Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dignity Matters!

By Larry Beane

Well, you've probably seen the video of the "dancing bishops."  In case you haven't, it's embedded above.  And yes, it is real.  It is part of a welcome to the bishop of Rome's visit to Rio.

Here is a well-written response from the point of view of an Eastern Orthodox cleric.

Much of his perspective will likely resonate with Lutherans, we likewise being historical, Catholic Christians who reject the lofty claims of the Roman see.  And setting aside the issue of our doctrinal differences with the Roman Catholic Church for the time being (see especially Articles 21-28 in the Augsburg Confession, Article 4 of the Apology, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope to review these issues of doctrine and practice which for the most part remain divisive to this day), I think it is interesting to see how the Roman Catholic Church is perceived when she resorts to such frivolity and gimmickry.

And my purpose here is not to throw stones, for we in the LCMS live in our own glass houses, do we not?

As the author points out, what attracts a lot of people to Roman Catholicism is its antiquity, its gravitas, its, well, "Catholicism."  The Roman Church stands like the Rock of St. Peter over and against the rise and fall of nations and empires, of changing paradigms, of the modern storefront Protestant "churches" where women "bishops" govern over their "pastor" husbands, where thousands of organizations lay claim to being "the true church" when they have only recently been founded and incorporated, where a plethora of doctrines and personality cults compete in a cacophany of voices and confessions.

Over and against the noise stands the Church of Rome.  Any serious student of western history encounters her.  Like the ocean, like the sunrise, she is always there - sometimes acting nobly in her saints and martyrs, teachers and servants of mankind, and sometimes acting diabolically in her bureaucrats and popes, her money scams and torture chambers.  And in spite of the Borgias and the Inquisition, there is something compelling in her antiquity, in her chain of ordinations stretching back to the apostles.  Notwithstanding human sin and organizational depravity, there is dignity.

Or there was.

One might argue that the episcopal flashmob was not a worship service; this was just a bit of fun.  And that is true as far as it goes.  But these men are bishops, representatives of our Lord and the apostles, men consecrated into the Office of the Holy Ministry, clad in the uniform of their office, men whose ministry is to oversee dioceses of churches and dozens or even hundreds of pastors. Their presence for this youth event is intended to remind the young people of the treasure that is the Christian faith, the one true faith, the only thing of lasting importance in this fallen world. And while some may be amused and appreciative of this lighthearted display, there is also an outpouring of shock, revulsion, sadness, and anger among Roman Catholics.

This did indeed cause much offense.

I think we Lutherans should learn from this episode.  Peruse the responses from the blog readers.  And then think on our own narrative as 21st century Catholic Christians within the Lutheran tradition and confession, rooted deeply in history, whose own chain of ordinations extends likewise back through the ages to the apostles as well.  Think about the seriousness of the Reformation, when souls were imperiled by false doctrine, then the Word of God was re-emerging from darkness, when men and women gave their lives resisting religious tyranny, when hymnody, preaching, participation in the liturgy, daily prayer, and study of the Holy Scriptures - all in the common languages - were restored to the faithful!  What a treasure!

In my own case, I was drawn to Lutheranism because of this historical gravitas that did not throw out the baby of the gospel with the bathwater of medieval power politics and corruption.  In Lutheranism, I found liturgical, sacramental, Catholic Christians and Catholic congregations that were not beholden to papal decrees and human traditions over and against God's Word.  I found salvation and life, intelligent study of the Word, and dignified (yes, dignified!) traditional worship that connected me to the church of every age.  I could get rock music anywhere - even from the speakers mounted in the windshield of my motorcycle, even in my eccentric 11th grade teacher's classroom.  But there was something else in the Lutheran Church - something transcendent, something apostolic, something that communicated the only thing in this life that matters.

And the dignity of liturgical worship among us is a confession of that apostolicity, that gravitas, that serious centrality and constancy of the Church's proclamation and mission.

So what message do we send a world and a culture that is lost at sea in rapid change, in sarcasm, in 24/7 entertainment, in frivolity, in licentiousness, in boredom, and in skepticism, when we try to imitate the shallow cultural waters in which they swim?  Do visitors to our churches see us as yet another storefront fly-by-night denomination, or to they see us bound by doctrine and practice and history to the apostles - in our worship, in our confession, and in our dignity?  For dignity itself is a confession that we take our faith seriously.  In other words, we really believe this stuff!  The catch-phrase of today is "authenticity."  And ecclesiologically, authenticity is embedded in our creeds in the word "apostolic."

