Friday, August 31, 2012

A catechumenate. . .

This is from Fr. Mark Surburg of Marion, IL. It's a good example of how a catechumenate can be made to work in a mid-sized Lutheran parish. - +HRC

The Catechumenate – Forming Individuals and the Church in Faith
As a congregation, Good Shepherd faces some significant challenges as she seeks to catechize individuals and bring them into the fellowship of the Sacrament of the Altar.  The greatest of these challenges is the fact that we now live in a world that can be described as post-Christian.  There was a time when the core values and assumptions of the Church and our culture overlapped to a large degree.  As the Church worked to bring new members into the fellowship, she could assume that interested individuals shared a common morality and had a basic knowledge of the biblical narratives.  However, that is no longer the case.  Instead individuals are now often quite open to attitudes and behaviors that Scripture says are contrary to God’s will.  They frequently have little knowledge of the basic narratives contained in Scripture.  Their values and assumptions are often not those of the Church.

And even when a person is coming from a Christian background, there are still significant challenges.  Located in southern Illinois, we live in an area where both the Lutheran Church and her sacramental and catholic (universal) piety are rare.  The majority of people joining Good Shepherd through catechesis come from various Reformed churches that deny the Sacraments and whose worship life and piety have included very few of the catholic practices that have been the common heritage of the Church – things like liturgy, creeds, Church year, lectionary, vestments, etc.

Both of these situations underscore the need to bring people out of one culture and worldview and to bring them into an evangelical catholic culture and worldview.  This is not an easy assignment.  But it is also not the first time the Church has faced it.  In the course of the fourth century, the Church went from facing empire-wide persecution to being the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Suddenly there was a large group of people who wanted to come into the Church.  However, they came from a pagan world.  They needed to be shaped and formed in the Church’s culture and worldview.

The Church’s response was the catechumenate – a formal process by which individuals were gradually led deeper into the Christian faith and life.  This was aimed not simply at education, but rather at forming people to live as Christ’s Church.  A series of rites helped to mark the stages as a person continued on in this process and grew in their commitment. 

The goal and foundation of this process was Holy Baptism that occurred at the Vigil of Easter.  The season of Lent was a time of preparation and an individual experienced entrance into the Church within the setting of Holy Week.  After remembering the death of Christ on Good Friday, the celebration of Easter began on Saturday night at the Vigil of Easter. St. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).  Baptism at the Vigil of Easter highlighted the fact that Holy Baptism gives us a share in Christ’s saving death and resurrection.  The week after Easter was then a time of ongoing reflection upon the Means of Grace and the liturgy of the Church in which they take place.

The catechumenate has been taken up again by sacramental and liturgical churches in order to meet the renewed challenge of bringing people out of the culture that surrounds us and into the culture of the Church.  This fall, Good Shepherd will begin using the catechumenate to bring individuals who are not Lutheran into the congregation.  At Good Shepherd, the catechumenate will take the following form:

Catechumenate at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

I. Time of Inquiry
A time to answer questions that inquirers may have about what the Lutheran Church believes.

May – Friendship Sunday

September – Enrollment of Sponsors

II. Catechumenate
Catechesis focused on Lectionary and Catechism

September – Admission to the Catechumenate

III. Preparation for Baptism and Affirmation of Baptism; Confirmation and Reception in to Membership
Catechesis focused on worship and living the Christian life

First Sunday in Lent – Enrollment of Candidates for Baptism and Enrollment of Candidates for Affirmation of Baptism, Confirmation and Reception into Membership

Third Sunday in Lent – Blessing of Candidates – Renunciation of Evil

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Blessing of Candidates – Presentation of the Creed

Fifth Sunday in Lent  – Blessing of Candidates – Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer

Vigil of Easter – Rite of Holy Baptism and, Confirmation and Reception into Membership

IV. Mystagogy
Teaching about and reflection upon the Vigil of Easter.

Wednesday in Easter Week

The catchumenate begins with a Time of Inquiry.  During this period, congregation members are encouraged to invite people to attend the Divine Service. A Friendship Sunday in May will be a time particularly aimed at this.  Visitors who are interested in the Lutheran Church are encouraged to continue attending the Divine Service because it is through the liturgy of Word and Sacrament that a person begins to learn about the Christian faith and to be formed by the Church’s sacramental and catholic culture.  They are provided a copy of the Small Catechism to read and invited to meet with pastor in an informal setting in order to ask questions and receive an overview of what the Lutheran Church believes.

