Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Institutional dishonesty

Maybe it has always been this way, but it really does seem like we have lost the ability to engage inintelligent academic discourse. There is an "acceptable" position, and any point of view that does not conform is met with vitriol, childish bluster, political machinations, and outright lies that are justified in the name of a self-righteous agenda.

We certainly see it in the blog world as well (and you know who you are).

Thomas DiLorenzo catalogues the outright lies that have been employed against him by his critics - for no reason than that they disagree with him. But rather than refute his argument, they resort to the tyranny of character assassination.

Sic semper tyrannis!

A truly astounding medical breakthrough

This just seems impossible. It's almost like cloning new parts, or like the kind of things promised by stem cell research without having to kill babies to do it.

More evidence of the brilliant intelligent design behind life.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Grace before meals in Latin chant

I teach the table prayer (which is part of Luther's Small Catechism) to my Latin students. As a family, we sometimes pray it at home in Latin before meals (though Leo typically protests that he wants to pray in English - but then again, he would also like to eat gummi worms for supper, so it's not up to him now, is it?). ;-)

Of course, teaching very young children is easy if you employ repetition, and double easy if you sing.

We do have yet to chant the table prayer, either in Latin or in English, at the "Hollywood" home, but I really do like the idea. Click here for a link from which you can not only learn the words of the prayer in Latin, but also a peek at the musical notation of Gregorian chant in its traditional form (which has four lines instead of five, no stems on the notes, and freedom to set the initial pitch in any range). There is also an MP3 of the prayer.

Gregorian chant is making quite a comeback, both among Roman and Evangelical Catholics (the latter of which are known popularly by the epithet "Lutheran") - not to mention Anglicans and other Western Christians of a traditional and historical bent. I do think this is part of a greater movement within the Church that yearns for stable tradition over and against the shifting sands of perpetual change, as well as a desire to see beauty once again become the hallmark of Christian worship over and against gimmicks and the lowest common denominator of lowbrow culture that sadly typifies what is done in many of our churches across denominational lines.

"Benedic, Domine" indeed!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rogate (Easter 6)

27 April 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 16:23-33 (Num 21:4-9, Jas 1:22-27)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

After three years of speaking in parables, and in figurative language, our Lord Jesus speaks plainly to His disciples. They are nearing the end of their time of study with their Teacher, and are soon to be graduated into becoming teachers of the faith themselves. As our Lord nears the end of His earthly ministry, the disciples approach the beginning of theirs.

But there is one more test that will be given to the twelve students, a test that all would fail, though only one would be removed from the course of study. And even though the eleven will fail from a worldly standpoint, they will succeed by the grace of their Teacher. Though they will fail miserably, their Lord would succeed for them mercifully, on their behalf, and in their place.

As the time nears for our Lord to go to the cross, the disciples finally begin to get the picture. And with this revelation comes yet another revelation: “You will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone,” says our Lord, “And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” Our Lord warns His students: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Jesus promises the disciples peace, while assuring them that from the world, they will receive trials and tribulation. They will not be able to overcome the world that hates them and seeks their destruction, but our Lord Himself has overcome the world.

The fathers of the Church have given us this passage just before we remember our Lord’s ascension into heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit to us. It is a kind of flashback to a turning point in the training of the disciples, indeed, a pivotal moment in the history of the Church. At last, they are just beginning to understand the nature of our Lord’s ministry. There will be no glorious kingdom of this world. Instead, there will be pain and suffering. There will be tribulation. There will be a cross.

And yet, through it all, Jesus has good news for them, a gospel of victory and peace. Even though they will be harassed and circled by the evil one their whole lives long. For no matter what may befall the disciples, no matter what may (and will) happen to the Lord’s little flock, we will be just fine. For He has overcome the world.

And given that our Lord has done it all for us, we can get on with carrying out His work with no thought of how we can overcome the world, how we can make ourselves worthy of Him, how we can buy, beg, borrow, steal, or earn our way into the kingdom.

He has overcome the world, dear friends. The kingdom is already ours!

And we are free to live in that victory. We have been freed from a spirit of timidity that would make us only hearers of the Word, and not doers. For we have come face to face with ourselves, our ugly selves, our sinful selves in the law’s unflattering mirror. And Jesus has not only made us perfect in God’s sight, He has even overcome the mirror on our behalf. We can do good works without even looking in the mirror, without looking over our shoulder, hoping that God and men are somehow keeping score. We know what our image is already, for we have been made in God’s image. And even though we have made our image ugly by sin, it is our Lord, the image of God’s righteousness made flesh, that has recreated that image into one of beauty, for He has overcome the world on our behalf.

Because the Lord has saved us, we can indeed do good works without counting the cost, without seeking praise, without expecting a reward. For we have already been rewarded for the greatest work of all – the work of our Lord on the cross, which is ours by faith. Dear brothers and sisters, do you realize how remarkable this is? Do you see how this changes everything? You already have the entire glorious, eternal kingdom of God. You don’t have to work for the kingdom, but now you are free to share the kingdom that is already yours through Jesus, purely out of love. Selfishness has been removed from the equation.

We have been freed up to practice, in the words of St. James, “pure and undefiled religion” which is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted by the world.” The need to be “holier than thou” has been swept away. Our futile attempts to enter the kingdom through craftiness and industry are meaningless. We have been brought in through the front door of the banquet hall as a child of the king, borne on a cross, and marked with blood and water.

We are free to simply help people out of love and compassion. This is indeed a religion “pure and undefiled” – liberated from the self-centered need to earn a prize, freed from the tyranny of the scorecard, and forever separated from a desire to prove ourselves worthy of the kingdom.

And since we are worthy, this is exactly why we are to bridle our tongues. We are royalty, not drunken brawlers in the gutter. We are priests and co-regents with God’s holy Son, not shifty con men and shamefully attired harlots. We are more than conquerors through Him who overcame the world, aristocrats, not petty grumblers who take God’s mercy for granted and turn ourselves into a curse for the servants of the Lord, instead of a blessing.

For like the believers Moses writes of in Numbers, we are according to the flesh grumbling sinners who need to repent. “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you” the repentant children of Israel confess to Moses, “pray to the Lord that he would take away the serpents from us.” And thanks be to God for their repentant hearts!

For the grumblers who dogged Moses and Aaron, plaguing their ministry with complaints in the very face of the Lord’s bountiful goodness, brought a curse of serpents upon the entire people of God. The serpent, who led our ancestors astray in the Garden, became a blight upon the children of Israel in the wilderness. And see how the Lord uses a serpent to defeat the serpent, even as our Lord Jesus overcomes the world by coming into the world, even as He overcomes death by death, even as He overcomes sin by becoming sin for us. The snake became a means of salvation, even as the serpent, the devil, unwittingly became a pawn in his own destruction and a tool by whom the Lord won salvation for us.

We sinners must repent! We must repent of our indifference to widows and orphans. We must repent of our ungratefulness, our grumbling, our rebellion, and our lack of faith. We must repent of putting our faith in ourselves to overcome the world, when it is our Lord who has overcome the world on our behalf.

And in so doing, we can gaze upon the Crucified One, the flesh that takes the place of bronze, the Man that takes the place of the serpent (all the while crushing the serpent’s head), the cross that takes the place of a pole, the Resurrected One that takes the place of death, the life of freedom and true religion that takes the place of burdensome rules and the false religion of hypocrisy.

Dear brothers and sisters, we who gaze upon Christ Crucified, we who have been healed by the One who has fulfilled the prophecy of the serpent on the pole, the One who washes us clean with baptismal water and gives us His very flesh and blood to eat and to drink, speaks plainly to us, without figures of speech. He has overcome the world.

