Friday, September 26, 2014

Haters Gonna Hate (from their moms' basements, in their beds, which are lined with Star Wars sheets)

I don't live in my mom's basement, although when I go down to pay my folks a visit, I do sleep in their basement. They have a lovely little living room down there with a pull-out bed and a big, flat screen TV. It's very cozy. Plus, it's at least 65 degrees cooler down there, since they keep their thermostat somewhere around 122 degrees. But, I don't live there. That would be really weird. I'm married and have four children, the youngest of which is a senior in high school.

Also, the bed I sleep on when I visit doesn't have Star Wars sheets, but that would be totally cool, and I would not at all be opposed to that. Star Wars rocks! I still have fond memories of the first time my parents ever took me to the drive-in (Fort George in Southgate, MI, may it rest in peace!), and the double feature that night was Grease and Star Wars. Great night! I love me some Star Wars.

Anyway, contrary to the assumptions of a couple speakers (and their tweeting supporters) at the FiveTwo Wiki14 Conference, I don't live in my mom's basement and I don't sleep on Star Wars sheets. But, I am a hater, at least according to their definition, which, as far as I can tell, is defined as "anyone who disagrees with, or criticizes, us." That's definitely me. I'm a hater and, well, haters gonna hate. And, that's okay, according to the FiveTwo WikiFolks, who "share their love for Jesus" by exhorting/coaching their followers to "ignore the haters," and encouraging their haters to "hate on," since "we're not listening to you" and "we'll just keep doing what we're doing." Can you feel the WikiLove?

Seriously, this is all just so ridiculous. The FiveTwo WikiFolk know full well what they're doing. They know that they're presenting "new stuff" (which isn't actually new, but they think it is) and that it will upset their brothers and sisters in Christ in their so-called "tribe," who still cling to an old, worn-out, 16th-century book, which is a correct exposition of an even older, more worn-out Book. But, they don't care. Really, they don't. Their "mission" is far too important to care about the "neoconservatives . . . who are extremely uncomfortable with anything that departs from their very narrow understanding of church and ministry," and who "can't stand to see anyone deviate from their ecclesio-cultural tradition," and who, "if allowed, would keep purifying the ranks until only a select few remain" (seriously, that there is some serious "sacramental entrepreneurship" happening, ain't it?).  They lovingly shove their "new stuff" in their haters' faces, and then cry foul and play the martyr when their haters respond. It's all so predictable and sad, but when you don't have a theological leg to stand on, you pull out the "haters gonna hate" cliche and talk about moms and basements and Star Wars sheets.

But, as ridiculous as all of that is, what is even more ridiculous is that nearly a third of the LCMS' District Presidents attended the FiveTwo Wiki14 Conference, neither to correct the smorgasbord of false doctrine dished out, nor to rebuke the false teachers serving it up, but to support and cheer it on. I've heard from a few friends today, who have informed me of emails and messages their District Presidents sent out to them praising the Conference. My own District President, Rev. David Maier (Michigan District), retweeted fourteen #wiki14 tweets, showing his support. These are our Ecclesiastical Supervisors? Really?

You need not have an advanced theological degree to spot the plethora of non-Lutheran teachings on display at the Wiki14 Conference. Any mildly-catechized Lutheran (actually catechized from the Small Catechism/Book of Concord) can listen to, and watch, what transpired there and know that it wasn't Lutheran doctrine being taught and practiced, which, like, totally makes sense, since the majority of the keynote speakers weren't Lutherans. Duh!

I mean, when a Lutheran hears someone say that "Us mainline sacramental folk" includes "Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Anglicans, and Lutherans," the little false doctrine, heresy-hunting buzzer in their heads has to immediately start buzzing, no? And this was from the first keynote speaker, Rev. Bill Woolsey, who is an LCMS pastor and the Founder/President of FiveTwo. I watched his entire presentation and took me some notes. I was going to include a whole series of lengthy quotes, but this blog post (which, according to the WikiFolk, in another one of of their "sharing-the-love-of-Jesus, sacramental" outbursts, "will only be read by my mom and me") would get too long. So, I'll just summarize a few of the most troubling things about his very non-Lutheran presentation.

First, the fact that he refers to "mainline sacramental folk" as including those who aren't very "sacramental" at all is a tad bit troubling (and by "tad bit," I mean "extremely"). But, this does clue you in on what he's talking about with the whole "sacramental entrepreneur" thing, which may be one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard from anyone in any of the Church Growth Movement (CGM), Emergent, Missional, Seeker crowds, and that's saying something. As you listen to him talk, you very quickly come to learn that when he says "sacramental entrepreneurs," he's definitely not referring to being "stewards of the mysteries of God." Even if you're a little slow to discern what he means, it becomes vividly clear by the end of his presentation, which he concludes with the exhortation, "Be Jesus' sacraments to the world" (you know, "little 's' sacraments," as he says a few times throughout his presentation, whatever those are). That simply cannot mean the Holy Sacraments of our Lord, which you learned about when you went through the Small Catechism with your pastor (hopefully!). You can't BE the Holy Sacraments. How absurd! Scripture would become a little weird if that were true: "You now saves you" and "Take, eat, this is you" (or would it be "I take and eat my body"? - so confusing) and "I forgive me all my sins"? Um, no.

Here's what he means: "Each one of you, Jesus has poured into a very unique expression of his sacramental presence, and he desires that that unique expression of Jesus that lives in you would live also in the people around you." I know, I know, if you're an actual Lutheran, this still doesn't clear things up, since Jesus hasn't poured into each one of us a very unique expression of His Sacramental Presence at all. Rather, we all receive the same grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, life, light, and peace via our Lord's Holy Sacraments. It's what makes us One, and all that. Lutheranism 101 stuff. Really, this stuff isn't hard at all. What he means is something that's impossible. We cannot pour the grace of Jesus into others "sacramentally"; those others need to be brought to where Jesus Is and where He washes them clean of all sin in Holy Baptism, absolves them in Holy Absolution, feeds them upon His Word in Holy Preaching, and His very Body and Blood in the Holy Supper.   

Besides all the Buddhist-like "sacramental" stuff, which is nothing but an attempt to gussie up old CGM stuff in churchly guise, Rev. Woolsey is sure to get in a few shots about those stodgy, unbending liturgical folk, making fun of their "worship form" by describing it as "Germanic, emotionless ritual that communicates God at a distance, making you think maybe we're in the holies of holies [sic] with his high priest and I'm out schlepping in the Gentile court." In its place, he suggests we "change our strategy and allow our worship forms to embrace the language and the nuance of the culture." In fact, he thinks we should "take into account the people that God is literally parachuting into our communities" (literally?) and "let them drive" what we do (I've said it before and I'll say it again now: There is nothing more Satanic than to shape what you do in the church according to the wants and desires of the unbelieving world; I mean, that should go without saying, shouldn't it? #israelandjudahlearnedthehardway).

Anyone who has studied the Classic CGM can identify its principles coming through loudly and clearly here. It's a mult-level marketing plan dressed up in churchly language. Throw the words "sacramental" and "holy" and "mystical" around all you want (oh, and don't forget "missional" - we must never forget "missional"!), but what you are actually advocating is a business plan, based on secular business principles, not God's Word. What you've done is turned God's ways and thoughts into your ways and thoughts. In so doing, the unchurched (i.e., unbelievers) are the customers, the Gospel is the product, the church members are your downline, and the worship service is the weekly motivational meeting, where you encourage your downline (sacramental entrepreneurs) to get out there and "be the unique, sacramental presence of Jesus" to others, so that the downline may grow.

What must inevitably follow in this approach is to tear down any, and all, barriers that get in the way of the customers-turned-members (downline), so that they will keep coming back and keep recruiting. Emotional manipulation works well as a tool. Make the worship as emotionally-manipulative as you can. It helps if your "worship leader" can whisper sweet nothings ever so softly in between songs and your preacher (motivational speaker) can tell some touching stories, a few jokes, and sprinkle Jesus' name and some other churchly language in there for good measure; maybe have a few props for object lessons or touching segments of video to accompany the message. Have big screens on display, sell some coffee, have a book store on the premises, a big stage to house the "show," and comfortable seating (very important!). And then, when people have been sufficiently manipulated emotionally, remind them that what they are feeling is the "unique sacramental presence of Jesus" and how it's all so "holy and mystical," and how they should go share that with others, so that they can feel it, too.

