Thursday, December 31, 2009

Driving Out of My League

There's a very new, very fast, very expensive car sitting in my driveway. There are lots of people who speculate what pastors should drive. Google it. I don't think a new BMW 535xi is on anyone's list, except maybe the prosperity gospel hucksters'.

The short story:
It's not mine.

The long story:
I have a bit of a soft spot for old German cars. I've never owned a new car and never even made a car payment. I've owned one car from the same decade in which it was made, and then only for the few remaining months of 1999. Owning cars that are half as old as I am (and older) has caused me to learn to do a fair amount of my own work on them, so I can drive something that's a bit higher mileage after someone else has taken the hit on most of the depreciation.

A couple years ago, I bought a then-12-year-old BMW 7-series. I wanted a V-8, rear wheel drive sedan (you know, something pastoral). If it were American-made, it would have helped me fit in better in Jerseyville, but American V-8 sedans are rare, and ones with different wheels for going forward and steering are rarer still. But the Germans came through. The good news is that two+ years and 35k miles later, the Kelly Blue Book Value is about the same as I paid for the car. The low price of these things used and the treasure trove of information collected on the Internet for just this model and year range of 7-series makes it the quintessential car for the casual do-it-yourselfer. Want to know how to troubleshoot the front suspension, reassemble the oil pump, or change the cabin air filters? It's all there.

While I can do a lot of my own service to the car, there are a handful of things I can't do, one of which is an alignment. That takes dealer skills and tools. So I took my now 14-year-old car to a dealer in St. Louis to get the alignment done. They promised me a loaner so I could run some errands while I was in St. Louis, and the car was supposed to be done in a couple hours. That was yesterday.

I have this fantasy that car manufacturers would find a need for a pastor--who is in his mind a race car driver, but who in his real life is just a pastor driving to visit his parishioners--to drive and review their cars. There are car blogs by moms, dads, teens, right-handed people, coffee drinkers, and people with multiple middle names. Why not a Lutheran pastor? Who wouldn't want to read that? Well, okay...everyone.

So there it is in my driveway, a nearly-new car, as a loaner for my it-would-be-new-in-Cuba car, a car worth eleven of my cars (seriously), a car that depreciates more than a dollar a mile. But man is it fun to drive. And when people see the guy in a clerical collar driving it, they must conclude I'm one of those fat-cat, synodical bureaucrats.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jolly Ol' St. Nicholas?

Not if you deny the divinity of Jesus. Then St. Nick is less than jolly.

According to tradition, at the Council of Nicea, Nicholas, then Bishop of Myra, dealt with the heretic Arius by crossing the room and striking him in the face.

Nicholas was temporarily deposed as Bishop and jailed until the rest of the Council decided that sometimes heretics are best dealt with with a good, old-fashioned punch in the face. No, you're not free to believe about Jesus whatever you want, not if you value your salvation or your pretty-boy complexion.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ATP: How many Sacraments?

How many Sacraments are there?

The short, Lutheran answer is “It depends whom you ask.”

Lutherans have never been dogmatic about a number of sacraments like Roman Catholics are, except that they adamantly deny that there are seven. In some places, the Lutherans say there are two sacraments; in other places, they say three. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are always included in the list of Lutheran sacraments. Absolution sometimes makes the list.

The word sacrament is the Latin translation of “mystery,” as when St. Paul calls pastors “stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1). Scripture never sets forth a definition of “Sacraments;” those definitions always come from theologians.

What is a Sacrament? The Explanation of the Small Catechism (not a part of the Catechism, but a later American addition to help teach the Catechism) says, “A sacrament is a sacred act A. instituted by God, B. in which God Himself has joined His Word of promise to a visible element, C. and by which He offers, gives, and seals the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ.” So the question is, “Does Absolution have a visible element?” The answer: kinda. While the pastor is not an element akin to water, wine, or bread, his placing hands on the head of the penitent, is both visible and tactile, like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

What do the Lutheran Confessions say? The Small Catechism sandwiches Confession and Absolution between The Sacrament of Holy Baptism and The Sacrament of the Altar. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession says, “If we call Sacraments ‘rites that have the command of God, and to which the promise ofgrace has been added,’ it is easy to decide what are the true sacraments. For rites instituted by human beings will not be called true sacraments. For human authority cannot promise grace. Therefore, signs set up without God’s command are not sure signs of grace, even though such signs perhaps instruct the unlearned or admonish about something. Therefore, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution (which is the Sacrament of Repentance) are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God’s command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament” (Ap AC, XIII, 3-4).

The point is not to be dogmatic about a number but to receive what God has commanded as a means through which He forgives our sins. To the question, “Does Absolution forgive our sins?” the answer is a clear “Yes!” It is God’s gift, whether it gets included in our human list of Sacraments.

The danger of a question like “How many Sacraments?” is that we use it to prescribe limits. The better question is “How does God forgive my sins?” Then, the answer is easy, “In Holy Baptism, in Holy Absolution, in Holy Communion, and in the preaching of the Word.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

First Annual Christmas Cookie Contest

It's that time of year again, time for what will easily become the tradition your family will cherish for years to come.

