Saturday, October 31, 2009

What Lutherans Are and What They Believe

[Note: I don't know who wrote this. I didn't. It was probably written by one of my pastoral predecessors at Salem Lutheran Church. This summary of Lutheran Christianity has been on our website for many years. But I thought it would be an appropriate post for this Feast of the Holy Reformation. +HW]

We are a Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox Community of disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are catholic, That is, we believe and teach what has been taught and believed by the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the ages.

We are evangelical. That is, we are centered in the Gospel of Christ. The focal point of our beliefs is the amazing work that God has done on behalf of His people in order to rescue them from sin and all its consequences.

We are orthodox. That is, we are zealous for the right teaching and proclamation of the treasure that Jesus has entrusted to His Church. In this way, we are able to give God the right glory that He so richly deserves.

We are Lutheran. That is, we are identified with the Spirit-led reformer of the 16th century who initiated the rediscovery of the Gospel which had been obscured by centuries of false teaching and traditions.

Our basic beliefs:

We believe, teach and confess that there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Apart from this Triune God (One God in three distinct persons) there is no other. Rejected is the error that the True God is any other than the Triune God, or the error that all religions essentially lead to the True God.

We believe, teach and confess that the Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ is True God, begotten of the Father from eternity and True Man, born of the virgin Mary, by the working of the Holy Spirit. He alone is the Savior of all, whom the Father sent to restore all things. Rejected is the error that Jesus is not God or that He did not accomplish all things necessary for man's salvation.

We believe, teach and confess that at the fall into sin, man's nature became so totally and thoroughly corrupted that he is by nature turned away from God and, from the time of conception, is under God's just condemnation. Rejected is the error that man is somehow morally neutral or that in some regard, he has retained certain powers which may aid him in returning to God.

We believe, teach and confess that salvation is by God's grace alone through faith in the atoning work which the Son accomplished on behalf of all men. Rejected is the error that man may/must somehow aid or cooperate in some way in order to obtain salvation.

We believe, teach and confess that this Christian faith is solely the work of the Holy Spirit, bringing light into man's sin-darkened heart, bringing life to that which was dead, making those who were enemies of God into God's dearly loved children. Rejected is the error that man must open himself, call upon the Lord or invite Him into his heart.

We believe, teach and confess that the Holy Spirit, using His chosen means, namely the Word and the Sacraments, converts, saves, forgives sins and brings to everlasting life. Rejected is the error that the Spirit works apart from means or that man should expect the Spirit in other than His chosen means.

We believe, teach and confess that Jesus has established His Holy Christian Church to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments, so that all might become disciples of the Lord. Rejected is the error that Jesus established His Church with powers other than the preaching of the Gospel and making disciples of all nations.

We believe, teach and confess that the good works that man does is a result of the good that the Holy Spirit has placed within him. They are the fruit of a living faith. Rejected is the error that man may somehow do good works apart from faith or that they contribute toward faith, or in aiding to gaining salvation.

We believe, teach and confess that at the Last Day, all men will rise again, and that those who are believers in Jesus will receive everlasting life, and that those who reject Jesus will receive everlasting condemnation. Rejected is the error that those who do not have faith in Jesus can somehow receive eternal life or that there is no everlasting condemnation for the evil.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is Rush Reading Fr. H.?

On October 20, in comments to this post, Fr. Hollywood wrote:
"For they [the Republican Party] would rather have a liberal Republican at the helm of California than a conservative non-Republican, or a liberal who does not have the GOP Party label.

The GOP's mission is not conservatism. Its mission is the GOP - whether liberal, conservative, or moderate. More accurately, its mission is victory for the party - and there seems to be no limit to the cost. The same is true with the Democrat Party.

The party labels are just that: labels....

In fact, I believe you will see the [Republican] party push for a 'bigger tent.' There are already voices within the party calling for a 'broader base.' In the aftermath of the 2008 trouncing, I do think 'strategists' will move the party further to the left. I hope I'm wrong about this.

The GOP leadership will drop the 'Christian right' like ballast if (and when) the pundits determine they are an impediment to victory....

I don't think the GOP has been conservative since Goldwater. The Republican Party is too pragmatic and leftist. I believe we have two moderate parties that both favor big government and believe in working around the constitution.

I just don't find the two majors to be very different from one another at all."

My dear friend and colleague, loyal Republican and Rush Limbaugh listener "Peter," wasn't too happy with my remarks. However, one week later to the very day, Rush Limbaugh said:

"They have a death wish. The Republican Party has a death wish. Gallup: 40 percent of Americans now say they are conservative, 20 percent say they're liberal, 36 percent say they're moderates. And of those three groups, which one is being ignored – not just ignored – which one is being attacked by the Republican Party? The conservatives!
It's worse than I thought. I thought this was just based on elitism and northeast moderate liberalism, and embarrassment of the people that the social issues attract to the party. But now it's just plain stupidity...

The Republican Party, as constituted is as dangerous to this country as the Democrat Party is. 'But Rush, party loyalty is party loyalty, and the local Republican committee up there has endorsed [left-wing Republican] Scozzafava.' So? I'm saying the two parties are the same. I guess I need to amend it a little bit, but, man, when I saw that they were running ads, as I say, ruined two hours of my day."

Is Rush Limbaugh secretly reading Father Hollywood and saying "Mega-dittoes"? If so, I want to encourage Rush to keep reading, and while he's poring over his advanced gnesio- and paleo-conservative studies, he should also go after some truly free-market economics from the Austrian School, and learn what real constitutional conservatism is. And considering that he does hail from Missouri, maybe Rush could even be influenced to become a Traditionalist Lutheran and pay for that seminary library they're building in Fort Wayne with a single swipe of the debit card.

I'll bet Dr. Wenthe could finally get that espresso bar...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Well, thank God this is not an LCMS Ablaze!(tm) project...

Y'all, the Halloween Book Burning is still on!

The happy conflagration will include setting ablaze "Satan's music" (like heavy metal, rap, country, and "soft and easy" - wait, what?). They will be torching "Satan's Bibles" (meaning all non-KJV English versions, keep your ESV indoors on Halloween!), and also "Satan's books" written by "heretics" (like Billy Graham and Charles Swindoll) will all be burned by Amazing Grace Baptist Church in North Carolina. Maybe they should call it Ablazing Grace, but it looks like the Lutherans beat them to it. Sigh.

But don't show up without an invite! The Burnin' is "by invitation only." There is no talk of crosses being lit, but rest assured, there will be "great preaching and singing" (I can just imagine...) and they "will be serving fried chicken, and all the sides." Really? "All" the sides? What a blowout! Come for the bonfire, stay for the chicken. My invite must still be on the way. I'll just keep checking the mail.

I don't know about you, but whatever web design manual that was used by their webmaster to put their site together really needs to be burned. In fact, my eyes are burning. There's more red on that page than on the faculty of Berkeley.

And even though we Lutherans have been known to do a little book burnin' ourselves, I cannot help but sing "thousand thousand thanks are due" that this is not an LCMS church activity or a district Ablaze!(tm) publicity stunt.

Deo gratias, y'all!

