27 December 2008

Congregational Catholicity, Pastoral Practice, and Episcopal Ecclesiology

The catholicity of the Church comprises two aspects:

(1.) It is the unity of doctrine and fellowship, of teaching and practice, which is shared by all the congregations of the whole Church in every time and place; and,

(2.) It is the fullness of the one Church in each congregation, in each time and each place, wherever the apostolic doctrine of Christ is faithfully received and handed over in teaching and practice.

The locus of this catholicity is the preaching of Christ and the administration of His gifts. That is why the Church, properly speaking, is the whole communion of those believers in Christ among whom the Gospel is rightly preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered in accordance with the Gospel. Wherever there is this faithful preaching and hearing, this faithful giving and receiving of the Gospel, there is the Church, the one Body of Christ.

The catholicity of any given congregation is therefore both inward and outward. On the one hand, the Church in each congregation is fully self-contained and self-sufficient in the local Ministry of the Gospel; because it is Christ Himself who speaks and acts in that Ministry. On the other hand, the Ministry of the Gospel does not belong exclusively to any one congregation; because it is the sacred tradition of the one Lord Jesus Christ, handed over to His holy Apostles and to each succeeding generation of His Church on earth. Because a congregation lives from that Ministry, and is the Church because of that Ministry of the Gospel, it belongs to the fellowship of every other congregation that lives from that same Holy Ministry.

The fellowship of the Church catholic is the shared participation of the means of grace. To have pulpit and altar in common is not merely a consequence of Church fellowship; it is the fellowship of the Church. For as the Church lives in the preaching and hearing, the giving and receiving of the Gospel, so does the fellowship of the Church reside in the mutual administration of the Gospel. This fellowship is not parcelled out in bits and pieces, nor by degrees, but is whole and complete in the common preaching of the one Lord, the common teaching of the one faith, the common practice of one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and the common administration of the one Bread, which is the Body of Christ, and the one Cup, which is the New Testament in His Blood. Many other things may differ between congregations, whether in their temporal circumstances, their pious customs or ceremonies, without impinging upon the catholicity and fellowship of the Church. But differences in the preaching, teaching and administration of the Gospel are a breaking of the Church's fellowship on earth.

The catholic faith is not divided, nor can it be, but the Church on earth is, on account of sinful human fraility and mortal weakness. Thus, the fellowship of the Church on earth is necessarily marked and measured by the outward confession of the catholic faith, that is, by the preaching and teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the administration of the Holy Sacraments. Differences in this outward confession divide the fellowship of the Church on earth, so that the integrity of the catholic faith may be clarified, and that the erring may be corrected and called to repentance. Since the heart of the faith is the Gospel, and Christ is the Savior of sinners, we do not conclude that the heterodox are damned; but precisely for the sake of Christ and His Gospel, neither do we encourage or embrace the outward confession of heterodoxy. Rather, we share the fellowship of the means of grace with those who share with us the outward confession of the catholic faith in teaching and practice.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is a fellowship of congregations ostensibly sharing a common confession of the catholic faith. The polity of this synodical fellowship was formed, historically, on a congregational basis. That arrangement demonstrates a real understanding of catholicity, in recognizing the wholeness of the Church in the life of each local congregation, and in the mutual cooperation of those congregations as fellow members of the one Body of Christ. The synodical membership of congregations collectively and of pastors individually, and the suffrage of both congregations and pastors in the governance of the Missouri Synod, rightly acknowledges that the Church comprises both preachers and hearers of the Gospel. That the official leadership of this polity is vested in men ordained to the Holy Ministry is appropriate, given that the pastors of the Church are responsible for the administration of the Gospel, which is the foundation of the Church and the basis for the fellowship of congregations in the Church.

Unfortunately, the autonomy of congregations within the fellowship of the Missouri Synod has increasingly meant an independence of spirit and practice. At the same time, the "advisory" role of "the Synod" has become increasingly legalistic and heavy-handed, as confidence in the Word of God appears to have waned and the unity of our confession in teaching and practice has been stretched and strained. The political representation of both congregations and pastors often seems to be a competitive balance of powers, almost adversarial, instead of the harmonious concord of preachers and hearers. Suffrage in general has been driven by partisan propaganda, rather than emerging out of the lived catholicity of the Church in the practice of congregations. The "pastors" who administrate the polity of our synodical fellowship have been ordained, but, with few exceptions, they are no longer pastoring the Church with the means of grace; they are not attached to any one pulpit and altar; and they are not regularly preaching and teaching and administering the Gospel. Sadly, that is also the case with most of our seminary professors. As a consequence, the leading "pastors" of our synodical fellowship are functionally removed from the beating heart of our catholicity, where the Church lives and the fellowship of the Church resides. That is not to fault those men who are presently serving in such offices, but it is a fault of the current LCMS polity.

Church fellowship is pulpit and altar fellowship. It is the fellowship of real bishops, that is to say, of parish pastors who are called and ordained to the oversight of particular congregations. When a pastor communes the member(s) of another congregation, it is because he is in fellowship with the pastor of that other congregation; which means, or ought to mean, that he preaches and teaches and practices the same confession of the catholic faith. Likewise, when a pastor preaches from the pulpit of another pastor's parish, he does so within the fellowship of their common confession, as a sharing of pastoral care and catechesis; for that is what preaching is.

The polity of our synodical fellowship ought to be connected, at ground level, as closely as possible to that real life of the Church in local congregations. It should therefore be structured along the contours of pastoral fellowship in the catholic faith, in service and support of pastoral practice. Such a polity would rightly begin with the mutual conversation and consolation of brother pastors serving congregations in close proximity.

The current arrangement of circuits in the LCMS is generally quite sound, and the monthly meeting of circuit pastors would be a fine starting point for synodical structure and governance. In that comradery of real bishops (parish pastors), a mutual consensus should be reached to identify one as an overseer of the rest. We have that now in the office of circuit counselor, but there is a lack of clarity and consistency in the way that office is understood and exercised. Although the circuit counselor is more-or-less chosen by his colleagues (whether by consensus or compromise), he then functions officially as an agent of the District President, so his relationship to the circuit ends up being from the top-down, instead of from the ground-up. But the special strength of the circuit counselor is that he (not always, but usually) continues to serve as a full-time pastor in his own parish; he remains a real bishop of the Church in that place. His humanly arranged oversight of colleagues is informed by the exercise of his divinely given pastoral vocation.

Now, the circuit overseers within a larger region might identify one of their number to serve as their overseer and representative; and, in turn, those regional overseers might identify one of their number to serve as their overseer and representative; and so on, and so forth, perhaps as many as three or four levels of oversight.

Each of these overseers should continue to serve his pastoral office as a real bishop of the Church in a particular place, that is to say, as the pastor of his own congregation. At some level of oversight, it is likely that a pastor would not be able to serve a parish on his own while also serving the larger synodical fellowship. Even then, instead of becoming a "full-time" politician, he should still be attached to the particular pulpit and altar of a local congregation, where he would regularly serve as a minister of the liturgy in cooperation with the parish pastor, and, as time permits, regularly preach and teach, visit the homebound and hospitalized, and administer the holy Sacraments. In such a case, his income would be covered, in whole or in large part, by the synodical fellowship, so as not to be a burden but a benefit to the local congregation. It would not need to be a large congregation. The point is that an overseer of brother pastors should remain actively engaged in parish life and pastoral practice. The same thing is true of seminary professors. It wouldn't be necessary for the parish service of these men to be extensive, nor should it be excessive, but only regular and consistent, a genuine service and a real participation in the life of the Church. A fine example is provided in the case of my dear friend and colleague, Pastor Grobien, who serves as an assistant pastor of Emmaus in South Bend while pursuing his full-time doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame. Such arrangements can be made to the mutual benefit of both the pastor and the congregation, without unduly burdening either.

The most important "oversight" within this sort of synodical polity would not be that which requires "full-time" attention at a district or national level, but that of the circuit overseer. His "political" function, so to speak, would be to foster collegial fellowship with and among the circuit pastors and to facilitate the discernment of their conciliar wisdom pertaining to pastoral practice and the Church's confession of the catholic faith. Every other level of synodical oversight would build upon this pastoral foundation.

