Thursday, June 27, 2013

SCOTUS Ruling: A Call to Repentance?

After the recent ruling of the SCOTUS on DOMA and Proposition 8 yesterday, I found today's reading in the Confessions quite apropos. In Article XXIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Melanchthon takes on the Confutation's argument that priests must be celibate by means of natural law. He writes:
"The adversaries object to these arguments. They say that in the beginning, the commandment was given to populate the earth. Now that the earth has been populated, marriage is not commanded. See how wisely they judge! Human nature is so formed by God's Word that it is fruitful not only in the beginning of creation, but as long as this nature of our bodies exists. Humanity is fruitful just as the earth becomes fruitful by the Word, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed" (Genesis 1:11). Because of this ordinance, the earth not only started to produce plants in the beginning, but as long as this natural order exists, the fields are covered every year. Therefore, just as human laws cannot change the nature of the earth, so, without God's special work neither vows nor a human law can change a human being's nature.
"Second, because this creation, or divine ordinance, in humanity is a natural right, jurists have said wisely and correctly that the union of male and female belongs to natural right (iuris naturalis; natürlich Recht). Natural right is unchangeable. Therefore, the right to contract marriage must always remain. Where nature does not change, that ordinance which God gave nature does not change. It cannot be removed by human laws. Therefore, it is ridiculous for the adversaries to babble that marriage was commanded in the beginning but is not now. This is the same as if they would say, 'Formerly, when people were born, they were born with gender (sexum); now they are not. Formerly, when they were born the brought with them natural right; now they do not.' No craftsman could produce anything more crafty than these foolish things. They were created to dodge a natural right. Therefore, let this point remain, that both Scripture teaches and the jurist says wisely: the union of male and female belongs to natural right. Furthermore, a natural right is truly a divine right because it is an ordinance divinely imprinted on nature. Because this right (ius) cannot be changed without an extraordinary work of God, the right (ius) to contract marriage remains, the natural desire of one sex for the other sex is an ordinance of God in nature, and for this reason is a right (ius). Otherwise, why would both sexes have been created?" (Apology XXIII:8‑12)
Two things I find worthy of note. The Confessions uphold natural law, so that God's ordering of the cosmos continues to bring forth according to His ordinance, whether we submit to it or not. This is the way things are. It is how it is designed. Nothing—no human law or action—can change that. It is what it is. 

The second is the argument of the Confutation. The subversion of God's order by the Western Roman Church in its stance on the marriage of priests has deleterious effects on the view of marriage as a whole by the people. The estate of marriage by divine ordinance and, thus, natural law came to be seen by all as something less than the celibacy of the priesthood, which has support from neither divine ordinance nor natural law. False teaching and a failure to teach has consequences in the hearts and minds of those who hear it. Scum always rises to the top. 

Now, we can complain all we want about the SCOTUS's ruling on DOMA and Proposition 8. But I wonder if this is not simply the logical conclusion of the Church's, not the culture's, but the Church's subversion of the divine ordinance and natural law's witness about marriage? How often do we in the modern church sound like the authors of the Confutation, "in the beginning, the commandment was given to populate the earth. Now that the earth has been populated, marriage is not commanded." Or, as it may go today, "in the beginning, God ordained that male and female be fruitful and multiply to populate the earth. Now that the earth has been populated, being fruitful and multiplying is not commanded." Perhaps, the SCOTUS ruling, however disturbing it may be, is our call to repentance, so that we as the Church, the people of God, who know God's commands and confess natural law, will once again teach what the Scriptures teach and bear witness to the jurist's wisdom of natural law in lives lived according to it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guess the percentages!

UPDATE: Voters received an email this morning from the Synod Secretary informing us that the election is complete, no runoff will be necessary, but that the bylaws prevent an announcement of the results until July 6.

The voting is over. So which of our readers has the best intuitive understanding of the LCMS? Make your best guess on the percentages for each candidate in the LCMS presidential election before the results are announced on July 6.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Announcing! The Lutheran Propers

At long last, the project is complete!

