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Archive for February, 2011

When Christ-Centered is Not Christ-Centered

February 10th, 2011 1 comment

I had an interesting experience today reviewing some children’s curriculum materials put out by a Christian publisher. The publisher claims, in big bold words on their web site, “Christ-centered”! They offer the chance to download and sample a good representation of the leader and children’s materials in their program. I was dismayed and shocked that in all the download materials, the only time I saw mention of Jesus was in the obligatory, “In Jesus’ name, Amen” tagged on to the end of prayers. But not a word about the Gospel or Christ anywhere else in the materials. None. Zero.

Let’s be clear about something. If Christ is not at the center of what you are talking about, what you are talking about is NOT CHRIST-CENTERED. If you are not explaining, proclaiming and teaching the good news of Christ, what you are doing is NOT GOSPEL-CENTERED.

Here’s a great quote from Martin Franzmann I found on Pastor Strey’s blog site, that speaks directly to this point.

Many have found the idea of an actual redemption, a ransoming with a price, by the substitution of a Life for the lives of many, an offensive one, unworthy of the God of love. The idea of “redemption” is therefore limited by them to the idea of release from servitude without any idea of purchase. Paul does use the word family of which “redemption” is a member simply in the sense of “deliverance,” without any direct suggestion of a price paid to secure the deliverance (e.g., Rom. 8:23), as the Old Testament also does. But where, as here (i.e. Rom. 3:24) and in Eph. 1:7 and 1 Cor. 1:30, the death of Christ is in view, the full sense of redemption is surely present. It should be noted that Paul also uses the ordinary Greek word for “purchasing” with reference to man’s redemption, with the price either expressly mentioned (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23) or strongly implied (Gal. 3:13; 4:5). The idea of substitution, which lies at the heart of redemption-by-ransom, finds drastic expression in Paul’s letters: Christ was made to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), He became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). It is doubtful, moreover, whether any Greek-speaking reader could fail to associate the idea of price with the word which Paul uses for redemption. Words of this family were commonly used for the freeing of slaves by purchase and for the ransoming of prisoners of war. These considerations forbid any softening-down of the austerity of the New Testament revelation concerning the death of Christ. God’s grace was a costly grace. He “ransomed” men from their ruined past “with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-20) and did not spare His Son (Rom. 8:32). God gave Him the cup of judgment to drink (Matt. 26:39; John 18:11), He smote the Shepherd (Matt. 26:31), He forsook Him on the cross. (Matt. 27:46)

…But if we dare not take away from the revelation, we dare not add to it either. We dare not make of the God of grace an irate pagan deity whom someone else must mollify. For it is the God of wrath and judgment who Himself supplies the redemption. He sent His son to do the redeeming work that makes men sons of God (Gal. 4:4 f.). He put forward Christ Jesus “as an expiation by His blood.”

- Martin H. Franzmann. Romans: A Commentary. St. Louis: CPH, 1968, 1986. 68-69 (Discussion of Romans 3:24-25)

The Concordia Edition of the Book of Concord — Rejoicing in Its Success and Wide Reception

February 9th, 2011 7 comments

“The Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord makes it possible for every English-reading Lutheran to learn first hand what it means to be Lutheran on the basis the confessions that define the Lutheran faith.”

This is a quote from a recent review of Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. It has been several years now since we published Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions and we are quickly approaching over 100,000 copies sold, in its various formats and editions. Never before in the history of the Lutheran Church, has an edition of her formal confessions of faith been so widely distributed and read, as we have seen with this edition. There is a great hunger on the part of our laity for knowledge, for learning what it is to be, and remain a Lutheran. They are tired of being put on starvation diets of insipid platitudes and vapid and shallow “lessons for life.” There is an ever growing resurgence in a passion to get back to our Lutheran roots and really explore the faith of the churches of the Augsburg Confession.

By way of reminder, you can get the Concordia edition in the following formats:

Regular hardcover. On sale again now for only $19.99, regularly $31.99, and this item qualifies for the free shipping offer. Click through to learn more about that.

Bonded leather. On sale for $49.99, regularly $69.99, also qualifies for free shipping, per terms described on web site.

Genuine leather, boxed hardcover.

LOGOS edition

Pocket edition (the text of the Confessions proper, only)

The pocket edition is available in Kindle and ePub formats.