As the group who will be entering the catechumenate begins to form, they are matched with sponsors from the congregation who are enrolled in September.  Sponsors pray for a catechumen, take part in catechesis with them, and serve as support and encouragement during this process.

The events that take place during the Time of Inquiry illustrate that the catechumenate is the congregation’s outreach tool.  Congregation members do not simply invite people to come and visit Good Shepherd. They invite them to a process that is ready to bring those who are interested into the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Members are also part of this process as they serve as sponsors who assist individuals in becoming part of the congregation.

Inquirers who decide that they want to become part of the Lutheran Church and members at Good Shepherd are admitted into the catechumenate .  This takes place at the beginning of the Divine Service on the first Sunday in October.  The fact that the Admission to the Catechumenate takes place in the Divine Service highlights an important point.  The catechumenate is a public process in which the congregation encourages and supports those who are entering into the fellowship.

After entering the catechumate, the individuals begin catechesis, meeting once a week with their sponsors and the pastor.  Catechesis is about formation in the faith.  It is not simply education.  For this reason catechesis occurs in the setting of worship using the Service of Prayer and Preaching in Lutheran Service Book (pg. 260).  The catechesis focuses on the Scripture readings from the previous Sunday and on the Catechism (Ten Commandments; Apostles’ Creed; Lord’s Prayer; Matthew 28:19 [Holy Baptism]; John 20:22-23 [Holy Absolution]; Words of Institution [Sacrament of the Altar]) as explained in Luther’s Small Catechism.

Catechesis continues in this way until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  The Church year teaches the faith and unfolds before us the saving work of Christ.  The timing of catechesis allows the catechumen to experience Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter. These seasons of the Church year become part of their formation in the faith and are integrated by the pastor into catechesis.

The beginning of Lent marks the final stage of catechesis as the catechumens prepare for Baptism or the Affirmation of Baptism; and for Confirmation and Reception in to Membership.  They have completed catechesis that focuses on the content of the Catechism and are invited to express publicly their intention to be baptized or to affirm their baptism at the Vigil of Easter,and to be confirmed and received into membership.  At the same time, this is a moment when the Church exercises discernment.  The pastor and the sponsors prayerfully consider whether a catechumen is ready for this next step as they reflect upon their presence at the Divine Service and catechesis, and the manner in which their lives display progress in the Christian life.

The Enrollment of Candidates takes place in the Divine Service on the First Sunday in Lent.  Like the Admission into the Catechumenate this portion of the service marks and helps to reinforce the deepening commitment.  The candidates enter into Lent, which is a time of catechesis and growth in the faith that leads to baptism.  The congregation affirms that it will support the candidates during Lent as they make this journey.  In turn, the presence of the candidates reminds the congregation that Lent is a return to baptism for all of us, a point that becomes clear in the Affirmation of Baptism at the Vigil of Easter.

During Lent, catechesis focuses on worship and living the Christian life.   Candidates learn about how the liturgy is the setting for the jewels of the Sacraments and about how the liturgy continues to teach the faith we confess.  Through reflection upon the Scriptures, they also learn about what the Christian faith means for daily life in the world.  The Lenten journey is punctuated by the Blessing of the Candidates on the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays in Lent.  As they learn about the  Christian life, the candidates renounce evil. They are also publicly presented the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  This summarizes the catechesis in faith and prayer that they have received and emphasizes the importance of confessing the faith and praying as they enter into the fellowship.

During Holy Week candidates attend the Triduum – the one service that runs through the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Holy Saturday.  At the Vigil candidates receive Holy Baptism or approach the font in order to affirm their baptism.  All candidates are confirmed, received into membership and then receive the Lord’s Supper for the first time as they share in the sacrament of unity.

