Saturday, October 18, 2008

Presidential Debates and the Hippocratic Oath

In a couple of presidential debates, the Hippocratic Oath was mentioned. What many people (including the presidential candidates) don't realize, however, is that the oath of Hippocrates is quite different today from the original, taking a sharp turn in the 1960's. If it is mandated at all for graduating medical students, it is markedly different today from what it was in the past.

The Oath of Hippocrates included the swearing off of terminating pregnancies: “I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy.” But alas, the classic Hippocratic oath has been left behind, modernized so that most med students today don't even realize just how far modern versions of the oath have strayed from the classical model. The PBS/NOVA site offers some interesting statistics with the article The Hippocratic Oath Today: Meaningless Relic or Invaluable Moral Guide? I've included several paragraphs in the “continue reading” section from that site in case your web surfing time is short:

“The Hippocratic Oath (see ancient and modern versions) is one of the oldest binding documents in history. Written in antiquity, its principles are held sacred by doctors to this day: treat the sick to the best of one's ability, preserve patient privacy, teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation, and so on. “The Oath of Hippocrates,” holds the American Medical Association's Code of Medical Ethics (1996 edition), “has remained in Western civilization as an expression of ideal conduct for the physician.”

“Today, most graduating medical-school students swear to some form of the oath, usually a modernized version. Indeed, oath-taking in recent decades has risen to near uniformity, with just 24 percent of U.S. medical schools administering the oath in 1928 to nearly 100 percent today.

“Yet paradoxically, even as the modern oath's use has burgeoned, its content has tacked away from the classical oath's basic tenets. According to a 1993 survey of 150 U.S. and Canadian medical schools, for example, only 14 percent of modern oaths prohibit euthanasia, 11 percent hold covenant with a deity, 8 percent forswear abortion, and a mere 3 percent forbid sexual contact with patients -- all maxims held sacred in the classical version.

“The original calls for free tuition for medical students and for doctors never to 'use the knife' (that is, conduct surgical procedures) -- both obviously out of step with modern-day practice. Perhaps most telling, while the classical oath calls for 'the opposite' of pleasure and fame for those who transgress the oath, fewer than half of oaths taken today insist the taker be held accountable for keeping the pledge.”

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Traditional Worship for Contemporary People

I don't know why or how I came to be receiving e-mail from Bob Pierson. But I do think it's a bit humorous how the trend in "spirituality" and worship is coming back around to the "traditional."

At this point, I'm not certain what Pierson means by "traditional worship" -- and I don't have time to check it out -- but in my nearly 25 years of being a called-and-ordained pastor, the historic liturgy is the service I've always conducted in caring for Christ's people with Word and Sacrament. I'm still using the 1940's edition of The Lutheran Hymnal.

What I find funny in all this is that aficionados in The Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod (LCMS), the church body with which I am affiliated, usually runs 15 to 20 years behind the curve, trying to keep up with the rest of popular American Christian trends. Currently, the majority of congregations in the LCMS are still trying their hand at a 1970's-1980's style "Contemporary Worship," either going full-tilt with an anti-liturgical, unvestmented, karaoke-Christian praise service, or an attempt to blend contemporary with traditional.

In about 20 years, the LCMS gurus who are hip will be trending back to some form of "traditional worship," learning from their highly-paid non-Lutheran poll-mongering consultants that that is what people want. They'll move back towards that for all the wrong reasons while I and a few others will remain doing what the church has always been doing, and doing well.

In case you're interested, here is the e-mail I received today:




Dear colleague,

There are many churches all across America that use traditional worship as their primary way of doing worship services. Jim Bankston, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston believes in the importance of traditional worship and St. Paul’s does only traditional worship. The large United Methodist Church I served for over 30 years in Tulsa does both traditional and contemporary worship. We are both committed to finding ways to do traditional worship better. We believe it will make a significant difference for the church to be able to improve the quality of traditional worship.

Therefore, we are holding a national conference on November 11-13, 2008 called Traditional Worship for Contemporary People. The event will be held at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston and features some of the great, practical experts on traditional worship. Although this conference has been designed primarily out of the United Methodist tradition, we want to respect all the customs of traditional worship. We hope that you will come to the conference and enjoy it. You can view the brochure and more information at www.leadershipnexus.net/houston.htm. Feel free to make copies of the brochure for your friends, or forward this email to them. There are many aspects of the conference that will add unusual excitement and effectiveness to any traditional worship service.

Please email me if you have any questions. You can register by mail or online at www.leadershipnexus.net/houston.htm. I hope you will begin that process as soon as possible and get the early discount!

Yours in Christ,
Bob Pierson
Executive Director
Leadership Nexus
7103 S Columbia Place
Tulsa, OK 74136
Cell: 918-809-7489
Office: 918-477-7549

Email: bpierson@leadershipnexus.net

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Difference Between Preaching Christ and Preaching About Christ

The Rev. Dr. Ken Korby left a great impression on many pastors and laypeople. One impression he left on me was the distinction between preaching Christ and preaching about Christ. He illustrated it in this way:

If you were standing before a judge, having been condemned and convicted of a crime, could you tell the difference between the judge talking about a parole and the judge actually declaring that you are paroled?

The Gospel is not telling people about Jesus. It is, as the apostle Paul declared, preaching Christ -- and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23; 2 Cor. 4:5; Phil. 1:15-16; Col. 1:28).

Lutheran pastors don't merely preach about forgiveness, they forgive in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Infomercial Lutheranism

If you had a cheapo gizmo that you wanted to make a killing on, how would you promote it? If you had a second-rate product which you wanted to sell to the American public, how would you promote it?

Infomercials.

Use all the glitz and glam of various media, hire an enthusiastic "talent" with just the right look and a dynamic voice, combined with a adjective-rich script, plenty of testimonials, and an offer you cannot refuse.

And that doesn't look too terribly different than the Ablaze! / Fan Into Flame campaign.

No one is really asking whether the millions of dollars being poured into the Ablaze! campaign is money well spent. Since one cannot judge the effect that the Ablaze! presentations has on human hearts dead in sin, there seems to be no way of holding anyone accountable.

But is $20-million+ spent on consultants, ad campaigns, brochures, T-shirts and web development really anything more than infomercial Lutheranism? Isn't the Rev. Dr. Kieschnick and his ilk wasting millions of dollars on such things when it could have been spent on supporting ordained ministers of the Gospel to serve as missionaries abroad or in socio-economically depressed urban and rural communities here in the States or helping students at our teacher colleges and seminaries to graduate without being $40,000 in debt -- a debt very difficult to pay off with the types of salaries that LCMS pastors and teachers usually get?

The Ablaze!Program is infomercial Lutheranism. I'm not buying it . . . no matter how many "And wait! There's more!" they have to offer.

Ex Opere Operato is Alive and Well and Living in the Ablaze! Program

In the Twenty-First Thesis on the Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, C.F.W. Walther writes:

"... the Word of God is not rightly divided when men are taught that the Sacraments produce salutary effects ex opere operato, that is, by the mere outward performance of a sacramental act. The grave error which is scored by this thesis is held by the papists, who teach men that they will derive some benefit by merely submitting to the act of being baptized, despite the fact that they are still unbelievers, provided they are not actually living in mortal sins. That mere act is said to bring them God’s favor or make God gracious to them. They teach the same regarding the Mass and the Lord’s Supper, viz., that grace is obtained by the mere act of attending these rites. This impious and abominable teaching contradicts point-blank the Word of God, in particular, the Gospel, which teaches that a person is justified before God and saved by grace alone, and that he cannot perform any good work until he has been thus justified.

The Ablaze! Program doesn't make much mention of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper. For the most part, it seems to be interested in telling people about the Gospel -- telling them about Jesus and what an awesome, spectacular, praiseworthy and loving god our God is.

Adherents of the Ablaze! Program make it sound that encountering people with a Gospel presentation is worthy to be counted as a significant event. Just say something about Jesus or have a prayer with your waitress and we'll chalk it up on the Ablaze! counter.

The opus operatum approach, if one were to generalize or over-simplify, is the way of Roman Catholicism, while the opposite extreme, opus operantis is the way of the Reformed. The former emphasizes the efficacy of a done deed. The latter attributes efficacy to the faith one has in the heart.

Luther ultimately avoided such a dichotomy as being unhelpful. For him, the Gospel was not effective: it was salutary. The Gospel dunamis was not irresistable force and effective power, but it was enlivening and vivacious. (Life is so fragile, but at the same time no power on earth -- no chemical, no physical, no nuclear, no psychological, no spiritual power is capable of creating it.)

The Ablaze! Campaign says little about repentance, denying one's self, confession, and a salutary use of the means of grace. It's too busy doing its deeds ex opere operato and catching it digitally to promote in a newsletter, website or brochure.

When You're Done with that Cray 2 Supercomputer, Can I Have It?

