30 December 2009

Thoughts from the Road

This is written via the wonder of wi-fi at the La Quinta by Shiloh's restaurant in Tulsa.

So, an article at CNN reports on a study that concludes that today, in movies, Sex does not sell. This group looked at the movie grosses for the past nine years and found out. . . nudity and graphic scenes do nothing to help a movie.

While this is an interesting topic in and of itself, the study was started when a young acting student found that she was uncomfortable with the sexual nature of the scenes she was asked to do in class (and we all know, sex sells. . .) - so she investigated, and found that it didn't.

Also of note was this comment by a professor - Rather, Detweiler said, he has seen among his students that the new form of rebellion against the older generation includes "not doing drugs, not sleeping around and not getting divorced." That might explain the popularity of some of the Jane Austen films and movies like the "Twilight" series, he said. "Those stories are really about sexual separation," he said. "They are all about wooing, not winning."

This is something that I think the more liturgically minded among us have known - but the younger generations today dislike the emptiness and shallow desire for pleasure that their parents dove into (being the spoiled brats of the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations). We see this liturgically - and apparently it also applies to movies.

Just some food for thought - sort of hopeful I suppose.

24 December 2009

Caesar Passes a Healthcare Bill that Includes Funding for Abortion: On the Night Before Christmas

The healthcare bill of the United States of America will apparently include taxpayer funding for abortion. Even more demonic is that this is passed on the day of Christmas Eve, the eve of the Nativity of our Lord. These events certain press us to study the doctrine of the two kingdoms and to apply law and gospel accordingly. May we not be guilty of what some accused Lutherans of during World War II. While we live in the end times (Hebrews 1), we are called to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need.

17 December 2009


Our Lord Jesus Christ was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary. He was conceived in her and was carried by her til the day of His birth. He was made man, and man has thumbs, two of them. The pic above is the left thumb (and hand) of my unborn child, taken today. It is of great joy that we can see such things, and know that it was our Lord and God who came down and looked just like this in His mother. Small, humbling Himself to be helpless, a pound or so at 5 months since He was conceived in her womb, with thumbs that would eventually break bread that was His very Body and later hold fast to His cross, and then be still in death, only to break bread again on the day of His rising.

Our Lord and God Christ is Wonderful, that is His Name (Isaiah 9:6). The wonder of a thumb up made me rejoice in this all the more today, that He came like this for us all, even for the child with a thumb up today.

And it made me a bit sad too, that there are those who would tear apart a child the size of my own, a child the size that our Lord Christ was. Some do it for expediency, some do it because they are forced to by evil men, some do it because they are evil and some/most commit the act for money. The thumbs of these children are sent off with the medical waste to be burned; what sadness.

But Christ is all joy, the Word made flesh will one day make all of that come to an end when He comes to judge the earth. Rachel weeps even now, but she will be comforted when our Lord God comes with all His might to put a stop all the evil of men and gather together the sheep of His right hand; His right hand with a thumb on it, just like yours, just like my child's.

All joy that He came to be with us, in the womb of His mother, like us. He, flesh and blood, like us, ascended to His Father's right hand preparing the way for us, and for all who believe. And we will see Him, flesh and blood, and on the day of his coming, we will be like Him.

Lord Jesus, do not tarry. Come quickly.

14 December 2009

Pre-baptismal Catechesis: How much is necessary?

This is a question addressed to fellow pastors: how much catechesis would you require before baptizing an adult who hasn't been attending a Lutheran church, didn't grow up in a Christian home, and wants to be baptized without any prior instruction?

30 November 2009

What I'm Listening to this Christmass

During the years I spent in Ukraine, in eastern Europe, there was no time more joyful than the Christmass season. My family and I fell in love with the eastern European carols that our Ukrainian friends sang at that special time of the year, with such devotion. These marvelous carols are largely unknown to Christians in the west, whose Christmass carol repertoire is based largely on what has been passed down to us from English and German sources. But this need not be!

Over the years, the Schola Cantorum of St. Peter's in the Loop (now known as the Schola Cantorum of St. Peter the Apostle) has issued some marvelous Christmass CDs on which they sing - in English translation! - many of these beautiful eastern European carols. I highly recommend these recordings, not only because of the charming quality of the music and the theological dignity of the lyrics, but also because of the superb technical quality of the performance and the recording.

The commercial interests all around us have already begun their selling frenzy in earnest. But I am countering these secular intrusions into my own heart and mind by playing the three Schola Cantorum Christmass CDs that I own whenever I can: at home, at work, and in the car.

There is Great Rejoicing (1993) was the first album in this genre that the Schola Cantorum produced. It is good, but my personal favorite is Light from the East (1999), which includes several hymns from the Slovak Lutheran tradition (translated by Jaroslav Vajda and sung to settings by Carl Schalk). The third CD in my collection is God is With Us (1998), which includes more of the distinctly Ukrainian carols that we used to sing in Ukraine.

I suppose there is a certain sentimentalism attached to this music for me, not only because I lived for eight years in the part of the world whence these carols originated, but also because my maternal ancestors lived there in centuries past (Lutherans in the "Little Carpathian" region of western Slovakia, and Greek Catholics and Reformed in the [big] "Carpathian" region of eastern Slovakia). But those who have no personal history or family roots in eastern Europe would no doubt also enjoy these recordings, as they testify to the great wonder of God's incarnation for our salvation, and to the salvation that is ours through Christ, the Babe of Bethlehem.

Khrystos narodivsya!

25 November 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

What do you think of this for clergy involvement in the Kingdom of the Left?

The Manhattan Declaration

11 November 2009

Living together and maybe to old to change, is there any grace?

So a man and a woman have been living together for many years now. Both have been married before, widowed and divorced. At the time, there was no desire to get married again and so on goes the story about moving in and co-habiting. There is still no desire or willingness on behalf of one of the partners to marry and the other, although they would be fine with marriage, is very apprehensive to bring it up while at the same time does not want to end this lengthy relationship that is "loving" and "faithful".

So, one day, one of the partners comes to church, encouraged by the pastor to come, welcomed with open arms, no ones really knows of the situation, and of course a fine sermon is preached. At the conclusion of the service the person leaves and does not return. The pastor calls upon them and inquirers as to why they have not come back and how might he be help you. He is told amidst manifold tears and a contrite heart, "how can I come and hear of Jesus forgiveness when I know that I am going to go right back home to my sinful relationship?"

This is not an uncommon scenario as there are many elderly who co-habit, and although a reasoned excuse, they would lose medical and other benefits if they married. Others are like the couple mentioned above. They have lived together for many years, even from middle age and economics was not the factor although it might be a contributor now.

The easy answer is, "just get married", or "live on your own until you marry" yet these are long term, albeit sinful, but committed relationships. Of course they should be encouraged and welcomed into the Church, catechized if possible but they would not be welcomed to the Sacrament until the living arrangement had changed, right.

We all have sins that we commit over and over no matter how many times we have confessed them to God. We might even go to private confession to confess them and still we commit them again. We might be "trapped" in some circumstance that just brings us right back to that sin again and we cannot leave that situation now or maybe ever.

What counsel would you give someone who was in this "living together" situation who desired to come to hear God's Word but was so crushed by the law that they were paralyzed to receive the Gospel? What would you say to them knowing that for the forseeable future if not forever they would not be able to change their living situation? I struggle finding the right words, not because I doubt that their sin is forgiven, not because I doubt in Christ's compassion and mercy or God's grace, not because I doubt the sincere contrition of their heart, I just don't seem to be able to phrase this properly to be of good encouragement and comfort to them.

I would appreciate some wisdom here from some of you who have actually dealt with this not just encountered it. Thank you.

07 November 2009

When is enough, enough? or Can you avoid someone that sin might cease?

A brief yet not so simple question for you brothers. If the relationship a person has with another is constantly leading to sinful thoughts, words and deeds, (Not sexual in this example but rather anger, despair and the like) can a person say, "I forgive you and I desire not to have any further relationship with you"? What if this is a relationship between family members? What if it is a relationship between congregation members?

In light of this week's Gospel text, Matthew 18:21-35, would forgiving and then ending a relationship fall into not having truly forgiven from the heart? Bottom line, can we divorce ourselves from relationships (not our spouses) that constantly lead us into sin or where we are constantly sinned against and also fall into regular sinning?

Not certain how to answer this, even though I counsel that correspondance may be more preferable to face to face in these situations. Certainly if one has nothing nice to say one should remain silent and allow for the suffering that comes with human relations and is rarely avoided.

02 November 2009

A question. . .

Please do not pillar me or think ill of me for this, but in discussions on my own blog the perpetual virginity of Mary arose. It should not shock folks here that I am dubious of this tradition. However, I know many good men are here who hold this tradition dearly, and so I ask this (not with the bombast of my own website) out of a desire to learn.

I will contend that what we teach must be in alignment with the Scriptures - that even if we cannot cite a specific Scriptural reference saying, "Thou shall do this" that our actions fall in line with teaching of Scripture - that what we say and do confesses the teaching of Scripture. What Scriptural truth does the Perpetual Virginity of Mary teach - what truth of Christian doctrine does it align with?

I'm not here seeking an exegetical discussion of whether brother means cousin, or whether or not it is plausible from Scripture, or even of the historical attestation to this theory - but rather, what theological benefit is there from claiming the Semper Virgo?

To me, it's troublesome. It seems to do damage to the Scriptural teachings of marriage (marriage is for procreation, a husband shall become one flesh with his wife, do not withhold yourself from your spouse -- if Mary remains Semper Virgo, does she not contradict all these teachings on marriage?) and also teachings on virginity (which is always exercised outside the estate of marriage).

