Thursday, February 28, 2013

On the abdication of the Bishop of Rome

A very thoughtful piece by Prof. Stephenson. We are not likely to see another pope with such a great understanding of and appreciation for the Lutheran confession. For our part Ratzinger's greatest legacy must surely be the promise of dialogue with specifically confessional Lutherans. What will come of it, God only knows - but how refreshing it is for Rome to recognize that there are Lutherans-who-have-abandoned-their-ancient-confession) and then again there are just plain Lutherans.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Around the Word Journal

Here is a little blurb Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller sent me:

Thanks again for all your work on this project. We're hearing a lot of great feedback, how the journal and your articles in it have been helpful to the people reading it. 

If you would like to help publicize the journal in your congregation, here's an announcement. You should put yourself in there. Thanks!

Around the Word is a new theological journal for the curious Christian. With articles ranging from “Sanctification and Suffering” to a review of Les Mes, there is something in these 108 pages for everyone (including an article from our own Pastor *** on *****). Three months of devotions also help gather our families around the Word. ($5 for the electronic version, print on demand is also available.) Check it out at

Thanks again, 
Wolflmueller sent it to me because Around the Word reprinted an article I wrote for Gottesdienst in 2006. 
At first glance, this is quite an impressive endeavor. It is available as a .pdf for a mere $5 is 108 pages long. If you don't want to print it yourself, you can buy a print on demand copy and have it sent to you, but I don't know what that costs and am not going to look it up, because, frankly, while it is nice of them to offer that, I can't imagine anyone doing it.
The .pdf is beautifully done. The graphics and text are appealing but the emphasis is clearly on the words. I am printing it out right now, black and white, double sided, stapled. I have a pretty fancy copy machine / printer here at Church. It was too big for the machine to handle as a single document. So the last 10 pages were stapled separately. But I could have just printed the pages I wanted. I can also cut and paste if I want to quote and cite anything.

On second glance, this thing is still impressive. It contains five articles and sixteen features it calls "in every issue." I think the rest of us would call those "columns." I don't know, however, if they're really columns. Some of them don't seem like they are wide enough to be explored indefinitely. In any case, those 21 features are mostly about 2 pages long and were written by seventeen different authors. One of those features is a book excerpt from Edersheim's The Life and Time of Jesus the Messiah and one was a reprint from Gottesdienst. The other nineteen features appear to have been written for Around the Word, or, at least, never printed before. The last significant piece is three months of devotions and some Bible chart stuff.

The list of authors looks a lot like the contributor's list for Theology is Eminently Practical: Essays in Honor of John T. Pless. (available here: Beyond Wolfmueller, whose fingerprints are everywhere, the authors include: Geoff Boyle, David Petersen, Jonathan Fisk, Brian Kachelmeier, Mark Taylor, Eric Andersen, Scott Diekmann, Jacob Corzine, Jared Melius, Eric Andersen, Timothy Koch, Alred Edersheim, Sarah Ludwig, Bror Erickson, Hans Fiene, and Warren Graff. Besides the fact that these are all Wolfmueller's drinking buddies, I think all the pastors except Graff and Fisk are Ft. Wayne grads. Graff, Diekmann, and I are probably the only ones over 40. This is no criticism. I know most of these guys and am glad to see them writing. In interest of full disclosure, I think I see a few of my fingerprints here and there also. I am about 95% certain Melius is quoting, in part, one of my sermons, whether he realizes it or not. So it is possible that I am a bit biased, still, I think Wolfmueller's drinking buddies are pretty talented and I am glad to listen to them and hope they keep it up, the writing, that is, not the drinking.
The devotions are surprisingly nice given the fact that they are devotions. I have to admit that I ruined family devotions at my house. We were raised on Portals of Prayer. I tried to switch to the Treasury of Daily Prayer because I thought I wanted something meatier. Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. I don't know,  but the Treasury readings were too long for my weak-minded family gathered around the dirty dishes after dinner. Wolfmueller has provided a very workable and sustainable model for family devotions and I am eager to put them to use. The structure is simple but deep, built for children and chaos, but still satisfying. The short devotional part is probably shorter than Portals but that is simply because it is all meat - not stories or applications or long metaphors. He gets right to the point. I think these devotions, which, by the way are written by another dozen of Woflmueller's buddies not listed earlier, are really a gem. The charts and such are nice also. I am not too into those things but a lot of people are and I think they will be well-liked by the laity.

