Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The LUTHERAN Witness

Witness CoverDoes the Lutheran Witness set the paradigm for all things Lutheran? If so, the December issue normalizes for Missouri Lutherans things classically Lutheran like saints, crucifixes, rich church architecture, first communion prior to Confirmation, a pastor's study, repentance, and maintaining the distinction between Advent and Christmas. Gee whiz. Really? Those things are Lutheran? Who knew.

If you don't subscribe, you should.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jolly Ol' St. Nick, reprise

This is from last year's St. Nick's Day.

And this article from World Mag in 2005 has been bouncing around the Internet today. In it, Dr. Veith calls for incorporating the St. Nicholas slap into our Christmas traditions. I think that's a fantastic idea.

This will take a little tweaking of the mythology. Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean. On Christmas Eve, flying reindeer pull his sleigh full of gifts. And after he comes down the chimney, he will steal into the rooms of people dreaming of sugarplums who think they can do without Christ and slap them awake.

And we'll need new songs and TV specials ("Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap," "Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly," "Frosty the Gnostic," "How the Arian Stole Christmas," "Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus").

Department store Santas should ask the children on their laps if they have been good, what they want for Christmas, and whether they understand the Two Natures of Christ. The Santas should also roam the shopping aisles, and if they hear any clerks wish their customers a mere "Happy Holiday," give them a slap.

This addition to his job description will keep Santa busy. Teachers who forbid the singing of religious Christmas carols—SLAP! Office managers who erect Holiday Trees—SLAP! Judges who outlaw manger displays—SLAP! People who give The Da Vinci Code as a Christmas present—SLAP! Ministers who cancel Sunday church services that fall on Christmas day—SLAP! SLAP!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Don't be Effective

Be faithful.
Here's a fantastic article on How to Shrink Your Church.

Monday, October 31, 2011

For Reformation Day: A Lutheran Identity

What is a Lutheran, anyway?

Sometimes people define Lutherans by what we’re not: the most common being “We’re not Roman Catholics.” Well, that’s true. The Augsburg Confession still calls the Roman Catholic church to repent of her false doctrine and practice and return to the teachings of the apostles and fathers. But if the sum of a person’s Lutheran identity is simply what we’re not, that’s not a very robust identity.

For many whose Lutheran identity is little more than “not Roman Catholic,” there’s a fear of things that look a little too Roman Catholic. Because Lutherans and Roman Catholics share a common heritage, a common history, they will naturally have many things in common with one another, just like two siblings from the same parents may not only look alike but also act alike. Two such things that often ruffle peoples’ feathers and cause them to protest that things are “too Roman Catholic” are making the sign of the cross and having private Confession and Absolution.

If you had to think of one thing that all Lutherans have in common, one thing that defines what it means to be a Lutheran Christian, you’d be hard-pressed to find something better than Luther’s Small Catechism. Everyone has a catechism. Everyone had to learn it to be confirmed. It’s the layman’s summary of the Bible. It’s quintessentially Lutheran. And yet, right there in the catechism are these two “too Roman Catholic” things: the sign of the cross and private confession and absolution. So how did it come to be that these two things, among many others, featured prominently in the most Lutheran thing you can think of, are regarded as Roman Catholic practices?

Because we’ve been wasting our time defining ourselves by what we’re not.

Who cares what we’re not. Let’s be who we are: Lutherans. Let’s learn to speak the words Lutherans speak, sing the songs Lutherans sing, worship the way Lutherans worship, pray the way Lutherans pray, catechize our children the way Lutherans catechize their children. In short, let’s not be afraid to be Lutherans, with a robust Lutheran identity. Lutherans are people who trust completely in God’s work for salvation. They don’t believe they had to make a decision to be saved; they don’t believe their works earn them God’s mercy. They believe in a Triune God who works from outside of them to deliver to them His precious gift of faith. They believe faith comes by hearing, that God adopts them into His family in Holy Baptism, that the Lord Jesus sends pastors to forgive their sins, and that God feeds them with forgiveness through the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.