The individuals now share in the fellowship at Good Shepherd. However, this does not mean they are finished growing in faith.  The Christian life is an ongoing process and this is exemplified by the fact that they meet on the Wednesday of Easter Week for mystagogy.  Mystagogy is the process of explaining the mysteries of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  It is reflection upon the service and the experiences of the Vigil of Easter as we think about what they mean for our ongoing life in the faith.

Good Shepherd will begin using the catechumenate in order to transform people by taking them out of the culture of the world and bringing them into the sacramental and catholic culture of the Church.  However, the catechumenate will also help in the continuing process of renewal and growth in faith of the congregation’s life. It will make outreach and evangelism part of the rhythm of the congregation.  It will make Lent a time for renewed commitment to the baptismal life.  The presence of the catechumens and candidates will remind us that just as they are making a journey of faith, we are called to return to that journey and what it means for us.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On School Chapel

This product, advertised at the LCMS main page, has got me to thinking about school chapel. Back in my wasted youth at Concordia - Seward there was a momentary tempest in a teapot about who could lead chapel. Profs of the XY variety were so allowed and some profettes of the XX variety got some dis in their gruntle over this perceived injustice. In my infinite 20 year old wisdom, I wrote a letter to the student newspaper encouraging the administration (who literally may have known of my existence since they periodically sent me bills) to fish or cut bait. Either chapel is worship, in which case, pastors should preside: End Of Line. Or chapel is "family devotions" in which case any Tom, Dick, or Harriet should get a slot on the rotation.

At the time, I was probably confused enough to take that "or" seriously. Chapel is worship. It happens in a church (or at least a "worship space"). The Bible is read and expounded publicly. Hymns are sung and liturgies (admittedly: often epically made up liturgies) are spoken, etc. It's worship. Really, it is.

And thus you don't need "chapel talks." You need sermons, or "catechetical instruction," given by the man who is called to that parish to "instruct both young and old" in Christian doctrine.

I'm sure these talks for sale at are very good theologically (though I must confess to not being willing to pay $25 to test my supposition). Indeed, I'm sure they are much, much better than the stereotypical "chapel talk" every Lutheran grade school alum can recall (ping pong balls and rice, eggs and Erlenmeyer flasks, chocolate sundaes and "it is finished," sins on paper burned in a jar, Jesus erases our sins, free donuts purchased by a third party's push ups...etc.). But why not go whole hog? Why not encourage our pastors to get back in the chancel? Why not encourage our teachers to realize that chapel is a time for them to receive the gifts just as much as the children are to receive them there?


The Good Samaritan and You: Thoughts on Trinity 13

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" asked the Lawyer. But what can a man do to inherit anything? Can inheritances be earned? No. Inheritances are bequeathed. They are given, based not on what you do but on who you are. Inheritances are about being and receiving not doing.

And so Jesus answers the Lawyer's question: "Do this and you will live." He speaks not of eternal life. He speaks of life. That is, do this and you will show yourself, prove yourself to be alive. Do not do these things and you will prove yourself to be dead. For the one who does not do this is dead: dead in his trespasses and sins. For the wages of sin--the transgression of God's Law--is death, as the Lord promised Adam "In the day that you eat of it, you will surely die." So, Jesus' answer really is a veiled question about human nature. He asks: Who are you? Are you alive? Or are you dead?

And so the Lawyer, seeking to justify himself, seeking still to earn eternal life, asks "Who is my neighbor?"In other words, the Lawyer still doesn't get it. And thus the parable.

The parable is told from the perspective of the man in the ditch. As you listen, you can't but help seeing yourself in the ditch. And so you can't help but see all these people walking by on the other side. The Lawyer sees those so focused on their doing so as to earn eternal life, that they do not show themselves to be alive to those who are in need. And so the Lawyer sees himself walk by on the other side. He sees himself leave himself for dead. He wasn't a neighbor even to himself. He is dead. Anyway you look at it, either as the one in the ditch or as the ones who walk by, he is dead.

