12 December 2010

Sunday School Blooper


This is from today's Sunday School materials concerning the birth of John the Baptist.  Okay, what's wrong with this picture?  Hint: it has nothing to do with the little name-tag with "Leo" on it.  Bonus hint: the good sisters of the CSPP might be able to provide the answer...

03 December 2010

Forbid them not?

A brief history is required before the question is posed for discussion.

About five years ago I began going to one of the Bethesda homes in our area and having a weekly service with the residents. The residents of this home are for the most part fairly low functioning with the exception of two residents who speak a bit, one more than the other. Those two had at some point in time and in some manner been catechized and are communicants. One of them had resided at Watertown for a long time and thus received very regular catachesis.

These visits to the home were not usually marked by great attention on the behalf of the residents and those who worked there were oft times in pursuit of one resident or another.

Three years ago they all began to come to the church on Thursday afternoons for the service. They would walk or be wheeled in and sit in the front pews of the sanctuary. I would vest, light the candles and use an abbreviated liturgy for the service. (Invocation, confession and absolution, readings, Apostles creed, homily, Lord's prayer, words of institution, holy communion, prayer of thanksgiving, benediction and an opening and closing hymn-the same each week)

They paid attention, they were for the most part quiet. There were reactions to the Word, to the singing, to their presence at the Lord's table. They were different. Most notably, the one resident whom I Baptized was more expressive during his time at the rail. They continue to come every Thursday and on most Sundays to the Divine service as well. Three of the women who work with these residents have been catechized and have joined the Church as well.

So now to my question. Two of them are communicants and four are not. Bethesda has some catechetical materials but they are not practical for those who do not communicate. I believe that by the demonstrated change from being at the home to being in the house of the Lord, from being inattentive to paying attention, this is reflective of a change wrought by God in them and they have been prepared over these years to receive the Lord's Supper.

I am interested in your ideas and opinions. I will say that there is not the time and/or proper manner to teach them more or to examine them. I also have one little girl who is very handicapped and unable to speak whose parents bring her faithfully to church. Her siblings all commune except for the 6 year old who will soon. I believe I should be communing this 12 year old girl with handicaps as well. What say you brothers?

30 November 2010

What The Sem Recruiter Doesn't Tell You


Is that you could end up on something like this. Blessed Saint Andrew's Day.


24 November 2010

Pop Worship

Pop worship is like a meth riddled rave. Everyone loves it, it warms your
heart, everyone(even straight laced liturgists) can open up and love, it's
addictive from first use, has to be increased in frequency and amplitude
and makes the producer much money.

Oh! and by the way, it's deceptively deadly.

Pr. Georg Williams

18 November 2010

The Pastor-Penitent Privilege: A Case Study

Some months ago, an interesting theological conundrum reared its ugly head regarding the seal of the confessional and pastoral counsel. I want to share this story with my fellow pastors on this blog, and hopefully the reader may be edified in our theology and practice of the Christian faith.

From the title I have given this essay, you can already tell that this whole discussion must be sensitive to matters of privacy. With the permission of the senior pastor I work with, the Rev. James Woelmer, and his review of this essay, I want to share with you what we have learned in this ordeal.

There was a clear cut, publicly acknowledged leaving of a spouse, with an unscriptural divorce. Thus far, I am sharing public knowledge, and this is as far as I go.

The counsel from God’s Word given by me and our senior pastor, and our listening to and discussion of the details of what happened, is and always remains sealed. If our pastoral care does not remain totally confidential, then how will Christians ever trust me or any other pastor to come for help and spiritual counsel? Not to mention, we have made a vow before God not to divulge the sins confessed to us. These principles stand on clear passages of Holy Scripture.

As the divorce case came to trial, certain details could not be agreed to between the two parties, and amazingly enough, in Texas, issues in a divorce can be put to a jury trial to be settled. As far as we can tell, this seems to be unique in our country. As this trial by jury came up, suddenly, out of nowhere, the senior pastor and I were subpoenaed to testify in the trial.

We were advised to call the lawyer (of the offending party) who had subpoenaed us and ask for clarification. When we talked to the lawyer over the phone, we asserted that we could not testify publicly nor would we speak to our confidential pastoral care, but nevertheless the lawyer refused to release us from the subpoena. Why not? “You have information in your private counsel with our client that will help our case, and my client has released the rite to privacy and confidentiality.”

Get that? The penitent – or, person we want to be penitent – has “released the rite to privacy and confidentiality” for the sake of somehow winning the case.

I replied to the lawyer, “Excuse me, but I do not care what your client says. Our counsel to your client as one of our flock is always privileged and confidential. There’s no way we are going to share anything discussed here. We have pastor-penitent privilege.”

The lawyer replied: “We’ll let the judge decide what you will or will not say in court.” And with that, the phone line basically went dead. It was clearly a threat. If the lawyer convinces the judge to go against our privilege as pastors with our flock, then perhaps it would come time to make the good confession of the faith, obeying God rather than man, and face the temporal consequences.

The senior pastor and I consulted with a fellow LCMS pastor whom we respect. He advised us to read “The Pastor-Penitent Relationship, Privileged Communications” – a 1999 document of the LCMS CTCR.

Does the CTCR document give the penitent or the person giving confidential information permission to divulge their confidential counsel with the pastor? No! The CTCR gives no such advice. If one looks on page 13 of the CTCR document under “Summary Principles and Practical Guidelines” one can see the summary of all of the previous discussion of this issue in the document: there are no circumstances, as far as the CTCR document is concerned, under which a Lutheran pastor need give away confidential information whether in the confessional or just in private pastoral counsel and aid.

We see the position of the mistaken lawyer in footnote #27 of the CTCR document, which notes the position of the ELCA. The ELCA constitution and bylaws say that the person giving confidential information can give the pastor permission to divulge confidential information, no distinction being made between the confessional or other pastoral communication. However, the CTCR merely notes this position as “interesting” and it is obviously in contrast to their summary principle #2: “Historically, the Lutheran church has consistently and resolutely maintained the seal of the confessional, that is, the confidential nature of confessional communications. The Lutheran church expects its pastors to maintain this position.”

Further, the CTCR’s principle #4 recognizes that although there may be a distinction between communications to the pastor in the confessional and those that are offered for other reasons, “communications to a pastor as pastor… are to be held in strict confidence as privileged communications.” (Pastor-Penitent, CTCR, 13) The CTCR document leaves very small room for breaking this principle, “except in the most extraordinary of circumstances” – and even then, it does not detail what such might be. One might call that the only weakness of the CTCR document.

Doing further research into the matter, we found the “Ethical Guidelines” of our LCMS Texas District written in 2005. (http://www.txdistlcms.org/downloads/Guidelines_for_Ethical_Conduct_of_Called_Servants.pdf)

This document refers to the CTCR document; yet, it contradicts it and seems to come down on the side of the ELCA position, note my emphasis added:


“5.1 Goal of Confidentiality

A called servant maintains the strictest standards of confidentiality in order to provide an opportunity for people to confess any and every sin and to receive forgiveness; to permit discussion of matters of the utmost personal importance; and to protect the good name of Christ’s holy people from malicious gossip and slander. The called servant also has a responsibility to the welfare of the community, which requires reporting information to legal authorities when life and health are discovered to be at risk.


5.2 Confession

An ordained servant of the Word does not reveal those matters that have been revealed to him as a consequence of the confession of an individual. (See CTCR Document, The Pastor Penitent Relationship.)


5.3 Privileged Communications

A called servant regards any entrusted information as privileged communication to be held in the strictest confidentiality. The person divulging the information, not the called servant who receives it, owns the privilege. Entrusted information should be revealed with the full knowledge and consent of the individual. However, in situations where the health and welfare of other people are at risk, or where it is required by law, the called servant will comply with the legal stipulations except for matters under the confessional seal. (See 5.2) When such revelation occurs, the called servant should inform the individual as soon as possible, consistent with the circumstances as legally allowed.”