Here is the whole review written by Dr. Cameron MacKenzie for the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly last year, which he kindly provided to me.

Paul Timothy McCain, ed.  Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.  2nd ed.  St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.  xlvi+747pp.  $31.00

When a new version of the Book of Concord comes out, American Lutherans get excited – especially when it is designed for them.  This is precisely the case with the “reader’s edition” that is now available from Concordia Publishing House.  Although many pastors and theologians have recommended the Lutheran Confessions to lay people for study, it is unlikely that many have readily embraced the task.  The book is imposing – and not just in length (this one comes in at almost 800 pages).  The content too is challenging for this is a book of doctrine (the clear teachings of the Scripture) but not arranged according to topic or for systematic learning.  Instead it consists of 10 distinct documents or confessions that arose in the early Church and then again in the Reformation era as statements of truth about the issues that were controversial at the time.  In other words, these are historical documents that reflect their circumstances as well as Scriptural truth.

Nonetheless, they are important because – theologically speaking – they define what it means to be Lutheran.  Over the centuries, Lutheranism has changed significantly from what it was in the sixteenth century.  American Lutherans are themselves proof of this reality – using English, employing democratic forms of church government, and participating in all kinds of “church” activities within and without the congregation, to name just a few points.  But the Lutheran Confessions have functioned as a kind of “glue” to hold Lutherans together both now and across the centuries.  Thus, we are Lutheran today not because we speak German or we went to parochial school or even because we belong to a church that has “Lutheran” on its signboard but because our Church has committed itself (especially our professional church workers) to the Book of Concord.

But this commitment by the Church (and the constitution of every LCMS congregation spells this out in no uncertain terms) is the best reason for its members’ becoming familiar with this book.  And the “Reader’s Edition” – more so than any previous version of the Book of Concord in English – makes it feasible.  This is truly a “user friendly” edition – first of all just in its presentation.  The pages are large but divided into two columns.  The typeface is big enough for comfortable reading and the paper is just slightly off-white so as to avoid glare.  Although available in deluxe editions, the binding of the standard edition is very attractive (two tone, black and maroon, with gilt lettering imprinted on cover and spine.

There are more than 115 black and white illustrations – most of them woodcuts and engravings from the Reformation era – and 31 full color plates from the same period.  These provide faces for the names and visual representations of the truths confessed.  For example, the 1555 altarpiece at Weimar (Plate 31) not only depicts Luther and the artist, Cranach the Elder, but also the meaning of Law and Gospel by displaying several scenes from the Scriptures.

The reader will also find helpful introductions, not only to the entire book but to the various confessions as well, timelines of relevant historical events, outlines for each of the 16th century confessions, and indexes that include a glossary of terms, description of persons and groups, teaching and preaching illustrations, Bibles references, and subjects in general.  Along with information about this edition and historical data, the introductory material includes a brief explanation of “Confessional Subscription,” an overview of the entire Book of Concord, and a schedule for reading the whole book over the course of a year.  The editors have also incorporated headings and notes into the texts of the confessions [carefully set off by typeface and/or brackets] in order to assist the reader in following the argument.  Finally, there is a map on the last page that shows places that were historically significant for the Reformation.

The price is eminently reasonable (only $31.00 for the standard edition).  Perhaps one reason for this is that the text is not a brand new translation but a careful revision and updating of that which one finds in the Concordia Triglotta (1921), which includes the German and Latin as well as the English.  This is the edition that was the standard in the LCMS through the middle decades of the 20th century and that still can be found in many pastors’ libraries.  Now, after a thorough reworking, the English translation in that version is readily available for lay people as well as church professionals.

As pointed out in the introduction, C. F. W. Walther once wrote:

The Book of Concord should be in every Lutheran home….If a person isn’t familiar with this book, he’ll think, “That old book is just for pastors. I don’t have to preach. After working all day, I can’t sit down and study in the evening. If I read my morning and evening devotions, that’s enough.” No, that is not enough!  The Lord doesn’t want us to remain children, who are blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine; instead of that, He wants us to grow in knowledge so that we can teach others.

Now, more than ever, Walther’s admonition can become a reality.  The Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord makes it possible for every English-reading Lutheran to learn first hand what it means to be Lutheran on the basis the confessions that define the Lutheran faith.