But the one who was a neighbor is the one who had every right not to be: the Samaritan. The one despised by his own half brothers did not see it below him to help one in need. For he, too, saw himself in the ditch. He felt it in his bowels. He had empathy and sympathy. And so he showed mercy. He reached out to  those who did not deserve it as though he himself were in that ditch. He paid his half-brother's price. He felt their pain. He went the distance for them. He lived so that they would not die. He proved himself to be alive to save them from death. He had compassion on them. He felt sorry for them and did something about it. He is alive.

Now the parable goes out to you. You are in the ditch. Do you see yourself pass by? Yes. But your half brother, our Lord Jesus Christ, has compassion. He proves himself to be alive. He comes into your death to pull you out it, to give you His life. And you live.

Now go and do likewise. Prove yourself as one alive out of the grave, saved from death, forgiven of your trespasses and sins. Do mercy to your half brothers in the ditch. Have compassion on them. Feel their pain, pay their price, go the distance for them. Live . . . in faith toward God and in fervent love toward your neighbor.

Monday, August 20, 2012

And He sighed, "Ephatha": Thoughts on Trinity 12

Sometimes we feel our fallenness most acutely not in the sins that we commit ourselves, but in the sins that we suffer from a fallen world and from the hands of evil people. We realize in those times that it’s not that we need to try harder, that we need pep talks, life coaches, or twelve-step programs. We realize that what we endure because of sin is far bigger than all of that. It is a cancer that infects and destroys everything around us. 

And It leaves us dazed, even confused. It leaves us overwhelmed and exasperated. And it makes us tired. So we groan. We sigh. We sigh in pain, in exhaustion, in disbelief. When we watch our heroes grow old, become weak, and die. When our friends or family let us down, when they don’t stick up for us, or worse, when they take advantage of us, when they betray us. We feel the effects of sin. We feel the effects of the curse “by the sweat of your brow you shall eat . . .” and “you will surely die.” Sighing is a fruit of the curse. 

And so we try to ignore it. We shrug it off, looking for the ray of sunshine in what is otherwise complete darkness. But some of the things we endure can’t be shrugged off. Somethings can’t be ignored. Either because they are so deeply personal or because they are of such a magnitude that they can’t be. They gnaw at us because we know that this is not how things are supposed to be. It is not how God intended it. 

St. Paul says that what we experience is what the whole creation experiences. That the whole creation groans and sighs as it suffers and endures the realities of sin in the world, that sickness and death and evil are part of our daily experience. We live under the weight of sin, the weight of death and loss, the weight of loneliness and betrayal. We live under the curse. 

And this is why we sigh and groan. Because we know this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Because we’re tired and overwhelmed, because we’re hurt and confused, because we don’t know what to do. And we sigh.

Our Lord Jesus Christ also sighs. But when He sighs it’s different. He feels your pain to be sure. And He knows your emptiness. But there’s more than that. He knows that there’s a cure. His sighs are more than expressions of the curse made incarnate in creation. His sighs are also blessings. His sighs undo the curse. They overcome and overpower it. His sighs give. For when He sighs, he breathes in the curse and breaths out His blessings. He gives a part of Himself, His Word, His Spirit. Ephatha. Be opened. Talitha cum! Arise! Be forgiven. Be holy. Be well. It is finished!

This is why the friends of the deaf mute bring him to Jesus. They know He can do something about it. They know that He has the cure. They know that the best help they can give is to bring him to Jesus, to hand him over to the One who sighs not out of frustration but out of accomplishment. The one who actually does something about the crap that happens to us and because of us. 

Oh, that we would have friends like these. Oh, that we would be friends like these . . . even to ourselves. Oh that we would go to confession, to that uncomfortable and awkward place where Jesus prods us with His fingers and spits in our mouths, where He sighs and breathes His blessing upon us to lift the curse, to cleanses us of the sins that we have done and that have been done to us. Oh that we would seek Jesus, where He promises to be, where He promises to shut up our wounds and the demons of past sins that constantly assail us, and open us up to receive His Word, His Spirit, His breath, His life. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Blog + beg = Bleg (Delinquent letter)

I'd like to send a fresh letter to my seldom-attending members encouraging them to come to the Lord's House. I wrote one a few years ago and would like a fresh approach. If you have such a delinquent letter, I'd love to see it. Could you please either post it in the comments or email it me (pastorcurtis at gmail . com)?


