Saturday, September 30, 2006
For most of human history, competitive sports has been a masculine activity - closely linked to the martial tradition of preparing for war.
In our era, sports have become something very different - dominating our culture. Churches are expected to adapt their schedules to accomodate sporting events. Universities have long since abandoned Latin, Greek, and rhetoric and many have become little more than a conduit for the football team (as well as other sports). High school sports have become a bastion of cut-throat competition, as college scholarships often hinge on performance.
Competitive sports, especially high school, college, and professional are really not about exercise and learning teamwork. They have become big business. They're not about fun and relaxation, but rather have to do with money, college admission, and career opportunity.
This is why feminists pushed so hard for Title IX. Women were being left out of the scholarship derby and the career ladder. And this is important because the secular culture wants women to get college educations so they can get jobs and be competitive in the marketplace. This isn't about women not getting enough exercise - but rather it's about getting scholarship money.
When in the history of Christianity did Christian women play competitive sports? My devout great grandmother never did. And yet, even without all the valuable lessons little girls supposedly learn through competitive sports, she was able to raise three children as a widow in the early 1900s while working full time. Neither of my grandmothers, nor my mother (nor any of her female relatives) took part in sports. And yet, they managed to raise their children and to work when they had to. Their lives as Christian women just don't seem diminished because they didn't suit up and shoot hoops. My wife never played sports (nor did any of her relatives), and I'm just not convinced she is less of a woman or person as a result.
In fact, Christian women did not play competitive sports for some 19 centuries.
But things began to change around World War II, as women began to work outside the home. By the 1980s, the push was on for more women in sports.
On the whole, has sports been a good thing for Christian women? Do women dress more or less modestly as a result? Are women more or less feminine as a result? Are women more or less submissive to their husbands as a result? How about the roles of women in the military - better or worse? How about the way in which men and women treat one another - has it gotten better or worse?
I see a lot of bad that comes from organized competitive sports (for both sexes) - and very little good. Ironically, most people are fatter today than in the "bad old days" when women were "oppressed" by not being jocks. You'd think that with all of this emphasis on sports, most people would be healthier. But this really isn't about health. rather, this is social experimentation. As a result, we see women pushing for combat roles in the military, advocating for unisex sports (even contact sports), and not striving for modesty and submission. A female soccer player whipping off her shirt at the end of a game in the olympics to reveal her sports bra has become iconic of an entire generation of female athletes.
I hadn't really considered the cultural impact of women in sports until reading the above article. The author simply made points that I couldn't refute. Of course, I'm in no position to tell anyone whether or not to play sports, but I'm certainly entitled to my opinion, and to enforce that opinion in my own home. I'm of the opinion that girls in organized competitive sports is a very difficult thing to reconcile with God's Word regarding the feminine vocation. I think it's a bad thing, even though it's pretty much unanimous among Christians and non-believers, feminists and conservatives alike, that women and girls ought to be involved in organized, competitive sports.
Personally, I think women ought to work out, do aerobics, lift weights, run, do pilates, yoga, and other sorts of healthy exercise. I'm all for that. It's just the competitive stuff that I think is overly masculine and not particularly helpful to encouraging girls to be ladylike. I do, however, believe women should get martial arts training - not the phony tournament and trophy "belt mill" variety with huge "studio" windows and ridiculous claims, but rather genuine and serious martial training in hand-to-hand self-defense that isn't all about trophies and competition. Women need to know how to take care of themselves and to react if they are attacked. But then again, this is self-defense training, not a "sport."
In terms of great examples of Christian womanhood, I'll take any of the women in my family (who never played baseball, volleyball, softball, wrestling, basketball, boxing, football, or hockey) over any sweaty jockette with her school name written on the buttocks of her short-shorts.
I think this is simply one more encroachment of the feminist culture into the Church, one more surrender we've made to the secular at the hands of the baby-boom generation. Isn't it sad that the younger generations of girls haven't a clue how to bake a loaf of bread, but they can probably tell you exactly how to squat down over home plate or how to throw a pick on the basketball court. We're so much more "enlightened" these days, aren't we?
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
As a result of this cultural revolution, in its most benign form we see families that no longer eat together, children who spend more time with peers (or movies, video games, and the internet) than their parents, a value system that cherishes material goods over and above "treasures in heaven," and a rat-race mentality that is never satisfied, but results in ever-increasing demands for workplace advancement. It also manifests itself in more dangerous ways: latch-key children (who may end up sexually active or on drugs), workplace affairs, divorce, and a general contempt for submission to authority on any level.
The overwhelming presence of women in the workplace has lowered wages by glutting the labor market, has increased taxes on the average family by moving families up the tax brackets, and has created a booming "child care" industry. It has also made natural nursing of children the exception rather than the norm (artificial food in plastic bottles has made it possible (not to mention convenient) for babies to be cared for by people other than the mother), thus "freeing" mom up to put on a power suit and attend to more important things than suckling (and bonding with) her own flesh and blood children. Women who do stay home and nurse their children, run the household, and cook for their families are denigrated by our anti-woman feminist culture. They are demeaned as wasting their talents, and their husbands are portrayed as tyrants.
Christians often simply accept the secular paradigm as "normal", and instead of seeking to be "in" but not "of" the world, they largely capitulate, join the same rat-race, and deprive their children of a traditional family life. This may explain why Christians experience divorce at the same rate as non-Christians. The Christian life takes a back seat to "keeping up with the Joneses" and making sure women are "empowered" and "fulfilled" ("did God REALLY say...?).
One of the greatest acts of rebellion, one of the most striking expressions of counter-culture, one of the most shocking statements against the current misogynistic paradigm that families can make is for wives and mothers to quit their jobs, for families to downsize their dependence on luxuries, and to "store up their treasures in heaven" (as well as on earth in terms of family time).
I believe there is a small, but growing movement to do just that. And a lot of women (as well as their husbands, and ESPECIALLY their children) are simply much happier after they have thrown off the shackles and experienced true liberation - having come into harmony with the order of creation instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Anyway, check out this article from the Homeliving Helper blog.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Note that Fr. Alister is clean shaven, wears an Anglican collar, and is (on this occasion) wearing a kilt. That's just not something you see every day! This photo was taken this past August at the ball of the annual convention of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) who met in New Orleans this year (in honor of the 1906 SCV convention which also met in N'awlins).
Fr. Alister is also himself a decorated veteran, and sometimes attends the ball clad in his military medals (not to mention, of course, regalia from the SCV).
So, if you ever happen to run into a clean-shaven Eastern Orthodox priest in an Anglican collar, kilt, and a jacket full of U.S. military medals and other insignia emblazoned with Confederate flags - you really aren't seeing things.
Fr. Alister is a true Southern gentleman, a devout churchman, and a man of integrity. He was formerly a priest in the Episcopal Church, but left the church when the Episcopalians left the Church. In an organization (the Sons of Confederate Veterans) that is overwhelmingly Protestant, Fr. Alister served a term as Chaplain in Chief and earned the love and respect of the membership - including the many members who are clergymen from many fundamentalist church bodies (who would consider Presbyterians to be exotic and high church). ;-)
Not a bad accomplishment for an Eastern Orthodox priest in a fiercely conservative "Bible Belt" organization. If you ever meet this humble (and yet great) churchman, this soft-spoken, smiling, gentle and yet fierce warrior for the Kingdom of God, you'll understand why.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
While I'm not of a generation to call Dr. Marquart a friend or colleague (in fact, I could never bring myself to call him by his first name after I was ordained), I have a great deal of respect and affection for my former professor (who now stands in the dazzling eternal presence of our Lord Himself!). I studied the Lutheran Confessions with the good doctor, and took as many electives from him as I could. His course on apologetics was one that should have been a requirement (he had a very balanced presentation, one that fell into neither ditch of apologetics as capable of arguing a person into the faith, nor its opposite (too often posited among Lutherans) that apologetics are useless.
Dr. Marquart's teaching style was enthralling. It was simply a joy to listen to him lecture. He was a poet and a master with what was at least his third language. In fact, it was not uncommon to hear him chattering with international students in what seemed to be about a half dozen languages. Dr. Marquart was a one man Pentecost!
He was a teacher of keen intellect, who could articulate the most complex intricacies of dogmatic theology, but who could at the same time crack jokes, use slang, and reduce difficult concepts into humorous examples. Dr. Marquart had a special charism to teach. He not only taught seminarians at Fort Wayne, but also taught seminarians and pastors around the world in a number of languages. This was clearly a vocation he loved, and which he continued to ply even when grave physical illness made it nearly impossible to carry out.
And when you wanted to speak with him in private, it was as though all time and space came to a screeching halt. You were his best friend, and he would patiently answer questions and listen to whatever you were bringing to his attention. He was always kind, compassionate, and gentle - while at the same time, firm in his convictions.
