Friday, December 31, 2010

Blog Highlights from 2010 and a Look to the Future


As one concludes a year it is always fun to look back and see the past twelve months in review. Often a lot happens and we forget. For me personally 2010 was a significant year filled with transitional events in my life and work. This blog reported one of them, namely my decision to enroll at Nashotah House and pursue graduate work in the Master of Sacred Theology (STM) program. I will begin 2011 back at the books, with hopes that this next year finds the completion of two more courses, leaving me with only one in 2012, along with the thesis.

Reviewing my blog articles, here are some of the highlights that stand out for me:
  • 2010 seemed to be a reorganization year for the liberals of the LCMS. The original DayStar site was down and up and then gone, finally being replaced by another newer site, which in turn was transitioned to the newest Daystar Journal. Dr. Matthew Becker, a younger theologian than the old guard coming out of the 70's, is now the perceived leader for the future. He even launched his own blog site allowing his views to be quite public, causing a bit of a stir even in our sister church overseas. A new book, called the Day Star Reader was published and distributed widely in Synod. This volume reprinted many of the old articles from the former site. The old Voices/Vision site, a promotional site which pushed ultimately for the ordination of women within the Missouri Synod, also finally ceased to exist and was followed by a newer site called The Creator's Tapestry, named after a booklet released by the CTCR this past year on the role of women in the church. It also offers a companion blog site by the same name. The initial purpose behind the sites was aimed mainly at the Synodical convention this past summer, but seems to have had a longer goal in mind from the beginning. My perspective, after following these sites now for some months, is that although there is a new face on an old cause, possibly with newer leadership as well, I fail to see where they have gained any significant traction within the Synod as a whole. The change in the top leadership of Synod, reflecting the significant changes in the political landscape of the country as well, seems to bode better for a conservative, confessional shift, if anything. Even Jesus First appeared quite dormant following the convention. Although their voice is anything but gone, and even though they seem to be using the internet far more as a tool to reach a broader constituency, and even though the leadership may be renewed, my prediction is that, for now, they will remain merely a fringe interest, with little to no overall impact.
  • The Synodical convention this summer was by far a major news event this year, bringing an unexpected upset in the office of the president. Rev. Matthew Harrison, the conservative/confessional candidate of choice, was given a decisive victory over Dr. Gerald Kieschneck, who had served for 9 years. Jesus First went all out, as usual, pushing its candidate, while trying to also demonstrate that Matthew Harrison was not the right man for the time. Even confessional/conservative folks such as me were greatly surprised, not realizing that the mood in Synod may actually be more to the right than I had suspected. Time will tell how the new administration fares with the divided landscape of our church body.
  • I posted some articles on fellowship and the Sacrament, reflecting questions in my own parish and no doubt reflecting an issue of great continued importance for the Synod. If I had to identify the most important issues still to be resolved in the LCMS, it would inevitably involve the Communion Fellowship issue. What exactly should "Close Communion" be - just a loose fellowship of like-minded Christians, or a true and committed confession that unites people into a true fellowship? My blog posts certainly demonstrate which side of the fence I find myself.
  • My classes at Nashotah allowed me a unique insight into the Anglican church, both here and throughout the world. I offered some posts examining the way this church body approaches theology and life in the church. Overall they seem to reflect conditions in other mainline church bodies, such as the ELCA, with remnants of conservatives still holding out, while the liberal contingent maintains the momentum of policy and practice. I was pleasantly surprised to discover these Anglo-Catholics this summer and was pleased by their devotion to a reverent liturgical life. I'm not ready to jump ship and become Anglican, however, and my studies at Nashotah are actually helping me to think more deeply about my Lutheran identity.
  • This past year also brought about the creation of a new church body, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), one of the results of the 2009 decision of the ELCA to officially embrace active homosexuals within their ministerium. While at Nashotah I became aware that similar events are also occurring in the broad Anglican communion. For Missouri such events have occurred, but at a more "micro" level, such as with the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA). As with the major mergers of past generations, our time seems to be more fracturing and realignment than consolidation. The days of the monolithic mainstream denomination are waning. A new era is upon us.
  • Finally, 2010 brought two anniversary milestones in my life: 10 years at St. Peter Lutheran Church and my 50th birthday. I am not an idealist, but rather more of a realist by nature, so reflecting on these events, while bringing a genuine feeling of thanksgiving on the one hand, also reminded me that life, by and far, is also a messy affair with many struggles along the way. Nevertheless, we grow not by drifting through an uneventful existence, but rather through trial, where our convictions are tested and our character is defined. 2010 was certainly a defining year for me personally and professionally, and for that I am grateful. I believe I am entering 2011 stronger, yet well aware that I am not impervious to the evil that constantly assails us. I look to the year ahead with great hope and anticipation, yet always a bit wary of the next great struggle awaiting me. I pray that I will remain faithful and productive, and continue to grow as a pastor, a father, and a husband.
Looking at the tally of articles over the last 4 years, this year represented again a drop in the number of entries from previous years. Part of that is undoubtedly due to a busy life, and part of it may be the shifting commitments to writing. This December has seen the strongest surge of the whole year, and I am not quite sure why. Writing is like the weather in that the need and desire to write varies from day-to-day. Nevertheless, as this month has demonstrated, I still have a need and desire to write and will continue so into 2011. I thank all who continue to read this humble little corner of the blogosphere, and pray that God will richly bless all of you in the coming year! I hope to hear from some of you in the coming months as we continue to reflect together on life in the church.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Lutherans vs. Old Lutherans


You can learn a lot by the mentors a person admires, as well as the historical figures to which one looks for guidance and inspiration. Dr. Matthew Becker, editor of the DayStar Journal and theological voice of a neo-liberal movement in the LCMS, recently wrote a remembrance post of the anniversary of the historical mentor of his doctoral studies, Johannes von Hofmann. Although Hofmann is described as a "conservative Lutheran theologian" by Becker, which is a confusing moniker these days with varying definitions of conservative. In doing a little Wikipedia search on von Hofmann, it was interesting to find his name appear in another article entitled "Neo-Lutherans." Neo-Lutheranism was a so-called "revival movement" within nineteenth century Lutherans in reactions to both theological rationalism and pietism. At this point one might well conclude that we are talking about the forefathers of the Missouri Synod, but you would be wrong. This group actually represented a movement that was in contradistinction to the theological forerunners of Missouri. These Lutherans who held to what is called in this Wikipedia article "repristination theology" (a predecessor to "confessional Lutheranism") are described as "trying to restore historical Lutheranism." While "repristination" often carries the negative image of simply restoring something for the sake of restoring it, the Lutherans of the C.F.W. Walther group should not be accused in this way. Their interest was in returning back to the roots of the Lutheran church and recapturing its convictions, not in merely recreating an historical moment in time for purely ascetic reasons.

