Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Does faith justify if accompanied by vice?

From this month's Gerhard translation work. The forthcoming volume On Justification is a must read. So many of our contemporary questions, especially regarding the Antinomian/Radical Grace strains within today's Lutheranism and wider Evangelicalism, are dealt with in fine detail.

Bellarmine [Gehard's Roman Catholic opponent....seeing in advance the ground that the Radical Grace folks would tred] retorts: “If faith, separated from the other virtues, were able to justify, it could also do this in company with the vices which are contrary to the virtues. After all, as the presence of the other virtues does not benefit faith for the work of justifying, the presence of vices will not hinder it, because they are connected with it accidentally as are the virtues.”
       We respond. The word “alone” has to do with the predicate. Faith, to the extent that it justifies, alone accompanies this act. Meanwhile, justifying faith is not alone; much less does it exist with vices, that is, with sins against conscience. How, then, would it justify with vices? Acting presupposes being; but faith does not exist with vices; therefore it does not justify with vices. Faith separated from virtues does not justify because it does not exist without virtues. Yet still it does not communicate the power to justify to the virtues and this [faith] alone justifies.

And a little more...Radical Grace has always been how Calvinists like to describe "once saved, always saved." It's not Lutheran.

 [Bellarmine] brings this forth from Calvin: “the seed of faith remains amid the most serious lapses.”
We respond that the Augsburg Confession (Art. 12) explains our opinion clearly against the Anabaptists, that “once justified, people can lose the Holy Spirit,” namely, through sins against conscience. Therefore justifying faith and sin that attacks it cannot stand together at the same time.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Augustana L.C. Festival of Worship

Augustana Lutheran Church in Hickory, NC hosted a great one day conference Saturday, November 12, 2016 in the beautiful nave of the church.

Augustana's pastor Father Gavin Mize is a great friend of Gottesdienst, having been published in both the print journal and online.  The narthex of Augustana has a stack of Gottesdienst for parishioners to pick up.

Pastor Mize opened the conference with an introduction: 'Parameters of Presentations and Liturgy According to Catechetical Aesthetics":

The next presentation, "Revolution Versus Revolution": Christ at the Center was given by Gottesdienst editor the Rev. Larry Beane:

The keynote address of the conference, "The Sacred Manger: Reverence for the Incarnate Word", was given by Gottesdienst editor the Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch in two parts:

The Festival concluded with a Divine Service, a commemorative Mass of St. Jonah the Prophet, which Pastor Mize streamed live via Facebook:

The sermon was preached by Pastor Beane:

As a bonus, the following morning, Dr. Stuckwisch preached at the Sunday parochial Mass at Augustana for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost:

Thank you to the delightful and faithful people Augustana Lutheran Church, who provided Southern hospitality and cooking along with making this conference happen free of charge. Thank you to Pastor Mize for leading this wonderful event that taught, in word and by example, the concept of catechetical aesthetics in the context of the Lutheran liturgy!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Out of the barn!

The Christmas issue of Gottesdient is on its way to the mailboxes of subscribers! Not on the list of Gottesdiensters? It's easy to fix that today.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Strange Things Are Happening

by Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.

The words of Randy Newman, memorable because of their inclusion in the iconic Disney film Toy Story, come to mind with ease in this surreal year of 2016.

As of early this morning, the Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions, so hell must also have frozen over. 
And this in the midst of a presidential race that is utterly remarkable, pitting Donald Trump, of all people, against Hillary Clinton, of all people. It has been a wild several months, and with days left before the election, we have grown to expect strange new twists each day.
Two years ago we could scarcely have foreseen the possibility of the Cubs ever breaking the curse, and this presidential race is a phenomenon unlike anything I can remember.
So this seems also a fitting year for the Pope to come out and praise Martin Luther when visiting Sweden the other day. He actually said that the doctrine of justification “expresses the essence of human existence before God,” though he didn't say anything about what he meant by that. And granted, this comes from Frank the Hippie Pope (a brilliant moniker from Rev. Hans Fiene), who routinely manages to say things that leaves the curia scrambling in damage-control mode. But still, it is unprecedented that the head of the Catholic Church should speak in such glowing terms, even beyond the sentiments of his predecessor, about Martin Luther. Wasn't he excommunicated, after all, and his books burned?
Actually, I'm troubled. 

There was at this gathering an ecumenical prayer service that stressed, among areas of agreement, the need to work for world peace and justice. These strike me as code words, in a way, for an agenda of social reform that is generally bereft of, and sometimes inimical to, the doctrine of the Gospel as we know it. Mention was also made of the importance of being welcoming to immigrants, which, while on the surface sounds just like what Christians ought to do, seems to have politically leftist overtones in harmony with those who are pushing for open national borders. I might not be so cynical were it not for the fact that these matters were brought up in the very context of Martin Luther and justification. At the least it's anachronistic, and at most a gross misrepresentation of things that mattered to him.
I'm also reminded of the agreement that was reached in 1999 when representatives of Rome met with Lutherans and produced a joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in which it was agreed that "by grace alone, in faith and in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit" (DDJ 15), but at the time I wryly noted, as did many others on both sides, that this was really nothing new, since it did not change either position. Both sides have always agreed that grace alone is the force behind salvation; where they have not agreed is whether or not we may speak of a kind of merit (meritum de condigno is the official term, I believe) that proceeds from grace and enables us to believe: an intervening merit, in a way, between grace and faith. For Luther all talk of merit is out of the question in connection with justification. Not so for Rome, if one carefully parses.
But I don't think anyone involved is thinking too seriously about justification at all.