The Lutheran Propers is the product of several years of editing materials from seasonal booklets which had been at use at St. Paul’s in Kewanee since 1998.  Anyone who has attended Oktoberfest has seen those booklets.

In this book, it all comes together under one handsome cover, or two, if you choose the option of purchasing in parts.

But that's not all.  In addition, the musical settings for the propers  for every Sunday and feast day of the year, taken from The Concordia Liturgical series for Church Choirs, ed., Walter E. Buszin (St. Louis: Concordia, 1942, 1944) are included.  These settings are currently out of print, but the St. Paul's choir has been using them for years. A major intention of this book is to make these beautiful musical settings more easily available for choral or congregational use.

In addition, the appointed one-year series readings are listed, and a second series of one-year readings, courtesy of The Lutheran Hymnal, is provided as well, for congregations that regularly have midweek services.

Suggested hymns are also provided, in two columns.  The first column contains suggested hymns for congregations that use Lutheran Service Book and the second is for those who still use The Lutheran Hymnal.  

And even that's not all.  An appendix of about forty hymns is included.  Most of these are in public domain, hymns that might be in one of the hymnals but not the other (and where copyright issues are a factor, the music or settings have not been provided, but the hymn will generally be a familiar one anyhow), and some of the hymns are new, published or soon to be published in Gottesdienst.

There are two options for purchasing, both by going directly to  One is to purchase the complete edition, pictured nearby.  The discounted cost (direct from is around $22.00.  This edition is 368 pages, however, which makes it a little bulky for use by choirs or in the pews.  So another option has been made available, which is to purchase this in two parts: Advent through Lent (available here), and Easter through the end of the church year (available here).  Each part can be purchased for about $13.00.  So while the total in that case would come to a bit more per set, it's recommended for congregational use.

Here's a preview.

The great polling experiment

Today is the last day of the LCMS online presidential vote. I hope full statistics will be available afterward - not just the percentage of votes each of the three candidates received, but also (at least) how many total votes were cast, how many were eligible to vote, and the break down of pastoral and lay votes. Regional breakdowns would be nice, too. Even with minimal statistics released this election should give us the clearest picture yet of what the LCMS really looks like "on the ground."

While the announcement of the winner is not set to occur until July 6, we should know a little something the day after tomorrow, as the information I received as a voter told me that will contact me on June 27 if a runoff is required.

As they say in Chi-town: vote early, vote often!


Monday, June 24, 2013

Might Want to Check Your Mailbox

In case you haven't noticed by now, yes, Gottesdiesnt is out of the barn.  The Trinity issue began arriving in mailboxes already last week.

Nice cover pic of Zion in Detroit, courtesy of Jennifer Balaska, their professional photographer.  And yes, Fr. Curtis, there is a print edition.  Not a subscriber?  Fix that problem here, and we'll send you the latest issue.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Brilliant - and tragic

Esolen continues to vie for the title of 21st century Chesterton.

HT: Fr. Scott Adle


Summer reading: Mimicry, the Law, the West, and Edward VIII

People learn by mimicry. We learn language, manners, facial expressions, morals, everything, from a very young age simply by repeating what we see in our parents.

And we never quit doing that. We are supposed to grow up and become the ones who are to be imitated, and to some extent we do. But we still look up to other people and imitate them.  To whom do we look up? Our betters; "other authorities" as the Catechism has it.

And this "looking up" is not necessarily conscious; for the vast majority of people in the contemporary West I doubt that it is conscious at all. The definition of "our betters" is also less conscious than pervasive. The folks most other folks are looking up to and mimicking are what we today call celebrities. But make no mistake, they are our betters: richer, more beautiful, more free, more well-known, simple more.

In the old world the betters, the celebrities if you will, were the royal houses of Christian Europe. The betters you will always have with you - again, part of human nature: democracy has always been a figment (see Perikles, Alkibiades, etc. in ancient radical democracy, or Lenin, Mao, etc., in 20th century radical democracy), every government is an aristocracy because people are always wanting to follow the aristoi. In Christian Europe the Church recognized that this fact of human nature should impose some responsibilities and duties upon the betters whom folks would "look up to" and mimic. It was necessary for society's betters to be held to a higher standard. The last frail whimper of this profound insight into human nature came with the forced abdication of Edward VIII. You can't be king of Christian England and Head of the Church and run off with some divorcée. What an example for the people!

