Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Drawing People In?

Here's a thought-provoking article from the Internet Monk. And here are Lutheran reactions to that article at Paul McCain's blog. But the idea of Evangelicals looking for churches that feel like churches got me thinking.

If George Barna released a study that concluded that including the Lord’s Supper in a worship service was guaranteed to drive people away from the church, what would you do? If Thom Rainer studied 1,000 unchurched people and found that every single one of them was driven away from a church because the church advocated infant baptism, how would that affect the location of your baptismal font? If you had scientific proof that preaching Christ crucified would keep people from coming back to your church (or never coming in the first place), would you change the content of your sermons?

While the article is encouraging, I think it misses the point. We don’t embrace the liturgy of the church because it draws people in any more than we use Sacraments as ways to draw people in the door. The Sacraments are there because the Lord has given them to us. If they bring people in the door, great. If they drive people away, screaming in terror, vowing never to set foot in our churches ever again, we still must receive them.

If people want to return to churches where the history of the church is not denigrated, where the rhythm of the church year is repeated annually, where the liturgy is the same week after week, where sermons are preached in pulpits, where pastors dress like pastors and not baristas, great. God’s Word and Sacraments will be here for them. But if another study 10 years from now reveals a trend back toward pop-evangelicalism, God’s Word and Sacraments, wrapped in the holy liturgy, will still be here, doing what they always do: delivering forgiveness, life, and salvation.

More Dean Pictures

Evidently Picasa caps an album at 500 pictures. Huh. Click the picture for Album # 2.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bowl Picks

Every year, my parents put together a pool of the college bowl games. Every year, I lose, even when I make my picks carefully. Maybe I never won because I never asked Jesus whom He would pick (WWJP?). So, a little prooftexting, a little fudging, and here are my picks for this year. I expect to lose this year, too.

All justifications in ESV unless otherwise noted…

Eagle Bank - Wake Forest Demon Decons over Navy (Rev. 18:17-18)
New Mexico - Fresno State Bulldogs over Colorado State Rams (Ex. 29:15-22)
St Petersberg - S Florida Bulls over Memphis Tigers (Ps. 22:12)
Las Vegas - Arizona over Brigham Young (Gal 1:8)
New Orleans - S Miss Golden Eagles over Troy Trojans (Mt 24:28 (KJV))
Poinsettia - TCU Horned Frogs over Boise St Broncos (Ex 8:2-8; 15:1)
Hawaii - Hawaii Golden Rainbows over Notre Dame(Rev 10:1 )
(alternate selection, based on the modern meaning of a rainbow: Notre Dame, Lev. 18:22)
Motor City - Fla Atlantic Owls over Central Michigan Chippewas (Is. 34:11, 15; Lev. 11:13-18)
Meinecke - W Virginia Mountaineers over NC Tarheels (Jdg 9:36)
Champs - Fla State Seminoles over Wisconsin Badgers (Prv 30:26)
Emerald - Miami Hurricanes over California Golden Bears (Ps 83:15)
Independence - Louisiana Tech Bulldogs over N Ill Huskies (Is 56:11)
Papa Johns - NC State Wolfpack over Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Rev. 17:3-4)
Alamo - Missouri Tigers over Northwestern Wildcats (1 Cor 10:24)
Humanitarian - Nevada Wolf Pack over Maryland Terrapins (Ac 20:29)
Holiday - OK State Cowboys over Oregon Ducks (Hab 1:8)
Texas - W Michigan Broncos over Rice Owls (Jer 8:16)
Armed Forces - Houston Cougars over Air Force Falcons (Job 28:7)
Sun - Pittsburgh Panthers over Oregon State Beavers (Hos 11:10)
Music City - Vanderbilt Commodores over Boston College Eagles (Lam 4:19)
Insight - Kansas Jayhawks over Minnesota Golden Gophers (Is 34:11)
Chick fil A - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets over LSU Tigers (Is 7:18)
Outback - S Carolina Gamecocks over Iowa Hawkeyes (Mk 9:47)
Capital One - Michigan St Spartans over Georgia Bulldogs (Mt 15:26 or Is. 56:10)
Gator - Nebraska Cornhuskers over Clemson Tigers (Is 17:5 (KJV))
Rose - USC Trojans over Penn State Nittany Lions (Dan 6:22)
Orange - Cincinnati Bearcats over Va Tech Hokies (2 Ki 2:23-24)
Cotton - Texas Tech Raiders over Mississippi Rebels (Is 1:28)
Liberty - Kentucky Wildcats over E Carolina Pirates (Ex. 20:15)
Sugar - Utah Utes over Alabama Crimson Tide (Ps 106:9)
International - Connecticut Huskies over Buffalo Bulls (Jer 50:27)
Fiesta - Texas Longhorns over Ohio State Buckeyes (Dt 33:17)
GMAC - Tulsa Golden Hurricanes over Ball State Cardinals (Rv 8:3-5)
BCS - Oklahoma Sooners over Florida Gators (Heb 13:18-19)

Here are better suggestions for Biblically victorious mascots:
Dumb Asses: 2 Pe 2:16 (KJV)
Lambs: Rev 17:14

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Keeping Christ in Christmas?

That's just about the most arrogant thing you can presume to do: keep Christ anywhere. Christ will be in Christmas or absent from it no matter how hard you try to you keep Him there. Christ doesn't bend to your will. He is where He has promised to be, and there's nothing you or anyone else can do to change that. So where is Christ? In the Mass, in the Divine Service, in the Lord's Supper.

Thanks to Mark for this article:

To de-secularize the season of Christmas, the writer proposes these actions:

· Put the Mass back in Christmas
· Restore Michaelmas
· Restore Candlemas
· Restore Childermas
· Restore the Feast of the Epiphany
· Restore the Advent season
· Restore gift-giving to the real Christmas season, which occurs after Christmas day
· Don't put up a Christmas tree until Christmas Eve — if at all
· Use Christmas as a day of contemplating Christ, not for engaging in commerce

Mass in Christmas? Check. Hope will have 3 distinct Divine Services celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord.
Michaelmas? Check. We celebrated it this year, albeit transferred to the Sunday before.
Candlemas? Check. It's coming: Feb 2. Join us for the Feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord.
Childermas? Check. The Feast of the Holy Innocents will be celebrated Dec 28.
Epiphany? Check. Jan 6, every year.
Advent? Check.