Ironically, those who push for drum kits in the chancel, drama teams, rock and roll, dancing girls, a lounge atmosphere, big screens, cup holders, lattes, and other elements of entertainment, are likely pushing the younger generation they claim to be seeking away from the church.  While young people tend to like dressing and acting casually in their day to day lives, has anyone considered that maybe they actually might be drawn to something transcendent, dignified, apostolic when it comes to their quest to find the True God?

I was 17 years old when I found a home in the Lutheran Church.  During the week, I rode my motorcycle and listened to heavy metal.  I was always clad in jeans and tee shirts.  I played basketball with my friends, attended concerts and parties and midnight movies, and lived well within the parameters of youth culture.  On Sundays, I appreciated the dignity, the gravitas, and the apostolicity of my rather low-church humble Lutheran congregation.  Even in its simplicity, the ancient liturgy proclaimed the church's authenticity.  When they introduced the "contemporary" service, I avoided it.  I think that puzzled some of the older, well-meaning folks.

Of course, that was a long time ago, and times have changed.  Maybe young people today see the world differently than I did when I was drawn to the Church of the Augsburg Confession.  But whether one is young or old, whether one is a pastor or a layman, if we believe the Nicene Creed that we (hopefully) recite publicly at every Sunday Mass, we owe it to everyone - to visitors to our church, to the faithful members of the body of Christ, to our fellow Christians around the world, and to those who came before us, including the apostles and our Lord Himself - to be reverent, to avoid frivolity, to steer clear of offense, to be dignified, authentic, and apostolic in our worship and in how we hold ourselves out to the world; to be Catholic in all that entails according to our Evangelical confession.

Dignity matters.

These Roman bishops, likely with all good intentions, surrendered the dignity of their Catholicism for the dark pottage of the ephemeral youth culture.  Let us ever be mindful of our confession of the Lamb and His Gospel, the Holy Scriptures, our blessed confessional symbols, our rich heritage and tradition, and how we are perceived by souls in need of salvation when we act as undignified as these men who likewise lay claim, with our common ancestors in the faith, to the confession of that "one holy catholic and apostolic church."

Dignus est Agnus.

Our Current Understanding of the Doctrine of Vocation: An Informal Fallacy?

The Doctrine of Vocation has been all the rage in Lutheran circles the past ten years. This is a good thing. But something is missing in all these discussions. We have forgotten the first premise. This could simply be the work of an enthymeme. But the pessimist in me thinks something else is at work, something more like a petitio principii. That first premise is "From the beginning God created them male and female."

Why have we left this first premise off? Are we just products of our age? Is this not something that we need to deal with first and foremost? Do we not have a vocation first and foremost as a man and as a woman? Does not all other vocations flow from this? And if we get this first premise wrong, will not all the rest be skewed along with it?

President Harrison in his address to the delegates at the 65th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, quoting Hermann Sasse, said, "Every great advance in the church began with the cry, 'Back!' Back to the Scriptures! Back to the Confessions! Back!" Resolution 4-11A“To Commend Faithful Service and to Study Proper Roles of Men and Women in the Church,” is a step in the right direction. One delegate, speaking in favor of the resolution, urged that the CTCR should not limit the scope of their study simply to the roles of men and women in the church, but also in the home and society. That delegate is right. I hope the CTCR heeds this delegate's request.

But we need not wait for the CTCR to speak. The task of teaching the vocation of being a man and the vocation of being a woman is given also to pastors. It is given to fathers within the home also. Our confusion over what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman leads to confusion in other areas of theology and practice, in church, in society, and in the family. Let's heed the words of Sasse and go back. Back to the Scriptures. Back to the Confessions. Back to the teaching of our forefathers in the faith. Let us mine the riches of their work to understand and practice what they preached.