Friday, August 10, 2012

"Those Who Do Not Yet Know Jesus" or "Missional Closers"

"You close or you hit the bricks! Decision -- have you made your decision for Christ?! And action... get out there! You got the prospects comin' in; you think they came in to get out of the rain? Guy doesn't walk on the lot unless he wants to buy. Sitting out there waiting to give you their money! Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it?  .... Go and do likewise." (Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross)

By Larry Beane

There was a time (such as when the New Testament was still being written) when those who were not members of the Body of Christ were called "unbelievers."  At some point in our recent past, this term became politically incorrect among the mandarins of the Church Growth Movement.  And so instead we began to hear about the "unchurched."  The emphasis shifted from being a commentary on the lack of faith of the non-Christian, emphasizing instead his lack of relationship to the church.

But now, in these more missional (less churchly) times, a new word is called for.  And that new word is (as most politically-correct neologisms are) actually comprised of several words - in this case, a nice sacramental seven:

"Those who do not yet know Jesus."

This terminology is being used across denominational lines (a quick Google will show the cross-confessional  nature of the expression), and when it was being vocalized (and quite often) at my district's recent convention, there was a particular emphasis placed on the word "yet."  It was as though there was a memo that went out at corporate explaining the proper way to articulate and emote the slogan, as there was also quite often an audible and emphatic wavering of the voice to register the requisite amount of emotion: "Tho-o-o-se who do not YET (brief pause) kno-o-ow Jeeeee-sus."

We are in the deep South after all.

It is an interesting turn of phrase.  For unlike the term "unbeliever" - it does not address state of faith of the person to which it refers.  And unlike "unchurched" it doesn't focus on the relationship of the person to the Bride of Christ.  Instead, the verb used is "to know."  And it is a word that requires some context.  In Scripture, to "know" a person might mean to have a sexual relationship with him.  To "know" a person may indicate acquaintance, to be aware that he exists, or to have some kind of relationship with him (whether good or bad).  To "know" also points us toward rationality.  "Knowing" (rationality) is certainly a different category than "believing" (faith).

But here the emphasis is on "yet."

The expression speaks of Christianity as a state of knowing Jesus, and of the unbeliever as simply being in a state of temporary ignorance.  "Those who do not yet know Jesus" are people who are ignorant of Jesus, but presumably, when we do our job and teach them about Jesus, they will certainly become Christians (or more missionally-correct: "Jesus-followers") right along with us.  It is as though all we need to do is tell them and they will convert, teach them, and they will join, relieve them of their ignorance, and they will drop their current religions (whether they are Wicca or work) to become disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a variation on the line from Field of Dreams: "If you build it..."

But what about unbelievers who do know Jesus but have rejected him?  The expression "those who do not yet know Jesus" makes no provision for those who know Christ but have no desire to submit to Him.  With such people, the "yet" is not just incorrect, it's arrogant.  One of the reasons cited by our culture for its hatred of Christianity is its supposed arrogance.  Usually, the allegation is based on a caricature or distortion of the church - or at very least, based on representations of Christianity that are unflattering.  However, I have to say, in this case, the charge is true.  The term "those who do not yet know Jesus" is terribly arrogant.  Can you imagine if Muslims referred to us as "those who do not yet know Mohammed"?  The presumption would be that the only reason we would not be Muslims is our ignorance of their religion's founder.  And if they only give us the right information, the right sales job, the right education, the right program script - we would be Allah-followers.

I think this is a terribly disrespectful and condescending way to speak about unbelievers.  For very few unbelievers are truly ignorant of Jesus.  Most people have heard something about Jesus, at very least.  Most people have some contact with Christians of some form.  Even Atheists typically have December 25 as a day off work, and it would be hard indeed to find a Jew or Muslim who is ignorant that a lot of people living in his community worship a Jew named Jesus and consider Him to be God.  There are many unbelievers who are quite learned in Scripture and church history.  The reason they are unbelievers has nothing to do with ignorance.

