Archive for March, 2010

Was Martin Luther a Murderer?

March 30th, 2010 20 comments

The Jesuit priest, Father Mitchell Pacwa, has announced on the Eternal Word Television Network, that it is the intention of EWTN to produce an extensive documentary on the life of Martin Luther. In the course of discussing this project, on EWTN and elsewhere, Father Pacwa has indicated that they will be discussing the “fact” that Martin Luther was a murderer and this great sin is what drove Luther to such depths of despair and despondency that, in spite of the Church’s teachings, he could find no comfort and so arrived at his views as a result of his own unbalanced feelings of guilt. I thank Mr. James Swan for drawing this to my attention.

I have consulted with my colleagues here at Concordia Publishing House who in turn have sought out the opinion of one of the finest Luther scholars today: Dr. Christopher Brown. My colleague here, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes, and Dr. Christopher Brown prepared the following statement on Father Pacwa’s assertions that I believe is very helpful. No doubt as EWTN pursues this documentary, as if they continue to insist on the veracity of this vile lie about Luther, we will all be hearing more about it. Our pastors and faithful laity need to be aware of this situation and able to respond to it. Here then is Dr. Brown’s and Dr. Mayes’ response. I should note that when, and if, I acquire more information about this situation, I will post it.

Was Luther a murderer?

In the early 1980′s, Dietrich Emme popularized the theory that Martin Luther entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt not due to his experience in a storm, but in order to escape prosecution after killing a companion (Hieronymus Buntz) in a duel in 1505 (Martin Luther: Sein Jugend- und Studentenzeit 1483-1505 [Cologne, 1982]). Emme’s work on this point has been widely dismissed in recent scholarship as piling one speculative conclusion upon another (e.g., Andreas Lindner, “Was geschah in Stotternheim,” in C. Bultmann, V. Leppin, eds., Luther und das monastische Erbe [Tübingen, 2007], pp. 109-10).

The “duel theory” relies on one of Luther’s Table Talk comments:

“By the singular plan of God I became a monk, so that they would not capture me. Otherwise I would have been captured easily. But they were not able to do it, because the entire Order took care of me” (D. Martin Luthers Werke: kritische Gesamtausgabe [Weimar Edition]: Tischreden, vol. 1 [Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1912], p. 134, no. 326). Yet this refers to the Augustinian order’s protection of Luther from Rome in 1518, not a putative flight from prosecution for dueling in 1505.

If Luther’s “duel” were true, it would have been a matter of rather public knowledge, both casually, among students and the monks, and officially, both with whatever civil or episcopal authorities were supposedly trying to arrest Luther, as well as because a dispensation would have been required for Luther’s ordination (homicide being a canonical impediment for the sacrament of order). In other words, it would be practically unthinkable that when the Roman Catholic polemical biographer of Luther, Johannes Cochlaeus, was searching for data about Luther’s monastic career (and coming up with stories like Luther wailing in the choir) that such a “fact,” if true or even rumored, would not have emerged.

Dr. Christopher Boyd Brown, general editor, Luther’s Works: American Edition
Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes, managing editor, Luther’s Works: American Edition

Categories: Martin Luther

The Hymnal in Every Home

March 30th, 2010 15 comments

Due to the — well, how else to put it than this? — spectacular success and reception of The Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House is launching an effort to place the hymnal into every home. Traditionally, for Lutherans, there have been three core books that have shaped and formed their faith and life: Bible, Catechism, Hymnal. Why the hymnal? The hymnal gives voice to faith, by means of the hymns that are beautiful poetic expressions of all aspects of our life as God’s people. Hymns give voice to our hope and fears, our sorrow and joy, our thanks and praise, that transcend any one of our ability to do so. Truly, we sing “with the whole people of God” as we use our hymnals, privately or alone, or in small groups. And so, in order to increase the use of the hymnal in this way, Concordia Publishing House will be featuring a regular series of articles on various aspects of the hymnal and encouraging our pastors and congregations to make a concerted “push” in their parish to get the hymnals beyond the pew racks and into the homes of our people. You can read more about this emphasis by visiting the CPH web site for the special Hymnal in Every Home campaign underway.

Categories: CPH Resources

The Sistine Chapel Virtual Tour

March 28th, 2010 3 comments
Categories: Art

A Few Old Books

March 27th, 2010 6 comments

I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the old books I have in my office. I just shot this with my iPhone camera.

Categories: Books

The Key to Genuine Lutheran Mission Work: Fill the Office of the Ministry and Send Pastors Out Into the Mission Field

March 27th, 2010 7 comments

This story underscores how powerful an influence confessional Lutheran seminary faculties have had on the state of world Lutheranism in the past twenty years. Teaching pastors and sending men thoroughly grounded in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions back to various churches worldwide has been the most effective mission work The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has undertaken, period, without a doubt and without question. This approach is far more effective than sending people to teach English as a second language, or sending people out on short-term mission trips. Training men to be faithful pastors and sending them to carry out the office of the ministry is the key. This is something that must be vigorously supported and encouraged.

