31 December 2012

The Real Issue With Female Acolytes

I’ve been chewing, for some time, on the practice of having males only serve as liturgical assistants and acolytes in the Church. At my current congregation, for many years both boys and girls had been allowed to serve in this way. Most of our circuit congregations allow it.

The only definitive position that the Synod takes in its quasi-official documents is that there is no Scriptural prohibition to it. So, anyone who would use males only, especially in a place where both girls and boys have been allowed to serve, has “a lot of explaining to do.”

So I’ve been mulling it over how best to explain this to those who ask (and some have asked). Two things I come up against: 1) There is no word of Scripture that I can think of that would prohibit the use of females in that capacity, and 2) The tradition of most of our congregations has been to allow both males and females to serve as acolytes.

Given the lack of a definite sedes doctrina for female acolytes, the issue is usually thrown quickly into the adiaphora basket. However, the fact that something is an adiaphoron, if it is truly such, does not necessarily mean that we must do it. What it means is that the Church is free in this regard to do what seems best.

Furthermore, in matters where Scripture is silent our Confessions do give to pastors some freedom in making ordinances, so long as they do not make such things binding on consciences or teach that we are justified by them. The issue of who may serve as an acolyte, I believe, would fall into the realm of pastoral privilege. In other words, if the pastor’s preference is not to use female acolytes, then so be it.

In a recent newsletter article for our church, I explained what our acolytes do: they are liturgical assistants to the pastor, doing much more than lighting candles. They are also crucifers and torch bearers. They assist by collecting the Offering plates and taking them into the chancel. They collect the empty individual glasses from the elderly in the back of the Church when we take Communion to them. They vest in cassock and cotta.

I also explained that this is a good way for us to teach the boys and young men in our church about their role as leaders in the Church. It is a good way to teach them proper decorum and reverence. There are other ways the girls can serve. They are encouraged to shadow the women who care for the altar and prepare Communion. And, as in most congregations, there are many women’s organizations and activities for them to be involved in. I also mentioned the fact that today the Church suffers especially from a lack of male participation, and that this is meant to help curb that deficiency.

But all this aside, is there still a more fundamental reason why the practice of using males only for this role in the Church is ideal? I believe so. There is no question that we live in a time when there is much confusion regarding the roles of men and women in the Church. More and more churches are making it possible for women to have authoritative roles, as well as female pastors. There is a general lack of understanding of what roles are appropriate for women to fill in the church.

So, is it right for us who value male headship and authority, who do not allow women to serve as pastors, or to assist with the conduct of the Service, to allow girls to serve in these minor roles? Isn’t this rather confusing to them? If a girl has assisted in the conduct of the Service, has vested just like the boys, has carried crosses and torches, etc, isn’t she more likely to question when she gets older the practice of a male-only clergy? Isn’t she more likely to ask, “What’s the difference? Why was a girl allowed to do all these other things, but she can’t be a pastor?”

Maybe this is an overreach, but as a parent I know that it is necessary not only to tell my kids how to behave, but also to model that behavior for them. If I tell them not to do something, but go ahead and do it myself, that sets a bad example for them, and essentially confuses them. Why is it okay for Dad to do it, but not me? So also, I think that we almost become guilty of leading young women into temptation when we give them these roles. We tempt them by enticement, like leading a young child in front of a candy shop, even letting them taste the candy, but then saying, “You can’t have any.”

In this case, we let the young women get a “taste” of what it is like to assist in the Conduct of a Divine Service, but then we say, “You can’t do that” when it comes to being pastors. Not only is this unloving, but it creates problems later on down the road. If, however, from their childhood, they have learned to see only men leading the Service, and young men assisting with the Service, won’t they be less likely to be among those who question the propriety of a male-only clergy?

One could, I suppose, take the position that it doesn’t really matter who lights candles if this is done apart from the Service. We usually have ours lit 5-10 minutes before the opening hymn, and the boys extinguish the candles after the closing hymn. When I don’t have acolytes present, either I light them or an usher does (and our ushers are all men—go figure).

As a compromise, so as not to cause too much offense, I suppose a pastor could allow girls the opportunity to light candles before the Service and to extinguish them afterward, while reserving the roles of crucifer and torch bearer for males only since these take place during the Service. In this case, however, I wouldn’t have the girls vest, or remain up front after wards. I would just have them light the candles and go back to sit with their families.

In either case, I think that the real issue at hand is what is being taught and conveyed to the young people and the rest of the congregation. It would seem that with all of the confusion over the roles of men and women in the Church today, we might do well to listen to the words of the apostle: “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.”

If something is truly a matter of Christian freedom, then the rule should apply both ways. If the Church is free to use male and female acolytes, both lighting candles and assisting the pastor in the liturgy, then we should also be free not to do it. Too often, however, the opposite is true. People think that if we are free to do something then we must do it. St. Paul’s words above would not allow such thinking though.

04 December 2012


Wednesday evenings at 7:30pm are for the Divine Service.  It has been that way for me for years now.  Wednesday night after Wednesday night I have been at an altar with the image of Christ Crucified and His Holy Apostles all around.  Preaching Christ and distributing His Holy Body and Blood to but a few each time, and this past Wednesday for the last time, at this place, at this altar, with this paten, with this blessed chalice.

And so I found myself lingering last Wednesday evening.  The verba were...slow.  The distribution... slower.  The cleansing of the Holy Vessels... at...a...snail's...pace.

The Sunday before was the last too.  With a great crowd.  A huge banquet to say farewell.  Family, friends, Holy Brothers, speeches, tears.  A beautiful hymn sing to finish it off. It was not quiet.  In. Any. Way.  It shouldn't have been.  It is a Confessional Lutheran Church, with Confessional Lutherans who sing Luther and Gerhardt and Nicolai.  With gusto.  People who love their pastor and bid him all the joy and love they've got.

But Wednesdays.  They were always quiet.  The Divine Service spoken.  The prayers of but a handful - a dozen or so.  Maybe twenty, sometimes five.  But Christ, this altar, this paten, this blessed chalice, with the lips of countless saints imprinted, among them the almost 80 I buried from this church.   With Christ.  In Christ.  For them, the quiet of death, but given over to life.  Christ's death.  Their death.  Christ's life.  Their life.  The quiet of peace eternal.  The quiet of a Wednesday night forever.

Now I sit at this desk for the last time.  Books in boxes, crucifixes and icons off the walls.  It is quiet and I linger here in this study to go someplace else where He will make use of me.  Confident in that, I still linger here.  It is the hardest thing to do, to leave saints behind.  Not only the ones living, but the ease of going to the cemetery to see the graves of those I loved and buried.  To linger there for a little while in between visits.  Peaceful.  Restful.  Joyful.

I suppose at the altar of the new place I'll learn to linger, to stay and find rest at that altar, with that paten, with that Blessed chalice.  It will take awhile I think.

How soon can I get Wednesday Night services going down there?

24 September 2012

A Presentation of God's Redemption

I met Dr. Kleinig for the first time just over a week ago. He is a kind, gracious, and engaging person. He is also widely read and has great command over this material. As a testament to both his kindness and his intellectual acumen, I relate this brief story: He actually sought me out in the student commons after a chapel service. As I was drinking my coffee, he approached me and said, “Are you Gifford Grobien?” After brief introductions, he told me he was reading my dissertation, which he appreciated. (My dissertation investigated the relationship between the divine liturgy and moral formation.) He then queried, “Who wrote the first Lutheran ethics?” After I wrongly guessed Melanchthon (who wrote about ethics, but not theologically), I quickly gave up, sensing that he was getting at something, which he was. He announced that the honor actually goes to August Vilmar (1800-1868), professor at the University of Marburg. His Moral was published posthumously in 1871, based on summer lectures he gave from 1856-1867. Dr. Kleinig then proceeded to educate me on the importance of great orthodox Lutheran writings, including in the area of ethics, and that I ought to give some attention to them. He did this in the kindest possible way. (My dissertation does, admittedly, overlook the orthodox period, focusing instead on Luther, the Confessions and contemporary problems.)

To remedy this void in my knowledge I immediately obtained a copy of Vilmar’s Theologische Moral (available in the public domain on Google Books), and have purposed to read through it in the next year or two, in the midst of everything else, even if I only get to a few pages a day.

I am delighted already with what I’m reading. Two points in particular are worth reflecting on here: 1) moral theology should not be confused with philosophical or secular ethics, which is concerned with customs or agreements about social behavior, but has little to do with the character or inner nature of a person; 2) moral theology covers as its scope the teaching about how God’s redemptive activity is carried out in men.