Seriously: this thing is very impressive. There just isn't any other word to describe it. You should buy it. It is only $5! It is 108 pages for $5. That is an incredible bargain. It is very accessible, easy to follow and understand by teen-agers and the laity, and yet, it has real depth. Pastors should promote it in their congregations.
And writers should submit stuff to Wolfmueller. He will be needing material, if he doesn't already. I like that he is spotlighting the next generation, but I don't think that should keep old guys from writing. What sort of stuff? Based on this first issue, I'd say he likes history stuff. He likes things like "Who is Bo Giertz?" or selections from Edersheim. He likes the sorts of things that could show up in a really well crafted Church newsletter on hymns, Bible stories, or contemporary issues. He also likes some light research stuff on theological topics. It is, after all, huge. There is lots of room for your stuff.

So follow the link with credit card in hand and plop down your $5 and then get to writing.
P.S. If you don't know about these printable, customized Baptism and Confirmation certificates from Wolfmueller, you should:

A Little Perspective: A Tale of Two Seminaries...

... or ELCA vs. LCMS

by Larry Beane

As members of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, many of us offer well-deserved critiques of our church body and its institutions.  But it is easy to lose perspective.  There is still a great deal to be grateful for within the LCMS - especially when it comes to our formation of pastors through our seminaries.

But a couple videos for prospective seminarians make the point...

ELCA Seminary:

Note: Neither Gottesdienst nor its editors are liable for head explosions or projectile vomiting that the viewer may experience

... followed by the (Deo gratias)  eye-bleach:

LCMS Seminary:

Note: this video is actually from about 1998 and reflects the thinking of that time that there was an impending clergy shortage

I understand that the Chicago seminary is resorting to humor as a recruitment tool, and I'm not arguing that there are no serious pastors or theologians there, either on the faculty or in the student body.  Nevertheless, I think the contrast speaks volumes - especially in the kind of students being sought and the way the seminaries see themselves and their place in the Church.  For all of our problems, there is a sense of pastoral formation and a joyful seriousness in our LCMS seminary experience - at least that was my own at Fort Wayne from 2000 to 2004.

There was plenty of laughter and humor, but we took our sense of vocation and the eternal ramifications of what we were being formed into seriously and with a deeply-rooted Christological foundation that I believe is necessary for preparing a man to be a parochial shepherd.

And for that I am grateful to God and to my professors.

If being a clown is your vocation, join the circus.  Or you could attend a seminary like one of the two above and serve accordingly.  Choose wisely.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What sola fide does and does not mean

Another crystal clear statement from Gerhard. For a while back in the late 1990's it was fashionable in some confessional theological circles to say very provocative things about "sanctification by faith alone"or "sanctification is Christ in action,"etc. Whatever valid points the purveyors of these statements were making, I was always leery of them. Justification is by faith alone and we are purely passive, but in sanctification we are active, though in great weakness, in our will and works. Here is a classic statement of this from Gerhard.

Toward the end of this chapter Bellarmine attributes to us that we claim that “the renewal of man takes place through faith alone,” which is clearly false, because regeneration is one thing and renewal another, although they are very closely connected. Regeneration takes place through faith and indeed through faith alone, but renewal includes many more things, namely, the new spiritual impulses kindled in the heart of a person reborn through the Holy Spirit.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Pride is the chief sin. It is the sin against the First Commandment, and as every sin is against the First Commandment, every sin is pride. Every sin says to God, "I know what you want, how you say I should live, but I know better; I have a better law." So every sin is making oneself one's own god - pride.

Of course we Christians know pride is bad so we try to avoid out and out pride as much as possible. Which usually means we try to find clever ways to indulge our desire for pride. The parent obsessed with his child's sports, music, or other talent is an example of transferred pride. Or the pastor who dotes on a cherished aspect of his parish.

But the chief example of transferred pride must surely be patriotism. "I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free" is as nonsensical as the rich young man's question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" What does "doing" have to do with "inheriting"? What can pride have to do with the historical accident of being born to certain parents or in a certain locale? Thankful to live in a fabulously wealthy, relatively free nation? Absolutely! But proud to be such? Just a non sequitur.

The fact that the patriotism of the average American Christian is naught but transferred pride is seen in the denials or omissions of what counts as America. We are proud to be Americans where at least we know we are free, a light shining on a hill, home to freedom of religion: all that counts as American. Abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, women in combat, undeclared warfare, the highest incarceration rate in the Western world, rampant fornication, menorahs on the White House lawn: all that doesn't count as American. That is an aberration. That is not really America, not really us.

Just as my sins of anger, lust, greed, etc. are not really me. I am the good person who does the right thing and always tries my best. I'm|We're #1!

I suppose the temptation is the same for Russians, and Germans, and Chinese as well. I just happen to be an American living in the patriotic Midwest, so this is the sort of transferred pride I am most used to. On the left and right coasts I understand that they have an odd corollary: being proud of not being proud of being American, being proud of being a citizen of the world, being proud of the list of things that the Midwest does not count as American.