For in spite of the world, the devil, our flesh, our sinfulness, our grumbling, our constant battle with the image we see in the mirror, the daily struggle with the Old Adam, in spite of all these things, our Risen Lord has made a promise: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Il pleut!

We're in the middle of a veritable freshet, a sub-tropical deluge of gusting wind and torrential rain and balmy heat. The palm fronds and banana leaves are swaying mightily as the rain continues to come down in horizontally blowing sheets. Occasionally, a bombastic crack of thunder causes, without exaggeration, the air in the lungs to tighten and the walls of the house to rumble.

The gushing of the rainwater drowns out even the erratic and emphatic protests of the wind chimes. The ubiquitous lizards have all sought asylum under the lee of the lush foliage. The citrus trees, snugly nestled between house and fence, are almost visibly smiling as they sway and drink in the nectar of God's nourishing, lavish renewal, offering their gleaming and garish fruits as a kind of thank offering to the Lord.

An afternoon such as this must have prompted New Orleans resident Tennessee Williams to write:

"Don't you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour - but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands - and who knows what to do with it?" (from A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947).

Friday, April 25, 2008

A few more thoughts on Texas

After further review, I do have a few more thoughts about the FLDS situation in Texas, which is essentially a "class action child-removal," including the forced removal of children from even traditional nuclear families within the cult, families where there isn't even the hint of polygamy or child marriage. There is a presumption of guilt by virtue of membership in a religion.

I think we are being somewhat dishonest when we call them a "polygamist cult" (as I did in my last post). I have no problem with the word "cult," as they are Mormons, and I consider Mormonism is a cult. However, I would surmise that more than a few conservative Lutherans were willing to vote for a man who belongs to this cult for president of the United States. I realize that Sen. Romney is not a member of this particular branch of the LDS, but nevertheless, the FLDS and the mainstream LDS are certainly closer to each other than, say, a Lutheran and a Baptist (and certainly much closer than a Lutheran and a mainstream Mormon). If anything, the FLDS is a repristination to a more (and please note the quotation marks) "orthodox" version of Mormonism, more consistent with the original faith and practice of that 19th century American religion.

If we have no problem referring to these Texas Mormons as cult members, we should be consistent and be willing to label prominent politicians with the same epithet.

So, the label "cult" isn't a problem (and the definition is subjective anyhow). But are they "polygamous?"

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there will not be a single charge of polygamy in this case. For polygamy involves fraudulently applying for a marriage license when a person is already married. The crime of polygamy is not about being sexually active outside of marriage. That is no longer illegal. So-called "open marriages" are not illegal. Communes are not illegal. "Swinging" is not illegal. Even having children in such arrangements is not criminal. However, applying for a marriage license and attempting to make the state recognize multiple spouses is illegal - that's what "polygamy" is. Trying to pull the wool over the eyes of a potential spouse by getting a marriage license when one is already legally married is "polygamy" and is illegal. The crime of polygamy is really more along the lines of fraud than anything else.

I seriously doubt that any of these folks in the FLDS tried to secure any fraudulent marriage licenses. Therefore, whatever crimes may have been committed (and it is taking quite a while for charges to be levied), one of them is not polygamy.

I find a lot of hypocrisy about the whole polygamy business. People who lobby the state to allow same-sex marriage, who have no problem with serial marriage, who have no problem with co-habitation and pre- and extra-marital sex, people who claim the state needs to "stay out of the bedroom" suddenly become Puritanical advocates of the Nanny State and the Gatekeepers of Morality when we're talking about people who advocate modesty, self-sufficiency, and male headship of the family in addition to multiple sex partners as a tenet of their religion. All of the sudden, we see left-wingers denouncing a "lifestyle choice" and ordering DNA tests.

Even conservative Christian people who have a problem with teenagers marrying likely have the same situation in their own families not too long ago. My mother was married (with parental permission) at 17 (and my dad was 23). My mother's mother legally married a man in his thirties when she was 15 (they were married 50 years and had 10 children). My dad's sister was married at 15. All three of these Christian marriages lasted until one spouse died many decades later, and resulted in many children. Nobody was called a pedophile or charged with rape. Though I don't encourage it, it is not unheard of for teenagers to get married, even to men who are a little older. It's all over my own family tree. Even the Blessed Virgin Mary was said to be in her young teens upon being betrothed, and again, according to tradition, Joseph was a widower and much older. Again, I certainly would encourage teens to wait until they are older, both to marry and to become sexually active - but if teenagers getting married is criminal, I'm the living product of many crimes.

Now, mind you, I don't endorse the living arrangement of this cult in any way - neither their theology nor their "lifestyle." But we need to put it into perspective. We also need to ask: "is it illegal?" Adultery is legal. Pre-marital sex is legal. Multiple partners is legal. One of my senators even paid for his "polygamy" - which was illegal only because he paid for it - but he is still my senator. Sen. Craig and Gov. Spitzer are having a little more difficult time, but even they wouldn't lose their children over such things. Surrogate motherhood and homosexual adoption are legal. Having children by multiple women (even while being married to one of them) is not only legal, but increasingly common, and even celebrated in some contexts of the "youth culture." Families with multiple mixtures of step- and bio-parents and all sorts of step-sibling combinations are all legal. No-one has their homes invaded by police and their children taken away for any of those things.

So what is different here?

If underage girls were forced into sexual relationships - whether legally married or not - the people involved should be prosecuted, and the girls must be rescued from anyone preying on them. But that should be pretty easy to ascertain if it is true or not. Of course, this whole matter was set off by a prank phone call and subsequent shoddy police work. Once bureaucrats are invested, once reputations are on the line, once there is exposure to lawsuits for botching up a police operation - getting the authorities to admit a mistake is next to impossible. The more time that passes without some kind of proof, without someone being charged with something, the less credible their case looks. It will increasingly become a "fishing expedition." If all of this rape and mayhem were going on, why isn't it all coming out? Surely, the police would have evidence before rolling tanks onto private property and seizing children.

But the bottom line is when a quarter of all teenage girls in America have venereal diseases, when condoms are being routinely distributed to school children, when girls for whom sex is illegal are getting legal abortions and legal prescriptions for birth control pills, when a huge percentage of children are born out of wedlock - then there is a lot of "crime" going on out there, millions of cases of statutory rape going on in the form of underage sex. And yet, every time a "normal" teenage girl gets pregnant, there is no inquest, no grand jury, and no taking of children away from parents. Planned Parenthood isn't being shut down and school nurses are not being hauled away in handcuffs.

Unless we re-criminalize adultery, start taking children away from parents who have extramarital affairs, and throw doctors in prison for prescribing birth control to teens, I think there is a lot of inconsistency going on here.

Either way, I believe the State of Texas is overstepping its authority in taking hundreds of children away from their parents against their will with no evidence of abuse. There are obviously some innocent people there (if not most or even all of them) - and if nothing else, those people need to get their children back and be left alone. Texas's heavy-handedness and slowness in securing any charges is disturbing. It looks like the kind of thing that used to happen in the Soviet Union, not the United States.

Even the Government is Bigger in Texas

A while back, one of my colleagues in the holy ministry asked me to comment on the situation with the polygamist cult in Texas. I got distracted, and have not yet responded. Now, I don't have to. Another colleague in the holy ministry, the Rev. James McDonald, has done so in a way that I can't add or detract from.

Please take a moment to read his thoughts and analysis here.

He writes from the perspective of a conservative Presbyterian pastor, though I believe he is absolutely right that any stripe of conservative Christian should be concerned and wary over where this is going - even though we certainly don't condone polygamy and polytheism (I never thought I'd ever have to write such a thing, but these days, if you defend anyone as a matter of principle, there will inevitably be someone accusing you of being "one of them").

