Monday, August 12, 2013

A Tale of Two Church Bodies . . .

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
So wrote Dickens in the opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities. The same could be said of recent history in the church. The Roman Church is just now coming to grips with it. So are we. Things seemed to be going so well for so long that the great demographic cliff was no where in sight. But now it is upon us. The reality is that it was always there. We were making it level by level with every decision not to procreate as intended by natural law and the teaching of the Scriptures. We were so excited by the freedom that technological advancement gave us (the Pill, IVF, contraception in general). We were so exited by what we could do, we never stopped to ask the question whether or not we should do them. But now we are. We are asking: How did this happen, how have we come to this place? Everyone is pointing fingers. Our Lutheran schools are closing. Our attendance in small and smaller churches is waning. The laity blame clergy. The clergy blame the laity. And the blame falls to both. The clergy have not taught as it should the unity of procreation and marriage. And the laity have not learned it. And both have not lived it. And in the words of Dr. Phil, "How is that working out for you?" Thus, the rise of divorce, children out of wedlock, co-habitation, pseudogamy, etc.  Natural consequences impeach.

HERE is a recent article about one parish priest's experience. It is this article that prompted this post. Here is one gem: 
Having grown up in the 60‘s and 70‘s with many “Don’t call me Father” Priests, I knew that the problem was a lack of orthodoxy. Twenty years ago when I was ordained, I thought that if I just preached the faith and celebrated a solemn Sunday Mass people would turn around. But, after twenty years, my experience is that a few parishioners will write letters to the Bishop, some will leave murmuring, but the standard fare is benign indifference. Instead of encountering joy and submission to the Natural Law and the Church’s teaching on human life and its dignity, I have found Catholic Christians either complacent or complicit with the Culture of Death. It was reported that over fifty percent of Catholics voted for a pro-abortion president who at a recent Texas Planned Parenthood convention asked God to bless them. If I have found any fruit, it has mostly come from home-schooling families. 
I have become convinced that there is a connection, a direct correlation, between contracepting or sterilizing one’s fertility that parleys into an infertile relationship with Jesus, the Divine Bridegroom. In other words, mortal sin is the ultimate barrier method when it comes to God’s gift of grace being implanted within our souls. It is known that Jesus expects us to be faithful in small things before He will entrust us with larger issues. What is smaller and yet has the greatest value than bringing new life into the world? The realpolitik, the sitz im leben, the situation on the ground, is that reproductive dissent has reached and surpassed a critical mass. Whether we are talking within or outside the church, tacit support is given to the culture of death when we don’t support the Natural Law against all unnatural sexual actions. To wit, the arrogant aggrandizement of the state and Federal government under Obamacare and the HHS mandate over Catholic hospitals and educational institutions. Where will it end? (Cardinal George of Chicago has predicted that there may be no Catholic hospitals or colleges within two years.)
If you FIND/REPLACE all the terms dealing with the Roman Church with terms specific to the LCMS, you have our current situation. It is sad. But we've built it. And now we must raze what we've built by going back to what we all know to be true in the natural law and the Scriptures, or be razed ourselves.

Gottesdienst is about liturgy. Its about keeping doctrine and practice together. Its about holding together what God has joined together. Its about enacting the Lord's Word with ceremony that confesses and teaches the Lord's Word, not only to others but also to ourselves. The ceremonies we do—the sign of the cross, genuflection, the elevation, etc.—reinforce in us what we ourselves believe about God. Not just what we confess about Him to others. And so these ceremonies teach us too. They are bodily reminders of what we believe, teach, and confess. 

But this is not limited to the Divine Service on Sunday mornings. The Divine Service is bigger than that. The Divine Service encompasses the entire life of those served by God, who receive His gifts in Word and Sacrament. That Word is also imbedded in the world (Gen 1; John 1). And there are ceremonies in our lives in the world that do the same. They either reinforce what we believe about God or they don't. They either teach us to believe rightly or not. This is the case with procreation and contraception. This is the liturgy of our lives in this world lived from the Divine Liturgy. Let us in every aspect, in the liturgy of life and in the liturgy of the Divine Service, say the black and do the red. As we are blessed by Him in doing so in the Divine Service, so shall we be blessed by Him in doing so in life. What God has joined together, let man not separate.


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    1. Your broad stroke is not the point of the article. I think the point is clear. Though I'm willing to admit that what I find clear may not be clear for everyone else. In an attempt to clarify, I'll simply state this: The contraceptive mindset has led to many unforeseen consequences in the practice of marriage and family in the church and the world. While I'm unprepared to say that contraception is the root of all evil, perhaps wrongly so, I can say that our practice of it has not led to blessing as is clearly evident. At the same time, I find it difficult to say that contraception is neutral in itself because it clearly goes against God's will as it is revealed in nature and in Scripture, as even the Lutheran Confessions seem to uphold (Ap XXIII:8‑12).

      As always, thank you for your comment.

    2. If you want more explicit articulation, try Luther, the Church Fathers, our Missourian Fathers...basically every Christian before 1930.

      A man of your theological training will doubtlessly be able to find their articulation in abundance.

