30 January 2009

The Trouble with Youth

Aristotle said of the young that they have exalted notions, because they have not yet been humbled by life or learnt its necessary limitations.

St. Augustine lamented his own youth in the same regard.

And the Preacher warned the young, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth."

Unfortunately we all must go through youth, assuming we don't die in the meantime, and thus it is practically inevitable that we learn the lessons of humility the hard way.

I know I did.

I was musing the other night on how differently I view my life and my world today than I viewed it in my youth. Then, I always had a goal, an aspiration, a plan, a hope. These things kept me going. And when high hopes were dashed, I found myself feeling rather crushed. Still I plodded on, holding on to my dreams, thinking that some day God would bestow on me the glory I secretly coveted. And at the next disappointment the blow was more crushing than at the first. Though I didn't dare think it in these terms, what I meant to wonder in my misery was, When would God let me have my glory?

If He had, I would doubtless still be dancing around that calf today. It's hard enough to deal with pride on an ordinary day; the imp would have become a behemoth if my hopes had been realized back then. High hopes in youth are common, and come in varying strains. What is dangerous, and could be deadly, is when those hopes are realized too soon, or, in some cases, at all.

These days I look back on those perils, and I sometimes wonder, what in the world was I thinking?

There's still a lot to learn in this regard for a middling man; the last thing I want to become in my geriatric years is someone who thinks he's wise in his own conceits, who has nothing left to learn, and whom no one can teach.

And so it is my prayer, and I recommend the same prayer to the young, that I may learn to seek above all other things the kingdom of heaven rather than any earthly kingdoms. Those visions of earthly glory, whatever they are, are illusions, every one. They're mirages. Or worse, they're the devil's disguises. They aren't worth it.

So if you can't decide on a confirmation verse for a particular junior catechumen, here's one that will always be appropriate: Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.

16 January 2009

Always look for different angles

One of the things that we who take our religion, our doctrine, our church seriously need to remember is that when we come across folks who at best seem to take our religion/doctrine/church irreverent or poorly (or at worst seem to desire to actively do harm) is that we should try to understand things from their point of view - we should try to figure out why they are approaching the idea the way they do.

Now, this is not some hippie-style "can't we all just get along" cry, but rather a comment about how we approach others. The simple fact is this - if we want to deal with these folks, we need to understand how they think in order to best handle them. (If you don't want to deal with them anymore - one word, and it starts with R and ends with "epent." We love our neighbors - even the _________ ones.) Let's briefly consider the benefits that can come from trying to understand the direction the person causing you theological grief is coming from.

1 - It prevents hatred. We know we are not to hate - but sinful human beings love to hate. And it's even better when we can feel justified in our hatred, when we can claim that it is a righteous anger -- why look at what this ________ is doing to our religion/doctrine/church, oh that I could smite him! And this feeling of justifcation is much simpler when we simply assume the worst. However, if we stop, pause, and consider their reason for doing something - it becomes harder to simply hate off the bat.

2 - It provides an opportunity for discussion. Ask someone why they do something, what makes them think it is a good idea. We all like to talk about what we think (if you didn't know that, look at blogging - pontificating to the masses is good) - let them talk to you a bit. If you ask them what they are thinking (and ask in a "so, why did you do this," way and not a "What in the name of David and Pete Scaer were you thinking you crackpot" way) - and suddenly you won't be a scary Conservative/Confessional/Curmudgeon Lutheran, but someone to talk to.

3 - It sharpens your sword. Only when you know why a person does something can you successfully change their mind. It maybe that they have laudable goals and just did something foolish - then you show them a better way. It may be they have misplaced goals - then you try to point to better goals, and there can be improvement. Maybe they caved to pressure - then you know how to encourage and bolster. If you know where a person is coming from then you can best help them.

In other words. . . those liberals/open communers/contemporary worshippers/whatever other things are horrible that I'm not hip to at the moment people are indeed people too. Instead of thinking of them as archvillians, tools of Satan meant to be broken - view them as fellow servants of God, but once who have gone astray. Figure out how Satan has lead them astray, and then try to lead them back. And remember to be grateful when a faithful brother applies this to you instead of simply crucifying you at the first sign of theological stupidity.

