Monday, March 30, 2009

Passiontide Ceremonies

Where did the Gloria Patri go? Why did the processional crucifix and the altar wall cross get veiled in cloth? Petersen explains.

These ceremonies teach what no modern day chancel drama could (and I say that as one who's written and performed a chancel drama in a chancel...yes, yes, revoco!). Things that have been fairly consistent for a year suddenly disappear. And it's all come upon us suddenly. First we gave up singing "Alleluia" until we sing it either eternally at the Lamb's Wedding Banquet or at the Easter feast. Then we stopped singing the Gloria in Excelsis, the song of the Angels. Then gave up having full bellies. Now we've plunged even deeper into this penitential season.

And we're not done yet. On Maundy Thursday, the altar will be stripped bare (as if to mock us after having been draped again in joyous white paraments!). Good Friday will revel in black and darkness. And Holy Saturday will end with the transition from mourning into joy--from Lent into Easter--as the sun sets and we rejoice in the risen Son.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pastors' Roundtable: What is the Church?

Annunciation & Miscarried Babies

Tomorrow, the Annunciation of Our Lord, marks the annual celebration of our Lord’s incarnation, when He joined Himself to human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. As such, the Annunciation also serves as an appropriate time to remember in our prayers Christian parents of miscarried or stillborn children. We will pray for parents during the prayers of the church. The Church of God rejoices together and weeps together. Our only hope is in Him who was neither miscarried in the womb nor stillborn in the grave, the Firstborn of the Virgin and the Firstborn from the Dead.

This fits well with our meditations on Holy Baptism. If Baptism saves (which it does), what of children who die without having the opportunity to be brought into the Lord’s Kingdom through the waters of Baptism? Lutheran father Martin Chemnitz wrote:
Are, then, the children of believers who die before birth or in birth damned?
By no means, but since our children, brought to the light by divine blessing, are, as it were, given into our hands and at the same time means are offered, or it is made possible for the covenant of grace to be applied to them,t here indeed that very solemn divine statement applies: The man-child, the flesh of whose foreskin is not circumcised on the eighth day, his soul shall be blotted out from [his] people (Gen. 17:14). Hence the Lord met Moses on his way and wanted to kill him, because he had neglected to circumcise [his] son (Ex. 4:24-26). But when those means are not given us—as when in the Old Testament a male died before the eighth day of circumcision—likewise when they, who, born in the desert in the interval of 40 years, could not be circumcised because of daily harassment by enemies and constant wanderings, died uncircumcised, Josh. 5:5-6, and when today infants die before they are born—in such cases, the grace of God is not bound to the Sacraments, but those infants are to be brought and commended to Christ in prayers. And one should not doubt that those prayers are heard, for they are made in the name of Christ. Jn 16:23; Gen. 17:7; Matt. 19:14. Since, then, we cannot bring infants as yet unborn to Christ through Baptism, therefore we should do it through pious prayers. Parents are to be put in mind of this, and if perhaps such a case should occur, they are to be encouraged with this comfort.” (Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion, 119-120)

While neglecting Baptism or needlessly postponing it are different matters, Christian parents have this comfort: before babies can be brought to the Lord in Holy Baptism, they are brought to Him even while still in the womb through prayer and through the hearing of the Word at the Divine Service and at family devotions.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Feasting & Fasting

Peter Leithart has a wonderful post at First Things about feasting and fasting. The point of fasting is to learn how to wait. Those things from which we abstain are indeed good, but as Christians, we must learn that not all good is meant to be enjoyed immediately, on our timetable. Some pleasures are best saved for later, according to the divine timetable.

Friday, March 20, 2009

St. Joseph and the Art of Manliness

From the March 2009 issue of Touchstone.

Joseph Fornieri and Russell Moore both have articles on St. Joseph, whose feast day we commemorated yesterday. Moore's article is fantastic, as well, but not available for free (alone worth the cover price of the magazine, though).

If I haven't already encouraged you to check out Touchstone, I am now. It's brilliant, and it does ecumenism the way ecumenism ought to be done. Christians from different denominations do each other no favors when we gloss over our theological differences. True unity begins by acknowledging where and why we differ and then beginning the conversation. Touchstone draws from the brightest minds in Orthodox, Roman, Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran traditions, and more. Subscribe here or borrow my copy when I've read it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Irony of Tithing

“Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Mal. 3:10)

A tithe is 10%. It’s the baseline for Christian stewardship. Read a couple verses earlier in Malachi 3 to see what God calls it when people don’t give a full tithe (hint: if you did it to anyone else, you’d go to jail for it). But the Lord promises that when the tithe is given faithfully, there will be no more need. In other words, 90% of your income will fill your needs, but 100% will not. More is less. That’s the irony of tithing.

Tithing forces you to acknowledge the Lord as the Giver of all daily bread. Tithing is like prayer. God doesn’t need your money anymore than he needs your prayers. But you need to pray. And you need to tithe.

What God doesn’t promise is that if you give him the tithe, He will give you even more money. This is how TV preachers and prosperity gospel hucksters spin God’s promise through the prophet Malachi. But God does not promise to give more money. He does promise blessing, and He promises to take care of all your needs.

Maybe living on 90% of your income will force you to cut other corners here or there in the budget. Maybe you’ll need to make a smaller car payment or axe your cable bill altogether. But God has promised blessing and the fulfillment of all your needs.