"Leveraging the Flu Pandemic" or "Flu Servant Evangelism"

This just in from a certain District Office of the LCMS (really, no kidding)

Leveraging the Flu Pandemic... Getting the Word Out

Greetings! I am passing along this idea for consideration by your school to get the word out about your school and show a love concern for people. I believe this is a product people would use and remember! This is an idea passed along by [name deleted] of the [name deleted] District. This can be part of marketing/outreach!

Flu Servant Evangelism
We know that a small act of kindness might nudge a person closer to God, often in a profound way as it builds a bridge for the person to receive a touch of love from God. Why not confront the current influenza outbreak by offering people of your community a touch of God's love in a very practical way?

The [name deleted] District (read that, "[name deleted]") is encouraging our congregations and schools to "leverage" the current flu outbreak by involving themselves in a servant evangelism idea using the free distribution of bottles of hand sanitizer to local businesses.

We have designed labels for congregations and schools to download off of our website and to affix to one dollar bottles of hand sanitizer (Dollar Store, Dollar Tree, etc) to be distributed to the local business in their area...and in so doing, to maybe touch someone with the love of Christ.

Schools and congregations can design their own labels, or "stock" PDF copies of the labels, designed for either a congregation or for a school, are available for download on our website at These labels are sized to fit Avery shipping labels, #5264.

“Small Things Done with Great Love Will Change the World” as we live the Jesus-style life of noticing and responding to those around us with kindness, love and generosity.

Daniel Hannan Reviews Atlas Shrugged

I concur with this review of the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged by the Russian-born American novelist and political philosopher Ayn Rand.

The philosophy of Ayn Rand (developed during her own childhood nightmare of living through the Bolshevik Revolution) is a complete repudiation of Communism and of all forms of collectivism. Rand makes a powerful moral argument for capitalism and for individual freedom.

The downside of her philosophy (which she called Objectivism) is that it posits that all altruism is evil - even when done completely privately without government involvement or compulsion. She is also fiercely Atheistic, and denounces all religion as evil.

And yet even with these caveats (along with her followers' cultishness and her own shameful conduct of her sad personal life which does not serve to vindicate her philosophy), there is much to be learned from Rand. Her essays are better than her novels - though even Atlas Shrugged is brilliant in parts. The premise is unique and promising (the producers and thinkers of society find a way to "go on strike"), heroic (Rand's good guys and bad guys are not hard to figure out, to say the least), and the book's rhetorical device, "Who Is John Galt?", has been iconic among conservative thinkers around the world for half a century. However, as a novel, the well-conceived plot falls flat on its face. The book is far too long, and Rand's storytelling is dreadfully wooden; her characters are simply too robotic to be realistic.

Nevertheless, I recommend it.

It has had a profound effect on American conservatism and libertarianism. It is a work of literature of the same genre as 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World. It forces us to rethink our premises about the "common good" and the role of government. Even Christian conservatives and/or libertarians can draw from Rand - in spite of the bad storytelling and the hard edges to her philosophy. And I agree with Hannan that a film version might be just what the doctor ordered to clean up Rand's sloppiness and verbosity.

And as an aside, I find it a breath of fresh air to find a politician like Daniel Hannan, a thinking conservative who can truly write, witty, brilliant, at times fiercely independent, and unashamed to mix Latin, French, and American slang in a well-crafted book review.

If more Congresses and Parliaments around the world had more men like Daniel Hannan, perhaps we could afford to ignore Ayn Rand and not heed the warnings in books like Atlas Shrugged.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More conservative group non-think

Being in my car for a few minutes today, I listened to the local conservative talk station. They were addressing this story about a hotel owner in New Mexico who told his Hispanic employees to Anglicize their names while on the job. He also told them they were not permitted to speak Spanish in his presence, out of (get this!) fear that they would be talking about him. This former Marine was afraid his employees would say something bad about him. Gads.

The callers and the host of the talk show were shocked (shocked!) that anyone had a problem with an employer telling people to change their names - especially those of a different ethnic background. I mean, who could imagine such a thing?

I agree that the man can do what he wants in his business. If he wants his employees to wear monkey suits and speak only in Pig Latin, that's his business. But it is also stupid. It is also the right of the people in the community to express their displeasure. And once a business has the reputation for ethnic stupidity, it's not easy to recover from that. A supposedly smart businessman should know better. Lord have mercy, the guy's even from Texas! Can he really be shocked (shocked!) that his Hispanic employees don't want to change their names? Gads.

But what really amazed me was the lockstep agreement from the callers on the radio show. Not a single one of them could even see the point of the employees and of those who disagree with the owner. They were utterly indignant, and their explanations all had to do with "liberal" this and "liberal" that, as well as complaints about illegal immigration. Of course, if the owner is hiring illegals, he is the one who should be getting the brunt from the conservative callers. If this is the case, he is an enabler. But if these are legal workers, especially if they are American citizens, than the illegal alien issue (which is a big issue) is a moot point in this case.

Is this rocket science? Gads.

This "group non-think" is the problem with the two-dimensional labels that pass for social, cultural, and political discourse these days - along with the virtual brainwashing done by talk radio programs. It is as though people get their marching orders and talking points on the morning talk programs, and then call and parrot those same spoon-fed opinions on the afternoon shows.

And, of course, the fact that the owner is a former Marine made him all the more right. Gads.

But how would these same conservative, patriotic American callers feel if their sons and daughters were working for a left-wing version of the hotel owner? What if their kids' boss at McDonald's demanded that they change their names to "Kennedy" or "Clinton" or "Hillary" or "Obama"? What if a worker named Joe was told by his boss that his new name will be "Jose"? What if a Christian kid were given the business name of "Muhammed?"

And considering that the Chinese now own us, how long before hotel owners will be demanding Americans change their names to those easier for Mandarins and Cantonese to pronounce? So, your names are Bill or Jane? Not any more, Chang and Xie. If you don't like it, get a job somewhere else. So, how would that go over on the conservative talk circuit?

Do you think these same callers would be so keen on business owners demanding names to be changed if the shoe were on the other foot?

Peoples' names are peoples' names. I'm not a big fan of some of the monikers young parents come up with these days. But that's what their kids are called. What kind of a boob refuses to call someone by his name? And how myopic of an American businessman in the Southwest to go after Hispanic names! Hello? Are all the pistons firing? Gads.

I can just imagine this guy coming here and telling the iconic Monsieurs Boudreaux and Thibodeaux that they have to Anglicize their names. I think there would be some really happy gators at the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge as a result. Bon temps!

And like it or not, we do have people from ethnic backgrounds that make use of names (or even sounds!) that we of the more WASPy persuasion are unfamiliar with. So, roll with it. What's the big deal? Just learn the names! He expects his employees to learn his, doesn't he? People all over the world in metropolitan places deal with this all the time, and have for millennia. And yes, some people voluntarily do Anglicize their names when they move to America. That's fine, if that's what they want to do. Ordering them to do it or lose their jobs is just plain dumb. It even comes across as anti-American. I thought we stood for individual liberty. Imagine what a control freak you must be to tell grown men and women to change their names. Employment is not exactly the same thing as slavery. These are people, not dogs, after all.

