Friday, November 30, 2012

Left-handed Priests?

The rubrics describe the ceremony of the benediction, and other liturgical actions, as using the right hand. The maniple is worn on the left wrist.

But what if the celebrant is left-handed? Assuming that he is serving in the United States and there is no stigma attached to the left hand, can he swap? Can he reverse everything the rubrics say about the right and left hand?

I think so. I think this would give him better control at the distribution. Reverence first wants the Body and Blood of Christ handled carefully. All else is secondary. I also suspect that if he uses his naturally dominant hand, he will be more comfortable and therefore more competent.

But the liturgical actions aren't that difficult. A left-handed man could probably take one for the team and learn to use his right hand for distribution, the benedictions, etc. Every left-handed man I know shakes hands with his right hand.

So should he swap the rubrics left for right? Or should he learn to use his right hand liturgically? And, though it probably won't do any good, yes, I know this adiaphora, etc. I am not asking you to demonstrate how free you are. We're all impressed with your great grasp of libertine Gospel reading of the rubrics. I am asking what you think the strongest practice is and why, not to tell us what is commanded and forbidden. Assuming freedom and no condemnation for contrary opinions, what is the strongest practice?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Should the Synod Do?

Rumor has it that Synodical-types lurk on Gottesdienst. That may or may not be true. But let's play a little game for them. Instead of our normal Gottesdienst bomb throwing complaints about what the Synod is doing, what could the Synod do to support, encourage, and help congregations and pastors?

The synod's restructuring offers an opportunity to not only streamline the Synod's corporate functions but also make the synod useful to congregations. So if you had the chance to reform synod, humanly speaking, what would you do?

Let's take the international question in another post. For now, what should the synod be doing in the United States? How should it do it?

Here is some stuff to get you started, with the caveats that these are my own ideas, not those of Gottesdienst, and that I don't claim to have thought all these through. I am willing to be talked out of them. So if you find them insulting, outrageous, etc, please explain what the problem is and understand that I my intent is not to hurt but to really consider not only what we ought to do but we might actually be capable of pulling off.

1. The President needs to continue, even amp up, his presence as the Synod's Theological teacher through writing, youtube videos, etc. His bit with the Litany last Lent was spot on. More like that.

2. The Lutheran Witness needs to continue, even amp up, its current effort at honesty and transparency. The October "issues" issue was the best LW issue of my lifetime. Don't tell us we're all united and everything is happy. Face reality. Give us Theological resources for addressing disunity and division. Etc.

3. CPH needs to rethink its mission. It should be taken back as a non-profit subsidized by synod. Hymnals and Catechisms should be "sold" at as near cost as possible. Grants should be created to help CPH give away hymnals and catechisms at less than cost. The point of the hymnal should be to unite the Synod in doctrine and practice not to underwrite a terrible VBS program that promotes contemporary worship. CPH execs should not be paid at the same rate as Zondervan execs but at district scale. The Catechism translation should be owned by the synod not CPH. It should be made available for reproduction, without cost, to anyone who is using it piously, without modifying it.

4. The Seminaries should be the main focus of synodical education and receive a  percentage of unrestricted gifts.As they are more fully funded, the seminaries should be asked to do more.

5. CUS should be re-evaluated. Perhaps they should be cut loose and take on their own debt. Perhaps the synod could operate one or two colleges. But teacher certification and continuing ed, as well as advanced degrees, could be taken over by the seminaries. Not only would this increase the depth of theological training of the teachers but it would also help re-establish camaradery between pastors and teachers.

6. Pastors need evaluation - the same as teachers. They should be visited by their circuit counselors on site twice a year. They should respond to a standardized test on doctrine and practice developed by the seminaries. The seminaries should also develop a large reading list. The pastors should report to the circuit counselor what they are reading from that list. Finally, they should report they number of visits they have made by category: evangelism, hospital/shut-in, and member.  

7. The CTCR should be de-funded and its work passed to the seminaries.

8. Campus Ministry needs support: money, materials, and manpower. This should be a priority - especially if CUS is cut loose.

9. Rural, small town, and urban congregations need support. In particular the synod needs to play the heavy. Some of these congregations need to combine as dual and triple parishes or into new congregations. Some of them need to close. Congregations have lifespans. There is no shame in dying. Rebirth only happens in those who have died. The synod needs to help these congregations get full-time, fully competent, fully trained pastors. They deserve that.

10. The synod needs to cut loose all forms of lay ministry and half-training of pastors. Those who are currently working in these ways should receive the training needed and be ordained. Ethnic minorities and poor people need solid, well-trained pastors just as surely as wealthy suburbanites. The racism of the LC-MS should be confessed and repented of. Ethnic minorities are not genetically predisposed to false doctrine or too weak for the rigors of serious theological education.

11. The districts are not needed. They are a level of bureaucracy that provides very little service for the money. The synod should be divided into four geographic regions. Each region should have approximately 30 "districts" of approximately 50 congregations each. Those districts would be served by volunteer district presidents, full-time pastors. The pastor's study or front porch would become the district office. He would provide oversight for 5 circuit counselors who would provide, as volunteers, not compensated, oversight over 10 pastors. The regional office would oversee the 30 district presidents and take care of paperwork, etc. They would be served by paid staff and a paid vice president of synod. These regional staffs would function very much the way that district staffs currently function but more closely tied to the national office, less territorial.

