Monday, June 30, 2008

Luther and the Two Kingdoms

Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms has often been misunderstood and misrepresented, being treated as if it were the same concept as the separation of church and state. Steven Ozment, in his work A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People, offers some much-needed perspective on the subject, as noted on pages 87-88.

For Luther the German problem of the sixteenth century was the devil’s success in tempting both rulers and clergy, subjects and laity, to sell their souls and shirk their moral and spiritual duties. The politicians did so by permitting injustice and obstructing the Gospel; the ecclesiasts by false assurances of salvation and improper secular ambition; and the general run of humankind by allowing itself to be so easily fooled and cowed by both.

In addition to a foreign, predatory papacy, two other enemies were seen to threaten civic society in the early decades of the Reformation: Catholic rulers who suppressed Protestant religious reforms, and renegade Protestant gospelers and revolutionaries who urged the common man to take up arms for alleged Christian rights.

In pursuit of his goals Luther, too, fatefully blurred the lines of authority and power he himself had drawn. He did so, first, by inviting the Christian nobility of the German nation, as Christian laity, to take up his cause against an intractable Church. In1523 he commended the example of a lay congregation in the German town of Leisnig for replacing its Catholic priest with a Lutheran pastor or its own choice, praising its action as an appropriate rejection of false “human law, principle, tradition, custom, and habit.” If this was a new ecclesiology, it was also a timely rationalization.

Again, in 1528, after Saxon visitations discovered spotty religious knowledge and scant moral improvement among the laity in the country parishes, Luther exhorted the German princes, again as Christians, to become “emergency bishops.” In that capacity they were to provide the fledgling Protestant churches with the administration, authority, and force required for their proper maintenance and discipline. Despite qualifying clauses, which stressed the princes’ lay status and the exceptional nature of their new powers, that concession set an ominous German precedent.

When, in, in 1523, princes began persecuting Protestants, Luther attempted in vain to put the genie back into the bottle, lecturing them on “what they might not do.” By 1518 German rulers never again — if ever they had — confined their rule solely to body and property. Luther’s weaving together of temporal and spiritual power enabled the new church to survive its infancy and pursue its mission in relative safety. It became a more cooperative state church, empowered and eager to mix large doses of religion into civic life through the new schools, welfare system, and domestic arrangements it helped create.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Anatomy of a Takeover

The following article is abridged from an original paper delivered over 10 years ago on November 23-25, 1997, at the Mission Hills Resort, Rancho Mirage, California by Karen Holger, at that time president of the Parents’ National Network.

While the back-to-basics movement has been directed mostly at returning our public schools to researched-based teaching methodologies, there are now, unfortunately, signs that the Outcome Based Education (OBE) movement, also known as “progressive education,” is spreading within private school networks. Parents National Network (PNN), along with other education reform groups nationwide, are receiving an increasing number of calls and letters from concerned parents who have children enrolled in private schools.

One would suspect that, of the private schools, it would be secular institutions that would be most susceptible to such dumbing-down fads as whole language, “cooperative learning,” “constuctivist” math, school-to-work, “inventive spelling,” death education, and other OBE techniques. Unfortunately, however, many of the complaints are now emanating from private Christian schools attached to Bible-based conservative Christian denominations. And parents from these schools now find themselves asking: “Where do we go when the last bastion of defense is succumbing to secular, progressive ideologies that have nothing to do with core academics? Why do we now find ourselves fighting the same fight in our Christian schools?”

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) school system is a case in point. LCMS, a conservative denomination (as opposed to the more liberal mainstream Lutheran church) has a history of establishing good, solid schools which use tried and true teaching methods based on strong empirical research. However, as this report will show, it now appears LCMS has unknowingly, in recent years, turned its teacher training programs over to progressives whose graduates are busily turning LCMS schools into pale imitations of public schools — at least when it comes to education methodology and philosophy. This trend is especially disheartening to this writer because for years she and her family were LCMS members and her own daughter attended a LCMS school.

With test scores on the decline at some LCMS schools, the effects of “progressive reform” are just beginning to show. With the evidence beginning to build, it is highly likely that within five years the entire LCMS school system will be in the same disarray as public education. Will the same calls for internal investigations to determine the reason for declining performance follow? Will LCMS parents soon threaten educational malpractice as have some public school children’s parents? It is hoped this report will serve as an early warning for LCMS leaders before it is too late.

For a variety of reasons, this transformation of LCMS schools may have occurred easier than one would think. Due to the uniformity found in hierarchical denominations, like LCMS, it takes only a dedicated core within the University leadership to set the direction its education departments will eventually follow when it comes to teaching philosophy.

LCMS has its own self-contained teacher preparation system; indeed it has teacher training programs at all ten Concordia Universities in the United States. At the Baccalaureate level, all ten offer degrees in Elementary Education and nine of the ten offer degrees in Secondary Education. At the graduate level, degrees are offered in teacher education at Concordia University at Irvine (CA), Mequon (WI), River Forest (IL), St. Paul (MN), and Seward (NE).

A quick review of education courses offered by the Concordia University system(CUS) clearly indicates a move away from traditional education approaches. Course descriptions incorporate all the latest buzz words used by the liberal public school establishment. For example, the term “Multi-cultural” is repeatedly used in course descriptions. (In public education, this term includes defining homosexuality as a minority group deserving of special rights.)

Furthermore, based on the seminar content promoted at Palm Desert’s Conference, it is clear that teacher preparation programs within CUS have embraced progressive education and thus, thousands of teachers trained in progressive education philosophy are now teaching in LCMS primary and secondary schools across the United States.

Confirming this view, Lutheran Educators Conference organizers distributed a packet of CUS material entitled “Resources: Models of Teaching,” which “contain brief descriptions of several teaching models treated in the Teacher Education Program at Concordia University. The descriptions are intended to serve as a reference resource for student teachers, and for master teachers . . .”

The material discusses many different teaching models, but nearly all of them espouse the progressive school of thought. Even though the Federal Government conducted a massive $1 billion dollar study, “Project Follow Through,” which compared student performance data for all major teaching models, the CUS document includes absolutely no discussion of performance data.

In fact, the CUS document makes no reference to the government study, and mentions only in a token way the most effective model – “Direct Instruction” (DI). DI emphasizes phonics, constant feedback to assess a child, homework, discipline, the teacher as teacher, i.e., the “expert”, (not as a “facilitator” as progressives promote) and other traditional techniques. CUS fails to describe how to properly teach direct instruction and never mentions its successful track record.

The Concordia University teacher preparation material focuses almost exclusively on process, not learning or performance, a classic sign of progressive education thought. Most of the models included in the document promote “Cooperative Learning,” “Group Learning,” “Group Investigations,” and “Group Projects.” The material says students should be taught in groups, assigned projects in groups and tested in groups, even though research shows group learning to be a total failure (see more about this later in this report).

Most of the models in CUS promote the idea that children need to be in charge of their own learning, or as the document states, “directing their own work.” This is just another failed method—sometimes called the “open classroom,” or, as some of the conference speakers called it, the “child-centered classroom.” Indeed, the CUS material suggests that teachers pose these questions to their students:

"What would you like school to do for you?”
“What, specifically, do you want to learn?”
“Do you think it is important to learn any skills? If so, which ones?"

Moreover, the CUS report states that in the course of group learning, “each team member is responsible for knowing that his or her teammates understand the assignment.” So now, not only are students mapping out their own lesson plans, but they are supposed to be responsible for their classmates as well! Who needs teachers? This also raises the questions: How do children know what they need to learn? Do LCMS schools now teach only what students think they want to learn? Is this really what LCMS parents want for their children? Is this what LCMS leadership wants for their students?

Another teaching model discussed states, “The focus of the strategies is not to pour facts into the student’s head, not to bring about some specific behavior outcome-rather, it is to draw out the student’s own creativity."

A teaching model titled, “Exploration of Feelings,” is likewise devoid of learning, but the central strategy here is, as stated, to have “Students explore others’ feelings or actions.” This strategy urges the use of dramatic stories to evoke sadness, anger, joy, etc. and then assign students to question each other on the feelings being experienced. This exercise may be great when used by a trained, licensed psychologist; but used in classrooms by teachers not trained in psychology could have devastating results! In California, practicing psychology without a license, or credential, in psychology is illegal!

Another reason for the leftward drift of LCMS schools is the recent effort by some to obtain accreditation status from liberal, highly secular accreditation agencies such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). A number of reports have surfaced that WASC has threatened to withhold accreditation from Christian schools unless they agree to make certain changes in their curriculum, methodology, and even management practices that are more in line with “progressive” education practices.