And, perhaps most importantly - and, really, this was the main theme that ran throughout all the Wiki14 presentations I watched - erect a barrier between the clergy and the laity and then tear it down for all to see (it must be artificially erected, because it really doesn't exist). You're not like those other clergy, after all, with their "legalistic checklists for pure doctrine, pure worship, and pure pastors." Yes sir, you're nothing at all like those nasty pastors. You reject their "clergification" (not sure if that's how it's spelled, but does it really matter how you spell made-up-out-of-thin-air words?), where they go about doing all the doing and oppressing the lowly laity under their reign. They wear their "old uniforms," those silly vestments, which are a visible representation of the separation between them and the lowly, common folk, and they insist on leading the Service. Those "Doers and Oppressors" even think they should be the ones to preach and administer the Sacraments every week. We must do away with this madness!

And so you have. You've shifted from being a "Doer and Oppressor" to being an "Equipper and Overseer." Your job is not to preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, catechize the young and old, pray for the flock you serve, and visit the sick and shut-in, but to equip the laity to do all those things, while you oversee them. They are co-laborers with you. Everyone is a minister. Everyone does the ministry. Everyone is a missionary. Everyone does the mission. And, really, let's just go ahead and take it a step further: Everyone is Jesus; everyone is the Gospel; everyone is the Sacraments. Totally rad, bro!

All of this, too, is straight out of the Classic CGM playbook. It's just warmed-over, repackaged stuff Lutherans started borrowing and trying to use back in the 1970s, which lead to bringing contemporary worship and Americanized Evangelical "evangelism" programs into the congregations of our synod, catching on in the 1980s. It's based on a decidedly non-Lutheran hermeneutical approach to Scripture, where many popular passages that are directed toward the men called and ordained to serve Christ's Church in His stead and by His command are redirected toward all Christians. It's embarrassing to see those who have supposedly been trained to be Lutheran pastors pedaling this stuff, but then I'm one of those "Doers and Oppressors" (you know, one of those "customer service-type pastors," as another Wiki14 presenter put it), so consider the source, I guess. Remember, haters gonna hate.

And all of this is approved by many of our Ecclesiastical Supervisors, who were "so blessed to attend the Wiki14 Conference." Rev. Woolsey just came right out and said that he allows several laymen in his congregation to preach, and encouraged the pastors and "leaders" there to go back home and do this, too, because that's how you "start new to reach new," by giving "permission and protection" to laypeople to do what they have not been called to do. Out loud, he said this. In front of nine or ten LCMS District Presidents, according to #wiki14 tweets. Publicly. Online. And not a single public rebuke from a District President is heard.

That's disconcerting, even as it's not all that shocking. It just shows that the LCMS hasn't changed much, even with actual Lutherans at the helm. You can just publicly thumb your nose at AC V and XIV right in front of several Ecclesiastical Supervisors, and they go home and tell everyone how blessed they were.

But, as disconcerting as all of the above is, what is especially troubling (this is where many of my pals abandon ship) is that the response from our Synod leaders is for us to shut up about it. The WikiFolk put on a three-day display of non-Lutheran doctrine and practice (I've only scratched the surface here), which causes many actual Lutherans to respond, and we have the 8th Commandment thrown at us as a hammer, just as was done under the previous synod administration. On one hand, the WikiFolk call us haters and tell us to "hate on"; on the other hand, our synod leaders treat us as though we are the haters we're accused of being. Some things never change, I guess.

Here's an idea: How about our synod leaders put half as much effort into addressing the issues we have inside of the church as they do addressing issues outside of the church. As a dear brother pastor put it recently, "The prophetic voice veritably thunders on Capitol Hill where it costs nothing. It has gone silent on Mount Zion where it costs souls." If the WikiFolk were promoting abortion or gay marriage, or infringing upon our freedom of religion as Americans, would it merit a response? What if they said they were taking a special offering to support the campaign of a Democratic politician? Did we elect theologians and churchmen or political activists to lead our synod? (And, no, I'm not saying that addressing some of our social ills is unimportant, just that maybe we ought to be paying some attention to our synod ills, too - here's where I'm reminded of the Koinonia Project and how things take time, etc.).

In the last few days, I've heard from several laypeople in our synod, many of whom came out of Protestant and Reformed traditions, leaving behind all the nonsense promoted by the WikiFolk and approved by several of our District Presidents, because they fell in love with our Lutheran confession of the faith. Contrary to District Presidents and Synod blogs, what upsets them is not the "bickering" over this they see in social media and around the blogosphere, but the fact that this kind of thing goes on in our synod with the approval and endorsement of our Ecclesiastical Supervisors, who should know better. I know how they feel.

But, what does a hater like me know? I'm no entrepreneur, who is interested in "doing new - new thinking, new acting." I'm no "risk-taker, who's not afraid to push the edges and get outside the old confines of my ecclesiastical tribe." I'm no "vision-caster, who can figure out new places where the Spirit is moving and jump on for the ride." I'm just a Lutheran, who actually thinks that the "high walls and deep moats" of our Lutheran Confessions ought to guide everything I do as Lutheran pastor, per the ordination vows I took. You know, a hater. 

(Hope you made it all the way to the end, mom. Please have my Star Wars sheets washed when I come down to visit Sunday. Love ya!)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A "Christian" Is Not a Christian

A friend of mine shared this blog post with me a couple days ago. The author, a young man named Michael Harris, wants to keep the heritage of his Evangelical upbringing, but without all the doctrinal baggage. He wants to be "Culturally Evangelical" in the same way that many Jewish people are "Culturally Jewish," i.e., still remaining "in the community" and retaining the "label," but without actually buying into the belief system and all the doctrinal stuff of the community. He writes,
Even though I’m no longer a Christian by doctrine, I’m proud of much of my heritage. But the world’s largest religion doesn’t yet have a category for people like me — you’re either an actual believer or you’re just a lukewarm Christian, and that's the kind of Christian God spits out of his mouth.
He goes on to give a brief synopsis of his Evangelical upbringing, how he bought into it all growing up, but then went to Oral Roberts University straight out of high school and came "back home really (really) pissed." He couldn't believe that he had not only accepted, but also promoted, all the zany doctrinal stuff of his childhood. He was ashamed that he had been spreading what he now understood to be the unreasonable, archaic, out-dated, and bigoted teachings of "Christian Fundamentalism." He had been "brainwashed with extremism," but no more. His eyes were now open and he has no desire to go back.

At the same time, he still loves much of his Evangelical upbringing. He doesn't want to give it up wholesale. He still thinks there is much about Jesus that is pretty cool, too, even though he no longer considers Him to be the way, the truth, and the life. That rising from the tomb business is really no different than the silliness of "speaking in tongues" or the "faith-healing" nonsense he knew growing up, but experienced in full at Oral Roberts University. Jesus is just one of many teachers throughout history to be celebrated and admired. Christianity is fine, so long as it is stripped of its exclusive claims and supposed bigoted doctrines, and is whittled down to a philosophy or way of life that you can define for yourself. 

What I want to say to this young man is:

Congratulations! What you've just described is the vast majority of what passes for Christianity in America today. You are not alone. There is no need to whine and moan, as if you have no place to call home. You don't even need to add the word "Culturally" before "Evangelical." Just call yourself an "Evangelical." It's all good. Most people who have likewise abandoned, or never really knew, the Christian doctrines taught in Holy Scripture (not exactly the same as what you grew up with in Evangelicalism, but that's for another blog post) just call themselves "Christians." It's just a label. Nobody really cares. Don't fret. Go ahead and use the label. Everybody's doing it. And, if you do feel some sense of guilt for using the label "Christian" or "Evangelical" to describe yourself, since you're no longer a Christian by doctrine, my advice would be to just add the word "Progressive" before either of those words. I mean, why reinvent the wheel here? "Progressive" Christianity is all the rage these days, and they would welcome you home to their "doctrine-less" version of "Christianity" with as much vigor and joy as the father welcomed the prodigal son in that one Bible story I'm sure you know. Heck, given your testimony and ability to write, I have no doubt that you would be eagerly welcomed to become one of their "preachers." So, again, don't fret. There is plenty of room for you in Americanized "Christianity" today. You are in the majority, by far.