12. Discipline should be reinstituted. The synod cannot remove pastors from Office. But they must protect and guard the synod's name and reputation. They can remove men and congregations from the roster. They should remove those who teach false doctrine, refuse discipline, etc.

13. The Synod must establish boundaries for worship. The hymnal -as human as it is - is the obvious place to start. Regional VPs or district presidents could allow local customs. But local customs should be deliberate and well-thought out, established practices, not changing week to week. Local customs should be exceptions made for pastoral reasons. Human rite should not be mistaken for Divine rite but should be honored and obeyed for the sake of good order and unity. This one would "hurt" me. But I think it is the right thing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Faith and Politics, again

What is the proper role of the Church? What is the State's business and what is the Church's? On which topics does the Church have a "Thus says the Lord" to say to the State?

Sometimes I think this is clear: Thou shalt not kill. That's Natural Law. It applies to all. The Church has a prophetic role to play in telling all men just what that statement means. I'm very comfortable, therefore, with the Church sending letters to Senators and Congressmen telling them to outlaw murder of young human beings.

Sometimes, things are less clear. The LCMS and other Lutherans are currently lobbying in DC to get the US Government to fork over cash to fight malaria in Africa. The path from "Thus says the Lord" to this advocacy is a long and winding road when compared to the line from "Thou shalt not kill" to lobbying for the outlawing of abortion. Today we are exhorted to "Please pray for all the Lutheran leaders from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), . . . who are meeting with members of Congress today to . . .  commit that fighting malaria will be a foreign policy priority." 

Fighting malaria is a worthy humanitarian goal. But is it a Biblical doctrine that the United States Government would be sinning if it were not to have this as a "foreign policy priority"? If so, please show your work below your answer. If not, then are we not cheapening the currency of our advocacy by advocating for policies that are adiaphora rather than Thus Says the Lord?

After all, one must make choices when it comes to "foreign policy priorities." You can't spend other people's money, that is tax dollars, on everything. So what is the Thus Says the Lord that malaria is a higher priority than fighting TB or polio or land mines or prostitution? And is there a Thus Says the Lord that the US Government should spend X dollars over there fighting problem Y instead of Z dollars right here in the US fighting problem A?

I, for one, think the Church's public advocacy should stick to Thus Says the Lord. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops have vastly diminished their voice by pronouncing on every topic under the sun from immigration policy to welfare spending. When they finally had a real religious issue (the HHS mandate for them to break their consciences by buying birth control for folks), I wonder how many folks just shrugged and said it was the Catholics being political again? I don't want to see Lutherans going down the same road.

My two cents: Fighting malaria is great. It's so great that you should use your money today to do something about it directly instead of using Grandma Schickelgrueber's mission dollars to pay for plane tickets and meals for folks to try to convince Congress to spend other peoples' money on it tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Out of the Barn!

The Christmas issue of Gottesdienst, sporting this photo of the Westminster boys' choir on the cover, is on its way to subscribers.  Another stellar issue.  Are you a lucky subscriber?  If not, become one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Practice Makes Perfect: Thoughts on Trinity 27

Practice makes perfect. That's what we tell ourselves when trying to master something new or difficult. Practice make perfect. Practice prepares our hearts, minds, and bodies to react in a certain way in uncertain and unforeseen situations. And if we believe that it's worth it, we'll invest our time and resources so that they can be mastered. This is why we have fire drills. This is why doctors and nurses undergo internships and residency, why our military, police, and firefighters train as often and in the ways that they do. They're preparing to face without hesitation the unknown by practicing everything they already know to be true and everything that could possibly go wrong.

This is what distinguishes the five wise virgins from the five foolish virgins. Even though both of them fall asleep on the job as they watch for the Bridegroom to come so that the Wedding Feast can begin, the wise are prepared. The foolish are not. They are prepared because they had practice.

The five wise virgins brought extra oil. They did this because they knew the Scriptures. They heard the promises. They had practiced this wait every Lord's Day--singing hymns, hearing the preaching of the Word, confessing their sins, receiving the Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood, that foretaste of the Wedding Feast to come, that appetizer and hors d'oeuvre which staves off hunger while at the same time whets the appetite for what is to come. They are prepared because they have practiced for this event their whole lives. They've been prepared by the gifts that create faith, the gifts that sustain faith--Christ's Spirit-filled Word and Sacraments.

And since they've been waiting their whole lives, since they'd heard from the Bridegroom's own mouth that no one, not even He, knows the day or the hour when the end will come, they took Him at His Word as they were trained to do. And they did it unhesitatingly. They knew all they needed to know: That the Bridegroom is coming, and No one knows when. So they practiced waiting for Him. And in that practice, where the Lord gives to them what He has accomplished through what He says, He is perfecting them for that time when He will come again to take them from this vail of tears and waiting, to Himself in heaven.