Obsolescence is the way of electronics. I remember hearing, a good 20 years ago, about the Cray 2 Supercomputer. Surely by now it must not be fast enough or have enough memory or enough storage space that the owners haven't upgraded, right? But I'll bet it could still play some pretty cool games. Still, I wonder if it would run Windows Vista . . . without crashing?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Take the Ablaze! Challenge

In The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), we currently have an initiative promoted by our president Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick. Is the movement to be commended or condemned?

On one hand, "All that glitters is not gold," and every slick brochure and newsletter article which shows smiling faces and uses the word "mission" frequently does not necessarily promote the Gospel of Christ rightly. On the other hand, it isn't right to be mean-spirited, nit-picking and finding fault with others just because it represents a different way of doing things than what our own preferences would dictate.

The apostle John tells us: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world," (1 John 4:1). We know from Scripture and throughout history that not everyone who calls out "Lord, Lord!" is of the kingdom of God and that beliefs and actions which turn us away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ can start up within the Church.

In the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, ("Test all things; hold fast what is good") I offer some side-by-side considerations for examining the Ablaze! Movement. I haven't been able to polish these statements as carefully as I like, so readers should feel free to offer imporovements. Statements depicted with "A" represent positions which are clearly in line with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions while statements marked with "B" represent an antithesis.

Readers may also want to cite supporting examples from Ablaze! materials according to these comparisons and contrasts in order to clarify what's going on in the movement.


(1) The Means by which it works

☐ 1A. It clearly shows how the Lord does His gracious work through the Holy Scriptures, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion, demonstrating in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions that these are the only means by which the Spirit works.

☐ 1B. The majority of its sermons, articles, actions and expenditures show a heavy dependence and reliance upon clever stories or worldly means -- such as consultants who tell us nothing of the Gospel but focus on secular sales techniques or manipulative motivational methods to get the world’s attention.

(2) Right use of Law and Gospel

☐ 2A. It rightly divides between Law and Gospel in every aspect of the media it uses.

☐ 2B. It takes an “infomercial” approach to the proclamation of the Gospel in the way it uses various print and broadcast media getting people to buy into the program because it sounds so good.

(3) Leading to Repentance or Motivation

☐ 3A. It uses well-trained, called and ordained servants of the Word who by the Law of God lead people to repentance and in the proper application of the Gospel preach life and salvation in Christ.

☐ 3B. It makes use of motivational speakers who hold a faith contrary to that which we confess — speakers who confuse the distinction and application of Law and Gospel in promoting a course of action to save the lost and act in a Christian manner.

(4) Good stewardship and Highly-paid consultants

☐ 4A. uses good stewardship to support those who actually teach and preach the Word of God.

☐ 4B. has indebted the synod to the tune of millions of dollars by creating administrative jobs and relying on highly-paid consultants.

(5) Christians hated or liked

☐ 5A. It knows that the world hates Christians and doesn’t try to soft-peddle the Law or Gospel in order to make it appealing to the world.

☐ 5B. It attempts to be “likeable” to the world, not comprehending the Scriptures which tell us that friendship with the world is enmity toward God.

(6) The work of the Spirit or the Goals of Man

☐ 6A. It fishes for men without setting goals or quotas, knowing that the Spirit blows where He wills and that the Word needs to be taught and preached in areas where there may be no immediate results.

☐ 6B. It uses arbitrary numbers as goals or measures of accomplishment, establishing certain numeric and fiscal goals to be achieved by certain dates. If the arbitrary number is too low, the movement will be satisfied for accomplishing less than it could have. If the number is too high, a burden of conscience will be placed on people for not having accomplished it — or artificial means will be used to inflate the numbers.

(7) Proper training

☐ 7A. encourages and enlivens with the Word of God, not by making people feel guilty that they aren’t doing enough, but letting the power of the Gospel do its work.

☐ 7B. creates theological and practical problems in its zeal, as when an arbitrary number of congregations to be established is set — when there aren't enough pastors to fill them, the dubious practice of creating a “pastor specific ministry” is initiated, placing men into the functions of the pastoral office who have been less thoroughly trained than regular pastors, not taking into account the problems which arise from such a practice.

(8) Repentence or Attraction

☐ 8A. preaches repentance appropriately as did the apostles in the book of Acts.

☐ 8B. It says virtually nothing about repentance, denying one’s self or taking up the cross but rather depicts a god who is so loving and nice that people will want to be come Christians because God is so good.

(9) The Nature and Content of Sermons

☐ 9A. clearly and rightly distinguishes between Law and Gospel with sermons that clearly focus on the Word of God, showing how the Scriptures and the doctrines contained therein bestow forgiveness, life and salvation.

☐ 9B. sermons consist primarily of clever stories and anecdotal details of examples which “warm people’s hearts,” relying on human rhetoric to move people into action.

(10) Credit and creativity

☐ 10A. does not take credit for the success of the Gospel, which is solely the glory of God.

☐ 10B. takes the credit for the effectiveness of missions and evangelism in its “creative” ventures instead of giving proper credit to the Holy Spirit working solely through the Means of Grace as our Confessions maintain.

(11) Where offerings go

☐ 11A. the freely-given offerings of Christ’s people go to actual mission work.

☐ 11B. money is spent on advertising campaigns while pastors, teachers, and deaconesses are withdrawn from the mission fields.


(12) Theology of cross or glory?

☐ 12A. it promotes the theology of the cross which is beset with troubles and hardships from the moment faith is given, but meets them with the patience and joy of forgiveness in Christ.

☐ 12B. abandons established Word and Sacrament missions and ministries in socio-economically depressed areas simply because they don't seem to be effective or growing in numbers.

(13) Pure doctrine advanced or downplayed

☐ 13A. The Ablaze! movement should be commended if it finds speakers for conferences who speak the truth of the Holy Scriptures in accord with our Lutheran confession of faith as stated in our synodical constitution. While analyses from those outside our confession of faith may be of interest to us, there solutions and commendations are not, for they do not direct us to the means of grace.

☐ 13B. embraces postmodernism’s rejection of pure doctrine and utilizes constructivist approaches to missions, evangelism, faith and life. Individuals should be empowered to go their own way as it pleases them and doctrinal “absolutes” are downplayed.

(14) Accurate or misleading

☐ 14A. accurately portrays the history of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod with regard to the emphases on doctrine, missions, and evangelism.

☐ 14B. renders false judgments and makes misleading insinuations and unbalanced assumptions about the lack of mission zeal in The LCMS.

(15) Formal training or 90-day wonders

☐ 15A. emphasizes the formal training in the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures as in 1 Timothy 3:6 and 5:22.

☐ 15B. provides quickie, "90-day-wonder" trainees to serve as limited-capacity "pastors" thinking that quantity and haste are appropriate even when all the regularly-trained pastoral candidates from the seminaries cannot be placed.

(16) False divisions

☐ 16A. emphasizes Article V of the Confessions, acknowledging why the office of the keys exists and affirming what the Scriptures say about the Office of the Holy Ministry and that “not many should become teachers”

☐ 16B. raises false dichotomies between laypeople and called-and-ordained servants of the Word, maintaining that untrained, undisciplined hosts can lead small-group Bible studies and services in their homes.

(17) Pre-evangelism

☐ 17A. sees the Law as the only “pre-evangelism” appropriate before the Gospel

☐ 17B. embraces the idea of “pre-evangelism” in terms of kindly, civic acts rather than the proclamation of the Law. It proclaims a “loving” God in such a way that does not distinguish between the worldly idea of “love” and the Scriptural understanding of love, suggesting to unbelievers that their life on this earth will be “better” in the face of divorce, alcoholism, and the like.

(18) Self-promotion

☐ 18A. like John the Baptist, seeks to decrease while Christ increases

☐ 18B. it promotes itself in all the synodical publications, missions programs, and causes hundreds of thousands in media expenses to promote its logo and trademark

(19) Use of offerings

☐ 19A. uses offerings to help those who are poor in spirit, and to assist needy congregations in the inner city which may not appear to be “successful”

☐ 19B. it uses offerings and gifts to pay for the equipping of “Christian” coffee houses among the affluent while it withdraws funding from poor minority mission congregations in the inner city.

(20) Theology of cross . . . or glory

☐ 20A. promotes a theology of the cross which does not rely on outward measures of success to determine true worth; it denies itself even as it feels the devil, the world, and the flesh pressing hard, causing pain and suffering.

☐ 20B. it promotes a theology of glory wherein the Christian life is depicted in a triumphalistic manner, acting as if the Christian life can be exuberant and successful if only one tries hard enough — and showing little need for confession of sins, daily repentance, and denial of self.

(21) Full counsel or partial picture

☐ 21A. proclaims the full counsel of God in both Law and Gospel that people may rightly know what it is to fear, love and trust in God above all things instead of making up their own ideas about God which is idolatry.

☐ 21B. it attempts to promote a picture of God which is only loving, kind and caring without a word that our Lord is a zealous God who condemns sin.

