03 April 2020

Consecration of the Holy Supper, the Office, and Local Fellowship in Dispersion

Consecration of the Holy Supper, the Office, and Local Fellowship in Dispersion
Rev. John A. Frahm III

In his 1533 treatise, “The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests,” Luther mentions how Christians in isolation in Turkey are advised to respond to their lack of clergy and their desire for the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood:
And what must the Christians do who are held captive in Turkey? They cannot receive the sacrament and have to be content with their faith and desire which they have for the sacrament and the ordinance of Christ, just as those who die before baptism are nevertheless saved by their faith and desire for baptism. What did the children of Israel do in Babylon when they were unable to have public worship at Jerusalem except in faith and in sincere desire and longing? Therefore, even if the church would have been robbed completely of the sacrament by the pope, still, because the ordinance of Christ remained in their hearts with faith and desire, it would nevertheless have been preserved thereby, as indeed now in our time there are many who outwardly do without the sacrament for they are not willing to honor and strengthen the pope's abomination under one kind. For Christ's ordinance and faith are two works of God which are capable of doing anything.[1]

Notice here in this radical situation, nay “emergency,” what Luther does not suggest or improvise.   The further one departs from the institution of Christ, the more doubt creeps into the picture and consequently the certainty and foundation of faith begins to fall away. The solidity of hope in Christ turns into nothing more than a wishful leap into the Deus absconditus (the “dark” unrevealed aspects of God, apart from His Word). Nothing can be more certain than that which is done according to the mandate and institution of Christ.   Faith clings not so much to what could possibly be in the abstract, nor to what we think “God would understand in our circumstances,” but rather to His mandate and institution and the promises therein.  

Luther makes the point in 1533, in “The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests” that the reason why he holds to the position on the consecration he does is that all may be certain for faith. The private mass Luther is dealing with are masses performed by Roman priests for money often to release souls from purgatory. They are celebrating masses without the congregation gathered.   Such masses were done where none of the people communed, and the notion of the propitiatory sacrifice of the mass was promote in the Roman church.   The Lord’s Supper was turned into something human beings do rather than something Christ does.  In discussing the private mass, Luther says:
But I have not been commanded to perform the private mass and it is uncertain. In short, as St. Augustine says: Tene certum, dimitte incertum - “Rely on what is certain and abandon what is uncertain.” Yes, I even add, because it is uncertain whether the body and blood of Christ are present in the private mass and because it is certainly a purely human trifle, therefore you should never in your life believe that Christ's body and blood are present; for faith should be sure of its affairs and have a sure basis concerning which one must not and should not be in doubt.[2]

Luther notes the instrumentality of the called servant:
So it is not our work or speaking but the command and ordinance of Christ which make the bread the body and the wine the blood, beginning with the first Lord's Supper and continuing to the end of the world, and it is administered daily through our ministry or office.[3]

Throughout this treatise Luther deals with the certainty for faith which comes from heeding the institution of Christ.   Previously, in 1527, Luther wrote in his tremendous, “That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ Etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” in summary form:
We know, however, that it is the Lord’s Supper, in name and in reality, not the supper of Christians.   For the Lord not only instituted it, but also prepares and gives it himself, and is himself cook, butler, food, and drink, as we have demonstrated our belief above.   Christ does not say, in commanding and instituting it, “Do this as your summons to mutual recognition and love,” but, “Do this in remembrance of me” [Luke 22:19, I Cor. 11:24].[4]

Perhaps, in part, has explained a Luther preference for referring to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar as ‘the Lord’s Supper,” or the ‘Holy Supper.’    We receive this sacrament, as with all the mysteries of God, as it is given from the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).    The pastor is particularly charged to be the local steward of the mysteries of God, which includes, but is not limited to the Lord’s Supper.    He is steward but does not own it.   He may not do with it as he pleases or as it seems best to him.   As it is given to us from the Lord through the apostles so we deliver it to the Church for her nourishment in the wilderness of this world in the end times.   It would be a foolish and troubling thing to tinker with what the Lord has given even with “missional” motivations of heartfelt origin or vision.  There is no ecclesial bureaucratic license to exceptions. The Bride of Christ receives what the Bridegroom has provided.  The Lord’s mysteries do not need adjustment for the culture to be relevant or adequate, but the Blessed Sacrament is the medicine of immortality and antidote to death as we confess with the ancient church.

The institution of the means of grace and the office which is charged with divine authority to deliver them for the church is a divine office that is enacted in real flesh and blood men.   The Book of Concord begins the discussion of the office of the holy ministry, with a bridge from Article IV to Article V of the Augsburg Confession. The office of the ministry is established so that such justifying faith in Christ (by grace) may be created, conferred, and sustained through the spoken and sacramental Gospel. The German speaks of the Predigtamt – the preaching office, which implies someone in the office. The Word and Sacraments are confessed as the exclusive salvific, faith-engendering instruments of the Holy Spirit. And then there is the condemnation of the Anabaptists and other schw√§rmer, who teach that the Holy Spirit works apart from the external Word and sacraments through our own preparations, thoughts, and works.   In the teaching of these fanatics, the working of the Holy Spirit was separated from the external Word and moved to an internal experience, desire, or concept.  The claim to be spiritual does not detour around the apostolic word.