This is a wonderful time to be a Lutheran Christian. We’re in the middle of something of a renaissance of classic Lutheranism. The greatest Lutheran publishing house in the world is turning out some of the best resources ever: The Lutheran Study Bible, Treasury of Daily Prayer, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions, a newly redesigned Lutheran Witness, and more. More and more congregations are returning to the Lutheran practice of receiving the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. Lutherans are rediscovering the Church’s historic vestments, covering their ordinary pastors in the extraordinary beauty of Christ’s Office.

It’s always a good time to be a Lutheran if you want rock-solid certainty of salvation. But today is a particularly invigorating day to be a Lutheran as we’re gradually growing in a robust, confident Lutheran identity.

Monday, August 15, 2011

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord

Happy August 15, the Feast day of St. Mary. What to do with Mary? Confess with her: "Let it be unto me according to Your word." What to do with Mary? Learn from her: "Do whatever He tells you." What to do with Mary? Sing with her: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." What to do with Mary? Learn to respect the holy estate of motherhood. What to do with Mary? The same thing we do with the rest of the saints whose death days we commemorate in the Church's calendar: join them.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sorry, Chevy Fans

Hm, what to say about this:

When you deliberately eschew liturgy, you think ending prayers "boogity, boogity, boogity" is ok with Jesus?
Why not thank God for the Chevys? Toyotas but not Chevys? What's he got against the bowtie?
What has more advertisements? A Nascar car or a Nascar prayer?
Would he still give thanks if his wife were only smolderin' hot?

Friday, July 22, 2011

I'm so happy...

Michelle Bachman, in response to the hullabaloo surrounding her former membership in a church body that confessed that the office of the Papacy is antichrist (that's a Lutheran church, by the way), had this to say: "I'm a believer in Jesus Christ. I was born into a family where we were Lutherans. I'm sure that the Gospel was preached from the pulpit. I just didn't hear it." According to the NPR story, "Bachman then went on to describe how at 16 she gave her heart to Jesus Christ."

"I don't hear the Gospel," is a charge I've heard a couple times recently. And, according to other Lutheran preachers, it's a fairly common charge. But it's a very serious charge. If a Lutheran pastor is preaching and not preaching the Gospel, he should repent and preach the Gospel or he should be defrocked.

So why does the charge persist? I think, in part, because what the complainer means to say is not that he doesn't hear the proclamation of Jesus Christ the Crucified, who takes away the sins of the world, who comes in Word and Sacrament to deliver faith and forgiveness of sins. Instead, the complainer means to say, "I expect the Gospel to make me feel good, and sometimes church just doesn't give me that good feeling I want."

Well, that's different. The Gospel is not a guarantee of happiness. It's a guarantee of joy, but sometimes joy and sadness coexist. Sometimes an unfettered joy at having one's sins forgiven can coexist alongside the sadness of having to struggle every day against our old sinful flesh.

One professor at semonary called this the "backspin of the Gospel." The pure proclamation of the Gospel, that all sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus, contains just a bit of sadness, that these sins existed in the first place, that you weren't able to free yourself from the mire of your sinfulness.

Sometimes there's heartache in beauty, sadness in joy, melancholy in forgiveness. All that aching is to point toward the future, toward the day of Christ's return, when our sinful selves will finally be put asunder.

In the meanwhile, if you're a little gloomy, enjoy this video from Hocus Pick (formerly Hocus Pick Manoeuver), a Canadian Christian rock/ska band from my boyhood:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Don't forget to take your medicine.

"Birth control is preventive medicine that should be fully covered by insurance companies, a panel advising the government recommended Tuesday," is the first like of a story in today's St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Preventive medicine? Preventive, yes. But medicine? Well, if you consider pregnancy a disease and fertility a sickness, then, yes, birth control is medicine for what ails ya.

Then again, pregnancy and children can have a cancerous effect on organs like independence, self-importance, financial well being, and immaturity.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


If the goal was to make me feel good, you failed, UCC.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Orate pro nobis

The people of Bethany Lutheran Church in Fairview Heights, IL have extended a call to me to serve as their pastor. Pray for us as we seek to discern the best place for us and the best situation for the people of Bethany and the people of Hope in Jerseyville.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

ATP: What is Repentance?

