Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What's the Missouri Synod's error regarding a call to the ministry?

Words can make things clear. Or they can confuse.

Like "fat" in English.

Olive oil is a "fat." But we also use the word "fat" to describe someone who's obese.

So a lot of people imagine that "eating fat" makes them "fat." We've known scientifically that this wasn't true for a long time. But the words still confuse people.

In the LCMS, there's a fundamental misunderstanding in the theology of the ministry. And it stems from 2 meanings of an English word.

The word is "call."

The Augsburg Confession, article 14, says, "they [the Lutherans] teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called."

"Regularly called" is an English translation of the Latin "rite vocatus." What in English is "call" stems from the same word we use in describing someone's "vocation." So in AC 14, it's saying that no one can preach or teach in a Lutheran congregation without having a calling (or vocation) to preach.

Switch to the way that congregations in the LCMS obtain a pastor. The congregational autonomy is jealously guarded in the LCMS, and a congregation holds a meeting of all recognized members, and a vote is held to determine who will be called as pastor. That's termed a "call," and the call given in this manner is imbued with all kinds of grandeur: it's identical to God's calling to the congregation, it's a guarantor of godly authority, all kinds of stuff.

The problem is that nowhere -- nowhere -- in the scriptures does this event ever happen. Nowhere do congregations of Christians decide who they want to be pastor over them.

There's one instance where something similar seems to occur. In Judges 17 an Ephraimite named Micah hires a priest (we're even told the wages he paid) to serve as Micah's own personal pastor. But this is clearly not a good thing there in Judges.

The Bible speaks a great deal about prophets being "sent." God sometimes sends prophets directly, or more often mediately, that is, through men.

One of the problems in LCMS ecclesiology is the lack of a "sender." There are no bishops, and the hierarchy -- such as it is -- consists of a group of elected officials given the unfortunate name of "presidents."

The history of the church is clear. Those preaching should have a clear calling from God, and itinerant preachers should be ignored. But the way that congregations in the Missouri Synod determine and place pastors is wrong. It's without biblical command, example, or precept. It should be changed.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Visiting a Chinese church seminary

An important thing for American Christians is to remember our brethren in other lands, many of whom suffer persecution, and even when not persecuted, some work with difficulties most of us have trouble imagining. This is a video showing a visit to a Chinese church seminary. I know nothing about where this is or other background to the school. Christianity in China operates under a variety of circumstances. In some areas, local officials are friendly to the faith, in some areas Christianity has become somewhat fashionable, and in others, there is outright persecution. But we can remember our brothers and sisters in that country, pray for them, do what we can to encourage them in their faith:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Truth in the church

"Mark you, I do not presume to call false any Church which believes that Jesus is the Christ. The Christian Church can only be either purely true, confessing the true and saving divine teaching without the false admixtures and pernicious opinions of men, or not purely true, mixing with the true and saving teaching of faith in Christ the false and pernicious opinions of men."

(Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, Conversation between a Seeker and a Believer Concerning the Orthodoxy of the Eastern Greco-Russian Church. Moscow 1831, pp.27-29)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Walking together

On a friend's blog, a comment was made that the LCMS was the worst synod in the world. Except for all others.

Which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the Lutheran movement in America in 2008. Someone else commented that this wasn't just among Lutherans, but among all denominations.

Which again isn't high praise for a group that modestly claims to be walking together in pure doctrinal unity and practice.

The reality, of course, is that the LCMS is doing no such thing. Basically, one can believe and teach anything in the LCMS and there will likely be no repercussions. Imagining it otherwise doesn't change the reality on the ground.

The joke has been for a while that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is no longer Lutheran, not a church, and not a synod (that is, a group "walking together"). About all that's left is that the LCMS is a Missouri corporation.

Except that the joke is not funny. And sticking with the LCMS because we've been members for a while (however long that "while" is) is no longer acceptable.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why government will always be small

"How small of all that human hearts endure,

That part which laws or kings can cause or cure."

Samuel Johnson, lexicographer

2 cheers for Rev. Wright

Only in America could we be having this discussion.

Imagine France, Russia, whatever, having a discussion about a candidate's pastor. Or about a candidate's church.

But we do it here. And that's a good thing. Because we are Americans, and Americans -- Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and others -- take our religion seriously. We always have.

I'm certain I wouldn't agree with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright on everything. He and I come from very differing avenues. But I am glad that he has chosen to defend himself publicly. The idea that Senator -- and presumptive presidential nominee -- Barack Obama must take the blame for everything Wright has said is ridiculous. Even worse is the idea that Obama should leave the church where Wright is pastor.

What's astonishing, too, is that Obama -- and several of the other Democrats -- have no problem talking about their faiths. But John McCain can't. When asked, he tells an anecdote about the faith of one of his guards in a Vietnamese prison. And McCain supporters are claiming that Obama is not a Christian? Come on.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The problem with the Lutheran brand

Non-Lutherans don't know much about Lutheranism. Almost nothing, in fact.

If you were to ask a random group of individuals at the mall to tell you something about Lutheranism, here's some answers you'd likely get:

1. It's a German group.

2. It's a German church that let Hitler do what he did. (Yes, I know this has been roundly refuted, but people still believe it).

3. It's a church that ordains women. (True for the largest nominally Lutheran group in the US. And that's the one most people are familiar with, if they know anything about Lutherans at all).

4. It's a denominations, like Methodists or Baptists.

5. You'd probably get a Garrison Keillor, Lake Woebegone joke.

6. It's a group founded by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Don't laugh. I was told this by a kid -- probably 9 or 10 at the time -- who attended an LCMS church and was with me at an LCMS summer camp. I've since heard others older than him say it).

7. It's a church that doesn't believe the Bible.

8. It's a church where people aren't born-again.


Those who believe themselves confessional Lutherans will answer that a Lutheran is one who subscribes to the doctrinal teachings of the Book of Concord.

That's good. However, I would suspect that 9 out of 10 members of Lutheran congregations could not name 3 of the books in the Book of Concord. Outside of Lutheran congregations, 99% of people could not tell you what the Book of Concord is if their lives depended on it.

Confessionals imagine that "Lutheran" means confessional. But it doesn't. If it did, Lutherans would study and hold to the teachings of the Book of Concord.