(22) Relying on those whose doctrine we condemn

☐ 22A. it relies on seasoned pastors and teachers who put forth Law and Gospel who have been thoroughly equipped, not with the latest trends and market research but are rather well-grounded in the Biblical languages, comparative systematics, historical theology, and the practical aspects of a well-rounded Liberal Arts curriculum.

☐ 22B. it invites, pays, and advertises keynote speakers who deny infant baptism, who do not believe that pastors have the authority to forgive sins in the words of absolution, who do see the Lord’s Supper as a friendship activity rather than as the forgiveness of sins and preservation of faith, who confound Law and Gospel, who teach that people can decide to become Christians according to their own free will, and who maintain double predestination. (Have we ever had so many Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and “non-denominational” motivational speakers telling us how to live the Christian life as we now have with the Ablaze! initiative?)

(23) Postmodern methods

☐ 23A. it relies on the same Word and Spirit as is found in the work of the prophets, apostles and evangelists.

☐ 23B. it succumbs and resorts to postmodern methods while claiming to lead people away from postmodernism. It should be condemned if it fails to teach people to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Christ (Mark 8:34). It should be condemned if it suggests that if potential members want to have “purple carpeting with pink polka-dots” installed in the church sanctuary then Christian congregations are obligated to install it in order to win souls for Jesus.

(24) Forms of Worship

☐ 24A. It uses forms of worship which has, like the historic Lutheran liturgy, a high percentage of word-for-word texts from the Scriptures instead of relying on the creativity and whims of a worship committee.

☐ 24B. It uses forms of worship which use poetic license and human ingenuity in an attempt to make worship meaningful and relevant.

(25) Reverential or sensational worship

☐ 25A. Conducts worship services with reverence so that the focus is on the holy, living Word of God.

☐ 25B. Glamorizes corporate worship by making it sensational according to the flesh with such things as liturgical dance, dramatic effects, technological whizz-bangs.

(26) Sacramental or symbolic

☐ 26A. It is sacramental rather than symbolic, emphasizing at every point in worship and life how the Means of Grace, not means of power, concretely impact the hearts and minds of people.

☐ 26B. It is symbolic rather than sacramental, emphasizing abstract verbal and visual allegory to impact the hearts and minds of people.

(27) Use of the Law

☐ 27A. Teaches that the Law condemns and kills; it always accuses.

☐ 27B. Teaches that the Law tells us how to live a Christian life.

(28) Appealing to allegory

☐ 28A. relates our Lord’s words that He speaks in parables because “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’” (Mat 13:13-15)

☐ 28B. It thinks that parables are allegories intended to appeal to man’s intellect in making the Bible more meaningful as if they were mere object lessons.

(29) Law as the goal of the Gospel

☐ 29A. Preaches Law and Gospel, not Gospel then Law, confessing that the Gospel gives life not so that men may return to the Law, but so that they may live by the Spirit in freedom (Gal. 5:8).

☐ 29B. It preaches Gospel then Law, teaching that the Law is the goal of the Gospel.

(30) Acknowledging the end times

☐ 30A. Appropriately lays forth what the end times will be like and acknowledges what Matthew 24:6-22 and 2 Timothy 3:1-11 say, comforting and supporting faithful pastors and congregations with dwindling membership in neighborhoods that are in decline or communities which place great importance on worldly matters.

☐ 30B. It sets forth a picture of the Christian Church that it should always be growing in number and that churches which are in decline, even in socio-economically depressed neighborhoods, are somehow unsuccessful, unfaithful and unwanted.

(31) Church militant or triumphant

☐ 31A. Confesses the Church Militant which in this life is besieged and embattled.

☐ 31B. Attempts to establish – or at least give the appearance of being – a Church triumphant which assumes it is capable of overcoming the effects of sin with victorious living.

(32) The Christian Life

☐ 32A. Makes clear to new converts that the devil, the world and their own flesh will be at war against them now that they have become Christians and that they ought not expect to have a life free from doubts and hardships – that they should trust the Word of the Lord more than their own feelings and experiences.

☐ 32B. Implies to potential converts that their life will be so much better once they have become Christian.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Good Samaritan


This past Sunday, in the historical lectionary (not the same as the three-year lectionary used by many American congregations of various confessions), the account of the Good Samaritan served as the Gospel reading and text for the sermon.

One memorable thing from the preaching of Rev. Matthew C. Harrison while I served with him at Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, IN was the summary of this text that he proclaimed from the pulpit.

The robbers said:
"What's yours is ours and we take it."

The priest/scribe said:
"What's ours is ours and we keep it."

The Samaritan said:
"What's mine is yours and I give it."

Thus, Christ and His righteousness for those who have been beaten up by sin -- and not a moral example for people to obey.

Clergy Supporting Evolution

Here is the website of the Clergy Letter Project wherein may be found the Open Letter of clergy members embracing and supporting the teaching of evolution in schools -- along with an alphabetized list of reverend subscribers.

There is also a resource for scientists "on-call" to assist pastors who want to promote and defend evolution as "a core component of human knowledge, fully harmonious with religious faith."

Personally, I can't wait until Ben Stein's "Expelled" comes out on DVD this October. Until then, I guess I just have to wait and hope that the clergy who embrace evolution will evolve into some higher life form.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's a whoppohw!

A palindrome is a sentence which reads the same backwards and forwards like "Madam, I'm Adam."

Here's a 17,259-word palindrome. (NO, I'm not going to reproduce it on my blog. You're going to have to click on the hyperlink.)

Was it worth sacrificing a comparable amount of couch potato time to produce?

Responding to Pietism . . . and Ablaze!

Recently, I was perusing Heinrich Schmid's book, The History of Pietism translated by James L. Langebertels. The following passage (p. 273) struck me as having some parallels with current responses to Dr. Kieschnick's Ablaze! program -- and to certain discussions occurring on other blogs like The Steadfast Lutheran. My comments follow . . .

Pietism is not primarily concerned . . . with doctrinal questions.

The first matter with which Pietism began was not a special false teaching that had to be opposed but with an accusation against abuses prevalent in the church and recommendations to eliminate these abuses. The goal was to attain to a more living piety. Therefore, the first, and not the least error of those opposing Pietism was to overlook the abuses in the church and to accuse the Pietists of doctrinal errors. Something new and different confronted them in Pietism, which surprised them.

The new things, they thought, had to be based on special doctrines. They then became suspicious of every statement of their opponents and branded every statement if it did not conform to the usual dogmatic way of speaking a doctrinal error.

Already in 1695 the Wittenberg faculty counted up 264 doctrinal errors of which Spener was supposed to be guilty. The opponents of Piestism followed the bad habit, which we have already seen in the syncretistic controversies, of making everything that sounded or looked peculiar into a doctrinal question. Loescher was the first to realize that there can be tendencies in theology and in ecclesiastical life from which peculiarities can arise and that one must come to the root of these tendencies. Not one of the earlier opponents of Pietism thought of that.

Accordingly, we cannot let the opponents of Pietism lead us in this book merely to count up all the individual doctrinal errors with which they have reproached the Pietists and then to investigate whether the Pietists had really been guilty of them. . . .

COMMENT: I don't think that the Ablaze! movement is primarily a doctrinal movement -- but nost of the sharp critical responses (such as my own) have been theological, based on orthodox Lutheran understanding of faith and life.

Piestism, if I'm not guilty of summarizing too curtly, was concerned primarily with morals, the outward life of a Christian (not to be entirely dissociated from the inner life of faith and sanctification). It may have been correct in the sense of observing some shortcomings in the lives of Christians -- but ultimately wrong in how it attempted to address those shortcomings.

The Ablaze! movement wants to be zealous about missions. Basically, there isn't anything wrong with that - and that emphasis may well have been lacking in numerous areas. But Ablaze! zeal is utterly wrong-headed in the methods it has chosen to address what was lacking. Ablaze! did not attempt to make a theological correction to the lack of missionary zeal but rather sought (and seeks) to make practical efforts to restore an energy for evangelism.

Those of us who want to respond to Ablaze! have never thought about trying to out-do them with missionary zeal, but we ought to keep in mind what we learn from historical theology regarding a truly appropriate response.

A Catechetical Hymn

I really benefit from hymns which summarize the Word of God and the Christian faith. One such hymn is found in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). It covers 5 of the 6 chief parts of the catechism (Luther's Small Catechism originally had only 5 parts, not 6. The Office of the Keys was added later.) Another hymn captures the 6 chief parts in a succinct manner: "Lord, Help Us Ever To Retain."

1.

Fear and love thy God and Lord
And revere His name and Word,
Holy Keep the Sabbath day,
Honor to thy parents pay,
Kill not, shun adultery,
Steal not, lies and slander flee,
Keep from covetousness free.
Help me, Lord, I trust in Thee!

2.

In the Father I believe,
Who to all did being give,
And in Jesus Christ, His Son,
Who for all redemption won;
And my faith I also place
In the Holy Ghost, whose grace
Sanctifies our souls and ways.
Grant me faith through all my days!