Somehow, some theologians have found a “responsibility to the welfare of the community” that is nowhere backed up with Scriptures or the Confessions. The Texas document is quite muddled, you are to retain confidences, but you are not if the community needs to know, but you are if under the confessional, but maybe or maybe not if the penitent says so, one can’t tell what to do.

Did Jesus die to defeat and cleanse us of the sin and the corruption of the world and the devil or did He not? God “remembers” our sin “no more,” Jeremiah 31:34. The sins repented of are gone “as far as the east is from the west” in God’s view, Psalm 103:12. Likewise, all of the circumstances and hurtful events that surround, lead to, and follow those sins!

So, who are we to reveal anything given over to God and His forgiveness on account of the blood of Christ? Does our preaching and teaching of God’s Law and Gospel as pastors in private also belong to God? Are we only acting in this office in His stead and by His command? Who are we, whether pastor or penitent, to share publicly what Word of God has or has not been applied in private for the sake of the cure of souls? Further, do we or do we not trust God to protect “the welfare of the community” without one of His pastors divulging what does not belong to them to divulge?

To this humble pastor, no human “owns the privilege” of receiving or giving the counsel of God’s Word – the Bible simply does not acknowledge or leave room for such a position. I ask: is the idea that the penitent “owns the privilege” based on current American legal situations, current cultural views, or one based on a theological argument? This question remains unanswered and undocumented where such an opinion comes from, I saw no documentation in the Texas District ethical guidelines. (I admit, I have not researched the origins of the ELCA position…)

One excellent piece of advice was to consult with a retired judge and LCMS layman who advised the CTCR on the writing of its document in 1999. His advice to us pastors was crystal clear. Under all circumstances, there are no judges in the United States who will not recognize at this time the “Priest/Pastor - Penitent Privilege” in court. The retired judge told us to absolutely maintain confidentiality, and that the lawyer who threatened us was issuing so much hot air.

It turns out, these subpoenas were a scam on the part of the lawyer to keep us pastors out of the courtroom and out of the view of the jury, from sitting behind and in support of our faithful member who has been abandoned. Since we were sworn-in by the judge as witnesses (a new experience for me!), we could not sit in the courtroom. We were excused and never called back to the courthouse, much less to the witness stand. It did make for two days of fearing the ring of our cell phone, the judge telling us he could call us in at anytime to take the stand!

The day may come soon in our country when judges may threaten to throw the pastor in jail over refusing to testify in a divorce trial. One never knows. The whole circumstance, however, certainly worked to sharpen our theology as pastors on this important area of pastoral practice.

Does anyone know where these foreign ideas to the theology and practice of our church come from? Is anyone else not surprised that the ELCA finds the right of the individual to be as or more important than God’s choice and gift to forgive and retain sins and cure souls? Does anyone else find comfort, at least in this CTCR document, that the LCMS stands on the scriptural side of Christian theology and practice in this matter? I realize there is a lot more to say on this, a lot more history and practice good and bad even in our own LCMS. Feel free to comment or criticize.

Rev. Jacob Sutton


30 October 2010

Halloween Controversy


Every year the debate rages among Christians: celebrate Halloween or not.

Lutherans typically wave off any unease about Halloween, unlike some other Evangelical communions who eschew any and all involvement with Halloween.  I have always found Halloween to be an innocent time of costumes and candy.  And even though some of the costumes have always been over the top - either sexually inappropriate or violent - Halloween is mostly about being silly and getting goodies.

There is, however, an increasingly disturbing darkness and fascination with evil as well as a pushing of the modesty envelope.  Concerning the increasingly occult element is this article from the Times-Picayune that juxtaposes family fun with gore, Satanism, and mockery of Christianity.  An few excerpts:
In the 1990s, protesters picketed, decrying the place (House of Shock) as Satanic. Some even broke in and scattered holy water over the sets and props, which included a decapitated statue of the Virgin Mary....
Almost nothing stopped him (Larry Breaux) — except his wife, Brandi, the mother of his young twins, who told him she didn’t want him to spend all his family time in a place like that. If he wanted to be part of the House of Shock, he knew he had to figure out a way for his family to be part of it, too....
His next role did nothing to persuade Brandi, a Catholic, that the House of Shock was a legitimate family hobby: Breaux became the sullen-faced preacher of the haunted house’s Satanic Church.
Standing atop a pulpit holding a microphone, Breaux, clad in all black, taunted patrons with his deep, raspy voice: “Hail Satan!” “Where is your God now?” “Join us!” “Feed me your soul!”
Actresses portraying bloodied girls in white communion dresses rushed guests, reached out to them with their arms and shrieked, “Help me! Make it stop!” Demons with heads of cow skulls and evil altar boys wielding fake swords pretended to drag the maidens by their hair, lift them off the ground and choke them....
The children asked to join the cast. Brandi thought they were old enough, and Larry secured them gigs – in his “church.” Strawberry-haired Brianna became one of the victimized communion girls. Gage, his dark hair growing past his shoulders, became an altar boy....
Brandi explained, “Larry is not in barrooms. My kids aren’t running the streets with God-knows-who. If this is what it takes to bring our family together, so be it.”
While my family does indeed celebrate Halloween, I can foresee a time when Christians may want to opt out of entirely.  It's getting pretty disturbing when "trick or treat" has been replaced by "hail Satan" and the jack-o-lantern has given way to the pentagram.

--- Rev. Larry Beane

27 October 2010

Addiction or Disease; Sin or nature; Confession or rehab

I went to a seminar yesterday that appeared promising by its invitation. It was to be about drug addiction and how the Church might help to not only stem the tide, but aide those who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. There is a new organization here in Porter County that was putting on this seminar and their object is substance abuse recovery exclusively for young adults. This is a commendable objective and Porter County, IN has a very high incidence of Heroin addiction beginning with young children.

Although I was not able to stay for the entire seminar, I was there long enough to hear the primary speaker talk about addiction as a disease not unlike cancer. The more he spoke the more he emphasized this point and the more and more distant would become the help of the Church. With all of his psycho speech and inclusive language designed to not stigmatize those addicted to drugs, there became no room for confessing the use of drugs as a sin.

The language used made using drugs not a matter of sinful choices but rather problems with nature and nurture. Although there was talk about the guilt and shame an addict might feel or experience, that was to be solved by including them in church, welcoming them and not ostracizing them. There was no place for confession and absolution.

There were many lay people from non-Lutheran denominations in attendance to whom the idea of confession and absolution would be either entirely foreign or "Roman" and in either case would in their opinion make for more guilt rather than relieving guilt and shame in the absolution.

I found this to be very sad, and with the exception of a brother LC-MS pastor who stated that they were making a two legged stool (biology and psychology) that was missing the third leg, theology, there were none who saw the Church's place as one of reconciliation, forgiveness, or peace apart from inclusiveness. They all missed the point that Christ removes sins, grants peace and gives us a clean conscience before God in the absolution.

Although there may be some pre-disposition to alcohol abuse via heredity, I do not believe there is such a thing for drugs with the possible exception of those who have been exposed to them while in utero. Taking drugs or drinking alcohol is a choice and choices come with consequences. All sin has consequences. Sometimes severe, hence we have prisons and jails, sometimes less severe thus we have rehab facilities and support groups. But they are sins none the less and confession and absolution is or should be an integral part of any recovery or rehabilitation plan. The same would be true for those addicted to pornography.

As a brother spoke about that yesterday he said that for all of these there must be a resignation to a great deal of hard work and discipline to eliminate these addictions from ones life. There was no intimation that such things would be easy but I believe that he would also agree that these are not diseases for which some medical or psychological remedy is the real answer but rather confession and absolution followed by a mixture of medical and or psychological helps, self-discipline and of course a regular diet of the gifts of God in Christ Jesus.

I must say that I was disturbed by the direction this presentation went. Am I missing something or is this just another work of Satan to lead men away from the mercy and forgiveness of sin in Christ and into self-help, societal blame and tolerated inclusion of unrepentant sinners.

I am not insensitive to this problem nor to those who are faced with it as it is devastating to families and communities as well as hard on the Church. Yet I believe we must keep things in proper focus and call a thing what it is. We know that all that is not good is the result of sin in the world. Not necessarily the sin of the person afflicted but the result of sin and all that God might be given the glory and not men. Confession and absolution puts these things in the proper perspective. We are sinners in need of forgiveness.