They don't.

Which brings up the question: can we seriously expect to draw in members when ideas such as the above are believed?

Folks often say, "We need to teach them." Which is true. The problem is that no one wants to be taught about the nuances of Lutheranism.

There is no confessional Lutheran church body in the US. There are isolated congregations and pastors that seek to hold to the Confessions.

But if there is no confessional church body in the US, what are we doing hindering what we are seeking to do by dragging the ball and chain of a "Lutheran" label around?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How to deal with heresy

From Elert's Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries (page 196:

"How did the presiding bishop from Alexandria bring this breakaway under control? He could not yet say with Augustine, 'Compel them to come in,' for the police were not yet at the church's disposal. He did what one has a right to expect of a true chief shepherd. He himself went to see the schismatics and heretics, gathered their presbyters and teachers together, and talked things over with them. 'For three days I sat with them from early in the morning until evening, seeking to correct what had been written [by Nepos]' It was all most orderly and brotherly. Precise questions were put and answers given. No one got pigheaded. Each took the other's criticisms seriously and sought to learn. The result was complete agreement. The schism was healed.

In this instance there were a number of especially propitious secondary factors. The schism was new and local. The false teachers were reasonable people. All the patience and wisdom of that truly spiritual man Dionysius would scarcely suffice with the Jehovah's Witnesses of today. Things would likely not have gone so smoothly if his opponent had been another presiding bishop. There were not only polemics in the church before Constantine but rivalries too. When fraternal relations were restored, and this was the rule in the church of the majority, it was not without jealous safeguards for personal spheres and powers. Yet even so there was as little need then as in the schism of the Egyptian Adventists for either Caesar's initiative or help toward unity."

Werner Elert's 'Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries': an Amazon review

"In our time, when most Christians view the Eucharist as a means of achieving unity in the church, Elert's history and analysis in this book demonstrates that for the early church, the opposite was true: the Eucharist was a fruit of unity, and those who were not united in teaching and worship did not commune together.

While this book is dense and insightful, it's not inaccessible to the lay reader. There are frequent Greek references, but it's not essential to know Greek (I have only a passing knowledge of the language) to benefit.

Finally, the most dense analyses ('Communio in Early Church Usage,' 'The Origin of the Formula Sanctorum Communio,' and 'Koinonia and the Holy Things') are covered in three respective excursuses in the back of the book.

I think that Elert's Lutheranism sometimes gives a slant that is perhaps unwarranted. (I'm especially thinking of his analysis of the "3 walls" guarding the early church fellowship -- bishops, the canon of scripture, and the regula fidei, the creed of the church -- , and how a succession of bishops is given the most critical treatment of the 3).

But what tiny misgivings I might have are dwarfed by the great things about this book. It's one of those treasure mines that are worth digging in anew every few years. Like any great book, this one challenges the way we think of ourselves as Christians, and the way that thinking plays out in the lives of the church."

Why Sen. Clinton is no feminist

Sen. Clinton is no feminist. She's ridden her husband's coattails throughout her career, and would be nothing more than an Arkansas lawyer otherwise.

But that's not my point. My point is the personal manipulating that Clinton does. She wants it both ways. We are expected to respect her as a senator, as a lawyer, as a presidential candidate -- and then we see the signs.


No other candidate goes by their first name. No "Barack" signs. No "John" signs. But somehow Sen. Clinton's campaign feels that calling their candidate by her first name -- as we would do with an 8 year old -- is advancing her cause.

Same with Clinton's little weeping episode in New Hampshire. One tape running in the back of most voters' minds is that the individual who will be elected president will have their finger on the nuclear trigger. And we want to know that whoever is elected will be calm, responsible, and resolute in a potential war setting.

I suspect the weeping episode hurt Clinton more than she realizes. Because no one wants a president who's going to be weepy. The president might have to make some very strong decisions, and boo-hooing is inappropriate in such circumstances.

I don't agree with Condoleeza Rice, but no one could imagine her crying. Same with former Prime Minister Thatcher across the pond. But Clinton stages a crying episode, and acts like a bad stereotype of a woman, and we're supposed to elect her president? Come on. Clinton's not a feminist. She's a wanna-be who will do what it takes to advance her career. If it involves mocking women who filed sexual harassment charges against Clinton's husband, she'll do it. If it involves making every career move she's done by leap-frogging off her husband, she'll do it. And if it involves staged crying episodes, she'll do it.

Calling her "Hillary," rather than "Clinton" is probably appropriate. Because in the end, she's just a sad little girl trapped in a late middle aged woman's body, still seeking to please men. Women like Rice or Thatcher or Feinstein don't talk about their feminist bona-fides because they don't have to. People take them seriously because they do their jobs. Would that Sen. Clinton would follow their examples.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More video from the 1970s

This is one of those classic, period pieces, a sort of video that's actually footage from a German disco TV show in 1979. Apart from the funny dancing and music, it's always worthwhile to watch clothing from the 1970s. What were we (yeah, "we": I don't come to this with clean hands) thinking when we dressed like that?

The new theme song for the Clinton campaign

Sen. Clinton's life-support campaign lives to run another day after her win in Pennsylvania tonight, thanks to the creaking class who provide the core of her support.

Electric Avenue

This is an ancient music video: from 1981, I think. But still a good one.

Singing the Psalms

One of my complaints with the Lutheran Service Book is that the background materials for the services aren't in the main, pew edition, but are now only in the supplementary books. I'm talking about the propers for the day, Collects, etc.

And here's a reason for dragging out your worn copy of Lutheran Worship: the Psalm tones.

The Psalms are meant for singing. Not that there's anything "wrong" with reading them, or just saying them out loud, but I encourage everyone to realize the joy found in singing them. And that's what the Psalm tones are for.

We are not used to unrhymed, non-rhythmic music in our culture. The Psalms -- at least in English -- are that. The Psalm tones provide the means of singing the Psalms, and while the tones can sound odd at first, the sound and rhythm of the singing grows on you.