The First Annual Best Christmas Cookie in the World Contest
Contest is open to all readers of this blog, as well as anyone who makes great Christmas cookies. Each contestant should submit a dozen or so cookies to the author by Christmas morning. He will judge them and declare one cookie to be the Official Best Christmas Cookie in the World. In addition to world-wide acclaim and inevitable stardom, the winner will receive the privilege of having his or her recipe written down somewhere and will be offered the opportunity to bake the winning cookie for the author every year.

Because of the level of prestige associated with this award and what will eventually be the long-standing lofty reputation of the contest, contestants are encouraged to enter early and enter often.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Climb, baby, climb!

Calling on Inactive Members

The term "inactive member" is really fictional, but then again, so is Pr. Lumberg.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

ATP: Private Confession

What’s the difference between private Confession and the general confession at the beginning of the service?

The Confession & Absolution that happens before the Service begins with the Introit is a recent innovation. The first president of the Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther encouraged pastors about private Confession, “in an evangelical way, through instruction and exhortation, and through praising it, [to] work toward the goal that it be diligently used in addition to general confession and that, where it is possible and advisable, it be finally reintroduced as the exclusive custom and that it be properly preserved where it exist. By all means he may under no circumstances yield to a congregation which does not want to permit the use of private Confession and Absolution even on the part of individual members, for ‘to remove Absolution from the church’ would certainly be ‘contrary to God.’”

When in the Small Catechism Luther provides a short model for confession, he speaks of how an individual penitent might confess to his pastor one-on-one. Pastor Wilhelm Löhe, who sent the first pastors from Germany to the Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana parts of the Missouri Synod, lamented the rise of a service of general Confession, because private Absolution is “the heart of the cure of souls.”

One of the beautiful parts of Lutheran theology is its emphasis on the particularity of the Gospel. Jesus died for the world, yes, but that’s not the Gospel until you know that Jesus died for you. The difference between the general Confession in the Preparatory Rite and the private Confession contained in the Catechism, extolled by Luther, and called a Sacrament by the Augsburg Confession, is particularity.

We don’t have general sins, we have specific sins. We aren’t generally sinners, we’re particularly sinners. So the sweet comfort of forgiveness, the cure for souls, is meant to be applied and received particularly in private Confession. So the Lutheran Confessions declare, “Our people are taught that they should highly prize the Absolution as being God’s voice and pronounced by God’s command” (AC XXV) and “Our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches” (AC XI).

General confession is like going to a medical seminar, led by a doctor, to address a particular health issue. While you may gain invaluable information from the seminar that you can use to improve your health, there isn’t the face-to-face contact of a visit to a doctor. In a visit to a doctor, the doctor will evaluate your particular health and prescribe a solution to benefit you in particular. General confession delivers forgiveness like a sermon and the rest of the liturgy deliver forgiveness. Private confession delivers forgiveness like a doctor writing a prescription for you. When in private Confession, the pastor puts his hand on your head and speaks the words of Christ “I forgive you,” there’s no mistaking it. This cure is for you.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy New Year

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new year. The Church Year begins anew with the first Sunday in Advent, Ad Te Levavi. Why is the Church's calendar so different from the world's? They’re telling different stories.

The world is telling a story of life that ends in death; the Church is telling the story of her Lord, a story of death that ends in life.

So the calendar of the Church is arranged to tell the story of Jesus Christ. There are two halves to the year, the Semester of the Lord and the Semester of the Church. In the first half, the Semester of the Lord, she focuses on a semi-chronological account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. (She readily admits, however, that chronology is not her forte, beginning the year with Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.) The year begins with Advent, the season of anticipation for the “coming” of Jesus. This season anticipates both His coming at Christmas and also His coming once-and-for-all at His return. Advent has both a preparatory as well as a penitential mood to it. Then follows Christmas, always on December 25th. The Season of Christmas continues until the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is actually an older celebration than Christmas (second only to Easter) that celebrates the manifestation of Jesus as both God and man. Epiphany is also when we celebrate the Magi (who represent all nations) coming to visit Jesus.

Throughout these seasons, we celebrate significant events in the life of Jesus. 8 days after His birth, He was circumcised and given His Name (merely by accident this coincides with the world's New Year). During Epiphany, we celebrate our Lord’s Baptism as well as His first miracle. Epiphany ends with the Festival of the Transfiguration, the manifestation of Jesus’ glory to His disciples.

The three weeks before Lent are a mini-season (Gesima-tide) designed to prepare us for Lent. Lent, a season of fasting and repentance, focuses our attention on the coming Passion of Jesus. The last two weeks of Lent are Passiontide, when the fasting increases and the mood becomes even more somber. Passiontide and Lent culminate in Holy Week, the week when the Church tells the story of the last week of the life of her Lord Jesus.

Lent—with its fasting and weeping—ends on Easter (technically on Easter Eve, the Easter Vigil), the season when the Church proclaims the Resurrection of Her Lord and the promise of eternal life for all who have faith in Him for forgiveness. A season full of unbridled joy, Easter lasts 7 weeks. Fourty days after His Resurrection, Jesus ascended; so, forty days after Easter, at the Ascension of the Lord, the Church celebrates the fact that human flesh now dwells at the right hand of God the Father, in the God-man Jesus. Fifty days after Easter is Pentecost, an Old Testament harvest festival that now celebrates the “harvest” of believers for Christ. Marking the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples, Pentecost is also the birthday of the Church.