The "Neo-Lutherans," on the other hand, held to what is called the "Erlangen School," a movement that included von Hofmann among its ranks. This group, according to the article, wanted to combine Reformation theology with "new learning." They wanted a theology that was more "dynamic" rather than "static." Now whether this article is fair to the views of this school may be open to some debate. However, if true, it illuminates well the current differences that also exist between the two competing groups within Missouri. Becker, by an examination of his own writings, betrays a true "Neo-Lutheran" theology, wishing to remain Lutheran in spirit while incorporating aspects of the "new learning" such as the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, evolution, and the ordination of women. He would no doubt see the current confessional Lutheran movement as painfully "static," frozen in time, unwilling to truly learn and grow in a meaningful way, myopic on current struggles, and simply nostalgic for a time that can no longer be recaptured.

The "Erlangen School" of theology did not gain any significant traction in Missouri until around the time of World War II, when some theologians began to secure doctorates from Europe, especially Germany, where this theological orientation would still be quite alive. The ideas of "Neo-Lutheranism" were carried back and an valiant effort was made to have Missouri remade in its image. 1974 was the line-in-the-sand, where Missouri, awakened to the full impact of this movement's goals, finally said "no" and halted its progress. Interestingly, the ghosts of conflicts past still have a way of wandering into the bed chambers of our church, haunting us with warnings of what should have been, what could have been. Right now Dr. Becker carries the public banner of these Erlangen ghosts. How far he succeeds in getting depends again on Missouri's mood to abandon the direction she first charted in the early nineteenth century under C.F.W. Walther. So far it has not worked. This writer prays those ghosts will slip back outside once again.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Slaughter of the Innocents


Evil remains ever close at hand, and even the most peaceful, solemn occasions are often broken by acts of seemingly senseless violence. Such is the case in Bethlehem as the deranged despot named Herod vents his angry paranoia on the innocent children of this little village. As the church's first martyrs they deserve our reflective attention this day, remembering especially that our Lord Jesus came into the world himself to suffer and die. Christmas is too often painted in soft gentle hues that fail to reflect the harsh colors of this world's real sin and evil that made the event of his incarnation a necessity for the salvation of the world. The Slaughter of the Innocents reveals that the heart of Christmas is that God came into our troubled, dying world, for the express purpose of saving it. The name with which he was christened, Jesus, in fact, means "Yahweh saves." It was a dangerous mission and in the end brought death even for the sent savior. Christmas points to Good Friday, a truth even the Magi may have recognized as they gave him the gift of myrrh, a spice for burial. Today we indeed grieve the terrible slaughter of these children, yet we rejoice even more in the mercy of God for them and for us, and the victory over death which Christ secured in his own resurrection.

Monday, December 27, 2010

In Honor of St. John, Evangelist and Apostle



I have the honor of being born on a saints' day, yet without the similar honor of acquiring the name. Apparently my dear mother was unaware of the important nature of this minor festival (being preoccupied with giving birth no doubt.) Nevertheless, on the occasion of my half-century mark in life, it seemed most appropriate to honor the saint whose name adorns this festival time. St. John was the only disciple of the original twelve whose day is marked by white on the altar since he is also the only one to escape martyrdom. The icon on the wall of my office notes this saint as "the theologian." Given my vocation as pastor and the additional graduate work I am pursuing in theology, it seems appropriate that I share this day with the beloved apostle and teacher of the church. I pray that I may learn from him and his devotion to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ through the exalted words of his gospel, and by God's grace grow as a theologian reaching at least a portion of the stature of this great servant of the church.

In honor of St. John, with greater honor to the "Word made flesh" of whom he witnessed!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Blessed Christmas to All!


It is hard to believe that this is now the fifth Christmas for this humble little blog. Looking back I am amazed at the journey and thankful for the interaction of the readers over the years. As I type these words onto a computer screen that will appear next to my photographed digital image, I am also reminded of the limits in this two-dimensional world in which I have long interacted, and filled with renewed wonderment in the greater mystery and miracle of the incarnation which we celebrate this day. God came into our world, taking on real flesh, close enough to touch and see. In a day when so much of what we experience is through the medium of a virtual reality, the greater reality of the enfleshment of the divine in the person of Jesus brings a unique comfort to the struggling believer. This morning, in just a couple of hours, I will kneel at the altar and receive on my hands the very body of Jesus Christ, the God made flesh. I will lift the chalice to my lips and drink the very blood of my Lord for the forgiveness of my sins. Along with my people I will stand on the threshold between heaven and earth, worshiping in the true presence of the Almighty, united with the communion of saints with whom I likewise join my praises on this holy day. Nothing digital here today. Nothing separating me from the realities of God's gifts. Direct interaction with the divine. This is what the shepherds experienced over two millenia ago. This morning I, too, will stand at the manager and worship the newborn King. What a blessing!

May all who read these words here this day be similarly blessed. My greatest wish for you on this Christmas morn is to pray that you will "taste and see that the Lord is good," worshiping in His gracious presence, hear his living word, and feast upon the Eucharistic meal in anticipation of the wedding banquet in the eschaton.

A blessed Christmas to all!

Friday, December 24, 2010

President Harrison Accepts Call as Assistant Pastor


I join with many others in applauding President Harrison's recent acceptance of a call to serve as an assistant pastor at Village Lutheran Church in Ladue, Missouri. A brief blog article containing a letter sent to the district presidents of Synod explains well his rationale and the support this actions have in our synodical constitution. Serving as a circuit counselor since 2006 has allowed me to live in a world that often serves as a bridge between the local parish and the structure of the district-level and national church body. Since I live and serve in a local setting my position allows me to put a far more personal 'face' on the Synod for people who may too often see such structures as distant and irrelevant. I hope that President Harrison's actions in this case assist in doing that for him as well.

Yet more important still, I agree with him that a need exists for the president of Synod to retain a pastoral connection with the church. He notes that this is doubly important given the recent changes in synodical structure that bring more of a CEO emphasis to his position. President Harrison came to his office as a pastor-at-heart. Commenting on his previous position in that regard he writes that "In the core of my being, I am a pastor. I view life pastorally. I view the mission of the church pastorally (Jer. 3:15). My work at LCMS World Relief and Human Care moved the church’s work of mercy to a pastoral model, closely connecting care with local altars, fonts, and pulpits worldwide."