But the Church is in retreat in Europe and in simple anarchy in America. There is no one to force the betters to be worthy of imitation. But they will be imitated, nonetheless. To read a frightening discourse on what this means for the West, I recommend Life at the Bottom (used copies here).  


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Non catenis vinctus, redux

HT: Fr. Wade Seaver

Thanks be to God that we are indeed bound to the holy liturgy!

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Non catenis vinctus"

By Larry Beane

This LCMS pastor uses a term that I looked into translating into Latin: "off the chain." Well, I think "non catenis vinctus" is the best way to pull that off - as this refers to a dog that has escaped his leash - which seems to be the origin of the term. Classical Latin has a similar idiom.

"Non catenis vinctus" can also be rendered "not bound." It seems to fit the context here.  I think this could be a helpful neo-Latin liturgical term that could find a lot of utility in LCMS circles.

"The real f-word," uh, not so much...

All Those Ceremonies!

All those ceremonies!

All those extravagant, impractical, and unnecessary ceremonies.

All the bending and kneeling and adoring of Jesus.

All the weeping at His beautiful feet.
All the wetting and the washing of His feet.
All the drying of His feet with her hair.
All the kissing of His feet.

And, then, all that perfume, poured out upon His feet.

Pretentious?  Presumptuous?  Hypocritical?  Legalistic?

No, but for this reason I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; for she loves much, and her love testifies to her faith in the Lord's forgiveness of her sins.  She knows where to find and worship the Lord her God, because this Man, Christ Jesus, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The Kingdom of God is at hand in Him.  There is forgiveness and salvation found in no one else.  Therefore, both faith and love lay hold of the one true God in the Body of the incarnate Son.

The Pharisee says, "How dare she!?"  But Jesus says, "She loves Me!."

The crowd complains, "Who is this guy!?"  But the woman says, "He is my Savior!"  Except, she says it, she confesses her faith in Christ and expresses her love for Him, not with words in this case, but with her lavish actions of adoration and grateful devotion.  With her ceremonies.

Our Confessions rightly point to this woman as an example of the true worship of God by faith: For it is in this way that God wants to be worshiped, that is, not by attempts to give Him anything, but by the faith that seeks forgiveness and salvation in Christ Jesus.  Amen.  But the Confessions also note, as the Lord Jesus expressly reveals, that the woman's faith and true worship are demonstrated and manifest in her love for Him.  She is not saved by her ceremonies, but her ceremonies belong to her salvation by faith in Christ Jesus.

What she did was not practical, pragmatic, or productive.  It wasn't necessary.  She did not "have" to do it.  But it did profess Christ Jesus, and, in professing Him, it was pedagogical in catechizing us.  The Lord Himself receives her ceremonies of love, and commends them as evidence of her faith and life and salvation in Him; for they are but the overflowing of His great love for her, and the evidence of His faithfulness toward her.

Another woman, Mary of Bethany, closely follows the example of this woman and her ceremonies.  If it had been somewhat spontaneous the first time, had it actually become some kind of ritual thereafter?  There is no need or point to conjecture.  We are not bound to do any of these things, nor could we do them, exactly, in the way those faithful women were able to do then.  We may, and should, wash our Lord's feet in the feet of His disciples, that is, by works of love and gifts of charity for our neighbors.  The same Lord is also present for us, to love us and serve us, to forgive us and save us, in His means of grace, in His Word and Sacrament, in His Body and His Blood.  We love Him, because He first loves us.  And so we worship and adore Him in the House and at the Table where His Body is found and given for us.

When that second woman had the audacity to anoint the beautiful feet of Jesus with costly perfume, and she was accused of extravagance and waste, the Lord praised her worship as befitting His Cross and Passion, and, He said, wherever in the world His Gospel is preached, what she did for Him would be remembered.