Pentecost marks the transition from the Semester of the Lord to the Semester of the Church, which begins with Trinity Sunday. This second half of the Church Year focuses on How the Lord grows His Church through His gifts of Word and Sacrament. Trinity season culminates with a 3-week season at the end (akin to the 3-week season that prepares us for Lent) that prepares us for Advent and the start of another Church Year. Then the cycle begins all over again, as the Church never ceases to proclaim the story of her Lord, the story of salvation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:
  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Go here. Read it. Sign it. I did.

Monday, November 23, 2009

ATP: Lutherans and Roman Catholics

I keep hearing about an agreement between Lutherans and Catholics. What’s that?

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, a statement signed by Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians, declaring their agreement on the doctrine of Justification. That’s right, the doctrine of Justification, the article that caused the reformation, the article—Lutherans assert—on which the Church stands or falls. Confessional Lutheran groups, or those who hold to the authority of the Scriptures and who believe the Lutheran Confessions a faithful exposition of Scripture, including the Missouri Synod, did not sign on. (In fact, the Missouri Synod wasn’t even invited to the last round of discussion, the one that led to the JDDJ, but that’s another story.) Seven years later, in 2006, the World Methodist Council voted to adopt the JDDJ as well.

So, there you have it. Apparently Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists all agree on the doctrine of Justification. So what’s the big deal? Why are Lutherans and Roman Catholics still divided? As the JDDJ reveals, even if they use the same words, Lutherans and Roman Catholics don’t mean them the same way. In other words, they are not agreed. Not even close.

What keeps Lutherans from being Roman Catholic?

The word “catholic” is bigger than the Roman Catholic church. Catholic comes from two Greek words, meaning “according to the whole,” or universal. In fact, the term “Roman Catholic” is by nature contradictory; you can’t be both universal and confined to a location (like Rome). In the Nicene Creed, we confess that we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. That’s the Church of the apostles, the Church throughout history, the universal Church.

When arguing against the false teachings of the Roman Catholic church, the reformers sought to make their case that they were not creating any new church. Rather, they were continuing in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church that had existed for 1,500 years. As they saw it, they were merely calling the Roman church to repent of newly minted false teachings and practices and return to the true, catholic church, the church with the doctrine of the apostles. It’s all a matter of perspective. From the perspective of the Lutherans, it is not they who “broke off” from the Church of Rome, but rather the Church of Rome that had departed from the true, catholic church.

At least three major things keep Rome and Wittenberg apart: Justification by works, the anti-Christ nature of the papacy, and the abomination of the Roman Mass.

For all the ecumenism and cooperation that went into the meetings leading up to the Joint Declaration, the result is not an agreement on Justification. The Church of Rome still teaches justification by works, even if she can agree to justification by grace. Therein lies a difference of terms. When Rome says “by grace,” what she means is, “God gives you grace through His sacraments which enable you to do the God-pleasing works that merit His mercy.” That’s still justification by works, and it’s an abomination. Anything which makes a person look to himself for confidence for salvation must be completely rejected, whether works to earn God’s mercy or a decision to accept His grace.

While Pope Benedict XVI is known for his appreciation of Luther and Lutheran scholarship, the official teachings of the Church of Rome on the office of the papacy are still problematic for Lutherans. Because Rome teaches that the Bishop of Rome is the head of the church by divine right, not by human arrangement, because he claims for himself authority over Scripture, and because the Church of Rome teaches that popes and councils cannot err, the Lutheran Confessions rightly call the office of the papacy anti-Christ.

Third, while the Lutheran Divine Service and the Roman Catholic Mass look very similar (and, in fact, the first Lutherans argued that they observed the Mass with greater reverence than their opponents), they is one big dissimilarity. In the Roman Mass, the Lord’s Supper is a work that further earns God’s mercy. So the priest can “say Mass” without anyone around to hear or receive the Body and Blood of Jesus because what matters is that the work of the Mass is done to appease God. In the Lutheran Mass, the Lord’s Supper is the way God delivers His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Divine Service is not our offering something to God; it’s God’s coming to us. That’s why Luther called the Roman Mass an abomination; it has the direction of the gifts backwards.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Evangelicals and the Crisis of Authority

Writing at Crosswalk, Jim Tonkowich uses recent events at Calvin College to highlight a fundamental misapplication of Luther and the Reformation. You are not free to interpret Scripture as you see fit.

Here's the article. Brilliant.

Speaking of Sermons

Sermons preached at Hope are available from our website: I also usually email out each Sunday's sermon to people who've asked to receive that. If you want to be included in that group, email me at pastor [at] hopelcms [dot] com and I'll add you.

ATP: How to listen to a sermon?

How should I listen to a sermon?

Jesus on preaching: Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)

St. Paul on preaching: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23)

Catechumens are required to do sermon reports, but the task of listening critically to a sermon is valuable for everyone. So what should you listen for? St. Paul says “Christ crucified.” Jesus says “repentance and forgiveness of sins…in my name.”

I tell catechumens to answer three questions about each sermon. What is the Law? What is the Gospel? What does this mean for me? As you listen to any sermon, try to answer those questions.

The Law is what accuses you of sin. Not your neighbor, not the world, not the guy in the pew in front of you. You. The Law isn’t concerned with anyone else’s sin, just yours. And, properly preached, the Law doesn’t give you any hope. It doesn’t give you steps to follow to make your life better. It accuses you. It is, as Jesus said it would be, a call to repentance.