The otherworldliness of the Christian faith is best seen in St. Paul praying for Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus and encouraging Christians to peaceful obedience to such a wretched man and perverted society for the sake of what blessings God seeks to give through worldly order. In the world, but not of the world: the whole world! Our citizenship is in heaven - eagerly awaiting a Savior from there. That's quite a statement from Paulus civis Romanus ex nativitate! Citizenship in an earthly realm is a tool to be used, not a true status: our citizenship is in heaven. And in that passage from Philippians 3 we should also remember that Savior is also a political word - the first Augustus' title.

Jesus Christ is King, Savior, Lord - Rex, Salvator, Dominus. There is no other. Earth (including America) is a desert drear: heaven is my home.


What De Servo Arbitrio does and does not mean

I am very excited for the Gerhard volumne on free choice and free will to come out. There is perhaps no more misunderstood work of Luther today than his seminal De Servo Arbitrio. Even the translation is wrong: that's "bound choice [arbitrium]" not "bound will [voluntas]." One of the most egregious errors in Lutheranism today is a creeping antinomianism painted up to look like Luther's bound choice. This caricature of Lutheran teaching is just what the Papal party criticized the Lutherans for: a doctrine that would make a mockery of any attempt at good living, a theological excuse for the complete destruction of moral order in society and of all bounds in theology. (Would the ELCA's Sexual Committee and the LWF's caucus of female bishops please pick up the white phone in concourse B?) But that was always a wicked calumny. Lutherans never taught that individual external sins were inevitable, even among the unregenerate. There is a point to laws against murder or adultery or theft or any other law of external order in society and Biblical laws for the life of Christians - because human beings really do have the choice to avoid those external sins. "The devil, or my fallen nature made me do it" is not a valid defense. Here's a sample paragraph from Gerhard:

From ch. 13 to the end of the book [Bellarmine] speaks about “free choice in moral matters” and tries to prove that “as far as moral matters are concerned man has been endowed with free choice in the corrupted state of his nature,” but he does not set forth the actual status of the question and controversy distinctly and clearly enough, for we concede that unregenerate man does have some freedom to do the external works of the Law and that, consequently, in the sins which militate against exterior discipline there is no necessity of either compulsion or immutability.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gerhard on Luther and Melanchthon

I'm working through Gerhard's section on free choice and free will. He continues to impress me not only as a genius in theology, but also as a reasonable man full of good sense. He is no sycophant to the theologians who have gone before him and neither does he commit the sin of Ham against his fathers in the faith. Here is a fine example of his moderation, kindness, and honesty toward the giants on whose shoulders he stands.

As to what [Bellarmine] writes (in ch. 5) about the contradictions of Luther and Philip, “they remove almost every freedom of the human will in external and civil acts altogether,” let Dr. Chemnitz (part 1, Loci, toward the end of his chapter De causa peccati) be referred to on this matter. Dr. Luther is not embarrassed to confess with Augustine that he wrote [more] advantageously [elsewhere], thus even in the later editions of the works of Luther those words (from Assert., art. 36) that according to the teaching of Wycliffe all things occur by absolute necessity, have been omitted, as also in his later loci Philip explained his intent clearly. The meaning of words must be taken from the circumstances of the one who is speaking. But they wrote against the immoderate praisers of free choice, thus the same thing happens to them which happened to the fathers of the primitive church who, when they intended to refute the errors of the Manichaeans, went too far and spoke too indulgently and importunely about free choice.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Temptation to Slander by the Slanderer: Thoughts on Lent 1

Still wet from His baptism by John in the Jordan, with the word of His Father still ringing in His ears, Jesus is led by the Spirit, the same Spirit that descended upon Him when He came up from the water, into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

The word devil (διάβολος) means slanderer. It's instructive that the evil one is described as a slanderer. It tells us how he works. What he seeks to do. What his endgame is. Slander is the utterance of false statements or reports about a person, or malicious misrepresentations of his actions, in order to defame or injure him (OED). Slander is false speech that ruins the reputation and good name of others. Slander makes the tongue one of the strongest and most lethal weapons. I gives the tongue ability to inflict damage upon the reputation, and thus upon the credibility of everything that is subsequently said and done.

Thus, the devil slanders God. He speaks falsely, challenging God's reputation, His good name, and thereby His Word, His promises, and His works. For when reputation is defamed so also is everything that the slandered says and does. And so it is that the temptation the devil uses against us is to slander God so that we don't trust Him: His Word, His promises, His works.

It is one of his primary tactics from the beginning: "Did God really say . . . ?" "Surely, you won't die." "If you are the Son of God . . . ." The devil challenges the Word and Work of the Father at Jesus' baptism. He seeks to defame God's good name and reputation as the one who is love and does everything out of that love. He uses the tongue to damage God's credibility. He calls into question what is said and done by the Lord. He wants Jesus to doubt and act on that doubt. The only way to fight it is to use the same weapon, to use the tongue, with God's Word and Work firmly placed upon it to put the devil in his place. To counter the false report, the malicious misrepresentation with the truth found in God's Word, His promises, and His works.