It was often said he would never turn away a stray cat (or a stray seminarian). His good works always served the seminary community well as examples of how the Christian life is lived out - though I'm sure he would be embarrassed to read such a thing about himself.
Dr. Marquart was at ease in intellectural circles, with dignitaries, with children, at vast conferences, and at the Pizza Hut. He was truly a "man for all seasons."
Most importantly, Dr. Marquart was a pastor and a preacher, a proclaimer of the Gospel and a minister of the mysteries of God. On the last day of his life on this side of the grave, he baptized his great-grandson. He never forgot his primary calling as a pastor. And as a pastor to future pastors, his work lives on through those of us whom he taught. His ministry thus continues to serve us poor miserable sinners in the Church Militant, even as he is now a saint made perfect singing the praises of God in the Church Triumphant!
Requiescat in pace. "Ait illi dominus ejus euge bone serve et fidelis quia super pauca fuisti fidelis super multa te constituam intra in gaudium domini tui!"
While I realize that any "member of synod" (pastor, teacher, or congregation) can propose just about anything as an overture, and that sending this to the CTCR is probably the parliamentary equivalent of Limbo, I can't help but be bothered by this.
First of all, what makes anyone think the Formula of Concord belongs only to the Missouri Synod? What gives us the right to unilaterally change it any more than we have the right to start putting addenda on the end of the Apostles Creed? Can you imagine if a town in Louisiana decided to vote to amend the Mayflower Compact?
Second, this doesn't take into consideration the 40+ church bodies with whom we share fellowship. Such unilateralism would only create disunity with those bodies with whom we currently have Concord! For it even to be considered could only be received with concern by our partner churches. We would certsainly be outraged if the Lutheran Church - Canada decided to add to one of our historical confessional documents.
Third, it also further fractures World Lutheranism by not even consulting the many Lutheran bodies with whom we do not share fellowship.
Fourth, the Formula of Concord was not subject to 21st century democratic politics. One can only imagine the Frankenstein monster that would emerge from a plethora of committees and a synodical convention - which would then, by a vote of the majority, be binding by fiat upon the members of synod.
Finally, this would be an example of a "post facto" vow made by pastors and teachers in our synod - whose ordination and installation vows would be retroactively changed, not allowing these individuals the opportunity to either accept or reject the addendum. It would be like passing a law that retroactively changes the wedding vows in your state. How can you be bound to a promise that you never made?
This whole change-happy approach to our Tradition (as manifested in the Book of Concord), that it is something we can simply unilaterally amend at will by a show of hands, illustrates our synod's approach to history, as though the Church exists in a historical vacuum, that we are the only people who count (which doesn't speak well of our belief in the Church Triumphant!). This is a terribly sectarian approach to the Church - which we formally (unless it is amended) confess to be "Catholic."
I suspect we will see more calls for things like this, but I also suspect to see continued agonized manipulation of the interpretations of the texts in smoke-filled rooms (to achieve some desired outcome, rather than submitting to the traditional interpretations which may now be considered "inconvenient" to our time) rather than a real effort to openly alter the historical documents themselves.
Nevertheless, I think it problematic that this was even proposed by a congregation with whom we share fellowship. It's almost Orwellian. And I surmise that Big Brother is indeed watching!
SUBJECT: CALL FOR 21ST CENTURY "FORMULA OF CONCORD" ADDENDUM
WHEREAS, Lutherans in the 21st Century are often finding themselves in disagreement over many teachings and aspects of what it means to be "Lutheran" (such as authority of the Scriptures, office of public ministry, fellowship, etc.), resulting in a variety of doctrines and practices; and,
WHEREAS, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is finding disagreements among its members becoming increasingly divisive and counter-productive to effective Gospel ministry; and,
WHEREAS, the Formula of Concord was the result of dialog and debate among the various Lutheran factions to declare a common position on the issues that divided them (see the Editor's Introduction to the Formula of Concord, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, c. 2000 by Augsburg Fortress, pp. 481ff); and,
WHEREAS, the Formula of Concord of 1580 addressed only those issues that divided the Lutheran Church of that time; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the Texas District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, gathered in convention, memorialize the 63rd Convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to call for the preparation of an "Addendum" to the Formula of Concord of 1580; and, be it further
RESOLVED, that this "Addendum" to the Formula of Concord of 1580 seek to address the additional questions of doctrine and practice that currently divide the Evangelical Lutheran Church such as (but not limited to):
To what extent are the Scriptures authoritative and efficacious regarding the faith and life of God's people?
What is meant by "pure teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments in harmony with the gospel of Christ" (Apology, VI & VII, 5)?
What is the role of God's people in terms of the ministry of the gospel as preachers, teachers, and the priesthood of all believers (and subsequent questions such as the ordination of women, auxiliary offices, etc.)?
What are the biblical definitions of marriage and family, and what do those definitions teach regarding such things as divorce, homosexuality, abortion, etc.?
What is meant by the church universal, the mutual consolation of the saints, and fellowship among Lutherans, fellowship among Christians, and relationships of people of other religions?
RESOLVED, that the Synodical Convention call upon the Presidium of Synod, in consultation with the faculties of the Seminaries of Synod, to appoint a select group of theologians to begin the initial development of a draft formula addendum; and be it further
RESOLVED, that each District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod appoint two pastors, two commissioned ministers of the gospel, four lay members, and (where applicable) two members of the faculty of any higher educational institution located within the district, to be a part of a Synod-wide convocation to be convened prior to the 65th Convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (2011) to adapt and recommend this addendum to the Formula of Concord for adoption by the Synod; and, be it finally
RESOLVED, that The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod present this Addendum to the various Lutheran church bodies in America and throughout the world for discussion, debate, and dissemination among their various congregations and institutions.
Family of Faith Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas.
Trevor Coleman, Chairman
Marvin Miller, Secretary
Monday, September 18, 2006
In the previous discussion about the role of women in our church body (from a Traditionalist perspective), a guest to this blog, Norma asks:
"where do traditionalist Lutherans go?" Hmm. Now maybe some of you understand the frustration of women, wondering if there is any place for us?
This is a poignant topic, and I'm grateful that she raised the issue. Traditionalist Christians are often typecast as misogynistic, that women are seen as inferior - and this is inferred by the traditional, biblical Christian doctrine of the order of creation, that women are to be submissive to men. In our culture, submission is synonymous with degradation - and this is simply an error in logic.
My own dear wife is a great example. Like most North-American women, she was bombarded with the feminist ethos. After we were married, she retained her maiden name, and sought a career. She is a graduate of the prestigious Bryn Mawr College, which is a bastion of radical feminism. She also was certified as an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) at a time when there weren't a whole lot of folks with that certification. We had a two-income family and no children.
At some point, Grace had an epiphany. The life she was living was unnatural. She didn't want to be at work. The cultural pressure for women to work outside the home is what is in fact misogynistic, hostile to the family, and contrary to the divine order. She had broken the code.
Long story short: She left the corporate rat race and is today a very happy stay-at-home mom. She is a submissive wife, covers her head in church, dresses modestly as a lady, cooks all of our meals, and runs the household away from the limelight and the accolades of our materialistic society. There are feminists out there who would cast her as a put-upon victim, or worse yet, a traitor to her sex. Some are actively seeking to manipulate the tax codes and social policies to pressure her to get a job, to make it economically difficult to be a traditional housewife and stay-at-home mother (as if the social pressures and current economic challenges were not enough). But Grace is unbelievably happy, as is our family. We are now in harmony with God's creation.
We eat together as a family every day - real home cooking. My wife makes breakfast every morning - including homemade bread. She lovingly prepares my lunches, and we eat nice dinners every day. She manages the house well, takes care of all the bills, and my son has never seen a babysitter - let alone a "child development center" (a cute euphemism for a "tot drop" to salve the guilty consciences of greedy mothers).
Yesterday after church, we had homemade black forrest cake dessert (with real whipped cream, not chemical white fluff), and sipped Gevalia coffee (arguably the world's finest) sweetened with raw turbinado sugar and whipped cream in cups and saucers. Now that's living!
Of course, there are sacrifices. We live in a little bitty house, and I drive a 1995 Saturn with 150,000+ miles on it to and from church every day. We don't go on cruises or trips to Disney or fancy resorts, and we don't eat out a lot. We don't have a swimming pool. We don't have cable, and our TV is a relic from the 1980s. In spite of these limitations, we are happy. We are no longer fighting against God's created order, but have submitted to it.
So, that's where women fit into a traditional Christian family and society. They are the caretakers of home, husband, and children - not merely another androgynous income-producing unit. Traditional Christian women are faithful laymen, who pray, attend Divine Service, teach the children, and take care of the holy things at the altar. Traditional Christian women are not deacons or pastors.