The Gospel is what delivers the forgiveness of sins. As the Law shows you your sin, the Gospel shows you your Savior. Christ crucified is the pure Gospel. But the Gospel doesn’t end at Calvary. How does that forgiveness Jesus won on the cross get delivered to you? Forgiveness is delivered through means: Holy Baptism, Absolution, the Lord’s Supper. These sacraments are Gospel, too. In fact, Lutheran preaching is sacramental. It doesn’t just tell you about forgiveness; it delivers that forgiveness. And it calls you to receive that forgiveness. Every sermon is like an altar call to the Lord’s Supper where you receive the forgiveness of sins.

If a sermon is lite on Law, the Gospel is unnecessary. If you’re not a big sinner, you don’t need big forgiveness. If the sermon is lite on Gospel, the Law will either produce despair or self-righteousness. If there’s no hope of forgiveness, you’ve got to fulfill the Law yourself. Law and Gospel go hand-in-hand. The Law is to cause you to see only sin when you look at yourself. The Gospel calls you to quit looking at yourself and look instead at Jesus Christ crucified to forgive your sins.

So, try it out. Some sermons will be easier than others (probably the preacher’s fault, not yours), but every sermon should be repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.

Ask the Pastor

Lots of pastors do some form of an "Ask the Pastor" forum, many even on their blogs. I've been doing one in the bulletin at Hope for a little while and thought it might work well here, too. Usually there's one of these per week, but I'll post the old ones, too, until they're all up. Feel free to email me any questions or post them in the comments to any ATP post. Click on my profile link to the right to get my email address.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Prosperity v. Poverty

Jesus didn't come to make you prosperous, at least not in the same way your financial planner wants to make you prosperous. The prosperity gospel is no Gospel. And yet, it sells just as well in affluent white suburbs as in impoverished Ghanan villages.

For the Sake of the Elect

At the installation of Pr. Joel Fritsche at my vicarage congregation, I shared with him this word from St. Paul to St. Timothy: "I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory."

Sometimes this business of being the Lord's absolution guy is difficult. But the elect are worth it. Those not among the elect, who, through the hardening of their hearts and the sealing of their ears, have closed themselves off to the Word of God, will not welcome God's absolution guy. His word that calls them to repentance will be unwelcome, and so his word that forgives their sins will go unspoken. They will plot and scheme against him; they will attempt to thwart the Word of God; they will be a thorn not only in his side but also in the sides of the elect. But the elect are worth it.

What marvelous comfort there is in St. Paul's exhortation: the Lord's elect are worth it. By the power of the Holy Spirit delivered to those who occupy this Office of Christ, I endure everything for the sake of the elect.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Job Satisfaction

Some days I hate this.

Pastoral job satisfaction = x; sins forgiven = y; sins retained = z.

x is directly related to y, but inversely related to z.

And if z 1, x = 0.

Pastors don’t get the kind of job satisfaction that those in other careers do. Lawyers either win the case or lose it. Doctors either cure patients or don’t. For plumbers, either the fitting is watertight or leaks. Either the wall is plumb or crooked. Either the investment appreciates of depreciates. So it goes.

For pastors, well, people either go to heaven or hell. But no one sees that. There’s no measurable result. Worse, when the elect go to heaven, it’s because the Lord saves His elect. When the damned go to hell, it’s because of the hardness of their hearts and their refusal to hear and receive the Word of God.

So what’s a pastor to do? Love his people. Pray for them. Deliver the Word of God to them. Call them to the altar. Be satisfied with faithfulness and entrust success to the Lord.

So why are some days still so taxing?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Luther On Trinity 22

Do Christians still sin? Yes. But do they hate their sin? Yes. And they want to be rid of it. The person who loves his sin, who persists in it, cannot be considered a Christian.

We also hear about this wicked servant that, after he had experienced grace at the hand of the king, he became proud and obstinate, stirring up the king's wrath once more. That's the way the godless world is which horribly misuses this doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. Some refuse to admit their sins; even though they are wallowing in sin over their heads, yet they refuse to admit that they are sinners. For such people there is not forgiveness; for as we said earlier, If there is no sin, neither can there be any forgiveness. Some keep right on sinning after receiving forgiveness, believing that the gospel allows everyone to do just as he pleases. But the gospel is a message for the depressed, for the people with a guilty conscience, not for those who keep on defensing their sins, nor is it for those who deliberately sin against a gracious God.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Walther: Reformation is Nothing New

It is true that of all the church bodies which have left the papacy, it is precisely the Lutheran Church which is accused of retaining many papal abuses and of having been the least successful in cleansing itself. It is pointed out, for example, that in our church priestly clothing, church ornamentation, pictures, altar, crucifixes, candles, confession, the sign of the cross, and the like are still apparent. But, my friends, whoever regards these innocent things as vestiges of the papacy knows neither what the papacy is, nor what the Bible teaches. The very fact that the Lutheran Reformation was not aimed at indifferent adiaphora, but retained those things which were in harmony with God's Word, shows that it was not a disorderly revolution, but a Biblical reformation. -- C. F. W. Walther

HT: Weedon

Poison in the Lord's Cup?

"What God ordains is always good:
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my physician sends me.
My God is true;
Each morning new
I trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending." (LSB 760)
Fear of germs has long fueled the argument for individual cups at the Lord's Supper, either glass shot glasses or plastic Dixie cups. Is there really a risk of infection from drinking the Blood of Jesus from the same cup used by brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ?