So let's go back, back to the very beginning, back to the mandate and institution of mankind. For have you not read that in the beginning God created them male and female (Matt 19:4)? This is where we must start: at creation. This tells us what a thing is: who man is and who woman is. And not only who, but what they are according to God's revealed will. If we skip this, if we let modernity have its way, we cut ourselves off at the knees, standing on a shaky foundation.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Fashionably-Late Take on the LCMS Convention

It got nice and cool exactly a week too late around St. Louis—the cooler weather would have been the perfect atmosphere for what was a truly conservative convention: as in circumspect, cautious, and considered. 

On the big issues—AC XIV, SMP, women in combat—the convention passed resolutions calling for the formation of a task force (AC XIV), an oversight committee whose oversight looks to be only advisory (SMP—the CCM said it could not set "policy"—so what exactly can it do? We honestly don't know.), and a referral to the CTCR (women in combat). Attempts to put more teeth in all these resolutions failed, as did attempts to weaken them even further or tilt them in a direction favoring the status quo. 

If anything qualified as a bombshell from this sedate convention it was when the chairman on seminary education announced some hard stats: 1/3 of CSL students are SMP students and 3/4 of all SMP grads are serving on staff at congregations large enough to have something called "a staff." 

The difference between careful planning and kicking the can down the road is in the outcome. The President of Synod obviously wants time to study and teach, especially on the biggest issue of all, AC XIV. He also wishes to convince those districts that are holding on to "lay ministry" for all they are worth that there is a better way. He wants to persuade, not overrule. May God grant all involved in these various studies wisdom and courage: they'll need both. 

But the grassroots must not merely wait: in this triennium those who treasure our Confession should make it a priority to study the AC XIV issues in circuit meetings, Bible classes, circuit forums, general pastors conferences etc. Surely we here at Gottesdienst will re-post several of the resources our editors have put together on this topic as well as the others as the months tick on (especially the comments of our sister churches overseas). If you serve in one of the 13 districts with "licensed lay deacons" and whatnot—now's the time to lobby your general pastors' conference planning committee to treat this topic this triennium with speakers from Gottesdienst or seminary professors who confess AC XIV or other appropriate teachers of the Word. If they won't bite, then you need to get your own conference going in your area: Gottesdienst loves going on the road, contact an editor and we'll get cracking.

The same goes for the other big issues - don't wait for some study document to come down from on high: arrange a conference and get brothers talking. Gottesdienst has done a lot of work on AC XIV—but many others are working on the roles of male and female in the three estates, SMP, etc.

In other news . . . the most open conflict at the convention came over seminary oversight with a public breech appearing between CSL (against it) and CTS (for it). In the end, the Synod returned to a pre-2010 model of oversight thus overruling the concerns of the CSL President and Regents. 

Other than that—the cupcakes at the Presidents' Reception were amazing.

The Editors

Review of CTCR Natural Law Document

Here is Nathan Rinne's (rather critical) review of the recent CTCR document on Natural Law. This is a topic for our time, to be sure - both the CTCR's document and Mr. Rinne's critique are worth reading. The more work Lutherans do in the realm of Natural Law, the better prepared we will be to face what lies ahead for the Church.

I see this as the ideal purpose of the CTCR: tackle a big topic in a concise way to spur further discussion.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Weekend of Theological Reflection in Bellaire, Michigan with Pr. H. R. Curtis


Saturday, August 3, 2013 | Hope, Bellaire

“Election and Evangelism: Set Free by Grace” — Come rediscover the comforting doctrines of Election and Predestination and how they inform our views of Evangelism. A gifted speaker from the St. Louis area, the Rev. Pr. H. R. Curtis, will present at Hope Lutheran Church’s annual lay symposium in the beautiful village of Bellaire in northern Michigan. Join us at Hope for a free day of stimulating lectures from 9:00 A.M. till 3:00 P.M. on Saturday, August 3, 2013. For more information e-mail Pastor Seaver at hope@torchlake.com. There is no cost to attend, and lunch is provided.

2680 S. M-88 Hwy., Bellaire, Mich. 49615

Friday, July 19, 2013

In case you were wondering if the Reformation was necessary and remains so...

The Pope is handing out indulgences for following him on Twitter.

In reading through Gerhard's arguments against Bellarmine in the former's Loci it is striking just how finely detailed the disagreement is over justification and salvation. At times one can have great sympathy with the "outmoded condemnations" crowd and the folks who put together the JDDJ. There really is a lot of oversimplification and setting up of straw men in the Lutheran-Papal polemic. Most of what Gerhard says - and this in the 17th century to a learned Jesuit - is "that's not what we teach." There really was a lot of talking past each other and misunderstanding that should not hamper us today after nearly 500 years of cooling off.