Finnish Lutherans Get Their Own Bishop After Church of Finland Supports Same-sex Couples

Sacred Heart Chapel in Helsinki was filled to capacity for the consecration service.

Nine days after the Church of Finland elected a new archbishop who supports church “blessings” for same-sex couples, four Lutheran bishops from Sweden and Kenya consecrated a bishop for Finnish Confessional Lutherans. The consecration of Bishop Matti Väisänen Saturday (March 20) means that, for the first time since 2001, Confessional Lutherans can be ordained as pastors in Finland. About 450 people packed the Sacred Heart Chapel in Helsinki for the consecration.

As in other former Scandinavian state churches, the historically Lutheran Church of Finland has become increasingly liberal under political pressure in recent decades, largely abandoning its Lutheran roots. In particular, it has adopted a lower view of the authority of Scripture than held by traditional, or Confessional, Lutherans. This led to the establishment of Luther Foundation Finland in 1999. This Confessional Lutheran group considers itself within the Church of Finland, but opposes the current bishops’ liberalism. Since 1999 the Luther Foundation has grown steadily and now holds worship services in 21 cities and towns in Finland.

Pastor Richard Ondicho of St. Barnabas Koinonia, Helsinki leads the procession bearing the cross, followed by Dean Juhana Pohjola bearing the bishop’s staff. The Revs. Esko Murto and Kalle Väätäinen bear the mitre and cape.

Pastor Richard Ondicho of St. Barnabas Koinonia, Helsinki leads the procession bearing the cross, followed by Dean Juhana Pohjola bearing the bishop's staff. The Revs. Esko Murto and Kalle Väätäinen bear the mitre and cape.

In 2003 the Luther Foundation affiliated with the Mission Province then established in Sweden. Mission Province Bishop Arne Olsson was consecrated in 2005 by five Lutheran bishops led by Archbishop Walter Obare of Kenya, whose predecessors were consecrated by Swedish Bishop Bo Giertz. This gives Bishop Olsson, and thus also Bishop Matti Väisänen, the same claim to Apostolic Succession as the bishops of the Church of Sweden and the Church of Finland. Archbishop Obare returned to Scandinavia to participate in the laying on of hands for Bishop Väisänen, and will do so again next Saturday when Rev. Roland Gustafsson is consecrated as the successor to the retiring Bishop Olsson.

Luther Foundation Finland has had eight pastors ordained in Sweden by Bishop Olsson, but the movement in Finland has grown to the point that it needs its own bishop. The Finnish movement has not had enough pastors to meet all the requests to establish new congregations, or “koinonias” (worshipping fellowships) as they are often called.

“This is a natural step for us,” said Rev. Juhana Pohjola, founder and Dean of the Foundation, “to have a bishop who speaks the same language as these pastors, and being able to ordain more shepherds for God’s flock. Matti Väisänen shall use the Word of God to encourage all those faithful Christians, who at the present can’t hear the voice of the Good Shepherd in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland.”

Referring to the election of Kari Mäkinen, an outspoken supporter of blessings for same-sex partnerships, as archbishop of the Church of Finland, Pohjola said, “This indicates how leaders of the church want to blend in, to make the church identical with the surrounding culture and society. Bishop Väisänen will lead our congregations in their task: to present a Lutheran alternative. It’s rallying cry is ‘Let the Church be Church!’”

Archbishop Walter Obare of Kenya prays for Matti Archbishop Walter Obare of Kenya prays for Matti Väisänen as Bishops Arne Olsson (closest to the camera), Lars Artman and Göran Beijer of the Mission Province in Sweden look on. as Bishops Arne Olsson (closest to the camera), Lars Artman and Göran Beijer of the Mission Province in Sweden look on. Behind Väisänen are (from left) LFF Dean Juhana Pohjola, Rev. Kalle Väätäinen and Rev. Esko Murto

Archbishop Walter Obare of Kenya prays for Matti Archbishop Walter Obare of Kenya prays for Matti Väisänen as Bishops Arne Olsson (closest to the camera), Lars Artman and Göran Beijer of the Mission Province in Sweden look on. as Bishops Arne Olsson (closest to the camera), Lars Artman and Göran Beijer of the Mission Province in Sweden look on. Behind Väisänen are (from left) LFF Dean Juhana Pohjola, Rev. Kalle Väätäinen and Rev. Esko Murto

The consecration was led by Bishop Arne Olsson of the Mission Province, who told Väisänen, “You are placed among all those bishops in Christ’s worldwide church who want to remain loyal to the Lord and his Word.

“Christ will not leave you, when you seek him and ask him for advice. Our Supreme Shepherd is the Savior of sinners. He is also your savior. Otherwise he would not have sent you. Never forget this. Be faithful unto the death, and he will give you the crown of life.”