The liturgy is not the “work of the people” as Rome has said, or put in protestant terms, our praise and worship experience for God.   To be sure there is response, but the initiating, primary, divine monergism of the Divine Service is so that everything in the Church, as the Large Catechism says, may be so arranged that we may daily receive the forgiveness of sins.   This is done through the Christ-provided means of grace.   The point of the Divine Service isn’t about “getting people involved” (work of the people, ala Rome, said in a protestant way) but being at the receiving end of all that the Lord desires to give in His particular way in His spoken and sacramental gospel.    So, indeed, as St. Augustine says, for the sake of faith, cling to the certain, and depart from the uncertain.   And the glory of the means of grace is that they are plural.   This blesses us even in situations of pandemic social distancing, travel, or other forms of local separation.    “Behold, I am with you always” at the end of the Great Commission to the apostles is not a separate saying but is indicative of the localized presence of the Lord for them and the Church in the means of grace (“all things I have commanded you”).    As Luther put it succinctly, “If you want to have God, then mark where he resides and where he wants to be found.”[5]   In times of distress it does us no good to try to relocate the Temple from Jerusalem to Mt. Gerizim, or to baptize by a fire hose.   While all baptized Christians are priests by faith, our understanding of the office of the ministry is not primarily priestly (sacrificial) but as ambassadors and householders of the mysteries as spiritual fathers.   The sons of Korah (Numbers 16) thought Moses and Aaron were free to re-allocate the callings of the Lord since all in Israel were holy by His name. 

In the apostolic ministry the teaching and miracles of Jesus continue in the Word preached and the holy sacraments administered (Acts 1:1-5; 1 Corinthians 3:5-11).    When considering the administration of the Lord’s Supper it is not merely that the pastor can broadcast his voice in a “live” setting (over a public address system, television, or internet) but rather is the whole and undivided sacrament administered.   If the intent is to consecrate bread and wine (or grape juice, sic!) over a “livestream” or broadcast to another location with lay administration on the other end.   The one broadcasting a recitation of the verba testamenti cannot “take the bread” or “give it to them” etc where the sacrament is intended to be administered.    It has lost its union or never had it.   It is utterly dubious.   St. Augustine shouts out:   tene certum, dimitte incertum!    The “this do” is violated.    Stewardship is broken.   Faith needs the marks of the church to have divine integrity not human imprimaturs or licensure or pastoral exceptions by authority of personal feelings.   Our first LCMS President, Walther, writes:
The great majority of our theologians, Luther in the forefront, believe that the holy Supper should never be administered privately by one who is not in the public preaching office, by a layman. That is partly because no such necessity can occur with the holy Supper, as with Baptism and Absolution, that would justify a departure from God’s ordinance ( I Cor 4:1; Romans 10:15; Heb 5:4); partly because the holy Supper “is a public confession and so should have a public minister”; partly because schisms can easily be brought about by such private Communion…[6]

On the other end of the livestream or by delegation by pastoral letter, directing the laity to take upon themselves what Luther was unwilling to suggest in 1533 and what the Augsburg Confession denies in Article XIV is schismatic and good old-fashioned fanaticism.    No doubt, one can engage in vision casting over an internet livestream, but dividing what Lord has joined together dislocates the object of faith as the speaker and the bread cannot complete the action.   In Luther’s day the church inherited whispered Words of Institution in a problematic canon of the mass eucharistic prayer.   Now recent ersatz pastoral innovations to adapt to the temporary state of quasi-quarantine, while not done in malice, are ill-conceived, and attach an urgency to a temporary disruption of corporate Divine Services that is incongruous with the typical tangential use of the sacrament in many liturgically loose locales.

Assumed-emergencies, quasi-exiles, and exuberant pastoral desire deliver the gifts by innovation can bring out the pre-existent fractures more dramatically and reveal the need for further study and reflection so that the marks of the church are not compromised and zeal for accomplishing something does not undermine the goal of faith being given certainty in the Word and the sacraments according to Christ’s institution.  

The Words of our Lord which used within the institution command “this do” inhabit a context for the mandate to be fulfilled.   With regard to the office of the ministry we ought to bear in mind the fact pointed out earlier, that in "The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests" of Luther in 1533, he does not condone or recommend any attempts of "lay consecration" of the Supper but simply recommends for exiled Christians in Turkey to be content, given their situation, with their hunger and thirst for the Sacrament.   The Lutheran fathers, including Chemnitz and Formula of Concord, walked a fine line.   So in their denial that, "No man's word or work, be it the merit or speaking of the minister," brings about the real presence is not to deny that the body and blood are, "distributed through our ministry and office" (cf. FC-SD, VII.74-77). Chemnitz states clearly that, "it is with those who are legitimately chosen and called by God through the church, therefore with the ministers to whom the use or administration of the ministry of the Word and the sacraments has been committed."[7]

The office is not the source of the authority but the means by which Christ serves His people in the Lord's Supper, the Divine Service. It is "apostolic" in that pastors are called and sent by Christ for the benefit of the church.   They are “your servants for the sake of Christ.”  They have His authority in the mandates He has given the holy office. We may point to Apology XXIV, under the discussion of the term "Mass," where the liturgy is identified with "the public ministry."   Even when the "emergency" case is cited from the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, it must be pointed out that this emergency only mentions Baptism and Absolution and not the Holy Supper.  The Lord’s Supper cannot be an emergency need the way Baptism or Absolution can be.   Means of restoration and conversion are not the same as means of sustenance or the “solid food” of faith.