WASC makes no secret of their desire to alter a school’s mission. Page 228 of WASC’s accreditation guidelines book, published two years ago, states:

“Change--We cannot expect to change our long-held traditions to reorganized our army and to create cities without internal opposition. Among you chieftains and Huns will be those whose spirits cling to our past ways. We will show patience with you unenlightened ones. — Attila the Hun”

Ironically, there is no need for LCMS elementary, middle, or high schools to obtain WASC accreditation. There are no colleges or universities who reject students based on the accreditation status of elementary or secondary schools. College admission officers look at grade transcripts and SAT scores, not the accreditation status of the school.

Yet, the myth persists. The fact that so many LCMS schools are now seeking WASC accreditation status gives the impression that progressives within the LCMS education hierarchy are using the accreditation hammer to force its “backward” schools to “modernize”. Not surprisingly, WASC material was evident throughout the Conference.

Conference Overview The Lutheran Educators Conference was a gathering of LCMS educators from all over the western half of the United States and was officially sponsored by the LCMS church. Most attendees were K-12 teachers or administrators. Most were members of the denomination and deeply committed Christians. The purpose of the conference was to teach LCMS educators the “latest” teaching strategies and techniques.

With the exception of a few isolated workshops on promoting Christian values within the classroom, the material covered differed little from the education conferences hosted by various public school professional associations. Sadly, the workshops attended were dominated by the progressive view of education. In some seminars it was subtle; in others it was so blatant a few of the older and wiser educators left the seminar with looks of disgust on their faces.

In three days of conference, it did not appear that many, if any, workshops focused on empirical research-based techniques. Every failed education fad was covered, and covered well. It is amazing that time could be spent on how to show films such as “Buckwheat Dies” from Saturday Night Live, yet not even touch on the latest reading research from the National Institute of Child Development verifying that systematic phonics is the only effective way to teach reading.

Psychological Counseling Workshops: Another tenet of progressive education philosophy is the idea that teachers should engage in psychological analysis and treatment within the confines of the classroom. The CUS actually has entire courses dedicated to this endeavor, but Lutheran teachers, or any teacher for that matter, do not receive the necessary training to engage in this practice.

Evidence of this practice can be seen with the emphasis on self-esteem and “death education,” (an attempt to counsel children about life and death issues) in our public schools. Such activities have led to numerous lawsuits, primarily brought by parents who feel that schools have no right to engage in practices of a non-academic nature — especially psychological counseling that might undermine religious beliefs or parental rights.

Indeed, death or “grief” education, as LCMS educators call it, is believed to be a contributing factor in at least a half-dozen student suicides as a result of exposing already depressed children to incessant lectures about death, dying and suicide. The psycho-babble currently being practiced in schools throughout the nation has caused extreme concern among many psychologists. Indeed, the California Association of School Psychologists were so alarmed by this practice, they actively joined with other psychologists, parents and teachers, in support of legislation carried by California Assemblyman George House. Assemblyman House’s bill prohibits California teachers from engaging in psychological practices without a license. His bill overwhelmingly passed the State Legislature and was signed into law last year by California Governor Pete Wilson. (Maybe LCMS should recommend that all their teachers read and become aware of California law, especially Ed. Code 49422.)

The Lutheran Educators Conference had three workshops dealing with psychological issues; “Meeting The Grieving Child At The Classroom Door,” taught by Carol Ebeling, “Counseling Tips For Teachers Who Weren’t Trained As Counselors,” also by Ebeling, and “Helping Students Manage Family Stress and Trauma At School,” by Christine Honeyman.

While both women are licensed counselors, they apparently did not have qualms about imparting their techniques to educators without counseling experience or licenses. In fact, during one of Ms. Ebeling’s sessions, one teacher asked, “Since we aren’t psychologists, how far can we go with these techniques?” Ms. Ebeling responded, “Not far.” What does that mean?

From the session on death education, Ms. Ebeling gave attendees information about how to exact feelings by having students answer such questions as:

“When will I die?”
“Who will take care of me”
“How did I cause the death of ____________?”

Ebeling also advocated asking students to, “Give detailed expressions that affirm painful feelings,” and to , “Go beyond ‘God has a plan.’” She further stated,

“In order to help your students to grieve, and to get rid of the bad feelings, it depends on you! Begin by encouraging the child to smack a Styrofoam cup, or poke holes in it, tear it, or throw it. Some teachers bring in a pillow and let the child scream into it, punch it, or have a pillow fight.”

Ms. Ebeling offered several “menu options” to be used as “manipulatives” to “assist in helping kids get their feelings out” and advocated the daily use of “Journaling” for children to deal with their “feelings.” She suggested that grieving students should write sentences that express their feelings.

One shocking view expressed by Ms. Ebeling was that she felt it was critical for children who have suffered a death in their family to “view the dead.” When asked, “What if the body is mutilated?,” Ebeling replied, “No mutilation can exceed a child’s worst nightmare.” Is Ebeling aware that she advocates the flagrant violation of three California laws, (1) assessing self esteem, (2) practicing psychology without a license, and, (3) pupil/parent protection rights?

The bottom line is that the use of psychology in the classroom blatantly undermines the prerogatives of parents, and one would presume, violates the Biblical beliefs of the LCMS. Indeed, Ebeling’s workshop specifically encouraged educators to handle grieving children by getting “a school family together where the children can share,” and if the child didn't actually witness the tragedy, “have the child draw what he didn’t get to see,” for “the family.” Ms. Ebeling apparently believes the progressive rationale that the “school family” takes precedence over “the real Biblical family”. This sounds a lot like the “It Takes a Village” concept and has no place in a Christian school.

This obsession with feelings is not only a dangerous approach and undermines parental rights, but the LCMS should be very wary of lawsuits if a death of a child is traced to such depressing curricula.

The National Institute of Mental Health actually says, “Most school-based, information-only, prevention programs focused solely on suicide have not been evaluated to see if they work; new research suggests that such programs may actually increase distress in the young people who are most vulnerable.” Other psychologists have said that by discussing these issues in the classroom a child’s “safe zone” is violated; when that happens it can create crisis. These psychologists say that troubled or grieving children should be counseled by a professional; non-troubled children have no reason to be subjected to discussions on death, dying or suicide.

In a second workshop taught by Ebeling, she instructed the teachers to have a “softball toss” with the children. In this exercise students and teacher stand in a circle while the teacher tosses the ball to each child with the instruction to finish a specific sentence, i.e., “When I let my feelings out I_________________.” Ebeling stated, “Children don’t always know how to express feelings in words so we need to teach them,” and recommended a text used by Concordia University called “Getting Along,” which apparently gives more ideas about how to entice children to talk about their feelings.

Apparently, most parents have no idea such activity is occurring. When one educator spoke in the workshop about using techniques from “Getting Along” in his classroom, he was asked afterwards if parents had granted him consent. He said, “No,” but added it was mentioned in the school newsletter. When asked if the newsletter was specific as to what types of activities were taking place, he again said, “No.”

Ebeling passed out a handout that showed a drawing of a child with suggested conversation topics written on his body. These included: “One of the bad things about my school,” and “What makes me cry.” On another handout, Ebeling listed behavior characteristics of “Children Who Hate” and “Children Who Hurt.” Some characteristics appeared to be highly subjective and could lead to teachers placing psychological labels on students. For example, children with “behavior problems” and those who are “older than peers” are listed on the “Children Who Hate” list! That may be half of the kids in a classroom!

The confusion about what to look for in children who “might” be troubled was apparent when one educator asked, “So many of these characteristics can be present in children, how are we to know what constitutes a real problem and what doesn’t?” Ebeling responded by saying that teachers need to be careful not to misjudge students! But wasn’t that the point of her workshop? On one hand she was asking teachers to practice psychology; on the other hand she was telling them not to go too far or engage in uneducated guessing!

Christine Honeyman’s workshop, “Help Students Manage Family Stress and Trauma at School,” was more of the same, and was focused on psychological techniques for use on children “who have anger.” In order to deal with student anger, Honeyman suggested exercises such as, “have kids write three things they didn’t like over the weekend and one thing they did.” This was suggested for Monday mornings because, as Honeyman told the attendees, when the kids come back to school after being home all weekend, “they have to get that anger out of their systems.”

Once again, as in the previous workshops, the assumption was that home is a traumatic place and psychological counseling is needed to counter the bad influence of the parents. The danger here, of course, is that such an exercise plants the notion in children’s minds that home is indeed a bad place, even if they are from a perfect home. It is doubtful parents are told of this exercise. Is this really why Christian parents send their children to Christian schools?

Honeyman continually remarked that she wished she had more time to really go “into these things.” She made it clear she wasn’t able to explain in depth how to deal with sensitive issues. Again, isn’t that the whole point? Why was this conference so focused on psychological practices with teachers who are not trained in psychology? The potential for harm is incalculable! Why is LCMS condoning this practice?