All those ceremonies.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gottesdienst the Game Show!

Lutheran parishes hither and yon are yoking themselves to American Evangelicalism in worship, administration, outlook, and, most importantly, in language. To help you navigate the new world we happily present our first Gottesdienst the Game Show game: Roller Coaster or Worship Service? where you try to determine if a given word refers to a roller coaster or an actual worship service in an actual church somewhere in America. Try to imagine Dr. Eckardt, dressed as Gandalf the White, reading this list of names and saying, "Roller Coaster or Worship Service?" after each. I affirm that I am not making of any of these up. Note your answers and then have fun Googling...

The Voyage
The Ultimate
Full Throttle
Jubilee Odyssey


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Unintended Consequences

by Larry Beane

God's Word and the avowed confession of our synod and its members notwithstanding, I believe we will see the next generation of LCMS pastors and laypeople overwhelmingly support the world's evolving definition of marriage and the mainstream Protestant church's requirements for admission to the pastoral office. 

I think it is absolutely inevitable (and these two issues are intertwined, actually the same issue).

I believe that when this occurs, at most, 20% of the pastors and congregations of the LCMS will leave the synod and form one or more new synodical associations. Some conservatives who remain in the LCMS will grouse about it, but they will try to fight within the synod rather than leave. They may try some form of "a state of confession" - but the tide of time and culture will wash over them fairly quickly, and the leadership of the synod will eventually deal harshly with them.

I believe within the lifetime of my son, there will be openly gay pastors and district presidents. There will be a lady president of one of our seminaries. I firmly believe this. She may well defend the Genesis account of creation and reject the higher critical method of biblical hermeneutics, and will thus be considered a "conservative" and may even see opposition from the more liberal element within the LCMS.

This path (like the one that has now seen the Boy Scouts accept homosexuality within their ranks) is the result of a "normalization" that comes with something that was once unthinkable simply becoming commonplace through the passage of time and by routine exposure. This process of normalization is undeniable and over time drives what is acceptable in our secular and ecclesiastical cultures. A simple comparison of television programming over the past few decades illustrates this point. You may like it or not like it, but that is the trajectory we are on.

I also believe we will eventually see churches that "discriminate" based on "gender" (whether in ordination, employment, or marriage rites) will lose their tax exempt status from the IRS - especially if the Roman Catholic Church were to capitulate on these issues. Right now, the sheer size and power of the Roman Catholic Church would make such a move difficult - and even now, we see the Roman Catholic Church beginning to be challenged by the state and pressured to conform to secular standards.

And in accordance with Luther's explanation to the 8th commandment, I believe this to be the unintended consequence of very well-meaning people.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Forgiving Child: Thoughts on Trinity 3

Considering that Trinity 3 falls also on the secular observance of Fathers' Day, I wonder if LSB's alternative text of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) might be appropriate? With this in mind, I found THIS ARTICLE insightful on the relationship between fathers and children.

I can't count the times my sons question why I let the other do something or not do something, while letting the other, in their words, "get away with it." That's not how I see it, but that is how they see it nevertheless. Sometimes father does know best. Perhaps, there is a bit of this going on in this parable. The father knows how to discipline his children. He knows what will ultimately show them that they are his sons.

It seems that both sons don't see themselves as sons. The younger son who goes away and comes back didn't want to be a son. And the older son, saw himself as a hired hand instead of son. He saw himself as one who earned his relationship with his father and didn't recognize that he was a son only by the gracious will, work, and word of his father. This becomes clear when you hear one of the saddest verses in the account, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours." It almost seems that this never occurred to the older son. It seems that it never occurred to him that he always had access to the father and all that he has, but he never dared to ask. With these words the father tenderly invites his son to be his son and receive all that the father has as his own.

How often do we, in our own homes, fail or even refuse to receive the love of our fathers because we act not as sons but as hired hands, as those who earn rather than those who receive because of our status as his sons? How often do we, in the house of God our Father, fail or even refuse to receive the love of God--His gracious will, work, and word to and for us--because we act, yes even see ourselves, not as sons but as hired hands? Would our families and lives in the family be different, better even, if we learned that we are sons not by duty or effort, but by grace and love, by the will, work, and word of our father?