On the question of repentance, the Lutheran reformers made a clean, decisive break with the teaching of the Pope, eschewing the Roman Catholic teaching that repentance has three parts (contrition, confession, & satisfaction), preferring instead the clear teaching of Scripture and the confession of the historic Christian church on repentance. In fact, the entire Reformation may be over-simplified into a question of repentance.

“Strictly speaking, repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven” (Augsburg Confession, XII, 3-5).

Two parts. First, contrition, that is, sorrow over one’s sins. This comes from the preaching of the Law and the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). Second, faith, that is trust in Jesus for forgiveness. This comes from the preaching of the Gospel, and is also the work of the Holy Spirit (Jn 15:26).

This is where Rome gets it horribly wrong. By adding a third part to repentance—satisfaction—all the comfort, all the reliance on Jesus’ full satisfaction for sins, is removed. Instead, removal of punishment and appeasement of God’s wrath comes from the works a person does to reverse the effects of his sins. Garbage. There’s no hope in that. With such a papist, false understand of repentance, we would see repentance as a once-and-done thing we do for each sin. Got a sin? Be sorry, confess it, make satisfaction for it; and you’re done. Not Scriptural; not Lutheran.

See how this plays out in a Roman Catholic understanding of confession. Why go to confession? Because you have sins that need to be taken care of. Compare that with a Lutheran understanding of confession. Why go to confession? Because you’re a sinner. Because you have full and complete trust that for Jesus’ sake, all your sin is removed. Because you love to hear the word of Absolution.

Repentance acknowledges your complete sinfulness and your utter inability to free yourself from your sinful condition. And at the same time, repentance relies completely and perfectly on Jesus for forgiveness. That’s why the first of Luther’s 95 Theses was, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed the whole Christian life to be repentance.” Repentance—sorrow over sin and perfect faith in Jesus for forgiveness—is where a Christian lives. Like the water around a fish, or air around a bird, repentance is your habitat.

True repentance, therefore, comes through the work of the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Word of God, properly divided Law and Gospel. Repentance is not your work; it is the work of the Holy Spirit within you. So, happy Pentecost. Thank God that you have received the Holy Spirit, who has worked repentance within you, who keeps you in that repentant faith by gathering you around God’s Word and Sacraments.

Personalized Pastoral Care

“One size does not fit all” is a popular marketing gimmick. And, for the most part, it’s true. How irritating is it to call a company—usually one with whom you do business—only to have the phone answered by a computer, with a “menu” of choices to direct your phone call to the right person (if you ever get to talk to a person at all). You want a more personalized response from your phone company (or your credit card company, your electric company, etc.). You’re not just an account number. Nevertheless, the bigger the company, the more impersonal it becomes.

During the recent recession, in response to the crisis at several investment banks, replete with multi-billion-dollar bailouts from the government, small, local banks tried to disassociate themselves from these behemoth banks. “We’re not like them,” they contended. “We’re in your hometown, and we know you by name.” A personalized approach to banking, was their sales pitch.

When you go to the doctor, you don’t want a general approach to your health. You want a doctor who will pay attention to you, who will consider your symptoms, your history, your family medical history, your lifestyle, your concerns, and more. In short, you want personalized treatment from your doctor. Colleges and private schools sell themselves with lower student-to-teacher ratios, which permit more interaction between the teacher and each student, thereby fostering a more personalized approach to education.

So also pastoral care.

When it comes to pastoral care, you don’t need a general approach. You need a pastor who takes into consideration your whole person, with your individual needs, your life’s situations, your particular circumstances. That’s not to say that the Word of God is relative to your personal needs, but how the Word gets applied to you should be done in as personalized a manner as possible.

This is the goal of private Absolution. When the Lutheran princes stood before Emperor Charles V at the Imperial Diet of Augsburg and declared to him that “our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches,” they did so because they knew the value of personalized pastoral care (Augsburg Confession, Article XI). It’s one thing to listen to a sermon and to hear the pastor proclaim the Gospel “for you.” It’s an altogether different thing to kneel at the rail and to hear him preach a personal sermon to you immediately after he has given Christ’s forgiveness to you individually. This time of individual confession and absolution, when you have confessed your personal sins, when the pastor, in the stead of Christ, has forgiven you personally, provides a special opportunity for very personalized pastoral care.

