Friday, May 28, 2010

Stage 2 Completed: I'm Registered for Class

With my formal acceptance into the Nashotah House Master of Sacred Theology program (STM) complete, I have now registered for this summer's classes. Unlike a larger seminary or university where class choices may be greater, I was somewhat limited in my selections. Nevertheless, the courses should prove to be both challenging and interesting.

The first course I will be taking is entitled The New Perspective on Paul: A Critical Engagement with Recent Trends in Pauline Scholarship. This seemed appropriate especially given its current attention within Lutheran academic circles. For example, LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology devoted its 2010 Eastertide issue to "The New Perspective on Paul." The Concordia Journal issue for Spring 2009 also gave attention to this, especially Thomas Schreiner's article "An Old Perspective on the New Perspective." Doing a little searching I discovered that this subject has been discussed for some time now, as another article in the Concordia Journal betrayed. In the July 2001 issue of the Concordia Journal you can find a helpful piece by James A. Meek entitled "The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction for the Uninitiated." The course will be taught by Nashotah professor Dr. Gawood Anderson, who specializes in New Testament and Greek. Anderson is one of the newer professors who came to the seminary from a former teaching position at Asbury Theological Seminary (Orlando, FL campus).

The second course I selected was one I did not initially consider. At first glance it seemed a bit too "Anglican" for my use. However, after giving it more thought it occurred to me that looking at the ongoing worship struggle in the church at large through different eyes might offer a fresh perspective for me in my own tradition. The course title is: Liturgical Change in the Church of England, 1928-2008: Controversy, Conflict, and Comprehension, and is being taught by a visiting professor by the name of the Rev. Canon J M Haselock, precentor and vice dean of Norwich Cathedral in England. The course information describes him as a member of the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England from 1997 to 2008 and closely involved with the whole Common Worship project. He was a member of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation [IALC] during this same period. The course will examine the wide differences in worship practice that have impacted the Church of England from what is described as "formless 'family' services sponsored by Evangelicals" on one side of the spectrum to "'Papistical' masses which were only slightly adapted English translations of the missal of Pius V and the Council of Trent" on the other. The Church of England has long struggled between "high church" and "low church" throughout its history from the Reformation to the present. While not completely identical to struggles within the Lutheran tradition, there is no denying our own tension between "formless" contemporary services and high church masses. I'll let you know later how valuable the class turns out to be.

So now I wait for the reading list and start in earnest my preparation for the courses. With the holiday weekend upon us I don't expect to receive anything out of Nashotah until well into next week at the earliest. I'll keep you posted on what books they end up using as texts.

Romans 16:17

"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them." - Romans 16:17

Traditionally this verse has been used to support the fellowship practice of Communion, especially as observed within conservative Lutheran circles. Not that that its use in this way has escaped challenge, especially among those who wish to open the practice of fellowship in as wide a way as possible.

The argument no doubt concerns the fact that the average communicant from outside our fellowship has no intent in "causing divisions" or "putting obstacles in our way." He or she merely wishes to commune and nothing more. Perhaps. In many cases the casual 'drop in' simply passes through with hardly a sign of their presence left behind. Yet, is not their very presence already a sign, in itself, of the toleration of division? By opening up the altar to those who by their regular membership stand for teachings which directly contradict our own, do we not indirectly allow them to bring "divisions" in our midst (thereby encouraging further doubt and questioning from within)? Because we do not talk of these differences as openly as we ought, they nevertheless remain. And for those who vocally insist that it is their inherent "right" as Christians to commune at any altar they desire by virtue of their self-identified worthiness, is this not also a way of "causing divisions" as well by challenging the rights of the congregation to exercise true scriptural discipline?

That being said, there remains an additional topic that arises from this verse, but this time from within the fellowship. Admittedly, any church possesses a spectrum of views from staunch agreement to open rejection of many things the church and its affiliated synod represent and teach. Some of these views remain hidden in the private minds of their proponents and thus removed from our jurisdiction to handle. Yet some are far more open. To what degree do we tolerate open disagreement with what the church teaches and practices?

Every pastor must wrestle with this at some point in their ministry, walking a fine line from being too harsh with the law, on the one hand, and being too tolerant with the Gospel on the other. One must first take into consideration the weak in faith and those who are simply voicing their confusion or frustration, yet are open to learn and be taught. This last point is important. Some people may appear rebellious in their disagreement, but truly are still open to teaching. Another group exists that rebels with a firm conviction that they are right and refuse to be taught or corrected. This second group, I believe, comes under the warnings of Paul in Romans 16:17, especially as it concerns "the teaching you have learned," namely the doctrine we proclaim. I make this last point to differentiate between foundational doctrines of the Faith and the whole host of policies and practices that go into running the church's business. Too often wars are created on the turf of policy in a completely unnecessary way. Sane people can and will differ on the way to run an organization. Yet, when the discussion impacts the core beliefs of our faith, here we make a stand.