Pr. Petersen cites this LA Times article which reveals studies done by microbiologists that conclude there is no increased transmission of germs among people who drink their Lord's Blood from the chalice versus those who don't.

Really, no poison in His cup? That can't be right... Or can it?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

DST is for Wusses

If you currently don't come to Bible Class, here's a challenge.
1. Don't change your clocks before going to bed Saturday.
2. Wake up at the same time.
3. Then, because Daylight Savings Time ends Sunday, you'll be up an hour earlier. Come to Bible Class.
4. Make a habit of it.
We're beginning a new study this Sunday, looking at contemporary hot topics. Feel free to suggest topics that we should examine.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On Women's Ordination

Check out this article on a change of heart of a former woman pastor.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is Gambling a Sin?

This article in First Things was like a slap in the face. I've not thought much about the dangers of gambling, even though there's a huge riverboat casino just 15 miles away.

So, is gambling sinful?

A 1996 CTCR document lists these dangers of gambling:
1. Gambling encourages the sins of greed and covetousness.
2. Gambling promotes mismanagement of possessions entrusted to us by God.
3. Gambling undermines absolute reliance on God for His provision.
4. Gambling works at cross purposes with a commitment to productive work.
5. Gambling is a potentially addictive behavior.
6. Gambling threatens the welfare of our neighbor and militates against the common good.

The first point is the best. While not inherently sinful, gambling is often (usually) done from sinful motives. The desire to have more money is greed. Malcontent with what's yours and the desire for more is covetousness. Those are explicitly sinful. So is being a poor steward of the money God has given you.

Maura Casey's article in First Things really opened my eyes to how addictive gambling is and how the gambling industry preys on people. So, what should the church's response be? How do we minister to those trapped in this addiction?

Reformation Marquees

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cameron Todd Willingham

I heard of this story on NPR a week or so ago. Then, yesterday, driving home from Pastors' Roundtable on Issues Etc., I heard an update on the story. So I looked for the New Yorker article. Here it is.

The update yesterday is Texas Gov. Perry removed three of the members of the board reviewing Willingham's case, replacing the chairman with one of Texas' most notorious pro-death-penalty prosecutors. Whether the investigation will even continue remains to be seen.

Read the whole New Yorker article. Did Texas execute an innocent man? It seems like it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Fun Picture

A clash of cultures? I took this picture at the Tour of Missouri. Those bikes the gentleman is looking at are featherlight machines, weighing in at well under 15 lbs, made by an American bicycle company, but ridden by a team of Italians. Does he suspect their retail price of each bike could push close to five figures? He doesn't care. He's just here to see a professional bike race in his hometown.

The Feast of St. Michael & All Angels

Chemnitz: “From antiquity the church year, for very good reasons, has been divided into certain festivals, in order that the chief articles of the Christian doctrine can be taught to people in a definite order and inculcated by annual repetition. Thus the festival of the holy angels has also been established…For just as a certain day of the year was set aside for a consideration of the exodus from Egypt, so that it should never be forgotten, so also our ancestors have instituted the same practice regarding the angels, so that we should never overlook this doctrine and its benefits. But because Scripture has spoken of certain angels by name, such as Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, we have a feast called the feast of the angel Michael, in order that by this very name itself we should be instructed in the most important things to be learned in this life about angels and what we ought to believe and know about them” (Loci, v. 1, p. 172-3).

LSB 521 "Christ the Lord of Hosts Unshaken"


Christ, the Lord of hosts, unshaken
By the devil’s seething rage,
Thwarts the plan of Satan’s minions;
Wins the strife from age to age;
Conquers sin and death forever;
Slams them in their steely cage.


Michael fought the heav’nly battle,
Godly angels by his side;
Warred against the ancient serpent,
Foiled the beast, so full of pride,
Cast him earthbound with his angels;
Now he prowls, unsatisfied.


Jesus came, this word fulfilling,
Trampled Satan, death defied;
Bore the brunt of our temptation,
On the wretched tree He died.
Yet to life was raised victorious;
By His life our life supplied.


Swift as lightning falls the tyrant
From his heav’nly perch on high,
As the word of Jesus’ vict’ry
Floods the earth and fills the sky.
Wounded by a wound eternal
Now his judgment has drawn nigh!


Jesus, send Your angel legions
When the foe would us enslave.
Hold us fast when sin assaults us;
Come, then, Lord, Your people save.
Overthrow at last the dragon;
Send him to his fiery grave. © Peter M. Prange

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Consistent Life Ethic

This post from Anthony Esolen got me thinking about the Consistent Life Ethic. The idea is largely attributed to Cardinal Bernadin, who argued that life issues are to be considered and treated as a "seamless garment." That is, if you tear one piece of the garment out, you've irreparably damaged the entire garment. If you're pro-life when it comes to abortion but not when it comes to other life issues (euthanasia, war, poverty, death penalty, contraception, etc.) your pro-life garment is ruined.

The criticism of Bernadin is that his approach has been misused by pro-abortion politicians to justify their support of abortion. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, for instance, can justify spending federal dollars on "family planning services" because reducing the number of poor people (by keeping them from being born, presumably) has an economic payoff.