But, no, you are not a Christian. You are a "Christian." You are wrong in thinking that the world's largest religion doesn't yet have a category for people like you. It does. It always has. That category is heretic or unbeliever or pagan (take your pick). I know, I know, those are deemed words of hate and intolerance today, and we can't have any of that. But, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is not interested in how the world defines hate and intolerance. She is also not interested in what culture decides is good and bad, right and wrong, righteous and evil, and so forth. And, she doesn't really care about your views or opinions on this, that, or the other thing any more than she cares about mine or anyone else's. Instead, she confesses the Three Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian) and minces no words in saying, "Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally." Call it hate or intolerance or bigotry, if you like. She's used to being called names.

So, yes, you can label yourself however you like. You will find many friends. 78% of Americans still claim to be Christian, but the vast majority of them are "Christian," like you. It's just a label. It doesn't really mean anything to them. And, you can find "Christians" across denominational lines, so that there are plenty of "Catholics" and "Lutherans" and "Baptists" and "Methodists" and "Pentecostals" and "Non-Denominationals," etc., to join you "Evangelicals" in the melting pot of today's "Progressive Christianity."

But, no, you can't really have your cake and eat it, too. You can't be a Christian on your own terms. It doesn't work that way. You don't get to pick and choose which Christian doctrines you want to keep and which you want to discard. You don't get to cast aside any of the core Christian doctrines confessed in the Creeds, mentioned above, and remain a Christian. Jesus is not just one in a long line of spiritual gurus and Christianity is not your pet philosophy to meld according to your views and opinions. Either you're in or you're out. It is all or nothing. You're right about that. There is no middle ground. That doctrine doesn't come from "misusing or overemphasizing strange verses like Rev. 3:16," as you imagine; it is the doctrine taught in Scripture from beginning to end, which testifies of the Jesus Christ confessed in the Creeds. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

. . . But Confirmation Ain't One!

It's right there in the LSB Agenda (pp. 25-27). Pastors aren't making this up. They're not "doing their own thing." This is a recognized and authorized Rite we have agreed upon as a synod. The practice of First Communion Prior to Confirmation is not "sectarian." Heck, there's even a section in the LSB Pastoral Care Companion (pp. 664-670) with guidelines for pastoral examination before the Rite of First Communion.

And yet, many a Lutheran pastor continues to rant against this practice (even some on the confessional side of the aisle, amazingly). They tell their brother pastors that they're wrong for instituting this practice where they serve, either because they think the practice itself is wrong or because they believe it will cause confusion and shouldn't be practiced until we have greater consensus about it in the synod.

The first reason lacks any semblance of truth. There is not a thing wrong with this practice. You will not find anything in Scripture or our Lutheran Confessions that would support the notion that bringing children to the Sacrament at a young age, prior to Confirmation, is wrong. In fact, neither Scripture nor our Lutheran Confessions recognize Confirmation as necessary. Scripture never mentions it at all and the only references to Confirmation in our Confessions are negative in connotation. Lutherans do not recognize Confirmation as a Sacrament (except that, sadly, we kind of do - more on that below).

The second reason also must be rejected, regardless of how appealing it may sound. We already have consensus. Again, it's in our official Agenda. We have a Rite for it. We have guidelines for pastoral examination for it. It's approved. Sanctioned. Good to go. As well it should be, since the most common practice among us of making our children wait until they're teenagers before receiving the Holy Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood is just plain wrong. That was most definitely not the practice of our Lutheran Fathers. It's most definitely not the practice described in our Confessions. It's a practice that developed over the years due to the influence of pietism and rationalism. It's wrong. It needs to change. Now. Not later, now.

That change will not happen if we wait for some mysterious "greater consensus" in the synod. That change will happen one pastor and congregation at a time moving forward now. We should already be united in the desire to bring this change about. If we're not, then many need to dust off their copies of the Book of Concord, study what we believe, teach, and confess about what is necessary for admission to the Sacrament, and get on board. But, the rest of us are not waiting for you to do so. We're moving forward, with or without you. We desire to follow the practice described in our Confessions, admitting our baptized children to the Sacrament when they have learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, been instructed in the Gospel and Sacraments, examined and absolved by the pastor, and desire to receive the Supper for the forgiveness of their sins and strengthening of their faith, regardless of age.

Will this cause confusion in the synod? Good Lord, I hope so! We need this confusion in a bad way, since this confusion will provide us with an opportunity to catechize our people away from the many misconceptions they have regarding the Sacrament, who should be admitted to it and why, and Confirmation. In the process, we'll have to apologize to them, for they are simply holding to these erroneous beliefs because that's what they were taught.

They were taught that children must not be admitted to the Sacrament because they're too young and lack the cognitive ability to understand what it is. They were taught that children couldn't possibly understand what it means to examine themselves and receive absolution. They were taught that children were ill-equipped to have faith in these words: "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." They were taught that admission to the Sacrament is something that must be earned by going through two years of Confirmation classes and passing all the quizzes, tests, and the public questioning, which has made the Sacrament a sort-of prize for jumping through all the necessary hoops. They were taught that the really big thing - the really important thing - is Confirmation itself, as if Confirmation is a means of grace that delivers forgiveness, life, and salvation to their teenaged children (you know, like a sacrament). They were taught, in short, that the Holy Supper was only for those who had reached some arbitrary "age of reason/discretion" (you know, like Baptists, etc.).

According to the Roman Catholic Church, "Confirmation is a true sacrament instituted by Christ and different from baptism." Our Lutheran Confessions say, "Hogwash! Nowhere does Christ institute Confirmation as a sacrament. You're making that up, Rome" (I'm paraphrasing). And yet, according to the most common practice among us in our synod, you could make that Roman Catholic statement in many of our congregations and people would nod their heads in agreement. Practice teaches. Our most common practice of withholding the Sacrament from our children until they are teenagers has taught people all the things mentioned above. If you don't believe me, just ask people why we don't admit younger children to the Sacrament. You'll see.

Besides all that, it must be noted that we would not be witnessing the great shift toward every Sunday Communion that has been occurring among us over the past couple/few decades had we followed this "wait for greater consensus among us" approach. That shift has come about one pastor and congregation at a time moving forward now in the desire to bring their practice in line with our Confessions, which state, "Masses are celebrated among us every Lord's Day and on the other festivals" (Ap. XXIV:1). Some of us have even worked toward celebrating Masses "on the other festivals" where we serve. While that hasn't yet picked up the steam moving toward "every Lord's Day" has, it's a start. In any event, the point is that it's hard enough for Lutherans to bring about change (you all know the joke), since it's nearly impossible for us to ever admit we've been wrong about something (have we ever passed a synodical resolution admitting we were wrong about anything?), so these sorts of salutary changes among us can only be achieved incrementally over time, which, again, happens one pastor and congregation at a time moving forward now.

Confirmation is not a sacrament. It isn't necessary. It was not instituted by Christ. It has no promises from God's Word attached to it. It is not a means of grace. We have two (or three, or four, depending on how we define things) sacraments, but Confirmation ain't one.

Confirmation is not a prerequisite for admittance to the Lord's Supper, either. Baptism is. Instruction, examination, and absolution is. But, not Confirmation.

Confirmation is a humanly ordained, public Rite in the Church, wherein baptized children (and adults) publicly confess the faith bestowed to them at Baptism. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less.

I have nary a problem with Confirmation correctly defined and practiced. There is nothing wrong with the Church establishing a public Rite like this to have her catechumens (whether children or adult) publicly confess their faith before the congregation. Heck, I'm all for throwing a party, eating cake, and giving gifts, too. Nothing wrong with celebrating this. That's a good thing.

But, I am opposed to what our understanding of Confirmation has become and how we have tied the admission to our Lord's Table to it as a sort-of prize or diploma or something. We should have never allowed that to happen. Dr. Luther would assuredly throw a major tantrum about it were he alive today. I dare say that his comments in the Preface to his Small Catechism would seem rather tame compared to what he would say about making our children wait until they are thirteen or fourteen years old to receive the Supper.