Portfolios/Peer Review Workshop: This workshop, entitled “Writing Portfolios: A School-Wide Endeavor,” was taught by Stephanie Van Blarcom and Lisa Ellwein. Portfolios are the latest fad in the area of grading students. Instead of report cards, the teachers have students prepare portfolios, i.e., create a collection of a student’s work. What alarms many parents, however, is the non-academic nature of the portfolio. The content of the portfolio is usually chosen by the student. Some of the material will be “self-graded.” Other material will be “peer graded.” And naturally, the student’s worst work will not be included. But, the portfolio looks good to the student, to his teacher, and to his parents, even though he may be totally behind in learning basic skills.

Teachers like portfolios because they do not have to engage in the difficult work of giving grades to students based upon actual performance and mastery of various topics. Ms. Van Blarcom even admitted as much: “Portfolios have changed my life . . . because I don’t do that [grading] anymore.” Ms. Van Blarcom emphasized this point again with a hand-out that listed the benefits of portfolios:

“Grading everyday ruins my social life.”
“I’m tired of taking responsibility for my student’s work; I'm throwing the ball in
their court!”
“Portfolio is a buzz word, and I don't want to feel like I'm teaching the way my teachers taught me.” [as if that is automatically bad]

This amazing woman even stated that she tells parents at the beginning of the year that their child’s work will not be sent home: “If they want to see their child’s work, the portfolios are available in the classroom!” California students are only last in the country in Reading and third from last in Mathematics, so who needs homework anyhow?

Instead of grading and evaluating student work as most parents assume teachers are paid to do, this workshop encourages Lutheran educators to utilize “Peer review.” Peer review is another progressive teaching technique which, again, has no research to back up its effectiveness. It is a technique whereby students critique each other’s work. The problem with peer review is that the students will only be able to grade their peers at their own proficiency level. Even if you match smarter kids with slower kids, the effect is to slow down the faster learners so they spend their time trying to critique others instead of moving ahead themselves. Moreover, students will go easy on one another since they know the student they are critiquing may soon be critiquing them. Again, this technique epitomizes the progressive tenet of leveling the abilities of all students.

One fourth grade teacher raised his hand and said he had tried “peer review.” “It just didn’t work,” he said. He went on to tell the attendees that his students didn’t understand what they were supposed to do; didn’t understand how to grade someone else’s work, etc. This didn’t daunt the presenters—their advice was to just keep doing it. “Model for them” until they get it. When questioned about the lack of immediate corrective feedback from an “expert teacher” , the presenters both hemmed and hawed and then said they used other forms of grading too. They didn’t quite explain what the “other forms” were or how they helped the student!

Ms. Ellwein, claimed the “benefits” of portfolio grading for students included, “They determine and set own goals” and “Self-evaluation – Students identify their own strengths and weaknesses.” Isn’t that what teachers are paid to do?! Ms. Ellwein, who served on the WASC accreditation committee at her school, said that portfolio grading was one of the top items looked at by WASC. She explained that it was extremely important for attendees of the workshop to go back to their schools and lobby the principal to support the portfolio technique so that it became a “school-wide,” not just classroom, change. By soliciting support from the principal, she said, the teacher in the next classroom who might not want to change his old ways, could be “forced” into adopting portfolio assessments.

As for grading the portfolios, this is not done as one may think. Ellwein advised the attendees to “Assess growth from beginning of year to end of year.” The inference here was not to compare the students with others on their ability to grasp content but rather on their general growth. In other words, a child might receive an “A” — not because he is doing “A” work on a traditional grading scale — but because he improved considerably over his previous work. Nonetheless, this means the child could receive an “A” even though his performance might be at what would traditionally be considered “D” level work. Of course, the parents will be happy — until the SAT scores come out.

Both workshop presenters admitted that no scientific evidence exists that portfolio assessment works but “we see both process and product.” Here are quotes from the workshop handout:

“The teacher can encourage critical thinking by having students decide which of their works to include in the portfolio...”
Under “Student Roles” : Student “ participates in self and peer assessment ...collaborates with peers about strengths and weaknesses.”
Under “assessing portfolios” : “ No criticism – only provide suggestions for change...”

Conclusion: The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has always been identified has a conservative church, so what occurred at the conference came as a shock. How does such a church reconcile its conservative theological beliefs with the most radical, progressive education theories being promoted at its own education conference?

LCMS now stands at a crossroads. It can choose to clean house or accept the creeping liberalism that is rotting away its education and Christian mission. Like most highly organized denominations, the LCMS world is a somewhat closed world, and therefore immune to outside criticism, a situation which has allowed the progressives to completely revamp teacher preparation programs without much notice or criticism. Without delving into the theological history of the LCMS, any criticism outside the education reform movement will likely have little effect. LCMS has a history of protecting its own and as such it will take the intervention of national LCMS leaders to intervene to change things at this point.

As with most denominational leaders, LCMS leaders probably do not understand that the “progressive” philosophy of human nature embodied by the OBE approach to education is based upon secular humanist notions that run contrary to the Christian worldview. For example, promoting group learning over individual learning and accountability has theological repercussions – the elimination of competition is totally against Biblical principles. Surely, using psychological games to replace family values is not consistent with LCMS views on the family – especially when those psychological practices violate state laws!

Indeed, the acknowledged father of progressive education was Jean Jacques Rousseau, the humanist philosopher who believed the purpose of education was not to educate, but rather to find happiness and allow children to be creative. He also believed that classrooms were to be used to condition students to accept a socialized world view. This philosophy rationalized Rousseau’s own lifestyle, characterized by numerous illegitimate children, stealing, lying, and the inability to hold a job.

Rousseau’s philosophical heirs, Horace Mann and John Dewey, were responsible for the growth of progressive education in America. They attacked memorization, drills, phonics, and mathematical formulas by claiming such practices restrict a child’s creativity! Historically, private Christian schools have resisted the tenets of progressive education and instead, did as the Bible instructs; educate children, both spiritually and academically, so that they may honor God and become productive citizens. This is a detailed and complex argument that would have to be made to key LCMS leaders before one could expect any action to be taken. Unfortunately, it may be too late.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hymnals of Unionism and Rationalism

A Handbook of Church Music, edited by Carl Halter and Carl Schalk (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1989).

The Lutheran liturgy of 1748 followed the general outlines of historic Lutheran worship as filtered through the healthy pietism of its compilers. The revision of 1786, with its decreasing emphasis on the church year, its greater informality, and its emphasis on extempore prayer, was typical of the direction the future would bring. The “liturgical” part of the service was shortened in order that the sermon might receive more time. All these changes were indicative of a pietism increasingly divorced from a confessional Lutheran practice.

But two other forces in the early 1800s were to have even greater impact on the worship life of American Lutheranism: unionism and rationalism. The impact of these developing movements was to lead to a marked toning down and relaxation of sound Lutheran worship practices.

Unionism developed in part because of a spirit of religious indifference nourished by the inroads of rationalism, in part because it was often the line of least resistance, but also because it often appeared to be the most prudent course in the cause of a common evangelism. In Pennsylvania the trend was toward union with Reformed churches; in New York toward union with Episcopalians.

The attraction between Lutheran and Reformed churches in the early 1800s was accentuated by a number of circumstances. In Prussia, homeland of many German Americans, union was the official policy between Lutherans and the Reformed. In Germany, Frederick Wilhelm III was preparing to proclaim the Prussian Union. In America, many Lutheran, Reformed, and other Protestant churches were making joint plans to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Reformation.

In addition, Lutheran and Reformed churches in America often shared the same church building, a fact attested to by many “Union” churches still dotting the rural countryside in Pennsylvania. Given such circumstances, the request for a common worship materials could not be far behind. Hardly a decade after its formation as the second Lutheran synod in America, the New York Ministerium took note of the “intimate relation between English Episcopal and Lutheran churches, the identity of doctrine, and the near approach of their discipline,” and efforts were begun — though never completed — looking toward the eventual union of the two churches. The tide of opinion favoring at the least a variety of united endeavors, and, as some hoped, union, was too great to be ignored.

Likewise, rationalism affected America as a result of close contact between America and France in the Revolutionary period. It had found its way into German universities, even into Halle, and the American church was not to escape its influence. As early as 1792, for example, the Pennsylvania Ministerium had deleted all reference to the Lutheran Confessions from its constitution. In 1803 the constitution of the North Carolina Synod, the third Lutheran synod to be organized in North America, made no reference either to the Lutheran Confessions or to Lutheranism. In 1807 the New York Ministerium elected as its president Rev. Frederick H. Quitman, an avowed disciple of John Semler, the “father of Rationalism” at Halle.

The ideals of unionism and rationalism found embodiment in congregational books of worship among the Lutherans. For unionism it was the Gemeinschaftliche Gesangbuch (“Common Hymnbook”) of 1817, issued “for the use of Lutheran and Reformed congregations in North America”; for rationalism it was A Collection of Hymns, and a liturgy, for the use of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, published in 1814. Both books were widely used in German and English Lutheran congregations that found them compatible with their ideas. . . .

