Friday, June 27, 2008

We Put the Fun in Funerals

Lutheran funerals are truly wonderful. There is a marked difference between a Lutheran funeral rite and one of most other denominations. In the midst of life, we are in death, and so in the midst of death we do not abandon what we have heard and prayed in life, the Word, in favor of weeping and wailing or celebrating and worshiping the earthly life of the one now asleep, but instead, God comes to us through the Christ-saturated liturgy of the funeral rite.

A Lutheran liturgical funeral rite stands in stark contrast to the typical Reformed/Protestant funeral, and this difference will be noticed by those non-Lutheran family members and friends attending the funeral of a loved one. The Lutheran funeral, more than knocking on random doors and handing out cheesy fliers, little loaves of flavorless bread, or tiny bottles of water (that can be mistaken for “holy water”) is an effective evangelism tool. Not effective because more people will join a Lutheran church; they probably won’t. Not effective because the Lutheran pastor might be praised for the funeral rite or his sermon, though he may be. No, it is effective because it gives opportunity for the pastor to “speak Lutheran”, that is, to proclaim Christ. Christ and Him crucified is not what many non-Lutheran attendees of a Lutheran funeral are expecting to hear. They expect to hear about dear Grandma/Grandpa, Mom/Dad, sister/brother and how we can be sure he/she is in heaven because of his/her clear confession of a personal relationship with Jesus. Hopefully, they will not be fed this tripe by a Lutheran preacher. Let the E-Frees do that in the memorial “celebration” service later in the day with the non-Lutheran side of the family. Preaching is ideally not a eulogizing of the deceased, but a proclamation of the comfort found in Christ and a reminder that though death comes for us all, we have overcome because Christ has overcome. A listing of the accomplishments or a brief biography of the dead has its place, even during the rite, but not in the sermon. It does those left behind and the loved one now asleep no good to list his/her accomplishments and merits done while on Earth. Those righteous acts and filthy rags are not what allowed the deceased entrance into God’s kingdom, nor can anyone still here ride a family member’s coattails of good deeds into eternal life. The sermon is Christ for He is our entrance, He is our merit, He is our salvation.

A latent American Gnosticism sneaks into funerals, which Lutheran funerals would do well to avoid. Discarding the body, especially in cremation, furthers the thinking that the body that was wracked with illness and weakness is evil and the deceased is better off rid of it. This confuses the gift of our bodies from God with the sin in which we live. Our bodies are not evil; they are important enough that they will be with us for all eternity.

Even though there are inherent fellowship issues, the reintroduction of the Sacrament of the Altar at funerals is long overdue. Though it may be a little messy to explain to the self-appointed Charismatic Pentecostal High Priestess in attendance why she should not commune at her own grandfather’s funeral, that same sticky subject would have come up had she been visiting on a Sunday, which she may have done, since she does her prophesyin’ on Saturdays. The offering of the Sacrament, in addition to giving forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, may help the Lutherans in attendance to connect the dots that have been staring them in the face an entire lifetime: “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven…”

Friday, June 20, 2008

Deceased Lutherans

"Let us discuss the word liturgy. This word does not properly mean a sacrifice, but rather the public ministry. Liturgy agrees well with our belief that one minister who consecrates gives the Lord's body and blood to the rest of the people, just as one minister who preaches offers the Gospel to the people. As Paul says, 'This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God' (1 Corinthians 4:1), that is, of the Gospel and the Sacraments. And, 'We are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God' (2 Corinthians 5:20). So the term leitourgia agrees well with the ministry."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Angry Lutheran Weddings

It is now June and our thoughts have turned to weddings….

On the whole, weddings are unpleasant. Weddings make normally calm and generally nice people turn into rude, inconsiderate, unkind, self-absorbed, crazy versions of themselves. With a few exceptions, we cannot stand weddings. They are to be survived, not enjoyed. A bright resourceful pastor will keep several maps stapled to clear directions to the nearest courthouse in his desk to hand out to prospective brides and grooms at the first hint of trouble. Weddings don’t have to take place in a church, so if the couple is just looking for a space in which to hold a wedding, the prepared pastor can point out that the state has kindly provided just what they need.

If a couple cannot be dissuaded from holding the ceremony in the church, there should be some guidelines. Keeping in mind that a wedding is not only a hassle for the pastor, but also for the musician(s), janitor, secretary, and altar guild, we propose something like the following be given to the happy couple at an early premarital counseling session (preferably the first one, which may fortuitously turn out to also be the last one):

As potential bride and groom, you must both agree to ALL conditions listed for each affected member of the staff and volunteers of St. Spener Lutheran Church:


1) There is a $150 fee for performing the ceremony and putting up with you and your obnoxious relatives and friends.

2) The fee will be paid at the beginning of rehearsal by cash or cashier’s check, or Pastor will not show up for the ceremony.