You Missouri Synod Lutherans who deny evolution and believe the earth is only a few thousand years old, who consider homosexuality to be a sin, who don't condone premarital sex, who oppose abortion and stem cell research, and who refuse to ordain women; you are only slightly less out of step with modern culture than these people. If you think conservative Christians will never be treated as an antisocial cult, just ask some of your Lutheran brethren in Sweden and Finland.

Thumbs up, Pr. McDonald. Thumbs down, State of Texas. And please pray for those hundreds of children caught between the pincers of false religion and the nanny state.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Marquart on Ecclesiastical Bureaucracy

Blessed Kurt Marquart told the following story while serving as a professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Today's news made Prof. Marquart's story pop into my head (let him who has ears to hear...). Marquart didn't write this story, but he was fond of telling it.

A man takes his young son to see an episcopal consecration. At the solemn moment when the hands are being laid on the candidate's head, the boy asks what is happening. The father replies: "Well, son, this is where they remove his spine."

I am sad to say that as disappointed as I am, I am not surprised.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bad Language

There is a natural evolution in language over the course of years. For instance, the Latin spoken in western Europe as a result of the expansion of the empire gradually (over centuries) morphed into the Romance languages (e.g. Spanish, Italian, and French). Language changes, words come and go, grammatical rules are redefined. Even our own American dialect of English can be shockingly different than various dialects spoken in our mother country. Ditto for the variations of French spoken in Canada and Louisiana when compared to that spoken in Europe.

Lingustic variation is natural, but there is also a danger. For example, the English word "suffer" today simply doesn't mean what it did in Elizabethan times (the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). It no longer has the common connotation of having permission. Of course, if a person is unfamiliar with the older definition of the word, he may completely misunderstand our Blessed Lord's invitation: "Suffer the little children..." from the 1611 King James Version of the Bible (Matt 19:14) . When this evolution is gradual, meanings of older words can be taught, or new words can be employed. But when this evolution is forced or rushed, words that meant one thing in the past can now be interpreted as something entirely different. There is a danger of an accidental "bait and switch" by those who call the shots of language.

There is also a sinister lust in our sinful nature to seek the control of others. The easiest way to manipulate a population is to manipulate their collective thoughts. And the key to thought-control is language-control - as George Orwell's 1984 artistically and powerfully demonstrates. When words can be radically redefined, traditions that have become part and parcel of human society can be turned on their heads to the benefit of dictators and other tyrants.

In 1984, the Ministry of Truth was a government bureaucracy whose mission was to rewrite history and overlay truth with a lie (just as the Ministry of Peace's job was perpetual warfare). The people were bombarded with slogans and buzzwords designed to reprogram their traditional thinking, such as "war is peace," and "freedom is slavery." We have seen extreme examples in the United States of the highly politicized use of language and the policing of words as a means of re-education under the guise of "political correctness" (styled "Newspeak" by Orwell, not to mention by Pr. Christopher Hall).

Of course, government bureaucracies around the world continue to manipulate their populations with such linguistic gymnastics. But I'm also suspicious when church bodies and bureaucracies latch onto new and suddenly non-biblical and non-traditional language - usually appropriated from the worlds of commerce and technology. Perhaps there is a genuine need to coin new terms, or to expand the usage of existing nouns into verbs. Things do exist today that did not exist when the Scriptures were written. Even the Roman Catholic Church, which still clings to Latin for official correspondences, must routinely invent new words (neologisms) in Latin for things the imperial caesars and saints simply didn't have - especially in matters of technology and changing political structures.

However, some things never change - creedal things. One of the things we confess in both the Apostles and Nicene creeds is the Church (Greek: Έκκλησία, Latin: ecclesia). This is a word that means "assembly" (of believers). The English word "church" appears to be rooted in the Greek word "kurios" (Lord) as the church is the Lord's house.

What we confess in the creed is a thing called the "Church" - a noun. What the church is comprised of is "people" - also a noun. The people become part of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" by becoming believers, by being baptized and taught the faith. The Church's members are the "baptized," the "believers." Both of these words are based on verbs: "to baptize" and "to believe." A person (noun) becomes a baptized person, becomes a believer, as a result of their being baptized (passive participial form of the verb) and their believing (gerund form of the verb). As a result, they become members of the Church (noun).

However, I'm seeing quite a lot of uses of the word "churched" coming from Protestant sources, which has spilled over into our own Lutheran vocabulary. In fact, with the Ablaze!(tm) program, nearly every correspondence from synod or district includes the word "unchurched" describing the intended target of our mission endeavors. The words "churched" and "unchurched" are adjectival variations of the word "church" used as a verb. In this case, "church" is not being used as it is in the creeds, as a noun, a thing we confess as an article of faith, but rather it has become an verbal adjective to describe something one does. In fact, we often run into a strained related expression: "to do church."

I don't believe this is a natural evolutionary shift in language to accommodate changing realities, rather I think this is symptomatic of a shift in confession. If "church" is a verb that we can "do," than it is no longer a mystery to confess, but rather an activity, like swimming or throwing a baseball. And a "churched" or "unchurched" person is not defined by membership in the church (the noun), but rather by what he does (i.e. "going to church" as an activity, a verb).

So, when did we find the word "churched" as an adjectival participal of the verb "to church" making its appearance in the English language? I figured it must be something from the 1980s. Maybe the 1960s, but more likely, it was coined by some clever church-growth guru in the age of MTV.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that "church" as a verb has been used in English since the 14th century.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Main Entry: 3church
Function: transitive verb
Date:14th century to bring to church to receive one of its rites


This makes sense, as there is an old rite of "churching" a woman who has given birth (which is a blessing of a woman upon her return to worship after having a baby." To "church" a person was to physically convey them to the church building, the place where the church met for divine services. With the exception of baptism, only believers are administered the rites of the church.

So, the word "church" used as a verb has been around for six centuries, but there has still been a recent subtle shift in meaning. For in 14th century England, everyone (with very few exceptions, such as Jews) were members of the Church. There simply were no "unchurched" people in the way the term is used today. A woman who was "churched" was not a person who didn't go to church, or who had never heard of Jesus. Rather to be "churched" was literally to be brought to the building to receive a rite. This rite is today called the "Blessing of a Mother After Childbirth" (LSB Pastoral Care Companion, p. 59).

This bringing of believers into the building to receive a rite is not how our synod uses the term in speaking of reaching "unchurched" people (meaning unbelievers). The word "unchurched" is not biblical, nor is it traditional in this context (just as "doing church" is neither biblical, creedal, nor traditional).

Rather Scripture speaks of believers and non-believers. The mission work of the Church is to "make disciples" by baptism and teaching, to bring people into the Church (ecclesia) through God's means of instilling belief (the "implanted word" of Jas 1:21). We are to bring people to the Church by bringing them to the faith that is proclaimed - typically in a church building.

We are to bring unbelievers to the church to hear the Word of God, so that they may be incorporated, that is, organically bonded, to the Church. This is very different than a 14th century mother who is already a believer being physically conveyed to the parish church.

In speaking of people as "unchurched," we are subtly altering what we mean by the word "church," and thus altering the confession of our creed without changing a word.

I believe we should speak of people as "believers" (instead of "churched") and unbelievers (instead of "unchurched"). The word "unchurched" is too ambiguous. Are Lutherans who attend services only on Christmas and Easter unchurched? Are unbelievers who attend our services churched? What about members of sects, or cults? It also waters down the third article, if not changing it in the minds of many. It turns membership in the church into an activity, which borders on turning grace into a work.