3.

Father, throuned in heav'n above,
Hallowed be Thy name in love;
Let Thy kingdom come we pray,
And Thy will be done alway;
Give us food, forgiveness send,
In temptations aid extend,
Save us, Lord, when comes our end!
Amen! Lord, Thy Church defend!

4.

God the Father, God the Son,
God the Spirit, Three in One,
I, baptized into Thy name,
As Thy child Thy blessing claim;
Grant that by Thy promised grace
I my trust in Thee may place,
All my sins with peace replace
Till in heav'n I see Thy face.

5.

Jesus, let my soul be fed
With Thyself, the living Bread,
For Thy flesh is meat indeed,
And Thy cleansing blood I need;
Let it cleanse from sin and shame,
Keep me from all harm and blame,
That Thy death I may proclaim,
And forever bless Thy name.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Admonishing Angry Pastors

Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, pp. 295f.

John Gulden, the pastor of St. Peter's Church in Weida, Thuringia, caused mischief in his community by quarreling with fellow clergymen, railing against those who disagreed with him and inciting some people to acts of violence and iconoclasm.

Philip Melanchthon described him as one of those "who think that the only way to preach the gospel is to rage with great contentiousness and bitterness against those who differ from us." Complaints about Gulden's preaching and conduct reached Luther and called forth the following article.


Grace and peace in the Lord.

My dear John:

It has been reported to me that you are a little too severe in your handling of the Word, and I have been asked to admonish you. If you are responsive to the suggestion, I beg you to give first place in your preaching to those things which are of greatest weight, namely, that you urge faith and love upon your hearers. For if these have not struck roots, what is the use of our troubling ourselves about silly ceremonies? Nothing is accomplished by this except that we titllate the unstable minds of the foolish masses who are frivolous and have a mania for novelties. Not only is nothing going to be gained by this, but it will result in loss to the glory of God and his Word.

So conduct yourself with your colleagues therefore, that you may direct and do all things in unity of spirit and form. Do not abuse those of whom you do not know what sort of people they may yet be, but appeal to them gently and humbly, without insisting and boasting that what you propose is right. It will in time become abundantly clear that "that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die" [1 Cor. 15:36]. Receive this admonition of mine in good part.

Farewell
Yours,
Martin Luther
Tuesday after Trinity Sunday, 1526

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ancient Road Rage

Doing any traveling this summer on vacation? The word "travel" has a common etymology with the word "travail." Travel in Roman days seemed torturous at times (as related in the textbook Latin for Americans I, Glimpses of Roman Life: Roman Roads, p. 39). This excerpt from Archaeology Odyssey 02:01 produced by the Biblical Archaeology Society offers an illustration by which you could compare your own summer jaunts.

In the spring of 37 B.C., the Roman poet Horace set off down the Appian Way, the grand, ancient highway beginning in Rome and stretching some 350 miles to the southeastern coast of Italy.

For 17 days Horace and his companions negotiated the perils of travel in the ancient world: rainy days, sleepless nights, questionable food, poor accommodations. Horace suffered from an upset stomach and inflamed eyes, not to mention the trickery of a local girl, who had promised the poet a midnight rendezvous. Horace recounts these misfortunes in one of his Satires, the fifth poem of Book I.


I left lofty Rome on a trip, stopping first at Aricia, At a quiet little inn. My companion was Heliodorus, by far the best Greek rhetorician alive. From Aricia we pushed on to Forum Appi, a place jammed with boatmen And sharp innkeepers. This forty miles took us two days. Took us slowpokes two days: real travelers make it in one. The Appian Way is less rough if you take it in stages. At Forum Appi I found the water so foul I made war on my stomach and waited fuming while friends Finished their dinner.

Now night was preparing to spread Her darkness on earth, to station her stars in the heavens. And boatmen and slaves began cursing each other to pieces. . . .

Never take a night boat, reader. You spend the first hour paying fares and hitching up the mule. Then fearless mosquitoes and resonant swamp frogs keep sleep safely at bay. A sailor and passenger, soused with cheap wine, compete in songs to their absent girl friends. The mule driver finally drops off to sleep: the lazy driver lets the mule browse, fastens the rope to a rock, stretches out, and snores.

Dawn was already at hand before we observed That the boat hadn’t budged an inch. Then a hot-tempered tourist leaped ashore, cut a switch from a willow, lit into the mule And the driver, drumming on their domes and their bones.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Luther and Terence

Terence was a playwright of the Roman Republic. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Luther frequently quoted from Terence's works and especially commended his comedies to children being taught in the schools. Terence also had a great influence on William Shakespeare. Here are some words of wisdom from Terence -- not necessarily quoted in Luther.

"Their silence is sufficient praise."

"There is a demand in these days for men who can make wrong appear right."

"There is nothing so easy but that it becomes difficult when you do it reluctantly."

"Too much liberty corrupts us all."

"What is done let us leave alone."

"Charity begins at home."

"Moderation in all things."

"I have everything, yet have nothing; and although I possess nothing, still of nothing am I in want." [cf. 2 Cor. 6:10]

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mission Creep(s) 2 - Mendicant Merchandise

A few weeks back, I blogged off some steam about LCMS missionaries having to fund their own ways into the mission field.

Then came this (and I'm going to withhold some names and details so that the missionary involved doesn't suffer any reprisals . . . okay?):

Church workers going abroad have to go hat in hand to congregations, asking for financial support because they get very little -- if any -- from the Board for Missions.

What IS provided to them are these handsome (and we suspect comfortable) long-sleeved Ablaze! shirts (an actual shirt photographed in the pastor's office is shown here) to give to the pastors of the congregation where their mendicant pleas are made.

Why to the pastors? As far as I'm concerned: wrong color, wrong collar.

If money given to the Synod isn't going to the missionaries, just where, EXACTLY, is all that money going? Of the MILLIONS of dollars in offerings and gifts given faithfully by Christ's people, how much is really getting spent for missions and education -- the things upon which our Synod was founded? And why is it being spent on freebie Ablaze! paraphernalia?

Can anyone shed any light about the Fanning Into Flame kickback scheme where a congregation gives money to the program and then the program gives money back to the congregation?

Anyone care to wax eloquent on the fact that our synodical colleges and seminaries get no financial support from the Synod at all?

Will ANYONE be held accountable?

Broadcasting Seed Or Casting Pearls?

Does true evangelism mean that Christians may proclaim the Gospel indiscriminately? Here are some thoughts on the matter from Luther, Chemnitz and Walther.

LUTHER [AE 45:71]

In the second place, if you want to handle the Gospel in a Christian way, you must take into account the people to whom you are speaking. These are of two kinds. On the one hand, there are those who are hardened and will not listen, and who, in addition, deceive and poison others with their lying mouths. Such are the pope, Eck, Emser, and some of our bishops, priests, and monks.

You should not deal with them at all, but hold to the injunction of Christ in Matthew 7[:6], “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and the dogs turn to attack you.” Let them remain dogs and swine; they are a lost cause anyway. And Solomon says, “Where there is no hearing, pour not out words.39 But when you see that these same liars pour their lies and poison into other people, then you should boldly take the offensive and fight against them, just as Paul in Acts 13[:10–11] attacked Elymas with hard and sharp words, and as Christ called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” [Matt. 23:33].

You should do this, not for their sake, for they will not listen, but for the sake of those whom they are poisoning. Just so does St. Paul command Titus to rebuke sharply such empty talkers and deceivers of souls [Titus 1:10–13]

CHEMNITZ [Loci Theologici, CPH/J.A.O. Preus translation, p. 546]

The hearts of men by nature are either pharisaic or Epicurean. For the Pharisees the doctrine of the Gospel is something unpleasant, because they believe that by their own purity they are righteous before God and therefore there is no need for that righteousness of which the Gospel speaks. From such people we must on the basis of Scripture take away all trust in their own righteousness before God, and they must be confined by the Law under sin [Gal. 3:22]. But the Epicureans, when they hear about the righteousness of the Gospel, are not seriously concerned, and do not seek or embrace or cling to it, because they are convinced of the idea that what we are like and how we live are of no importance before God, whether we are reconciled with God or not. If we immediately set before them the promise of the Gospel, it accomplishes no more than casting pearls before swine. Therefore we must denounce such people as sinners on the basis of the Word of God, for he who has not been reconciled with God through Christ is under the frightful wrath and curse of God, he is in the kingdom of Satan and in the power of darkness, and nothing is more certainly expected for him than the judgment of eternal damnation.