What stands in our way? It is only us--our grumbling. Grumbling is whining. It is different than a lament. While a lament is a complaint to God to act in accordance with His promises, grumbling is a complaint against God. A lament expresses dissatisfaction for the way things are in a way that it yearns for God to heal what is broken and sick. It is a statement to God on behalf of creation. Grumbling expresses dissatisfaction for the way things are because there is a dissatisfaction for who God is and the way He is. Lament comes from faith in who God is and trusts that God will do what He promised. Grumbling comes from unbelief and a failure to see God's gracious will, work, and word despite how it may appear at that moment. It is a failure to see the bigger picture as God sees it. It is to reject that God is good and that His will, work, and word is gracious. Grumbling cuts us off from our father and all that he has. Lament opens us up to what he still desires and always desired to give.

Pay attention, then, to yourselves and how you complain.

Why don't we give our fathers the benefit of the doubt? Why do we assume the worst about them? Why do we do the same to God? Why do we grumble instead of lament? We assume something about our fathers and our relationship to him that is really not there. We, like the older son, assume we are hired hands and not sons, full-fledged members of our father's family by His gracious will, work, and word?We presume our relationship is based on what we have done in obedience instead of on who our father is and who he said we are and made us to be. Or, we, like the younger son, think that we want to be on our own, independent, from our fathers. Both ways are foolish. Both lead to separation and isolation and eventually death.

Sons need forgiving fathers. Fathers who discipline but without provoking them to anger. But it is also true that fathers need forgiving children. So, forgive your fathers. Give him the benefit of the doubt. And though I hesitate to say it this way, forgive your heavenly Father. Give Him the benefit of the doubt. Do not pass judgment so quickly because sometimes fathers really do know what is best. And though it may hurt, and though you may not understand, you are a son by the Father's will, work, and word. Everything that is His is also yours. And He will not take it away from you.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Thoughts on Trinity 2

And one by one they began to make excuses for why they could no longer come to the banquet despite having already given their RSVP: Yes, I'll be there.
"I have just bought a field. I must go try it out. Please excuse me."
"I have just bought a team of oxen. I must go try it out. Please excuse me."
"I have just married a wife. I must go try . . . ."
You get the point. It seems that Jesus has a sense of humor. And thus he shows just how laughable these excuses are. In other words, these excuses don't hold up. I have other things, better things, more important things to do than to come to your party. I don't much like who you are and what you stand for, so I'll show you by not coming to the party. They're meant as an insult. And they do just that. The master became angry.

Jesus said all this in response to what one who reclined at table with Him had said while at the party held by a ruler of the Pharisees (Luke 14:1). This person said, "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God" (Luke 14:15). This statement is an excuse like unto the ones our Lord listed in His parable. The statement seeks to excuse why the Pharisees don't invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to their banquets. Those who Jesus said they should invite because they are not able to repay them. And those who do this are blessed for they shall be paid at the resurrection of the just.

The resurrection is pictured in the Old Testament as a great banquet. All those who are righteous will be at the banquet. The Pharisees don't invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to their banquets because they are not righteous. If they were righteous, they would not be poor, crippled, lame and blind. So "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God."

This, too, is a laughable excuse. But Jesus isn't laughing because it is meant to insult Him. On the face of it, it seems like a harmless statement. The Pharisees apparently understood plausible deniability. The problem is, and what our Lord points out, is its tense. "Blessed is everyone who will eat . . ." future tense. Not now, but in the future. What the Pharisees refuse to see is that the kingdom of God is at hand in the coming of the Son of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. What the Pharisees refuse to see is that they are eating bread in the kingdom of God because they are eating with Jesus. And they refuse to see it because they don't like who Jesus is and what He stands for and who else He eats with: tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus makes the point clear: If you will not eat with me, the coming of God's kingdom, you will not eat bread in the kingdom of God in the future. "Not one of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet." If you do not see that the kingdom of God is already here in the coming of the Son, you will not taste of the banquet yet to come. If you do not recognize the one who is both Host and Meal in the Lord's Supper and eat with and of Him there as the coming of God's kingdom already, you will not taste of that which has yet to come.