The fact that the word "unchurched" is trendy and used by "experts" in the unbiblical branch of business marketing known as the Church Growth Industry, I believe the term should be shunned. It is a word that is foreign to our Lutheran emphasis on the "monergism of grace" as well as the historic confession of the noun "Church."

I think we need to watch our language. We ought not allow Oprah and Dr. Phil to become the guardians of our ecclesiastical expression.

Maybe instead of speaking of our "relationship" with God, we should start saying "communion" again. Maybe instead of "witnessing," we should be "confessing." Instead of "messages" maybe our pastors should unabashedly preach "sermons" again. Instead of saying "we worship a hundred people on Sunday," maybe we should say: "We worship one God in three persons." Instead of describing every activity as a "ministry" (even basketball and quilting), maybe we should reserve the term for the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. Instead of "servant events" maybe our young people (not our "youth") should be learning that we are servants of Christ all the time, that the Christian life is a life of service, that service is not a staged "event." We ought not be ashamed to worship God in "church sanctuaries", instead of describing such holy places using such almost clinical pragmatic terminology as "worship centers."

Words are important. Carelessness can water down our confession. We must be wary that Satan will use every means at his disposal to strip us of our faith. "Who controls the past', ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,'" says George Orwell through the narrator in 1984. "In the beginning was the Word," says God through the Evangelist in John 1:1.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Inbred politics (not Louisiana)

Here is a report on the recent BCS meeting in the Missouri Synod.

Wow! And my beloved State of Louisiana has a bad reputation when it comes to politics! But then again, Huey P. Long and his spiritual descendants David Vitter, William Jefferson, and Ray Nagin never held themselves out as a churchmen.

If this except below is correct (and I have no reason to doubt its veracity), how can anyone seriously think having David Strand's wife representing the LCMS legally over the issue of the "gag order" imposed by her husband in firing Wilken and Schwarz is not a conflict of interest? And they make fun of my ancestors who come from West Virginia. At least we make a good faith effort to avoid marrying anyone closer than a first cousin. Even I only have six fingers on one of my hands. The LCMS is simply amazing.

We, the State of Louisiana, hereby abdicate the throne of "political inbreeding" and yield to the Synodocrats in Missouri. "The King(fish) is dead. Long live the I-don't-know-what-to-call-it!"

Read and weep:

"The other huge story from the meeting is that Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz told the BCS that they reject the hush money clause of the Synod’s proposed severance package are prepared to walk away from it — benefits and all — if the LCMS doesn’t rescind the gag order! The BCS decided against removing the gag order themselves — a move that would have done much to quell the storm — and instead put the whole issue into the hands of the law firm where, get this, David Strand’s wife serves as the chief counsel for the LCMS. So, the BCS decided to lawyer up. Interesting."

Classic rock (really classic!)

Added: January 23, 2008 (Less info)
In 2007 we brought the love and joy of Billy Joel to the Latin Summer School, with an ad hoc performance of For The Longest Time -- 'Diutissime'. This time we prepared a Latin version of Eric Clapton's Layla, written in the persona of Catullus, singing to his Clodia: see if you can pick up all the references. The Latin is written in alternate lines, with the original lyrics underneath in square brackets. There are opportunities to sing along, and if you're daring enough, pick out your own Clodia to dance with...

Lyrics: Jermir J Punthakey
Performed on Thursday, 17th January, 2008 with: Jermir J Punthakey on vocals and backing guitar, David Brotherson on lead guitar.
Latin Correction: Chris Ransom
Filming: Nathan Tam
Special Thanks To: Arthur Kam
Original Soundtrack: Eric Clapton - Layla


Quid facies cum esses sola
[What'll you do when you get lonely]
Nemoque manet latere tua?
[And nobody's waiting by your side?]
Cucurristi et diu celavisti
[You've been running and hiding much too long.]
Scis solum esse stultam superbiam.
[You know it's just your foolish pride.]

Clodia, habes me genu meo
[Layla, you've got me on my knees.]
Clodia, carissimam te oro
[Layla, I'm begging, darling please.]
Clodia, cara nonne leves anxium animum.
[Layla, darling won't you ease my worried mind.]

Conatus sum dare solamen
[I tried to give you consolation]
Cum 'Rufe frustra' demisit.
[When your old man had let you down.]
Ut stultus, coepi amare te
[Like a fool, I fell in love with you,]
Terrarum orbem confudit.
[Turned my whole world upside down.]

Clodia, habes me genu meo
[Layla, you've got me on my knees.]
Clodia, carissimam te oro
[Layla, I'm begging, darling please.]
Clodia, cara nonne leves anxium animum.
[Layla, darling won't you ease my worried mind.]

Reparemus condicionem
[Let's make the best of the situation]
Ante 'fieri excrucior'
[Before I finally go insane.]
Non negat umquam invenimus viam
[Please don't say we'll never find a way]
'impensius uror' non frustra
[And tell me all my love's in vain.]

Clodia, habes me genu meo
[Layla, you've got me on my knees.]
Clodia, carissimam te oro
[Layla, I'm begging, darling please.]
Clodia, cara nonne leves anxium animum.
[Layla, darling won't you ease my worried mind.]

[Solo + backing]

Clodia, habes me genu meo
[Layla, you've got me on my knees.]
Clodia, carissimam te oro
[Layla, I'm begging, darling please.]
Clodia, cara nonne leves anxium animum.
[Layla, darling won't you ease my worried mind.]

Clodia, 'odi et amo'
[Layla, you've got me on my knees.]
Clodia, 'da mi basia mille'
[Layla, I'm begging, darling please.]
Clodia, 'vivamus atque amemus' iam.
[Layla, darling won't you ease my worried mind.]

Nota Bene:
-Verse 1 line 4: sibilance.
-Verse 2 line 2: 'Rufe frustra' is a reference to Poem 77 (ad Rufum): 'Rufe mihi frustra' -- Rufus being Clodia's lover at the time of writing.
-Verse 3 line 2: 'fieri excrucior' is a reference to Poem 85 (odi et amo): 'nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior' -- "I do not know, but I feel it and I am in agony".
-Verse 3 line 4: 'impensius uror' is a reference to Poem 72 (ad Lesbiam): "I burn with passion more fiercely".
-Final chorus, line 1: 'odi et amo' is a reference to Poem 85 (odi et amo): "I hate and I love".
-Final chorus, line 2: 'da mi basia mille' is a reference to Poem 5 (ad Lesbiam): "Give me a thousand kisses".
-Final chorus, line 3: 'vivamus atque amemus' is a reference to Poem 5 (ad Lesbiam): 'vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus' -- "Let us live, my Clodia, and let us love".
Category: Music
LSS latin summer school eric clapton layla clodia catullus poetry

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sermon: Cantate (Easter 5)

20 April 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: John 16:5-15 (Isa 12:1-6, Jas 1:16-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Our risen Lord says: “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away…”

He tells us the truth, but we’re not too keen on hearing it. He promises to go away, and the apostles are sorrowful, but not a single one of them asks for more information. Why? Because they know Jesus will tell them the truth, and the truth is not always what we want to hear. This is why our Lord says: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth…” He is saying to them: “Even though nobody wants to know what’s happening, even though you are sorrowful, nevertheless, I’m going to lay out the whole unpleasant truth for you right now.”

When the truth isn’t what we want to hear, we are sorrowful, and we shut our ears to the truth. We push back and squirm when the Scriptures say things we don’t like, when God hits us with the law, when we are given doctrines that are hard for us to understand or are at odds with what is popular in the world.

Our sinful flesh would rather hear pleasant lies than unpleasant truths.