This is the preparation for grace, as Luther says in discussing Galatians 3, for which the Gospel uses the ministry of the Law, so that both repentance and remission of sins will be preached in the name of Christ. We must preserve this order in teaching the doctrine of justification, so that all, whether Pharisees or Epicureans, might be moved by the Holy Spirit not to despise, neglect, hate, or attack the righteousness of the Gospel, but might hunger and thirst for righteousness, that is, that they might love, seek, embrace, and hold fast the grace and mercy of God which the Gospel offers and shows to us in Christ. The Son of God Himself used this method both in His formal teaching (as in Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe the Gospel”; cf. Matt. 4:17) as well as in His pastoral practice, so to speak, as when He treats Mary Magdalene one way and the Pharisee another [Luke 7:36 ff.]. It is worthy of note that the same question is asked in Matt. 19:16; Luke 10:25; Acts 2:37; and 16:30: “What must I do to be saved?” But because in Acts the question is asked by those who are contrite, while in the gospels by Pharisees, therefore the answer is not the same, and yet the purpose is the same in both cases.


WALTHER [Law and Gospel, Dau translation, p. 113]

Matt. 7:6 our Lord says to His disciples: Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn again and rend you. A remarkable utterance! What is meant by “that which is holy”? Nothing else than the Word of Christ.

What is meant by “pearls”? The consolation of the Gospel, with the grace, righteousness, and salvation which it proclaims. Of these things we are not to speak to dogs, that is, to enemies of the Gospel; nor to swine, that is, to such as want to remain in their sins and are seeking their heaven and their bliss in the filth of their sins.

Isaiah says, chap. 26:10: Let favor be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness. In the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly and will not behold the majesty of the Lord. It is quite useless to offer mercy to the godless. They imagine either that they do not need it or that they already have all of it. The trifling sins, they say, of which they are guilty have long been forgiven, and grass has grown over them. To a person of this stripe I am not to preach the Gospel; in other words, I am not to offer him mercy -- for that is what preaching the Gospel means -- because he will not be benefited by it.

A wicked person, who wants to remain in his sins, whether they be gross or refined sins -- for the devil can bind men not only with the ropes of filthy, gross sins, but also with such delicate threads as pride, envy, lovelessness -- such a wicked person, Isaiah says, does “not behold the majesty of the Lord.” He does not see what a great treasure is offered him. He does not understand the doctrine of salvation by grace; either he spurns it, or he shamefully misapplies it. He thinks: “If mere faith is all that is necessary for my salvation, my sins, too, are forgiven. I can remain such as I am, and I shall still go to heaven. I, too, believe in my Lord Jesus Christ.” The preacher who is to blame when secure sinners misapply the Gospel loads himself with a great guilt and responsibility before God.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Organization of Laymen Against the Pastors

Dr. Francis Pieper, in his Christian Dogmatics (vol. 1, p. 127). speaks about a self-centered theology which had inundated America in the 19th century. At the time, Pieper did not see the need for Lutheran laymen to rise against the clergy. But has the time now come for them to do so? Are there pastors who give lip service to believing that the Bible is the inspired Word of God but in practice allow themselves and the people under their care to follow a spirituality which is founded on personal feelings and uninformed opinions? He writes:

Here, in the land of the Reformed sects, [the theology of self-consciousness] has found a most congenial environment. Zwingli and Calvin, teaching the immediate operation of the Spirit, represented in principle the I theology [Ichtheologie].

Owing to the powerful influence of Luther this theology did not attain its full growth in those days. But it is not surprising that when Luther’s influence had waned at the beginning of the 19th century, Schleiermacher and his Reformed-pantheistic theology should find admirers and adherents in this country, even though it was criticized in some details. The situation at present is this, that all our large universities, with the partial exception of Princeton, stand for the theology of the self-consciousness, if they deal with theology at all.

Some time ago we reported on an “organization of laymen,” set up for the purpose of defending the Christian fundamentals. These laymen charge that the universities and most theological seminaries have been training a generation of preachers who deny these fundamentals. They specify that these preachers have substituted for the divine authority of Scripture the consciousness of the individual and for the vicarious satisfaction of Christ moral endeavors conforming to the example of Christ, the ideal man.

Whether this “organization” of laymen will check the destructive flood, only the future will show. In our church body -— the Synodical Conference -— there has been up to now, thanks be to God, no need of organizing the laymen against the pastors. Among the thousands of our pastors there is to our knowledge not a single one who questions the inspiration of Scripture and, as a result, would be forced to espouse the Ego theology. But we must never overlook the danger threatening us from our American surroundings.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Denominations . . . Or Confessions?

The word "denominations" suggests that the items under considerations are all simply variations on the same thing. The term "confessions" is intentionally used to relate the idea that those who align themselves under the name "Christian" are not necessarily all part of the same sliding scale, the same spectrum, ranging from conservative to liberal. What follows come from the Foreward to the translation of Werner Elert's Elert's Morphologie des Luthertums, The Structure of Lutheranism (Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis, MO).

One of the earliest English names for a “Lutheran” was “Confessionalist.” [cf. OED II, 1933, p. 802]

Because the Lutheran Church defined itself in a series of confessions but never adopted an official liturgy or a uniform polity, Lutheran theologians have often supposed that the key to understanding any section of Christendom is its confession or symbol. Thus has arisen the branch of theology called Symbolik, or more recently Konfessionskunde.

In fact, the German word for “denominations” is Konfessionen; but at least since the eighteenth century American English has been calling the Konfessionen “denominations.” For even though academic theologians may wish that the denominations were confessions and expressed their genius in the form of a statement of faith, the mute realities of history make it clear that “in Great Britain and America … the chief differences between the religious denominations are not doctrinal but institutional. If therefore any one wishes to make a comparative study of the consensus and dissensus of British and American Christianity, he must pay more attention to religious institutions than to doctrines of Faith and Morals.”

Therefore American denominationalism as a religious and historical phenomenon5 has been the despair of scholars in the field of “comparative symbolics,” who prefer the neater and more precise interpretations that come from a comparison of confessions and creeds.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting Plastered

While browsing for an image of Jonathan Swift yesterday, I came across a collection of death masks. Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee were included in that collection, but Martin Luther was not -- so he gets some air time on this blog.

And while we're at it . . . in order to satisfy their curiosity about crucifixion, some members of the Royal Academy of Arts decided to crucify a condemned criminal and then make a plaster cast of it which still hangs in display. If you aren't interested in seeing it, then don't look here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Richard Dawkins, Meet Jonathan Swift









Hasn't Richard Dawkins been making an appeal for the abolishment of religion, citing it as a nuisance if not an outright evil? If there is no Christian apologist who may hope to sway him, perhaps a response from Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver's Travels) might carry some weight.

In his documented tongue-in-cheek satirical manner, Swift composed his Argument Against the Abolishment of Christianity. Here are two brief passages
:

First, one great advantage proposed by the abolishing of Christianity is, that it would very much enlarge and establish liberty of conscience, that great bulwark of our nation, and of the Protestant religion, which is still too much limited by priestcraft, notwithstanding all the good intentions of the legislature, as we have lately found by a severe instance. For it is confidently reported, that two young gentlemen of real hopes, bright wit, and profound judgment, who, upon a thorough examination of causes and effects, and by the mere force of natural abilities, without the least tincture of learning, having made a discovery that there was no God, and generously communicating their thoughts for the good of the public, were some time ago, by an unparalleled severity, and upon I know not what obsolete law, broke for blasphemy. And as it has been wisely observed, if persecution once begins, no man alive knows how far it may reach, or where it will end.

In answer to all which, with deference to wiser judgments, I think this rather shows the necessity of a nominal religion among us. Great wits love to be free with the highest objects; and if they cannot be allowed a god to revile or renounce, they will speak evil of dignities, abuse the government, and reflect upon the ministry, which I am sure few will deny to be of much more pernicious consequence, according to the saying of Tiberius, DEORUM OFFENSA DIIS CUROE. As to the particular fact related, I think it is not fair to argue from one instance, perhaps another cannot be produced: yet (to the comfort of all those who may be apprehensive of persecution) blasphemy we know is freely spoke a million of times in every coffee-house and tavern, or wherever else good company meet. It must be allowed, indeed, that to break an English free-born officer only for blasphemy was, to speak the gentlest of such an action, a very high strain of absolute power. Little can be said in excuse for the general; perhaps he was afraid it might give offence to the allies, among whom, for aught we know, it may be the custom of the country to believe a God. But if he argued, as some have done, upon a mistaken principle, that an officer who is guilty of speaking blasphemy may, some time or other, proceed so far as to raise a mutiny, the consequence is by no means to be admitted: for surely the commander of an English army is like to be but ill obeyed whose soldiers fear and reverence him as little as they do a Deity.

. . .

