Archive for February, 2007

“Orthodoxy” or What you get when justification recedes into the background

February 28th, 2007 Comments off

I highly recommend that you pay a visit to Pastor Weedon’s blog site to read an excellent article by Dr. Steven Hein analyzing how it is that men who take vows to be faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions can walk away from those vows. Here’s an appetizer:

When the chief article of justification begins to wane in one’s
thinking as the chief article; when it becomes just one among all the
other articles of faith, the Devil can use whatever articles make up
one’s doctrinal passion (good in their own right) to replace it.

Categories: Eastern Orthodoxy

Melinda Doolittle

February 28th, 2007 4 comments

It’s all over. They should have stopped the show after tonight and said, "Folks, we have declared a winner. Now, we will spend the rest of the time figuring out who is second best." No question. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s ok. Those who do, might agree with me. What say you? Is it Melinda, hands down, or what?

Categories: Uncategorized

Altar in Gerhardt’s Church

February 28th, 2007 Comments off

Pastor Mark Wangerin sent this note, along with this picture, in response to the post on Paul Gerhardt. An additional note on
"Lutheranism’s Sweetest Voice" There is a very striking illustration of
Paul Gerhardt’s version of "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" at the church
of St. Moritz in Mittenwalde, where he was serving as pastor when he
wrote that hymn. Right above the altar (16th century) is a painting
based on the cloth of Veronica–the thorn crowned, bloody head of
Christ. Interesting that during the Reformation era, that altar
remained untouched and that a century and a half later, the pastor of
that church would gaze upon that image every time the divine service
was celebrated. "Here I may stand beside Thee …" Click on the photo to see it in a larger size.

Categories: Uncategorized

Titanic Nonsense

February 26th, 2007 2 comments

So, you’ve heard that James Cameron, the movie maker, has announced that he has discovered the smoking gun evidence that once and for all debunks Christianity. Wow. Imagine that. Cameron, whose better movie making days are now a memory, announces, just in time for Easter, that he has discovered proof positive that "sinks" Christianity.  And when I use the term "better movie making days" I am of course using that phrase very loosely. Titanic would have been better titled A Celebration of Fornication on the High Seas. The whole ship sinking and people freezing and drowning was simply a way to keep those with higher levels of testosterone on the hook while they suffered through the tedium of not even a very well done sob-story. The movie was nothing but exploitive trash, just like this story.

Thankfully, even secular scholars are giving this thing a big raspberry. Oh, by the way, next time you are tempted to believe the myth that Islam is a religion of peace, just ask yourself this question. Can you imagine what would be happening now if Cameron were to have announced he had discovered proof positive that Mohamed was a fake? Chew on that one. Maybe Cameron will turn his attention next to Islam. And if he does, I’ll look forward to seeing how that one turns out for him.

Here is a very well done summary of the whole sordid mess.

Link: James Cameron to Christians: it’s over � GetReligion.

Categories: Secularism

Our Great Comfort

February 24th, 2007 Comments off

Martin Luther, commenting on 2 Kings 6:16: "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."

It is a great comfort for all Christians to learn from these and other passages of Holy Scripture that they are not forsaken in the cross which they encounter in various forms throughout their lives. For they have the dear angels with them as protectors and guards. Furthermore, God is always present with His gifts, although one angel would really suffice to cope with all the enemies. Thus the Syrians did not dare touch Elisha, nor did they raid the land of Israel any more; for they thought to themselves: “Who wants to fight against such warriors?” How much we could accomplish if we had such allies against the Turks today! All this is recorded to convince us that God and His dear angels are round about us. Wherever faith prevails and the divine Word is treasured, there we find such radiance shining into our hearts that I have a clear vision of God as my Father, of the open heaven, of the angels about me, and of the help that is mine. Such a precious possession is ours in God’s Word and in the Christian faith. [AE 22:211]

Martin Luther, vol. 22, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22  : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works, 22:208 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1957).

Categories: Martin Luther Quotes

The Comfort of the Communion of Saints: The Holy Christian Church

February 24th, 2007 1 comment

Beautiful Luther quote from his work from 1520 titled Fourteen Consolations:

Who could despair in his sins? Who would not rejoice in his sorrows? He no longer bears his sin and punishment–and if he does bear them he does not bear them alone–but is supported by so many holy children of God, yes, by Christ himself. So great a thing is the communion of saints in the church of Christ.

If a person does not believe that this is a fact and that it happens, he is an infidel and has denied Christ and the church. Even if it is not perceived, it is still true. But who could fail to perceive it? After all, why do you not despair and become impatient? Is it due to your strength? By no means. It is because of the communion of saints.