Keeping Christ in Christmas is silly at best, sinful at worst. Instead, keep yourself in Christ. Receive His Body and Blood as often as He gives you the opportunity.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

St. Gregory of Nyssa on the Incarnation

From his Great Catechism:

"It is the peculiar property of the essence of fire to tend upwards; no one therefore, deems it wonderful in the case of flame to see that natural operation. But should the flame be seen to stream downwards, like heavy bodies, such a fact would be regarded as a miracle; namely, how fire still remains fire, and yet, by this change of direction in its motion, passes out of its nature by being borne downward. In like manner, it is not the vastness of the heavens, and the bright shining of its constellations, and the order of the universe and the unbroken administration over all existence that so manifestly displays the transcendent power of the Deity, as this condescension to the weakness of our nature; the way, in fact, in which sublimity, existing in lowliness, is actually seen in lowliness, and yet descends not from its height, and in which Deity, entwined as it is with the nature of man, becomes this, and yet still is that."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Luther on faith & works

Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith. When they see that no improvement of life and no good works follow—although they can hear and say much about faith—they fall into the error of saying, “Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.” This is due to the fact that when they hear the gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create the idea in their heart which says, “I believe;” they take this then to be a true faith. But as it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either, and no improvement follows.

Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God John 1 [:12-13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. Oh, it is a living, busy, active mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such good works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do. (LW 35, 370-71)

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Dean William Augustine Hemmer was born today, November 13, at 5:26 p.m. He weighed 8 lbs and was 20 inches long. He takes his names from his father's paternal grandfather, his mothers maternal grandfather, and the doctor of the church with whom he now shares a birthday.

At the Hospital

Stay tuned.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reformation Fun

HT: Veith

Speaking of Fathers

Pr. Stuckwisch has a great post on the five most important things fathers are to do.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Faith says “Yes”

Faith is the “amen,” the “yes,” to God’s gifts. Like an open hand, Faith receives what the Lord wants to give.

And God delights to give. The good work He began in each Christian at the day of his baptism, the Lord is continuing until the day of the return of Jesus (Phil. 1:6). God delivered the gifts of faith and forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism, but He doesn’t quit once faith has been delivered. No, He is always working through the proclamation of His word to sustain faith. He is always working through the mouth of the minister to absolve sins. He is always working through His Holy Supper to forgive sins, to nourish faith, and to enable the faithful to love each other.

Faith says “yes”; it never says “no.” Unbelief says “no” to God’s gifts. Unbelief closes the open, receiving hand of faith. Unbelief tells God that, while His gifts may be good, they’re just not needed right now.

While unbelief and faith can coexist, as they did for the father of the demon-possessed boy (Mark 9:24), unbelief wars against faith. How long can a person refuse God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation before he has completely destroyed God’s gift of faith? Who knows? Better not to find out.

If you know someone who, by continuing to refuse the gifts God offers in the Divine Service, is acting out of unbelief, warn him. Call him to repent and to receive the Lord’s good gifts that He offers freely and continually.

Saturday, October 11, 2008





before becoming


in only 3 months.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Absent Fathers

When did church become something only for women and children? Why are there families in pews without husbands and fathers? Why are there so many absent fathers?

The countdown to the time of my own fatherhood is on. Weeks, days, hours remain before my testing by fire. It’s a daunting task that lies before me, to be sure. And how a pastor is a father to his family matters so much that St. Paul told St. Timothy that if a man cannot manage his household, as husband and father, he is unfit to be a pastor (1 Tim. 3:4-5).

Why does Jesus call men to be disciples? And why does the Lord call men to be pastors? Not because women are inferior (they’re not). Not because women lack the skills necessary (they don’t). Simply because only men can be husbands and fathers.

Just as pastors are fathers to the congregation entrusted to their care (as Luther says in the Large Catechism), fathers are pastors to their families. That’s a huge responsibility. And it’s one for which men will be called to account. Raising God-fearing children will not happen if fathers are not presiding at the family altar: with daily prayer, Scripture reading, and devotions.

For the Feast of St. Michael, Luther preached, “The Lord is very angry, and it grieves him deeply when young people are not carefully trained. ‘Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones,’ he says, whoever teaches young people to curse, swear, lie, slander, to be unchaste, and so on, it would be better if he were dead. By this he indicates that such sin will be punished not merely with temporal death, but with eternal damnation. The world regards this punishment as wrong, and that is why all kinds of offenses flourish. It is the accursed devil’s doing that the world’s young people are now so depraved, wild, and undisciplined. They become the devil’s children and are capable of nothing but cursing and swearing, slandering and lying; they live immorally, are disobedient, and guilty of all manner of malevolence. Woe to those who foster this in them. For the sentence has already been pronounced upon such people, as Christ says, ‘It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.’”

That’s a serious warning. Luther took seriously the task of fathers to instruct their children in the faith, to raise them as pious Christians, so much that he wrote a manual for fathers to use in instructing their children: the Small Catechism. Nearly every section of the Catechism begins, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.”

Men, stop abdicating your responsibility to teach your children the faith and to model the faith to them. Be a faithful father. Be a man.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Death: Cheaper than Life

In Oregon, if you receive bad news from your doctor and you have state-sponsored health coverage, the state might encourage you to kill yourself. "Comfort Care" medicine (euphemism for assisted suicide drugs) is covered, while drugs to prolong or improve life might not be.

American Thinker article.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stuck in the Middle

Election season always frustrates me. I don’t associate myself with exclusively one political party. Spending time listening to dyed-in-the wool Democrats makes me want to vote Republican. Spending time with dyed-in-the-wool Republicans makes me want to vote Democrat.

Neither party is wholly virtuous.

The Democratic Party has quite a tough time with the 5th Commandment, among others, since the official party platform is to support taking the lives of pre-born babies. We should fear and love God, so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body but help and defend him in every physical need. To take the lives of babies, born or unborn, is murder. To fail to defend babies when they are in physical need, is murder.

The Republican Party has a rough time keeping the 7th Commandment, among others. Any talk about lowering taxes is always greedy. Don’t let the government take my money, goes the argument. That’s greed. We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions or get them in any dishonest way but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

And whenever election season comes around, everyone has a hard time keeping the 8th Commandment. We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him , slander him, or hurt his reputation but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. When was the last time you heard an Obama supporter defend John McCain or a McCain supporter explain everything about Sen. Obama in the kindest way. Maybe you’ve heard it. I never have.