Dr. Luther compared preaching of the law to throwing a stick into a pack of dogs. Why anyone would do such a thing is beyond me, but the good doctor’s observation is spot on: that the dog that gets hit with the stick is the one that yelps. We don’t like to hear the truth of God’s law, and we yelp when the law pops us in the back of the head.

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth.”

The truth is good for us, whether we want to hear it or not. For our Lord loves us, redeems us, brings us into communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit, and promises us eternal life in a kingdom that has no end.

But in spite of it all, we still see the truth as our enemy. That’s because the truth is that God is God and we are not. The truth is that we are not the Creator but creatures, made in submission and subordination to Him. And egged on by Satan, betrayed by our flesh, and led astray by the world, we would rather reject the good truth and embrace the evil lie.

The disciples are sorrowful because God’s plan is not their plan. Jesus is going to the Father, sending the Holy Spirit, and putting the apostles to work. The apostles are sorrowful because they are by nature sinful and unclean, lazy and selfish. They love their lives more than the One who gave them their lives. For after our Lord ascends to the Father, the apostles, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will continue our Lord’s wearisome work of making war on the devil, of preaching, of being persecuted, of having to tell people unpleasant truths, and of being rejected by men just as their Lord was.

For through the apostles and their successors, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The apostles are to hurl the sticks of God’s word into packs of dogs who hate the truth. Those dogs will howl, will turn on the apostles, and will viciously attack them. The world does not sit by quietly in being convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment.

In these last days, the Word of God is less and less tolerated and respected – if it is even recognized. In our culture, belief in a Creator is mocked, while the unscientific, absurd notion that order can suddenly grow from disorder, that something can come out of nothing, is treated as truth. The obvious created order that men and women are not interchangeable is ruthlessly targeted by an increasingly sorrowful and pathetic culture, and yet we are called upon to say in response: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth.”

And thanks be to God, for all of their grousing, the apostles do tell the truth – to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The Gospel is indeed proclaimed worldwide because the “Spirit of truth,” the Holy Spirit, has come. “He will guide you into all truth,” says He who is the way, the truth, and the life. And furthermore, “for He will not speak of His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will tell you things to come.”

For no matter how much the devil tries to confound the truth, listen to the words of St. James: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father.”

That, my beloved brethren, is the truth that our sinful rebellious hearts don’t want to hear. We want to earn our keep, not receive handouts from God. We want empowerment rather than grace. We want self-esteem instead of mercy. And when someone calls us on it, hurls the stick of the call to repentance to us, what do we do? We howl, we turn and bite, and we tell prideful lies rather than receive the truth in humility.

This is why St. James implores us: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” This is why he instructs us: “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Our Lord tells us truths we don’t want to hear, not out of domination or spite, but out of love. For this is the truth proclaimed by Isaiah: “And in that day you will say: ‘O Lord, I will praise you; though You were angry with me, your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid…. For great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst.”

The simple unpopular truth preached by the apostles and proclaimed by the Church ever since is the simple truth that we are sinners, we are helpless, and though we don’t deserve it, we are rescued by the crucifixion and death of our Lord. God’s anger is turned away, and we are comforted. Christ is in our midst! For even though He has gone to the Father, sending us the Holy Spirit to guide our preaching, teaching, confessing, and bearing the fruits of repentance, He is still in our midst in His Word and in His Sacraments.

For even as sorrow fills our hearts, waiting for our Lord’s return, we have the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth guiding us into all truth. Christ is in our midst! And all things that the Father has are Christ’s, and our Lord Himself declares: “Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”

We have been given everything! He has told us the truth. We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us. We have been given the “implanted word” for the salvation of our souls. When we repent, the truth is no longer a stick that stings us, but rather that truth, that sweet truth, is our “strength and song. He also has become my salvation.”

The truth is not our enemy. For even as we live in an age and a culture that denies the truth, we Christians must, with our Lord, say: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth…” We who have been given the Spirit of truth know and confess that it is the truth of the cross and water drawn from the wells of salvation that sets us free.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Muslim Friendly Worship?

The delightfully candid cowardly amoral anti-hero Harry Flashman in the series of novels by George MacDonald Fraser was so despicable, one could not imagine anything being shocking to him. There is a line Flashman would utter once in a great while when he witnessed something so debased that even he had to raise an eyebrow:

"For an instant even I was appalled - but only for an instant."

Caught between the pincers of the world and the church, I find myself so jaded these days as to rarely find the energy to even shrug my shoulders at what I see going on around me. But, in the case of the following published paper by the chairman of the Missions Department of Concordia University, Portland, the Rev. Dr. Herb Hoefer, who is, of course, an ordained minister of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, I have nothing else to do than to quote Sir Harry Flashman.

Now, mind you, the procedures for pressing charges against a fellow member of the Missouri Synod are so convoluted that very few people other than law professors from Boston can understand them, and they are so laden with land-mines that rumor has it that Angelina Jolie is considering bringing the issue before the United Nations. Therefore, my expression of "shock and appall" (even if only for an instant) must not be construed as some kind of charge of theological error. Of course, we don't err in the Missouri Synod. Our president assures us that we are united as never before. And as David Strand says: we're all confessional Lutherans. But of course.

But I'm still appalled.

The paper was published on the Concordia - Portland website here, but it doesn't seem to be there now. (I've attached the paper unedited at the end of my remarks). Whether the outrage among bloggers has anything to do with its disappearance is yet to be seen. Perhaps the paper is simply so popular that Concordia is having technical difficulties with their server (best construction, and all that, eh wot?).

Here are a few lines from this paper that make me "appalled" - if only for an instant:

1) "If we want Muslims to feel comfortable in our Christian worship services..."

First, the Christian faith itself is offensive to Muslim sensibilities. If they want to visit our churches, they should do what we should do when visiting their mosques - be polite. Are Muslims changing their services to make Christians feel more welcome? Heck, it would be nice if Christians were allowed to build even a single church in Saudi Arabia. And double-heck, how about not cutting off our heads. That would be a start. I wonder if Dr. Hoefer addressed the issue of beheading Christians with his Saudi visitors who were there to monitor how we protect freedom of religion here.

2) "They discussed that they could have worshipped with the same words that they heard, for it so happened that the songs they heard only referred to God and not to Jesus."

I would be horrified if worship at my congregation didn't mention Jesus and the hymns could comfortably be sung by people who deny the most basic tenets of the Christian faith. Think of the martyrs! How embarrassing for Concordia - Portland.

3) "This experience caused me to reflect on the Muslim misconception about Christian worship. They think we worship a human being."

If the Muslims believe we worship a human being, they are correct. Our creeds (not to mention the Scriptures) confess this quite openly. The Incarnation is the touchstone of the Christian faith. Those who deny the Incarnation are described in 1 John 4:2-3.

4) Changing the Nicene Creed to say: "I believe in one God, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-saving, The Father almighty…."

All-saving? Who cares how the Koran speaks of the Muslim god? Are we obliged, as Christians, to rewrite our creeds to accommodate Judaism, Hinduism, Atheism, Scientology, and Mormonism? The historic creeds were formulated to confess "against" heresies, not make heretics and unbelievers feel more comfortable in our presence.

5) "
A fourth area in which we might reconsider our practices of public worship is in the use of lessons from the Epistles of the New Testament."

Why would God speak to us in His holy Word if He wanted us to suppress it?

6) "
the term [Son of God] is a biblical metaphor that is used of individuals and even of Israel. It is not a biological description but a theological affirmation using a human metaphor."

I didn't realize that our Church has made it acceptable to teach that Jesus was not the biological Son of God, that His Sonship is only a metaphor. I guess it really isn't "my grandfather's church" after all.