Interestingly, Harrison is doing something which he admits has not been done in "decades." It is a new thing to go back to an old thing. This is in concert as well with his book At Home in the House of My Fathers, where he helps translate and collect many documents from the early fathers of our Synod. Sometimes the most progressive thing we can do is return to the past and rediscover long lost roots. I think that returning to the pastoral roots of our church body can only bring blessings to the Office of the President and our synod as a whole.

May the Lord bless you in this new call, President Harrison!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Close Communion and Two Sweet Old Ladies

Pastor Tim Rossow over at Steadfast Lutherans offers an encouraging and interesting post on Communion fellowship and how it is received by others ("The Communion Rail was Closed Today to Two Old Ladies"). In discussions on this issue in my parish over the last couple of years, a few had belabored the point of the offensiveness of this practice, especially to prospective communicants such as these pleasant ladies. Pastor Rossow notes that these women understood the need for the faithful practice of Close Communion and respected it without showing angry indignation, even though they had what he refers to as "LCMS bloodlines." As I have noted before, our confession counts, and formal membership in a church with a differing denominational affiliation links us with that confession, even when we may not intend it to be that way. If membership is to mean anything, we must be held accountable for it. Apparently these ladies understood that and accepted the limitations it brought. How refreshing.

Vocatio


It sounded impressive to put it in Latin. However, the more familiar English derivative, vocation, or more simply yet, "call," would have done just as nicely. The concept of our work on this earth as a vocatio, or "calling," was brought home to me this morning as I watched a plumber attend to my clogged bathroom sink. There, crouched on the floor, dealing with the disgusting greyish-black sludge accumulated through decades of use, this man was performing a task for which I discovered myself quite inadequate. Not that I refused to try. I made multiple trips to the Menards and Walmart attempting to find tools for what initially appeared to be a routine household chore. I twisted and pulled and pushed until the greyish-black ooze squirted strategically in unwanted directions, soiling all in its path. As I watched this man attend to my failed chore I admittedly had renewed appreciation for his work. He, like many in our society, does what we prefer to avoid, taking on a very unglamorous task for the good of all. Luther called our vocations "God's masks." Essentially the Almighty works anonymously through us to perform the work of the First Article. Many, including this plumber, probably would not think his work that of a "calling." Too often we want to see only those jobs done in and directly for the church as truly "callings." Yet that is Third Article work. God also cares about our daily needs, and utilizes the skills and talents of countless people every day to tend to these necessities. Thus, my plumber today carried out God's work. And with my hands now clean again from that greyish-black ooze, I am deeply thankful. The water once again runs freely down the drain when I brush my teeth. Perhaps that seems simple, but much of life is, and isn't is wonderful that God cares even about the little things of life?

For a more extended look at vocation, see Dr. Vieth's article "Masks of God."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Androgynous Adam and Christ?

Certain comments are to be expected from clergy and professors in the liberal mainline denominations, such as the UCC and ELCA. However, although we all know that there are those within the LCMS that teach contrary to the established teaching among us, few rostered clergy in the Synod today approach the brazen openness of Dr. Matthew Becker with regard to views clearly in opposition to accepted teaching. His writings and comments supporting the ordination of women and evolution are fairly well documented now, especially through the recently published Daystar Reader. Nevertheless, he just added to this list with what I can only call bizarre. Again, over on the Gottesdienst Online site Becker posted the following in the comment section:

What may be Christologically significant is that Adam in Gen 1 is both male and female, androgynous. There have been some in the Christian tradition who have said the same about the second Adam. As an androgynous Adam, Christ redeems both male and females. Julian of Norwich and others in the Tradition come close to this position (Christ with breasts, for example, who feeds his church).

How do I begin to discuss this? Is this really what clergy within the LCMS can now openly teach and proclaim, besides an unapologetic defense of the ordination of women and evolution? What are the limits?

Kyrie eleison!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gottesdienst Online and Matthew Becker

I thought it a bit curious that Becker's controversial musings on his blog were receiving so little notice. Or so I thought. Unbeknownst to me until a chance comment on Becker's site, there has been quite a bit of conversation going on over at the Gottesdienst blog. Although clearly in a minority, Becker is to be credited with being as open as he is with his views. With 52 separate comments to comb through, you can get a fairly good idea of the current response to Becker's recent 'coming out' efforts.

This, however, is only the second installment on the issue. The article that first responded to Becker occurred already on Thursday, the day of his post to which I responded. "SELK: Reports of Our Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated" itself generated no less than 87 comments! I read and scanned a good deal of it. Great discussion and worth time in reading. Since the abundant material there speaks for itself, I will not even attempt to summarize or analyze.

If you want to jump in and get a feel for the debate, go over to Gottesdienst and read. You may, though, want to get a cup of coffee first. It's gonna take a few minutes.....

P.S. It would appear that the possibility exists that charges could be filed against Dr. Becker for false teaching. He was more than once admonished to do the honest thing and leave the Synod with which he so adamantly disagrees. He was called to repent. However, he sees nothing wrong with his views and convictions and certainly no reason he should leave the LCMS. As I stated in an early post I do not understand those who remain in a church body, attempting to change it, when they could just as easily leave and join another with which they are more attuned.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rent-a-Reverend

This was a first for our little daily newspaper (at least in my memory over the last decade.) An ad appeared on Friday entitled "Harmonious Spirit," offering the availability of a meeting room or chapel at a listed address in town. It then read, "Services performed: Weddings, Funerals, Baptisms." The ad also included the name of a man entitled with "Rev." As far as I can tell he does not represent any of the local churches or cults. The ad sports a cross, so contrary to the Eastern-sounding name "Harmonious Spirit," I am left to believe he may be Christian. I can somewhat understand the idea of hiring yourself out for weddings and funerals. People are always looking for a pastor willing to do theses "services" for the unchurched. Some calls to my church are as crass as "How much do you charge for a wedding?" Funerals are the same way. When someone dies it does not matter if they seldom if ever graced a church for worship. The important thing is that a "reverend" is there to say kind enough words so that we are all led to believe the beloved relative and friend is now comfortably situated with Jesus in heaven. Somehow, it is expected in our culture that everyone is entitled to these "Christian" services with or without real faith. I shouldn't complain too much, however. In talking with my British professor this past summer I learned that in the Church of England a priest would be expected to provide these services to any citizen of the country, as all are considered part of the church. Unlike me, they have no choice. It's their job.