Rationalism sought to bring the forms of Lutheran worship in line with human reason; unionism sought to dilute those forms and practices in order to facilitate organic union. Both forces were, for a time, successful. But both ultimately gave way before a new movement that was to herald a return to confessional concerns.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Blessed Be the NAME of the Lord

Last month, Christianity Today published an editorial entitled: Blessed Be the Name of the Lord: Why 'Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier' is somewhere between heresy and idolatry.

Referring to February 29th reports on a Vatican statement, "Vatican Says Baptisms Using Wrong Words Are Not Valid, Must Be Redone," the article is reprinted here:

Anyone baptized "in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier" or "in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer" didn't really get baptized, explained Cardinal Urbano Navarrete after the Vatican's brief statement. If you got married after such an invalid baptism, Navarrete said, your marriage isn't valid either (at least in the Roman Catholic sacramental sense).

Media reports only turned up one Catholic congregation that had been using the proscribed formula: in Brisbane, Australia. And it stopped using it in 2004.

Avoidance of "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" is, unfortunately, common in some North American streams of Protestantism. Gender-neutral language for the Trinity is often an emblem of progressive churches that see liberation from patriarchy as a hallmark of the gospel. After the Vatican's statement, one Methodist pastor howled about the Vatican's "liturgical fundamentalism that values human language over divine grace."

He failed to recognize that this particular instance of "human language" is a matter of divine grace. We use this rather than other Trinitarian formulas for a simple reason: Jesus—"very God of very God," as the Nicene Creed puts it—gave it to us and commanded its use (Matt. 28:18–20).

This formula is perfectly consistent with the self-revelation of God throughout the Bible. In the Gospels, Jesus refers to the Father and to himself as the Son. Yes, he also employs other metaphors for the Godhead, but never so consistently and starkly.

Furthermore, it is a mistake to focus only on the phrase "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" without noting the two words that introduce it in the Great Commission: " … the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Whenever God reveals his name, he reveals his character. We see in God's name his communal nature and desire for a personal relationship to his people. "I Am who I Am," he told Moses. "The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob … This is my name forever."

Almost all the recent alternatives to the Trinitarian formula undercut the personal significance of God's name by replacing it with words of function. As many have noted, "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier" encourages modalism, the heretical teaching that God's threeness is more about his modes of operation, or our perception of him, rather than something intrinsic to the divine essence. Biblical Christianity teaches that all three persons of the Trinity are involved in creation, redemption, and sanctification. A document "commended for study" by the Presbyterian Church (USA) explicitly rejected a modalist understanding of "Creator, Savior, Sanctifier," but still encouraged its use, along with "Mother, Child, and Womb," "Sun, Light, and Burning Ray," and other troubling triads.

As theologian Robert Jenson has noted, "Such attempts presuppose that we first know about a triune God and then look about for a form of words to address that God, when in fact it is the other way around. … [T]he phrase Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is historically specific and can be what liturgy and devotion—and, at its base, all theology—must have, a proper name of God."

God is serious about his name—which is why he took the trouble to reveal it to us in Christ. To create an alternative according to our cultural sensibilities is at best parody and at worst idolatry, even if it is constructed from the good metaphors God has given us. Most idols, after all, are created from God's good gifts.

The Baptism of Penguins

I don’t know much about the author Anatole France, his milieu or world view, but his writing strikes me about the same way as that of Kurt Vonnegut, both of whom have a rather unorthodox perspective on human nature. Reading such works can grant a pastor certain insights into the works of the flesh which need to be addressed by the Word of God. Anatole France’s book, Penguin Island, ultimately says more about human nature than about penguins — and I suspect Anatole’s contempt for the church. If you want to read something rather out of the ordinary this summer, try this.

After having drifted for an hour, the holy man approached a narrow strand, shut in by steep mountains. He went along the coast for a whole day and a night, passing around the reef which formed an insuperable barrier. He discovered in this way that it was a round island in the middle of which rose a mountain crowned with clouds. He joyfully breathed the fresh breath of the moist air. Rain fell, and this was so pleasant that the holy man said to the Lord, “Lord, this is the island of tears, the island of contrition.”

The strand was deserted. Worn out with fatigue and hunger, he sat down on a rock in the hollow of which there lay some yellow eggs, marked with black spots, and about as large as those of a swan. But he did not touch them saying: “Birds are the living praises of God. I should not like a single one of these praises to be lacking through me.” And he munched the lichens which he tore from the crannies of the rocks.

The holy man had gone almost entirely round the island without meeting any inhabitants, when he came to a vast ampitheatre formed of black and red rocks whose summits became tinged with blue as they rose toward the clouds, and they were filled with sonorous cascades.

The reflection from the polar ice had hurt the old man’s eyes, but a feeble gleam of light still shone through his swollen eyelids. He distinguished animated forms which filled the rocks, in stages, like a crowd of men on the tiers of an ampitheatre. And at the same time, his ears, deafened by the continual noises of the sea, heard a feeble sound of voices. Thinking that what he saw were men living under the natural law and that the Lord had sent him to teach them the Divine law, he preached the gospel to them.

Mounted on a lofty stone in the midst of the wild circus: “Inhabitants of this island,” said he, “although you be of small stature, you look less like a band of fishermen and mariners than like the senate of a judicious republic. By your gravity, your silence, your tranquil deportment, you form on this wild rock an assembly comparable to the Conscript Fathers at Rome deliberating in the temple of Victory, or rather, to the philosophers of Athens disputing on the benches of the Areopagus. Doubtless you possess neither their science nor their genius, but perhaps in the sight of God you are their superiors. I believe that you are simple and good. As I went round your island I saw no image of murder, no sign of carnage, no enemies’ heads or scalps hung from a lofty pole or nailed to the doors of your villages. You appear to me to have no arts and not to work in metals. But your hearts are pure and your hands are innocent, and the truth will easily enter into your souls.”

Now, what he had taken for men of small stature but of grave bearing were penguins whom the spring had gathered together and who were ranged in couples on the natural steps of the rock, erect in the majesty of their large white bellies. From moment to moment they moved their winglets like arms and uttered peaceful cries. They did not fear men for they did not know them and had never received any harm from them; and there was in the monk a certain gentleness that reassured the most timid animals and that pleased these penguins extremely. With a friendly curiosity they turned towards him their round little eyes lengthened in front by a white oval spot that gave something odd and human to their appearance.

Touched by their attention, the holy man taught them the Gospel. “Inhabitants of the island, the early day that has just risen over your rocks is the image of the heavenly day that rises in your souls. For I bring you the inner light; I bring you the light and heat of the soul. Just as the sun melts the ice of your mountains so Jesus Christ will melt the ice of your hearts.”

Thus the old man spoke. As everywhere throughout the nature voice calls to voice, as all which breathes in the light of day loves alternate strains, these penguins answered the old man by the sounds of their throats. And their voices were soft for it was the season of their loves.

The holy man, persuaded that they belonged to some idolatrous people and that in their own language they gave adherence to the Christian faith, invited them to receive baptism. “I think,” said he to them, “that you bathe often, for all the hollows of the rocks are full of pure water, and as I came to your assembly I saw several of you plunging into these natural baths. Now purity of body is the image of spiritual purity.” And he taught them the origin, nature, and the effects of baptism. “Baptism,” said he to them, “is Adoption, New Birth, Regeneration, Illumination.” And he explained each of these points to them in succession.

Then, having previously blessed the water that fell from the cascades and recited the exorcisms, he baptized those whom he had just taught, pouring on each of their heads a drop of pure water and pronouncing the sacred words. And thus for three days and three nights he baptized the birds.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Day's Journey Into Ninevah

Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 128-130. To Peterson’s analysis, we would commend the incarnational locatedness of Christ in the water and the Word of Holy Baptism, Christ’s own body and blood with the bread and wine in his testament of Holy Communion — and the Church not as invisible, but visibly gathered at that place and time where the Word is preached and the Sacraments bestowed.

Pastoral work is local: Ninevah. The difficulty in carrying it out is that we have a universal gospel but distressingly limited by time and space. We are under command to go into all the world to proclaim the gospel to every creature. We work under the large rubrics of heaven and hell. And now we find ourselves in a town of three thousand people on the far edge of Kansas, in which the library is underbudgeted, the radio station plays only country music, the high school football team provides all the celebrities the town can manage, and a covered-dish supper is the high-point in congregational life.

It is hard for a person who has been schooled in the urgencies of apocalyptic and with an imagination furnished with saints and angels to live in this town very long and take part in its conversations without getting a little impatient, growing pretty bored, and wondering if it wasn’t an impulsive mistake to abandon that ship going to Tarshish.

We start dreaming of greener pastures. We preach BIG IDEA sermons. Our voices take on a certain stridency as our anger and disappointment at being stuck in this place begin to leak into our discourse.