The “action” of the Lord’s Supper, as it is described by the orthodox Lutheran dogmaticians is a threefold action of the Supper.   Consecration, distribution and reception are what belongs to the institution. The office bearer consecrates and distributes, all receive. Not only are the body and blood present in the reception, but also in the distribution (according to the Lord’s word), in the thought of the Confessions.   The Formula of Concord summarizes (emphasis added):
In the administration of Communion the words of institution are to be spoken or sung distinctly and clearly before the congregation and are under no circumstances to be omitted. Thereby we render obedience to the command of Christ, ‘This do.’ Thereby the faith of the hearers in the essence and benefits of this sacrament (the presence of the body and blood of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and all the benefits which Christ has won for us by his death and the shedding of his blood and which he give to us in his testament) is awakened, strengthened and confirmed through his Word. And thereby the elements of bread and wine are hallowed or blessed in this holy use, so that therewith the body and blood of Christ are distributed to us to eat and to drink, as Paul says, "The cup of blessing which we bless," which happens precisely through the repetition and recitation of the words of institution.

The Words of Institution "are under no circumstances to be omitted." More than this they are to be spoken or sung "clearly and distinctly before the people." Through this, the bread and the wine are consecrated. Hence in the understanding of Formula of Concord-Solid Declaration VII and the Large Catechism, the Words of Institution are said simultaneously over the elements and before the people.  Does a livestream do this?   Let’s cling to the certain and depart from uncertain.   Let’s not in times of crisis, when faith is tried, further introduce doubt or shadows on the object of faith.  Let’s avoid the edge of the cliff, the shadows, the lay ministry, the grape juice, the video communion, the postal delivery, the coffee creamer hermetically sealed elements, etc.   Cling to what is certain and depart from what is uncertain.   Be stewards of the mysteries of God, be a brave and steadfast spiritual father.

In such unusual times as a pandemic we rejoice in the manifold instruments that the Lord has given to bestow forgiveness, life, and salvation, by the work the Holy Spirit.   The reading of Scripture does not require an emergency circumstance for its verbal delivery in , as Luther admonishes the head of the household (hausvater) to teach the Small Catechism in his home, which includes the use of Scripture.  The royal priesthood of baptized believers in Christ and the pastoral office each have their realm of service and duties.   We appreciate each best when we receive them as the Lord uniquely gave each one rather than in terms of comparisons or even in terms of lists of functions.    The mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus is a great resource in times of exile, temporary separation, and waiting upon the Lord.   It is also an opportunity to recover our devotional use of Scripture, rejoice in our Baptism, and speak words of forgiveness to one another in our households.    Even when we go through a period of not communing, we have been sent forth from the altar to our homes to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” to one another.  

[1] "The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests" (Luther’s Works, AE:38; p.207).
[2] “The Private Mass…”, p.163
[3] “The Private Mass…”, p.199
[4] “That These Words of Christ, ‘This Is My Body,’ Etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics” (Luther’s Works, AE:37, p.142).
[5] Sermon on John 6:51, Luther’s Works AE: 23, p.121
[6] C.F.W. Walther. Pastoral Theology. Trans. John M. Drickamer. (New Haven: Lutheran News Inc, 1995); p.134  
[7] Martin Chemnitz.  Examination of the Council of Trent: Volume II, p.97


11 August 2015

The Vocation of Music in the Divine Service

 Rev. John A. Frahm III
Concordia Lutheran Church, Williston, ND

We Lutherans, who are heirs of Johann Sebastian Bach and so many other great composers of sacred music, certainly understand that various instruments can be used faithfully in the liturgical context to God’s glory.   But what are some important considerations with respect to music in the Divine Service in the way it is used and selected with integrity?

Thesis I – Nothing comes into the Divine Service “as is” from the world’s use.  It must be sanctified.
Music is powerful but this power can be both negative and positive, and not simply from the perspective of taste or preference.   Music can manipulate the emotions and senses greatly regardless of context or purpose.   God calls out of darkness into His marvelous light and we become holy as a gift of God when we are brought to faith in Christ our crucified and risen Lord.   God’s creation is and will be transformed and on the Last Day God will make a new heaven and a new earth.
This end times reality impacts the Divine Service as well when through the preached Word and the administered sacraments heaven comes down to earth for us (Hebrews 12:22-24).   The old Adam is put to death and buried and the new believer in Christ comes forth (Romans 6:5-11).   Yet this is a daily and hourly pattern of repentance and faith in the absolution.   For the steward of the mysteries of God, he must be aware that his shepherding of the liturgical context must take into account this baptismal rhythm of those working with the church music (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).   Out of the heart proceeds all kinds of sins, and yet also the Gospel has its way with the life and heart of the believer from outside of us.