After the absolution in Individual Confession and Absolution, the rubrics for the rite specify, “The pastor may speak additional Scripture passages to comfort and strengthen the faith” of those who have confessed their sins and been forgiven (Lutheran Service Book, p. 293). This is a time for the pastor to preach the Gospel to you individually and personally. This is an opportunity for personalized pastoral care like no other.

Private Confession and Absolution is not meant to be a burden. Quite the opposite. It’s meant to be a particular, personal comfort. God loves you personally, individually, so He sends pastors to proclaim the Gospel, His Word of forgiveness to you, both corporately, as a member of the whole Body of Christ, His Church, and individually, as a unique sinner-saint who has a story and a history different from the guy in the pew next to him, who struggles with sins different from those around him, who has unique needs, who isn’t at the exact same place as anyone else in his personal life of faith. So God sends pastors to do highly specialized, personalized pastoral care, not because he needs to hear your individual confession, but because He wants to speak to you individually, privately, personally.

In what other part of your life do you have access to such a personalized gift? Your doctor may see you personally, but you’ll have to make an appointment weeks or months in advance. Your banker might meet with you privately, but he doesn’t have set hours to meet with bank customers personally. But your pastor keeps regular hours (Wednesdays between 6 and 6:45) and is available anytime by appointment to speak these most precious words of Christ to you personally: “I forgive you. Hear these words of Jesus for you.”

Note: HT: to Pr. Rick Stuckwisch for his insight at the CCA Symposium that private absolution is like a personal sermon

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On Fatherhood, Boys to Men, and the Church

Here's a fascinating article about John Lasseter, the CEO at Pixar, on being a father, a man, and a boy.

This quotation was particularly insightful:
From cocky Lightning McQueen learning to win by not crossing the finish line in Cars, to grumpy old Carl Fredricksen living up to the promises he made his wife by letting them go in Up, to cowboy Woody giving up the prospect of immortality in Toy Story 2, Pixar characters always find fulfillment of their individual dreams by surrendering their individual dreams to the dictates of family and friends

That's where the Church comes in. Isn't that how she makes men from boys? By teaching them to surrender their individual dreams, for the benefit of family, congregation, and community, whereby their individual dreams are fulfilled.

I have as little tolerance for feminized Christianity as for emasculated men who stay away from Church. Selfishness is antithetical to masculinity, and the Church catechizes away from self-love (which isn't love) to self-giving love (which is the only kind of love). So, tomorrow, go to church with dad on Father's Day. It'll make him feel all manly and stuff.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Just in Time for Father's Day

Birth control for men.

And--good news for the pro-choice crowd--you have choices. There are two male contraceptives coming to the market soon. The first is a gel that blocks passage of sperm (and physically disables those who pass through the gel), 100% effective for 10-15 years at keeping you from being a father. The other is a pill for men that stops production of sperm that has "aced tests in mouse testes" (try saying that five times fast).

My favorite part of these stories is what may become the effective marketing tagline for the BCP for men: "One company's toxin may be another person's contraceptive." There you have it, folks.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sleep Well

Lutherans know what they believe. Many times, they know what other Christian confessions believe, too. And they believe that they are right where others are wrong. We don’t allow anyone to pastor our congregations who doesn’t confess that the Lutheran Confessions are a faithful and true exposition of Holy Scripture, and we don’t let anyone be a member of our congregations who doesn’t confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as taught in the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true. In short, we’re Lutherans because we believe Lutheran doctrine to be correct. Whoa. At face value, that seems a little bit offensive ridiculously and pompously arrogant.

Why do we care about doctrine? Why is right teaching—orthodoxy—so important to Missouri Synod Lutherans? In short, so you can sleep well.