The role of the laity in this polity would be exercised, first and foremost, in the relationship they actually have, by divine arrangement, with their own pastors. For it is precisely in that relationship of the faithful with their own pastors that the Church catholic is embodied and lives in the form of the local congregation. Pastors do not constitute the Church by themselves; preachers and hearers belong together in Christ, as the Gospel belongs to faith and faith to the Gospel. (That is why every man ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry should be attached to a particular pulpit and altar.) This relationship of pastors with the people of God is not a competition, nor should it be contentious, but is the very concord of Christ and His Church.

As pastors are called to serve the Church within their divine vocation as Ministers of the Gospel, so are the laity called to serve within their own respective vocations. This works well in the life of a healthy parish, and there's no reason it can't work on the larger scale of synodical politics. The members of sister congregations within a circuit, for example, ought to cooperate in planning and putting into practice the common efforts of the "synod in that place." That should be happening more than it does. Especially with respect to legal and financial considerations, and in the Church's work of mercy in the world, the laity are often much better positioned and equipped than most pastors to carry out the responsibilities of the Church's earthly life. That is true at every level of a synodical fellowship. As they are fully members of the Church, the laity ought to be fully involved in developing, authorizing, and undertaking such enterprises, whether in part-time or full-time capacities. Not in competition with the pastors of the Church, nor as a "balance of powers," but as a stewardship in cooperation with the pastors.

In sum, the polity of our synodical fellowship ought to be congregationally structured and pastorally governed. That is simply to say that our polity, however it may be formed in the freedom of faith, ought to grow out of the preaching and hearing, the giving and receiving of the Gospel. It ought to concern itself chiefly with that Ministry of the Gospel. It ought to be always returning us (and calling others) to that life of the Church in the pure fountain which flows from the riven side of Christ, our Lord.

26 December 2008

Three in One and One in Three

Having moved from the somber joy of Advent to the holy days of Christmas, I’ve had occasion to reflect on the lectionary. I am unapologetically a three-year preacher. I heard it in the pews since the advent of Lutheran Worship. I learned to preach from it at the sem where I also studied its history and theology from Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum concilium. I’ve used LW’s revised common three-year lectionary for 16 years of preaching in Holy Trinity’s pulpit.

I appreciate the annual cycles through a particular synoptic Gospel, giving attention to the subtle nuances of each evangelist which inevitably get lost in harmonization. I like the broad variety of texts during “ordinary time,” the green seasons of Pentecost and to a lesser extent Epiphanytide. I like the way the Epiphany season is constructed, beginning with Jesus’ Baptism and ending with His Transfiguration. I like the continuous readings through various epistles in ordinary time, allowing the preacher to examine an epistle in some detail from the pulpit. All of these I consider strengths of the three-year lectionary.

I don’t care for the seemingly endless stream of Sundays in John 6 that the old 3-year series had (apologies to Frank Senn for this). How many “Bread of LIfe” sermons can one preach in a row? I also don’t care for the variation of readings at the major festivals, the most notorious being Pentecost. The revised 3-year series in LSB has improved this somewhat. But it is in the festival cycle that the genius of the one-year lectionary stands out, providing a solid foundation of texts for the major festivals of our Lord.

I sincerely wish that we had adopted the hybrid lectionary initially proposed by the Lectionary Committee. Yes, it was a little complicated, at times resembling an NFL playbook, but the idea was, in my opinion, a stroke of genius. During the festival part of the church year, it was a one-year series in line with the “historic” series. Each year, the same set of readings would be heard from Advent through Pentecost. But during “ordinary time,” Pentecost- and Epiphanytides, it became a three-year series, providing different readings in a three year cycle.

The time of the festivals had a reliably repetitive series of texts. Festivals don’t change in their content and meaning. The preacher can link back to all the great (and not so great) sermons preached on those feasts from the past. The time of teaching had a broader exposure to the whole counsel of God, allowing the preacher to expound on more words and works of Jesus. Plus, it respected the unique viewpoint of each synoptic writer, something that is completely lost when one harmonizes Matthew, Mark, and Luke not to mention John.

It would have been the best of both worlds , but sadly it was not to be. I suppose one could rig one’s own hybrid vehicle out of the current three- and one-year series, but it’s more fun to have others in the sandbox with you. Maybe next time.

24 December 2008

NO other way.

Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men. As the angels announce the birth of the Son of God they remind us as I do today that we can enjoy peace and goodwill from God our Father. He the mighty Judge who ought to condemn us for our sin rather desires our salvation. So the plan of salvation was conceived in the heart of our Father who loved the world. An early church father St. Athanasius says it well:

For the Word, perceiving that in NO other way could the corruption of men be undone, except by death as a necessary condition, while it was impossible for the Word [Jesus] to suffer death, being immortal and the Son of the Father; to this end He takes Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word who is above all, might be worthy to die in the place of all, and might, because of the Word which was come to dwell in it [a body], remain incorruptible, and that henceforth corruption might be kept from all by the grace of the Resurrection.

So we see that this Peace and Goodwill come to us because the Baby Jesus was capable of dying through the mystery of the incarnation from the womb of the Blessed Virgin. We touch Him and see Him in the manger this Christmas time to remind us that Jesus came in the flesh to bring us forgiveness of sin, life and salvation. We sing Alleluias and rejoice at this season; we see the Christ Child with the eyes of a childlike faith believing that this Jesus came not only in our heart but truly in the flesh to suffer and die. So I challenge you to come see in the manger our Savior, even the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and grants us His peace. Then and only then can we sing " Lord, now let your servant depart in Peace." Amen

Pr. Georg Williams

16 December 2008

Advent Reflections on TLH

Advent/Christmas/Epiphany-tides are the seasons of Divine Service 3 in Lutheran Service Book for our congregation. Before the advent of LSB we were a Lutheran Worship congregation, rotating the three service orders through the various seasons of the church year. The old TLH order for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany; the Hillert setting for Lent/Easter; the Bunjes setting for Pentecost and the green season. Like the changing of the colors, the various settings have come to signal the seasons in a pleasant sort of way.

The coming of Advent and old TLH p. 15 are as welcome as the smell of Grandma’s snickerdoodles baking in the kitchen or a pot full of Christmas cider cooking on the stove. I grew up on TLH and learned to sing 4-part harmony from its regal Scottish-Anglican chants, moving progressively from alto to tenor to bass. I love the archaic language, which nicely parallels St. Luke’s use of high classical Greek to tell the infancy narrative of Jesus in epic proportions. There is a stateliness and timelessness to this venerable setting that appeals even to those who have never heard of The Lutheran Hymnal. It is most appropriate for a season so steeped in tradition and nostalgia.

We’ve always struggled as a congregation with DS 1, LW’s homely Leah to TLH’s Rachel. The modern language didn’t work; the melodies were tweaked just enough so you couldn’t rely on memory; the chant was replaced by a frantic musical line that sounded familiar but then went off on a discordant detour. We were thrilled that LSB has restored this timeless classic. We don’t mind the slightly updated creedal language, since we’ve been saying it that way from LW since 1982. We still trip over the whole note of “Thou only art the Lord” in the Gloria in Excelsis; LW had shortened it to a passing eighth note.

I must admit to getting a bit emotional when I hear the congregation’s response “And with thy spirit” to my pastoral salutation, “The Lord be with you.” What a beautiful exchange of blessings between pastor and people. I so wish we could have made it a uniform response. I do not know of a single LW user who would not have gladly traded in “And also with you” for something so dignified and meaningful.

I have to glance at the bulletin to remind myself of the Creed, offering, and prayer of the church. When we used LW, I took the liberty of regularizing all three services so that these occurred in the same place and order, with the Creed following the Gospel. John Kleinig, who worshipped with us one Sunday, chastised me for this saying that Lutherans ought to see the both/and character of the Creed as proclamation and confession (sacrament and sacrifice, if you will). When LSB came out, we agreed to do it “by the book” to bring our local rubrics back into line.

I love the Votum at the end of the sermon - “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding….” I don’t use the faux-Jacobian, but speak it in koine English. I’m reminded of my pastor who baptized and catechized me, whose 45 minute sermons always ended blissfully with the Votum. I stand in the same apostolic succession in office, though I’m somewhat briefer in proclamation. I also love the “Offertory” sung as a response to the Word preached and heard, David’s “create in me a clean heart, O God” from Psam 51. It’s a lovely setting and serves as an appropriate interlude prior to the hustle and bustle of wallets, checks, and clanging offering plates. What will we do ceremonially when the church goes paperless? Will the ushers come down the aisle with a card swiper or will they simply be wired into the pews? I think about such things during the offering.