But what's worse is the brainwashing job that has made a good number (but certainly not all) conservatives to be virtual clones of one another, seldom veering from the approved party line. Those who disagree in any jot or tittle are looked at askance and their conservative credentials (or their patriotism) are called into question. But it should be that conservatives can think for themselves, disagree, debate, discuss, and learn from the dialogue - with their opponents and with one another. We often accuse the left of not being able to think rationally, and yet conservatism has become so conformist and lockstep (thanks largely to Big Talk Radio) that we might as well issue everyone a little red book of conservative radio talking points and wear matching uniforms. Gads.


We have one of these happy-looking critters (Gasteracantha cancriformis) hanging off of our orange tree, just outside our bedroom window. Leo identified it from his field guide, and came to show us.

This particular one is in the yard of a parishioner, who graciously snapped this magnificent picture and e-mailed it for Leo's enjoyment - one of the best spider pictures I have ever seen! Our tenant looks very similar, right down to the phony yellow smiley face.

They spin huge orb webs with an interesting feature - some of the threads have decorations (stabilimenta) in them, which serve like warning lights on tall towers to warn airplanes. Birds avoid flying into the web by seeing the decorative elements.

And we're supposed to believe this ability (not to mention the magnificently designed creature itself) evolved by random chance.

If you're really amused by spider pictures, you might enjoy LOL Spiders - though there is some PG-13 language on some of the pictures.

Substitionary Atonement

My friend and chief sermon critic "Theophilus" wrote (in a comment in response to my sermon on the Feast of St. Luke):
"Very late, in the 12th century, St. Anselm formulated his doctrine of substitution atonement. He too depicted God as a wrathful judge who had to punish someone, namely Jesus, before he could forgive sins. This false doctrine has become the chief doctrine within Christianity. Often, as I make my way from church to church on Sunday mornings, I hear a lot of religious talk from the pulpits. But, invariably, the preacher will end his sermon with a brief reminder of the doctrine of substitution atonement, thinking that he has thereby given his people the gospel in a nut shell. I do not think so. Often, over the years, I have heard Christians say, “I can sin all I want to, for all my future sins have already been punished on the cross of Christ.” What a terrible distortion! It is time to reject that doctrine and to return to God’s own self-definition. He is merciful and gracious, faithful and forgiving by name and character. He forgives sins FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE. This truly is good news."
Theophilus has compared his view of Christianity to that of Thomas Jefferson, who rejected all of the miracles of the Bible as metaphors. However, Theophilus doesn't reject all supernatural occurrences - such as the resurrection of our Lord. He does, however, believe that most (if not all) of Jesus's miracles are metaphors for what he calls the "covenant-gospel message." Theophilus argues that the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, is unbiblical, and was invented and dogmatized by the institutional Church in the 4th century.

Anyway, that's just a bit of background. I do want to briefly address the substitutionary atonement - even as I have already addressed his concerns about the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of our Blessed Lord.

To claim that the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement was "formulated" by St. Anselm in the late 12th century (and implying that this was not taught in Scripture nor by the church fathers before Anselm) is the equivalent fallacy of concluding that gravity did not exist prior to Isaac Newton in the 17th century. Newton studied, theorized, researched, and systematized our knowledge of gravity, but he certainly didn't "formulate" it. Nor was he ever the first to discover or reflect on it.

Theophilus's view of Christianity boils down to little more than the fact that Jesus is a Really Nice Guy. Theophilus does not believe Jesus is God. Nor does he believe Jesus's death on the cross paid sacrificially for the sins of the world (though he does believe Jesus rose from the dead and still lives today). Of course, such a view makes Jesus's death on the cross a defeat rather than a victory, and makes St. Paul's declaration "We preach Christ crucified" (1 Cor 1:23) seem rather pointless.

The substitionary atonement has two parts: "atonement" - which involves making restitution for sin, while the "substitutionary" element deals with the fact that the sacrifice is offered on behalf of the sinner as a substitute or proxy.

"Atonement" is the English translation of the Hebrew word kapporet and its Greek equivalents are hilasmos and hilasterion. In the Old Testament, kapporet especially points us to the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant and the Day of the Atonement (Lev 16).

On this day, the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place carrying blood from the sin offering: "Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and his house" (Lev 16:6). Here we see the bull acting as the proxy and the sacrifice to cover the sins of the priest and his family. He also makes another offering, a "goat of the sin offering that is for the people" (Lev 16:15) and he would carry its blood behind the veil to where God was present, and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant as an offering. There was also the sacrifice of another goat: "Aaron shall lay both hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness" (Lev 16:21-22). The "scapegoat" was left to die as a substitutionary atonement, bearing by proxy the sins of the people.

The Book of Hebrews points us back to this sacrificial system of substitutionary atonement of the Old Testament as types, or foreshadowings, of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ("but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities" Heb 10:1). For "Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant.... [who] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever (Heb 7:22-23). And yet, this "new and improved" High Priest is also Himself the offering, the substitutionary atonement: "He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself" (Heb 7:27, emphasis added). This is the very definition of a substitionary atonement.

This "once for all" offering is elaborated upon in Hebrews 10. The entire chapter is an articulation of the sacrifice of Jesus as atonement for the sins of all. For "He abolished the first in order to establish the second. And by what will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God" (Heb 10:10-12).

Heb 9:11-28 is filled with the details of Christ's death as the once-for-all sacrifice, the substitutionary atonement of the New Covenant. You can click the link here to read the entire passage. Here are a few key excepts (emphasis added):
  • "he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12).
  • "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb 9:14).
  • "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb 9:22).
  • "But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb 9:26).
  • "so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Heb 9:28).
The substitutionary atonement of Christ was prophesied 700 years prior by Isaiah: "Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa 53:4-5 emphasis added). The flow of the pronouns in this prophecy leave no doubt of the substitutionary nature of the Messiah's sacrifice on the cross.

St. John writes: "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation (hilasmos - see above) for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2). It is no accident that the Apostle uses this phrase "sins of the whole world," as he recorded St. John the Baptist's words upon presenting Jesus: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). The "Lamb" is an obvious reference to the concept of sacrifice. The fact that this sacrifice is being applied to the "whole world" is what makes the atonement substitutionary. John also reports the eternal song of the saints in heaven: "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev 5:9) - emphasis added.

St Paul writes: "that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:19). "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1 Tim 2:5-6). "and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Col 1:20-22). St. Paul explicitly ties Jesus to the Passover sacrifice: "Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal 3:13) - emphasis added.

St. Matthew, like John and Paul, also (quoting our Blessed Lord Himself) describes Jesus as a "ransom" (lutron) - which is a substitutionary payment: "even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28). St. Luke explains the the payment made in this ransom by citing St. Paul's exhortation to the bishops of Ephesus: "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopous), to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28 emphasis added).

The Apostle Peter likewise refers to the substitutionary atonment in his two epistles: "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Peter 2:1). "knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 Pet 18-19). The substitutionary nature of the Lord's atonement is emphasized by St Peter: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, (1 Pet 3:18) - emphasis added.

So, the substitutionary atonement is clearly taugh in both Old and New Testaments.

It was also taught by the Church fathers well before the 325 council of Nicea. Here are a few examples from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, cited in the Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, pp. 41-48 (with citations from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, vols 1-10):

"Because of the love He had for us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God. He gave His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls." - Clement of Rome, 1 Corinthians, ANF 1:18, c 96 AD.