7) Getting rid of wine, images, and music.

Can you have the Lord's Supper without wine? If we abolish images, what are we saying about the Incarnation of our Blessed Most Holy Divine Lord Jesus Christ? And if we discourage music to conform to Muslim sensitivities, how do we "make a joyful noise unto the Lord"?

I really want to know why it seems that so many of our "missional" executives and professors want to pit sound doctrine over and against the Lord's mandate to preach the good news. If we must water down our confession and/or change our doctrine, is it even "mission" work we're doing? What example did the holy apostles and the holy martyrs set for us? Surely, we're not the first generation to come across Islam or other religions. And once again, why is nobody asking these people why they insist on cutting off Christians' heads in Saudi Arabia? Why can't our people in Saudi Arabia have a church, wear a cross, or openly read the Bible?

If we change our creeds, stop worshiping Jesus, tear the epistles out of our bibles, abolish Holy Communion, remove all art and music, and allow imams to make sure we are Koran-friendly will they finally stop chopping off our heads?

Is this what it means to be "missional" from a leading ordained doctor and professor in our Synod?

"For an instant even I was appalled - but only for an instant."

For tomorrow will be another instant, some other shocking news from our church and world. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Tolle, lege!

Muslim-Friendly Christian Worship by Herb Hoefer Missions Chair, Concordia University, Portland, OR Sept. 12, 2007

***Posted on the Concordia University – Portland website and accesible here:

Worshipping Jesus
Affirming God’s Oneness
Revising the Creeds
Using Epistle Readings
Using “Son of God”
Using Wine, Images, Music

We know well how many misconceptions there are among Muslims about Christian teachings. In fact, many of them come from misconceptions in the Qur’an itself (e.g., the sonship of the Second Person of the Trinity, the nature of the Trinity, Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, Return). In order to address these misconceptions effectively, it is important that Christians’ public witness be clear and sensitive in these areas.

The most frequent public statement of the Christian faith comes in public worship. I suggest below several areas in which Christians might discuss to adjust their worship practices to ensure a clear witness in Muslim contexts. If we want Muslims to feel comfortable in our Christian worship services – whether in Muslim countries or in Muslim contexts elsewhere, what issues do we need to consider?

Worshipping Jesus

One area came to my awareness during a visit to our Concordia University, Portland, Oregon, USA, campus by a group of Muslim academics in Oct. 2004. Our university is on the regular itinerary of a State Department-sponsored program to take Muslim educators around to visit a variety of college campuses. We are on the itinerary because Muslims often wonder how a conservative Christian university can responsibly teach about other religions in a respectful and positive manner. Our discussions were scheduled at the conclusion of our chapel, and the venue was in the fellowship hall of the church where daily chapel is held.

The visitors arrived while the worship was going on and were invited to sit and observe. The itinerary leader was a bit apologetic that this Christian worship was presented to them. However, the Muslim academics (from Saudi Arabia) expressed their delight and surprise at what they heard. They discussed that they could have worshipped with the same words that they heard, for it so happened that the songs they heard only referred to God and not to Jesus.

This experience caused me to reflect on the Muslim misconception about Christian worship. They think we worship a human being. They understand that all through history mankind has had the tendency to turn the prophet of God into a divine being after his death. Thereby, people commit the unforgivable sin of worshipping someone other than God Himself.

Subsequently, I’ve reflected and researched our Scriptures on this topic. I’ve asked the question, “Is it proper to worship Jesus?” We understand that the Second Person of the Trinity became a man named Jesus. However, is it still Jesus now Who is on the right hand of the Father? As I’ve searched the New Testament, I find the instance of Paul’s vision on the Damascus Road where the Second Person identifies Himself “I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:5). Prayers and worship are addressed to the Lord (and to the Lamb in Revelation). We are called to pray in Jesus’ Name, but are we called to use that name as our object of worship and prayer?

Even if prayers and worship might justifiably be addressed to the name of Jesus, I would urge that such a practice is unhelpful as Christian witness in a Muslim context. We have strong biblical authority for using the most common term “Lord” when addressing the Resurrected One. That term would not feed Muslim misconceptions, as the term :Jesus” does.

Affirming God’s Oneness

A second area in which there are serious misconceptions is the Muslim understanding that Christians are polytheists. They think we violate the oneness of God by worshipping three deities. During that same visit, for example, the academics expressed shock that Christians believe that God is One. I tried to explain that there is a great Mystery in the oneness of God, for we understand that oneness to be expressed as three Persons.

How can we address this common misconception in our public worship? I propose that we reconsider how our classical Creeds are expressed. This matter was brought to my attention at a conference of missionaries that my Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Board for Missions held in July 2005. One of the participants, Rev. Carlton Riemer, urged that the conference petition our church body’s worship commission, as they were in the process of producing a new hymnal. Rev. Riemer’s proposal was that the grammatical phrasing of the Creeds make the oneness of God clear. The conference affirmed his proposal and petitioned (unsuccsssfully) that the Creeds begin with grammatical phrasing that makes clear our belief in the oneness of God.

The usual way the Creeds are written out joins the belief in God with the First Person:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ…. (Apostles Creed)

I believe in one God, the Father almighty…. (Nicene Creed)

The suggestion was that the witness to our affirmation of the oneness of God would be much clearer in our public worship if the Creeds were written out in this manner:

I believe in God,
The Father Almighty…. (Apostles Creed)

I believe in one God,
The Father almighty…. (Nicene Creed)

Especially in public worship in Muslim contexts, this clear grammatical presentation of the witness of the Creeds might be considered.

Revising the Creeds

The ancient Creeds were written to address the heresies of their day. Might we revise the Creeds in Muslim contexts to address their misconceptions? Picking up on the above discussion about Muslims’ typical misconception that we violate the oneness of God, might we add more emphasis to that part of the Creeds? Might we bring in biblical adjectives on the nature of God, expressed in a manner similar to the way Muslims do in their recitations? Our Creedal statement in public worship, then, might add something like this:

I believe in one God, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-saving,
The Father almighty….

With the Qur’anic rejection of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, it is very helpful in our public witness that the Second Article of the Creed the references Pontius Pilate (“crucified under Pontius Pilate”). It grounds these crucial events of the faith in verifiable history. This historical grounding makes the testimony and the basis of our witness clear and open to scrutiny.

However, in the Third Article, I feel we have a problem. The reference to the “Christian…Church” can cause misunderstandings, as can the term “catholic”. Missionaries and Christians in the Muslim world are very aware that these two terms are negatively loaded. The Christian communities in those lands are typically isolated and despised, and the Church is associated in Muslim experience with all the negative connotations of the Crusades, Colonialism, and Western military/political aggressiveness and decadent morality. Rather than raise up all those negative connotations, might this statement in the Creeds be revised?

The point of this statement in the Creeds is that present worshippers are part of the long history of God’s People all over the world. Might we clearly express this conviction without feeding Muslim misconceptions by stating our belief something like this:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy, universal fellowship of believers… (Apostles Creed)

And I believe in one holy, universal fellowship and apostolic witness (Nicene Creed)

In addtion, such a clear affirmation would relate meaningfully to the Muslim concept of “umma.” It would testify clearly that Christians also have an “umma,” a trans-national fellowship of faith and support.

Using Epistle Readings

A fourth area in which we might reconsider our practices of public worship is in the use of lessons from the Epistles of the New Testament. Muslims have great respect for Jesus and accept Him as the Christ, the Messiah. They believe that He taught Islam, but His teachings were corrupted and perverted by subsequent followers. Therefore, the gospels have much greater authority for Muslims than the Epistles.