One thing I miss in DS 3 is some sort of offering hymn. If you’re going to have a offering procession, you ought to have some traveling music to cover the parade, otherwise the ushers won’t know when to march. We use stanzas 1 and 3 of Lord of All Good (LSB #786), which fills the need quite nicely. Speaking of the offering, we also do the much-maligned greeting of peace just prior to the offering procession. Jesus did have something to say about being reconciled to your brother before presenting your offering, so we figure He’s OK with us greeting each other in His name and peace.

I’m not so sure about the chanted Our Father. I can chant the phone book, so chanting isn’t the problem. The people seem to want to pray the Our Father together, and I don’t blame them. It is the family prayer. This season, we’re praying it all together, and no, we’re not singing “for Thine is kingdom…Amen” at the end. Some TLH customs deserve to be lost. I think we’ll go back to having me chant it during Epiphany. There is much good in having the pastor be the corporate voice of the congregation’s prayer, including the Our Father. Oh yes, when I chant, then the congregation sings the termination.

After a year’s use of DS 1 and 2 in LSB, I find that I miss the eucharistic prayer when using DS 3. I greatly appreciate what LSB has done in restoring to the liturgy the rich prayers of the Holy Communion with their summary of salvation history bringing all of Christ’s work to remembrance in the Body and Blood here given. Still, the bare Verba of DS 3 serve as a fine Lutheran liturgical minimum, a back-to-basics reminder that it is the Word of Christ alone that makes the Sacrament what it is and not our prayers. I always chant the Verba to set them off from everything and slow things down a bit. Since I have an eastward altar and my back to the people, intonation is everything.

All in all, my experience with DS 3 this Advent has been like a December phone call from a dear old friend. We know each other’s thoughts and patterns; we can almost finish each other’s sentences. It’s good to hear that familiar voice again, speaking out of my childhood growing up under the grace of Baptism. There is great comfort and safety in the old and familiar, especially as there is “change and decay in all around I see.”  It is good to know and worship the One who changeth not.

11 December 2008

Compass Points and the High (or Low) Altar

Dear Brother Blackbirds, and those who read and lurk:

I want to commend to everyone an article placed into the blogosphere by Rev. Larry Beane (See Link Here to Fr. Hollywood's Blog, See Article Here).

Oh, the wonder of having a large daily newspaper in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the veritable "Bible Belt" (where one of my own dear lambs labors at Oral Roberts University on a soccer scholarship, enduring much pentecostal, anti-liturgical/sacramental bleeecchh), actually publishing an article on liturgical matters, and seeking to teach people liturgical terms, and getting perspective from another liturgical pastor (and a confessional Lutheran, LCMS one at that!) - we should give thanks for these things. Make sure you read the "side-article" where Pastor Beecroft is interviewed! We should write to this reporter and thank him for such an article, whether we agree with its conclusions or not!

Now I personally emailed this article to a few pastors I know, and one responded. He feels strongly about being able to face the people at the Verba. He wrote,

"As I understand it, this [changing direction] was Vatican II's attempt to engage the people, get closer to them, so they abandoned the high altars and installed the tables in the midst of the people. I had heard that Benedict wanted to get back to the high altars. I guess it's finally happened.

Architecturally, the RCC had the wrong idea in facing the people. Facing the altar implies sacrifice as the priest offers of the sacrifice of the Mass. Thus, facing the people really gave the opposite idea.

My understanding is that Lutherans face the people for the Sacrament, indicating that these are gifts from God to the people. Thus, a position that speaks grace not sacrifice. Lutherans have had the right theology but often the wrong architecture."

He goes on to say that he would be happy with correct teaching on the Lord's Supper in our circles, considering all of the grape juice and open communion that flows forth out in our own backyard of the LCMS. In the end, facing one way or another is adiaphora, and the best thing whichever way the chancel is set up would be for us to have a Biblical (that is, Confessionally Lutheran) Sacramental piety and practice. However, our practice confesses what we believe as well! So for us, what does using a free standing altar confess? Is it what this pastor says?

Pastor Beecroft says in the article, "It [facing the "high altar" at the Verba] reflects a sacramental ritual that helps direct the people toward the transcendent... it pulls the community away from themselves and to that which is beyond us. It certainly has helped my piety as a pastor." Pastor Beecroft's congregation in Tulsa had gone back to a non-free standing altar from previously using one. The Roman bishop of Tulsa makes the point - "Everyone is the same from the back. Eyes are on the crucifix, not the priest."

Did we switch to altars away from the wall, and facing the people at the Verba (at least, some of our congregations), because of Vatican II? Or have Lutherans before this time period ever used free-standing altars and faced the congregation at the Verba, as my friend seems to indicate?

It seems to me that Dr. Weinrich in "Early Church History" class, in illustrating some of the Early Church Fathers' understanding of the definition of Church, drew pictures of altars with Bishop facing People, that wherever the Pastor and People were gathered around Christ's Sacrament and Word, there was the Church. Perhaps he was not illustrating so much the actual way it looked so much as the concept of gathering around Christ as His Body. Pastor Stuckwisch can correct me, he is the "A+" student in that class, as are others (I struggled and contended for my B+, thank you). I therefore hesitate to use names of our ancient Fathers in the faith. Does the free standing altar have precedence before our modern mis-mash thanks to Rome's triflings?

Some Lutherans have insisted on a non-free standing altar, I think precisely because of wanting to be anti-Roman Catholic in practice. That argument is easily handled, of course - we ought not do or not do things because Rome does or does not - we would never Baptize infants or read the Gospel if we worried so much about Rome.

The question is of particular interest to me. We (my congregation) have a mission plant here in Texas, and they have built their new sanctuary. The altar in the new chancel is currently "on the wall" - it has not yet seen service - and it is that way because the mother church's altar is that way, and because of a bit of what some would call "bronze-aged" Lutheran piety (understanding the definition of Lutheranism as being "not Roman Catholic") that is part of our history here.

We will be dedicating said sanctuary in January. There is time and opportunity to teach and instill a healthy, genuine, welcoming Lutheran sacramental piety, which indeed we (the Senior Pastor and myself) are teaching and confessing gently and with care. But what should we teach them about this matter of the chancel and the altar in the new sanctuary?

10 December 2008

Gloria in Excelsis and Advent

This is not a rant against liturgical tradition nor is it a potshot against the rubrics of the Lutheran Service Book, nor is it a troll to stir up strife among the liturgical cathari.  I am sincerely seeking honest discussion.  The rubric of LSB for the Gloria in Excelsis states "During Advent and Lent, the Gloria in Excelsis is omitted."  (I'm quoting from the rubrics for DS 3 and note in passing that TLH had no such rubric at this point.)

My question is "Why?"  Is it simply a kind of "liturgical fast" from the Gloria so that it can be heard with renewed vigor at Christmas/Easter?  

In the past years under the discipline of LW, I dutifully substituted a stanza from O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, as stated by that hymnal's rubrics.  This year, after the first Sunday of Advent (using DS 3 as is our custom during Advent/Christmas/Epiphany), I made the radical pastoral decision to (gasp!) disregard the rubric (mea culpa!) and forge ahead with the Gloria in Excelsis.  

Practically, it sounded terrible going straight from the bare three-fold Kyrie to the chanted Salutation and Collect.  Clearly something had been sawed off.  The Gloria is the ordinary hymn of praise for the service of the incarnate Word.  I know it's a relative late-comer into the liturgy, but it has been around for at least 1400 years, so it's hardly an innovation.  

Liturgically, I don't approve of the idea of making any Ordinary into an option.  This encourages liturgical mischief.  

Pastorally, it makes no theological sense to remove the angelic song of the Incarnation on any Sunday, much less a Sunday in a season of preparation to celebrate the feast of the Incarnation. 

If every Sunday is a little Easter, isn't every Sunday also a little Christmas?  (I'm going to ask the same thing about the suppression of Alleluia in Lent, but we'll wait for the -gesima Sundays to take up that one.)