I encourage mastering one tone at first -- there are several -- and using that, and then branching out. As I annoyingly bring up from time to time, I use the AV for my Bible, and find that most (not all, by any means) Psalm verses break conveniently for the tone switch at either the colon or semi-colon. (I suspect I'm using some wrong musical terms; I beg forgiveness and correction from those more musically aware than myself).

But however rusty your beginnings are, sing the Psalms. It's truly God's hymnal, and while I certainly don't believe in an exclusive Psalmnody, it is our loss if we miss the joys found there.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Happy birthday

Tomorrow's my birthday. I share the birthday with Queen Elizabeth II, though I'll be cruel enough to point out that she's my senior by a few years. Happy birthday, Betty!

My wife wanted to make me a cake, but she prefers mixes. I think mixes taste dusty, and have no interest in wasting my precious carbs on such a mix. So I made my own birthday cake. This is really good cake, dense and spicy and sweet at the same time. Let the cook beware: I used all whole wheat flour, so mine was even denser than the recipe calls for.

(A friend at church asked me why I didn't make a chocolate cake. The main reasons are that lots of people make chocolate cakes, and that almost no one makes spice cakes any more. So every few months, I make something like this. It's worth the wait. Of course, around Christmas, I get to fill up on fruitcakes, since almost no one else likes them. Lucky me).

Why we seem to appreciate cruel people

Conservatives have traditionally held to several principles in dealing with life and government. They have sought to solve problems locally, to respect traditions that have been in place in dealing with life, and they have valued civil government being as small as possible.

Which makes it difficult to understand the movement that now calls itself "conservative" in America today. Almost everyone, despite their opinions, believes in federal solutions to problems, big government, and traditions are ignored.

What this has given us are governmental officials who are nasty, brutish, and cruel. On both sides of the fence. I mentioned yesterday the murders of over 70 people in Waco by government thugs. What amazes me is that there are those callings themselves conservatives who defend these thugs.

I'm not so much attacking those who actually pulled the triggers. As we say about Nazi death camp guards, they were "just doing their job."

What I'm amazed by are those who defend the thugs in Washington: Bill Clinton, Janet Reno, and others. To such people, those who died in Waco are just fodder for their pitiful careers. But why would people who call themselves "conservative," people who otherwise loathe the Clinton administration, defend this act of mass murder?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

New word: neoteny

Last year this week I was wandering around Chiang Mai, Thailand with my son Matt and his buddy Sean and Matt and I were having an animated discussion about a word, and Sean says, "Now I see where his [Matt's] love of words comes from." Sean was right. And here's a new one, discovered while reading the Wiki article about cats: neoteny. Neoteny is the persistence of childhood traits into adulthood. The reason the cat article had it was that the practice by our feline friends of depositing dead prey at our human feet is possibly a neoteny: the cat is (again, possibly: it is hard to read the motives of cats) treating us like mother cats, and demonstrating that the cat has the ability to hunt for prey. Another example of a neoteny is lactose tolerance. But a good word. Not one I'll be using every day, but I'll try and slip it in from time to time.

April 19 and anniversaries

A couple of significant events in American history happened on April 19th.

First was in 1993. That was when US marshals -- at the order of newly-minted attorney general Janet Reno -- set fire to the community of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, killing 77 people. 25 children were among the dead. There was never even an apology from Reno or her boss, then President Bill Clinton.

Notice that I don't use the word "compound" to describe the place where they lived. Because "compound" came to be a buzz word used by evil government officials meaning "a place where people live that I disagree with." (Ponder the difference in meaning if I said, for example, that Vatican City was a "compound.")

Words are always important. Words were used in this case to demonize the Branch Davidians, and ultimately to excuse their murders.

I would disagree -- theologically -- with the Branch Davidians. But in the end, they were little more than a community within the Seventh Day Adventist tradition. And just between you and me, I'd prefer that US presidents and attorneys general not make my theological judgments.

This is also the anniversary of the explosions at the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. The public mythology surrounding those events quickly came to be that Timothy McVeigh had carried them off to avenge the deaths at Waco. As with all federal explanations of events, I would encourage anyone to listen pointedly to alternative discussions of what actually happened in Oklahoma City. The Clinton explanation just doesn't fit the events.

But this week, we're treated to another spectacle: Texas Rangers invading another community and seizing children from their parents. As is traditional in such situations, the community (the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) is called a compound, the better to demonize those living there.

As with the Branch Davidians, I would strongly disagree with the theological errors of the FLDS. But the spectacle we've seen this week is wrong. As with Waco, the kidnapping of the FLDS children was justified on grounds of "child abuse." The judge overseeing the custody hearings seems to be doing a good job, asking hard questions of Texas officials, and evidence is now coming to light that the initial phone call that alleged the abuse was a hoax.

Dealing with error is a theological fight. One that uses proper teaching, true doctrine, and the word of God properly divided as tools. A government big and powerful enough to kidnap children from a "cult" ("sect," "compound" -- whatever term they are currently using) is big and powerful enough to do very monstrous things to the rest of us. It used to be that those who called themselves conservatives opposed big government. No more. But those who have shilled for the enormous growth of government in the last seven years will likely regret it. Government power always comes back to bite. Always.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Being delivered from evil

While coming to consciousness from a dream this morning around 3, I realized it was one of those unusual, "different" dreams: this one of the return of Christ.

What was slightly disturbing was that the dream didn't seem to correlate with what I imagine Christ's return to be like.

Which isn't unusual, or even particularly different. The reality is that we have lots of ideas about the faith that we've picked up from various sources. Some are correct, some not.

A nuance of the Our Father's petition "deliver us from evil" is that we are praying that God would deliver us from error. Most of us who have gone through a somewhat checkered past theologically speaking have heard (and absorbed) lots of stuff that is perhaps wrong. So we pray continually against ourselves that God would correct our mistakes, dislodge our false opinions, and keep us from false teachers.

We can't do anything about false teachers we've listened to in the past. We can and should avoid them now. Which often means turning off religious radio or TV stations, avoiding error on the net, even avoiding much current religious pop music, which usually comes from a erring protestant side of the Christian faith. Taking note of our own internal mental conversation is also important. We need to notice how we think about God, what we believe, and how we react.