The consecration sermon was preached by Kenyan Archbishop Walter Obare, who admonished the new bishop, “You are here and now a servant of God. Do not seek authority from men – secular or ecclesiastical rulers. “You must be a faithful servant of no one other than your King and Savior Jesus Christ.

“The Great Commission ends with a promise: ‘I will be with you, all the days unto the end of ages.’ This is his promise, and he can not lie. You must work in a world which is becoming pagan again. Your strength may be insufficient to lead the small church you are called to lead – but remember what the Lord said, He is the one who promises you to be with you until the end of ages.”

“It was a great celebration and feast for God’s people! Hundreds after hundreds coming up to the altar and the Communion after the consecration.” — Dr. Bengt Birgersson, Secretary of the Mision Province

Pastor Esko Murto, theological secretary of the Foundation, noted, “Lutherans in Finland face two very clear and distinct alternatives: the apostolic and catholic, confessional Lutheran life in the Mission Province, or the increasingly apostate, degenerating established church. Lord have mercy!”

"It was a great celebration and feast for God's people! Hundreds after hundreds coming up to the altar and the Communion after the consecration." — Dr. Bengt Birgersson, Secretary of the Mision Province

The 75 year old Väisänen, who studied at the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod’s Concordia Theological Seminary in 1961-63, served as a parish pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland from 1963 to 1966, then as General Secretary of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission from 1967 until he retired in 1995. From 1985 to 1995 he was the editor of ‘Vie Sanoma’ (‘Spread the News’), a missiological journal. He has also published articles in numerous magazines, journals and books.

Väisänen is the author of 20 books in Finnish on a number of aspects of the Christian faith, most recently two books on baptism, ‘Pyhä kaste Raamatussa’ and ‘Pyhä kaste kirkossa’ (Holy Baptism in the Bible and Holy Baptism in the Church) and a commentary on Romans. He has also completed a ThD (Helsinki University) on the baptismal theology of Uuras Saarnivaara. Dr. Väisänen had been endorsed by a national convention of the Luther Foundation Finland. For many years, he has acted as a de facto bishop for Luther Foundation Finland, charged with the installation of pastors and other officers.

Newly consecrated Bishop Matti Väisänen with eight Luther Foundation Finland pastors. Five of the nine men, including Bishop Väisänen, have studied at Concordia Theological Seminary. Three of these have been guests at Scandinavia House.

In addressing the congregation, referring to 2 Corinthians 5:14, the newly consecrated bishop remarked, “‘The love of Christ compells us.’ Christ loves us and binds us together with the word of Truth. By allowing us to experience love within and persecution without, Christ makes us grow closer to each other and closer to his Word.

Newly consecrated Bishop Matti Väisänen with eight Luther Foundation Finland pastors. Five of the nine men, including Bishop Väisänen, have studied at Concordia Theological Seminary. Three of these have been guests at Scandinavia House.

“Many in Finland are waiting for us to break apart from internal disputes and animosity,” he continued, “they want to see us fail in our task of building a Mission Province. But if we remain in the Apostolic Word, we remain in the triune God, we remain united and the world will believe our witness.”

Categories: Lutheranism

How do You Read and Apply the Bible? The Key is Understanding the Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel

March 26th, 2010 3 comments

I’m very excited to tell you about a project my colleague here at Concordia Publishing House, Rev. Charles Schaum, has been working on diligently for quite some time. It is a new edition of CFW Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. It will be out by this July. You can place your order here to be first in line to receive your copy.

This is a book known to many confessional Lutheran pastors in this country, but not much beyond them, since the translations of this book are intimidatingly obscure and inaccessible to most people. And this is most definitely not “just a book for pastors” but every layperson will be deeply moved by Walther’s poignant and powerful explanation of the very key to understanding the Bible. Our Lutheran Confessions put it this way:

“The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a particularly brilliant light. It serves the purpose of rightly dividing God’s Word and properly explaining and understanding the Scr8iptrues of the holy prophets and apostles. We must guard this distinction with special care, so that these two doctrines may not be mixed with each other, or a law be made out of the Gospel. When the happens, Christ’s merit is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and purely. For by the Gospel they can support themselves in their most difficult trials against the Law’s terrors.”(Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article V.1; Concordia, pg. 552).

“These two doctrines, we believe and confess, should always be diligently taught in God’s Church forever, even to the end of the world. They must be taught with the proper distinction.” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article V.24; Concordia, pg. 557).

Note also what Melanchthon states in the Apology, Article IV.5-6:

All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises [the Gospel]. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins justification,
and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal. Moreover,in this discussion, by Law we designate the Ten Commandments, wherever they are read in the Scriptures.”

