Monday, July 19, 2004

What Will Happen When A Church Body Can Fit On A Laptop?

(Some will read this and wonder, "What does this have to do with theology?"  But this is one of those thought-provoking pieces which I felt had tremendous relevance to church bodies.  In my case, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is in a tremendous flux at the moment (summer, 2004), torn by schism and burdened by an increasingly top-heavy bureaucracy.  Some confessional Lutherans are wondering if they could ever leave the LCMS as it staggers toward heterodoxy.  Perhaps leaving -- if this article's insights are correct -- would not be as difficult as some might think).
Q: What will happen when a national political machine can fit on a laptop?
A: See below

By Everett EhrlichSunday, December 14, 2003

Back in 1937, an economist named Ronald Coase realized something that helped explain the rise of modern corporations -- and which just might explain the coming decline of the American two-party political system.

Coase's insight was this: The cost of gathering information determines the size of organizations.
It sounds abstract, but in the past it meant that complex tasks undertaken on vast scales required organizational behemoths. This was as true for the Democratic and Republican parties as it was for General Motors. Choosing and marketing candidates isn't so different from designing, manufacturing and selling automobiles.

But the Internet has changed all that in one crucial respect that wouldn't surprise Coase one bit. To an economist, the "trick" of the Internet is that it drives the cost of information down to virtually zero. So according to Coase's theory, smaller information-gathering costs mean smaller organizations. And that's why the Internet has made it easier for small folks, whether small firms or dark-horse candidates such as Howard Dean, to take on the big ones.

For all Dean's talk about wanting to represent the truly "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," the paradox is that he is essentially a third-party candidate using modern technology to achieve a takeover of the Democratic Party. Other candidates -- John Kerry, John Edwards, Wesley Clark -- are competing to take control of the party's fundraising, organizational and media operations. But Dean is not interested in taking control of those depreciating assets. He is creating his own party, his own lists, his own money, his own organization. What he wants are the Democratic brand name and legacy, the party's last remaining assets of value, as part of his marketing strategy. Perhaps that's why former vice president Al Gore's endorsement of Dean last week felt so strange -- less like the traditional benediction of a fellow member of the party "club" than a senior executive welcoming the successful leveraged buyout specialist. And if Dean can do it this time around, so can others in future campaigns.

To understand it all better, let's go back to Coase and the world of business. Say you want to buy an appliance, or a vacation. You know there are bargains out there, but it takes time and energy to find them. That's what economists call the "transaction cost" of a purchase. This cost of acquiring information is everywhere: the time it takes to call a friend or to learn something in a newspaper. Or the time and resources it takes a company to find out where to find parts and to make sure they show up at an assembly line on time.

Back when it cost a great deal to learn and know things -- when transaction costs were very high -- big corporations had to solve the problem of coordinating information, such as what customers wanted to buy, what parts were being produced and shipped, how to make sure prices covered costs, and so on. The advent of mass production and similar "process" technologies let firms produce and sell things -- cars, steel, oil, chemicals, food -- on a much larger scale, so there was suddenly much more information to coordinate.

Companies solved this problem by creating massive bureaucratic pyramids; Alfred Sloane, chairman of General Motors, was famous for creating the multi-divisional firm. The job of these internal hierarchies is to gather, validate and store the information the company needed to coordinate all its activities. That's what "middle managers" in marketing, accounting and so on manage -- information.

Now, however, with internal communications networks and the speed of the Internet, you don't need a horde of people in a big pyramid to handle all that information. Firms have become "flatter" and "faster," and the "networked" or "virtual" company has come into being -- groups of firms that use shared networks to behave as if they were part of the same company. A generation ago, GM made all its own parts and IBM all its own chips. Not today. Now, specialized companies use networks to coordinate their activities with GM and IBM, and supply the needed components.

So the end result of the Internet revolution on companies has been exactly what Coase's theory predicted: Cheap information has allowed firms to shrink. Size is now less of an advantage in organizations, and that means more competition in the global marketplace. For companies, it's either reorganize or die. That's what Coase, who won the 1991 Nobel Prize in economics, was talking about.

Coase's ideas are no less true for political organizations, as Dean's success shows. He is the first candidate to use the Internet effectively as a political organizing device.

To put it in perspective, think about how political parties started. They began as a way of bringing like-minded people together to wield political influence, in the best and worst senses of the term. And they were a reflection of transaction costs, because that kind of large-scale, social organization was the most effective way to process political information.

Consider, for example, the first "modern" political campaign -- the Whig campaign for William Henry Harrison in 1840. Apart from some success as an Indian killer, Harrison had minimal credentials, but the Whigs figured out how to use the tremendous organizational apparatus of their party to promote him. They fabricated the image of Harrison as the "log cabin and hard cider" candidate, despite his more patrician roots, and used the party organization to enforce discipline around the fabrication -- to get everyone to say the same thing at the same time. In America's first political mass media stunt, they constructed a 10-foot-high ball of twine, wood and tin, covered it with Whig political slogans, and rolled it first from Cleveland to Columbus and then from town to town across the country (hence the expression "Keep the ball rolling").
It seems quaint now, but then it was an act of genius, because it capitalized on the Whigs' brilliant use of their party's primary asset -- the ability to coordinate information on a national scale. They got the entire party on message and then managed the activities of community supporters around the country to pull off the ball stunt. It was, a kind of primitive, analog blog. But in 1840, only a well-organized political organization could have done it.

No longer. Now anyone with a Web site and a server, a satellite transponder and about $100 million can have -- in a matter of months -- much of what the political parties have taken generations to build. Technology, of course, has changed politics before. Television changed the two parties, for example, but it didn't make the parties obsolete. In fact, in the day of Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy, television strengthened the two-party duopoly (the economist's term for a shared monopoly), as only those two parties had the resources to use it competitively.