He does the same to us but in a different way. He slanders God by questioning whether we are God's children not by getting us to do something but based upon what we have already done or left undone. He slanders God by showing us that we have slandered God in our thoughts, words, and deeds. He shows us that our sin, our rebellion slanders what God has said about us, the way that the Prodigal Son slanders his father when he asks for his inheritance. The devil tempts us by showing us that we are part of the problem. That we, too, are slanderers, not just him. He says: "If you are a son of God, why do you not honor your father and mother?" "If you are a son of God, why do you have so much lust and greed and envy? Why do you speak ill of your neighbors? Why do you grumble about having to come to church to meet God and receive His gifts of eternal life? The devil points out that because of our sin, we slander God's good name and reputation. We call Him a liar with our deeds, with the way we treat one another. Is not all sin a defamation of His Name? The very Name He placed upon us in Holy Baptism? Is not all sin a disparagement of His Word and Work?

The devil is real. But he likes to hide behind us, using us like human shields or as suicide bombers. He's real but he's also a coward. He's on the retreat. He's lost. The battle is over. The Victory is won. This is his last ditch attempt, out of desperation with no hope of success. And it's a good thing we undergo this temptation. It's a good thing we endure the fight. "For where there is no enemy, there is no fighting; where there is no fighting, there also is no victory; where there is no victory, there also is no crown" (Gerhard, Postilla, I:222). If we endure no fighting, no temptation, then we have no enemy. That means that we have already lost and are on the wrong side.

But we endure temptation. We do fight. We have an enemy. It is the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. We know who we're fighting against. And we know that we've already won because Christ is risen. He has fought in our stead. And He is victorious. He holds the keys to death and the grave. He has the Words of eternal life. He is the bread of God's Word that came down from heaven, so that when we eat of Him we have forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation. And with this bread, this Word, on our tongues, we confess the truth, we sing His praise. For in Him we, too, are victorious. In Him, We have an imperishable crown.

The Truth about Shut-ins from Pr. Saltzman

Pastor Greg Alms posted the following very helpful essay from Pastor  Russell E Saltzman. Pretty much everything Alms posts is worth reading, even his critiques of modern rock music. You can follow his blog here:

I am always taken by surprise by how the honesty of the Law brings relief, if not exactly comfort. An honest diagnosis helps because it acknowledges the reality. It is very frustrating to not know what is wrong, to simply have a bag of symptoms and no name. With a diagnosis comes some sense of control, of what to expect, and perhaps of some treatment. Saltzman's honest description here mirrors much of my own experience and he does it without getting preachy or covering up the frustration that every honest pastor feels in these situations.

Where I appreciate his not getting preachy, I can't resist myself. This is what faith looks and feels like most of the time. This isn't the case with every shut-in, but it is often the case or will be the case eventually. But faith t keeps on despite the evidence and doubts. It simply insists that God is good and merciful even when He doesn't seem to be and that the Body and Blood of Christ and His Gospel is good for repentant believers even when there is no evidence of that either. So do we so often stand in the cemetery, in the obvious face of death's victory and life's defeat, and say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"

Anyway, thanks to Pastor Alms and to Pastor Saltzman. Your work has given voice to my pain and relief, and even some joy. Thank you.

Reposted from

"Notes From a Communion Call
August 21, 1980

   She is 86 years old and requires constant nursing care. Until her retirement she was a college professor; until her illness she led an active retirement. A major stroke some few years ago deprived her of speech by partially paralyzing her throat and facial muscles. Age, frailty, and arthritis have done the rest.
   Her niece, her only family and only marginally connected to the parish, has asked me to see her. I don’t know her.
   She has great difficulty swallowing because of the paralysis. She drools continually. Her tongue lolls to one side, some portion of it always outside her mouth. She has no teeth; they were removed after the stroke to aid her swallowing. She is embarrassed by her appearance and holds a tissue to her lower face, hiding, absorbing the saliva.
   She communicates with an occasional grunt, all she can manage vocally, and laboriously writes responses and questions in a large childish hand on an oversized note pad.
   Her eyesight is poor. She writes blind, huge looping letters in a long scrawl. She can’t see what she writes and I can’t read it. I have to ask her to write it again, and once more, frustrated with myself that I cannot read it the first time and must ask a second and a third time.
   Her mind is active, inquisitive.
   She has numerous talking books for the blind about her room. Some, I note, are very recent titles.

   She writes and begins to weep, the soft, low animal sounds of someone deeply wounded. I can’t read it. She writes it again. “I am a prisoner.”
   Of what, I wonder. Her body? This nursing home?
   “I want to die,” she writes. “Why won’t God let me die?”
   “I don't know,” and I reach for her hand.
   If I hold her hand she can’t write this stuff, and I don’t want to read it.