One will often hear knowledgeable Muslims particularly degrade St. Paul. They deride Christianity as “Paulianity.” They attribute the subsequent loss of Jesus’ Islamic teaching to the influence of Paul.

Of course, we affirm the inspiration of the whole Bible, including the letters of Paul. However, in a Muslim context, it may not be judicious to present them as our authority. Indeed, even St. Paul, would understand his writings only to be a witness to Jesus Christ, and that should continue to be the clear focus of our public worship.

Therefore, might we forego the reading of lessons from the Epistles and focus wholly on the gospels? Might we especially make the words and actions of Jesus the basis for our public preaching? Muslims would be much more attentive and receptive.

Using “Son of God”

Another instance of serious misunderstanding among Muslims is in referring to Jesus as “the Son of God.” Muslims understand from the Qur’an that we think Jesus was the product of a physical relationship between God and Mary, and frequently God states to Muhammad that God does not have a son. Of course, that is not the Christian understanding of the term. However, when we use the term, this is what Muslims think we mean, for it is what the Qur’an says we mean.

Whenever we use the term “Son of God,” Muslims immediately think blasphemy. We need to explain to Muslims that the term is a biblical metaphor that is used of individuals and even of Israel. It is not a biological description but a theological affirmation using a human metaphor.
The Second Person of the Trinity is a “chip off the old block.” He participates in the same nature as the Father, just as a son does.

We need to make that explanation, but public worship typically is not the proper venue for that discussion. It would be best simply to avoid the term in our preaching and guide our people also to avoid it in their witnessing.

Using Wine, Images, Music

Finally, there are some issues that can be very sensitive to discuss in our Christian circles. These have to do with theological and traditional matters that are very close to the heritage of some denominations. One will be a big issue for one denomination, while another one will be a matter of identity with another denomination.

For example, the use of wine in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper is very important in liturgical denominations, but it is very problematic for Muslims. Christians typically have a bad reputation for drinking alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam. Besides foregoing the consumption of alcohol in our personal lives, might we also forego it in our public worship? Many Protestant denominations already prefer the use of grape juice for their own historical reasons. It would be prudent for liturgical churches in Muslim contexts to do the same.

Another sensitive issue is the use of images and statues in our worship sanctuaries. In liturgical
denominations, crucifixes and statues of saints and pictures or stained glass windows of biblical events and figures are often integral to their worship atmosphere. However, once again, the presence of such images can be very upsetting to Muslim visitors.

When I was with a group of Muslims in Nagpur, India, in 2007, one of the Muslim leaders brought up the “idolatry” practiced by Christians. She assumed that Christians were worshipping the images that she saw in churches, just as Hindus do. Fortunately, the group leader had enough insight to explain that these statues have a different function for Christians than they do for Hindus in their temples. We Christians understand that these images are just reminders and pointers of spiritual realities and historic examples, but most Muslims will process these images in terms of the way the Qur’an speaks of them.

The third issue is one more problematic for non-liturgical denominations: the use of enthusiastic music in worship. Once when I was conducting a series of Sunday morning classes at a church here in Portland, I had a Muslim come for one of the sessions. He brought along his two sons for the event. As they entered the church for the class, a worship service had started up in the sanctuary with a band, clapping, and waving hands in the air. The two boys were curious about what was going on and walked to the sanctuary door to observe. Their father said, “Please go and see what they are doing. They call that worship!”

Muslim worship is prescribed in detail and is very solemn, reserved, and dignified. They find our
enthusiastic, seemingly chaotic worship quite confusing and strange. If we want Muslims to feel comfortable in our worship contexts, should we have music at all? If so, what kind of music should it be?

In all of these matters, the process of discussing the reasons for the changes would become a great opportunity for educating and training our Christians as well as they try to witness effectively to their Muslim neighbors.

by Herb Hoefer
Missions Chair, Concordia University, Portland, OR
Sept. 12, 2007

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Twofer on the Pitfalls of Feminism

A couple interesting articles (both from the mainstream media) posted last month on Stacy McDonald's blog (Mrs. McDonald is the wife of Pastor James McDonald, and an articulate advocate of the traditional Christian family).

First, a feminist questions the way boys and girls relate to each other as a result of feminism.

Second, a report on one of the results of the ever-greater integration of women into military roles.

How can any rational person attempt to defy natural law, and (even more baffling) how can any biblically-normed Christian defy the order of creation?

Biblical Church Growth

An interesting way to "fight the power" and "stick it to the man," (the "man" in this case being the devil, the world, and the flesh), to be shockingly counter-cultural, and to grow the church in a truly biblical and traditional way all at the same time.

And, as a bonus, it's a lot more effective (and fun) than the Ablaze!(tm) program, "emerging" fads, and paying a lot of money to attend "conferences" and "conventions."

Synodical Prez Endorsement

I honestly never thought I would actually endorse someone for Synodical President. But given all the recent events, I have had to reconsider. There is a long list of things that this candidate will not do.

In politics, whether ecclesiastical or secular, what a person will not do is often as important to the process as what he will do.

Please join me in this endorsement.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Is it okay for Lutherans to believe this?

"Psalm 99:5 'Worship His footstool.' His footstool is the earth, and Christ took upon Him earth of earth, because flesh is of earth; and He received flesh of the flesh of Mary. And because He walked here in this very flesh, He also gave this flesh to be eaten by us for salvation. But no one eats that flesh unless he has first worshiped it. Therefore the way has been found how such footstool of the Lord may be worshiped, so that we not only do not sin by worshiping it, but sin by not worshiping."

Speaking of rumors...

There is no truth to the rumor that Pelican Publishing of Gretna, Louisiana is coming out with a special Louisiana edition of the Small Catechism. The giveaway is the fact the the Cajun Ten Commandments (below) are ordered according to the Protestant numbering scheme.

But if we did conduct catechesis in the local tongue (instead of that funny way people from Missouri talk), it might look a little like the following...


(unaltered original version found in Deut 5:6-12)

  • 1. Jus be one God in dat Heaven!
  • 2. Don't be having no idols.
  • 3. Don't be cussin' at nobody.
  • 4. Brought yo-self to church when dey open da doors.
  • 5. Listen to you maw-maw an' paw-paw.
  • 6. Don't be kilt nobody.
  • 7. Ma chere, don't sleep wit yo brother's wife.
  • 8. Don't go took nothin' from nobody.
  • 9. Always told da whole troot.
  • 10. Don't go wish fo yo' neighbor's pirogue or tings.


After he was dead, a Cajun discovered himself in Hell. He looked around awhile, then went right to work shoveling brimstone. The devil came up to him and said, "How you like it here, my friend? It's hard work and it's hot, yeah?"

The Cajun just smiled and answered, "It not so bad. The work is steady. I got no problem with steady work. And it ain't so hot. You think this is hot? Man, I'm from south Lousiana --- It hot there, my fren! This ain't nothing." He just laughed and went back to work singing and having a high old time.

Satan, being a former Texan, did not like Cajuns. He said to himself, "I'll get him. So he don't mind the hot, huh?" Satan waved a hand and the whole place was suddenly ice and snow, solid. And he said, "That'll fix dat fool!"

When he went back to check on the Cajun, he found him jumping up and yelling and laughing and clapping and dancing. So Satan said, "Man, what's wrong with you?!"

The Cajun smiled big and replied, "The Saints done won the Super Bowl!

As a bonus, here is an obligatory Boudreaux and Thibodeaux story...

Boudreaux and Thibodeaux were walking through the woods the other day, when a flying saucer landed near them. A door opened, and two little green aliens climbed down out of the spacecraft.

Thibodeaux turned to Boudreaux, "Mais, look at dat. What you tink dat is?"