"The Father Himself placed upon Christ the burden of our iniquities. He gave His own Son as a ransom for us: the holy one for the transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked.... For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness?... O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors." - Mathetes, Letter to Diognetus, ANF 1:28, c 125-200 AD.

"Jesus Christ 'bore our sins in His own body on the tree.'" - Polycarp, 1 Philippians, ANF 1:35, c 135 AD.

"The whole human race was found to be under a curse.... The Father of all wished His Christ, for the whole human family, to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up.... His Father wished Him to suffer this, in order that by His stripes, the human race might be healed." - Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, ANF1:247, c 160 AD.

"In place of Isaac the just, a ram appeared for slaughter, in order that Isaac might be liberated from his bonds. The slaughter of this animal redeemed Isaac from death. In like manner, the Lord, being slain, saved us. Being bound, He loosed us. Being sacrificed, He redeemed us. - Melito, Remains of the Second and Third Centuries, ANF 8:759, c 170 AD.

"Abraham, according to his faith, followed the command of the Word of God. With a ready mind, he delivered up, as a sacrifice to God, his only-begotten and beloved son. This was to demonstrate that God also might be pleased to offer up for all his seed His own beloved and only-begotten Son, as a sacrifice for our redemption." - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, ANF 1:467, c 180 AD.

"Redeeming us by His own blood in a manner of harmony with reason, He gave Himself as a redemption for those who had been led into captivity." Irenaeus, Against Heresies, ANF 1:527, c 180 AD.

"In this manner, the Lord has redeemed us through His own blood, giving His soul for our souls, and His flesh for our flesh." - Irenaeus, Against Heresies, ANF 1:527, c 180 AD.

"For you, I [Christ] contended with Death, and I paid your death, which you owed for your former sins and your unbelief towards God." - Clement of Alexandria, Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?, ANF 2:598, c 195 AD.

"You have already been ransomed by Christ - and that at a great price!" - Tertullian, The Chaplet, ANF 3:101, c 211 AD.

"A man could not give anything as an exchange for his own life, but God gave an exchange for the life of us all, 'the precious blood of Christ Jesus.' Accordingly, 'we were bought with a price,' 'having been redeemed, not with corruptible things as silver or gold, but with precious blood." - Origin, Commentary on Matthew, ANF 9:465, c 245 AD.

"The Son also gave Himself to death for us, so that He was delivered up - not only by the Father - but also by Himself." - Origin, Commentary on Matthew, ANF 9:479, c 245 AD.

"For man's salvation, He was made man in order to overcome death and to set all men free. In that He offered Himself as a victim to the Father on our behalf, He was called a calf." - Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse, ANF 7:348, c 280 AD.

There are many more citations of ante-Nicene fathers on the atonement listed in the Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, pp. 41-48. These are just a smattering. These demonstrate that the clear scriptural interpretation of the substitutionary atonement of Christ was understood by the early Church from the apostolic fathers on. St. Anselm did not pull this doctrine out of a hat, but rather received it from the early fathers who in turn received it from the Word of God.

This is why we continue to "preach Christ crucified," and not merely Christ the Nice Guy, but rather "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:23-25).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sermon: Reformation (transferred)

25 Oct 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Rom 3:19-28

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Some things are just not for sale, nor should they be. Love is one such thing.

Can you imagine having to pay your mother to love you? Can you imagine having to perform a checklist of tasks to merit your father’s love?

It’s easy to forget that this is the very issue that sparked the Reformation that we call to mind on this day.

Today commemorates the anniversary of an event that set in motion a series of happenings that nobody saw coming. Martin Luther’s ordinary notice posted on the church door – the 16th century equivalent of the blog post – resulted in an extraordinary playing out of history: heated discussions that led to accusations flying in both directions, mutual excommunications, a restoration of the preaching of the Gospel, death and bloodshed, a renewed emphasis on God’s Word, people being burned at the stake, worship in the language of the people, military conquest and oppression, a renewal of Christian family life, and a western Christian Church that has become Humpty Dumpty never to be put together again.

The Reformation was, in short, a mixed blessing of nobody’s intention. And yet it was a necessary blessing for the sake of the Church and of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But in the midst of all the doctrinal disputes, the history, the debates, the personalities, the political tug-of-war, and all the hype on both sides, the issue boils down to the question of whether or not love is for sale.

Before he was Dr. Luther the famous theologian, he was Father Martin, the obscure monk and priest who found no love, neither from His heavenly Father nor from his churchly mother. The God to whom he devoted himself required the impossible to be done, and Luther’s failure to do so resulted in what seemed to be unrequited love. Such a view of the Christian life is dreary and depressing, anything but good news. Furthermore, the Church into whose bosom Luther fled for comfort and refuge, demanded money up front before any love, any grace, any mercy, any comfort, any kindness – would be dispensed. The man we now know as Blessed Martin Luther, doctor and confessor of the Church, was tempest-tossed in a loveless and dysfunctional family of sorts.

His notice on the church door involved the sale of indulgences. This practice was so horrific because it made a mockery of the very concept of love. It turned the Church, the Bride of Christ, into a harlot, and portrayed our merciful God as an evil and brutish tyrant, an abusive Father.

But having found the love of God through Scripture, and having discovered the love of the Church through rightly administered sacraments and a Gospel properly preached –
Luther discovered love. He proclaimed that same love from the pulpit, distributed it at the altar, poured it out at the font, and defended it on the church door. Dr. Luther would preach and teach this Gospel in the classroom and in the sanctuary until the day he was buried in the floor of that same church sanctuary, where he waits to this very day for his body to be roused by his loving Savior on the day when love will be triumphant and eternal.

And it was in this very passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that the Lord shared with us today that Dr. Luther discovered the unconditional love of his heavenly Father and the faithful and nurturing love of his churchly mother.

For just as our earthly parents love us in spite of our imperfections, even as our mothers wipe away our tears even when our wounds are self-inflicted, and as our fathers embrace us with strong arms when we have brought trouble upon ourselves, so too does our compassionate God grant us the gift of His righteousness, even when our works deserve otherwise. For “now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.”

Our heavenly Father and our churchly mother offer us a gift of love: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” And this is the Gospel proclaimed by the Church and reclaimed by the reformers: Jesus Christ is the “propitiation by His blood to be received by faith.” In other words, Jesus is the one sin-forgiving sacrifice offered for us, not for a fee, not earned by works, but granted as a free gift, gratis, purely by grace – and we receive it all through faith.

For instead of God the angry judge, Luther found the “forbearance” of the Father. Instead of despair at his own unjust works, he found the Son Jesus Christ the “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

And this is all free, dear Christians!

We who have come to be called “Lutherans” did not abolish the Mass, but rather abolished the price tag. Masses are not for sale, but are given away for free – for they are offerings of love from your Savior to you in His Word and in His body and blood. We Lutherans never abolished private confession and absolution, but rather abolished the works of satisfaction mandated by a penance. Absolution cannot be earned, because it has been bought and paid for by the sacrifice of your Savior on the cross, He who loves you and gave Himself up for you.

Nor did we Lutherans abolish good works, but rather abolished the notion that you merit salvation by doing them. You get no payment for your good deeds, your prayers, your gifts and offerings, your loving gifts of your time and talents to your church. For what loving child expects to be paid for saying “thank you” to his dear Father and nurturing mother? Good works are a freewill offering to your Lord. And they are most certainly required. For our good works demonstrate a living faith, the kind of faith that is a free gift of God.