Otherwise, you could not even bear a venial sin, or endure what men say against you. So close to you are Christ and the church! It is this that we confess in the Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy, catholic church.” What else is it to believe in the holy church but to believe in the communion of saints? What is it that the saints have in common? Blessings, to be sure, and evils. All things belong to all, as symbolized in the bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar, where we are told by the Apostle that we are one body, one bread, one cup. Who can hurt one part of the body without hurting the whole body? What pain can be suffered by the little toe that is not felt by the whole body. We are one body. Whatever another suffers, I also suffer and endure. Whatever [Vol. 42, Page 163] good befalls him, befalls me. Thus Christ says that whatever is done unto one of the least of his brethren is done unto him [Matt. 25:40]. When a man receives only the smallest morsel of the bread in the sacrament, is he not said to partake of the bread? And if he despises one crumb of the bread, is he not said to have despised the bread?

Therefore, when we feel pain, when we suffer, when we die, let us turn to this, firmly believing and certain that it is not we alone, but Christ and the church who are in pain and are suffering and dying with us. Christ does not want us to be alone on the road of death, from which all men shrink. Indeed, we set out upon the road of suffering and death accompanied by the entire church. Actually, the church bears it more bravely than we do. Thus we can truthfully apply to ourselves the words Elisha spoke to his fearful servants, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more numerous than those with them. And Elisha prayed and said, "Lord, open the eyes of the young man that he may see."€™ And the Lord opened his eyes and he saw. "And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire around Elisha" [II Kings 6:16-€“17].

All that remains for us now is to pray that our eyes, that is, the eyes of our faith, may be opened that we may see the church around us. Then there will be nothing for us to fear, as is also said in Psalm 125 [:2], "As mountains are round about it, so the Lord is round about his people, from this time forth and forever."€ Amen.

Martin Luther, Fourteen Consolations, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42  : Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works, 42:162 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1969).

Categories: Lutheranism

What Luther’s Experience with Fasting was Like

February 24th, 2007 Comments off

Fasting, like any other wholesome practice, was, and is, abused. Here is Luther’s recollection of what it was like for him in the monastery, from the Tabletalk.

On March 20 there was talk about the most sumptuous fasts of the papists—which were nothing less than fasts when the meals of bread and wine were without moderation. “Only truly afflicted consciences fasted in earnest,” Martin Luther said. “I almost fasted myself to death, for again and again I went for three clays without taking a drop of water or a morsel of food. I was very serious about it. I really crucified the Lord Christ. I wasn’t simply an observer but helped to carry him and pierce [his hands and feet]. God forgive me for it, for I have confessed it openly! This is the truth: the most pious monk is the worst scoundrel. He denies that Christ is the mediator and high priest and turns him into a judge.

“I chose twenty-one saints and prayed to three every day when I celebrated mass; thus I completed the number every week. I prayed especially to the Blessed Virgin, who with her womanly heart would compassionately appease her Son. Ah, if the article on justification hadn’t fallen, the brotherhoods, pilgrimages, masses, invocation of saints, etc., would have found no place in the church. If it falls again (which may God prevent!) these idols will return.”

Martin Luther, vol. 54, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54  : Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works, 54:339 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1967).

Categories: Roman Catholicism

Lutheranism’s Sweetest Voice Turns 400

February 24th, 2007 3 comments

Thanks to Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto for sending this article.

Malcolm Muggeridge once called suffering the only method by which we have ever learned anything. Nothing corroborates this British author’s insight more profoundly than the poetry of Paul Gerhardt, who was born exactly four centuries ago, on March 12, 1607, in Graefenhainichen near Wittenberg. For most of his childhood, youth and maturity, this Saxon pastor experienced one of the worst calamities that ever afflicted Central Europe – the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48). Yet €the religious song of Germany found its purest and sweetest expression in the hymns of Paul Gerhardt,wrote Catherine Winkworth (1837-1878), whose English translations of Gerhardt’€™s verses reflect their purity of thought, their beauty and elegant iambic meter with astonishing accuracy.

We live at a time when in many Sunday services saccharine platitudes take the place of the traditional chorale with its theological weight, choice of words and musical splendor, to wit banalities such as this: “He is able more than able / To accomplish what concerns me today / He is able more than able / To handle anything that comes my way. Hence it seems imperative to ponder the exquisite beauty of Gerhardt’s songs, for example:

Entrust your days and burdens
To God’s most loving hand;
He cares for you while ruling
The sky, the sea, the land.
For he who guides the tempest
Along their thunderous ways
Will find for you a pathway
And guide you all your days. (LSB 754).