There is also a thread of Arminianism running through the term.  For it connects one's state of being a Christian (i.e. one who holds the catholic faith of the Triune God and the Divine Incarnation of Jesus) to "knowing" (which is rational) - and then typically makes it the job of Christians - clergy and lay alike - to "tell" the one "who does not yet know Jesus" about Jesus.  Thus confessing the faith becomes a kind of sales-job ("get the message out" or as said in our more missionally-correct times, we need to "tell our story").  We just need to get out there and close the deal.  If the customers only knew how great our vacuum cleaners were, they would be buying them.  "Hit the bricks, pal!"  "Always be closing!"

This was the problem with the late Ablaze! program that was jammed down the throats of LCMS Lutherans a few years ago.  It treated confessing the faith as a quantifiable business transaction that was subject to being logged and counted toward a corporate sales goal.  The program (shockingly) explicitly did not include Holy Baptism as a so-called "critical event" to be logged.  And this program was sold as a means to start thousands of new LCMS churches in the U.S. and around the world.  Based on these projections, church workers (including pastors) were aggressively recruited for the tsunami of new churches that would be built ("if you build it...") through this salesmanship.  Instead, we're seeing record numbers of seminary candidates stranded on Call Night.  We now have a glut of pastors and lay church workers.  Synodical policy goals grew out of rosy estimates based on Ablaze! ("if you build it...").  It's hard enough to project sales of products (in spite of focus groups and market research), let alone to turn the Holy Spirit's ministry into something to be carved up on a PowerPoint pie graph and subjected to number crunching on a whiteboard at Corporate.

And now even though Ablaze! was allowed to go quietly into the night, our bureaucrats and bean counters are scouring the neo-Evangelical world looking for the Next Great Evangelism Program - without regard to the doctrine of election, to the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, the cross, and without reference to Holy Baptism as the means by which the Second Birth happens.  The new hype centers around the idea of "missional communities" - which for some reason, typically involves coffee.  I cannot help wondering if "Blake" (Alec Baldwin) from Glengarry Glen Ross will one day be invited to speak to a "Missional Summit" (which is what church conferences seem to be called in our brave missional world) railing at us that "coffee is for closers only!"

At some point we are going to have to disavow ourselves of the sales model and come to grips with our Lord's metaphor that the Kingdom is a Narrow Path that few find.  Those on the Broad Road are seldom there because they are ignorant of Jesus.  It is a good and fitting thing to confess the faith, to give an answer for the reason of the hope within us, to articulate what the Christian faith is and who our Lord Jesus is - speaking the truth in love.  But we should not be so arrogant as to think that if we only teach people the right things, serve the right coffee, wear the right clothes, use the right buzzwords ("if you build it..."), and implement the right program or gimmick, unbelievers will become members of the Church.

Maybe there is an unintended consequence of the arrogance of the expression "those who do not yet know Jesus" (as well-intentioned as it is).  And maybe that consequence is a rejection of Jesus because of the arrogance of His followers.  And maybe the proper way to speak to such people is humility in our clear confession instead of fuzzy buzzwords, slick programs, and marketing schemes based on the presumption of the ignorance of the unbeliever.

We are called to be confessors of the faith, not closers of the deal.

"I'm here from downtown.... And I'm here on a mission of mercy." 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Of "Father" and "Mass"

Since its inception Gottesdienst has included the title Father for clergymen and the term Mass for, well, for the Mass, as part of its style guide. This, along with the chasubles, chanting, and genuflecting will sometimes provoke the charge of "too Catholic" or "weirdos" or even things less complimentary. In the past some well meanings folks have suggested that we just drop all the Catholic lingo: we'd get way more traction in our goals of restoring Lutheran worship if we just referred to clergymen as Pastor and the Mass as the Divine Service.

However, Gottesdienst is a journal of the Lutheran liturgical tradition - a tradition that includes all of the above. To set those terms aside to curry favor with the unconvertable champions of innovation would be to undo the whole point of the journal.

Nevertheless, from time to time it is good to review why we use these terms and how they are indeed part of the Lutheran tradition.