And to urge another argument of a parallel nature: if Christianity were once abolished, how could the Freethinkers, the strong reasoners, and the men of profound learning be able to find another subject so calculated in all points whereon to display their abilities? What wonderful productions of wit should we be deprived of from those whose genius, by continual practice, hath been wholly turned upon raillery and invectives against religion, and would therefore never be able to shine or distinguish themselves upon any other subject? We are daily complaining of the great decline of wit among as, and would we take away the greatest, perhaps the only topic we have left? Who would ever have suspected Asgil for a wit, or Toland for a philosopher, if the inexhaustible stock of Christianity had not been at hand to provide them with materials? What other subject through all art or nature could have produced Tindal for a profound author, or furnished him with readers? It is the wise choice of the subject that alone adorns and distinguishes the writer. For had a hundred such pens as these been employed on the side of religion, they would have immediately sunk into silence and oblivion.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Explaining Classical Christian Education to a Secular World


The Ambrose Group has produced a very nice "apologia" (glossy, color, 7.5x10 in.) for classical Christian education. This brochure would make a nice introduction to include with a school's information packet. A .PDF version is available online -- or you can call them with requests for copies in bulk. There are also some other nice features at their website.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Handwriting Contest -- Memphis Calligraphy Guild

PLEASE NOTE: This is NOT a calligraphy contest, but a handwriting contest. It isn't meant to show off fancy, ornate skills, but rather to demonstrate handwriting which is basic and beautiful in its own write (pun intended).

Here are the rules:

The Memphis Calligraphy Guild invites you to participate in the 2OO8 HANDWRITING CONTEST

l. One (l) entry per person.

2. Age categories (as determined by your age on January l, 2008)

6 and under
7 to 10
11 to l9
20 and over

3. Write designated quote (see below) on lined or unlined 8 1/2 x 11-in paper. Use ballpoint or fountain pen. NO felt tip markers or calligraphy pens. Only BLACK INK will be accepted. Use the same pen throughout the quote. Children aged 6-and-under may use a pencil.

4. Ages l0 and under have the option to write using either MANUSCRIPT
PRINTING (joins fewer than half its letters) or CURSIVE (joins half or
more of its letters). Ages 11 and over MUST LISE CURSIVE. The 6-and-under category may PRINT.

5. The written quote must fit on the FRONT side of ONE (1) sheet of paper.

6. On the BACK of the entry, write your name, age category, address, area code and phone number, and e-mail address (if any). All personal information will be kept confidential and used only to notify winners. If missing or illegible, you won't win.

7. Entries will be judged on:

LEGIBILITY: how easy it is to read.
FLUENCY: smoothness, grace and flow of writing.
COMPETENCY: Layout: margins on 4 sides of writing, spacing between the letters, words and lines. Consistency of letter forms: size, slant, accuracy of the quote, neatness, spelling, and whether or not the rules were followed.

8. No cash prizes will be awarded. All entries become the property of the
Memphis Calligraphy Guild and will not be returned. NO FAX OR ELECTRONIC SUBMISSIONS WILL BE ACCEPTED. Top 100 entries will be displayed at The Delta Festival in August 2008. Mailed entries must be received by August 1, 2008. Mail entries to:

Carole Foster
3513 Angelin Cove,
Bartlett, TN 38135

For more information, e-mail Carole Foster [imageryfarm@gmail.com].

DESIGNATED QUOTES:

Quote #1 Alphabet Sentences (Ages 6-and-under Only)

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
Jack's man found exactly a quarter in the woven zipper bug.

Quote #2 (Ages 7 to l0)

Letters, these seemingly commonplace little signs, taken for granted by so many, belong to the most momentous products of creative power. These forms, which we take in with our eyes a million times each day, embody the highest skill within their small compass. They are abstract refinements of the creative imagination, full of clarity, movement and subtlety. They combine two characteristics, which must be inseparable: the precision of mathematical laws and the expressiveness of the animated stroke. Gustav Bartel

Quote #3 (Ages 11 and older)

Handwriting: That action of emotion, of thought, and of decision that has recorded the history of mankind, revealed the genius of invention, and disclosed the inmost depths of the soulful heart. It gives ideas tangible form through written letters, pictographs, symbols, and signs. Handwriting forms a bond across millennia and generations that not only ties us to the thoughts and deeds of our forebears but also serves as an irrevocable link to our humanity. Neither machines nor technology can replace the contributions or continuing importance of this inexpensive portable
skill. Necessary in every age, Handwriting remains just as vital to the enduring saga of civilization as our next breath. Michael R. Sull

Monday, July 14, 2008

Undogmatic Christianity: Erasmus vis-a-vis Luther

At the moment, I cannot recall the source from which I jotted down this citation. Perhaps it will come to me later. And if, for the sake of comparison, you'd like to see an example of a contemporary sympathy with Erasumus' love for peace over religious dogma, check out this little essay. In it Christianity is identified with peace, not with doctrine.

The history of human thought knows of cases where two great men, occupied with the same problems, are simply unable to understand each other. They are unable, to grasp – to use Erasmus’ word – one another’s ideas. They talk to each other, but as it were on different wave lengths. No mutual understanding seems to be possible.

A case in point in our time is the correspondence between Harnack and his former student Barth after the appearance of the latter’s Commentary in Romans. There is a certain truth in Barth’s saying that they are not the worst theologians who have simply not got the ability to re-think the thoughts of others.

But this does not explain the depth of the contrast between Erasmus and Luther. For Luther knew what Erasmus meant to say. He saw deeper than anybody else what was at stake. He saw behind Erasmus’ concept of an undogmatic Christianity the coming neo-paganism of the modern world. This is the reason why in his great reply in De servo arbitrio [On the Bondage of the Will], before entering the discussion of the individual Bible passages, he attacks his adversary’s basic understanding of Christianity.

Erasmus had confessed his dislike of not only Luther’s firm “assertions” but of any religious dogma whatever: “You would” says Luther, “take up the Skeptic’s position if the inviolable authority of Holy Scripture and the Church’s decisions permitted you to do so, so little do you like assertions. What a Proteus the man is to talk about ‘inviolable authority’ and ‘the Church’s decisions’ as if you had a vast respect for the Scriptures and the Church, when in the same breath you tell us you wish you had the liberty to be a skeptic” (WA 18,603, quoted from Packer-Johnston, p. 68).

Over against Erasmus’ undogmatic Christianity Luther emphasizes in the moat powerful way that Christianity is essentially a dogmatic religion and that he who destroys the Christian dogma or tried to play it down, as Erasmus does in his “philosophy of Christ”, destroys the Christian faith: Tolle assertiones, et Christianismum tulisti, “Take away the assertions, and you take away Christianity.”

Why, the Holy Spirit is given to Christians from heaven in order that He may glorify Christ and in them confess Him even unto death – and is this not assertion, to die for what you confess and assert?” (WA 18, 603; Packer 67). “The Holy Spirit is no skeptic.”

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Power of Church Leaders

“We believe, teach, and confess that at a time of confession, as when enemies of the Word of God desire to suppress the pure doctrine of the holy Gospel, the entire community of God, yes, every individual Christian, and especially the ministers of the Word as the leaders of the community of God, are obligated to confess openly, not only by words but also through their deeds and actions, the true doctrine and all that pertains to it, according to the Word of God. In such a case we should not yield to adversaries even in matters of indifference, nor should we tolerate the imposition of such ceremonies on us by adversaries in order to undermine the genuine worship of God and to introduce and confirm their idolatry by force or chicanery.” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article X,10)

“St. Peter prohibits the bishops to rule as if they had the power to force the churches to do whatever they desired [1 Peter 5:2]. Now the question is not how to take power away from the bishops. Instead, we desire and ask that they would not force themselves into sin. But if they will not do so and despise this request, let them consider how they will have to answer to God, since by their obstinancy they cause division and schism, which they should rightly help to prevent.” (Augsburg Confession, Article XXVIII, 76-78)

“If the bishops wanted to be true bishops and to attend to the church and the gospel, then a person might -- for the sake of love and unity but not out of necessity -- give them leave to ordain and confirm us and our preachers, provided all the pretense and fraud of unchristian ceremony and pomp were set aside. However, they are not now and do not want to be true bishops. Rather they are political lords and princes who do not want to preach, teach, baptize, commune, or perform any proper work or office of the church. In addition, they persecute and condemn those who do take up a call to such an office. Despite this, the church must not remain without servants on their account.” (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article 10,1-2)

“...All this evidence makes clear that the church retains the right to choose and ordain ministers. Consequently, when bishops either become heretical or are unwilling to ordain, the churches are compelled by divine right to ordain pastors and ministers for themselves. Moreover, the cause of this schism and dissension is to be found in the ungodliness and tyranny of bishops, for Paul warns that bishops who teach and defend false doctrine and impious forms of worship are to be considered accursed.” (Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, The Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops, 72)

“It is certain that the common legal authority to excommunicate those guilty of manifest crimes belongs to all pastors. In tyrannical fashion, the bishops have transferred this solely to themselves and used it for profit. It is evident that the so-called bureaucrats have acted with intolerable license and, out of greed or other lusts, have harassed and excommunicated people without any proper judicial process. What kind of tyranny is this that these bureaucrats have the power to excommunicate people arbitrarily without a proper trial?” (Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, The Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops, 74)

“If the opponents would only listen to the complaints of churches and pious hearts! The opponents valiantly defend their own position and wealth. Meanwhile, they neglect the state of the churches, and they do not care if there is correct preaching and proper administration of the sacraments in the churches. They admit all kinds of people to the priesthood quite indiscriminately. Then they impose intolerable burdens on them, as if they take pleasure in the destruction of their fellow human beings.” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXVIII, 3)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Everything Must Yield


“...Many people do not understand, saying we should not fight so hard about an article and thus trample on Christian love; rather, although we err on one small point, we agree on everything else, we should give in and overlook the difference in order to preserve brotherly and Christian unity and fellowship.

