Friday, July 9, 2010

My, how times have changed . . .

I recently received a wonderful treasure from a dear parishioner, Sharyn (a.k.a. Trixie), which she came across a couple of weeks back.  It is an old copy of The Lutheran Witness, dated February 19, 1918.  I finally had some time to read through it today.  Wow!  This is not The Lutheran Witness I have come to know in our day and age.  The times, they have definitely changed.  This old copy of The Lutheran Witness is filled with theological articles and all of them are most decidedly Lutheran through and through.  There is no "fluff and puff" to this publication whatsoever.  This is deep stuff.  Theological stuff.  Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions emphasized throughout.  Quotes from Dr. Luther, other Lutheran theologians, and the church fathers.  Warnings against embracing the surrounding culture.  Warnings against following in the footsteps of the false teachers of the age (e.g. Billy Sunday).  Decidedly Lutheran.  Unashamedly Lutheran.  Unapologetically Lutheran.  Through and through!  Heck, even the cover screams Lutheran, complete with a picture of Dr. Luther along with his bold confession:  "Here I stand.  I cannot do otherwise.  God help me.  Amen."  

I read through this old copy of The Lutheran Witness and then scanned through the latest copy of The Lutheran Witness which I received recently.  Simply no comparison.  The content and focus is so decidedly different that it is a shame that they bear the same title.  I'm not trying to be mean.  I'm sure the folks who produce today's version of this publication mean well and work hard at putting out a quality publication.  And, there are often some good articles in today's version.  But, let's be honest.  Today's version is not exactly deep on theology.  The focus is more on promoting synodical projects and programs, highlighting "successful" congregations and synodical personalities, sharing testimonials and feel-good stories, and so forth.  Today's version is more like synodical propaganda than bearing witness to the Lutheran confession of the faith.  Not so with this version from 1918.  Just take a look at the contents of this 1918 version and compare them with today's version:

"Crucified" (cover story)
Wow!  What an absolutely wonderful article this is.  It takes the reader through the prophecy of the crucifixion to the place of the crucifixion and finally deals with the shame of the crucifixion, all the while emphasizing in vivid detail what our Lord, Jesus Christ, did to accomplish our salvation.  Just to give you a taste, here are a few excerpts from the article:
"And they crucified Him."  Sublime brevity!  Divine eloquence!  The most stupendous fact of all ages is recorded without the least tremor of emotion.  Truly, the Evangelist was inspired by the Spirit to restrain his pen.  "And they crucified Him!"

Yes, He was counted a transgressor that we might be counted free; for "God hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."  2 Cor. 5,21.

Naked hung He there - the Lord of heaven and earth.  He was naked that we might be clothed with the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness.  The soldiers divided His garments among themselves and cast lots - raffled - for the cloak, that it might be fulfilled as the Psalmist prophesied in the 22nd Psalm, v. 18:  "They part My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture."