The Divine Service is the practice that makes us perfect. It gives to us what Christ won on the cross through His Words, HIs Sacraments. It teaches us and prepares us to wait. It gives us what we need for our waiting and for when we fall asleep. And it perfects us for that time when our Bridegroom comes to bring into His Wedding Feast, not some nameless virgin, but us, His very own, holy, immaculate, and beloved Bride.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Learning to Learn: A Free Conference 21 January 2013 Ft. Wayne

Redeemer Lutheran Church will again host a free conference on the Monday before the CTS Symposia, January 21, 2013. Our conference will feature Dr. Benjamin Mayes from Concordia Publishing House and offer a $5 lunch from Mr. John Maxwell of the Ragin’ Cajun. Mayes will instruct us in the study and writing techniques of the fathers of Lutheran Orthodoxy. He will also engage us as to how we can fight for the faith in print, in the classroom, and in the pulpit using their methods and the best of modern tools and technologies, and he will give us insights as to what Concordia Publishing House is looking for from authors and scholars.

Cost: free, but optional lunch - $5
Date & Time: Monday, January 21, 2013  10:30 am - 5:30 pm
Location: Redeemer Lutheran Church, 202 W. Rudisill Blvd, Ft. Wayne, Indiana 46807

Here is what Dr. Mayes has to say about the topic:

“Perhaps the first thing anyone learns about the ‘Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy’ (c. 1580-1700) is that the theologians wrote large Latin dogmatics books.  Now and then the question may come to mind, “How on earth did they do it?”  How did men like Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), Abraham Calov (1612-1686), and Johann Andreas Quenstedt (1617-1688) manage to write such enormous, in-depth tomes on such diverse topics?  Their mastery of Latin can be explained by attending Latin immersion schools since grade school.  But even fluency in a foreign language and a healthy dose of prayer, study, and spiritual trial (oratio, meditatio, tentatio) doesn’t guarantee the kind of memory needed to marshall the quotes and material presented by these Lutheran fathers in their great works. They may have been brilliant, but more importantly, they had good methods!

These study methods can be adapted to today’s technology. They are especially important for Christ’s undershepherds today. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4–5).”


9:30 Private Confession available with Petersen in Redeemer's chapel

10:30 Low Mass in the Church

11:00-12:30 Mayes on the techniques of the Lutheran Orthodox fathers

12:30 Lunch – fast food nearby – or stay in the undercroft and be served by the Ragin’ Cajun for $5

2:00 Mayes continues

2:45  Questions and responses from  the audience

3:30 Gregorian practice/training for the LLPB Vespers

4:30 LLPB Vespers w/ Treasury Propers

5:30 Gemütlichkeit – BYOB

Friday, November 16, 2012

Palms Fundays: Pampering the Church's Leadership

By Larry Beane

Thanks to Rev. Todd Wilken for having the courage to say what many are thinking: that it matters how church leaders spend the Church's money, that appearances do have an effect on the way people perceive the faith and those who hold office in Christ's Church.

The article is here at Steadfast Lutherans.  Hopefully, Pr. Wilken won't get a lot of flak from people in positions of power for this article.

In short, the Council of Presidents and the Board of Directors of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod are holding a meeting in Kissimmee, Florida and are staying at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center (depicted above), which is described thus:
Sun-drenched and spectacular, Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center brings excitement to life through world-class restaurants, dynamic on-site recreation, and breathtakingly beautiful gardens under glass. Our signature atriums, tropical and lush, recreate three Florida environments, immersing you in the sights and sounds that make the Sunshine State a top vacation destination. From the gently rising mists of the Everglades, to the funky and vibrant island revelry of Key West, to the Spanish-infused, old-world charm of St. Augustine, you'll delight in these unique Florida-themed settings. You have to see this to believe it! 
The hotel itself was built in the sumptuous style and grandeur of a turn-of-the-century Florida mansion, but with the modern amenities and deluxe accommodations of a world-renowned luxury hotel.

Pastor Wilken's critique does not focus on the stewardship issue, but limits itself to the issue of perception, referring to this decision as a "scotoma" - or blind spot.

It would seem to be a surprising PR move, especially as the country is wrestling with the impending "fiscal cliff," as iconic American companies are going out of business, while others are restructuring their employee configuration literally within days of the latest election and its implications for the costs of doing business.  This is a time of economic uncertainty and anxiety for people not accustomed to staying in luxury resorts.

For a church body that put so much time, energy and yes money into changing the "color palette" of its "branding" for the sake of "refreshing" its image - this is a rather interesting venue to hold an official business meeting.

It does sound like quite a beautiful place - as people often come to that part of Florida for vacations.  And the Gaylord Palms has a lot going for it:
Located just 1.5 miles from the front gate of Walt Disney World® and in close proximity to other Orlando theme parks, Gaylord Palms Hotel is just 20 minutes from Orlando International airport. 
Centrally located and close to everything in Orlando, Gaylord Palms Hotel is an ideal location for meetings and conventions. And with 400,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, Gaylord Palms boasts the 178,500-square-foot Florida Exhibition Hall. 
You'll be amazed at the four-and-a-half acres of indoor gardens and three distinct Florida environments. Within this lush landscape you'll discover fine dining and casual restaurantsunique shopping experiences, and the 20,000-square-foot Relâche Spa and fitness center
This luxurious hotel boasts 1,406 stylish guest rooms, including 115 spectacular suites.