The importance of correct doctrine isn't so we can get a passing grade on some kind of quiz. It's that we might know God rightly. And knowing God rightly, we can the better trust Him, and rest on His mercy. That, perhaps, is the ultimate purpose in life.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Judaizing The US Church

Given the recent fad of having Seder meals in Christian churches (among other things), this article makes a serious and needed point.

"The Jewish Forward's recent "most read" article worries that evangelicals might be stealing from the Jews. But it is Christians who should really be worried.

The article describes a Passover banquet in Alabama where 1,300 Christians gathered for unleavened bread and bitter herbs and donated more than $10,000 to the Jewish Federation. A local rabbi complains, "It is a total taking over and arrogation to themselves of the entire concept of the Seder. It's totally Christological."

Evangelical Christians' support of Israel is essential to the Jewish state. The powerful Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations even publicly supports Rev. John Hagee-Israel-firster extraordinaire; they recently wrote the NY Times to defend him as Israel's "true friend". Binyamin Netanyahu-Israel's ninth prime minister, an extremist who resigned as finance minister in 2005 to protest withdrawal from Gaza-said Christian Zionists are Israel's best friends in the world! In a recent poll, a whopping 82 percent of evangelicals agreed that Christians are morally obligated to support the Jewish state. In his New Testament letters, the apostle Paul repelled attempts by Jews to impose on the early church the rites and legalisms of Old Testament law. He furiously rebuked the apostle Peter for bending to Judaizing influences; he said Peter "stood condemned." (Gal. 2:11) As evangelicals today fall even deeper into this unbiblical love affair, they are increasingly eager to participate in Jewish rites, own Jewish trinkets, and learn about Jewish culture.

Who is really damaged by this Christian appropriation? Jews are not becoming more Christian. Christians are becoming more Jewish! Jews are not donating money for Christian evangelism or even allowing it in their country)! It is Christians who finance a religion dedicated to opposing their own. And their gift of millions of dollars to Israel is flatly contrary to Scripture. Christians are instructed to give their tithes and offerings to the "household of faith," i.e., many Christian charities and relief organizations that help further the gospel message. (Gal. 6:10) Judaism and the state of Israel are emphatically not of the household of faith. Israel's "anti-missionary law" mandates a five-year prison sentence for any evangelical who gives to an Israeli a "material inducement" (Bible tract or even a cup of coffee) that might help persuade him to become a Christian!

Christianity Today should be debating the Alabama Passover, not the Jewish Forward. Christian pastors should speak up about the Talmud's anti-Christ vitriol, persecution of Christians by Israel, oppression of Christian evangelism by Jews in Israel and the US-and gravely warn against the Judaization of the American church. We should be asking, "Is this good for the church?" as the Forward and others constantly debate what is good for the Jews. But we don't. These debates never happen.

The Seattle Times published an opinion piece titled, "Passover seders are out of place in churches." Very true. But it was written by Rabbi Mark Glickman, not a Christian pastor as it should have been.

In Ohio, Catholic high school students took a field trip to a Jewish synagogue where the principal of religious education told them: "Judaism is the base of all Christian religion. It's good to know where you come from." That's interesting; I thought Christ was the base of all Christian religion. The "debt" Christians owe to Jews is increasingly taught by evangelicals wanting to stimulate support of Israel and ride the wave of Hebrewness. This movement is so intense the UK Guardian says, "From the mobilising might of CUFI and televangelists, to Jerusalem marches and the 65 million copy-selling Left Behind series, to be an American evangelical has become synonymous with fanatically pro-Israel politics." And the only concerned people getting any real air time about this are Jews, the ones worried about compromising and collaborating with possibly "anti-Semitic" Christians.

It's deeply troubling that Jews, not Christians, worry about the Judaization of the church. This demonstrates the incredible deception of the evangelical community, which is so much less wary than the Jewish community even though this alliance is currently only a threat to Christians. Jews remain adamantly, consciously, and militantly opposed to Christian evangelism and theology-leery even to accept evangelicals' strong political and financial support. Meanwhile, evangelicals are so blind to the theological enmity between themselves and Talmudic Judaism that they rush headlong to support, defend, and now absorb Jewish identity and actions.

In his Seattle opinion piece, Rabbi Glickman makes a point that should shock many evangelicals. He says that "to be perfectly honest - the Seder [ritual feast held on first and second nights of eight-day passover] developed, in part, as an anti-Christian polemic - a "slam" on the then-new and growing religion called Christianity. Such religious critique is all but absent from contemporary Seders, but the anti-Christian roots of the event are unmistakable. A church Seder is thus a Christian event rooted in anti-Christianity." Basically-Christians who participate in the Seder are participating in an event directed against their own existence!

Glickman's admission is astonishing on many levels. First, it demonstrates Jews' safety and power in American society, that a rabbi could publicly admit the anti-Christianity of a yearly Jewish event. Second, it highlights a fact that Israel-first Christians refuse to face: Judaism opposes the recognition of Christ as God incarnate, Savior of mankind. For two millennia, it has been self-defined by opposing the explosion of Christian faith. Christians today can't participate in Judaism without opposing their own community and Lord. They can't support Israel without supporting Israeli persecution of Christians and Christian evangelism.

Besides that, the Judaization of the church corrupts and corrodes Christian theology. It's gotten so bad that a bunch of evangelical leaders recently took out a big NY Times ad just to remind people that Christians have to spread the faith (a major thing Jesus told us to do) and to evangelize Jews along with everyone else. This responded to a growing heresy that Jews have a separate covenant with God and don't need faith in Christ or need Christian evangelism. The Times ad expressed kindergarten Christianity-a basic element of our identity that is subverted by our growing obsession with Jewish identity.

Jews have long recognized that assimilation into Gentile culture posed a greater threat to world Jewry than physical persecution. It is long past time for Christians to recognize the threat of losing their unique identity as followers of Jesus and His earth-shaking message. St. Paul knew that the rites and observances of the Mosaic/rabbinic law would entangle the infant church, drawing Christians into their spell of legalism. He knew legalism would drive out the empowering liberating New Testament message of justification by faith alone.

