is an odd essay about growing up Christian, then getting out once she found out exactly what the relevant churches were doing -- the bait and switch.

This, by the way, is considered the ultimate sign of quality CCM, even amongst Christians: the ability to pass as secular. Every band’s goal was to have teenagers stop their grooving mid-song and exclaim, like a soda commercial actress who’s just realized she’s been drinking Diet, “Wait, this isChristian?” The logic was that the more these bands fit in with what was playing on the radio, the more someone like me would feel comfortable passing their album on to my non-Christian friends (supposing I’d had any), giving them a chance to hear the gospel. . . .

Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.

Friday, July 15, 2011

And the answer is. . .

I think Fr. Petersen put it best in the comments on the previous post: whichever song is imagined as the "Praise Song" it is deeply creepy.

The non-praise song was sent to me by Fr. Kyle Mietzner because he knows I know about the thing that is the Shaggs. Uff. He said that the Vivian Girls sounds like what the Shaggs would sound like if they could actually sing together. And it's not half bad.

I had to look up the lyrics and when I did, boy howdy, it sounded like a praise song. So I was moved to search for a real praise song and have this little contest. This was listed as the fourth most popular praise song currently running in American Evangelical circles. The most popular version seems to be by one Kari Jobe - with whom the the Texas District of the LCMS had a spot of trouble some years ago. Egads, this video is beyond creepy. And the comments: ultra beyond creepy.

Folks, if you import non-Lutheran stuff into your Lutheran church it won't be, you know, so Lutheran anymore.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Find the Praise Song!

Now, this will only be fun if you don't know either one of these songs. So if you read the lyrics and recognize one of the songs below, don't comment and ruin it for others.

Here are the lyrics from two songs. One is a praise song very popular in American Evangelical churches (including, I suppose, many Lutheran churches). The other is by a weird, grad-school-square-glasses, ironic, Shaggs-like, super hip girl band. Which is which? Please explain your reasoning.

Remember: no fair Googling and no fair if you've heard either song.


Song A

Keep it to myself
No way
He knows
What I know
He feels
What I feel

I'll tell the world
About the love that I found

Keep it to myself
No way
He sees
What I see
He feels
What I feel

I'll tell the world
About the love that I found

Keep it to myself
No way
He has
What no one else has
He knows
What no one else knows

I'll tell the world
About the love
The love
The love
That I found

Song B

The more i seek you,
the more i find you
The more i find you, the more I love you

I wanna sit at your feet
drink from the cup in your hand.
Lay back against you and breath, here your heart beat
This love is so deep, it's more than I can stand.
I melt in your peace, it's overwhelming

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Summer Read for the History Fans

From David Goldfield's, America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation (Bloomsbury Press, 2011).

Evangelical Christianity did not disappear after the war. Rather, it was increasingly secular, a function of the prevailing postwar culture rather than the other way around. Dwight L. Moody packed his revivals with the simple message of eternal salvation and banned politics from his pulpits. He offered little in the way of theological exegesis. Most of his "sermons" took the form of secular stories sprinkled with treacly aphorisms much more than biblical texts. As the Wild West and minstrel shows made caricatures of Indians and blacks, Moody succeeded in making religion a spectacle. Many of his middle- and upper-class congregants came to see a show and to be part of an event. It was comfort religion, part of the culture of affluence and prosperity. (p. 13)

Goldfield's work comes to me highly recommended and I am enjoying it immensely. Unlike many other works on American history, he pays keen attention to religion. The basic thesis of Goldfield's book is that evangelical Christianity's political ascent among a mediocre generation, the second to come of age after the Revolution, led the nation into war as bombasts on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line lost all sense of compromise and any hope of peaceful solutions. Why was America the only country to rid itself of the sin of human bondage at the cost of a catastrophic war? Rome, Britain, France, Brazil, even Russia managed a peaceful transition to freedom. What went wrong here? Goldfield seeks to answer that question and finds a great deal of that answer in the realm of religion.

As the quotation above shows, Goldfield casts a keen eye on the religious scene. Even if you find yourself at loggerheads with his conclusions, you will certainly learn something about how the current religious milieu of America came to be - and perhaps where it is headed.


___________ Sunday

It seems that the Gottesdienst editors have been on summer vacation; sorry about the few-and-far-betweenness of the posts. But with lawn mowing, summer travel, fishing, and "drinking good Wittenberg beer," maybe you haven't noticed.

At any rate, I was awakened from my summerly slumber by the mailing advertising "LWML Sunday." It includes one of those "special" Divine Services peculiar to middle of the road Protestantism. It doesn't matter that this comes from the LWML: it might just as easily come with LLL Sunday, Concordia Sunday, Life Sunday, etc. This is a problem common to all such "special Sundays" and has been for a long time. I don't mean to pick on the LWML - it's just the example that happened to come in the mail this week; there will be others. And one sees this sort of thing not just in Lutheran churches, but in Methodist churches, UCC churches, and in all the places where one is apt to find vaguely liturgical Protestantism. There is a feeling that worship should be formal, or at least written down, but that it should also be flexible and "special."