“No, my dear man, do not recommend to me peace and unity when thereby God's Word is lost, for then eternal life and everything else would be lost. This matter there can be no yielding nor giving way, no, not for love of you or any other person, but everything must yield to the Word, whether it be friend or foe. The Word was given unto us for eternal life and not to further outward peace and unity. The Word and doctrine will create Christian unity or fellowship. Where they reign all else will follow. Where they are not no concord will ever abide. Therefore do not talk to me about love and friendship, if that means breaking with the Word, or the faith, for the Gospel does not say love brings eternal life, God's grace, and all heavenly treasures, but the Word...”

Sermons of Martin Luther from the year 1531, W.A. 34,11,387. Day By Day We Magnify Thee, p. 384.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Ultimate in Self Advertising

Here is a selection from Fit Bodies, Fat Minds by Os Guinness (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1994), 89–90.

At its heart, style is a term of identification, as substance is. But style and substance are in direct contrast. Substance is a matter of who or what someone or something is; style is the manner through which that distinctiveness is presented and perceived.

The term “style” has traditionally identified the leading characteristic or ruling taste of a period or school—in the sense that we refer to “Romanesque” and “Gothic” architecture or to “classical,” “impressionist,” and “cubist” art. Each new style is in some ways a break from the past and embodies a different way of seeing or doing things. But what matters in this usage is that style is viewed as the outer expression of the inner character of the period. The style, therefore, is as enduring as the period itself.

Today, however, style has become an end in itself. No longer expressive of substance or inner character, style is all that matters now. No longer enduring, it is transient, changeable, and fashion- oriented. As a glance at any magazine rack will show, style is the number one mantra of late twentieth-century America. Used more often on magazine covers than even the word “sex,” style is a leading source of anxiety, hope, and fascination for millions.

To be up-to-date and in touch with one’s style is essential; to be out-of-date or out-of-touch is unforgivable. At a time when permanence of personality is as forlorn as permanence of place, change is the order of the day. Identity is now a matter of perception and presentation. And style is the art of skillfully presenting illusions as we walk down the corridor of images that make up modern society.

From the perspective of its purveyors, style is the official currency of marketing products. From the perspective of consumers, style is the leading idiom of the image of one’s choice—the desired sense of projected meaning and belonging. Style, image, and consumption are foundational to modern identity and discourse. In a world of increasing anonymity where scrutiny by unknown others is our daily norm, style is a sort of armor for city life. Wear something and walk down the street and you don’t just say, “I like this,” but “I’m like this.”

As Stuart Ewen shows [All Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture, New York: Basic Books, 1988], style is the sorcery that turns the banal necessities of our everyday world into an enchanted utopia of mouth-watering freedom. This is the illusory world where no conflicts grate and no needs are unmet. If modern society is a Vanity Fair of consumable styles, style itself is the ultimate in human self-advertising.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Does Alternative Worship Represent an Alternative Lifestyle?

The following is a portion of Frank Senn’s exposé in the May 1995 issue of Worship, pages 194–224.

In an effort to appeal to the unchurched, congregations within mainline denominations have begun offering “alternative worship services,” sometimes also called “contemporary services” to distinguish them from “traditional liturgies.” Such “alternative services” may feature lite rock combos, on-stage dramatizations by church players, testimonials from celebrities, and upbeat messages which draw on the insights of popular psychological theories.

Advice given in church-growth seminars on “worship that attracts and holds the unchurched” includes such admonitions as “make it user-friendly,” “keep it simple,” let it be “from the heart,” cultivate informality, maintain a hospitable atmosphere, give a positive message, keep the music up-beat, and exercise quality control. Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and even some Episcopal congregations have provided options for such “alternative worship” as well as “traditional worship” on the Sunday morning menu (sometimes two services being held simultaneously in different spaces).

It is not surprising that a market-oriented approach to the Church’s life and mission (aiming specifically at “baby boomers” and now also at “baby busters”) would emulate the shopping mall with its varied choices. It is also not surprising that this atmosphere has encouraged a great deal of liturgical entrepreneurship, with megachurches sponsoring “how to do it [like us]” seminars and publishers providing “celebration kits” and “Worship Alive!” resources.

In spite of its seemingly anti-liturgical stance, there is a whole liturgical movement going on in the church-growth movement which is oriented toward “reaching the unchurched” on their own terms. Promoters of church growth are absolutely convinced that dynamic, corporate worship is the key to successful evangelism.

The serious membership hemorrhaging that has occurred in the mainline churches over the last twenty-five years has prompted denominational staffs to encourage the implementation of the principles of church growth in their congregations. A worship style, quite “ecumenical” in its own terms, has evolved from these principles. Yet while this kind of worship is called “alternative” or “contemporary,” it has not emerged ex nihilo.

The task of this article is to explore its historical roots, analyze its cultural context and appeal, and probe the challenge that it raises for orthodox Christian worship and confessional theology. Since the use of contemporary popular music characterizes most “alternative worship services,” the celebrants and devotees of such worship may not have discerned that it stands in a tradition at least two centuries old. The ethos, if not the form, of this “alternative worship” is found in the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Especially in Lutheran and Reformed Churches, there was a pietistic reaction to the perceived “sterility” of orthodox church life which sought to “convert the outward orthodox confession into an inner, living theology of the heart.” The orthodox reaction to pietism was probably overly caustic; on the other hand, examples of actual orthodox church life, such as in Leipzig during the music directorship of Johann Sebastian Bach (1723–1750), show such church life to be far from sterile.

Pietism had no liturgical program of its own. Its aim was to inject some “heart” into the church orders authorized for use and to deepen the personal religious life. However, hymnwriting for worship and devotion was an ongoing activity in Lutheran Churches, and hymns around the beginning of the eighteenth century reflected the more subjectivistic faith of pietism, as well as pietism’s stress on sanctification. Indeed, the pietistic movement gave a new impetus to hymnwriting and congregational song that even secured a place in the worship of the German Reformed Church around the beginning of the eighteenth century through influence of the Lower Rhenish poets Joachim Neander (e.g., “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”) and Gerhard Tersteegen (e.g., “God Himself Is Present”). New hymnbooks reflected the emphases of pietism, arranging their anthologies according to the “order of salvation” rather than the church year.

New tunes were composed for the new lyrics, which had a more sentimental quality than the old chorale tunes. Even the syncopated rhythms of the old chorales were “smoothed out” to even note values. The lyrics and the lyrical musical qualities popular in “alternative worship” reflect the warm Jesus-mysticism of pietist hymns, though hardly with the same theological depth. But nothing under pietism could match the assault on the liturgy that occurred under the influence of rationalism.

The Enlightenment held that the chief function of worship was “edification.” This was an emphasis on which both pietism and rationalism agreed (and against which J. S. Bach stood with his old fashioned notion that worship is rendered soli Deo gloria). Everything that “edified” was kept; everything else had to be revised or abolished. To “edify” meant to induce feelings of reverence. Simplicity was the order of the day. Church music accordingly underwent a thorough revolution in which the simpler homophonic harmonies, but quasi-operatic oratorios of G. F. Handel served as more of a model than the complex contrapuntal structures and chorale-based cantatas and organ works of J. S. Bach.

Preaching, too, had to have a practical purpose. Whatever did not teach a practical moral lesson could be dismissed, for the way the pastor could make himself useful was, for example, “by helping the farmer to follow a better plan of life, by replacing superstitious quack medicines with truly effective remedies, and by giving prompt aid to those suffering from external lesions and wounds.” The pastor, as an educated person, had a responsibility to help simple people deal better with the needs of everyday life.

Immanuel Kant denied that prayer, church-going, and the sacraments were “means of grace,” and suggested that clergymen dominated the hearts of others by attaching to themselves exclusive possession of the so-called means of grace. But he found the sacraments useful in social terms in that baptism is “the ceremonial initiation, taking place but once, into the church . . . community” and Holy Communion is “The oft-repeated ceremony . . . of a renewal, continuation, and propagation of this churchly community under laws of equality.” If the sacraments had any efficacy, it was understood in terms of natural rather than supernatural purposes.

In the religion of the Enlightenment, we are already dealing with the desiderata of the church-growth movement: concerns for simplicity, authenticity (worship which is “more from the heart”), singable music, and practical preaching, although informality is not something one would associate with the German Aufklärung. But it is something one would associate with revivalism. In spite of some differences in theological emphases, the kind of worship fostered by revivalism was in line with the principles of worship championed in the Enlightenment under both pietism and rationalism: it was oriented toward human ends; it was a tool used to accomplish sanctification (pietism), edification (rationalism), or conversion (revivalism) rather than an offering “to the glory of God alone."