These points, of course, correspond. A moral person, from a theological perspective, must be the recipient of God’s redemptive activity, activity which regenerates the person and gives life to the new man who desires and pursues the things of the Spirit. True morality cannot be coerced through law. Outward behavior may appear to be orderly and lawful, but only the one who is converted truly lives the moral life in the Spirit. This gives moral theology its particularly theological character, and helps deal with the question of what morality has to do with theology.

Also interesting is that Vilmar goes so far as to say that moral theology is a “narrative of the fulfillment of the redemption of man” (6). He calls it a “Darstellung von Thatsachen” of God, a phrase which has the tone of an official report or presentation. It is almost as though moral theology, for Vilmar, is the documentary evidence of God’s saving work in people. Such a perspective not only argues for an important place for moral theology, but grounds it properly in God’s work. This helps to keep clear the movement from redemption to sanctification to good works, and not to confuse the relationship.

11 July 2012

What is a Fan?

"Fan" is short for "fanatic." A fan is a person with a passion. In fact, to be a true fan of something is to place it above all things. To be a fan is to have commitment and zeal - and maybe even in quantities that some might find excessive. A fan doesn't care about that. A fan pursues his passion with gusto. 

Many people claim to be football fans.  What does a football fan look like?  What demographic characteristics define a fan, say, of the local NFL team, or of NFL football in general?  It certainly isn’t related to factors like age, sex, or race.  Football fans come in every shape and size.  There is a universality among football fans that transcends such cultural and physical markers.  Football is transcultural.  It brings people together – even across boundaries of generation, education, socio-economic status, political affiliation, and physical appearance.  There is a mutual love of team and sport that binds this “otherness” into “community.”

Local communities of fans rally around the local team, gathering at specific times and at specific places, e.g. the local stadium or sports bar.  Fans gather to discuss, to sing the praises of the team, and at times even argue about what is best for the local franchise and for the sport in general.  Fans listen to talk radio, and maybe weigh in sometimes.  Fans watch the NFL Network and local sportcasts, and they likely read articles in sports newspapers, magazines, or the Internet.

Fans share their passion with those around them, perhaps wearing an identifying mark of the team or of the sport, or perhaps decorating their homes and property with such symbols.  There may be ritual words and gestures known to other fans when they greet one another, when they cheer something positive, when they lament something negative, or when they participate on game day.

Fans observe a cycle, a season.  There is the ever-new excitement of the draft, of contract negotiations, of new players coming on and old players departing, of the pre-season games.  There is opening Sunday.  There is a regular season.  There are the playoffs, leading to the culmination of the football year: the Super Bowl.  In addition, there are special occasions, such as all-star games and other events during the course of the year.  A true fan participates with, and joins in, the cycle of the season.  Even during the off season, there are things fans can do to hold onto their zeal.  The season provides a personal and community framework that is both excitingly fresh and comfortably familiar.

Fans have a reverence for the past.  There is a Hall of Fame, there are trophies and rings and sculptures.  There are statistics.  There are cards honoring iconic heroes.  There are tributes and feasts and opportunities to call to mind times of glory, as well as to commiserate times of trial.  Fans watch videos, read books, and talk with one another about what came before.

Fans are ever hopeful for the future.  No matter how terrible last season was, true fans come back with the faith and hope to look forward.  For they know that anything is possible “on any given Sunday.”  They stand by their team, win or lose - even when their heroes throw interceptions or fumble the ball.  They are always there to cheer their kicker through the taunts of the opposition.  They will greet the team at the airport in victory and in defeat.

Being a fan is a family affair.  Children are brought in at an early age – often as babies, being initiated and photographed with a ball or a team logo well before reaching an age old enough to decide for himself which team to follow – or even to be a fan at all.  In fact, a true fan feels more that the team and sport have chosen him, grabbed hold of him, and shaped him - and not vice versa.  There is a trans-generational character of family fan life as older fans pass on not only knowledge and factual  information, but also customs and traditions, to the younger fans.  These in turn will pass the heritage on to posterity.  Season tickets are sometimes put in wills.

Family life of a football fan family revolves around the game and the team.  The family is eager for Sunday to come.  And when it does, young and old gather in stadiums or around televisions.  There is often tailgating and grilling of food and the serving of drinks.  There is special food and ritual that goes with game day – both regular Sunday games and those outside the Sunday cycle.  Birthdays and holidays are specially blessed for fans and their families, as gifts often bear the images of their favorite teams and players.  Fan families may toss around a ball or participate more fully in the sport – in both organized and spontaneous ways.  Their homes and offices bear reminders of their passion, love, and devotion for the game.

There is often great social pressure to be a fan – particularly at certain times of the season.  Many people are quick to describe themselves as fans, but do not bear the fruit of fanhood.  They may think that a fan is someone who simply says that he is a fan.  Such people may wear a jersey on occasion, or even watch a game once in a while.  There are people who claim fanship only when the weather is nice, when the team is winning, or only on Super Bowl Sunday.  But one wonders if such people are just going through the motions, seeking the benefits of being a fan without bearing the cost of fanship.  There are indeed those who will abandon the team when it is losing, when the coach or owner makes an unpopular decision, when the ball bounces the wrong way, or when another distraction comes along competing for attention.  On any given Sunday, one can observe the motion of crowds to determine where people’s passions are to be found.

To be a fan is indeed to be a “fanatic.”  It is to love one’s passion above all things – to the point even of irrationality.  A fan’s life is governed - in time and space, in family life and social fabric, in good times and bad - by that which makes him what he is.

04 July 2012

Abraham and Lot, the 4th, and the Future

I thought about trying to be highly witty and begin this post with the words "When in the course of human events..." but no, I'm not quite that witty this morning.  Besides, what I am now going to suggest is not a violent dissolution, nor anything that needs be done.  Rather, I will suggest a course of action that I think would be a wise use of our freedom.

I write as a Lutheran who happens to be in the Oklahoma District of the LCMS.  Oklahoma is an interesting district.  We have all stripes - some of the most liberal folks in the Synod, some of the most conservative - we have some of the highest, most ornate worship, and we have some of the most contemporary, the most baptist styles.  And yet, we are at peace: I hear of terrible fighting and discord from other districts -- or if there is civility they speak of it as though it is a great surprise. 

At first my hope had been that every district would be as mine is -- small, only 80 or so congregations, where all the pastors know each other by name -- and without property to speak of, where all district positions are part-time and volunteer -- acts of love to the brother pastors and sister congregations.  Without the property, without the large purse to control, without the institutional belly to fill, we live in peace.  There is no haranguing, there is no bitter fight for control because we do not have anything of note to control. 

But I fear that this will not come to pass in the LCMS as a whole.  There is too much wealth invested to be disbanded and given away.  The Oklahoma model will not work, will not bring peace.  The powers that be in our institution would not give up their status - not enough, not gladly.

Thus, I have a new proposal.  Consider Genesis 13.  When there is strife between Abram and Lot, when they are fighting over the land, the resources, what do they do?  The separate in peace.  Lot goes one way, Abram the other.  And they part not in bitterness, not in contention - but in peace.  Indeed, Abram still rescues Lot when he is attacked, still prays for him when his Sodom is destroyed.

What I propose is this.  As there are two general wings in the LCMS - one which wishes to maintain a liturgical focus (be it high, low, fancy or bronze) and one which wishes to be more flexible and dynamic in worship style so as to appeal to as many as possible - let us split.

And let us do so blindly -- let us find two men, two committees to craft a description of the style, the order that would be self maintained.  And then let every congregation choose one of these ways and go.  And then let the Synod and her districts be divided proportionately...  Seminaries and Universities and District headquarters all divided and redistricted to fit as the two new bodies will need.  Let the name "Missouri" go with the majority - let the minority take a new label as they will deem proper.

And then, let us maintain fellowship.  Let us maintain a joint health and retirement plan.  Let this be a matter of institutional sundering -- and if down the line 10, 20 years theologies have completely diverged, so be it.  If then it means that one would rather seek greener pastures with the ELCA or NALC, so be it.  If it means one would rather seek the pastures of the old Synodical conference to be re-established, fine.  By that time institutional drift would let either or neither of these happen as an obvious matter of course - a gentle separation instead of a violent (and wantonly glorious) break.

And why do I think my idea is good?  Because no one would be happy.  Those who love to tout numbers and earthly glory -- well, the numbers would look bad either way.  Those who want the glorious ousting of the louts -- well, we would still maintain fellowship with them for a time, even as the institution divides and stabilizes on it's own.

Let there be a peaceful split.  Let each side think they are Abram looking on foolish Lot... but letting Lot be Lot with a shrug and in goodwill letting him go his own way, praying that it will not be too hard on him when he falls and struggles.