But the Internet doesn't reinforce the parties -- instead, it questions their very rationale. You don't need a political party to keep the ball rolling -- you can have a virtual party do it just as easily.

And that's what Howard Dean has done. Nor is Dean alone. The same forces make the evangelical right a powerful force in the Republican Party. With its TV stations, membership lists and money, it is a party waiting to happen. When Republicans of more moderate stripes express concerns about the evangelicals "taking a walk" on the party, they are recognizing that underlying reality.

The ability to have "virtual political parties" is the greatest challenge the two parties have ever faced. There are strategies available to them, of course -- deft positioning allows them to preempt competitors, as it does in every industry, and they can use the same technology, although Internet culture doesn't seem readily amenable to either or Being a Democrat or a Republican isn't enough of an advantage anymore -- there are simply too many other places where people can get political information and find political bedfellows in an age of low information costs.

The real question is whether -- really, how -- the two parties, like any other waning duopoly, will use non-market means to preserve their fading power -- by, for example, keeping third-party candidates out of televised debates, making it harder for other parties to get public funding or closing off "open" primaries that invite marauding forms of political organization.
But the challenge is unavoidable, and the future is coming on fast. Here are some predictions. First, if Dean loses the nomination, he will preserve his organizational advantage and reemerge as a third-party force four years from now. He has done with technology what Ross Perot could not do with money alone. Second, the evangelical right will become a separate political party in the near future, and will hold its own conventions and primaries. Like the Conservative Party in New York state, it will usually endorse Republican candidates. But evangelicals will use their inherent party-ness to make the Republican candidate stand in front of them and give a separate acceptance speech. And finally, in the next six or eight presidential elections, a third-party candidate will win the presidency. Issues -- most likely the coming fiscal debacle and the inescapable abrogation of promises made on Social Security and Medicare -- will give the third-party candidate an opening. But technology will give him, or her, the means.
Sooner or later, it's going to happen. And all because of what an economist named Ronald Coase understood 70 years ago.

Author's e-mail:
Everett Ehrlich is senior vice president and director of research for the Committee for Economic Development. He was undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs under President Bill Clinton.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Solving the Problems of Seminary Education

Solving the Problems of Seminary Education


Within the Missouri synod, there's been a great deal of talk recently about the restructuring of seminary education. Unfortunately, the fight over seminary education has usually been drawn along two lines: liberal ('the moderates' -- who are usually not very liberal at all by classical definition), and conservatives.

The liberals are mostly aging baby-boomers, who are inclined to throw terms like "irrelevant" or "outmoded" around like candy. Their preferred mode of seminary education is geared to contemporary issues, contemporary usually meaning whatever current society is worried about. Of course, I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea.

Conservatives are sometimes not much better. In the first place, those who call themselves conservatives sometimes ( not always, unfortunately ) mean that they are confessional. The two are not synonymous. Conservatives are sometimes just that: conservative, wanting to hold on to whatever was in the past. The past sometimes made grievous errors. Just like us. Sometimes confessional or orthodox Lutherans must be quite radical in the changes they hope to bring about, in order to root out the problems of the past -- and those of the future. But that's for another time.

The conservatives often hold to the past for seminary education. There's a great hankering in some circles for bringing the orthodox seminaries back to where they were in, say, 1900. Unfortunately, there were problems then, as well. Perhaps the problems were less. But there is no great virtue in returning to the past. The past is not our standard. The scriptures and our confessions are.

The problem
I would like to propose a radical, confessional change for seminary education.

It would solve the problem of educating second career men, who are perhaps blessed with a family to support while studying for the holy ministry.

It would solve the problem of educating men from minority groups, who sometimes feel that they are taken out of a particular community and forced into a seminary setting at variance with their day-to-day life.

It would solve the problem of men entering the ministry with a huge debt for their education.

It would solve the problem of men who enter the ministry, and are forced into spoon-fed continuing education because they are unable to study on their own.

It would solve the problem of a dichotomy between seminary education and the parish setting.

It would solve the problem of ivory tower professors who have no contact with the ministry setting into which their students will soon enter.

And frankly, it would solve problems that I cannot even envision, because it would -- for the first time, to my knowledge -- bring the element of competition into the way the Missouri Synod (and other confessional church bodies) educate their ministers.

I have seen very few situations in human life where competition is not a great and helpful thing. In business, it prevents one business from tyrannizing a particular market by forcing customers to endure bad service. It is truly astonishing what real freedom of choice can provide to a situation that is not working well.

There is very little competition in seminary education today. There are two seminaries in the Missouri Synod, but the St. Louis seminary is having such problems at this point that it frankly offers little incentive for a student to attend there when he can just as easily attend the one in Ft. Wayne.

The two Concordias are doing a good job, however. The proof of an educational institution is their graduates, and the graduates in question are superb. Recent graduates are confessional, well versed in the scriptures, and able to minister to parishes in need. But the problems mentioned above still haunt us.

A possible solution

In 1836, the University of London offered a radical degree program. In this program, they offered no instruction or any of the other traditional trappings of university learning. What they offered was a degree program in which students learned on their own, and the university tested students to verify that they had learned what was required in their field.

This program is offered still. (Interestingly enough, they also offer a BD, equivalent to an M. Div.) The idea has also spread. There are probably hundreds of colleges and universities in the US (and overseas -- the University of South Africa has an outstanding program) offering some form of external learning. But the one which has offered the purest form in the US is the Excelsior College's external degree program. This fully accredited associates and bachelors (and soon they will be offering several masters level programs as well) program is offered to anyone who can demonstrate knowledge in a particular field. How the student learns is his business. What he has learned, and certifying that he has learned it is the business of the university.