First, Mass. Does anyone seriously not know that this is the chief term used in the Lutheran Confessions for the Sunday Communion Service? If you don't believe me, just go to and do a search. It's right there, for example, in AC/Ap XXIV "we don't abolish the Mass but keep it religiously." Yup, that's us.

Second, Father. Let's start with Johan Gerhard's Theological Commonplaces: On the Ministry section 26:
And, likewise, [ministers] are called "fathers" (2 Kings 6:21). This title is repeated in the New Testament (I Cor. 4:15; Gal. 4:19) not merely for the sake of honor but also because through the Word they beget spiritual children to God - instrumentally, that is; and in this sense and respect they are said to save both themselves and their hearers (I Tim. 4:16). 

Or again, how about the Large Catechism:
Besides these there are yet spiritual fathers; not like those in the Papacy, who have indeed had themselves called thus, but have performed no function of the paternal office. For those only are called spiritual fathers who govern and guide us by the Word of God;159] as St. Paul boasts his fatherhood 1 Cor. 4:15, where he says: In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel. Now, 160] since they are fathers they are entitled to their honor, even above all others. But here it is bestowed least; for the way which the world knows for honoring them is to drive them out of the country and to grudge them a piece of bread, and, in short, they must be (as says St. Paul, 1 Cor. 4:13) as the filth of the world and everybody's refuse and footrag.

Shucks, even Fr. Walther himself was known to use the term. And in our day of so many denominations ordaining women, might not a title that directly confesses the manner in which Jesus instituted the ministry have some worth?

I serve in rural Illinois. Folks call the Mass "Church" and they call me "Pastor," or "Reverend," or "Preacher."   And that's just fine - those are all part of our tradition as well, but they are in no danger of being lost. The terms "Mass" and "Father" each have something unique to confess and have fallen into disuse and calumny. So we use them at Gottesdiesnst and encourage our readers to get reacquainted with them. Where I serve that means we talk about them in Bible Class - these are good conversations that lead the people into the richness of the Lutheran heritage.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Not-So-Triumphant Entry and the Cleansing of the Temple: Thoughts on Trinity 10

Of all the Gospels, Luke alone makes explicit the connection between Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and the judgment of God on the city, which begins in the cleansing of the Temple. Jesus said:

"And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 'Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.'" (Luke 19:41-44)

The day that Jesus is referring to when he says "on this day" is the same thing as "the time of your visitation." And that day is the day he enters Jerusalem on a donkey, the day he is hailed specifically as "the King who comes in the name of the Lord" (Luke 19:38).

Typically we view our Lord's entry into Jerusalem as his triumphal entry. But if this is the case, why does he then curse the city of Jerusalem who just greeted and received him as the King who comes in the name of the Lord? Why does he pronounce God's judgment instead of God's blessing upon the city?

In ancient times, it was common for important people to be welcomed into cities by a long line people, who lined up outside of the city gates to greet and laud the person as they entered into the city. This is especially true if the visitor was the King or the Emperor or the Ruler. This type of visitation was called a parousia (see TDNT, V:858ff). When a ruler would make a parousia, he would expect to be received by the religious and political elite from the city as well as other members of the city, adorned in ornamental clothing, to escort him into the city. The visitor would be brought into the square where he would be lauded by speeches of gratitude for the privilege of being visited. And finally, the parousia would end when the members of the city gave the visitor a tour of the local temple. And if an important person came to a city and wasn't welcomed with a parousia, there would be hell to pay. For this was a statement of ingratitude for previous benefaction. That city would be cut off from the visitor's benefaction (the previous analysis is from Brent Kinman, "Parousia, Jesus' 'A-Triumphal' Entry, and the Fate of Jerusalem," JBL 118:2 [Summer 1999] 279-294).

Luke's account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is anti-climactic compared to those of the other Gospels. And noticeably absent in the welcoming committee are all the Jewish leaders, and if they are present, they are hostile. Where are the Scribes? Where are the Pharisees? Where are the Chief Priests? Where are Herod and the Herodians? They "were seeking to destroy him" (Luke 19:47). They were snubbing the King who comes in the name of the Lord. And so they were snubbing the Lord himself. They did not on that day, the day of the King's parousia visitation, welcome him, speak well of him, and thank him for his gifts. Instead they treated his and his Father's house as a den of robbers.