Furthermore, Tertullian, in his Apology, states the circumstances of the crucifixion were announced by the Procurator himself in a dispatch to the Emperor Tiberius; and Justin, in his Apology to the Emperor Antonius, mentions the Acta Pilati, or public records, in which a full account may be found.
"A Christian's Cheer under All Conditions"
Phil. 1, 12-21.
Studies in St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians.
This is the third article in a series the author is doing on Philippians.  Imagine that - a thorough study of a Biblical book in the synod's official organ.  What a concept!  Here's an excerpt:
Yea, the Apostle rejoices and will rejoice, even in his bonds, even though the world places such a strong restraining arm upon him; for, whatever may befall him, he knows he has his beloved Philippians with him in daily intercession and prayer.  And he knows that this prayer is not in vain, but that the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, will be with him, and will abundantly supply him with strength and courage sufficient for any emergency, v. 19.  He knows this, he is assured of this; he knows that his earnest expectation, and the hope which he has fondly cherished all the time, will not be put to shame in any particular.  It cannot be, being well placed; for it is built on the gracious words and promises of Jesus Christ, and both his life and the service in the course of which he was imprisoned, is given to that same Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  So he will not be ashamed, he will not meet with failure, no matter what will happen to his frail body . . . If he continues to live, his life, even in prison, will be spent in the service of Jesus Christ, unto the glory of His blessed name, and for the spreading of His Gospel.  And if he should die a martyr's death, that, too, will be to the glory of Jesus' name, in whose service he will gladly lay down his life.  So, why should he be downcast and despondent?  He is cheerful and will be cheerful.  The source of his cheer is Jesus Christ.  "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."  Gal. 2, 20.
"Thou Art the Man."
An excellent study of repentance and faith, based on the Biblical example of David, who was rebuked by the prophet Nathan (cf. 2 Sam. 12).  This article is sermonic in tone, addressing and applying the Biblical text under study personally to the reader (it is not identified as a sermon, but I'm guessing that it is).  It is quite good and, again, quite deep, theologically speaking.  A few excerpts:
David is a picture of you and me.  We are all in like condemnation, even though we have not fallen into similar atrocious and manifest sins.  "For there is no difference; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."  Rom. 3, 22.23.  And so, like him, we all need to repent and seek the same pardon and forgiveness.  Let us apply to ourselves, then, the words of Nathan to David:  "Thou are the man."

And therefore the words, "Thou art the man," become also a call to faith.  It was not a sermon of despair, but of hope, that Nathan preached to David.  When he had made his contrite confession, "I have sinned against the Lord," the prophet did not tell him that his sin was too great to find forgiveness, but this was what he said:  "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die."

Concluding paragraph:  My friend, whoever you may be, remember, "Thou art the man," the man that has sinned against the Lord, and therefore the man that needs to repent of his sin and confess it to his God; but also the man that is sure to find forgiveness with his God.  Come, then, and taste the bitterness of this pardon.  For indeed,
Blest the man, forever blest,
Whose guilt is pardoned by his God,
Whose sins with sorrow are confessed,
And covered with his Savior's blood.
 "The Advantages of a Long Pastorate"
I really enjoyed reading this article, which, as the title suggests, makes the case for long pastorates.  I think this article should be required reading for seminarians before they receive a call and are placed in a parish.  Too often, we think with a "first call" mentality.  Indeed, "first call" has become a regular feature of our vocabulary today.  The implication is that there will be a "second call" (or a third, fourth, etc.), and thinking in this way leads many to view their "first call" almost like an audition, as if they use their "first call" to get their feet wet, gain some much needed experience, experiment with different pastoral styles and approaches, and prepare themselves for the place where the Lord will call them to settle in later.  To be sure, there are a great many factors which sometimes necessary lead to a short pastorate, as the article rightly notes, but neither the pastor nor the congregation should ever assume that their relationship will be short.  Both the pastor and the congregation should enter into their relationship assuming just the opposite, that they will be together for as long as the Lord gives the pastor to serve in this vale of tears.  The relationship should be like that of a marriage.  The pastor and congregation take vows to love and support one another through good times and bad for as long as the Lord keeps them together.  The difference being, of course, that these vows are not made "until death we do part."  The Lord may very well call that pastor elsewhere.  But, unless and until the Lord does so, the pastor and the congregation should plan on being together for a long time, which means that they will have to learn how to live together, being ready and willing to forgive one another's shortcomings and annoyances, just as newlyweds have to learn.  The relationship takes work.  But, both should be ready and willing to work at it, recognizing that the Lord Himself has joined them together.  A couple of excerpts from this excellent and important article:
One argument which is at times advanced in favor of frequent changing of pastors is that it gives the people something new, and freshens their interest in church-work.  But who does not know that novelty soon wears off?  After hearing the new pastor once or twice, those who are gadding about for novelties will be satisfied, and will relapse into their former indifference.  Even the most sensational evangelists, however freakish their manner, however strange their antics, however entertaining their few stock phrases, cannot hold the crowds longer than a few weeks.  Many of the men who have given much time and money and labor to efforts to stir up new interest by frequent changes of evangelists and pastors are the ones who are most disgusted with the results.