   This isn’t the way shut-in calls are supposed to work.
   The mythology is, I am the one who is to go away marveling at the capacity for human faith in adversity, and the person visited is to be cheered with the comfort of the pastor’s presence.
   There is nothing here at which to marvel, and poor comfort to give. All that is here is an old lady who wants to die and a pastor who doesn’t know why God won’t let her.
   Why won’t God just let her die?

   I ask if she would like Holy Communion.
   She grunts through the tissue. I assume she means yes. I commence the ritual. We share communion. I shave a sliver of bread from the wafer and mingle it with a very small bit of wine, so she can receive without choking. I put it to her lips. She manages to swallow some.
   I feel absurd.
   What we are doing feels absurd. I am drained, exhausted after fifteen minutes with an old woman I don’t know. It seems surreal, if not meaningless.
   Hurriedly, I pronounce the benediction, wondering with what degree of favor the Lord does look upon this old woman.
   The mythological piety of pastoral calling again takes over. She is now supposed to feel uplifted, her countenance transformed.
   Nothing like that happens.
   Sometimes faith is tossed into the teeth of realities we cannot fathom, and we can only hope to escape with as little damage to ourselves as possible.

   Afterward, she reaches for the pad and scrawls something I can’t read. Hating myself for having to ask, I tell her to do it again. She writes “Thank you.”
   I know so little about her. I know only she wants to die.
   Some many weeks later, after putting another visit off as long as I could before guilt propelled me go, I was preparing to see her again when the nursing home called.
   She had died that very morning.
   I thanked God, but I still cannot say whether it was for her or for me.

-- The Pastor's Page and Other Small Essays, ALPB, 2010"

Monday, February 11, 2013

Who Isn't Ashamed of the Gospel?

The sad media frenzy and political maneuvering last week proved once again that we are deeply ashamed of the Gospel. I really don't know why the New York Times and their ilk are always so shocked to discover that we actually believe in this stuff, that we think Jesus Christ is God and is the only God, and the only way to heaven, etc. Maybe they are shocked because every time they ask us about it we get all embarrassed and start apologizing.

The Gospel is highly offensive. It is downright embarrassing and quite painful to admit that you fear that some of your neighbors are damned. One of the most difficult lessons for us to learn is that there is a time to be silent and respectful. The funeral of a Mormon or Jewish neighbor, for example, is not the time to explain the Gospel. It is the time to honor the person who lived and to pray silently for an opportunity to witness to his loved ones before they follow him.

In any case, former President Kieschnick admits his own embarrassment of the Gospel as he announces that he refuses President Harrison's apology ("Sadly and regrettably, nothing anyone can say will satisfactorily mitigate those emotions") and that he is seeking nominations for the presidency of the LC-MS:

"Overwhelmed! Embarrassed! Prayerful! People are asking …

Overwhelmed! The response to last week’s Perspectives article Praying in Public was overwhelming! It’s been a long time since I’ve received as many emails, Facebook and Twitter messages as have come since last Thursday. This early edition of Perspectives seems timely.

Of the hundreds of replies, only six were negatively critical. I’m well aware that there are many folks who do not take the time to write and I’m quite sure they also have strong feelings, on both sides of the question.
To those who expressed appreciation, thank you for your kind affirmation. To those who expressed disappointment, thank you for caring enough about our church body to write.

Embarrassed! The same day last week’s Perspectives article was released, a number of public news media carried a story titled Newtown pastor reprimanded over prayer vigil. The story was that the LCMS pastor who had participated in the interfaith vigil after the Sandy Hook tragedy had been asked by the president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to apologize for participating.

Many LCMS members, including most of the 800 attendees at the Best Practices Conference in Phoenix last week, have expressed to me their anger and embarrassment at this whole fiasco. Sadly and regrettably, nothing anyone can say will satisfactorily mitigate those emotions.

Congregations are endeavoring to proclaim to people in their community and beyond the forgiving love of God in Christ our Lord. The news that a pastor of our church body is asked to apologize for doing something pastoral, especially at a time of great need and horrendous grief in the local community, is greatly upsetting to people, inside and outside the church.

Prayerful! We live in a world full of sin and satanic influence. The devil would love nothing more than to see the Christian faith, the Christian church and Christian people appear to be unthinking, unfeeling and insensitive to the very real needs of very real people.
My prayer:
     ·  I pray that God would keep the devil far away from our church body.
     ·  I pray that what has been reported about this matter in the media these past few days will not cause eternally damaging offense to any child of God.
     ·  I pray for the national, district and congregational leaders of the LCMS directly involved.
     ·  And mostly I continue to pray for the families in Newtown who will always grieve the loss of their little loved ones.