Now what concerns me most of all in this ad was the provision for baptisms. Of all the "services" rendered by the "reverend," this is an act most closely associated with membership in the church and inclusion in the Body of Christ. I assume he provides infant baptisms, since these would be the most likely requests. Unfortunately he only perpetuates the existing ignorance and confusion surrounding this sacrament. As a 'rite of passage' many baptize their babies for the simple reason because that is what you are expected to do. They go in, sit through the ceremony, take lots of pictures for the babies book of memories, and have a luncheon afterward. Then they come back when the child is old enough for Sunday School. Maybe. Sometimes they may never return.

I suppose I should have expected that someone would see a potential business prospect in this area. It's probably done a lot in larger cities. Still, it cheapens even further the church's sacred acts and mission. We have toyed with worship to such a degree that some sanctuaries are little more than theaters with stages awaiting the audience's enthusiastic applause. Now we will sell our sacraments for a fee. I assume he charges a fee, but I may be mistaken. The basement "chapel" I viewed on Facebook seemed pretty low budget with minimal upkeep, and as far as I can tell he has a day job elsewhere. So perhaps he is offering these services gratis to assist those frequently disconnected people who require an inexpensive "quicky" when it comes to these formerly formal ecclesiastical acts.

I wonder what the saints of old would think of this. You know, the ones in the Early Church that took Baptism so seriously it was preceded by years of catechesis. Or even our forefathers from only a century or so ago. They would not believe it could come to this. And neither can I.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Becker Hits a Nerve

Apparently Dr. Becker hit a nerve with a recent post on the discussion of the ordination of women in the Independent Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK). If he was looking for attention on the issue, he now has it. Was that his goal? He certainly did not miss the opportunity to again chastise the LCMS for its apparent lack of willingness in beating this dead horse. Like the SELK there is division on this issue in the LCMS; of this we are painful aware. After all, the mere existence of sites such as The Creator's Tapestry and DayStar indicates that there are those who wish to keep the subject alive in our midst. On the other hand, both denominations also lack broad-based support within the rank-and-file of the congregations even after extended conversations on the topic. One might think that after ten years of discussing this in SELK without a positive result (for the pro-ordination side), we might conclude that the issue is indeed becoming the proverbial "dead horse." And this is the issue I struggle to understand. When it has been demonstrated on the official and popular level that an issue is failing to gain solid traction leading to conclusive adoption, are we wrong in concluding that it is time to move on and declare the topic closed? Or are we obligated to continue, ad infinitum (and ad nauseam) until resistance breaks down out of sheer exhaustion or indifference? Is there a reason those who desire something offered elsewhere are unwilling to go there to find it instead of always trying to change the place they currently are? It begins to feel like the person who feels that if they keep harping on a spouse to change they will get the desired result, even if that change ends up only in appearance and with resentment. Do they really believe that there is such support in the Synod that if we finally broke down and decided to ordain woman that the division in our midst would be only minimal? Look at the ELCA. They pushed the limits with homosexuality and lost a significant number of their membership - so many an entirely new church denomination was formed. Is this what the proponents of the ordination of women eventually desire?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Coursework for Epiphany Term


I will be registering this week for my next class at Nashotah for January. It is entitled "Reading Romans: Exploring Paul's Theological Vision," and will be taught by Dr. Garwood Anderson, the professor I had this past summer for the course on "The New Perspective." Excellent teacher. Since Romans represents such a foundational book for Lutherans, it seemed more than appropriate to sign up for this course. I suspect that out of this course will come my thesis topic, which may be inspired by whatever major paper I pursue. At the moment my interest is centered on exploring Romans 13, and maybe a broader exploration of the "kingdom of the left" in the New Testament, with a focus in the Pauline corpus or even incorporating material from the Gospels for the thesis. We'll see.

This summer I am excited for the possibility of a course offering which will explore "The History and Function of the Church Year." The scheduled professor is the Lutheran theologian Dr. Phillip H. Pfatteicher, who is a noted expert in liturgics. He is an emeritus professor of English from East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania and is the author of several books on the liturgy. Recently he retired as associate pastor of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania.

It will be nice to space out my course work this year, taking one at a time instead of having so much writing on my shoulders in the Fall just when things are warming up again in the parish after the summer break. It will also allow me a bit of a breather to take in a Higher Things gathering with my son in Illinois in the early part of July.

Hopefully, I can still finish this degree by the end of 2012. After the two courses in 2011, I will have but one left to take, plus my thesis. After that? Who knows.....a D.Min degree...Ph.D....retirement.....?

Dr. Matthew Becker Launches Blog Sites


Some time ago I bemused at the paucity of blogging done by those from more liberal theological convictions. Then The Creator's Tapestry resurrected the seemingly dormant Voices-Vision outlet, giving 'voice' once again to those pushing for more involvement of females in the ministerial leadership of Synod. The writing here has been, like my own blog as of late, rather lacking in consistent regular contributions, although after a hiatus since August a recent post has appeared dated December 2, offering a brief tribute to one of their own colleagues recently deceased.

Now, yet another from regions left of center has also appeared in the blogosphere. None other than the DayStar court theologian, Dr. Matthew L. Becker has launched his own site as well as a new replacement for the DayStar group, called "The DayStar Journal." His blog is entitled "Transverse Markings: One Theologian's Notes." You may link to his blog here. His latest article is "Women's Ordination and the LCMS Partner Churches," and is worth reading to gain an insight into the status of this issue, especially in the international churches with which we have fellowship. He takes President Harrison to task for the latter's firm stance against the Lutheran Church of Japan's possible intentions of endorsing women's ordination. It comes as no surprise that Becker praises what he views as a more open discussion on this topic outside of the LCMS, and disparages the climate in Missouri which is, from his point of view negative and attacking in its approach to dissenting views.

Dr. Becker, who now works from a safe haven in the liberal Valparasio University, represents what appears to be a new generation of those seeking to turn Missouri's ship into more 'open' waters friendly to causes of the Left. Although with a decidedly conservative administration, the reality in Missouri is that we are still a very divided church body, and DayStar exists in testimony to this. It will be interesting to follow him now that his views are readily available. Conservative readers will do well to bookmark his sites and keep a watch!