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us." First John 1:8-10

Let us begin here, confessing our sins and receiving His absolution and then move from that place of a good conscience with God to strive to do better. But let us always return to confession for we daily sin much. Yes, I have inherited sin and inherited depravity from my first parents. May I never deny this or presume that somehow it has been removed and thus I can be good by myself by my own desire. Our disease is sin and Jesus is the cure. All of these other things are symptoms, manifestations of our sinful nature.

19 October 2010

A Warning From Sasse

Herman Sasse writes the following:

"This word [reformation] had a long history before it was first applied to the movement which had its origin in the posting of Luther's Theses. For more than two centuries before, a reformation of the church in the sense of both a moral-religious and a legal-organizational renovation (renovatio being synonymous with reformatio) was being demanded. Theologians and humanistic scholars, clergymen and laymen, prelates and heretics, reform councils and popes, statesmn and monks had formulated theories for such a reformation and had tried to put them into practice. This was the problem which all of them had in common: What can be done in order that the church might once again become what it ought to be according to God's Will? All of them also had in common the conviction that there are ultimate authoritative norms according to which the church must again get its bearings after it had strayed from the right path; that there are commands which it must again obey; and that this obedience, this heeding of the ultimate authority, and the doing of what this authority requires, represents the reformation, or renovation, of the church. Councils and popes, the theological exponents of conciliarism and curialism, the Hussites, the monastic reformers, the humanists, Erasmus and Zwingli, Calvin and Bucer, Carlstadt and Munzer, together with the reform popes, the Anabaptists of Munster, and the Council of Trent - all of them agreed in this. . . " (Here We Stand, pgs 63-64)

This is the danger. Reform is not a matter of simply finding the right rules and all agreeing to follow them. Reform is not accomplished when we kick the louts out, when we all agree to just say the black and do the red. Even if these are good and salutary, they are not reform. Reform is not a specific "act" that is accomplished, that we agree to, and then we can all go home happy and content for having "won" the battle. Rather...

"Lutheran theology denies this characterization [reform as simply a return to Scripture] of the nature of that great event of church history which makes it a reformation, hits the mark. A renovation of the Church through a return to the Scriptures, through a renewed consideration of what God tell us in the Scriptures - this is by no means the essential characteristic of that event of the 16th Century. Reformation, so understood, is a continuous process. It is a continuous process not only in the sense that this renewal from the Word of God ought to take place again and again, but also in the sens that it is actually happening all the time. Every real sermon contributes to such a renewal. This kind of reformation takes place every Sunday - every day, in fact. For the church literally lives by the Word of God. It would not exist any longer, if it did not experience a renovation by the Word of God again and again. (Here We Stand, pgs 65-66)

And what is this Word that we live by? Is it your rules and laws to keep the wicked out as the reformed would say? To make people behave better - either in service or out? Sasse says no.

" For the church does not live by morals, by the knowledge and observance of God's law. Nor does it live by religion, by lofty experiences of the divine and an awareness of the mysteries of God. It lives solely by the forgiveness of sins. Hence reformation does not consist, as the Middle Ages beleived, and as has even been believed in wide circles of the Protestant world, of an ethico-relgiious correction, of a moral quickening and a spiritual deepening throughout the chruch. It consists, rather, according to its own peculiar nature, of the revival of the preaching of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake. That such a revival of the church's message must have important consequences also in reviving the life of its members and in renovating the external forms of the church is only natural. But these are only consequences." (Here We Stand, pgs 69-70)

If you want the Church to be a better place - quit trying to come up with new standards and guidelines. Quit trying to figure out who doesn't make it into your holy club, whatever your standards of your own personal holy club are. Simply this. Proclaim Christ for sinners slain. When something doesn't point to Christ for sinners slain, say, "That is off focus - our focus is to be here - upon Christ winning us forgiveness."

Then let the chips fall where they may. It is God's Church, He will tend to it. As for you - proclaim and confess Christ. Be not a new Moses yourself, for you are not called to be one. Be a new John, pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Let your own wants and desires decrease, that the focus on Christ may increase.

You will not make the Church perfect. You will not make people perfect. But you are called to proclaim Christ Jesus, who does justify, and who does make perfect on the last day.

28 September 2010

Simply to Work, or Because of a Need?

There is an assumed, unspoken idea that Pastors need to get people more involved in "Church" - where "Church" refers not specifically to worship and bible study, but to activities and volunteer opportunities. The idea is that if you have more and more people volunteering and showing up to Church over the course of the week, that this is ultimately good. Get them doing something.

Why?

I don't mean this is a pejorative way, but simply as a call to reconsider our thinking. Why? Why do we do this?

Let me explain what got me thinking about this. A friend of mine told me that he was asked to do some work with college aged youth at his church. This is brilliant - if he were attending my Church, I'd try to put him to work too. He's a diligent, intelligent, devout man, and would be a great example to folks he interacted with. Great! So I asked him, "What are they going to have you do?" His response: they don't know yet.

...

Now, the simple Germanic Planner in me is revolted by this. Why wasn't there brainstorming done, why wasn't there at least a rough outline of what was going to be done? So I asked if he was going do x or y, things I knew were going on at the Church. Nope - they've got that covered, and it goes well, but they'll want to put him to work with something else that is as of yet to be determined.

Again, this isn't me being critical - because if he were here at my congregation, I'd want to FIND something to put him to work doing. But why?

If there is no need for someone to do something, why do we think we need to find something for them to do (okay, for this guy, I'd like to ship him off to the Seminary, but that's another point entirely)? Do we approach volunteering in the Church on a basis of a need to accomplish some goal of service, or is it a matter of simply putting people to work?

I think that we end up assuming that a person volunteering for something will make them better members of the Congregation, will enrich their spiritual life. That's the assumption - that if you show up to Church during the week, you will be a better person for it.

I don't know if that is true. I have plenty of people who are active in the service life of this congregation, who do their elected or volunteer roles faithfully... and I can't remember the last time I've seen them on a Sunday. I don't think simply having someone work with X makes them more spiritually focused.

And perhaps there is another downside to this. How are we approaching the very idea of "work" within the Church? Is it a matter of we as Christians showing love as love is needed, wherever and whenever - or is it more a matter of almost a backdoor "works-are-what-makes-the-Christian" sort of approach? Do we have people thinking that they have done their time at Church... that Church is about the service I give and do rather than receiving Christ's love and then reflecting that love to others?

So what about it? Why do we try so hard to get people to do things? Is it self-serving (if they work, maybe they'll give more offering -- which is actually probably backwards)? Is it backdoor Pietism where there are Christians and then the "Good Christians" who help out at Church? Is it just trying to get people to attend service without simply saying, "You should be attending service"? And have we lost a focus on the works of the Church truly being works of mercy and service to those in our midst and those without?

27 September 2010

In Praise of Deconstruction

(Simply because I haven't given anyone a heart attack in almost a month)

I admit that I find postmodernism fascinating - and I'm sure that this is partially because I despise modernism and rationalism with full fervor. Post-modernism is designed, above all else, to point out the foolish, arrogant, and even damnable assumptions rationalism makes about anything and everything.

The tool that is used for this is deconstruction. What is it to deconstruct? To demonstrate that a perceived truth is not a universal truth, but rather something specific to the moment. For example, if you were to ask the typical American how criminals are (in theory) supposed to be punished, the answer is that they go to jail (and if you ask a liberal they might add "to be rehabilitated"). This is a perceived truth, but it is not a universal truth. In many places today the default punishments are not prison terms but corporal in nature. More over, historically, this wasn't true in the US either - go back 200 years and our own use of prisons were vastly different. That which is perceived to be capital T truth is show just to be a cultural construct, a particular adaptation of our own society.

While we might not want to admit it, we use deconstruction all the time. It is the basis of Lutheran apologetics, where all we are doing are breaking down the false, preconceived notions people have about themselves, the Christian faith, and the world. And this is nothing new. To disabuse someone of false notions of reality is precisely what Christ does over and over in the New Testament. "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband" is deconstructing this woman's idea of what it is to have a husband.