Furthermore, while I can certainly understand why the people we serve are confused about this and why many of them reflexively object to changing things, there is simply no excuse for my brother pastors to be confused about this or object to changing things. I have been majorly disappointed and, to be perfectly blunt and honest, more than a little ticked, that some of my brother pastors not only object to this, but have even seen fit to run their mouths to my visiting parishioners about how wrong this is and how they can't believe that their pastor (me) would be allowing their small children to commune. It doesn't matter that the said children can recite the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord's Prayer from memory right there on the spot, or that they can tell these pastors what they believe about the Lord's Supper and why they want to receive it, all of which is more than probably 87.6% of the adults they'll be communing that day can do, by the way. Nope, doesn't matter. It's just immediately absurd to these guys that these children would be admitted to the altar, which is bad enough, but the fact that some of them also feel compelled to lecture my visiting parishioners about it, as if they've been duped by me into participating in some great heresy or something, is way over the line. If you won't commune these children, who have been instructed, examined, absolved, and admitted by me, then just say no and shut up about it, because the comments you make to them only reveal your ignorance in the matter.

For my part, I simply don't understand how brother pastors in the same synod would refuse to commune visiting children who have been admitted to the altar in their home congregations. Before we adopted the practice of First Communion Prior to Confirmation where I serve, there were several times when we had visiting children who had been admitted to the altar prior to the "sacred age of 13 or 14," and the possibility of refusing to commune them never entered my thinking. Who am I to excommunicate these children? Their pastor had instructed, examined, absolved, and admitted them, and I'm going to say, "Sorry, no Supper for you"? I don't think so. How absurd!

And, yes, I know the "but my people will be confused and maybe even scandalized if I communed the young children from your congregation" argument. I don't buy it. First, what would probably happen is that no one would even notice. Second, even if they did and asked you about it, you could simply say, "These children have been admitted to the altar at their home congregation, and I don't think it's right for me to excommunicate them." Third, what a golden opportunity for you to use this to catechize your flock; you're welcome (unless, of course, you're perfectly content with the practice of withholding the Sacrament from children until they're teenagers, which, if you deny visiting youngsters the Sacrament, you probably are, so just scratch this point, I guess). Fourth, do you not think that it's laughably absurd that you deny children who stand before you ready to confess their faith and be examined by you, but readily admit to the Supper any and every visiting older child or adult without batting an eye simply because they belong to another LCMS congregation? In the words of Everett in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, "I don't get it, Big Dan."     

It's right there in the LSB Agenda (pp. 25-27). Check it out. It's approved. Sanctioned. Good to go. As well it should be. Please, for the love of all things sacred, stop acting like it's not.     

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lutheran to Americanized Protestant, Step-by-Step

Step 1
"Ceremonies don't have to be the same everywhere."

Step 2
"It's all adiaphora."

Step 3
"God doesn't tell us how to worship."

Step 4
"Worship should appeal to the unchurched."

Step 5
    "Yes, I'll accept the nomination for District President."     

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ken Ham Won

I was finally able to finish watching the debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham the Creationist Man, which aired live Tuesday night, and can be viewed here. Ken Ham won. Period. No two ways about it. He was the clear winner of that debate. It really wasn't even close.

Now, you're going to say, "Well, yeah, you're a pastor, who believes in the Biblical account of Creation, so of course you're going to declare your guy the winner. You're biased!"

True. I will not even attempt to deny that. I do believe in the Biblical account of Creation. I believe what God reveals to us in Genesis. I am a young-earth Creationist. So, yes, I am biased. 

But, even though you won't believe me, that's not why I'm declaring Ken Ham the clear and decisive winner of the debate. In fact, I don't think he proved his position anymore than Bill Nye proved his, which is understandable, since neither can actually prove his position. I doubt that Mr. Ham changed a lot of minds. At best, he simply held his ground and presented his case. So did Bill Nye. The debate itself was a little disappointing, since it wasn't really a debate, but a mere presentation of positions that are already well known. I would have liked to have seen the two men actually debate one another in a back-and-forth series of questions and answers to one another, which would have been far more interesting.

Even so, Ken Ham won. Period. No two ways about it.


Two reasons:

1) Mr. Ham knows Mr. Nye's position. He has studied it for years. He knows the ins and outs of the theory of Evolution, where it came from, how it's changed over the years, what's happening now in the secular scientific community, and so on. He is a scientist himself. He knows what Mr. Nye believes, where he's coming from, and why he argues what he argues.

Mr. Nye, on the other hand, showed very clearly during the debate that he hasn't the first clue what Mr. Ham's position actually is, what he believes, where he's coming from, or why he argues what he argues. Further, he doesn't appear to have the first inkling of interest in learning any of that. He simply dismisses it all out of hand as unreasonable and ignorant, which is par-for-the-course within the secular scientific community today, along with its devoted followers in the liberal media, most of whom couldn't give you a summary overview of what the theory of Evolution actually entails, but never tire of insisting that anyone who doesn't accept it as fact is ignorant and/or insane. 

That reason alone is enough to declare Mr. Ham the winner. You cannot honestly engage in actual debate with a person whose position you don't know, and don't even care to learn. But, that's precisely what Mr. Nye tried to do.

To his credit, he readily admitted, "I'm no theologian," although making that admission was wholly unnecessary, since it was made painfully obvious every time he opened his mouth about anything Biblical or theological. He kept repeating, as a sort of mantra, "the bible as translated into American English over thirty centuries," evidently believing this to be the spurious and ridiculous basis upon which believers like Mr. Ham base their beliefs. In fact, at one point, he even referenced the old game "Telephone" to poke fun of those who believe in "the bible as translated into American English over thirty centuries," which only really served to poke major fun at himself, since it showed his utter ignorance regarding the mountains of manuscript evidence we have for the Bible, as well as the scientific process involved in producing a Bible today that is extraordinarily accurate (does Mr. Nye not understand that we possess thousands of manuscripts written in the original languages?). His suggestion that Mr. Ham and other believers are trusting a book that has gone through translation after translation after translation, so that, like in the game "Telephone," the message has been altered and changed and is no longer reliable, is something he could have easily avoided had he spent just a wee bit of time researching this before the debate. As it is, he sounded like a pimply-faced teenaged atheist with a blog. It was less than sophomoric.

The same is true of other statements he made, like when he claimed that referencing the New Testament was "out of the box," since the Creationist position is "based on the Old Testament," further showing his utter ignorance about the Bible. Or like when he asked Mr. Ham if the fish and other animals sinned, since the fossil record shows evidence that some were afflicted with disease and so forth, clearly revealing that he hasn't the first clue regarding the Christian doctrine of the Fall, as recorded in Scripture. Or like when he compared Mr. Ham's recognition that the Bible contains different genres of literature (narrative prose, poetry, prophecy, etc.) to "picking and choosing which parts of the bible to take literally," which doesn't really show a further ignorance of the Bible, but an ignorance of language itself. It was all rather embarrassing.

In short, what I witnessed in Mr. Nye during this debate was a man completely disinterested in trying to even begin the process of learning where a person like Mr. Ham is coming from, why he believes what he believes and argues what he argues. It seemed like his sole purpose for participating in the debate was to try to highlight how ignorant he believes people like Mr. Ham are, and how dangerous it would be for our country if we didn't abandon wholesale the Creation model espoused by him. Indeed, he kept repeating how voters and citizens in Kentucky and around the country needed to recognize that America would fall behind economically and lose its ranking as a world power if it didn't do so (yeah, he said that - many times!), but it was an epic fail, for the only thing he really accomplished was further proving that secular scientists like him haven't the first clue what Creationists actually believe and, again, aren't the least bit interested in learning what they believe.  

2) Mr. Ham readily admitted several times that he cannot prove his position regarding the origin of the universe. Mr. Nye, not so much. There were a couple of occasions where Mr. Nye admitted that he didn't know something. When asked where the atoms came from that caused the Big Bang, or where consciousness comes from, he said he didn't know, giving the impression that he believes science will one day reveal those answers to us. But, as far as everything having to do with the modern incarnation of the theory of Evolution, he gave the impression throughout the debate that it's all based on scientific fact.

Mr. Ham pushed the point that there is a difference between observational science done in the present and historical science dealing with the past, but Mr. Nye refused to differentiate between the two. For him, science is science. What we observe today tells us everything we need to know about the past - well, everything but where the atoms came from that caused the Big Bang and where consciousness comes from. But, we can confidently date the age of the earth, know with certainty that all life evolved from some primordial form, and so forth. It's all so neat and clean and factual. Except, it's not.