But then the papacy does something to clarify the issue: handing out indulgences for signing up for Twitter. So long as the Pope goes on pretending there is a purgatory whose door he can open and close with precision, there can be no unity between us; a great chasm is fixed.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Calling All Delegates!

Here is a post that all the delegates to the LCMS Convention next week need to read. Pastor David Ramirez has made available a paper by our own Pastor H. R. Curtis on Woman in Combat and Natural Law.

It's time. It's Missouri's moment. We are called to speak the truth in love, to confess what we believe  not only from the Scriptures but also what we know to be true from Natural Law. It's time for Missouri to stand firm and confess that we will not act against the Scriptures, but also to hold our leaders accountable to the Natural Law.

Will it be uncomfortable? Will it raise the ire of the world? Yes. But we must obey God rather than men. We must fear God more than man. It's our time. It's our moment. It's time to confess boldly our doctrine. This isn't about what is popular. Nor is it about what is capable. It is about what is right according to the Scriptures and Natural Law. And if we don't, we will be held accountable.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sacerdotalists Taking Over The LCMS!

It has come to the attention of the Editors of Gottesdienst that Sacerdotalists are taking over in the Missouri Synod! The chief culprit appears to be one Phil Schwartzerdt who, in official testimony before the governing authorities, was heard to say, "But if ordination be understood as applying to the ministry of the Word, we are not unwilling to call ordination a sacrament. For the ministry of the Word has God's command and glorious promises, Rom. 1:16: The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Likewise, Is. 55:11: So shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My mouth; it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please. 12] If ordination be understood in this way, neither will we refuse to call the imposition of hands a sacrament. For the Church has the command to appoint ministers, which should be most pleasing to us, because we know that God approves this ministry, and is present in the ministry [that God will preach and work through men and those who have been chosen by men].13] And it is of advantage, so far as can be done, to adorn the ministry of the Word with every kind of praise against fanatical men, who dream that the Holy Ghost is given not through the Word, but because of certain preparations of their own, if they sit unoccupied and silent in obscure places, waiting for illumination, as the Enthusiasts formerly taught, and the Anabaptists now teach."

Not only does this Hyper-Euro (our sources say that he is actually from Europe) Schwartzerdt consider ordination to be a Sacrament - he even had this to say about hierarchs: "But this is their opinion, that the power of the Keys, or the power of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. 6] For with this commandment Christ sends forth His Apostles, John 20:21 sqq.: As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. 7] Mark 16:15: Go preach the Gospel to every creature." 

Again: "To this we answer that it is lawful for bishops or pastors to make ordinances that things be done orderly in the Church." 

Bishops and pastors sent by God with power to make ordinances! Ha! What a Romanist! And indeed here is the proof, note his signature upon the foul work of one of his Papist friends, one "Father" Martin: "I, Philip Schwartzerdt, also regard the above articles as right and Christian. But regarding the Pope I hold that, if he would allow the Gospel, his superiority over the bishops which he has otherwise, is conceded to him by human right also by us, for the sake of peace and general unity of those Christians who are also under him, and may be under him hereafter."

And now here is the "cup of grace" (as those Hyper-Euro Frenchies say): this Schwartzerdt is a layman! But there is no record of him ever attending a voters' assembly, so what kind of layman could he really be?

We are sad to report that this Schwartzerdtian-Sacerdotalist influence has reached such a pitch in the Missouri Synod that a very high percentage of her pastors have actually taken (secret?) oaths to uphold the very words quoted here from the pen of Schwartzerdt! Will no one stop this? 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Importance of Being Vested

Counterfeit trying to look legitimate

The Importance of Being Vested is a provocative blog post from Wisconsin Synod layman and liturgical artist Jonathan Mayer.

It concerns liturgical vestment, not being vested in a church retirement program...

Just a couple morsels:
"Something is not counterfeited unless it has practical value." 
"The church's motto 'Real, relevant, and relational,' which apparently means dressing like Larry the Cable Guy to deliver God's Word."

Legitimate trying to look counterfeit

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Three cheers for Lutheran princes!

