Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Another Classic

First Communion

This past Sunday, we were blessed to witness the Rite of First Communion Prior to Confirmation, as three of our younger parishioners, Myka, Farrah, and Savannah, received the very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Sacrament for the first time.  This is the second group of youngsters to go through our First Communion Class since we adopted our new policy last July, and these three young ladies did an outstanding job preparing.  It was a pure joy to instruct, examine, and absolve them in preparation for Holy Communion, and I could not be more pleased with, or proud of, them.  Well done, ladies! 

Heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ loved the young and called them to Himself, we ask You to bless Myka, Farrah, and Savannah.  Strengthen them in the faith through the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood so that they may grow spiritually and bring forth the fruits of faith in a life of love toward others to the praise and honor of Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Rite

I finally got around to watching the movie, The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins and little known actor, Colin O'Donoghue.  I had read the book by Matt Baglio, The Rite:  The Making Of A Modern Exorcist, upon which the movie is "loosely based," last month, so I was looking forward to seeing the film.  It was okay.  I might have enjoyed it more had I not read the book first (isn't that always the case?).  I just thought the movie went a little overboard in the attempt to dramatize the subject matter the author of the book treats seriously, and that extra-dramatization, which I do understand is necessary to produce a feature film, made it too unbelievable.  At the same time, Anthony Hopkins is his usual brilliant self in the film and his performance alone makes the movie worth the time.  Here's a trailer of the film (below the trailer, I'll be commenting on specific aspects of the movie, so if you haven't yet seen the movie and plan on watching it, don't read those comments :).

In the book, journalist Matt Baglio, who is living in Rome, hooks up with a Roman Catholic priest from America, Fr. Gary Thomas, who is sent to Rome by his bishop to be trained as an exorcist.   This is due to a directive issued from the Vatican that every diocese around the world eventually needs to have a trained exorcist, since they have seen a great increase in demonic possessions and do not have enough exorcists to handle them.  America has only a few in the whole country, and so Fr. Thomas is sent in the hope that he will be trained as an exorcist and come back to America to share his experiences and open eyes to the need to have trained exorcists here.  As Baglio reports, RC bishops in America do not take this very seriously; many do not even believe in demonic possession. 

Baglio writes the book as a non-fiction documentary, reporting the exploits of Fr. Thomas as he comes to Rome and has his eyes opened to a whole new world he never imagined existed.  Fr. Thomas is a seasoned priest with strong faith, but is a bit skeptical about the whole exorcist enterprise.  He attends classes and seminars led by experienced exorcists, but it is only when he hooks up with Fr. Carmine, an experienced exorcist living in Rome, that he comes to believe in the reality of demonic possession and the need for exorcists.  Fr. Carmine does several exorcisms daily and Fr. Thomas is there to witness them (Baglio was invited to witness a few himself).  At first, he remains skeptical, as people are brought in and Fr. Carmine prays The Rite, but not much seems to happen.  He also wonders why the same people come in weekly and don't appear to experience any change in their condition.  It's almost like going to therapy on a weekly basis.  But, eventually, he witnesses things that he cannot explain and comes to believe that demonic possession is a very real thing. 

Besides reporting on the adventures of Fr. Thomas, Baglio includes a lot of information based on the research he did into this whole subject.  Part of that research included interviewing many seasoned exorcists, many psychologists (both those who believe in demonic possession and those who don't), and many bishops and priests (and other church leaders).  I found his reporting in these sections, which are spattered throughout his book, to be some of the most interesting reading.  Is demonic possession real?  When do you know it is occurring?  How do you differentiate between possession and psychosis?  And so forth.  As you might imagine, there are answers all over the board on all these questions, and the many other questions that arise when exploring this topic.  It really does make for fascinating reading, especially for a Lutheran pastor like myself, who doesn't encounter the need to ever put too much thought into this subject.

