Monday, June 29, 2009

What Is Sacerdotalism?

Whenever Pastor Herman Otten warns of the so-called "Hyper-euro" clergy in the LCMS, the accusation that immediately follows is the charge of "sacerdotalism." This was leveled against unamed pastors once again in the recent issue memorializing Pastor Bischoff (June 29, 2009, page 4.) Now whether his caricature of these pastors is even close to the truth remains an open question, at best. They are accused of rejecting all aspects of the traditional governance of the Missouri Synod, and thus the "rights" of the laymen, in favor of a complete return to an episcopal form of governance. They are said to insist on ordination as a third or fourth sacrament of the church equal to Baptism and Communion. In short, they reject the heart of what makes Missouri good, and are no better than the Church Growthers or the Higher Critical folks who still question the verasity of Holy Scripture. Or so it sounds to me in the pages of CN month after month.

The charge of "sacerdotalism," however, remains a very troubling accusation, especially since it is a false charge and misunderstanding of the term. According to Wikipedia, as linked above, sacerdotalism is the Roman Catholic teaching that ""through the ministry of priests, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the [eternal] sacrifice of Christ, the sole Mediator. Through the hands of the priests and in the name of the whole Church, the Lord's sacrifice is offered in the Eucharist in an unbloody and sacramental manner until He Himself returns" (see the Documents of Vatican II.) According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, sacerdotalism is the "religious belief emphasizing the powers of priests as essential mediators between God and humankind."

Rev. Jack Cascione, back in 2001, wrote in the online journal Reclaiming Walther, that "A Hyper-Euro-Lutheran is anyone who seeks a return to pre-Walther European Lutheran Hierarchy in LC-MS congregations. It is just an alternate term for Sacerdotalism, the pastor becoming the vehicle of God's grace as in the Catholic Church."

It appears, putting the best construction on the charge, there has been a great misunderstanding of those pastors that have a high view of the ministry and worship of the church. Because they take seriously the words "in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ" (as recited in the official absolution from the Divine Service), and because they believe that the Lord's Supper should be again a central part of Sunday worship, and because they often appear a little too Romish for their taste in their clerical collars and chasubles, and because they are rather reverent about the holy things of God, the assumption given is that they have therefore adopted the Roman Catholic teaching of the priesthood.

The accusations of Cascione and Otten unfortunately assume many things that remain undocumented. Drawing a conclusion based on appearances and personal opinion regarding those opinions, or drawing a conclusion based on what a person does not write (as in lacking a defense of what you desire), is quickly taken to be proof positive the pastor is a closet Romanist.

Personally I am very weary of this senseless labeling and unfounded attack on the many pastors who faithfully represent their Lord Jesus, taking serious their vocation to be the "stewards of the mysteries of God," and still working well within the boundaries of their LCMS-approved constitutions. I would like, for the record, to see a printed and documented record of a LCMS pastor who has claimed the doctrine of sacerdotalism as it is properly understood and not as it is conveniently redefined by Cascione. Perhaps someone out there knows of a source? I have yet to see one.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How Can One Talk About Worship without Mentioning the Sacraments?

In an effort to remain informed about the teachings of other churches, and to assist with teaching, I will occasionally pick up doctrinal books from other denominations. Recently I ran across the book Church of God Distinctives by Ray H. Hughes, which, as the title indicates, is a summary of Church of God beliefs. Well, to be accurate, the teachings of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee.) "Church of God" is actually used by more than one denomination. This particular denomination represents a church of over 6 million, so it is certainly quite representative of major Pentecostal teaching.

The contents of the book contain no surprises for those familiar with mainstream Pentecostal belief. It predictably includes many pages devoted to the so-called charismatic gifts with emphasis on healing and speaking in tongues. When reviewing chapter 4, the "Distinctive of Worship," which is a little short of 20 pages, I was, however, surprised by one glaring omission. Nowhere could I find even a hint of information concerning the place of the sacraments in worship, especially the place and function of the Lord's Supper. If one reviews the official "Declaration of Faith" for the Church of God, you do see mention of both Baptism and the Lord's Supper. And while they are part of their stated beliefs, you begin to understand how they are pushed so far to the side when you also realize the equal attention given to the so-called "Baptism in the Spirit" (which wrongfully tears the Spirit from the one and only true Baptism) and the Washing of Feet (which Hughes calls the "Pedilavium Distinctive"). Hughes devotes no less than 3 pages to this last practice, while allowing nothing to explain thier teaching on the Lord's Supper. Amazing!