But that approach is indefensible using Bernadin's logic (and, no matter what Pelosi says, not Catholic). If you tear opposition to abortion out of the "seamless garment," your position on poverty, global warning, or whatever is ruined. If you don't care about the life of an unborn child, your defense of the lives of the poor is diminished at best, destroyed at worst.

The Jerseyville Ministerial Alliance has a book club. We were exiled from the monthly meeting because not everyone wanted to allot part of our 2 hour meeting to discussing a book. Nevertheless, a few of us continue to meet to discuss an agreed upon book between regular meetings. Most recently, we read Pope Benedict's encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

The encyclical deals with the global economic crisis, but it does so with what seems to be a "seamless" approach to life. Central to any discussion about human development, economic recovery, environmental protection, business ethics, etc. has to be an openness to life. "Openness to life is at the center of human development," argues the pope.

While Esolen's warning about missed opportunities is well heard, the misuse of a consistent life ethic doesn't make it invalid. It only makes those who misuse it look foolish.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What is Marriage?

This article from Touchstone is incisive, cutting like a surgeon's scalpel through the cultural mileu surrounding marriage to expose the cancer beneath.

The premise of the article is that marriage, in addition to being the union between a man and a woman, is two other things that have largely been forgotten today: procreative and indissoluble. Because the church has forgotten these things--that marriage is life-long and that it ought to be fruitful--and has instead allowed couples to marry who hold onto the option of divorce (even if looked at diaspprovingly) and who use contraception so as to avoid God's gift of life through their one-flesh union, she has already lost the debate on same-sex "marriage."

If Christian couples can separate marriage from having children, there is no socially defensible reason to exclude same-sex couples from having a culturally recognized marriage.

Is the Church willing to say that divorce is just as sinful as adultery or that contraception is as sinful as divorce? Is she willing to admit that divorce and cohabitation are cut from the same cloth, just as contraception and and abortion hail from the same anti-birth, anti-child mindset?

The article concludes:

If we are truly to defend marriage in this country, and not the contractual couplehood that has for some time now been disguising itself as “marriage,” then it is imperative for us to recover the full meaning of that beautiful covenant whose embodiment is now clandestine and highly countercultural. This will, I think, have to be done from the ground up, and it will take generations to succeed, if in fact it succeeds at all. It will have to be lived out first in small communities that embrace and support the self-giving, procreative, and indissoluble nature of that union, and who do so not as an unjustifiable exclusion, but as a positive commitment to protect such an important, difficult, and beautiful undertaking.

Don't take my word for it, go read the whole thing.

The History of Education and the Value of Lutheran Schools

Dr. Veith looks at what Lutheran education used to be, what it lost, and what it could become again:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thoughts on the Reliquae

The reliquae is the leftover consecrated bread and wine from the Lord's Supper. Lutherans have long struggled with what to do with these leftovers. Are they still the Body and Blood of Jesus?

If yes, then they should be treated with the reverence due the holy Body and Blood of Jesus. They must not be mixed with unconsecrated elements (i.e. put back with other hosts or poured back into the bottle of wine). They may either be consumed (eaten) or reserved (stored apart from unconsecrated elements).

If no, then they may be treated as normal bread and wine.

It is the Word of Jesus alone, not my faith, nor my lips, nor my receiving the elements, that effects the presence of Christ's true Body and Blood. "The word of the Lord endures forever" (1 Peter 1:25). What Jesus says goes. His powerful, creating Word brings about the real presence of His Flesh and Blood. Why would we assume that our action (our singing the Nunc Dimittis or otherwise "ending" the action of the sacrament) would be powerful enough to terminate Jesus' presence?

So, yes, what has been consecrated is and remains the Body and Blood of Jesus in, with, and under bread and wine until Jesus' command is carried out completely. That is, until everything consecrated has been eaten and drunk ("Take, eat;" and "Take, drink.").

Therefore, it us unLutheran and indefensible to mix consecrated bread and wine with unconsecrated.

When Luther heard about the scandal that had arisen in Eisleben over how the consecrated bread and wine should be treated after the Supper, he wrote this to Lutheran pastor Simon Wolferinus:

We do not have it from you, but you from us that the sacraments are actions, not stationary objects. But what is this singular temerity of yours that you do not refrain from so evil an appearance—which you ought to know is scandalous—namely, that you mix what remains of the [consecrated] wine or bread with unconsecrated [Latin: prior] bread and wine? On the basis of what example are you doing this? Do you not clearly see how you will arouse dangerous questions, if, ‘‘convinced in your own mind’’ [cf. Rom. 14:5], you contend that
the Sacrament ceases when the action ceases? Perhaps you want to be called Zwinglian? I believe that you are afflicted with the insanity of Zwingli, you who so pridefully and contemptibly incite [matters] with your singular and glorious wisdom.Was there no other way to avoid suspicion being sown among the simple and our adversaries that you are a despiser of the sacrament, than by your giving offense with the evil appearance of mixing and confounding the
remains of the sacrament with [unconsecrated] wine? Why do you not imitate other churches?Why do you want to be held to be the only, newand dangerous author [of this practice]? I write these things in this manner with deep sorrow, so that you may know that you have offended me and profoundly saddened my spirit.