This is indeed a no win solution -- but the purpose is not to win, but rather to allow peace... peaceful growth, or perhaps the peaceful road to folly and ruin... but peace, peace without a Synod divided, with people demanding that others walk with them down a road the one believes best, the other believes ruinous.


21 June 2012

Clergy Confidential

Congratulations, my dear pastors-elect! Squarely in possession of that first set of call docs to Anywhere Lutheran Church, you are one pair of quasi-episcopal hands away from joining the ranks of the clergy. Even if you are first-born parsonage born and raised, you have no idea what you are getting into or you would have already run the other way like a groom with cold feet on his wedding day.

Rick Stuckwisch asked me to write a piece as the summer ordination season begins. He ought to have known better. He’s worked with me before. Rick, I’m the one who once suggested crowd-surfing the processional cross, remember? I’ll leave the lofty “from above” view to guys much more pious, capable, and holy. I’m here to deliver the view “from below,” the kind of practical “Real-theologie” one does not get at the seminary, chiefly because the professors would be summarily fired for pouring this brand of undiluted honesty.

What follows comes from my own experience twenty years downstream from that sweltering hot August afternoon hands when officially laid on my dripping head and I became, for good and for ill, a pastor. I’m going to channel my “inner Anthony Bourdain” for this one, and give you a piece of unvarnished truth-telling, a kind of “clergy confidential” of what I wish someone would have told me twenty years ago. The comment stream is sure to be full of indignant howls of “How dare you, you Philistine!” but never mind them. This drink needs to be served straight up, no ginger-ale.

Colleagues. You are entering a byzantine caste of rogues and scoundrels the likes of which the seminary was but a foretaste of the dysfunction to come. Your fellow pastors are a motley crew of slick entrepreneurs, ambitious ladder climbers, bookish scholars, chancel prancers, monks, zealots, pietists, PKs, and “bad boys” who smoke, drink, cuss, and generally “sin boldly.” I won’t mention the ones who will wind up in prison. These are your colleagues, your comrades in arms, your brothers. Learn to get along with all of them as best you can, and learn to love them for who they are: Deeply damaged, damnable sinners justified for Jesus’ sake. Any one of them, one day, could be your district president. Don’t ever burn a single bridge.

Conventions. None of us individually is nearly as dumb as all of us put together. Conventions prove this. Ignorance loves to pool around the floor microphones. Stay away from them. Floor microphones are not trees waiting to be marked by every bulldog in the backyard. Empty your theological bladder elsewhere. Resist the urge to spout off at conventions for at least three years. Six if you can possibly contain your brilliance. Make it an apostolic dozen, and we just might invite you out for drinks. Just chill, listen, and drink in the absurdity. Your time will come. And when it does, you’ll realize that what you so desperately had to say doesn’t matter anyway, and nobody is listening.

Congregations. Let me cut to the chase: You serve the Lord, and you work for your congregation. You may not like the sound of that, and you may even be tempted to argue with me on lofty theological grounds, but the sooner you get this, the better off you are going to be.

If you understand this one little paradox, you will understand why 80% of your future colleagues are giving serious consideration to buying that B&B in Vermont, opening a dive shop in Belize, a microbrewery in Milwaukee, or simply disappearing from civilization like an Australian on a “walkabout.” Your call and ordination remind you that you serve the Lord. Your W-2 and paycheck remind you that you work for the congregation. You also answer indirectly to a variety of ecclesiastical inspectors and regulators: your district, the synod, and just about every Tom, Dick, or Harry who decides to make your business his business.

There are standards and practices for which you are answerable beyond the immediate clientele. Like Hebrew National Hotdogs, you answer to a Higher Authority. The trouble is that the words “Lord Jesus Christ” will never once appear on the signature line of your paycheck. And therein, my friend, lies the problem.

Sometimes you must toe the Gospel line. Like the doctor asked to write a bogus prescription or the butcher told to put out marginally rancid meat, you may have to tell management to take a hike when you are asked to violate Scripture and Confessions. Just be sure that’s what you are being asked to violate. I’ve seen far too many guys invoke higher principles when in fact they were simply being jerks. Being ground between a Gospel rock and an institutional hard place is never without suffering and loss, and you will pay a price. So choose your battles wisely, don’t ruffle the feathers of management unnecessarily, never forsake principle, conscience or personal integrity, compromise when you can, pray without ceasing, and be sure to drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach and the frequent ailments you are sure to have in abundance.

A sense of humor helps. Pastors with good senses of humor, not to mention an appreciation for irony, are not necessarily more successful, but they are a lot more fun to be around and seem to be less prone to career destructive behaviors. And the institutional beast doesn’t know what to do with Gospel-crazed pastors who don’t take themselves, or their careers, terribly seriously. You have been, after all, declared forensically dead in your Baptism. The nice thing about being dead is that you have nothing to lose. This prompted Luther, who knew a thing or two about dealing with difficult management, to pen the line: “Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife. Let these all be gone. They yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.” You’re dead to Sin and Self but alive to God in Christ. At the end of the day, the kingdom yours remaineth too. If Luther could survive the medieval papacy, you can survive the voters assembly.

Liturgy. How do I say this nicely? I can’t. Don’t mess with the liturgy! It’s not yours, it’s ours. The churches all together. Community property. You have the books, and you hopefully know what to do with your hands. Now learn to do the liturgy - naturally, reverently, respectfully, with a due sense of awe, wonder, and mystery. We don’t need the Rituale Romanum any more than we need Jesus Palooza. Do the liturgy you’ve been given. Do it without faux friendliness, fake accents, goofy gestures, and anything that would make a kid say, “Hey, what’s with that funny guy up there in the white dress?” Pretend that the people actually came to meet Jesus not you. I know most protestants, and even many Lutherans, come for the preacher, but pretend anyway. Maybe they’ll catch on one day, probably after you’re dead and gone.

People. People fatigue me. It’s not that I don’t like people; I actually do. Quite a lot. Maybe too much. But like a few beers on a warm summer afternoon, a round of meet and greet leaves me ready for a good, long nap. I’m an off-the-charts introvert in the Myers-Briggs world. It’s the way I’m wired; I make no apologies.

You’ve probably heard it a hundred times, but I’ll make it a hundred and one. Know your people. Visit them. Spend time with them. Listen to them. Do pastoral anthropology on them. Hang out with them in their homes and gardens, their businesses, barns, and garages. I won’t use that awful “relational” word the bureaucrats like to toss around, but like it or not, believe it or not, want it or not, pastoral ministry is a people business.

Consider Jesus - eating, drinking and generally hanging out with pious pharisees, greasy tax collectors, hot off the street hookers, and riff-raff of all shapes and varieties. He didn’t trust people, but He sure hung around with them. Rant, fume, and theologize about this all you want. Go and bury yourself and your dysfunctional personality under a pile of brocaded vestments, dusty books, a computer screen or theological presuppositions. But your people won’t trust you with the big stuff - their terminal illnesses their infidelities and divorces, their daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy or their son’s coming out of the closet at family Christmas - if you haven’t been around for the little stuff.

This is where I have screwed up most royally. To be sure, I’ve burned more bridges than Patton on the march to Bastogne. I’ve pontificated at far too many microphones, far too soon, for far too long. I’ve alienated, angered, agitated, and generally pissed off quite a few people. But if I could undo just one thing, if I could retract just one sin of omission, it would be this: I would know my people better. This kind of pastoral work, what the old masters called Seelsorge, takes enormous amounts of time, patience, energy, endless phone calls, wasted trips, and stubborn persistence. There is no substitute for it.

OK, enough. Probably too much.  This article is beginning to rival the length of one of Stuckwisch’s tomes, and I have editors stalking me for projects whose deadlines are so long past they need to be tracked by carbon dating. It’s time to wrap up.

Had I known twenty-six years ago what I know today, had I known what the state of the church, society, and my own fragile, dysfunctional psyche would be, I probably would not have ditched a lucrative albeit morose career in chemistry to run off to the seminary. I had no idea what I was getting into.

However, knowing what I now know after twenty years of pastoring a congregation in my local patch of Anywhere, USA, all the remarkable saints I’ve come to know, all the heartaches, headaches, and bellyaches, all the heroes and villains, all the sermons preached, Suppers distributed, Baptisms administered, confessions heard, classes taught, weddings and funerals officiated, and people pastored more or less, I would not have things any other way.

The apostle Paul once wrote to a young pastor named Timothy: “He who desires the office of bishop, desires a noble task.” Even when viewed “from below,” this remains most certainly true.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

20 June 2012


Ecclesia semper reformanda est - I don't know who coined that phrase, but it's ever so true. And always has been - see Galatians. In this sense, there has never been a golden age and we should not be disheartened by the mess our little patch of the una sancta finds herself in. The Missouri Synod is indeed by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed: the worship wars, Seminary Lite (SMP), a few charismatics here, a few would be women-ordainers there, usw.