Some have pointed out that this is actually very good stewardship, as the Gaylord Palms is near the airport and Orlando is accustomed to dealing with visitors.  Besides, what's there not to love for the modern churchman:
Entertaining environments, flexible and effective meeting space, and an unparalleled commitment to flawless service are the backdrop for every meeting. Gaylord Palms' spectacular atrium celebrates the natural wonders, history, architecture, and ambiance of three unique Florida regions: the untamed mystery of the Everglades; the colorful, bohemian spirit of Key West; and the rich, Spanish influence of America's oldest city, St. Augustine. 
These extraordinary meeting spaces combine with world-class diningshopping, expansive recreation, Relâche Spa, and exemplary service to provide the ultimate hotel and meeting experience for your guests. Discover the panoramic views inside Gaylord Palms®. You won't believe what we have under one roof! And with the gates of Walt Disney World® just five minutes away and golf courses nearby, you and your meeting attendees have plenty of options for day trips, off-site meetings and team-building events.

Given that a lot of people in our churches - both lay and clergy - are struggling financially, does Pastor Wilken have a point?  When situations like this are happening in our church, is he being unreasonable in raising the "blind spot" issue?

I wonder if this is symptomatic among our leadership to how things are perceived.

By way of example, one highly-placed church official recently made a trip to Africa and was put in a five star resort. He actually joked about his "suffering" superimposed with pictures of his breathtaking digs.  Considering that Christians in this same country are suffering under the cross of extreme poverty, cruel warfare, and even martyrdom for the faith - could he have displayed a better sensitivity to those not accustomed to such luxury?

Is this the natural consequence of having a church hierarchy and bureaucracy that is paid multiple times the rate of a parish pastor and the average lay person in the parish?  And what does this say to the increasing number of pastors and church workers without healthcare coverage, those who are making less than (and in some cases tens of thousands of dollars less than) district salary guidelines?  Should we have some ordained servants of the word on government cheese and WIC while many in bureaucratic positions make six figures?  What does this reality confess about the value of parochial labor in word and sacrament ministry?

What does this reality confess to this faithful parish pastor?

While we can bicker about what is an appropriate level of pampering for church leaders and the proper level of luxury for official church meetings, I think we would do well to think about what kind of message such displays send out.  At a time when people are leaving Christian churches in droves, would we do well to listen (rather than dismiss with a wave of a hand) when we are criticized for hypocrisy?  Think about the way the many church scandals have shaken the faith of Americans over the last generation.  In my own area, for example, we had a local megachurch pastor raise a few eyebrows by buying property for several million dollars and selling it to his own church a few days (days!) later at a profit of a million dollars (tax free, of course).  

Like it or not, such behavior on the part of some clergy taints all churches and pastors - especially in the eyes of those who see the Church as a money-grubbing organization.

It doesn't help when, as in the case of my own district, pastor's "conferences" are held on cruise ships.  Moreover, congregations sometimes receive heavy-handed letters demanding payment for these cruises - whether or not their pastors will (or even can) attend.  In effect, we have pastors (for instance men with large families who physically cannot attend) whose poor churches are subsidizing rich congregations with multiple pastors that can even afford to send their pastors' wives on these "conferences."  Why in the world can't these vacations simply be made optional, without resorting to guilt-tripping or arm-twisting poor congregations into feeding the wealthier ones?

How does this jibe with St. Paul collecting alms from wealthy regions to support the gospel in poorer areas?  How must our partner churches, say in Russia and Eastern Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia, see this when they browse facebook and blogs and official church websites and see the way our church leadership is taken care of out of our offering plates?

Here in New Orleans, we have a lot of upscale restaurants and fine hotels.  Frequently, the people who work in this industry are poorer people, minorities, immigrants, and those working around the clock to take care of their families.  I could be wrong, but I suspect this is similar in the Orlando area's hospitality industry.  How must it look to the staffs of such hotels to see conventions of overwhelmingly well-fed and well-dressed executives of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod obviously able to afford such accommodations?  What does this say about our synod's priorities, where our treasure is?  Is this the kind of message we want to send as a Church to a nation that is increasingly ethnically diverse that is also entering an increasing state of economic distress?  

Instead of becoming defensive, can our leaders see how this looks like a "let them eat cake" attitude?  It isn't like we lack meeting space at the International Center or at our seminaries and universities around the country.  Given the state of affairs in our country and across the church, a little austerity might actually be endearing and something that might be seen as good stewardship.  In fact, some of the saved funds could be put to good and productive work for the sake of the Gospel, such as mission work, relief work, and education.  And the unintended benefit might be a sense of respect for the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

