Tuesday, December 12, 2006

On Spiritual Smoking

With the new season upon us, I haven't had a lot of time to blog. But I couldn't resist this one.
In light of Ohio's new smoking law, I thought I'd pull a gem from one of our "Reformed" brothers, Ralph Eskine, and 18th century theologian. Enjoy

Smoking Spiritualized.In Two Parts.

Part One: The Law *

THIS Indian weed now wither'd quite,Tho' green at noon, cut down at night,Shows thy decay;All flesh is hay.Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The pipe, so lily-like and weak,Does thus thy mortal state bespeakThou art ev'n such,Gone with a touch.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the smoke ascends on high,
Then thou behold'st the vanity
Of worldy stuff,
Gone with a puff.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the pipe grows foul within,
Think on thy soul defil'd with sin;
For then the fire,
It does require.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And seest the ashes cast away;
Then to thyself thou mayest say,
That to the dust
Return thou must.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Part Two: The Gospel

WAS this small plant for thee cut down!
So was the Plant of great renown;
Which mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what's the power
Of Jesse's flower?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of faith conveys
What virtue flows
From Sharon's rose.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

In vain th' unlighted pipe you blow;
Your pains in outward means are so,
Till heav'nly fire
The heart inspire.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The smoke, like burning incense, tow'rs;
So should a praying heart of yours,
With ardent cries,
Surmount the skies.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pastor or Buddy?

When my oldest son was still a young rug rat, I used to sometimes take him into my office and let him climb on the furniture. At the time I was an insurance agent for Farmers Insurance. Of course, I would occassionally stop working to bounce him on my knee or play ticklemonster, then I would return to my paperwork and he would go back to playing on the floor. This became an annoyance to the man in the next office who, although we were separated a door, didn't like the idea of me bringing my son to the office. One day he pulled me into his office to give me a tip for success in parenting. He told me, "Brett, that boy is your son, not your buddy. You should be a father to him not a friend." Well, I was slightly offended by his intrusion into my personal life, but I blew it off as the rantings of a cantankerous old man.

I've begun to wonder recently if I shouldn't take some of that advice in my capacity as pastor of our congregation. I have the kind of personality to seeks to be friendly with others, especially those in my congregation. I thought this would make the parishoners more apt to take me into their confidence and give me the opportunity to minister to them. In fact, I have recently found out that it has had the opposite effect. I had someone tell me that, because they considered me a friend, they were reluctant to come to me and share details of their personal life for which they felt guilty.

Now I like to have friends. And there are people in my congregation that I consider to be dear friends, but I can see now that our relationship as friends may have hindered me from serving them as pastor. Given the choice between the two, I would definitely choose the latter. After all, I am called to be a pastor first and foremost and nothing should get in the way of that.

Of course, there is a natural reluctance in people to open up and confess their darkest secrets. The sinful nature loves the darkness. We want to hide our sins away because in our vanity we want people to think the best of us. If it means suffering under the horrible weight of guilt and condemnation, so be it. Such is our desire for self justification. That desire is magnified when you want someone to think well of you because they are your friend.

But a pastor is not primarily a friend, at least not as we typically think of it. The pastor is not your pal or buddy. The pastor is your pastor. He is your soul doctor, your seelsorge. Most people have no reluctance at all when it comes to seeing their doctor and submitting to a physical examination, even if the doctor is someone of the opposite sex. If a friend, even a close friend, asked you to drop your drawers and turn around, most of us would end that relationship pretty quickly, but a doctor tells us to do it and we obey because he is a professional. Nothing is too personal. In consulting with our doctors we will tell of behavior that we would admit to no one else in order for them to get to the bottom, no pun intended, of our problem.

So it is with a pastor. The pastor is a professional who is there to handle your problem, sin, and its side effects, guilt and shame. He is there to administer the God given healing, absolution. People should see their pastor as their soul doctor. They need to know that we keep these things in the strictest of confidence. In fact, we take a vow at ordination never to divulge the secrets confessed to us. People carry around a tremendous amount of guilt because they can't rouse up the courage to avail themselves of God's antidote. What a pity.

Also, the pastor is not there to be a counselor. Often people come wanting advice, or wanting an ear to bend. At times they will pour out their hearts. In those moments a pastor should be ready to move them to confession and absolution. A parishoner may not even be looking for it, but the pastor should know when absolution is necessary.

Am I alone in thinking this? How many of you pastors have had a similar experience? How many lay people have been reluctant to share their intimate problems with their pastor? I fear it's too many. God grant that pastors may act in an appropriate way toward their parishoners. After all, we are called to be pastors, not pals. We cannot alleviate the guilt of sin with a friendly disposition. God grant that parishoners would see their pastors in an appropriate light and have the confidence to seek them out for Divine mercy. When you feel the weight of sin and desire certain forgiveness, your pastor is there to hear and absolve you.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Little Buckeye Poetry

Boo, hoo, hoo, still number 2.