So where to begin? What should Confessional Lutherans be focusing on in Missouri? I appreciate the work that folks like the ACELC are doing - but we need focus. You can't move on all fronts at once. We need an issue that captures the attention of all Confessional Lutherans and one that is theological (not political), clearly based in the Scriptures and the Confessions, and as objective and black and white as possible.

It just so happens that we have this issue: Missouri's 1989 revision of the Augsburg Confession sans Article XIV (it is the shortest article, so it's a small revision, right?). "Lay ministry" - the intentional, "licensed," and ongoing practice of having men who have not been called to and placed in the Office of the Ministry administer the Sacraments and preach the Word in our parishes. This is simply contrary to the Scriptures, contrary to the Confessions, and contrary to all the practice of historic Christianity.

If Confessionals cannot unite to undo this wrong, then what is the point of being Confessional? Let us make 2013 the Year of AC XIV.

Gottesdienst is getting the ball rolling with a one day conference on AC XIV and Lay Ministry in Kearney, Nebraska, on July 25th. While the whole Synod is affected by this problem, the Great Plains and the Northwest are the epicenters. Pastors, lay people, district officials, and the lay ministers themselves are invited and encouraged to attend.

Especially if you are in Nebraska or Kansas, please make plans to attend. If you know folks in those areas, tell them to attend. If you are for or against the Missouri Synod's present practice, come and join us to study this issue. Here is the full conference information:

AC XIV and Lay Ministry
Zion Lutheran Church, Kearney, NE

9:00 - Registration (Coffee and rolls)

9:30 - Matins
10:00 - Presentation and breaks
12-1:30 - Lunch (at local establishments of your choice)
1:45 - 3:00 - Panel Discussion
3:00 - Gemuetlichkeit

Registration fee: None. The offering at Matins will defray Zion's costs. 
To register email Rev. Micah Gaunt mgaunt2000 at yahoo dot com.


06 June 2012

Military Chaplains

Fr. Stuckwisch asked me to reflect on the special challenges, duties, blessings, and opportunities of the military chaplaincy especially in view of the kind of pastoral care involved. I was so honored to receive this request. As I told Fr. Stuckwisch, although I served in the United States Navy for 21 years, I was never a Chaplain. I was an enlisted man. I said I would write reflecting on my experience from the enlisted point of view while adding to this note a reflection of the work of a Chaplain from the perspective of the Preaching Office.

As with all things meet, right, and salutary, let's begin by examining the second part of this request; the blessings and opportunities of the Chaplain. From my experiences, the blessings and opportunities to serve in the US Military as a Chaplain are very similar to the blessings and opportunities of the preaching office in the local parish.

Chaplains lead the troops in prayer services. They experience the birth of babies. They get to celebrate with the troops when a wedding anniversary rolls around. They get to cry with the bereaved during a funeral. They rejoice while leading the troops in worship. Chaplains get to comfort the young and old when the soldier, sailor, airmen, or marine doesn't received that much anticipated promotion. I believe someone more qualified than myself, someone like Chaplain Captain Daniel Gard or Chaplain Captain Michael Frese, would be able to give a more in-depth reflection on the duties of the Chaplaincy.

When it comes to the special challenges a Chaplain faces, I can only imagine how long the list would be. I believe the first thing that would come to mind, especially in the US Navy, is that there aren't enough Chaplains to serve the sailors.

When I was in the Navy, I served at the PENTAGON in Washington, D.C. Later, I served aboard the USS Coronado and then Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron THREE. During my days in Washington, I lived like most of the young people in the Church today; I didn't go to Church. I was way to busy with work (at least that was my excuse). Unlike duty at sea, when a sailor serves on shore duty, he/she normally finds a local parish and goes to Church. I don't think I ever saw a Chaplain during my years in Washington D.C.

However, when I was ordered to the USS Coronado, the needs of this young man changed drastically. I was still homesick. I was lonely. I missed my wife. I missed my parents and family. I was scared about not being able to function at the expected levels for the rank I held. The list of issues was long and distinguished. Add to all this, I had no Chaplain to talk to. My ship wasn't large enough to have a Chaplain assigned to us. The nearest Chaplain was on the Carrier and who knew where she was. The Lord did bless me with someone to help during difficult days; He gave me my Chief!

After I was onboard for a couple of months, I got to know the Radio Gang and I found another blessing from the Lord. His name was RM2 Frank Hammond. He was the only other Christian in my department. WOW! I found someone I could read the Bible with and pray with during those long lonely days at sea.

Could I have used a Chaplain on the USS Coronado? ABSOLUTELY! Just like the pastor in a local congregation, The Chaplain can bring peace and comfort to the soul lost in the world. The Chaplain can calm the nerves of one stressed by battle and fatigue. The Chaplain can put their arm around the lonely with words of encouragement when the crew is busy tearing you down for silly mistake(s).

I remember, the year was 1986, and the USS Coronado was now home-ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. I had the in-port watch in Radio. The courier brought the evening traffic to the ship just before dinner was served. I received the package and began to sort the messages for routing and distribution.

I was half way through the big pile of messages and I noticed the ship received a Red Cross message.

This type of message is easy to spot because of its special formatting. Every radioman in the service empathizes with his shipmates every time a Red Cross message is received. Nobody likes getting news that a family member is sick or has died.

As I reviewed the messaged, I noticed that my father's name was listed on the message as the originator. I kept reading. The message was sent to tell me that my Grandmother Yates died. I was in shock. I was just home a month ago and visited with her in the hospital. I remember thinking this can't be. This is a mistake. I remember learning in school that the worst thing that can ever happen to a radioman is to receive his own Red Cross message. The worst thing ever just became my present day reality.

Where was the Chaplain? Where was the Chief? Where was my friend Frank? I had no one. Every one was on liberty. We had no Chaplain. I was alone. I was mad to say the least. I was full of rage. I've never felt that kind of pain before. Fortunately, my Chief remembered he forgot to do something for the Captain before he left for the day and so he returned to the ship. He came up to Radio to see how everything was going.

Chief saw my frustration and sadness, He inquired what happened. I handed him the message. He comforted me and called down to berthing for a replacement for the watch. He took me down to the Chief's mess and told me everything was going to be alright. He instructed me to go and pack my things. You're going home, he said.

I remember going down to my bunk and began packing my things. I also remember praying to the Lord and thanking Him for my Chief. The Lord may not have given me a Chaplain but He did give to me a source of comfort and solace.

Since I've been a pastor in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, I've inquired of the US Navy Chaplains Office about going to serve the men and women onboard the ships. I even told them I would do it for free. The response was that Chaplain had to serve full time or in the Reserves and I was ineligible.

There are so many men and women out there in the military that need the Word of God. There is a great need for them, whether on shore duty, at sea, or in combat. These young people need Chaplains. I thank the Lord daily for the men, and regret to say, women, who serve the soldiers, airmen, seamen, and marines daily to bring them the comfort of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In closing, I wish to thank those Chaplains that I do know. First, Chaplain Captain Daniel Gard. He was my Chaplain in the Reserves for two years before I retired. He brought me much comfort during my final years of service when I was struggling with duty, family, and school.

To my friend Chaplain Captain Michael Frese. I haven't known my brother for many years but I remember the talks we had while I was in seminary. He brought me comfort and strengthened me during those days of learning. He now does the same for our troops.

Finally, Chaplain Captain John Wolrabe (Retired) who encouraged me to write a book about the healing God gave me and my congregation after two years of antagonism.

Let us pray.

O Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, gave to His holy Apostles many excellent gifts and commanded them earnestly to feed His flock. Make all pastors and chaplains diligent to preach Your holy Word and the people obedient to follow it, that together they may receive the crown of everlasting glory, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Ghost, One God, now and forever. Amen.

We preach Christ crucified!

31 May 2012

After 25 Years

“Don’t quit your day job!” I remember one of my elders saying that to me once, in the kindest of ways, after hearing me play guitar. He’s a fan of my musical efforts, don’t get me wrong. But he knows a hobby when he hears one, and he knows what he needs from his pastor. He is one of my encouragements in the Ministry, as are others. When he heard that we were taking a summer-hiatus from our normal Wednesday Vespers, due to vacation schedules and what-not, he told me, “I understand, but I will miss it.” He lives from my day job and doesn’t want me to quit it! I am his pastor.

He was with me the week before last on Wednesday night as we worked toward a completion of our study of the epistle of James. I read from the third chapter . . .