New Synodical Blog


President Harrison's office at the International Center has recently launched a new blog entitled "Witness, Mercy, Life Together: In Christ, for the Church and the World." It will feature articles by the executive staff on a variety of subjects. You can follow it here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thoughts on a 10th Anniversary

For the first time I can now speak with some authority on the benefit of a longer pastorate. Previous to this my lengthiest stint was a mere five years. I'm not sure of the current statistics regarding pastoral residencies, but I suspect that there are still a sizeable number of men who take calls after only a few years. Perhaps they do this looking for that 'perfect parish' where in-fighting is unknown, where the pews are always packed, and the customs represent pristine Lutheran practice. In my earlier years I suspect I entertained such dreams. It's not that I have now become cynical and dour. No, age and time have simply taught me a more realistic picture of the church. As a shepherd I have come to recognize that we minister in the context of a fallen world, and that being "in Christ" represents for the shepherd a commitment to suffer with and for your flock. I also realize that meaningful ministry often comes with hard-fought relationships, as you live and struggle with people through the various milestones of life: birth, death, disease, marriage, graduation, and the list goes on. I'm still unpacking my experiences, and sense that I can evaluate this time best only in retrospect. That said, I know that these ten years have been some of the richest of my life. Not the easiest or always the most enjoyable, but the richest. We grow not in leisure, but in challenge.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Volunteerism in the Church


Recruiting volunteers remains as one of the predominant ongoing challenges in most churches. Some years back I heard that one trend involved shifting from the traditional elected boards to "task forces." The rationale was that the younger generations showed a greater willingness to volunteer for short-term projects over long-term commitments. This may indeed be the trend of our time. However, is volunteerism in the church overall suffering a decline regardless of its time commitment? As a parish pastor I watch nomination committees and organizational committees for dinners struggle valiantly more and more each year to secure sufficient numbers to fill the election slate and duty roster. We all realize the change in the times from a half century prior, acknowledging that the church was long ago displaced from its central place in many people's daily lives. Myriads of commitments now compete for attention from sports and clubs to other volunteer appointments. Out here in the country the impact of that reality has come a bit later than for others. We still hang on to time-honored customs passed from one generation to the other, even as we watch a gradual weakening in the ownership of those traditions. Times change as do people, which we must simply accept as a fact of history. Nevertheless, a parallel challenge in the church offers more disturbing realities: the lessening of commitment to regular Sunday attendance. Over the years I have watched as the generations following the WWII/Depression era folks take their place in the pews, yet in many cases with far less regularity. Where their parents and grandparents felt that being in church every Sunday was important, their children and grandchildren are more than willing to settle for once or twice a month, or less. This trend, undoubtedly affects the other challenges mentioned earlier, and may explain why volunteerism in general suffers as it does. Church simply isn't as important for many as it once was.

Of course, these remain but observations from the sideline of one location, and certainly others could offer more encouraging and hopeful conclusions taking a wider and broader view. Still, am I viewing more than just a local trend? Has a generational shift indeed occurred and I am seeing simply a local ripple within the greater pond? Just wondering....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Schism

The ELCA's magazine The Lutheran formally acknowledged the formation of the North America Lutheran Church (NALC) in its most recent October issue. The article announcing it was brief - merely 203 words - and rather dispassionate, given the emotions which initially surrounded the ELCA's action on the legitimacy of active gay clergy. Actually the announcement was somewhat 'after the fact' and anticlimactic anyway, in that the editor spent even more ink talking about it several pages prior in his piece entitled "Just one more Lutheran body." Mr. Lehmann's point was to treat the whole affair rather 'mater of factly' by declaring the new church body as simply another Lutheran denomination, nothing more, nothing less.

However, his editorial does not quite rest at that point. Unlike the news piece on page 8, the editorial on page 4 intends to make a point, and that point invokes the ancient Christian indictment of schism. "What we have here is a classic case of schism - a formal division or separation in the Christian church. That cleaving causes pain as your editor know, having left the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod decades ago in another schism." Now the editor stops short of labeling this division as a "sin," yet by simply invoking the word one can tell that he wishes to place a greater weight on the negative aspect of their actions than a positive one. After all, schism is ranked up there, historically speaking, with heresy, both being condemned clearly as sinful actions. In Canon law schism is a sin that can bring excommunication.

Ironically, the Lutheran church itself, as seen through the lens of Catholic history, is the result of schismatic actions, and as we all know Luther was indeed excommunicated. Our unwillingness to dissolve our Lutheran denominations and reunite with Rome leaves us in this schismatic separation outside the unity of what Rome views as the only true Christian church. If Lehmann wishes to accuse the NALC of "schism," should he not honestly take a second look at the schismatic nature of his own denomination, if not all of Lutheranism? The editor also remarks on the separation of Seminex and the AELC from Missouri as a "schism," but one wonders if he saw this division as necessary rather than harmful. He simply says it was "painful."

Perhaps it seems I am placing undo stress on one word. Nevertheless, he had a choice. "Division" would have worked just as well. Choosing "schism" said much more, perhaps more than he intended?

Half Way Through

On the last day of September I emailed my final paper for this summer's term at Nashotah House. The total number of pages of writing between the two classes came to around 80 pages. 56 of those were finished and then edited by my dear wife in that last week of September. I knew that pursuing this degree would present a needed and welcomed academic challenge, yet the sheer volume of writing still surprised me. Nevertheless, with the one transfer course from Ft. Wayne, and assuming I scored sufficient grades on these two classes, I am now officially half-way through the course work for my STM. The final two papers, by the way, were: "Romans 7: Personal Struggle, Defense of the Law, or Israel's Struggle," which was an exegetical paper for a course on the New Perspective of Paul (where I defended Luther's interpretation of Romans 7 against the New Perspective interpretation), and "Anglican and Lutheran Worship: Contributions, Contrasts, and Comparisons." The last of these was written for a course taught by the precentor and vice-dean of Norwich Cathedral, the Rev. Canon Jeremy Haselock. The longest of the two, it ended on page 41 with over a hundred footnotes. The research for this paper revealed a fascinating liturgical exchange between these two traditions dating back to the very beginning of the Church of England. The final third section of the project offered a point-by-point comparison between Common Worship, the Church of England's most recent worship book (2000-2008), and our Lutheran Service Book (2007). The comparison was limited to the Eucharistic liturgy, using Divine Service, Setting One for the Lutheran contribution. All in all, despite the labor involved, I must admit that I enjoyed the challenge and learned a great deal.