There are plenty of secular scientists who believe wholeheartedly in the theory of Evolution, but who readily admit that it's not actually verifiable and provable. In fact, most of them would readily admit that. If they're actual scientists - real, true-blue scientists - they must admit that. And, most do. But, you don't hear about them. They're unnamed. They remain behind the scenes, since they don't write books claiming that anyone who doesn't believe as they do are ignorant and not worthy of attention. They don't appear on television shows pushing political agendas and attacking the beliefs of others regarding the origin of the universe. They're not the Richard Dawkins and Bill Nye types. They're honest scientists, who recognize that science has its limits when it comes to answering questions regarding the origin of the universe. So, they postulate, guess, estimate, and theorize, based on what can be scientifically observed, but they go no further than that in their conclusions. That's not to say that they're not convinced of their conclusions. They are. They would vehemently disagree with Mr. Ham that present-day observational science cannot be extrapolated to explain the past. They would vehemently disagree with Mr. Ham that many of the dating methods they use are unreliable. They would posit confidently that the evidence suggests that the universe is billions of years old, and so forth, but, in the end, they would acknowledge that they cannot prove that their extrapolated conclusions are facts, since, well, they're not facts. They're best guesses and theories and postulations based on multiple assumptions.

At the end of the day, that's the truth that is being ever more suppressed by the public face of the secular scientific community, supported as they are by the liberal media. The theory of Evolution is no longer presented as a theory, but as established fact, and if you're not hip to jump on that bandwagon, you're a problem.  

So, Mr. Ham won. Not because he put forth more convincing arguments (even though I think he did). Not because he believes what I believe. Not because he did a better job at presenting his position. Not because he tore apart Mr. Nye's arguments (there were many times when I was hoping he would challenge Mr. Nye regarding his obvious ignorance of the Bible, theology, and the actual position of Creationists, but he seemed content to stick pretty close to the vest and simply present his case). Not because he was more engaging with the audience (I actually think Mr. Nye was more engaging). But, solely because he knew his opponent's position and was honest about not being able to prove his own, in direct contrast to his opponent, which would have been blatantly obvious to anyone familiar with both sides of the debate. 

All of that said, I do think Mr. Ham stumbled a bit during the questions from the audience part at the end, especially when asked, "What, if anything, would ever change your mind?" He answered that by saying that he's a Christian and that no one is ever going to convince him that the Word of God is wrong. In his defense, that is an answer to the question, since it included, "if anything." His answer was basically that there isn't anything that would change his mind. Fine. But, as I listened to this, I couldn't help but think that this would have been the perfect time to say, "Show me Jesus' remains. That would change my mind. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, my faith is futile" (1 Cor. 15:12-34). It was the perfect time to launch into the best historical defense we have for our Christian faith - the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ - and to challenge Mr. Nye about it.

It was a missed opportunity, which was made even more evident when Mr. Nye answered the question masterfully and without hesitation, citing a litany of things that would change him immediately if evidence was provided, and then challenged Mr. Ham to tell him what he can prove. I think it was both Mr. Ham's worst moment and Mr. Nye's best moments of the night.

Oh well. Can't win 'em all, and it's easy to play Thursday morning quarterback, I suppose. But, it doesn't change the fact that Ken Ham won. Period. No two ways about it.

Unless you ask Lawrence O'Donnell over at MSNBC, who not only thought Bill Nye was the decisive victor, but was absolutely baffled as to how he kept his composure in the presence of someone as ignorant as Ken Ham:

Of course, Mr. O'Donnell knows even less than Mr. Nye does about the Bible, Christian theology, and the actual position of Creationists like Mr. Ham. That, and he probably couldn't pass a junior high quiz on the theory of Evolution. So, I'm thinking he might not be the best judge of things here.

A while back, I had a family member ask me why I had so many Evolution textbooks on my bookshelf in my home study. My answer was that I cannot intelligently speak against something that I don't understand, so I've spent time reading and studying what Evolutionists believe over the years, and still do. Had I seen this debate prior to being asked that question, my response would have been, "I don't want to be like Bill Nye."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Let's Throw the Baby Into the Dirty Bathwater

"Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater" is, according to Wikipedia, "an idiomatic expression and a concept used to suggest an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the essential along with the inessential."

Fine. That makes sense. We probably should be careful not to eliminate something good when trying to get rid of something bad. I mean, I'm all for protecting babies from being thrown out with the bathwater. But, as is the case with all such idiomatic expressions, this one, cute as it is, often gets mega-abused, especially within the church.

This expression gets abused because many assume that every resource advertised as Christian contains a baby, no matter how dirty the bathwater may be. But, this is simply not true. Often, such resources are completely baby-less and filled with nothing but dirty bathwater.

I heard this expression a lot a decade ago when Rick Warren came out with his, "The Purpose Driven Life," which was quickly followed upon with, "The Purpose Driven Church," and several other "Purpose Driven" resources. Many pastors and congregations in the LCMS promoted Warren's resources (some still do), claiming that there's good stuff in there amidst all the bad stuff, i.e., we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

To this day, I can't find a baby anywhere in the dirty bathwater of Warren's "Purpose Driven" nonsense. It's all just dirty bathwater, from beginning to end. The baby some LCMS pastors and congregations claim to find in Warren's nonsense doesn't actually exist. If their use of Warren's resources actually produces a baby of some kind, it is because they themselves added the baby when they magically "Lutheranized" Warren's stuff. But, that is quite a different thing altogether, isn't it? That's not avoiding throwing out the baby with the bathwater; that's throwing a baby into the filthy bathwater. And, that's gross. I mean, really, who would support throwing a nice, clean, cute, cuddly, beautiful baby into a bathtub filled with filthy, disgusting water?

The same could be said about most of the resources produced by pop-American "Christian preachers," writers, leaders, etc. There's no baby in Joel Osteen's stuff, or Joyce Meyer's stuff, or Rob Bell's stuff, or Beth Moore's stuff, or most of the emerging-emergents of our day and age. In fact, I know it sounds awful, but the vast majority of resources one finds lining the shelves of Christian bookstores today are baby-less, filled with nothing more than dirty bathwater. We might manage to find a pacifier or rubber ducky or two as we sift through the filthy bathwater, but we'll not find a baby there, unless we so twist and distort these resources in such a way as to throw a baby in there ourselves. But, again, who would support such an atrocity?

All of that said, there is certainly a place for this idiomatic expression within the church. I mean, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater here. There are many serious theological resources which are not wholly orthodox, but have much in them worthwhile and edifying. I have a plethora of such resources in my own library, even as I have a section in my library of nothing-but-dirty-bathwater resources, as I think it's important to know the nonsense being marketed as "Christian" out there today, so that I might warn the flock entrusted to my care about it.

But, my point here is that too often this phrase is used to support the promotion and use of resources that are completely baby-less. It doesn't always apply. Those who support the promotion and use of such baby-less resources can scream "Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater!" till their blue in the face, but what they really mean is, "Let's throw the baby into the dirty bathwater."

Let's not. Please.

That's really, really gross!

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Clergy Optional Church?

In a blog post yesterday, former LCMS President Jerry Kieschnick opined that some in our synod "seem intent on moving us toward a clergy dominated church." He provides three examples for why he has arrived at this opinion: 1) the abundance of black shirts and white collars at the recent LCMS Convention, 2) the exclusion of laity from consideration for positions of significant leadership in our church body, and 3) a discernible aloofness and even pharisaical demeanor exhibited by some pastors, obvious during worship services and in pastoral ministry functions as well, which telegraphs a "holier than thou" attitude.

On his first example, I'm not sure which Convention Jerry attended a couple weeks back. I watched a great deal of the Convention via online streaming and I certainly did not see an abundance of black shirts and white collars. In fact, the black shirts and white collars were few and far between. The overwhelming majority of pastoral delegates in attendance were not clad in clergy attire. A few were; most were not. Same with the Council of Presidents. Some wore black; most didn't. Thus, if the prevalence of black shirts and white collars was an actual indicator of some sort of shift toward a clergy dominated LCMS, any objective observer would have to conclude that Jerry has nothing to fear. Of course, this is not an actual indicator of any such thing, and it's beyond silly to pretend as though it is. But, again, if it was an indicator, it would indicate the exact opposite of what Jerry is contending. Doesn't he realize that?