Those of you who hold to this - what benefit, what clarity about God and His Word does it bring to you? I seek (honestly and sincerely) simply to understand why this is so important to so many.

In fact, to keep this from becoming a huge, blowup discussion, I'm not going to respond - I am not looking for a discussion here - but rather simply to listen. What do we learn about the Christian faith from the Semper Virgo?


Note: If I may be so bold - would others who like me are dubious of the Semper Virgo also remain silent here (if this agitates you, by all means feel free to post elsewhere. . . my own blood pressure may dictate me joining you -- I hope not, but it may).

I would hope the comments simply to be people speaking what they think on the pros of this topic - not necessarily forced to make an passionate defense of them -- that happens all too often, and soon passion becomes the focus of such heated arguments).

16 October 2009

Luther on Sola Scriptura

Several weeks ago, a post about inerrancy led to discussion about the Sola Scriptura principle. Sola Scriptura, when wrongly understood, fails logically because Scripture itself does not list those writings which should be received as Scripture.

Often Lutherans avoid this fallacy by arguing that Scripture is true because it is prophetic and apostolic; that it testifies to itself not through a table of contents, but through the inner consistency of proclaiming the Gospel; and that those writings universally received and confessed by the churches are Scripture. These are good and legitimate arguments, but don't solve the problem of the Antilegomena, as Fr Hollywood pointed out.

Luther argued for Sola Scriptura a little differently: "Now it is the office of a true apostle to preach of the Passion and resurrection and office of Christ, and to lay the foundation for faith in him, as Christ himself says in John 15[:27], “You shall bear witness to me.” All the genuine sacred books agree in this, that all of them preach and inculcate
Christ. And that is the true test by which to judge all books, when we see whether or not they inculcate Christ. For all the Scriptures show us Christ, Romans 3[:21]; and St. Paul will know nothing but Christ, I Corinthians 2[:2]. Whatever does not teach Christ is not yet apostolic, even though St. Peter or St. Paul does the teaching. Again, whatever preaches Christ would be apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod were doing it" (Prefaces to the New Testament, LW 35:396).

This argument is not really different in kind than that of the inner testimony, but it clarifies exactly what that inner testimony is. Scripture is not authoritative because it consists of a divinely inspired list of writings, but because it is the prophetic and apostolic witness to Christ and his work. Without the salvific work of Christ as the central theme and proclamation of a writing, it cannot be Scripture, regardless of authorship, and regardless of reception.

What of a truly faithful sermon preached after the time of the apostles? Because it proclaims Christ and his work faithfully, why could this not be recorded and retained as Scripture? Notice that Luther also includes the need for the apostolic imprimatur. The apostles have a unique witness to the person and work of Christ, a distinct witness which is not given to other ministers of the gospel outside of apostolic oversight.

Galatians 1:9 says, "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." Luther comments on this passage that the Gospel, the person and work of Christ, are authoritative for the teaching and confession of the church, so that even Paul, an apostle, must submit to this rule--the apostle himself should be be condemned if he preached contrary to the Gospel. But Luther goes on to note that the testimony of the Gospel is retained and preserved today first in the Scriptures: "Here Paul subordinates himself, an angel from heaven, teachers on earth, and any other masters at all to Sacred Scripture. This queen must rule, and everyone must obey, and be subject to her. The pope, Luther, Augustine, Paul, an angel from heaven -- these should not be masters, judges, or arbiters but only witnesses, disciples, and confessors of Scripture. Nor should any doctrine be taught or heard in the church except the pure Word of God. Otherwise, let the teachers and the hearers be accursed along with their doctrine" (Lectures on Galatians, 1535, LW 26:57-58).

Thus, the message of Scripture is the person and work of Christ. It is a message that is spoken and done first by Christ himself, then preached and recorded by the apostles, so that the Scriptures are also apostolic, and in this way the supreme authority, although not the only authority, residing in the church. Yet even the apostles must submit to the message of the Gospel.

What does this say to us about the Antilegomena? Certainly they must submit to the Gospel principle. To the extent that they preach Christ, they may serve as bases for proclamation and teaching. But what of the Lutheran accommodation that ministers are free to reject them from Scripture? Perhaps this is a recognition of the apostolic ministry that has been retained by ministers of Jesus Christ to this day. Bearing the apostolic ministry by mediation, not immediately, they cannot add to the witness of Scripture, yet they confess the extent of the apostolicity of the Antilegomena. So the Gospel principle and the apostolic principle work in harmony with each other.

14 October 2009

Cyberbrethren » Banishing the Dead from Their Own Funeral

A thoughtful blog entry regarding funeral practices. Might be some good basis for discussion here...

Cyberbrethren » Banishing the Dead from Their Own Funeral

Shared via AddThis

08 October 2009

Politics in the Church…

This is more of a question than a statement. After going to our circuit forum meeting and noticing that my Church “politics” differ from others in the circuit, I then started to ponder how politics are done in the church. We have bound ourselves to a structure, and a polity. That is fine and good but how do we stop this from running the way the church thinks, acts, and proclaims God’s great work to the people placed into her care and the world as whole. I am fine with others differing from me politically, but how can we differ from the way the church operates in Word and Sacrament due to our different political views? The way we structure ourselves, the way our polity manifests itself reflects our understanding of what the church is and how she is to work, operate, and function. How does the called and ordained Pastor be both Pastor(al) and political without becoming indifferent, cynical, or hyper-political in these matters while at the same time participating, and contributing to the discussion in Church politics?

Wedding Style with Substance

Note: Chapel not affiliated with Father Hollywood

I had a visit today from a couple younger ladies who were drawn to the traditional architecture of my congregation's sanctuary. Not for worship, mind you, but as a place to have a wedding.

They were scoping out a place for their friend to get married. They are all members at a local Pentecostal mega-church. They were hoping to have the wedding in our sanctuary because they like the "traditional look." They explained that their church "just looks like an auditorium," and they wanted to procure a "more traditional church" for the wedding.

This is not the first such inquiry I've had. On one recent occasion, I got a call from a Roman Catholic lady (whose husband-to-be was a Lutheran, ELCA as it turns out) who even offered to "convert to the Lutheran religion if necessary" in exchange for the use of our sanctuary.

This whole issue is an interesting commentary on many levels.

On the one hand, I find it encouraging that deep within the recesses of modern (postmodern?) young people is a buried appreciation for tradition, a desire to bond with ages past, a still-present sense of catholic continuity - at least in matters of importance. On the other hand, it is distressing that the church sanctuary is basically seen as a prop, a stage set for photo-ops, a backdrop for that perfect fantasy ceremony. Rather than see the Holy Church as an integral element of marriage being woven into the very fabric of life itself, instead the church building is seen as a useful place for a wedding ceremony for the sake of pretty pictures that will be largely ignored a year down the road.

And there is a divorce as well. Instead of seeing marriage as something to be celebrated by one's own pastor, in one's own congregation, under the auspices of one's own denomination, such a view of marriage divorces Holy Matrimony from all of the above for the sake of appearances. Rejecting one's own pastor, congregation, and creed for something "prettier" is no different than growing bored with one's own spouse and seeking someone "prettier" later on. Even as marital fidelity is on the down curve, so is fidelity to one's faith.

We live in a culture that not only rejects commitment, but doesn't even seem to know what it is.

It is also illustrative that a wedding is given much more importance than Sunday worship. Church services are just something we do on Sunday, and so we might as well have fun doing it. In that context, a rock band, drum kit, big screen, speakers, a casually-dressed and dynamic inspirational speaker, and an auditorium with a stage and lectern are good enough. But a wedding is a really big deal, with flowers, dresses, photographers, an altar, a pastor, stained glass, paraments, ritual, and a hopefully Disney-like production of music and pageantry in the form of a matrimonial liturgy.

But what's missing in this cultural lack of commitment and the sacrifice of substance to style is the One who has been sacrificed, who is of "one substance" with the Father, the One who has committed to be with His Bride unto eternity.

--- Rev. Larry Beane

Backdoor Pentecostalism

One of the things that comes up with Pentecostal Churches is (a la "The Fire and the Staff") the idea of a two-tiered Christianity. There is the idea that there are christians and then there are CHRISTIANS, and if you don't want to be one of the lowercase christians, you need to be able to speak in tongues, do "spiritual exercises," etc.

Here is my question. With some of our language, do we end up bringing a backdoor Pentecostalism into our own Church -- and I'm not talking of the speaking in tongues, but rather of establishing tiers.

A friend of mine has brought up the idea that a Christian who simply bears the suffering in this world that is common, the results of life in a sinful world (like people just treating you poorly because they are mean, or becoming ill) are not to be considered "crosses" which Christians are to bear -- but rather that it ought only be termed a cross if is specific and directly relates to Jesus (i.e. they hate you because of Christ).

I find I have a visceral response against this distinction (or at least saying that only the later is a "cross" which a Christian bears - you can distinguish. . . but. . .). It almost seems as though saying this is saying, "Well, you have your sufferings, but look at these real Christians who are really suffering for their Lord!" It sets up tiers of suffering, tiers of service.

I would contend that anything which we as Christians suffer in this world is a cross we are to bear. One would say that the scorn of your neighbor is merely the result of sin -- I would say why else did Christ bear THE Cross if not to conquer over the sin of the world - all the sin of the world. If He bears the cross for this sin, and if He bids me pick up my cross and follow Him, why would my suffering on account of sin, the same sin on account of which He Himself suffered upon Cross not be a cross of my own?