Now is the time to rediscover the meaning of the local, and in terms of church, the parish. All churches are local. All pastoral work takes place geographically. “If you would do good,” wrote William Blake, “you must do it in Minute Particulars.” When Jonah began his proper work, he went a day’s journey into Ninevah. He didn’t stand at the edge and preach at them; he entered into the midst of their living – heard what they were saying, smelled the cooking, picked up the colloquialisms, lived “on the economy,” not aloof from it, not superior to it.

The gospel is emphatically geographical. Place names — Sinai, Hebron, Machpelah, Shiloh, Nazareth, Jezreel, Samaria, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethsaida — these are embedded in the gospel. All theology is rooted in geography.

Pilgrims to biblical lands find that the towns in which David camped and Jesus lived are no better or more beautiful or more exciting than their hometowns.

The reason we get restless with where we are and want, as we say, “more of a challenge” or “a larger field of opportunity” has nothing to do with prophetic zeal or priestly devotion; it is the product of spiritual sin. The sin is generated by the virus of gnosticism.

Gnosticism is the ancient but persistently contemporary perversion of the gospel that is contemptuous of place and matter. It holds for that salvation consists in having the right ideas, and the fancier the better. It is impatient with restrictions of place and time and embarrassed by the garbage and disorder of everyday living. It constructs a gospel that majors in fine feelings embellished by the sayings of Jesus. Gnosticism is also impatient with slow-witted people and plodding companions and so always ends up being highly selective, appealing to an elite group of people who are “spiritually deep,” attuned to each other and quoting a cabal of experts.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Church Fathers and Counting Numbers

Wilhelm Loehe shows how contemporary the Church Fathers seemed in his time and ours. As evidence, consider this passage found in James Schaaf’s translation of Loehe’s Drei B├╝cher von der Kirche (Three Books About the Church; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), 128-130.

Gregory of Nanzianzen speaks eloquently about the number of those in the church: “Where are they who reproach us with our poverty and boast themselves of their own riches; who define the church by numbers and scorn the little flock; and who measure the Godhead and weigh the people in the balance, who honour the sand and despise the luminaries of heaven; who treasure pebbles and overlook pearls . . . ? These men have the houses, but we the Dweller in the house; they the Temples, we the God; and besides, it is ours to be the living temples of the living God, lively sacrifices, reasonable burnt-offerings, perfect sacrifices. . . . They have the people, we the Angels; they rash boldness, we faith; they threatenings, we prayer . . . ; they gold and silver, we the pure word.”

Chrysostom says the same thing in his sermon: “Which is better, to have much hay or to have a few gems? The true majority does not rest upon numbers but upon values. Elijah was alone, but the whole world could not outweigh him.”

Augustine says, “If you want to be just, do not count but weigh. Bring a trustworthy scale so that you may be called a righteous man. Of you it is written, ‘The righteous shall see and fear’ [Ps. 52:6]. Therefore, do not count the host of men who wander on the broad ways, who in the morning gather themselves together and celebrate with a loud tumult in the city, setting the city in confusion with their bad behavior. Pay no attention to them. They are many, but who counts them? There are fewer who travel the narrow way. Bring the scale, I tell you, and weigh them. See how much chaff there is to the few grains of wheat.”

Arnobius writes, “For neither is truth unable to stand without supporters, nor will the fact that the Christian religion has found many to agree with it and has gained weight from human approval prove it true. It is satisfied to rest its case upon its own strength and upon the basis of its own truth. It is not despoiled of its force though it have no defender, no, not even if every tongue oppose it and struggle against it and, united in hatred, conspire to destroy faith in it.”

Tertullian feels it is easier to go astray in a great crowd than to love and hold fast to the truth with a few. Jerome says clearly to a Pelagian, “Your numerous supporters will never prove you to be a catholic, but will show that you are a heretic.”

After all, it is so simple, and the matter is so clear. How futile is the noise of the multitude and the noise about the multitude blinding only the blind! Our opponents themselves, if they wished to be honest, would agree with us that the church is to be recognized by its Word, not by its numbers; under other circumstances, they themselves would use these ancient proofs. The truth is truth, even when it is completely alone in the world. It was what it now is even before the foundation of the world, and it will still be the same when we have passed into dust. What of the multitude? Only that which is apostolic is catholic, and those who hold to what is apostolic belong to the catholic church and can claim for their communion that noble name against all impure denominations.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Supermarket of Desire

Douglas D. Webster, Selling Jesus: What’s Wrong with Marketing the Church, 78-81.

If we step back and look at American culture, it’s easy to conclude that it is materialistic, self-centered and individualistic. These characteristics raise an important question: What kind of felt needs will be stimulated in the age of entertainment?

The average American household is saturated by television and sports. What does the church need to become in order to compete effectively with frantic schedules, work pressure and leisure amusements?

Parenting is always a challenge, but especially when it comes to meeting one’s children’s felt needs. I am faced with the uncomfortable and unenviable task of discerning between genuine needs and selfish needs. I would love to give my three children everything they ask for, but few people — not even my kids themselves — would judge me a good father if I did that. If eating, sleeping, working and cleaning were left to my young children’s discretion, without any parental direction, our home would be a total disaster. If peer pressure, television ads and self-interest were allowed to dictate the need-meeting in our household, in no time we would be spoiled, self-centered and broke.

What my children really need from me is the ability to discern between momentary pleasure and long-term happiness. They need help in disciplining their lives, deferring gratification and deciding what is right. Much of what they want may get in the way of what they need. They need the example of parents who turn to Christ to meet their deep-seated spiritual needs and human aspirations. Ginny and I have the task of weaning them from superficial, self-centered felt needs and preparing them to deal with their own significant needs and the needs of others through Christ and through responsible, mature behavior.

Being a parent involves daily work in this area. We are not just meeting needs; we are working at defining needs. There is a lot of discerning and discarding to be done.

What holds true for children is also true for adults. The needs we feel most keenly may be trivial or artificial, induced by a culture that is seriously devoted to treating us like consumers every minute of the day. Even when our felt needs are concerned with important matters, such as where to live and work, they may still marginalize more fundamental needs, such as the need to know God. . . .

We have grown accustomed in our market-driven culture, to yoking relational well-being with material well-being. Like the proverbial monkey whose hand is trapped in the cookie jar because it is unwilling to release its grip on its precious find, Americans are trapped by their materialistic dependencies. Barna predicts, “We will remain a society struggling with self-doubt and low self-esteem. As technological advances and the deterioration of social skills continue, Americans will feel increasingly isolated . . . . Our dominant obstacle to emotional attachments will be our fear of being hurt and our unwillingness to sacrifice material comforts or leisure experiences in exchange for new relationships. Psychological counseling services will boom in the 90's, as people struggle with issues of self-worth, loneliness and control.

It’s not surprising that in a consumer-oriented culture the deep-seated spiritual longing for transcendence is scaled down to a materialistic quest for success. For many Americans, the fear of God is nothing compared to the fear of personal failure. Job security means more than eternal security. People who shrug their shoulders at the thought of divine judgment cringe at the thought of cancer or AIDS.

In the nineties, the human search for meaning and significance is translated into a restless quest for excitement and escape. The greatest danger facing the modern psyche is not nihilism but boredom. Qualities honored in the past — stability, continuity and tradition — are exchanged for sensationalism, stimulation and excitement. Today’s hunger and thirst for righteousness are nothing compared to the insatiable appetite for entertaining distractions.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Face the Muzak

Leonard J. Seidel’s book, Face the Music: Contemporary Church Music on Trial, (Springfield, Virginia: Grace Unlimited Publications, 1988) offers some interesting points for discussion. The following points are found on pages 18-19 and 22-23 of this work.

The controversy regarding proper music is not new. In the early Greek civilization, Plato and Aristotle were dealing with the same problems. Plato understood the power that music had in affecting the lives and nation of the Greek people. He wrote in his Republic: “The introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperiling the whole state: since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions” [Plato, Republic, 424c].

Aristotle also spoke of music’s power: “Music directly represents the passions or states of the soul — gentleness, anger, courage, temperance . . . if one listens to the wrong kind of music he will become the wrong kind of person; but conversely, if he listens to the right kind of music he will tend to become the right kind of person” [Aristotle, Politics, 8, 1430]. . . .

The Muzak Corporation has cashed in on the mind-controlling aspects of music. You can’t miss it in your doctor’s office, the mall, or in an elevator. They know that music is not neutral, for they have declared that “unlike drugs, music affects us psychologically and physiologically without invading the bloodstream. The subtle influence of music has been harnessed in programs providing controlled stimulus progression for people at work and play” [Dr. J. Keenan, Research Notes, Muzak Corp., 1976]. No wonder Muzak can claim that your department store sales will be considerably higher if you are using the right music!