In our culture and age, nearly everything can be bought for a price. But even in our materialistic and cynical culture, love is still not for sale. For the moment that money changes hands, or when a work is offered as a payment, it ceases to be love, and becomes a sad imitation.

Thanks be to our merciful God that in His righteousness, He gives us that righteousness as a gift – because he loves us.

Praise be to our loving God we confess a holy catholic and apostolic church that lavishly pours out on us the gracious waters of Holy Baptism, generously pronounces the loving words of Holy Absolution, sumptuously puts before us the faith-bearing and sin-forgiving miraculous meal of Holy Communion, and continues to preach and teach the eternal-life-giving proclamation of the Holy Gospel. Our mother does not charge us for her comfort, nor does our Father expect payment for His mercy through our deeds. The Christian life is rather the good news that we who confess our sins and remain in our mother’s arms are loved and cherished in spite of our sins and errors, and are given forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift.

And lest we be tempted to brag about having the correct doctrine or to boast in that which we deserve no credit, let us remember the words of St. Paul that led to the Reformation in the first place: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Thus our boast is in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, and under the infallible authority of Scripture alone. And it is all through the love of God alone. This is why for five centuries, Lutherans around the world have prayed this prayer together after sharing the Holy Eucharist, a prayer penned by Dr. Luther himself, a prayer which captures the very essence of the Reformation and of the Gospel by giving thanks for the Lord’s salutary gift of mercy, rooted in faith, and lived out in fervent love for each other:
“We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ, Your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Girls Gone Wild, WELS Edition

In spite of the Wisconsin Synod's reputation for "conservative" rigor, WELS has a rather "liberal" view when it comes to women officiating at the Eucharist.

According to this Q&A from the WELS's own website, there have been at least two instances where laywomen in the WELS have said the Lord' Words of Institution over bread and wine and served it, claiming that it was the body and blood of the Lord. The practice was in no way condemned by the WELS hierarchy, but rather, the practice is current under a "moratorium" in order to "keep from offending our brothers."

This error has come about by the intersection of an error on the doctrine of the ministry combined with a legalistic view of the role of women.

First, WELS does not believe the pastoral office has been divinely established, and further teaches that "The Bible establishes all of public gospel ministry but does not establish a pastoral office as such or vest certain duties exclusive to that office" (Emphasis added).

From this starting point, WELS adds the next premise that the differences between male and female are limited to a legalistic "thou shalt not," as the article puts it:
"Since the Bible does not assign specific duties to the pastor, WELS approaches the matter of women communing women from Scripture's man and women role relationship principle. WELS doctrinal statements on the role of man and woman say that a woman may have any part in public ministry that does not assume teaching authority over a man. That, of course, would include women communing women" (emphasis added).
And this has moved beyond the theoretical into the practical:
"WELS has had only two instances of women communing women, and our Conference of Presidents has since issued an indefinite moratorium on such practice to keep from offending our brothers until the matter is mutually resolved" (emphasis added).
The "it's only happened twice" defense reminds me of the Monty Python sketch claiming that the British Navy now has cannibalism "relatively under control."

In other words, the theology of male and female boils down to an oversimplified and law-based overarching principle that women are free to do anything and everything in the Lord's economy so long as she does not exercise authority over a man in doing so - when in fact, the role of women is much richer than the "anything other than..." approach of the WELS. Accepting these two premises and following them to their logical end yields the result of women saying the Words of Institution over bread and wine, and distributing the elements to each other as if they were the true body and blood.

This is roughly the equivalent of my asserting that since I'm an American citizen, I can sign my name on a bill and make it a law, or that I can authorize people to go up into the Statue of Liberty's crown, or may indeed put stars on my lapels and order military personnel about. I can do no such thing. It is a matter of authority. Pastors are ambassadors of Christ, and speak by His authority, standing in His stead and by His command. The American ambassador to Canada speaks with the authority of the government of the United States. Of course, I am free to visit the Parliament in Ottawa, but unlike the word of the ambassador, my word bears no authority. Any statements I make have no force behind them, as I have not been placed into any such office by those who have such authority to delegate.

This is quite different than the Roman Catholic assertion that at a man's ordination, a metaphysical change in his person has happened. But this is also quite different than the Protestant assertion that ordination is nothing more than a quaint ceremony. Sometimes the president of the United States is called "the most powerful man in the world." Not so. I'd be willing to wager than any middle linebacker in the NFL could take out President Obama in any kind of a strength competition or fight. What the president has is not personal "power," but rather delegated personal "authority" that he exercises "by virtue of his office." Not even someone more "powerful" than the president can make laws and issue commands to the military. If someone were to attempt to do so lacking authority, it would be a mutiny and a rebellion.

The examples in Scripture of those who assumed and usurped authority not given by the Lord do not end well. Korah's rebellion comes to mind.

And lest we become too smug in the LCMS, I think we should be on guard. We do have deaconesses who are described as "ministers," some even serving in institutional chaplaincies, providing spiritual care to both men and women. I have even seen this work described as being "pastoral" - though there is great care not to turn this adjective into a noun. At some point, the earlier understanding that deaconesses would only teach women and children has been superseded in the LCMS, as deaconesses are now permitted to teach men as well as women and children. What authority they have and do not have seems to be on a sliding scale of gray, and varies with whomever is asked.

But the problem goes well beyond the malleable role of the deaconess. I recently heard firsthand of a "laying on of hands" in the LCMS that involved not only clergy, but the congregational elders (after all, see 1 Tim 4:4...) and the female congregational president as well. I know that sometimes clergy wives are even involved in these ceremonials.

We also have an oxymoronic "office" in the LCMS called "lay minister." Male "lay ministers" have been given "license" for "Word and Sacrament ministry" by district presidents. Female "lay ministers" take the same classes and hold the same synodical designation, yet (to my knowledge) there have not been instances of female "lay ministers" either preaching or presiding over an alleged Sacrament of the Altar. But I do think this toe-to-the-line of the Wisconsonian view of the office of the ministry and the roles of the sexes leaves the possibility open.

One of the most foolish things anyone can ever say is: "It can't happen here."

We in the LCMS have a similar rather limited theology of the sexes as the WELS. We tend to focus on the narrow and myopic legalistic issue of "what women are allowed, and are not allowed, to do" (functionalism) rather than the deeper and eternal issue of what men and women were created to do (ontology). Function ought to flow from ontology rather than trying to reverse-engineer the situation in the opposite direction.

I suspect there are some in our midst who indeed would make the argument that women have the divine authority to bless bread and wine (even as they have the power to physically say the words), that they can indeed also have the churchly permission ("call") to do so as long as no men take the "sacrament" from her hand, and so long as she does not lay claim to the title of "pastor." And there are some that will, no doubt, make a couple arguments in favor of women consecrating based on:

1) The charge of "Donatism." This is the ancient heresy that the validity of the sacrament is based on the moral standing of the officiant. However, sex has nothing to do with moral fitness. It is rather an ontological distinction. For example, men are not denied the privilege of carrying a child in the womb based on a moral reason, it's rather a question of reality and vocation. Just as a good and righteous American citizen can write his name at the end of a bill passed by Congress, the fact is that his righteous signature is not effective whereas that of even a wicked president is - by virtue of authority. A person's sex has nothing at all to do with Donatism.