ESV James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Becoming a pastor-teacher in Christ’s Church is no hobby. It’s not even a job, really, not in the sense that we normally think. Our Lord warned against the hireling mentality, being “in it” for the money, or the security, to please men and so win their accolades and favor. That is a temptation, to be sure. We are all liable to stumble, as St. James says in the very next verse . . .

ESV James 3:2 For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.

Part of that stumbling is the desire to be more than our Master and Teacher, Jesus, Who was despised, rejected, spoken against and finally rejected. Who wants THAT in a job description? “Be a pastor and be as offensive as a man can be!” You won’t even need to try. Just be faithful. Just repeat what you have been given to say, and hand on what you have received. Act as if you are not the CEO but a servant – a male nurse who has no authority to change the Doctor’s prescription; you are under His orders. Act like the waiter who cannot change what the Chef has prepared. Serve, don’t get cocky, and see where it gets you.

We can stumble in how we do that, of course. We can be jerks. We can get too familiar; you know, like the waiter who somehow thinks he’s there to make jokes, be your buddy, entertain instead of serve. I find such waiters fairly transparent. I know they are aiming at a higher tip. If they schmooze me, I will up the offering from 15 to 18, maybe 20 percent!

Hey, if it works when waiting tables at restaurants, maybe it will work for those who serve before the Table of the Lord. It only stands to reason. So, we stumble. It’s hard not to. We like to be liked. At least I do. “Like” is the big deal these days, from Facebook to YouTube. We are pleasers of men and we watch the indicators to see how we are doing. Are the pews filling up and staying full? Do people come, even on Wednesday nights? Even when it’s raining? Even when the local gal is in the top ten of American Idol?

Not one of us is immune. That’s why James warns against just anyone jumping into this thing called Holy Ministry. It’s no child’s play. No hobby. Not something you pursue half-heartedly while keeping your day job. That isn’t to say a man can’t be a pastor and something else at the same time. He surely can. St. Paul was a tent-maker, and he plied his trade for a reason; so that he needn’t be a burden on others. He didn’t do it to get rich. He did it so that he might continue pouring out the Gifts of God’s Heavenly Treasures to people who direly needed such service. He made tents so that He could continue serving in the stead of the Word Made Flesh, Who continues to tent or tabernacle among us in the Church through the Ministry of His Gospel. St. Paul sewed so he could continue sowing the Seed of God’s Word of Grace. Tent making supplied his daily needs so that Eternal Ones might be provided free of charge.

It may behoove a young pastor today to have a fall-back, like St. Paul’s. As for me? My music won’t do it. It’s just a hobby. I’ll have to be a bit more conventional if the suffering of the Servant Jesus ever rises to a level that I need another way to keep a roof above my head. The Lord will provide even then, and His Gifts will still be given – freely.

Why am I writing this? Because of what St. James says and what I’ve learned after 25 years in the Ministry. I am not a pastor because my “likes” outnumber my dislikes. I’m not a pastor because I can wail on a sermon the way my guitar heroes wail on a six string. This isn’t a talent show, and if it were, America wouldn’t know how to vote. The world never does. That anyone believes the Gospel – that by the death of a Man and His resurrection and ascension at the right hand of God as true God Himself – that anyone believes the benefits of that are poured over us in Baptism, spoken into our ears through preaching, teaching and the Absolution of a man who shows himself far less polished, practiced or professional than those who regularly entertain us with their music and acting – is an outright miracle! The world puts millions of dollars into a single hour of entertainment, and countless man and woman hours go into those sixty or ninety minutes our people sit enthralled. Pastors wrestle over a text for a week and then give birth on Sunday morning. It is often raw and messy and if you recorded it and put it up on YouTube, only a few would ever take the time to watch it, much less like it and share.

If this is a job, then pastors are crazy – at least the ones are who hold fast to all that God has given in His Son! We can find those who have found ways to appease the masses and plug into the likes of this world, so they flourish. They say what itching ears want to hear. They can prove their success with statistical reports and slick styles that really do entertain. I’ll admit it. I even find myself feeling a little jealous. Why can’t I do that, too?

Answer: Because I’m not as slick and skilled and stylish as others. I’m just not as good. I could try, but it would come off a bit clunky, like me trying to be the next American Idol when I really haven’t got the chops. Of course, the REAL reason I can’t do that is that it’s not what the Lord has put pastors in place to do or be. We are tempted to please men. We are called and ordained to serve them, whether they like or like it not, and that just plain isn’t easy. It goes against every competitive fiber of my being!

That’s why not everyone should desire to be a teacher in the church. Men’s souls are at stake, including those of the men who serve. We will be tempted at every turn to want to make the top ten with the world, to garner the votes that keep us in the running. Crosses aren’t popular or pleasant. We’d rather have couches, with big screens and top-notch music, the kind that rocks! I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I’m not tempted in the same way. I am, and that’s why I’m increasingly concerned when our Synod makes it easier for men to more quickly take up the mantle of pastoral service. I worry for them. Maybe they are stronger than I. Maybe they, like Luther’s hypothetical man who can rightly divide Law and Gospel, deserve to be made immediately a doctor of Holy Writ. Lacking that, I wonder what we are doing, rushing men into service, even before they are ordained?

Ordination doesn’t make a man indelibly worthy. It doesn’t give him super powers. St. Paul mentions the Spirit’s gift given Timothy at his ordination, so when the Lord puts a man into Office as His servant, He provides. I know that much. He provides His Word, and bids us take it seriously. For that, we are to be taken captive by it, daily and much. What else have we got? Faith comes by hearing, and that hearing only comes by the preaching of Christ; the preaching that is not me trying to win anyone’s approval, but me being gotten out of the way as much as possible so that the Word of the Lord is heard.

That’s hard. It’s scary. I don’t want to be diminished so that He may increase! When He does, I don't want to be taken to the brow of any hill to be cast off. I don’t want anyone picking up stones to stone me, and after 25 years, no one has hurled a single hymnal at my head. If they did, I wasn’t looking and it didn’t get very far. Makes me wonder about the times I’ve heard a hymnal go crashing to the floor! What it also makes me wonder is: Am I loving God’s people as Christ did, even to the point of saying what they least want to hear but most need?

I know the answer to that. No. I am not loving God’s people like that, but Christ is. So, it’s good advice to warn eager young men against rushing into where even angels fear to tread, namely, the Office of Christ. Oh, pursue it, but pray that it crush you before you dare speak. Explore if it’s something to which the Lord has a desire to call you. Study. Read. Talk to people. Pray. Then, go to the seminary. Yes, I know there are alternative routes available, and I’m not saying that alternates can’t be good. I’m pursuing my dream of being a rock star, of sorts. YouTube gives me that option. But few who make it as rock stars get where they want by doing what I’m doing via YouTube. Most invest themselves fully in what they want to be, and that’s what I’d advise anyone wanting to be a pastor.

Go to the seminary. Be crushed, broken and reshaped. Learn some humility. Learn that you have no right and no business being a pastor, but God must call someone, and so He puts men into place who are frail and sinful and oh-so-apt to stumble and stray. Our greatest threat is to think too much of ourselves and our authority. We do that, wanting to tweak the show from week to week so we stay in the running. We know how the game works. Everyone else does too. That’s why St. James warns us as he does. That’s why one of the hardest things for God to do is unmake a man from what he thinks people want so that they get what they really need: Christ – the unpopular – Christ – the uncool – Christ – the One Who can drive a crowd away with a single sermon – Christ, the crucified and risen, our Savior, our Baptizer, our Absolver, our Server, our Chef as well as the Main Course. Christ – our Pastor – and the Only One Who is worth having in the man who finally becomes a teacher in the Church.

Believe me, after 25 years, I'm still learning that, and Christ is still blessedly teaching me!

29 May 2012

Luther on the Dangers, and Promises of the Ministry

Here is a quote from Johann Gerhard's Theological Commonplaces on the Ecclesiastical Ministry by Luther regarding the dangers of the Ministry: "To preach the Word of God is nothing else than to draw to oneself the fury of all of hell and of Satan, and then [the fury] of all the saints in the world and all the power of the world. It is the most dangerous kind of life to be subjected to so many teeth of Satan." In another place Luther writes: "Likewise, it means that ministers of the Word are engaged in such great dangers from the devil, the world, and the flesh that they lack even divine help, and they could not be defended except by the help of God alone, after the heathen rage against them, kings rise up against them, and whatever is of the world vexes God's ambassadors. Therefore He promises that He Himself will be the defender against all those. And if He did not do this, and if we did not know He would do this, who would want to undergo the labor and perils of teaching? For whatever happens to Christ will also happen to all ministers." (p. 7 of Gerhard's Theological Commonplaces.)