I think the disconnect is not only with the world but within our congregations.  We are routinely getting requests for funds from the church bureaucracy.  Just a few minutes ago, I received this from my own district, under the rubric: "Living Each Day As A Steward":
The District Stewardship Committee recommends that prayerful consideration be given
to overall mission when working on annual budgets. 
The District/Synod support goal by congregations for 2012 is set at $1,100,000.   The support by congregations to District and Synod has been plateaued for nearly ten years.  To renew partnership possibilities, we ask each congregation to prayerfully think about an increase so we move past the plateau level.  The projection is to see the congregational support amount grow by 3% in 2013.  Christian stewardship is the free and joyous activity of the child of God and God’s family, the Church, in managing all of life and life’s resources for God’s purposes. Stewardship is a response to the Gospel as part of our Christian discipleship. 
As part of disciple-making, we are asked to help persons grow in their patterns or habits of personal stewardship (time, talent, treasure, and testimony).  With eyes on Jesus and the power of the Spirit, disciples grow through involvement in Word and prayer that moves faith from intellectual ascent to changed hearts.  We ask for your prayerful response to the 2013 Partnership Commitment Form enclosed. The congregation, District, and Synod are partners in carrying out the overall mission.  The foundations for that work together is at the congregational level as neither District nor Synod produce or generate their own funds for missions and operations.   
As we see persons growing in being generous givers, we see persons responding through firstfruits, proportionate, and joyful giving.  
How should my congregation react to this at the same moment that our Council of Presidents is being treated to a tour of duty in the service of the Gospel at the Gaylord Palms?  Should it come as a shock that congregational support of District and Synod has been "plateaued" for a decade?  Is it really that hard to comprehend?

How do these requests for money sound juxtaposed against the backdrop of these images where our LCMS churchmen are meeting to decide the future direction of our synod's proclamation of Jesus to an increasingly hurting world?  

Don't get me wrong, I am all in favor of the free market and free enterprise.  I don't believe in class warfare or penalizing success.  There is nothing wrong with taking a great idea to market and becoming wealthy.  It is one thing for us to save up our own money and enjoy vacations.  But it's a different story when it comes to the sacrificial funds collected from the sacrificial offerings of the laity for the operation of our church body to be spent on luxuriating the hierarchy - who produce nothing nor sell anything.  We should keep in mind the mission of the Body of Christ.  We are not entrepreneurs vending a product.  We aren't the medieval Church with its pampered potentates fleecing the faithful with threats and schemes.  We are indeed the people of witness, mercy, and life together.  Are meetings like these really in the best interest of the evangelical proclamation of the cross and the good news of Jesus Christ?  

I think the best comment was given by the Rev. Dr. Daniel Gard, a faithful seminary professor from Fort Wayne, who observes: 
I have students who struggle to make ends meet while paying Seminary tuition and living expenses. I have former students and brother pastors who serve God’s people but do so in parishes that cannot afford a living wage or health insurance. Mission congregations cannot be started because there are no funds available. Lutheran teachers, deaconesses and other Church workers often receive salaries that require a second job to meet the requirements of the simplest of lifestyles. 
Yet these are the people and parishes that do the real work of the Church. It is through these underpaid and struggling servants that the Gospel is brought into human lives. Gaylord Palms is probably a beautiful place but its beauty pales compared to the work done by those who could barely afford a night in a Motel 6. 
Are these meetings in resorts wrong in and of themselves? Some would answer “no”. But I challenge them to explain that to a faithful pastor who meets with a social worker to get help to pay his child’s hospital expenses because the parish cannot afford medical insurance. 
Kyrie eleison!
Lord, have mercy indeed!

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

You have free will and free choice

I'm currently working on Gerhard's volume about sin and free choice (arbitrium) and free will (voluntas). It's yet another wonderful discussion of an intricate theological topic, and once again it will serve as a needed remedy to the confusions of our own day.

For example, there is a tendency among confessional Lutherans today to get confused about free will and free choice. You might even catch a confessional Lutheran saying that "we don't have free will." But if "we" are baptized, we must certainly do! In fact, even unbaptized people have free will (voluntas) because by definition the will is free. It is the choice (arbitrium) of fallen man that is servile. And if you are baptized, even your choice is now free, though, of course, in great weakness. Here's Gerhard:

(II) Neither does the question concern the state of the reborn and renewed person: as to how the powers of free choice have been established in him, for we confess that the person who has been reborn and renewed through the Holy Spirit has free will toward spiritual good, in fact, a will freed from slavery to sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet in this life this freedom is far from the perfect freedom of the life to come, as shall be explained in greater detail a little later. 


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The end of a professional clergy?

I like to go hunting, but for me it is a hobby, not a profession. Something I like to do, but which I certainly don't get paid for. Bill Winke has made a profession of hunting. A profession is something you dedicate your life to and which people value enough to pay you to do. In a profession, you spend a lifetime honing your craft, learning new skills, seeking to get better.

In addition, I do a little moonlighting as a freelance writer and translator/editor of Latin texts. Sometimes moonlighting is just for a little extra spending money - and sometimes it's the difference between having too much month left at the end of the money or not. Moonlighting is especially nice if you can find something that supports your profession - the cop who moonlights as a security guard, the school teacher who moonlights as a tutor at Sylvan. Such things serve the profession. But sometimes, you just need the cash and whether cop, teacher, professional hunter, or clergyman a moonlighting job at 7-11 or MickeyDs will have to do.

So these three things remain: hobbies, moonlighting, and professions. But the greatest of these is professions.

The Bible argues for a professional clergy - "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." The ministry is important work - worthy of the dedication of a lifetime, 50+ hours a week, and the sacrificial giving of God's people.