    3. My question would be, are contraceptive methods a sin? In my estimation, in terms of reading in the Holy Scriptures the high value that our Lord places on children and the clear command to be fruitful and multiply, I would conclude that it is. While I appreciated Rev. Matthew Harrison's testimony to a table of congressional leaders it seemed troubling that he said "We are not opposed, in principal, to all forms of birth control" because in actuality our positioned is defined as "We hold no official position," which to me the title should be "We are afraid to uphold God's Word due to the fear of losing members so we take a seat at the table of indifference, with arms crossed."

      Things have changed since John Fritz's 1932 publication "Pastoral Theology" printed by CPH where he says, in his heading "II. Arguments Against Birth Control" (point number one) "It is sinful." It seems that if the Synod is not going to uphold God's Word on this very important issue then the Pastor's therein should be calling attention to the issue in such a way that they do not suggest that contraceptive measures are a bad thing and non-contraceptive measures are the better thing, but rather contraceptive measures are sinful and against God's will and non-contraceptive measures and the bringing forth, and rearing of children, is God pleasing and listed among the chief works of women.

      Also, I am not sure where the thesis statement, given by the broad stroke, could be concluded. The article seems to draw attention to one of many false teachings that exist in our Church body known as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. If the advocative tone for the use of contraceptives is given by the Missouri-Synod, through our weak-spined "no official position of truly positional indifference" then it is a root of evil. In David P. Scaer's "Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics Volume VIII, Law and Gospel and the Means of Grace" Robert Preus writes: "The plural 'doctrines' is rarely used in the Confessions, as in Scripture, but rather the singular 'doctrine.' In the church, if one member suffers the whole body suffers; according to the organic, unitary nature of Christian doctrine, if one article or member fails, the whole body of doctrine is adversely affected. Luther said, 'One article is all the articles, and all articles are one.'" This seems to be the point that Rev. Braaten is making, that our false understanding/teaching on this issue "reinforce(s) what we believe about God or they don't. They either teach us to believe rightly or not." Also, as pointed out by Preus and Luther, false teaching/understanding in any article of faith negatively affects the whole of our singular Christian doctrine.

  2. And yet, I have seen "confessional" after "confessional" spit in the face of the united voice of the Church for 1900 years, and claim, "I can do, in my marriage, whatever I want to do, and you are a legalist if you say otherwise."

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  4. "Seems to be preloading the conversation to assume that because a person does not accept your view of the use of contraception"

    I think a comment such as this reveals the problem with this issue in the Synod. The assumption that a position against contraceptive measures is mine as an individual, as oppose to the Scriptural/historical position drives the discussion into the ground. It takes the discussion from the objective truth of God's Word, the position of the early church, and our own spiritual church fathers to our own little subjective bubble of post-modern opinion that says "What is true for me may not be true for you."

    To be sure the author of the above post made no mention of the fact that these different practices: "the sign of the cross, genuflection, the elevation, etc" were confessional, but rather they "reinforce in us what we ourselves believe about God." Whether they are truly confessional or their absence signifies a lack of being confessional was not in question, neither was the use/non-use of contraceptives guiding the readers to believe that the latter makes a person more confessional and the former less so. It is evident that the author points his readers to the confessions in his response to you, and rightfully so. I suppose that pointing to the Confessions of our church and to the Holy Scriptures tends to be the route a confessional Pastor goes, but nonetheless he still made no mention, nor did I, that the non-use of contraceptives or various ceremonies makes one more confessional than another. So yes, I would say that the your = comparisons are a bit of a "broad brush approach."

    So the question in turn is, is the view of non-contraceptive use my view, or the authors view, or the confessional view? Or is it the position of the Scriptures and the church?

  5. "Genuflection, elevation, not practicing contraception = faithful, confessional, genuinely Lutheran."

    Indeed. She likely knelt at a manger; she likely raised her adoring eyes to an elevated but battered, bloodied, naked and dying son; and she surely didn't contravene the will of God even at the risk of being scorned, or stoned, or at the least being put away (ahem) "quietly."

    A faithful, confessing and genuine Lutheran ... yes, yes, gentlemen: that's our Mary!

    The thing is, she could have flouted God's plan and made lots of bucks and been highly fulfilled career-wise, merchandising those fancy purple linens, perhaps, or selling books. To all appearances, this sharp little lady had quite a way with words (Lk 1:46-55).

    So perhaps, living in today's evil times, she would have made a connection between Pieper's "default position" (conveniently buried by the publisher in the German "Christian Dogmatics") and Fritz's "sin" in the '30's, and some current difficulties: "All generations will call me blessed, including the Lutherans; but it'll take three or four generations to have the iniquity seriously visited upon the latter rascals (Luther's Small Catechism, 1943, CPH; p. 8), to the point where they start to squirm as they die off."

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor, S.S.P.

  6. Great points, Pr Braaten.

    +Christopher Esget

  7. > "command to be fruitful and multiply"

    Martin Luther accepted the ban on contraceptives. But he did not make "be fruitful" into a command (despite some rhetoric in the 1520s that he later disowned). You may be interested in this chapter:


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