The old Adam must not have the upper hand.  The law of God in the third way He uses it does provide structure and order within the larger life of the church as well.   Our Confessions acknowledge this as well.  The old Adam does not worship the Lamb but himself and his own predilections, sentiment, and power.   Not only does the old Adam not want God in Christ at the center, but he refuses to sit at the receiving end of God’s Gospel gifts as one in need of rescue, cleansing, and forgiveness.   The old Adam will not say “soli Deo gloria” in truth.   The liturgical musician is one who lives in no other way than from the Apostles’ doctrine, fellowship in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.   Here catechesis from pastor to musician is essential – whether to choir director, organist, instrumentalist, cantor, or parishioner singing a chorale.   The one who serves in these areas of the church’s liturgical life needs to be formed by sound doctrine and good practice from the start (lex orandi, lex credendi and vice versa).

Thesis II – The theology of the Divine Service, its action and power, will shape the character and type of music that is selected as liturgical music and the way it is delivered.
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession defines the mass or liturgy as “a public ministry” and this is said to square well with the showing forth of the body and blood of Christ as well as the proclamation of the Gospel (AC XXIV and Apology XXIV; Luke 22:27).  This means of grace language is declaring that the chief thing about the service is that it is something God does for us.  The liturgy is first and foremost sacramental (gift) rather than sacrificial (return of offering to God or response).   We serve God because He first serves us.  We are called into communion with Jesus within the communion of His people and receive from Him forgiveness, life and salvation.   This is the end of missions!   This is a monergistic, Christocentric,  cruciform activity as opposed to a synergistic or anthropocentric activity.   Jesus is among us in the flesh as the One who serves, continuing to do and teach in our midst.

The music is there in much the same way that the pastor is there for the liturgy.   It is there for the sake and purpose of the Word and Sacraments.   The music vests the voices of pastor, congregation, and choir.   If used well it may de-emphasize the personality and emphasize the words of the musical piece in liturgy or song.   Music in this way serves as John the Baptist did in relation to Jesus – preparing the way, pointing the way to Jesus.   And this also is important as pointers or symbols are not the thing themselves.   But they have importance in directing us to what is most important and real.   The Word is greater than the music.  Music humbly submits to be a John the Baptist of sorts.  This may help answer the question of whether something strictly constructed as “praise service” with a “praise band” is sufficiently centered on the monergistic delivery of grace via the Word and Sacraments and is reflective of the liturgical two-way street with its initiating accent on what God does for us.  We liturgy God because He first liturgies us.  So much of what we have today in the variety of themed services like “traditional worship” (or “Classic Grace”) vs. blended worship or contemporary vs. contemporary family friendly worship is so much marketing like the flavors of a hip coffee shop.   What is the main thing in practice?   Are traditional liturgical services in the past and not contemporary or does contemporary mean really “beholden to the zeitgeist”?

Thesis III – When speaking of liturgical music, we “set the music to the text” rather than the other way around.
The first table of the law commands us to have no other gods and to not misuse the holy name of God.   In liturgical music, God’s Word, rightly divided, comes first as setting the priority and purpose of the Services of God’s House.   And this goes on continually in the Church throughout the ages (Matthew 16:18; Jude 3).  Out of the Word of God comes everything that exists therefore the text, the priority of the Word, the Gospel message comes first.   Music is set to the requirements, character, and message of the text as the power of God for salvation present for us.    The music does not (or should not) presume that the biblical text or its right application has no power on its own.   This principle should be kept in mind by the one choosing and delivering the music with the sound text.  What is said of music here presumes that the text is sound theologically (but that is a subject for another time).

Obviously there are a variety of ways to deliver music for any given biblical or liturgical text.  With this said, however one may understand it properly in this way:  while many sermons may come from a particular Gospel pericope, this does not mean that all sermons claimed to be based on said pericope are therefore right, sound, and rightly dividing the word of truth or based on sound exegesis.   There are boundaries and clear principles in what would be considered a right homiletical application of a text, sound exegesis, and so forth.  (Of course one could choose to ignore that matter out of other motives or priorities that reflect a divergence in theology from our standard.)  So there is variety and yet not libertine or indiscriminate variety based merely upon preference, popular styles, pop Christian radio, neighborhood marketing, opinion polls, or alien theologies from other confessions.

Likewise, the musical selection does not disregard the liturgical structure of the service nor the church year nor the teaching of the whole counsel of God.   Neither can the music disregard the real presence of Christ or the humility of sinners before the holy God who saved us only out of pure divine Fatherly goodness and mercy.   Evangelism or recruitment cannot be substituted for justification by grace alone as der Hauptartikel of the Christian faith (the chief article by which the church stands or falls).   In the Psalms the text was often given to the Chief Musician.  The text came first within an occasion and then the music was brought to that to fit the purpose of the text.  As Johann Walther, the composer colleague of Luther, put it aptly, “All music should be so arranged that its notes are in harmony with the text” (Carl Schalk, Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise, p.27).