I'm going to refrain from commenting, but will eagerly await any insights and discussion.


28 November 2008

The Pastor's Children

Today the oldest daughter, age 3, was supposed to be taking a nap. My wife heard the child's bedroom window open and the little girl yell out, "Don't do that, it isn't even Advent yet."
The next door neighbors were putting out their Christmas decorations.
Upon returning home from a hospital visit and hearing the story, I must say I was a bit proud of my daughter's traditional sensibility regarding Christmas decorations. Of course she has been hearing this from me for the past week as decorations have been going up all around our neighborhood. But I wonder, do all pastor's children do such things?
We are attempting by God's grace to raise our children as Christians; of course they will be a bit different because they are the children of the pastor. As such, they are continually being filled up with all kinds of ideas that will seem strange or weird to some, not only the neighbors but perhaps even within the congregation.
While we are giving them things that are strange to the world, the Gospel of Christ most of all, I suppose I take some pride in what my oldest is already able to confess with her mouth. This is probably sinful, but it is hard not to be that way. Perhaps I should simply be thankful to the Lord for what He is doing. Berating the neighbors about their Santa display is, I know, not the chief thing to be thankful for; by God's grace she confesses much more.
At the same time, I worry about not spending enough time with them; not teaching them more of Christ and His gifts, instructing them in the Scriptures and also doing dad stuff. The oldest now doesn't like it when I have another meeting to go to or even an evening bible study to teach. Will the time quickly come when she won't be sad that dad is gone, but simply be resigned to the fact that I'm at church and not at home playing after dinner?
Anyway, any thoughts on the rearing of weird little Lutheran pastor's children?
BT Ball

13 November 2008

Do This in Remembrance of Me

It was in February of 1998, at a small convocation in St. Louis that essentially kicked off the Lutheran Hymnal Project, that Dr. John Kleinig made a comment on the Institution Narrative and the Verba Domini (the Words of our Lord) that stuck with me and subsequently made a significant impact on my understanding of those most precious Words. It was in the course of discussion and debate on the topic of "eucharistic prayer," when Dr. Kleinig simply offered the suggestion that we should not allow ourselves to be misled by the conflated version of the Verba that we know from the Small Catechism and the Liturgy of the Holy Communion. In his usual manner, he let the observation speak for itself; he just laid it out there for any of us to discover his point on our own. I think it took me a year or two to give it my full and serious attention; not that it was all that difficult to look at the four different accounts of our Lord's institution of His Supper, but it is amazing how powerfully the conflation that we hear all the time and know so well by heart holds our thinking. It was probably another year or two more before the impact of what I found in my comparison really began to shape a new way of thinking in me.

The insight to which Dr. Kleinig's comment led me centers in this phrase of our Lord: "Do this in remembrance of Me." Surely, these are some of the most significant Words of the New Testament (to which, properly speaking, they refer quite directly). Along with the so-called "Great Commission" (the sending of the ministers of Christ to catechize and baptize), these Words, "Do this in remembrance of Me," establish the liturgical foundation of Christ's Church. They are quite as fundamental to the life of the children of God as are the words, "Be fruitful and multiply," to the life of Adam's sons and daughters. Yet, these Words of our Lord's New Testament have been subject to rather diverse interpretations and controversy.

Identifying the referent of "Do this" was a point of contention in the development of, and in responses to, the proposed eucharistic rites of the Lutheran Book of Worship in the 1970s. There are a number of points in those eucharistic rites with which I also take exception, and in many ways I remain sympathetic to the concerns that were expressed by critics of the proposal. On this particular point, however, I think that the proponents of the LBW may have been closer to the truth, even if not in their final conclusions concerning the larger picture of the Sacrament. The argument that "Do this" refers to the eating and drinking is one that was frequently made in opposition to the "Great Thanksgiving" of the LBW. It is an argument that I have not only heard but have also made, myself, on more than one occasion. But I don't believe that is the case; the texts don't support that argument.

Here is the interesting fact that Dr. Kleinig's comment led me to discover: It is in St. Matthew's account that our Lord Jesus Christ says, "Take, eat," and "Drink from it, all of you." St. Mark's account is similar, though he doesn't record either the "eat" or the "drink" as a Word of Jesus. In any case, neither St. Matthew nor St. Mark record the Words, "Do this in remembrance of Me." Those Words come to us from St. Luke and from St. Paul; but neither of them include "Take, eat," or "Drink from it."

When the four different narratives are conflated, as in the Catechism and in the Divine Service, we hear: "Take, eat" and "Drink from it," followed shortly by "Do this in remembrance of Me," and the natural conclusion is that we as communicants are to do the eating and drinking in remembrance of Jesus. Never mind for the moment that there's been any number of different interpretations of what that means; the assumption is that "Do this" refers to the eating and drinking. If one reads the actual texts of the Holy Scriptures, however, the "Do this" seems clearly to specify the verbs that have immediately preceded this Word of Jesus: verbs that Jesus is doing, rather than His communicant disciples; that is, taking the bread and the cup, giving thanks, and distributing His gifts with those particular Words that are basically the same in all four accounts: "This is My Body," "This is My Blood." Which is to say that, as it now seems clear to me, "Do this in remembrance of Me" refers not to the reception but to the administration of the Supper.

This distinction is underscored by the fact that St. Matthew (explicitly) and St. Mark (by implication of the preceding verses) write of the disciples at the Last Supper, whereas St. Luke writes of the Apostles reclining at the table with Him; and St. Paul is addressing the Church concerning the way in which the Supper ought to be administered. St. Matthew and St. Mark address the Institution Narrative toward those who are given to receive, to eat and drink the Sacrament; whereas St. Luke and St. Paul address those who are given to hand over the Sacrament to the disciples of Jesus. These are matters of emphasis, not of exlusive distinction, but I believe the difference is instructive to a proper understanding of the Holy Communion.

The Sacrament is to be administered "in remembrance of Me." What does this mean? It really is remarkable how many different ways the "remembrance" has been interpreted, and I'm not inclined to suggest that those various interpretations are mutually exclusive of one another. Löhe speaks of our Lord first of all remembering us by giving us His body and His blood, by which we, in turn, remember Him. Luther speaks of these Words in a variety of ways, too, depending on the context in which he is addressing the matter. Historically, the remembrance has been clarified by way of the ritual anamnesis, following the Verba, in which the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and coming of our Lord for judgment are confessed with the lips. Such things are meet, right and salutary, but the heart of the matter is deeper and more comprehensive.

St. Paul's account in 1 Corinthians is perhaps most helpful, especially in following the second "Do this in remembrance of Me" with the explanatory Words: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." I should certainly acknowledge and point out, to begin with, that both the doing of "this" and the "remembrance" are indeed to be connected to the eating and drinking, even if that holy consumption is not the referent of "Do this." Rather, "this" is to be done "as often as you drink it." In contrast to the convoluted meals that the Corinthians were having, they were to eat the bread and drink the cup according to the rubrics of the Lord Jesus Christ, who instituted His Supper in His own way. Instead of one man taking for himself and leaving others hungry, and another man getting drunk, the Christians are to come together as the Church and to give and receive the gifts of Christ Jesus as He has given.

Luther has somewhere interpreted the phrase, "you proclaim the Lord's death," not as an indicative but as an imperative. To paraphrase the point, "as often as you celebrate the Lord's Supper, you must proclaim the Lord's death." This coincides precisely with my observation: the administration of the Sacrament is done "in remembrance" of Jesus by the preaching of Christ the Crucified, which is the good work of the Church and Ministry in giving out the gifts. Thus, I would say that the "remembrance" is rooted, first and foremost, in the preaching of the Gospel; and the Sacrament should never be administerd apart from that preaching.

In connection with the preaching, I believe the "remembrance" characterizes the entire eucharistic rite: in the confession of the Creed, in the Prayer of the Church, in the Preface and Post-Sanctus, in the Anamnesis, the hymnody, etc. That is to say, the entire celebration of the Sacrament is encompassed within the confession of Christ, dependent upon the preaching of repentance in His Name, and given voice in prayer, supplication, intercession, praise and thanksgiving to the Father in His Name.

15 October 2008

The Minister's Positioning at the Invocation

The rubrics in Lutheran Service Book Altar Book give the following option at the Invocation: “The presiding minister may face the altar and sign himself, or he may face the congregation and mark them with the sign of the cross.”