We study Scripture, we learn from the Lutheran Confessions, we learn the Small Catechism by heart, we sing hymns with rather rigorous doctrinal content (and eschew the pithy and superficial), we have high expectations of young confirmands (and adult confirmands, too), and we confess that we will all be catechumens of the Word of God our whole lives long for one simple reason: so we can have rock-solid confidence in our salvation.

The goal of doctrine is not to be right for the sake of being right. The goal of doctrine is to give you full confidence in Jesus as your Savior. The beauty of Lutheran doctrine is not that it’s right as much as that it’s comforting. You are a sinner, sinful from birth and having sinned every day since. Your sins are not a small deal. They’re a huge deal. They’re heinously offensive to a holy God. You deserve to die forever because of them. And yet… (How beautiful is that word “yet”!) For the sake of Jesus, you do not get what you deserve. God gave your sin and your punishment to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He died for you. He rose for you. To this point most Christians agree.

But how do the benefits of Jesus death on the cross get delivered to you? In answering this question, Christians do not agree. A Roman Catholic would say that God gives us grace through His Sacraments in order that we might do good and thereby merit God’s mercy at the end of our lives. Most American Evangelicals would say that God completely does the work of salvation except He leaves it up to you to choose salvation (or ask Jesus into your heart, or pray the sinner’s prayer, or make Jesus the Lord of your life, etc.). Genuine Calvinists would say that God completely does the work of salvation, but He does not offer it to all people, only to His elect (that is, He creates some people whom He never intends to save), and you can never know with confidence that you’re among God’s elect until the end.

For both Roman Catholics and most Evangelicals, salvation is based on your works, either the works God enables you to do throughout your lifetime or that one work, that one exercise of your will, to choose Jesus. What if your works aren’t enough? What if you do some back-sliding? For Calvinists, the work of Jesus on the cross is limited only to those God eternally elects to salvation. None of that instills certain confidence in salvation. None of that makes for a good night’s sleep.

We do not believe only Lutherans are Christians. Absolutely not. Since we know and have confidence that we cannot save ourselves by any work, so also we know that a man cannot be saved by the precision of his confession. In the “life of the world to come,” there will be Christians of every stripe and every denomination.

But in nowhere but Confessional Lutheranism (the kind of Lutheranism that still believes in the Word of God and holds the Lutheran Confessions as true) is there this kind of confidence. You are saved solely and exclusively by the Word of God. He works through means (Word & Sacraments) to deliver saving faith to you, to preserve you in saving faith, to do absolutely everything you need for salvation. Nothing is required of you; God does it all. You can be (and should be) absolutely certain of your salvation because Lutheran doctrine calls you to look outside of yourself to God for confidence. Have this confidence. Sleep well.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

ATP: What is Faith?

First, the opposite question: What isn’t faith?

Lots of people believe faith is necessary. What or whom your faith is in is less important to them that that you have faith. You might call this “faith in faith” or fideism. That’s not what Scripture calls faith. The object of faith is important. Just believing in a god doesn’t mean you believe in the one, true, Triune God.

Some people equate faith with feelings. If you have a positive feeling toward God, you can feel safe. This faith in feelings, or emotionalism, however, is not Biblical faith. Still others make faith into a work. God does the work of salvation except faith, which is the part you contribute. You put your faith in Him and endeavor to live a good life, and you can sleep comfortably at night. This notion of faith as a work is synergism, working together with God to accomplish salvation. But faith as God describes it, is the opposite of a work. (For a clearer understanding of these false notions of faith, see the chart “Saving Faith” on p. 2016 of The Lutheran Study Bible.)

Now to the question: what is faith? What does Scripture say? “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is purely a gift from God, not a work. Belief in God does not come from within us, but from outside us: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Faith is perhaps best summarized with the Hebrew word “Amen.” Faith says “amen” or “yes” to God’s gifts. Faith says “amen” to God’s Word, His declaration that we are sinners, and His declaration that we are completely forgiven and covered in the righteousness of Jesus. Faith says “amen” to God’s Word, hearing it where and when it is preached. Faith says “amen” to God’s forgiveness, offered in His Sacraments. Faith says “amen” to God, receiving the gifts He bestows.