The dispute was not so easily settled by Luther's correspondence. In 1543, he wrote a second letter to Wolferinus, saying

Therefore, we shall define the time or the sacramental : action in this way: that it starts with the beginning of the Our Fat her and lasts until all have communicated, have emptied the chalice, have consumed the Hosts, until the people have been dismissed and [the priest] has left the altar. In this way we shall be safe and free from the scruples and scandals of such endless questions. Dr. Philip defines the sacramental action in relation to what is outside it, that is, against reservation of and processions with the sacrament. He does not split it up within [the action] itself, nor does he define it in a way that it contradicts itself. Therefore see to it that if anything is left over of the sacrament, either some communicants or the priest himself and his assistant receive it, so that it is not only a curate or someone else who drinks what is left over in the chalice, but that he gives it to the others who were also participants in the body [of Christ], so that you do not appear to divide the sacrament by a bad example or to treat the sacramental action irreverently. This is my opinion and I know that it is also Philip's opinion too.

Martin Chemnitz, one of the authors of the Formula of Concord, in refuting the Roman Catholic Council of Trent argues similarly: It conflicts with the Words of Institution when the bread which has been blessed is not distributed, not received, not eaten" (Examen, v. 2, p, 281).

Jesus' words are clear: what has been consecrated is for eating and drinking. To fail to consume the reliquae, which is and remains the Body and Blood of Jesus, is to do violence to His Words of Institution.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Write your own Dan Brown Bestseller

The folks at Slate have this brilliant Dan Brown sequel generator. You pick a city and a group to carry out the conspiracy and the program fills in the rest of the Dan Brown plot.

Non-Lutheran Thoughts on The Lutheran Study Bible

Rave reviews for the new The Lutheran Study Bible from CPH. This one comes from Michael Spencer, the Baptist blogger otherwise known as the InternetMonk.

If you haven't ordered your copy of The Lutheran Study Bible yet, do it. You will not be disappointed. You can get one here from CPH or order one at Hope to save on postage.

If I sound like a commercial for CPH lately, it's only because the stuff coming out of CPH lately is brilliant. Even Spencer agrees the burgundy bookshelf is indespensible. C'mon, if a Baptist thinks TLSB is worth having, even in spite of the name, it ought to be a daily resource for every faithful Lutheran. Period.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sorry, Lady, Lutheran Masses are Free.

Why wearing a clerical collar is a good way to deliver Meals on Wheels

This month, the Jerseyville Ministerial Alliance has been delivering the hospital's meals on wheels. (They find different volunteer groups for a month, Hope has a month, usually in the spring.) This is my week. And, like anything else pastoral I do, I've worn my uniform.

Today a lady stopped me and said, "Father, what are Masses now?" I assumed she meant when are masses now. She didn't. She clarified, "How much do they cost?" It's moments like this when I realize just how apostate Rome is and how little the Reformation accomplished on the other side of the Tiber, despite few reforms. Picking my jaw up from the floor, I responded, "Ma'am, I'm the Lutheran pastor. You can't buy our Masses; the Mass is a gift from the Lord. So it's free."

As a side note, as well as offering opportunities like this to refute Roman falsehoods, a collar adds distinction. None of the other men who've been delivering meals this month wear one. They all dress in normal business casual, which makes them blend in. Six months from now (or less), most of these people receiving meals won't remember the people who delivered their meals and blended in. But they might remember the Lutheran pastor for his distinctive dress. The man deserves no distinction, but the Office he occupies is Christ's Office. It is distinct from anything else. It's the Office through which Christ distributes His gifts. The man is dispensible; the Office indispensible. You might as well dress like it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What we believe informs what we do in the Lord's Supper

We've had a very lively discussion in Sunday morning Bible Class the past few weeks about Article VII of the Formula of Concord, the article on the Lord's Supper. The conversation has dwelt for a long time on what effects the presence of Christ's Body and Blood. Is it the words of Jesus (the Verba) or the reception of the elements by the communicant? And, if Jesus' Body and Blood are present at His Words, how long does His presence continue? Indefinitely (until everything is consumed? Or only until the Supper is ended?

There's a lively debate happening at the Gottesdienst blog. It's scholarly but thorough.

If you check it out, read the posts in this order:

For my own part, I believe the Scriptural and Lutheran position is that the Words of Jesus bring about His presence, and that presence endures until everything is consumed. And my practice confesses that. Because Receptionism is nearly as prevalent as it is false, I genuflect during the consecration. And because any talk of the end of Christ's presence in the Supper is speculative at best, and an impious denial that the Word of the Lord endures forever at worst, I consume everything that has been consecrated.

If you're not getting enough of this conversation in Bible Class on Sunday mornings (or if you're note getting any of it), go read what these other faithful Lutheran pastors have to say on the issue and come back and discuss it here.

James Kushiner on Government Health Care

"I do not wish to empower any government to manage health care that thinks Roe v. Wade is justice, that Terri Schiavo is where she belongs, that embryos should be harvested for stem cells, or aborted babies farmed for organs."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The week of Trinity 9

Inspired by his own sermon, but only remembering the part about the servant who was "too weak to dig," Pastor Hemmer embarks on a week-long, patio-building staycation.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pick a Church, Any Church

Well, no, not just any church will do. (Even if you live in Collinsville.)

Instead, here's a handy guide to help you if you're shopping for a church:
Cwirla's Guide to Church Shopping

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Proposed Structure for Catechesis

Here's what I'm kicking around for catechesis for this year. Feel free to read and offer any feedback.