One of the things I found most interesting about the book was the fact that seasoned exorcists report that liberation from demonic possession is a lengthy process, often taking months or years, not hours or weeks.  In the movies, someone is possessed, the exorcist comes in and the demon is thrown out.  Not so in reality, according to these exorcists.  They may pray The Rite over the possessed a hundred or more times before the demon(s) is/are cast out.  Interesting . . . and theologically problematic for this Lutheran (more on that below).

Another interesting tidbit is the fact that seasoned exorcists treat each case with initial skepticism.  Just because someone comes in and claims to be possessed doesn't mean that an exorcism is performed.  In fact, that is quite rare.  Almost always, there is a period of investigation done before going ahead with an exorcism, which also can only happen when permission from the bishop is granted.  That period of investigation includes some initial testing by the exorcist himself, trying to find some signs that can ensure him that possession is happening (Baglio reveals some tricks of the trade used by exorcists to this end - e.g. splashing unblessed water on the person to see if there is a reaction, etc.).  After these initial tests by the exorcists, they still do not usually proceed with The Rite, but send the person to be examined by a psychologist and/or psychiatrist to get his/her/their take on the matter.  One of the things emphasized throughout the book is the need for exorcists to find psychologists and psychiatrists they can trust and with whom they can work (those who believe that demonic possession is real, of course).  Often, the psychologist and/or psychiatrist will try to treat the person with counseling, hypnosis, and medication first.  Only after none of this works and the psychologist/psychiatrist is convinced that it is possible that possession is the source of the person's woes will that person be referred back to the exorcist, who will then commence with The Rite, if granted permission by his bishop.  In other words, what we see in the movies, and even in this movie, which is loosely based on Baglio's book, is not what happens in reality.    

As I said above, the fact that exorcisms almost always take months and often years before liberation occurs is theologically problematic.  This is especially due to the reason given for why liberation takes so long, namely that it depends not only upon the strength of the demon(s) and the reason/source of the possession, but also upon the cooperation of the one possessed.  This certainly lines up well with Roman Catholic theology, which puts much of the onus of salvation upon individuals (faith+works=salvation), but not so much with Lutheran theology, which confesses that all of the work for our salvation is completed by Christ, and that we play absolutely no role in our salvation (faith in Christ alone=salvation - and even that faith is not our doing, but a gift from above).  Thus, it is hard for me to accept the notion that liberation from demon possession involves the cooperation (work) of the one possessed.  Liberation from demonic possession very much becomes an intra nos (within us) affair, and as a Lutheran, I'm all about the extra nos (outside us) work of our Savior through His Holy Word and Sacraments to create and sustain us in the faith.  So, as I said, theologically problematic for this Lutheran.  And, what does this say of our Savior, that it takes months/years to be liberated?  Do we have a weak Savior, who is unable to liberate those possessed until/unless they do their part?  Perhaps the reason liberation often takes so long is because the exorcist is filling the possessed with the idea that they have to do their part (fulfill the obligation of attending Mass regularly, receiving the Sacraments, praying daily, doing good works, etc.) and it is not until the possessed come to understand that they can't do it and end up throwing themselves upon the mercy of our Lord that they experience liberation.  Just a theory. ;) 

I also found many of the causes of demonic possession cited in the book to be troubling and theologically problematic.  I certainly do not deny the danger in which people place themselves when they engage in things related to the occult, but exorcists in the book claim that people can become possessed due to a curse pronounced upon them by others, or by innocently coming into contact with some cursed object, and other ways like this that are a bit too superstitious and fantastic for me to take all that seriously.  And I especially struggle with the idea that a baptized child of God can be affected by such things. 

