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.


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.