I am well acquainted with this program because I am a graduate of the program. I received a BA in philosophy from them in 1978, and went on to complete an associate's degree in nursing in 1980. I demonstrated my competence in both fields by written examinations in philosophy, and a combination of written and clinical examinations in nursing. Both are tough, and nail-bitingly rigorous.

I have no interest in lowering standards for ministerial education. If anything, they should probably be strengthened. I'm appalled at some of the suggestions being bandied about today, especially those aimed at changing the process for minority group ministers. Such suggestions are usually painfully condescending, and if put nakedly, are basically phrased as they are because the person suggesting them thinks that African-American or Hmong or whatever group is under discussion is incapable of the rigors of theological education, unlike (and here is the unspoken assertion) Lutherans of German descent.

I don't buy that. What I do think is that changes need to be made in the process by which ministers are trained. I want to maintain the same rigorous standards governing the outcome of the process.

Let us envision a different process. In this one, students are responsible for their own education. They are able to learn in whatever way suits them best. Some will choose classroom instruction, and so there will still be a need for educational institutions, although they will be different from the way they exist now.

Others will choose to be tutored, and will work out arrangements with tutors. Some pastors may tutor men in their congregations who are studying for the ministry. Other students may want to study under some other teacher or writer or pastor, and will make arrangements that way. Some of this tutoring will be done in person, some by mail, some by phone or computer network conferences.

Still others will study mostly by reading. They will treat great past and present writers like tutors, and learn from them. Such students will spend six months absorbed in, say, Walther's Law and Gospel, or Chemnitz's Loci. Some will study them by themselves; others with the help of a tutor, and still others with a study group. The possibilities are endless.

And other ways I have not envisioned will be used as well, ways that will allow students to learn in whatever way helps them the most. I can only speak for myself -- as one who has completed two college degrees by such a process -- that this method encourages further learning. The tired, old system (now being promulgated as though it were the newest thing on the block) of dishing out pabulum disguised as "continuing education" could die on the vine. The system I envision allows the student to make the library his primary teacher, and that is a wonderful thing.

We have no idea what wonderful resources are at hand, most of them no further than a toll-free phone call away. English reading Christians in the late 20th century have an enormous supply of orthodox writings available in our language, not to mention those who can read and understand German or Latin. Luther and Chemnitz and Sasse and Walther and Marquart -- to mention only a few -- are waiting for us. Those writings alone would supply a lifetime of faith-enriching orthodox teaching, and yet we somehow feel the need to spoon-feed adult, college-educated (often graduate degreed) men. Of course, some will never take the time or energy to read these materials. The bigger question that must be asked, though, is whether we want someone so lazy or unmotivated or incapable in the ministry. No, I don't think every person has to read the great works of the past -- although we would all benefit from them. But if the clergy are not acquainted with these writers, they will surely pick up their theology from someone. Who will it be?


One objection that will certainly be raised to such a program is that while the residential program has a means by which the student becomes acclimated to the ministry, the external program has no such means. In other words, the seminary becomes (among other things) a halfway house. In seminary, he is no longer (in a sense) fully a layman, and not yet clergy. He has in seminary a chance to become adjusted to the responsibilities he will face without fully taking them on. A good example of this acclimatization is found in the annual report of the Dean of the Martin Luther Institute of Sacred Studies, the training institution of the Lutheran Churches of the Reformation. In his report at the LCR's 1994 convention, Dean Sheldon Twenge mentioned something most of us don't even think about: that "some LCR principles that become virtually 'second nature' to MLISS students [by virtue of their attendance at that institution] are: congregational autonomy, the advisory nature of a church body, and the office of the public ministry ... " (The Faithful Word, Vol. 31, No. 2, p. 54)

This is how ministerial training should be. Every church body has differences and distinctions which the student must make part of himself if he is to be happy ministering within that body. The student who is not acclimated to those distinctions will a) be unhappy, b) make his congregation unhappy, c) probably leave in search of another church body soon. This is one of the reasons why ministerial training (both internal and external) must emphasize the Lutheran confessions. Men who are not grounded and rooted in them may end up being fine generic Protestant ministers, but they will not be Lutherans.

The conservative answer to this problem is to act as though all men entering seminaries are just out of a synodical college, having previously attended a synodical prep school. Of course, we can act this way all we want, but it is not true now, and has not been for some time. It might have been a preferred way to train ministers, but it's not the way things are right now. Another problem for this method of ministerial training is that there are many men in the seminaries who did not grow up as Lutherans, and some of them have not been Lutherans for many years. So, why complain about something that's not going to change any time soon? If anything, begin working now on 13 or 14 year old boys, encouraging them to enter prep schools. But it will do no good to treat a second career man, aged 41, as though he had this history. It's simply pointless, and a waste of everyone's time and energies, both of which are in short supply.

Men who have come through "the system" will have absorbed a confessional stance partly by osmosis. But I think we must further face the fact that part of our problem may be that our congregations are no longer as "Lutheran" as they should be. This is a problem much bigger than seminaries, and it is beyond my scope to remedy it. I have no interest in becoming some type of Lutheran cheerleader, making individuals and congregations and synods Lutheran for the sake of being "Lutheran." I do hope for a more outspokenly confessional and biblical heritage for us all.

That begins, not at the seminaries, but at the congregational level. The Word of God must be preached purely, teaching must be biblical, hymns must be doctrinally pure, and liturgies must point to the risen Savior, and away from ourselves. When this happens in congregations, the socialization of ministers will be a given, happening on the congregational level.

How do we gauge outcomes?

Training for the ministry involves several areas, and all of them must be examined before any church body can certify that a man is qualified for a call.

The one thought about most often is that of academic learning. "Apt to teach" is one of the primary qualifications Paul gives for the minister of the Word, and that necessitates adequate learning. The student must demonstrate proficiency in such areas as exegetical theology (which of necessity includes knowledge of the original languages), doctrinal theology, historical theology (which would necessitate knowledge of Latin, and, at least for Lutherans, German), and practical theology (including the theoretical aspects of such areas as homiletics and liturgics).