This is related to what made the movie a bit far-fetched for me.  The main character in the movie is  a seminarian named Michael Kovac, who enters the seminary not because he believes he is called to the priesthood, but to get away from the family business (morticians).  This is a far cry from the main character in the book, Fr. Gary Thomas, who is a seasoned and faithful priest (although Fr. Thomas did have experience working in a funeral home before entering seminary).  Seminarian Michael writes a letter of resignation just before graduating from seminary.  He lacks faith.  He doubts.  He doesn't believe he can serve as a priest.  But, he is talked into taking a trip to Rome for exorcism training by his superior before throwing in the towel.  He reluctantly agrees and he remains a skeptic and doubter until the very end of the movie when he is called upon to exorcise a demon from the priest, Fr. Lucas (played by Anthony Hopkins), who he has been shadowing throughout the movie (much like Fr. Thomas shadowing Fr. Carmine).  But, unlike the book, where Fr. Thomas is honestly seeking to learn from Fr. Carmine and has his skepticism quickly quenched, Seminarian Kovac not only remains skeptical until the very end, but looks upon Fr. Lucas, who is supposed to be his teacher and mentor, as nothing but an eccentric quack and trickster.  The point of the movie is not so much about the reality of demon possession and exorcism, but about a doubting, would-be priest coming to faith.  And the way he is brought to faith is what makes the movie far-fetched, for it takes the priest he's supposed to be learning from becoming possessed to get him there.  Just a bit much, I thought.  Although, as I said above, Anthony Hopkins is brilliant and carries the movie.  

Interestingly, in interviews, Fr. Gary Thomas praises the movie "for its positive portrayal of the Church and for its witness to the power of faith."  Author Matt Baglio applauds the movie as well.  Both state that there are obvious differences and concede that the movie involves a lot of over-dramatization and follows a different plot than the book, but they believe it captures the essence.  I guess they know better than me, but I thought the movie was too much of a departure from the book and a little too over-the-top.  Oh well.

In the end, I really don't know what to make of the book (and movie).  On the one hand, it covers a topic that fascinates me and gives me much to ponder.  On the other hand, the theological issues create larger hurdles than I can jump.  Do the devil and his minions exist?  Absolutely, they do.  I believe that wholeheartedly.  Is demonic possession a possibility?  Absolutely; otherwise, the biblical account is a fraud.  Did Fr. Gary Thomas and journalist Matt Baglio witness things during exorcisms that are unexplainable?  I'm sure they did; I have no reason to doubt them.  But, what those things were, and whether or not they were caused by actual demon possessions, I can't know.  But, what I struggle with the most, as mentioned above, is the whole theology involved here.  The exorcist, when praying The Rite, talks about the power of Christ compelling the demon(s) to leave the possessed, but what they really mean, seems to me, is that the power of Christ is only tapped into and effective based on the power/faithfulness of the exorcist himself, and on the power/faithfulness of the possessed being exorcised.  That's problematic for this Lutheran.  At the same time, I readily admit my ignorance on this topic and would love to walk a mile in Baglio's shoes, going to Rome and witnessing the training involved for potential exorcists and to sit in as actual exorcisms are conducted.  I think that would be fascinating.      

Friday, August 26, 2011

An Oldie, but a Goodie, from Pr. Cwirla . . .

Top Ten Reasons Why We Use the Liturgy
By The Rev. William Cwirla
(posted at Higher Things

Why the Liturgy? First a definition and a disclaimer. By “liturgy” I mean the western catholic mass form as it has been handed down by way of the Lutheran Reformation consisting of the five fixed canticles – Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Pardon the Greek and Latin, but it sounds cool and we still use ‘em. “Liturgy” also includes the assigned Scripture texts for the Sundays, feast days, and seasons. Most of what I will say about the liturgy of the Divine Service will pertain to “liturgical worship” in general.