In fact, the Donatism charge can even go the other way. For example, a very pious and morally upright lay woman can say all the right words over bread and wine without having any authority from God, neither from Scripture nor from the Church, and yet a wicked ordained male pastor with a valid call can do the same thing - and there is no doubt whatsoever of the validity of the sacraments he officiates over.

This is because the issue is authority, not moral fitness.

In fact, there was an interesting conversation between some LCMS seminary professors over this very issue. You can read the initial article about the "validity of churchly acts of ordained [sic] women" here and the rebuttal against the charge of "Neo-Donatism" here.

2) Emergency baptism. The argument goes that if women can "confect the sacrament," so to speak, regarding an emergency baptism, then it follows that she can similarly officiate over celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. But this is a leap of logic that presumes that all sacraments are equal and that we are not bound to any authority in these matters apart from our own modern whims. The crux of the matter is that emergency baptism is just that - a life and death situation. The Church has long established this form of Holy Baptism, and has never denied the fairer sex the extraordinary authority to administer the Holy Sacrament in matters of extremity. However, the same cannot be said for other sacramental and churchly acts. For there are no emergency marriages or confirmations or communions. Our confessions cite the scenario attributed to St. Augustine in which one dying man baptizes the other, and the newly-baptized administers the Sacrament of Holy Absolution to his fellow. There is no mention of any other sacrament or church rite. Most certainly there is no precedent for emergency lay Communion.

Just as female ordination inevitably leads to the blessing of same-sex marriages, I also believe that a functional view of the ministry inexorably leads to women functioning (if not outright claiming to be) pastors. Until we in the LCMS come to grips with the idea of ontology (both of ministers and of the sexes), we will continue to follow in the train of our conservative brethren, even though the tracks have taken a radical turn to the left.

HT: Dr. William J. Tighe

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Baloon Boy: History Repeats Itself ?

It looks like a similar incident happened in WW2 era Germany. ;-)

HT: Martin Fonda

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Doesn't Anyone Read Orwell Anymore?


I think Fred Reed (U.S. Marine combat vet, Southern redneck, intellectual, adventurer, expat, wordsmith, journalist, bon vivant, and truly conservative social critic) drew a bead on this nonsense last year with this column. Here's a few lines about his dismal trip to Washington, DC:

Meanwhile, things get loonier on the street. I went to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore from DC by train and, so help me, they’re doing the same garish security theater on trains that they do at hairports. Cops and German Shepherds everywhere. To buy a freaking commuter-rail ticket, you need a photo ID, and they type heaven knows what into a computer.

Okay, suppose I show up at the Obedience Training window with my suitcase full of Semtex, buy my ticket with my own ID or any ID with a balding ugly mutt on it—they barely look at it—and blow the 9:07 MARC to metallic sawdust. After the fact they assemble my shards, check the computer, and determine that It Must Have Been Fred. This miraculously brings the dead back to life. Bet you didn’t know I had such powers.

None of it makes sense, except as Pavlovian conditioning. Every few minutes a tedious recording plays in stations saying to call some number if you see suspicious behavior. Blah blah blah. No one pays the least attention. No one writes the number down. Has anyone ever called it?

“Uh, I want to report suspicious behavior.”

Voice, annoyed at having the Redskins game interrupted: “Yeah, what?”

“Well, there’s like, this guy, he has a funny looking raincoat and he keeps, you know, looking around, and I think his left hand is twitching.”

“Uh…yeah. Tell him to stop twitching.”

“What if he, you know, blows up or something?”

“What am I, your mother?”

I don’t get it. Something is happening to this country. It still has a lot going for it—friendly people, great diners, good blues, country bands, widespread availability of illegal drugs. But the government is out of control. Everything is illegal and watched. It’s getting so you can’t shoot cats from a car window with a twelve-gauge any more. Who wants to live in that kind of world? We’ll probably be overrun by cats, drown in them.

Today I went to the Hill to see the new Visitors Center. As usual, cops everywhere, squad cars parked on sidewalks, steel stop’em-cars plates rising from streets. People don’t seem frightened, but the government is, or pretends to be.

The Visitors Center turns out to be underground at the Capitol. It is said to have cost $761 temporarily deflated green ones and has the mental fingerprints of Albert Speer all over it: It’s huge, drab, squarish, monumental without even being imposing, with the élan of a K-Street office building.

I don’t get it. This is the country that produced Peggy Lee and Tampa Red and the ’fitty-sedden Chevy, the country that spits techno-whizz golf carts onto Mars just like it was even possible, that brought the hamburger to gorgeous bejuiced perfection and invented most of the modern world. It’s the home of sand-lot baseball and Little Peggy March and BB guns and Tasty Freeze. It is, in a phrase, one fine place.

How did it sink to being a proto-Soviet surveillance state that builds vast awful Visitor Centers in the style of a Hitlerian mauseoleum? You can’t go to the john without a photo ID anymore. Something ain’t right.

The problem with modern "conservatism"

Here is how a Republican governor carries out his personal beliefs about small government.

Once these people get into power, something happens to them. They claim to believe in small government while promoting a nanny-state.

And who honestly believes this and other ridiculous abuses of power will apply equally to everyone? Even California's ban on cell-phone use while driving, signed into law by the governor, is blatantly ignored by the governor's wife. But who should be surprised at this? It was her uncle in the white house who ordered his press secretary to buy up a huge stash of Cuban cigars the day before he announced the Cuban embargo. Laws - especially those regarding prohibited substances - it seems, only apply to the "little people."

But then again, the Kennedys made at least part of their fortune (which was parlayed into a political dynasty) by being involved in the business of banned substances (alcohol, before the end of prohibition). So, in a sense, they were the illegal drug dealers of their day and age. (Several of my own family were moonshiners during prohibition - and bully for them, I say! But they never got into public office and decreed other things to be prohibited after hypocritically making a fortune for themselves in the black market).

Furthermore, Gov. Schwarzenegger was also catapulted to fame by himself using illegal substances (by his own admission). He would not be where he is today were it not for breaking the kinds of laws he is now mandating upon everyone else. And some people are actually convinced there is actually a dime's difference between the Republicans and the Democrats (of course, thanks to the Republicans and Democrats and their bankster pals in the Federal Reserve, the dime is actually now worth about half a cent - which still won't buy the difference between the parties as far as I'm concerned).

Can you just imagine the Hollywood elites in California not having big-screen plasma TVs? And how about the governor's palace? Do you honestly think they'll all be huddling around small TV screens in the Schwarzenegger-Kennedy house? Is this really going to happen?

So much for the vaunted rhetoric about freedom and limited government. All that this unconstitutional big-government intervention in the marketplace will accomplish is the crippling of the economy, the destruction of the jobs of the "little people," and the further imposition of tyrannical power from a so-called "conservative" governor. There are obviously those who will benefit from these "environmental" reforms - just follow the money trail and the lobbyists. True conservatives understand this whole matter to be nothing other than tyranny in elephant's clothing.

If the Republicans had any integrity, they would remove Schwarzenegger from the party.

But they won't. And we all know why.