This January I am tentatively planning on taking another course from Dr. Garwood Anderson on Romans. My selections for exegetical courses is rather limited this summer, and with the time already invested in a great deal of work on Romans, it seems like a logical choice. Anyway, my chosen concentration for the degree is Biblical Exposition. In turn, I am looking at another liturgics class in the summer, this one taught by the well known Lutheran liturgical scholar Dr. Philip H. Pfatteicher. The course will examine the Church's calendar and sounds quite interesting.

For now, however, I am relaxing and enjoying a brief reprieve. I picked up Matt Harrison's book At Home in the House of My Fathers at a pastor's conference this past week and am looking forward to some non-assigned reading. After spending so much time with the Anglicans I now need to spend some quality time in the house of my own fathers!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Beck, According to Poll, Wrong Leader to Head Religious Movement


According to a PRRI/RNS poll released Thursday, fewer than one in five Americans (17%) believe Glenn Beck is the right person to head a religious movement. Interesting is the fact that Beck was correctly identified as a Mormon by the same amount, the same number who also think he is either Protestant or Catholic. You can read the full story on the Religious News Service site.

The article goes into great detail by breaking down the percentages of those inside and outside of the Mormon faith who approve and disapprove of him as a religious leader. I am encouraged that so few Americans see Glenn Beck as an appropriate figure for such leadership, and not necessarily because he is Mormon, although that cannot be ignored. My main point concerns the fact that we are even asking such a question in the first place. Yes, I know about the "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington recently and how he supposedly concentrated more on religious themes than on politics. I realize that it caused a media storm and put Beck at the front and center of the protests by civil rights leaders. Yet, it was but one event -and this is the key point: He is an entertainer!

I enjoy watching Glenn Beck from time to time as I enjoy watching FOX News. According to liberal pundits that makes me ill-informed and narrow minded, but such is the rhetoric these days. Beck makes full use of the entertainment tools of gaining attention, including a fair amount of shock and emotion. That's Beck. Take it or leave it, but remember in the end that it is still entertainment, even if what he says can be corroborated with facts.

So let's go back to the original issue. Glenn Beck a religious leader? Something tells me even he would laugh at this one.

[P.S. - Personal note: This is my 500th post. I never thought I'd find that much to write about!]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jesus First Speaks Up after the Convention

Jesus First remained quite active politically before the convention. They pushed very hard for the reelection of then President Kieschnick and other like-minded incumbents. After the convention the site went dormant for a time. In a way this was appropriate. The time for political rhetoric had passed. I commend them for not immediately reacting to what certainly was a disappointing election. Some believe that Kieschnick himself did not see his own defeat coming. However, he handled the shock with grace, even if his face betrayed the mixed feelings within his mind and heart.

Now, however, they are speaking up once again. To their credit they appear to be giving the new president a chance and resisting the temptation to criticize his views that are not in line with their own. This will be a difficult time for them since President Harrison represents a conservative approach not in sympathy with many of their desires, as well as similar ones in the DayStar group.

So instead of focusing on the new administration they have chosen instead to come down hard on the new group ACELC, or the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Churches. This group, it appears from my view, has not even enjoyed across-the-board support and endorsement from all within the confessional fold (for example, Steadfast Lutherans have shown support, while the Rev. Paul McCain of CPH has not.) Since I have not reviewed their statements I will withhold any personal critiques here. If you are interested you can visited their site and read all that they have written. When I catch up on my studies at the end of the month I plan to do this myself.

But let's go back to Jesus First. What are their concerns? They call what the ACELC is doing an "inappropriate admonition." They believe that the mailing they sent to all LCMS congregations outlining their concerns was out of order in terms of the way the church addresses concerns. They believe that many of the concerns raised by the ACELC criticize positions adopted by the LCMS in convention, and are therefore inappropriate in that they are not being addressed through the dispute process of the Synod itself. According to them writing letters like this was unchurchly, if I can invent a word for the occasion. As a side note one wonders how their criticisms in this situation might address their own frequent and sometimes strong hitting correspondence to the members of the synod through mailings and the internet, especially leading up to the convention. Might there be a double standard at work here?

In its overall address of their concerns with the ACELC, they offer two additional articles. "That Which Jesus First Cannot Accept" would be worth reading for those interested in a brief primer of their overall agenda. In their very first statement they declare: "We understand that there is a lack of conformity within the Synod. But we hold that we have great unity in doctrine." This remains a point not only of continued contention, but of disagreement even in perception. For the sake of brevity let me suggest but one issue that speaks against this assertion. Close Communion. It's been affirmed several times over the last 40+ years in convention. Yet the Florida-Georgia District itself rebelled against it. Countless LCMS parishes practice a form of functionally open communion every Sunday. Can I document my charge? Well, I do not have to travel far even in my own district to find parishes that violate the Synod's position. In fact, I don't even have to go looking for them. It comes to me through members who visit neighboring churches and return confused and angry that we lack the flexibility and loving concern of these other sister congregations. How is it that they can open their altar to other Lutherans and members of other denominations and we can not? No one is disciplining them, so it must be ok - a sign of accepted flexibility and trust of our other churches, right?

I have fought too many battles in my ministry in defending the Synod's position on communion fellowship to accept this latest statement by Jesus First without contesting their view of reality. They are simply wrong and living in a self-chosen fog. We can dicker about how best to address these concerns in the official structure and I will not take time here to do that. But the point remains: How do we address this glaring DISUNITY in doctrine in our midst? Obviously, we begin by calling it what it is and stop couching our words with such terms as "lack of conformity."

Sorry, Jesus First, I'm not on your page. You need to come clean about the real problems we face and offer a better way to address them than simply giving it a different name and pretending that it is what is not.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Unity of the Church vs. New Church Bodies

As a new church body forms out of the continued wreckage of the ELCA, one hears concerns about the unity of the church raised. A similar note can be heard among Anglicans as their communion continues its ongoing fracture. Many from the more liberal side of the spectrum will undoubtedly appeal to Jesus' words in John 17 about His prayer that we should be one, even as He and the father are one. The desire for outward unity, a conviction shared, ironically with Rome itself, forms a core of the modern ecumenical identity for the church. So, is any disruption of this outward unity of breach with the will of God for His church?

Any student of church history will acknowledge that maintaining outward unity at all costs ultimately sacrifices something else critical to the church. Usually this involves fidelity to the truth. Agreeing to disagree only erodes the church's commitment to a clear confession which is exchanged in turn for social statements that embrace increasingly liberal agendas. If one understands the theological distinction between the hidden and visible church, we realize that the unity for which our Lord prayed has always been fulfilled. The gates of hell will never prevail against those united in true faith spread throughout time and eternity.