Considering that in Acts 2:42 we learn the Early Church ordered its worship around the Teaching of the Apostles (Word), Fellowship, Prayer and the Breaking of the Bread (Lord's Supper), it seems all the more surprising that one would omitt even a mention of this in discussing worship. This does not even touch on the fact that the institution of the Supper is mentioned in three of the fourth Gospels and is expanded even more in Paul's letter to the Corinthians.

Admittedly Lutherans have allowed their own regular worship to become somewhat disconnected from the Sacrament over the years, although efforts remain to restore the practice of every Sunday Communion. Seeing how far one so-called Christian denomination has strayed from this simple and central practice of the Early Church only encourages me to work all the harder in seeing the Sacrament restored back to its rightful place in public worship.

Friday, June 26, 2009

What Does It Mean that Michael Jackson was "Deeply Spiritual"?

Since the surprising announcement yesterday of Michael Jackson's sudden death, many are now describing the pop star legend as "deeply spiritual." Aware of Jackson's Jehovah's Witness upbringing, the question naturally arises, "What was Jackson's faith in more recent times?" And, even more important, "Was he an active participant in the faith of his choosing?" The question becomes important now that the media and supporters rush to describe him in ever glowing terms, elevating his supposed spiritual side. One early hint of his current spirituality came when his brother, at a press conference announcing the star's death, wished a blessing upon Michael from "Allah." In doing some quick searches on the net it became more and more obvious that, indeed, the star did convert to Isalm back in 2008, less than a year before his death.

According to his own admission, Jackson continued to practice his JW faith for several years after childhood and the launch of his professional music career. He describes when he would don special disguises in order to fulfill the church's practice of distributing Watchtower literature door-to-door and at the local mall. When his drift from his childhood faith began, and how committed to his new Muslim faith he truly was, we may never know.

From the perspective of a Christian, however, the label "deeply spiritual," while possibly descriptive of the star's private thoughts and views, remains deceptive to those who do not realize his lack of genuine faith in the true God. In the days to come as people mourn his death with almost religious fervor, Christians will be reminded again and again how painfully confused our world has become with regard to faith and eternity and the identity of the true God as revealed in Christ. One can only mourn the fact that in his lifetime search for truth he was not led to the only place he might have found lasting peace in the only Savior from death and sin, Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the true sadness of his passing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

District Convention Updates

For those who would like to keep up with events and decisions of the ongoing District Conventions of the LCMS, the writer of Preachrblog has a great summary at this site.

I noticed that no one has yet submitted a report of the North Wisconsin District, of which I am a member. The convention in Green Bay was fairly non-eventful, in that it was quiet and did not involve controversial issues that elicited any spirited debate. The current president, Joel Hoelter was reelected to a second term. All current vice presidents were also reelected to additional three year terms as well. As with all the district conventions there was a report on the Blue Ribbon Committee on Structure, which is probably better reviewed by others, as you can find at the site above.

For my part I am just relieved to be done, as I had the responsibility for the worship and daily devotions of this convention. Despite the predictable glitches, overall it seemed to go well from my perspective. Now I can retreat back into semi obscurity.....

Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Senate bill S.909, also called the "Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act" (or simply "Matthew Shepard Act") is scheduled for a hearing in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill back in April in what was seen as bipartisan support. This bill, in one form or another, has been in discussion in Congress since 2001, but has failed for lack of support. Some of you may have heard of this proposed hate crimes act and the concern expressed regarding the ramifications this could present to the church and the public proclamation of the Word. You can read the full text of the bill here.

According to a Wikipedia article on this bill, FBI statistics indicate that of the over 113,000 hate crimes since 1991, 55% were motivated by racial bias, 17% by religious bias, 14% sexual orientation bias, 14% ethnicity bias, and 1% disability bias.