Now, it's true: St. Paul did not make use of these rights. It made sense in the course of his apostolic ministry to be a tent-maker, a moonlighter. But he clearly argued for himself as being the exception to the rule. I mean, he also performed miracles. And he also famously argued that he had the right to have a wife like Pope Peter I did - and he didn't make use of that right either. Kind of a theme for Paul, I guess: exception, not rule. But the Dominical rule remains: The Lord commanded. . . 

My heart goes out to my many friends and colleagues in the ministry who are not supported by the parishes they serve. They are not able to get their livings by the gospel, though this is what the Lord has declared for His Church to do for His ministers. Some are priest-workers - squeezing by with very limited moonlighting. But some are forced to live as worker-priests: where the ministry has really become the moonlighting. They simply must work in a full-time position outside the ministry. Through no fault of their own they have been forced out of a professional level of time dedicated to the ministry.

In my humble opinion, the fault for this lies squarely in the laps of our church hierarchy. District Presidents are called upon to see to it that the church runs according to Dominical command. The DP actually has a lot of institutional, by-law, and moral power in this regard. I've seen it done: DPs refusing, for example, to sign off on seminary placements for congregations who can't/won't pay a living wage; or reading a congregation the riot act for not giving a pastor a raise for years. But there are a hundred other things that could be done, and even these two basic actions are rare enough.

And now our church government has introduced the sin of lay ministers and the unwise expedient of "specific ministry pastors," both of which exert downward pressure on pastoral pay, the number of positions available, and the very idea of the desirability of a professional clergy.

So is a professional clergy desirable? There's no question that God thinks so - see above for chapter and verse. And this is so at least in two ways: it provides the time needed to do the job right and it ties the minister's hand to the plow. But the times they are a-changin', right? I think not. The only thing that has changed is the willingness of the church government to stand up for a professional clergy. The desire to get something for nothing has always been with us. But it used to be that seminary professors wrote books upholding the need for a professional clergy instead of sabotaging the professional clergy by playing up worker-priests and rolling over for the Synod's SMP plan. For example:

Since the duties of the ministers of the church are so varied and so serious that they do not allow them to earn a living for themselves and their households by the work of their hands or other business, that they might be able to perform their office more conveniently, they are given salaries by which they can take care of themselves and their households honorably, and can be free for the Word, having abandoned the serving of tables (Acts 6:3).
That's Gerhard. You can read his whole discussion in On the Ministry Part II, pages 181-189. It would be nice to see a similar article come out in CJ or CTQ.

Of course, you can go down another road. You can allow the ministry to be de-professionalized. Garrison Keillor sent along the following poem on this topic a couple of weeks ago in The Writer's Almanac (HT: Fr. S. Adle).

The Preacher
by Louis Jenkins
When times were hard, no work on the railroad, no work down on the farm, some
of my ancestors took to preaching. It was not so much of what was said as the way
in which it was said. "The horn shall sound and the dog will bark and though you
be on the highest mountain or down in the deepest valley when the darkness comes
then you will lie down, and as the day follows the night you will surely rise again.
The Lord our God hath made both heaven and earth. Oh, my dear brothers and
sisters we know so well the ways of this world, think then what heaven must be
like." It required a certain presence, a certain authority. The preacher was treated
with respect and kept at a bit of a distance, like a rattler. There wasn't much money
in it but it was good for maybe a dozen eggs or a chicken dinner now and then.
"The Preacher" by Louis Jenkins, from Before You Know It. © Will O' the Wisp Books, 2009. 

Is that where we want to end up? It really is a choice. This is not inevitable. Will someone lead us?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Corpses, Eagles, and Idolatry: Thoughts on Trinity 25

Some things are simply so outrageous that when we see them we recoil in horror. We think to ourselves that this can't be happening. This shouldn't be happening. It's an abomination. Where is God? How can He let this happen? Has He abandoned us?

And when that happens we seek after other gods. We set up golden calves. We can't be bothered to wait on the Lord and wait for what He alone can give. We seek to do it ourselves. We remake god in our own image. We refashion a god who is more like us, a god that allows us to sit down, kick back, and relax, so that we can eat and drink and play. If we don't get what we want, when we want it, we not only complain. We get angry. And we seek things that will take away our anger and make us happy. This is why we speak ill of others behind their backs, why we kill them with our tongues. This is why we cheat on our spouses in thought and sometimes in deed. This is why we turn to alcohol and drugs, to money, shopping, to buying and spending. We want to escape from having to wait upon the Lord. We want to play. We want to eat and drink and be merry. We know what we want and we want it now. And we don't want to wait. And so we create our own god who happens to look and speak and act just like us. This is idolatry. This is an abomination.

This is the reaction of the Jews even in Jesus' day. They were under Roman rule. And the Romans demonstrated this by placing their insignia, their image upon the lands they ruled. That image was the image of the eagle. "Since the Roman conquest of Palestine, the eagle insignia were common sights. The Jews prohibited the graven images because they were a defilement, but one was attached to the facade of the temple. It reminded the Jews that even the temple, the center of their worship and the assurance of God's presence among them, belonged not to them but to the Roman emperor, whose guards kept a watchful eye on it" (Scaer, Discourses on Matthew, 381). For the Jew, this was an abomination. It was idolatry. It was outrageous that a man like the Roman emperor, who claimed to be a god, would set his insignia upon the place where the true God dwelt on earth. The temple doesn't belong to Rome, it belongs to the Lord.