Again - sometimes we wish to make things extra spiritual. I think this approaches what Rev. Beane noted lower with the combo service groups. It's not really God's Work unless we "spiritualize" it. . . providing pro bono legal advice isn't "Christian" unless we have the Lutheran-Episcopalian-Pentecostal-Evangelical-Legal Services (or LEPERS).

We are Spiritual beings - and everywhere we go, everything we do, everything we suffer has a Spiritual component. Whatever we are called to do - we are called by God. Whatever we suffer, we suffer as those who know why there are ills in this world and look to God for deliverance. We do not need to dimmish some sufferings to elevate others - rather, we remember that in all things, our joys or sorrows, we are to give glory to God.

Christians do not have to try to "Spiritualize" their actions. Rather, because we are Christians, all things in our lives are Spiritual -- God grant that by faith we see and understand this!


A specific example perhaps. As an example of that which some would consider specifically not a cross - cancer. My response was as follows:

"The Christian who has cancer, yet in the midst of that pain and suffering, demonstrates the love of Christ, especially to others, bears great witness to Christ. What could be a higher witness than the showing of love to a fellow patient who is sitting terrified next to you in the waiting room at the oncologists?"

07 October 2009

The Boxcar children and the Church

As strange as this may sound, I am trying to put some theological flesh on these strained bones. This has to do with the Holy Vessels and Holy Things of the Church as compared to the common or profane things of daily life and living in our homes.

If my memory were as sharp as that of my children, I would remember the names of the Boxcar children, but it is not and I do not. What I do remember is that these children ventured from their adoptive home and into the woods and found an old abandoned boxcar sitting on a small section of overgrown and no longer used railroad track. They conspire to make this their home away from home and set about to furnish it and make it habitable and comfortable.
As they rummage about in the woods in search of things to use as furniture or to fashion into the same, they happen upon an abandoned dump. A veritable treasure trove filled with unwanted and broken items from households that had most likely been refit with new, better, and more suitable replacements. A chipped cup, a cracked plate, a bent spoon, a fork missing a tine, vases, and furniture upon which one might hazard to sit. But for them, riches, for they had nothing of their own, and no money with which to buy things to appoint their ramshackle castle. Yet, they were overjoyed, content and at home.

Eventually they were found out and adopted by a good soul of means and although they rarely returned, they fondly remembered that old boxcar. Sorry if this is not retold according to Hoyle but it is the best that my memory can contrive.

The Church on the other hand, is not some forlorn and dilapidated abode desperate for occupants but rather a “residence” rich in gifts and treasures for all who will enter in. However, over time, the Holy Things of the House of God become worn, soiled, damaged and the like and need to be replaced. Oft times the cry is that what is there is sufficient for it still can serve its purpose and new is not required. “God will understand that we are in hard economic times.”

He does understand, but not as we would have Him do so. He understands that we are greedy and hard hearted. We would never hesitate to replace broken dishes or cups, twisted silver or unserviceable table linen in our own homes, as we would not endure the embarrassment of such poverty statements. Yet, we who have God’s pockets, filled with His gold and silver, would scarcely dip in a hand or finger to fish out even the smallest coin to keep His House in the finest order, the most splendidly appointed manor where He continues to come, humbly and with mercy to serve His invited guests. He the Host, and He the meal. You the honored guests, eating the finest fare ever given to man or beast.

Why have we adopted such an attitude that our home is our castle and should be the finest and most pleasantly appointed, yet the House of God needn’t be so? The Churches of yore were fabulous testimonies to the faith of those who built them. Not the popes who demanded them or the kings who built them for themselves, but rather the common men who labored to build them and often gave back much of their wage to purchase a finer board, or metal, or stone, tapestry or vessel. These places testify to the magnificence of God, His immeasurable presence among man, the vastness of His magnanimity.

Why is less “more” in our minds today? Why are we so selfish even in these tough economic times? Has God abandoned us? Has He failed to feed, clothe and house us today? Would He be wrong to chasten us for our greed and selfish ambition? We treat the house of God and the Holy Things of His house as if deserving of boxcar children excitement while at the same time not humbling ourselves to live less lavishly than the King of kings in our earthly houses. Should not the One who has given you all things, all of which are His, be given the finest and best you have to offer? Does not faith cling to the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you” and thus by faith and in thanksgiving and trust, give the first fruits of His gifts to you, back to Him, that His Church, His Body of which you are a member, might flourish in magnificent grandeur, to the glory of God?

You have been adopted by the most generous Benefactor the world will ever know, He paid your debt in full and gives you the inheritance of heaven, co-heir with Christ Jesus. Clamoring for more of the treasures that moth and rust destroy, do you imperil your soul and your eternal dwelling place before God?

More Strange Bedfellows

As a postscript to my earlier post regarding joint missionary or humanitarian endeavors between the LCMS and the ELCA, here is yet another example of not just strange bedfellows, but an unusual ministère à trois.

The Southern District of the LCMS has a joint ministry not only with the ELCA, but also with the Episcopal Church USA. It is called Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi.

Obviously, in a humanitarian emergency situation, we should work with anyone in order to save lives. In the aftermath of a hurricane or tsunami, for example, if Hindus and Christians are sharing a boat to rescue people, I think this is a commendable thing. However, I think there is a big difference between a spontaneous emergency and the deliberate setting up of a joint ministry. I think there would be quite a bit of objection to having an organized joint LCMS-Hindu ministry - no matter how noble the goals (maybe I'm wrong about this!).

LESM is indeed a joint ministry between three church bodies, two of which are in fellowship with each other, and the other of which isn't. This is not a spontaneous reaction to a disaster, but rather a carefully-planned 501-c3 organization with bylaws, employees, and a mission statement.

At least one member of the staff is an "ordained" woman.

Is this kind of cooperative ministry appropriate for a district of the LCMS? If so, what about cooperation with non-Christian religions? What about joint work with other Christian (and non-Christian groups) on behalf of the unborn? Should any line be drawn anywhere?

--- Rev. Larry Beane

06 October 2009

Mission Impossible

I received a newsletter of a Lutheran mission to a certain ethnic group in the United States, the usual bulk-mail glossy with lots of pictures. It was addressed to our church, and it ended up on my desk. I did not recognize this group, and took a quick glance at the picture on the back that was visible even without breaking the seal. The picture was of a vested woman "pastor" having hands laid on her.

Obviously (or almost obviously), this was not an LCMS mission society. I wondered why my congregation was on their mailing list?

I don't think it is helpful or salutary for Lutherans to be exposed to pictures and stories about Lutheran women "pastors" - as this only serves to normalize the heresy. I wrote to the mission and told them that although I have no doubt that it was certainly not their intent to be offensive, they were doing just that by including LCMS churches on their mailing list. Obviously, the ELCA and the LCMS have doctrinal differences when it comes to the role of the vocation of the male and female sexes.

I received a reply from their "pastor" ("Rev. Deborah") that said:

"I will be sure to take you off our mailing list. Historically, our mission has been blessed with the participation of both Missouri Synod and ELCA congregations, and the picture was of my husband and I being installed, not ordained. I have been ordained for over 25 years. I am sorry our newsletter was offensive to you, we have several Missouri Synod board members who are involved in what is distributed."

Their board includes 12 members, and according to Mrs. Deborah, "several" of their board members are affiliated with the LCMS.

I do not understand how any LCMS Lutheran in good conscience can serve an ELCA mission, especially one that has a woman "pastor." There are many LCMS missionaries living hand to mouth, always on the edge of being shut down, even as we have LCMS folks not only supporting this mission with their treasure, but with their talents.

Personally, I believe any and all cooperative ministries with the ELCA - whether schools, chaplaincies, or malaria prevention - ought to be shut down. There seems to be an attitude among Missourians that "it can't happen here." We will never have a serious push for female "ordination" or a blessing of homosexual "marriage." Arguably, the four stupidest and most arrogant words in the English language are: "It can't happen here."

There must be other ways to end the scourge of malaria other than cutting a Faustian bargain to normalize that which is contrary to Scripture. As terrible as malaria is, it can only kill the body.

--- Rev. Larry Beane

03 October 2009

I am not the Church

I am well aware that I can annoy, if not cause worry to some, with my constant push towards individual freedom as regards many individual practices in a person's private life. On many personal issues I will take a "broader" tact - what Scripture does not forbid cannot be forbidden of the individual. I hold this stance without shame or fear for I believe it is Scriptural - just as I will also say that I cannot command you to show love within your own life in a certain way of my choosing. As Christians we may advise, counsel, and suggest - but we cannot bind another when Christ has not bound, we cannot exhort what Christ has not exhorted. I would argue that to do so violates the 4th commandment even, for it does not respect the personal authority that the individual has in managing his own affairs -- a respect for authority isn't just a respect for those in authority over you, but also those who are in other "chains of command", as it were.

However, I know this "libertine" approach causes great frustration to so many solid men and women, and I think I understand why it does so, especially in today's climate within the Church. I saw the same language used as a defense of tomfoolery in the Church. The contemporary worship crowd will cry freedom, the emerging crowd will cry freedom; on and on the call for freedom goes as regards mucking around with the Church. "I'm going to do ______ because it's all for the 'sake of the gospel', and I am free to do so." I have no desire to focus on the whole "sake of the Gospel" idea right now - that deals with whether or not something is wise (which is where the debate ought to be before anything is done) - but rather I will focus on one simple fact that people miss when they abuse the gift of freedom this way.

Yes, Christ as set me free, but I am not the Church.

In my sphere, where my actions are my actions and are dealing with me and mine, I am free. If Scripture does not bind, let no one bind me as regards my life, what I eat or drink. If God does not forbid, let no one forbid me as regards my headship over my family. If Scripture does not say "Thou shall not", let no one tell me "Thou shall not" as regards my affairs. And likewise, if I assert such false authority upon my own neighbor, "anathema sim"!