Merely buzzing about the ears,

14 January 2009

Fellowship or Franchise?

In the thirteen years that I have been a pastor, a number of folks have left Emmaus for other local congregations, and as many or more have transferred to Emmaus from other local congregations. This sort of thing happens, of course, and no doubt for all sorts of reasons. My own rule of thumb is that one should be a member of the nearest congregation wherein the Gospel is rightly preached (the Law and the Gospel rightly divided) and the Sacraments are faithfully administered (reverently in accord with the Word of Christ). I realize that it can sometimes be a bit dicey and more difficult to measure and discern these criteria in practice, and that other attendant circumstances also come into play, but this isn't my main point.

In every case when I have had members of a sister congregation visit Emmaus more than once or twice, and certainly when any such members of a sister congregation have expressed interest in transferring their membership, I have insisted that they visit with their pastor and express to him whatever concerns they may have. In most of these cases, they have already done so; in each of the other cases, they have done so after speaking with me. In several situations, I have also contacted the other pastor in question, myself, as a matter of collegial courtesy. It has simply seemed obvious to me that such a conversation should certainly take place. In any event, I won't accept the transfer of members from another local congregation without proceeding in that manner.

It has not always worked that way in reverse, when members of Emmaus have found their way to other congregations in the area. Transfer requests have sometimes appeared out of the blue, occasionally without any prior hint that such a thing was in the works. Other transfers have come about as no real surprise, but still they were not preceded by any pertinent conversation. From what I have been able to gather, I am not alone in having this happen to me, but it troubles me that it should happen at all.

I realize that people have their reasons for doing what they do. Sometimes they are theological reasons; sometimes not. Sometimes they are good reasons; sometimes not. Lay people do not always know the proper protocol, and they simply proceed in naivete. Some folks are shy or nervous or embarrassed, and so they are reluctant to approach their pastor with a conversation that is likely to disappoint him or hurt his feelings. I understand all this, and I am sympathetic, even though it is a shame. People should communicate with their pastor if they have questions or concerns, or if they desire to transfer their membership for whatever reason; but in the end, I am most concerned that they be hearing the Gospel faithfully preached and receiving the means of grace from a shepherd of their souls.

What I don't understand is brother pastors who would welcome the sheep of another pasture without a word. Is there no admonition to do the right thing? Or does it simply go unheeded? Is it such a difficult thing, or considered so unnecessary, to call a person's present pastor and inquire as to the circumstances? Does not even courtesy suggest such an effort?

Sometimes it seems to me that the "LCMS" is less a fellowship than a franchise, and that, instead of living in communion with one another, we are engaged in a competition over heads of sheep. But I don't want to think of things that way. Although I have different opinions and practices than some of my brothers in office, and some points of significant disagreement, I don't view my colleagues as competitors, but as fellow ministers of the one Gospel of our one Lord Jesus Christ. That is why I will not receive their members into my congregation and pastoral care without first of all making sure that they are "in the loop" and respected for the sake of their office and their labor in the Gospel. Indeed, I have done the same when Christians approach me from outside the Lutheran Church altogether. But what does it mean for the fellowship of the Missouri Synod when brothers in office do not afford each other the same courtesy and respect? Is this typical or unusual?

13 January 2009

Praying for One Another

I don't use it enough, but every time I do use "A Pastor's Daily Prayer" from the old Pastor's Companion (same as in the back of The Lutheran Liturgy) I like its petitions for brethren in office and the Synod at large:

"To Thy grace and mercy I also commend all my brethren in office. Arrest and suppress all discord and dissention. Give me a brotherly heart towards all and true humility, and help me to bear with patience their casual weakness or deficiencies. Grant that they also may act as true brethren toward me. Keep and preserve our whole Synod, its teachers and officers, true to Thy Word. Cause the work of our Synod to grow. Guard and protect all members of Synod against sinful ambitions, dissension, and indifference in doctrine and practice. Bless all higher institutions of learning, our colleges, seminaries, and universities. Accompany all missionaries on their dangerous ways, and help them to perform their work. Gather the elect from all nations into Thy holy Christian Church, and bring them at last into Thy Church Triumphant in heaven."


