16 October 2009

Luther on Sola Scriptura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 October 2009

Cyberbrethren » Banishing the Dead from Their Own Funeral

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

Cyberbrethren » Banishing the Dead from Their Own Funeral

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08 October 2009

Politics in the Church…

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

Wedding Style with Substance

Note: Chapel not affiliated with Father Hollywood

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

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

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

This whole issue is an interesting commentary on many levels.

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

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

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

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

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

--- Rev. Larry Beane

Backdoor Pentecostalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

07 October 2009

The Boxcar children and the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Strange Bedfellows

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

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

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

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

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

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

--- Rev. Larry Beane

06 October 2009

Mission Impossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--- Rev. Larry Beane

03 October 2009

I am not the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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