I don’t remember rubrics that specified the direction the presiding minister should face in either LW or TLH. I looked quickly and couldn’t find one. In every church I attended growing up, the pastor faced the altar, and I have done so since being ordained. I don’t necessarily have an objection to facing and signing the congregation, but am wondering what the impetus is for that second practice versus the first.

Luther Reed in his “The Lutheran Liturgy” [page 254] instructs the minister to face the altar, with simple words that I would affirm:

This discussion reveals the difficulties which arise in attempting to classify parts of the liturgy too mechanically. Some are not wholly sacramental, others are not entirely sacrificial. There is a blending of these elements in some parts of the Service. Since, however, the minister by his position at the altar interprets the Service, and as there are only two positions he can take, it is necessary to determine the prevailing character of each part. In the case of the invocation it is better to take the words as Luther, the Reformers, and the ancient church used them in this connection, that is, as primarily devotional in character and not as a proclamation addressed to the congregation. … The minister [therefore] leads the devotions of the congregation in this act and faces the altar.

13 October 2008

Still Learning from Löhe Again

Pastor Grobien and I had the privilege and good pleasure of attending the Wilhelm Löhe Conference at Concordia Theological Seminary this past weekend. Kudos to the folks in Fort Wayne for putting it together and hosting such a worthwhile gathering. It was one of the best conferences of recent memory, and surely one of the best I've attended at the seminary over the past many years. I loved the Friday evening / Saturday morning schedule, which worked well and made it very feasible to attend. As with the St. Michael's Liturgical Conference at Redeemer a few weeks earlier, I was surprised and disappointed to see so few (if any) of the Fort Wayne pastors in attendance. It's a shame, because, in both cases, the streamlined schedule, edifying papers, and reasonable cost were a bargain and a real benefit. I'm very grateful to have gone.

Wilhelm Löhe will always be one of my heroes of the faith, and a hero of the pastoral office in particular, even though he lived and worked on the other side of the world and died a century before I was born. He wasn't much in vogue for much of the time that I was at the seminary as a student, but of course he did come up in the history of the Missouri Synod. Sadly, even the sainted Dr. Barry used to mention Löhe's name in the same breath with Grabau's as opponents of C.F.W. Walther and proponents of heterodox teaching on the Church and Ministry. I'm not convinced that Grabau was as mean or mistaken as he has often been characterized, but I am quite certain that Löhe has been unfairly lionized within the LCMS, both in his own day and in the not-so-distant past. In my generation, I believe it was especially the Reverend Dr. Kenneth Korby who did more than anyone else to rescue the legacy of Wilhelm Löhe among us; not only in memory but in practice. Dr. Korby's contributions were strongly in evidence at the conference last weekend.

In my first year at the seminary, a requisite missions course instilled in me the strong impression that one had to choose between sound doctrine and the work of missions. That notion played into a larger perception within the Missouri Synod, that one is either liturgical or evangelical, either confessional or mission-minded. It was not until several years later, in the context of an STM missions course with the Reverend Dr. Gregory Lockwood (from Australia), that I was rescued for a proper understanding of these things. Dr. Lockwood encouraged my interest in the example of Wilhelm Löhe, and the research paper I did for that course, focusing on Löhe, opened my eyes to an entirely different perspective than I had previously been given. Here was a man, staunchly conservative and confessional in his theology, renowned for his liturgical scholarship and practice, yet as zealous and proactive as anyone in the world has ever been in both evangelical missions and genuine works of mercy. For Löhe there was no conflict or competition in any of this, but the greatest and most natural harmony. The Church lives from the Liturgy into the world with the Gospel.

The paper that I wrote on Wilhelm Löhe was published by the seminary student association. The cover featured a portrait of the great man, which my graduating class commissioned from a local artist and presented to the seminary as part of our class gift. I'm told that it now hangs in the conference room at the library. In retrospect, I think the publication of that paper and the presentation of that portrait were a bit daring for the day; because, as I have said, Löhe was not held in such high esteem. I'd like to believe that my paper helped in a small way to reawaken an interest in him, not on account of my work, but simply by calling attention to his contributions. His legacy speaks for itself, compellingly, when it is allowed to speak.

Anyway, the papers presented at the Wilhelm Löhe Conference this past weekend were a refreshing review for me. I was very glad to be reminded of those very things that so impressed me and invigorated me, now more than fifteen years ago. I also enjoyed the perspectives of the four presenters, each of whom did a fine job. I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite of the four, but I was very pleased to hear from a fellow parish pastor, the Reverend Mark Loest of Frankentrost (one of the original colonies established in the Saginaw valley of Michigan with the assistance, encouragement and guidance of Löhe). I learned more new information from Pastor Loest's paper than any of the others, and I appreciated the genuine passion for his topic that was so evident in his presentation. But all four of the papers were quite good and really helpful. For someone not already familiar with Löhe, it would have been a veritable tour de force.

One of the things that struck me throughout the conference, most especially in Professor John Pless's paper on Löhe's pastoral theology, but also in each of the other papers, was how similar Löhe's aims, emphases, efforts and tangible accomplishments were, in comparison to recent discussions of an evangelical "rule" or "canon" here on the Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds blog. I've previously noted Löhe's example in this regard, but to hear the descriptions and discussions of his work and his contributions solidified that point. He instructed and inspired; he organized, encouraged, supported and assisted; he learned from the past and wrote for the future; he lent his knowledge and energies to the good ordering of pastoral preparation and practice, liturgical administration and prayer, congregational formation and protocol, inner and outer missions. As the paper by Dr. Wolfgang Fenske demonstrated, Löhe did much to establish and foster forms in service and support of substance. He thus exemplified the benefit of an evangelical "rule" for prayer, pastoral care, and public profession of the faith.

There was one point in Dr. Fenske's presentation that I regretted somewhat. He emphasized the centrality of the Lord's Supper in Löhe's theology and practice; not only in his liturgical theology, but in all of his pastoral practice. Life for Wilhelm Löhe was lived to and from the Sacrament of the Altar; everything that he and his congregation did were offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the One who feeds His Church with His holy body and precious blood. This point I do not regret, but greatly admire and appreciate. In connection with that sacramental emphasis, it is also true, there was a shift in the liturgical practice that Löhe advocated and emulated, in which the sermon was no longer understood or undertaken as the dominating center and highest peak. Dr. Fenske described this as an intentional downplaying of preaching, and it was that point I regretted. It gives the wrong impression, in my opinion. Löhe's goal was not to downplay preaching, but to recover a truly evangelical and liturgical preaching that would bring the congregation in repentance and faith to the Sacrament. He viewed the sermon and the Sacrament as the two mountain heights of the Liturgy, the second of them higher, yes, but the two of them together fundamental to the Divine Service.

Another pastor at the conference posed the question: How was it that Wilhelm Löhe was able to accomplish so much within (and from) his Neuendettelsau congregation? How was he able, for example, to lead the people from the practice of having the Lord's Supper twice a year (once in the spring, and once in the fall) to having the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day, and then, finally, every day of every week? And how was he able to restore such a lively practice of Individual Confession and Absolution within his congregation? The answer given to these questions was a good one: patience and steady teaching. It took decades to accomplish these developments, and Löhe was always teaching, catechizing, writing. He used the means available to confess the faith, and he did so faithfully over the long haul of thirty-five years in his parish.

All of this is meet and right. However, I would make the case that Löhe's preaching was fundamental to everything else. Professor Pless made that point, for example, in noting that Löhe regarded preaching as the primary place of ordinary, ongoing pastoral care. So, too, the preaching is the primary place for ongoing catechesis. It was for his rich evangelical preaching that people flocked from miles around to hear Löhe, to receive the Gospel from him, to be cared for by such a good shepherd. I believe it was Dr. Detlev Schulz who shared the anecdote, at the beginning of his paper, that Löhe had once begun preaching at 1:00 p.m. and was still preaching when the people needed to light the lamps in the early evening. It is an example of what we Lutherans confess: nothing holds the people like the preaching of the Gospel. Nothing cares for them and enlivens them like the preaching of the Gospel. Nothing else will be possible or matter, finally, without that steady preaching of the Gospel.