But why is this idea of deconstruction or postmodernism so scary to us as Lutherans? Because the rampant, crass postmodernists have started deconstructing the Church. So we freak out and run in terror - when the very language of postmodernism and deconstruction shows us how we can defeat them.

The key is this - to successfully deconstruct, you must show how a perceived truth is not true in all places and in all times. Hmmm... let's think about that, do we as Christians have a word to describe something that is true, is real in all times and in all places. . . hmmm.

To assert the catholic nature of the Church is to assert that, according to the standards established by postmodern thought and deconstruction, the doctrines of the Church are true and more sure than any individual perception or thought.

"That's just your truth!" No, actually it is not mine, it is not one of my own deriving, it is one I have received, one I confess with Christians of all times and all places. It is not unique to me, but it is Universal. Do individuals botch and abuse it - sure, of course - and the catholic faith teaches that all are sinful, so of course individuals are going to mess it up. But there is reality in this faith. There is reality in this service. And it goes beyond what our eyes can see, what our minds can comprehend (take that rationalism!), it goes beyond what you or I determine for ourselves (take that, dumbed down Postmodernism!).

The counter to any claim of a social construct is catholicity.... After all, what is "contemporary" worship but an abandoning of catholic structures to construct something that one thinks will appeal to society?

Don't be scared of deconstructionism. Don't let the postmodernist scare or intimidate you. Deconstruct them. Show how their perceptions fall short of the catholic truth - and then maybe they will see.

23 September 2010

PMI: Maybe Not TMI, But MTP and TWI

Missing The Point and The Wrong Inquisition

I'm wondering how much TLCMS, Inc. has already "invested" in postage for this Spanish inquisition, the proper name of which I cannot recall (because the blizzard of mailings I've received on it are in a pile at church). "Preparedness for Ministry Inventory," or some such thing, is what it is called.

When I got the first request, this past spring, to participate in a trial run of this new instrument, purportedly advocated by the seminaries, I was reluctant to do so. I've frankly lost my confidence in anything from the Corporation's Capital City pertaining to the pastoral ministry or the actual life of the church, though I am optimistic for the future now that we have a pastor and a theologian in the office of the president. We shall see.

Anyway, I was reluctant to participate, but I asked my board of elders and church council for their input, opinion and recommendation, and they suggested that it might be helpful to the synodical boards and seminaries to have some input from a solid confessional congregation like ours. They encouraged me to participate, and I agreed to do so.

Since then, I've received at least five other mailings about this thing, thanking me, reminding me, thanking me, reminding me, letting me know it was almost on its way, then the thing itself, and then another thank you and reminder. Somebody's functions have certainly survived the summer, clearly enough, and TLCMS, Inc. is doing more than its share to support the U.S. Postal Service, too. Kudos, I guess, to those who are finding such ways to keep busy and to spend money we don't have.

President Harrison certainly has his work cut out for him.

But what is it that the Corporation is spending so much time, energy and postage promoting? This instrument is intended to evaluate the preparation of pastors for, well, presumably for the pastoral office, but apparently for the position of some kind of program director and social coordinator, part politician, part schmoozer. It seems the authors of this survey may want pastors to be some kind of pansies, too, if the leading questions of this Spanish inquisition are any indication.

Not that I've seen the actual survey that I was asked to distribute to half a dozen or more lay members of my congregation. Trust the mortal princes and do as your told, or so the policy goes, leastwise where the previous synodical bureaucracy was concerned.

The accompanying survey, which I was asked to complete as the pastor, dealt not with the means of grace, nor the preaching of the Gospel, nor the catechesis of the Word of Christ, nor pastoral care, nor anything pertaining to the actual life of the Church, but with community demographics and sociology. I was not asked how often I hear confession, nor whether I go to confession with my own father confessor. I was not asked how often the congregation is gathered for the Word of God and prayer. I was not asked about visitations, nor the piety and practice of the Holy Communion, nor the observance of the Church Year and the celebration of the Divine Service.

Now that the laity who were given the sealed instrument to complete have been fulfilling that task, I'm hearing about the sort of things they were asked. At least some of them were quite put off by the character and content of the questions (I haven't heard from the others). Since I was not privy to the actual survey, I can only go on what I've been told, but it evidently has more to do with program development and direction than with the pastoral office and ministry. That doesn't surprise me, 'cause it's the same ol' same ol' thing that I've been hearing from the Corporate Capital for the past decade. But, still, it makes me downright sad. Not for me and my congregation, who are living and growing in the joy of the Gospel. But it makes me sad for the fellowship of the Church on earth; for my brother pastors who are beleaguered and wearied and driven to exhaustion and despair by misguided and wrongheaded expectations and criteria; for the dear people of God who are given propaganda and marketing strategies instead of pastoral care and catechesis; and for the faithful seminary professors who are surely more interested in preparing real pastors for Christ's Church instead of program directors for the Corporation's clientèle.

How long, O Lord, how long, until the called and ordained stewards of Your sacred Mysteries are encouraged to be faithful in that stewardship, and are helped and supported in that stewardship, by their fathers and brothers in office, instead of being cajoled and corralled into misguided enterprises and wrongheaded undertakings of human devising?

How long, O Lord, how long, until the actual Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, that is to say, the pastors and congregations of Your Church who share this fellowship in a common confession and administration of the Gospel, set their hearts, minds and bodies on doing just that: namely, confessing and administering Your Gospel, in the confidence of Your Cross and Resurrection?

Pastors are prepared for the pastoral ministry by the pastoral care of the pastoral ministry: which isn't about marketing or propaganda, but comprises the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the ongoing catechesis of the Word of Christ unto faith in His forgiveness, the hearing of confession and the absolving of sins in His name and stead, and the regular reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. Where those things are not at the center, neither is Christ Jesus. Where those things are the heart of who we are and what we do, there Christ is our true treasure, and we live by the grace of His Gospel, unto the life everlasting.

Kyrie eleison! Christe eleison! Kyrie eleison!

27 August 2010

Ethics on the Road

Well, I'm on the road, and the hotel doesn't have free wireless - but thankfully I'm in the Pacific Time Zone and no one here in their right mind is up at this time so the "business" center is open and free (the joys of being a early riser two time zones west who collapsed from driving 6 hours yesterday, including through LA rush hour -- I will not complain about Enid traffic, I will not complain about Enid traffic, I will not complain about Enid traffic. Oklahoma drivers may be foolhardy, but at least they are few). I ended up in my flights and travels cracking open a few "ethics" books - and I think I do understand why my appeals to Christian love set off all those situational ethics alarms in peoples' minds. So, I thought I would posit a few statements, thoughts, etc. here for discussion and reflection.

1. Ethics is not morals. In saying this, I know that I am bucking whole generations of discussions on ethics and morality, but I think we must and ought make a distinction between morality and ethics for one simple reason.

You are a sinner, and thus you are NEVER in this life going to act morally.

Simple as that. If we let ethics become a discussion over what is "morally right" we will simply let ourselves fall back into the false, misleading dream of the law. If morality is the standard, every option is sin, for "the heart has not the pure desires the spirit of the law requires." Every act you make, every thought, every breath is intrinsicially sinful. You cannot escape it - not even through the ethical life. I think making a strong separation between questions of "morality" and how we attempt to slug through our sinful life in this fallen world helps to safegaurd us from being clanging gongs and noisy symbols, and partially because I think any attempt to divide "what is moral" from "what is love" not only ends up becoming a backdoor way of justifying the self (and showing self-love), but also belies the fact that in making that false dictomony you show that you know neither morality nor love.

(But hey! Didn't you just want to make a dichtomy between morals and ethics, and you define ehtics as showing love! Yes - but at least I'm not being a self-righteous prig about it. Actually, the point I'd be making in my distinction is that morality tends to be self-focused. . . am *I* doing right, am *I* a good person, rather than being focused on the neighbor, as biblical love must be. Also - morality ends up dealing with rules, with mores. I'm not interested in trying to create some moral system with rules for every occurance - just give me a guide I can try to apply simply and quickly so I can act, repent, and get on with life, praying that Christ return quickly.)