If I stay home on November 4, it won’t be for lack of concern about the election, nor will it be from a lack of patriotism. A vote for either main candidate, inasmuch as a vote endorses his platform, is sinful. Then again, so is neglecting one’s duty as a citizen to vote. Ah, well, what to do? I’ll keep the door unlocked on Nov. 4 for anyone who wants to come confess his sin immediately after voting…

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Catechesis, First Communion, and Confirmation, part two

Pr. Oakes asked how the discussion about First Communion and Confirmation was going. Instead of replying there, I thought I'd make a new post, since the first one was buried several months ago.

Good question. After some discussion, we decided to separate first communion from confirmation and still allow confirmation to serve as a sort-of Lutheran bar mitzvah, a rite of passage into adulthood in the Church, and the opportunity publicly to confess the faith. Here is the letter that went out to all members of Hope.

"In the Agenda of the new Lutheran Service Book, there’s a rite called “First Communion Prior to Confirmation.” When I first heard of Lutheran congregations having first communion separate from confirmation a few years ago, my first reaction was to wonder if such a thing were a Roman Catholic practice. Since then, I’ve seen many Missouri Synod congregations that offer early communion. And now it’s a rite in the Synodically-approved hymnal.

"Why would such an option exist? A few reasons. Many pastors and congregations are frustrated with the current habit of waiting to admit children to the Lord’s Supper until they’ve reached a certain age and completed a certain number of years of study. If we withhold the Lord’s Supper from children until they’re 14 years old, we teach them for 13 years of life that the Supper isn’t important enough for them to be receiving it regularly. And if we withhold the Lord’s Supper until children have passed a class, we use the Lord’s gift of His Supper like a reward, which is the opposite of a gift.

"What do the scriptures say? St. Paul admonished that everyone who receives the Supper “examine himself” lest he receive the Supper improperly (1 Cor. 11:28-29). What do the Lutheran Confessions say? Everyone admitted to the Lord’s Supper is “examined and absolved” (Augsburg Confession, XXV). Faithfulness to the Lord’s gift of His Supper mandates that we let those who have been examined and absolved receive this sacrament (a divine institution), even if they are not yet confirmed (a human institution). That’s why an official service for “First Communion” is included in the new hymnal.

"What does the hymnal say? ”This rite is intended to be used to admit to the Lord’s Supper baptized children who have not yet been confirmed. Candidates for admission to the Lord’s Supper have learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They have received careful instruction in the Gospel and Sacraments. Confessing their sin and trusting in their Savior, they desire to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their faith in Christ and their love toward others. Concerning worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper, the Small Catechism teaches: ‘That person is worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.”’”

"Beginning now, when parents believe their children are ready to be examined in order to receive the Lord’s Supper, the pastor along with one or two elders will examine them. Ordinarily, these children will know the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They will know of their sinfulness and of their Savior, Jesus. They will know what Jesus offers them in the Lord’s Supper, and they will confess their desire to receive it regularly. After this examination, they will have the opportunity to confess their sins and receive Absolution. Having been examined and absolved, they will be welcomed to the Lord’s Supper with this rite from the LSB Agenda.

"Parents are the chief catechists of their children. They are helped by the congregation through the Divine Service, the Wednesday evening catechetical service, and Sunday School and Bible Class. It is my prayer that this opportunity for first communion will encourage ongoing catechesis at home and in the congregation. Children whose parents faithfully teach them the faith, as explained by the Small Catechism, and who regularly attend the Divine Service and Sunday School will be ready to receive the Lord’s Supper well in advance of their graduation from eighth grade."

Irreverence: Not just for Evangelicals, anymore

Popular among contemporary worship hucksters is the desire to make church appealing and comfortable. Comfortable is the liturgical opposite of reverent. You can either be comfortable around Jesus--coming in jeans and flip flops, thinking of Him as your buddy, expecting Him to laugh at your jokes--or you can be reverent--treating Him as Lord, bowing in His presence, and dressing in your "Sunday best."

If you were invited to a dinner with the President of the United States, you'd dress up and exercise your best manners. So why, when the Creator of Everything, the Almighty God invites us to His Holy Supper, do we think it's okay not to show reverence?

Well, turns out irreverence isn't limited to Protestants. One of the local Roman churches is having their annual Polka Mass on Sunday the 21st.
Right, a Polka Mass on the Feast of St. Matthew. Maybe it's an illustration of the Gospel Lesson: Matthew 9:9-13. Or maybe it's just plain irrevrence. Either way, it's not cool in the eyes of Rome.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Motorcycles in Church

Maybe this is why my wife won't let me get a motorcycle.

Or, maybe this is why.

Maybe this is the reason.

3 motorcycle crashes in church. Yep, they're dangerous, alright.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Faith Comes through Dating?

This is either stinging satire or an appalling use of the Lord's name to justify serial dating.

Date to Save

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Acolytes par Excellence

You shall not covet your neighbor's manservant. But I do want them to stay and do their duty. I just want acolytes like these here at Hope.

More on emasculated Christian men and the un-feminine Church some other day.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Monday, Monday

The joys of being a pastor are innumerable. The heartbreaks, too, it seems. It's always heartbreaking to get from my secretary the list of people who have missed 3 or more consecutive Divine Services. It's heartbreaking to read the names of people the Lord has entrusted to my care who are rejecting the Lord's gifts that He offers in the Divine Service.

We don't go to church to tell God how wonderful He is. "The worship and service of the Gospel is to receive gifts from God" (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, V, 189). God doesn't gather us together because He's so narcissistic that He needs to hear our praise so He won't be depressed the other 6 days of the week. No, He gathers His people because He loves to lavish His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation on them.

Consider a husband who, night after night, chooses to go out to the bar with his buddies rather than home to the meal he knows his wife has prepared for him. Imagine her heartbreak. Consider a grown child who lives in sickness and poverty because he continually refuses the gifts of assistance his parents offer. Imagine their heartbreak. Consider the person who disdains the gifts offered by his Lord in the Divine Service week after week or who only goes to church when there's nothing else that commands his Sunday-morning attention. Imagine the heartbreak of the Lord who delights to give gifts.

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live." (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Simple Church

Some of the leaders of my home congregation are reading a book called Simple Church over the summer and invited others to read and join the conversation. So, I got a copy and read it. Here are my thoughts on it.