In any case, this ecumenical fervor that is making "Lutherans" excited about the prospect of a future reconciliation with Rome is actually coming from Scandinavians allied with the likes of such Lutheran World Federation, which is, shall we say, not known for confessional integrity. The Lutheran Church of Finland has actually persecuted confessional Lutheran Pastors in Scandinavia, as Gottesdiensters may well remember. 
So if we indeed are, as the pope put it, to move past "controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another,” then perhaps I may be forgiven if I am led to wonder whether he means moving away altogether from such things as the matter of justification by faith, and on to the the "more important" matters that ecumenical leftists like to talk about. And if this is true, then those of us who might object will quickly be dismissed as being still bound to "fear or bias with regard to the faith which others profess with a different accent and language.”
If the year 2016 is curious, the year 2017 may be curiouser and curiouser, not least because it marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I would not be surprised to see, though I hope I do not see, the emergence of a feigned rapprochement that will leave us who seek a genuine doctrinal unity not only disappointed, but cast aside and even persecuted. It has already happened to some.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Festival of Worship in Hickory, NC

Though not an official Gottesdienst event, two of our editors will be speaking.  For more information, contact Father Gaven Mize by email or Facebook.

Salem Lutheran Churches Host Famous Evangelists

By Larry Beane

Salem Lutheran Church (LCMS) will be hosting Baptist Evangelist Beth Moore of Living Proof Ministries.  She will be speaking in the "worship center" following an Advent brunch.

Here is a link to some of Beth Moore's sermons.

Just to be clear, this isn't Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna, Louisiana, where I serve.  This is a SLC in Tomball, Texas.  

Instead, we'll be hosting the Lutheran bishop of our sister church, the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin, late in January.  He will speak in our parish hall and preach in the sanctuary during the Sunday Mass.  More specifics to follow.  Feel free to contact me by email or Facebook for more information.

Here is a link to some material on Bishop Vsevolod's remarkable journey from growing up in the USSR, his conversion to Christianity, his odyssey traveling thousands of miles by train to be baptized, his ordination and consecration, and ongoing life as a bishop, pastor, preacher, and evangelist, as well as sermon excepts from my blog.  

More about the bishop and the SELC is available at the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society website, especially the newsletter archive.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Christmas issue is soon to go to the printers

The Christmas issue of Gottesdienst should be printed and in the mail within a few weeks. With a quick look at  the Contents page you can see what's in there. Now is the time to subscribe, or renew. 

Now is also the time to consider getting a gift for a friend (be sure to scroll down to the gift portion of the form): say, for Christmas.

Now is also the time to consider making a donation, In fact, remembering that we do depend on gifts for a large part of our support, we have just launched a fund drive, and we are pleased to announce that for a donation of $50 or more, we’d like to send you a free gift, your choice of either of two books. The first option is Every Day Will I Bless Thee: Meditations for the Daily Office.  This book, published in 1992, provides a Bible reading and a meditation for every day of the year plus Saints’ Days, with the year’s collects and an index (hardcover, 520 pp.). Or you may prefer The New Testament in His Blood: A Study of the Holy Liturgy, published in 2010, which delves into the significance and meaning of our New Testament liturgical worship (paperback, 117 pp). Just indicate your preference in the comments box.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Sanctoral Calendar for 2017

The new Gottesdienst sanctoral calendar for every Sunday of 2017 is out. It actually begins with Reformation 2016. This will be an insert in the next issue, but it is also available in living color at our web site.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Word Remains: A Review

by Larry Beane

Emmanuel Press has released another boon to pastors and laity alike in The Word Remains: Wilhelm Löhe: Selected Writings on the Church Year and the Christian Life.

In spite of this book's lengthy title, it is not an intimidating tome.  And this is one of the book's strengths.  It's a paperback pocket book, 140 pages.  This is not an intimidating theological treatise, but rather a delightfully relevant and portable devotional introduction to the works of the Rev. Wilhelm Löhe (1808-1872), an immensely important Lutheran theologian who was first and foremost a pastor: a preacher, and giver of soul-care in a rural German village parish (Neuendettelsau), where he served for 37 years.

Pastor Löhe displayed a blessed combination of theological brilliance and intensity and a pastor's heart and tireless devotion to the Gospel - both in his village and around the world.

The Word Remains is actually a translation from the 2008 German work Sein Zeugnis, Sein Leben - Ein Löhe-Brevier rendered into English by translators Matthew Carver, Janet Frese, Michael Frese, William Staab, and Philip Stewart - no mean feat given Löhe's brilliance with his own mother tongue.

The book begins with a preface to the English edition, followed by a helpful essay by Manfred Seitz entitled "Reading Wilhelm Löhe: A Portal."  This is followed by the bulk of the work: a devotional of excerpts of Löhe's thoughts arranged first by the Church Year, and second by general topics, followed by another topical section of very brief maxims.  The book concludes with helpful background information about Pastor Löhe: a concise biography by Hans Kressel, a chronology, a list of sources, and finishing with an essay "Löhe as Pastoral Theologian: the Discipline of a Shepherd" by John Pless.

The Word Remains is the kind of book that can be read quickly from cover to cover in one sitting, or opened to any random page and enjoyed.  But in fact, the book is best sipped like a fine glass of wine, taken in unhurriedly, and meditated upon.  This book is neither stuffy nor frivolous - but rather profound and yet accessible to the thinking Christian of any vocation.

Manfred Seitz describes the book as a "portal" to the writings of Wilhelm Löhe.  I prefer to think of it as a sample plate, a tapas repast of high delight that is neither filling nor unsatisfying.  Like an appetizer, it leaves the palate eager for more.  Seitz recommends reading the book in a "contemplative" way, "lingering" over the text in the way of the ancients (p. 3).  He elaborates on this kind of reading by appealing to St. Benedict, making a case for renewing this kind of meditation among modern Christians.  Blessed Wilhelm, who saw modern Lutherans in continuity with the ancient church, would most certainly approve.