It is sad when a church body begins to crumble and die, and part of us dies with it. Denominations form significant parts of our identity much like our families do on a more personal level. Yet these outward organizations exist not to maintain a memory, but to carry out the call of the Lord of the church to proclaim the Gospel and administer his life-giving sacraments. If this cannot be done in faithfulness to the Word, then the time has arrived for that denomination to disappear and others to take their place.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Prayer and the Church

Recently I received an email inviting me to an event called PRAYER2010. The note states that this event is "designed to invite the gifted intercessors from around the Lu­theran Church–Missouri Synod to come together in one place for a time of prayer and intercession for the advancement of the Kingdom of God on earth, the blessing of our LCMS and her leaders, the provision for our mis­sionaries to the nations, and to ask the Father’s blessing on LCMS congrega­tions, pastors and people as we pray 'Come Holy Spirit' to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify us in your truth. (Daniel 9-10)." It was sent by the Rev. Dr. Victor Belton, a member of the LCMS Board of Directors. According to the website of the LCMS he is a 1986 graduate of our St. Louis seminary, although the directory fails to list any doctorate, honorary or earned. A website devoted to Dr. Belton supplies a short biography, with scant reference to his education and again any reference to his doctoral accomplishments (although he is shown there in full academic apparel, doctoral robe and hood.) Apparently he and his church are active supporters of mission work in Africa, specifically the Sudan. Also, according to "LinkedIn" Pastor Belton involves himself in other business activities, such as being an area representative of "PewsPlus of Georgia," specializing in selling interior furnishings to churches, and "ID Theft Georgia" where he consults with companies who need to be compliant with FTC guidelines regarding identity theft in the workplace. He is a busy man for a parish pastor.

However, my interest involves more than Dr. Belton at this point. What concerns me regards the nature of prayer and the church, upon which perhaps readers of this blog may wish to comment. Now I am certainly not opposed to prayer, and most certainly not in the church. Prayer remains the very substance of our worship. Yet that contains a major point of my concern. For many years I have watched a variety of events rally for the express purpose of prayer alone, such as the one referenced above. Here they especially endeavor to gather together "gifted intercessors" to call upon God for his blessings. The event is limited to the first 25 who sign up.

Gifted intercessors? This expression confuses me. How is one "gifted" in prayer? Can some people pray more effectively than others? Does "giftedness" contribute to the nature of prayer? Where do we find this in Holy Scripture? Last night I gathered with around 20 people for our weekly Thursday service at my congregation for Vespers. Naturally the service, which was structured on prayer, concluded with the prayers of the church where we interceded for those in need. It never occurred to me whether I needed to be "gifted" to carry out this responsibility, or whether that would change the outcome or direction of our prayer. Why should we not simply call upon the Synod to remember its leaders in the prayers of their various corporate services where they naturally would intercede for those in need?

I may be mistaken, but doing a little searching on his sight led me to a link of a man who is decidedly charismatic/pentecostal. This man is referred to as an "apostle" and "a friend" of their ministry at Peace. I suspect that the above PRAYER2010 is another "renewal" event, similar to the many we used to see in "Renewal in Missouri" movement some years ago and now defunct.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

N.T. Wright on the Active Obedience of Christ

If you read John Piper's book The Future of Justification you will discover that one of the central points of contention with N.T.Wright's doctrine of Justification involves the imputation of Christ's righteousness, especially that of his "active obedience." Classically we have usually emphasized both Christ's passive and active obedience, His sinless life of keeping the whole law perfect and his obedience unto death, even death on a cross. In criticizing this teaching Wright seems often to characterize it in such a way that it resembles the Catholic doctrine more than the one of the Reformation - infused vs. imputed. However, the reason why he resists this teaching so much involves his deconstruction of Paul that I referenced in the previous post. While he acknowledges the law-court metaphor in justification he insists that the judge in no way shares or transfers his own righteousness, but merely creates a new "status" for the justified. At times it almost seems like the 'splitting of hairs' and you are on the verge of saying, "Well that's what I mean." He emphasizes Christ's death and the central place it has in our salvation, and for that we are grateful. However, this area of Christ's active obedience, long taught and cherished, is swept away in his new paradigm. In its place we have the Messiah who does what Israel was unable to do because of sin, which is to carry out God's single plan for the world, being the faithful Israelite, faithful to the original covenant. Something has dropped out, and you find yourself looking to find it.

Wright, in his effort to reemphasize the role of the Spirit, looks more to a model of "transformation" than "imputation." He believes that the old model risks, in the end, of being less than trinitarian, even falling into the potential trap of 'having faith in faith.' A fear, for me, though, is how this "transformation" works its way out for the Christian. Progressive sanctification, the traditional bane of the holiness bodies such as the Weslyians and Pentecostals, represents a falling into the other ditch with the same error from which Wright wishes to protect us.

Piper was right to warn against this omission in Wright. The church is not ready to jettison its doctrine even over one man's need to protect another.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

N.T. Wright on Justification

I have almost finished N.T.Wright's book Justification - God's Promise and Paul's Vision and the review essay required on it for my class. Taking a pause before lunch I thought I would jot a few notes while they are fresh in my mind. Understanding Wright requires effort. One problem with Wright, to use his own analogy, is that he rearranges and discards the traditional puzzle pieces so much he leaves you more than a bit confused, and concerned, if not outright frustrated. While surfing around I stumbled across a short post entitled "N.T. Wright's Doctrine of Justification - In Layman's Terms!" For the most part his brief summary hits the main points of what I read in his book. A blog post cannot possiblly do justice to a thorough review of his work, and if time allows I may post my own paper later. Suffice it to say that Wright, while endeavoring to appear quite biblical and evangelical, has managed to completely upset any traditional understanding we Lutherans ever had on the doctrine of Justification. In fact, his comments throughout the book betray a not so thinly veiled distaste for any Reformation-based statement on the doctrine. So where does that leave him? To accept his thesis you would have to scrap whatever understanding you had of Romans prior to this, and start over. You would have to accept a new vocabulary and new definitions of familiar terms. In short, you would have to start over.