Rainer, Thom S. and Eric Geiger. Simple Church. B&H Publishing (Nashville): 2006.

There are countless books on how to fix what is wrong with churches. So, after years and years of different books, different theories, different strategies, why do many people conclude that there are still problems with churches that require additional approaches, additional books, additional theories? What makes Rainer and Geiger’s Simple Church the long-awaited return to “God’s process for making disciples”?

At one level, there is much praiseworthy to be said about Simple Church. Inasmuch as the it serves to call churches away from inundating themselves and their members with innumerable programs and opportunities. If it were possible for Lutheran Christians to take only this premise away from the book without also swallowing the false teachings that lie under the surface, the book would be safe to read and recommend.

But that’s not possible. Simple Church comes with too much bad-theology baggage. These false teachings are inseparable from the overarching themes of the book. You can’t buy just part of what Geiger and Rainer propose. You can’t import their thinking about what makes an effective church without also believing that churches can be more or less effective.

That’s where Simple Church presents an unhealthy view of “Church” for Lutherans, and it manifests itself in two ways: synergism and asacramentalism.

Synergism means “working together.” In most realms, working together is a good thing. In matters of salvation, when the co-workers are God and us, it’s a false, pernicious doctrine.

Rainer and Geiger have a synergistic view of the church that cannot be separated from their proposals to make the church simpler. The entire book rests on the premise that there are things church leaders can do to make the church more effective.

Ministers cannot be effective. Only God, working through His means of grace, is effective. Pastors and people can only be faithful.

Any suggestion that we can help or hurt the work of God through His Church is synergistic, implying we work alongside God in His work. We don’t.

A discussion like Rainer’s and Geiger’s cannot be had withough this false, synergistic premise at the beginning. In Rainer’s and Geiger’s proposition, who makes the church simpler? Who brings clarity? Who creates movement? Who fosters alignment? Who provides focus? You do. That’s synergism, and it’s false.

Lutherans have always confessed this about the church: “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered.” (Augsburg Confession, XIV)

Lutheran clergy simply cannot ask, “What can I do to be more effective?” They may ask, “Am I preaching and teaching the Gospel purely?” and “Am I administering the Sacraments correctly?” In short, “Am I being faithful?” If the answer is “yes,” that’s as much “effectiveness” as he’s been given to do.

Although the singer of the spiritual probably expects the answer to the question “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” to be “yes,” Lutherans have always answered “no.” None of us was there at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. So how do we get the benefits of Jesus’ death on the cross delivered to us today?

Luther wrote, “If now I seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there. Nor must I hold to the suffering of Christ, as Dr. Karlstadt trifles, in knowledge or remembrance, for I will not find it there either. But I will find in the sacrament or gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross.” (Luther’s Works, v. 40, p. 214)

There’s a difference between where forgiveness is achieved (on the cross) and where it is delivered (in the Gospel and the Sacraments). So Lutheran churches and Lutheran worship has always placed these means through which God delivers to us the forgiveness of sins—the Gospel and the Sacraments—at the center.

The highest worship of God is to receive His gifts. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV, 155:310) Thus the point of “church” is continually to be drawn back to receiving the Lord’s gifts. For Rainer and Geiger, though, who don’t believe that in the sacraments God bestows His gifts of forgiveness and eternal life, the point of the church is to foster growth in discipleship.

There’s nothing wrong with talking about discipleship. What’s wrong is letting those who don’t believe that a Christian’s highest calling is to receive God’s gifts to enable him to live in love toward his neighbor instruct us about making churches more effective and producing disciples.

The Church is as simple as the Lord has made her. Rainer and Geiger cannot presume to speak for God, telling others God’s plan for making disciples, without acknowledging what our Lord Jesus says is the way the Church makes disciples. “Therefore, go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that I commanded you.”

What is God’s plan for making disciples? Baptizing and teaching. Sacraments and the Gospel. That’s the simple Church.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Spectacle of Spectacles

Some people post things on their blogs to make them seem sophisticated. Not here.

What else were you going to do with your old car? Park it in your front yard up on blocks? This is a much better use.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Humanae Vitae: 40 Years Later

The new issue of First things has this insightful reflection by Mary Eberstadt on Pope Paul IV's widely criticized Humanae Vitae.

Here are a few insightful excerpts.

"That Humanae Vitae and related Catholic teachings about sexual morality are laughingstocks in all the best places is not exactly news. Even in the benighted precincts of believers, where information from the outside world is known to travel exceedingly slowly, everybody grasps that this is one doctrine the world loves to hate. During Benedict XVI’s April visit to the United States, hardly a story in the secular press failed to mention the teachings of Humanae Vitae, usually alongside adjectives like “divisive” and “controversial” and “outdated.” In fact, if there’s anything on earth that unites the Church’s adversaries—all of them except for the Muslims, anyway—the teaching against contraception is probably it.

"To many people, both today and when the encyclical was promulgated on July 25, 1968, the notion simply defies understanding. Consenting adults, told not to use birth control? Preposterous. Third World parents deprived access to contraception and abortion? Positively criminal. A ban on condoms when there’s a risk of contracting AIDS? Beneath contempt.

"Let’s begin by meditating upon what might be called the first of the secular ironies now evident: Humanae Vitae’s specific predictions about what the world would look like if artificial contraception became widespread. The encyclical warned of four resulting trends: a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.

"The adversaries of Humanae Vitae also could not have foreseen one important historical development that in retrospect would appear to undermine their demands that the Catholic Church change with the times: the widespread Protestant collapse, particularly the continuing implosion of the Episcopal Church and the other branches of Anglicanism. It is about as clear as any historical chain can get that this implosion is a direct consequence of the famous Lambeth Conference in 1930, at which the Anglicans abandoned the longstanding Christian position on contraception. If a church cannot tell its flock “what to do with my body,” as the saying goes, with regard to contraception, then other uses of that body will quickly prove to be similarly off-limits to ecclesiastical authority.

"By giving benediction in 1930 to its married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican Church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell her other members—married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual—not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals start claiming the right to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals start claiming the rights of heterosexuals.

"Thus in a bizarre but real sense did Lambeth’s attempt to show compassion to married heterosexuals inadvertently give rise to the modern gay-rights movement—and consequently, to the issues that have divided their church ever since. It is hard to believe that anyone seeking a similar change in Catholic teaching on the subject would want the Catholic Church to follow suit into the moral and theological confusion at the center of today’s Anglican Church—yet such is the purposeful ignorance of so many who oppose Rome on birth control that they refuse to connect these cautionary historical dots.