It was Löhe's faithful and conscientious preaching, I maintain, that led his people in faith to the body and blood of Christ at the Altar; and his preaching that led the people in faith from the Altar out into the world, to Christ in their neighbors near and far. It will be such preaching by which we also are best able to serve and support the people of God entrusted to our pastoral care.

01 October 2008

Struggle of Vocations

At the encouragement of brother Stuckwisch, I would like to ask a question to the esteemed brothers of this blog. But first, I would like to say it is an honor to be asked and included in/on this blog. I have very much enjoyed reading the past and current posts. I also have to confess after reading some of them I am a little intimidated at the caliber of Pastors, thinkers, and debaters. With that out of the way here is my question. My wife, Keri, and I have been blessed with triplet girls. Keri has been relocated to Fort Wayne out of concern for her health and the triplet’s health. She is doing well thus far and so are the triplets. The congregation I serve is about an hour and half away from Fort Wayne. I am struggling with my God given vocations as Husband, Father, and Pastor. The members of St. Matthew have been more than supportive and understanding though all of this so far. The issue(s) I am having is simply that I am struggling to feel I am living up to my vocation as Husband, Father, and Pastor. When I am home I am watching my almost two year old daughter, and living like a single parent. Again St. Matthew has been nothing but wonderful. When I am Fort Wayne I feel guilty for not being in Hamlet fulfilling the duties of the office, when I am in Hamlet, I feel guilty for not being with my wife who is on bed rest and can do little to nothing for herself. I know there is God’s holy absolution for my consciences, and I am free in Christ to serve my wife, my daughter, and congregation. I also know that I am only human and fall short of all that is given to me to do in any and all vocations. How do we as Pastors sort out our vocations in service to God and neighbor through all of life’s situations?

27 September 2008

Sketching Some Categories and Contours for Consideration and Conversation

First, a clarification: This most recent string of posts dealing with the possibility of an evangelical "rule" is not the underlying point, nor the primary purpose, of the Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds. It is simply a current topic of conversation. Some of the blackbirds are interested; others are not. Some may agree that this is worth pursuing; others may not. Some may think that this or that would be the best way to proceed; whereas others may have entirely different ideas. In the end, we may all walk away from this discussion, and that'll be that. In the meantime, other topics are fair game, and no one is bound one way or the other by these present debates.

Second, along with the reading list I previously shared in my comments under the previous post, a good friend pointed me to the "Rule" of the Society of the Holy Trinity. That may be found at: http://www.societyholytrinity.org/ (link to the Rule of the Society on the lefthand side of their homepage). I am aware of differences of opinion regarding the Society of the Holy Trinity; there are certain aspects of that Society's principles and practices to which I also take exception. However, I think it does provide an instructive example worthy of consideration. I attended one of the Society's general retreats as an observer several years ago, and I was frankly impressed with much of what I saw and heard. In any case, for purposes of this discussion, the "Rule" of the Society is helpful, and so for that reason I call attention to it.

Finally, to the main point of this new post: As I've been perusing various readings, pondering our discussions heretofore, and putting my pen to paper over the past week or so, I've been sketching some categories and contours for consideration and conversation. What I've drafted along those lines so far is what follows. The only "rules" included at this point are some basic Scriptural texts, which help (I hope) to define the scope and determine the structure I envision.

I've formulated three broad categories: Prayer, Pastoral Care, and Public Profession of the Faith. Somewhat coincidentally, these three areas appear to correspond with leitourgia, diakonia, and marturia, such as Dr. Just described and discussed in his plenary presentation at our recent Indiana District Worship and Spiritual Care Workshop. Of course, he didn't invent those categories; he learned them from the discourse of the early church. I was struck with the similarity of these distinctions to the parameters with which I had already been tinkering, and that helped, in turn, to clarify, firm up, and develop my thinking.

For the time being, then, I've attempted to organize the shape that a broad evangelical "rule" of pastoral practice might take. As I've said before, I imagine that such a "rule" would be spelled out in a kind of manual, preferrably one that would be easily updated, edited and expanded, as collective pastoral experience and wisdom were brought to bear upon it. Already, it is for the sake of soliciting the input of such pastoral experience and wisdom that I set this forth, a work in progress, that it might be fodder for fraternal conversation.


"So then, those who received his word were baptized. . . . They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . . And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common. . . . Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:41a, 42, 44–47).

RULES OF PRAYER (lex orandi / leitourgia)

"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks."
(1 Thessalonians 5:16–18a)

"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgiving, be made on behalf of all men. . . . Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension" (1 Timothy 2:1, 8).

"I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’"
(1 Corinthians 11:23–24)

"Let all things be done for edification. . . . For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. . . . But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner."
(1 Corinthians 14:26c, 33, 40)

1. Service Books and Hymnals

2. The Divine Service

a. orders of service

b. special rites

c. additional rubrics

3. Assisting Ministers

a. the order of the clergy within the parish

b. Communion assistants

c. acolytes and other assistants

4. Daily Prayer

a. of the pastor

b. of the parish

c. resources for homes and families

5. Calendar

a. lectionary

b. seasonal contours

c. festivals and precedence

d. sanctoral cycle

e. additional propers

6. Music

a. cantors and choirs

b. liturgical music

c. hymnody

d. instrumentation

7. Ceremonies

a. the evangelical and catholic understanding of adiaphora

b. the use of ceremonies for the sake of love and good order, without frivolity

c. the avoidance of novelty, innovation, and offense

d. processions

e. genuflecting

f. elevations

g. incense

8. Vestments and Paraments

a. for the Divine Service

b. for the daily offices

c. the color of the day

9. Architecture and Accouterments

a. vessels

b. furnishings

c. candles

RULES OF PASTORAL CARE (inner missions / diakonia)

"Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’" (St. Matthew 28:28–20).

"The congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need" (Acts 4:32–35).

"The twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word’" (Acts 6:2–4).

"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).

1. Preaching

2. Catechesis

a. resources

b. methodology

c. involvement of parents in the catechesis of children

d. fostering ongoing catechesis within the congregation

3. Holy Baptism

a. scheduling and preparation
i. infants
ii. older children
iii. adults

b. recognition of emergency Baptism

c. uncertainty concerning Baptism

4. Admittance to the Holy Communion

a. criteria

b. preparation

c. examination

d. First Communion

e. the rite of confirmation

5. The Office of the Keys

a. Confession and Holy Absolution
i. the pastor’s father confessor
ii. being a father confessor
iii. scheduling times for confession

b. Church discipline

6. Visitations

a. general

b. homebound members

c. hospital

d. prison

e. delinquents

f. visitors

7. Counsel and Advice

a. vocational questions

b. illnesses of body and mind

c. addictions and besetting sins
i. pornography
ii. alcoholism
iii. drug addiction

d. financial decisions

8. Marriage and Family

a. living together

b. out of wedlock pregnancy

c. preparation for marriage

d. weddings

e. marital counseling

f. procreation questions

e. divorce and remarriage

f. the pastor’s personal vocations as husband and father

9. Serving the Youth

10. Pastoral Oversight of Diakonia

a. almsgiving

b. widows and orphans in distress

c. the care of women

d. the role of lay elders

11. Death and Dying

a. ministry to the dying

b. ministry to the bereaved

c. funerals

d. cremation

e. miscarriage and still-birth

12. Working with Lutheran Schools

a. relations with the principal and teachers

b. the pastor’s role in the life of the school

c. association schools

d. Lutheran high school

13. Communication within the Parish

RULES OF PUBLIC PROFESSION (outer mission / marturia)

"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1–4).

"Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king."
(1 Peter 2:17)

"Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. . . . Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. . . . Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:1–2, 5, 7–8).

"Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame."
(1 Peter 3:15–16)

1. Church Fellowship

a. synodical fellowship
i. participation in synodical polity and politics
~ circuit winkels, forums and convocations
~ district conferences and conventions
ii. respect for synodical structures and protocols
iii. conscientious dissent and means of reconciliation

b. Communion fellowship / closed Communion

c. cooperation in externals (?)