Now, why do we worship according to the western, catholic liturgy?
  1. It shows our historic roots. Some parts of the liturgy go back to the apostolic period. Even the apostolic church did not start with a blank liturgical slate but adapted and reformed the liturgies of the synagogue and the Sabbath. The western mass shows our western catholic roots, of which we as Lutherans are not ashamed. (I’d rather be confused with a Roman Catholic than anything else.) We’re not the first Christians to walk the face of the planet, nor, should Jesus tarry, will we be the last. The race of faith is a relay race, one generation handing on (“traditioning”) to the next the faith once delivered to the saints. The historic liturgy underscores and highlights this fact. It is also “traditionable,” that is, it can be handed on.
  2. It serves as a distinguishing mark. The liturgy distinguishes us from those who do not believe, teach, and confess the same as we do. What we believe determines how we worship, and how we worship confesses what we believe.
  3. It is both Theocentric and Christocentric. From the invocation of the Triune Name in remembrance of Baptism to the three-fold benediction at the end, the liturgy is focused on the activity of the Triune God centered in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Worship is not primarily about “me” or “we” but about God in Christ reconciling the world to HImself and my baptismal inclusion in His saving work.
  4. It teaches. The liturgy teaches the whole counsel of God – creation, redemption, sanctification, Christ’s incarnation, passion, resurrection, and reign, the Spirit’s outpouring and the new life of faith. Every liturgical year cycles through these themes so that the hearer receives the “whole counsel of God” on a regular basis.
  5. It is transcultural. One of the greatest experiences of my worship life was to be in the Divine Service in Siberia with the Siberian Lutheran Church. Though I spoke only a smattering of Russian, I knew enough to recognize the liturgy, know what was being said (except for the sermon, which was translated for us), and be able to participate knowledgeably across language and cultural barriers. I have the same experience with our Chinese mission congregation.
  6. It is repetitive in a good way. Repetition is, after all, the mother of learning. Fixed texts and annual cycles of readings lend to deep learning. Obviously, mindless repetition does not accomplish anything; nor does endless variety.
  7. It is corporate. Worship is a corporate activity. “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” The liturgy draws us out of ourselves into Christ by faith and the neighbor by love. We are all in this together. Worship is not simply about what “I get out of it,” but I am there also for my fellow worshippers to receive the gifts of Christ that bind us together and to encourage each other to love and good works (Heb 10:25). We are drawn into the dialogue of confession and absolution, hearing and confessing, corporate song and prayer. To borrow a phrase from a favored teacher of mine, in church we are “worded, bodied, and bloodied” all together as one.
  8. It rescues us from the tyranny of the “here and now.” When the Roman world was going to hell in a hand basket, the church was debating the two natures of Christ. In the liturgy, the Word sets the agenda, defining our needs and shaping our questions. The temptation is for us to turn stones into bread to satisfy an immediate hunger and scratch a nagging spiritual itch, but the liturgy teaches us to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
  9. It is external and objective. The liturgical goal is not that everyone feel as certain way or have an identical “spiritual” experience. Feelings vary even as they come and go. The liturgy supplies a concrete, external, objective anchor in the death and resurrection of Jesus through Word, bread, and wine. Faith comes by hearing the objective, external Word of Christ.
  10. It is the Word of God. This is often overlooked by critics of liturgical worship. Most of the sentences and songs of the liturgy are direct quotations or allusions from Scripture or summaries, such as the Creed. In other words, the liturgy is itself the Word of God, not simply a packaging for the Word. Many times the liturgy will rescue a bad sermon and deliver what the preacher has failed to deliver. I know; I’ve been there.
Ten is one of those good numbers in the Bible signifying completeness, so I’ll stop at ten. I’m sure there are more.

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know . . .