The Pharisees didn't see it. They refused to see it. But what of us? How do we refuse to recognize the coming of the kingdom of God in our midst already? I'm not talking about those who are playing hooky on Sunday mornings. How do those who are present at the Divine Service commit the same error as the Pharisees?

Well, let's ask it a different way. How does God's kingdom come? God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
That by His grace we believe His Holy Word. 
That by His grace we lead godly lives here in time. 
A godly life is a life lived in faith toward God and fervent love toward our neighbor. A godly life is lived inhaling the grace and mercy of God in Christ and exhaling that same grace and mercy toward our neighbor. A godly life is a life lived in confession and absolution, in receiving the forgiveness of sins and forgiving those who sin against us.
"Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 
"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:13-18).
We make the same error as the Pharisees when we refuse to see the hurt in our fellow Christians and reach out in love to help them in their need. For in so doing we have failed to see Christ in our brother. We have failed to see that God's kingdom has come. We have failed to believe in His Holy Word for we have not done what it says: Love in deed and truth. We have not lived a godly life because we have not believed His Holy Word. We have abused His grace because we have not believed His Word or lived godly lives. You ought to lay down your life for the brothers. For that is what love is.

And are not our excuses just as petty and laughable? Are we not like Adam who blames God for the woman He gave? And Cain who asked: "Am I my brother's keeper?" What is our excuse? There is none.

Repent while you can for the kingdom of God is at hand. He has laid down his life for you. The sacrifice is complete. All is now ready. Come to His banquet to eat with Him, with tax collectors and sinners, with your brothers and sisters in Christ. The Lamb of God, roasted on the cross, is prepared. Jesus is your Host and your Meal. He takes away your sins and gives you His holy Spirit so that by His grace you will believe His holy Word and that by His grace you will lead godly lives here in time and by His grace, there also in eternity.

An LCMS "TV" Series: Leaving Eden

By Larry Beane

Leaving Eden is an interesting project.  It is based on notes written by Greg Batiansila the son of an LCMS pastor.  It is a web-based series (I created a YouTube playlist of all ten episodes below).

[Note: if you want to watch YouTube videos on your TV, one way to do this is by streaming through your Roku player from your smartphone by using a free app called Twonky.  It isn't nearly as complicated as it sounds.  Here is an article that can point you in the right direction.]

The series is set in an LCMS congregation called Good Shepherd.  It openly makes references to being a Lutheran congregation, to Luther, to Walther, using words like "district" and "synod."  The storyline focuses on the pastor (the Rev. Ben Nicholson), his family, and the newly-arrived vicar (Lucas Carlove).

The series has a "documentary" look and feel.  Each episode lasts only between 12 and 15 minutes.  It strikes me as a postmodern video version of The Hammer of God that addresses the church's challenges in our own day and age and cultural setting.  It shows the behind-the-scenes struggles facing pastors and their families, as well as those plaguing their congregants.

I do recommend it, and find it to be remarkably realistic - in spite of its glaring weaknesses, which I will address first: its portrayal of Lutheran worship and preaching.


There is very little by way of worship depicted in the series.  And in its defense, it is primarily about what happens during the week as people struggle day to day plying their vocations in a fallen world and post-Christian culture.  Nevertheless, when worship is portrayed, it is un-Lutheran.  The pastor wears no clerical garb or vestments, there is no liturgical dialogue between pastor and people, and a drum kit is clearly visible in the front.  This is a terrible missed opportunity to not only portray authentic Lutheranism, but to demonstrate how Christ comes to His suffering people (preachers and hearers alike) in Word and Sacrament.