More than knowledge, more than belief that God exists, more than belief that Jesus died and rose, more than affiliation with other Christians, faith is full, complete, child-like trust in Jesus for forgiveness.

Faith is completely a gift. God gives it, guards it, grows it. What He gives is always enough.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Turns out Jesus, not Harold Camping, was right: "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Mt. 24:36).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Slow down.

Slow down.

That message came across to me several times in the Good Friday services (Chief Service at Noon and Tenebrae in the evening). In the Tenebrae service, for instance, the chanting of four complete psalms is tedious. For a long time, it feels like that’s all we’re doing. All that’s happened in the service so far is a collect. And then the Psalms say, “Slow down; enjoy the poetic Word of God.”

In the Chief Service (a service new to all of us at Hope), the longer Passion reading, the times of silence, the bidding prayer, the reproaches—everything seems to slow the service down and force us to meditate on the suffering and death of Jesus. The Service of the Sacrament is the exception, abbreviating the ordinaries and speaking everything, it feels abrupt and terse. Nevertheless, the overall pace of the service exhorts, “Slow down; know that all this is for you.”

Vesting for Good Friday also demands a slow, drawn-out pace. My cassock has 30 buttons, one for each of the years of the life of Christ when He began His ministry. I don’t usually button them all. On Good Friday, I do. And it takes quite a while. Slow down. Consider our Lord’s suffering.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Blessed Holy Week

Holy Week Schedule

Holy Week

Holy Monday Vespers Apr. 18, 7:00 p.m.

Holy Tuesday Vespers Apr. 19, 7:00 p.m.

Holy Wednesday Vespers Apr. 20, 7:00 p.m.

Maundy Thursday Divine Service Apr. 21, 7:00 p.m.

Good Friday Chief Service Apr. 22, 12:00 p.m.

Good Friday Tenebrae Vespers Apr. 22, 7:00 p.m.

Holy Saturday Matins Apr. 23, 9:30 a.m.

The Resurrection of Our Lord

Easter Vigil Apr. 23, 7:30 p.m.

Easter Sunrise Divine Service Apr. 24, 6:00 a.m.

Easter Breakfast Apr. 24, 7:00 a.m.

Easter Day Divine Service Apr. 24, 9:30 a.m.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

ATP: The Sharing of the Peace

"Peace be with you." This is the greeting after the prayers in Setting 4 of the Divine Service. Why do we do it? What should we say? What does it mean?

In learning this new setting of the Divine Service, the greeting after the prayers has more than a few people confused. Some have wondered what they should be saying. Others have inquired why we do this in the middle of the service. Still others have complained that it seems to break up the flow of the service.

What is this greeting? First, what it isn’t. It’s not a time for conversation, not a time to welcome visitors, not a time to catch up with friends, not even a time to say “hello.” When it becomes any of those things, the complaint that it breaks up the flow of the service is correct.

So what is it? A word of peace. The rubrics instruct, “Following the prayers, the people may greet one another in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘Peace be with you,’ as a sign of reconciliation and of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Matt. 5:22–24; Eph. 4:1–3).” In short, it’s a word of forgiveness.

This is a time to set aside past hurts, to give up grudges, to promise not to dwell on sins committed against you. This is a time of saying, “Since in Christ God has forgiven me an insurmountable debt, I will freely and fully forgive anyone who has sinned against me.” It’s what we pray God would enable us to do in the 5th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Those who have been forgiven forgive one another.

“The sharing of the peace is an opportunity for the worshippers to be reconciled and to express the great love they have for one another” (Maschke, Gathered Guests: A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church, 146).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Will Christianity make you Happy?

In an answer to the question, "Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness?" C.S. Lewis answers

Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best. I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I re­gret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better, but I can't give any advice on it. (emphasis added)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why Ministers must be Men

is the title of a book by Douglas Wilson, reviewed in the current issue of Touchstone (that, you guessed it, arrived in my mailbox today). From the review by Alison Sailer, this delicious paragraph:
[Wilson] argues that not only must ministers of Word and Sacrament be male, they must also be masculine, or as he puts it, vertebrates--men with backbones, easy to approach but difficult to intimidate. While masculinity does not exclude qualities often associated with women, Wilson argues that the task of the minister is to sift, to study, and to say what needs to be said with the distinctively masculine authority of the distinctly masculine male. Christians will be on the road to recovery from their mistakes in these matters when they recognize that God "not only excludes women from becoming women ministers but also excludes men from becoming women ministers."