My impression of Wilhelm Löhe is that he was a man ahead of his time.  He was fiercely devoted to the sacrament of the altar, private confession, the Book of Concord, and the richness of the church's traditional liturgy.  He understood the centrality of mission, and though he never set foot in America, his influence upon American Lutheranism is extraordinary.  He also suffered for the sake of his confession, opposing rationalism and enforcing church discipline, and for his steadfastness was rewarded by being temporarily suspended from office.  He also established and oversaw a deaconess institution, to which the modern LCMS deaconess program owes a debt and bears some similarity.  Löhe saw theology not as a theoretical academic subject, but rather as the living, breathing Gospel of Jesus Christ lived out in the community of flesh-and-blood people.

The Word Remains is inspiring and encouraging, bringing the writings of Wilhelm Löhe to life in our day and age, in our likewise controverted context, in which confessional Lutheranism is, in the words of another confessor, Herman Sasse, a "lonely way."  And yet it is a path of joy, concerning which Löhe writes, "should awaken from suffering, and joy should bloom and flourish despite suffering" (p. 90).

Without sharing too much, I offer a shining excerpt in a beautiful English rendering of Löhe's lyrical reflection on the Lord's glorious resurrection on the day of Easter:
"No other act done by God for the world is as praised and commended as the resurrection of our Lord.  The earth quaked, angels came down, saintly bodies arose, guards fled.  Pharisees and scribes could not conceal what happened with a lie; no veil of darkness could have hidden the splendor of Easter morning.  Where is your denial, O world?  He is risen!" (p. 22).
The Word Remains is a little treasure, a breviary, a portal, an introduction to Wilhelm Löhe's life and work, and an invitation, in the words of Manfred Seitz, "to linger, immerse, yourself in these words, and read with a listening heart" (p. 5).

Thursday, September 15, 2016


. . . is out of the barn! Coming to a mailbox near you, unless you have not subscribed. In which case, here's how.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Why you should go to Oktoberfest

Why? Because it's

  • Lutheran worship at its best; at St. Paul's in Kewanee, "where you know you've been to church"
  • Lutheran theology at its best
  • Lutheran preaching at its best
  • Lutheran bratwurst at their best: Sheboygan style, prepared by a Sheboygan native
  • a Lutheran banquet at its best
  • Lutheran camaraderie at its best: plenty of opportunity to meet, chat, laugh, etc.
  • a Lutheran seminar at its best: Dr. Ben Mayes on Gerhard and the Ministry
  • unforgettable
  • an education
  • a reunion
  • a venerable 21-year long tradition
  • the "best party on the block"
Join us October 9-11 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Kewanee, Illinois beginning with choral vespers at 5 p.m. on Sunday evening. Details are here. To register, send us an email.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Current Status of Valparaiso University

A Guest Essay by Wesley Tetsuji Kan

I am sending these photographs to you on the assumption that you may not be aware of the current doctrinal status of Valparaiso University.  

In my opinion, that institution attempts to be "all things to all people," putting on a confessional, orthodox front when soliciting students from LCMS parishes.  It sent me a request for the names of students graduating from high school within the past year, and you have probably received the same if you are currently an active parish pastor.  

In reality, Valparaiso is no longer Lutheran, as these photos clearly demonstrate.  They were taken at the University's Institute of Liturgical Studies this year.  Based on the vestments, the majority of the officiants were women.  

This means Valparaiso is functionally the same as any ELCA owned institution.

Father Kan is pastor of Redemption Lutheran Church in Panama City, Florida.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Calendar correction

For those who use the Gottesdienst calendar,  please note a correction.

The calendar has always used the so-called Michaelmas skip, which moves to the propers for the 19th Sunday after Trinity to the Sunday after Michaelmas and omitted any intervening Sundays. However, the calendar we published for 2016 makes this skip the Sunday before Michaelmas, which is an error.

The Sunday before Michaelmas should be the 18th Sunday after Trinity, with the following readings:

OLD TESTAMENT +Deuteronomy 10:12-21
EPISTLE + I Corinthians 1:4-9
HOLY GOSPEL + St. Matthew 22:34-46 

The early date for Easter this year means there is no Michaelmas skip, although there is a skip that comes later. The nineteenth Sunday after Trinity should be October 2, the twentieth Sunday after Trinity October 9, the twenty-first Sunday after Trinity October 16, and the twenty-second Sunday after Trinity October 23. We observe Reformation Sunday on October 30th. Following this there is a skip, counting back from the end of the sanctoral calendar. That is, the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity is November 6, etc. The calendar is already correct beginning Reformation Sunday.

You may reference our web site where this calendar correction has been made.

We apologize for the error.

Monday, August 22, 2016


St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Kewanee, Illinois will be hosting the Twenty-first Annual Oktoberfest! and Gottesdienst Central from Sunday afternoon, October 9th, until Tuesday, October 11th.

The event begins Sunday October 9th with Vespers at 5 p.m. Following the service is our annual bratwurst banquet. When everyone has had their fill of brats and beer, featured guest Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana will give a synopsis of his Monday seminar.

Following the banquet is the after-the-party party, at the home of Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt, the pastor at  St. Paul's.

On Monday, October 10th, Divine Service is at 9:00 a.m., with Rev. Michael Frese from Redeemer in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as special guest preacher. Following the service and a continental breakfast, Dr. Mayes will hold forth for the rest of the day, in two sessions running until about 2:45, followed by Vespers. 

Dr. Mayes will be speaking on 

“The Call and the Ministry according to Johann Gerhard.” 