A Repudiation of Sloppy Scholarship in a Deeply Flawed Book About Martin Stephan

February 8th, 2011 5 comments

At the recent Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, a speech by a descendant of Martin Stefan, Philip Stephan, was given about a book he has written attempting to rehabilitate Martin Stephan. He has done this book and promoted it in in conjunction with his sister Naomi. They are attempting to vindicate their relative, Martin Stefan, the man who led the immigrants to American, who eventually formed The LCMS. It is sad that there are just enough people in The LCMS willing to buy into this nonsense that the man, who has no credentials as a historian, and chose to leave The LCMS and join the ELCA, is given a serious hearing. Be aware that Phil Stephan has been aided and supported in his efforts by Naomi Stephan, who is a lesbian/feminist musician, composing such memorable pieces as Ave Pudendeum. [Read the text of this chorale work at your own risk!] She is responsible for circulating information about this book, creating a web site for it, and advocating for the book. To say that both individuals have a bit of an axe to grind is more than understatement.

But, apparently the book caught the fancy of a member of the faculty there, who was a classmate at seminary with Phil Stephan. I was quite pleased to note that the speech Dr. Stephan delivered was poorly done, poorly delivered, and received quite well-deserved scathing criticism during the Q/A time after the speed. I just learned that Dr. Cameron MacKenzie, a genuine historian and scholar, on the faculty of CTS Fort Wayne, published in the journal of the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly a very well done review of Stefan’s book on his relative. He kindly sent me a copy and I’m pleased to share it with you. It is rather pathetic that in a certain misinformed zeal to find fault and tear down C.F.W. Walther, anyone would actually regard this piece of work as at all scholarly. It is no surprise, I would note, that the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau took a shine to the book, since its hobby is trying to deconstruct and tear down the confessional and orthodox theology of The LCMS, aided by two LCMS persons on the board, clinging to a host of mythologies about the Synod, including the notion that the St. Louis faculty majority at the time of Seminex were noble orthodox teachers, attacked unjustly by small-minded conservatives, and so it goes. Anything to keep the mythology alive.

By the way, if you want a glimpse into what Martin Stephan was really like, read this document written by one of his followers who confesses to his sin in following Stephan.

Book Review by Cameron A. MacKenzie

Stephan, Philip G. In Pursuit of Religious Freedom: Bishop Martin Stephan’s Journey. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008.

In 1953, Concordia Publishing House released Zion on the Mississippi by Walter O. Forster. Anyone who has looked at this book knows how thoroughly Forster sifted through the evidence in order to recount “the settlement of the Saxon Lutherans in Missouri 1839-1841”; and Forster’s thoroughness alone is enough to keep most historians from trying it again. Unfortunately, Forster’s work did not deter Philip G. Stephan.

Of course, this is not because Forster is beyond criticism or because his conclusions cannot be questioned. Not at all. However, In Pursuit of Religious Freedom is not a good book. Interesting, yes; but not very well done. One hesitates to say this because the Stephan family has contributed much to the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod over several generations; but it deserves better than the work at hand. Compared to Forster it is an embarrassment. It is filled with misstatements, its documentation is woeful, and its argument is tendentious.

A reviewer knows he’s in for a rough ride when the very first page of text contains an error – an assertion that Martin Stephan was “the first and…only bishop the [Missouri] Synod has ever had” (p. ix) – but synod only began in 1847 the year after Stephan had died! Perhaps one could dismiss this on account of its being in a forward not written by the author, but it’s hardly a good omen. And the errors continue: (1) the “Babylonian Captivity of the Church” occurred in the 14th century not the 12th (p. 15); (2) “awakened” in German is erweckt not erwecht (pp. 29 and 30); (3) Benjamin Kurtz’s periodical was in English not German (pp. 49-50); (4) the effort to implement the Prussian Union was not “completed in all of Germany [by] 1847” (p. 77); (5) Loeber preached the sermon that led to Stephan’s downfall on May 5, 1839 not March 5 (p. 179); (6) Augustine did not write, “we were made in God’s own image and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee” but instead, “You have made us for yourself and…” (p. 207); (7) Wilhelm Loehe was from Neuendettelsau not Dresden (p. 258) and his conversations with Walther were about doctrinal agreement not about “merger” (p. 258-59); (8) the Buffalo Synod did not “join” the Iowa Synod after Grabau’s death (p. 259); (9) Ottomar Fuerbringer was not president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (p. 260); and (10) “Zersen” is spelled with an s and not with another z (pp. 68, 71, 315).