Poetry in motion

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Go Bucks, Beat Blue

The aniticipation is growing for this weeks no. 1 Ohio State, and no. 2 Wolverines contest. This game is always big no matter what, but this year we're the no 1. team and they are no. 2. Sadly, I may miss the first few minutes of the game as I have a wedding scheduled, but hopefully I'll be there by the second quarter.
I saw a couple of good commercials related to the big game. One is of these two college kids necking on a couch. The camera is, at first, zoomed in on their faces, but as it pans out you see that he is wearing a Buckeyes shirt and she is wearing a Michigan shirt. Then the caption comes across the screen, "If it wasnt for sports, this wouldn't be disgusting."
Another is of a couple on a blind date driving down the road. He is from Ohio and she is explaining that she is from Michigan. She tells him jokingly, "Go blue." At this point the man, who is the passenger, turns around and unbuckles his belt, opens the door and jumps out of the speeding vehicle. Hey, no since wasting time with someone with whom you're obviously not compatible.
My prediction for the game is Buckeyes, 42- Michigan 39.
By the way, did you know that Michigan and Ohio once fought a battle to see who would get Toledo? Ohio lost.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Is Our Polity the Problem?

You may have heard about the woman deacon in the Mid-South district. An official publication of the Mid-South district featured a picture of "persons" involved in the new deacon program in the district. Pictured there among the new deacons and a supervising pastor was a woman, Jean Fleischer, dressed in alb with a deacon's stole. Yes, there are a number of pastors within our synod who are determined to undermine the synod's position of womens' ordination. This they do 0nly with violation to the texts of Scripture which forbid it, and the historic Christian practice. Have mercy, O Lord, on our synod.
This is a problem, but what is the root cause of the problem? Recently, in a blog, a fellow pastor commenting on this issue located the source of the problem in our synodical polity. The problem was, at least in part, as he saw it, our rejection of the classic polity of the Church. Specifically, it is the rejection of the heirarchal system of Bishop, pastor, and deacon that has led to the errors that the Church is now experiencing, especially that of women's ordination.
First, let me say that the heir archal system has not saved Rome or Greece from many of the errors which those churches believe. But secondly, and more to the point, the heirarchal system has not saved the Church of Sweden from embracing women's ordination, neither has it preserved the Church of England. The picture above is the new head of the American Episcopal Church. Even though they have a traditional Church polity, a woman now sits at the head of the Episcopal Church in America. So the problem is not the polity but the clear rejection of Scripture.
Finally, let me say that, while there are some within our synod who are hedonistically pushing the boundaries, and some in leadership who are clearly letting it happen, we do not have women's ordination in our synod. It, at the moment at least, doesn't have a chance of passing. We've managed to keep it out without a heirarchal system.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Day After

A U.S Senator is walking down the street and is tragically struck by an ambulance and ends up at St. Peter's gate. St. Peter warmly greets him and says, "I see you were a politician on earth. Well, we have a special procedure for you. You have to make a choice about where you will spend eternity," said St. Peter, "You will spend one day in hell and one day in heaven, after which you will choose." The Senator said, "I don't need to go to hell; I already know I want to spend eternity in heaven." "I'm sorry," St. Peter replied, "but those are the rules."
So Peter escorts the man to an elevator that takes him down to hell. When the door opens the man is greeted by the fresh smell of green grass, the warm sun, and a cool breeze flowing from a beautiful, blue lake. The birds are chirping and the flowers are in bloom. Stepping out of the elevator he discovers that he is actually on a beautiful golf course and he sees some of his fellow politicians, old friends, standing on a nearby green and waving him to them. When he gets to them he discovers a golf cart with his name marked on the side and a beautiful, new set of golf clubs with a cold beer waiting in the drink tray.
After a round of golf, they retire to the clubhouse where they are surrounded by beautiful waitresses, drink fine wine, feast on prime rib and lobster, and enjoy old memories of the way they got rich at the expense of the tax payer. The devil even stops by to fill up their glasses and tell a few jokes. The Senator finds the devil quite charming and not at all as he had heard him described on earth. At the end of the day, the politician does not want to leave, but rules are rules.
The next day he spends in heaven. He moved along from cloud to cloud enjoying the majestic sunrise. It, too, is beautiful and serene, but it doesn't seem as exciting or familiar as his day in hell.
At the end of the second day, St. Peter asks the politician, "Well, have you made your choice?" The Senator responds, "Yes, and while heaven is a wonderful and magnificent place, I believe that I would be more at home in hell."
So he sent once more to the elevator, which he boards for his descent to his eternal home. When the elevator reaches its destination and the door opens, the Senator finds a much different scene than he encountered the day before. Fire and brimstone are exploding all around, the putrid smell of thick sulfur burns his nose, and his friends are dressed in rags, sweating blood, and shoveling mounds of rat manuer into the furnace. The devil comes and puts his arm around the Senator and gives him a short handled shovel with which to dig for eternity. The Senator is shocked and says, "I don't understand. Yesterday this place was a virtual paradise." "Well," said the devil with an broad grin, "yesterday we were campaining, today you voted."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mindless, Knee-Jerk Protestantism