The reason women are frustrated is because they have been lied to by our abortion-mad culture of death, and our money-grubbing ethos of materialism. They have been deprived of their birthright to be the caretakers, the dominae, of hearth and home. With contraception, they have been reduced to sexual playthings by their husbands and potential husbands (not to mention financiers of their husbands' or boyfriends' plasma TVs and big trucks, all paid for by the "sweat of the frau"). With the "sexual revolution", they have been reduced to a virtual state of prostitution that parades under the banner of "liberation" (only a man could have dreamed up feminism!).
Obviously, there are situations when a woman must work. Single mothers must become the breadwinners of their families. My wife put me through seminary by running the computer network at CTS Ft. Wayne. My great grandmother worked like a slave as a domestic as a young widow with three young children. But what we have in today's culture is an anti-family, anti-woman, and anti-tradtionalist paradigm that enslaves women and forces them to downplay their femininity, as well as encourages men to treat women as equals (which is to degrade women).
Women are not our equals. They are to be treated as queens and cherished as those who make a house a home. Men ought to treat women with chivalry and deference, holding open doors, offering a helping hand, and curbing displays of vulgarity in their presence. The current culture of equality has only dragged women down to our level, and turned them into something our Lord did not make them to be.
I believe the frustration you feel, Norma, is a result of "kicking against the goads" instead of submitting to God's order.A really helpful resource for women struggling with overcoming the years of brainwashing, the Big Lie that there is a better way to live than to submit to God's created order can be found at: Ladies Against Feminism.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Text: Luke 17:11-19 (Prov 4:10-23, Gal 5:16-24) (Historic)
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
One of the most worn out clichés in the English language is the “fork in the road.” In way it’s too bad that this expression has become so trite and tired – because it is a good illustration of the Christian life.
One of the oldest Christian writings is a book called The Didache, also known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. For a couple centuries after its writing, there were some Christian churches that treated it as Scripture. And although it is not actually part of the Word of God, it is still an important window into the way the Christian life was lived out as the apostles were dying off and handing the ministry on to other men.
The Didache begins with this sentence: “There are two ways (which can also be translated: “There are two roads”), one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways.” The Didache goes on to explain that the way of life is summed up in the teachings of Jesus, whereas the way of death is summed up in breaking the Ten Commandments. The Didache, which is certainly at least as old as the year 120 AD, explicitly singles out the sins of homosexuality and abortion as examples of the “way of death.” Of course, the “way of death” includes other sins as well: bearing grudges, speaking but not backing up one’s speech by deeds, and by hating any person.
In our Old Testament lesson from Proverbs, the author, King Solomon, speaks similarly of a couple of streets: “Wisdom Way” and “Wicked Path.” Obviously, roads lead somewhere, and these roads lead in opposite directions. The author describes the result of taking a firm hold of wisdom’s instruction and avoiding the path of wickedness, and that result is life and healthy flesh. The path of wickedness is darkness and stumbling, it is trodden on under the influence of the wine of violence and the bread of wickedness, and in the end, it goes somewhere other than healthy flesh, to some place other than life.
St. Paul, in our epistle lesson similarly speaks of two opposite ways in which we can walk: “in the Spirit,” or in the “works of the flesh.”
And so, we find ourselves at a crossroads every day. In fact, many times a day, we have the opportunity to walk either path, to choose life or to wallow in death. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a Ph.D. in ethics to figure out which road our fallen flesh runs to every time. We want to do evil, which is why Paul exhorts us: “Do not do the things that you wish.”
Ever since our first parents chose the Way of Death, we have been plagued by death. Ever since they opted for the Way of Wickedness, we have been harried and harassed by sin. Ever since they chose forbidden knowledge over obedience, we have been quick to disobey and even quicker to think we know more than God. We in New Orleans, of all people, should be able to figure it out, as we have reaped the whirlwind, figuratively and literally. Our battered and bruised city today continues to stumble around, drunk with the wine of violence, with daily reports of mayhem, gunplay and murder. We continue to wandering aimlessly, out of control, down the Way of Death.
Not only New Orleanians, but every person on the planet must be exhorted to change paths, that is, to repent. This is what Solomon means when he says: “Do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on.”
For left to our own devices, we “poor, miserable sinners” will always seek wickedness and destruction. We’re not good at making healthy choices, even though we know where the road ends. Dear Christian brothers and sisters, God is very clear in his Word. He is warning us to struggle against sin, to fight back against temptation, to walk in the Spirit. We are not to give in to it, or take salvation for granted. Above all, we dare not interpret the Lord’s mercy for license to do whatever we want.
Make no mistake, our stubborn refusal to struggle against sin puts us squarely on the path of death and hell. There will indeed be those who consider themselves Christians who will have no part in God’s Kingdom. And this ought to send a shiver down every spine in this sanctuary. But for those of us who fear and tremble, for those of us who are weak, for those of us who find ourselves pointed in the wrong direction, God not only labels the right road for us, he becomes the Road. “I am the Way (that is, the “Road,”), the Truth, and the Life” says Jesus. He not only points us to the Way of Life, he is the Way of Life.
And the Way, the Truth, and the Life himself also preaches the two ways in our Gospel text. There were ten men who were headed to death (as we all are). Their particular cross involved the disease of leprosy – in which the body literally turns on itself, in which certain cells, instead of being obedient to the purpose for which they were created, think they know better than their Creator, and in their arrogance and disobedience, begin to kill healthy cells. In the end, the spread of the disobedient leprous tissue overcomes the healthy flesh and results in death.
These ten desperate victims come before Jesus. They don’t want to die. They want to be healthy. They want to leave the path of death, and ask Jesus to heal them. Not only are they dying, but they are under the condemnation of the law – for they are forbidden to participate in the life of the healthy community for fear their rotting flesh will spread. They are, like every sinner, under the condemnation of the law of the ten commandments as well.
And so Jesus does what he has been sent to do. They pray to him “Lord have mercy upon us!” and Jesus answers their prayer. Then, he tells them to comply with the law and find priests to declare them clean. They leave. But one of them returns. He does three things: he glorifies God, he falls at Jesus’ feet in worship, and he gives thanks.
Jesus points out that this one, this Samaritan of all people, a man whose race makes him hated by the Jews, is the only one who glorifies God, worships Jesus, and gives thanks. Jesus gives him another blessing: “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
In declaring him well, Jesus means much more than that he is cured of his leprosy. For that had already happened with the other nine. Jesus is saying he has been made well in another way, spiritually, borne out by his faith. Jesus does not tell him that his actions of glorifying God, worshiping Jesus, and giving thanks have made him well, but rather his faith. But his works and the words that flow from his mouth, his prayers, worship, and grateful heart are all evidences that this man has left the Way of Death and is now on the Path of Life. “Go your way,” Jesus tells him, which is to say: “Keep going on the road you’re on.”
And notice the Samaritan is not told to go to the Old Testament priests for their blessing. He has received the blessing of the True High Priest himself! Notice that Jesus doesn’t demand that this man comply with the law, for as Paul tells us: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such there is no law.”
Paul speaks of this life no longer under the law in these terms: those “who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
How do we “crucify the flesh”? How do we rid ourselves of the “passions and desires” of the sinful flesh, this horrible litany of sins that Paul keeps listing to the point of our discomfort in listening to it: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissentions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like”? Surely, there are more than a few here that we Christians commit on a regular basis.
How do we give attention to the words of wisdom? How do we incline our ears to those sayings that lead to life and away from death?
For certainly, Paul’s scary warnings are written not to non-believers, but to believers. The desperate pleas to avoid temptation found in Proverbs aren’t written to atheists, but to the Church. We do not believe in once saved, always saved.
We need to fear for our eternal lives. We need to heed these warnings, and not be quick to dismiss them. These harsh and powerful words must drive us to the only place we can turn: to Jesus, to the cross, to confession, to daily repentance, and to where God dispenses his grace.
The example in our Gospel lesson is clear. We are helpless. Only Jesus can heal us. We cry to him: “Lord, have mercy!” He and he alone can cleanse us of our leprous sins and gangrenous evils. It is only by the grace of the Way, the Truth, and the Life himself that we find our feet on the right path. We cannot walk the Way of Life by our own willpower and strength. But through the healing power and words of our merciful Great Physician, we find ourselves made new, healed, and restored.
And so we come to Jesus where we find him today: in the Divine Service. We pray “Lord, have mercy upon us.” We worship him in his proclaimed Word and as he comes to us bodily as bread and wine in the Holy Sacrament (in which his perfect Flesh restores our sinful and leprous flesh, in which the Bread of Life overcomes the bread of wickedness, and the wine of the New Testament, for the forgiveness of sins, conquers the wine of violence). And finally, we sing thanks to him for all that he has done for us, and continues to do for us every moment of every day.