Of course, some of these mistakes show that the author simply needed a good editor. But it is also true that his errors sometime arise from inadequate scholarship. For example, Philip Stephan maintains that Martin Stephan Jr. “enrolled in Concordia College’s first class” (p. 268; expressed more tentatively on p. 230), but Carl S. Meyer’s Log Cabin to Luther Tower names all the students in the first two years of the school’s history and Martin Stephan is not among them – nor is Meyer in the author’s bibliography.

Of all the Stephanites, C. F. W. Walther has been written about most, but the author demonstrates no real familiarity with this material. As a result, he gets little stuff and big stuff wrong. As an example of minor matters, the author writes regarding the candidate who misled Walther into Pietism, “Kuhn is the only name given. No first name is given in any of the literature” (p. 68). But Stephan does not know the literature. In an article by August Suelflow from 1987, we find the name, “Johann Gottlieb Kuehn,” [note also the umlaut that Stephan missed] and in Suelflow’s biography of Walther, even more precisely, “H. Johann Gottlieb Kuehn.”

More importantly, perhaps, Stephan repeats the story that Walther changed his travel plans at the last moment and so avoided the Amalia (lost at sea during the voyage across the Atlantic) (pp. 130-32). He cites Forster in connection with Walther’s “switch”; but does not inform the reader that Forster rejects the Amalia story for good and persuasive reasons and that both of Walther’s modern biographers, Lewis Spitz, Sr., and August Suelflow dismiss this tale as well. Even if Stephan disagrees, he needs to show acquaintance with the argument but he does not. Incidentally, neither biography made it into his bibliography.

In his second to the last chapter, “View from the Twentieth-first Century,” the author decides to go after Walther’s doctrine of church and ministry as well as to accuse the LCMS of hypocrisy regarding its nature as a “loose federation of independent, autonomous, congregations” but yet binding them to “the Word of God and the unaltered Augsburg Confessions [sic]” (p. 260). Anyone at all familiar with Walther’s commitment to the Scriptures and Confessions knows that he never thought that congregational autonomy extended to doctrine – nor did any of his fellow Confessional Lutherans at the time, including Martin Stephan.

Read more…

Categories: LCMS

What is the Heresy of Modernity?

February 8th, 2011 3 comments

A pervasive mindset so aptly described by J. I. Packer—namely, a belief that

the newer is the truer,
only what is recent is decent,
every shift of ground is a step forward,
and every latest word must be hailed as the last word on its subject.

—J. I. Packer, “Is Systematic Theology a Mirage? An Introductory Discussion,” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, ed. John D. Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1991), 21. HT: Justin Taylor.

“Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing” – Thoughts on Leaving an Online Discussion Forum

February 6th, 2011 23 comments

I recently left an online discussion hosted by a Lutheran group. I have left it before, only to come back, like a moth attracted to a flame, but this time I’m gone for good. In fact, I’ve found in the last six months or so my interest in participating in discussions online has greatly diminished and frankly, when it comes to Lutheran discussions, I have come to a point where I find them to be enormously boring. It strikes me that, and I know this is not fair, entirely, but often it strikes me that they are basically the same twelve people talking about the same six topics. I used to be really “into” internet conversations. I was like the guy in the cartoon.

The forum I left most recently was poorly moderated, a major downfall of many fora, and as a result, the discussions were always overwhelmed by really ridiculous off-topic comments. Now there are some bright spots and every once in a while you find a few salient and sensible remarks from some more sober-minded pastors, but mostly, it is nothing more than ongoing chattering and logomachy. I cite it as but an example of what a horrendous waste of time much of what goes on, on the Internet, amounts to. Since weening myself away from this kind of chatter, I’m reading more, enjoying other activities and find that I’m just more “balanced” in my points of view.

It reminds me of what the Bard wrote in MacBeth:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Frankly, I enjoy far more the ‘real time’ commenting I find on Facebook, and continue to enjoy blogging and reading a few blogs, but even here, I’ve found myself following fewer and fewer blog sites as well.

I’m still pretty much convinced that the humorist Dave Barry was right when he said once, “Internet conversations are just like CB radio used to be, only with a whole lot more typing.”

