28 May 2009

Nothing to Do with the Office of Preaching!

Here we are at the end of May and my taxes are yet to be filed, an extension has been, but the actual filing is still to be done and the hoped for refund still to be received. I hold no hope for a tax free stimulus check so the tax refund will be needed. My question to you my brothers is this: Who do you use to get your taxes done, are they thorough, reasonably priced, and timely? If you do your own taxes, is it difficult, what or where do you get all the information to be certain you have done them properly and obtained the greatest refund or paid least tax possible?

The company I use has been sold and I am not getting the service I would like and that leaves the cloud hanging longer than I desire. Help, give suggestions, what ever. Thanks.

2nd Person Preaching

(In spite of the dangers of insomniatic posting, I will stride forth here)

In the previous post, a question was raised as to the propriety of the "I forgive you" style of absolution in the public service. This relates to the fact that it seems to be a matter of a sloppy (or perhaps careless) exercise of the Office of the Keys - to pronounce absolution to an individual without literally hearing their individual confession (and not just assuming that they speak). Besides, there is also the matter of visitors and the like who may not be in fact confessing.

Now, these concerns don't particularly bother me. . . "Upon this your confession" is a fine enough qualifier for me. . . if one is a hypocrite, behold, the first words place it back upon their head. However, I do understand how this might not lessen the concerns of my esteemed colleagues. My question, though, is this. If you have concerns about the the General Absolution, do you have any qualms about preaching in the second person?

I find that I try to preach quite often in the 2nd person - you have sinned, Christ has died for you, you are forgiven. It is direct. However, it seems the same problems that would arise with the Absolution being directly applied would arise with 2nd person preaching. Any thoughts on this matter?

(I myself say go and forgive. Preach in the second person. The hypocrites and faithless will not believe, so be it. The Word is meant to be scattered, come what may. Now, the Body and Blood of Christ, let that not profaned for the sake of those who would profane it. . . but let the Word go forth)

25 May 2009

The Office of the Keys, the Rites of Preparation, and Pastoral Care

In contrast to the preaching of the Gospel, which is scattered to the four corners of the world without distinction because the world has been reconciled to God in Christ — and in contrast to the Christian forgiveness of those who trespass against us, which is freely given for Jesus' sake, no strings attached — the Office of the Keys is "that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent." Accordingly, the called ministers of Christ absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, but retain the sins of those who persist in their sins and refuse to repent. These are matters of personal pastoral care for individuals, not a public declaration of that which is universally true in Christ.

Which is why the rites of preparation (the so-called "Confession and Absolution" at the beginning of the Divine Service, as in all five LSB "settings") are not a substitute for Individual Confession and Absolution, such as our Lutheran Confessions everywhere extol. It is also why the history of those rites of preparation has been a bit chequered. So do we find numerous historic examples of conditional absolutions, which are ultimately worse than nothing and are no absolution at all; because the proud sinner will presume upon the absolution, despite the caveat, while the humbled and remorseful penitent will be driven back to his or her own resolve by the condition.

The Missouri Synod hasn't had conditional absolutions, thankfully, but we have gone to the opposite extreme, following the "Absolvo Te" tradition of the Saxon agendas; or so I am given to understand the trajectory. Thus, the public rites of preparation with their general confession are met with the strong indicative-active form of the Absolution from the rite of Individual Confession: "I forgive you all your sins in the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This is very clear and forthright Gospel, Christ be praised. But here there is at least a potential confusion of the Office of the Keys with the preaching of the Gospel to the world; because there is no discernment or distinction between repentant and unrepentant sinners.

Historically, in the rites of preparation, Lutherans tended to prefer the so-called "Declaration of Grace," such as one finds in the p. 5 "Service without Communion" in TLH, and now as an optional response to the general confession in LW and LSB. This form is a simple and succinct proclamation of the Gospel, that God has given His Son to die for us, and for His sake forgives us all our sins. It holds forth the universal promise of that Gospel, as it is openly preached to all creation: "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved." It typically concludes with a prayer or petition that God would grant such faith and forgiveness to all. But it does not presume to exercise the official "Loosing Key" indiscrimantly. It does not pretend to be the pastoral care of Individual Confession and Absolution, but is rather the more general pastoral care of preaching.

In a relatively small congregation like Emmaus, the use of the "Absolve Te" form in the rites of preparation usually gives me no qualms of conscience; because I know the people well, whom I am absolving. When we have visitors on any given Sunday, I almost always have some opportunity to chat with them, even if only briefly, prior to the Divine Service. In a much larger congregation, especially one with frequent and numerous visitors, I'm not at all sure how this would work with much integrity. Leastwise not as an exercise of the Office of the Keys in the way that our Lutheran Small Catechism teaches and explains it.