Epic Missouri

Monday, October 19, 2009

Halloween musings

I believe that Halloween is, for the most part, an innocent excuse to dress up in costumes and for children to blow off steam and get some candy. I know some Christians forbid their children from taking part in Halloween in any shape or form. I think this goes too far. Martin Luther even commented once about how it is fitting that Christians mock death and the devil (of course, I can't find the quote right now - it was in one of Dr. Scott Murray's Memorial Moments a few years back...). And I think there is an element of Halloween that does that.

However, in recent years, Halloween has become increasingly violent, sexual, and occultish. Instead of mocking death and the devil, it seems that many are wishing to pay homage to, and even dabble with, death and the devil. I do not think this is a healthy development. As a Christian and a pastor, this darkening of Halloween gives me great pause.

When I was a young adult, I would join the ritual with my friends.

We had some pals who played in a popular local heavy metal band (U.S. Metal, whose singer actually went on to become the lead singer of the British band, Judas Priest). And so, on Halloween, we would all dress up like them, complete with wigs, spandex, make-up, and 1980s rock and roll accouterments. We would join the thousands of costumed revelers in Kent, Ohio - which is, as most people know, a college town of some reknoun. Of course, our friends who really played in the band thought it was a hoot for us young white collar professionals to step into their personas for a day of fun. There was nothing dark or occultish about it.

Once in a while, we would also visit a "haunted house" - which was basically a series of rooms in which high school kids dressed in werewolf masks would say "boo." There were some scenes of violence, but it was all cheesy theatrical stuff. It was basically just something to do, an excuse for us all to get together. There was nothing diabolical or celebratory of the demonic that I can remember.

But over time, Halloween has gotten darker.

It is as though the thrill and suspense, the fun and silliness, were just not enough. People want gratuitous sex and violence. They want increasingly realistic scenes of death and dismemberment. They want demons and devils and spells.

Here in New Orleans, we have the House of Shock. The pictures say it all. The place is filled with pentagrams, blood, scenes of death and torture, and even a little tribute to "Lord [sic] Belial" - a demon specifically mentioned in Holy Scripture. There is one room depicting a blood-spattered desecrated church. There are blasphemous displays of crucifixes.

And of course, if Christians are offended, all the better. I wonder what the reaction would be if it were a synagogue that were being desecrated, or if someone decided to have a room filled with what appears to be dead corpses and a mockery of Jewish symbols. Somehow, I think it would be received differently.

Of course, the owners all claim to be religious people engaging in a little clean fun. Of course, with tickets costing $25 to $50 a pop, they aren't in it entirely for fun.

I don't think it is ever appropriate, under any conditions, for Christian young people to derive entertainment from representations of desecrated churches, from symbols of Satanism, and from a celebration of the unholy. It is a tough line to draw, but as we move along in these last days, the line is getting increasingly easier to discern.

"Uncomfortable with our own skin..."

A blog really worth looking at is called Pastoral Meanderings by a veteran parish pastor (Pastor Peters) in the heart of the Bible belt.

In a recent post that muses upon what Lutherans are vs. what Lutherans perceive, or even market themselves, to be, Pr. Peters hits upon what may be the most pressing issue when it comes to Lutheranism in America: What does it mean to be Lutheran? What does our confession have to do with our practice?

While some of our parishes in the LCMS are in the midst of a decades-long confessional and evangelical catholic awakening, others (often pushed along by our church hierarchy and social and money pressure) are moving in the opposite direction. And these practices are indeed informing the doctrine, leading it around by the nose in a direction opposite of what we have bound ourselves to in our Lutheran confessions. In doctrine and practice, we have a disturbing diversity in our synod. It has become the elephant in the parlor that our synodical president simultaneously says exists and yet does not exist. And the millions of Lutheran lay people are caught in the middle of the pincers of the two opposing movements.

Anyway, I commend Pr. Peters's post to you, and here is just a snippet:
The drift between what we were and who we claimed to be and what we have become and who we want to be today has come slowly but surely. It is my conviction that the Lutheran struggle today is not between us and Protestants or Evangelicals or Roman Catholics. Our struggle is internal. We have become uncomfortable with our own skin. We have looked over the fence into the yards of other traditions because we no long like our own. It is not that we ditched all the history, we have reasons for what we do. Mission, outreach, evangelism, marketing, fitting in, becoming more American, science and technology... the list goes on. We have reasons for this and yet we also have a little guilt about the drift. This guilt is kept alive by those within every Lutheran church body who keep alive the confessional identity.

For the ELCA the Augsburg Confession has become a historical document....

For Missouri the Augsburg Confession has become less important to our history than Walther and democracy and congregationalism. When some in Missouri felt threatened by liberals in control, this became the means to maintaining orthodoxy. When some in Missouri felt threatened by conservatives, this became the means to maintaining their moderation. In the end it has crippled our church body and our style of governance looks like a bruised and battered body held together with splints, tape and bandaids. What Augustana spoke about has been filtered through the democracy of America and the urgency of Walther and a few ship loads of people who needed to justify the voyage. So the conservatives are out conservativing each other and the moderates are insisting that we are dying unless we change enough to make Jesus our first concern... all the while everyone pays lip service to a inerrancy... and confessionals speak a language about liturgy, sacramental theology, and life that flows from them as well as the efficacy of Scripture (that God's Word does what it says) and is attacked by both sides.

I for one believe that Lutheranism's core document, the Augsburg Confession, must be the pivotal confession in our self understanding, our raison d'etre, or we have no real reason for being...
You can read the entire piece here. And you might want to add Pastoral Meanderings to your reading list.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Footage of G.K. Chesterton and Free Books

E-readers can download an entire library of the writings of the great Christian thinker, apologist, and wit G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) available for a free download here. I especially recommend his 1908 classic Orthodoxy available here.

You can also download his masterwork The Everlasting Man (1925), a book that was pivotal in C.S. Lewis's conversion to Christianity (which I am in the process of reading now, aghast and embarrassed that I had never heard of it until recently), here.

Rolling Latin Verse

Numquam tē dēficĭam;
Numquam concursāns tē dēsĕram.
Numquam facĭam ut fleās;
Numquam valēre tē jubēbō;
Numquam mentĭēns tē lædam

Latin fans can click here for a boring technical translation discussion, or instead just click here for a really cool music video rendition.

Let the good times roll...

Sermon: St. Luke

18 Oct 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 10:1-9 (Isa 35:5-8, 2 Tim 4:5-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. Luke, whose feast we observe today, recounts our Lord’s sending out of preachers.

In fact, the Lord Himself “appointed” these 72 men, and sent them out as heralds to prepare “every town and place” where the Word of the Lord was to come and preach Himself. “The harvest is plentiful” our Blessed Lord informs us, and He laments: “but the laborers are few.”

There are few men called into this service, and very few who don’t die or retire from this service with deep scars: “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” says our Lord.

The Lord’s preachers are not to be too comfortable. They are to lead a transient life. They are not to be too wealthy – though they are neither to be impoverished, for “the laborer deserves his wages.” They are not to be distracted from their mission – though both world and church provide many such temptations to wander away from their calls. And like our Lord, they are to proclaim “Peace” – the same sermon of the resurrected Christ.