Thesis IV – Music is not a mediator between God and man, thus the means of grace cannot be improved upon or made more effective by making the music a reflection of the local culture or enticing the old Adam in a religious way.
God alone is God.  There is no getting around that fact.   Jesus Christ is the one who has made the atoning sacrifice once and for all and there is none other who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  He is the One who comes to us here and now in His Word and Sacraments to deliver the benefits of Good Friday and Easter to us.   Since we are conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5) and likewise are native to death and sin (Ephesians 2:1-2) and we cannot naturally discern the things of the Spirit of God (I Corinthians 2:14), it is not more likely to get converts by religious entertainment than otherwise.   Remember the explanation to the Third Article of the Creed in the Catechism?

Of course, all the arts can be abused.   Neither PowerPoint nor icons, neither baroque music nor soft rock, are mediators between God and men.   The church has a culture all its own as the Word bears fruit in the history of the Church in contrast to our surrounding culture.  And the music used in the liturgical context serves within a circle that is more particular than merely the circle of Christian music for devotions or casual listening.   Despite what may be suitable or satisfactory as music for Christians for relaxation, work, or devotions, music for the unique context of the Divine Service and its purpose comes under a different vocation from anything else and is set apart.   This might indeed help us answer, for example, the question of the location in the sanctuary from which the musicians should deliver the music or if a soloist or cantor is best front and center or not?  Even such music that may be called Christian in the pop culture of American Evangelicalism and the charismatic movement is not necessarily or automatically qualified for liturgical service given the greatly differing theologies and purposes of music between that realm and the confessional Lutheran understanding of liturgy for the Church.

God has called His sheep into His green pastures in the Divine Service.  It is not we who invite God to the gathering.  He initiates the giving of His gifts.  Music is summoned into the liturgical context as an “Amen” to the structure of texts in the liturgy and church year.   To praise God is to praise His marvelous deeds (I Peter 2) not merely to emote or speak in testimonials whether in old Pietism or in new American revivalistic ways.   So the music is to go along with the text rather than to direct us back to our own filthy rags.   In this way the Word of Christ dwells among us richly with the prominence and reverence that is truly meet, right, and salutary.

04 June 2014

The Abruptness of a Reading

Pentecost approaches, and the thing that always has struck me as odd is the reading from Acts 2 for Pentecost.  Oh, don't get me wrong - we should be reading Acts 2, but it seems so bizarre to cut the lection off after verse 21.  I'm sure there's a reason for it (verses 22 and following probably show up later or on some other holiday), but it just strikes me as just plain odd that we get this wondrous focus and build up - look, the Holy Spirit is here so that everyone, in all the various languages (more languages than Apostles!) are able to hear this preaching that is coming, and look, Joel pointed to the coming of this day...


And then we stop.  Just cut off the reading.  Peter's sermon - nah, no need to hear that.


Do we see how strange this is?  There is the promise of the Holy Spirit, and what does this promise lead to?  The preaching of Christ's death and resurrection.  Law and Gospel. Baptism.  It's fantastic - and yet, so often we don't get there.

So, yes, this year, our second reading is going to be a bit longer.  All the way through verse 41.  We'll see how it goes.

14 May 2014

The John 16 Reality Check

I have come to love that which I used to dread.  The late Easter season in the 1 year series... the lessons from John 16, the ones that don't even go in order but move around.

See, I'll be honest - one of the things I appreciate about the 1 year series is how it is not sequential - how it jumps around from topic to topic and theme to theme, rather than just moving at a plodding pace through the Gospels chapter after chapter, to where (in my brief, 5 month experience) you would get those times where you think "didn't I just preach this last week?"  And then we have Easter.  And we have 4 weeks in a row dealing with John 16.  And I used to dread it - I would transfer Ascension simply to give me something other than a 4th week of John 16 again.

Now I see the wisdom.  Now I see the great reality check that the Late Easter season is.

Consider - Easter 4 - John 16:16-22.  The world is going to hate you, and people will rejoice at your suffering.  Well, there's some blunt reality -- but over and against this this Truth - Christ will see you again.  Resurrection trumps the lousy reality.

Consider - Easter 5 - John 16:5-15.  It's good that Christ leaves, that there isn't a big, visible Earthly Kingdom.  Rather, the Spirit will proclaim Law and Gospel, will proclaim that we are sinners, that we are forgiven, and that Satan and his world are defeated.  This is a great "theology of glory" reality check right there -- the Spirit is going to have to remind you that you are a sinner, that you are forgiven, and that Satan doesn't win.

Consider - Easter 6 - John 16:23-33.  What greater reality check is there than the last verse?  In this world you will have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.  Even as the world around you is wicked and evil and falls to pot - there is the reality.  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, alleluia!  The world is over come... and we have peace in Christ.