Several weeks ago, this was brought to my awareness and consideration when we had a large number of visitors at Emmaus. Many of the students of our local Lutheran school were there with their families to sing with and for our congregation. It was lovely to have them join us, but it meant there were dozens of people I didn't know gathered together with the members of my own flock. I don't hold that against them, nor do I have the slightest hesitation in preaching the Law and the Gospel to any such group, whether or not I know anybody in the crowd. But is it really right and appropriate for me, "as a called and ordained servant of Christ," to absolve an entire group of people, all at once, many of whom I do not know and will not have any opportunity to know in any context of personal pastoral care?

My normal practice at Emmaus is to use the strong indicative-active "Absolvo Te" response to the general confession during the festival seasons of Christmas-Epiphany and Eastertide, and the so-called "Declaration of Grace" during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. I also alternate between these two forms through the post-Pentecost tides, preferring the "Declaration of Grace" during August-September and November. According to this pattern and practice, I did go ahead and use the "Absolvo Te" on that recent Sunday of Easter when we had our many visitors, but, as I say, it did raise the question in my mind as to whether that form was appropriate under the circumstances.

I have had similar concerns, and have wondered the same thing, when I have served as the officiant at large gatherings of people from numerous congregations. Where I have been given the option, I have generally preferred to use the "Declaration of Grace" on such occasions; not because I doubt or question anyone's repentance, but because I simply have no way of exercising the pastoral care that ought to go hand-in-hand with the Office of the Keys.

So now I am wondering if any of my fellow Blackbirds, or any of our astute readers, have any further thoughts, comments or suggestions on this question and concern of mine. Thanks.

14 May 2009

What to do with the Vicar

Hard cases make bad law. The vicarage program was created because of the hard case of the Hoover-Roosevelt Depression and a shortage of calls. It was later codified and made part of "the system."

It is, ironically, on the verge of being historical and ecumenical - because what it seems to mean to be is the resurrection of the diaconate. But vicars aren't deacons. Deacons (in the Lutheran understanding of the Office of the Ministry) are ordained into the One Office of the Holy Ministry - but agree, by human right and for the sake of good order, only to preach (and in the Latin Church, baptize).

So a vicar isn't put into the Office of the Ministry - but he is training for it. He is not rite vocatus - but he is rite vocatur: he is being publicly called; he's in the midst of the process.

It would be best to follow the procedure that other Lutherans around the world do and send a man through the seminary for three year and ordain him. He would then be on probation for a year under the oversight of a pastor in the field (as a curate, deacon, or whatever you want to call him). If he fails this year of probation, he would be removed from office. If he passes, he would receive a call to his own pulpit.

That would be better - but it ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

So what to do with the vicar - this tertium quid? After surviving vicarage myself, seeing family and friends suffer through good and bad vicarages, and have summer vicars for a couple of years: here are my thoughts.

First, the no-brainer: vicars don't preside at the altar, they don't baptize, they don't conduct official acts of the congregation (installing officers, receiving members, confirmations, weddings, funerals, etc.).

Second, the more difficult point. What about preaching? Aren't we a bunch of hypocrites for shouting about AC XIV when it comes to the Supper and all the while letting our vicars preach?

There are at least two good answers to the charge of hypocrisy here. First, we might note the opinion of the Wittenberg faculty that I posted a couple of days ago. If a layman takes the authority to preside at the Supper upon himself, he has no real authority and there is no sacrament. Even if you think these Lutherans got it wrong: how much are you willing to bet on that? In other words, the consequences of the abuse of a vicar preaching under pastoral supervision are nowhere near as severe as the consequences of a vicar consecrating when he has no God-given authority to do so. So it is in no way hypocritical to say "I want to avoid the greater abuse even if I feel that I must tolerate the lesser."

(An aside: for those who would argue that a vicar is not really a layman, I don't think you even believe yourselves. Why don't you call him pastor then? Why does his service at a place end after a year? Why isn't he on the clergy roster? Etc.)

And there is another (and I think better) response to the charge of AC XIV hypocrisy regarding the preaching of vicars that leads to a better practice as well. This hinges on what the definition of preaching is.

I would define "to preach and teach" from AC XIV like this: To preach is to speak words which the preacher has composed himself in public worship directed at the faithful claiming that they are spoken in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ; that these words which I have written are God's Word in the sense of Luke 10:16.