This is the area easiest to test in. The candidate's knowledge can be easily tested by some combination of written or verbal examinations.

Another area the candidate needs involves (for want of a better term) practical areas, such as preaching ability, teaching ability, and liturgical skills. This is a more difficult area to test. It is also a difficult area to teach, and most seminaries will -- if candid -- admit it. Obviously, it cannot be assessed by means of written exams, and probably not by verbal ones either. Remember, I am not suggesting means by which students can learn these abilities. That is, bluntly speaking, their problem. I am merely discussing how they should demonstrate their knowledge of these.

I can suggest several means. One would be by means of a skills list which would need to be demonstrated, to someone who is capable of objective, mature judgment on the particular skill. Another would be a series of demonstrative examinations for the various skills, such as a "model" sermon, "model" teaching, or whatever. Finding a way to test such abilities is difficult, but not impossible. If testing the ability in a "conventional" seminary is possible, testing it on an external basis is possible, too.

The third area that must be addressed is that of the man himself, his character and life, which is a sure requirement in the New Testament. A residential seminary program provides some means by which the faculty and others can judge this character requirement, in ways an external program cannot. There's never a sure-fire way of judging this, even in a residential program where the faculty and students are in close contact; everyone has horror stories of men entering the ministry who are by character unfit for ministry. Some means of judging a man's life would have to be developed, but, again, this is by no means an insurmountable barrier.


The plan I've proposed is by no means complete. I am not an educator (although I teach a junior high Bible class, and tutor my own children in a homeschool setting), but I have been through programs of this sort. This type of learning works. I am not saying it is for everyone, and I am not saying it would solve all of the problems seminary education is facing. What I am saying is that competition would help us solve these problems, and that this means of seminary education -- which would force the student to take responsibility for at least part of his own learning -- would make for men who are able learn on their own, without that perhaps saddest of situations, wherein a minister stops reading anything of consequence six months into his first parish.

Seminary education is expensive, both for the synod and for the student. Unfortunately, an uneducated or undereducated ministry is a lot more expensive. We need to make the best use of our seminary funds. This is a way of innovating that is comparatively inexpensive. We are the first generation in history which has access to so many means of teaching, and it behooves us to make use of them. Think about the means unavailable even twenty years ago: video and audio tapes, teleconferencing, on-line seminars, CD-ROMs, and satellite downloading. Not to mention that we are blessed with inexpensive books (especially when we look at the adjusted dollar cost, compared with twenty years ago), and easier and less expensive travel. Other means will come along in even the next decade that we cannot even imagine now.

God has enabled us to have these technologies. We can use them to make our education better, or we can ignore them, and continue with the same, expensive means we've used in the past. Companies catering to homeschooling families have come out with wonderful innovations, and that is a result of competition. Can we do the same? Of course we can. The important question is whether we will. We are faced with an opportunity to improve the way we educate our ministers. Properly done, it will not only save scarce time and resources, but will improve the way ministers learn.

Getting into the Book of Concord

Getting into the Book of Concord


Jim Huffman

I was dragged kicking and screaming into Lutheran orthodoxy several years ago. A new pastor,at the time fresh out of seminary, was used by God to show me that millenialism, limited atonement, and similar ideas could not be considered "Lutheran" even if I had been attending a Lutheran church for several years.

There is a frightening feeling, though, of having lost some beliefs, and having nothing to replace them at the moment. Jesus' word about the devils leaving a house, and finding it later swept and clean applied to me. What I longed for was a feeling for how Lutheranism hung together, as a cohesive system (for want of a better word) for seeing the Bible whole.

I think this is something lost on those who grew up Lutheran. I did not. Born into a Southern Baptist family, I attended Moody Bible Institute, and later came to a rather hardened form of Calvinism. So, while I found myself persuaded that some of my ideas were unbiblical, I could not yet see the forest of Lutheranism for the trees of individual doctrines. No one seemed able to help me see cohesion.

But finally someone did. I have Gregory Jackson to thank for showing me a way. And that was in reading the Lutheran confessions, The Book of Concord.

C. S. Lewis said it much better than I can. In his introduction to a recent reissue of Athanasius' On the Incarnation, Lewis says:

"There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something aboiut Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about "isms" and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said."

I think this is a similar problem in orthodox Lutheran circles. While it is considered admirable or even necessary for pastors and other theologians to read the confessional books, there is the unspoken feeling that they are too difficult or inaccessible or something for the average layman to read, ponder, consider, or be changed by.

I'd like to disabuse that notion. I'm of no more than average intelligence, and while I have some theological training, it was hardly rigorous. I have four children, three of whom we are homeschooling, and I operate two home businesses, so I have no more time than anyone else. What I did have was a desire to learn what the confessional books said, and what made being a Lutheran different in a cohesive whole.

And the confessions give an even mildly interested reader that ability. It is a shocking thing to realize that modern explanations of Lutheran doctrine, well-intentioned they may be, are often more complex to the reader than the simple (though not so simple) confessional writings. What I'd like to do is offer a guide. Through trial and error, I've found a way to get into the Book of Concord. I have not arrived. Actually, I haven't even finished my preliminary study (that being a long-term goal). But I have begun, and I would be surprised if there aren't others in my boat.

There are probably few Lutherans who have not read Luther's Small Catechism. Borne of a desire to provide a way for parents (fathers, actually) to teach their children about the faith, and designed to be a "layman's Bible," most Lutherans see the SC as being something worthy of one's attention only at age 9. Not so.

