Thursday, May 29, 2008

Heilige Scheisse

From the Wisconsin Synod’s website Q&A:

Q:On Sunday I had my first introduction to the Athanasian Creed. The Blue Luther's Catechism has nothing on it. My parents visited my church with me this weekend and said that the two WELS churchs (sic) we went to never used it. I also attended Lutheran Grade School at Emanuel New London 1-8th grade and confirmed there and never read it their (sic) either. That brings me to that I have never been introduced to it. The second sentance (sic) struck me and I had to stop reading it aloud with others. "Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever." I have always been taught that we only need to believe that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. I thought our faith could be as simple as that and not have to be kept "pure in all points (we) will certainly perish forever." I have been reading alot about the Athanasian creed but have found nothing about the topic I am addressing. This definitely seems to be questionable doctrine to me.

A:The Athanasian Creed was written to defend the correct Trinitarian teaching of Athanasius against the error of Arius, who denied the true diety of Christ. A person cannot be saved without faith in the Triune God. If this is the intent of "Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever," the statement can be understood correctly. If it means that a person cannot be saved without a complete understanding of all biblical doctrine, it goes too far. If we were writing the Creed, we would not word it that way, because it is subject to misunderstanding.

  1. The Blue Luther's Catechism has nothing on it.”

True, because that’s the Small Catechism. However, the WELS hymnal, Christian Worship, does have something “on it”.

  1. My parents visited my church with me this weekend and said that the two WELS churchs (sic) we went to never used it. I also attended Lutheran Grade School at Emanuel New London 1-8th grade and confirmed there and never read it their (sic) either.”

Sad, but entirely plausible.

  1. The second sentance (sic) struck me and I had to stop reading it aloud with others. ‘Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever.’”

It struck us too. That is what CW says.

  1. “The Athanasian Creed was written to defend the correct Trinitarian teaching of Athanasius

Might it be better to say “the correct Trinitarian teaching of” the Church?

  1. “A person cannot be saved without faith in the Triune God. If this is the intent of ‘Whoever does not keep this faith pure in all points will certainly perish forever,’ the statement can be understood correctly. If it means that a person cannot be saved without a complete understanding of all biblical doctrine, it goes too far. If we were writing the Creed, we would not word it that way, because it is subject to misunderstanding.”

Ah, okay.… Ignore the arrogance in the last sentence for the moment. It seems (according to our cursory research and our vague memories from our schooling) this exact sentence is ONLY in the WELS version of the Athanasian Creed (if someone out there knows of a source other than CW for this translation, let us know; remember, CW was published in 1993 and translations are not generally able to be sent back in time).

Various translations of the Book of Concord, other Lutheran hymnals (TLH, LSB, LW), and other denominations (LCMS, ELCA, Roman Catholic, Christian Reformed, etc.) all have the following as the second sentence: “Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled (some: inviolable) will without doubt perish eternally.” The Latin is: “Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, absque dubio in aeternam peribit.” That doesn’t mean quite the same as CW’s “pure in all points”, but is much, much better translated “whole and inviolate (or undefiled)”.

In the Acknowledgements of CW the source of the Nicene Creed translation is listed as “the English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), 1988, altered.” No source is listed for the text of the Athanasian Creed and the ELLC does not have a text of the Athanasian Creed on its website, which has an extensive collection of its translations.

  1. “If we were writing the Creed, we would not word it that way, because it is subject to misunderstanding.”

Huh? It seems THEY DID word the Creed “that way”.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Principles and Applications

The WELS’ principles and their applications seem very squishy these days and are getting more gelatinous and sticky all the time. Here is a part of the official doctrinal statements on male and female roles from All Christians, men and women, are to use their God-given gifts to serve each other (1 Pe 4:10). Women are encouraged to participate in offices and activities of the public ministry except where the work involves authority over men.”