With the Samaritan leper, the Church of every time and place pleads for mercy, falls at the feet of the Lord Jesus, and sings out in gratitude:
Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done
In whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
Has blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.
All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son, and him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
At this point, if you belong to a Missouri Synod congregation, you may be shaking your head and clicking your tongue and sighing: "Oh, those ELCA Lutherans!"
But wait! These are LCMS ministers - all four. Yes, that's right, you are looking at a female minister in the LCMS wearing an alb and stole. Women deacons not only have the blessing of Concordia Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Kingsport, Tenn., as well as the Rev. Paul Becker, but also of the Mid-South District of the LCMS. I know of no opinion one way or the other from anyone at the synodical level, though this may simply be due to the fact that this is a recent development.
You can read it yourself (as well as see the picture) in the Mid-South District's newsletter. Click on the July-August link on this link. There is also a discussion about this situation at this Mid-South layman's blogsite.
The fact that we have licensed female deacons wearing stoles fits in nicely with my earlier posts on tradition. This is not going on in Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or traditional continuing Anglican communions - nor is it happening in the faithful traditionalist Lutheran communions that have retained traditional polity (bishop, priest, and deacon) and refuse to ordain women. There are several such church bodies in communion with the LCMS. Only in church bodies that are bereft of tradition will you have the incongruity of conservatism, confessionalism, AND vested women deacons.
Of course, women are forbidden by Scripture to serve as deacons (e.g. see 1 Tim 3:12), and even the Greek word diakonos is in the masculine gender. But the Mid-South District can simply point to the LCMS's embrace of a female diaconate in the form of the modern synodical deaconess program. They can also point to the CTCR's benediction of women "elders" (noting that many congregations simply call their elders "deacons") - and in doing so, they can make the argument that just as an "elder" is not an elder (presbuteros) in the biblical sense, so too is a female "deacon" not a deacon (diakonos) in the biblical sense. Thus, this is an adiaphoron, a matter neither commanded nor forbidden in Scripture - hence it falls within the realm of evangelical freedom. Besides, it has long been a widely-held interpretation of LCMS theologians that biblical deacons are in fact ordained pastors. And if this is the case, a woman "deacon" is no problem at all, given that she is unordained.
The LCMS approach to the roles of men and women avoids tradition, and pays scant lip service to the order of creation. Instead, we adopt a legalistic and biblicistic approach that says a women can do anything except preach and administer sacraments. Anything up to that line is okay, since the Bible has made only the ordained ministry out of bounds to women. Further, since our synod has no synodwide understanding of the diaconate, and since lay "deacons" are not ordained ministers in our synodical understanding, of course a women can serve in this capacity - so long as she is not exercising the functions of the ordained pastorate.
Furthermore, since neither the Bible not the confessions prohibit a woman from wearing a white robe with a brightly colored piece of fabric worn diagonally across her shoulders, there is nothing to complain about. Nor is there any biblical prohibition against a woman wearing a black shirt with a white collar. This too would be a matter of evangelical freedom.
And if tradition is not to be consulted, they are correct!
A traditionalist will certainly argue from Scripture that a woman may not be consecrated as a deacon. But he will also argue that this is a repugnant innovation in the practice of the Church, that the Church has never interpreted Scripture in such a way as to sanction vested female ministers - whether ordained to the presbyterate or consecrated to the diaconate. To a traditionalist, having women vest in masculine ecclesiastical garb and take on functions of the ministry (even granting the technicality that she is not ordained) is simply not done. We don't have to argue about bylaws, constitutions, and mission statements. We don't have to wade through pages and pages of clever biblical exegesis, nor must we consult the Book of Concord. It is simply not done, it has not been done, and it shall not be done. There is no need for discussion or infighting about it any more than we ought to entertain a motion on the floor of the convention to consider admitting new persons to the Trinity.
Of course, it is a biblical matter - but it goes beyond a few proof texts. Rather, this is a reflection of the order of creation. Even granting that (for now) she may not preach and say Mass, she is still acting in some kind of spiritual leadership. This is what the stole signifies. She is exercising spiritual authority. Her stole is a confession concerning what is acceptable for women to do - and it reflects a typical Missouri mindset that scours the Bible and scans the Confessions, but remains largely silent regarding the fathers of the Church.
This is where a "traditionalist" and a strict "confessionalist" (one who does not consider tradition) will clash. The traditionalist says the burden of proof lies on those who want female deacons. Otherwise, you can't have them. The confessionalist will place the burden of proof on the traditionalist, and in the absence of a Bible verse or a passage from the Book of Concord, it's a matter of liberty.
A traditionalist looks around himself at others in the Church Catholic. What does she do? What has she done? By contrast, a strict confessionalist has tunnel vision, viewing everything not prooftexted in the Bible and Book of Concord as a matter of freedom. Our congregation can do anything it wants without a care in the world what the rest of synod, the rest of churches in fellowship with our synod, nor the rest of the historic jurisdictions of the Church do or have done. This attitude is really sectarianism. Only a restoration of a traditional ethos will supplant this mindset and end this confusion and dreadful diversity of doctrine and practice in our synod.
So, where is this leading? To take a view of history is to see the trajectory. In the course of a few years, the LCMS has changed its mind and allowed for women voters, women representatives at synods, women acolytes, women congregational leaders, women elders, deaconesses, and now licensed and vested women deacons. We can see where this is headed.
I wonder how long it will be before some of our partner churches in the world, many of whom have an all male threefold ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon, will end fellowship with the LCMS. A woman wearing a stole in, say the Russian or Latvian Lutheran churches would be a scandal, an absolute scandal! These churches have suffered at the hands of the Lutheran World Federation for taking a stand against having women bishops, priests, and deacons. One wonders how long they can remain in fellowship with a church like the LCMS that allows women this place in the holy ministry.
Licensing women for diaconal work, having her wear an alb and a deacon's stole is simply not done. It is wrong - even if she is not technically a deacon in the biblical sense. How do I know this? To paraphrase Jesus Loves Me, "Tra-di-tion tells me so!"
Thursday, September 14, 2006
A lot of the confessional crowd would like to stomp on them. I disagree. That just means more mess to clean up.
I say when a bureaucrat appears in your church or school, be gentle. He is one of God's creatures, and in spite of his loathsomeness, his creepyness, those menacing bug-eyes and threatening posture - someone out there loves him. He may even have a mate! He is, after all, part of the food chain. There is no need to squash him or to get ugly. Just gently lead him to the door, and let him fly away unharmed.
For the most part, they're harmless. They really can't close your church, or make you ordain women, or force you to put a big Ablaze!(tm) billboard out front. Mostly, they just flap their wings and annoy us by their very uninvited and annoying presence.
Just like palmetto bugs.
Now, there's a killer sermon illustration (note to Dr. Fickenscher...). ;-)
So here are a few more things to ponder, even as we pray: "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"
In this piece, we read about the latest fad among the well-heeled, male nannies. What kind of a man would let another man bounce his children on his knee? What kind of a woman abdicates her God-given duty and privilege to raise her children in exchange for a man to do it for her (for a paycheck)? How sad and twisted.
And here we are living in a culture of exposed flesh from head to toe (been to the mall recently?). Low-cut blouses are the norm - even at church. But when it comes to using the breasts for the purpose God made them, everyone suddenly becomes a Puritan. My goodness, a nursing mother? For the love of God, make the children cover their eyes!
Here's a similarly silly account of a woman in trouble for changing her baby's diaper in public. Why? Nudity! Of course, it's simply indecent. Besides, we've become a society rife with pedophilia, and we must all redefine our morality and behavior accordingly.
Here's another example of the inversion of good and evil, and the bottomfeeders who prey on this inversion. In response to the media covereage, this lawsuit was subsequently dropped. But why was it ever filed?
If you're still looking for evidence that up is down and 2 + 2 no longer = 4, check out this report of a mother who had been complaining repeatedly about the neighborhood thugs with no result, only to be arrested herself when she let a profanity slip out at them. Can you just imagine?
Another example of how sick the world has become, to the point of being blinded to the irony, check out this article about how a fundraising ball for the purpose of raising money for sick children will "tarnish the image" of Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine (more threats of lawsuits). The mind boggles.
Here's the world famous bio-ethicist Peter Singer explaining how post-natal infanticide is an ethical and moral thing, and will likely become the norm in a few years (no thanks to those stupid Christians who keep refusing to submit to his superior wisdom and morality).
Of course, abortion is not merely a "choice," for convenience's sake. No, there's so much more to be gained, like harvesting their parts can be a way to a more youthful looking body.
Interestingly, here's a related story about folks in India pleading with people not to abort all their baby girls in favor of boys. Which side is a faithful feminist to take? Do we side with the pro-life crowd, or the pro-female murder crowd? What a dilemma!