Luther had no such illusions, and chastises those who scorned the catechism, saying that he still pondered it daily. Since I would guess that myself and most readers are not yet quite at Luther's point in understanding the gospel, may I suggest that we do the same? If you can't see your way clear to read it daily, how about at least reading it through again? It's where I suggest starting. Take off your confirmation class blinders, and read it afresh. And be ready to be amazed at the wealth of understanding there.

After spending some time with the SC, go on to the Large Catechism. Designed as a catechism for pastors, it's an entirely different animal from the SC, and is not really designed as a sort of expanded commentary on the smaller, though that would be the logical thought. Instead of looking at the LC as a catechism (which of course it is) enjoy the opportunity to see some of Luther at his finest. The Large Catechism is an enjoyable book, a fun read, although the topics covered are often neither fun nor comfortable. It's not designed to be. But I've found that reading something with grim religious blinders is often the surest way I've found to be completely put to sleep. But to read this book for the sheer enjoyment of knowing Luther is a good way to spend an evening or a lifetime. We Lutherans condemn saint worship but compound the problem by going in for hero worship. Luther was a great and wonderful man. But he was a man, and there was no stained glass element to his life. He was rough and ready, and knew the smell of battle, and his writings reflect that. Read his writings for fun. If you want to read a dry-as-dust religious writer, try some Calvin, and you'll immediately see the difference. Approach the Large Catechism as something you're going to enjoy reading. You probably will. And you'll be amazed at what you'll learn.

But another problem immediately comes to mind: which translation of the Concord should you read? If you have one already, the answer is simple: use the one you've got. But if you don't, I recommend the Tappert edition, published by Fortress.

Now, at this point, I've lost 50% of my hard core readers. It is customary in orthodox circles to lift one's skirts when passing Tappert, and sniff that reading the Concord in Tappert's edition is like reading The Living Bible. Perhaps that is true. I am not one to judge. I am sure that someday soon I will break down, and buy the Triglotta edition, but I haven't yet.

But the Tappert edition is easy to read, and probably not designed for the scholar, and that recommends it to me, at least for the start. I am told there are problems with the translation. I am told that Tappert was a pietist, and he (like any other translator) allowed this to influence his translation (although the book is not entirely his translation -- Pelikan, for example, translated the Apology). All of this may be true. But I am primarily interested in getting you to read the confessions. If an easier to read edition does that, then I'm glad. We would probably all be better off reading the New Testament in Greek. But since not one out of a thousand of us (pastors included, if the truth were told) do that, I feel comfortable sticking with the KJV I've been using for the last eleven years. If you don't have the Triglotta already, start with the Tappert edition, and (to paraphrase Luther) bless God.

After you've enjoyed the Large Catechism, dig into the Augsburg Confession. Be prepared to be amazed at how contemporary the concerns it raises are, and how this perhaps defining document of Lutheranism speaks to you right now. Ponder how some of the excesses in the American church might be remedied by some serious study of this short book.

After that, go in for the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. The Apology will speak to you, and be useful in ways you probably never imagined. When I was in college, it was popular among me and some friends to make a sharp divergence between "devotional Bible reading" and "Bible study." Never mind that this bit of Platonism was difficult to do; it was something God never commanded. Nevertheless, you will walk away from the Apology with a greater love for God, and an even greater wonder at His love toward us. It will answer questions you have probably pondered for much of your life, if you are like most American Lutherans. For example: what is meant by "perfection"? Try reading the bottom of page 273, in Tappert. And do some pondering of the wonderful story of St. Anthony and the shoemaker on pps. 275 and 276. A friend grumbled that Melanchthon was verbose in the Apology; I found him not verbose, but grumbled within myself when it was over! I think you will find the same to be true.

There are many -- myself one, at times -- who feel that we in the early 21st century alone have problems establishing orthodox teaching and worship. That's wrong, and I'm convinced it's an error Satan sends into our hearts to discourage us. The world, the flesh, and the devil are hard at work in 2004, just as they were in 1530, and what goes on now went on then, as well -- only in perhaps slightly different forms. But we're coming now into confessional books that were part of the church's carving out niches of orthodoxy in the 16th century. It was no easier then than it is now, and reading these books will show you.

The Smalcald Articles was Luther's dealing with some of the then current doctrinal problems. It was to be presented at a papal council -- the infamous one eventually held at Trent. His introduction is enlightening. Since Luther's time, it has been customary to argue by this group or that that Luther would eventually have "come around," been "more reasonable," and more willing to accomodate to whatever this particular group is urging. Luther foresaw this, and worried about it. We may be assured that Luther was neither faultless nor sinless. But he was a great and enduring Christian, and the burden is on those who think that Luther would somehow have changed his mind to prove it. No, he thought long and hard about the Christian faith. The customary (and erroneous) idea of a divergence between the "young" and "old" Luther doesn't hold true, upon even a cursory examination of what he wrote. Like any great man, he developed the implications of what he believed. But what was there in 1517 was there in 1546 and vice-versa.

The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope is not a popular book now, and for that reason alone warrants your careful attention. I think even among orthodox Lutherans there is the feeling that somehow Luther's attacks on the pope was due to the latter's inhumanity -- that is, if Paul III had been just a nice guy, that Luther would not have been compelled to go to such extremes, as calling him (for
heaven's sake!) the anti-Christ. No, we sit in 2004, and see a pope who is a grandfatherly type, and nice, and kind, and even pro-life, and we just can't envision him as anti-Christ. (An aside: my wife -- of pure Italian descent -- said that that was the shocking thing to Italians about the election of John Paul II. Popes are supposed to be grandfatherly Italian men -- all the kids in her Catholic parochial school had known that. For the Cardinals to elect a Pole was beyond the pale!)