This “authority over men” is explained to include teaching and voting. Yet, the WELS National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts will have women presenting sectionals. One of the sectionals, apparently open to both male and female attendees, led by a woman, will trace “the development of a contemporary liturgical service at Emanuel, New London, WI. Practical examples of service formats, repertoire, and rehearsal strategies will be covered along with discussion of the challenges faced in helping people value Lutheran worship principles. Ideas shared will help move beyond confining terminology and options while exploring variety in Lutheran worship.“

Sounds like this “woman” is going to be “teaching” “men”. How is this in line with the written doctrine of the synod? We’ve heard some explain that if a woman teaches in a submissive way (Could we get a demonstration, please? Does this mean slouching and looking at the floor and mumbling at a barely audible decible?) then it’s ok for her to teach men. Fine. Then a woman can preach from the pulpit on Sunday morning, consecrate the elements, and commune the faithful, as long as she does it in a submissive way. That’s where you end up when the pastoral ministry is all about authority and not about Christ. However, let’s leave that for some other time. The sentence, “Women are encouraged to participate in offices and activities of the public ministry except where the work involves authority over men” has more issues in it than will be covered here today.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Marketing Fellowship???

Thanks to an alert reader, we were directed to this from the LCMS e-News May 20, 2008:

Is your church . . .

SMALL--with fewer than 100 people in attendance on Sunday mornings?

LARGE--with many members and musical resources?

TRADITIONAL--with a deep desire to retain familiar worship patterns?

DIVERSE--offering different worship styles to members and visitors of many ages and cultures?

EVANGELISTIC--with a congregational mindset for reaching the lost?

EVALUATING--with a growing interest in new forms and music for worship?

ACTUALLY A CHAPEL--where daily worship serves high school or college students?

ACTUALLY A CLASSROOM--where children gather each day to worship the Lord?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, then you will want to attend the:

2008 Institute on Liturgy, Preaching, and Church Music

July 22-25, 2008

Concordia University Nebraska--Seward, Nebraska

That looks oddly familiar... Where have we seen something like this before?

From the conference brochure the the WELS National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts:

Who should come? Anyone whose church is:

*Small with fewer than 75 people in attendance on Sunday mornings

*Large with many members and many musical resources

*Traditional with a deep desire to retain familiar worship patterns

*Diverse with members and visitors of many ages and cultures

*Evangelistic with a congregational mindset for reaching the lost

*Evaluating with a desire to enhance worship that edifies members and guests

*Experimenting with a growing interest in new forms and music for worship

*Actually a chapel where daily worship serves high school or college students

*Really a classroom where children gather each day to worship the Lord

We don't know which was written first.

Just a coincidence? Perhaps.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wendell the Agnostic

*Like they say on the TV, this is a true story.*
*Name and details have been changed to protect the agnostic.*

Wendell grew up in a nominally Christian home. He was baptized as an infant in 1929. His parents took him to church most Sundays. He believed the Bible just as most of his friends did. He believed in a Christian work ethic and was pretty sure there was a passage in the Bible somewhere that said something about God helping those who help themselves. He believed that if he worked hard and did what was right, God would help him and give him what he wanted. With the rest of his Sunday School class, Wendell memorized Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”.

Wendell’s birthday was fast approaching. He had been a well-behaved, respectful young man and so believed that if he prayed really hard, God would make sure he received a Hubley 7” cast iron race car as a gift, which he had wanted for almost an entire year. So, Wendell prayed. He had also memorized 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing”, so he prayed a lot: at school, at home, at the dinner table, while playing, and before going to sleep. Every available moment he had during the month before his birthday, he prayed for that car. He was certain that God would reward his good work and give him what he asked for.

Sadly, his birthday came and there was no Hubley 7” cast iron race car for Wendell. His mother baked a cake and he was given a present, but it was not what he had been asking God for. Instead of the race car, he received four toy soldiers. He hadn’t prayed for or wanted toy soldiers, but that was what God had given him. It wasn’t fair in Wendell’s mind. He had done his part by obeying his parents and teachers. He had even prayed! He had prayed for a whole month! Why hadn’t God answered him? Perhaps, God didn’t answer because He isn’t there. The first seeds of doubt were sown in Wendell’s mind. God didn’t give him what he wanted, so maybe God doesn’t exist.

Wendell continued going to church with his family. He went to Sunday School and learned more about God but was always carrying the nagging uncertainty whether God was real.

In time, Wendell grew up and left home. He married and his wife became pregnant. She went into labor too early in the pregnancy and the baby boy died. Wendell had prayed for that baby too, but God had let him down again. God hadn’t protected Wendell’s family. He had brought the family grief. Wendell’s wife was unable to become pregnant again and died childless, leaving Wendell all alone. Now, Wendell had more doubts about the existence of God. If God did exist, it seemed that He hated Wendell. This was too much to bear for Wendell had always tried to follow God’s will for his life. God had no reason to be so angry with Wendell. The only answer that made sense was that there was no God. Wendell’s parents had been suckers to spend so much time and money in church. There was no God. They were fooling themselves.