about Seventh Day Adventists in today's "AskdaPastor2.0" by Pr. Fisk.  In one of my classes at CUAA several years ago, we were required to pick a Christian denomination and do a detailed report on it, which included having to both attend worship and interview the pastor (or at least one of the leaders).  Not knowing all that much about Seventh Day Adventists at the time, I chose to study them.  The worship service I attended was one of the quirkiest things I've ever experienced.  It began with a time of prayer, where people spontaneously gathered into groups and prayed out loud all at the same time.  Then, there were a series of testimonials, wherein people spoke about how they had given up this or that sin and were now following God's commandments.  Some songs were song and then the message was preached.  The main thrust of the message was that we had to keep the Law just like Jesus did, and there was a lot of talk about how worshiping on Saturday proved that they were the remnant being preserved by God for Jesus' imminent return.  It was just weird - not a whole lot of structure to it, and not a single drop of Gospel to be found anywhere.  The pastor was gracious to meet with me after the service and allow me to interview him.  I was quite shocked to hear what he had to say about Jesus, namely that the whole point in His coming to earth was to show us what we had to do to please God and make it to heaven.  He also informed me that he had properly put away all sin in his life, just as all true Christians must eventually accomplish if they have any hope.  And, again, there was a lot of talk about how important it was to worship on Saturday (Pr. Fisk is right, this really is their material principle).  Anyway, given what I saw in practice and what I learned in my studies and from the pastor in my interview, I'd say that Pr. Fisk gives a pretty accurate synopsis of the group in this video.  And, his use of the hamster on the wheel as a metaphor for what happens when we place ourselves back under the Law and believe that our keeping the Law earns our salvation is brilliant.

No Clergy at Ground Zero

A great post by Pr. William Cwirla regarding the decision made by NYC Mayor Bloomberg to not allow clergy to participate at this year's 10th anniversary memorial events of 9/11 can be read here

President Harrison's Sermon . . .

at St. Paul, Hamel last Sunday, where he served as guest preacher and celebrant as the congregation celebrated the 25th anniversary of Pr. Weedon's ordination, is an excellent example of the kind of finger-pointing, "YOU!" preaching he has been promoting since taking the helm as our president last year.  You simply cannot escape from the damning Law he preaches in this sermon.  Your only hope is Jesus, who has fulfilled the Law in your place and paid the full price for all of your sins with His precious blood on the cross.  It is a perfect example of the kind of Law and Gospel preaching that should be heard every Sunday from all Lutheran pulpits, and it is evidence that our President not only talks the talk, but walks the walk, preaching what he exhorts all of us to preach.  What a blessing to have him leading our synod at this time. 

You can listen to the sermon here

Great Column by Ann Coulter

A FB friend alerted me to this column by Ann Coulter posted on her website a couple of days ago:  "The Flash Mob Method of Scientific Inquiry."  I don't always agree with Ann, and certainly her rhetoric can be a little over-the-top, but she nails it in this column.  It has been frustrating and perplexing to see the ignorance surrounding evolution on full display in the media the last several years.  I believe Ann is right about Chris Matthews, namely that he doesn't have a clue what evolution really is.  He's not alone.  This is the case with the vast majority of those who cling to this false theory and use it as a litmus test to determine whether or not political candidates are "intelligent" enough to stand for office.  The game is played thusly:  Evolution is treated as an irrefutable, scientific fact and anyone who will not acknowledge it as such is ridiculed as an ignorant, crazy person.  Bill Maher has been playing this game for years.

But, Ann reveals in this column the inconvenient truth that is cleverly hidden like the dirty little secret it is by those who play the game, namely that they have no clue what they're talking about.  That's why, as Ann reveals, you never hear them actually arguing their case.  They simply declare anyone who does not believe in the Darwinian theory of evolution crazy, and move on, as if their declaration settles the matter.  It's a neat game they play, and everyone should easily see right through it and recognize it as nothing more than a game, but sadly many do not.  In much the same way that Hollywood has managed to change the American mindset regarding homosexuality by making sure to represent homosexuals in the story-lines of virtually every show produced the last several years, giving the impression that the percentage of homosexuals in our society is far greater than it actually is (studies show that it is still less than 3% of our population), and implying that it is nothing more than an acceptable, alternative lifestyle, the liberal politicians, media personnel, celebrities, and academics, have managed to convince many (if not, most) Americans that evolution is fact, not theory, without even attempting to provide arguments or "facts" to back up their claim.  It's all rather amazing to behold, really.