This was written in 1653, a mere five years after the Westphalian Peace, when Germany was still in ruins; when the country still mourned the loss of 20 to 30 percent of its population; when its agriculture, indeed its entire economy was destroyed; when peasants, Lutherans and Catholics alike, were still traumatized by the memory of having to drink gallons upon gallons of liquid manure called Schwedentrunk because it was forced down their throats with crude funnels by marauding Swedish soldiers.

A remarkable mix of Trost und Trotz (consolation and defiance) lends Gerhardt’s hymns its unique allure, according to Heidelberg theologian Christian Mueller. This defiance is directed against pain while consolation comes from his trust in God’s governance and goodness – and from the knowledge that all torment will pass. Gerhardt’s genius lies in his insight that one would not work without the other, said Mueller "€œConsolation without defiance turns into a whine, while defiance without consolation embitters you."

Among the 17 Gerhardt hymns in the new Lutheran Service Book of the LCMS, there is one that reflects the Trotz und Trost in his faith most clearly:

Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near with his cheer;
Never will he leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son for me won
When his life was given (LSB 756).

What makes Gerhardt so unique is his ability to describe the reality of the Cross in elegant meters. The Germans’ knowledge of this reality was one of the great assets of the 17th century; for all its darkness, this was a century in which, in Winkworth’s words, the very genius of the German people expressed itself in religious rhymes.

Paul Gerhardt ranks the second most important crafter of hymns in German Protestantism, after Martin Luther himself, but he had worthy competitors among his contemporaries. There was, for example, his fellow Saxon pastor Martin Rinckart who in 1636, as the Swedes laid siege on the town of Eilenburg, wrote, "€œNow thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices"€ — and this in-between burying an average of 50 plague victims every day!

It says a great deal about Christianity’€™s trivialization in the last 400 years that a retiring bishop of the Church of England recently informed an interviewer he considered it his greatest accomplishment to have purged this choral–the basis of a wonderful cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach–from the hymnals in his diocese. The significance of the cross clearly eluded this supercilious prelate.

In an interview with the German Protestant magazine, Zeitzeichen (signs of the times), Christian Mueller explained Gerhardt’s greatness in part with the fact that he "€œbelonged to the era of Lutheran orthodoxy, which was attentive to doctrinal clarity, and therefore sang with clarity." Mueller went on, "€œI do wish the days of doctrinal clarity came back– leading to more clarity in people’s lives and song."

The Rev. Henry Gericke, organist and choirmaster at Concordia Seminary and an editor with Concordia Publishing House, feels that "if the Lutheran Church had patron saints, Gerhardt should be the patron saint of Lutheran pastors." Indeed he should. The author of 139 hymns including, "O Lord, how shall I meet you?" (LSB 334) and "A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth"€ (LSB 438) led a life bearing the Cross.

There was the Thirty Years’ War when he lost his parental home. There was the loss of his wife and four of his five children to disease. There was his personal illness. There was the loss of his powerful pulpit at the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas’€™ Church) in Berlin after a contest between Frederick William I. of Prussia, called the "Great Elector," and the Lutheran clergy in that city. The prince was a Calvinist while most of his subjects were Lutherans.

Ministers of both communities used to attack each other ferociously in their sermons. In 1665, the Elector tried to put a stop to that, insisting that Lutheran pastors signed a document pledging not to criticize Reformed theology anymore. But this meant that in their homilies they could no longer refer to the Formula of Concord, which condemns Reformed doctrines.

Until that point, Gerhardt had been restrained in his public disapproval of Calvinism, so much so that the Elector’s pious wife, Louisa, herself an authoress of hymns, often attended his services. But after the prince’s edict, Gerhardt became very outspoken. Though ill, he assembled Berlin’s Lutheran pastors his sickbed, imploring them to remain steadfast in asserting their right to free speech.

And so he lost his influential position, a deprivation he later called “a small sort of Berlin martyrdom,” which was all the more egregious as he was now separated from his organist Johann Crueger who had put many of Gerhardt’s poems to music. In a sense, Gerhardt’s "€œsmall martyrdom" foreshadowed the confessional struggles in Prussia a century and a half later when King Frederick William III forced Lutherans in his realm into a union with the Reformed, an event which led to the emigration of confessional Lutherans to America and ultimately the formation of the LCMS. So Gericke has a point: If Lutherans had patron saints, Gerhardt would be the one.