Wendell retired and met another retiree in his neighborhood who was a member of the local Lutheran church. They would talk about religion and this Lutheran tried and tried to convince Wendell that God did exist, despite the hardships that Wendell had endured, and that God was merciful and loving. Wendell didn’t buy it but was lonely and liked the company, so he kept up the conversation. Eventually, the Lutheran invited Wendell to attend a church service with him. Wendell declined. Wendell continued to decline for several months. Then, the Lutheran invited Wendell to attend Bible class held after the church service. Wendell accepted. He saw this as an opportunity to save those dopes some time and cash by showing them that God is not real. He hoped to trip up the pastor leading the class and show him for the charlatan he must be.

Wendell’s friend brought him to Bible class every week. Wendell asked questions but none of the church members seemed able to see the inconsistencies and logical fallacies inherent in Christianity. Wendell was undeterred and had nothing better to do, so he kept coming to the class for years. In that time, the church changed. When Wendell had started coming, there had been a “praise service” advertised. Wendell had no interest in seeing popular music, which he didn’t enjoy, modified to Christian lyrics, and he didn’t believe there was any God to praise anyway, and if there were a God, a God who allows such suffering on Earth, why in the world would we want to sing Him love songs?

Eventually, a new pastor came. This pastor was convinced that the Bible could be proven to be true using science. Wendell was curious, and still had nothing better to do, so he kept attending the Bible class, but not the church service, which was now only from the hymnal all the time, though no one could explain to Wendell why that change was made. The pastor made his case for creation using science, but his conclusions could not be proven absolutely, so Wendell continued to doubt and loudly question.

In time, that pastor retired and a new pastor came. This pastor taught the people why they prayed the historic liturgy every Sunday. Wendell didn’t really care. This pastor also related everything to Christ in Bible class. This was mildly annoying to Wendell, but he kept attending and bringing his questions to the pastor and the group of duped church members. They studied parts of the Bible that warned against hardening your heart (Psalm 95). They studied the Gospels and Christ’s atonement for all sins of all people. They learned of the promises of Christ, not to give Christians whatever they want, but to provide for what all need and that bearing the cross in a fallen world is painful and difficult but is always for our good.

The pastor met with Wendell privately and with a trusted group of Wendell’s friends and warned him that he was in danger of eternal punishment in hell and told Wendell that he was praying and would continue to pray for Wendell. Wendell told the pastor that he didn’t believe in hell and that the pastor could keep praying if he wanted to but it made no difference because God probably wasn’t real. Besides, Wendell didn’t believe that he sinned. He had found a nice lady TV preacher, and though she was kind of shrill and obnoxious, he did agree with her that he too was not a sinner.

For the time being, this is the end of Wendell’s story. He continues to come regularly to Bible class, not believing what is taught. He still asks questions to try to trip up the Christians but has never succeeded in turning any away from their confession of faith. Wendell’s Lutheran acquaintances continue to pray for his conversion and probably will until his time on earth is ended, but they are not so na├»ve as to think that perhaps some different method would have a more favorable effect. The method of evangelism is not the issue. Hardness of heart is. We do not overcome another’s hardening of his or her own heart by our cleverness or novelty. Only the Holy Spirit overcomes hardness of heart (“so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11)

The story of this real person and of all those who have hardened their hearts is sad, profoundly sad. How difficult it is to sit next to someone, in a Bible class no less, who has chosen to reject Christ. Yet, this person will continue to be welcome in the congregation and will be taught and remembered in prayer and kindly spoken with by the pastor and the members always in the hope of a blessed eternity with our Savior.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Answers Are:

We almost forgot, but in case you were wondering, here are the quotes from below with their sources.

  1. “This invitation to dream, however, is not one that asks you to dream with your eyes closed and simply to imagine what can be. Rather, this invitation asks you to dream with your eyes wide open.”-Rev. Gerald Kieschnick
  2. “The rewards of lending a helping hand to others or being the recipient of an act of kindness leads to an atmosphere of trust, caring and relationship building.”-Mary Kay
  3. “_________ meetings are full of shared energy, enthusiasm, and excitement.”-Amway
  4. “It’s so simple, yet makes such a difference. Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important’.”-Mary Kay

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Synod Propaganda or Pyramid Scheme

Ok, here’s another game we’ve developed after wading through the junk mail. There’s an odd familiar ring to some of the propaganda that is sent out from Lutheran synods. With the constant drumbeat of missions behind darn near everything that is written, the synods end up sounding mighty similar to multi-level marketing organizations (pyramid schemes).