Vicars shouldn't do that. No layman should. Indeed, I would say that even if they pretend to do so, there is no promise attached to their words. It would be false preaching just as a vicar consecrating would be a false consecration.

But the Western Church has a long tradition of lay brothers in a monastery, for example, reading a patristic sermon from the breviary at daily prayers. No one, to my knowledge, has ever claimed that was "preaching." It isn't. It's reading someone else's words for the edification of the reader and the hearers.

Vicars can do this. They should do this in order to gain requisite practice in speaking before a crowd.

In addition, a vicar needs practice writing sermons. And here is where the pastoral supervisor of a vicar needs to take great care. The vicar should write a draft of a homily on a text. But that draft of a homily really does need to be read through, changed, and approved word for word by the pastor. It must really and truly be his sermon, not the vicar's. The vicar simply ghost writes something which the pastor then edits and makes his own. (It would, perhaps, be even more appropriate if the vicar wrote these sermons solely for practice and read sermons written by the Fathers or an old sermon from the supervising pastor.)

It would then be appropriate for the vicar to read this to the congregation: FROM THE LECTERN. This is a visual and important sign that A) the words are not the vicar's own, B) they are not spoken with Luke 10:16 authority, but C) are rather on a par with reading a Scripture lesson.

So that's my advice and practice for vicars: they don't consecrate, they don't baptize, they don't perform official acts, and they read the words of others from the lectern for the benefit of themselves and there hearers.


The Patriotic Heresy

I ended up having a really good conversation after Bible Study yesterday. We had just finished reading through the first 4 Psalms, and given the whole opposition to the King theme, one member raised some conflict she had with President Obama - who doesn't seem to be a good Christian and didn't really do anything for the day of prayer.

The conversation quickly moved to whether or not this is a Christian Nation. That was the key thing - that President Obama was moving us away from being a Christian Nation. Now, as we are probably well aware, we are not and have never been a Christian Nation - we are a nation where Christians are free (or ought to be free) to be Christian. The founders weren't pictures of theological virture - and the country hasn't been an overly Christian place. . . if it were, we wouldn't have had the history of revivals and famous preachers that we have (if everyone's a Christian, why do there need to be public revivalistic preachers?). And we can think about points in our history, how openly wicked things were (anyone like westerns, you know, the WILD west - that bastion of Christian living?) There has been a presence of a Christian moral ideal - but we haven't been a Christian Nation.

But this is what we've thought for the past few decades. I don't know when it really started - maybe in the 50s, maybe really in force in the 80s. . . but we developed this idea that we are a Christian Nation.

The member who started the discussion was shook - she saw and understood, but her world view was shifted (worry not, it was a safe landing - and actually things made much more sense). Other people who were there said that they had the same shock, including the member's daughter (in college) and then a fellow in his 30s. . . and I myself as well.

That was where we went in class. Now I have been thinking, pondering back to my friends in college, how many of them were raised in the Church, even raised Lutheran, yet who wandered off to random other things. I thought about the impact that happened to plenty of folks I know who fell off the "Christian Wagon" in college - and I'm wondering how much of this has to do with the American Heresy. We end up thinking that this is a Christian Nation - and then when people see that it isn't, doubts arise -- but they end up not being doubts about the wonderfulness of our country (or not primarily), but about God, about Christianity. Does the idea that seems to be present in pop Christianity of a Christian Nation set people up for falling away from the faith?

Of course, there's more impact - why talk to others about Christ - they are American, of course they are Christian! But here, I'm thinking about how this effects our own when they go off on their own. Just some thoughts.

13 May 2009

Music Graced by God

Last night we had our Spring Recital at Christ Lutheran Academy. Each fall (winter) and spring we typically have a recital to showcase the wonderful musical talent that our student body possesses. In a school of 29 students in grades 1-8, we have 24 piano students, plus viola, guitar, and I don't even know what else! This is in addition to our choral program, which involves all our our students in many different ways.

This strong music program has played itself out academically at our schools at many levels. Music teaches discipline, learning to practice, intervals, it helps with mathematics, language, and learning how to focus on a task. Our music program not only involves piano and voice, but musicals (grades K-3 recently performed the Selfish Giant, see pic below), and even some dance!


In addition all of this, the spiritual benefits are myriad. How much singing is done in church, and how does God use music and song to carry the Gospel? It is hard to underestimate the spiritual benefits that a solid music program can have upon the individual and a congregation.