And then Easter 7 - John 15:26-16:4.  You are going to get battered and bruised.  That is the reality.  Even the most holy and pious seeming of people will be the ones to trash you, to toss you out of the synagogues, the churches.  That's the way things will be - but you still proclaim Christ and Him crucified for sinners, bear witness to His death (I was there, I saw the blood and water pour out - he who saw it has borne witness and his testimony is true!).

All a giant reality check.  And as the attendance dips again, and once-in-a-while families are done with Easter and Confirmations, as Easter Lilies start to die off (although this may be a joy to those suffering from allergies) and all the other joyous things fade away - we get this wonderful reality check.  Yeah, things will go back to normal, normal for this fallen world.  And that's lousy.

Christ is still risen, He is risen indeed.

22 April 2014

I submit for your regular use until we hear the ruling the following collect:.........Father, who judges all men’s hearts perfectly and in Your wisdom appoints justices in the land, give wisdom to the justices of our Supreme Court as they decide the future of religious freedom in our country. Cause them to see that we will obey God rather than man and by that knowledge make them rule that we may practice our faith openly in a time hostile to the Christian Faith, through You, Who sits on the Highest Judgment Throne, with the Son and the Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

29 September 2013

Perspicuity of the Scripture

The perspicuity or clarity of Scripture is an important doctrine. ``Let miserable men, therefore, stop imputing with blasphemous perversity the darkness and obscurity of their own hearts to the wholly clear Scriptures of God.'' (LW 33:27) Amen. Scripture is clear. My understanding of it is not. I am the problem; not the Scripture. I am dull and do not see clearly, rather I see through an occluded lens. So I need to be taught first of all the grammar of the Scripture and then the norms of interpretation according to the tradition I have been taught. In these there is a presupposition, an over-arching rule (paradigm) or guiding formal principle which is never to be broken no matter what the actual text of the Scripture says. The rule for me is the following: I have a loving, forgiving and barmherzigkeit Gott. So when the perfect, accurate Word of God spoken by the apostle St. James says to show me your works my guiding formal principle immediately forces me to modify what would be the normally accepted exegesis of this passage with the similarly accurate Word of God by St. Paul saying it is not by works which we have done. Because of my dullness and inability I am not able to come up with a way to bring these two perfect passages into union. So as a Lutheran I allow St. Paul the trump St. James. I am not at liberty like some have done in the past and even Luther might have suggested to rip St. James out of the cannon. Romanists, Reformed, and Lutherans within each branch of Christianity bring to bear upon the Scripture their formal guiding principle. Rome is governed by “all must obey the Pope”. Reformed is guided by “God is the Almighty Supreme Being”. Lutherans by “clinging always to a gracious and merciful God”. So as a Lutheran I bridle myself to the guiding principle of the Lutheran church, never questioning the perspicuity of Scripture and always acknowledging the totally corrupt nature of mankind after the fall. Therefore I must let the Confessions guide me as I exegete the Holy Scriptures. In other words I interpret the Scriptures according to the confessions of the Book of Concord of 1580.

24 September 2013

American Top 40 Pop Sermons

In thinking about discussions of preaching that I've observed and overheard in recent years, I'm struck by how much the measure and criteria of "a great sermon" sounds like a description of Top 40 pop:

Short and catchy, with a memorable hook and emotional ka-ching.

The emotional ka-ching seems usually to be a matter of feeling good about feeling bad, and finding comfort in being convicted; as though such feelings of self-reproach and shame were tantamount to repentance.  Maybe I've simply been in the wrong places at the wrong times, but I haven't heard as much excitement about the actual preaching of the Gospel of forgiveness, as I regularly hear about the sharp preaching of the Law.  But that fits with the pop music analogy, too: Nothing packs quite the emotional wallop of regret.

I'm not sure whether American Top 40 pop sermons are good or bad.  I think it's a bit of both, so there's my cop out answer.  I do see the benefit to keeping sermons short and simple, focusing on one main point, and connecting with the hearers in a way that is memorable.  I'm constantly working at writing that way, although I doubt that I'll ever be good at it.  Maybe that's my problem: I'm envious and jealous of those who can do this.  The temptation, not unlike the world of commercial music, is to follow the formula and attempt to copy the chart toppers.  Been there, done that, and it doesn't work for me.  I go from bad to worse.

But I do wish it wasn't so easy to be distracted from the real heart and goal of sermons, which is, I believe, the preaching of repentance unto faith in the forgiveness of sins, and the comfort of the Gospel of Christ.  I know that is what I need, myself, and it is what I long to give to those entrusted to my preaching and pastoral care.

17 September 2013

St. Cyprian and the Fellowship of the Church

In thinking about St. Cyprian of Carthage this week, I posted on facebook, "The Missouri Synod could learn a thing or two from St. Cyprian concerning the unity and fellowship of the Church in the Ministry of Christ, and the fraternal fellowship and collegiality of pastors in the exercise of that Office."