2. Speaking of Graded Absolutes is fine - but Love is the Highest Absolute. In making an appeal to love, I am not denying other moral or ethical absolutes - indeed, they exist. However, I do think that the easiest way to understand them is in view of love (in view of? Stinking Ohioan!). What do I mean by this? Consider the statement, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." This is not to say that we are not obligated to offer up our proper sacrifices... rather this, to show mercy and to offer up right sacrifices to God are both acts of love - both happen because one fears and loves God so that. . . . However, consider them in terms of love, and you will see that one of the grades has misapplied or broken love. If your so called and flawed love of God leads you to neglect mercy, the love of the neighbor, then you have wandered astray of love. Love is shown both in sacrifice and in mercy, but if your sacrificial love causes you to neglect mercy, is it really a sacrifical love anymore? The answer, in view of love, is no.

Again, this ties into my whole contention that when we consider our actions one of the first things we assume must be that we are doing something wrong, that we are doing something flawed. Which ties into the third. . .

3. While a Christian is to do nothing but show love, your view of love is flawed. Simple as that. What you think qualifies as love is going to be constantly off base, because you are sinful and your flesh will twist and turn outward facing, neigbhor focused love onto self love. Hence, when discussing love, it must never be what you think, feel, or "know" love is - but how love is defined in the Scriptures by God. Whenever we forget that we are sinful and that we are not perfected in love, we will just stray further and further off course.

4. To learn ethical behavior and how you ought to strive to live is to study and contemplate the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This is the whole point of passages like Phillipians 2, where we are to have among ourselves the mind of Christ - we are to strive to approach things in a Christ like way. This is the point of Ignatius of Antioch's admonition that we are to be subordinate to the bishop as he is subordinate to Christ -- that way we may seek in all things to constantly align ourselves with Christ. When you are constantly checking yourselve with what Christ has done (I'm not just saying pull our your WWJD braclet and think about what your hip Buddy Christ would do - I'm dealing with concrete historical, real, and salvific acts here) in His showing of love to you and to the world, you are moving closer and closer to the perfection that you will never obtain in this life. Point yourself to the Love of Infinite One who became Finite to save you.

Thoughts from the road entirely too early for the West Coast.

18 August 2010

Distribution, time, personnel, vestments

Here's another question/problem/dilemma.

We have at my congregation these men called "elders" who are laymen and not elders in the Biblical sense of the word. Of course they do various things and one of their functions before I got here was that of assisting in the distribution of the Holy Supper. When I arrived one elder would distribute the host, the pastor would distribute the chalice and the other elder would distribute the individual cups.

I changed that order to be, Pastor distributed the host for he alone can welcome/admit someone to the table and he alone is accountable to God for such admission. Then the elders distributed the Blood by either chalice or individual cups. As of this summer I have gone to distributing both the host and the chalice and one elder has then distributed the individual cups.

There has been a comment made that this takes to long and some members are leaving after receiving the holy supper and remaining for the balance of the service and the Lord's benediction (one of my member's pointed out that that was like giving the finger to God).

I have also gotten to the point where I believe that those who serve within the chancel should be vested i.e. the elders, the acolytes and of course the pastor who is already vested. Concerns have been voiced that "vesting" the elders in something other than coat and tie makes them appear as clergy or as our vicar and that might cause further confusion about the office. I have seen it done by faithful brothers both ways but would like to have some further input.

Of course to be able to do things as the historic church always did and as those brothers who have regular clergy in attendance and don't have laymen as elders would be wonderful. Looking for some discussion and helpful critique on this matter. Thanks in advance.

A question of Holiness, so to speak

I have been having an on going conversation with a member that goes something like this, "The altar is the holiest place in the church for it is where God resides and from where He comes to give His people His gifts." The question then is asked, does that mean that the balance of the space is not as holy and then by default that the gathered saints are not as holy as say, the pastor or others who might serve within the Chancel? The answer I give is that all is made holy by God's presence and His gifts bestowed, i.e. holy absolution, preaching, Holy Supper but they are certainly not as holy as God even though He makes His temple within them and washes, speaks, feeds them holy.

I am not saying this well to reduce some concern and thus would one or several of you clarify this for me. I say that the altar is the most holy place, the chancel being the space in which the altar stands is also most holy and thus the pastor vests to come into the most intimate presence of God. The nave is holy for God goes out to His people to make them holy. When they come to the altar rail to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus they are in the most holy and intimate relationship with God this side of glory as in His Supper heaven and earth come together.

Does this somehow make them less holy or others more holy? How might this be said in a better way or more clear and proper way. Please help! Thank you.

What Am I? I know, but do you?

For your consideration and discussion.

What am I? I am a parish pastor of the LCMS. When discussing Church and Ministry, what really am I? American Lutheranism has a convoluted grouping of theories and explanations to try to describe what exactly is going with the office of the Public Ministry -- even amongst where the various Blackbirds come from.

I know what I am. I am a bishop.

Plain and simple. I am a bishop. I am the overseer of the Christian Community of Lahoma, OK. I have an altar which I am to attend to - by virtue of my own call to my office as bishop. I am what 1 Timothy 3 is talking about when Paul says, "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." It's bishop, it's episcopos.

But here is the problem I see - we have lost the understanding of a bishop as fundamentally a pastor tending to a flock of Christians and substituted the later development of a bishop as an overseer of a bunch of priests and congregations. A bishop isn't an administrator, a bishop as described by Paul isn't a paper pusher - a bishop isn't the person who shuffles the priests under him around, exercising earthly, structural power in the Church. A bishop is one who is the chief steward of the mysteries of God in a place.

Should I ever have an assistant pastor, who can do all the things I can, but is subordinate to me at this congregation - then he would be a presbyter (or a priest, if you will). He assists.

If there were to be one who serves as a member of the clergy who is appointed to do works of service, to aid in distribution, and perhaps even to learn the art of preaching so as one day to hold the office of presbyter or bishop - this would be a deacon (you know, either a stand alone deacon, or a seminarian).

These are the Scriptural categories - and the problem is our language, our terminology doesn't match up. And of course, the reason things don't match up is because we are so concerned about who gets to put people into what office. We need to have some "superbishop" putting folks in - no, we need a majority vote - no we need a consistory or synod of bishops who tend to themselves -- to which I say, I don't care. Let a man be mediately called into which ever office it is peaceably, in good order, and with the consent of those being served. But when they are properly called - they are what they are - bishops, or presbyters, or deacons, with the duties and obligations placed upon them by the Word of God.

We do not need some overarching structure to reintroduce "bishops" - we have proper bishops already. We don't need to have a congregational polity to protect us from the tyranny of bishops - we have proper bishops already. We aren't arguing about the ministry - we've abandoned the scriptural idea of the ministry to fight over the table scraps of earthly power attempting to impose our sinful will over others.

Tend to your altars, you who are bishops! You who are assistants and thus presbyters - assist your bishop in the service for the people! You who are deacons, serve with care and compassion, and if you are studying, study diligently!

But, what of "Associate Pastors" -- eh, you have co-bishops. Awkward, but hey, share and play nicely.

But what of cities where there are multiple congregations - can't there only be one bishop? If the congregations are one entity, sure. If they are separate houses - no, each gets a bishop. Now, if we wanted to be organized amongst ourselves where there would only be one bishop in the town (or region) and only one proper congregation with multiple locales of worship each headed by the presbyter - so be it. But if we are separate congregations - eh, lots of bishops - and there's nothing wrong with that.

But how can you be a bishop without clergy to oversee. . . because a bishop's oversight is of the sheep, first and foremost. That's what it is to be a bishop - and this is what we have forgotten. Be bold in your office, and point to Christ who is the true bishop.

11 August 2010

Pre-Seminex Cinema

Here is some video from the 1973 LCMS convention at New Orleans, with some narration.

It sure is interesting.