Johann Gerhard has been called the “Arch-theologian of Lutheranism,” and was the most influential of seventeenth-century Lutheran theologians. He decisively influenced Protestant theologians to study the evangelical (i.e., Gospel-centered) character of pre-Reformation Christianity. Gerhard has been an area of particular interest for Dr. Mayes, who served until this fall as an editor of professional and academic books at Concordia Publishing House (CPH) in St. Louis. In particular he served as general editor for Gerhard’s Theological Commonplaces. Dr. Mayes still serves CPH as managing editor and co-general editor of Luther’s Works: American Edition.

On Tuesday, the conference will continue in the same format, with discussion of liturgical and theological ramifications of decisions made at this summer’s triannual convention of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, with Pastor Eckardt.

REGISTRATION: $50 per person, $70 per couple, students $25 — includes Sunday banquet and Monday continental; no charge for children with parents.  Send your name, address, and which days you plan to attend to b.f.eckardt@gmail.com, or call 309-852-2461. You may pay the registration fee when you arrive.

Recommended Lodging: 

AmericInn, 309-856-7200. Special rate $94.00 (mention Oktoberfest when you register, by September 12th); also Aunt Daisy’s B & B, 309-853-3300; Motel 6, 309-853-8800; Super 8 (Galva), 309-932-2841; Best Western (Annawan), 800-637-5958; Kewanee Motor Lodge, 309-853-4000.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

St Paul's on the Air - on the return of Christ

Here's a link to St. Paul's on the air, and a discussion of 2 Peter 3:1-9, which deals with the return of Christ in glory.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The healing of the deaf mute (St. Mark 7:31-27, the Gospel for Trinity XII) shows us how intimately Christ has compassion on his people. Not only is it for our sake that he deals with us incarnationally, Sacramentally (that is, he touches the deaf mute, and he touches us in the Sacrament); it is also for his own sake. He wants to be this close to us. So do not despise his desire for you: attend to your baptismal prayers and the Holy Supper frequently. Sermon for Trinity XII

Uncompromising Genuflexion

by Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.

This is an article that was written and printed in the Michaelmas 2002 issue of Gottesdienstin my Liturgical Observer column. It seemed an appropriate piece to republish, in view of the kerfuffle that has arisen in LCMS circles since this summer's convention that featured genuflecting clergymen at the Divine Service.