Intelligent composers and arrangers of music believe that your emotions and though patterns can be triggered and manipulated by music alone. The effectiveness of those who write music is directly related to an understanding of music theory. Serious, eternal music is written by those who have done their homework in the area of music theory. If music is neutral, then there is no reason for a music student to study long hours analyzing the works of the masters to see what and how they were communicating through their craft and skills.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The New Methods - Subserving the Word of God

It has become common in LCMS circles to utilize creative, attention-getting methods in order to gain an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel -- implying that the Gospel might not have had such an audience without something creative and attention-getting. This creative attention-getting seems to be viewed as a kind of "pre-evangelism" and may be manifested in a variety of methods ranging (not meaning to lump them all together) from pop-music-worship to hot-air balloons and even billboards which say "JeffersonHills [Lutheran] Church Sucks, signed Satan."

For some people, the more creative an idea is, the more commendable it is -- and that rationale has led to some rather outlandish extremes with which even those who use creative ideas are not comfortable. Chuck Finney has video clips of some of these new methods on steroids. The Wittenburg Door awards the "Loser of the Month" green weenies to some standouts as well.

On one hand, objections are raised as to whether these creative, attention-grabbing items and activities are "gimmicks" and part of a bait-and-switch scheme while on the other hand those who participate in them are offended at such criticism. The latter contend that the items and activities are salutary efforts to attract the attention of people to the Gospel -- people who wouldn't normally or naturally be interested in hearing the Word of God, Christ, repentance, grace and faith.

When people have been attracted in this way, those who avail themselves of such methods intend and attempt to redirect people in what they call an "opportunity to proclaim the Gospel" but in some cases, the new measures may be a total repudiation of historic liturgy and Lutheran orthodoxy.

I hope that this introduction is a fair assessment of a situation which needs clarification among those associated with each other in the LCMS.

Are these methods something new, previously unknown in the Church, that St. Paul, Chrysostom, Luther, Chemnitz, and Pieper never imagined -- but would have approved? Has the LCMS had any official position on this type of strategem? And rather than arguing in generalities, might we address the specifics?

A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod [Adopted 1932] may have something to say about it in the article dealing with the Means of Grace:
"Whatever activities do not either directly apply the Word of God or subserve such application we condemn as 'new methods,' unchurchly activities, which do not build, but harm the Church."

What does it mean to "subserve" the Word of God?

What were the "new methods" or "unchurchly activities" which the Brief Statement condemned as not building but harming the Church? Is the term "new methods" to be identified with Charles Finney's "New Measures"? (See Michael Horton's article on Finney's New Measures.)

I believe we get a better sense of the issue by holding a debate in the public square. In future posts, I hope to spend more time investigating the historical background of "new methods" in the LCMS -- and reviewing what the Word of God and our Confessions say about evangelism, conversion, and the Means of Grace. But for the present, perhaps readers would like to post some salient observations, historic references and questions without harangues, diatribes or insinuations.

Finally, it seems to me from experiences at other sites, that people quite often are more upset about the tone of posts or about making judgments than they are with the premises themselves. People can't seem to get by the style and address the substance. The comments and responses are often more about the way something was said than what actually was said -- though it seems to me that people ought to be able to overlook uncharitable hyperboles while still getting at the sum and substance of the matter. Thus I wonder if this discussion will be any different even if it is hotly contested.

The proper form will be to state a premise and defend it with reasons -- and to react by referencing a specific sentence and then responding to it. And it may also be helpful at some point to state the things on which the controverted positions are agreed in the course of dealing with the disagreements.

In any case, if you are squeamish about such things, it might be better not to enter the comments area. And who knows? Maybe none of the three visitors to this site who actually read this post will care to comment anything at all.

A Lutheran Vinedresser

Friedrich Muench (1798?—1881), trained as a Lutheran minister in Germany, typified the enthusiastic style of the German winegrowers of Missouri. "With the growth of the grape," he wrote, "every nation elevates itself to a higher degree of civilization." The winery he founded in Augusta, Missouri, is in operation today. (State Historical Society of Missouri)

A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings To Prohibition by Thomas Pinney
(UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford, © 1989 The Regents of the University of California) includes an account of a vinedresser who had been trained for the Lutheran ministry:

The philanthropic and literary farmer Friedrich Muench, of Washington, Warren County, a man trained to the Lutheran ministry in the University of Giessen and one of the original emigrants attracted by the blandishment of Gottfried Duden's description of the Missouri country, published the earliest treatise that I have found issuing from the Missouri German community.[94] His "Anleitung zum Weinbau in Nordamerika" ("Directions for Winegrowing in North America") appeared in the Mississippi Handelszeitung in 1859; a later version in book form appeared at St. Louis in 1864 as Amerikanische Weinbauschule; this went through three editions, and was translated in 1865 as School jar American Grape Culture: Brief but Thorough and Practical Guide to the Laying Out of Vineyards, the Treatment of Vines, and the Production of Wine in North America.

Muench, or "old Father Muench" as he grew to be called, had been growing grapes since 1846 and continued to do so until 1881, "when he was found dead among his beloved vines, one fine winter's morning of that year, with the pruning shears still in his hand, in his 84th year." Something of Muench's high-minded style may be had from this passage in his School for American Grape Culture:

"If it prove but moderately remunerative, the vine-dresser, free, lord of his own possessions, in daily intercourse with peaceful nature, is a happier and more contented man than thousands of those who, in our large cities, driven about by the thronging crowd, rarely attain true peace and serenity of mind. With the growth of the grape every nation elevates itself to a higher grade of civilization—brutality must vanish, and human nature progresses." (P. 11)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Hymnal for the 2008 Spelling Bee

The winning word for the Scripps 2008 National Spelling Bee contest was: GUERDON.

I just happened to know that word from my familiarity with stanza 4 of Hymn #513 in The Lutheran Hymnal:

If I find Him, if I follow,
What His guerdon here?
"Many a sorrow, many a labor,
Many a tear."

Big Words for Little Children

Sanctimonious. Eau de toilette. Commode. Frappe. Hideous. Banshee. These are not the kind of words we would expect many children to know — or spell. (I myself had to crack open the dictionary to check “commode” and “frappe.”) These very words, however, were heard in the first fifteen minutes of Casper, a cartoon I sat down one Saturday years ago to watch with my sons. This program was rated “Y” which meant that it was suitable for children under 7.

I watched this cartoon from a rather different perspective than my sons. Not only did I wonder about the propriety of them watching ghosts being frappeed in a commode, but I also wondered what was going on in their minds since they hadn’t the slightest idea what such words meant. Did they come to associate these words with what they saw — or did they pass through one ear and out the other, making no concrete connection with the glassey-eyed, mezmerized gaze into the boob tube?

Schools in general have been dumbing down the curriculum for the children. The latest thinking in the elementary education field is that children should be given only five vocabulary words since studies have shown that most children can’t remember more than that. And there are scores of Christian education pundits who would dumb down the liturgy and hymnody of our church, espousing children’s sermons and musical ditties with the belief that such childishness is appropriate for children. It is not.

Our children may run into some big words in our hymns and liturgy which they don’t understand. We need not feel compelled to present an etymological lecture about every word encountered. A passing attempt will suffice while our children are growing into their vocabulary. In time, they will be taught what such “difficult” words mean instead of being programmed to avoid the big words, letting them fall into the oblivion of disuse.

Words can be received and stored up before the meaning of them becomes known. The subsequent knowing, especially regarding the words of faith, will not be achieved solely by experience, intuition, or rationalization. If they were, there would be little left for the Holy Spirit to do. We might well prefer that our children not learn words by associating them with the antics of animated characters, but by having them associated with the living Word of God. Thus they will come to know and love “big” words — words judged to be big not because of the number of syllables, but because of the wealth of meaning and life conveyed therein. Justification. Expiation. Incarnate. Propitiation. Christocentric. Forensic. Sanctification.

P.S. If you find yourself wishing to recall the lyrics of Casper the Friendly Ghost theme song or have other cartoon trivia in mind, check out Toon Tracker.

Can't Get Enough?

If you have a need to spend more time reading Lutheran blogs, you can do the equivalent of one-stop shopping at the Lutheran Blog Directory - "Here I Blog."

Memorial Moments

While not exactly a blog, one of the most well-disciplined and well-written daily entries I've found is Memorial Moments by the Rev. Dr. Scott Murray, pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church in Houston, TX.

If you're interested in a daily devotion which contains salient Luther quotes, you may wish to subscribe to the free e-mails. Otherwise, you can visit the site's archives and read as you will.

Here is a sampling of his work:

Natan Sharansky argued that Western democracies could not compromise on their defining values in an article printed in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. The democracies must never give up their national identities in favor of the generic approach popular in the postmodern world. In that generic approach to national identity, the democracies of the European Union are now turning a blind eye to the application of Islamic cultural norms in favor of "underage marriage, genital mutilation, and honor killings." The vapidity of European culture is inviting these Islamic incursions. Mr. Sharansky suggested that Western democracies will begin to take their national and democratic identities much more seriously as they see their unique and genuinely free ways of life threatened by their own weakness ("Democracies Can't Compromise on Core Values," WSJ [16 June 2008]: A15).