It reminds me of the encounter I had with a college science professor many years ago.  She kept referring to the theory of evolution as if it was an unquestionable fact.  I kept reminding her that it was a theory, not a fact.  After a few weeks of me getting on her nerves, she asked to speak to me privately after class one day.  We went to her office and had a conversation that I doubt I'll ever forget, since, during the course of our conversation, she made it clear that she really had no clue what the theory of evolution is.  She had never read Darwin's, "The Origin of Species," couldn't recount the different laws of thermodynamics, had trouble articulating the difference between micro- and macro-evolution, and just outright butchered Darwin's position on natural selection.  At that time, having been a passionate student of the Creation vs. Evolution debate, which involved reading many books from both sides of the aisle (I even made the painful trek through Darwin's "Origin"), it was clear that I knew a ton more about evolution than she did.  How she managed to get a degree and find herself teaching science at the college level is a mystery.  In any event, when it became clear to her that she was not just dealing with some religious kook, but with someone who had studied this matter intensely, she ended our conversation rather abruptly.  But, she also did back off on the comments she made in class and never gave me a problem again.  So, at least something came of it. :)

Anyway, the only reason I include that little trip down memory lane is because I do believe it relates to the point Ann makes in her column.  The dirty little secret about evolution is that the ignorance runs even deeper than the game played by popular liberals in the media - it is found in academia as well.  And, I don't base this simply on the single encounter with the college professor shared above, but on what I have seen and heard from elementary and high school teachers, and other college profs, over the years.  Many (if not, most) who end up teaching Darwin's theory of evolution do not really know and understand what it is.  My theory for why this is the case is simple:  They are not taught Darwin's actual theory of evolution, but an abridged and edited version of it.  And my theory for why this is the case is simple, too:  Scientists have long known that Darwin was wrong on many points.  That's the dirtiest of the dirty little secrets on this issue, dirtier than the ignorant game-playing we see everywhere today.  In fact, as Ann also rightly notes in her column, the fact is that, according to Darwin himself, his theory should be completely cast aside, for he himself made clear that if future scientific discovery proved certain aspects of his theory false, the whole theory should be canned.

Thus, the inconvenient truth for those who continue to ignorantly cling to Darwinism is that science has proven the theory false.  That's also the irony in the ignorant game-playing being done.  Those playing the game do so in the attempt to reveal the ignorance and craziness of their opponents when, in reality, their blind, ignorant adherence to a theory they do not understand, which their "god," named "science," has proven false, is truly ignorant and, I might add, a little on the crazy side.  As Ann notes:  "If Darwin were able to come back today and peer through a modern microscope to see the inner workings of a cell, he would instantly abandon his own theory." 

This is most certainly true.  A single cell is so complex (containing an intricate machine with precise gears, etc.) that we do not possess the math to calculate the odds of it coming into existence by chance.  In fact, it is quite appropriate to say that it would be impossible for a single cell to develop by chance, given what science has revealed to us, which really leaves us with two choices:  1) There is a Creator, or 2) Aliens from a distant universe sent living cells to Earth way back when.  Of course, if you opt for the second choice, you are left to try to explain how it is that that Alien civilization came into existence.  But, hey, at least you will avoid being labeled ignorant and crazy for believing that there is an Almighty Creator responsible for the origin of all things (Oh, the ignorance and craziness of such a radical belief!).  Or, you could opt for the third choice with the vast majority of liberals today, which is really not a viable choice given what science has revealed to us - just ignore the evidence and go on pretending like what has been proven false is fact and label everyone who believes otherwise ignorant and crazy.  If you're adamant enough about it, you might even get your own TV show, after all!  Reminds me of this:

A Preview of My Sermon for this Sunday . . .

Latest Lutheran Satire Vids . . .

"Your rejection stings like the venom of a thousand demons" - Hilarious!

On Vacation

No, not me.  I just returned last week from a wonderful, two-week vacation, which began with our annual "Messer Weekend" at our home with family and friends, included a trip down to "Almost Heaven" West Virginia to visit my kin, and was rounded off by camping with friends several days at Jackson's "Greenwood Acres Family Campground."  Fun times and very refreshing - didn't open my laptop the whole time (almost :)!