We must remember that Luther's doctrine of the pope as anti-Christ had nothing to do with the personal holiness (or lack thereof) of whatever man currently held the papal chair. It was this, and simply this: that the pope sat in the church, teaching and commanding obedience apart from the word of God, and proclaiming that such obedience to his commands were necessary for salvation. Of course, we (on a secular level) rejoice that Roman Catholics are pro-life, in the same way we rejoice when Hasidic Jews or Moslems are pro-life. But a Roman Catholic who faithfully believes Roman dogma is no more saved than a Jew or a Moslem. This is a hard saying, but one that must be repeated.

And that's where we need the Treatise. Designed as an appendage to the Augsburg Confession, it sets forth the scriptural and historical arguments about the papacy, the scriptural teachings about the anti-Christ, as well as refuting Rome's arguments.

At a time when Rome's attraction is greater than ever to many Lutherans, the Treatise is a needed antidote. When a teaching or book or idea is neglected by a society or culture or church, it is worthwhile pondering why it is neglected. And it would behoove all of us to ponder afresh the scriptural doctrine of the papacy as anti-Christ, and even further, ponder why we are so embarrassed by it.

Finally, we come to the Formula of Concord. I mentioned earlier the very prevalent idea in Christian circles that there was some golden age of orthodoxy, when the church reveled in doctrinal purity, and had no enemies. This is no idea -- it's a myth! And a myth that we would all be better off without, because it causes us to despair. We somehow think that we have it worse than other ages. Not true! While there are horrible problems in our time -- doctrinal, liturgical, and practical -- be assured that other ages have faced ones as bad or worse. And with God's help, they dealt with those problems.

That's the beauty of studying history, and the sadness of an age (our own) which devalues knowledge of the past. There's nothing magical about the past. The men and women who lived in that time were neither better nor worse than those in our own time. But we learn from them things we could not learn from anyone else -- how their problems were surmountable with God's Word, and how our problems can be dealt with in the same way.

Luther's time was horrible. Defenders of orthodox doctrine were in constant danger of their lives from the papal forces, hostile civil authorities, and religious extremists. What's more, it was by no means certain that orthodoxy would "win" and the future looked bleak.

Even more problematic, though, was the constant temptation to give in to doctrinal deviations. Men were men then as now, and it is no easier to stand up for orthodox Christianity against a world that seems united against the faith. Then as now, they were faced with the canard that 'surely you cannot alone in all the world be right, while others are wrong.' And there were many who gave in, many who were at one point solidly orthodox, but in the end answered affirmatively to Jesus' question, "Will ye also go away?" (John 6:67)

This is the point of the Formula of Concord. It is the last document in the Book of Concord, and it addresses nine specific doctrinal errors which had arisen among the church of the Augsburg confession. It remains amazingly relevant to our time. This is the most shocking thing, perhaps, about reading old books: those most "out of date" and "irrelevant" are the most needful, while there is nothing less useful and more irrelevant than most contemporary books. Some of the questions it addresses: are good works necessary to salvation? (a constant temptation to the church), does man cooperate in conversion?, is our justification objective or subjective?, what is the effective cause of salvation?, and what is the nature of Christ's presence in the sacrament?

And so we've come to the end of the Book of Concord. And yet, like any other great book, it is a journey that never ends. Each reading brings out fresh insights, engendering faith anew in the reader. This is what we mean when we talk about a great book, and the total picture of practicality. What seems to the human mind practical and useful is often not. But the Book of Concord does more than give the reader practical insights for our personal and churchly lives (though it does that); it brings about an inner change so that the reader is himself changed. This new man realizes in a way he couldn't before the reading that the solution that beforehand seemed best is not the right question. Most contemporary books may be useful in changing this or that piece of a bad situation. But they will not change you. That is the key to important and great reading. That is what I am seeking in the Book of Concord. I encourage you to seek it along with me.

Jesus' Temptation and Ours: A sermon for a midweek Lenten service, March 10, 2004

The story in this gospel reading is one we know well. Luke writes the wondrous story of Jesus’ baptism, how the Father spoke from Heaven, and the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven in a bodily form of a dove. And then -- after Luke interrupts for almost half a chapter to tell the story of Jesus’ genealogy -- he continues to tell us a story perhaps as wondrous, that of Jesus spending 40 days praying and fasting in the wilderness.

We think of wilderness, and we think of trees and forests and a whole lot of things like that, but that’s almost certainly not what kind of wilderness Jesus saw when he walked out lonely into the wilderness to face the tempter. It was a place out in the desert, dry and hot during the day, dry and cold at night, with nothing to shade him from the blazing sun, no place to rest at night except the dry dirt, and no pillow except a stone. And the heat wasn’t all that was bad about this place, because it was filled with animals: snakes, scorpions, and probably insects as well. A nasty place. A place you wouldn’t want to go for an hour, and Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights there. 40 days. Over a month. Longer than the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And maybe it would have been tolerable if he had been alone, but he was not, because the text tells us that he was there, and tempted by the devil. So in the midst of ravaging hunger and having to deal with insects, Satan was there.

Satan, of course, does not look like the red creature we see in cartoons, who carries a pitchfork. If only he did look like that! We could easily identify him. But St. Paul tells us that Satan can even appear as an angel of light, meaning that he can appear good, he might appear kindly, he might even appear to have our best intentions in mind.

There may have been numerous temptations Jesus endured those 40 days. We simply don’t know if there were more. But we do know of 3. Theologians sometimes speculate as to what ways Jesus was tempted, and I think that sometimes we think that God cannot understand our temptations. After all, we live in a world very different from Bible times. But God’s law is there to show us our sin, and the root of all our sins -- the lying, the taking what is not ours, the evil thoughts, the hatreds, all the sins we do every day -- the root of all those is that we do not trust God. We do not trust that God will be God, that he will watch over us, that he will care for us, that he will provide all that we need.

And that lack of trust is ultimately where Satan tempts Jesus. To trust in himself, to trust in Satan, to trust in anything else but his heavenly Father.