No one can adequately prepare you for what you are about to enter. If in baptism you became a target and enemy of the devil, now you are twice his enemy, for you are God's spokesman in the midst of His people. But you will not be without help. God defends this ecclesiastical order in particular, says Gerhard. You will be amazed at how clever the Evil Foe is in his attacks. One day it will be through lethargy and lack of focus. Another day it will be through lust and temptation. Do not underestimate him, or your own sinful flesh! Notice that Luther also says that the fury "of all the saints in the world" will be drawn to you. This will happen no matter how well you teach, no matter how much you "love your people." You will be sent to minister to many people who expect you to be a "yes-man," someone who will provide "soft-pillows" for the impious (Chemnitz, Enchirdion: Ministry, Word, and Sacraments), someone who will make life easy for the flock. There will be many faithful among the flocks to which you are sent, but there will also be many who are stubborn.

When you are in doubt as to how to handle a situation, whether you are preparing people for a wedding, or a funeral, or answering requests for this or that kind of thing in worship, ask yourself how you would respond as a father to your children. The children do not always understand every decision you make. Sometimes, when there is no clear direction, no clear path, you err on the side of caution. You tell your children "no" not simply "because I said so," (as I wrote in another post on this blog), but because you have greater and larger things in mind than they do. You are called to protect and defend them from false teachers, and from false belief. Decisions you make will not always be popular, but if they are made in accord with Scripture, and are consistent with our doctrine, even when Scripture seems to be silent on it, then you can do so in good conscience.

One of the biggest temptations in the Ministry is to be that "yes-man," to be a pleaser of men, to be liked. A man can drive himself crazy thinking about every possible consequence and result of his actions and decisions. And you will do so, despite anyone's advice to the contrary. Whether people like you or not is not what you need to spend your time worrying about. Act according to your conscience, and at times, go with your gut. Don't get mad at people when they dislike you for your decision, but again, look at them as a father would his children. Have pity on them. If you sin against them, humble yourself and admit your faults and failures. When they sin against you, forgive them from your heart, even as our Lord enjoins in Matthew 6. It may be that they have had very poor teaching, or a very poor example set for them by previous ministers. Or it may be that they are just plain stubborn. In such cases, do not be afraid to rebuke them. Christ rebuked the disciples for their slowness of heart and their unbelief.

Christ is with your Ministry. He will defend it against the assaults and attacks of the world and all that rages against it. You could do worse than open up Gerhard before you are ordained, and read a little about the Ecclesiastical Ministry. Or, Martin Chemnitz' Enchiridion: Ministry, Word, and Sacraments. In the latter book, I especially recommend the second on the duties of ministers. Go to it! Preach the Word!

28 May 2012

The Divine Call

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

The Evangelical Lutheran Church reads this Bible passage and many others at the ordinations of the men our Lord Jesus Christ calls into His service to preach the Word in season and out of season. The Preaching Office is so important that the Reformers addressed its importance in Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession (Augustana). Let us review:

" It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call."

What does Augustana XIV mean? Has its meaning changed since the Confession was read before the Princes in 1530? For some in The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), Augustana means everything concerning the Preaching Office. For others, it means nothing. What happened to Augustana XIV? Where did go?

The LCMS has always held that a pastor was a man who was educated (seminary residency), examined, called (Divine Call), and ordained. She was serious about Augustana XIV. No one was to publicly teach or preach in the Church, nor administer the sacraments in the Church, without a regular call (rite vocatus). In 1989, everything changed for the LCMS. The Synod voted, in convention, to rescind Augustana XIV and replace it with the "lay ministry."

I asked earlier, what happened to Augustana XIV? The answer is that politics removed it from the LCMS.  1989 was a fateful year for the LCMS. She discarded a primary doctrine which the Evangelical Lutheran Church held for 459 years. Now, education and examination are no longer primary instruments in the Church. (See 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:2; Titus 1:9)

The LCMS has created many programs to put men into the preaching office; DELTO (Distance Education Leading to Ordination); AR (Alternate Route); SMPP (Specific Ministry Pastoral Program), and others. The LCMS has also rejected Augustana XIV by allowing men who resigned their Divine Call to continue to preach and administer the sacraments. She also allows men who have retired (resigned their Divine Call) to do the same. She also allows men to "read" sermons written by the pastor during his absence.  Why? And yet, she condemns the actions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for allowing women in the preaching office. What's the difference? Rejection of the Confession is still rejection.

What can be done about this? Can Augustana XIV be restored in the LCMS? Is there any hope that this terrible wrong can be corrected? My answer is yes. I say IT'S TIME! The President of the Synod has been given all the tools and authority to correct the problems stemming from the rejection of Augustana XIV. His actions must include discipline and possible removal of those who do not conform.

It is about theology. It has to be about theology otherwise the LCMS is just another business in the United States of America. In my previous post, Steadfast Office - Theology, not Politics, Rev. McCall made an astute observation in his comment (#23). He asked, (paraphrasing) if nothing is done about an erring brother, does that mean I am still tolerating  such behavior (tolerating his sin)? Or, do I or he need to leave.

His questions are asked because politics have taken over the LCMS. If the LCMS held to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, Rev. McCall's questions would not have to be asked. The erring brother, congregation, District President, or whom ever sinned was corrected, then all would be well in the LCMS. As it is, those who do hold fast to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions are asking if they have to leave what they confess. This is just wrong. If the erring person refuses to confess his sin and repent (turn from evil), he must be removed from the Church (Matthew 18)

My prayer is that the Lord of the Church grant strength and courage to His Church to stand strong and be bold to call sinners to repentance.

26 May 2012

Theology, not Politics

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20) NKJV

Jesus’ words in verse 20a are important to His Church on earth. Any church body should be mindful of it.  An honest question about it may be: has the LCMS kept this verse in mind? Do we teach all things? Do we need to repent? As the Psalmist laments, How long O Lord? Lord, have mercy upon us.

Recently, while attending the Minnesota North District Convention, another brother under the yoke of Christ came up to me and said, “This isn’t about theology. It’s about politics.” My stomach ached. I was sick. I asked him, “Are you kidding me? We are churchman gathered together to talk about the Church. Since when does politics dictate to the Church?”

I may be naive. I may be ignorant about many things. There are a few things however I am confident about.  One thing I know for sure is that I believe Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. I know that the One I confess to be Lord is the same One who called and ordained me into His holy service to teach His people to observe all things [He] has commanded. I know it’s about theology. It has to be. If the Church is all about politics, then what are we doing with the Holy Bible and the Lutheran Confessions? If it’s all about politics, then these precious books are nothing more than books with mere common words written on their pages.

The Church must be about theology. If Church is about politics, it becomes a business.  That would make everyone in this “business” we call church nothing more than businessmen who are directed by politics. When I was confronted with the reality that the LCMS is not about theology but politics, my conscience was burdened.

How can I, as an under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd, teach them all things He has commanded us when it’s not about theology? I began to think that’s probably why we got ourselves into the situation we’re in today; it’s because of politics. The LCMS got herself into trouble because she cast aside the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions and replaced these things with politics which has resulted in By-Laws, open communion, contemporary worship, dancers, screen, projectors, women preachers and teachers, etc.

On that fateful day, April 16, 2012, when I was told that the Minnesota North District Convention is not about theology but politics, I came to the realization that The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod will never repair the wrongs she has committed and continues to commit.

IT’S TIME! for reformation! IT’S TIME! for confession and absolution. IT’S TIME! that NO means NO once again in the Church. IT’S TIME! to return to the command of Jesus that we, the Church be about theology and teach them all things He has commanded us.


Some Thoughts on Pastoral Formation

One of the phrases I heard at the Seminary over and over was "Pastoral Formation".  It makes sense - the thrust at the Sem (Fort Wayne at least) was that this was the place that helped to guide and shape "Pastoral Formation".  Of course I'm going to hear it there.  And of course, it comes up today in discussions as we consider how best we are to shape and form Pastors for various contexts.

I find I don't really like the term.  I get what it is saying - that going to the Seminary, going through that process - the disciplines of both classes and campus worship and field work/vicarage shapes a person, forms them into something they were not.  And it's true - I was a different person when I graduated than I was before I went to the Seminary.  But the difference wasn't in sudden by virtue of those experiences and those classes I was prepared to be a pastor.  No, while I had gotten tools and had been immersed in a rich spiritual life that I was eager to pass on, the biggest thing I learned was that I was in fact... not ready to be a pastor.  Oh, I received a call, and nigh on 8 years I am still there, serving... but this was not due to the fact that I was "ready", or that I had reach a certain level of skills and thus graduated into the pastoral office.  It wasn't that after 4 years I was "formed".  That isn't how it works -- it is only ego and pride that would let someone say that he is "ready" to be a pastor -- that he has been formed into what he needs to be.