3) Unless you know Pastor well, don’t invite him to the reception.

4) Really, it’s ok; he has better things to do and won’t be offended.

5) Pastor and musician(s) will approve all music selections.

6) The rite will be the one in the hymnal.

7) Congregational songs will be from the hymnal.


1) There is a $150 fee for time, skill, and mental anguish caused by dealing with your terrible taste in music and your lack of knowledge about what is appropriate in a Lutheran church.

2) All music must be approved by musician(s) and Pastor.

3) To save you some time: no country, no show tunes, no CCM

4) All music will be chosen at least twenty-one days prior to the wedding with no changes allowed once selections have been agreed upon by all parties.

5) Musician(s) will be paid at the beginning of rehearsal by cash or cashier’s check, or he/she/they will not show up for the ceremony.

6) He/She/They definitely have better things to do than go to your reception, like practice for Sunday’s Divine Service.

7) He/She/They will NOT purchase music just for your wedding. You will provide legally obtained sheet music if the musician(s) do(es) not already own a piece you would like to use (provided it passes review by the Pastor and musician(s)).

8) He/She/They reserve the right to carry and make use of a hip flask of the alcohol of his/her/their choice from the moment the rehearsal begins until the last note of the recessional is played at the ceremony.


1) Don’t call the church office with stupid questions.

2) The secretary will make wedding bulletins for you at a price of $5/bulletin.

3) If that’s too steep, do it yourself.


1) There is a fee of $50 for cleaning the church after the ceremony, provided cleaning takes less than one hour.

2) This fee will be paid at the beginning of rehearsal by cash or cashier’s check, or you will be cleaning up after yourselves and your guests.

3) Extra mess = extra time = extra cash and a future bill, so be clean.

4) Don’t leave children or groomsmen unattended, especially in the restrooms.

5) If you leave it behind, and the janitor finds it, he/she keeps it.

6) No throwing things: rice, confetti, beer bottles, etc.

Altar Guild:

1) There is a $50 fee for each altar guild member present for setting up and removing wedding kneeler.

2) This fee also covers the inconvenience of having to come later on Saturday to set up for Sunday’s Divine Service.

3) The fee will be paid by cash or cashier’s check at the beginning of rehearsal, or we will let the whole town know what a pair of ingrates you are.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Principles and Applications II

When a certain unofficial group in the WELS wanted to have a certain Methodist professor speak at their gathering, a royal stink was raised. Those upset had the law on their side. From the WELS’ Theses on Church Fellowship, “Church fellowship is every joint expression, manifestation, and demonstration of the common faith in which Christians on the basis of their confession find themselves to be united with one another.”

This is further explained, “We may classify these joint expressions of faith in various ways according to the particular realm of activity in which they occur, e.g., pulpit fellowship; altar fellowship; prayer fellowship; fellowship in worship; fellowship in church work, in missions, in Christian education, and in Christian charity. Yet insofar as they are joint expressions of faith, they are all essentially one and the same thing and are all properly covered by a common designation, namely, church fellowship. Church fellowship should therefore be treated as a unit concept, covering every joint expression, manifestation, and demonstration of a common faith. Hence, Scripture can give the general admonition ‘avoid them’ when church fellowship is to cease (Ro. 16:17). Hence, Scripture sees an expression of church fellowship also in giving the right hand of fellowship (Gal 2:9) and in greeting on eanother with the fraternal kiss (Ro. 16:16); on the other hand, it points out that a withholding of church fellowship may also be indicated by not extending a fraternal welcome to errorists and by not bidding them Godspeed (2 Jn. 10,11; dr. 3 Jn. 5-8)”