They couldn't wait. They wanted to be free of Rome. And they didn't want to wait for the Lord to act. So they recast the temple into their own image. They used the temple as a way for them to take power, seize control, and make money. They made it into a den of robbers. They used it as way to enslave. The created an idol. They created an abomination. They couldn't wait upon the Lord for their deliverance. They wanted to sit down. They wanted to eat and drink and play. So they did what they had to do.

But then the fullness of time had come. And when Jesus came, a man who claimed to be God in the flesh, who claimed to be the true temple of God on earth. This, too, for the Jew was an abomination. It was blasphemy. It was idolatry. And so they sought to put him to death. And he was put to death under Roman rule, by the authority of Caesar, at the hands of Roman soldiers with the eagle (ἀετοί) insignia surrounding the corpse of our crucified Lord. It wasn't vultures that surrounded the corpse. It was eagles. The abomination of desolation was that God incarnate was crucified by the Roman emperor god. And the holy place is the place where the sacrificial blood of the Lamb of God was poured out. That is the abomination. God is crucified. And for all who beheld it, they recoiled in horror at just how outrageous it was. This can't be happening. It should be happening? All our hopes and dreams are shattered. Where is God? How can He let this happen? Has He abandoned us?

No. He has not abandoned us. It is precisely there that He is most with us because it is precisely there that He is most for us. The cross is folly to the wise. The cross is weakness to the strong, but to the perishing, those who will die because of their sin, those who are separated from God and one another because of their sin, the cross is the wisdom of God and the power of God. When Jesus seems most weak, most powerless, it is then and there when He is most strong, when He is conquering death by dying and sin by becoming sin.

And God is not dead. Though he died, yet does He live. And He lives to give you the fruits of His cross. He gives you the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion. He marks you with his own insignia, the sign of his cross. He places upon you His name and covers you with His Words, which are spirit and life. And He puts into your bodies His resurrected body. You are temples of the true God because by virtue of Baptism you are in Him, the Temple of God in the flesh, and by virtue of the Holy Communion, He is in you. He joined himself to your flesh and died your death, in order that you would be joined to Him in his resurrection to life. Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.

You are temples of the true God. He has not abandoned you. He is with you always in his Word and Sacrament. He is with you especially when you think that He isn't. And you are strongest when you feel the weakest, for then you rely fully upon HIm and what He gives. So wait upon the Lord. Know that He is for you in Christ, and in Christ you are always with God. So that when you think all is lost, when everything is going to hell in a hand basket, and you are hanging on by only string, God has not abandoned you. He died for you. He rose for you. And He comes to you this day to bring you courage and strength that only He can give, poured out for you from His cross and into this chalice.

Some things are so outrageous that we recoil in horror at the sight of them. But not when we look to the cross. For when we see the cross, we see God's true power to overcome our real problems: sin and death. When we see the cross, we God's wisdom. When we see the cross, we see God's true love for us. Seek God, therefore, where He may be truly found. For false prophets will say Look, the Christ is here or Look, He is over there. But if they point you away from the means of Grace, away from Baptism, Absolution, the Lord's Supper, they point you where He has not promised to be. They point you to idolatry, and abomination that will leave you desolate.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Yet Another Go at John 6

After reading Fr. Peter Berg's fine treatment of it in the forthcoming issue of Gottesdienst (Christmastide 2012; you can still subscribe to receive this issue HERE), I thought we'd have yet another go at John 6 here and bring some things not covered in Fr. Berg's piece.

It's no secret that John's Gospel is utterly Jewish. It begins with the creation account. It follows the Jewish liturgical calendar (which, incidentally, should give us pause in quoting John 4:23 as reason for worshipping in any way we so choose). Thus, John's Gospel demonstrates that our Lord is the fulfillment of every major feast. He is the Passover Lamb of God, the Bread of Heaven, the Light of the World, the Word of the Lord--the perpetual ordinance and everlasting covenant--the tabernacle and the temple of God in the flesh.

So why is it that we somehow forget this when we get to John 6? Why is it that when our Lord says His flesh is true meat and His blood true drink, we suddenly get skiddish and talk in abstraction as if our Lord was telling us to do something else, something different? John's Gospel is concrete and that is why he uses signs. The sign doesn't point beyond itself. The sign carries the message. The sign is the message. This is how we are to read the whole of John's Gospel.

Jesus is the Lamb of God. He is the Passover sacrifice. He is the Bread of Life come down from heaven. His flesh is meat. And it gives life to those who eat it at His Word.