"The years since Humanae Vitae have seen something else that neither traditionalist nor dissenting Catholics could have seen coming, one other development shedding retrospective credit on the Church: a serious reappraisal of Christian sexuality from Protestants outside the liberal orbit.

"Thus, for instance, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, observed in First Things in 1998 that “in an ironic turn, American evangelicals are rethinking birth control even as a majority of the nation’s Roman Catholics indicate a rejection of their Church’s teaching.” Later, when interviewed in a 2006 article in the New York Times Sunday magazine about current religious thinking on artificial contraception, Mohler elaborated: “I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the Pill. . . . The entire horizon of the sexual act changes. I think there can be no question that the Pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation.”

"Mohler also observed that this legacy of damage was affecting the younger generation of evangelicals. “I detect a huge shift. Students on our campus are intensely concerned. Not a week goes by that I do not get contacted by pastors about the issue. There are active debates going on. It’s one of the things that may serve to divide evangelicalism.” Part of that division includes Quiverfull, the anti-contraception Protestant movement now thought to number in the tens of thousands that further prohibits (as the Catholic Church does not) natural family planning or any other conscious interference with conception. Such second thoughts among evangelicals are the premise of a 2002 book titled Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Re-Thinks Contraception.

"In fact, the disgrace of contemporary American Catholicism—the many recent scandals involving priests and underage boys—is traceable to the collusion between a large Catholic laity that wanted a different birth-control doctrine, on the one hand, and a new generation of priests cutting themselves a different kind of slack, on the other. “I won’t tattle on my gay priest if you’ll give me absolution for contraception” seems to have been the unspoken deal in many parishes since Humanae Vitae.

"Exactly one hundred years ago, for example, the Lambeth Conference of 1908 affirmed its opposition to artificial contraception in words harsher than anything appearing in Humanae Vitae: “demoralizing to character and hostile to national welfare.” In another historical twist that must have someone laughing somewhere, pronouncements of the founding fathers of Protestantism make the Catholic traditionalists of 1968 look positively diffident. Martin Luther in a commentary on Genesis declared contraception to be worse than incest or adultery. John Calvin called it an “unforgivable crime.” This unanimity was not abandoned until the year 1930, when the Anglicans voted to allow married couples to use birth control in extreme cases, and one denomination after another over the years came to follow suit."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jeremiah Wright or Joel Osteen: What's the Difference?

There's a wonderful article by Russell Moore, a Vice President at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in the most recent issue of Touchstone Magazine about the difference between the liberation theology of Jeremiah Wright and what you might find in a seemingly evangelical pulpit. What do they have in common? No gospel. Here's a snippet to whet your whistle:

"How many times have we heard conservative preachers use the Bible in exactly the same way that Jeremiah Wright uses it? Wright uses the Scripture as a background to get to what he thinks is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation from American oppression. Others use the Scripture as a background to get to what they think is the real issue, psychological or economic or political liberation through the American Dream.

"Either way, Jesus is a way to get to what the preacher deems really important, be it national health care or “your best life now.” Either way, the end result is hell for the hearer who accepts this gospel, regardless of whether God damns or blesses America."

You can read the whole article here. If you don't subscribe to Touchstone, an insightful, pan-denominational magazine, you should.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

On June 25th, 1530, at the Diet of Augsburg, several German princes presented to Emperor Charles V a confession of their beliefs. This Augsburg Confession, written chiefly by Philip Melanchton, Luther’s colleague at the University of Wittenberg, serves as the principal statement of what Lutheran Christians believe. Even today, the cornerstones of many Lutheran churches are engraved with the letters U.A.C., declaring their belief that the Unaltered Augsburg Confession is a true and faithful exposition of Holy Scripture.

From the Lutheran Hymnal Project:
“Jesus said, ‘Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father in heaven’ (Matt 10:26–33). To confess Christ before men is to speak the truth openly about who He is and what He has done to save us. It is to give public voice to our belief in Him who made the good confession before Pontius Pilate (1 Tim 6:11–16), and by whose cross alone we are justified and restored to the Father. It is to say in faith what He has first said to us in His holy Word, not fearing those who can destroy the body, but honoring above all Him who is the Lord of both body and soul. On this day we give thanks to God that our Lutheran forefathers confessed the truth of the Scriptures with courage and clarity. This is a holy day in which we rejoice greatly to understand the words of the Lord (Neh 8:1–12) and to share in Augsburg’s confession of the true faith. The Spirit of God grant us all continually to fight the good fight of faith until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing.”

The LORD of hosts is / with us;*
the God of Jacob is our / refuge.
Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth / be removed,*
and though the mountains be carried into the midst / of the sea. (Psalm 46:7, 2)
There is a river whose streams shall make glad the ci- / ty of God,*
the holy place of the tabernacle of the / Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she shall / not be moved;*
God shall help her, just at the / break of dawn.
The nations raged, the king- / doms were moved;*
He uttered His voice, the earth / melted.
Be still, and know that / I am God;*
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted / in the earth! (Psalm 46:4–6, 10)

O Lord God, heavenly Father, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people, keep them steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and comfort them in all temptations, defend them against all enemies of Your Word, and bestow on Christ's Church Militant Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Great is the LORD, and greatly / to be praised*
in the city of our God, in His holy / mountain.
Walk about Zion, count her towers; mark well her bulwarks, onsider her / palaces;*
that you may tell it to the generation / following. (Psalm 48:1, 12a, 13b)

Readings: Nehemiah 8:1–2, 5–6, 9–12
Psalm 84
1 Timothy 6:11b-16
Matthew 10:26–33

Hymn for the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
(The 12 verses correspond to the first 12 articles of the Augsburg Confession)

You Have Preserved

You have preserved Your Gospel here
In words of humble speech;
Your Spirit speaks Your truth, o Lord,
To chasten and to teach.

1 One holy essence: God divine,
Three Persons unified,
Father, Son, Spirit: Trinity
Alone is glorified.

2 Since Adam’s fall all human beings
Are born condemned by sin.
Death is our sole inheritance;
No person life can win.

3 Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ,
In flesh the Virgin’s Son,
Completely God and wholly man,
Salvation He has won.

4 What we ourselves cannot obtain—
Forgiveness, life, and grace—
These we receive for Jesus’ sake,
Who suffered in our place.