But it's not "my Church" in the sense that I have ownership over it or control over it - its the Church to which I belong.

The Church is much larger than the individual member, individual pastor, or individual congregation. As such, we (as members, pastors, or congregations) do not have personal freedom in the Church. The Church is a corporate entity, not a personal freedom and as such, we cannot act outside of what the whole has established as proper practice.

Again, consider the parts of Scripture where our Lord or Paul speak to freedom - Freedom is never spoken of corporately. Freedom does not mean one can ignore the government (which you are under - rather obey it, even if it kills you), it does not mean you are free to do whatever you wish in the Church (Paul instructs quite often on Church behavior, which should demonstrate that). Rather, freedom is always focused on the individual.

The Church is a Body, not an individual. What I do in my house is one thing - and to a certain extent it does impact other families so I should exercise care and caution. . . however, just because "Jenny's parent let her do _________" doesn't mean that I will have to let my daughter do the same. My actions do not bind another. But this does not hold true in the Church. What you do at your congregation affects me, because in reality your congregation is MY congregation, and my congregation is your congregation. The Church is One. Therefore, what you do directly impacts me and everyone else, and your freedom individual is no excuse to foist tom foolish tyranny upon me and everybody else.

So let us bear the distinction between personal freedom and membership in a body. Membership in a body always curtails individual freedom (indeed, now that I am married, I do not have the freedom I once did... which means I should probably wrap this up and get some chores done) and you have no right or freedom to willy nilly impact the body to which you belong on your own whims and thoughts and desires.

Let the individual, as regards himself, enjoy the freedom God has given him, without others trying to run his life for him; however, let the Body do what the Body as a whole confesses to be in accordance with Christ's Word and to be meet, right, and salutary.

A Christian must act to show love within the bounds of freedom that Christ has established. A catholic Church must do catholic practices. Let not the topic of freedom be so confused that it is denied to the former or foisted upon the later!

30 September 2009


Here's a topic for blackbird consideration: cremation.

At first, this seems like a no-brainer. I completely agree with the premise that burial is far better, that cremation can send an unintended message that the body will not be resurrected, that it has Pagan origins, and that, by contrast, a body laid out in a casket is both a testimony of the law, and tangible evidence of the Gospel in the form of bodily resurrection. The body of a Christian is a holy relic, a temple of the Holy Spirit, a vessel sanctified by physical washing of Holy Baptism and the physical consumption of the body and blood of Christ.

However, one of my members (a former funeral director) threw me a curve-ball.

He argues that the modern method of embalming (which also has roots in Pagan Egypt) is itself a desecration. This is obviously something most of us never see. Blood is drained and thrown away. Parts of flesh even end up in the garbage. The body is filled with harsh chemicals. And all of this is to avoid the process of decomposition (Gen 3:19) that was spoken by God to Adam as part of the wages of sin.

His argument is that cremation - by avoiding the chemicals, the draining of fluids, the removal of flesh, and the mingling of the Christian's flesh and blood with the garbage - is instead subjecting the body to a process that hastens the Gen 3:19 process, and is actually less of a desecration than embalming.

This does complicate things a little. Our funerary practices are not what they were 200 or 500 years ago. The funeral industry and the procedures for burial of the dead are heavily regulated by government.

So, is embalming really a better confession than cremation?

--- Rev. Larry Beane

19 September 2009

Thirty-Five Theses on Liturgy and Adiaphora

From the Worship & Spiritual Care Workshop, 19 September 2009, here are my thirty-five theses on the Liturgy and Adiaphora:

1. The Divine Liturgy, properly speaking (Apology XXIV.79–83), comprises the Ministry of the Gospel, which is the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the confession of Christ Jesus, the ongoing catechesis of His Word, and the faithful administration of His Body and His Blood to His disciples. This Divine Liturgy is not adiaphora, but is the Holy Gospel, the Word and work of the Holy Triune God, which is fundamental and necessary to faith and life in Christ.
2. To be liturgical is not simply to "have" or "do" the Word and Sacrament; but to be liturgical is to be defined by these things of the Gospel, to be governed and guided by them, entirely under their sway. To be liturgical, therefore, is to be evangelical; and to be truly evangelical is to be liturgical.
3. The Divine Liturgy is where and how the Church lives with God in Christ, by grace through faith in the Gospel. The evangelical mission of the Church flows out of that liturgical life in Christ, with the purpose of bringing others into the Liturgy of the Gospel.
4. To hear and receive the Divine Liturgy in faith and with thanksgiving is the worship of the Holy Triune God in Spirit and in Truth.
5. The freedom of faith in worship, as in all of Christian life, is the freedom of the Gospel.
6. Adiaphora simply are what they are: rites and ceremonies and other practices which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God. The teaching and confession of adiaphora goes hand-in-hand with the Gospel; that we are justified by grace through faith in Christ, apart from works of the Law.
7. The teaching and confession of adiaphora should not be abused (in the service of self-interest); instead, true Christian freedom is rightly used in love (in the self-sacrificing service of others).
8. Adiaphora are rightly used with pastoral care, and as a means of pastoral care. Pastors should exercise discretion and discernment in the use of adiaphora, but pastors should also discipline themselves in doing so, for the sake of faith and love.
9. In faith toward God we are free, but in love we are bound to serve our neighbor.
10. All things are lawful, but not all things are meet, right and salutary (1 Corinthians 10:23). Even that which is free and clear can be measured and evaluated according to its service and support of the Word of God, and thus determined to be more or less helpful to faith and love.
11. Love will be ready and willing to sacrifice anything and everything that is truly free, but love will never sacrifice anything of the Gospel. That is to say, love will readily give up whatever may be given up, but love will tenaciously insist upon that which is necessary.
12. Freedom is used rightly, in faith toward God and in love toward the neighbor, when it is used to serve the catechesis and confession of the Word of God.
13. The boundaries and parameters of freedom in worship are established and contoured, not only by explicit commands and prohibitions, but also implicitly by the constitutive rites and ceremonies of Holy Baptism, preaching and the Holy Communion.
14. The use of liturgical rubrics, rites and ceremonies is fundamental to the pastoral ministry. Rubrics are instructions for the conduct of the Liturgy, mutually agreed upon within the fellowship of the Church. Rites are the words that are spoken in the administration of the Liturgy. Ceremonies are the bodily actions, movements and adornments of the Liturgy. Rubrics are needed for an orderly conduct of corporate communal life. Rites belong to the fact that God does everything by His Word. Ceremonies belong to the fact that human life is lived in the body, occupying space and time.
15. It is not possible to administer and receive the means of grace without ceremonies. However, not all ceremonies are created equal. Some ceremonies are better, and some are worse than others; and some ceremonies have no place in the Church, even if they would otherwise be "free."
16. Ceremonies powerfully support (or contradict) the confession and catechesis of the Word.
17. The measure of a ceremony’s worth and benefit requires more than the avoidance of overtly false doctrine. The best ceremonies are not only true (as opposed to false) but are positively helpful in confessing the Word of God, and they are beautiful in adorning His Liturgy. Whatever is true, lovely and of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise, dwell on those things (Philippians 4:8).
18. It is appropriate and salutary to adorn the Ministry of the Gospel with beauty, as a confession of faith in the Word and work of Christ, and as a way of catechesis in the hidden truth of the Gospel.
19. Reverence toward God and courtesy toward the neighbor summarize the criteria of faith and love and thus provide a foundational response to all questions pertaining to the proper use of adiaphora.
20. That which is harmful to faith and love is not free but forbidden. That which is irreverent or rude is likewise not free but forbidden. (Formula SD X.1, 7, 9)
21. Pastors and congregations, and individual members of a congregation, should set aside their personal proclivities and preferences for the sake of faith and love (1 Corinthians 10:23–33; Romans 14).
22. Making changes in ceremony, including the introduction of new ceremonies, requires a special measure of pastoral care. It also requires the patience of pastors and parishioners for one another.
23. Love will care for the entire body of Christ, for the minority as much or more than the majority, not allowing either the few or the many to lord it over the Holy Communion of the whole Church.
24. Love for the body of Christ — for the Church in all times and places, past, present and future — calls for circumspection and great caution when it comes to the introduction of new practices.
25. Tradition is generally more conducive to the Gospel than novelty (1 Corinthians 11:1–2, 16–26); because it is received as a gift from the past, rather than fabricated in the present.
26. There is almost always a good reason for the traditional practices of the Church, even where the purpose behind a given practice may no longer be readily apparent.
27. Catholicity is generally more conducive to love than personal innovation; because it belongs to the entire body of the Church, the household and family of God, rather than an isolated individual.
28. The collective wisdom of the Church is usually wiser than the personal insights of an individual. Nevertheless, the nature and needs of pastoral care require the free exercise of pastoral discernment and discretion, just as the Church in each time and place is free with respect to human customs.
29. Frequent fluctuations and diversity in practice are unsettling to the people and easily distract from the Liturgy of Christ; they require a level of literacy, attention, energy and effort that tends to frustrate or make impossible the participation of many members in the Church’s worship of Christ.
30. Consistency and continuity of practice are beneficial to peace and rest in the Liturgy of Christ; they allow for the ready participation of the entire congregation in the Church’s worship of Christ.
31. The broad latitude of hymnody is necessarily constrained because of its affective power, and because of its vast importance and significance for the catechesis and confession of the Word. Hymns properly serve the freedom of faith in the Gospel when they are selected and used liturgically.
32. It is not an appropriate use of freedom when hymns, or any other practices, are used simply to fill up space and pass the time, or when they are used to entertain emotions instead of edifying the people and glorifying God by the confession of His Word (Formula SD X.1, 7, 9).
33. The unity of a common confession of the faith is both embodied and substantiated by a unity of practice. Church fellowship does not depend upon a uniformity in adiaphora, but the fellowship of the Church gravitates toward a common and consistent usage of adiaphora wherever it is possible. And the beauty of it is, the Church is free to do so.
34. It is not a violation of faith or freedom when the fellowship of the Church mutually agrees, in love, to order and conduct its liturgical life according to common rubrics, rites and ceremonies.
35. Especially in gatherings of the Church’s fellowship beyond that of a local congregation, the use of commonly agreed-upon rites and ceremonies is most appropriate and beneficial. In general, the same principle pertains to the practices of each congregation as a fellowship of the one Church.