The second example Jerry puts forth is as mind-boggling as the first, given the fact that laity have always been excluded from consideration for certain positions of significant leadership in our church body. The unknowing reader of Jerry's blog post might get the impression that drastic changes were made at our most recent Convention, which resulted in new exclusions of laity serving in leadership positions in our church body. Um, that did not happen. Of course, Jerry doesn't actually point his readers to any actual changes that have been made here. He just sort of throws this out there and leaves it to the imaginations of his readers. I guess we're just supposed to make our own assumptions and draw our own conclusions as to what he's trying to say, which I think is purposeful on his part. This is called fear-mongering. I think we're going to see a lot of this from Jerry and some of his pals on the Council of Presidents over the next triennium, just as we saw some of this from them in the weeks leading up to the Convention a couple weeks back. Fear-mongering is an oft-used tactic in secular politics, but it's a shame when it is a tactic employed by leaders, and former leaders, in a church body. But, hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess.

The worst of the three examples Jerry provides is the third. What does he mean by "discernible aloofness" and "pharisaical demeanor"? Does it bother him when pastors conduct themselves in a reverent fashion as they lead worship or perform other pastoral duties? Would he be happier if pastors wore t-shirts and performed their duties in a nonchalant, informal manner, as though they were not serving in the actual Presence of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Actually, based on years of listening to Jerry's thoughts on this issue, I think he would be happier were that the case. After all, during his tenure as our synodical president, he never tired of highlighting pastors and congregations in our synod whose worship practices emulated the worship practices of the Americanized Protestants, who do not believe Jesus is Present during worship. He even had a link in the President's section of our synod's website devoted to highlighting such pastors and congregations. And, as he wrote in an email missive last year (March 1, 2012), which is referenced in a blog post I wrote here, his opinion is that "to the greatest extent possible, pastors and other worship leaders do well to design and conduct services that . . . are conducted in what might be called a spirit of dignified informality." Evidently, if pastors conduct themselves in a spirit of dignified formality, they exhibit a "discernible aloofness" and "pharisaical demeanor." I mean, God forbid that pastors actually behave as though they believe they're in the actual Presence of Jesus, and that reverence and awe are in order because of that. If they behave that way, the laity might start believing that stuff, too. We can't have that. That would take all the fun and entertainment out of worship, and we've been trying really hard since the 1980s to show the world that Lutheran worship can be just as fun and entertaining as the worship of the non-denominational mega-church down the road. Sigh.

Besides the fact that Jerry's "dignified informality" position is oxymoronic, as I point out in the blog post linked above, I hasten to point out that his inclusion of this third example in yesterday's blog post reeks of a "holier than thou" attitude on his part. Not only that, but, given that he makes this observation in light of our recent Convention, he seems to be slamming Pastors William Weedon and Ben Ball, who were the Chaplains during the Convention and lead the worship services. No doubt it irked Jerry when he saw both of these fine, faithful pastors conduct themselves with dignified formality, rather than the dignified informality he prefers. I can only imagine his angst when he saw them bow at the Name of the Holy Trinity or hold their hands together when reading God's Holy Word, etc. Oh, what discernible aloofness and pharisaical demeanor they displayed! Sigh (again).

None of the three examples Jerry puts forth supports his conclusion that we're moving in the direction of being a clergy dominated church. All three are examples of fear-mongering. Nothing more and nothing less. What Jerry and his pals are really worried about is the sense they have that their "Everyone a Minister" theology, which they spent so much effort introducing among us, is beginning to fizzle away. They are worried that our Lutheran theology of the Office of the Holy Ministry, which in no way dishonors our theology of the priesthood of all believers, is beginning to resurface among us. They are worried that their faulty view and understanding of the so-called "Great Commission," which comes not from our Lutheran theology, but from the theology and principles advanced by the proponents of the Church Growth Movement, will be shown to be faulty (for an excellent summary of the popular, but faulty, view and understanding of the so-called "Great Commission," see Pr. Todd Wilken's two-part article in the Summer 2011 and Fall 2011 "Issues, Etc. Journal"). They are worried that the clergy optional church they've been championing for years will be shown to be incompatible with our Lutheran confession of the faith.

Make no mistake, the "Everyone a Minister" theology adhered to by Jerry and friends does lead to a Clergy Optional Church. It posits that pastors are nice and all, but they aren't necessary. Anyone who is "lead by the Spirit" can preach or baptize or administer communion, according to this theology. In fact, the main purpose of pastors or "any spirit-lead church leaders," according to this theology, is to "equip the laity to do the Ministry." We're all in this together, after all, clergy and laity alike - it's our joint mission to save the lost and make disciples of Jesus.

The main Biblical texts used to support this theology are Matthew 28:18-20 (the so-called "Great Commission" text) and Ephesians 4:11-12, quoted by Jerry in his blog post. Again, see Pr. Wilken's fine, two-part article linked above regarding the so-called "Great Commission" text. Just as that text does not support the "Everyone a Minister" theology, neither does the text from Ephesians 4, contrary to Jerry's assertion otherwise.

Now, I understand Jerry's confusion on this one, to be sure. Most modern English translations render Eph. 4:12 in such a way as to have the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers of verse 11 "equipping the saints for the work of ministry." Indeed, translated this way, Eph. 4:12 has become a sedes doctrinae for the "Everyone a Minister" theology that rules Americanized Protestantism. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers exist to equip the saints, the people, the laity, to do the work of the ministry. The ministry and mission of the Church is done by the people out in the world; the purpose of the Church's leaders, whatever they may be called, is to train and equip the people to get out there and get that work done. So, yes, I understand Jerry's confusion. He's just parroting the popular understanding of this controverted verse, much as he does with the so-called "Great Commission" text, as well as that ever-so-popular "all things to all people" text (1 Cor. 9:22), which is often proudly marshaled out by those defending contemporary worship and the dignified informality Jerry prefers, because, you know, that's what St. Paul meant by that verse . . . not. But, I digress.

The problem for Jerry is that his understanding of Eph. 4:11-12, while certainly in line with Americanized Protestantism, and with the principles of the Church Growth Movement, is not consistent with our Lutheran confession of the faith, or with the way these verses have been traditionally translated and interpreted throughout the history of the church catholic. The controversy over the translation of Eph. 4:12, which has to do with how that verse should be punctuated, has produced much ink over the past couple centuries, but, prior to that, the controversy simply didn't exist. The traditional understanding of these controverted verses, and the one our own Lutheran forefathers held, was that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers of verse 11, all of which belong to the One Office of the Holy Ministry, are given to the Church "to perfect the saints, for the work of the Ministry, and for the edifying (building up) of the Body of Christ." In other words, the three prepositional phrases of verse 12 are functions performed by our Lord Jesus Christ through the men He calls into His Office of the Holy Ministry.

Of course, my pointing this out will just add fuel to Jerry's fears, setting them ablaze (see what I did there?). I'm a black-shirt, white-collar wearing clergy type, after all. What's worse, I'm one of those "holier than thou" types, who conducts the Divine Service in a spirit not of dignified informality, but of reverent formality. I make the sign of the cross, bow, elevate, genuflect, chant, preach Law and Gospel, and hold my hands just so, and not out of some "unintended byproduct of a deep and sincere piety," which Jerry may find in his heart to excuse, but in an intended, deliberate, ceremonial fashion, so as to teach the saints I'm blessed to serve that our Lord Jesus Christ is Present among us and that, because of that glorious reality, reverence and awe are certainly in order, which Jerry would not excuse, but identify as "discernible aloofness" and "pharisaical demeanor." It's guys like me that Jerry's warning you about. But, I'm okay with that. Really, I am.

People in the Missouri Synod can rest easy. We're not moving in the direction of becoming some fearful, clergy dominated church body. We're rediscovering our Lutheran confession of the faith, and that's a wonderful thing, for our Lutheran confession of the faith does not pit clergy against laity, as the fear-mongerers among us will continue to suggest, but rather maintains the Biblical and Confessional distinction between them, without elevating one over the other. Luther himself is the champion par excellance of the priesthood of all believers theology, but he would have some pretty choice words to express in opposition to the popular "Everyone a Minister" theology so prevalent today, which has bewitched our own synod into forsaking AC XIV (and, really, AC V, along with it), something that a great many of us, clergy and laity alike, are prayerfully hoping will soon be corrected.