The vacation to which I'm referring here is the vacation from church discipline the LCMS has been enjoying for a great many years.  Seriously, when is the last time a clergy member of the LCMS was removed from the clergy roster for false teaching?  Is that even possible today, with the convoluted dispute resolution and dissent processes currently in place?  Does anyone even know how all that stuff works anymore? 

I honestly cannot recall hearing about any rostered clergy member in the LCMS being removed for false teaching in the past few decades.  I mean, I know of many cases of rostered clergy being removed or placed on restricted status for other reasons (immoral life, pastor is too Lutheran for the congregation, etc.), but I know of no cases where the reason for removal has been false teaching (even though some removals are advertised as such).

And this is certainly not because there aren't false teachers on the clergy roster of the LCMS.  There are.  And no one has to go "heresy hunting" to find them.  They just speak out loudly and publicly - and proudly.

The most recent example of this is the public proclamation of Dr. Matthew Becker, an LCMS pastor, who serves as an associate professor at Valparaiso University and as vacancy pastor at a congregation in that area.  Dr. Becker has been publicly advocating for the ordination of women for some time now.  He has written articles about this, blogged about it, and entered discussions on the topic in various forums to present his views.  He has even made it known that he teaches his students that Scripture does not forbid the ordination of women and boasts of changing many minds over the years.  Additionally, he has also boldly declared that he is in agreement with the ELCA theologians who signed their social statement on sexuality, which led to the 2009 decision to allow for active homosexuals in a committed relationship to be ordained and serve as pastors.

Some time ago, a brother LCMS pastor, after attempting to call Dr. Becker to repentance for his false views, filed charges against him with his District President.  According to Dr. Becker, those charges were dropped, because Dr. Becker has filed an official dissent with the CTCR (Commission on Theology and Church Relations) of the LCMS on the topic of women's ordination, and the dissent process must be allowed to play itself out before charges against him could be filed (or something like that).

Meanwhile, I guess it's okey-dokey for Dr. Becker to continue to spew forth his false teachings around the blogosphere and in the classroom.  That he has filed an official dissent makes him untouchable and protects him from discipline, evidently.  One would think that a rostered clergy member of the LCMS in dissent would be told that he could not speak publicly against the position of the LCMS on the matter until the issue was settled.  I mean, if a brother pastor cannot bring him up on charges of false teaching while the dissent is in place, it seems reasonable, not to mention fair, that the dissenting pastor should be ordered to hush up about things until his dissent is answered.

But, this whole matter just brings to light the real problem that plagues our synod, namely that we simply don't practice church discipline any longer.  In fact, those who lament this reality and call for a return to faithful church discipline are labeled "radicals" and "heresy hunters" and "purists."  They are accused of wanting to "purge" the synod of everyone that doesn't believe exactly as they do in their own, self-conceived "purity cult."

This, too, was evidenced in recent discussions around the blogosphere where Dr. Becker was making his false teachings known publicly.  The LCMS forbids the ordination of women, based on the clear Word of God (just like the vast majority of Christendom, by the way).  The issue has been studied and debated.  A decision has been reached.  We do not ordain women, not because women are inferior to men or somehow incapable of performing the functions of the pastoral office, but simply because God has said "No" to this in His Word, and call us crazy and kooky, but we still believe, teach, and confess that Holy Scripture is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, and the sole source and norm of Christian doctrine and practice.

So, it should not be surprising that, when an LCMS pastor comes along publicly advocating for the ordination of women, other LCMS pastors and laity state that he should either leave our fellowship and join up with others (like the ELCA), who have abandoned God's Word and the confession of the Church for 2,000 years on this (and other) issues, or be removed from our clergy roster if he refuses to leave.  And yet, those who opined in this non-surprising way during recent discussions were ridiculed and chastised by other LCMS pastors and laity, as if they were nothing but rude, obnoxious, unloving people for even suggesting the idea that an LCMS pastor, who publicly teaches false doctrine and refuses to be called to repentance for doing so, should either leave or be removed.