11 January 2009

A Survey

So, how many of you (who celebrated the Baptism of our Lord) this weekend used Dr. Luther's Baptismal hymn? And how many used the old tune? New tune? I confess that I chickened out and decided to sub the Starke hymn on our Lord's Baptism and even then to sub the familiar Hyfrydol - for which I was suitably chided by my wife. "How can they learn it if we never sing it?" Sigh. Smart woman. Next year! But in the meantime - what did you guys do who observed Baptism?

05 January 2009

An Open Letter to LCMS Pastors Who Practice Open/Welcoming/Evangelical/Etc. Communion

Dear Brother in Christ,

I wish you God's abundant blessings in the Epiphany season as we each seek to serve the flocks to which God has sent us. Indeed, I'm writing today because we are brothers in the Lord each seeking to serve God's people in an ever more connected world.

You and I are connected by serving together as pastors in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and we are even more connected as some of my parishioners occasionally travel down your way in the winter and visit your church. When they do, they find that you and I live out our practice of fellowship at the Lord's Altar in very different ways.

OK, not that open. . .

Now, I'm not writing today either to harangue you or even to try to convince you of the correctness of my practice of fellowship at the Lord's Table and the incorrectness of your own. I'm writing today merely to encourage you to perhaps view things from a brother's perspective and also ask you for a courtesy.

In my parish ministry – both in the Chicago suburbs and now in rural Illinois – I have sought to practice closed communion as the Synod has expressed it in synodical resolutions and official documents, like this summary from the CTCR's 1999 statement on Admission to the Lord's Supper, “The LCMS, therefore, also teaches in accordance with the Scriptures, the Confessions, and the historic tradition of the church when it asks that fellow-Christians, who are confessors of a different doctrine not participate in the Lord's Supper at our altars.”

I can see from your congregation's worship bulletin which my member brought me, that this is not your practice. Rather, you invite to your altar all who share your faith in the Real Presence, without regard to disagreements in confession over other topics like Baptism, Predestination, the authority of Scripture vs tradition, etc.

Again, in this letter I do not wish to wade into the arguments between these two viewpoints (though I would be happy to discuss such matters if you like). Instead, I'm writing to ask you to try to view this situation – this disagreement between our practices – from your brother's perspective and ask the Golden Rule question: What would I have my brother do for me if the roles were reversed?

Here I am in Illinois seeking to maintain the stated and historic position of our Synod – something that has been reaffirmed several times in the past decade. When my people have questions about why we practice altar fellowship the way we do, I answer them from the Scriptures and also note that this is the practice of our Synod as stated in convention resolutions, my seminary course work, and official documents from the CTCR - and has been for years.

Imagine their confusion, and the frustration this causes all around, when they travel on vacation and come upon a sister LCMS congregation who does not practice in accord with the Synod's stated position.

Here is where I would ask a courtesy of you. If you can put yourself in my shoes and see things from my perspective, this is what I would ask: could you include some wording within your statement to visitors that would remove any confusion by acknowledging that the practice of your congregation is not the stated practice of the Missouri Synod? Looking at your current statement, perhaps the last two sentences could be reworked along these lines, “While our denominational church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, discourages communion with Christians of other confessions, we here at __________ invite all Christians to our altar who share our faith that the body and blood of Jesus is truly present in the Lord's Supper, together with bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins.”

With such a statement, LCMS members from other parishes, and visitors from other Christian confessions, would find it easy to understand both your position, and the fact that this position differs from the public position of the Synod at large. I think such a statement actually serves both of our ministries more effectively. It allows my parishioner's to see that, yes, the Synod does have an official position – and it allows you to clearly and publicly highlight the fact that you believe this position of Synod to be incorrect, and thus your intention not to practice it.

I wish you all the best in your ministry – and should you ever wish to discuss this or any other topic in a fraternal manner, please do not hesitate to call.

All the best,

Pr. H. R. Curtis