5 To give us faith, the Holy Ghost
Works through the Holy Word,
Creating faith and giving life
When e’er the Word is heard.

6 Man recreated lives by faith,
God’s Law his paths gives light.
To serve his neighbor is his call;
Good works are his delight.

7 One Holy, Apostolic Church
Immortal will endure.
Existing where the Gospel’s preached
And sacraments are pure.

8 God’s precious gifts come through His Church
Apart from human stain;
Regardless of the pastor’s faith,
God’s gifts we still obtain.

9 Through simple water and God’s Word,
His children God elects:
Once sinners buried in Christ’s death,
Now saints he resurrects.

10 This Christ who calls us to His feast
In presence here is real.
His Body and His Blood He gives
Here in this Holy Meal.

11 Here stands before God’s gathered saints
The man whom God selects.
At our confession, God absolves;
Our sins He now forgets.

12 A recreated saint may fall
In sin and be defiled.
A contrite heart God gives to him;
In love, forgives His child.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Three months ago was the Annunciation of Our Lord, the date when we celebrate the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce to her that she would be the bearer of the Christ. At the same time, Gabriel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was already six months pregnant with the one who would prepare the way for the Christ. So today, three months after the Annunciation and six months before the Nativity of Our Lord, we celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist. The earliest celebrations of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist are recorded by the Council of Agde in 506.

John’s announcing the Lordship of Jesus began even before John was born. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, John leapt in her womb, announcing the arrival of the not-yet-born Christ. The purpose of celebrating the feast of St. John’s Nativity, as with all feasts and festivals, is to remember the One to whom St. John the Baptist pointed: “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way / of the LORD*
Make straight in the desert a highway / for our God.
And the glory / of the LORD*
shall / be revealed. (Isaiah 40:3, 5a)
It is good to give thanks / to the LORD,*
and to sing praises to Your name, / O Most High.
To declare Your lovingkindness in the / morning,*
and Your faithfulness / ev’ry night.
For You, LORD, have made me glad / through Your work;*
I will triumph in the works / of Your hands.
O LORD, how great / are Your works!*
Your thoughts are / very deep. (Psalm 92:1–2, 4–5)

O Lord God, heavenly Father, who through Your servant Saint John the Baptist did bear witness that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and that all who believe in Him shall inherit eternal life, we humbly implore You to enlighten us by Your Holy Spirit that we may at all times find comfort and joy in this witness, continue steadfast in the true faith, and at last with all believers attain unto eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

"Before I formed you in the womb I / knew you;*
before you were born I sancti- / fied you."
Then the LORD put forth His hand and / touched my mouth,*
and the LORD said to me: "Behold, I have put My words / in your mouth."(Jeremiah 1:5, 9)

Readings: Isaiah 40:1–8
Psalm 141
Acts 19:1–7
Luke 1:57–80

Monday, June 16, 2008

Was Walther "Too Roman Catholic"?

The first president of the Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther addressed accusations of being too Roman Catholic for encouraging things like chanting, vestments, and the historic liturgy. In the synod's first magazine, Der Lutheraner, July 19, 1853, Wather argues,

"Whenever the divine service once again follows the old Evangelical-Lutheran agendas (or church books), it seems that many raise a great cry that it is "Roman Catholic": "Roman Catholic" when the pastor chants "The Lord be with you" and the congregation responds by chanting "and with thy spirit"; "Roman Catholic" when the pastor chants the collect and the blessing and the people respond with a chanted "Amen." Even the simplest Christian can respond to this outcry: "Prove to me that this chanting is contrary to the Word of God, then I too will call it `Roman Catholic' and have nothing more to do with it. However, you cannot prove this to me." If you insist upon calling every element in the divine service "Romish" that has been used by the Roman Catholic Church, it must follow that the reading of the Epistle and Gospel is also "Romish." Indeed, it is mischief to sing or preach in church, for the Roman Church has done this also . . .Those who cry out should remember that the Roman Catholic Church possesses every beautiful song of the old orthodox church. The chants and antiphons and responses were brought into the church long before the false teachings of Rome crept in. This Christian Church since the beginning, even in the Old Testament, has derived great joy from chanting... For more than 1700 years orthodox Christians have participated joyfully in the divine service. Should we, today, carry on by saying that such joyful participation is "Roman Catholic"? God forbid! Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us boldly confess that our worship forms do not tie us with the modern sects or with the church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian Church that is as old as the world and is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets."
(Translation by Rev. Paul McCain)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reading the Apocrypha

Ask any person what the difference between a "Roman Catholic" Bible and a "Protestant" Bible is and they'll likely tell you that a RC Bible has "extra books" (or they'll stare blankly at you like you just asked about the Law of Cosines). But what about a "Lutheran" Bible? While Lutherans don't consider the Apocrypha to be on the same level as the rest of the Old Testament, the reformers certainly held these books in higher regard than most Lutherans today. When Luther translated the Bible into German, he included the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments. In fact, every Bible published by CPH in German until we switched to English after WWI contained the Apocrypha.

Martin Chemnitz described an Old Testament Apocrypha, containing the books most people think of as the extra "Roman Catholic" books, and a New Testament Apocrypha, containing the books whose inclusion in the canon of the New Testament was debatable (2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation). We read the NT apocryphal books, so why not the OT ones? Maybe they're not authoritative like the Pentateuch, but they're still good reading. As long as they are in concert with the agreed-upon books of sacred Scriptures, we can learn from them. But we don't allow them to make any new teachings that we cannot find in the rest of the Scriptures. The same is true of the "apocryphal" books of the New Testament. We can't find teachings in them that are out of harmony with the rest of the Scriptures.

The Daily Lectionary I use (derived from the same one in LSB plus an additional reading from Lutheran Confessions or the Apocrypha) is going through 1 Maccabees right now. This is from today's reading:

"And thus consider ye throughout all ages, that none that put their trust in him shall be overcome. Fear not then the words of a sinful man: for his glory shall be dung and worms. To day he shall be lifted up and to morrow he shall not be found, because he is returned into his dust, and his thought is come to nothing. Wherefore, ye my sons, be valiant and shew yourselves men in the behalf of the law; for by it shall ye obtain glory." (1 Maccabees 2:61-64)

Good stuff.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pentecost Tuesday

This is the Old Testament reading for Pentecost Tuesday.