How long will the LCMS lounge around in beach chairs, taking a vacation from church discipline?  Like many others, I am hopeful that the upcoming Koinonia Project will have positive results in addressing many of the issues which divide our synod.  But, I am worried that those positive results will not come if we get bogged down in addressing issues that have already been decided among us, and if we do not make it clear that those who are in opposition on decided issues cannot remain in our fellowship.  In other words, we do not need to add the topic of women's ordination to the list of things to be discussed and decided.  That has been discussed and decided already.  It's a non-issue.  Those who disagree should be called to repentance.  And, if they will not repent, they should leave of their own volition to seek fellowship elsewhere where their false teachings will be embraced or be removed from our clergy roster.

I wonder if there is anything an LCMS pastor could teach publicly that would result in his removal from our clergy roster.  I mean, if a well-known and outspoken LCMS pastor/professor can publicly teach false doctrine and boast of leading many others away from the truth without suffering any repercussions, what hope is there of preventing an average parish pastor of teaching falsely about any number of doctrines and leading many astray?  Of course, we're supposed to have a system in place to prevent this very thing from happening.  We elect District Presidents and Circuit Counselors, who are supposed to serve as Ecclesiastical Supervisors.  They are, according to the LCMS Constitution, supposed to oversee the doctrine and practice of the pastors and congregations under their purview, visiting those pastors and congregations to make sure their doctrine and practice is in line with Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.  But, would anyone honestly argue that this is what actually happens in practice?  I've been a pastor for over six years and have never been visited by my District President or Circuit Counselor to ensure that the doctrine and practice where I serve is in line with what we Lutherans believe, teach, confess, and practice.  I'm betting that the vast majority of my brother LCMS pastors around the country would reveal the same.  The only time most LCMS pastors will hear from their District Presidents or Circuit Counselors is if members of the congregations they serve bring to their attention that there is conflict and strife in their congregations.  Thus, our District Presidents and Circuit Counselors really serve not as Ecclesiastical Supervisors, but as Conflict Resolution Specialists.  And, sadly, when they are invoked to deal with conflict within a congregation, doctrine and practice often take a back seat to pragmatics in the attempt to solve the conflict.

Thus, we deny in practice what we affirm on paper (which can be said about a great many things among us).  We talk a good game about church discipline, but do not walk the talk.  The end result is madness, where each LCMS pastor can teach and do what is right in his own eyes, much as things were in the time of the Judges.  And, as long as we remain on our convenient vacation from church discipline in our synod, there will be no advance toward the sort of unity and peace the vast majority of us covet.  As I said, I share the hope of many that the Koinonia Project will have positive results among us, but when false teachers among us are allowed to openly and publicly put forth their false teachings without any repercussions, and when those who call for repercussions are ridiculed as crazy people, the hope I have is diminished.  And, if filing an official dissent with our CTCR means that one can boldly spout forth his false teachings for all the world to see without fear, as if his official dissent makes him untouchable, well, our problems run even deeper than I had imagined.

It's time to wake up from our slumber and come back from our vacation, which, of course, means that I must be a "radical, heresy-hunting, unloving, purist."  Maybe so.  But, then, the same would have to be said of our Lutheran forefathers, who were not big fans of having false teaching going unchecked among them.  So, I'll happily accept being called names and ridiculed with my fathers in the faith, just as I'm happy to be called names and ridiculed by the world and many who claim to be Christians for my adherence to God's Word on the topic of women's ordination.  It's expected, after all.  Jesus told us that we'd be hated.  He also warned us to beware of false prophets.  And, we've been told ahead of time in His Word that, in the last days, a great apostasy would come, during which many would turn away from the truth to follow after myths that would scratch their itching ears, and that many would call what is evil, good, and what is good, evil - and all that.  So, you know, "Here I stand."  I'm a Lutheran, after all.