What is Catechesis?

Catechesis is the Lord’s way of teaching us how to live with the faith that has been given to us. This happens throughout our entire lives as Christians, from baptism until we die. Our chief catechists are our parents, which is why each section of the Catechism begins “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.”

How are parents catechists? They model the faith for their children. They also set aside time for daily family prayer and devotions. Fathers are pastors to their families. In a father’s absence, or should he abdicate this God-given role, mothers, godparents, and older siblings take up the slack.

As a congregation, we have chosen to supplement this lifelong catechesis—at home by parents and in the Divine Service—with time of intentional catechesis by the pastor. This cannot replace the work done by parents, nor is it intended to. These years should lead to confirmation, which is the opportunity for a person to profess the faith the Lord has given to him at baptism.

Who is ready for catechesis?

Anyone 5th grade or older who can recite to me the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, who regularly attends the Divine Service is ready to begin catechesis.

Who is ready for the Lord’s Supper?

Forcing children to wait until they have reached an arbitrary age or until they have acquired a certain amount of knowledge teaches falsely about the Lord’s Supper that it is a reward to be earned. It is not. It is a gift that can only be received freely. It bestows the forgiveness of sins that all Christians desperately need. Moreover, it helps us in our daily struggle against sin.

The Lutheran Confessions indicate that in order to prevent a person from receiving the Lord’s Supper to his condemnation, no one is admitted to the fellowship of the altar without being examined and absolved. Those who know their need for forgiveness, who know what Jesus offers in His Supper, and who know the basic texts of the catechism are well prepared for the Lord’s Supper.

I expect all children to be receiving the Lord’s Supper prior to confirmation. In many cases, I expect them to be receiving the Lord’s Supper before beginning catechesis. The Lord’s Supper is for their benefit, and it’s simply wrong to deny it to those who would receive it for the forgiveness of their sins.

Who is ready for confirmation?

There is no fixed number of years of this intentional catechesis. Confirmation asks of a person that he confess he would rather die than depart from the faith given to him by God. It’s like a wedding; if you’re not ready to say “until death parts us,” you’re not ready to be married.

Catechumens who have been life-long attendees at the Divine Service and who have been going to Sunday School regularly will find catechesis easy and will probably be ready for confirmation much sooner. Others may find catechesis more difficult and may find the process takes a few years.

A person is ready for confirmation when he demonstrates a desire to live as a baptized child of God. He will know his sin and his need for a Savior. This means he will be present for the Divine Service. He will take advantage of opportunities like Sunday School and Bible Class. He will avail himself of private confession & absolution. He will demonstrate a life of repentance and faith.

As the called steward of God’s gifts and the one charged with watching over your salvation, I will make the decision regarding readiness for confirmation. There will be two dates per year for confirmations: the Easter Vigil and the Festival of the Reformation. Those who seem ready will be notified a few months prior to confirmation.

What will our relationship be?

Parents determine how well this works. You also determine our relationship as catechists.

  • If you want your children to grow up well instructed in the Christian faith, these years of catechesis will be worthwhile, and you and I will be allies in this endeavor.
  • If you love what God does for you and your children in the Divine Service and in regular opportunities for growth (like Bible Class, Sunday School, Luther League, and Catechesis), these years of intentional catechesis will be fun, and you and I will be allies.
  • If you struggle with how best to have daily family devotions and want to be a better example of the faith to your children, I will be your ally and a valuable resource.
  • If attending the Divine Service every week is not a priority for you, it will not be for your children, and you and I will be adversaries during the time of catechesis.
  • If having daily family prayer and devotions is not something you value for your family, catechesis will be difficult for your children and you and I will be adversaries during this time.


Catechesis will be Wednesdays from 7:00 until 8:30, beginning September 30.

We will meet every Wednesday, except 1/6 and 3/31.

We will not meet when inclement weather cancels school.


7:00-7:45 Service of Prayer and Preaching

7:45-8:30 Classroom discussion

Parents and baptismal sponsors (godparents) are encouraged to attend with their children.

*During Advent and Lent, and on other Feasts and Festivals, a service of Advent or Lenten vespers or a Divine Service will take the place of the catechetical service.


Learn by Heart

There will be a Learn by Heart assignment each week. Catechumens will recite the memory work to the pastor each week. By the conclusion of catechesis, a catechumen will know the Small Catechism by heart. This will be much easier than you think J.


Each week before class, the catechumen and his parent(s) should read through and discuss the Bible lesson for the following week.

Sermon Reports

Every time a catechumen hears a sermon preached, he should answer these three questions. These should be able to be answered in a sentence apiece. Sermon reports should be placed in the sermon report box under the mailboxes at the conclusion of the service. Don’t make this harder than it is. Don’t work on this at home; do it during the sermon.

  • What was the Law?
  • What was the Gospel?
  • How does this apply to me?

Do not summarize the sermon.


We will go on a Fri-Sat retreat in the spring. We will need 1-2 chaperones. These must be parents. If we don’t have volunteers, we can’t go.


  • Workbook—Each catechumen is required to purchase a workbook each year of catechesis. ($20 this year)
  • Bible—Each catechumen will receive a Bible from the church.
  • Small Catechism—The Sunshine Circle provides each with a catechism.
  • Notebook & Folder
  • Pen or pencil