On this July fourth, spare a thought for Ernest I, the Confessor, Duke of Brunswich-L√ľneburg, signer of the Augsburg Confession, and great-great-great-great-grandfather to George III of the House of Hanover.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Righteousness That Exceeds the Scribes and the Pharisees: Thoughts on Trinity 6

"Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The problem is that our righteousness is that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Our righteousness is the same as the scribes and the Pharisees. To prove this our Lord points us to our anger. Anger and indignation is the by product of having been sinned against. But what we do with that anger is more telling. It reveals how we view ourselves, and how we view our neighbor. When we are angry, we assume that we are in the right and they are in the wrong. And when we have been sinned against, our brother is in the wrong. That does not, however, mean that we are necessarily in the right.

*The problem with anger is that if it is not dealt with, if it is not confessed to God and to one another so that it can be taken away and cleansed from us by the blood of Jesus in Word and Sacrament, it stays with us and destroys us. Satan uses it against us. He gets us to brood over it, to replay the incident in our minds like a music track on repeat or a video loop. Repeatedly and obsessively in our minds, we stew over it with ever greater emphasis on its gravity and injustice. As our anger simmers, our remembrance and assessment of the offense is gradually distorted. And we begin to bring our mental accusations against the offender in the court of our minds. There we hold a secret trial in which we both prosecute and pass judgment on the wrongdoer. The more we stew over it, the angrier we get. And then we remember all the other offenses that we have suffered from that person and all the other people that have hurt us. And that fuels our anger and our desire for justice. We maintain that we are in the right; we are justified in our judgment of them. We hold the moral high ground against them. And before we know it, anger leads to bitterness and resentment, which in turn, leads to outrage, hatred, and lust for revenge. And so we end up stewing in our own poison. For we have begun to hate those whom we should love. We have become the scribe and the Pharisee.

This is spiritual suicide. For "you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and who ever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire." In other words, whoever is angry, stews in that anger, holds court in his mind to prosecute and pass judgment is liable to the hell of fire. Whoever does this has cut himself off from Christ. For when we hate our neighbor, seek revenge against him, we don't usually attack them physically. We do so verbally, emotionally, and spiritually. We talk to others about them to get them on our side so that they will join us in condemning them. We write them off and give them the cold shoulder. We reject them in our hearts and treat them as being dead to us. This is spiritual murder. And by cutting ourselves off from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we cut ourselves off from Christ as well. And this is spiritual suicide.* We take the position of the scribes and the Pharisees, and we follow in their righteousness. And unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The only righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees is the righteousness of Christ. For He came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets. He came to fulfill them. By His active obedience, Christ did all that the Law and Prophets demand. By His passive obedience, He allowed the punishment for having not done what the Law and the Prophets demand to fall upon Him. He not only fulfilled the commandments in His life, but in His death fulfilled it's punishment. And He did this for you. He did it on your behalf and for your benefit. So that being joined to Him by water and Word, His righteousness is your righteousness, His status as the beloved Son of God the Father is your status as the beloved sons of God the Father, and His life sitting at the right had of the Father for all eternity is your life for all eternity.

So then, having all this, when you come together around the altar offering your gift, which is an outward display of righteousness, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, that there you remember your anger turned to hatred for your brother, which is murder and suicide, go and be reconciled to your brother. For the Lord desires mercy not sacrifice. Confess your sin to him that he may repent and confess his sin to you. And then come to the altar together not to give but to receive the gift your Father has prepared for you, that you both may be cleansed by the body and blood of Christ and live in and under the righteousness that exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees unto eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.

* This section is paraphrased and taken from John Kleinig's Grace Upon Grace, 234–235.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gerhard on preaching the moral law

A couple months ago I finished my edit of Gerhard's Theological Commonplaces' locus on sin and bound choice, and now I get to work on his locus concerning the Gospel. The first section has been responding to his customary opponent, Robert Bellarmine, SJ.

We respond. (1) These [arguments from Bellarmine about the nature of Law and Gospel] are correctly published and urged against the Antinomians; but they do not harm our case at all, for who of us denies that Christ and the apostles explain, repeat, and urge the moral law in the New Testament and that, as a result, ministers of the New Testament must also explain, repeat, and urge it?