And so Satan attacks Jesus, just as he attacks us. And the first temptation recorded is one aimed at Jesus’ hunger. Was Jesus hungry? You bet he was. It’s easy to forget that Jesus is fully God, but that he is also fully man. And any man or woman who has gone 40 days without eating will be hungry, almost out of their mind with hunger. And Jesus was no different from us. He was hungry. And the evil one came to him. The evil one tempts this man, dazed with lack of food, taunting him. IF you are the son of God, he teases him, command that these stones become bread. Could Jesus have done it? Of course. Several times in the gospels, we are told how he fed thousands of people, multiplying bread, just as he feeds the whole world even now, and just as he feeds his people with his own body and blood in the Lord’s supper every Sunday. But Satan tempts Jesus to wonder if God his heavenly father really cared for him, really took notice of his needs, really would give what he needed. Just as we are tempted to wonder, to doubt that God will provide for us in hard times, to believe that God really does not care for us.

In the second temptation, Satan takes Jesus into a high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the liar promises to give all of this to Jesus if he will but fall down and worship Satan. Again, this is a first commandment temptation, a temptation to worship someone, anyone, but the true God who is our father, and who created and sustains us and all of creation. And while we may not be explicitly tempted to worship Satan himself (though there are those sad individuals who have done so) we are constantly tempted to put our trust, our love, indeed our worship into something or someone else but God. And so Jesus was tempted with us in this.

And finally, Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, probably the highest spot in Jerusalem, tempting him this time with the thought that God might not really care for him. “Throw yourself down,” he taunts him, “if you really are the son of God. Because if you really are the son of God, God will care for you,” and then he quotes scripture at him. And we are tempted to, in dark moments, in times of trial, in times of temptation, to wonder, “Am I really a child of God? Does he really care for me?,” and there are always lying prophets -- sometimes in books, sometimes on TV, or wherever -- who will even quote the Bible to us, and they appear so holy, so good. But they tempt us to take our eyes off of God, to put our trust in someone else.

And in all of these temptations, Jesus answers with God’s word. Jesus could have told the lying Satan to just go away, to just leave him alone. But when we answer with God’s word, we are putting our trust in God, not leaning on our own devices to foil the devil. Because even in turning away from sin, we can sin, if we do it or try to do it in our own strength. So we -- along with our Savior -- are invited to hear his word, to trust his kind word to us, and even to use his word as a tool to fend off the temptations of Satan. Because in our temptations, Satan can and will lie to us. But God will never lie to us, never mislead us, never steer us wrong.

So in these 40 days of Lent, when we ponder the temptations our Savior went through, we ponder also our own sin, and the temptations which dog us through life, and we realize that our temptations are not unusual or unique. Because Jesus went through those temptations as well, the temptation to trust in someone else besides God. And he went through that temptation without sin, trusting in his heavenly father. And we take comfort from Jesus’ temptation, knowing that even when we have given into temptation, we may return quickly to our heavenly father, trusting him to be God, the God who forgives our sins, and makes us new. May God grant that trust to us, even tonight.

Who’s the Boss? Understanding Romans 13 in Light of the American Political System

Who’s the Boss? Understanding Romans 13 in Light of the American Political System

Jim Huffman

When Harry Truman was president, he had a carved slogan on his desk. “The buck stops here,” it read, indicating that the ultimate question of responsibility rested on the one sitting at that desk. And for most of recorded history, the question of where the buck stops -- governmentally speaking -- has been easily ascertained: the authority rested on a monarch of some sort, one who literally embodied the state and the government in one person, a hereditary power that was more or less not questionable.

And when the Apostle Paul wrote Romans 13, the question of earthly authority was not ambiguous: the Roman Caesar was the one who held that authority, though he delegated it to lesser persons throughout his Mediterranean empire. That such authority ultimately rested in the Caesar is plain from Paul’s appeal to Caesar in Jerusalem, an appeal that landed him in Rome, and to his ultimate death in Rome.

But ultimate authority is not quite so easily determined in America. And the question of how Romans 13 (verses 1-7) and I Peter 2 (verses 13-17) are to be applied to our situation requires careful thought.

We have to start with presuppositions, and the first is that God has spoken in His word, and we are to obey that word from Him, even when such obedience seems difficult or uncomfortable. God has spoken to us through the instrumentality of the Apostles Paul and Peter in the passages mentioned above. We are to hear them, heed them, and wisely understand how they are to be applied in our situation.
Lutheran Christians also come to this question with our understanding of where earthly authority comes from. It is not something derived from some human compact, some earthly agreement about how to rule ourselves. Rather, human government rises from the commandment (Exodus 20.12) in which we are commanded: Honor thy father and thy mother. Luther expounds this commandment in the following way:

We should fear and love God that we may not despise nor anger our parents and masters, but give them honor, serve, obey, and hold them in love and esteem.

In other words, anarchy (no government, a theoretical system in which there is no governmental authority) is not a possibility in Christian political thought. (In reality, anarchy never happens, anywhere, despite the romantic longings of some people who view their government as oppressive. Nothing would more quickly change a theoretical anarchist’s mind than to have 3 days of his vision in action. Most anarchists (and neo-anarchists, many calling themselves libertarian) think of the world in a visionary sense, one in which good people work together to make things happen. But St. Paul notes that the law is given for the lawbreaker (see I Timothy I.9: “that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient”) and the world is inhabited by sinners, not some theoretically good people).

But in America, we are faced with a multitude of governing authorities, all of them legitimate, all of them holding power, all of them needing obedience. And how do we sort this out?

The most common problem (and the one that prompted this paper) is the error of equating the “king” (in I Peter 2) and “rulers” (in Romans 13) with the American president.