At the end of the day, Jerry's argument is not with our current synodical administration or with pastors like me, but with Christ Himself, who created the Office of the Holy Ministry, and distinguished this Office from the priesthood of all believers, giving this Office the task of preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name; of baptizing and catechizing the saints and leading them to the Holy Altar, where He fulfills His promise to be with His Church always. Contrary to the clergy optional, "Everyone a Minister" theology, the making of disciples - the Ministry and Mission of Christ's Holy Church - is fulfilled at the font, pulpit, and altar in the Church, not out in the neighborhoods by the saints "equipped to do the Ministry." The saints are not equipped to do the Ministry, but are blessed recipients of the Ministry. They do not go out into the world as missionaries and evangelists, but as baptized believers in Christ, who live out their Holy Spirit-given faith within their God-given vocations. Should they always be ready to provide a defense for the hope that they have in Jesus? Sure. But, to pretend as though they are Ministers or Missionaries, equipped and sent out to do the work of the Ministry, is to completely misunderstand both the Office of the Holy Ministry and the priesthood of all believers. Not only that, but it places an unnecessary burden upon the laity that our Lord Himself did not place upon them. They need not worry themselves over whether or not they're doing their part to reach and save the lost; it's not given them to reach and save the lost. In fact, that's not even given to the men who bear the yoke of the stole in Christ's Office. Christ Himself will reach and save all the lost who will be reached and saved. It's His Ministry and Mission, and He will fulfill it perfectly, even while using imperfect people, both clergy and laity, each in their distinctive roles, to do so.

A Clergy Dominated Church? No, not at all. A Clergy Optional Church? Nope, not that either. Christ's Holy Church, made up of all believers in Him, where He fulfills His Ministry and Mission in the manner He Himself has established? Amen.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

AC XIV or Not?

Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession (AC XIV) states: "Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called." 

It's right there in black-and-white for all Lutherans to read. You can't miss it. Neither can you magically try to make it mean something other than what it says, although countless people have tried to do just that.

What you can do is ignore it or just strike it from the record, pretending that it either never existed or that it no longer applies to Lutherans today. That's what the LCMS did during its Convention in Wichita back in 1989. Ever since then, AC XIV has read like this in the LCMS:

"Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called."

AC XIV is meaningless in our synod today. It's been struck out, abolished, replaced by this:

"Of Ecclesiastical Order WE teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called, or unless he or she is licensed to do so without a regular call by one of our Districts."

Or, to summarize it even further: "Of Ecclesiastical Order WE teach that everyone is a minister," since, let's face it, the "everyone a minister" principle of the Church Growth Movement is really what prompted our synod to abolish AC XIV, and still has a bewitching effect on those among us who continue to defend our doing away with that Article. 

Now, arguments could be made to show how the LCMS has also abandoned other Articles of the Augsburg Confession, but, as far as I'm aware, AC XIV is the only one that it has *officially* discarded as meaningless. Of the other Articles that could be questioned, the LCMS still at least pretends to take them seriously and abide by them on paper, even if they have become as meaningless in practice as has AC XIV (AC V, XI, and XXIV come to mind here).

This summer's LCMS Convention will be the eighth Convention since our synod abolished AC XIV in 1989. In every Convention since then, this issue has come up in one way or another, but it's never been resolved. Evey attempt to cover up the sin of abolishing one of the Articles of our Chief Confession has been as futile as the fig leaves employed by Adam and Eve in the Garden. We've had this or that program introduced that brought hope to those who realize our synodical sin, but they've all failed. They have resulted in nothing more than adding an additional fig leaf or two. The same is true of the latest hope-inducing program, introduced into our midst at the 2007 Convention, the Specific Ministry Pastor program (SMP). It's just another fig leaf. Nothing more.

In fact, what many seem to forget, or just don't know, is that the real reason the SMP was initiated by the previous synodical administration had to do with the delusions of grandeur they had about creating 2,000 new LCMS congregations by 2017, as part of their Ablaze!(tm) program, movement, or whatever they called it. The idea was that we needed to find a way to fast-track men toward ordination, since there were going to be all these new congregations planted. These men would be under the supervision of the pastor(s) of the congregations that would plant these new congregations, or satellites, or whatever, and thus would only be ordained to be pastors in the specific contexts of these new church plants.

Of course, that has all changed now. The SMP program is much broader than that today. It has become just another alternate route among us to the Office of the Holy Ministry, and many who take this route are ordained not to serve new church plants, but to serve within existing congregations as assistant, or associate, pastors of this or that "ministry" (youth pastor, evangelism pastor, etc.). Many among us, who were not keen on the SMP program, embraced it, hoping that it would be a way to phase out the various deacon and lay ministry programs many of our districts have in place, so that we could finally restore AC XIV within our synod. But, that hasn't happened. The various deacon and lay programs many of our districts have remain in place, and are being vigorously defended by their districts, many of which passed resolutions at their district conventions last summer to commend their programs, as a sort-of warning shot across the bow of synod announcing that they won't go down without a fight.

So, here we stand on the brink of another LCMS Convention. Several overtures were submitted to address this issue, the vast majority of which resolved to rescind 1989 Res. 3-05B, which brought about the abolishing of AC XIV in our synod. In fact, only three of the fourteen or so overtures sent in on this subject resolved to affirm 1989 Res. 3-05B (those overtures were sent in by the Pacific Southwest, Northwest, and Mid-South Districts). All of this produced Resolution 4-06, "To Address Questions re Service Apart from AC XIV," which will be brought to the floor for consideration at our Convention in less than two weeks.

Unfortunately, Res. 4-06 merely resolves to catechize on this issue, study this issue, and appoint a task force to develop a plan to address this issue, which, if passed, will be reported to the 2016 Convention. This means that we will continue to live as a Lutheran synod who has abolished one of the Articles of our Chief Confession for at least another three years. But, hey, we have been living that way for twenty-four years already, so what's another three years among friends?

Seriously, I hope and pray that Res. 4-06 passes and that a plan is developed to phase out deacon and lay ministry in our synod by 2016, although I am always a bit befuddled by the necessity of task forces and years of study for issues like this, which couldn't be anymore black-and-white. I mean "Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called" seems pretty straight forward to me. Am I missing something?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Jerry's Suggestion

In his weekly missive yesterday, former synodical president, Jerry Kieschnick, chimed in on the upcoming election for LCMS president, which will take place online, beginning tomorrow, June 22, and concluding on June 25. In his missive, he writes:
Here’s my suggestion, humbly and respectfully offered. Ask your district president for his counsel. Unless the pastoral and lay delegates from your congregation did not attend last year’s triennial district convention, your congregation participated in your district president’s election. He is a trusted leader in your midst. And he knows all three nominees for LCMS president.
Evidently, Jerry missed the memo. As we have seen, some of the district presidents aren't waiting around for delegates to seek their counsel, but have already sent out campaign letters in the hope of swaying delegates to vote for the candidate of their choice. Or, maybe Jerry didn't miss the memo at all, and this is his way of offering his "humble and respectful" support to those district presidents, who have already chimed in, while encouraging delegates from other districts to contact their district presidents, who haven't sent out campaign letters, for whatever reason (maybe, hopefully, out of a sense of decency and ecclesiastical tact). Whatever the case, the message from Jerry is clear: District presidents know best, and they should play a significant role in the process of electing our synodical president. After all, these dudes have been elected to serve their districts, so they must be trusted leaders in our midst.

It's kind of ironic, isn't it? Three years ago, Jerry was soundly defeated in his bid to be reelected as synodical president, as Matthew Harrison was elected on the first ballot by a pretty significant margin, as far as LCMS presidential elections have gone in the past decades. Shouldn't that make him a trusted leader in our midst? Maybe we should just forgo asking our district presidents for their counsel and ask Harrison for his.

What a grand idea! Thanks, Jerry. President Harrison is a trusted leader in our midst. He knows all three nominees for LCMS president. I'm going to ask him, and I humbly and respectfully advise all delegates to do the same:
Dear President Harrison,

You were elected to serve as our synodical president in July, 2010, which makes you a trusted leader among us. I am writing to seek your counsel in regard to the upcoming election for synodical president. You know all three candidates. For whom do you think I should vote?

In Christ,
Rev. Thomas C. Messer
Peace Lutheran Church, Alma, MI
Okay, so, no, I'm not really going to send that inquiry to President Harrison, and neither do I really advise delegates to do so. I'm just trying to highlight the irony and absurdity of Jerry's "humble and respectful" suggestion here, especially the bit about our district presidents being "trusted leaders" by virtue of being elected. If we have learned anything of late, the district presidents who have chosen to forsake all sense of decency and engage in electioneering have proven themselves to be anything but "trusted leaders."