So, what sorts of things does this Rabbit Hole culture find to be criminal behavior (since even infanticide, not to mention harvesting aborted fetuses for the sake of a few less lines in the face don't make the cut any more)? Well, how about the sign of the cross, or Christmas trees? Could this assault on the Church and Christian symbols be related to the rise in popularity of Paganism? Hmmm.
So, what is the Church's response to a secular world gone mad? To remain faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to act as balm to a world in need of redemption, a breathe of fresh air in the stifling fumes of modernity? Of course not. Rather the answer is to join right in with the madness. Of course. Hence, we have Wrestling For Jesus, the nightclub church, and the church of laughter.
But at least there are a few bright spots in the response of the Church. Much to the chagrin of Toronto Sun columnist Mark Bonokoski the Roman Catholic bishops in Canada are "taking all the fun out of funerals." And in South Africa, priests are actually being advised against witchcraft.
Veni Domine Jesu!
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
No, this is no joke.
I want to be very clear here, I love animals. Mrs. Hollywood and I refer to our home as the St. Francis Rescue Mission. We have four cats, all rescues - one of which was unwanted as a kitten, and the other three of which just appeared at our place homeless and pathetic. They must have been tipped off that we are suckers.
We have a "no kill" policy in our home. When palmetto bugs (the huge flying cockroaches native to the deep south) find themselves in the house, we let them go outside. They don't hurt anyone, so why kill them? They're God's creatures. Ditto for geckoes that sometimes sneak in through the door. And frankly, killing these animals would create more mess to clean up. Who needs that?
Our pets get the finest diet, and when they need medical attention, we make sure they get prompt and humane treatment. Our cats sleep with us, and have full run of the house. We consider pets to be family members, and once the commitment is made to own one, it is not an option to simply get rid of it like a used Kleenex or an old cell phone.
Mrs. Hollywood even made the leap to become a vegetarian - because the vast majority of animals raised for meat are mistreated and made to suffer. I agree with her and would like to see more humane treatment of livestock, but I continue to eat meat - though admittedly less these days in deference to her dietary situation.
So, I have a lot of sympathy with "animal rights" folks - though I find many of them to be beyond the pale. This is one such example. Notice in the article that this group is happy to see a more professional image of their constituency - polo shirts instead of T-shirts with slogans, educated and well-spoken professionals instead of people who can easily be made a butt of the jokes in the media. Yes, this is a good thing. They do need to clean-up their rather ragged-about-the-edges image.
And then they go and make the assinine suggestion that we call dogs "Canine Americans."
But in one sense, who can blame them? Our modern-day elites in the language police have been aggressively and consciously trying to manipulate our attitudes through terminology and thoughts since the 1980s. This is the kind of thing George Orwell spoke of in the novel 1984 - and the most controversial words in our language - especially racial identification labels, have been on a steady parade of change since that time (and even before).
I decided long ago not to play their game.
Dr. Walter Williams, the brillaint economist from George Mason university once wrote along these lines when he rejected the title African-American for himself. He said he was weary of changing from negro, to colored, to black, to Afro-American, and then to African-American. He decided just to stop at black.
I never use such manipulative words as African-American, Native-American, Asian-American, etc. I have no problem with black, Indian, and oriental. The old words are more accurate, they are not offensive, and I don't like to have my choice of terminology dictated by some bureaucrat or academician. I don't see why we kowtow to "activists" and thought-police.
I'm always amazed to hear ordinary people say "African-American." I understand when politicians do it (especially when they are in full-pander mode and go so far as to use the incongruous expression: "African-Americans and whites"), I understand when journalists and newscasters do it. I understand when managers and corporate drones do it. They have to. It's a matter of job survival. But real people just don't talk that way - it's completely unnatural. It just never rolls off the tongue, but always sounds strained and as ideologically silly as calling everybody "Comrade." However, I have noticed younger people (under 30) who will use this ridiculous made up political propangandistic word as though it were natural and normal. It always blows my mind. Have any of them read George Orwell? Do they know they are being politically manipulated?
Such words are innacurate. When a newscaster describes an unknown person in the news as a "African-American male" of such and such an age, I want to ask: "How do you know the man is American?" He could be Canadian. Heck, he could be African (imagine that!). It was like Al Gore's gaffe when he spoke of certain African nations as "African-American countries." Or when bones are unearthed accidentally from a cemetary - again, you can tell a person's race from his skeleton, but his national origin or citizenship? My friend and colleague Rev. Lima Nare is black, but is not American. The term would fit me as well as it would him (He is African, and I am American - so the word would be half-wrong when applied to eaither of us).
But P.C. isn't about accuracy, but rather about power. Our oh-so-sensitive elites want to make us use words they like, accurate or not, because they want the power to bully us into "good, right thoughts." Well, my thoughts are my own. My words are my own. I may have to "play the game" sometimes, but deep down inside I know it's a crock. I know what's behind it.
I even recall a few years back how "Neanderthals" suddenly became "Neandertals." Why they didn't become "Neandertal-Americans" is beyind me. I had a professor who didn't speak of Barbarians, but rather "Germanic people groups" (which calls to mind the Capital One commercials of Viking hordes selling cotton candy). Maybe the Goths and Vandals need new cuddly names.
Journalists no longer speak of "fishermen," but "fishers." Yes, indeed, the female fishermen might be offended. Maybe journalists spend too much time in front of the computer. But I suppose it's a better euphemism and circumlocution than "fisherpersons."
This leads to the whole move to gender-neutralize our language (as a way to get us to gender-neutralize our thoughts). "Chairman" has become the silly "chairperson." "Workmen" are now "workers." Female congressmen are routinely called "Congresswoman" or "Congressperson" - though the constitution knows no such term. I recall a former woman congressman named Helen Chenowith who was offended if anyone called her any of these ridiculous PC titles. She wanted to be called "Congressman Chenowith." Good for her! She understands that the word (and suffix) "man" is already gender-neutral. In the days when we had real education instead of political indoctrination in our schools, everyone understood this. Just as everyone knew the difference between "sex" and "gender." The current move to strike "sex" as a human characteristic and replace it with "gender" is a PC move to promote those whose perceived gender (which is subjective) conflicts with their sex (which is objective and physical).
And when did "oriental" become racist? Would someone please give me a timetable? The word simply means "Eastern." We speak of the Middle East all the time. Ditto for the "Nordic" (a word that means "Northern") countries. In the U.S., we talk about the South, the Deep South, the Midwest, the Southwest, the Northeast, and the Northwest, and with the possible exception of "The South" (which might be a "wrong-bad" word to some anti-Southern bigots), these labels of geography are not racist. Australians and New Zealanders come from "down under." Japan is in the Far East.
So why is the McDonald's Oriental Salad now called "Asian Salad"? And will the Oriental Rug soon become Asian Floor Coverings?
I like the explanation of one oriental comedian: "Oriental is politically incorrect because orientals can't say oriental."
And what's up with "Native American"? I'm a Native American; I was born in Akron (and yes, we do have a stadium called the Rubber Bowl, and yes, we do have an old blimp hangar so large that it used to form rainclouds inside!). I've a native of this country. There is nothing wrong with the word "Indian." Obviously, the word's origins lie in a mistaken geography, but the entire world knows that Cherokees don't come from New Delhi. We have the Cleveland Indians, Indian motorcycles, and the State of Indiana. There is nothing wrong with the Washington Redskins and the Atlanta Braves (and as a native American who is also part Indian, I think I'm permitted to have an opinion on that).
I have no problem just being "white." I'm not a Caucasian - none of my ancestors to my knowledge come from this mountainous region of Russia. Nor am I a Euro (that's currency), nor am I a European-American (never been there) - although it's likely that most of my ancestors came from Europe. But that's separate from race, isn't it? What do we do with all the blacks of African descent who are French? If they move to the states, are they African-Americans, or European-Americans? What about white people whose ancestors have been in Africa for centuries. If they come to the States, are they African-Americans? One white applicant to an Ivy League school was nearly prosecuted for checking the African-American box. Of course, I don't see the harm, given that nobody is given special treatment on account of race anyway, right? I mean, that's what the academy keeps assuring us.
Nationality and continent of origin are simply different matters than race. Race is admittedly somewhat subjective, but for the most part, you can tell which one of the Big Three most people belong to. Of course, there are more and more mixed-race people who defy categorization, but that's the case whether we call them white or black, or Caucasian or African-American. I mean, what label do we give Tiger Woods? How about "Golfer-American" (I had better get copyright protection on that one...).
Some may argue that the terms "white" and "black" aren't accurate. And technically, this is true. But the terms themselves are a kind of symbolic shorthand (which all of language is, if you think about it) for two of the three categorical races of man. Nobody really interprets "black" and "white" as adjectives to describe a person's race as being literally those colors.