18 September 2009

Higher Things : Given 2010

Everyone should know about this one for next year...

Higher Things : Given 2010

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17 September 2009

Consecration Sunday?

I just got an e-mail from the District Office (here all may genuflect) that mentions "Consecration Sunday."

I checked and double-checked the LSB pages x through xiii and I'm coming up empty.

Then again, according to Apology XXIV:1, every Sunday is a Mass Consecration Sunday (kind of like those youth group "Mass Events"?). But the way this e-mail sounds, "Consecration Sunday" has nothing to do with the consecration of the elements, nor even the daily consecration of ourselves through the remembrance of baptism, etc.

Consecration involves bishops - but I'm not in the English District. We pastors are ordained and consecrated at the laying on of hands - but I don't think this has anything to do with that. And apparently, "Consecration" is also a kind of beer.

The LCMS is a strange place to be at times.

--- Rev. Larry Beane

14 September 2009

Biblical Inerrancy and the ELCA

Some of you might want to have a look at the interesting discussion here on the blog of a conservative ELCA pastor discussing Biblical inerrancy.

I understand the desire to resist pushing extra-confessional language (such as "inerrancy") as some kind of loyalty oath or magic bullet (can you just imagine the Pandora's Box of pages and pages of new bureaucratic confessions to be subscribed to with each passing year and political administration? It would take us two hours just to name all the confessional documents at our ordinations) . But on the other side of the coin, to allow for the Scriptures to be errant seems to me to be nothing less than a denial of their Pneumatic inspiration, and is ultimately a denial of Christ Himself. As Piepkorn wrote (I'm paraphrasing), we have no authority to require pastors to submit to the term "inerrancy" - but neither should we ever deny that the Bible is inerrant.

I do not see how conservative ELCA pastors can look upon recent decisions with horror and not connect the dots to the doctrine of an errant Bible. Bo Giertz drew this connection immediately after the Swedish Church (the ancestral church of many in the ELCA) began to "ordain" women. This issue is going to be a big stumblingblock for conservative ELCA pastors and congregations to come into the LCMS.

Either the Scriptures are inerrant or they are errant. Although the term "inerrant" does not appear in the confessions, similarly the terms "Trinity" and "Catholic" do not appear in the Bible and are nevertheless in our creeds. Something can certainly be true even if we don't require an oath to that truth.

I just don't see how helpful an errant Bible could ever be - especially given our Lord's qualification in John 3:12.

Is it possible to have inspiration and errancy at the same time?

--- Rev. Larry Beane

09 September 2009

Marriage Counseling and Contraception

Some lively debate below between a couple of the Blackbirds regarding contraception. It's no secret that I'm a defender of the historic Lutheran teaching on that topic. One thing I'm often asked is, "how do you bring this up in marriage counseling?" If you want the whole answer, drop me an email (pastorcurtis AT gmail DOT com)and I'd be happy to send you my whole pre-marital packet (largely the work of my classmate, Pr. Jonathon Conner).

But the Cliffnotes answer is short and sweet: look to the rite of the Church to help you.

"In marriage we see a picture of the communion between Christ and His bride, the Church. . . . The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and in adversity. Marriage was also ordained so that man and woman may find delight in one another. Therefore, all persons who marry shall take a spouse in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust, for God has not called us to impurity but in holiness. God also established marriage for the procreation of children who are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord so that they may offer Him their praise." (LSB p. 275)

So what I tell a couple is: God instituted marriage to be a picture of Christ and the Church, to provide mutual companionship and support, for delighting in one another, and for children. If you are not ready for those things, then don't get married. If you don't want to provide companionship for one another from day one - don't get married. You can't say, "I want to be a companion to my wife, but just not yet." If you're not ready to stand by each other in prosperity and adversity from day one - don't get married. You can't say, "I want to stand by my husband in adversity, but not yet." If you are not ready to accept children from the Lord as he would give them from day one - don't get married. You can't say, "I want kids, but not yet - we'll wait a few years." These things are what marriage is for - to enter into marriage without intending to accept these things from the Lord is playing with fire.

I have also been wont to say that Christ does not wear a rubber when he becomes one flesh with the Church, and that the Church does not withhold access to her womb from her Husband. But usually I save that for the brothers over a beer.


03 September 2009

May Absolution Be Referred to As a Sacrament?

The 1943 Catechism taught many a Missouri Synod Lutheran that there are only two sacraments. Period. The definition of “sacrament” that we use customarily is not a biblical definition but is rather a theological or church-determined definition. Most of the time Lutherans say that there are two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And that is right to do. For the definition of sacrament that Lutherans use is threefold: a divine rite instituted by Christ in His earthly ministry that gives the forgiveness of sins and uses a visible, physical element. Under that definition Baptism and the Lord’s Supper most clearly fit. In the case of the absolution spoken by the pastor, absolution can only be called a sacrament if the visible the most crucial thing about what is or isn't a sacrament. Of course in Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution there must be someone there doing the speaking and administration.

However, our own Lutheran Confessions, as contained in the Book of Concord of 1580, something to which the congregations, Lutheran pastors, and our synod subscribes without reservation, also notes that the definition of a sacrament is not something to be quibbled over. They say, “For no prudent man will strive greatly concerning the number or the term, if only those objects still be retained which have God's command and promises.” The reason the Roman Catholic Church lists seven sacraments and we do not is because we don’t use the same definition. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession says in Article XIII:
3] If we call Sacraments rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to decide what are properly Sacraments. For rites instituted by men will not in this way be Sacraments properly so called. For it does not belong to human authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without God's command are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps instruct the rude [children or the uncultivated], or admonish as to something [as a painted cross]. 4] Therefore Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God's command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament. For when we are baptized, when we eat the Lord's body, when we are absolved, our hearts must be firmly assured that God truly forgives us 5] for Christ's sake. And God, at the same time, by the Word and by the rite, moves hearts to believe and conceive faith, just as Paul says, Rom. 10, 17: Faith cometh by hearing. But just as the Word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart. The effect of the Word and of the rite is the same, as it has been well said by Augustine that a Sacrament is a visible word, because the rite is received by the eyes, and is, as it were, a picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore the effect of both is the same.

Similarly, in the Large Catechism Martin Luther writes:
74] And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament [absolution], which has been called repentance, 75] as it is really nothing else than Baptism.

Absolution is a means of grace along with the preached Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren (Christians speaking God’s Word to each other). In the 1991 synodical explanation to the Small Catechism also reminds us that while usually we speak of there being two sacraments, it is also acceptable, though not often mentioned, for Lutherans to speak of absolution as a third sacrament. This is also stated in “What About Confession and Absolution,” in the popular tract series authored by the late Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry, former president of the LCMS. So in conclusion, absolution “may” be freely referred to as a third sacrament among Lutherans, acknowledging that it is a “stretch” of the usual definition. So as our confessions remind us, we will not “strive greatly about the number or term.” In Scripture “sacrament” (mysterion – Greek) means “mystery” but beyond this it is a humanly-devised definition that is descriptive of what we find in the particulars of the means of grace. The number of sacraments is an area of some flexibility according to the definition in our own official Confessions since 1580. In other words, it depends on where the emphasis is placed. It is for catechetical simplicity that two is the most common way of explaining it.

Love - the Cruciform Foundation of Ethics

Recent discussions have gotten me to thinking more about "ethics" the past few weeks than I normally do. This is not because (in spite of what some people might think) I am an inherently unethical person, but rather because so many of the discussions revolving around ethics seem. . . how to say this. . . overly precise, or even micromanaging in nature. I have very little interest in trying to plumb the nitty-gritty details of the ethical implications of something that is outside my ken - rather I view ethics as the blanket that can be draped over any situation, and whoever is on the spot should be able to see how the fabric falls on their particular situation and say, "Ah, this is ethical! This is not." For an ethical system to be of value, it must be easily applied by the individual to whatever situation they encounter - otherwise we are no more acting ethically than the actor in the play really is King Lear.

As such, I wish to delve into no details here, no specific examples of modern day life. I will not try to answer the ethical issues of the age, and I do not intend to raise any specific issues in this post (although what comes in comments comes). Rather, I would speak to an approach that I think can be applied to any situation or question - I would contend that the key to Christian ethics can be summed up in 2 words - show love.

Now, I'm sure I would not get a lot of flak for summing up Christian Ethics right in line with Christ's explanation of the Law - Love God, Love your neighbor (or, in otherwords, show love). The problem comes in that I think we can blow by this simple foundation of ethics and be so eager to win the point over and against some unethical act that we forget the simple, key fact - if people do not know what it is to show love, they will never act in an ethical matter. The heart of the matter is not abortion, or reproductive rights, or just war theory, or whatever other hot topic comes to the fore this day - those are just the trees; the forest we have forgotten to defend is love itself.