During my two plus decades of ministry two issues have arisen most frequently that wandered into this difficult terrain. One was worship, the other was the Close(d) Communion policy. Each of these, in my view, impacted what the church believed and taught in a very public way. Unfortunately, many within the Synod today would consider these issues to be places of adiophoristic compromise, rather than battle grounds of disagreement. That, in itself, is a place of division and continues to cause untold anxiety in our midst these days. However, both of these issues ultimately strike at the heart of the community of faith, and both of these, if disregarded, will ultimately spell the demise of a church's faithful commitment to our Lord's mandate to proclaim the Gospel.

Only a few truly relish conflict within a church. As a pastor I can say that it do not like it and spend much energy avoiding it. However, that being said, I have tried to recognize that sometimes avoiding conflict is as unhealthy as creating it. Also, overlooking those who cause divisions within the church that ultimately impact the teachings we hold dear, is also not responsible. Romans 16:17, therefore, may have as much to say to us within the fellowship and outside of it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More Insights on Reactions to The Creator's Tapestry

Rather than add yet another addendum to my post a day or so ago, I thought a separate, though, brief post was in order. Unfortunately it seems I'm a bit of a latecomer to the discussions surrounding the CTCR document The Creator's Tapestry. For those still interested in the topic and the points already raised in the previous post, I would recommend taking a moment to 'drop in' on the discussion over at the ALPB's Forum Online dedicated to this very topic. Of special interest to me throughout the discussion (which I admittedly skimmed) was the perspective of Marie Meyer, a longtime voice in the LCMS regarding the role of women in the church. Although she references the site I mentioned in my previous post, she does not seem to come completely clean on her overall perspective or her ultimate goals. After pages and pages of discussion it was apparent they were indeed going "around in circles" and unable to fully agree on where it was all supposed to lead. For her part Mrs. Meyer carefully and consistently avoided taking the discussion in the direction of the Ordination of Women. That was not her point, she insisted. Yet, it is hard to avoid the fact that the very website set up to comment on this CTCR document (and supposedly the points she raises on the Forum) includes book recommendations and authors who make the case for the ordination of women nonetheless. Obviously the site, which uses The Creator's Tapestry as a convenient cover (or jumping off point) for other intentions, is simply the new and improved reincarnation of Voices/Vision since removed from cyberspace. The elephant in the middle of the room isn't so invisible folks. They are talking about it and promoting it and I personally believe that the goal of women's ordination is still very much on the table. Or am I still missing something here?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Effects of Emotional Dysfunction on Parish Life

Churches, like families, are not immune to the effects of emotional dysfunction. However, in Christian love we may pass certain behaviors off as idiosyncrasies, trying hard not to judge those with whom we struggle. We might also attempt to explain it away by judging ourselves. The problem is ours, not theirs, we tell ourselves. We have not been sufficiently sensitive or accepting. Yet some behavior stems from various forms of what those in the psychological realm call "Mental Illness." Now to some degree we all suffer from a certain amount of mental or emotional dysfunction. No one escapes it all. The pressures of life bring varying levels of anxiety and depression, sometimes to severe levels (as in a crisis such as a loss to death), sometimes less.

Having accounted for this, we are still left with those who suffer from conditions which are not manageable, and which negatively affect the overall health of the congregation. Obsessively compulsive individuals exert excessive control and manipulate others, while anxiety-ridden people drain energy from church workers by demanding undo attention and time. Public meetings become excruciating experiences as normal matters of business explode into heated arguments and power struggles leaving many drained and in emotional pain themselves.

Anyone who has spent time working and volunteering in a church remembers such experiences. They have lived through them and sadly in too many cases have left the church when the discomfort became too acute. They were emotionally and verbally abused, although at the time they may not have recognized it as such. All they wanted to do was to escape and hide, and who could blame them? Meanwhile, church workers, burned out and bruised from one too many battles, limp quietly off the stage of ministry and fade from view, wishing only to find a place of peace.

Comprehending the unhealthy dynamics at play is part of understanding any possible solution. Like a family suffering from abuse it often takes a dramatic change to bring healing again. Unfortunately, though, many within the church often feel intimidated into silence by stronger and more vocal members who do not realize their unhealthy behavior. They sit passively to the side even as events spin out of control, feeling helpless to do anything to stop the abuse. Sometimes, like a fire snuffed out by its own tendency to consume the oxygen that fuels it, the abuse will reach a point where it consumes itself. Yet waiting for this often only prolongs the pain unnecessarily.

So what is the ultimate answer? No one perfect answer exists since each situation presents unique situations. Of course, the Gospel is always the ultimate answer in the end, as the forgiving power of Christ's love brings the only healing that can mend wounds and restore broken fellowship. Yet how one deals with the intricate complexity of human emotional dysfunction remains the challenge for which there are those so equipped and trained.

If you are suffering within such an abusive situation, you have my prayers and encouragement to break the silence and reach out for help. Satan feeds on the silence of our fears and rejoices in our weakness. May the Lord of the Church be with His bride and heal her from the wounds sin has afflicted upon her.