But all this will change with Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible—A Reader’s Edition. For the first time in English, we will “hear” Walther  in a way that those who first heard this collection of evening lectures, heard him in German. The most widely used translation of Law and Gospel has some serious deficiencies. William Dau took great liberties with Walther’s text, and tried to sanitize him . This new translation sparkles and the real Walther comes through loud and clear. Dau took it upon himself to recast Walther into the image of a British academician, not the Saxon German Lutheran pastor/theologian that he was. The challenge is that Walther’s work consists of notes based on his oral lectures. Dau was not content to let the lectures stand as presented, but tried to turn them into a loftier, literary work. He made three general decisions: First, he changed or deleted Walther’s language when he believe it was necessary, including changing how Walther phrased theological terms and concepts. Dau also did not like it that Walther was in places rough with his language. Second, Dau forced on Walther a flowing, flowery literary British style that was common in the academic era of Dau’s era. Third, Dau introduced extensive editorial changes and additions within the main text of the lectures, rather than using footnotes to help the reader.

This new edition offers a translation by Rev. Christian Tiews, a native German speaker, which is lively and full of the energy that Walther exuded throughout his life. Here are other features of the new edition, from the book’s product description on our web site.

This edition of the classic work of The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel will make this powerful resource available in a format for all readers of the Bible. Offering a fresh look of the older translation, it will provide comprehensive notes and annotations to aid reader’s understanding bringing to life the power and excitement of the original German lectures. This new unabridged edition restores Walther’s witty, staccato fire, including text omitted in prior English versions. Read Walther’s lectures like no one has since he originally spoke them. Features include:
Foreign-language terms are in footnotes
Encounter information on Lutheran history and theology that identifies concepts, events, and people.
Maps, timelines and rare photos
References to Scripture, Lutheran Confessions, Luther and other sources appear in the margins
References to English sources have been added when possible
Transcription errors from the original lecture notes have been corrected

[By the way, well intentioned professors who have given their students the impression that "the two kinds of righteousness" is somehow, in any way, a better and more useful distinction than Law and Gospel have done them a grave disservice. The fact is, as Luther himself makes clear in his many lectures on the subject, and as we Lutherans confess it throughout the Book of Concord, the proper distinction between Law and Gospel is the most important distinction and the far most useful doctrine since it is the very key to understanding the Scriptures, and therefore, the very Gospel of our Lord Christ itself. So far have some attempted to push this new pet notion that they have referred to a focus on the proper distinction between Law and Gospel as a "preoccupation"! See this post from some time back where I share my concerns with this unsettling trend.]

Categories: CPH Resources, Lutheranism

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Gospel

March 26th, 2010 8 comments

Concordia Concors: Online

March 24th, 2010 7 comments

My colleague, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes is diligent to share with me everything he discovers by way of orthodox Lutheran theological resources online. He has done it again by providing me a link to an on-line digital edition of the work by Leonard Hutter titled Concordia Concors. What, you might wonder, is Concordia Concors? It is a response to an attack against Lutheranism launched by the Calvinist Hospinian, with his work Concordia discors, or, Unharmonious Harmony.

Leonard Hütter, (1563–1616) was born in Nellingen, near Ulm, educated in Strasbourg, Leipzig, Heidelberg, and Jena; professor in Wittenberg 1596; champion of Lutheran orthodoxy; called redonatus Lutherus (Latin for “Luther given back”), by anagrammatic rearrangement of the letters in Leonardus Hutterus. His works include Compendium locorum theologicorum and Concordia concors.

In his book The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, Volume 1, Dr. Robert Preus has this to say about Concordia concors and Leonard Hutter. (By the way, Dr. Preus’ book is truly a sine qua non on the subject of orthodox Lutheran theologians and their theology. A truly brilliant work of erudition, and, as always, written in a clear, easy to understand manner.

“After the final overthrow of the Philippists he was called to Wittenberg as professor of theology. Together with Giles Hunnius he was most effective in establishing confessional Lutheran orthodoxy. His activity centered primarily in dogmatics and symbolics. His most important work in symbolics was his Concordia Concors, written in 1614,in which he defended the Formula of Concord, in reply to the Calvinist Rudolf Hospinian.”

Categories: Books

Remembering Al Barry

March 23rd, 2010 9 comments

It was my privilege to serve with Rev. Alvin Barry, during his years in office as the president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Today is the ninth anniversary of his death. Previous to my time of serving with him in Saint Louis, I served as a pastor in the Iowa District East where he was my district president. He was the pastor’s friend. We younger pastors in Iowa affectionately referred to him as “Uncle Al.” So many of us remember fondly receiving from Dr. Barry a hand-written note of encouragement and support, remembering our birthdays, or the anniversaries of our wedding, or birth of our children, or any significant event in the life of our congregation. He liked to use for his notepaper a photocopy of the Te Deum and write in a personal note with it.