You start with a product and a leader who gathers around him/herself a small group of “believers”, gets them all fired up to go tell others about the wonders of Amway, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, Tupperware, Lia Sophia, Herbalife, Shaklee, Creative Memories, or Jesus, then sends out those from the small group to form their own small groups and get new people fired up. Hopefully, some from these small groups will also see the benefits of being part of the organization and make a formal commitment. Then they can go form their own small groups and the conversion continues. Just as there is no need for a Mary Kay salesperson to ever set foot in the door of the corporate headquarters, there also seems to be no need for Lutheran pyramid scheme operators to get themselves to their assumed source, the Church. No, the impression is given that the small groups are the answer. They will self-perpetuate divorced from the preached Word and the administered Sacraments. The big show on Sunday becomes the rally to get more new people to sign up for the small groups, with hopes that they will then eventually form and lead their own small groups.

This approach of marketing the Gospel may explain some of the backdoor losses the Lutheran church experiences. If you come into the church because of the inspirational high of emotionally charged music and worship or because of a Lutheran testimonial to what wonderful things have happened in the life of another since joining a church, how difficult is it to leave when things start to go badly in your life or if the emotional high doesn’t come as readily as it once did? This same burnout is seen in MLM salespeople who come in excited and assured that all will now be well with them, but then fall away when the promises of exorbitant wealth, free time, and happiness aren’t kept. Reminds one of Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed.

This pyramid scheme evangelism ignores the cross Christ promised to His followers and makes unrealistic promises and unScriptural demands on new members. No, your life might not get outwardly happier or easier if you join a Lutheran church. No, you don’t HAVE TO join a social group in a congregation to BE INVOLVED. No, it isn’t necessary to membership in Christ’s Church to receive phone calls from other, more established members inviting you, the new sucker, to every potluck, coffee hour, kids’ concert, meeting, fundraiser, or picnic under the sun.

Church isn’t primarily about us; it’s about Christ. Only after it’s about Christ is it about us. Never underestimate your own insignificance.

So, at long last, which of the quotations below is from a Lutheran church leader? Bonus points* if you can guess** the source of any of the others, too.

  1. “This invitation to dream, however, is not one that asks you to dream with your eyes closed and simply to imagine what can be. Rather, this invitation asks you to dream with your eyes wide open.”
  2. “The rewards of lending a helping hand to others or being the recipient of an act of kindness leads to an atmosphere of trust, caring and relationship building.”
  3. “_________ meetings are full of shared energy, enthusiasm, and excitement.”
  4. “It’s so simple, yet makes such a difference. Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important’.”

*If you send us real money, we will send out real prizes
**”Guess” means no internet searches

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Placement Whining

It’s the middle of placement season. LCMS seminaries have made their spring placements and the WELS is not far behind with teacher/staff minister placement coming next week and pastoral candidates the following week. There was a shortage of calls for the LCMS seminary graduates this spring which has been the cause of some online whining, which in our view, is stupid. The complaints we’ve heard and seen run along these lines: “the students put in eight years of school”, “the students went into debt”, “there are congregations who plan to stay vacant instead of calling which means there are calls available”. Yes, all three complaints are entirely accurate. However, so what?

Did you think you were joining the Army when you entered the seminary? Did anyone promise you a job for signing up? We doubt it very much. If your church body has more pastor-students than congregations willing to take them, then not all of the graduates are placed. This isn’t new. Would those of you complaining be doing the same kind of whining for graduates in an accounting program, clown college, or dental school? We doubt it. Yet, the situation is somewhat similar. Most of those students went through several years pursuing an education in their chosen field. Many of them went into debt. Though these men at the seminary are planning to go into church work, there is still a role for the kingdom of the left in the process. If 42 vacant congregations are looking for candidates and there are 53 graduates, some of the graduates will not be placed. Life’s not fair, even in the church. The truly admirable part of all this is the work done by the placement directors who have high hopes of placing everyone by later in the summer. They should be commended, not crapped on.