Perhaps the Christian churches should also pay attention to Mr. Sharansky's warning. Many churches have been giving up the church's core values in favor of the values of the world that surround them. It was certainly thought that the church could invite many more people into its community if it showed some openness to the world's views. Most American denominations are headed down a path that has shown more of that "openness." On one extreme, churches have attempted to placate the world's fleshly ways by encouraging and blessing immoral sexual relations; as though the freedom given in Christ is really about sexual liberation. Other churches, while attempting to hold the line on moral issues, have soft-pedaled doctrinal distinctives such as the doctrine of the holy Trinity, original sin, repentance, the divinity of Christ, real presence in the holy communion, or the doctrine of justification by faith. As much as we might deplore the openness to immorality in the sexually promiscuous churches, a far worse problem is the rejection of basic Christian theology. Such "openness" to the world implies being closed to God (Jam 4:4). The churches cannot make a stand in the world and in the truth at the same time.

The core of Mr. Sharansky's advice is that we should be who we are. Go figure! While he elegantly makes the case for this in the political realm, the churches have much greater reason to pay attention to this truism. Often churches are madly running after the latest mass marketing fad, seeking to increase market share, and trying to "reach people where they are." The bottom line of this pandering is that the churches are giving up the very teachings that make them the church of Christ. The modern churches are not seeking to raise people to a relationship with God through Christ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, but are falling into the very mire from which the Lord Jesus wants the church to rescue the fallen and depraved. The churches are seeking to avoid offending the bent moral, political, and theological sensibilities of the world. Every compromise with the world is enmity with God. The churches can't compromise on core values, or the churches will cease to be the church.

Friday, June 20, 2008

An Arbitrary Picture of Pharisaism

Pharisaism and Christianity by Hugo Odeberg, translated from the Swedish "Fariseism och kristendom" by John M. Moe, published by Concordia Publishing House in 1964. This excerpt comes from pages 14-15.

Another way of approaching the difference between Christianity and Pharisaism is the following. It is admitted that this antithesis does in fact exist. The fundamental Christian principles are emphasized and an attempt is made to define them precisely. Thereupon an ethical and a religious view is constructed which forms the direct opposite of the Christian view which has just been defined and the conclusion is drawn that this is precisely what the Pharisaic view must have been, since Pharisaism was the antithesis of Christianity. However, the Pharisaism thus constructed is shown, upon closer examination, to be the very opposite of Pharisaism. Here we really deal with a case entirely analogous to the one described earlier. What is depicted as Christianity is not Christianity but Pharisaism.

How are we to account for this? Clearly by the fact that the Pharisaical ways of thinking have become natural for us without our being aware that they are Pharisaical. And what appears to us natural and reasonable is assumed — if one highly esteems the name of Christianity — as something self-evident in Christianity. We cannot and will not suppose — if we regard Christianity as the supreme religion — that the ideals set up by Christianity can be different from those we set up as the reasonable and the best. The only error is that these ideals have not derived from Christianity but from Christianity’s antithesis: from Pharisaism. The result is that we confuse Christianity with Pharisaism and, while professing to be Christians, actually espouse Pharisaism.

The only proper method of establishing the true difference between Christianity and Pharisaism is obviously that we seek to obtain as accurate a knowledge of both as we possibly can, and it is especially important that we gain a correct knowledge of the doctrines and fundamental principles of Pharisaism. A true knowledge of Pharisaism is of fundamental importance for the protection of the unique character of Christianity.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Uprooted from Prussia

The history of Lutheranism in America would be quite different if not for the Prussian Union initiated in the early 19th Century. The effects of civil religion took their toll not only on the churches, but also on the schools of the area.

What follows is a historical survey of what led up to the migration of thousands to western New York as found in Eugene W. Camann’s Uprooted from Prussia — Transplanted in America, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 1843 Prussian Lutheran migration to the town of Wheatfield, New York. The 140-page book can be ordered by writing Mr. Camann at 6697 Luther St., Niagara Falls, NY, 14304 or calling him at 716-731-4553.

In connection with the social and economic reform measures that the Prussian King was putting into effect, he was also preparing to announce a kingdom-wide church reorganization. It was intended to help unify and strengthen Prussia after her collapse in 1806, which had been followed by a period of foreign domination and the resulting wars of liberation.

Lutheranism had existed as the official Protestant denomination in Brandenburg since 1539, but from the time that the Calvinistic Reformed faith was introduced there in 1613, both religions had existed side by side. However, the Age of Enlightenment and its attendant Rationalism, which had held sway in Prussia for the past century, did not recognize denominational differences. Neither was the prevalent Pietism limited to any specific church organization. These attitudes had also infected many members in the Lutheran and Reformed churches, so there appeared to be very little difference between the two denominations.

Therefore, in 1817 on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Reformation, Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III considered it appropriate to declare a merger of the two church bodies. They were combined into one official Prussian State Church which was to be known as The Evangelical Union Church. The King had professed the Reformed faith but his late Queen had been Lutheran, as were most of his subjects. But he seemed genuinely convinced that combining the two churches should be truly beneficial for all concerned. He expected the merger to strengthen and revitalize Protestant religious life in Prussia as well as helping to unify his kingdom. This is apparently why he became so adamant in striving to make his Prussian Church Union succeed. (See Map A, which indicates how vast was the Prussian Kingdom territory which was subject to this merger decree.)

Most Protestant churches throughout Prussia initially responded to the King’s merger proclamation. In 1817 they held a joint celebration of the Lord’s Supper as officially directed. But they did so only that one time, after which each church again reverted to its own traditional practice. When the King was informed of this, he was very displeased. He personally prepared a joint church Agenda which he issued in 1822. This uniform worship manual was officially called “Liturgy for the Evangelical Church in the Royal Prussian States”. However, neither the Lutherans nor the Reformed groups were willing to adopt it. The King, becoming frustrated, made some minor modifications in it and then demanded that his revised Agenda be adopted in all churches. Until that time, compliance with the merger decree had been considered optional. But now, the pastors who refused to adopt the Agenda were threatened with stiff fines as punishment for their non-compliance.

The Lutherans who adhered to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and continued worshipping according to their traditional order of service, now faced a period of unrelenting persecution. In 1830, Pastor Scheibel of Breslau, Silesia was suspended from the ministry for refusing to adopt the new Agenda, and for continuing to conduct worship services in the Lutheran manner. Hundreds of fellow-Lutherans rallied to his cause and formed the Lutheran Free Church. They were commonly known as “Old Lutherans” because they held to the traditional Lutheran doctrines and practices.

When this group appealed to the King for permission to continue worshiping as Lutherans, he accused them of being objecting “Separatists.” From then on the persecution became very real. In 1831 the King decreed that pastors who still refused to use the new Liturgy would be guilty of “flagrant disobedience to the crown.” They would be treated as common criminals and would be subject to harsh punishment. The imperial police were now directed to search out and arrest those who refused to comply. In time, more than forty pastors in the Province of Silesia alone were imprisoned for their non-compliance.

Up to the time of these punitive measures, local congregation members had heard very little about the Prussian Church Union, especially those in country villages. Only in the towns where the provincial and regional church offices were located had its introduction become well known. But now a specially appointed Royal Commission brusquely closed one Lutheran church after the other and converted them to Union Church use.

By 1834 only one Lutheran Church still remained in Silesia that had not been forced to adopt the Union Agenda. That church in Hoenigern near Breslau had received a directive from the Royal Commission for its Elders and Church Fathers to meet at the church on September 11, 1834. The Commission expected perhaps 10 or 12 representatives for this meeting. However, when they arrived they were confronted with about 2000 people at the church. The whole congregation had turned out all because of an error in the wording of the directive. The Commission, however, mistook this large turnout for a hostile uprising against them. They felt even more certain of this when the members refused to surrender the church key, and the women crowded in front of the door so the Commissioners couldn’t get at it. Seeing their purpose temporarily foiled, the Commissioners reluctantly left, but threatened to return with military support.

Five days later, on September 16, Pastor Kellner of that church was arrested and imprisoned for seven years, longer than anyone else similarly charged. Then two days before Christmas four hundred military infantrymen and three hundred cavalrymen plus two cannons were brought in. Two hundred Lutherans attempted to guard their church against sudden seizure during the night. At 5 o’clock the next morning, December 24, the soldiers circled the church. Three times the command was given for the defenders to clear the entrance way and surrender the key. When they didn’t comply, the guns were loaded. Then the two hundred Lutherans were struck with the butt end of the guns and hit with the flat of the sword blades, and the church door was forced open. The soldiers stayed in the village for six more days during which the church Elders and many others of the two hundred defenders were arrested.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Guilt Works

Charles Merrill Smith has written a number of tongue-in-cheek books having to do with parish life. One of my favorites is How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1965). The following is from pages 53-56. Try your best to keep in mind that this is satire!