HT/The Rev. RLHIV

The Communion

Offered for your consideration, comment and correction:

The communal nature of the Sacrament does not derive from the communal gathering of the Church; but, rather,

The communal nature of the Church derives from the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament.

10 August 2010

Wisdom and Eloquence Conference

The "Wisdom and Eloquence" conference offered last week by Father Petersen was wonderful. It is a cross between a Higher Things conference and a weekend Bible retreat. For three days we worshiped, studied and played. It was wonderful to see so many children as I am certain they out numbered the adults 4-1. Worship three times each day with the Sacrament every day was very refreshing and healing. The plenary with Father Bender was not only enlightening but it enhanced ones own ability to teach the Catechism. The sectionals provided a wide variety of topics that brought forth lively discussion and learning. The evening "fun" brought home simple yet fun ways to enjoy the family and family time.

All the way around it was done well and I highly recommended it for those who can get to Ft. Wayne for three days in August as I hope and presume it will be again next year. Check out Father Petersen's blog at http://redeemer-fortwayne.org/blog.php and you can see what went on.

Thanks again Dave, it was a pleasure and a privilege.

25 July 2010

Marriage in 2010

If you want to get a sense of that the world considers to be marriage with a bit of religion thrown read this. It is a nightmare on so many levels, one does not even know where to start. This is the world, and it is a mess.

08 July 2010

A Bible Recommendation

One would think that the last thing we would need is another Bible - especially given 2008's being nicknamed The Year of the Study Bible. The LCMS was only slightly late to the party with CPH's well-received The Lutheran Study Bible (TLSB) being released in 2009.

But the Apostolic Bible, 2006 edition, edited by Charles Van Der Pool, is not a new translation nor a "study Bible," but rather a reference tool that I have found very helpful. It weds the Greek New Testament to the Greek Old Testament of the Septuagint.

The Septuagint (LXX) is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament made by Greek-speaking Jews around 250 BC. For the most part, it is the version of the Old Testament that is quoted by the New Testament (which was also written in Greek), the version in use in the days of the early church. This early Greek translation is a huge help to understanding the Hebrew Old Testament - which can often be open to various interpretations. The LXX is a window into how the Jews who awaited the Messiah, as well as the Christians who proclaimed Him, read and understood the Old Testament.

A well-known illustration involves Isaiah 7:14. This is a Messianic prophecy that speaks of a virgin giving birth. The Hebrew word rendered "virgin," however, literally means "young girl" or "maiden." Technically speaking, עַלְמָה (almah) doesn't really mean "virgin." Some critics claim that Christians are reading into Isaiah's text and finding a prophecy about Jesus that doesn't exist.

However, we can see how Jews from even before the borth of our Lord interpreted almah in this context by how it was rendered into Greek: παρθένος (parthenos), which does mean "virgin" in the literal and technical sense.

Another example, given in the Apostolic Bible's introduction, involves 2 Cor 5:21, in which St. Paul describes Jesus becoming "sin" for us - which can certainly cause Christians to scratch their heads. The Greek word is ἁμαρτία (hamartia), which, when cross checked into the LXX, such as in Num 6:14, we see the word being used not only for the word "sin" but also meaning a "sin offering." This helps us understand how St. Paul understood the word in a Christological sense.

The Apostolic Bible is actually several resources in one. It has a helpful introduction, the Septuagint Old Testament (without getting into all the nitty gritty about which texts were used - you can read about all of that here), the Greek New Testament (I thought it was the Nestle-Aland text, but it doesn't actually identify it as such), an English-Greek index, and a Lexical Concordance.

Remember, this is a reference work, not a Bible one would tend to pick up and read. It is an interlinear - which means that under each Greek word (or word group) is a literal English word-for-word translation. In addition, a modified word-numbering system (a variation of the Strong system) is used. Some may balk at the interlinear, but once again, this is a reference work, not a "reading Bible" - though the English text does include helps so that it could be read as a cogent translation in a pinch. The numbering system helps people not familiar with the Greek alphabet to navigate the Lexical Concordance. I find it a nice feature that will hopefully encourage the study and use of the LXX by everyone and that people are not put off if they have not studied Greek.

The English-Greek Index allows one to look up an English word and locate the Greek word or words - along with their numbers - that correspond to the English. From there, one can locate the word in the Lexical Concordance to locate all uses of that word - in both the Old and the New Testaments.

By making use of seven columns, the Lexical Concordance contains a head-spinning amount of entries. Words appearing 50 times or more do not appear in the Lexical Concordance (and they are listed on page xiii of the introduction). At a glance, the Lexical Concordance shows where, and how often, such words are used. It makes it easy to cross between the testaments and draw them together.

I have found the Apostolic Bible to be invaluable for preparing for Bible class and sermons. It not only helps narrow down often-subjective Hebrew words, it helps illuminate the Christological continuity between the Old and New Testaments.

You can download the entire book - Introduction (14 pages), the Old Testament (1242 pages) , the New Testament (372 pages), the English-Greek Index (88 pages), and the Lexical Concordance (366 pages) for $15. The format is an easy-to-navigate (and read) PDF. You can print a page or two, or even the whole thing, as you see fit. And when you buy the download, you get a $15 off coupon to purchase the print edition (which makes the download a freebie if you buy the book).

The basic paperback (which I find to be quite rugged) is $40. If you desire, you can get various leather covers - and the prices are not bad. I went with the basic format, and find it to be just fine for my purposes.

On the downside, I have two gripes: 1) No Apocrypha. The LXX includes the Apocryphal books, but the Apostolic Bible omits them, and sticks with the canonical order of the King James Version. 2) The Greek letters do not include the typical accents (nor the breathing marks over initial vowels), but instead places a dot over the stressed syllable.

But all in all, this is a fantastic resource. It is useful beyond what I imagined, is priced right, includes the PDF format that resides on my computer, and is a quality-made book that (as far as I can tell so far) is fastidiously accurate.

--- Rev. Larry Beane

19 June 2010

A Question for the Blackbirds

With apologies for not passing this on sooner:

With respect to pastoral care of couples engaged to be married, should both the bride and groom be communicate memembers before the pastor marries them, or may a pastor appropriately marry them if only one is a communicate member? In the latter case, is it necessary that the other person at least agree or promise to attend the next new member catechesis class?

10 June 2010

Bizarre Random Question of History

Alright, bizarre random question of History. How does the idea of clergy wearing hats (the Bishop's Miter in particular) develop, especially given that whole idea of men not covering their heads in worship? Does anyone know this bit of history?

09 June 2010

Gospel fail



--- Posted by Rev. Larry Beane

20 May 2010

Blackbirding a Blackbird on Polity



Another Blackbird, the Rev. Tim May, has an excellent reflective essay on his blog regarding polity in the life of the church, especially in light of the upcoming convention of the LCMS.


So, I hope Fr. Tim doesn't mind his blog being blackbirded by a fellow Blackbird. And lest the grammar police come knocking at my virtual door, according to Messrs. Merriam and Webster the word "blackbird" can indeed be an intransitive verb.

16 May 2010

Thoughts upon editing an Ascension Transferred Sermon

I think I have keyed upon the main difference between American Protestants and Lutherans - how to tell if you are thinking like a Lutheran.

The Protestant will read the Scriptures to see God the Father - what He wants them to do, how He wants to bless them, etc.

The Lutheran will read the Scriptures to see Christ Jesus - that He must die and rise for our forgiveness as we hear in Luke's account of the Ascension.

And here's the test. When you hear "God" - do you think first of Jesus or the Father? When you hear "Lord" - do you think first of Jesus or the Father?

We ought think first of Jesus - He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one goes to the Father but by Him. Protestant theology pays this lip service too often - Lutheran theology strives to delight in this.

Thoughts?

14 May 2010

Seminex Cinema



If you have 25 minutes to kill, watch the video and see how royally messed up Seminex was. It seems this was a recruitment/fundraising movie. Check it out and notice Tietjen's sermon (also quoted at the end) that they train "community organizers"! They even got the guy from the Waltons to be the narrator. Good night John-Boy - enjoy studying the documentary hypothesis tomorrow and doing the ministry of nursing home ombudsman! Makes me wish I could have gone to school there for sure!