We are not theorizing; we are saying something which the experience of nearly two thousand years bears out.  It is this:  To do real successful church-work means to feed the flock of Christ, give each one his portion in due time, apply the Law and the Gospel to each case, proclaim both these elements of God's Word publicly from the pulpit, and then defend this flock earnestly and zealously against the false prophets that go about in sheep's clothing, but are wolves within.  If this is done by one who has the ability to do it in a field of labor with which he is familiar, the fruits will not be missing.

Our restless, changeable age needs to be taught the lessons of fidelity to duty, of perseverance in well-doing, of self-effacement in the interest of service; we need to flee from the circus methods of such men as Billy Sunday back to the faithful, diligent, untiring work of the husbandman in the vineyard of our Lord.  
Wow!  When one reads this article (and, indeed, this entire publication) in light of what appears in the modern version, it is stunning how different is the content and focus.  "Successful church-work" back then simply meant being faithful to what the pastor has been called to do:  Feed the flock, preach Law and Gospel, defend the flock against false teachers, etc.  And - AND! - note the emphasis in these excerpts to remain faithful and to steer clear of the latest fads and gimmicks ("circus methods") of false teachers (like Billy Sunday), and to stay the course in this "restless, changeable age."  The modern version of this publication often sends the opposite message, namely that we need to adapt to our surrounding culture, learn how to make our churches more appealing to outsiders, and use the methods and styles of non-Lutherans who have had success, which is measured not in terms of faithfulness, but solely in terms of numbers, in order to experience the same "growth" they've experienced.  Yeah, quite a difference, indeed!

The remaining articles in this 1918 publication of The Lutheran Witness include:  "The Crescent or the Cross?" (a short article lamenting the support given by many American citizens to the Shriners, who worship the false god, "Allah," and including commentary on the war); "The Progress of Our Colored Missions" (a short article explaining the mission work being done among African Americans in the "Black Belt" of Alabama - some of the language in this article would most definitely be offensive to our modern ears, but the message is clear, namely that bigotry is wrong and decidedly un-Christian, and that Lutheran Christians will reach out to all people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, regardless of skin color, and regardless of the persecution they will face for doing so); "Washington in War Times" (a short article about the goings on in Washington, D.C. during this time of war, including some satirical railings against the antics of Billy Sunday, and an edict which was issued by the local fuel administrator ordering that the churches be closed for a few weeks in order to save fuel and help with the war effort; that edict was quickly overturned and changed to allowing the churches to heat their buildings from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Sundays, but to be heatless the rest of the time - very, very interesting reading).  After these articles, there is an Editorial section, in which several short, interesting articles appear, all of which offer commentary on various issues of the day from a Lutheran perspective.  Then comes a section titled "Church News," which contains a few short articles discussing happenings around the synod; then a section titled "Mail Bag," which has a few letters sent in from here and there and is extremely interesting reading.  Next is a very short section titled "The Reviewer," which gives a short and positive review of a German prayer book for children (which costs a whopping $0.15), and finally, the publication is rounded off with a section titled "Miscellaneous," which contains information about ordinations and installations, dedications, synodical calendars (lists all the dates for the upcoming District Conventions and, interestingly, lists the titles of the theological papers to be delivered at them - what a concept; meeting as a District to learn, discuss, and consider theology!), treasurer's reports, and so forth. 

My, how times have changed!  How wonderful it would be to return The Lutheran Witness to its original form and content, as a catechetical tool to instruct the people in our synod in our Lutheran confession of the faith.  You know, to live up to the name it bears and be a witness to what Lutherans believe, teach, confess, and practice.  Yeah, that would be wonderful indeed!

Anyway, thanks again, Trixie, for this wonderful treasure! 


sag said...

And thanks to my antique 'picker' friend, Deb, who thought of me when she found it among her 'prized possessions'.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Yes, thanks to Deb, for sure!

sag said...

Oh, wait. They were teaching that theology stuff to lay people back in 1918?!

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Amazing, isn't it?! :)