Ironically, it is still PC to identify white people as "white." I guess not enough whites have demanded a neologism to describe their racial heritage. And there was even a movement in the 1960s to make "black" the preferred term for black people. The bottom line is this: these words are just fine. We know what they mean. They are neutral terms that are not judgmental or pejorative.
The PC terms are simply an attempt to impose a certain mindset through the use of certain words. People are bullied into using them, and the logical conclusion to the PC silliness is that dogs may no longer be called "dogs," but no amount of linguistic prestidigitation, psychobabble, and personnel department bullying ("human resources" is too PC for my tastes) will make a dog into a human being. In the final analysis, words don't create reality. Only God's Word can do that.
I think our culture is going to the Canine Americans.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
I know you are, but what am I?
I'm not a big fan of labels. Too often they get in the way of real dialogue. Person A says: "I believe such and such." Person B says: "Oh, so you're a [fill in the blank]." Meaningful discussion ends, either in silence, or in a fight peppered with namecalling and ad hominem attacks.
American Lutheranism is awash with factions that rally around labels, complete with political lobbying organizations, websites, e-mail lists, newsletters, and lists of candidates to vote for in church conventions.
On the one hand, I'd like to trash all the labels. However, there can be a salutary use of labels - so long as they are truly used to describe beliefs and not simply as short-cuts around deep thought and engagement of ideas.
Many of us Lutherans who see ourselves as defined by our sixteenth century confessions, as in submission to the inerrant Holy Bible, as wedded to the traditional liturgy (conducted with reverence and dignity), as a catholic continuity from the ancient and medieval Church, focused on God's monergistic justifying grace that works through specific humble means (the Word of God and the holy sacraments) to deliver Jesus Christ crucified to us physically and bodily - are described by certain terminology.
We are labelled by our detractors with such epithets as: liturgical nazis, blackshirts, stuffed-shirt Lutherans, Romanizers, Orthophiles, dead-orthodox, speed bumps, etc. We are accused of being unloving, legalistic, not mission-minded, lacking a heart for Jesus and the lost, and being a cult of purity. On the other hand, the labels we typically use to describe ourselves and our understanding of the faith include "conservative" and "confessional."
Both of these are, in and of themselves, fine terms. I would (and sometimes do) label myself as both. I'm a theological conservative, as I don't believe in change for change' s sake. Change must be truly warranted, and then must move at a glacial pace, and always consider the catholicity of the Church. Theological conservatism stands up for a view of Scriptural inerrancy over and against liberal methods of reading the Bible (such as higher criticism). Conservatism is opposed to left-wing and anti-biblical trends such as feminism and the homosexual agenda. I'm all for this kind of conservatism.
I can identify with the "conservative" label, but I think it hardly tells the whole story. For there are very conservative churches (who don't ordain women and uphold biblical inerrancy) whose worship practices include walkabout wise-cracking pastors with metal studs and bawbles in their faces, big screens, guitars, drums, and people waving their arms about in a rock-concert frenzy. There are also liturgical conservatives who piously limit their communion services (never using the term "Mass" of course) to once or twice a month (I suppose whether they need it or not...). I don't identify with these kinds of conservatism.
Then there is the label "confessional." This one is more sticky. For technically speaking, all Lutherans are by definition confessional (binding themselves to the Lutheran confessions in the Book of Concord of 1580). Therefore, when a faction of Lutherans describes itself as being "confessional Lutheran," the other side takes umbrage, perceiving an insult (which in fact, it may be). Some district presidents have banned the term's use in their districts, threatening groups that identify themselves using the adjective "confessional" with expulsion from synod.
Confessional refers to restoring the Book of Concord to its normative position in our churches' doctrine and practice, blowing off the dust, and actually reading and studying the confessions. And I'm all for that. Hence I can identify with the label "confessional" as well. But once again, there are difficulties with this word too. Many "confessional" Lutherans (self-described) embrace practices I disagree with, like teaching receptionism (the belief that the communion elements only become the body and blood of Jesus when they hit the believers' tongues). Some confessional Lutherans also pitch the leftover blood of Jesus into the garbage (especially if they use the disposable jiggers). There are confessional churches who only define themselves over and against Roman Catholicism, who believe that ordination is only a quaint ritual that does nothing, who are content with Puritanical sanctuaries and Methodist vestments. I find myself alienated from many confessional Lutherans as well - whose interpretation of those confessions is done in a historical vacuum.
Some other term is needed.
Losing My Tradition
A few weeks ago, my wife and I spent some time in Columbia, SC visiting friends. We stayed with a continuing Anglican friend who is studying for holy orders, and met a couple of clergymen from his diocese - true gentlemen and churchmen in the finest sense of those words. We also had a nice visit with one of our friends who is a political science professor at the University of South Carolina. He and his family are delightful people who have turned their suburban yard into a functioning vegetable garden. They are proponents of the Catholic Land Movement (as espoused by Chesterton and Belloc), valuing independence, modest living, stay at home mothering, limiting consumption, etc. In visiting with my two sets of friends (who don't know one another), the same terms came up again and again in conversation: tradition, traditional, traditionalism, and traditionalist.
Yes, they would all consider themselves conservative (although that term has largely become synonymous with a narrow political agenda that not all true conservatives support in its entirety), as well as "confessional" in the sense of being guided by a specific confession, historic writings that serve as a basis of their beliefs. But such terminology doesn't go far enough to describe what they believe. I realized that while I could describe myself as a conservative, confessional, Lutheran, the term that more accurately describes the "movement" within Lutheranism that I find myself and my colleagues involved in is "Traditionalism."
"Tradition" is a Latin translation of the Greek term "paradidomi" - which means "handing over." St. Paul uses this word in two different ways in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 when he writes:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered ["handed over"] to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed ["handed over"] took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
Thus Jesus was "handed over" ("traditioned") to his enemies, and the Words of Jesus were "handed over" ("traditioned") to the apostles, and through them, to the Church. These words were "traditioned" by word of mouth even before they had been "scriptured" (committed to writing).
Thus the Church lives and breathes through tradition, through the eucharistic Supper, through God's Word that has been "traditioned" to us from ancient times, through the proclamation of the Gospel that has been "traditioned" to us from a chain of pastors reaching back to the apostles.
Many Lutherans have a bad taste in their mouths regarding tradition, which dates back to the Reformation's insistence that God's Word in Scripture trumps doctrine that can only be found in oral narratives under the rubric "tradition." Fair enough. There were plenty of superstitions and fairy tales that masqueraded as tradition, and they needed to be excised (just as Jesus criticized false Scripture-usurping tradition in His preaching). And yet, is it necessary to throw the baby out with the bathwater as many of our Protestant (and conservative Lutheran) brethren contend?
Furthermore, culturally speaking, since the 1960s, the generation of Americans known as "baby-boomers" have sought to make tradition extinct. The past was seen as crippling, stifling, and worst of all "boring." Change became a mantra, ancient ways were discarded, and untried and experiental arrangements were being tried in every area of culture: music, literary symbolism, politics, family life, sexual mores, and of course, religious belief. This jettison of tradition promised great things: a new age of freedom, happiness, as well as personal fulfillment and empowerment (of course, instead it has left a swath of divorce, abortion, disease, dysfunction, and a sense of disconnect and ennui that has created unprecedented demands for psychotropic drugs in order to "cope" with the "fruits" of this new culture).
Different churches took different approaches to the Age of Aquarius onslaught. Some stanchly defended tradition and the "old ways," others quickly capitulated and embraced rapid change, still others simply made incremental changes over many years until now, some forty years later, they have largely implemented the 1960s purge of tradition without noticing it. The "conservative" and "confessional" Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has taken the latter path.
Dragging its feet against these radical cultural trends, the LCMS has slowly and grudgingly traded its traditions for modernity. Bit by bit, she has capitulated to the Woodstock philosophy. She gradually extended the role of women to the point now where she, like most Protestant "denominations" and Vatican II Roman Catholics, endorse women's suffrage, representation in synods, chairing of boards, serving as "elders" and presidents of congregations, readers, acolytes, and communion assistants. Women serve in various roles as "commisioned ministers" and chaplains, and may now even teach seminary classes. After much wrangling, the LCMS has given the green light to participation in public services with Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs (such "ecumenism" is not at all uncommon among American Roman Catholics). Much of the literature coming out of St. Louis pushes for further modernization and change in the LCMS culture so as to address changing demographics in the U.S. and abroad.
And yet, in the face of this constant push for change, the LCMS maintains an image of staunch conservatism!
Running many years behind the trendsetters, the LCMS has taken on the worst of both worlds, creating an ugly hybrid between a purely traditional and a purely modern approach, creating a Frankenstein monster hacked together with many different corpses - while trying to appeal to both traditionalists and those who reject tradition.
This is best illustrated by our worship practices.