Now they even have lobbies, gyms, boutiques, banks, and McDonald’s restaurants on their premises.  The megachurches have certainly not gone away; they have merely become more mega.  The rationale for making the churches into marketplaces is generally the idea that the gathering of people to exchange greetings over coffee is to be considered a “meaningful” part of Christian worship.  Maybe the Golden Arches haven’t yet become Golden Steeples, but they certainly aren’t very far away from the chancel.
Since this is so, it behooves us who know better about what is the truly meaningful part of Christian worship to make our confession all the more bold.  As we believe and teach, so must we confess.  Since Christian worship must be the worship of Christ, and since Christ’s sacramental presence is at the heart of Christian worship, what is called for here is a re-evaluation of our liturgical ways of confessing the faith, as we seek continually to be faithful.
What appears to be at issue in the worship wars waging across America these days is how, or whether at all, we may liturgically insist upon the Gospel.  There is considerable pressure being placed upon churches and pastors to declare that it is improper to insist upon anything liturgical at all, saying, rather, that the freedom of the Gospel means that we can worship any way we see fit, so long as the words expressed in worship are consistent with the Gospel.  The battleground finds the proponents of liturgical leniency contending for a separation between form and substance, while the defenders of orthodox liturgical practice maintain the old maxim lex orandi, lex credendi (literally, the rule of prayer is the rule of believing): the rubrics governing the conduct of our worship have direct bearing upon the essence of our faith.  More simply put, we contend that the way one conducts himself at prayer is tied to the focus and heart of his prayer.
Liturgical worship recognizes that the posture and behavior of the participants is a reflection of what they profess.  To cite the extreme case, if someone enters the church with a pink spike hairdo, rings of one kind or another piercing his body in various places, a swagger in his gait, a smirk on his face, and perhaps a chortle at every reference to Jesus that he hears, it becomes apparent that he does not really wish to be present, or associated with the Christian Church.  Therefore, on the contrary we find it fitting to dress properly for church, to carry ourselves with decency, to make the sign of the cross, to fold the hands, to stand erect, to bow the head, or—notwithstanding its increasing unpopularity—to bend the knee.
Which brings me to the topic of this essay.
Of the fact that genuflexion is biblical and apostolic there can be no doubt.  Daniel “knelt down three times a day” to pray (Daniel 6:10), Solomon knelt in the presence of all Israel at the dedication of his temple (1 Kings 8:54), and Esdras knelt in prayer (1 Esdras 9:5).  The Wise Men knelt before the Christ (St. Matthew 2:11), a leper knelt to beseech His mercy (St. Mark 1:40), Stephen knelt (Acts 7:59), St. Peter knelt (Acts 9:40), St. Paul knelt (Acts 20:36) and maintained the significance of genuflexion (e.g., Ephesians 3:14; Philippians 2:10), and most importantly, Christ Himself in Gethsemane knelt down to pray (St. Luke 22:41).  Tradition relates that St. James’s knees, from his continual kneeling, had become callous as those of a camel (Eusebius 2,23: 76).  Genuflexion is certainly a matter of form, and it ought to be self-evident that it is directly related to substance.  Although we ought never consider a failure to genuflect in itself a statement against what it professes—for that would be judgmental—we always recognize that genuflexion is itself a statement of faith.  It is unmistakably a way of adoring Christ.  In the worship setting, it is also unmistakably a way of adoring Him in the Sacrament.
We must learn to do liturgically what we say theologically.  Most especially lex orandi, lex credendi is true in a sacramental sense, and this leads me to offer this particular application.  In view of the liturgical malaise we face, and especially the evidence of manifest disregard and disdain for the Holy Sacrament, a liturgical response is in order.  It’s high time that we who call ourselves confessional all got used to genuflecting before the Sacrament every Sunday.  For this more than any other liturgical action demonstrates the object of our worship and allegiance.
This assumes that we offer the Sacrament every Sunday.  The rise of the megachurch makes it all the more imperative that we set before our people what we know to be the heart of Christian worship, namely, Christ on the altar.  And this is no more legalism than to insist upon Christ.  To offer the Sacrament every Sunday to those who desire it is to offer them Christ.  It is simply a matter of faith: lex orandi, lex credendi.  The Christian, according to the Catechism, should be admonished and encouraged to receive the Sacrament frequently by “both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord” and by “his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given” (Section 4: “Christian Questions with Their Answers,” Luther’s Small Catechism 43).  Should not the churches therefore be offering the Sacrament for frequent reception?  How can one receive it frequently if it be not offered frequently?  If we are teaching and confessing the importance of frequent reception, yet persistently adhere to the Rationalist/Pietist innovations of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which allowed some Sundays to pass without even offering the Sacrament, then there is a clear contradiction between what we say and what we do.  We really have no right to call ourselves “confessional Lutherans” if we do not seek to correct this blatant deviation from the sacramental and, until well into the sixteenth century, universal practice of the Christian Church.
And given the current sacramental crisis, genuflexion before the Sacrament is becoming more difficult to see as an entirely indifferent matter.  This is not to say that it ought to become a law for Christians; this is not and should not be a matter of forced submission.  Though Christ’s Body and Blood are truly present here, we make no laws out of the Gospel, though we are commonly charged with doing just that. I find, rather, that because genuflexion is an adoration of Christ in the Sacrament, I can scarcely do otherwise than to bend the knee.  If I find myself recognizing that the impetus for genuflecting is a strong one, it is not because I feel constrained to follow some law, but rather because I desire to confess my faith boldly.
And our wanting to do so is not only because of the megachurch phenomenon, but in view of another consideration pertaining to our own liturgical milieu.  Even among those who like to think of themselves as more traditional and confessional in worship preferences, there is still—there has been for a long time—a critical bone of contention over the issue of receptionism.  The receptionist position holds that the words of Christ apply only to those parts of the elements which are actually received. The receptionist view is that whatever is not consumed is mere bread and wine, since it is not included in the entire sacramental action.  The Formula of Concord’s Article VII (“The Holy Supper”) declares that
if the institution of Christ be not observed as He appointed it, there is no sacrament . . . And the use or action here does not mean chiefly faith, neither the oral participation only, but the entire external, visible action of the Lord’s Supper instituted by Christ, the consecration, or words of institution, the distribution and reception, or oral partaking of the consecrated bread and wine, of the body and blood of Christ.  And apart from this use, when in the papistic mass the bread is not distributed, but offered up or enclosed, borne about, and exhibited for adoration, it is to be regarded as no sacrament (SD VII: 83-87, Trigl. 1001f. ).
What the Formula means to reject is the abuse of the Sacrament, where the Host is enclosed in a monstrance for adoration only and is never eaten.  But the receptionists have taken this to mean that only that portion of the elements actually used in the Distribution are truly Christ’s Body and Blood.  They have taken this usus statement from the Formula of Concord to mean that the Body and Blood of Christ cease to be present in every instance where the Sacrament is not being eaten and drunk, and have forgotten the logic of abusus non tollit usum—let not the abuse determine what ought to be done—and so have come to the conclusion that Christ’s true Body and Blood may or may not be present in this or that particular element.  No longer can the celebrant with complete conviction repeat the words of Christ, This is My Body, for now we must wonder, what is this? when is is operative? or what, for that matter, is truly meant by is?
No wonder they have grown sloppy at the altar, and unwitting bedfellows of the megachurch promoters, who, like them, give evidence that their true affections lie somewhere other than there.  No wonder they rush through the Words of Institution with such haste that we wonder what train they have to catch after the service.  No wonder they have no trouble with plastic individual Communion cups: it isn’t really Christ’s own very Blood in there; it only might be, and at that, only when consumed, or, come to think of it, only at the moment it is consumed!  For after consumption, by the same token, it is no longer in use either, since the use has ended; and therefore, it is no longer Christ’s Blood.  But now, alas, we must wonder when, if ever, the elements are truly Christ’s Body and Blood.  Not before, not after, only during!  But what is “during”?  At the moment it passes the vertical plane of the opened lips?  At the nanosecond it sits on the tongue before digestion begins?   Thus is becomes virtually never.  Meanwhile the megachurch promoters would retort, “Who cares? Let’s go to McDonald’s for some real fellowship.”
But we take Christ at His word. He simply says, This is My Body.  Now let us consider: lex orandi, lex credendi.  How are we to behave, in consequence of this truth, especially knowing there are those who deny it, or who don’t care about it?  They are saying that Christ’s Body does not, or may not, truly sit on the altar.  How can we be idle here?  The Scriptures declare, “I believed, therefore have I spoken” (Psalm 116:10).  What does our posture say?  What do our actions say?
Here is one confessional Lutheran who believes it is time for all who have not yet done so to take a serious look at genuflexion.  The bending of the knee is a clear and unambiguous gesture of adoration, such as we offer to Christ alone.  Yes, we believe that Christ is here, that He sits on the altar because of His own words, This is My Body, and that He is here worthy to be adored.  Lex orandi, lex credendi.
Certainly, apart from the use there is no Sacrament, which is why as Lutherans we reject the use of the monstrance, an ornate case intended only for the exhibition and adoration of a Sacred Host.  But we do not by this token deny that the Sacrament, as properly administered, is worthy of adoration.  It is the true Body and Blood of Christ!  Of course it is worthy of adoration, as nothing else on earth.  Moreover we affirm that the chief thing in the Sacrament, besides the bodily eating and drinking, are the words “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” (“The Sacrament of the Altar,” Luther’s Small Catechism, 31).  But by genuflexion we affirm that what is “given and shed for you” is indeed the Body and Blood of Christ, by His own words.
Surely it is not wrong to adore Christ’s Body, which is Christ Himself.  His purpose is not to present His Body here for adoration but for oral reception, to be sure, but is it not proper to emphasize in our ceremony the truth that it is His Body that we are about to receive?  Do we not agree that His true Body is where He says it is?  These ceremonies are most appropriate settings for the mystery that is Christ among us, and for us.  “No one, unless he be an Arian heretic, can and will deny that Christ Himself, true God and man, who is truly and essentially present in the Supper, should be adored in spirit and in truth in the true use of the same, as also in all other places, especially where His congregation is assembled” (FC SD VII:126. Trigl. 1015).
Receptionism seeks to slice and divide which of the consecrated elements are His Body and Blood and which are not, or worse, to put off the moment of the change until the bread is received.  This amounts to a new reading of Christ’s words, as if He had said, “This will become My Body when you eat it, but is not yet at this moment of consecration My Body.”  But Christ said is, and He cannot lie.  Once is is denied, the Zwinglian position wins.  The receptionists put off the effect of is until later, whereas the Zwinglians put it off until never, a difference only in degree.  Even transubstantiation, the Thomist invention and philosophical construct which maintains a distinction between the substance (Christ’s Body and Blood, truly present) and the accidents (the taste, appearance, etc., of bread and wine, which they hold to be no longer substantially present), is nowhere near as bad as this.  Though both constructs are unacceptable, the rejection of Christ’s is is far worse than the impropriety of its philosophical analysis.  As Luther once put it, “Sooner than have mere wine with the fanatics, I would agree with the pope that there is only blood” (AE 37: 317).
In about the year 1200, a new view of the Sacrament became prevalent in the teaching of Peter Comestor and Peter the Chanter, who held that the bread was not consecrated in the Mass until the Words of Institution had been spoken over both bread and wine. As a matter of protest against this view, there arose the practice of elevating the Host before the consecration of the cup.  Those who confessed that the presence of Christ was effected by the words This is My Body supported their confession by at once adoring it, without waiting for the words to be spoken over the chalice.  At Paris, this elevation even became a matter of synodal precept (see www.newadvent.org/cathen/05380b.htm). Certain superstitions also began to arise in connection with this elevation, which nevertheless ought not detract from the fact that genuflexion was understood as a bold act of adoration, of refusing to concede the adversary’s contention.  This was uncompromising genuflexion. 
Similarly, in the days of the Reformation, there arose a telling liturgical difference between the Lutherans and the Reformed, reflective of their respective views of the Sacrament.  Since the Reformed held that it was a mere symbol, they were content to discontinue the practice of genuflecting.  Their strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God brought with it an iconoclasm and disdain for anything which might be considered idolatrous worship of “graven images.”  Hence genuflexion became particularly odious.  But the Lutherans parted company here, and insisted not only upon the real presence of Christ’s Body in, with, and under the sacramental Host, but also upon a rejection of any view of God which separated Him from the Incarnation. For the Lutherans at the altar, genuflexion became a means of affirming their faith in Christ’s real presence in the Sacrament, as well as a liturgical means of rejecting the errors of the Reformed.  The Reformed refused to kneel; the Lutherans consequently made clear their desire to bend the knee at the altar rail.  This too was uncompromising genuflexion.

