Thursday, May 31, 2007

Church, Like with a Big "C"

’m back from vacation. Always good to leave and always good to return!

Apparently by spending my days swimming and eating and watching the first season of “Lost” on DVD (never seen it before and now I’m hooked), I missed quite an exchange over at Weedon’s Blog regrading the Church, a discussion heated enough that it spilled over into other websites, and launched more ad homines attacks against non-Lutherans than I’ve seen since Fr. John Fenton joined the Orthodox Church…probably because another former Lutheran, now Orthodox priest Fr. Gregory Hogg was involved.

While the discussion has nearly prompted me from removing more blogs from my BlogReader (at Google…it’s pretty good. Go… er…Google it) the question itself is of the most serious importance. Where can you find the Church? What is the Church?

Why is this so important? Because this is what, rather, who we are, or are called to be. Jesus didn’t establish the canon of Scripture. Paul didn’t write letters intending to establish some collection of sacred text, or a textbook. Jesus established the Church, His Body, and St. Paul wrote letters of exhortation and encouragement to the Body of Christ, to the Church.

If you’re a Protestant (and I include modern Lutherans in this category) you don’t think about the Church in the same way that Christians throughout the ages have thought about it. Or maybe you do. Here’s a few questions:

1. Suppose you move around a lot and have a hard time finding a congregation that either makes you feel at home or teaches exactly what you believe the Bible says. Do you have church at home with your family and feel that this, while maybe not ideal, is nonetheless completely acceptable?

2. Suppose you are affiliated with a particular Church (or church body) but don’t like the pastor/priest/elder/leader. Is it okay for you to organize a new branch or congregation in town?

3. Suppose you heard about Pastor John Doe who wanted to form a new church in town. Does this seem like a normal thing?

4. Suppose you immigrated to a new country along with many like-minded people who felt that you couldn’t be faithful to God in your current location. Suppose once you arrived some scandal mandated your leader be removed as leader. Is this a crisis or do you simply find a new leader from capable men (some seminary-trained) and get on with your new church?

5. Is it even possible to form a new church body if you find enough like-minded people? Is it good?

How many questions did you answer “yes” to? Check below for what it means:

5: Congratulations! You are a modern schismatic protestant!

3-5: Congratulations! You are a schismatic protestant, but you have an idea that maybe the church is something other than a minor non-profit business after all.

2: Congratulations! You are a protestant, but you are concerned with having some sort of connection to the Church Christ established on Pentecost, and realize it’s more than a tax-exempt club that talks about God a lot. Or…you are a pastor who is sick of the LCMS but can’t find a good Lutheran Synod to join.

1: Don’t worry, you may not be protestant at all. Perhaps I just wrote the questions poorly.

If you answered question 4 in the affirmative, you are not a Missouri-Synod Lutheran like they used to be. This in fact is what happened. Lutherans in Germany fell under the charismatic sway of someone, became convinced that genuine Confessional Lutheranism was on its way out in Germany (they were right about this) and immigrated to America, where they could worship in a way that seemed right to them. Once they arrived, their Bishop was deposed for apparent sexual and financial offenses and they were thrown into crisis, asking themselves such questions as, “Are we a cult? A sect? Schismatic? How dare we form some Church by ourselves? Are we the Church or have we just excommunicated ourselves be default?”

Would you ask yourself these questions? Would they even occur to most people?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Comfort for Sinners with Habitual Sins

Do not be surprised if you fall back into your old ways every day. Do not be disheartened, but resolve to do something positive about it; and, without question, the angel who stands guard over you will honor your perseverance.
- St John Klimakos

Note that they are the “old ways.” For you may be a blasphemer, calling down curses on lousy drivers and bad weather; you may be a addict, craving alcohol or drugs, tobacco or sweets; you may be a gossip or a cynic; you may be selfish and prideful; you may have fallen into these temptations yesterday and the day before; you may never remember a time when you did not fight and succumb–or just succumb without much of a fight at all; but they are your “old ways.” Your weaknesses are not you, for you are of Christ. These temptations and weaknesses and sins are not your future ways, for those too are of Christ. And even though you may still fall into your old ways everyday, says St. John, “do not be disheartened.” All is not lost.