There will still be LCMS congregations who are vacant while graduates twiddle their thumbs waiting for a placement. Sometimes, the responsibility for this lies partially with the graduates. If you told the placement director you would only accept a TLH congregation with no women voters within a 40-mile radius of Tampa, FL, you may be waiting a while to be placed. Some vacant congregations are ornery, cantankerous groups that don’t want some pastor telling them what to do and will be vacant until Christ returns (and even then won’t appreciate the New Guy telling them what to do in their church). Would you want to be assigned to such a place? It might be better to take the plumber’s exam instead.

Missourians should be dancing in the streets for joy over how much control they do have as students in their first placement. Come to the WELS where there are no interviews and no advance warning, with the exception of international mission placements. You get what you get. You don’t find out until they announce your name in the call service. Teacher/pastor/staff ministers are all in the same boat. You may be assigned to the educational specialty for which you had been studying the past five years. You may not. You may be assigned as a staff minister, you may be assigned to run a preschool. You may be assigned to be the second pastor in charge of chancel dramas and the praise team even though you were the one pushing for installing a tabernacle in the new-fangled portable chapel. We don’t wish to hear of any weeping or gnashing of teeth in St. Louis or Fort Wayne, but we won’t be surprised if the number of prescriptions for Cymbalta goes through the roof in New Ulm and Mequon in the next two weeks.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Attention, Blue-Haired Hotties

This is to all the LWML babes out there. Or, rather, all of you who were able to hook your manual typewriter up to the interweb so you could send teck messages to your great-great-grandchildren. (This might be a small audience.) Anyway, your church body needs you. The LCMS seems to be unable to keep missionaries in West Africa. We think it’s about time someone stood up for the poor who desperately need help for this world and the next even if that means backing off attempts to reach those who drive by US LCMS churches every day in their SUVs without setting foot inside, have ignored your canvassing efforts, and threw out your church-advertising mailers. Who better to support the spread of the Gospel in places like Togo and Burkina Faso than an organization like the LWML? If you can take a break from throwing your hands in the air and waving them around like you just don’t care, consider supporting planting churches and schools in West Africa.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"What the Church Militant Means to Me"

Some would say the Church Militant means to be always contending for the faith. This is true, however always contending does not mean always looking for a fight and starting one if none have come your way recently. The fights over the exact wording of a closed communion statement in the bulletin, blue vs. violet paraments for Advent, pinpointing the exact moment when you MUST leave a synod, whether to use TLH page 15 or Divine Service, Setting 3 in LSB (for LBW/LW/CW users-TLH p.15 and LSB DS3 are the same) and which direction to cross oneself fly around the internet perpetuated by self-indulged, self-important people with too much time on their hands. This is not what is meant by the Church Militant.

If you really want to contend for the faith, just do what you are supposed to be doing. The fights, the actual important ones, will come to you. Whether you are a clergyperson or a layperson, it would be better to spend your time in study of God’s Word and the Lutheran confession (no, not alone with your NIV, BoC, and a flashlight in a closet) to be able to answer the questions and challenges that come your way regarding children’s sermons, Sacraments, female elders, female pastors, praise bands, the latest American religious bestseller, fellowship, or whatever else.

The email group arguments, the ones that are not that important, may be serving to insulate you from the battles that are worth fighting. It is easier to vehemently argue against a Roman collar in the relative security and anonymity of cyberspace and pat yourself on the back when another Anglican-leaning person agrees with you than it is to tell the daughter of your congregation’s president that she is under the lesser ban because she continues to live with her boyfriend outside of marriage. No glory there, only headaches. Yet, the latter example and not the former is the Church Militant. When you are forced to contend for the faith, you do. It is not enjoyable. If the contention becomes enjoyable or becomes a hobby, there may be something wrong.