As a congregation my parish is known as a singing church. If you'll allow me to brag just a little, I can throw nearly anything at them in terms of hymns or liturgy, and they will get it within a couple tries, and will probably learn to love it within half a dozen. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of the big ones is that we have so many children at our church that attend our Academy and who learn music and hymnody every day. Every Sunday I can hear them singing, with these beautiful clear voices, teaching us adults what it means to sing to the Lord a new song (Ps. 98:1).

So who is the inspiration behind our fine music program? Really there are two people, although many others could be mentioned:


Monica Scholz (on the left) is our piano teacher. She comes in to CLA I think two days a week to teach nearly all of our students. Because of the flexibility of a multi-grade classroom, the students are able to take their piano lessons during the day, and make up their school work at another time. One less trip for the parents! (That can't be bad.) Monica is also the music director and one of the organists at Messiah Lutheran Church, my congregation.

Kathryn Peperkorn (on the right) is our choir director. She comes to CLA for choir at least twice a week, but it often ends up being more than that. The choir sings at our two congregations (Messiah and Lamb of God) roughly once a month, so that CLA will sing at each parish about three or four times during the academic year. The CLA choir will also sing for special services such as Epiphany and Ascension. Kathryn, a voice teacher and professional singer, is also the artistic director for SEWPA, SouthEast Wisconsin Performing Arts.

While these two people serve as the anchor for our music program, there are other people and places that contribute as well. Elyse Ahlgrimm is our kindergarten teacher, but she is also the organist and choir director at Grace Lutheran Church in Racine. We are also blessed with the wonderful acoustics at Lamb of God Lutheran Church, where Christ Lutheran Academy resides.

This week we are learning LSB 942, Kyrie, God Father in Heav'n Above. The children know it already, their parents will learn it, and our congregations will learn it as well, thanks to all these wonderful people and places who make music such a big part of our lives.

Happy Cantate Week! Sing to the Lord a New Song!

-Pastor Todd Peperkorn

Originally posted at Christ Lutheran Academy

12 May 2009

A little more on AC XIV

Let's play a guessing game.

One of the following statements is from the Wittenberg faculty in 1674; the other is....not. Which is from that distinguished faculty and whence the other? (and no fair Googling!)

Statement A.

An Laici casu necessitatis possint absolvere, quemadmodum baptizare possunt?

Praesuppono, quaeri tantum de absolutione, an ea in casu necessitatis, a Laicis fieri debeat et possit: non vero quaestionem eam de subsequente Sacramenti Sanctae Eucharistiae exhibitione, hanc enim per Laicos nullo modo fieri posse (licet baptismus ab illis in casu necessitatis possit administrari, nec administratus debeat iterari) intelligi debere, nostri Theologi, uti notum est, passim demonstrant.

"Are laymen able to absolve in a case of necessity as they are able to baptize?

"I presuppose that the question is put only concerning absolution, whether it ought and is able to be performed by laymen in a case of necessity: this question is certainly not to be understood concerning the subsequent administration of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, for our theologians, as is known, demonstrate time and again that this is in no way able to come about through laymen (of course, baptism is able to be administered by them in a case of necessity, nor should the minister perform it again)."

Statement B.

Et hoc utique sacramentum nemo potest conficere, nisi sacerdos, qui fuerit rite ordinatus.

"And certainly, no one is able to perform this sacrament [the Eucharist] except a priest who has been ordained by rite (rite ordinatus)."

Note what occurs in both statements: the verb posse (to be able). Both statements say that a layman is not able to perform the Sacrament. Not that it would merely be impolite or against good order for a layman to preside at the Sacrament, but that he has no ability, power, or authority to do so. The verb debere (ought, should) builds on that reality. A layman ought not take upon himself the duty of presiding at the Supper because he, in fact, cannot because he has been given no authority to do so, by definition. Therefore, if some layperson should attempt to perform this sacrament, it would be no sacrament at all, but a blasphemy.

I am fully aware that some Lutherans of the 19th and 20th centuries disagree. But, gentle reader, do you think there is even the slimmest chance that the Wittenberg faculty of 1674 could have been right and these other Lutherans wrong? If you can admit even the slimmest chance that this is in fact the case, well then, this “lay ministry” business takes on something of an increased importance, wouldn't you say?

Look at the situation through the lens of the argumentation of Pascal's wager. If the Wittenberg faculty is wrong, and yet we follow their prescribed procedure and cease and desist any condoning of laity presiding over the Supper – what have we lost? Precious little – for all we will then lose is discord and disorder and the violation of the clear wording of AC XIV. But if we allow our consciences to be eased by the pronouncements of those 19th and 20th century Lutherans who say laity are able to (even if they ought not for the sake of good order) preside over the Supper and those theologians turn out to be wrong – egads, but we've got quite a bad situation on our hands.