How many of our churches offer "contemporary" worship, "traditional" worship, and "blended" worship"? Unlike Jesus who was observed to do all things well, we seem to do all things poorly. Our synod's "contemporary" worship tries to wed traditional substance and anti-traditional style - creating a trainwreck of hypocrisy and the attempt to send two antithetical messages at the same time. It has degenerated into a doctrinal muddle that emphasizes entertainment at the expense of the Gospel. Our "traditional" worship (which has largely been marginalized into the ghetto of the earliest possible hour for worship) is typically butchered and conducted so poorly that one wonders if the pastors have ever learned the rubrics for the conduct of the service, read any books at all about the theology and practice of worship, or if they have a clue what all of the symbolism in the liturgy means. And our "blended" services are, in my opinion, really nothing more than a "hegelian dialectic" designed to abolish the so-called traditional service all together - for if we blend "contemporary" and "traditional" enough, a new third option will eventually replace the other two entirely, and what little liturgical tradition we have will be lost.
And when the salt has lost its savor...
While many of the younger generation of pastors are better versed in the church's traditions and there is a budding trend among the laity for a return to reverence and a connection to the past, more than half of our congregations now have some kind of "contemporary" worship. Even among our liturgical congregations very little is left of tradition. How many LCMS congregations make use of full eucharistic vestments, incense, and bells at Divine Service? How many LCMS congregations have regular times for private confession, and how many of our members regularly take advantage of this sacrament? How many of our pastors and laity make use of traditional prayer offices during the week? How many of our bible classes bring the rich history of the church into discussion? How many of our churches are comfortable with traditional terminology such as "Mass" and "Catholic"? How many of our churches serve the blood of Christ in a respectful, traditional common chalice as opposed to Protestant, individualistic "shooters" (some of which are designed to go into the trash when done)? How many of our pastors are willing to genuflect at the high altar, or elevate the holy elements for adoration?
In fact, I know of pastors who are inhibited from even pronouncing absolution ("too Catholic" - read: "too traditional")! Many of our churches are scandalized when the pastor attempts to give the holy body and blood of the Lord every Sunday ("too Catholic") - as our confesions clearly state that we are bound to do. And you can just imagine the outcry if the typical LCMS pastor were to lobby to restore the traditional chalice and replace the shot-glasses, or to (re)introduce incense. Even the vast majority of the most staunch conservative, confessional churches would certainly form a lynch mob to remove the pastor for such actions.
In fairness, they would see these as "changes" instead of a healthy return to tradition, actually a rejection of modernist changes largely from the 20th century. Many are so severed from tradition themselves that they think of traditional Lutheran hymns as "new" while embracing the maudlin (and in some cases heretical) "old favorites" from the 19th century. Obviously, a wise pastor will procede slowly catechize his flock before restoring traditions, and will procede in love, charity, and a concern for fragile souls. A faithful traditionalist pastor may toil for decades and never live to see the Mass restored to every Sunday in his "conservative" and "confessional" parish.
But in the LCMS' untraditional congregational/democratic polity, the shepherd had better not try to lead his flock, lest the flock treat him as a hireling and dictate the "policy" to him, or even fire him. The conversion of the sheep into bishops and the bureaucratic definition of the pastor as a "professional church worker" is yet another downside of casting off tradition (democracy is part of the anti-traditional movement, it is not for nothing that the dollar bill contains the Roman numeral XDCCLXXVI and the Latin term: "novus ordo seclorum" - let the reader understand). This is less likely to occur in traditional churches that maintain traditional polity and use the traditional appellation "Father" to address the pastor.
The Baby Boomers' Worst Nightmare: Back to the Future
There is a phenomenon that is frighteneing to the aging wearers of tie-dye who now hold the reins of power in church and state. There is a move back toward tradition, a backlash against the libertine 1960s culture that left a generation of people bereft of the comforts of the past.
Look around! You see it in both church and secular society, across denominational and philosophical lines. Young Roman Catholic priests (as well as some Lutherans) have rejected the casual "golf shirt and khakis" look that sought to blend in, and are returning to the traditional black cassock. There are nuns who are restoring the traditional habit (over and against the aging hippy nuns who wear T-shirts and jeans). There are even some Baptist and non-denominational clergy who are wearing clerical collars, and in some cases, cassocks! And let's not fail to consider the Roman Church's recently-elected pontiff!
As Bob Dylan sang back in the early 60s, "the times they are a-changin'."
There is the home-school movement, the stay-at-home mothering (and antifeminist)movement, the Catholic Land Movement, and the growth in popularity of Higher Things magazine and its more traditional youth conferences (a truly Lutheran alternative to the disturbing LCMS youth gatherings). There is a traditionalist movement within American Lutheranism manifested by publications like Gottesdienst and Bride of Christ, as well as religious societies such as the Society of the Holy Trinity (which is very traditional with the tragic exception of its embrace of female "pastors") and its all-male counterpart, the Society of St. Polycarp.
Though still a tiny minority within the LCMS, one is more likely to find a "high church" congregation, to hear traditional terminology in the congregation, and to find pastors teaching the Lutheran confessions alongside the early church fathers now than at any time in recent history. It is not uncommon to hear the officially sanctioned prayers that are published by the LCMS Commission on Worship use the term "catholic." There are more Lutheran schools moving toward a classical model and incorporating traditional rhetoric and Latin back into their curricula.
It will be interesting to see what happens as baby-boomers become less of a factor in the LCMS. The aging Charismatic group "RIM" has already had to disband, citing a lack of younger leadership. Both seminaries continue to turn out younger pastors who are not merely "conservative" or "confessional" - but also "traditional." It seems that more district presidents have been recently elected who are (hopefully) at least more tolerant of traditionalism than the "old guard."
On the other hand, the Viagra- and Botox-fueled baby-boomers as a rule have proven tenacious and most unwilling to yield power to their younger counterparts who, unlike them, do not see the 1960s as a "golden age," whose traditionalist ways are considered a scandalous "turning back of the clock." I don't believe we have seen the last of traditionalist pastors being shafted by the hierarchy, nor can we expect non-traditional congregations to welcome traditionalist pastors with open arms. There is still plenty of struggle ahead, and traditionalist pastors must be patient, pastoral, and loving with their congregants even as they must be firm with meddling bureaucrats, steadfast in the holy faith, and submissive to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Hopefully, we will not see a continued loss of traditionalist pastors to the Eastern Orthodox and/or Roman Catholic churches. It has been heartbreaking to see some of our brightest and best theologians, some of our most pastoral servants of the Church, flee to other communions. Make no mistake, they are being driven away by Ablaze!, Jesus First, synodical shenanigans, feminism, lay ministers, DELTO, irreverent worship, defining the ministry as a "profession," low-church "conservatism," and democratic polity - in short, by the LCMS's anti-traditionalism. Though I suspect most LCMS lay people are unaware, there has been a bloodletting of traditionalist pastors and laymen who have either been run off, or who have given up on the LCMS and left. It is my prayer that this hemorrhage is at an end, that the trend toward traditionalism (along with institutions like the Society of St. Polycarp, Gottesdienst, and various blogsites that promote and espouse traditionalism) will bolster weary pastors who are fed up with gimmicks and corporate cheerleading masqerading as church, who seek a church that looks and acts like a Church rather than a "branch office" of a "corporation."
Will the LCMS continue to be tossed about by the waves of fads, thrown hither and yon by the whims of modernism and postmodernism? Or will the boomer culture shrivel and die, and yield to a return to tradition and a rejection of the experimentation and hubris of the bell-bottomed generation? Will we find ourselves hopelessly lost, mired in postmodernism and liberalism like the Episcopalian Church, or will we, like the continuing Anglicans, heirs of the traditionalist Oxford Movement, rediscover the facets of our own catholicity and tradition that allow the Gospel's light to reflect from our Church, the dazzling light that finds its source in Jesus, the Light of the World, Himself?
Only time will tell. Meanwhile, traditionalist pastors and laymen (of both sexes), take heart! Be loving but bold. Be patient, but firm. Pray fervently for a restoration of traditional piety in our synod, and if it is not to be in our synod, in American Lutheranism whatever shape it may take in the future. Pray also for non-Lutherans who are likewise struggling to uphold traditional Christianity in the face of feminism, the homosexual agenda, indifference toward the sacraments, and a postmodern worldview that denies the divinity (or the humanity) of Jesus. Support traditional pastors and congregations, as well as journals like Gottesdienst and Bride of Christ.
Don't expect the solution to lie in politics, but rather in repentence, humility, prayer, the grace given to us at Baptism, and a faith found and nourished at the confessional and the communion rail. Remember, we dare not fall into the anti-traditionalist and modernist trap that this is all about us. It isn't. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”
Friday, September 08, 2006
He implores men to live up to their God-given vocation as the head of the family over and against the feminist model of family life that dominates our culture, even among conservative Christians. Humphrey cites Scripture in his argument, and points out the various pitfalls of the modern American lifestyle that, I suspect, most Christians have not even considered.