2. The Divine Call

a. consideration

b. announcing acceptance or decline

c. ordination and installation

d. sabbaticals and leaves of absence

3. Missions and Evangelism

a. support of seminaries and colleges

b. encouraging evangelism in the proper vocations of each member

c. evangelism as a corporate enterprise of the congregation

d. supporting and participating in the larger mission of the Church

4. Chaplaincy

a. military

b. institutional

c. government

d. police force

e. firefighters and paramedics

f. crisis situations

5. The Public Square

a. apologetics

b. morality and ethics

c. publicity in the media / public communications

d. political commentary

e. participation in civic events

22 September 2008

A Step Back, a Deep Breath, and a New Prospective Perspective

The recent thread of multiple posts and many comments on the potential possibility of an evangelical rule has been interesting, to say the least; some parts invigorating, some parts frustrating, but instructive in any case. As I've noted in a couple of my notoriously long comments, my perspective and my thinking on this idea have developed in the course of discussion, and I regard that as the mark of a good conversation. I appreciate the give and take, the cut and thrust of debate, the concrete propositions, the pointed criticisms, the cautions and concerns. I'm not as thrilled with some of the specifics that have been bandied about, but I haven't felt threatened by anything. It seems to me that we ought to be able to contemplate ideas without harboring the fear or savoring the fantasy that something, once uttered, is a position irrevocably taken or a project in the process of appearing.

I'm offering some new thoughts to contemplate here, as I continue to formulate some alternative proposals for consideration and discussion. Someone has to join Brother Curtis out on the limb with the bull by the horns and the tiger by the tail, even if only to lead him back to the trunk of the tree in one piece. I'm grateful to him, not only for his daring contributions, which have generated a lively discussion, but also for his graciously patient responses to critics.

The notion of a "rule" of order is certainly not contrary to the Gospel, nor is it divisive to the life of the Church. This isn't the lawyer seeking to justify himself, but the pastor seeking to serve the flock faithfully. To be ordained is to be under orders, for the sake of the people one is called to shepherd with the Word of the Lord. To be put into an office is to be "ruled" and "ordered" by that vocation, so that others may be served by grace. Thus, there are the rules laid out for the leaders of Israel, for priests and prophets and kings. And there are the rules of the Pastoral Epistles, for the pastoral office and for the households of the parish, for husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, children, slaves, workers and such. Hence, the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism. Here is the Law serving as both curb and guide, not for the sake of justification, but for the sake of the neighbor. Those who are perfectly free before God by faith, are entirely bound to the neighbor by love. Call it whatever you like, there are "rules" by which we live to the glory of God and the good of others, and pastors are obliged to strive for the sort of practice that will best serve the Church.

It is true that we are not in a position to establish, adopt or enforce anything like the ancient canons of the great ecumenical councils, nor anything like the sixteenth-century Lutheran church orders. Those historic precedents belong to the polity and jurisdiction of the Church on earth, in a way that we are in no position or authority to emulate. We've not been aiming at the formation of a new communion, nor a new church structure. The benefit of the ancient canons and the church orders is their example of the Church's confession in response to the particular circumstances and challenges of the day and age in which they were formulated. We have our own circumstances and challenges to deal with. So how shall we best respond with a clear and consistent confession of Christ? Apart from the political structures within which the canons and church orders found their place, the way in which those canons and orders addressed specifics then can be instructive to us now. Analogous counsel, guidance and advice can be rendered in any number of ways, many of which would have nothing like the ecclesial jurisdiction or political authority of those historic examples.

Despite the reactions that some readers have had, and perhaps in spite of presuppositions that some of "us" have had to begin with, an evangelical "rule" of order would not likely deal with a lot of ceremonial details. There is guidance to be given in the realm of ceremonies, to be sure, but evangelical guidance will respect the broad catholicity of the Church as well as the freedom of the Gospel and the necessity of pastoral judgment, discretion and care. In any case, the sort of "rule" that I have more and more come to envision would be far more comprehensive, broader and more general than the fine points of liturgical practice. "Rules" pertaining to the liturgy, rites and ceremonies, would find their place alongside "rules" pertaining to pastoral care, catechesis, almsgiving, church fellowship, public witness, missions, etc. Such "rules," as I have already suggested in several comments, would not point us away from our synodical fellowship, but would encourage a conscientious respect for that fellowship and support an active participation in its polity and protocols.

What we really need, it seems to me, are not so much "rules" that describe what we're already doing well, but "rules" that call us to daily repentance and admonish us to do better in those areas where we are at our weakest, whether out of ignorance, laziness, reluctance or cynicism. We should not come up with "rules" for ourselves that are mainly aimed at correcting others; though I do not deny that we are called to correct, reprove and exhort our erring brethren. But we ought to "rule" and discipline ourselves to strive for greater and more consistent faithfulness in our own practices, especially with respect to the duties of office that are most difficult for us and the least enjoyable. That's one of the tremendous benefits of doing something together with brothers in office, so that we do not individually become caricatures of our respective strengths and negligent in areas of personal weakness.

An evangelical "rule" would simply be a way of organizing and putting into writing what ought to be happening all the time anyway: the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, the spiritual counsel of fathers in Christ for their sons in the faith, and the spiritual care of fellow pastors for one another, out of love for the office, for each other and the Church. It's a way of pooling our knowledge and experience for the benefit of one and all.

I've offered some examples of the sort of thing I have in mind, in my response to Brother Peperkorn, and I'll mention two of those again: The Concordia Catechetial Academy and Higher Things. These efforts are narrower than an evangelical "rule" would be, but in their own respective bailiwicks they give us a good picture of how to serve the Church by confessing the faith in very practical ways and with very tangible means. I've also mentioned the extraordinary example of Wilhelm Löhe, who, from his Neuendettelsau parish, served the Church far and wide in a number of significant areas: Liturgy. Missions. Pastoral Care. Diakonia. He taught by his own beautiful example, but he also worked hard to facilitate positive efforts on the part of the Church at large. He organized, catechized, recruited and inspired, exhorted and encouraged, and contributed to great lengths. Not only his example, but the fruits of his labors continue to serve the Church in our own day.

Along with these examples, my attention has been turning to other sorts of models to consider. The ancient canons and Lutheran church orders are interesting and instructive, but there are also more pertinent things to read and contemplate. Manuals of pastoral care, for example, spanning church history from St. Gregory the Great to our own C.F.W. Walther. Any number of Luther's writings, which deal with the life of the Church in the world. The Saxon Visitation Articles, which Brother Curtis also mentioned at one point, but which we haven't discussed. Similarly, the Enchiridion of Martin Chemnitz on Ministry, Word and Sacraments, which served as a measure of a man's readiness for the pastoral office. I've got a dozen or more books that I want to begin perusing and reading, as my time permits, for the sake of learning from others who have carefully considered the work of pastors in caring for the Church on earth.

My thinking, at this point, is that the sort of "rule" that might emerge from our discussions and fraternal debate would function more like a manual of pastoral care than a new "society" within our current synodical fellowship(s). It would ideally be the sort of "living document" that the Apostolic Constitutions of the early church appear to have been; that is to say, developing over time through the input of pastoral experience, and addressing ever new challenges facing the Church in her confession of the Gospel. It would be entirely free, take it or leave it. Yet, by mutual agreement and voluntary submission on the part of pastors who recognize its wisdom and benefits, an evangelical "rule" of this sort would serve and support the catechesis of the Word of God, the preaching of the Gospel, the profession of the faith, the prayer of the Church, the pastoral care of souls, and the compassionate care of orphans and widows in their distress.

16 September 2008

Canons of Nicea I

Thank goodness they didn't write one each!

In our last episode I tossed out some canons and we had some good discussion on various aspects thereof (which is still going on and can be read below). The Administrator of the Blog dropped hints, twice or thrice, that it would also be good to back up and specifically talk about the history of Church Orders, canons, and whatnot.

We could of course start with Jerusalem, A+D 49. That's where Luther starts his discussion, if memory serves, in On the Councils and the Church. His point was that "canons" were made by the Council for good order and were not binding for all time or in all places: indeed, the Apostolic Council itself could not force a situation in Corinth for example - where it seemed to the Reformer that Paul took a different tack that Jerusalem. . .

From there there we could look at any of the regional councils that are extant - and there are quite a few. I'll try to dig one up later. But easy to hand all Englished up are the canons of Nicea I.