How should believers respond to increasing efforts to incorporate Judaic elements in Christian theology and worship? Such "Judaizers" should be rebuked and repulsed, not embraced."

by Harmony Grant

Asking why

I've followed with some interest the continuing complaints (I use the word advisedly) about the cancellation of the radio program Issues, Etc. on the LCMS station KFUO.

On Monday, 4/14, a vigil was held at LCMS headquarters. About 80 people were there. What was striking were the signs held. Most of them had the simple word, "Why?"

Which sounds profound. But it is not.

The classic question of a small child is "why?" "Why do I have to go to bed?" "Why do I have to eat my spinach?" Why, why, why ...

Now we are faced with the spectacle of 80 adults asking why. I appreciate what they are trying to do. I also think that few of them have realized the infantilizing aspect of their question.

The LCMS is a top-heavy, top-down organization. Pastors in the parishes are beat down by nasty and brutish men at the top. The last conventions (2004 and 2007) were a sad spectacle of political maneuvering by these unscrupulous men. While maintaining a facade of congregational control and accountability, the LCMS in reality operates in a way that makes Rome look egalitarian.

And organizations such as the LCMS always breed followers who act like abused children. Abused children are generally afraid, hating their abusers while at the same time terrified of leaving them or being left by them.

The reality is that the LCMS has given their answer to the "why" question. The 80 folks who stood outside LCMS headquarters just don't like the answer. And -- if they were to speak plainly -- they believe they are being lied to. It's not the first time. It won't be the last.

Part of the abused/abuser formula indicates that those in the LCMS will never leave. No one will. And the abusers know this, and know that this complaint, too, will pass. What's even worse is that that tiny group of individuals and congregations who have left in the past are mocked, scorned, and ridiculed. But again, this is the way abused children act.

Those who are unhappy should start standing up to their synodical abusers like adults. If the LCMS is indeed an operation of the kingdom of the left, treat it like one. Stop giving any money whatsoever to synodical operations. Then congregations should withdraw. Pastors should likewise resign from the roster.

To paraphrase, better to be independent than to wish you were. The nasty men who head the LCMS will notice nothing less than this. Asking "why?" only perpetuates the unhealthy relationship that's been going on for decades.

The illusion of privacy

Do you ever worry that we are losing our privacy?

If you do, you're not alone. Lots of Americans envision a time in the past when their privacy was guarded, and now they fear that it's under attack from government agencies, credit bureaus, and big business.

Privacy as we know it is mostly an illusion. But I'm convinced it's one of the factors in our terrified fear of private confession.

The privacy we envision was impossible throughout most of recorded history. Even in our time, most of the world lives in small enclaves where they know everyone, and everyone knows them. If you live in a village of 40 people, where you've lived all of your life, everyone there knows virtually everything of importance there is to know about you. In such a hypothetical village, the priest was likely a local guy, trained by his bishop. On a purely social level, he knows you. What you confess under such circumstances is likely no surprise.

But a time of larger houses, where people can sleep in separate areas, where people have cars that they can drive somewhere privately, where people can communicate by phone, email and IM, privacy is more doable.

I don't know how much people truly went to confession in the past. I know that it has all but died in the Lutheran churches in America, and is barely clinging on in Rome, where it is supposedly required.

I don't know why this has happened. I don't know if our obsessive fear of people knowing about us has caused that, or if it's a result of it. But I wonder if our tenacious defense of confessing our sins to God alone is a result of the fear of someone -- even the one charged with shepherding us -- knowing us, knowing our sins, as we really are.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A couple of more questions being pondered

Some things I'm trying to mentally sort through. I don't have an answer to these. Anyone who has suggestions as to their answers or a source for more information is appreciated.

First: in the church (including Old Testament times), was confession ever only made to God? In other words, was it ever (I mean until recently; I know most all of us do it now) kosher to simply, privately, and maybe silently confess to God sins that are troubling the believer? Or was private confession (that is, to a priest/pastor) usually a follow-up to the believer's daily (meaning, silently to God) confession?

What I'm particularly intrigued by is what a solely-private confession does to our concept of the church. Does it individualize us even further? And does the practice of private confession to a priest/pastor reinforce in our minds and praxis the corporality of the church? (I'm especially concerned for us American Christians who usually -- no matter our public affiliation -- view our faith as a matter of "just you and me, Lord.")

Secondly, in the early church (this is related to my pondering Werner Elert's Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries) did the regula fidei (the creeds) also include the church's liturgies? In other words, did a subscription to the creed assume and encompass a faith-full use of the liturgy? Or was the creed ever separated from the liturgy, meaning that one could in theory subscribe to the creed, and not use the liturgy in the Mass?

The 3 walls guarding the church

I'm currently re-reading Werner Elert's fine book Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries. It's one of those books that bears re-reading every few years, first because it has depths that most of us are unable to plumb on one or 2 readings, not to mention that as we grow, our capacity for appreciation for a deep book grows.

The question I'm pondering now is regarding Elert's treatment of what he terms the "3 walls" guarding the integrity of the church in the first couple of centuries: the bishops, the canon of scripture (primarily the New Testament, as the Old Testament was a kind of given by that point), and the regula fidei, the creed of the church.

What I find intriguing is how Elert -- a Lutheran -- seems to stress the problems with the first wall, that of the bishops. He points out -- correctly -- that there were and always were erring bishops, and how this is not -- again, correctly -- a sure-fire means of guarding the church.

However, while he also points out the issues with the other 2 walls (for example, how heretics made their arguments buttressed with scriptural arguments) his stress seems to be on the problems with the bishops.

I'm wondering: was Elert correct? Was this as much of a problem as he seems to stress? Or is this a reflection of Lutheranism's sometimes problematic ecclesiology?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Colder in North Carolina than in Mongolia?

To give you an idea of what a cold Spring we're having, here's the weather forecast for Monday, April 14: we will have a lower high temperature (55 degrees F) in Burlington, NC (where I live) than in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (62 degrees F).

This is quite amazing. Ulaanbaatar is quite high up there, at 4,215 feet above sea level, and the city is on a desert plain. Burlington is just 633 feet, with a climate usually tempered a relatively close proximity (roughly 200 miles) to the Atlantic ocean.