The simple fact is that we in the clergy are always being shaped by God in the crucible of the office.  We are to be constantly learning.  We are to be constantly immersed in a deep devotional life.  We are to be in the Word, not only for our people but for ourselves.  The Seminary is just the tip of the iceberg, the beginnings, the rough shaping before a lifetime of formation. 

My father is a pastor.  He went to the Sem while I was in junior high - so I was a Sem brat as well.  I saw the changes, the growth in him - they happened when I first really became aware of myself and others.  And I knew stuff.  I could spot bad theology.  I could write well (after coaxing football players at Oklahoma to write term papers, writing a 3-4 page sermon would be a piece of cake!).  I was sure that I was ready to be a pastor.  And I suppose if there had been some catastrophic event where I hadn't gone to the Seminary but had to preach, I could have.  My cousin who is a baptist pastor basically did that... he endures.

But I would have viewed it more as a graduation, or something that I had as by right, just as I expected to be admitted to the Sem as a matter of course.  It would have been matter of fact.  What the Seminary experience does it is destroys that ego, that sense of self determined worth.  But all of that was a lie of my sinful flesh.  I am not a pastor because *I* will it... I am a pastor because I have been called by God.  I am a pastor in spite of all my weaknesses and deficiencies.  A friend at the Seminary once quipped that he held to a "dysfunctional view of the ministry" - that is, God uses dysfunction men to accomplish His ministry.

Without that time it the Sem, that time of study, reflection, guidance, reverence, and humiliation... well, when those weaknesses or deficiencies revealed themselves, I would have hidden and denied them, ignored them, pretend they didn't exist.  Or I would have broken.  Their revelation would have attacked my cherished self-identity, the one I would have worshiped of myself as "Pastor" -- and I probably would have crumbled... the flaws would not have born the burden of the office.   This is because I would have been thinking in terms of myself and who I am. 

The Pastoral office has very little to do with the particular man occupying it.  There are a line of pictures on the wall of the pastors before me.  If the Lord tarries, I pray that there will be pictures of men after me, and that I might be viewed as the least of them.  Rather, being a Pastor is about nothing other than Christ - than bringing Christ and His gifts to people.  Being a Pastor is about learning what John had said - I must decrease that He may increase.  A Pastor, while important, is fundamentally replaceable.  If not me, when I am gone, God will raise another.

And I'm not sure I would have seen that as clearly if I hadn't gone to Sem, if I assumed the task of being a pastor upon myself, if I figured I was good enough as is, or just needed some finishing up (or to be more honest, if that delusion hadn't been broken at the Sem).  Ego would have openly prevailed... even now Ego must be beaten down.  And thus - new trials come, new opportunities, new chances to learn.  And I see them differently now -- I see them as being less about me and more about this congregation that I have been given to serve for a time.

Is this "formation"?  I suppose.  But it's not a formation completed at Sem.  I am not fully formed yet -- and that's perfectly fine.  Rather, I suppose I would say that the Seminary helps to begin to form someone, and teaches them that they will continue to be formed by God for the rest of their days.  Without that, all is pride, vanity, or despair.

24 May 2012

Protecting the Guilty - Commandments 4 and 8

One of the aspects of the American Legal system is the presumption of innocence.  Innocent until proven guilty.  Granted, in the highly publicized cases, this sort of goes by the wayside, but this still remains the underlying principal of our system.  The accused is to be protected by law.

I would contend that within the Commandments, and specifically 4 and 8 (but not limited thereunto), that there is perhaps a similar and yet more astonishing principal at work.  Protecting the guilty.

Consider the 4th Commandment - Honor Your Father and Mother.  There are no conditions about their righteous conduct -- you are to honor them.  Period.  Even if they are guilty of whatever... you honor them.  Even if they misuse their authority over you, you honor them.  They are protected by this commandment.  You are to honor and serve them, regardless of how they have treated you.

Likewise, consider the 8th Commandment - Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor.  And, of course, like good Lutheran boys and girls, we explain this with the idea of putting the "best construction" on things, or explaining everything in the "kindest way".  This to is nothing less than an instruction to protect the guilty.  The neighbor's reputation is to be protected, even if they are guilty.  When person X wrongs me - let me bear the wronging and not bring shame to person X.  I am to protect even those who wrong me.

So often, in our interactions, we can forget that we are to protect the guilty.  We are to lessen the ripple effects of sin, to absorb it's impacts into ourselves so that their wickedness impacts fewer people and impacts them less harshly -- even lessening the impact for the guilty.  We show respect, and perhaps with our respectful conduct bring them to repentance.  We explain things the kindest way and reprove in private, hoping to bring to repentance rather than settling for letting rumors and shame change mere outward behavior.

Is this not what Christ has done for us?  What is salvation but Christ protecting us; we who are guilty of all things?  What is salvation but Christ Himself taking up the burden of our sin and doing away with it upon the Cross? 

This is what righteousness is - to protect the guilty, to do away with their sin, to forgive.  In all things we are to defend our neighbor -- not only our neighbor who is suffering unjustly, but even the neighbor who makes us to suffer unjustly.  We do so in the hopes that they will be brought to repentance and restored, not merely defeated in a way that (to borrow from yet another commandment) only seems right.

Thoughts and reactions, folks?

23 March 2012

Stand Up for Religious Freedom

Today I attended the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally at Federal Plaza in the Chicago Loop.  It was a great event with excellent speakers: two US Representatives - Walsh and Lipinski, a physician, an educator, an attorney for the Thomas More Society, plenty of Roman Catholics, a Jewish attorney, some conservative Anglicans and even one LCMS pastor.  Our own being the Rev. Steven Anderson of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL.  I got there nice and early and it was raining hard.  The power went out but it turns out the power was turned off by the Feds themselves, but turned on later thanks to the Post Office next door.  I was glad to be there and met lots of good folks standing for freedom of conscience.  The LCMS got props for the Hosanna-Tabor decision, President Harrison's testimony before Congress and even by the Jewish speaker who said he was glad to stand on the dais with Pastor Anderson.  There were several thousand in attendance, and I'm glad I was there early to get a good spot to hear and see, and holler a bit during Pastor Anderson's speech.  Which I am happy to say a few thousand people did too; holler in approval that is.

Pastor Anderson on the dais

Full disclosure:  Pastor Anderson is one of my best friends, groomsman in my wedding and godfather to my son.  I was awfully proud to call him friend today.

21 March 2012

What Is It that I Want You to Do?

Since giving my presentation on "Consecrationism vs. Receptionism" at the Indiana District Church Workers' Conference this past October, I've been gratified by the feedback that I've received. Responses from various quarters have encouraged me in my good intentions to develop my outline and expand my notes into a proper article, blog post, or paper. I've actually managed to make some good progress on that project, but it will almost certainly have to stay on the back burner until we're well into Eastertide. Duty calls. For now, some other, preliminary thoughts.

Not all of the feedback on my presentation has been positive, though most of it has been. I've appreciated the many positive comments, of course, but I have been as much or more grateful for the few brothers who have made the effort to address their concerns and differences of opinion with me. It's a lot harder, and less fun for most of us, to express disagreement, and it's even more challenging to do so in a cordial and friendly manner. So, my sincere thanks goes out to those brothers who have showed me the courtesy of entering into fraternal discussion and debate with me. I would like to believe that those conversations have been mutually beneficial and edifying. I hope so. I know they have helped me to gain a better understanding of my colleagues, as well as greater clarity in my own thinking.

No doubt there are more brothers out there who did not like what I had to say in my presentation. I anticipated as much, and I'm not offended by the thought of it. The presentation was called for precisely because of disagreements concerning the consecration and corresponding conduct of the Sacrament, and I harbored no expectation that I would resolve the situation with a sectional presentation. What I was hoping to accomplish was the beginnings of a conversation among the brethren. Perhaps, in that respect, it has been somewhat successful so far. God grant it, for Jesus' sake.

If most of those brothers who disagree with me have not engaged me in discussion and debate, I understand. I hope they will at least be prompted to do some reading and studying of the evidence, and to engage their closer colleagues in conversation of the topic. To the glory of Christ, that is the goal.

I learned, earlier this week, that some conversation of my presentation occurred at one circuit pastors' conference. Nobody's been speaking out of school, so I don't know any details, but the gist of a concern that was passed on to me, indirectly, is that it's not feasible or practical for pastors to do what I want them to do.