At any rate, back to our game: which is which and whence the other?


09 May 2009

To More Fully Reflect Augsburg Confession XIV in Our Practice

The following passed at our District Convention yesterday. I forgot to write down the vote numbers.

Resolution 1-01 - To More Fully Reflect Augsburg Confession XIV in Our Practice

Whereas, in certain situations today, the Synod approves of preaching and administration of the sacraments by men who have not been publicly called to and placed in the office of the ministry (this position is expressed in 1989 Resolution 3-05B, “. . . when no pastor is available, and in the absence of any specific Scriptural directives to the contrary, congregations may arrange for the performance of these distinctive functions [preaching and administering the sacraments] by qualified individuals”); and

Whereas, the Augsburg Confession's fourteenth article reads, “Concerning church government it is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call” (KW p. 46), which includes both call and ordination; and

Whereas, the systematic theology faculties of both seminaries, acting jointly, have published a detailed statement on “The Office of the Holy Ministry” (Concordia Journal 33.3[July 2007]: 242-255) which states in part,

“The Confessions never use the truth that the whole church possesses the power of the keys to make the office of the holy ministry unnecessary or merely useful. On the contrary, this truth serves as the basis for the church's right to call, choose, and ordain ministers. . . . [T]he Treatise [on the Power and Primacy of the Pope] does not imagine churches without ordained ministers of some kind, even in emergency situations or when no one else will call and ordain men for the office. As confessors of the same doctrine, neither should we. . . “'[C]all and ordination' are essential for conduct of the ministry. . . .What is the sign of authority for ministers today? It is their call and ordination, which assure that they act by divine right and on the authority of Christ. This truth makes such ideas as “lay ministers” invitations for difficulties and troubles to ministers whose authority is doubtful and to laypersons whose assurance of God's grace may be questioned.” (pp. 253-254, 255); and,

Whereas, the Board for Pastoral Education and the two seminaries are now implementing the Specific Ministry Pastor Program mandated by the 2007 Synodical Convention; and

Whereas, the Board for Pastoral Education and the Council of Presidents are due to report to the 2010 Synodical Convention concerning “situations currently served by licensed lay deacons” (2007 Res. 5-02); therefore be it

Resolved, that the Northern Illinois District in convention express its concern about the current situation in the Synod at large concerning men who are conducting Word and Sacrament ministry without being publicly called to and placed in the office of the ministry; and be it further

Resolved, that the Northern Illinois District in convention memorialize the 2010 Synodical convention to direct the Board for Pastoral Education and the Council of Presidents to develop a plan and lay out procedures A) for how all men who are currently engaged in the public ministry of Word and Sacrament without being publicly called to and placed in the office of the ministry may either be enrolled in a regular seminary program or the Specific Ministry Pastor Program, or cease from all forms of public Word and Sacrament ministry by the end of 2016, and B) for how all current Synod and District tracks, programs, and licensing procedures which train men for pubic Word and Sacrament ministry without benefit of being publicly called to and placed in the office of the ministry can be phased out in favor of the Specific Ministry Pastor Program or a regular seminary program by the end of 2016; and be it further

Resolved, that the Board for Pastoral Education report on this plan to the 2013 Synod in Convention for approval, emendation, and adoption, and be it finally

Resolved, that the Northern Illinois District memorialize the 2010 Synodical convention to reconsider 1989 Resolution 3-05B in light of the Scriptures, the Confessions, the report mandated by 2007 Resolution 5-02, and the Specific Ministry Pastor Program.

05 May 2009

Prayer origin?

Does anyone know the origin of prayer 193 in LSB, in the pew edition on page 311? There it is labeled "For guidance in our calling." It is also in LW in Evening Prayer page 262 (prayer 176).

"Lord God, You have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out in good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Stephen Starke has a nice version of it in stanza 6 of his hymn, "Saints, See the Cloud of Witnesses" LSB 667.

Lord, give us faith to walk where You are sending,
On paths unmarked, eyes blind as to their ending;
Not knowing where we go, but that you lead us--
With grace precede us.

01 May 2009


The Four and Twenty Blackbirds isn't a political blog, but rather a meditation on pastoral practice and churchmanship. Sometimes the lines between church politics and churchmanship can become blurry. So here are a couple links relating to issues of churchmanship in dealing with disagreement across congregational, circuit, and district borders. If you want to get into their political ramifications, please comment at the respective blogs.

Pr. Weedon's recent comments on being nullified.
An interesting presentation on how to approach theological dissent and work toward unity.