I maintain a devoted interest in things Mongolian, and enjoyed a three week visit there once. But it was in August, and my Mongol friends apologized for what they deemed excessively high temperatures: in the mid to high 70s.

Winters are not so warm there: temperatures in January and February hover in 5 degree to -22 F degree range. Which gives Ulaanbaatar the dubious honor of being the world's coldest capital. I am hoping for warmer days soon.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

On not voting for pro-abortion candidates

Some unhelpful comments were received vis-a-vis my posting of Douglas Johnson's 2000 article about John McCain's threat to the pro-life cause. (I should say first that I have no objection to people disagreeing with me. First, I'm subject to error, and often wrong, and appreciate that being pointed out to me. However, a comment that does nothing to advance the conversation is not useful).

I wanted to discuss this a bit further. I admire James Dobson's stand this year on the presidential race. He's not going to vote. At least for a candidate of the 2 largest parties. He's gone public with this, and I think he's right, given his perspective. But a lot of conservatives -- and pro-lifers -- will not follow him. And I think it's because we're so easily bought.

One writer suggested that while there might be only a 25% chance that McCain would appoint strict-constructionist judges, that was better than the odds in an Obama administration. Perhaps. But is this where the Republicans have conservatives? People who vote for a candidate on the slimmest of possibilities that he would appoint judges we agree with?

As long as the mainstream Republican party knows that we will vote for anyone up to Adolf Hitler as long as that candidate is Republican, they will continue to offer up candidates such as Bush, McCain, Dole, and many others. I think this is a year in which conservatives should just admit that we've lost -- as far as the White House goes -- this year, and make a public stand that we will not vote for a pro-abortion candidate like McCain.

McCain will come forth between now and the election and make vaguely pro-life noises. He will offer up vague suggestions that he might appoint strict-constructionist judges. But there will be nothing firm, nothing that we could late hold him accountable for. And in the tiny chance that McCain will be elected this Fall -- Rush Limbaugh has said that he wouldn't be surprised if Obama carried all 50 states -- conservatives will be shocked by how openly pro-abortion a McCain administration would be. This nasty septuagenarian has loathed the conservative, pro-life cause for years. Give him the White House, and he will have no reason to hide his true colors.

Amadeus in 5 seconds

Last night, my wife and I went to a performance of the play Amadeus in Chapel Hill:

It was a fine performance of an angst-ridden play. It was just a tad too long (slightly under 3 hours) for my taste.

So here's the short version for folks like me: Amadeus in 5 seconds:

Enjoy ... and a happy Saturday!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Leprosy as a picture of sin and death

The theme of leprosy is a recurring one through the scriptures, one that graphically pictures sin and death. Most of the time those delivered from leprosy are said to be "cleansed" (rather than healed) of their leprosy.

That leprosy pictures sin is told most plainly in Numbers 12, when Miriam and Aaron had denounced Moses for marrying an African woman. Miriam is stricken with leprosy, and Aaron pleads with Moses to pray for her deliverance: "Let her not be as one dead." Miriam is in turn exiled from the camp for 7 days, but her leprosy (her sin and death) are taken away, and the people of God continue in their journey.

Confessing sins before we sin

The story of Naaman's healing from leprosy (2 Kings 5.1-14) is rightly viewed as a picture of Baptism. Which it is. It's one of those stories that bears unpacking on so many levels. Today I'm pushing just slightly further in the narrative to Naaman's confession in 5.15-19.

After Naaman is cleansed from the leprosy, he returns to Elisha, and makes a true confession of his faith. He offers a gift to Elisha, who refuses to accept it. But Naaman goes on to say that he would no longer worship false gods.

However, he goes on to make what we might call a preemptive confession. He acknowledges that when his master goes into the house of the false god Rimmon, he -- Naaman -- would be compelled to bow his head to the false god. He asks for forgiveness for the sin he knew he would commit.

If we didn't know the story, I think we'd probably imagine that Elisha would encourage him not to sin, encourage him not to bow, encourage him make a bold confession.

Elisha does none of these. He tells Naaman, "Go in peace," the words given to a penitent.

In this 2 themes are running. The first could be called "pastoral realism." Perhaps Elisha knows that Naaman will be unable to avoid this. Given that Naaman has seen a dramatic cleansing of his leprosy by the true God, it's unlikely he'll be tempted to worship a false one. But I think that Elisha knows that -- given Naaman's position -- he has few options. All of the options are fraught with consequences. Elisha also knows that the false god Rimmon is not a god, but a dumb (unspeaking) idol.

Perhaps a bigger picture comes from looking on this as a picture of the post-baptismal life of the believer who is cleansed from sin and death, but lives on in the flesh and the world, and knows he will sin. And so God forgives our sins. Even the ones when we know we will sin again, for whatever reason: weakness, lack of knowledge, or fear. Those sins after Baptism are covered. When we are washed in Baptism God knows that we will sin again. His words -- through Elisha -- peace and forgiveness are a precursor of what we hear, as well.

I was wrong

OK, I've been meaning to write this for a while, but sometimes it is so hard to admit it:

I was wrong. Completely.

On Dec. 30, 2007, I posted here who would be your next president. On the basis of history, I said that Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee would be the next president of the United States.

Well, barring the most astonishing of reversals, that will not happen. And for the first time in 48 years, America will elect a sitting senator (Barack Obama or John McCain) as president. (Hillary Clinton has already lost. If her name were Hillary Jones, she'd have been out of the race months ago. Come to think of it, if her name were Hillary Jones, she'd have never gotten this far: imagine if -- in 2000 -- we had been told that a corporate lawyer from Arkansas named Hillary Jones would successfully run for the senate from New York. The idea is laughable. But this is where paleo-feminism has come to: a woman who coattails her husband's career is seen as some type of feminist icon. She's not. Clinton has set back the arena for women politicians for years, if not decades by her shameless behavior).

But on this prediction, I was wrong.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Making the liturgy work

Watching this video made me think about the liturgy. Which it's not about.

What it is about is simplifying websites, and it made me think about keeping the liturgy the same. Most priests and pastors have an ongoing temptation to tinker with the liturgy. But keeping it the same makes it easier for the faithful to worship. Consider.

Monday, April 07, 2008

7 miles?