The Passover lamb was to be roasted and eaten. The Passover bread was to be eaten (Exod 12). The manna and quail were to be eaten (Exod 16). The flesh (BHS: בָּשָֽׂר) of the sacrifice were to be eaten by the Levites, the priests, as a provision of holy food for them from the Lord's table (Lev 6-7). The lamb and the quail were the flesh (BHS: בָּשָֽׂר) that the Lord provided to His people to give them life: Life from out of death in the idolatrous slavery to the Egyptian gods and life out of death as they wandered the wilderness. They ate flesh (BHS: בָּשָֽׂר). They ate it at the Lord's command with the Lord's promise. It was the flesh of the sacrifice (Exod 12; 16; Deut 12:20-28; Deut 16). But it was dead flesh (LXX: κρέα, which always refers to dead flesh, flesh that has no life in it). They could eat the flesh (LXX: κρέα), but they could not eat living flesh (σὰρξ), flesh with the blood in it because the life was in the blood (Deut 12:23). And so they ate the flesh provided by the Lord, they ate the Passover lamb, the manna and quail, the holy flesh of the sacrifices to make them holy. They ate dead flesh and they died.

But the flesh that Our Lord Jesus gives us is no dead flesh (κρέα). The flesh He gives is His living flesh (σὰρξ, which has a wider range of meaning that includes both living and dead flesh like that of the Hebrew בָּשָֽׂר). The flesh He gives is His living, life-giving, risen flesh. It's the same flesh that He took on when the Word, the everlasting covenant and perpetual ordinance of the Father, became flesh to tabernacle among us (John 1:14). And He gives it to us with the promise that it will give life, and not just life to live another day, another week, or another year, but life eternal (John 6:53-58).

So in John 6, Jesus tells us that His living, life-giving, risen flesh is to be eaten. He tells us that His sacrificial flesh offered upon the cross and roasted in the Father's wrath against sin is to be eaten to give us life. Where is this eaten but in the Lord's Supper? Where do we eat at the Lord's table, the holy food that He gives to make us holy and give us life but in the Lord's Supper? Where do the holy priests of the Lord eat the flesh of the sacrifice but in the Lord's Supper?

Monday, November 5, 2012

No hobbies for you!

As I argue in my Freed from the Shopkeeper's Prison paper/presentation, if you believe that your activity can increase the number of people in heaven on the last day, then you really cannot have hobbies. Only people who believe that God does the saving and has His elect firmly in His hand can have hobbies. Because if you could be out there saving souls, how can you justify ever not doing that? If the choice is a game of golf or door-to-door evangelism - how could you ever go golfing? For those of us who believe that God has His elect, though, we can sit around drinking good Wittenberg beer, fulfill our vocations joyfully, and go fishing without any qualms.

Rome solves this problem with monasticism. You really should keep the evangelical counsels and do God-stuff all the time, but we know that's hard. So you can be saved even if you are not living a really good and perfect Christian life. But some people should live that life and you would be better off is you did, so go to your local nunnery recruiting station today!


But, of course, Arminians and functional Arminians still want hobbies. So they have to justify them as somehow connected to the God-stuff. If you thought monasticism was wacky, just look at the knots the  Arminians have to tie themselves in to make room for simple pleasures like sporting events (I am not making this up):

FCA Basketball Alliance Mission Statement
“To unite Christians who love basketball and equip them to minister to the basketball community in Nebraska.”

What is the FCA Basketball Alliance?
We believe that the game of basketball was created by God and for God.  We as the Alliance desire to utilize the game of basketball to proclaim the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
We believe that basketball is a modern day parable to help train people that there are two ways of doing sports: God’s Way v. Man’s Way.  Through this Alliance we would desire the entire state of Nebraska to come to an understanding of Doing Basketball God’s Way.

Well, as for me, I'm going back to my Wittenberg beer. . .


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Regarding the religious updates. . .

Since the very beginning of the Rebellion, the Commander-in-Chief of American forces has had a unique religious role to play in this land with no established church and thus no established religious leader for the whole nation. Since Washington prayed before attacking those nice Lutheran boys who were just serving their king on Christmas morning in New Jersey, the Commander-in-Chief has taken on the mantle of a secular Pontifex Maximus. The president and his religion has an effect on the religious life of the nation and of our people. Below are some interesting clips of each of the four candidates who have widespread ballot access speaking on religious issues. Of course, Johnson the lapsed Lutheran and Goode the devout Baptist don't have a snowball's chance, but hey, it's a Lutheran blog and I love Virgil's accent.

It's been an interesting four years with Obama's brand of vague, liberal (or is it liberation?) Christianity in the White House. Don't you think that might have something to do with his policies on abortion, birth control, and healthcare? What would Mormonism in the White House mean? Is Johnson's lapsed Lutheranism any different? And what does Baptist eschatology have to do with Goode's fear of the green flag being planted above the White House?

Enjoy the clips - and if you are disappointed (or elated) next Wednesday morning, remember to pray:

Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul. 2 While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. 3 Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. 4 His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. 5 Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God: 6 Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever: 7 Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The Lord looseth the prisoners: 8 The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind: the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down: the Lord loveth the righteous: 9 The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down. 10 The Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the Lord. Glory be. . . 


Baptist update

Lapsed Lutheranism update

Liberation-Liberal Christianity update

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mormonism update

Oh, Crud! I'm the first one here!

Don't forget to FALL BACK one hour this Saturday, 3 November, so you're not the first one at church this Sunday, 4 November.