During the nearly thirteen years I was privileged to know him and work with him, what I most remember about him him is his deep trust in Christ and love for our Lord and a deep and abiding concern for the people of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod: both pastors, church workers, people and congregations. The other thing I remember most about him was his eternal optimism and his cheery and joyful disposition. Always quick with a smile and a laugh, Dr. Barry was truly a “Barnabas” — son of encouragement. President Barry had a real knack for keeping close to his heart pure doctrine and a passion for outreach. Never once did Dr. Barry ever put forward any kind of “either/or” when it came to these two points, but was always pressing for the blessed both/and that they are. The other day, I ran across a copy of a book from his library, a copy of Walther’s Law and Gospel. In the front, President Barry jotted his summary reaction after reading it, something he liked to do with his books. Here is what Dr. Barry had to say:

My observations based on a reading of this book:

(1) Regarding our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod: We have been moving away from a strong emphasis on doctrine, on knowing that which the Scriptures teach, into a Reformed mode of church growth, based on books our pastors are reading from the local religious bookstore. (Touchy/feely theology).

(2) Repeatedly, Walther emphasizes he importance of a pastor first and foremost having a strong personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If a pastor neglects this or does not have this, he will not be a blessing to his congregation.

(3) Walther’s comments repeatedly reflect a strong personal concern in those students he is teaching and in their own personal faith life in the Lord. Very important. He does not just want to turn out theological “intelligencia,” but pastors who personally knwo and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

(4) The second reason #3 above is so important to him is his pastoral concern for the congregations of Synod that these men will be serving.

(5) The last chapter is an absolute jewel. In it Walther emphasizes the need for a strong/dominant emphasis on the Gospel in one’s preaching and teaching. An excellent capstone to this book.

Categories: Lutheranism

Don’t Be Afraid: Wise Words in the Aftermath of the National Health Care Vote

March 22nd, 2010 21 comments

Excellent words from Dr. Russell Moore:

“Now these three abide: anger, outrage, and fear—and the greatest of these is fear.”

That’s not in the Bible.

But sometimes I wonder if I think it is.

The United States House of Representatives just passed a health care reform bill that I and lots of other Christians opposed. Such legislation should concern us. There are some bad consequences for the weakest and most vulnerable among us, principally unborn children. But should it also concern us that so many of us are talking today about how afraid we are?

Is it a problem that some of us who are tranquil as still water about biblical doctrine and ecclesial mission are red-faced about Nancy Pelosi and the talking heads on MSNBC? Is it a problem that some who haven’t shared the gospel with their neighbors in months or years are motivated to vent to strangers on the street about how scary national health care will be?

It’s not that I think Christians should be disengaged from issues of justice (God forbid!). It’s just that I wonder if we wouldn’t represent Christ and his kingdom better if we did it with a certain tranquility of Spirit, a tranquility that signals we’re not afraid of the rise and fall of temporal kingdoms and their policies.

Read Dr. Moore’s entire post here.

Categories: politics

Happy Birthday Dear Sebastian!

March 21st, 2010 4 comments

Happy 325th Birthday Kantor Bach!

Today is Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday. Since many male relatives in Bach time shared a common first names: fathers, grand-fathers, uncles, cousins it was common to use men’s more unique middle name to address them personally, and so, if we were to sing “Happy Birthday” to Bach, we would probably sing it “dear Sebastian.”

What a precious treasure and gift J.S. Bach is to the world. His music is perhaps the most influential ever written. When scientists were discussing what should be beamed into outer space to reach potential alien cultures, biologist Lewis Thomas said, “I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space. We would be bragging, of course.” And so we did. When the Voyager space craft was launched, it carried with it recordings from earth, the first being the first movement of Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No. 2 in F.

Our beloved fifth evangelist was born on this day in 1685. To celebrate let’s watch and listen as the incomparable Glenn Gould plays a piano version of Bach’s Cantata BWV 1058, followed by his interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, 1-7, concluding with a movement from one of the Brandburg Concertos. By the way, you might wonder what Gould is doing while he is playing. He was famous for singing in a low voice along while playing, often vocally harmonizing with the music.

Categories: Bach

How Did We Make Such a Mess?

March 21st, 2010 6 comments

Dr. John MacArthur offers these poignant observations about the state of American Evangelicalism, which apply across the board to all conservative denominations in the USA. These problems are not particular to the Evangelicals. We Lutherans are struggling with the same issues. I appreciate Dr. MacArthur’s honesty and candor. Much food for thought for all of us. I urge you to read this very carefully.

You don’t have to be an astute observer of the evangelical scene to notice the unrelenting barrage of outlandish ideas, philosophies, and programs. Never in the history of the church has so much innovation met with so little critical thinking.

Giving a thoughtful biblical response becomes harder and harder all the time. Merely sorting through all the evangelical trends and recognizing which of these novelties really represent dangerous threats to the health and harmony of the church is challenging enough. Effectively answering the huge smorgasbord of accompanying errors poses an even greater dilemma. New errors sometimes seem to multiply faster than the previous ones can be answered.

To sort it all out in a godly way, cutting a straight path through the wreckage of evangelicalism, several old-fashioned, Christlike virtues are absolutely essential: biblical discernment, wisdom, fortitude, determination, endurance, skill in handling Scripture, strong convictions, the ability to speak candidly without waffling, and a willingness to enter into conflict.