Yet there was also a fascinating ecumenical side to Gerhardt’s work. Only thirty years after his death in 1676 in the small town of Luebben, then Saxony, Gerhardt became perhaps the first Lutheran poet to have a song published in a Roman Catholic hymnal. That hymn was, "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" (LSB 449). It is rooted in medieval mysticism and specifically in a genre going back to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), a Cistercian abbot. It involved pondering and saluting separate body parts of the suffering Christ, such as his head in Gerhardt’s perhaps most haunting verses.

Ironically, the sanctuary in Luebeen where this confessional Lutheran last served as archdeacon, and where he is buried, is no longer a Lutheran but a Union church because Lutheran Saxony lost Luebben to Prussia in the 19th century. The church bears his name, though: Paul Gerhardt Kirche. And there, an inscription at his portrait reminds visitors of his "little sort of Berlin martyrdom"€: "€œTheologus in cribro Satanae versatus" "a theologian sifted in Satan’s sieve."

Uwe Siemon-Netto is scholar-in-residence at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

Categories: Lutheranism

Sex for Lent

February 24th, 2007 14 comments

My congregation is so boring. During our Lenten services we are meditating on the wounds of Christ in our services and singing old hymns like LSB Hymn 421 "Jesus, Grant that Balm and Healing." We don’t have a praise band or contemporary services. But what do we know? We only have between 1200-1300 people in our services on Sunday.

Maybe we should learn a thing or two from this hip and happening mission church: Epic Church, which features, during Lent, a series on sex. No, I’m not making this up. I wish I was. See for yourself. I think this is the same group that some time ago had people dressed up like Wookies waving at drivers to attract them to church. If memory serves, this is happening in the same state where, about twelve years ago, there was a congregation offering mime Eucharists featuring a clown/mime dipping a crucifix in a chalice to consecrate it.

I’m trying very hard to think of some way to speak well of these kinds of thing, to defend them and to put the best construction on them, but so far I have not been able to. I’m sure though I’ll be urged to understand how this is a matter of adiaphora and this is what "missional" congregations do as "mission outposts" do as opposed to us who are stuck in a maintenance ministry.

So far, the only thing that comes to mind when pondering Epic’s "pure sex" program is our Confessions’ rejection of "useless, foolish displays, that are profitable neither for good order nor Christian discipline, nor evangelical propriety in the Church. These are not genuine adiaphora!" [FC SD X.7]. 

Categories: Lutheranism

Of Fasting and Lent

February 21st, 2007 Comments off

As per the usual provides an exhaustive summary of Lent and the fasting associated with it. NewAdvent is a Roman Catholic site, so you do swim at your own risk there, but….it is an amazing on-line encyclopedia, the largest such resource of which I’m aware. If you know of anything more comprehensive than, please let me know. Here is what it has to say about Lent and fasting.

Read more…

A More Relevant Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

February 16th, 2007 Comments off

TombHumor is sometimes the most effective way to make a point. From "Hornswoggled."

worship leader at a northern Virginia megachurch is raising money for
improvements at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National
Cemetery. Brian Willow heads the Relevance Division at Mountaintop
Prosperity Church in Arlington. He says the solemn, regimented ceremony
at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is out of step with our modern

"Twenty-one steps south. Twenty-one steps north. People
today don’t want to spend their time watching a bunch of vain
repetition," Willow said. "If we want to communicate with today’s
generation, we need to reach out in their language."

congregation is raising money for two 50-inch plasma screens to be
installed at the tomb. He also suggests livening up the
changing-of-the-guard ceremony with audience participation and
wholesome comedy.

"The tomb is an awesome tomb," he said.
"Let’s not get so hung up on our traditions that we can’t stay
relevant. A few moving video clips, and maybe some drama skits, would
go a long way toward engaging our young people."

Categories: Uncategorized

The Purpose of Ceremony: Eyes Front!

February 16th, 2007 6 comments

I’m generally impressed, and grateful, for the comments that are sent in to this blog. They are usually always thoughtful, intelligent and well reasoned, along with being cordial and gracious. Sure, there are a few exceptions, from time to time, but that’s why God created the "delete" key in blogging software. And then there are comments that come in that I find so impressive that truly deserve their own separate posts. Here is one of them. Thanks Mike.

As an Army soldier I cannot and will not speak for Marines, but formality and practiced precision go deeper than our close association with death.  As one who performs funeral honors frequently, I can tell you that the military bearing is a sign of my honor to the departed and their family.  That is the motivation and focus as we practice and prepare.