Strange as it seems, the greatest thing that ever came down the pike so far as the hard-pressed parish pastor is concerned, is the psychology of Sigmund Freud. Freud taught us about guilt and put his message across in a way that preachers had never been able to manage. He made guilt fashionable. Guilt is “in.”

Freud was an agnostic, of course, but then God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform, and for purposes of money raising (and let us put it in capital letters so that it will be emblazoned on your memory) NOTHING IS HALF SO EFFECTIVE AS THE EXPLOITATION OF YOUR PARISHIONERS GUILT FEELINGS!!! Perhaps it never occurred to you that the clean, sweet-smelling, well-behaved members of your congregation are really sinners. But depend on the absolute accuracy of the Doctrine of Original Sin. They are.

The Pallid Sins of Nice People

It is true that not many of them are spectacular sinners. Their transgressions tend to be petty, unimaginative, and thoroughly middle-class. But they are sinners all the same, and while they pretend that they are not, they know it.

Very few of your good people pursue sin in the form of wine, women and song. This is because such pursuit is inconvenient, time-consuming and expensive. Most of all, it reduces one’s effectiveness as a money maker. And the average middle-class white Protestant much prefers building his bank account and collecting status symbols to indulging himself in the so-called pleasures of the flesh. (Do not neglect to imply, though, that you know this kind of hanky panky goes on. Even in the most proper congregation you will snag an errant soul now and then who wonders ruefully how you got onto him.)

Now this is a fact which you need to keep in mind at all times, and especially when planning the annual budget drive or building-fund campaign or any other type of financial appeal. Scorching your people for the rough, rowdy, boisterous, bold, bawdy sins will bring very little cash into the till. This kind of talk just makes them feel smug and superior. Hardly anyone you will minister to ever even thought of sinning with abandon. Nice people don’t do these things, and happily for us, the church has progressed to the place where it serves nice people almost exclusively.

We have come a long way from the early days of the church when Christianity did not appeal very much to the nice people of the time and members had to be recruited from the rough, unlettered. and profane classes. How much easier it would have been for our dear Lord had he been able to deal with the merchant and banking levels of society instead of with fishermen and petty tax collectors and the like. But, as noted, above, denouncing the sins which nice people do not commit only makes them feel spiritually superior. And the man who is encouraged to feel spiritually superior generally ends up by revising downward the amount he had planned to give to the church.

However, nice people are quite vulnerable at the point of their prosperity. The average man really has a rather low opinion of himself, even when he covers it with bluster and bragging. He is astounded to find himself living in a forty-thousand-dollar home, driving two automobiles and belonging to the country club. He wants you to believe that all this is tangible evidence of his wit, energy and general superiority. But in his heart he knows, though he may never acknowledge it even to himself, that it is mostly luck. Also, he lives uneasily with the information that he has managed to squeeze out of society far more than his contribution to society is worth. And since his security, the structure of his personality, and everything he holds precious in life is squarely dependent on these lovely results of what he pretends is his personal superiority but what he believes to be his good fortune, he is haunted by one horrible, nightmarish fear — that somehow these things will disappear as easily as they came.

This is why so many of your people support Robert Welch or Billy James Hargis. They are wildly enthusiastic about anyone who promises to ward off those who want to take it away. In short, your average man is prosperous and he feels guilty about it. The astute pastor, then, will learn how to remind his people (there are a thousand ways of how greatly the Lord has blessed them and that these blessings are far beyond anything they deserve.

This has the advantage of being good, sound, demonstrable biblical teaching plus being a solid, practical approach to prying out of them the money you need to carry on the Lord’s work. Couple this with the subtle but frequent suggestion that “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” and that he might do just that, and you have created the ideal atmosphere for maximum results from a church finance campaign. There is, however, one exception to this rule this appeal won’t work with people of inherited wealth. They are accustomed to having money and assume it is the will of God that they should have it. However, be comforted by two thoughts: (1) You won’t have many such people in your flock and (2) nothing else works with them either.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Aesthetic Contradictions

Excerpted from State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe by Gene Edward Veith, Jr., (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 220-221.

I am of the opinion that theological traditions should not change their worship practices simply to accommodate cultural or aesthetic trends. I have seen Baptists try to be liturgical and I have seen Lutherans try to be informal. Believe me, in either case, it was not a pretty sight. Neither side can quite pull it off. The free-wheeling spontaneity of a revival service fits perfectly a spirituality built around religious experience and “decisions for Christ.” The intense concentration, timelessness, and sense of the holy in a traditional Lutheran service corresponds to their emphasis on the objectivity of grace and to the spiritual efficacy of the Word of God. Both styles of worship have an integrity of their own. The style fits the theology, a congruity of form and content which, whether or not visual images are employed, is essentially “artistic.”

A Baptist preacher dressing up in vestments and swinging an incense burner is ludicrous, as is a Catholic priest conducting mass in jeans and a T-shirt while playing a guitar. The sense of absurdity comes from an aesthetic contradiction — the form and content do not go with each other. The problem is not with the clothes or the artistic accessories. The preacher could get away with the guitar and maybe even a T-shirt. The priest could handle the vestments and incense. An individual might come to believe that a particular theological position is correct and, on that basis, change to another mode of worship. Changing the styles without changing the theology, however, is more than discordant. The form communicates the content, so that changing the style changes the message, whether it is intended to do so or not.

Changing churches out of theological conviction is certainly legitimate. One should never switch churches, however, purely on the basis of aesthetic preference. To choose or reject a church on the basis of how good a choir it has, the attractiveness of the sanctuary, or the aesthetic impact of its liturgy is to trivialize that church and to misapply its art. Churches are not to be concert halls, museums, theaters, or entertainment centeres. The focus should be on the content of what the church teaches — its understanding of the Word of God and its faithfulness to the gospel. Art can express that understanding and that faithfulness to varying degrees, but art should not be confused with or take the place of theology.

Hindenberg Is Our God?

The Lutheran Witness, April 16, 1918, p. 158, reported the following event in light of persecutions which came upon Lutherans who were still speaking (and singing) in German:

In a southern Illinois town a pastor’s beard was painted yellow because he supposedly had led his congregation in a song which elevated Germany’s General von Hindenburg to the status of a god. Actually, the congregation had sung Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, not Ein Hindenburg ist unser Gott.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Strict Lutherans

In his 1857 work, Lutheranism in America, W. J. Mann describes as “strict” those who were known as the Old Lutherans. While he notes that he does not approve of everything in which Walther and Grabau espouse, yet he speaks somewhat admiringly of them as we see in the following:

In doctrinal views, these brethren stand on the Confession of that faith which is contained in the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church, as far as they are comprehended as a whole, the several parts of which are explanatory and supplementary to each other. They regard the dogmatical system of Christianity, as contained in these books, as being the true interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. They do not esteem these writings because they emanated from Luther or from some of the other Fathers of the Lutheran Church or because they had once obtained authority in the Lutheran Church or are of importance in connection with its history, but because they cherish the conviction that a better and more correct comprehension of the principal doctrines of the sacred Scriptures has never been produced, nor can be.

They regard a Confession of Faith of absolute necessity to the Church for the Bible is equally in the hands of the Catholic, the Baptist, the Unitarian, and the Quaker. But they read it, each one with his own eyes. Each finds his own peculiar tenets in it. A Church destitute of a fixed interpretation of the sacred Scriptures which she regards as the true one and adopts as her own would be nothing but a confused mass of dogmatical and religious views of mere individuals.

. . . It is a well-known fact that during the last century, in Germany, the decline of the authority of the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church, and the rise of rationalistic tendency were simultaneous. At present, we find that in the same country, respect for the Symbolical Books is returning — and with it faith and piety.

Symbols are nothing else than what the original meaning of this word of Greek derivation signifies, namely, a compilation of the principal doctrines of the Creed; they either pronounce the true orthodox Faith, like, as for instance, the Apostles’ Creed, or they give a clear explanation of it, in accordance with the sacred Scriptures, refuting and rejecting the views of heretics, whenever they teach doctrines at variance with the Word of God. This is done with peculiar skill especially by the larger among the writings of the Symbolical Books.

It is easy to perceive what an anomaly it would be to call any modern religious society the Lutheran Church, except it, at the same time, regards that as the Confession of its Faith, which was regarded as such by the Lutheran Church from the beginning. The Lutheran Church certainly holds many doctrines in common with other denominations. But this by no means constitutes her the Lutheran Church; just as little as, on the other hand, a Unitarian can be called a Lutheran, because his ancestors may at one time have been Lutherans.