Topic for discussion


Is human nature getting worse as time moves forward, or is it simply the case that things just seem worse with every passing generation? In other words, is the decay of the universe on a descending curve or has human nature been consistently as weak as it is now since the fall?

Tawk amungst yaselves...

10 May 2010

Extraordinary Christians in Russia


There is a video that you simply must see. I know some of our Blackbirds have taught at Novosibirsk.

02 May 2010

Shut-in Communions

Question to my fellow bloggers and responders:

Do you commune with your shut-ins sometimes, all the time, never? Is there any historical or theological argument for against communion with shut-ins?

Some history. In my previous parish, I had very few shut-ins. I communed with them every time. If I saw three shut-ins in one day, I received the Lord's Supper three times. It never really entered my mind not to commune with them. Christ was present, offering His body and blood, and I thought that it would have been strange not to commune when Christ was present with his Church, offering his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

I now have several more shut-ins where I currently serve, and the question has come up in my mind several times, "Should I commune with them every time?" I see no law against it, yet my conscience (or something) is telling me, "This is too often, you really should (or could) wait until Sunday." What I have started to do is this: if I have multiple shut-in Communion visits, I commune at the first one of the day, and then not at the others. My fear is not "having too much forgiveness," but treating as common what is holy and sacred.

I'm curious as to what others do, why, and if I need to modify my practice to reflect a more Biblical and Confessional mindset. Does anyone else struggle with this?

29 April 2010

"A Relationship With Jesus" or "Going Through the Motions"?


Being in an area dominated by Roman Catholicism, and in teaching in our parochial school that has only 7% Lutheran students, I have an interesting window into a particular part of American Christianity. In fact, though not entirely accurate, I could quip that I can tell who the non-Lutheran students are since they are the ones crossing themselves.

A lot of our school's families are Roman Catholic, and many are only nominally so. A good number of our students identify themselves as "Catholic" but have no idea what parish they belong to because they never attend church. At least in this region, Roman Catholicism has a great hold on people who tenaciously cling to the label into middle and even old age, though they have no real bond with any Christian community nor attend services anywhere - perhaps not even for decades. They have no idea who their pastor is, and can't remember the last time they went to confession. Some even come to church with his or her Lutheran spouse more often than attending Roman Catholic Divine Services.

Along with Roman Catholicism, there is another brand of Christianity that is very popular in this area: Non-denominationalism.

"Non-denominational" is really a misnomer, for even an independent church that shuns a label or affiliation with a national church body believes in something. They accept neither the pope nor the patriarch as the head of the Church, so they aren't Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. They do not practice infant Baptism, so they aren't Lutheran or Anglican or Reformed in their confession. This basically makes them either Baptists or Pentecostals - depending on their congregation's teachings regarding the Holy Spirit and "spiritual gifts."

And the Non-denominational churches in our area do tend to have a lot of former Roman Catholic converts in their ranks. I've heard the same testimony from a lot of people: raised Catholic, "christened," "made my communion" - perhaps attended Mass on occasion, but never read or learned the Bible, and, most of all: "never had that personal relationship with Jesus." Their previous Christian life was all about "going through the motions." Then the person, having visited a Non-denominational church with a friend, heard the Bible and the Gospel for the first time, and only then entered into a "relationship with Jesus."

And thanks be to God that these folks and their families now have that trust in Christ and that communion with the Most Holy Trinity. Thanks be to God they immerse themselves in God's Word and are raising their children to be Christians, not mere label-holders. Thanks be to God that they are no longer "just going through the motions."

But it is also with sadness that I hear these stories. For I think they've missed something important, something that they overlook in their assessment of their lives as Christians - the role of Holy Baptism. So much emphasis is placed on their acceptance or their faith as adults that they forget that they did not initiate the relationship. God did. And He did so when they were at their most helpless and dependent on His grace.

I don't like the word "relationship" because it is a flabby word, laden with all sorts of modern connotations. Everything these days is a "relationship." It's become an Oprah-Doctor Phil word. We have lots of "relationships" - everything from spouses and siblings, to sports teams and to our favorite soft drinks. What we have with God and with our fellow Christians is koinonia - which is "fellowship" or "communion." These words ("fellowship" and "communion") are not only more historical and churchly, they also tend to remind us that our relationship with God is not like a boyfriend/girlfriend thing, not "brand loyalty," not something driven by emotion or felt needs, - but something unique and mysterious, transcendent and eternal. Jesus is indeed our "friend" - but He is not our "buddy," "homeboy," or good luck charm.

But be that as it may, the "relationship" that converts to Non-denominationalism have with God was not initiated by them, nor by their brothers and sisters at church, but rather by God Himself - "before the foundation of the world." God knew them in the womb and called them to a vocation in this life according to His plan. And God Himself saw to it that they were "born again of water and the Spirit" and washed them in the "washing of "regeneration" (literally "re-birth") when they were baptized as infants in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

People who leave nominal Roman Catholicism (or Lutheranism) and join active Non-denominationalism do indeed re-spark that dormant relationship they had with God, the one God established eons ago and delivered personally through water, from the hands of a servant of God, and by way of the holy name of the Trinity. Unfortunately, people who find this particular path back to the Holy God and the Holy Church are typically compelled to deny or downplay their Holy Baptism, either by describing it as a hollow ritual or by re-creating it by going through the motions of being "baptized" now as a "believer." The implication is that their first church was not a real church, their baptism was not a real baptism, that they were not previously "believers," and that they never had a "relationship" with God until now.

Sadly, this denies not only baptism, but also God's Word insofar as that they were already believers as baptized children, as churches that do not baptize infants deny that children can be believers. It says to God: "You never established a relationship with me until now." It is a denial that God called them long ago, and denies that they, not God, estranged their relationship. For in reality, it was they, not God, who became the prodigal.

And though returning to an active life of hearing the Word, walking in faith, praying, striving to keep the law, enjoying the forgiveness of sins and a new life that will never end is a thing to celebrate and thank God for, I think it would be more helpful, humble, and honest to understand and confess that God initiated the "relationship" long before, and He never abandoned them - but rather the opposite. God used baptism to give them new birth, and their latter conversion was only necessary because they left God, not because God left them.

And I believe there are lessons for those of us raising children in the Lutheran tradition of Catholic Christianity.

Parents have the responsibility to raise their children as Christians - not merely drag them to church once in a while, run them through the motions of baptism, Sunday school, confirmation, first communion, and then consider it all done. We Christians are disciples - discipuli - that is "students." We finish studying and learning, struggling and growing - when we die. God calls us, predestines us, baptizes us, offers us Word and Sacrament, and holds us in the palm of His hand until we enter into the fullness of communion with Him face to face in eternity. Parents who do not bring their children to God's House, to hear God's Word, to set the example of receiving God's body and blood, and grasping hold of God's forgiveness every Sunday as their top priority are teaching their children that their "relationship" with God is a low priority, that the Christian life is a hollow, ritualistic "going through the motions" that must simply be endured.

Parents who fail in their responsibility to teach their children the basics of the faith, to live in the newness and richness of the Gospel, to pray, to assemble with the saints, and to seek forgiveness are setting their kids up to leave the safety of the holy ark of the Church for the unholy floodwaters of death and destruction. And the ark that preserved Noah and the Eight is a type of the very baptism through which our Lord claims us as His own child.

It is especially crucial for those of us who belong to historic communions within the church catholic that we not only baptize our children, but nurture our little ones who have been born again - day by day, year by year - lest we allow their "relationship" to cool and their communion with God to become a "bruised reed" or a "faintly burning wick" - something that will make it easy for them to wander away from. There is no excuse for Christian parents who, because of their own inattention to the faith, allow their children to lose their faith, so that these children must rediscover their faith later, and at the expense of the comfort of being able to look at a baptismal certificate on the wall, knowing that they were saved by grace alone, making the sign of the cross, hurling their baptism at the face of Satan, and acknowledging that they are indeed in communion with God and have been since before time began.