I don't suppose I am saying anything shocking here, but there are a lot of twisted ideas of what love is rummaging around out there in the world. The problem, I think, it that we can assume that people know what love is (he may not be a smart man, but surely he knows what love is!). And flawed, twisted views of love are left in the background of every discussion, and all our wisdom and guile and logic in the specific issues fall flat, for we have given ground on what love is. When people think that 2 is actually 5, you can shout 2+2=4 till you are blue in the face, but it will never make sense.

Now, I would submit, once again in a most unshocking fashion, that if we wish to define what love is, our best way of doing this would be to consider Christ our Lord upon the Cross. Christ's example of the Love shown from the Cross is the prime example of Love - it is the essence of taking up our own Cross and following Him (again, another description of the ethical life). Indeed, the Cross stands over and against the falsely-called loves of the world. So, what do we see and learn about love from the Cross?

1. Love is obedient to God. The first thing we see is that love involves obeying God. Christ our Lord does not enjoy being Crucified, but as it is what the Father wishes, He takes the cup, the Son obeys the Father's will. If there were no obedience, there would have been no Cross. Likewise, if we desire to exercise ethics, there must be a clear focus upon what God commands and what God forbids in His Word.

To forgo God's commands is automatically unethical, because it prevents love from being rightly shown. If God has said, "Thou shalt", we must, whatever the personal cost to ourselves. Likewise, what God has forbidden we must avoid, however fine it seems. We know these bounds that God has placed upon us from His Word. As such, any approach to Scripture which devalues it and contradicts it strikes a damaging blow to any attempt at ethical behavior.

I like to think of the Law of God as being a fence around a yard - the boundaries are set, we cannot go beyond them and be safe. As God is love, to go beyond His bounds is fundamentally to act outside of and contrary to love. In side that yard one may go about one's business, especially tending the specific things which God has instructed you to tend. Anything out side of this is unethical.

2. Love is always focused on someone other than yourself. While there are benefits to Christ in His crucifixion (for indeed, He wins for Himself a holy people), His crucifixion is not done for primarily His own benefit. Rather, Christ's focus upon the Cross is clearly focused upon us, His neighbors. This is demonstrated repeatedly, especially with His words from the Cross.

As such, any approach to ethical behavior must be focused not upon one's own self, but upon one's neighbor. Any decision that is made to benefit one's own self first and foremost is automatically unethical. Now, this makes ethics quite messy, because God in His love and mercy to us has so ordered His creation that many times the love that we show to our neighbor rebounds back to us. This means that in some cases the point of ethics is not simply the act, but the motivation for the act. This is not to say that "good intentions" can make a sinful act good, but rather that a wicked heart spoils even the acts that appear outwardly appropriate and good.

Whenever discussing ethics, the individual's wants, desires, and preferences must be subordinate to showing love to the neighbor, to the person with whom he is interacting, otherwise the act is fundamentally unethical.

3. Love is focused on what is best for the other, not what is pleasing to them. To show love to your neighbor is not merely an attempt to please them. This is demonstrated again by the Cross. Mary and John are by no means pleased on Good Friday as they stand watching our Lord's Crucifixion in unabated horror and sorrow. It is not a pleasant experience. However, it is for their good.

To often we equate showing love with doing that which is pleasing to another. To love someone is not merely an attempt to make them happy - it is to use your abilities for their benefit. The simple fact is that in a sinful world, many of the things which are beneficial for us are. . . uncomfortable, things which we would rather not see. Surgery demonstrates this - the cancer must be cut out, there must be the pain of the surgery, so that the right and proper care might be shown. This is also true in all interactions and relationships. The old adage that the truth hurts is right. We cannot judge whether or not an action is ethical simply by the reaction it causes.

4. Love is bound by office. Christ is upon the Cross because it is His office. He is the Lamb of God, He must be there. As such, no one else can do it, it must be Christ. John can not attempt to take His place. There are two aspects raised here. First, ethics clearly involves fulfilling the duties given to you in whatever your situation in life is. That is clear. However, the second many not be as obvious. You cannot act ethically when performing an act which is not given to you to do. It is fundamentally unethical to take up an office not given to you and to perform its functions.

This is especially vital as, in the sinful world, the exercise of an office often brings pain and suffering upon others. I think now of an example, of the man who slapped the crying child in the store. This man stepped outside his office - and as such, the act was unethical. He abrogated the rights and duties of the parent - which is unethical. Our Lord's Command to us to love is bound and shaped by the offices into which He has placed us. To attempt to step into another's office is to thwart God's order in the world.

5. Love is sacrifice. Christ sacrifices Himself upon the Cross. He takes the chief suffering, so that we may live. Love is sacrificial. It is often painful to the one who loves. As such, if sacrifice is sought to be avoided at the expense of showing love, the action is unethical.

Now, this is not to say that we are to attempt to be martyrs and seek out sacrifices that are not ours to make. Rather this - when there are multiple ways of showing love to the neighbor, we chose the act which shows the most love, even if this involves greater sacrifice on our part. To show a love which is easier or less painful to ourselves, when a greater love is there (albeit more painful or difficult) is fundamentally unethical.

Again, this is not a simple matter, for each of us places a different value upon things in our lives, and giving them up might be a greater sacrifice for one than it is for another. We must be aware of our own wants and desires, and how they might push us away from showing love in ways that are unique to us. Our own desires must be placed below the true needs of another - or as Paul would say, we must submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. Even our desires for that which is a "good" thing, that which is a blessing, must be curtailed if love to another demands it.


These are the points describing true love (as over and contrasted to the selfish sentimental tripe that is spoken of love in popular culture) that I see as derivable from the example of Christ upon the Cross. There are others that one can find in Scripture, but I wished to key in simply upon the Cross today. 1 Corinthians 13 is a great place, but I would argue already that this chapter is nothing but commentary upon the Cross anyway. And no, this post has no conclusion -- because it may not be finished yet.

02 September 2009

Chant as Vestment for the Voice

Very often when a congregation has not been accustomed to liturgical chant (at least in the pastor's parts of the dialogue) some will have an emotional reaction to it and declare it "Roman Catholic". This is, of course, not completely accurate and represents an uninformed opinion. Liturgical chant has a long history from the time of the founding of the Missouri Synod and other synods in North America, to the time of Luther in Germany and Scandinavia, on back to the early church and indeed into the worship of the Old Testament believers. It is nothing new and it is not uniquely Roman Catholic at all. Among Christians one not only finds chant among Roman Catholics but also Anglicans (Episcopalians), Eastern Orthodox, more liturgical Presbyterians, and many Lutherans. Historically speaking, it is representative of the majority of worshiping Christians throughout the centuries. As is clear from Martin Luther, his liturgical reforms sought only to revise what was in error and leave intact and cleansed what good gifts were passed on in the church's tradition that were unproblematic (i.e., if it ain't broke, dont fix it!). Both of the Divine Service orders produced by Martin Luther featured chant prominently (Formula Missae and the Deutsche Messe). It is also historically known within The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, as this quote from C.F.W. Walther, first Missouri Synod president, testifies:
Whenever the divine service once again follows the old Evangelical-Lutheran agendas (or church books), it seems that many raise a great cry that it is "Roman Catholic": "Roman Catholic" when the pastor chants "The Lord be with you" and the congregation responds by chanting "and with thy spirit"; "Roman Catholic" when the pastor chants the collect and the blessing and the people respond with a chanted "Amen." Even the simplest Christian can respond to this outcry: "Prove to me that this chanting is contrary to the Word of God, then I too will call it `Roman Catholic' and have nothing more to do with it. However, you cannot prove this to me." If you insist upon calling every element in the divine service "Romish" that has been used by the Roman Catholic Church, it must follow that the reading of the Epistle and Gospel is also "Romish." Indeed, it is mischief to sing or preach in church, for the Roman Church has done this also . . .Those who cry out should remember that the Roman Catholic Church possesses every beautiful song of the old orthodox church. The chants and antiphons and responses were brought into the church long before the false teachings of Rome crept in. This Christian Church since the beginning, even in the Old Testament, has derived great joy from chanting... For more than 1700 years orthodox Christians have participated joyfully in the divine service. Should we, today, carry on by saying that such joyful participation is "Roman Catholic"? God forbid! Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us boldly confess that our worship forms do not tie us with the modern sects or with the church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian Church that is as old as the world and is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. [Der Lutheraner, July 19, 1853, issue, volume 9, number 24, page 163].

A helpful point of comparison may be vestments. Vestments are the various traditional garments (e.g. alb, chasuble, cassock, surplice) worn by the clergy and other liturgical assistants in churches that follow a form of the historic liturgy. The purpose of vestments is to cover the person so that we do not focus on the individual but upon the means of grace (Gospel and Sacraments) and the office that person holds. What is worn in addition to the alb or the cassock/surplice indicates the office the person holds by virtue of call, ordination or consecration. Another purpose of vestments is to adorn the liturgist and assistants to indicate the reverence, joy, and holiness of the Divine Service. This brings us back to chant in the liturgy of the church.

In many ways chant serves as a "vestment" for the voice. Chant, as a kind of combination between singing and speaking, serves to de-emphasize the idiosyncrasies of the person conducting the liturgy or assisting and helps to emphasize the mystical and sacramental unity and communion between Christ and His Bride, the Church. In this way also, chant serves as a kind of vocal "uniform" like the basic liturgical vestments or even the clerical shirt and collar. Theologically speaking, personality doesn't then matter much from one pastor to another so long as the Gospel is preached purely and the sacraments are administered according to Christ's institution (Acts 2:42; Augsburg Confession VII). Chant helps convey this uniformity in office and the transparochial nature of the church's ministerium. This means that it points to the continuity of the church beyond simply our own local congregation and beyond the moment and century that we live in now.