But what about all the body armor language from Paul? Aren’t we supposed to be always fighting? Yes, and we are, but we will appear to lose. In the real contending for the faith, we will turn people off, make people angry, hurt 21st century sensitivities, and life might be fairly miserable. However, in that real contending for the faith, you will be helped if you treat your audience in an appropriate way. If you are a pastor, the language and forcefulness you use amongst other pastors is not always appropriate. If you are attempting to explain to the Ladies’ Aid why it may be better if they didn’t sing “We All Are One In Mission” at every meeting, it really won’t help your cause to go into great detail about ordination and the Office of the Holy Ministry. They will not think you intelligent. They will think you a jerk. Any suffering you experience after such a boneheaded move you have brought on yourself. Take a lesson from the laypeople who go to work with unbelievers, Protestants, Roman Catholics, and idolaters every day, yet manage to let their light shine, not by being Jesus pushers or arrogant donkeys’ behinds, but by quietly and respectfully contending for the Gospel in their vocations in the world.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Pentecost vs. Mother’s Day – Cage Match


Seriously, the battle has already been waged, and from the advertising many churches are doing, Pentecost has lost. For someone on the outside looking in, the highest festivals of the American Lutheran Church year could be ranked as follows: Christmas, Mother’s Day, Reformation, Easter, and the other days are all about the same, aren’t they?

We are certainly not against mothers. We all had mothers. We like mothers. We’ll happily send cards, flowers, and gifts this Mother’s Day. If we live near enough to our mothers, we will be taking our mothers out for brunch or dinner and will try to give our respective mothers a nice, relaxing day.

The problem is the insertion of the observance of Mother’s Day into the Church. There is an appropriate place for the observance of Mother’s Day in the Divine Service: during the prayer of the Church. There is the opportunity to thank God for mothers, ask God to bless and give strength to mothers, and ask God to comfort those mothers whose motherhood has brought them trials, sadness, and grief.

Mother’s Day should not become a spectacle that takes the focus off Christ and places it on frail, sinful humans. In the end, this is damaging to both the mothers and those seeking to adore them. Though everyone had a mother, not everyone had a good mother. An observance that asks a child to recall abuse or neglect can be torture and will not be a cheerful day no matter how distant the ugly memories are.

Any honest mother will admit that she is not the mother God wants her to be; she is not and cannot live up to the perfect expectations of this vocation. Putting the spotlight on one sinful person or a group of sinful people exposes the flaws and hurts in them. Because of sin, even those who by all outward appearances are good mothers, may have crappy children. Through no fault of the parents, children do drift away from Church, make immoral choices and sometimes get themselves in trouble with the law. This doesn’t mean they didn’t have good mothers; it’s another example of the taint of sin.

Our only perfect Mother is the Church. She will never neglect or abuse us. She washes us clean in Holy Baptism and feeds us Christ’s Word, His Body, and His Blood to nourish us. On May 11, 2008, instead of celebrating the icons, celebrate our perfect Mother, the Church.

(Then take Mom to brunch….Bring flowers….and a card. Really. Remember how many hours of labor she went through to bring your sorry behind into this world. This is the LEAST you can do.)

“38Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.39For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.'40And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this untoward generation.’41Then those who gladly received his words were baptized, and that same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread and in prayers.”

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Anonymous Comments on Anonymous Answers to Anonymous Questions

The question and answer portion of the WELS website is something of an enigma. Questions sent in are usually posted on the public forum anonymously, though to the best of our knowledge, they are sent in signed or at least with an email address. The answers are written, again to the best of our knowledge coming from a reliable source, by professors from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, though these answers are published anonymously.

Why is this important? These questions and answers can serve as a barometer of WELS’ current teachings. The men who provide these answers are charged with teaching the next generation of WELS pastors. Reasonably, you can expect these teachings to be coming soon to a WELS church near you.

Some of the answers are well done like the first example below, even if the seminary professor forgot to spell check (which seems to happen regularly; could those of you who have some clout over at 2929 look into that? Thank you.):

Q:I often wonder why our synod prefers to call ourselves Lutherans. While I agree that Martin Luther did many good things, I feel our synod places too much emphasis on him. Why do we spend so much time memorizing his words during confirmation? Instead we should focus our energy on God's Word and memorizing that. When people begin calling themselves, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Calvinists, etc. I really feel this is dividing the church. Did Paul not warn the Corinthians that we should avoid quarreling and divisions in the church? The Corinthian church had people saying they follow Apollo, while others followed Paul, but Paul correctly rebuked them and said we are all one in Christ. Is not saying, we follow Luther, or we follow Wesley, etc, very similar to the Corinthians. I know the WELS is caught up in fellowship issues, but we need to start uniting in Christ. As Paul says, "No more boasting about men!" (1 Corinthians 3:21)

A:First of all, I do not think the Lutherans, Calvininst (sic), Baptists, or Methodists named themselves that. These names began as the accusations of others, as did the name Christians or Nazarenes.