That little word “every” creates a bit of a problem. 1 Corinthians 10:31 states “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Whatever a believer does as a Christian is an expression of faith, which would mean that WELS members would have to avoid everyone but other WELS members in every aspect of life. Not too practical, so we have the very handy “framework of fellowship”. We’ll let an anonymous Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary professor explain the framework of fellowship in his own words from the WELS’ website’s Q&A: “I’m not sure if there is one single definition of that term (or others very much like it) that prevails among us, but I freely share what I have observed over a period of many years when I’ve heard such a phrase used. Subject to correction or improvement, I offer this definition: An event or task that is carried out beyond the framework or bounds of fellowship is one that involves what may well be perceived as a religious activity done by people who either are not in doctrinal fellowship with each other or who do not want others to assume they are in doctrinal fellowship. The kind of activities they seek to accomplish are, therefore, not to be considered expressions of people in full unity with each other regarding doctrine and practice. Lacking an authoritative definition, I’ll offer examples of what I see as activities that have been or might be carried out beyond the framework of fellowship. Since we use civilian chaplains to serve our people in the military, and since these chaplains (for the most part parish pastors) have limited knowledge of how best to find their way about military bases, etc., we might arrange for a workshop or seminar led by military chaplains who do not share our doctrinal confession. The benefits our chaplains may derive from the knowledge of military protocol and experience of such people may be considered quite valuable, so we ask them to serve our people. In a real way the subject has to do with ministry, serving souls with God’s Word and sacrament, and equipping ourselves to serve more efficiently, so someone may assume that such a workshop is carried out by Christians expressing their unity in the faith. But it isn’t so—and we may say the event is carried out outside the boundaries of fellowship so no one would be confused about that. So-called ‘free conferences’ have been used by people who do not currently share the same doctrinal confessions but who want to meet to inform, encourage, and be of mutual benefit to each other. Sometimes participants may (at least for a time) be members of synods that are not in doctrinal fellowship, but they see a value in gathering, discussing theological issues, and clarifying doctrinal positions. That is the kind of activity that is normally (in our circles) associated with people who are already in doctrinal fellowship. So notice may be given that no one should assume that this is so at a ‘free conference’. Full doctrinal agreement is not a prerequisite for gatherin. It is carried out outside the framework of fellowship. Sometimes in their desire to do charitable work and to do it as efficiently and wisely as they can, Christian people, churches, and synods may sometimes make use of organizations that are very good at distributing food or clothing or medical supplies to those who need it but who do not share the same doctrinal position that we do. We might use such an organization that is religious in a real way, but not necessarily Lutheran or orthodox, confessional Lutheran. We don’t want people to assume that we are united in doctrine so we might say that this work is carried out beyond the framework of fellowship. (Sometimes the term ‘cooperation in externals’ has been used for this too, and I’ve heard some complain that we don’t have an adequate definition of that term either.) I suppose other examples of doing things that have religious aspects but where full doctrinal agreement is not necessarily assumed nor implied might be mentioned. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag in a mixed group and saying ‘under God’ or singing ‘God Bless America’ in a football stadium are certainly carried out beyond the framework of fellowship too. So is participation in community choruses when classical music that happens to be religious music (e.g. Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus) is sung. When we use the term I suppose we envision an event or activity that is more likely to be understood or misunderstood as an expression of doctrinal unity when it really isn’t.”

Some of the presenters at the WELS Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts are not of the WELS. They must then be presenting “outside the framework of fellowship”. However, the conference brochure does not point this out, which makes the WELS’ position very unclear for anyone not familiar the WELS’ doctrine of fellowship. The WELS COP passed a resolution in 2003 that says, “1. It is possible for presentations and discussions about secular and/or religious matters which take place in schools, churches, conferences, commissions and parasynodical organizations of our fellowship, or other similar events to occur outside the framework of fellowship. 2. When speakers and presenters are not of our fellowship they MUST conduct their presentation(s) outside the framework of fellowship: a) that means that they must not lead worship: Including prayer, confession, song and sacrament; b) preliminary cautions must be made in the advertisements and the introduction of the presenter if that individual draws conclusions on the basis of Bible truths; c) since fellowship includes joint church work, outside speakers must not participate with their audience in church activities; e.g., canvassing, counseling, Bible studies, etc.”

The WELS’ own worship conference isn’t following the resolution of the COP. LCMS and ELCA members are presenting without the necessary warnings in the advertisements that WELS purity of doctrine and practice may be brought to an end by attending this conference. Oh, the horror! (Actually, some of the outsiders will be worth the price of admission, but be afraid, be very afraid of the non-WELS!—Are the WELS presenters going to be standing inside a big picture frame on the floor and the non-WELS presenters jumping out of said picture frame to indicate whether one is inside or outside the framework of fellowship?)

Something intended to keep out false theology can easily backfire. Leonard Sweet and Carl Schalk end up on the same side of the frame and could both be equally qualified to present to an audience of WELS members. All this silliness ignores the real problem. Instead of evaluating what these outside speakers say and either allowing them or barring them based on that, this inside vs. outside the framework of fellowship game ends up including every Jew, Turk, Hindu, or Methodist provided there is adequate warning in the advertising (or not, as in the case of the upcoming conference).

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Why does a Lutheran elementary school have a weekly chapel service?

To learn about God?

To worship together as a “school family”?

To give the kids an opportunity to “lead worship”?

Perhaps the reason is more educational. Just as the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray and as parents in the Old Testament were commanded to instruct their children, so also a Lutheran school should teach the children in its care to pray. We are all by nature Enthusiasts who left to our own devices will “give” God our filthy rags of self-centered instrumental selections, vocal stylings, puppet performances, or chancel dramas. While children are in school to learn skills and gain knowledge they will need to function as mature human beings in the world, a Lutheran school should also teach children how and why Lutherans pray.

“However, ceremonies should be celebrated to teach people Scripture, that those admonished by the Word my conceive faith and godly fear, and may also pray. (This is the intent of ceremonies.)” --Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV