Saturday, July 29, 2006

Keeping Hucksters Out of the Church

I've been self-employed for some 25 years. I say that to let you know that I have nothing against sales, marketing, or making a profit.

But there are certain areas of life that are outside the arena of sales. Family, love, children. And church. Within the Divine Service (the Mass) there should be no hint of selling, of trying to persuade us of anything outside of what God's Word tells us.

Practical implications? No politics, unless it is something with a clear (think, say, abortion) mandate from Scripture. Especially no politicians there to speak. No nagging about environmental issues. (A local minister preached a sermon on which car he thought Jesus would drive. He concluded that the vehicle in question would be a Volkswagen bug. No comment).

This is one of the reasons why I'm opposed to "patriotic," national day celebrations or recognitions (e.g., Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day) within the service. Not that it is necessarily wrong to recognize these days, but because they have been hijacked in the last few years in the service of politics. This is a problem that comes and goes in American history. In the last few years, the right has come to use patriotism in the service of electoral politics, while the left has done so at other times. But this just doesn't (for a number of reasons) belong in the Service. Not even close.

Debates About the Faith

I think it is important that Christians not be intimidated by the errors of unbelievers, at least in the sense of feeling like they have to answer every error put forth by someone.

We are commanded (I Peter 3.15: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear") to be able to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ.

But giving a reason for our hope is a far different thing than having to be able to debate the nuances of whatever is the error-of-the-day currently put forth.

Not to mention that many of the errors will scarcely be remembered even 10 years from now. (Who much remembers the "death of God" movement of the late 1960s?) It's important that theologians be able to answer error. But most Christians do not need to be that familiar with error. (It's often dangerous to be too familiar with error: the error can start to look attractive). For 99% of Christians, it's sufficent to be able to tell a false teacher, "I can't exactly give the reasons, but I know you're wrong." If we know the Creed well, most errors will not pass the smell test.

St. Augustine (cited in Martin Chemnitz' The Two Natures in Christ (p. 304) said it well: "It helps the faithful heart to know what we must not believe, even if a person cannot refute error in a debate."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What Makes Us "Worthy"?

In reading Matthew 22.1-10, I was struck by what should be fairly obvious, but something we often stumble over.

"And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.
Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests."

Who were the worthy guests?

The parable answers this in the negative: the bidden guests were not worthy because they refused the invitation.

The other sins (including killing the King's servants) stem from their "making light of" the invitation given to the wedding feast.

I think it's one of those felicitous words of the gospel that those gathered together at the wedding included bad and good: bad that we might not despair of our sins keeping us from receiving God's invitation.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Church Without Christ

While traveling in New York (to be at my niece's wedding), I was in an art gallery, and saw paintings of this church, the "Nieuwe kerk" ("new church") in Holland.

I was struck by this painting. How barren and lifeless and Christ-less is the building! It could just as easily be a synagogue or mosque. There is no sense of Christ's presence, or of the presence of the saints surrounding those there to receive God's blessings. No sense that this is a house of prayer, or that it is the house of God.

I have heard the usual arguments, that it's not "necessary" to have icons or crucifixes, and of course, that's true. We can have a church without any of those. Of course, we could attend church naked, too, and it would make about as much sense.

I'm wondering why "necessity" has come to define the worship of the LCMS, as if what had to happen in an emergency seems to define what should happen in non-emergency situations.

Of course, we can worship without the Icons of God and the Saints. Christians under persecution have done so. But we are not under persecution. Why should our houses of God look as though we were? (I'm struck by something I read a while back about old churches in Cairo. The Moslems tolerated Christian worship, as long as it was not visible, so churches blended in, looking -- on the outside -- as though they were apartment buildings or houses. But on the inside, even in those times of duress from unbelievers, it looked like a church).

It's not "necessary" to kiss my wife, to talk to my children, to play, to laugh, or whatever. But whoever thinks in those terms? And why do we in the LCMS think in terms like that about our receiving the gifts of Almighty God?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tradition and Scripture

The question came up (in Bible class this morning) about the role of tradition. A few thoughts about tradition.