It is this aspect of the genuflexion which is particularly appealing, and a comparison to our milieu can hardly be missed.  Both the receptionists and those who favor liturgical leniency find genuflexion odious, and generally for the very same reasons we find it proper.  They do not see, as we do, that Christ is on the altar for us to eat and drink, and that this is critical to our faith.  Friends, Lutherans, countrymen: Let us now respond to these errors in a simple, free, and unambiguous way.  Heedless of the megachurchgoers, the receptionists, the critics, the naysayers, and all torpedoes, let us likewise make our confession by serene, sincere, devout, and uncompromising genuflexion. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

What’s This? Genuflecting in Worship?

If you open up your Bible and pray the Psalms you might come across this line, “Oh come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our maker”  (Psalm 95:6).  Missouri Synod Lutherans are Bible believers and what the Bible says, they desire to put into practice.  Our Lord and God does not mandate that we bow down or kneel at any particular time or place in the service but as the Scriptures themselves commend bowing and kneeling as a salutary practice, Lutherans do it.  Many of our church buildings have kneelers in the pews and most have an altar rail so that communicants can kneel to receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins.  Kneeling is part and parcel of Lutheran worship and while this is confirmed in furniture, one might take a look at our current hymnal and agenda to see where there is instruction to kneel.  Lutherans may kneel to confess their sins (LSB 151,167,184, 203, 213, 291, 292), pray (LSB 227, 233, 241,249, 253) get confirmed (LSB 273) and get married (LSB 276).   If the Lutheran is to be a pastor, he kneels to be ordained (LSB Agenda p. 166),  installed (LSB Agenda, p. 181) and he may kneel if he is leaving for another field of service (LSB Agenda, 195), or retiring (LSB Agenda, p. 198).  If a son or daughter of a congregation is beginning study for service in the church they may kneel (LSB Agenda, p. 207).  If a Lutheran is a candidate for commissioning in service to the church, they are instructed to kneel (LSB Agenda, p. 212).  Dig through Lutheran Hymnals and Agendas past and present and you will find kneeling all over the place.  Genuflecting is kneeling, just with one knee.  It is this one-knee kneeling that has the Rev. Chris Wicher, President of the Eastern District of the LCMS, well, upset.  His full report of the recent Synod Convention is found here, but his comments on the worship practices of the Convention are of particular interest to us.  President Wicher writes,