That sort of response piques my interest, and gives me pause, and causes me to think: What have others perceived me to be saying and asking? What is it that my colleagues think I want them to do? And what is it that I actually do want them to do?

I'm somewhat puzzled by the comment and concern, since my presentation was basically, and almost entirely, a summary and assessment of historic Lutheran positions and practices. For the most part, I simply shared what our Confessions say, and what Luther and Chemnitz said, in contrast to Melanchthon and the later Lutheran scholastics. I also described particular practices of the 16th-century Lutherans, and the way that certain circumstances were addressed and dealt with in that day and age. Admittedly, I did also offer my own candid appraisal of these positions and practices, on the basis of my reading of the Holy Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions.

But it's certainly not as though I, Rick Stuckwisch, were presuming to say: Here's what I want the rest of you to do. Well, okay, I was intending to say, and hopefully I did say, that I want my fellow Lutheran pastors to be "consecrationists" rather than "receptionists" in their preaching and teaching, catechesis and conduct of the Sacrament. That's true. I do want that. And I pray that it shall be so.

As far as the various pointed examples that I gave of 16th-century Lutheran practices, however, that isn't me but our fathers in the faith commending appropriate conduct and handling of the Lord's Supper. The fact that it is the Lord's Supper is an even more important point, and, I suppose, the key to what I do want and hope and pray for. I begin with myself in that regard, and seek to be faithful and above reproach in my stewardship of the Mysteries of God. Do I want my fellow stewards of those Mysteries also to be faithful? Of course! Should I not do and say what I can to help and encourage such faithfulness? Shame on me if I do not.

Faithfulness in the administration of the Holy Communion certainly includes reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ. That is at the heart of the topic, and, again, the reason for the presentation in the first place. As there is disagreement regarding where, when, and how the Body and Blood of Christ are present in the Supper, that obviously makes a difference with respect to appropriate reverence. But that isn't determined by me, nor by anyone else but our Lord Jesus Christ. Regardless of whatever other bowing may or may not be done, we must all bow our hearts and minds and consciences before His Holy Word. So, that, too, is what I want myself and everyone else to do.

Once the key point of disagreement over "Consecrationism vs. Receptionism" is taken into account, reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ may take a variety of different forms. While I have my own decided preferences and recommendations, in so far as ceremonies are concerned, I do not judge my brothers or condemn them for having more or fewer godly ceremonies than I do. Such things are free, though not insignificant; they are subject to pastoral discernment, discretion, and care. Whether another pastor elevates the Sacrament and genuflects before it, or not, does not in itself make or break our fellowship in Christ. Likewise, whether he wears a chasuble or not is neither decisive or divisive. These are things we can discuss in a fraternal spirit as Christian gentlemen, as brothers in office. Indeed, I welcome the opportunity to talk about the benefits of these and other similar ceremonies, and I'm certainly willing to hear the arguments of others, pro and con. But I have no desire or intention to press these practices upon my brothers.

What I did commend in my presentation, and I do so here and now, as well, on the basis of historic Lutheran precedent — but chiefly with respect for the Word of Christ, our Lord, and in reverence for His Body and His Blood — is a carefully considered preparation, handling, and disposition of the elements, before, during and after the consecration and distribution of the Sacrament. Such care was expected and insisted upon by our Lutheran fathers, as being of a piece with our confession of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Thus, to begin with, only as much bread and wine should be prepared upon the Altar for the consecration as may reasonably be expected to be necessary for the distribution. Exactness is difficult, if not impossible in some cases, but close approximation should not be hard: certainly not where regular pastoral care of the congregation is being exercised. In any event, deliberately preparing and consecrating far more bread and wine than will be needed for the distribution is irreverent and inexcusable. Better to estimate too low on occasion, and then to consecrate additional elements as needed, than deliberately to aim too high.

Following the Word of Christ Jesus, "This is My Body," and "This is My Blood," then, whatever a pastor's particular ceremonial may be, let his posture, movement, demeanor and conduct confess the truth of that Word! Please, dear brothers in Christ, do act like you believe it. Not only for the sake of a clear confession and consistent catechesis, but, above all, because it is true. Not as though the Lord would punish you for any frailties or mishaps, but because it is "truly meet, right, and salutary" that you should take care, and behave with dignity and decorum, as you handle and administer the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ.

The third specific thing that I do want my colleagues to do is really nothing more nor less than what our Lord Jesus Christ has given us Christians to do, namely, to eat and to drink His Body and His Blood. That seems so simple, and so obvious, and yet it isn't followed when it comes to the reliquae. Questions concerning what to do with the consecrated elements that remain at the conclusion of the distribution — which is to speak of the Body and Blood of Christ, as He Himself has declared, also concerning this bread and wine — are easily answered with the same Verba: "Take, eat." "Drink." Either immediately at the Altar, before concluding the Divine Service with the Post-Communion, or as soon after the Service as reasonable possible. For Luther and his followers in the 16th-century, the Sacrament extended from the consecration to the consumption of all the consecrated elements.

This practice, in harmony with our doctrine, rests solidly and simply on the Word of Jesus. So, yes, brothers, I do want you to do that. Because I want you to do what Jesus says. "Do whatever He tells you," the Blessed Virgin Mary also spoke to the servants of the feast. If care is taken in the quantities of bread and wine that are prepared for the consecration, it isn't difficult to consume whatever may remain. If, on any given occasion, more of the precious Blood of Christ remains than a pastor should consume by himself — since it is also wine, which is intoxicating — then he should enlist the assistance of other communicants (as the early Lutheran Church Orders also instruct).

This is that I want you to do. Not as a matter of ceremonial preference, but as a faithful and reverent administration of the Lord's Supper. Let's talk about ceremonies, too, as belonging to the catechesis and confession of the Sacrament. But do not suppose that I'm attempting to lay any weight upon your conscience concerning adiaphora. What God has left free, is free. But my real concern is with a more fundamental stewardship of this sacred Mystery of God. Test the spirit of what I am saying, then, and examine whether or not it is in harmony with the sure and certain Word of our Lord Jesus Christ. If it is not, then, I beg you by the mercies of God, show me my fault and correct me in brotherly love. But if what I advocate is in harmony with the Verba Testamenti Christi, I would simply urge you to honor our Lord and His gifts by bringing your practice into conformity with His Word.

18 March 2012

Quatenus versus Quia

I don't think that any of us would ever depart from the fact that the divinely inspired Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm of doctrine and practice for Christians. But it is also the fact that Christians of many denominations who confess the same rule and norm come up with different doctrines on the basis of the ascendency of certain passages of the text. While all Christians love the Lord Christ and love His Holy Scriptures, each denominational family reads the Scriptures loyal to that tradition. So undoubtedly when the authors of our Lutheran Confessions argue against not only heathen but also other Christians of Rome and Reformed tendencies they start with Scripture. Then their arguments flow into the various exegesis of the text and into the Fathers of the church beginning with the most ancient and most accepted to the fathers of the current time.

But when one approaches the Formula of Concord which was a document to unify Lutherans who have subscribed to at least the Augustana, if not its Apology and Luther's Large and Small Catechisms, they begin not with scriptural exegesis but with the restatement of the doctrinal faith expressed in those preceding documents which have been quia subscribed. If needed they restate and expand scriptural exegesis and also make references to Luther and to other church fathers.

"But this is not to be understood as if hereby other good, useful, pure books, expositions of the Holy Scriptures, refutations of errors, explanations of doctrinal articles, are not rejected; for as far as [quatenus] they are consistent with the above-mentioned type of doctrine, …the summary of our Christian doctrine is intended to mean only this, that we should have a unanimously accepted, definite, common form of doctrine, which all our evangelical churches together and in common confess, from and according to which, because it has been derived from God’s Word, all other writings should be judged and adjusted as to how far they are to be approved and accepted." [bolding mine] Triglotta. p.855
"We intend to examine all controversies according to this true norm [ad hanc veram normam]and declaration of the pure doctrine." Triglotta. p. 23.

The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church are not used to norm the Holy Scriptures as some have charged. They are rather used to norm me, the called and ordained Servant of the Word, the congregation which genuinely desire to call themselves Lutheran and the children of God who dwell under the ever watching eye of their own Under-shepherd. Recognizing the sinfulness of the preacher [Augustana II] and ever present desire of the Devil to corrupt the doctrine of Christ's Church we must realize that we need such a standard, rule and norm to always reform us and keep us in the tradition of exegesis and doctrine with which we have been taught. As St. Paul enjoins us, we should not forsake the traditions [παραδοσεις] which we have taught for they keep us not only as loyal Christians but as loyal Lutherans. Sola Deo Gloria!