I'm not an expert on St. Cyprian, and it's been too long since I've done any extensive reading of his work, but, when asked to elaborate on what I had in mind, I offered the following comments:

"St. Cyprian recognized that the unity of the Church is centered in the Ministry of the Gospel, and that the larger unity and fellowship of the Church is found in the conciliar fellowship and conversation of bishops, as the overseers of that Ministry in each place. It seems to me that the Missouri Synod has largely lost its bearings and its center of gravity in this regard. Congregations are defined and characterized by lots of other things, which compete with or practically take precedence over the Ministry of the Gospel; so that congregations are identified with and known by particular styles of practice, or programs, or whatever. And as far as our 'fellowship' is concerned, that seems to be more a matter of formality, of political and legal structures, a shared pension plan, and so forth, rather than an active theological engagement of brother pastors. Our bishops have, by and large, been taken out of the parish, and the parish pastors typically stick to their own 'turf,' guard their own 'territory,' keep their heads down, and ignore one another to whatever extent they can. I know that is not universally the case, and that there are notable exceptions. But, to my observation, most of the interaction between pastors is based upon personal friendship rather than fellowship in the Gospel, and is governed more by common opinions to begin with than by the catholicity of the Church in the common Ministry of the Gospel of Christ. I've been as guilty of falling into these patterns as anyone else; but it grieves me, and I don't believe it bodes well for the life and health and future of our Synod."

I welcome thoughts in response, especially from those who may be in a better position to clarify and further elucidate St. Cyprian's thinking on the unity and fellowship of the Church.  I'm likewise interested in pursuing whatever we can do, as pastors and congregations, to put into practice an active fellowship in the Ministry of the Gospel.

01 August 2013

They Don't Need Cool

This  is worth the quick read.  

Do you think that pretty soon the "cutting edge" congregations in our midst will signing up for Gottesdienst conferences?  What is real is the doctrine of the blessed Apostles, the very Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament and the pure preaching of the Gospel from the pulpit, sans power point, dramas, dancing girls, drum set and the like.

HT:  Shawn from Hamel

27 July 2013

Lost Pastors can be Found

If your parish is vacant, don't be afraid to look here - http://www.lostpastors.org .  There are shepherds waiting to serve.

23 June 2013

A Shoulder Set Upon the Plowshare of the Cross

To be a disciple of Christ Jesus is to take up the Cross and follow after Him, through death and the grave, into the resurrection and the life everlasting.  Those who have set their shoulder to that plowshare, dare not look back, but are called to set their face like flint upon Christ the Crucified.  We should not suppose that it is easy to persevere, nor that our progress will always be apparent.  The Christian life is one of suffering, before we enter into glory; for it is through many trials and tribulations that we enter the Kingdom of God.  And while that is the case for every disciple of the Lord Jesus, is it especially so for the pastors of His Church on earth.

This week, in particular, exemplifies the Cross that is laid upon those men who are called and ordained to preach the Word of Christ and to confess His holy name in the face of sin and death. The prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints who are remembered in these coming days provide a sober and serious warning to all those who follow after Christ in the Office of the Holy Ministry; but so are they also an encouragement to faith and faithfulness. We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, in order that our eyes might be lifted up unto Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. As we are called to die with Him, and for His sake and for the Gospel, so are we raised with Him to live forever in the presence of God the Father.

On Monday the 24th, we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. He wasn't born to die in quite the same way that Jesus was, but his entire life was pointed toward that Lamb of God, who takes upon Himself the sins of the world and bears them away in His own body to the Cross. So, like the Prophets before him and the holy Apostles who follow after, St. John the Baptist also suffers the Cross in his own flesh, that his very body and life might also proclaim the Savior who is sacrificed for our transgressions and raised for our justification. Already as we sing and confess the Benedictus with Zacharias, we know that his holy child, St. John, the Prophet of the Most High, will be imprisoned for his faithful witness and finally beheaded (as we'll commemorate in a few months on August the 29th). Yet, his miraculous birth and his martyr's death proclaim not only Christ and His Cross, but also the dying and rising and new birth of Holy Baptism; even as King Herod perceives the resurrection of St. John in the life of Christ Jesus!

On Tuesday the 25th, we commemorate the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, and we give thanks for the preaching of the Holy Gospel throughout the centuries to the present day. It is not exactly the case that Luther and Melanchthon and the other reformers were martyred in the same way that St. John the Baptist was, but they were persecuted by church and state, and they surely suffered for their faithful preaching and confession. Luther himself could not even be present at Augsburg for the reading of the great Confession, recognized by all as a public testimony of his teaching. Luther's life was under the Cross, even until his death. So, too, in our own day, the confession of the Gospel still brings wrath and woe on every hand — not only by the world, but by those who consider themselves to be the Church, who suppose that by their violence they are serving God. The promise of suffering should by no means dissuade us, but the example of those who have fearlessly faced the fire should steel us for the fight unto the end.