Let’s be honest: those are not qualities the contemporary evangelical movement has cultivated. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Consider the values and motives that prompt postmodern evangelicals to do the things they do. The larger evangelical movement today is obsessed with opinion polls, brand identity, market research, merchandizing schemes, innovative strategies, and numerical growth. Evangelicals are also preoccupied with matters such as their image before the general public and before the academic world, their clout in the political arena, their portrayal by the media, and similar shallow, self-centered matters.

Maintaining a positive image has become a priority over guarding the truth.

The PR-driven church. Somewhere along the line, evangelicals bought the lie that the Great Commission is a marketing mandate. The leading strategists for church growth today are therefore all pollsters and public relations managers. In the words of Rick Warren, “If you want to advertise your church to the unchurched, you must learn to think and speak like they do.” [Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 189] An endless parade of self-styled church-growth specialists has been repeating that same mantra for several decades, and multitudes of Christians and church leaders now accept the idea uncritically. Both their message to the world and the means by which they communicate that message have been carefully tailored by consumer relations experts to appeal to worldly minds.

Many church leaders have radically changed the way they look at the gospel. Rather than seeing it as a message from God that Christians are called to proclaim as Christ’s ambassadors (without tampering with it or changing it in any way), they now treat it like a commodity to be sold at market. Rather than plainly preaching God’s Word in a way that unleashes the power and truth of it, they try desperately to package the message to make it subtler and more appealing to the world.

Runaway pragmatism and trivial pursuit. The most compelling question in the minds and on the lips of many pastors today is not “What’s true?” but rather “What works?” Evangelicals these days care less about theology than they do about methodology. Truth has taken a backseat to more pragmatic concerns. When a person is trying hard to customize one’s message to meet the “felt needs” of one’s audience, earnestly contending for the faith is out of the question.

That is precisely why, for many years now, evangelical leaders have systematically embraced and fostered almost every worldly, shallow, and frivolous idea that comes into the church. A pathological devotion to superficiality has practically become the chief hallmark of the movement. Evangelicals are obsessed with pop culture, and they ape it fanatically. Contemporary church leaders are so busy trying to stay current with the latest fads that they rarely give much sober thought to weightier scriptural matters.

In the typical evangelical church, even Sunday services are often devoted to the trivial pursuit of worldly things. After all, churches are competing for attention in a media-driven world. So the church vainly tries to put on a bigger, flashier spectacle than the world.

Evangelical fad surfing. Contemporary evangelicals have therefore become very much like “children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4: 14). They follow whatever is the latest popular trend. They buy whatever is the current best seller. They line up to see any celebrity who speaks spiritual-sounding language. They watch eagerly for the next Hollywood movie with any “spiritual” theme or religious imagery that they can latch on to. And evangelicals discuss these fads and fashions endlessly, as if every cultural icon that captures their attention had profound and serious spiritual significance.

Evangelical churchgoers desperately want their churches to stay on the leading edge of whatever is currently in vogue in the evangelical community. It almost seems like ancient history now, but for a while, any church that wanted to be in fashion had to sponsor seminars on how to pray the prayer of Jabez. But woe to the church that was still doing Jabez when The Purpose-Driven Life took center stage. By then, any church that wanted to retain its standing and credibility in the evangelical movement had better be doing “Forty Days of Purpose.” And if your church didn’t get through the “Forty Days” in time to host group studies or preach a series of sermons about The Da Vinci Code before the Hollywood movie version came out, then your church was considered badly out of touch with what really matters.

It is too late now if you missed any of those trends. To use the language of the movement, they are all so five minutes ago. If your church is just now experimenting with Emerging-style worship, candles, postmodern liturgy, and the like, then you are clearly way behind—that train already left the station…and crashed.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that all those trends are equally bad. Some of them are not necessarily bad at all. For example, there can be great benefit in teaching a congregation how to respond to something like The Da Vinci Code. But contemporary evangelicals have been conditioned to anticipate and follow every fad with an almost mindless herd mentality. They sometimes seem to move from fad to fad with an uninhibited and undiscerning eagerness that does leave them exposed to things that may well be spiritually lethal. In fact, the question of whether the latest trend is dangerous or not is not a welcome question in most evangelical circles anymore. Whatever happens to be popular at the moment is what drives the whole evangelical agenda.

That mentality is precisely what Paul warned against in Ephesians 4:14. It has left evangelical Christians dangerously exposed to trickery, deceitfulness, and unsound doctrine. It has also left them completely unequipped to practice any degree of true biblical discernment.

The sad truth is that the larger part of the evangelical movement is already so badly compromised that sound doctrine has almost become a nonissue.

The mad pursuit of nondoctrinal “relevancy.” Even at the very heart of the evangelical mainstream, where you might expect to find some commitment to biblical doctrine and at least a measure of concern about defending the faith, what you find instead is a movement utterly dominated by people whose first concern is to try to keep in step with the times in order to be “relevant.”