What if the King who comes in the name of the Lord came to your city? Would they know on that day the things that make for peace? Would they recognize the time of their visitation, the time of his parousia? Would they celebrate the gifts he has given? Would they be dressed for the occasion? Would they know? Would they care?

He came them, not to bring peace but a sword, so that when He comes now, he does not come with a sword but with the peace of God. He comes not to condemn, but to forgive and to give life. He comes to give his body and his blood into your mouths to open your throats and lips to sing of His glorious deeds. He comes to give. He comes for you.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Welcome to the New Breed

By Larry Beane

HT: Dr. William Tighe

Welcome to the "New Breed of Catholicism."

Our Lord warned "do not give dogs what is holy" (Matt 7:6).  One can only imagine how little one must actually believe in the holiness of the sacramental elements to (literally) feed the Lord's body to a dog.

Such behavior may be couched in love of animals and inclusiveness, but what it really demonstrates is a hatred of God and an exclusiveness against His Word.  For to show such contempt toward the Sacrament is nothing other than contempt for the Word - the Word Inscribed and the Word Incarnate.

Such a desecration is completely consistent with the arrogance inherent in having lay people preach and having women step into the roles of liturgists, preachers, pastors, and deacons.  Couched in equality and social justice, it is really a sense of inequality (the belief that somehow a "hearer" is less of a child of God than a "preacher") and of injustice against women - refusing to protect them from the seductive whisper of Satan: "Did God actually say...?" (Gen 3:1).

Same sin different day.

And lest we fall into our old habits of patting ourselves on the backs for being The True Visible Church On Earth!™, let us not forget our own shameful recent history of placing lay people into such roles - especially now that the door to allowing women preachers in the LCMS is standing ajar.

Maybe we're on the cusp of a New Breed of LCMS Lutheranism?

Deacon Deborah Gnad's Commissioning on December 12

Women preachers/deacons in the LCMS

In a way, my heart is strangely warmed by the fact that the Atlantic District now officially has women preachers (deacons). For a long time those of us who have complained about the MO Synod tossing out AC XIV have pointed out that if you are going to let lay men act like pastors, what is to stop you from letting lay women act like pastors? Either no one who is uncalled to the Office may preach and administer the Sacraments, or everybody can. Well, now it's QED, as you can see below.

HT: Fr. Josh Osbun and the Stand Firm blog.

A few highlights of the program from the Atlantic District’s Diaconate Guidelines document:
4.1 At the heart of the ministry of deacons are works of mercy, witness, and worship, in solidarity with the poor and needy. The actual tasks undertaken by members of the diaconate will vary according to the gifts and skills of the deacon and the needs of the church and its surrounding community. Deacons so gifted will engage in various ministries of teaching within the congregation/agency, including baptismal and communion preparation, catechesis of youth and adults, and small group Bible study leadership or supervision. All aspects of diaconal ministry are under the supervision of the supervising pastor.

4.2 Members of the diaconate assume a leadership role in worship, but this is never to be their primary task. Rather, the serving function of deacons in the Church’s liturgy is to be a reflection of their tangible, actual servant hood in the world.

4.3 Members of the district diaconate shall neither preside at the Holy Eucharist nor exercise the Office of the Keys. In the absence of an ordained pastor and with approval of the pastor and congregation, the deacon may serve at the divine service including the communion liturgy using reserved sacrament. This practice should be used sparingly so as to not confuse the “Office of Deacon” and the “Office of Pastor.” The deacon may officiate at funerals under the direction of a supervising pastor. The deacon may proclaim the Gospel in formal and informal settings after he/she has received training in homiletics and while remaining under the supervision of an ordained pastor.

5.5 It is expected that most members of the district diaconate will continue to hold regular employment and therefore would be involved in diaconal service on a part-time, non-stipendiary basis. There may be instances however, when a deacon serves a ministry for a stipend….