On Wednesday the 26th, we commemorate the Prophet Jeremiah, whose prophetic preaching of the Word of the Lord brought him grief and heartache. Indeed, the suffering of his life was as much a part of his preaching as anything he said, anticipating the Cross and Passion of the Lord Himself, whose Word he proclaimed. For Christ Jesus would take upon Himself the wrath of God that Jeremiah preached against Jerusalem, so that His people would be recalled from the exile of sin and death, and granted peace and rest in the Kingdom of God. Accordingly, poor Jeremiah not only suffered at the hands of the people to whom he preached, but then he also suffered together with them in the deportation to Egypt.

On Thursday the 27th, we commemorate St. Cyril of Alexandria, one of the most significant of the early church fathers, who vigorously defended the deity of Christ and the unity of His Person against the heretic Nestorious and others who were determined to divide and detract from the one Lord Jesus Christ. Nestorian sympathizers, both ancient and modern, have done their best to villify St. Cyril, as though his politics and personality (good, bad, or otherwise) had any bearing on the faithfulness and truth of his confession. In recent generations, Roman theologians have betrayed the weakness of their western christology by defending Nestorious as far as they dare against that "old meany," St. Cyril. But such detractors are nothing new. On the occasion of his death, someone wrote to a friend concerning St. Cyril:

"At last with a final struggle the villian has passed away. His departure delights the survivors, but possibly disheartens the dead; there is some fear that under the provocation of his comapny they may send him back again to us. Care must therefore be taken to order the guild of undertakers to place a very big and heavy stone on his grave to stop him coming back here" (quoted by Norman Russell in Cyril of Alexandria, p. 3).

A big heavy stone did not prevent the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; nor would it mean anything to the resurrection and the life that He, our Savior, has bestowed upon His servant Cyril — not any longer in Egypt, to be sure, but in the true and everlasting Canaan. So shall it also be for us, when our Baptism into Christ, the crucified God-Man, is completed in our death from this vale of tears, and we finally cross that great Jordan River into the promised land of peace and rest. In the meantime, we should fully expect to be ridiculed and villified for our faithfulness; and of course, to whatever extent the old Adam in us emerges with the faults and failings of our mortal flesh, our enemies will delight to hold those weaknesses against both us and our doctrine. God prevent us from falling into such temptations, which risk the reputation of the Gospel itself, especially if we are called and ordained to preach that Holy Gospel in its truth and purity. For our own sins, let us daily repent and do better. But for our brothers in the Ministry of Christ, who also bear the burdens of the flesh, let us defend them for the sake of their faithful preaching, and cover them with love for the sake of their Office. Even if some of them do happen to be unpleasant fellows and recalcitrant rascals, the measure of the truth is still the truth itself and neither politics nor personality.

On Friday the 28th, we commemorate St. Irenaeus of Lyons, of such tremendous importance to the history of the Christian faith and doctrine. He may not have been a martyr himself, but he was a friend of martyrs. To begin with, he became the new bishop of Lyons, upon returning from Rome, because his predecessor had been martyred while he was away. In his opposition to the rampant gnostic heresies of his day, he emphasized the goodness and the significance of creation, including the Christian's body, which shall be raised from death to the life everlasting. It is in that confidence of the resurrection, the surety of which is bodily received in the Holy Communion, that St. Irenaeus and his friends and colleagues and parishioners faced the constant real threat of martyrdom. It is in that same holy faith and certain confidence that we teach and confess the truth of Christ, come hell or high water against us.

Finally, on Saturday the 29th of June, we celebrate the great Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Apostles, one of the oldest festivals in the history of the Church. We remember and give thanks unto God, that the denier of Christ was restored to faith and discipleship, and that the terrible persecutor of Christians was called to repentance and converted to the very faith he once tried to destroy, and that these two men were sent by Christ as His Apostles to the world. In that apostleship, St. Peter learned by experience the Cross of Christ, the Son of the Living God, and St. Paul likewise learned what he would suffer for the Name of the Lord. By the grace of God, by His Word and Spirit, both men rejoiced to be counted worthy to share the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. They bore in their own bodies the marks of His Cross, for the benefit of those to whom they were sent to preach. When it came down to it, each of them was put to death for his faithful witness; and in that, death itself became a witness of the Gospel (a martyrdom). Even now, by the inspired record of their preaching and teaching in the New Testament, they continue to serve and support the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Whatever our own respective vocations may be, whether we are called to preach or to listen, or wherever we are called upon to confess the Gospel in our lives, let us not lose heart. Though we are being put to death all day long for the name of Christ, our faith and hope in Him shall not be disappointed. If there is anything to be gained by compromise, it shall be lost before too long, and gone forever; but whatever we lose for the sake of the Gospel, even if it be our very lives, we shall have gained a hundredfold in the everlasting Kingdom of our God and Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

For those who are called and sent to preach, it is most likely that suffering of one sort or another will come, but it is also most important that the Word be taught and the Gospel preached with all clarity and consistency. We may die for it, but by that proclamation shall we and our hearers be saved. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Spiritual Fathers

For anyone who is interested, my new book on the doctrine of the Ministry, Spiritual Fathers, is now available. See this web page for more information.