God did not merely "go through the motions" when He gave Himself for us at the cross. Nor does He "go through the motions" when He delivers Himself to us at the altar, pulpit, and font. Let us never allow our communion with God, or if you prefer, our "relationship with Jesus," to become nothing more than "going through the motions."

--- Rev. Larry Beane

27 April 2010

Michaelisvesper

Yesterday the mail brought a small package from Germany. My copy of the most recent Michael Praetorius "liturgical reconstruction" CD arrived. It is Michaelisvesper, which reproduces a St. Michael's Eve Vespers service as it might have been conducted in the time of Michael Praetorius. This follows two similar CDs, produced by other choirs and directors, that have given us a Christmas Day Divine Service (Mass) as it might have been conducted in the time of Praetorius, and a Christmas Day Vespers service as it might have been conducted in the time of Praetorius. I love listening to these - and to similar liturgical reconstructions that have been produced over the years. (See my Amazon Listmania list.)

It doesn't seem to be as easy to get a copy of Michaelisvesper in America. The Amazon Marketplace partner that was offering the best price turned out to be based in Germany. But it is well worth the effort to get a copy of this. The sound quality is better than anything else that has come before. The recording technology for these things always seems to be improving. The singing of the chorales and the plainsong chanting seems to be taking place right where you are! Close your eyes, and you are there.



Samples of the tracks on the CD are not available at Amazon.com but they are available at Amazon.de

26 April 2010

What's a good reaction?

So, what is a good reaction to worship -- if we can speak in terms of "good" reactions? What does it mean when someone attended a service elsewhere and they say that it was "cool" or "awesome"? I heard those reactions to the highest of the high services and the most bizarre of the contemporary. What does it mean when one says that you had an excellent sermon [Hollywood can skip responding to this specific part due to the fact that he's probably never heard these words =o)]? What's a good reaction? Or is there one? Is there anything you look for in your folks to be a reaction to what they received in worship?

08 April 2010

This Easter's Rubric Observation



Last Easter I revealed the family keeping of the rubric regarding women's headgear. Here is this year. The flash didn't go off so my bride seems in the dark plus, the two year old has her fingers in her mouth - better than her nose. We find out quite soon if there will be another person wearing headgear next year, as you can see pretty well.

A Question of Liturgical Observation

Although my congregation has been using the LSB for almost 3 and a half years, the only Divine Service which we have used is Divine 3 - and for the foreseeable future this will probably be the only service we do use. I don't mind this, although personally I'd like to acquire a least a passing familiarity with the other services (especially 1 and 2), especially for familiarity when traveling.

Here is my question. What are the thoughts and observation upon the semi-Eucharistic prayer options in DS 1 and 2? How do they flow, how well do they work? What is good about them and what is poor about them?

Again, I am simply wishing to know what some thoughts are - more based on the experience of actually using them. Information and personal observation please, not vitriol or commentary on someone else's opinion. Thanks to all who have time and inclination to answer.

30 March 2010

Holy Week Refresher 2

Again, for any who might want a brief break this day.

"Tradition is given to teach us how to think about theology, not so that we might do theology without thinking."

Thoughts? Is this accurate?

29 March 2010

Cultural or Theological

Sometimes, in the middle of a busy week, one needs to take an intellectually stimulating break - to have one's mind think about some query or quandry that isn't the main focus of work - and so, should any of you wish for that, here I provide a question. Is this me playing Devil's Advocate, or simply being reflective -- I don't know, but here it goes.

Why are so many folks disdainful of individual cups when they have little to no problem with individual hosts?

I would think it is safe to assume that most of the folks on this blog prefer common cup -- highly, highly prefer common cup. I've even seen theological arguments that way - references to the fact that Scripture speaks to the "cup".

Okay- St. Paul also says, "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." Why the disdain for one "individual" method of distribution for one kind but not for the other? Is it really a theological objection, or is it more of a cultural objection - that we end up reacting against the types of of thoughts that drive and push the individual cups?

Behold - there is your semi-escapist-but-still-keep-thinking-theologically break for the day. What think you?

22 March 2010

Elders, mine are the elected variety not the ordained type, what should they be allowed to do?

I like many of you brothers have a board of Elders. They are men from the congregation with no special training or even aptitude for any of the various functions of the pastoral office. Yet, from somewhere in the past, this board was formed to assist the pastor. Among their functions according to the Constitution and bylaws of the congregation they are to pray for the pastor, ensure his family is cared for and that he has appropriate time off. Additionally they are to determine along with the pastor the worship practice of the congregation, approve worship resources. They were, by the time I arrived, assisting with the distribution of the elements in the Holy Communion.

The previous pastor had them distribute the host and the individual cups and he would distribute the Blood of Christ. I changed that to my distribution of the Host as only the pastor can admit to the Holy Supper and with the Host coming first, it seemed logical for the pastor to go first.

I have had a field worker now vicar for the past 4 years and I have had him distribute the Chalice and I have been down to one elder from previously having two, (one for the chalice, one for the individual cups). At the mid-week services I have not had an Elder serve as the vicar and I do it all. I first bring the host, then I bring the Chalice and the vicar follows with the individual cups. (no complaints on time here as there are many fewer in attendance so the service does not go "too long".)

Although I am not one concerned with the length of the service, (Divine service every Sunday is about 1 hr and 10-15 minutes) I know that when the vicar leaves, I would like to continue to bring the host and the chalice and only have an Elder bring the individual cups, (ideally we would do away the individual cups or I would bring them as well but I do not live in the ideal world).

How do you do what you do? Have any of you had my situation and gotten away from it and if so how did you do it? Have you been able to get rid of the individual cups and how? Do you have your elders at least wear some sort of robe for their part when they enter the chancel? Looking for some historic and practical help here. Thanks brothers.

19 March 2010

Speaker Pelosi Invokes St. Joseph



Today the Church honors St. Joseph, who is not only the patron saint of workers, but is also the stepfather and guardian of our Lord Jesus Christ and the protector and husband of His blessed mother. When the corrupt government of St. Joseph's day was committing infanticide and sought to remove Jesus from the public life of the people - St. Joseph expatriated his family in order to protect them from the murderous Herod and his henchpersons.

Madame Speaker was recently admonished by another Joseph (known to the world as Benedict) for her advocacy of infanticide. She is on record of supporting the use of public monies for infanticide - presumably in the very bill she is praying to St. Joseph for help in passing it.

Today is St. Joseph's feast, but it is also the season of Lent. I would urge Mrs. Pelosi to repent and become a protector and defender of children, as St. Joseph was to his holy Stepchild.

--- Rev. Larry Beane

17 March 2010

To Offer, or Not to Offer, the Sacrament at Easter Vigil

The Holy Saturday Vigil of Easter has the option of offering the Sacrament as the conclusion of the Service. Are there good reasons for or against this practice? In the past I have offered this Service at around 7 p.m. on Holy Saturday, and have always offered the Sacrament. It seems strange, however, to do so when the culmination of the Easter celebration is on Sunday morning in the Chief Service. It feels like I am "jumping the gun." Not that I am ever opposed to offering the Lord's Supper (this is why I am not a fan of options in the Divine Service--I'm too indecisive!). Can we hear from some of the other Blackbirds concerning this? What would be the most proper way to do this service? I don't know if it helps or not, but we have an Easter sunrise service, breakfast, and then the main Communion Service. I had planned on just having an Easter Matins service for sunrise, and then the Communion offered at our usual time.

14 March 2010

Admission to the Holy Supper

A Lutheran church body (not the LCMS or the ELCA) has the following statement on admission to the Sacrament of the Altar:

Do you practice open or closed communion?

We practice “responsible communion,” which is neither open nor closed. That is, according to the Bible we have a responsibility to tell people what we believe (“we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ with the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of sins”), based on Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 1 Corinthians 11:23-28. The person has the responsibility to check with the Bible to ensure that it does teach that, and that the person agrees with that. Administration is left with the local pastor as part of his pastoral care.


This strikes me as a lot of bureaucratic gibberish designed to evade an uncomfortable question. Am I misreading this? Is this statement in accordance with what we confess in the LCMS? How about LCMS practice?

--- Rev. Larry Beane