Luther did not want a church named Lutheran, but the name Lutheran came to stand for something--the the (sic) church that believes by grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone; the church that gives full value to the sacraments. Why would you not want to be known for that?

What divides Lutherans from the other churches you mention is not a name but such differences of doctrine as rejection of infant baptism, rejection of the real presence of Christ body and blood, predestination to damnation, etc, etc.. If you want a church which will not baptize your children, you can easily find one. It will be labeled Baptist. If you want a church that rejects the real presence and believes in predestination to damnation, you can find one. It will be labeled Calvinist. If you want a church that teaches that salvation is by faith and works, you can find one. It is labeled Catholic. These are not just names. They identify the teachings of that church.

It does not matter whether these labels have a person's name in them (Lutheran, Calvinist) or if they do not (Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian). These labels identify a position.

People are beginning to adopt a position that ignores the meaning of those labels, but this has not led to a clearer, biblical position but to just the opposite, to a muddle that treats doctrine with indifference.

Not bad. Not bad at all. But then there are also many answers that cause us to become, well,… Angry. Here’s one we like to call:

"So, Nadab and Abihu were Roman Catholics?"

Q:Does the WELS believe worship practices such as kneeling, the Sign of the Cross, the use of incense, anointing of oil, and blessing oneself with holy water before entering and leaving the sanctuary are acceptable? I know Lutherans may think of these practices as "Catholic," but if done for the right reasons, I think these practices should be encouraged.

A:Many WELS congregations have the custom of kneeling during the Confession of Sins. A growing number of WELS members, many of the young people, have become comfortable making the sign of the cross as they hear the words of the Baptismal formula, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," thus recalling both the words and sign of Baptism. The use of incense together with the Vesper canticle, "Let My Prayer Rise Before You as Incense," is not common in WELS, but has been done at special events.

You're correct that many Lutherans would consider these customs to be "Catholic." One might be able to debate with them that these customs had wide usage already in Bible times and in the New Testament Church before the formation of the Roman Church; one could even demonstrate that some of these customs were accepted and used in the
Lutheran Church after the Reformation. On the other hand, one can hardly blame Lutherans for being wary of practices long associated with Catholicism, a theological system that has perverted the the clear teachings of the Scriptures for centuries and endangered the faith of billions of people. The introduction of time-honored traditions and customs, especially those closely attached in people's minds to false theologies, goes slowly and carefully.

To dip one's hand into the water of a baptismal font as one passes it on the way into worship and to make the sign of the cross could be a wonderful reminder of baptism and is certainly a worthy custom. The use of oil as a symbol for joy and purity is another fine tradition. I know of no
WELS congregations that use these symbols, nor have I seen them in use at any WELS event. I doubt there is much interest in either symbol.

“One might be able to debate”? Yeah, ONE who read the Bible and had a passing familiarity with church history or had ever cracked open a copy of the Book of Concord “might be able to debate” “that these customs had wide usage already in Bible times and in the New Testament Church” and in the Lutheran Church.

So, it’s ok to be suspicious of customs that appear Roman but there’s no need to question praise bands, testimonials, and reading of lightly edited Reformed sermons from WELS pulpits? In fact, we’ll link to them from the official WELS website? (Maybe it has to do with the number of people who have had their faith endangered. After you get into the “billions and billions served” range, then we’ll raise a red flag.) This is not only a theological problem, it’s a credibility problem. The inconsistencies are getting more and more difficult to defend. Perhaps, this is another reason, in addition to the official ones given, why the WELS is shrinking. Instead of carefully studying WELS doctrine and admitting that possibly, just possibly the Wauwautosa theologians were more influenced by their own time than by Lutheranism, and that maybe, just maybe the WELS has gone astray, some of the anonymous seminary professors on the Q&A continue to talk themselves farther and farther back into a corner, from which, they may end up just dissolving into the whitewashed wall of American Protestantism, regardless of whether they retain the name Lutheran or not.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Happy Ascension

You do know that Jesus ascended twice, don't you?

Read Judges 13.

(For you WELS folks-especially the pastors-, that's in the Old Testament. Yes, yes, we understand your hesitation: if the Old Testament was so good, why did God write a New one?!?!)

Read it anyway.