There is not a single instance of someone taking the Lord's Supper, receiving this most holy comfort for the troubled Christian.  There is no portrayal of confession and absolution - in spite of sin and its effects being front and center in the series.  There is not a single reference to Holy Baptism.  In one short scene of worship, parishioners are holding up their hands Pentecostal-style.  When it comes to worship and sacraments, this congregation could change its name to "Good Shepherd Methodist" and it would not have altered the series one bit, and in fact, it might have increased its authenticity.

When the pastor prays, the prayers are likewise un-Lutheran.  It isn't just that they are exclusively ex corde prayers (which every parish pastor makes ample use of), but they are vacuously worded imitations of the worst type neo-evangelical prayers that are largely fluff.

Needless to say, there is no reference to praying the psalms nor the comfort of turning to Scripture or to prayer books as a means to leading a prayerful Christian devotional life.


The other unfortunate weakness in the series is the way preaching is portrayed.  One of the strengths of our Lutheran tradition is our homiletics.  Lutheran pastors are trained to craft Christocentric and Christological sermons.  In the real world, pastors quickly learn that gimmicks are not what people need in their day to day struggles with sin, death, and the devil.  The series blew a golden opportunity to show the world the gem that is a proper Lutheran proclamation of Christ crucified, of law and gospel, and of the biblical centrality of our preaching.

Instead, we see the pastor preaching off the cuff holding a garbage bag that he says includes dirty diapers.  The vicar shows up to preach wearing some sort of beach flotation device.  The preaching is, in the typical manner of non-denominational congregations, vacuous and experiential without much Christ.

What the Series Does Well

In spite of the above criticisms, there is much that the series has going for it.

It portrays pastoral care in a post-Christian, postmodern context quite accurately and authentically.  The pastor's neighbor, a young woman who has become good friends with the pastor's wife, is a typical young American.  She is a good neighbor, nice, helpful, but utterly unversed in Christianity - which she approaches as a quaint curiosity comprised of "Jesus people."  A young couple who are in the pastor's office for marital counseling are extremely accurately portrayed as absolutely uninterested in the faith.  They are jumping through hoops just to get their wedding, their body language displaying that familiar passive-aggressive hostility that every modern pastor has seen with young couples who do not attend services but whose relatives want a "church wedding."

The series does a great job of showing how categorical theology as practiced theoretically (in the idealism and naivety of the vicar) becomes messier and more complicated and nuanced in the real world where people actually live and breathe and have their being.

The series portrays the parochial antagonist, how bad church meetings can be, the pastor's and congregation's financial struggles, the pastor's constant failed effort to make time for his family, the stress in the lives of the pastor and the laity of the church, health and heathcare issues, the pastor's fear of "losing his job," the impotence of the district (which is truly a "best construction"), the fact that the pastor and his family are giving of themselves to the point where they struggle to receive spiritual help and friendship themselves.

All painfully true for pretty much any clergy family that has been in the parish for any amount of time.

The series deals with real-world matters such as divorce, how to tell who is lying, dysfunctional personalities, alcoholism, jail, death, the cancer ward, bad checks, complicated relationship issues, and the children of the pastor who are constantly placed at the back of the queue for dad's time.

The series clearly reflects an insider's view of the real-world life of the pastor's family, as well as a behind-the-scenes view of the good, bad, and ugly in parochial life, including a new convert, a teacher in what seems to be the parochial school, members of the church council, the church secretary, and of course, the vicar.

And yet, it is not all bad.  The pastor's ministrations are not in vain.  People do manage to receive pastoral care even in a culture of unbelief, even with horrific struggles, even as the pastor basically sees his work as triage at best, always tottering on the edge of failure.  And like real life, there are a few surprises along the way as people often behave in ways contrary to what we might expect.

The series is authentically Lutheran in its portrayal of the Theology of the Cross.  And that, I think, makes it worth overlooking the bad worship and preaching while seeing how the wheels of grace meet the highway of the fallen world in a way that is not contrived or idealized.  That is the one thing that redeems the series and makes it worthwhile.

The filmmakers are raising funds to put out a second season.  Here are some interviews.  [Note: Thank you to my parishioner Louise for bringing this to my attention!]