"For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted;
the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever,
a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks;
until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
And it will hail when the forest falls down,
and the city will be utterly laid low.
Happy are you who sow beside all waters,
who let the feet of the ox and the donkey range free." -Isaiah 39:14-20

Well, Pentecost Tuesday at about 3:15, the forests fell indeed. A huge oak tree in the corner of my back yard toppled in the wind. While it displaced the corner of my new fence, took out some power lines, and snapped off the fire hydrant, it didn't fall on any people, buildings, or anything of any value. That's particularly miraculous considering the line of cars along the street (into which the the tree fell)picking kids up from school at exactly that time. Thanks be to God.

I came back froma hospital visit at about 5:00 to see the street closed by police cars, city workers with a backhoe, and an Ameren truck. Little did I realize they were attending to my tree. The high school kids getting into their cars at 3:15 report quite a spectacle.

So, nothing a little hard work can't take care of. But we are going to miss having a shaded back yard...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Mothers’ day is not a holiday in the Church Year. It has no readings assigned to it, and it doesn’t cause a change in the colors of the paraments. As an American, second-Sunday-in-May observance, Mother’s Day first came about in the 1870 Mother’s Day Proclamation written by Julia Ward Howe as an attempt for mothers (particularly those of soldiers) to unite on a day to oppose war. The first observance of Mother’s Day was organized by Anna Jarvis in Grafton, West Virginia in 1908. By 1914, the observance had spread across the country so popularly that President Woodrow Wilson declared the day a national holiday on which to fly the flag to honor mothers whose sons had died in war. Just nine years later, Mother’s Day would be so commercialized that Jarvis would protest that it had left it’s intended purpose.

But the American Mother’s Day does have its roots in an ecclesiastical tradition. The fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare, was known as Mothering Sunday. On that day, young people returned to their home congregation and so were reunited with their mothers for the day. On this day, Christians were also reminded of their Holy Mother, the Church.

Even though Mother’s Day is particularly overshadowed on the church’s calendar this year by Pentecost (one of the highest feast days in the year), it is still good for Christians to remember their mothers and to give thanks to God for them.

For all of our faux-egalitarianism in America, we still have two separate holidays: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It is proper that we have two days instead of one combined “Parents’ Day” because mothers and fathers are distinctly different. Neither is more important than the other, but they do play different roles in raising a child.

Particularly in teaching the faith to the next generation, mothers play an invaluable role. But this is not always an easy task. In fact, for any mother who has watched with heartbreak as her child has departed from the faith in which he was raised, this can be the most difficult job in the world.

Monica was such a mother. She raised her son in the Christian faith, but he soon departed from it. Her son, well-educated and a successful scholar, was drawn to a life of hedonism, indulging in pagan intellectualism, living with his mistress, and joining a false religion. Monica pleaded with her son to repent and return to the Church. With many tears and ceaseless prayers, she interceded for her son. One priest told Monica, “Surely the son of these tears cannot perish.” And he did not.

Monica’s son Augustine repented, was catechized, and baptized into the Christian Church at the Easter Vigil in 387, A.D. Shortly thereafter, he was made a bishop of the church in Hippo in North Africa. Today. St. Augustine is regarded by scholars as the preeminent Church Father in the Western church.

Mothers, yours is a holy work: teaching the faith to your children. In fact, there is no more holy work in the world that a person may aspire to do. If you have wayward children, take heart. Learn from St. Monica not to give up praying for them or calling them back to the faith. Happy Mother’s Day.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Musical Memory

Thanks to Mark for the link to this article:

Turns out patients with aphasia, a condition that causes a person to have difficulty recalling words and putting them together in speech (often the result of a stroke or brain damage), can find help regaining the ability to speak through song. Music is a function of the right half of the brain, while plain speech is a function of the left half.

Perhaps by engaging both halves of the brain, singing words (as opposed simply to speaking them) causes you to remember them. Any child who's learned to sing his ABCs (or any adult who has to sing the jingle to himself to figure out what comes next in the alphabet) knows this.

So it's little surprise that a chanted and sung liturgy sticks in your head. Like it or not, when you sing sacred Scriptures, as we do in the Divine Liturgy, you're memorizing scripture. Nearly all the catechumens know the Words of Institution by heart. And they've never even spoken them in the service, just heard them chanted. (For a test, ask junior high kids who only hear the Words of Institution spoken, not chanted, if they know them by heart.)

The unknown hymnwriter said it well:

Lo, the apostles' holy train
Join Thy sacred name to hallow;
Prophets swell the glad refrain,
And the white-robed martyrs follow,
And from heav'ns with set of sun
Through the Church the song goes on. (LSB 940, v.3)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thinking about Catechesis and Confirmation

I've been wrestling with catechesis and admission to the Lord's Supper for a while. Here are my guiding concerns:

I'm troubled at keeping kids away from the Lord's Supper until they're graduation age. Children can confess the faith, repent of their sin, and desire the forgiveness offered in the Lord's Supper well before they're 14 years old. And I think our actions and our teaching are incongruous. We teach how important the Lord's Supper is, but we tell kids that they can go 14 years of life without it. No wonder they attend for a only few weeks after being confirmed before dropping off the face of the planet.

I'm troubled by what confirmation has become: synergistic graduation. A few sources attribute this to pietism, and I'm always game for blaming pietists. What are we "confirming"? We don't make a covenant with God, we don't receive the "rest" or "more complete" Holy Spirit at confirmation (which is why we lay hands on confirmands). We don't fulfill our end of the deal that began at baptism. And yet, there's something to be said for a public profession of faith (just maybe without white robes and Pomp & Circumstance playing in the background).

I'm troubled at using the Lord's Supper as a carrot on a stick to entice kids to get confirmed and go to catechesis. Means of grace should not be rewards like Snickers.

Originally, I thought divorcing confirmation and first communion would help. First communion could be earlier (like the papists), which would eliminate the carrot-and-stick problem. This was buffeted by the Rite for First Communion before Confirmation found in the LSB Agenda. And there's a Rite of Examination Prior to First Communion in the LSB Pastoral Care Companion. And Augsburg Confession, Artivle XXV says those admitted to the Lord's Supper are examined and absolved. I'd have examined kids whose parents thought they were ready using this Rite in the PCC and then they'd have confessed their sins privately and received absolution.

The problem with that is mostly that it makes travel between congregations difficult. While the Commission on Worship indicates that 25% of LCMS congregations have early communion, I'm not sure it solves all my concerns, either.