Sound doctrine? Too arcane for the average churchgoer. Biblical exposition? That alienates the unchurched. Clear preaching on sin and redemption? Let’s be careful not to subvert the self-esteem of hurting people. The Great Commission? Our most effective strategy has been making the church service into a massive Super Bowl party. Serious discipleship? Sure. There’s a great series of group studies based on The Matrix trilogy. Let’s work our way through that. Worship where God is recognized as high and lifted up? Get real. We need to reach people on the level where they are.

Evangelicals and their leaders have doggedly pursued that same course for several decades now—in spite of many clear biblical instructions that warn us not to be so childish (in addition to Eph. 4:14, see also 1 Cor. 14:20; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; Heb. 5:12-14).

What’s the heart of the problem? It boils down to this: many in the evangelical movement have forgotten who is Lord over the church. They have either abandoned or downright rejected their true Head and given His rightful place to evangelical pollsters and church-growth gurus.

John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. Grace to You radio, video, audio, print, and website resources reach millions worldwide each day. Over four decades of ministry, John has written dozens of bestselling books, including The MacArthur Study Bible, The Gospel According to Jesus, The New Testament Commentary series, The Truth War, and The Jesus You Can’t Ignore. He and his wife, Patricia, have four married children and fourteen grandchildren.

The original post is here.

Cranach in Nashville, Tennessee

March 20th, 2010 5 comments

I was attending a publishing conference in Nashville, Tennessee and staying right across the street from the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, which is featuring an exhibit titled Masterpieces of European Painting, featuring works on loan from a wonderful museum in Puerto Rico. Some real gems are in the collection.

I approached the guide desk at the entrance to the exhibit and asked, “Do you have any Cranach’s?” They said, “Who?” and then my eye caught one in the first room in the exhibit and I said, “That’s a Cranach!” Sure enough, it was. The museum staff was duly impressed, actually, stunned that anyone would know who Cranach is and would recognize one of his works from across the room. Poor Cranach.

The painting is Judith With the Head of Holofernes, ca. 1530, one of at least a dozen versions that Cranach painted. I’ve seen others, here and here and here and here, the last link takes you to a version of the scene said to be the last one Cranach painted, in 1545.

In my opinion, by far, the one held by the museum in Puerto Rico is the best of any I’ve seen. I was able nearly literally to put my nose on the painting as I inspected it closely. It is quite a striking juxtaposition between the gory decapitated head and the tranquil young woman holding the sword. What is particularly unique about this painting is that, unlike most of the other paintings of this scene by Cranach, in this one Judith is staring directly at you.

I grabbed a photo on my iPhone, not great, but…better than nothing.

Here is more information about the subject of the painting and I’ll insert another version of the scene.

Cranach executed more than a dozen versions of the subject of Judith and Holofernes throughout his career. The main prototype appears to be the large panel of circa 1530, now in the Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (Friedländer and Rosenberg, Cranach, 1978, pp. 115-116, no. 230). The present work has been identified as a mature work by the artist, datable to circa 1545. It is also the most diminutive of the known autograph versions but sacrifices nothing in the quality of its draftsmanship or exquisite detail. The juxtaposition between the energetic veins in the marble shelf, the gruesome coldness of Holofernes’s severed head and the sensitivity of Judith’s features reveals the artist at his most expressive.

The subject of Judith and Holofernes became popular in the Middle Ages as an image of virtue overcoming vice or an allegory of man’s misfortunes at the hands of scheming women. Judith, a patriotic Jewish heroine, became a symbol of the Jews’ struggle against their ancient oppressors in the Near East. The Assyrian army, under the command of their general Holofernes, had laid siege to the Jewish city of Bethulia. When the inhabitants were on the point of capitulating, Judith, a wealthy young widow, devised a scheme to save them. She adorned herself ‘so as to catch the eye of any man who might see her’ (Old Testament, Apocrypha; 10:5) and set off with a maid into the enemy lines. By pretending to desert her people, she gained access to Holofernes and proposed to him a fictitious scheme for overcoming the Jews. After she had been several days in the camp, Holofenes became enamored of her and planned a banquet to which she was invited. When it was over and they were alone, he intended to seduce her but he was quickly overcome with liquor. Judith seized his sword and with two swift blows severed his head. Taking the head in a sack, Judith and her maid made their way back to Bethulia before the deed was discovered. The murder threw the Assyrians into disarray and they fled, pursued by the Israelites.

Here is information about the Museu de Arte de Ponce, a fascinating story of art collecting.

Founded in 1959 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the Museo de Arte de Ponce (MAP) includes more than 3,600 works of art from Europe, Latin America, and Puerto Rico. Masterpieces of European Painting from Museo de Arte de Ponce presents sixty of the museum’s most extraordinary Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, French, British, German, and Austrian paintings dating from the fourteenth to the twentieth century. This traveling exhibition marks the first time that an extensive selection of works from MAP has been presented in the United States. The opportunity arose from the temporary closure of the museum, which is now undergoing a major renovation and expansion.

