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