It should be noted that bringing the forms and styles of revivalism into the mainline churches is not new. Even Lutherans in America have flirted with revival practices. Most Lutheran immigrants to North America were imbued with a pietistic spirituality and had their own Jesus-songs which matched those of revivalism (e.g., “Beautiful Savior”). Having brought to North America also their own spiritual folk songs (especially the Scandinavian Lutherans), they resonate with the folk character of the songs popularly sung in “alternative worship services.” For several decades John Ylvisaker has been providing American Lutherans with their own spiritual folk songs.

“American Lutherans” (as they were called in the mid-nineteenth century) were also influenced by evangelical revivalism. Their leader, Samuel Simon Schmucker (1799–1873), believed that the practices of revivalism could be incorporated into Lutheran services. They were, including the singing of revival songs, a breakdown of liturgical order and (especially in Pennsylvania) a strong commitment to the abolition and temperance movements (which Finney also supported).

Those partisans of confessional revival in the mid-nineteenth century who were opposed to Schmucker, such as Charles Porterfield Krauth (1823–1883), came to see that forms of worship were not incidental to confessional theology. They instinctively realized that revivalistic worship supported a theology that was opposed to Lutheran confessional theology. They embraced the romantic liturgical restoration movement as that eventuated in the compilation of the “Common Service” and in the recovery of church hymns. But while the “church songs” were sung in the liturgy, the revival songs continued to be sung downstairs in the Sunday School. The result is that Lutheranism in America has been a church with confessions and an ordered liturgy, but these have not served to form spirituality, so that liturgical worship and popular devotion have often been at odds with each other in American Lutheran church life.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Church Polity is a Confessional Issue


The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod appears to be on the brink of a radical realignment of its structure and constitution. Business models and the centralization of power seem to be in the offing, but what of doctrinal considerations? Hermann Sasse provides a perspective worth considering in this excerpt from Here We Stand, p. 142-144.

The Holy Scriptures know nothing of a Christ who gave “general rules” for the organization of the church. Calvin, like the theologians of other churches, read this picture of Christ into [emphasis original] the New Testament. And just as we do not know this Christ who legislates, who instituted a senatorial, or presbyterian, form of church government for His church in order that His “sole sovereignty” in the church might not be infringed upon, so we do not know the church which can be recognized as a church of Christ by its obedience to His law.

We, too, know that the church must obey His commandments —- His real commandments, not those which are mistakenly attributed to Him. But this obedience is no part of the nature of the church. For it if were, the church would not owe its existence solely to Him, the Lord who is truly present and active in His Word and Sacrament, but to us as well in consequence of what we are and do.

We have no objection either to church discipline (provided it serves no other purpose -— no purpose, for example, like glorifying God -— besides that of saving sinners) or to a proper church polity. If the Reformed teaching concerning ecclesiastical government were only intended to remind Christendom that the church should he an ordered church properly to fulfil its task of preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments, this doctrine would be a valuable and arguable contribution to the problem of church government. But it happens not to be intended for that.

It claims to indicate —- and this claim has not been given up by the Reformed even today, despite all the liberalizing and softening of Calvin’s rigid principles -- what fundamental commands for the organization of the church the New Testament contains. And as long as it claims to do this, the doctrine is beyond discussion.

“A discussion concerning the correctness or applicability of this form of church polity is out of the question for us who are Reformed” — these words came, in 1929, from the French Reformed Consistory in Berlin — just as a discussion concerning the dogma of the Trinity or the doctrine of the Sacraments is impossible for every other evangelical Christian. For us the question of church polity is a confessional question.”

Here, as in the curious “articles of faith” in the Calvinistic Confessions which treat of the equality of pastors and the election of presbyters, the conclusion is expressly drawn, as it must necessarily be drawn whenever the boundary between Law and Gospel is obliterated, that faith has been turned into obedience, and the Gospel into a new law.

This has an important effect on the work of the church in the world. According to the common testimony of all church bodies, it is one of its tasks to preach the Law — which includes what our Confessions call the “political use” of the Law. According to the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, since Jesus Christ is not, in His essential nature, a Lawgiver, the Gospel cannot “bring new laws concerning the civil state,” but it “permits us outwardly to use legitimate political ordinances of every nation in which we live.”

According to the Reformed view, on the contrary, the Gospel must be the source of all the laws in society and state. That Jesus Christ, the Lord to whom “all authority hath been given . . . in heaven and on earth,” should be manifest before the Last Day when He reveals His glory which is now hidden, the church should see to it that the world obeys His laws, which are contained in the Gospel, even now.

In various ways Reformed theologians and churches — Zwingli more than the prudent Calvin, the Puritans in England and America more than the German Reformed — have proclaimed a Theocracy (or “Christocracy,” to use the expression of the Reformed theologian, August Lang) and thus set before the church tasks with which the church, as Lutheranism sees it, has nothing to do whatsoever.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's NOT the Church's Mission


Henry P. Hamann’s book On Being A Christian is a commendable text for confessional Lutherans. The following passage directs us to what is and what is not the mission of the Church (pp. 113-114).

The marks of the church determine the mission of the Lutheran Church in the world. It is in the world to bear clear, genuine, unambiguous witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the sacraments he instituted: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is there to make this witness both to those who are Lutherans and to those who are not, both to Christians and to non-Christians, for it is entrusted with the very Word of God, the Word of salvation. . . .

Discerning readers will probably think at this point of the argument that I have been guilty of a grave omission in my account of the mission of the church. They will be aware that most churches in the world — and especially the large representative bodies like the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation, as well as the pope of Rome — have assumed for themselves a leading role in the endeavor to bring about a better world. The various churches make solemn declarations on a whole host of important concerns: on war and peace, on poverty and health, on justice and human rights, on freedom and the role of women in society. The churches have much to say on the proper action of governments in all quarters of the globe, calling upon them to change such-and-such a policy and enact such-and-such reforms. Knowing all this, it may well be a matter for wonder that the present description of the mission of the church has failed to speak of such activity as part of that mission.

The answer is that the confessional Lutheran just does not consider these matters to be part of the mission of the church. A distinctive teaching of Lutheranism comes up here: the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms — although this traditional view has also been discarded by a great part of the modern Lutheran church.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Evil Pietism

Northwestern Publishing House has made available a very important and timely translation. It is The Complete Timotheus Verinus by Valentin Ernst Loescher. This work, originally written in two parts (1718 and 1721), “is the most comprehensive analysis of the pietistic movement in the German Lutheran Church.” With the resurgence of pietism in our own day, it is a work which needs to find its way into the hands of many. The following excerpt comes from pages 49-50.

Pietism in general is an evil; but there are also some specific evils.

First, there is the pious-appearing indifferentism; by that I mean that the revealed doctrines, faith, the supports for serving the preservation of religion (church constitutions, the symbolical books, polemics, an accurate style of teaching, and church ordinances), even religion itself, have been made indifferent and unimportant, even suspicious and objectionable. Some of these pietistic doctrines and practices were inherently connected with indifferentism, others flowed from it.

Second, there is the incipient fanaticism, or Crypto-enthusiasm; the means of grace and the ministry have been depreciated, and even revoked, through pietistic doctrines and practices; in their place, coarse enthusiastic and fanatical things were commended, defended, and excused.

Third, there is the so-called theoretical operatism, or work righteousness; the works of men have been too highly regarded and have been mingled into the basis of salvation, namely into righteousness by faith.

Fourth, there is millenialism; many have sought and hoped for the end of Christ’s kingdom of grace and cross, and the beginning of an absolute kingdom of glory in this life.

Fifth, there is terminism, which cuts short in this life God’s gracious will to save all.

Sixth, there is precisionism; the sharpness of the law has been enlarged and increased and the inquisition was reintroduced.

Seventh, there is mysticism; through pietistic doctrines and practices, false and harmful conceits, if only the appeared to be spiritual and holy, were introduced as divine secrets.

Eighth, there is perfectionism; pietistic doctrines and practices have led men to overstep the mark, and to introduce a home-made fulfilling of the law and an imagined paradisiacal condition in this life.

Ninth, there is reformatism; the present condition of the church has been regarded as completely corrupt, so that a fundamental reformation, or the establishment of a completely different church, is needed. All of these special evils will be treated in more depth below so that they are less often misunderstood. The schisms and doctrinal separations, which were caused intentionally and without sufficient reason, will not be forgotten.

But in all these things, there was something else, very special, which characterizes pietism even more accurately. A conceited striving for piety in doctrines and practices was mixed into all, or at least into most of the theological points of religion; they regarded these points as nothing without their kind of piety. They altogether, or for the most part, approved or excused the movements and harmful exploits which have arisen up to this time. They denied that an evil called pietism was present in the church.