“WHAT’S THIS? GENUFLECTING IN WORSHIP? Finally, a word about my worship experience at the convention. Worship was definitely of high church style, complete with liturgies “out of the book” and chanting throughout on top of full liturgical garb, chasubles and the like. This is my second convention which was run and organized by our current administration. The same style at this convention held true at our last convention, which is also true when I attend chapel at the International Center in St. Louis. The message to me is plain. High church is the preferred worship style given to the churches of the LC--MS. I get it, I can even do high church liturgy if I wish but which I don’t. But what is completely foreign to me and a bit unsettling, being a life-long LC—MS Lutheran, is what appears to be genuflecting going on in the chancel. This is something I hope will not continue (if genuflecting is what indeed is taking place) which in some strange way is reverencing the host as if the pastor, because he is a pastor, has some magical power and has instantly before our eyes magically changed the substance of the bread into the body of Christ. Really?”

Yes, President Wicher, genuflecting was really taking place! Pastors were kneeling! Many of the editors were present at the convention and saw it with our own eyes!  But what is the problem?  Kneeling is a true adiaphoron, but like all ceremonies or liturgical actions, it may teach something.  The pastors in the chancel did not kneel in some strange way reverencing the host as if the pastor has some magical power and magically changed the substance of the bread into the body of Christ, but because those pastors actually believe that under the bread is the true Body of Jesus Christ and under the wine is the very Blood of Christ according to Christ’s own clear Word.  It is this LORD, our maker, the one through whom all things were made who was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate and raised on the third day who is really present, under the bread and wine for us Christians to eat and to drink.  Don’t you believe that?   We pray you do.  Have you ever knelt to receive the Sacrament of the Altar?  Did you at that time believe in some magic that the pastor did, or were you receiving the Body and Blood of your Lord and God in humility for the forgiveness of your sins and worshiping him in true faith?   Genuflecting is a true adiaphoron, believing that Christ is present in the Sacrament according to His Word is not. The fact that He is present might cause fellow Christians to kneel in reverence.  They are free to do so.  So are you.  Really.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -  Philippians 2:9-11

Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name Thee;
Though in essence only one, Undivided God we claim Thee
And, adoring bend the knee, While we own the mystery.  LSB 940:5

- The Editors

Two side notes.  We commend to our readers the following; the first regarding the Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament, the second, Blessed Martin Luther on the genuflection during the recitation of Nicene Creed in the Divine Service as a confession of the Incarnation of the Son of God  -

1. "Now, here we are not saying that one should not worship our dear Lord Jesus Christ in this Sacrament, being present, of that one should not hold this Sacrament with all honor and reverence. On the contrary, since these divine, almighty, true words are believed, all of this follows of itself, and not only in external gestures but also both externally and, first and foremost, in the heart, spirit, and truth. On account of this, such adoration of Christ is not thereby cancelled, but much rather, confirmed. For where the Word is rightly seen, considered and believed, the adoration of the Sacrament will happen of itself. For whoever believes that Christ's body and blood are there (as there is plenty of evidence so to believe, and it is necessary so to believe), he cannot, to be sure, deny his reverence to the body and blood of Christ without sin. For I must confess that Christ is there when His body and blood are there. His words do not lie to me, and He is not separate from His body and blood." - George von Anhalt, The Treasury of Daily Prayer, February 3, pp. 1179-80

2. Although the Antichrist in Rome and the devil frightfully mutilated and perverted all that is divine in the church, God nevertheless miraculously preserved Holy Scripture – even though it was darkened and dimmed under the pope’s accursed rule – and passed it down to our day.  Thus God also preserved these words of the Gospel, which were read from the pulpit every Sunday, although without the proper understanding.  Also the words of the Decalog, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as Baptism and one kind in the Sacrament have survived under the devilish regime.  Although the Gospel was obscured and the proper understanding of it hidden, God still kept it for the salvation of His own.  These words too, “And the Word became flesh,” were held in reverence.  They were sung daily in every Mass in a slow tempo and were set to a special melody, different from that for the other words.  And when the congregation came to the words, “from the Virgin Mary and was made man,” every one genuflected and removed his hat.   It would still be proper and appropriate to kneel at the words “and was made man,” to sing them with long notes as formerly, to listen with happy hearts to the message the Divine Majesty abased Himself and became like us poor bags of worms, and to thank God for the ineffable mercy and compassion reflected in the incarnation of the Deity. But who can ever do justice to that theme?...The following tale is told about a course and brutal lout.  While the words, “And was made man” were being sung in church, he remained standing, neither genuflecting nor removing his hat. He showed no reverence, but just stood there like a clod.  All the others dropped to their knees when the Nicene Creed was prayed and chanted devoutly.  Then the devil stepped up to him and hit him so hard it made his head spin.  He cursed him gruesomely and said:  “May hell consume you, you boorish ass!  If God had become an angel like me and the congregation sang: ‘God was made an angel,’ I would bend not only my knees but my whole body to the ground!  Yes, I would crawl ten ells down into the ground.  And you vile human creature, you stand there like a stick or a stone.  You hear that God did not become an angel but a man like you, and you just stand there like a stick of wood!”  Whether this story is true or not, it is nevertheless in accordance with the faith (Rom. 12:6).  With this illustrative story the holy fathers wished to admonish the youth to revere the indescribably great miracle of the incarnation; they wanted us to open our eyes wide and ponder these words as well.
 - Luther’s Works Vol. 22, pp.102-103, 105-106.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