[This is the sort of thing that is sometimes called "blended worship" if you toss in one of the currently popular songs of American Evangelicalism and the standard Praise Band accompaniment. But the various RSOs who send these things out usually stick with hymns, so I guess it's not "blended."]

The theory in operation is that the liturgy is more or less an outline whose details are to be filled in as one sees fit, especially for "special occasions" where new line items might be added. In traditional parlance, everything is a Proper and some Propers are invented out of whole cloth. Most of these Propers are responsive readings, prayers, and litanies that are best described by the word awkward. How could they be anything else? It's the first time anybody has ever seen these words and we are supposed to read them smoothly and with meaning? That's a tall order. The liturgy rolls off the tongue by long usage. And even then, the translation committee has spent many long hours trying to make sure that it is easily pronounceable. Such care simply cannot occur in these rapidly produced "special services." A sample:

The Litany of Purpose

P: God sent His Son to seek and save the lost. We were once part of the lost.

C: Lord, make us into people who are glad to share the Savior. Bring us to our community's lost and our church's needy.

P: God sent His Son to sae the sinners and now He sends the Holy Spirit to call them to forgiveness, faith, and salvation.

C: Lord, make us people who are glad to share the Savior's salvation and peace. Help us share His peace with those we meet.

P: In His providence, God has granted us grateful hearts that are glad to share the wonders of His love and the glories of His grace with others.

C: Lord, make us people who will share the Savior with those who are closest to us.

P: The Lord blessed us with children both biological and spiritual; He will also bless us with the words to tell them of the Savior who wishes to bless them.

C: Lord, make us people who will share the Savior with families who are hurting and in homes where there is fear and discord.

P: In His wisdom God will give to us that Scriptural message which is most needed in thee homes. In those places where stuff and not the Savior is most important, may we share the Savior. May we reflect Your love, which is far greater than ours.
You have told us not to forget all our blessings. There is not enough time for us to list all of them. But help us remember some:

(A single bell chime may be rung after each remembered blessing)

A Savior from sin; the Sacraments; leaders both temporal and spiritual; gift of family and friends; plenteous food and drink; warm homes; technological advancements.

In thanksgiving, may we be Your people who share the Savior, who must tell of what we have seen and heard.

If, in the coming years, we suffer loss, if discouragement and depression are to come, let us look to You for strength and deliverance. As loss brings changes to our fellowship, let it be because we have gone with our Savior, and not because we have turned our hearts away from you.
[This is then followed by the Litany of Confession. ]

Kind of awkward, yes? There are dimly remembered phrases from the Catechism that are written down wrongly and which will thus cause some stumbling for someone with the Catechism memorized ("forgiveness, faith, and salvation" instead of "forgiveness, life, and salvation.") The key phrases invented by the author are inconsistently stated and thus apt to cause stumbling: first it's "make us into people who" and then it's "make us people who." Or are we supposed to read something into the first "into"? The pastor's last paragraph begins by speaking of God in the third person and then suddenly switches to being a prayer in the second person. There are words and phrases that are foreign and awkward sounding to the churchly ear which expects Scriptural, catechetical, or liturgical language: "Litany of Purpose;" "children both biological and spiritual;" "share the Savior;" "stuff and not the Savior."

And then there's that bell ringing for blessings. Where did that come from? We typically toll the bell for the dead at All Saints' Day and at funerals. The Zimbelstern goes on for doxological stanzas. Sacristy bells are jingled at the Consecrations. But this tolling for blessings is a novum. The single chime business calls to mind nothing so much as the funeary customs.

You get the idea. The criticism of my criticism will be that I'm over thinking it, being nit-picky, etc. The point is to honor the LWML/LLL/CUS system/Life Sunday/Etc. It's a special day so it gets a special service. Nobody's perfect and you are just being a jerk. It's a nice, special, service.

Verily, a great chasm has been fixed between us. Can't we honor the service of these groups by praying for them in the General Prayers? Is any group within any particular denomination given the right to suggest that churches displaces the universal lectionary and liturgy?

And then there is the preachiness of such things. Preaching should be carefully limited to the sermon. Prof. Gibbs at CSL has a hilarious routine wherein he makes this point to potential pastors when it comes to "special" communion dismissals or distribution formulae. You know what I mean. The sermon has been about, say, prayer. At the dismissal the everpreachy pastor might say, "Now [they always add "now"] may this Body and Blood strengthen and preserve you to be people of Prayer. In Jesus' Name: go in peace." Gibbs then says: You get 20 minutes to make your point. You don't get to drop it again and again in the prayers, the dismissal, etc.

I think the LWML/LLL/CUS, etc. are better off simply asking for our prayers in the midst of the church's liturigcal year which always seeks to make Christ the spotlight and the Lord's Supper the special event of each and every Sunday. This is also why I throw away all the junk mail from Synod HQ regarding "Pastor Appreciation Month." All of it means well, of course: but well-meaning needs to be guided in the right direction to be of service to the Church.