Perhaps after discussing what we see here and in a regional council of the early period, someone who knows more about medieval and Reformation history could take up both pre-Reformation medieval canons and post-Reformation Lutheran Church Orders. I looked briefly at one of the 17th century Lutheran orders and was surprised that it had little to do with what I thought of as "Church Order" and was instead a doctrine quiz to smoke out crypto-Calvinists. . .

At any rate, someone else will have to dig into that period for which my background is pretty light.

But here's Nicea 1. What a wide range of topics! Doctrine, practice, ethics, penal law...certainly beyond the scope of what I had below. And, I think, beyond the scope of what anyone who's commented so far wants. What else do you see here? What's good, bad, and ugly? What's helpful for us here and what's not? And please, no cracks about bureaucrats and Canon 1.


The Canons

Canon 1

If any one in sickness has been subjected by physicians to a surgical operation, or if he has been castrated by barbarians, let him remain among the clergy; but, if any one in sound health has castrated himself, it behoves that such an one, if [already] enrolled among the clergy, should cease [from his ministry], and that from henceforth no such person should be promoted. But, as it is evident that this is said of those who wilfully do the thing and presume to castrate themselves, so if any have been made eunuchs by barbarians, or by their masters, and should otherwise be found worthy, such men the Canon admits to the clergy.

Canon 2

Forasmuch as, either from necessity, or through the urgency of individuals, many things have been done contrary to the Ecclesiastical canon, so that men just converted from heathenism to the faith, and who have been instructed but a little while, are straightway brought to the spiritual laver, and as soon as they have been baptized, are advanced to the episcopate or the presbyterate, it has seemed right to us that for the time to come no such thing shall be done. For to the catechumen himself there is need of time and of a longer trial after baptism. For the apostolical saying is clear, Not a novice; lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into condemnation and the snare of the devil. But if, as time goes on, any sensual sin should be found out about the person, and he should be convicted by two or three witnesses, let him cease from the clerical office. And whoso shall transgress these [enactments] will imperil his own clerical position, as a person who presumes to disobey the great Synod.

Canon 3

The great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion.

Canon 4

It is by all means proper that a bishop should be appointed by all the bishops in the province; but should this be difficult, either on account of urgent necessity or because of distance, three at least should meet together, and the suffrages of the absent [bishops] also being given and communicated in writing, then the ordination should take place. But in every province the ratification of what is done should be left to the Metropolitan.

Canon 5

Concerning those, whether of the clergy or of the laity, who have been excommunicated in the several provinces, let the provision of the canon be observed by the bishops which provides that persons cast out by some be not readmitted by others. Nevertheless, inquiry should be made whether they have been excommunicated through captiousness, or contentiousness, or any such like ungracious disposition in the bishop. And, that this matter may have due investigation, it is decreed that in every province synods shall be held twice a year, in order that when all the bishops of the province are assembled together, such questions may by them be thoroughly examined, that so those who have confessedly offended against their bishop, may be seen by all to be for just cause excommunicated, until it shall seem fit to a general meeting of the bishops to pronounce a milder sentence upon them. And let these synods be held, the one before Lent, (that the pure Gift may be offered to God after all bitterness has been put away), and let the second be held about autumn.

Canon 6

Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop. If, however, two or three bishops shall from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical law, then let the choice of the majority prevail.

Canon 7

Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the Bishop of Ælia [i.e., Jerusalem] should be honoured, let him, saving its due dignity to the Metropolis, have the next place of honour.

Canon 8

Concerning those who call themselves Cathari, if they come over to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy Synod decrees that they who are ordained shall continue as they are in the clergy. But it is before all things necessary that they should profess in writing that they will observe and follow the dogmas of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; in particular that they will communicate with persons who have been twice married, and with those who having lapsed in persecution have had a period [of penance] laid upon them, and a time [of restoration] fixed so that in all things they will follow the dogmas of the Catholic Church. Wheresoever, then, whether in villages or in cities, all of the ordained are found to be of these only, let them remain in the clergy, and in the same rank in which they are found. But if they come over where there is a bishop or presbyter of the Catholic Church, it is manifest that the Bishop of the Church must have the bishop's dignity; and he who was named bishop by those who are called Cathari shall have the rank of presbyter, unless it shall seem fit to the Bishop to admit him to partake in the honour of the title. Or, if this should not be satisfactory, then shall the bishop provide for him a place as Chorepiscopus, or presbyter, in order that he may be evidently seen to be of the clergy, and that there may not be two bishops in the city.

Canon 9

If any presbyters have been advanced without examination, or if upon examination they have made confession of crime, and men acting in violation of the canon have laid hands upon them, notwithstanding their confession, such the canon does not admit; for the Catholic Church requires that [only] which is blameless.

Canon 10

If any who have lapsed have been ordained through the ignorance, or even with the previous knowledge of the ordainers, this shall not prejudice the canon of the Church; for when they are discovered they shall be deposed.

Canon 11

Concerning those who have fallen without compulsion, without the spoiling of their property, without danger or the like, as happened during the tyranny of Licinius, the Synod declares that, though they have deserved no clemency, they shall be dealt with mercifully. As many as were communicants, if theyheartily repent, shall pass three years among the hearers; for seven years they shall be prostrators; and for two years they shall communicate with the people in prayers, but without oblation.

Canon 12

As many as were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military girdles, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, (so that some spent money and by means ofgifts regained their military stations); let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators. But in all these cases it is necessary to examine well into their purpose and what their repentance appears to be like. For as many as give evidence of their conversions by deeds, and not pretence, with fear, and tears, and perseverance, and good works, when they have fulfilled their appointed time as hearers, may properly communicate in prayers; and after that the bishop may determine yet more favourably concerning them. But those who take [the matter] with indifference, and who think the form of [not] entering the Church is sufficient for their conversion, must fulfil the whole time.

Canon 13

Concerning the departing, the ancient canonical law is still to be maintained, to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last and most indispensableViaticum. But, if any one should be restored to health again who has received the communion when his life was despaired of, let him remain among those who communicate in prayers only. But in general, and in the case of any dying person whatsoever asking to receive the Eucharist, let the Bishop, after examination made, give it him.

Canon 14

Concerning catechumens who have lapsed, the holy and great Synod has decreed that, after they have passed three years only as hearers, they shall pray with the catechumens.

Canon 15

On account of the great disturbance and discords that occur, it is decreed that the custom prevailing in certain places contrary to the Canon, must wholly be done away; so that neither bishop, presbyter, nor deacon shall pass from city to city. And if any one, after this decree of the holy and great Synod, shall attempt any such thing, or continue in any such course, his proceedings shall be utterly void, and he shall be restored to theChurch for which he was ordained bishop or presbyter.

Canon 16

Neither presbyters, nor deacons, nor any others enrolled among the clergy, who, not having the fear of God before their eyes, nor regarding the ecclesiastical Canon, shall recklessly remove from their own church, ought by any means to be received by another church; but every constraint should be applied to restore them to their own parishes; and, if they will not go, they must be excommunicated. And if anyone shall dare surreptitiously to carry off and in his own Church ordain a man belonging to another, without the consent of his own proper bishop, from whom although he was enrolled in the clergy list he has seceded, let the ordination be void.

Canon 17

Forasmuch as many enrolled among the Clergy, following covetousness and lust of gain, have forgotten the divine Scripture, which says, He has not given his money upon usury, and in lending money ask the hundredth of the sum [as monthly interest], the holy and great Synod thinks it just that if after this decree any one be found to receive usury, whether he accomplish it by secret transaction or otherwise, as by demanding the whole and one half, or by using any other contrivance whatever for filthy lucre's sake, he shall be deposed from the clergy and his name stricken from the list.

Canon 18

It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer. And this also has been made known, that certain deacons now touch the Eucharist even before the bishops. Let all such practices be utterly done away, and let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishop and the inferiors of the presbyters. Let them receive the Eucharist according to their order, after the presbyters, and let either the bishop or the presbyter administer to them. Furthermore, let not the deacons sit among the presbyters, for that is contrary to canon and order. And if, after this decree, any one shall refuse to obey, let him be deposed from the diaconate.

Canon 19

Concerning the Paulianists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptized; and if any of them who in past time have been numbered among their clergy should be found blameless and without reproach, let them be rebaptized and ordained by the Bishop of the Catholic Church; but if the examination should discover them to be unfit, they ought to be deposed. Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.

Canon 20

Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord's Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.