Listening to the gospel reading (from Luke 24) yesterday gave me a vivid example of my own foolishness.

Let me just say that while I love modern life, I hate modern English Bible translations. My complaints are many, but can be summed up by bad language, bad translations, and bad manuscript families.

So I use the Authorized version, usually called the King James Version. I've used it exclusively since 1984, when I began realizing that I wasn't memorizing the Bible because I was using a different translation every few years. No more. But sometimes it comes back to bite me. : )

Luke 24 was read in the English Standard Version. And Luke 24.13 in that translation says that Cleopas and his companion went "seven miles." And when I heard it, I mentally blew my top. I just knew that the Greek text was properly translated "a Sabbath's day journey." And so I steamed (sinfully, no doubt) throughout the rest of the service, through the sermon, and through the Eucharist. And after the benediction I practically raced to my Bible, flipping open to Luke 24, ready to triumphantly find the correct phrase.

Only to find 24.13. Which gives the 2 travelers' distance as "threescore furlongs." In the Greek, it's 60 stadia. Or, about 7 miles.

Such realizations are helpful. They keep us humble. Or at least for a few minutes.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Priestesses in the Church? Insights from C. S. Lewis

I remarked recently to a friend that part of the problem of discourse in the church in our time is that we've lost the ability to discuss things on the basis of "nature," and the discussion of women in the priesthood or ministry displays this loss. We are unable to talk in terms of nature, and we thus discuss theology, the "super-natural," that is, "stuff above nature," without being able to discuss the stuff that's below. C. S. Lewis, of course, says it better than me. Let him have his say.

"'I should like balls infinitely better,' said Caroline Bingley, 'if they were carried on in a different manner ... It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.'

'Much more rational, I dare say,' replied her brother, 'but it would not be near so much like a Ball.' We are told that the lady was silenced: yet it could be maintained that Jane Austen has not allowed Bingley to put forward the full strength of his position. He ought to have replied with a distinguo. In one sense, conversation is more rational, for conversation may exercise the reason alone, dancing does not. But there is nothing irrational in exercising other powers than our reason. On certain occasions and for certain purposes the real irrationality is with those who will not do so. The man who would try to break a horse or write a poem or beget a child by pure syllogizing would be an irrational man; though at the same time syllogizing is in itself a more rational activity than the activities demanded by these achievements. It is rational not to reason, or not to limit oneself to reason, in the wrong place; and the more rational a man is the better he knows this.

These remarks are not intended as a contribution to the criticism of Pride and Prejudice. They came into my head when I heard that the Church of England was being advised to declare women capable of Priests' Orders. I am, indeed, informed that such a proposal is very unlikely to be seriously considered by the authorities. To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other Churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds by the operation. My concern with the proposal is of a more theoretical kind. The question involves something even deeper than a revolution in order.

I have every respect for those who wish women to be priestesses. I think they are sincere and pious and sensible people. Indeed, in a way they are too sensible. That is where my dissent from them resembles Bingley's dissent from his sister. I am tempted to say that the proposed arrangement would make us much more rational "but not near so much like a Church".

For at first sight all the rationality (in Caroline Bingley's sense) is on the side of the innovators. We are short of priests. We have discovered in one profession after another that women can do very well all sorts of things which were once supposed to be in the power of men alone. No one among those who dislike the proposal is maintaining that women are less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning and whatever else seems necessary for the pastoral office. What, then, except prejudice begotten by tradition, forbids us to draw on the huge reserves which could pour into the priesthood if women were here, as in so many other professions, put on the same footing as men? And against this flood of common sense, the opposers (many of them women) can produce at first nothing but an inarticulate distaste, a sense of discomfort which they themselves find it hard to analyse.

That this reaction does not spring from any contempt for women is, I think, plain from history. The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could be plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost "a fourth Person of the Trinity". But never, so far as I know, in all those ages was anything remotely resembling a sacerdotal office attributed to her. All salvation depends on the decision which she made in the words Ecce ancilla; she is united in nine months' inconceivable intimacy with the eternal Word; she stands at the foot of the cross. But she is absent both from the Last Supper and from the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Such is the record of Scripture. Nor can you daff it aside by saying that local and temporary conditions condemned women to silence and private life. There were female preachers. One man had four daughters who all "prophesied", i.e. preached. There were prophetesses even in Old Testament times. Prophetesses, not priestesses.

At this point the common sensible reformer is apt to ask why, if women can preach, they cannot do all the rest of a priest's work. This question deepens the discomfort of my side. We begin to feel that what really divides us from our opponents is a difference between the meaning which they and we give to the word "priest". The more they speak (and speak truly) about the competence of women in administration, their tact and sympathy as advisers, their national talent for "visiting", the more we feel that the central thing is being forgotten. To us a priest is primarily a representative, a double representative, who represents us to God and God to us. Our very eyes teach us this in church. Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East - he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second. But why? Why should a woman not in this sense represent God? Certainly not because she is necessarily, or even probably, less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man. In that sense she may be as "God-like" as a man; and a given women much more so than a given man. The sense in which she cannot represent God will perhaps be plainer if we look at the thing the other way round.

Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to "Our Mother which art in heaven" as to "Our Father". Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.

Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity. Common sense, disregarding the discomfort, or even the horror, which the idea of turning all our theological language into the feminine gender arouses in most Christians, will ask "Why not? Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?"

But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery. Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child. And as image and apprehension are in an organic unity, so, for a Christian, are human body and human soul.

The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters.

As the State grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters. This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality. There we are not homogeneous units, but different and complementary organs of a mystical body. Lady Nunburnholme has claimed that the equality of men and women is a Christian principle. I do not remember the text in scripture nor the Fathers, nor Hooker, nor the Prayer Book which asserts it; but that is not here my point. The point is that unless "equal" means "interchangeable", equality makes nothing for the priesthood of women. And the kind of equality which implies that the equals are interchangeable (like counters or identical machines) is, among humans, a legal fiction. It may be a useful legal fiction. But in church we turn our back on fictions. One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.