The Pharisees hated it when Jesus preached about money because they were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). And Jesus knew that you cannot love both God and money (Luke 16:13). That’s why you need to tithe. Giving away money is hard to do, especially when you love it. So God commands you to give it away to break you of your false worship of money. That’s why you need to tithe. It turns you from your false god of money to the true God, the One who has permitted you to receive all that you have.

Withholding the tithe from God will leave your needs unmet because to do so is to worship the false god of money. 100%--even 95%--of your income will not cover all your needs. For that matter, neither will 90%. What do you need more than money? What do you need more than cable TV or a car? What do you need more than even food or clothing? Salvation. This comes only from the Lord, who sent His Son to pay the full price of His life as payment for your sinfulness. The need to have your sins forgiven is the need that will be no more when you trust the Lord to provide for all your needs of both body and soul.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Do I Have to?

When people hear of Lutheran parishes offering private confession, they often suppose such a thing is Roman Catholic. It’s not. It’s no more Roman Catholic than belief in a Triune God is Roman Catholic. It’s not, either. It’s Christian.

In fact, private confession is distinctly Lutheran. It’s one-sixth of the Small Catechism, and it’s in the hymnal. But neither of those things makes it Lutheran. What makes confession Lutheran is how it delivers the Gospel. The Roman church makes confession a matter of the Law, requiring people to confess, and adding to the absolution works of penance. And so-called Evangelical chruches who deny that God works through means would never suppose Jesus actually to have meant for His disciples to be forgiving sins in confession (John 20:21-23). No, confession--done properly--is distinctly Lutheran.

Confession as practiced in Roman churches is as much an abomination as the way the Mass is changed from God’s gracious action toward men to deliver salvation into a work that is offered toward God to merit His favor.

In his “Brief Exhortation to Confession” from the Large Catechism, Luther rails against the Roman errors of confession and declares that such abuses have been excised from the proper, evangelical use of Confession:

“Concerning confession, we have always taught that it should be voluntary and purged of the pope’s tyranny. We have been set free from his coercion and from the intolerable burden he imposed upon the Christian church. Up to now, as we all know from experience, there has been no law quite so oppressive as that which forced everyone to make confession on pain of the gravest mortal sin. 2 Moreover, it so greatly burdened and tortured consciences with the enumeration of all kinds of sin that no one was able to confess purely enough. 3 Worst of all, no one taught or understood what confession is and how useful and comforting it is. Instead, it was made sheer anguish and a hellish torture since people had to make confession even though nothing was more hateful to them. 4 These three things have now been removed and made voluntary so that we may confess without coercion or fear, and we are released from the torture of enumerating all sins in detail. Moreover, we have the advantage of knowing how to use confession beneficially for the comforting and strengthening of our conscience.”

In this Exhortation, Luther is at his finest. Do you have to go to confession? Of course not, neither do you have to be a Christian. Do you have to go to the Lord’s Supper? Of course not, neither do you have to be a Christian. Here’s Luther:

“Further, no one dare oppress you with requirements. Rather, whoever is a Christian, or would like to be one, has here the faithful advice to go and obtain this precious treasure. If you are no Christian, and desire no such comfort, we shall leave you to another’s power. 21 Hereby we abolish the pope’s tyranny, commandments, and coercion since we have no need of them. For our teaching, as I have said, is this: If anybody does not go to confession willingly and for the sake of absolution, let him just forget about it. Yes, and if anybody goes about relying on the purity of his confession, let him just stay away from it. 22 We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.
23 If all this were clearly explained, and meanwhile if the needs which ought to move and induce us to confession were clearly indicated, there would be no need of coercion and force. A man’s own conscience would impel him and make him so anxious that he would rejoice and act like a poor miserable beggar who hears that a rich gift, of money or clothes, is to be given out at a certain place; he would need no bailiff to drive and beat him but would run there as fast as he could so as not to miss the gift.

“28 Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, and comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need. If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the pope’s command at any point, but you will compel yourself and beg me for the privilege of sharing in it. 29 However, if you despise it and proudly stay away from confession, then we must come to the conclusion that you are no Christian and that you ought not receive the sacrament. For you despise what no Christian ought to despise, and you show thereby that you can have no forgiveness of sin. And this is a sure sign that you also despise the Gospel.
“30 In short, we approve of no coercion. However, if anyone refuses to hear and heed the warning of our preaching, we shall have nothing to do with him, nor may he have any share in the Gospel. If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession, not under compulsion but rather coming and compelling us to offer it. 31 For here the compulsion must be inverted; we must come under the command and you must come into freedom. We compel no man, but allow ourselves to be compelled, just as we are compelled to preach and administer the sacrament.
“32 Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian. If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession.”

Brilliant! Those who are compelled to come to confession are preachers who have no choice but to forgive the sins of the penitent! Christians will simply come without coercion.

Luther concludes, saying, “In this way, you see, confession would be rightly taught, and such a desire and love for it would be aroused that people would come running after us to get it, more than we would like. We shall let the papists torment and torture themselves and other people who ignore such a treasure and bar themselves from it. 35 As for ourselves, however, let us lift up our hands in praise and thanks to God that we have attained to this blessed knowledge of confession.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009