What seems to have been the practice of the reformers is a catechetical service sometime during the week to which parents could bring their children and servants when they thought they were ready. The majority of catechesis was done at home. Then, when parents and pastor thought the children were ready to be admitted to the Lord's Supper, the pastor would examine and absolve them before admitting them to the Supper. So, for catechesis all year, we've begun in the sanctuary with a 15 minute catechetical service, using Evening Prayer for our liturgy. It's worked pretty well. And I've been observing from afar the catechetical service of a neighboring parish. All his catechesis is done w/in the Service of Prayer and Preaching.

Add to these concerns the fact that we have a Wed morning Men's Bible Study and a (slightly later) Wed morn Women's Bible Study, both of which are sparsely attended (2-4 @ each).

So here's the idea I pitched to the board of elders last week that I plan to beat with a hammer and anvils until it looks like gorgeous autobody work.

On Wednesday evenings, we'll have Private Confession & Absolution (which we've been doing since July), followed by a 45-or-so minute Catechetical service, followed by some forms of Bible Studies for probably another 45 minutes.

The service will be open to anyone in the congregation. Those interested in being instructed toward receiving the Lord's Supper (baptized youth, curious nonmember adults) will be encouraged to attend this service and the following Catechism instruction during the 45 minute Bible Study.

I also anticipate removing age restrictions from catechesis. If parents believe their children are ready for the service and the study, with my permission, they'll begin. For younger kids (4th grade & younger?), I'll require parents to attend with the children.

Here's a schematic of how it might work.
6-6:45 Private Confession
(also at the same time) Luther League (something the Sunday School director has been working on to encourage Catechism memorization for young children_
6:45-7:30 Catechetical service of Prayer and Preaching
7:30-8:15 Catechism instruction
or Topical Bible Study or study of a book of the Bible (geared toward HS-adult)

That's what I've got so far...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What are we selling?

Rick Sullivan is a homebuilder by trade. But the former chairman of McBride & Son developers was appointed by Missouri governor Matt Blunt to serve as the CEO of St. Louis public schools. The appointment of a businessman to oversee a not-for-profit institution like a public school system has some people concerned. Why? Because, they argue, a school is not a business.

What’s less of a business than a school? The Church. Unless, of course, you ask church marketing gurus.

There's a growing trend in Christendom to treat the Church as a business and the Gospel as a sellable commodity. There are marketing firms that cater exclusively to churches, offering advertising campaigns, promotional kits, and church growth guarantees. If you believe all they’re selling, all you need to fill the pews and win more people for Jesus is a catchy tag line, a fancy logo, and an interactive website.

Even businesspeople are realizing the business prowess of church marketers. Rich Karlgaard, writing for names the most successful book on business: Pastor Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church.

But the whole notion of using a business model to grow the church is contrary to the Gospel. The Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners, St. Paul says, is a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25). How in the world can you sell “foolishness?” You can’t. Well, not without making it seem less foolish.

If you want people to buy your church marketing approach, you’ll have to avoid Jesus’ statements about taking up one’s cross and following Him (St. Luke 9:23-25). And forget even talking about the Christian life being one plagued by suffering, like St Paul says (Romans 5:1-5).

If, on the other hand, we believe that “we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him” (Small Catechism, Apostles’ Creed), if we believe that the message of Christ crucified for sinners is foolishness, if we believe that growth in the church comes only from God (1 Corinthians 3:6-7), then it’s not up to us to worry about “growing” the church. And it’s not up to us to make the outlandish message of a God who loved us so much that He was born with human flesh, lived a human life, and died a criminal’s death more palatable or less foolish.

What is up to the Church is that she remains faithful. The Church exists as the place where God grows Christians. She exists as the place where He distributes the means of Grace. And she exists as a “mouth house” to proclaim the message that causes sign seekers to stumble and wisdom hunters to discover only folly, the message of Christ crucified for you. That’s the Gospel.

When the Church is faithful to be a station where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are administered, any growth that happens is entirely God’s gift.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A bit arrogant, don't you think?

The Exultet, the first proclamation of the Easter Gospel, chanted during the Service of Light in the Easter Vigil service, seems a bit arrogant on our part. "Rejoice now all you heavenly choirs of angels; rejoice now all creation, sound forth, trumpet of salvation, and proclaim the triumph of our King. Rejoice, too, all the earth, in the radiance of the light now poured upon you and made brilliant by the brightness of the everlasting King; know that the ancient darkness has been forever banished. Rejoice, O Church of Christ, clothed in the brightness of this light; let all this house of God ring out with rejoicing, with the praises of all God's faithful people."

Why should the heavenly choirs of angels rejoice? Because Christ died and rose for humanity. Why should the whole creation rejoice? Because the Seed of Eve has crushed the serpent's head. Why should all the earth rejoice? Because all of history has been hoping for this event: the salvation of mankind through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

But that's just it; it's not arrogant. The angels don't need our prompting to rejoice on this night when we begin to celebrate our Lord's resurrection. Even though they don't receive mercy from the Lord through the death and resurrection of Christ, it gives them cause for delight when you receive mercy (Luke 15:7). They rejoice with us!

The move in the Exultet is like moving inward on a target closer to the bull's eye. Each inner ring is closer to the point. The angels rejoice. All the earth rejoices. The whole Mother Church rejoices. And this congregation rejoices. Why? Because Christ died and rose for you.

The Exultet is beautiful and enchanting. Here's a version similar to the one in Lutheran Service Book.

If you missed the Easter Vigil service, kick yourself. Barring the opportunity to join the heavenly choirs in singing the Exultet in the presence of the Lamb who was slain, there's still next year. April 11, 2009: mark your calendars. Meanwhile, you can watch a video of the service from our sister congregation in Worden, IL here:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

So it begins...

I'd been kicking around the idea of having a blog for a while when I stumbled across this article encouraging pastors to blog. There is no shortage of pastors' blogs, nor a lack of Lutheran pastors' blogs. So I intend this blog to serve primarily as an outlet for my thoughts. I'm not narcissistic enough to think that anyone more than my mom and my wife will read this. But if it allows a place for discussion that didn't fit in the 45 minutes of Sunday morning Bible Class, great. If it gives me a forum to recommend (or warn against) a book or journal article to any of my parishioners, cool. If it's just some hollow space in the Internet stratosphere where I can cull ideas from thoughts, still good.