This is what common sense will call "mystical". Exactly. The Church claims to be the bearer of a revelation. If that claim is false then we want not to make priestesses but to abolish priests. If it is true, then we should expect to find in the Church an element which unbelievers will call irrational and which believers will call supra-rational. There ought to be something in it opaque to our reason though not contrary to it - as the facts of sex and sense on the natural level are opaque. And that is the real issue. The Church of England can remain a church only if she retains this opaque element. If we abandon that, if we retain only what can be justified by standards of prudence and convenience at the bar of enlightened common sense, then we exchange revelation for that old wraith Natural Religion.

It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity lays upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are, in our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine uniform can (provisionally, and till the Parousia) represent the Lord to the Church: for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men may often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. That would, of course, be eminently sensible, civilized, and enlightened, but, once more, "not near so much like a Ball".

And this parallel between the Church and the Ball is not so fanciful as some would think. The Church ought to be more like a Ball than it is like a factory or a political party. Or, to speak more strictly, they are at the circumference and the Church at the Centre and the Ball comes in between. The factory and the political party are artificial creations - "a breath can make them as a breath has made". In them we are not dealing with human beings in their concrete entirety only with "hands" or voters. I am not of course using "artificial" in any derogatory sense. Such artifices are necessary: but because they are our artifices we are free to shuffle, scrap and experiment as we please. But the Ball exists to stylize something which is natural and which concerns human beings in their entirety - namely, courtship. We cannot shuffle or tamper so much. With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us."

Saturday, April 05, 2008

"According to the Scriptures"

The church's tradition is that the Nicene creed should be used as a confession of faith at every Eucharist. It's good to remember this tradition, to keep it, and to ponder why the tradition is there.

The Apostles creed is not bad in itself, and it's useful as a personal baptismal creed, especially in western churches.

But it's not accidental that the Nicene creed has been approved by an ecumenical council. That approval means that it's a creed which has passed muster by the whole church, and not just the western churches, much less individual confessions (Roman, Lutheran, and Anglican, among others) in the west.

The Nicene creed is rooted in several senses, but one of the rootings is in the Scriptures, in an explicit way. The Scriptures are referenced twice in the creed: in the second article, on the resurrection of Christ ("He rose again according to the Scriptures," cf. I Corinthians 15.4) and in the third article on the work of the Holy Spirit, "Who spoke by the prophets."

We should not be biblicists, in the sense that we worship the faith or put our faith in it: we put our faith in God, Who spoke by the Bible. But He did speak by the Bible, and a Christianity not rooted in the Scriptures quickly becomes untethered, self-centered, and loses connections not only with the people of God in the past, but with all who live and struggle now.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Discovering true and false prophets

Most Christians at one time or another imagine that there is a perfect church somewhere.

There is not. Not here on earth, anyway.

And I'm not contrasting a "visible" and an "invisible" church: that's a human invention. No, the true church, God's people, the "pillar and ground of the truth" (cf. I Timothy 3.15) strains for holiness while at the same time praying for forgiveness and being encumbered by sins.

Those who wish to restore an imagined first century Christianity should read and re-read I and II Corinthians.

And with the imperfections of the church, we'll also have to deal with false prophets. For reasons known to themselves, false prophets always seek to put themselves in the midst of God's people.

And so God's people must discern: true from false.

I'm currently reading through 2 Kings, and was struck by this in the account of the dealings St. Elisha had with the Shunamite woman. The woman is not identified, but she is called "great." (2 Kings 4.8)

The time of the kings was no different from ours: there were plenty of false prophets out to fleece God's people. And one of the tasks of God's people is to discern the true from the false, and to avoid false prophets.

One of the blessings of the creeds is that they give us a guideline, a measure, a rule by which we can know true and false teachers. We are also given the example of the Bereans (in Acts 17.11) who searched the scriptures to determine if Paul and Silas were true teachers of the church.

And the Shunamite woman makes a determination: "this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually." (2 Kings 4.9) Her response is to offer hospitality and kindness to this true teacher of the church, and St. Elisha blesses her to have a son in her old age.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Creed? Which creed?

"Creed," of course, comes from "credo" the Latin beginning meaning "I believe," and while we in English say "I believe" in a variety of senses: ("I believe ground beef is on sale," "I believe he's going to be elected," "I believe I'll have a pastry") the biblical meaning of "believe" is to trust, to put one's fate in the hands of, to ultimately see the object of trust as one's God. That's why God invites and commands us to trust Him, because the object of our ultimate trust is the one we are worshiping, the one are obeying or disobeying with regard to the first commandment.

When I say "creed" without qualification, I'm meaning the Nicene creed. The so-called Apostles creed is fine as long as we view it as a condensation of the Nicene creed. The Apostles creed is a more "personal," perhaps less churchly creed, and while fine as it is, was never approved by an ecumenical council. It is, of course, approved by any number of western church bodies, but it's ultimately not a creed of the whole, undivided church.

(I'm not arguing that early versions of what came to be the Apostles creed weren't floating around in the churches prior to the consensus on the Nicene creed. This isn't ultimately about history or the development of doctrine statements, but about what we are taught in the creed now).

As noted yesterday, the creed is ultimately about God. It is not about us, and one of my complaints with the use some make of the Apostles creed is that it's made into a man-centered statement. For example, it's said that the creed deals with our creation (in the first article), our salvation (second), and our sanctification (in the third).

But the creed is not about us. And if we interpret it to be about us, we miss the point of the God-centered nature of the creed, and what it tells us about the God in whom we believe.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The purpose of the creed

The creed is not there to tell us what to believe, although it most certainly does that.

It's a common enough error to say that the Small Catechism tells us what to believe (the creed), how to behave (the commandments) and how to pray (the Our Father).

But the creed's purpose is far deeper. The creed tells us who God is.

Note the way it begins: "I believe in one God," and then proceeds to 3 sub-sections, if you will, of that belief. (I'm speaking, of course, about the Nicene creed). The creed, by the way it is phrased, is an explication of the Shema Israel, taken from Deut. 6.

The creed tells us about God. By telling us about God, the creed tells us about reality, about the universe, about ourselves, and much more, "For in him we live, and move, and have our being," as the Apostle Paul tells us in Acts 17.28.

The creed tells us who we worship, who we pray to, who created us, and who commands us what we are to be and do.