That Jerry Kieschnick would send out this suggestive missive just a few days before the polls open is not surprising, given the fact that he has seen fit to offer his own not-so-humble and disrespectful commentary and criticism regarding our current synodical president, jumping on the bandwagon of the criticism heaped upon our synod and its president a few months back. He even sent out an "Early Edition" of his "Perspectives" back on February 11, which included a section sub-titled "People are asking . . .," wherein he noted that lots of people were asking him whether or not he'd be willing to serve again as our synodical president, how he was humbled by that, how he has always believed that the office should seek the man and not the man the office, which was followed up by a reminder that the deadline for nominations was quickly approaching and seemed to be the reason for the "Early Edition" of his "Perspectives," even though he was totally not seeking the office in any way - totally. So, not surprising at all. This is the same sort of "Ecclesiastical-ness" we all grew so fond of during Jerry's tenure as our synodical president, where churchly matters were often handled behind the locked doors of Executive Sessions, and where lawyers, bylaws, and CCM opinions were consulted before, or even in lieu of, Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions, and where the ends always justified the means, so that the circling of the wagons was always employed to protect the institution of Synod, Inc. and we never heard any repentant apologies from our "trusted leaders" about anything (if I'm wrong about that, show me). Nothing says "Ecclesiastical" like Executive Sessions, lawyers, bylaws, CCM opinions, and the circling of the wagons. If that's your bag, by all means, contact your district presidents for counsel.   

As for me, as soon as the polls open and I can cast my vote, I will do so for President Harrison, as will the lay delegate of the congregation I am blessed to serve. And, amazingly, we will be able to do so without having contacted our district president for his counsel. Go figure! We will do so not because President Harrison has the right vision or is trodding the right path, or because he's just more awesomer than the other candidates. We will do so simply because he shares our confession of the faith, promotes that confession, and desires to live and lead by that confession, which includes his ready admission that he is a sinner in need of Jesus Christ. He's transparent, unafraid to speak his mind or answer questions directly put to him in a direct manner (rather than screening questions in advance to formulate the best political answer), an excellent theologian, has a true pastor's heart, and will readily admit when he's wrong, repent, and seek forgiveness - you know, like a Lutheran.

So, thanks for the "humble and respectful" suggestion, Jerry, but I'm good.      

Thursday, June 20, 2013

COPs Gone Wild

The LCMS Council of Presidents (COPs) have often been referred to as the "8th Commandment Police," which is a nickname that only slightly edges out the other nickname by which they are also affectionately known: the "Blogging Police."

They have come to be known by these nicknames because some of the COPs have often issued missives, either in written or oral form, decrying what they deem to be crass violations of the 8th Commandment among the Lutherans they serve, especially within the crotchety realm of the Lutheran blogosphere. In fact, word has it that portions of COPs meetings have been devoted to addressing this issue, so concerned are some who belong to that high and venerable Council about this.

But, one wonders where the COPs are now? Some of their own venerable members have taken a liking to trampling all over the 8th Commandment lately, but not a peep of concern has been heard (at least, publicly) from any of the other members. Strange, that. Even stranger is the fact that those intent on setting the 8th Commandment aside in the attempt to score political points are among the loudest voices on the COPs decrying 8th Commandment violations, especially in the Lutheran blogosphere.

I guess the lesson we are to learn from this is that the COPs are above reproach. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander, since not all geese are equal in our synod. The 8th Commandment simply doesn't apply to certain Geese, who reside in certain, plush District offices. They are above the Law (hey, wasn't that a Steven Seagal movie?). For them, the end justifies the means. If the 8th Commandment must be obliterated in order to accomplish some self-perceived "higher good," so be it.

The first member of the COPs to forsake all sense of decency and use the power and resources of his office to do some dirty electioneering was Paul Linnemann, District President of the Northwest District of the LCMS. He sent out an email to voting delegates in his District to tell them about the two distinct paths he has witnessed forming in our synod. It is obvious to anyone reading his email that he is a big fan of the second path he describes, which, according to him, is being trod by his fellow District President, David Maier. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Linnemann sent this email out to voting delegates in his District to campaign for Maier. And, if one didn't know any better, one might be swayed by what Linnemann writes, for golly gee willickers, who would want a synodical president like Matt Harrison, who is "seeking to concentrate the activity and authority in the church in the office of pastor," and who doesn't want to engage the culture in which we live with the Gospel, but follows "a paradigm of limitation"? I mean, Harrison sounds like a big, fat jerk, especially when compared to how Linnemann describes Maier: "As the leader of the largest District in the LCMS, he has fostered a spirit of collegiality and trust among the people of his District." That sounds wonderful. I'll take two of those, please.

But, Linnemann's distasteful 8th-Commandment-Be-Damned politickin' was rather tame in comparison to the most recent diatribe from another one of the above-the-law COPs, Robert "call me Bob" Newton, District President of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District of the LCMS. There is no subtlety to Bob's campaign email he sent to delegates in his district. He just comes right out and slams Harrison, taking a quote from him in the May issue of The Lutheran Witness completely out of context in the attempt to convince voting delegates in his district that Harrison believes the preaching of the Gospel should only happen within the walls of our churches and be kept "far from the earshot of those who have not yet heard." Yeah, because a) that is an accurate description of the dude who happens to be the first LCMS President to testify before a congressional hearing in D.C., and b) that is totally what Harrison was saying in that article - totally.

Another member of the 8th-Commandment-Breaking 8th Commandment Police Squad, Chris Wicher, District President of the Eastern District of the LCMS, said the heck with sending out an email to voting delegates in his District limited to campaigning for Maier's election as synodical president. He went a step further and sent out a "Missional List" with suggested candidates for many of the elections to be conducted at our upcoming Synodical Convention. I mean, why limit your electioneering to the highest office in the synod when you can use the power and resources of your District office to go ahead and endorse a whole slate of candidates?

So much for fearing and loving God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. There's an election at stake here! We cannot let something like the 8th Commandment get in the way of our very important campaign. The future of our synod depends on this, after all! Harrison must be ousted. If we reelect him, he might pass some edict from on high which prevents us from ever saying anything about Jesus anywhere at any time, except within the confines of our churches, of course.

What a joke these men and their letters are - a disgraceful, disgusting, sickening joke! And, what hypocrisy! The "8th Commandment Police" doing such violence to the 8th Commandment themselves is like the corrupt cop who takes money from the mob, but pretends to be a cop on the up-and-up, or who, like in the pic above, claims to protect and serve citizens, while using every opportunity he can to beat the crap out of them in the name of performing his duties.

Not all cops are corrupt, of course. Neither are all COPs. Which is why it surprises me that none of the other COPs have issued public statements of concern over the unprecedented and disgraceful electioneering of their brother COPs. Will none of the other COPs speak up in defense of Harrison's reputation being damaged by these renegades? Is this just the preview of things to come in future elections, where the COPs will become the political activists in our synod, using the power and resources of their District offices to disparage other COPs in order to campaign for their preferred candidate?

I wonder how these renegade COPs would feel about President Harrison sending out an email to all the delegates in their Districts prior to their own elections in a couple of years, campaigning against them by twisting their words, misrepresenting their positions, and endorsing one of the candidates running against them. Oh, wait, never mind. These guys believe that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander, as mentioned above. They would most certainly cry "Foul!" were someone to have the audacity to send their delegates an email campaigning against them, just as they decry all the 8th-Commandment-Breaking in the Lutheran blogosphere, but have no problem breaking it themselves.

Of course, these renegade COPs have nothing to worry about here, as President Harrison wouldn't stoop to their level and use the power and resources of his office to actively campaign against them in their own Districts. I think they know that, which is why they don't fear putting aside all decency and engaging in such disgraceful electioneering. But, can't any of the other COPs chime in and call these renegades out on their despicable behavior?

And, what is the theme song for these renegade COPs? I think it's something like:

"Bad Prez, Bad Prez,
Whatcha gonna do?
Whatcha gonna do
When we come for you?"

These are a few of your Ecclesiastical Supervisors, O Lutherans. Kind of changes the meaning of "ecclesiastical," doesn't it?   

UPDATE: Since posting this yesterday, it was pointed out that the Florida-Georgia District had sent out a campaign letter, which you can read here. So, for those keeping score at home, please add that district to the list of those engaging in shameful and disgraceful electioneering.