In the American system -- Constitutionally speaking, which is the only rule that ultimately is important, the president is a relatively weak official. The president presides over the executive branch, and is fairly hamstrung in his governance. The only time presidents get much real power is during wartime, when they can often count on a compliant congress (which holds the purse strings) and a judiciary which will go along with their wishes. (It is enlightening to note that the presidents we popularly view as the best ones are often those who presided during wartime: note Washington (president after the revolution), Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt. John Kennedy is viewed by many as a great president, though it is hard to tell how much of that perceived greatness is related to his death). But the president has limited, circumscribed powers, and these are guarded jealously. The idea that the president has unlimited, almost “kingly” powers is shown to be in error by the president’s being subject to impeachment and conviction for bad conduct. This was shown in my lifetime by the near-impeachment of President Nixon (1974) and the impeachment (but not conviction) of President Clinton in 1998.

Words are important, too, on this matter. While -- for example -- we will speak of the “government” of Margaret Thatcher in the UK (1979 - 1991) it would be incorrect to speak of the “government of Ronald Reagan.” We speak, rather, of the administration of, say, Reagan. The American president administers the executive branch, but he does not govern the nation, at least not in that sense.

Style can confuse, as well. American presidents, many of whom have spent years or decades in seeking to become president (we are told, for example, that Bill Clinton was wanting to be president from at least age 15) often want to have recognition, pomp, and to be treated as royalty. This accounts for the semi-regal style that accompanies some presidents. But style is not substance. And the playing of Hail to the Chief does not somehow make the current president a king.

Because while Caesar could make rulings and orders, and have them carried out without question, such is not true for the president. (Most of us are happy with this when we don’t like the president, and disagree with his policies, and are dismayed when we do like the president, and agree with him). A president can issue orders, make nominations, and declare war … and the congress must approve. Even the president’s own cabinet must be approved by the senate.

And that’s not the end. Because the president can, say, propose legislation, have it approved by congress … and still face a battle in the judiciary, in which federal judges can block a president’s wishes. And ultimately, the Supreme Court can totally block a president’s wishes.

So where does the ultimate power lie in the American system? The answer, I would argue, comes from examining the oath taken by American presidents as they come into office. A similar oath is taken by members of Congress, judges, and other such officials, and it is an oath uphold the Constitution of the United States. The president -- and all federal government officials -- are bound by, and have their duties given by the American Constitution. More importantly, such officeholders operate under the power and command of the Constitution. This must be remembered in all of our thinking about how to deal with the government in our country.

I would further argue that, in American, the ultimate Romans 13 authority, power, and honor go to the US Constitution.

That’s right, to a piece of paper. Not of course, to any piece of paper, but to a document which the American people have bound themselves to be governed by. One which tells us the way our nation is to be governed, one which limits the powers of governmental officials (including presidents), and one which is relatively unchangeable.

(Not completely unchangeable, of course: the Constitution can be amended, and has been. But not easily. Government officials, on the other hand can be changed quickly, and often are).

So where does Romans 13 obedience go in America? Our ultimate obedience goes to that piece of paper, that document, that Constitution. Not because it is sacred, not because it is without error, and not because it cannot err, but because it is the place, the locus of authority in our country, the place where, ultimately, the buck stops, because all of those officials -- presidents, congressmen, senators, judges, all of them -- swear an oath to uphold that document. And that makes us different. Different because we have a document that can be easily read and verified, one accessible to any literate American, one that allows any American to call elected officials on the carpet when they overstep the bounds of that document. And one that allows Christian Americans to -- in good conscience -- vote out offending officeholders, and in cases of extremity, allows Christian congressmen to impeach and Christian senators to convict officeholders, thereby removing them from office.

Some principles here, not necessarily in order of importance:

1. While the Constitution is the locus of authority, and the continuing authority (officeholders come and go, it perseveres), individuals elected or appointed to offices deserve a delegated honor and obedience as ones who are there to safeguard the Constitution. Romans 13 speaks of kings and all who are in authority. “Kings” here would -- in our country -- mean the American Constitution. But “all who are in authority” would certainly include the officeholders operating under that “king.”

2. Whether they safeguard the Constitution well is not your immediate concern, as far as giving them that honor. God has placed them in that office; you honor their position vis-à-vis the continuing “kingly authority,” the Constitution.

3. Voting against a president (or anyone else holding Romans 13 power) is not a sin. Nor is it a sin to actively seek to remove an officeholder from their position. In such actions, you are simply exercising one of the prerogatives given you in the Constitution. On the other hand, it is always prudent to remember that this person does hold power from God’s hand. A proper show of respect is good. However, Americans are always eager to see their presidents manifest a fountain of wisdom. While we might hope for wise officeholders, it’s usually not something we are going to get. Seek wisdom elsewhere.

4. The most important thing you can do -- more important than voting, more important than haranguing your representatives, or the White House, more important than manning the phones in the next campaign -- is to pray for elected officials. Pray for the president, for your representatives, judges, governors, whomever you know to have been given that delegated authority from the Constitution. Pray as individuals, families, but most important, pray with your congregation in the Divine Service. If your pastor is not praying for these individuals during the prayers, speak to him about your concerns. Point out that such prayers are commanded (I Timothy 2.1-2: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”) and ask him to include them in the prayers.

5. American Christians (and all Americans) should know the Constitution. Contrary to the efforts of some (especially many fashion themselves as Constitutional lawyers), it is not difficult to understand, and it is not obscure. Know what it says. It is the basis under which you are governed.

God’s word is clear: we owe honor, obedience, and respect to the earthly authorities placed over us in the governments under which we live. In America, that authority is ultimately a document, the American Constitution. We are to honor, respect, and obey what is contained therein. The President is not a king, nor anything like a king. Nor are any other earthly, elected officials. Insofar as they uphold the Constitution, they deserve a derived honor, respect, and obedience. But they are underlings, elected servants of the real government, the real authority, that Constitution under which we Americans live.