St James the Elder, Apostle

St James' Day was Monday, July 25th. We observed it yesterday at mass. The impetuous 'son of thunder' learned that, rather than seeking glory through the intercession of his mother, he was being served by the Son of Man who gave his life a ransom. So James willingly died from the sword (Acts 12), and so, like him, did the French priest Jacques Hamel, just this Sunday, July 24th, while celebrating mass. Such a glorious death! To be able, in effect, to say with Simeon: Now I can die in peace. Sermon for St. James the Elder is here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

St Paul's on the Air!

by Burnell F. Eckardt

Pastor David Ramirez (find his latest remark on this page) has been giving me a hard time about our blog lately, saying that it isn't active enough. He's right, of course, but I hope he notices that by way of correction we will now have entered four new posts in just one day here. That might be a record.

This one is an attempt to provide a link to an audio file of a half-hour radio program that goes out from St. Paul's in Kewanee, Illinois, every Sunday morning. I am not entirely confident it will work, since links to the www.box.com account have sometimes been faulty. So if the link doesn't work, let me know.

This recording of our show, "St. Paul's on the Air" is set to broadcast on WKEI on the AM dial in Kewanee this Sunday; but that's not a very strong station, so if you don't live in town, you'll need to listen on your computer; and maybe we can make this a regular thing.

It's actually our 346th recording, but the very first time on this blog.

We are beginning here a study of II Peter with this offering; specifically, the first eight verses. The recording is right here, and the passage is written here:

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dignus est Agnus

By Larry Beane

One of the things that drew me to the Lutheran Church as a 17-year old inquirer was the dignity of the worship service, for it bespoke the miracle of the coming of Christ to earth to save fallen creation, not only in the historic conception of Jesus of Nazareth in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only in His birth at Bethlehem and in His death and resurrection near Jerusalem, but in an ongoing gift through Word and Sacrament, sanctifying every time and place where His body gathers and where His blood atones.

This is no Watchmaker God we worship, but a God who is Man; a Man who is God. And he comes to be with us where we sojourn in space and time, just as He promised, unto the end of the age, deigning to grace us with His magnificent Presence in bread and wine, in a mystical and miraculous and Holy Meal.

The awe and majesty and wondrousness of it!

And as a token of our faith in this indescribable reality, and in profound thanksgiving (eucharistia) for this inexplicable warp in the time/space continum and in God's ongoing act of mercy of reaching through the barriers even of our own unworthiness, we participate in this Divine Service with reverent and holy joy, honoring this most unique and intimate encounter with Almighty God in hushed tones that proclaim and confess the dignity of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, who has conquered sin, death, and the devil, and who continues to come to us poor, miserable sinners made into saints by grace.

The word "dignified" showed up on a tract about Lutheran worship that I saw when I visited the local LCMS parish.  It referred to Lutheran worship as "dignified" and "focused on the cross."  And though, I suppose, the conventional wisdom about "youth ministry" would find it improbable, I was completely smitten as a 17-year old motorcycling rock and roller with long hair and blue jeans.

I wanted nothing to do with gimmicks.  It was the transcendent that I desired, sought, and by God's infinite grace and mercy, that I found.  For the Lord delivers this transcendence in an intimate, authentic, and yes, dignified manner in the reverent and cruciform Mass of the historic Church Catholic.  Dignus est Agnus!" as the Church proclaims, "Worthy is the Lamb!", taking her liturgical cue from the Holy Spirit in Revelation 5 and the eternal dignified heavenly liturgy recorded therein.

The very worthiness of Christ - as starkly contrasted by our own unworthiness - this dignity of the Lamb is given to us as a free gift, and we worship Him in dignity, truth, beauty, faith, and reverence, awestruck by His coming among us and by His abiding with us.

Is this something we contemporary Lutherans still understand, believe, teach, confess, treasure, and practice?

Dignus est Angus!   

Out of the Barn!

How long? cry the saints.

And the answer: no longer! At long last, the delayed Trinity issue of Gottesdienst is out of the barn, and on its way to a mailbox near you. Soon (if you are a subscriber) you will at last open that mailbox and upon opening this journal of the blessed Lutheran Liturgy may, if you wish, even see fit to repeat the words of Keats:

“Ah! dearest love, sweet home of all my fears,
and hopes, and joys, and panting miseries,
Tonight if I may guess, thy beauty wears a smile of such delight,
As brilliant and as bright
As when with ravished, aching, nassal eyes,
Lost in a soft amaze
I gaze, I gaze”

Wink, wink . . it is okay: It is a joke!

Uncle Screwtape says:

“Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence, it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is ‘mean,’ but if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer ‘mean’ but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humourous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful — unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man’s damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke.” — P.51-52

HT: Wolfmueller http://us13.campaign-archive2.com/?u=1b96d242af7bd7dfa5d097151&id=b9d278447a&e=06f84f5ca7

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dante Shrugged

by Larry Beane

How little things have changed since 1320, when the great poet Dante Alighieri complained about the worship wars in his own day and age in his Divine Comedy:

"Christ did not say to His first congregation:
'Go preach idle nonsense to the world,'
But gave them a sound foundation.

"And that alone resounded from their lips,
So that, in their warfare to ignite the faith,
they used the Gospel as their shield and lance.

"Now preachers ply their trade with buffoonery and jokes,
their cowls inflating if they get a laugh,
and the people ask for nothing more."

~ Dante (through the character Beatrice), Paradiso, 29:109-117

Cited by Rod Dreher in How Dante Can Save Your Life, p. 151