Boudreaux, aiming his shotgun at the little space critters, replied, "Thibodeaux, I don' know, but you hurry back to de camp, put on de rice pot, and start makin' a roux!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Pastor's Ring: Common vs. Individual

A couple years ago, I heard about a New Orleans area Lutheran who had visited a church in another state, the pastor of which is a classmate and friend of mine. This fact was unbeknown to the New Orleans area Lutheran, who proceeded to explain some interesting things to my friend - both about me, and my parish.

For example, I learned that my congregation, Salem Lutheran, will not allow anyone to take communion unless they first receive private absolution. If that is indeed the policy at my congregation, I didn't get a copy of that memo (I hope my TPS reports have the proper cover sheet...). Let me see, we require visitors to: do the chicken dance, donate $1,000, and be able to "moonwalk" to the rail before we commune them. Nope, nothing in here about requiring private confession. Maybe that was slipped in under Murray's pastorate...

There were a few other silly things said by this person (who may well have mental issues).

Just yesterday, I learned that this same fellow explained to someone else about a very unusual communion policy at my congregation.

Very unusual, indeed!

Are you ready for this?

No, really. Are you ready?

You are not going to guess this one in a thousand years.

The claim is that when you receive communion at the rail at Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna, Louisiana, you must (hold on, I can't type while I'm laughing!), actually, literally, with your lips, kiss the pastor's ring before receiving the elements. Wait, I'm still laughing, and I'm fat-fingering all over the place. Sorry about that, I think I corrected all the typos. Oh, Lordy!

You know, when it comes to rumors and lies, I suppose bigger is better. But, of course, this is not to say that some people won't actually believe it.

Obviously, kissing the bishop's ring is a very old Christian custom. It is a sign of affection and respect for the holy office. I have never heard of this custom being done for lowly parish pastors, especially here in America - but it makes for a great story. As far as I can tell, it has never been the custom at Salem.

We may eat mudbugs and gators, wear plastic beads and masks, throw cabbages and carrots from parade floats, visit drive-thru daiquiri shops, bury our dead above ground, and "make groceries." But we don't kiss the ring of the parish pastor. Not even da Catlicks at St. Ant'neys do dat, dawlin'.

For one thing, it would violate the Scaer Rule of Rubrical Efficiency No. 12: "Any verdammtes act of personal piety that lengthens the duration of the Sacrifice of the Mass is verboten." Can you just imagine how long distribution would take if every parishioner is smooching the ring? We're already up to four distro hymns as it is - which, I suspect, according to Scaer, would nearly disqualify us from synodical membership.

But it has made me think a little as to how we could "Lutheranize" the ring-kissing practice. First of all, we'd have to offer a choice: the "common ring" or the "individual ring." The "common ring" would be the traditional practice of each parishioner kissing the gold ring on the pastor's finger. My ring happens to be a Concordia Theological Seminary class ring (gold, with a garnet gem with a "Chi-Rho" design etched on top).

Obviously, some would be squeamish about germs and such when it comes to the "common ring." We could create "individual rings" that each parishioner could take from a tray, kiss, and leave on the rail to be picked up after the service. CPH could produce some really cheap rings, making them out of inexpensive, disposable plastic - tastefully, of course (after all, these are sacred objects). Though some would advocate throwing the used individual rings directly into the garbage, the altar guild at Salem would have to find a way to thoroughly cleanse the rings (properly disposing of the water) before throwing them into the trash.

Secondly, some people would be, no doubt, uncomfortable with kissing, and would prefer a handshake instead of a smooch. Good pastoral practice indicates allowing communicants a lot of individual liberty in such matters, so as not to turn ring-kissing into a divisive or disruptive issue. Ceremonies have simply changed since Vatican II, and we need to be sensitive to these things.

I know plastic rings and replacing the kiss with a handshake aren't ideal, but as we all know, many a congregation has been destroyed by pig-headed Fort Wayne pastors who insist on communicants kissing the "common ring" only. The practice is, of course, an adiaphoron, and we need to keep in mind that the "individual ring," though not ideal, gives the very same benefit to the communicant as the "common ring." Ditto for allowing the ring to be greeted with a (laurel and?) hardy handshake instead of the biblical kiss. We need to bear with one another in Christian love.

Well, rumors to the contrary, we don't actually practice ring-kissing in any form at Salem. So much for our "high church" reputation.

But I have to admit, the Rumor Man has got me thinking...

Do We Count?

I believe much of the malaise plaguing the Missouri Synod (which, according to some, is "unified like never before") involves our church's ungodly obsession with numbers. As a result of this consumer mentality, there are some in our synod who want to run the church the same way you would run a "successful" coffeehouse, McDonald's, or brokerage firm. Such "executives" even adopt the uniform, vocabulary, and reading list of the secular business world (and I suppose that if the Holy Spirit wants to be involved, He can just buy a few shares of stock and get a vote like everybody else).

Anyway, more than 7,000 people have signed the online petition to restore the radio show Issues, Etc. that was summarily canceled on Holy Tuesday by executives in our church body. All sorts of excuses have been made by our church's leadership, such as the show "lost" $250,000 (the calculation of which is dubious to several former Board for Communication Services members). Since when is worldwide outreach expected to turn a profit? In truth, this figure is not terribly much more than the salary of the synodical president - especially when benefits and perks (such as worldwide travel) are rolled in (not to mention the president's wife's salary). Do we make a "profit" on this money? Furthermore, isn't the church a "non-profit" entity?

As a result of the first ever protest held at the LCMS headquarters, the St. Louis Post Dispatch ran an article in which KFUO hatchet-man David Strand, executive director of the Board for Communication Services, brushed aside the 7,000+ passionate signers as statistically insignificant. Of course, 7,000 is not an insignificant number if the Scriptures (1 Kings 19-18) are to be believed.

Again, the curse of "numerolatry" dogs our synod and taints our proclamation of the Gospel.

Anyway, Kelly, the wife of the Rev. Alex Klages of Manitoba, has given us another installment of "Draw Boldly."

She correctly casts David Strand in the role of Emperor Charles V in 1530, as the confessional reformers were summoned to recant their confession and instead pledge fealty to the church bureaucracy. Instead, the confessors (laymen who were mostly princes) refused to recant, and instead signed a "petition" of their own, known as the Augsburg Confession. Thus, this world-changing "petition" was signed by a mere seven faithful Evangelical Catholics (who were mocked by the name "Lutheran") on behalf of the entire confessing movement. It bears mentioning that the signers of this "petition" were threatened and intimidated by their own church leaders.

What would David Strand do?

This whole scandal runs much deeper than the shameful firing of two faithful employees, one of whom was an ordained pastor with what is known in our circles as a "divine call." It is much more than simply the cancellation of a radio program that proclaimed the gospel and taught the holy faith worldwide (as terrible as that is). This whole matter is symptomatic of the lack of faith by some in our leadership in the reality that the Holy Spirit grows the Church, that salvation is a mystery involving election and predestination over and against "decision theology," that the biblical evangelism model is a sower recklessly casting seeds, as opposed to a sales executive researching market forces and demographic trends in order to sell a product. Until we come to grips with this fissure in our theology, we will not be able to put our "unified as never before" Humpty Synod back together again.

For the record, those seven men who knelt before the emperor and bared their necks to him, willing to die before relinquishing their confession, who presented the confession to the emperor at Augsburg were named: John, George, Ernest, Philip, John Frederick, Francis, and Wolfgang. We stand in their train. We will not recant. We will not be bullied. We will not be cowed into silence.

Luther supposedly said: "Laugh at the devil and he will flee from you." Thanks again to Kelly for her wonderful insight.