When both pastor and congregation chant their respective parts of the liturgical dialogue the simple fact of the liturgy as a dialogue is made abundantly more clear. The dialogue or conversation takes place in the same mode or genre, if you will. It is rather odd when the pastor speaks his parts and the congregation sings theirs. Imagine an opera or a musical conducted in such format. Or imagine a conversation in daily life like this! Why this supposedly makes sense to some in regard to worship is very likely due to repetition of a less-than-preferred liturgical practice thought to be "old Lutheran" or "conservative" which may really be Pietistic, protestant, or may simply demonstrate the lack of liturgical training and understanding on the part of a previous pastor or musicians. This is the same kind of misunderstanding which believes that Lutherans cannot have communion more than once per month or make the sign of the cross, and that old Lutheran clergy wore chiefly black gowns in the liturgy. In these instances of speaking pastors and chanting congregations, the two parts seem hardly to go together and understanding the liturgy as a grace-delivering-and-receiving conversation is lost. It may be a conservative and institutionalized liturgical version of what is often called "talking past one another."

Likewise, chant helps to emphasize that the Divine Service is heaven coming down to earth in the means of Christ's grace (Revelation 4,5; Isaiah 6:1-7 ; Acts 2:42] ; I Corinthians 11; Luke 22:27). It communicates the divine mystery of this transaction of the means of grace and faith. Chant clothes and elevates the words that are spoken so that the message is the main thing, rather than the personality quirks of the messenger (see I Corinthians 1,2). For we do not preach ourselves but Christ and Him crucified. This vestment for the voice adorns the liturgy with the joy of song in a way that also accommodates the characteristics of regular speech. The Lord's presence is a cause for rejoicing in song, even in this gift's delivery. And yet this is to be in such a way that it is not entertainment, but a high and holy encounter with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who condescends to be with His redeemed people. In short, chant carries benefits from both song and speech in one form. This is what was understood by both the editors of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) and Lutheran Worship (1982). This is also understood in the recently published Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. However, this understanding was somewhat lost inadvertently when the pastor's chant was not included with The Lutheran Hymnal but put into a supplementary volume of Music of the Liturgy.

While many pastors are reluctant to chant and express some shyness toward the idea of it, most pastors can, with practice and a moderate amount of training, chant quite proficiently the basic parts of the liturgy that are in our hymnals and agendae. Most pastors are not "tone deaf". A rare few are lacking of those created gifts and those pastors should probably not chant, out of mercy. A pastor could start with the salutation, the preface to the Communion liturgy, and perhaps the Benedicamus and Benediction. Later he might add the Words of Institution, Proper Prefaces, and other prayers. Or he might vary such things as suggested by the festivals and penitential seasons of the Church Year. A pastor should practice it regularly. Chant affords additional variety that is also traditional. In addition there are many chants that the parish choir might also sing, not so much as a performing "anthem" choir, but as a working liturgical choir (Introit, Gradual, Verse, or special settings of the ordinary of the liturgy). A liturgical deacon might also help with such things.

In our consumeristic culture of contemporary worship and "praise bands," chant runs against the Zeitgeist and carries its own culture that is shaped by time-tested forms rather than the liturgy du jour. The church is in the world and yet not of the world. Chant helps to emphasize this. Chant has been evident and valued in the more confessional periods of Lutheran history. May our churches be such oases of the holy Triune God's grace that we may say with one of our hymns:

Here Thy praise is gladly chanted,

Here Thy seed is duly sown;

Let my soul, where it is planted,

Bring forth precious sheaves alone,

So that all I hear may be

Fruitful unto life in me.

["Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty", TLH #1]

01 September 2009

Office and Personalities

Excerpt from an article by a former president of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario (Lutheran Church-Canada), Rev. Dr. Jonathan F. Grothe:

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS … of Diagnosis, Prognosis and Proposal: What’s going on … and what to do?

Has this always been a problem in the Church? I suspect so. Has it always been as bad as now? I cannot know and could only guess.

A. WHAT IS THE CAUSE? Sin … . Sin that invades and corrupts hearts of ministers and laity. So it has probably always been a problem, and probably as bad as now. Sometimes people point to the widespread “lack of respect for authority” and general conditions in society as contributing factors to the removal of pastors. I don’t think so. Most of our congregations are strongly inclined to respect their leaders. But I do think there are some contributing factors that have exacerbated the problem. They come from the Ministerium itself: We have contributed—greatly, I would say—to the conditions in which bad situations develop and are dealt with poorly.

1.) We have promulgated—or acquiesced while others promulgated—an Übertragungslehre [transferral doctrine], a distorted view of the relationship of Lord, Church, and Ministry. We have let it be taught and caught that the Lord gave “ministry” to the Church, that is, to the local congregation, which can order and delegate to its chosen representative such functions of ministry as it wishes. What therefore the congregation (supposedly) gives, it can (supposedly) also take back again. The transparochial Church is lost sight of, as is any personal minister representing it: any “bishop” is already deposed. Synod is “only advisory”; the “real stuff” is between pastor and congregation, and the District President better watch his step. Thus we have helped set up the situation in which a congregation acts on its own, for its own reasons, and thinks it has the full right to do so.

2.) We pastors and church leaders have also contributed to the conditions where this happens by spreading—or agreeing with— all kinds of nonsense about the human skills needed for “effective” ministry. I’ve done this much myself in the Scriptural Standards and Ecclesiastical Expectations document, which N. Nagel criticised aptly, as looking too much at the vehicle, not enough at the Giver of Gifts.17 When we talk about how it’s so “different” in the parish today (a “new world”) and what kind of communications and counselling and cross-cultural skills today’s pastors have to have. … And when we rely on Personal Information Forms and interviews and all kinds of human psych-soc. stuff to get a good “fit”, a round peg in a round hole, etc … . And when we marvel at the “effective” ministry in growing churches … WE RAISE CONGREGATIONAL EXPECTATIONS SO HIGH that they would be “satisfied” with only a small percentage of the current clergy—and only with them till they hit about (age) 55.

Leaving out the need for “the right attitude”, for love, forbearance, trust, thanksgiving for God’s gifts—all attitudes which arise from spiritual sources, we focus on talents and training. We scare the daylights out of the humbler seminarians, and we raise the hopes of congregations that they can get a Renaissance super-hero for a pastor and have a booming, effective “ministry”. And what happens? People see: things aren’t booming here, this ministry is not effective. What (we think) should be happening here, isn’t. In disappointment, and with good intentions for the “mission and ministry of the Church in this place”, the congregation removes the pastor. Perhaps the District President may even let this happen—even without demonstration of godly causes—because he wants “effective” (successful) ministry, or perhaps because he suspects the man should be deposed but has no desire (or thinks he hasn’t the power?) to effect the deposing.

Either way, in trumping up the pastors’ needed skills, we sow the seeds of discontent and disappointment which can come to fruition in congregational removal from office.

3.) Finally, we in the ministerium contribute to all of this happening because of a certain kind of “professional courtesy among lone rangers”.

pp.24-26. “Deposal And/Or Removal: Principles, Practices and Proposals” in Lutheran Theological Review, Volume VII:1&2 (Fall/Winter 1994 & Spring/Summer 1995) published jointly by the seminaries of Lutheran Church-Canada, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario and Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta.

Korah Feels Called to Minister to Others

Since the meaning of the public office is lost, ministry is limited to the private sphere. Willy-nilly Christianity becomes simply a private cult and the rationale for ordained ministry in Lutheranism threatens to disappear altogether. Here I expect is a major reason for the erosion of the understanding of ordained ministry among us. When the church becomes merely a private cult it is difficult to say why just any Christian cannot perform most if not all the functions ordinarily assigned to the ordained. It appears presumptuous in a democratic society to suppose that some are raised to a different level by ecclesiastical monkey business. And since it is, after all, only a “private” matter, what difference does ordination make? Furthermore when members of the clergy themselves capitulate and no longer do what can be called public preaching, teaching, or absolving but rather just make a public display of private emotions and experiences or invest most of their effort in private counseling, what does one need ordained clergy for? What matters is not the public exercise of the office but what “personal skills” or what kind of a (private) person the leader is. There is no way that ordination automatically imparts any skills or makes a person nice. So what is it for? Cannot properly sensitized or trained lay persons do just as well, or better?

Gerhard O. Forde. “The Ordained Ministry” in Todd Nichol & Marc Kolden (ed.) Called and Ordained: Lutheran Perspectives on the Office of the Ministry. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990); p.126

Some Thoughts for Restructuring

To speak of the church is necessarily to speak of institution and organization. But makes a whale of a difference which images you are using when you say organization. If one speaks with the image of a religious IBM with its international headquarters, it is not far to consider of individual units as franchises to distribute whatever the central headquarters designs or sells. Such franchises are known as the grass roots. What a strange grid to lay over the holy church. Can you imagine what a picture is conjured up when nurturing the church is thought of as fertilizing the grass roots?