Or as the quotation I've heard attributed to Dr. Kenneth Korby, "God ordains men into the pastoral office. Be one."

No Such Thing as Bad Press?

In an article in the most recent Touchstone that very fairly handles the complaints about the sale of KFUO-FM to Joy FM, SLU professor James Hitchcock notes, "For years, neither AM nor FM KFUO did justice to the unequalled richness of the Lutheran musical tradition, which the AM station largely confines to Sundays."

Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us of the treasure we have.

Kermit Gosnell: A Man for Our Times

The story about Kermit Gosnell, the late-term abortion provider, arrested and charged with 8 counts of murder, is troubling, to say the least. Seven of those 8 counts of murder are children whom Gosnell delivered before snipping their spinal cords to kill them. The other is a woman who chose to end her unborn child's life, but who herself died under Gosnell's "care."

Gosnell is a man who embodies our Zeitgeist. When choice is the idol, who are we to restrict that choice to the first 6 months of pregnancy, or to the time that a child is living inside the womb? In what scarce media coverage Gosnell's case has received, the focus is usually on the deplorable conditions of his clinic and the fact that he aborted these children ex utero, not on whether (not when) it's okay to end a child's life.

At First Things, Elizabeth Scalia asks
So, allow me to ask the impolitic question I have hinted at elsewhere: in choosing to look away, in choosing to under-report, in choosing to spin, minimize, excuse, and move-along when it comes to Kermit Gosnell—and to this whole subject of under-regulated abortion clinics, the debasement of women and the slaughter of living children—how are the press and those they protect by their silence any better than the Catholic bishops who, in decades past, looked away, under-reported, spun, minimized, excused, moved-along, and protected the repulsive predator-priests who have stolen innocence and roiled the community of faith?
"Choice" is just a name given to the idol "me." It's a refusal to have any authority except one's self. It's little different from the child who protests, "You're not the boss of me." It's my body/life/time/whatever; I can do what I want with it.

That's why a man like Gosnell exists. He's a means to an end, a way to worship your self, a way to buck any authority that might tell you what to do with your body (or the body of the child growing within you). What's the solution?

In his book Republocrat, Carl Trueman reflects on the failure of politicians to solve the problem:

A number of thoughts come to mind when reflecting on the abortion debate. First, given the pro-life rhetoric, what is the actual Republican record on abortion like? Not very impressive. The Roe v. Wade ruling came down in 1973. Since that time, Republicans have enjoyed the lion's share of the presidency, and have also had periods of significant control of Congress. Yet, Roe still stands and rates of abortion are catastrophically high, to the extent that the pro-life movement is currently divided over the real pro-life credentials of a conservative president such as George W. Bust, now that he has left office (the rhetoric being somewhat less equivocal in 2000 and 2004). It seems clear that the democratic legislative path to erducing or even outlawing abortions is proving remarkably unfruitful, a fact that may connect to the complexity of getting legislation passed in the American system of checks and balances. Or, more cynically, this may be due to the fact that a majority of Americans are, sadly, in favor of abortion and politicians need their votes to get elected.

Maybe the solution is in the Church? Yes, but not is more and more opposition to abortion. Like having Republican leaders, having a strongly anti-abortion voice seems to have little effect. Why? Perhaps because most American Christians give license to Gosnell and the radical pro-choice movement by insisting that they must have some freedom to choose. In the mindset of contraception is the insistence that "You're not the boss of me," a stubborn refusal to submit to God's design for creation.