Luis A. Ferré (1904–2003), a native of Ponce and the founder of MAP, conceived of the museum after his first trip to Europe in 1950. Ferré was a successful industrialist, philanthropist, and gifted pianist who served as governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico from 1968 to 1972. Of his many accomplishments, he considered MAP to be the most important. With a limited budget and the advice of art historian Julius Held (1905–2002), Ferré sought out and acquired paintings of high quality and displayed a remarkable lack of concern for prevailing tastes and fashions of the time. He wanted the collection to impart a sense of discovery for scholars, artists, and especially the general public. Masterpieces of European Painting from Museo de Arte de Ponce affirms the pioneering nature of Ferré’s vision. Art Museum.

Categories: Art

Worship and Adiaphora

March 20th, 2010 2 comments

“Divine worship in the Christian Church is not an adiaphoron. The Lord expressly commands that His Word be heard, “He who is of God hears God’s words” (John 8:47). He has only severe censure for those who forsake the Christian assemblies, “And let us…not [forsake] the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some” (Hebrews 10:25). He expressly enjoins public prayer, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence… I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:1-2, 8). He graciously promises His divine presence at such assemblies, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). He records with approval the public services of the early Christians, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

“But though He has prescribed the general content of public worship, though He is present in the sacramental acts of divine service, declaring and appropriating to the believers the means of grace, and though He graciously receives the sacrificial acts of the assembled congregation, in confession and prayer and offerings. He has not commanded a definite form or order of divine service. It is a matter of Christian liberty whether a congregation wishes one or many prayers, one or several hymns, one or two sermons or homilies, whether the chief assembly be held in the morning or in the evening, whether the service be held on Sunday or on another day.

“To argue from these facts, however, that it is a matter of complete indifference as to how the form of Christian worship is constituted would be bringing liberty dangerously near to license. The Lord says: “Let all things be done decently and in order,” (1 Corinthians 14:40); and again: “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Corinthians 14:26). It cannot really be a matter of indifference to a Christian congregation when the order of service used in her midst shows so much similarity to a heterodox order as to confuse visitors. One may hardly argue that such adiaphora do not matter one way or the other, when it has happened that a weak brother has been offended. And a Lutheran congregation cannot justly divorce herself, not only not from the doctrinal, but also not from the historical side of its Church. It is a matter of expediency, as well as of charity and edification, that every Lutheran pastor and every Lutheran congregation have outward significant symbols of the inner union, of the one mind and the one spirit.

“In addition to these facts, there is the further consideration that the outward acts of the Church, commonly known by the appellation “the liturgy,” have a very definite significance, which, in many cases, renders the acts of public service true acts of confession of faith. And the symbolism of many of the Lutheran sacred acts, if correctly performed, is such that the beauty of these treasures of our Church may be brought to the joyful attention of our congregations.”

— P.E. Kretzmann, Christian Art in the Place and in the Form of Lutheran Worship, p. 395-396

Also appears in “Theological Quarterly” Volume XXII:3 (July, 1918)

Healing in the Wounds of Christ

March 18th, 2010 5 comments

I’m intrigued by this great old Lutheran classic Jesus, Grant That Balm and Healing and its striking use of the suffering and death of Christ as a weapon against the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. Have you noticed the same thing about it?

“Jesus, Grant that Balm and Healing”
By Johann Heermann, 1585-1647

1. Jesus, grant that balm and healing
In Thy holy wounds I find,
Every hour that I am feeling
Pains of body and of mind.
Should some evil thought within
Tempt my treacherous heart to sin,
Show the peril, and from sinning
Keep me ere its first beginning.

2. Should some lust or sharp temptation
Prove too strong for flesh and blood,
Let me think upon Thy Passion,
And the breach is soon made good.
Or should Satan press me hard,
Let me then be on my guard,
Saying, “Christ for me was wounded,”
That the Tempter flee confounded.

3. If the world my heart entices
On the broad and easy road
With it mirth and luring voices,
Let me think upon the load
Thou didst carry and endure
That I flee all thoughts impure,
Banishing each wild emotion,
Calm and blest in my devotion.

4. Every wound that pains or grieves me,
By Thy stripes, Lord is made whole;
When I’m faint, Thy Cross revives me,
Granting new life to my soul.
Yea, Thy comfort renders sweet
Every bitter cup I meet;
For Thy all-atoning Passion
Has procured my soul’s salvation.

5. O my God, my Rock and Tower,
Grant that in Thy death I trust,
Knowing Death has lost his power
Since Thou trod’st him in the dust.
Savior, let Thine agony
Ever help and comfort me;
When I die, be my Protection,
Light and Life and Resurrection.

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #144
Text: 1 Pet. 2: 24
Author: Johann Heermann, 1644, ab.
Translated by: composite
Titled: “Jesu, deine tiefen Wunden”
Composer: Johnann B. Koenig, 1738
Tune: Der am Kreuz