Am I alone in feeling burned out on the narcissism and logomachy that seems to dominate online conversations? And how about how some people use Twitter and Facebook? As one who was deeply involved in them, for too long, I can tell you it sure feels good to get away from it and stop caring what silly conversations are going on, and never ending, online. It is just boring.

Categories: Internet Resource

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Wheat and Weeds

February 6th, 2011 Comments off

We Hear God’s Word

Genesis 18:20–33
Colossians 3:12–17
Matthew 13:24–30 (36–43)

We Pray

O Lord, keep Your family the Church continually in the true faith that, relying on the hope of Your heavenly grace, we may ever be defended by Your mighty power; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

We Reflect on God’s Word

The enemy sowed tares among the Son of Man’s good wheat. Thus, the sons of the wicked one and the sons of the kingdom coexist in the field of the world (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43). In order that His own might not be uprooted and destroyed, the Lord has delayed the judgment of the wicked until the time of harvest. Even for the sake of ten righteous all of Sodom would have been spared (Gen. 18:20–33). But in the end, the harvest will come. On the Last Day, the angels will separate out the tares from the wheat. The wicked will be cast into the furnace of fire, but the righteous in Christ will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Therefore, those in whom the word of Christ dwells richly (Col. 3:12–17) need not fret because of evildoers. For their salvation is from the Lord; He is their strength in time of trouble (Introit).


The Concordia Organist: Meeting a Genuine Need and Meeting It Very Well

February 4th, 2011 8 comments

The Concordia Organist has been purchased by hundreds and hundreds . . . and hundreds . . . of congregations that, for a variety of reasons, find themselves with no capable or competent person to play the organ for their church services. The Concordia Organist offers a complete recording of all the hymns in Lutheran Service Book and is completely adaptable for whatever the local situation requires. It allows a parish to provide music for the Divine Service. The Concordia Organist is also available via Lutheran Service Builder and offers the ability for the creation of a customized music recording for the entire service, easily and quickly.

The uses of The Concordia Organist are not only in situations where this is no organist. It can be used to create music for shut in calls, nursing home visits and services, funerals at funeral homes, and a variety of other uses in the parish, with smaller groups, etc.

If you are not familiar with The Concordia Organist, I encourage you to check it out and discover what a blessing it can be for you and your congregation. You can view the entire contents by downloading this file.

This 31-CD collection provides pipe organ accompaniments for all of the hymns and liturgical music in Lutheran Service Book. It’s a useful tool for congregations of all sizes that need accompaniment for worship, in a chapel or small group setting, or for visitation with shut-ins.  Features organists Paul Grime, Kevin Hildebrand, and Richard Resch, playing the Schlicker organ in Kramer Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The Concordia Organist is also available as an add-on subscription for Lutheran Service Builder, providing all the same recordings with full customization and no swapping of CDs. Call 800-325-2399 to order.

Please note that the liturgical material is included on Discs A & B. The hymns are included on Discs 1—29.

Categories: CPH Resources

How We Keep our Attack Dog Warm in the Winter

February 2nd, 2011 1 comment

Categories: Humor

Fun Times Shoveling Snow

February 2nd, 2011 3 comments

The secret to a good marriage is cooperation. Here I am helping Lynn shovel snow.

Categories: Humor

Coffee, Coffee: Example of High Culture on YouTube

February 1st, 2011 3 comments

And people say there is nothing good on the Webbernet.

Thanks to MCH for finding this.

Categories: Humor

The Audience Chats Loudly Until the Lights Come Down and the Show Starts . . . in Church

February 1st, 2011 17 comments

The other Sunday I was sitting, as is my habit, in church looking through the lectionary readings, looking up the hymns and reflecting/pondering their words and praying, using the prayers in the inside cover of Lutheran Service Book. Behind me I heard an ever growing level of chatter and conversation, some of which I could hear. It was not conversation about the worship service about to begin, but chatter about a whole host of wholly irrelevant things. It is a shame that a long practice in the church of reverent silence before the Divine Service begins has fallen so far out of use. Frankly, in many congregations, the time before the service begins sounds more like what you experience before a live show begins in a theater, conversation and so forth. Even when the prelude begins, this does not apparently give people a clue that something special is about to happen, it only encourages them to talk more loudly. Not good. I would encourage folks to consider changing their habits.

Categories: Christian Life