What positive things may we do about this? First, repent of your old ways. Call your sins “your old ways.” Remember that they are not your new ways, your future. Second, pray for mercy and then pray all the more. Say the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Say it over and over, not just as you feel temptation, but afterward. “Pray without ceasing,” says St. Paul. Third, read the Scriptures and attend the liturgy, receive the Sacrament often; read edifying things and so forth.
Old ways have a tendency to catch up to the present when, after prayer, we begin to rely on ourselves. Once you say that prayer and feel your spirit strengthen, feel firm resolve, do not give up praying. That resolve you feel is of our Lord’s mercy. You didn’t make yourself feel resolved. It is a gift from our Triune God. Likewise remaining in firm resolve to “sin no more” depends not on you, but upon the mercy of Christ and the grace of God.

Now as for that angel who “stands guard over you…” Certainly it is true we all have Guardian Angels. Jesus says, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10 NKJV). Jesus speaks this about the child who is His Disciple. But our Lord is not just talking about young people, but about all people who “become like little children.” We are all Christ’s “little ones,” dependent upon Him and our Heavenly Father. And Christ speaks of “their angels.”

These angels of ours may also be offended, as Christ continues to say that if we despise one of His children, we should watch out, for his angel sees “the face of My Father.” And St. Peter laments that there are some great sinners who are presumptuous enough to speak ill of angelic beings.

How does your angel “honor your perseverance?” I don’t know.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tagged By Emily

Emily at The Children of God tagged me with “The Seven Things I have learned in life.” Here goes:

1. “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19 )

A major turning point in my Christian faith was when I realized what Christ’s victory over death meant. Not “dying and going to heaven to be with Jesus” but resurrection, the making of “all things new,” and the redemption of all things by our God Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis first taught me this in Mere Christianity and other places. It is also great comfort, as Fr. Thomas Hopko puts it, that, “History is over. All is accomplished by Christ. Now we wait for the parousia.”

2. Don’t put it in writing unless you want it to last forever.

From your boss, to your employee, to a wife or child, if it needs to be proven and be permanent, put it in writing. If the words may come to haunt you, don’t write it down. My dad once taught that to me during a very embarrassing incident in the fourth grade. The details will not be recounted here.

3. Slumber is the great danger to faith.

Not sleeping at night, but spiritual slumber. “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:34) and “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12 ).

One of my favorite Lutheran hymns (and Bach Cantatas) is “Wachet auf”

“Wake, awake, for night is flying,”
The watchmen on the heights are crying;
“Awake, Jerusalem, arise!”
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
“Where are the virgins, pure and wise?
The bridegroom comes, awake!
Your lamps with gladness take!
Alleluia! With bridal care
And faith’s bold prayer,
To meet the bridegroom, come, prepare!”

Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And in her heart new joy is springing.
She wakes, she rises from her gloom.
For her Lord comes down all-glorious,
The strong in grace, in truth victorious.
Her star’s arising light has come!
“Now come, O blessed one,
Lord Jesus, God’s own Son.
Hail! Hosanna! We answer all
In joy Your call,
We follow to the wedding hall.”

Now let all the heav’ns adore You,
Let saints and angels sing before You
With harp and cymbals’ clearest tone.
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where, joining with the choir immortal,
We gather round Your radiant throne.
No eye has seen that light,
No ear the echoed might
Of Your glory; Yet there shall we
In Your vict’ry
Sing shouts of praise eternally!

Satan does his best work in lulling us to be spiritually sleepy, ignoring the mild temptations that frequently come our way.

4. It’s only money

It is not to be worshiped, hoarded, stressed over or wasted. I’m still learning this one.