People are asking … Since last week, I’ve been hugely humbled by folks I know and folks I’ve never met who are asking if I would consider the possibility of serving again as LCMS president. While I’ve heard those questions from time to time the past two and a half years, their frequency has increased exponentially in the last few days. I believe they deserve an answer.

My response now is the same as it has always been. In nineteen years of district and national leadership, I have never coveted an office and have never sought to be elected. My firm conviction is that in any process involving a calling from the Lord, the office should seek the man and not the man the office.

In our system, a candidate does not simply throw his hat in the ring. Congregations have the opportunity to nominate leaders they believe would serve faithfully and fruitfully. The three pastors who receive the largest number of nominations, and agree to serve if elected, will be on the ballot for LCMS president. The deadline for nominations is February 20, which means that most congregations choosing to participate in the process have probably already done so.

During the nine previous years I served as LCMS president, I felt truly called to that office. Confirmation of the hand of God at work through the nomination process almost concluded would be the only way I would consider the possibility of returning. And that’s my response to those who are asking.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!

Dr. Gerald B. (Jerry) Kieschnick
President Emeritus, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
Presidential Ambassador for Mission Advancement, Concordia University Texas"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How we talked about it in Bible Class...

We are close enough to St. Louis that folks get the Post-Dispatch on Sundays, so I was sure to get questions about all the "prayer vigil event" hubbub this morning in Bible class. It is always instructive to get the viewpoint of the good and godly folks in the pew.

They were turned off by the obvious political nature of the criticism of Fr. Harrison. They felt very badly for Fr. Morris and his community. They were livid at the comments from Fr. Rossow quoted in the Post-Dispatch and disgusted at the politicking from Fr. Seidler. Of course, the newspaper didn't mention that Team Harrison had jumped on Fr. Rossow post haste to pull those comments down in the first minutes of their appearance, and they were glad to hear of it. The paper also didn't mention where President Kieschnick went to church in Kirkwood either, and they found that instructive as well.

On the issue itself I think I can sum up my Bible class's thoughts like this: they didn't like the idea of a Lutheran pastor sharing a religious stage with an Imam and a rabbi, but they were certainly not ready to string the guy up. In other words: Fr. Harrison's original handling of the situation was exactly what they wanted - a steadfast confession combined with a gentle and pastoral attitude.

As I mentioned earlier, this case is so unlike the Missouri Synod's other famous foray into "civic events" precisely because the pastor in question forthrightly agrees that Christians can't worship with non-Christians. He didn't offer some half-baked theological justification for prayer with Muslims based on a mistranslation of the the Large Catechism - instead he issued a polite apology for causing offense in which he forthrightly confessed that these other religions are falsehoods.  He just doesn't agree with the Synod President that his actions added up to joint syncretistic worship. Father Harrison's critique, echoing the hearts and minds of many in the Synod, was simply that if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. . . .

As the lawyers would say, it's a question "not of the law, but of the facts." Since it was a disagreement on the interpretations of actions instead of a difference in theology, it was hard to get really worked up about it and I have not spoken to anyone who could say he was mad at Pastor Morris or thought he should be kicked out of the Synod. As Fr. Petersen said here: he made a mistake out of compassion. The Synod President called him on it in the most gentle and pastoral way.

But in almost three years President Harrison had not given his political opponents any ground on which to oppose him. He has done nothing remotely controversial (at least nothing the news of which has spread beyond the IC). So they seized this. It fit their script nicely: confessionals are meanies who only care about doctrine not people, vote for the nice guys who love you.

President Harrison has now apologized for "handl[ing the situation] poorly, multiplying the challenges" and "increas[ing] the pain of a hurting community" and "for embarrassment due to the media coverage."

Has President Harrison been reading the advice of our own Father Petersen when it comes to responding to angry letters?

Just like the parish pastor who gets blasted for "his demeanor" or "the way he said it" when he did the right thing (or even a little less than he really felt duty bound to do because he was bending over backwards to be kind) President Harrison has tried to defuse the situation by taking blame for the fallout while not retracting the substance of his remarks.

Like the parish pastor so blasted, the temptation for President Harrison will be to become gun shy, to retreat to his study, to be slow to speak when he should speak. What would we pray for the parish pastor in a similar situation? That he would take from this experience not an excuse for being gun shy, but a realization that he ought to be bold. They are going to come after you even when you try your very best to be as gentle as you can manage - so why not strike out in boldness on an issue you care deeply about and that needs to be taken care of? If they want an election issue, a reason to hate you, let it be a good one that you can feel good about upholding come what may.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Grief Ritual of American Civic Religion

Read a sober and thoughtful account here.


Friday, February 8, 2013

What would Elijah pray? What would Elijah do?

Former President Kieschnick writes: "Elijah prayed in the presence of hundreds of prophets of false gods. Paul preached in synagogues and taught in temples in the presence of people who rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. So did Jesus himself."