One would think the proclamation of “peace” and the good news that the “kingdom of God has come near to you” would be universally welcomed with great joy. But it isn’t. John the Baptist was beheaded for preaching the kingdom at the beginning of our Lord’s ministry. Our Lord Himself was crucified for preaching this Gospel. And St. Luke, the Evangelist and writer of the Gospel, was himself persecuted for the faith after our Lord’s earthly ministry. Some traditions indicate that he was beheaded, though there is not complete agreement that this is true. Tradition is strong, however, that St. Luke was one of the Lord’s 72 preachers, and that he repeatedly suffered for the faith with St. Paul. Indeed, Paul Himself says: “Luke alone is with me” – even as many abandoned Paul in his own suffering for Christ and the Gospel.

In spite of the Good News that the Church has been placing before the world for two millennia, this Gospel is often not received well. It is resented. It divides people. It instills hatred and violence. It brings out the true colors of people – both those who repent and those who reject the preaching of the Gospel.

St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy is practical advice to a young preacher from a war-weary older preacher. He tells Timothy that in spite of all his heartache, opposition, and invective – from both within and without the church – the preacher must keep his head down and “do the work of an evangelist.” He is to be “always sober-minded,” and he is to “endure suffering.” This is how St. Timothy is to “fulfill” his ministry.

St. Paul has been worn out and beaten down in the service of the kingdom and to the King. He sees his own martyrdom coming, being “poured out as a drink offering” as his “time of departure has come.” And as the 72 were instructed, Paul was not one to carry extra clothes and money. He did not become comfortable in this fallen world. He remained ever ready to be sent where and when the Lord wanted him to go. He endured sorrowful desertions from both the lay people under his care, as well as his fellow servants of the Word. St. Paul warns Timothy to be wary about troublemakers who oppose the preaching of the Good News. And he bluntly confesses to St. Timothy what kinds of heartache the “work of an evangelist” can be expected to bring.

And yet, in spite of all the opposition and strife, the Good News is that the Good News is still the Good News! It is still being proclaimed. People are still coming to faith. Sinners are still being saved. Preachers are still being sent. The world is still having the proclamation of peace preached to them “in season and out.” We continue to “preach Christ crucified!”

Paul has many reasons to be thankful: St. Luke remains with Paul, and Luke was even to write, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, the third Gospel of our Lord! St. Mark is a joy to Paul and of great use in the holy ministry. The books and parchments continue to be read and propagated. And St. Paul rejoices that “the Lord stood by me and strengthened me” all so that the Gospel would be preached. St. Paul confesses: “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom.”

For the Gospel – even when it is opposed – is the means the Lord Himself has chosen to usher in eternity, the kingdom of God, the restoration of paradise and the overturning of sin, death, and the devil.

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped,” says the prophet Isaiah, “then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

The Lord is promising a return to Eden, an eternal paradise in which we who believe and are baptized, we the unworthy who have been credited with righteousness, we who are “by nature sinful and unclean,” we the redeemed of our Redeemer, will live forever – as we were always intended to do. And this, dear Christians, is the Gospel! This is the Good News! It is our proclamation, St. Luke’s proclamation, Sts. Paul and Timothy’s proclamation, the proclamation of the 72, the proclamation of Holy Isaiah and St. John the Baptist – and above all – it is our Blessed Lord’s proclamation.

Armed with St. Luke’s Gospel, we continue to preach, to proclaim, to herald the kingdom. And with St. Luke, we continue to pray, to intercede, to sing the praises of our Lord and God around His altar and throne. United with preachers of every time and place, preachers today proclaim this Good News: from pulpits, in confessionals, from rooftops, in family devotions, in grand cathedrals and in tiny underground cells – the Gospel is proclaimed far and wide, to the ends of the earth – even as each passing day brings us one day closer to the Gospel’s fulfillment and completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ!

And with St. Paul, we preach, confess, pray, praise, and give thanks: “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trains, Evocation, Training and Vocation

Living on a street in which freight trains literally run down the middle of the road, clacking and whistling, evokes a lot of memories: our honeymoon train trip that covered almost the entire east coast and deep South, our recent adventure on the City of New Orleans to Chicago and onward to Milwaukee, childhood memories of the sparky old Lionel model train at Christmas, riding the rails in New York and Connecticut, and even a poem of sorts from my high school days.

The latter popped into my mind after not thinking about it for many years. It was on the wall of the office of my high school band instructor, the legendary Nelson Gorbach of Walsh Jesuit High School (who is still there and in his 42nd year at his post). I first saw it some 31 years ago, and somehow, it seared itself into my memory:

It's not my job to run the train,
The whistle I can't blow.
It's not for me to say how far
The train's allowed to go.
I'm not allowed to blow off steam
Or even clang the bell.
But let the damn thing jump the track
And see who catches hell!

I think anyone who has ever worked for a living anywhere can relate!

"Uncle Nels" was (and obviously is) a remarkable musician and teacher who taught me to play the saxophone and who made music fun and interesting - and somehow managed to get a commitment to excellence and dedication out of a scrappy crew of high school boys. I had an absolute blast playing in the concert band under his direction - even playing a $5,000 bari sax that was nearly as big as I was. Of course, reading and playing music has been of remarkable help to me in the ministry, as the Lord used Mr. Gorbach in his vocation to help "train" (get it?) me for my vocation.

I wonder if Mr. Gorbach still has that "poem" on his wall?

Don't these guys have e-mail?

Here is an article from the October 2009 Missouri Synod newspaper the Reporter.

The good news is that the ILC - an international association of 34 Lutheran church bodies worldwide, of which the LCMS is a member - unanimously voted to uphold the biblical doctrine of human sexuality - even as many so-called Lutheran bodies around the world have adopted an anything-goes paradigm.

The bad news is that dozens of bishops, presidents, and bureaucrats, and in some cases, their wives and friends, were flown to "a resort outside of Seoul, South Korea" for the nearly week long meeting. In fact, 81 people were registered for this event.

Was it really necessary to fly all these people there, put them up, feed them for nearly a week, and fly them all back home - in order to adopt a statement that the Bible is right and that homosexuality is a sin?

I mean, don't these guys have e-mail?

I just watched a heart-rending video sent by the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society that shows the unbelievably stark conditions Lutheran pastors in Russia are working under. The images from their work and their stories are haunting. And they are certainly not alone around the world. The heroic work of these pastors and missionaries who labor tirelessly in the Lord's kingdom under conditions of poverty puts us all to shame. Maybe it is an oversimplification on my part, but I can't help but wonder if there should be such extravagance in the church at the same time there is such want.

And while it is commendable that we are part of a worldwide association of confessing Lutheran church bodies, and such a confession is necessary - it does seem to be quite a malinvestment of resources to fly these guys (and their wives and pals) all over the world and put them up in resorts. These are churchmen, not heads of state or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

I'm honestly not opposed to spending money for the Lord's kingdom. We should have beautiful church buildings and holy vessels for worship. We should invest in seminary education. We should build school buildings and staff our schools and universities with top-notch faculty. These things do indeed cost money. But such expenditures are generational in nature. They are true investments. By contrast, the resources spent on this ILC meeting were literally burned up as jet fuel, digested in the intestines of the attendees, and spent in the form of tourism. All that the kingdom of God has to show for all these efforts is a document - one that could have been drafted and approved via e-mail.

Maybe I'm all wet on this, but this just strikes me as a remarkably callous, frivolous, and myopic display of stewardship.