5. We do not need that much

We say we do, but we don’t.

6. The Path of Least Resistance is fraught with danger.

See above.

7. Glory to God for ALL things.

Yes, I stole it from “From Wittenberg to Athens and All Stops in Between.” I am still learning this one as well, but I am convinced if one can say this, one is living by faith. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thess. 5:16-18)

Now I suppose I’m supposed to tag some:





Don’t feel obligated.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Problem of Epiphany

[I wrote the following post on January 5, but was not ready to post it then. I believe the time is now. Note well the title.]

In modern Lutheran usage, there are four great Festivals of our Lord: The Nativity, the Epiphany, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. Yet, in many (most) Lutheran parishes two of them go virtually, if not totally, ignored. Even in those parishes that transfer the Epiphany or Ascension to the nearest Sunday its celebration is often indistinguishable from your average Sunday, save a few hymns. Yet Epiphany has more to celebrate than the other Festivals: the Baptism, the Wedding, the first miracles, and, in the West, the appearance of the Magi.

I am no liturgical scholar. I’m an amateur, a child, really, when it comes to liturgics. And this is part of the problem. I know Epiphany ought to be celebrated with great celebration, but how? Where are the resources? Where are the Lutheran traditions? Where is the desire? In fact, the few Lutheran resources I have read intimate that Epiphany ought to be greeted with great fanfare, but what does that look like?

My friend Pastor Weedon (and others with him) has often emphasized the rich liturgical and theological contributions of Lutherans of yesteryear, for which I am quite thankful. But as I read blogs and essays and hear discussion from all over (no names here), I think of Hansel and Gretel: little Lutheran Hansel leaving home with bread aplenty, wandering through the woods, dropping little bits here and there until finally his loaf has all but disappeared. He is hungry and lost and has little left. Many fine LCMS pastors, scholars and liturgists do a commendable job in tracking down the bits dropped in this or that century. But I wonder: when we bring them back to Hansel and Gretel, cold and shivering, why do they respond, “Oh, that’s not my bread. I’ve got my bread right here!”

Not the best analogy. Here’s another:

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned [from Crete] had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same. (from Wikipedia (

So the Lutherans had their ship and the next generation repaired a few boards, here and there, and so forth, each generation replacing a board. Some had to use temporary boards that made an approximate fit, hoping the next generation would remember to find the correct board. Still others found a shorter mast might be more expedient under certain sailing conditions and made adjustments. That generation sailed to other waters and found the holds too small and enlarged them slightly. One generation realized depending on the wind was foolish, and added some diesel engines to make it through the doldrums. Are we sailing the same ship?

I think I know the answer. You may too. Here’s a quote from Luther’s Works:

Thereupon the priest reads a collect in monotone on F-fa-ut,

Almighty God, who art the protector of all who trust in thee, without whose grace no one is able to do anything, or to stand before thee: Grant us richly thy mercy, that by thy holy inspiration we may think what is right and by thy power may perform the same; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thereafter the Epistle in the Eighth Tone, and let him for the reciting note remain on the same pitch as the collect. The rules for it are these:

Period is the end of a sentence.

Colon is a part of a sentence.

Comma is a subdivision within the colon.

Rules for this chant

Luther, M. 1999, c1965. Vol. 53: Luther’s works, vol. 53 : Liturgy and Hymns (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Fortress Press: Philadelphia

Chanting the Collect? That is bad enough. Chanting the Epistle?? How can that be Lutheran?

Obviously I am not speaking here about the wrong style of vestment, or the deplorable architectural foolishness wherein the “altar rails” stick out into the nave; nor “women’s voting,” modern VBS programs, or “singing new hymns.” This brief quote, from what is often considered Luther’s more “low-church” worship service says plenty. Nevermind the implied activity for the average parish priest according to Luther: he is to pray Matins and Vespers every day, preparing the chants, the homily (or finding one to read). He writes,

Let the chants in the Sunday masses and Vespers be retained; they are quite good and are taken from Scripture. However, one may lessen or increase their number. But to select the chants and Psalms for the daily morning and evening service shall be the duty of the pastor and preacher. For every morning he shall appoint a fitting responsory or antiphon with a collect, likewise for the evening; this is to be read and chanted publicly after the lesson and exposition.