As a superior once told me, "That man up front spent his entire life serving others.  The least you can do is serve his widow for an hour on Saturday."  That has stuck with me.  No better place is this sentiment shown than at Arlington, where men march the exact same 21 steps and pause at 21 second intervals in all weather 24 hours a day 365 days a year for long dead heroes we can’t even name and most Americans never visit.

My hat off to you for correctly identifying this as an object lesson for the spirit of the liturgy: humility and deference when confronted with someone else’s sacrifice – not our own.

The focus on the ritual directs our focus to the things that truly matter.. it points us to the things that we would overlook if we did not observe the ceremony.  It is never about the ceremony itself.  The ceremony is a tool that pulls our attention away from ourselves and forces us to face objective reality apart from our personal situation.

No honor guard ever serves at a funeral out of personal pride in the merit of his bearing and training.  The service, the ritual, the "liturgy" that we follow is done to communicate our heartfelt gratitude and respect.  To take away proper ceremony is to divorce an act of proper respect.  In the minds of most (including my Drill Sergeants back at Basic), you cannot separate ceremony and respect because ceremony IS respect.  The two are linked so closely that where ceremony is lacking, respect will be also.

One always effects the other.  For the military, ceremony and respect are linked.  For the church, we prefer to see it in terms of practice and doctrine.

The amazing parallels between being a Soldier and being a Christian are too many to identify in this post so I will just touch on a few of them.  Certainly St. Paul identified it:  we are both at war against a deadly enemy and alone we cannot hope to win.  Preparation, unity, ceremony, and repetition are tools to accomplish the task of victory.  The necessary death of the old life so that a new life can be made.  The consequences for a lack of vigilance is certain death.  As a Soldier, I desperately cling to my training.  As a Christian, I desperately cling to the cross.

Maybe this is why the US Army saw the importance of formulating a common creed and requiring that it be memorized by all recruits.

The Ministry of the Church

February 15th, 2007 Comments off

There is a new roundtable discussion underway at the Book of Concord blog site. Come on over and talk about Article V of the Augsburg Confession: “So that we may obtain this faith,
the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments
was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through
instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith,
when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good
news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into
grace for Christ’s sake. Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and
others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy
Spirit comes to them without the external Word.”
  Augsburg Confession, Article V, “The Ministry” (Concordia:  The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed.)

Categories: Uncategorized

The Seminex Crisis in The LCMS

February 14th, 2007 1 comment

Thanks to "Der Bettler" blog site for this…last week, Issues, Etc. covered the struggle in the 1970′s in
the LCMS around biblical inerrancy. Called "The Battle for the Bible in
the LCMS" (February 7, hours 2 and 3, link here), and featuring guest Dr. Paul Zimmerman, the incidents and debates were recounted in a way many people probably have never heard them spoken of before. There are those who would prefer to sweep this entire episode under the carpet, others who would persist in trying to paint this as nothing more than "politics" and continue the lies and fabrications used by the liberals at the time to assure the Missouri Synod that really nothing had changed, just some new ways of saying the same old things. I highly recommend you listen to the interview with Dr. Zimmerman.

Categories: Holy Scripture

Formality: The Marines Understand, does the Church?

February 14th, 2007 1 comment

It’s unfortunate that so many think somehow that "informal" is "more meaningful" or that putting on the liturgy in a basically sanctified floor show manner makes it "more special." Serious moments require, yes, demand formality and solemnity, but sadly there are some who would have us believe that unless we can somehow whip a crowd into an emotional frenzy then we are missing the boat. I have had the unfortunate experience of having to suffer through clergymen trying to "lighten up" a beautiful liturgy or formal occasion by interjecting inane banter, sappy sentimentalism and banal remarks, which do nothing more than take my focus from God’s Word and put it squarely on the man making absurdly inappropriate remarks for the context.

Here is a great article from Touchstone magazine that provides a highly challenging rebuttal to these modern church myths. I recommend Touchstone to you, and encourage you to subscribe to it.

An Episcopal Priest on Casual Ministers & Reverent Marines

The funeral was in the chapel of a navy base, conducted by a retired Episcopal
  priest of, I believe, Southern middle-of-the-road churchmanship. While the
  service was not without reverence and the priest was genuinely considerate
of the sadness of the loss, he seemed to be trying to keep the service casual.

For the homily, he came out from behind the altar and leaned on the end of
  it rather than going to the pulpit. When he prepared the vessels on the altar
  for Communion, there was no formality to his actions: He might just as well
  have been getting dishes out of the kitchen cupboard for lunch.

Read more…