Have the exegetical capabilities of our clergy fallen to such a nadir that this argument in favor of round robin interfaith prayer services carries any weight? Really? I really feel that I would just be embarrassing our readers by dissecting it. Really, one feels badly about swinging at such low hanging curve balls.

Elijah. Well, let's see. Here is what Elijah said to the people in the presence of the prophets of Baal: "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him."

If an LCMS clergyman were invited to an interfaith, round robin prayer service and spoke remarks along these lines to the audience, he would be roundly applauded by all who have criticized Pastor Morris' participation. But, of course, that's not what such modern day round robin prayer services are meant to be by their creators among the "community leaders." Comments like, "How long will you in this community go on attending this Mosque? How long will many of you go on talking as if all roads lead to heaven and as if everyone killed in this massacre is in heaven? If Jesus is God, follow him. If Allah is God, follow him." - well, they wouldn't be received well by the organizers and might just get you an indictment for hate speech. That's the Elijah way.

The Paul way? "The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles."

You see, Paul went to the synagogue because he expected to find believers there - believers in the old covenant to whom he hoped to reveal the fulfillment thereof in Jesus. When they didn't receive it, he left the synagogue.

So how about, "It is necessary that I preach to you people here today the message of Jesus, that He is the only way to heaven and that you cannot attain heaven by being a good Muslim or Jew. If you thrust this aside and continue to stand outside the Church, then you have judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life."

The Jesus way? When Our Lord spoke to mixed crowds on days when it was not yet His hour to be arrested and killed, He usually spoke a parable. Something along these lines might be good in a round robin "event:"  "Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.  34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.  35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.  36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.  37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'  38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.'  39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?"  41 They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons."  42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: "' The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?  43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.  44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him."  45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

But all that would be mean wouldn't it? That is, forthrightly preaching that the Jewish kid killed by the madman or the Muslim teenager who drown in the flood or the Mormon mother of three the tornado killed are all in hell and that the only comfort you have for their relatives is that they repent and escape the same fate. . .well, that would be rude. That's not the point of the "event." The point of the "event" is for everyone in the community to feel better. That's why preachers invited to such events never do what Elijah, Paul, or Jesus did.


And now for something completely different. . .

A sometime guest-columnist and one of the sharpest, most well-spoken of the Gottesdient Crowd (tm) has a new and thought provoking blog. I recommend you check out the wisdom from Fr. Surburg.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ah, politics

That was quick: the long knives (here and here) are out for Harrison regarding his response to the Newtown interfaith vigil-prayer-event. The upcoming election for Synod President will be a referendum on this action - count on it.

Would it have been better to choose other ground? Perhaps publicly rebuking a DP who dismissed charges against a certain professor who advocates for women's ordination and homosexuality? Or putting out a forthright plan to end lay ministry? Maybe - but hindsight is 20/20. Harrison wanted to lay down a firm foundation on these issues, build a consensus, and make big, lasting change.

But now this is the ground. There is a lesson here for parish pastors. A fight will always come and find you, no matter what you do. Be wise as serpents, meek as doves - pick your ground when you can, but dig in when you can't.

We fight not against flesh and blood. . .


Monday, February 4, 2013

On Worship with non-Lutherans and non-Christians

President Harrison has issued his response to the "ecumenical service/vigil" in Newtown, CT, in which a MO Synod pastor participated. I think he did a fine job of responding to this: he forthrightly said that participation in such a service was unBiblical and secured the repentance and apology of the participating pastor in a gentle and humble manner.

It should also be noted that there is an election this summer and that it would have been very easy for President Harrison to wait until July 26th to release this letter, which will certainly be used against him by the usual suspects. So I am doubly thankful for and appreciative of President Harrison's work here: he has done his job, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. This is just the kind of leadership our Synod has needed in high places for a long time - and Fr. Harrison should be commended for it. Furthermore his last paragraph is completely correct: this individual matter concerning this individual service is now closed.

The broader issue of "ecumenical services" is, of course, still open. And that is what makes the second half of Fr. Harrison's response (the paragraph beginning "To his credit" and following) so very interesting as it is clearly written to "the other side" - those in the Synod who will be angered that the President of Synod called a pastor to repentance and dared to say that his participation in this service was unBiblical and against our Confessions. Can President Harrison find a way to communicate with and convince these elements in the Synod? I hope so.


What do you want me to do?: Thoughts on Quinquagesima

We tend to see what we want to see, what we expect to see. And the things that don’t fit our expectations, our preconceived notions, we tend to dismiss, thinking they’re unimportant. But actually the opposite is true. The things that don’t line up, that strike you as strange and out of place, are the things to concentrate on. The things that don’t make sense are the things that have meaning. And concentrating on them, figuring them out, reveals what it means, when before it remained hidden to us.