Yes, there are many errors in the Roman Catholic Church. They have anathematized the gospel, exatled the Pope above the Scriptures, changed the institution of the Supper, forbidden their priests to marry, turned gospel into law and law into gospel, invented purgatory thus denying the efficacy of the atonement, turned the saints into mediators, and many other such things. In fact, there is a lot more wrong with the R0man Church than can be dealt with in a short blog.

But, and this is a big but, there is something just as wrong with the kind of knee-jerk, mindless protestantism that seeks to find distinctions between the Roman church and ourselves in the outward ceremonies and customs that we share in common. How often have you heard someone reject a practice or custom of the Church because, "it's too Roman"? When questioned about why it is wrong, the person who objects really has no answer. It is as if "being Roman," was enough to banish said custom or practice to the ash heaps of Church ritual.

Why do many American Lutherans reject the crucifix? It's too Roman. Why do many American Lutheran reject the elevation and adoration of our Lord in the Sacrament at the altar? It's too Roman. Now when questioned, many Lutherans will say that the reason the crucifix is wrong is because, "Jesus rose from the dead," as if Roman Catholics don't believe that Jesus rose from the dead. So the empty cross is a symbol of the resurrection? What about the empty crosses of the thieves next to Christ? Have they risen from the dead? The Sacrament should not be elevated? Why, if Christ is in the Supper, shouldn't Christians make that confession by bowing or genuflecting.

Here's a list of things that are Roman Catholic.
1. Having Church on Sunday morning.
2. Reading the Scriptures in the service.
3. Praying.
4. Singing to the Lord.
5. Receiving Communion.
6. Hearing a sermon.
7. Baptizing.

You're right. These things are catholic, therefore we shouldn't do them.

Of course we should. And we should do the others as well; Chanting, candles, observing the church calendar, vestments, processions, gospel processions, elevating the host, displaying the crucifix, conferring absolution, etc. We can do these things in Christian freedom. We should do these things to confess that they fall within the bounds of Christian freedom, especially in the face of all who tell us we shouldn't because they're too Roman.

We shouldn't try to fix the boundaries between the papal church and ourselves on the basis of customs that the church has practiced before there ever was a Roman Catholic Church in the sense in which we know it today. We fix those boundaries around doctrine. The Augsburg Confession defines the Church as the place where the pure word of God is taught and the Sacraments are administered according to their institution. We define our difference with the papal church by doctrinal truth and error. Anything else is mindless, knee-jerk protestantism.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The LSB and the Eucharistic Prayer

The new hymnal is out and in use already in many congregations. Although we will probably not adopt it in our congregation, I have a copy. There are many good features in the new hymnal that commend it to congregational use, but one thing that, at least to this poor sinner, strikes me as something of a dissapointment. That, as the title might suggest, is the Eucharistic prayer.
I ran across this little gem in Sasse today as I was re-reading, 'We Confess the Sacraments.' In a chapter on the Lutheran understanding of the consecration, Sasse defines the main difference between the Church of the Augsburg Confession and Papal Church in the function of the Words of Institution. Sasse says, "Hidden deep in the Canon of the Mass among purely human prayers and in such a way that the Christian people can no longer hear them, the words of the Lord's Supper, the Gospel pure and simple, are stuck...they have robbed the words of consecration of their real meaning. For in the Mass they are no longer good news to the believing sinner but only a consecration in the sense in which there are other consecrations..."
As is characteristic of Sasse's writing, he has succinctly summarized the main issue before us. Now I know that many good, liturgical scholars worked on the hymnal and a lot of thought went into it. I don't want to impugn them or their efforts. But as Sasse points out, in clothing Christ's words of pure gospel in our prayers, we have robbed them of one of their most important functions.
The Words of Institution are not only used by the church as a consecration of the elements but an announcement of the gospel itself. Here the Church stops praying and listens. Here they listen to Christ give us His body and blood. The attention is focused on His words and we are built up in our most, holy faith by them. This is the rationale for the freestanding altar. Now the pastor can face the congregation and speak to them. He can speak these words into their ears as well as into the elements.
In our desire to remain faithful to the customs of the ancient Church, which is in most cases a commendable motive, I feel that we have lost a Lutheran and evangelical distinctive. I know that in the LSB it is only presented as an option, but why provide the option of obscuring our Lord's pure words of gospel by surrounding them in merely human prayers.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Liturgy: Law or Gospel?