The article also indicates that this proposed bill is "supported by thirty-one state Attorneys General and over 210 national law enforcement, professional, education, civil rights, religious, and civic organizations, including the AFL-CIO, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the NAACP. A November 2001 poll indicated that 73% of Americans favor hate-crime legislation covering sexual orientation."

The entire Wikipedia article, which includes information on the proposed bill's history in Congress, can be read here.

A major concern arises in the definition of "hate crime" and the groups this bill endeavors to protect. The usual designation of race, creed, and gender has been expanded to include "sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim." Now while reasonable people of faith would never think to hurt or endanger anyone, regardless of their beliefs, views, or lifestyle, this does not mean that they approve of what they see or are able to remain silent about it. That last part is the area of concern, especially for pastors who may find themselves preaching against sin that is now perceived as a protected class.

The last section of the proposed bill does offer these assurances, especially as they pertain to the protection of free speech:

    For purposes of construing this Act and the amendments made by this Act the following shall apply:

      (1) RELEVANT EVIDENCE- Courts may consider relevant evidence of speech, beliefs, or expressive conduct to the extent that such evidence is offered to prove an element of a charged offense or is otherwise admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Nothing in this Act is intended to affect the existing rules of evidence.

      (2) VIOLENT ACTS- This Act applies to violent acts motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of a victim.

      (3) CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief), including the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration. The Constitution does not protect speech, conduct or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence.

      (4) FREE EXPRESSION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual's expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual's membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs.

The concern in the above is that the language is too weak to protect those who speak out against certain behavior where the so-called hate crime is claimed to be motivated by a given sermon or radio program, etc. In other words, will this prevent a pastor from being prosecuted when the criminal indicates that he was inspired to kill or injure someone because of what he heard in a sermon?

What do you think? Does this bill spell potential trouble for the church? Or are the assurances in the "Rules of Construction" sufficient to keep prosecutors from easily drawing a link of guilt from a pastor to a hate crime simply based on the criminal's claim of inspiration?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's Been Busy

I know that my last post came nearly a month ago, but I have to confess being exceptionally busy these days. This coming week, beginning on Sunday, is the North Wisconsin District Convention in Green Bay. For the second convention in a row I have had the responsibility for all the worship at the convention. As 'chaplain' for the convention I am charged with putting together the opening vespers service, the convention communion and memorial service, and two morning devotions. Finding musicians, coordinating resources and space, and working the bugs out of endless megabytes of documents has been like having another part-time job. And as it is so often in church work, having such extra work does not preclude the fact that other unexpected events will not occur in the meanwhile, such as funerals. So, needless to say, I have been preoccupied as of late.

Yet I see so many items in the news and in the periodicals and magazines that I read, and I want so much to comment on them here, such as the recently reported sharp rise in unwed births and the ongoing debate in the ELCA over active gay pastors. I also find a number of interesting items in the copies of Christianity Today that come in the mail each month. In the May issue one can find a fascinating discussion of church architecture and what it says regarding worship and faith in "Theology in Wood and Concrete" and "Keeping Holy Ground Holy." The byline in the last article reads: "A new survey suggests that seekers are not looking for user-friendly, mall-like buildings." Many of us who refused to jump on the Church Growth bandwagon knew this long ago, but it's nice to be finally be vindicated in print. The June issue of CT waits to be fully read, but I will probably take it along to the convention to make sure one article is reviewed: "The Justification Debate: A Primer." I'll read and report when I return.

My wife also arranged a discounted subscription of TIME, so I have an opportunity periodically to to peek into a rather liberal arena of news to see how the world thinks. One interesting article back in early June in the religion section read: "Is it O.K. to use Twitter in church? A few pastors are actually encouraging the faithful to tweet." Thank goodness the issue two weeks later featured a cover story on Twitter, since many in "my generation" are a bit behind on this latest trend. Needless to say, I don't have to read the first article to answer the question. The answer is: ARE YOU KIDDING? I guess not....

Well, I have worship tonight and I need to work on my sermon. I'll be back.