So why does Jesus ask the blind man this question: “What do you want me to do for you?” I would think that this is pretty obvious. He’s blind, so he wants his sight back. He wants to see what he was always missing. To behold the beauty of creation. To be relieved of having to beg. But that’s our problem. We see only what the blind beggar would gain. We give no thought, however, to what he must give up. We see it in terms of sunsets and stars and being able to see the sky at night. But there’s comfort in blindness and in ignorance, in familiarity, in what we’ve grown accustomed to. How many things are we deficient in, and how often do we live covering over our weaknesses rather than spending the time to change them? It is safer never trying.

The blind beggar is giving up all he knew. He’s giving up his sole source of income, the only trade or skill he has. And that trade, that income was pretty reliable, especially for someone blind or lame, with some physical illness or handicap. Beggars were an important aspect of 1st Century Middle Eastern life and society. Beggars weren’t seen just as someone to avoid. Beggars were seen as an opportunity for people to render service to God by giving to and having mercy on the poor, the lame, the blind, the deaf. Beggars were a way for the people to fulfill their religious obligations. And so beggars didn’t sit by the side of the road and ask passersby “hey man can you spare some change or a few bucks?” They’d cry out “Give to God, have mercy on me.” That is, “do your duty to the Lord by helping me.” And people gave not because they felt sorry for him but because it was their duty to God. The blind beggar in this account then, if he were to receive his sight, would be leaving behind everything. His world would be turned upside down.

And so our Lord asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?” That is to say: “I know you think you want to be cured, to receive your sight. But are you sure? Don’t you know that when your eyes are opened, it will change everything? Don’t you know that nothing will be the same again, and that there’s no going back? Ignorance is bliss. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. Everyone loves hotdogs until you read what’s in them.

But the blind man simply says: “Let me receive my sight.” In essence, he says, “Yes, Lord. I know, but let me receive my sight so that I may see you, so that I may know you, and follow you.” The blind man wants to see so that he can behold with his own eyes the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of David who would come to establish His reign by redeeming His people, by saving them from their enemies, giving them knowledge of salvation by forgiving their sins. Even if he is poorer than a blind beggar, even if he has no work or trade, regardless of what people have said or might say about him in the future, He has seen the Lord, known His mercy, received His love. He would rather be a beggar of God and have nothing than be a beggar of men and have everything. For to have the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is to have everything and more. And that is enough.

And what of you? Do you want to see, to have your blindness removed, not only to see the good things, to see the Christ and the works that He does for mankind but also to see the depravity of your own sinful nature in the cross. Are you, too, willing to give up everything to see and know and follow the Christ, the Son of David? Will you step out in trust and faith, handing everything over to Him? Do you want your eyes opened to see Him, giving up your former lives, your former comforts, seeing our Lord but also the the destruction your own sins bring on Him and yourself? Having your eyes opened means having your ignorance removed. Having the bliss of not knowing, not seeing your sin for what it really is removed—not just that it’s a little mistake, or a lapse in judgment, or a weakness, but a damnable offense against God and His holiness.

It means that you’d rather be poorer than a blind beggar and despised by men but seeing the Lord Jesus than blind, accepted, having income and knowing where your next meal will come from but not having Him. It means suffering the scorn of the world as it scoffs at you even as we heard this week, “What’s with you Christians? It’s only a pill, it’s only contraception, you must hate women.” But some of those pills cause abortion, it’s not just a pill, it’s a child. Following Jesus means not being able to live in the bliss anymore of not knowing. means having your world turned upside down, losing everything you find comfortable in order to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to His cross, to His death and His grave. To see does not mean just the roses but also the thorns, not just the sun but also the darkness, not just the resurrection, but also the cross.

The blind man follows Jesus. And he follows him all the way to Jerusalem. He follows Him all the way to the cross, to the place where everything we expect is turned upside down. The place where the King of Kings, David’s Son and David’s Lord, reigns his kingdom as the Crucified one, seated upon his throne the cross and is crowned with thorns.

For the kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of men. In the kingdoms of men the blind are just blind, the deaf are deaf, the lame are lame,and the dead are dead. But in the kingdom of God, it’s the blind who see, the deaf who hear, the lame who walk, and the dead who live. So, confess your blindness, your deafness, your infirmities, and your deadness, your sin. Confess them and cry out to the Son of David for mercy, and ask that in seeing Him you may truly see, that in hearing Him you may truly hear, and in dying in Him you may truly live. And by His Holy Spirit-filled Word, you see, you hear, and you live.

And so it is that we, too, standing at the doorstep into Lent, will follow Jesus to Jerusalem and to His cross. And in going there, Our eyes will be opened to see Him as He is revealed in Scripture and receive Him in the breaking of bread. Our eyes will be opened to receive the light of Easter—the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.