It occurs to me that among those who love the Lutheran liturgy and customs of the Church retained through the Christian era, there seems to be, at times, a fundamental difference. While all of us would balk at the move toward contemporary worship styles by some of our brethren, the criticisms seem to come from different perspectives. And it seems that those perspectives fall within the classic Lutheran categories of law and gospel.
We know that the Roman, Greek, and Reformed churches all begin their theology of worship in the law. Admittedly, that law has different sources. The Romans and Greeks believe their customs are handed down through tradition and that those traditions are law. Their presupposition is, "this is the way it is to be done because this is what we have received." The Reformed, on the other hand, begin in law with the regulative principle. That is, nothing is to be included in worship unless it is commanded by Scripture. While there is something commendable in wanting to remain faithful to God's instructions, it remains misguided and a horrible confusion of law and gospel.
We might even say that contemporary churches begin their theology of worship in the law, that is, love of neighbor. They want to do what will not offend their neighbor and what will make them more amenable to hearing our message. They want to influence them and give them a reason to choose fellowship with their group. This, too, is a confusion of law and gospel in that it springs from Arminian notions about human freewill.
Most distressing, though, are those Lutheran who love the liturgy and customs and rites of the ancient church and should know the difference between law and gospel, but don't seem to approach the subject of worship in that way. You're out there and you know who you are.
The liturgy is gospel. It is a gift. It is God's Word, and because it is God's Word it is a vehicle for the Holy Spirit. The liturgy has sustained the faith of Christians througout the Christian era, because in the liturgy God's people hear the gospel.
I remember attending an ELCA church that, while the pastors denied the innerrancy of SCripture and couldn't preach the gospel if there life depended on it, tenaciously held to the liturgy. When the people weren't getting the gospel anywhere else, they at least got it in the liturgy.
That is the great contribution of the classic liturgies of the Church. Although they vary somewhat in form from church to church and from time to time, the Kyrie, Gloria in Exelcis, Creed, Sanctus, Words of Institution, and Agnus Dei are remarkably consistent and feed the people of God with the Words of the gospel, even when their pastors don't. That is why we don't toss the liturgy out. We retain because it is simply the best means of communicating the gospel. The Christian Church knows this from centuries of experience.
So the perspective from which we approach the liturgy reveals whether we are making a proper distinction between law and gospel. We keep the liturgy not because this is the way it's always been done and it has to be done precisely this way. We keep the liturgy not because this is what Scripture commands. We keep it because experience shows it is the best vehicle for the gospel.
Once we have established that, there are many other things that commend the liturgy to the Church; its beauty, it practicality, and the fact that it connects saints in the present with all who have gone before and, hopefully, those who come after.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Antichrist and Politics

There was a discussion recently about a Lutheran political candidate in Minnesota, Republican Michelle Bachmann, being asked, in a debate, whether she believed the Lutheran Confessions when they identify the Pope as the Antichrist. Her answer was that it was absolutely not true that Lutherans believe the Pope is the Antichrist. Evidently, someone hasn't been reading her Book of Concord.
Here are a few snippets from the BOC:
...This is a powerful demonstration that the pope is the real Antichrist who has raised himself over and set himself against Christ, for the pope will not permit Christians to be saved except by his own power... (S. A IV, 10
...just as we cannot adore the devil himself as our lord or God, so we cannot suffer his apostle, the pope or Antichrist, to govern us as our head or lord... (S.A IV, 14
But it is manifest that the Roman pontiffs and their adherents defend godless doctrines and godless forms of worship, and it is plain that the marks of the Antichrist coincide with those of the pope's kingdom and his followers... (Treatise, 39)

As you can see, the Book of Concord explicitly identifies Antichrist with the papal church. Much more could be said about this, but this should be sufficient to prove that our Lutheran politician was quite wrong in denying that Lutherans teach the pope is the Antichrist.
However, there is a good deal of criticism due for the journalist who asked the question, since she neglected to ask Bachmann's opponent, Patty Wetterling, who is a Roman Catholic if she supported the 16th century anathemas against the Lutheran Church and all who teach that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Ms. Bachmann should have called out the journalist for practicing "gotcha" politics, answered the question in the affirmative that anyone who claims to decide all matters of faith, stands above the Scriptures, defends godlless doctrines, and condemns all who preach the truth is an Antichrist, confirm the doctrine of the two kingdoms that she is called into a secular calling and not a religious one, that she will govern by reason and not by Scripture, and demand that her opponent either forsake Roman Catholic teaching or affirm what her church says of protestants.
Of course, maybe that's asking too much of a politician.