1. The sense I get (from my extremely limited, and open to correction reading) of the early Fathers is that tradition primarily centers around the Mass.

2. By the Mass, I'm thinking of a whole array of factors: the liturgy (including, of course, the Supper, Baptism, and confession and absolution), the creeds, hymnody, preaching, the lectionary, iconography (including, of course, crucifixes) and the church year.

3. None of these exist alone, and they're all tied together. All of them are things given to us, and as such, are not -- without strong evidence of error from the scriptures -- open to our changing them.

4. I think that many pastors become bored, and project this boredom on to the congregation, which sometimes leads to liturgical innovations. Many of those innovations are without any historical precedence, and are often just silly.

5. The liturgy stems from Christ's command ("this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me": I Cor. 11.25) and as such is not open to change. Period.

6. The creeds are statements given by church Fathers, ecumenical councils, and were done in periods of utmost gravity in the church. Tampering with them (and this includes writing "creative paraphrases") is a travesty.

7. The use of orthodox hymns is an essential aspect of orthodox worship. Without extremely strong reasons for variation, hymns should only be those in an approved hymn collection.

8. The lectionary is ancient, and it's there for good reason. The ancient church could just as well have permitted preachers to pick pericopes. They did not. Neither should we. Use what you are given.

9. Churches which don't use icons and crucifixes are going to use something in a worship space. Those who don't use icons are telling us something about the worship. Usually, I suspect, it's a saying that we no longer believe (see Hebrews 12.1) that we are surrounded by the saints. If we think we are isolated Christians, we will think that we can do whatever we want, since they are -- so we think -- no longer with us in worship.

10. The church year is likewise ancient, and there for good reason. It is a way of understanding the gospel. When we toy with the church year, we're telling something about how we now believe. This includes "special" Sundays (e.g., "Seminary Sunday") and plain sillinesses such as celebrating or commemorating, say, Christmas in the summer.

Seeing the LCMS as a "template"

Most of us are familiar with a template: a blank frame or set-up that allows us to fill in material.

I am coming to view the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (the LCMS: the church body I'm currently affiliated with) as a template, at least in the sense in which I have been seeing it.

I think it's a template in that people who believe as I do (defined as confessional, conservative, what have you) project our beliefs on to the LCMS, and think that it's like us, when in reality the LCMS has not been "like us" since I've been a member (1978) and probably not in my lifetime.

The LCMS is not confessional, if we define confessional as a material and liturgical adherence to the Lutheran confessional statements. It is a heterodox church body. When I say this, it's not in anger, it's trying to accurately define what's going on.

Confessionalists often defend the orthodoxy of the LCMS by saying that the LCMS has never renounced the confessions. Of course it hasn't. But -- speaking very bluntly here -- I think this is a satanic trick. Because the heterodoxy is not formal, in-your-face, we think it's not there. It is.

The other problem is that confessionalists tend to be educated, verbal, well-read people who view the world through a wordy paradigm. That's not bad in itself, but it can lead to a dangerous tunnel vision.

Because orthodoxy is a fully-orbed question. Orthodoxy is not just a question of statements approved by conventions, although those are important. We have to ask (about any church body) whether -- on the whole -- there's orthodoxy in the church's liturgy, the hymnody, preaching, and creeds. (Cf. the LCMS' 'Brief Statement' of 1932: "29. The orthodox character of a church is established not by its mere name nor by its outward acceptance of, and subscription to, an orthodox creed, but by the doctrine which is actually taught in its pulpits, in its theological seminaries, and in its publications. On the other hand, a church does not forfeit its orthodox character through the casual intrusion of errors, provided these are combated and eventually removed by means of doctrinal discipline, Acts 20:30; 1 Tim. 1:3.")

When heterodox hymns are being used in a church, it is not an orthodox church.

When heterodox preaching is going on, it is not an orthodox church.

When heterodox liturgies are used, it is not an orthodox church.

And when heterodox creeds are recited in the Mass, it is not an orthodox church.

All of the above are true in the LCMS. That I would like the LCMS to be different does not make it different.