His article is provocative and articulate, a call to repentence that is long overdue, one that will upset a lot of people, and will, no doubt, be met by cries of "legalism!" and "Pietism!" by some confessional Lutherans. But frankly, I see no holes in his thought, and I agree with him that we should be taking very real steps toward restoring traditional family institutions among ourselves, weaning ourselves from the luxuries that we perceive to be "necessities" for the sake of our families.
This is also an example of why "traditionalism" is a better and more comprehensive path than mere "conservatism" (I'm working on an article on this topic, please check back later). Most members of the LCMS are self-described conservatives, and yet, most of our families have capitulated to the modern, feminist, secularized model of family life that is alien to the Holy Scriptures and to the Christian life, a way of life that is indistinguishable from the lives of non-believers.
Monday, September 04, 2006
There are some who say that New Orleans should be left to die on the vine. After all, it is vulnerable and it will cost money to rebuild it. Of course, Manhattan and Long Island are vulnerable to hurricanes (when the Big One hits the Big Apple, you'll see), Pennsylvania is vulnerable to flooding (as have been the Carolinas and Virginia, thanks to inclement weather), Texas and Oklahoma are subject to wildfires, California is vulnerable to earthquakes and mud slides, the entire midwest is "tornado alley" and St. Louis seems to have problems keeping the electricity going when bad weather hits that city. Florida has some 900 miles of vulnerable coast, and they get very dangerous blizzards in the plains and in the rockies.
This article doesn't say any of the above. It sticks to the topic of New Orleans and why this city is crucial to America. And no, it isn't the usual maudlin drivel about diversity, the socio-cultural importance of jazz music, or an appeal to crawfish and jambalaya. This is a pragmatic economic issue for the entire United States. This analysis soars above partisan political squabbling and provincial pride.
It's not often I'm impressed by the writing of an academician in matters of economics and public policy, but this one is a home run.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Text: Mark 7:31-37 (Isa 29:18-24, Rom 10:9-17) (Historic)
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
There is a close relationship between hearing and speaking. When a person is deaf, unless he receives special therapy, he will likely also be mute. For how can one talk when one can’t listen to the words to imitate them?
The same is true with the Word of God. To be deaf to the utterances of God is the worst handicap of all, for as Paul points out in our epistle that faith comes by hearing – and not just any hearing, but by hearing God’s Word.
And when one can’t hear God’s Word, he can have no faith. Without hearing, one cannot speak what he has heard. Nor can he confess what he doesn’t believe.
To become a Christian is to have one’s ears unplugged and one’s tongue loosened, to hear, to believe, and to speak. But because of sin, we are all born blind, deaf, and dumb. We are all suffering from a terminal illness. We are damaged goods, in the body and in spirit.
And this is why Jesus is constantly working miracles to restore those who are broken in both body and spirit. For all forms of sickness – physical, psychological, and spiritual – have a common source: the brokenness brought on by sin. Into this worldly sick ward comes our Great Physician. And unlike the eastern gurus and masters of the false religions, Jesus doesn’t tell them to distance themselves from their bodies and to focus only on spiritual health and wellbeing. Instead, in our Gospel text, Jesus first attends to the physical needs of this handicapped man. He physically touches the man, he uses his own spittle, water from his very mouth, and he finally uses his own words, sighing and looking toward heaven, he commands: “Ephphtha – be opened.”
In curing his deafness, Jesus also cures his inability to speak. In taking away his impediment to hear, our blessed Lord also removes the barrier to faith. And once this is done, the natural thing for the now-healthy man to do is to confess what happened to him, to tell others of the good news of his redemption, of being made whole, of his ability to believe because of what he hears. In fact, Jesus tries to prevent this man from publicly confessing, for it is not yet time. Ironically, the man’s faith and need to confess conflicts with what Jesus tells him to do, and in his weakness, he proclaims the Gospel.
And this, dear brothers and sisters, is how the Church operates even to this day. Oh, sure, we have TV and radio, satellite technologies, cell phones, text messaging, and the internet – and these technologies can certainly assist the Church in her proclamation of the Gospel, but the divinely mandated method is really as low-tech as you can get. For as Paul points out, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But in order to call, one must believe. And since this belief, this faith, comes by hearing, someone must do the talking. That means some authorized speaker, some preacher, must be sent by God.
This is how the Gospel is spread. This is how your faith is quickened and nourished. Jesus himself encounters all of us broken and crippled people, and using a preacher to speak and a baptizer to administer the water from the mouth of Jesus, our blessed Lord cries out “Ephphatha” to each one of us. Our ears are unplugged from their resistance to the Gospel. We are able to hear and to believe. And by this same act of healing, our tongues are loosed, our mouths are opened, our speech is clarified so that we might repeat what the preacher has himself repeated to us.
This is why every Sunday we confess what we believe in. Having just heard the Word of God in Scripture, we opened our mouths together to confess just what it is that we believe, what faith has come through hearing. And that faith is summarized by the Nicene Creed.
This, dear friends, is what our tongues have been loosed to proclaim! This is the faith that enables us to call upon the name of the Lord. This is the faith through which we are saved. As the apostle teaches us: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
It is not enough to simply believe in the Nicene Creed. For what comes out of the mouth is simply the overflow from the heart. Belief that is not confessed is not belief at all.
Nor is it enough to confess a general belief in Jesus. This is very important. For just about everyone has some kind of belief in Jesus – some kind of respect for him as a pious teacher, a good man, a moral example, an interpreter of Judaism, a misunderstood religious genius, a prophet, a buddha, a saint, or a defender of the poor and outcast. Some of these things may have some truth to them, but if this is the center of your faith in Jesus, you are in danger of the fires of hell. For the faith that God bestows on us as his gift, by virtue of his unstopping our ears and loosening our lips, is faith in the divine and human Jesus who is raised from the dead. “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Brothers and sisters, this confession is what is required of you. You are to simply repeat what it is you believe in. You are not required to preach (unless you are a pastor). You are not required to try to argue or reason people into the faith (as though that were even possible). You are not required to try to manipulate non-believers into the holy faith with gimmicks and programs.
For unless the Lord Jesus himself opens a person’s sin-silenced mouth and sin-clogged ears with his own command: “Ephphatha,” you will waste your words on a person who cannot hear them. And St. Paul makes it clear how this divine “Ephphatha” is spoken: “How shall they hear without a preacher?”
For as helpful as radio spots, TV commercials, free bibles, websites with testimonies and counters of “critical events,” as well as trademarked slogans on t-shirts and office supply gimmicks may seem to be, they do not bear the promise of delivering God’s Word unto sinners to bring them to everlasting life. Only the Word of God proclaimed by a preacher has the promise of effectiveness.
If you truly have missionary zeal and a desire to save the lost (as I hope every person in this sanctuary does), the best thing you can do is this: invite people to church (where the Word is proclaimed by a preacher, and where Jesus opens ears and lips) and pray for those who need the Gospel, that the Lord will open their ears and lips and give them faith. Pray in the words of our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah, that “those also who erred in spirit will come to understanding. And those who complained will learn doctrine.” While not as flashy as big numbers on a website, this personal, even intimate access to the Word of God is how God himself has designed it to work.
One of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church was the 6th century Pope St. Gregory the Great (who was praised both by Luther and by the Lutheran confessions, whose book on pastoral care is still used as a text in our seminaries). Today is actually a day of commemoration of St. Gregory according to the church calendar. It’s fitting that Gregory writes concerning our Gospel text: “The Spirit is called the finger of God. When the Lord puts his fingers into the ears of the deaf mute, he was opening the soul of man to faith through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”
For just as according to St. Gregory Jesus worked through the humble means of his own words, fingers, and saliva to impart the Holy Spirit to the deaf-mute, he continues to create faith in the hearts of men through the humble means of men ordained into the office of preaching. And along with the Nicene Creed, we Lutherans also confess in the words of our Augsburg Confession, “so that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given.” And this is just another way of saying: “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” God has ordained men for this purpose, and he chooses to work this way even if we think technology, “lay ministers” and sales gimmicks can do a better job of it.
And so, dear Christians, please pray for your pastors. We are unworthy mouthpieces for the Gospel, charged with the impossible task of not only confessing the Gospel, but teaching and proclaiming it. And through this proclamation, through the “Ephphatha” of preaching and the administration of the baptismal water from the mouth of Jesus, the once-deaf are allowed to hear, the once-faithless to believe, and the once-mute to confess the “faith once delivered to the saints.” And “in that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.” They shall “hallow the Holy One of Jacob, and fear the God of Israel.”
And let us not only confess the faith, but praise the Author of the faith for all he has done for us, for his miraculous “Ephphatha.” “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.” Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.