Yet would you still end up with grace and faith alone once you did this? Hard to tell. On the surface it seems so at times. Yet one wonders, especially when he talks about eschatology and the verdict at the end based on works. Christ is there, too, but not as forcefully as in the "old perspective," in my opinion. When you jettison the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the sinner you lose something. A lot, to be sure. I'm just not sure where we get back what we lost when Wright is done dismantling it. Perhaps someone out there has read Wright as well and would like to shed some light in an attempt to better understand him. I'd be interested to hear your insights.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Nashotah Reflections


A week has now passed since I returned from my studies and I thought I would muse a bit on my time away. These are relatively random thoughts, placed in no particular order, related to no single theme.

1.) As I was researching my options for graduate study over the last year or so, I looked into a variety of possible arrangements and degrees, including online distance learning. With more than a few hours back in the classroom I see even more the value of residential programs, even if only for an intensive two week period. Interaction with fellow students and the professor in a live face-to-face encounter provides invaluable learning experiences I am not convinced online programs could adequately reproduce. Now I am not arguing against online distance programs. They have their place. I simply am observing a unique benefit and possible advantage of residential programs over and against these offerings. The 60 hours I spent in class exposed me to a variety of opinions, insights, backgrounds, and interesting discussions that at times directed the class time in ways we could not predict, yet proved to be quite helpful.

2.) The rhythm of education at Nashotah was framed by the cycle of daily prayer, something easily taken for granted. Each morning before 8:00 a.m. and each evening before 5:00 p.m. the bell would remind us of the coming service at chapel. This daily discipline proved for me a powerful reminder of my own need to renew the place of regular worship in my own life. The cycle of prayer over those two weeks was an overdue retreat away from the pressures of ministry and a chance to refocus. Undoubtedly I should have taken this time long ago, and now I will look forward to my annual opportunity to retreat in the quiet serenity of God's comforting word in this unique atomosphere. Many times as I juggled the unfamiliar books my attention would be distracted and I certainly missed more than a few things. Yet I realized that there is a benefit in the rhythm of word and prayer in itself. Too often we get caught up in the preoccupation of whether we "got something out of it." Can I recall the pastor's sermon? Do I remember all the details of the readings? Our minds are always wandering. Yet if they are wandering in the atmosphere of prayer, can all be lost?

3.) Being in the presence of other students and scholars is a humbling experience, as it should be. Pride too easily rises in the midst the pursuit of higher education. We obsess over degrees and accomplishments. Yet the experience of interacting with sharp minds reminded me of my own limitations and my own lack of knowledge. Still, far from discouraging me, this helped instead to spur me on to learn more and try harder. Again, being in that daily rhythm of prayer served as a constant reminder that this pursuit was ultimately for the sake of the church, not my own ego. I pray that the Lord keeps this focus before me.

4.) The people who were on campus during my stay came from an amazingly diverse array of backgrounds and provided an unexpected learning opportunity. One was a canon lawyer from a nearby Catholic diocese. Another was a former resident of Nigeria with a Ph.D in anthropology who now works for F.E.M.A. Some of the students came from several of the islands in the Caribbean - the Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad. My professor was a priest from Norwich Cathedral. I discovered that all of the faculty at Nashotah are coverts to Anglicanism from other Christian traditions: Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Southern Baptism, etc. Each day at meals gave me a chance to interact with someone different who expanded my horizons and who often gave me the opportunity to share my life and experiences as a Lutheran pastor (and specifically of the LCMS), since I believe I was the only one on campus during those two weeks (besides one other man studying for the ministry from a breakaway synod from the ELCA). I was only three and a half hours from home, yet I often felt as if I had traveled to another country. It is good to step out of ones comfortable environment and be challenged by other traditions and experiences. To be a Lutheran among Lutherans is easy. To be a Lutheran among Anglicans requires a different set of skills!

Well, that's just a few thoughts. Many pages remain yet to be read, and many papers are still unwritten before these courses are completed. As these efforts unfold I will no doubt expound on my discoveries there as well. Until then......

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Church of England and the Episcopal Church


The troubles and stresses in the Episcopal Church (TEC) are no mystery. This past week while studying at an Episcopal seminary I picked up on the frustration of many within this denomination, but also from a priest within the Church of England who served as my professor. Then I read in my most recent issue of Christianity Today that this frustration has risen all the way to the upper leadership of the Anglican church. Apparently the tipping point came with the ordination of a lesbian assistant bishop in Los Angeles. In light of this Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has recently requested that TEC withdraw from ecumenical dialogue and rescind its voting rights on an Anglican doctrinal committee claiming that the ordination breaks guidelines aimed at calming tensions in the worldwide church. Predictably, however, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori defended the ordination showing concern over what she called "colonial attitudes."

Well, Schori may scoff at her English neighbors, but she must truly be out of touch with the growing dissent and defection within her own denomination over this issue. This past week I ran across a number of those from the breakaway Anglican Church of North America (ANCA) who chose Nashotah House to prepare for the ministry or to pursue graduate education. England is not the problem, Schori. Rebellion against the clear word of God is. And many within your church are realizing this and leaving. You may want to address this before looking down your nose at your English cousins.

Friday, July 30, 2010

What Shape is a Jellyfish?

Are Anglicans high church or low church? Well both. With "broad church" squeezed in between. Their approach to worship and doctrine alike is well summed up in the little Lain phrase via media, the middle way. Which remains, for many, a true attraction to this church.

One day in class we were studying the collects of the Church of England's Common Worship. A discussion arose around the propers for "All Soul's Day," a point of contention, as one might expect, for the Evangelicals given its association with the "Romish" doctrine of purgatory. I asked what the Church of England's position was on this issue. In reply my instructor answered with a question: "What shape is a jellyfish?" Point taken. Doctrine becomes what one desires or needs it to be, for Angl0-Catholics it is one thing, for Evangelicals another. And the official books of worship are modified and crafted accordingly to accommodate as large and broad a constituency as possible.

This reality came home to me also as I was looking at the 39 Articles in the back of the Book of Common Prayer and reflecting on the text of the Apostles' Creed at the same time. The 39 Articles possess a very clear statement supporting our Lord's descent into hell. However, the creed, in typical Episcopalian fashion, renders it differently as one who went to the realm of the dead. I asked about this one as well and was informed by an Episcopalian priest that the 39 Articles are now considered, at least officially, more as "historical documents." Yet, there they are in the back of their book of worship. How odd.....

As a Lutheran such a lack of conviction and definition signals the potential for all kinds of mischief in the church, and I suspect that my Anglican acquaintances would agree, especially as they witness the ongoing fracturing of their communion into almost as many new micro denominations as the Lutherans. Given the beauty of their prayer book and liturgical convictions it is a shame that their commitment to be a truly confessional church is lacking in so many ways. There is such potential there.