The solution is in repentance. Before she can proclaim "you're not the boss of you," the Church needs to acknowledge that for herself: "I'm not the boss of me. I have a Head; to Him I submit." Before Christians can resoundingly denounce Kermit Gosnell, they must altogether give up the freedom to choose. Anyone can call Gosnell a monster and a murderer, but only the Church can embrace the alternative; only she can extol God's gift of children and rejoice that He--not she--is free to choose when to give children.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Feast of the Confession of St. Peter

Sermon from Winkel today:

The Confession of St. Peter, A + D 2011

Mark 8:27-35

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Ah, Peter. So close, so precise, in fact. And yet, so far from the kingdom. Today is the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter, not the Feast of the Confusion of St. Peter. Why doesn’t the Gospel reading end after Peter’s confession? Why must we press on, from Peter at his best, to Peter at his worst, or, maybe his second-worst? Perhaps Peter learned that it’s easier to make a bold confession with your lips than to get your brain to believe that confession. You are the Christ! And then, when Jesus reveals to them what His plans are as the Christ, Peter thinks it best to give Jesus a private rebuke, a fraternal correction. This seems better than confronting Jesus in front of the crowds, in front of the congregation. A private rebuke, before going to the Circuit Counselor, seems best. But then “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah” becomes “Get behind me, Satan.” “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” becomes “You are setting your mind not on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Ah, pastor. So close, so precise, in fact. And yet so far from the kingdom. How easy it seems to make a bold confession with your lips, but how difficult to believe your own preaching. Your preaching delivers Christ, but your private devotional life is wont to receive Him. Like Peter, you sing with your parishioners, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” but your calendar finds you going more to members and meetings and less to Christ and His Word. You catechize about the sufficiency of the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit to convert, but when it comes time to evaluate vacancies in the pews or deficiencies in the budget, you wonder what you could add to the Word or the Spirit to close the deal. “Will you adorn the office with a holy life?” becomes “What if your parishioners knew what you’re doing?” And “Were it not for Thy help, I would long since have ruined it all” becomes “were it not for my work, they would long since have ruined it all.”

Yes, Peter. Make the good confession. Today is not the Confusion of St. Peter. Today we don’t recall St. Peter’s sin, because he has none. We only rejoice in Peter’s bold confession. Peter’s Lord is the Christ, who has the Word of eternal life. Alleluia. When the crowds hearing Peter’s preaching “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Peter’s Lord is the Christ, who takes away the sin of the world. Peter might have remembered his shortcomings. The rebuke from Jesus might have haunted his memories. But Jesus has no such memory. The rebuke, Peter’s stupidity and timidity, Peter’s faltering faith, his panic in tumultuous waters, his denial of his Lord, all of these are removed. Gone, Peter, your Lord no longer remembers them.

Yes, pastor. Make the good confession. Your Lord is the Christ, who has the words of eternal life. Your Lord is the Christ, who takes away the sin of the world. Make the bold confession. Let your confession to your father confessor leave no corner of your life unexamined. And then receive his words with joy. Believe that he possesses the same keys entrusted to Peter. What he forgives, your Lord forgets. Every prideful thought, every poorly prepared sermon, every selfish motive, every missed opportunity, every sorry excuse, every false hope, at the word of Absolution, exist only in your own memory, not in your Lord’s. Forgiven is gone. The confessional is sealed because there remains nothing of which to speak. Gone, pastor, your Lord no longer remembers them because they no longer exist.

Yes, pastor. Make the good confession. Confess with St. Peter, with all the apostles, with all the men before you who, like you, were placed into an Office so that others might have the faith that justifies. Confess the Word who gives eternal life. Confess and let your ears believe what you proclaim. To whom shall you go? To Jesus, to His altar. Let Him fill you with Himself. Before His Word is proclaimed from your lips, let His Body be on your tongue. Before you can pour Jesus into your parishioners, let yourself be filled with His Blood. At the Lord’s altar, as Jesus fills you with Himself, with all sin removed, only righteousness remains. Filled with Jesus, even your half-hearted works, your weak efforts to be a better pastor, your half-selfless motives are full and complete in Jesus. Hearing your preaching, knowing you to be an uneducated, common man, they will know that you have been with Jesus. How easy it is to receive a bold confession onto your lips. How delightfully simple and effortless all this turns out to be in hindsight. Yes, pastor. This Christ is for you, too.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.