Kenneth F. Korby. “The Pastoral Office and the Priesthood of Believers” in Lord Jesus Christ, Will You Not Stay: Essays in Honor of Ronald Feuerhahn on the Occasion of His Sixty-Fifth Birthday. Edited by J. Bart Day, Jon D. Vieker et al. (Houston, Texas: The Feuerhahn Festschrift Committee, 2002); p.337

A Potential Cause for Schism

The great majority of our theologians, Luther in the forefront, believe that the holy Supper should never be administered privately by one who is not in the public preaching office, by a layman. That is partly because no such necessity can occur with the holy Supper, as with Baptism and Absolution, that would justify a departure from God’s ordinance ( I Cor 4:1; Romans 10:15; Heb 5:4); partly because the holy Supper “is a public confession and so should have a public minister”; partly because schisms can easily be brought about by such private Communion…

C.F.W. Walther. Pastoral Theology. Trans. John M. Drickamer. (New Haven: Lutheran News Inc, 1995); p.134

27 August 2009

B-LOGIA: The Banff and Jasper Commissions

The Banff and Jasper Commissions

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Is it Still the Blood of Christ if Grape Juice is Used in the Lord’s Supper?

Is it Still the Blood of Christ if Grape Juice is Used in the Lord’s Supper?

Thesis I: It can be clearly established with certainty that wine made from grapes was used in the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, and is therefore included in the “this do” command of our Lord in His institution.

While Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25 and Luke 22:18 refer to “fruit of the vine” this is not a reference to what we call “grape juice.” “Fruit of the vine” literally refers to the grape itself, rather than its juice. Grapes inherently contain a leavening agent and left to themselves will ferment naturally. One must assume that intoxicating wine was being used to celebrate the Lord's Supper in the church of Corinth for believers were combining the love feast with the Lord's Supper and some were partaking of the Lord's Supper in a drunken state as a result (cf. 1 Cor. 11:21 where the Greek verb metheuo is used i.e. intoxicated). Although wine was clearly abused by the Corinthian believers in conjunction with the Lord's Supper, Paul does not condemn the Corinthian Christians for using wine, nor does he prohibit the use of wine in the Lord's Supper. Paul's correction is directed toward their sinful abuse of wine not their lawful use of it. If wine was not lawfully to be used in the Lord's Supper, here was the ideal time for Paul to demonstrate where the use of wine would lead those who broke God's law by using it in the Lord's Supper. The silence concerning any prohibition of wine in the Lord's Supper at this point is emphatic.

The Christian Fathers, as well as the Jewish rabbis, have understood "the fruit of the vine" to mean wine in the proper sense. Our Lord, in instituting the Supper after the Passover, availed himself of the expression invariably employed by his countrymen in speaking of the wine of the Passover. Furthermore, the drink offering that was poured out before the Lord at the Passover and on other occasions was wine not grape juice (Num. 28:24; cf. Num. 28:14 where the drink offering is specifically identified as wine, Hebrew word: yayin ). It would certainly follow that the Lord used wine at the Passover celebration (and at the institution of the Lord's Supper) with His disciples in Matthew 26:29.

There was a Greek word available to the writers of the New Testament which might have been used to refer to grape juice (“trux”) if they had wanted their readers to understand that the common beverage used by Christ, the disciples, Timothy, the presbyters and deacons, and the Corinthian believers was unfermented grape juice (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament And Other Early Christian Literature , by Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, p.564). The Holy Spirit of God chose not to use the word “trux” (grape juice) even one time in the New Testament. There is therefore no reference in the New Testament to unfermented grape juice, but all references are to fermented wine. To be sure, the Lord’s Supper was instituted in the context of a Hebrew Passover which used wine made from grapes. Jesus instructs the disciples to “make ready for the Passover,” which included wine.

Thesis II: While the Scriptures condemn drunkenness (the abuse of alcohol), alcohol itself is not condemned by God.

One can certainly demonstrate that alcohol itself is not immoral. Scripture only condemns drunkenness or the abuse of alcohol, but not responsible and legal use of alcohol. One need only cite Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at the Cana wedding for proof, in addition to Psalm 104:15; Deuteronomy 14:26; Amos 9:13; Joel 3:18; Isaiah 5:11; I Timothy 5:23. Later temperance or prohibition movements in society do not reflect an accurate teaching of Scripture in that regard, but derive from protestant revivalism or pietism. In fact, Mr. Welch invented grape juice in order to avoid wine at Communion, because he believed to consume wine was sinful. Also to be noted was the fact that Welch did not believe that the Holy Communion is the body and blood of Christ, but only a symbol at best. As one scholar has also pointed out:
Abstention from the use of wine has, occasionally, been declared obligatory by heretics. It was one of the tenets of the heresy of Gnosticism in the second century. Tatian, the founder of the sect known as the Encratites, forbade the use of wine, and his adherents refused to make use of it even in the Sacrament of the Altar; in its place they used water.

Thesis III: It is not our personal faith which makes the Lord’s Supper what it is but the command and institution of Christ. Therefore to change what Christ instituted in this sacrament is spiritually dangerous and puts the sacrament into doubt. Included in the command “this do” is the use of the physical elements of bread and wine made from grapes along with the rest of the institution of Christ Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is not merely a symbol or a reminder but a means of grace.

The Lord attached His Word and promise to a particular way of observing this sacrament. What is used in the sacraments is a doctrinal matter, not simply a matter of convenience. Since the Lord’s Supper is not merely symbolic, what we use in the Lord’s Supper is not merely a case of using something that resembles wine or even resembles blood. It is a matter of faithfully carrying out the institution of the Lord Jesus. While acknowledging that there may be some circumstances in which an individual may have a physical difficulty with alcohol, there are better and worse ways to pastorally work with this situation. If we are to deal with these situations catechetically, then we must deal with them in such a way as to respond compassionately to the physical health situation of the individual communicant, but also be theologically faithful to a biblical and confessional understanding of the Lord’s Supper. The Word comes to the element Christ designated, and it becomes the sacrament.

It is not our faith that makes the earthly elements the body and blood of Christ, but that is according to Christ’s command. Our faith simply receives (passively) the benefits of this gift and gives thanks. For those who in special circumstances there are three options: (1) to receive wine diluted with water; (2) intinction (slightly dip the host in the wine); or (3) to refrain from the Lord’s Supper and be comforted by the preached Gospel, Holy Baptism, and Holy Absolution in Christ. For many because of illness, mental incapacity, or age, there comes a time at which many are not able to commune, but what they have received and continue to receive in the other means of grace sustains them.

A RELATED MATTER: Is It Our Personal Faith Which Makes the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper? Can the pastor make whatever elements he chooses to be the body and blood of Christ by simply speaking the words of institution? No.

That the blessed bread is the holy body and the blessed wine is the holy blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, can only be ascribed to the word, command, and institution of Christ and not to our personal faith. It would be true, regardless of whether we believed or not. It is due to the powerful Word of Christ. When celebrated according to what is entailed in the Lord’s command “this do”, it is the effective Word of our Lord that brings this miracle about. This is why the evangelical practice of closed communion is necessary. The real presence is objective.

With this said, we must not take the words to be “magic” in the occult sense that we can substitute any or “similar” earthly elements we want in place of the bread and grape wine, say the words, and still have the real presence. (Not unlike the way some made fun of the Verba with the corruption "hocus pocus.") That would not be true or reliable. In fact, it would be an abuse of the sacrament and contradict the clear command of Christ. Again, it is not our personal faith nor simply saying the words over any element that has the promise and blessing of Christ that it be His body and blood. That would be an occultish practice. The pastor does not have the ability or authority to change the elements (I Cor. 4:1-2). As St. Paul says in I Corinthians 11 about the Holy Supper: “That which I received from the Lord I also delivered unto you…”.

What is necessary for it to truly be the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood is that it be done clearly according to Christ’s institution and command “this do” on the night in which He was betrayed, accounted for us in the Holy Scriptures in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and in I Corinthians. In a proper celebration the pastor should serve as liturgist or celebrant, bread and wine made from grapes (either red or white) should be used, there should be the giving of thanks, and the Lord’s Words should be spoken or sung clearly and distinctly before the congregation. The sacrament should be consecrated, distributed, and received by those who have been examined and absolved, and being thus received in the unity of the one holy Christian faith in the Divine Service (Acts 2:42; I Cor. 10).

The Lord's Supper is what the Lord has made it. The Lord does this by His very own words. Without the Words of Institution there is no Lord's Supper. They are Christ's words and He is speaking them through the mouth of His called and ordained man. The words of Christ are directed toward the elements as consecratory words. This is not simply for “setting apart” the bread and wine (a generic consecration), but rather that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. This is why the versatility of the freestanding altar serves so well to make this clear before all.

The Lord’s Supper is what the Lord has made it. Without bread and wine made from grapes there is no Lord’s Supper, just s without the words of institution there is no Eucharist. Similarly we may not change the element in Baptism to something other than water or change the words. These are the exclusive and particular earthly elements that the Lord Jesus intended and commanded to be used and to which He attached His promise when He instituted the gift of the Eucharist. To change the earthly element is the same as saying that the Temple in the Old Testament could have been built somewhere other than Jerusalem or to say that Christ could have been born of someone other than the Virgin Mary or somewhere other than Bethlehem. Anything else cannot be the Lord’s Supper with any Scriptural certainty. When there is no Scriptural certainty, no clear following of the Lord’s command and institution, then faith cannot be sure either. Faith needs to have its proper object, not just sincerity, optimism, or the thought of what God might think or do or understand apart from His clear revealed will and word in Scripture (sola Scriptura).

All of this is so that we might have a firm foundation for our faith and a clear, undistorted and unpolluted Gospel of salvation in Christ our crucified and risen Lord, who comes to us in grace and mercy in the Divine Service. It is our personal faith which receives, but does not cause, the benefits of this Gospel sacrament, forgiveness, life and salvation through the body and blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our personal faith is passive in receiving this precious gift of Holy Communion, but then responds with thanksgiving, praise, service to our neighbor, and the sanctified life in Christ who dwells with His Church, and within us.