Luther, M. 1999, c1965. Vol. 53: Luther’s works, vol. 53 : Liturgy and Hymns (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works. Fortress Press: Philadelphia

We are aboard Thesus’ Ship, and there are few schematics, and those are often misread.

But is it so bad? Or should we wander off, looking for a “more pure” or at least more original Lutheran Church? I don’t think those exist, and creating one is simply schismatic.

Should we ignore such discussion and claim that all these things were barnacles of catholicism that we have been slowly scraping off our hull and are the stronger for it?

Should we systematically re-introduce the bits of breadcrumbs and original rigging of the once-Lutheran Church? This is the call semper reformanda (”continual reformation”) that you hear, that pastors at the Seminaries hear continually. That is the cry of Confessionals all the time: “Educate your people! Teach them the truth!” (What a liberal sentiment, that if only we can educate people enough they will do the right thing and be on the straight and narrow.)

Here is where I fail you, dear friends. I have no answer to give…not here and not now. There are some voices calling for such a better Lutheran Synod. Some advocate staying and fighting, er, teaching for the true Lutheran way. Some are content with regaining the last 50 years of Lutheran practice, never mind the other 450. Some recognize the change and development of the Lutheran church since the Reformation in a positive manner.

Some who have written on this theme (all more eloquently than I…but remember, this is draft 1) have jumped ship. Others have grown tired and given up. Some just fade away, like The Rolling Stones. Others continue the fight, and fight with those alongside them.

I don’t have the answer. Perhaps I’m Chicken Little or jousting at windmills.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Are Children Born High Church?

Dan at Necessary Roughness writes the following:

We were sitting towards the back of the church on Sunday, prepared for the necessity of escorting a child out of church with a minimum of distraction to everyone else.

Matins was preceded by the baptisms of two children, one about seven and the other about eleven, by my guess. Baptism are cool to watch.

My poor shorter and more vocal daughter tried to get a glimpse. I even let her stand on my lap for a little bit, when to my horror, she blurted out, “he’s not doing it like they do in the real church.”

Dan goes on to write that his child was referring to the Baptisms she saw performed by Pope Benedict on television. Why did she think that St. Peter’s is the real church?

I am nearly convinced that children are born as rubrically-minded high churchers. It takes a lot of work to dispel them of their inborn sacramental, liturgical faith, but most parents joyfully go about teaching them by example that church is about listening to lectures, singing different hymns every week instead of memorizing the liturgy, and keeping the eyes closed when we pray lest we see crucifixes or images, or, God forbid, angels (tongue firmly in-cheek).

Our three-year-old went through a period of having bad dreams and seeing images on the wall by her bed. I offered to buy a cross and put it on her wall, which she thought would work just fine but she insisted it have “Jesus on it.” Thankfully the one religious book store in town had two crucifixes to choose from.

Our children would not just reverence the altar when they passed in front of it, they would do full prostrations (knees and forehead on the floor). Why? I don’t believe they had ever seen it before–they just did it. Strangely enough, I was picking up #2 from the Christian (Baptist) School Kindergarten once and strolled in while the full-day kids were praying before walking to the lunch room and saw three or four of those good baptist kids also praying while making a full prostration.

There are plenty more examples of the strange crypto-Catholic/ crypto-Orthodox practices of kids (Lutheran and Protestant) I’ve seen, but in the interest of preserving their reputations, I will refrain :)
Study questions:

1. Are “churched” children somehow innately high-church?

2. Does this have implications regarding Original Sin (especially for those baptist kids who have not yet been baptized)?

3. Does this have implications for adults, especially those who are afraid of sacramental, reverent worship?