New Blog Presents Reactions to CTCR Booklet on Man-Woman Relationships

The presence of blogging from the perspective of the "left" side of Missouri's political spectrum has long seemed absent. Perhaps this is now changing. A new blog (The Creator's Tapestry: A Thoughtful Response) was started back in March as a response to the CTCR's booklet The Creator's Tapestry: Scriptural Perspectives on Man-Woman Relationships in Marriage and the Church. This study was commissioned a long time ago, but only recently completed and released to the church-at-large. As a pastor I received a copy, but admittedly have not studied it in any depth. At first glance the contents did not seem to reverse the current teaching of the Synod, so I was not too concerned. You can find an online copy of the study for yourself by linking here.

One should have anticipated that those in the DayStar crowd would be upset and would waste no time critiquing and condemning the report as an inferior piece of scholarship and a travesty to the equal rights of woman in the church today. The usual participants are involved - Marie Meyer, Dr. Matthew Becker, to name the most recent and well-known from this group. It will be interesting to follow them now that they are more open in cyberspace.

Rather than quote large sections of what they wrote here, I will simply encourage the interested reader to link to the blog itself. Becker and Meyer are very indicative of the thinking in the LCMS that is strongly pro-women's ordination, and should not be ignored by any who wish to be close to the pulse of what is currently being discussed out there. Whether their voice is heard and heeded in any official and substantive way remains to be seen. For now it seems that it is a voice on the fringe, but I may be wrong. For that reason I keep reading and reporting....


P.S. Read of the beginnings of a new group called the "St. Louis Seven" here. It almost appears that this group and site constitute the resurrection of the Voices/Vision folks who recently disappeared from cyberspace.

Also note that there seem to be two sites at work here - a blog and a more polished web page. Check here for the developed web site (www.thecreatorstapestry.com). At one point in the scrolling pictures on the home page you see the word "Voices" alone. One wonders, as hinted above, if this indeed is not the successor to the Voices/Vision people who pushed so hard to put women's ordination out front in the Missouri Synod.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Crossings Reviews the Day Star Reader


A while back I reviewed the Day Star Reader, which is largely a compilation of past articles from their old site. The Crossings web site, hosted by ex-LCMS scholar Ed Schroeder, has now offered a review of their own. Written from the perspective of one sensitive to Day Star's agenda, it offers a helpful glimpse into their true theological views, not what might be 'spun' for the sake of political acceptance to Missouri's greater audience.

Note for example their open admittance of Day Star's depreciation of the absolute verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture:

Though ostensibly on opposite sides of the fence on many LCMS issues, both of these two groups, I thought, were still tied to each other with their primal commitment to verbal inspiration of the Bible as the cornerstone for Christian theology.

Au contraire the Daystar crowd--and other still small voices within Missouri--whose theology begins with the Gospel's authority and grounds the Bible's authority there on what the Bible itself calls the "chief cornerstone."

Gospel Reductionism still lives within Missouri. It did walk out of the Synod in the 70's. (Note the link here is to a larger article on the relationship of Gospel and Scripture.)

Although only offering a brief oversight of the book's contents, Editor Schroeder summarizes well the key subject areas and their role within the ongoing LCMS debate:

Editor Becker groups the essays under 6 headings:
  • For the Sake of the Gospel
  • Preaching the Gospel
  • Church and Ministry
  • Church Fellowship
  • The Ordination of Women
  • Science and Theology

Folks in the know will recognize the "hot potato" aspect within the LCMS of the last three of these captions. Missouri's tradition has been "no" to all three even when nuanced in temperate language. The Daystar folks say "yes" and in this reader give their reasons for saying so.

Again, I appreciate Schroeder's clear admittance to their views which many of us have noticed coincide more with the ELCA than with their parent denomination. Interestingly enough, these "hot potato" issues do not seem to get much attention in the convention workbook this time around. One wonders if the Day Star crowd is now largely just a marginalized group representing an ever shrinking constituency.

Which may be a question Schroeder himself is anticipating in his remarks that follow, as he notices the same trend this writer did a little while back with regard to the aging of the Left:

But, but . . . . But will it never end in Missouri? Not just the Bible vs. Gospel cornerstone debate, but the voice for the Gospel itself that these essays demonstrate? Is that in danger of coming to an end? Is the Platzregen moving on? I checked the brief biog of each of the 22 writers. Thirteen are retired and two are already R.I.P. Seven are still in the sprinkling business. But most of them aren't youngsters anymore either.

Perhaps like the Renewal in Missouri group along with the Voices/Vision people (two sites that have since disappeared from the public cyberspace), these movements have crested and are slowly fading away. We can only watch and see....

Monday, May 17, 2010

A New Chapter in my Education

For several years now I planned to finish a second graduate degree after seminary. In 1996, with the encouragement of my then pastoral colleague Dr. Charles Gieschen, I entered the STM program at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne. Unfortunately, after but one course he took a call to CTS and my duties changed as I assumed the senior pastor's position for the next four years at Trinity - Traverse City. Spare time for such educational ventures vanished.

Then came another child and with the other two growing and expanding their activities, new roles were assumed that recaptured my time again. Not that I regret this in any way. Taking time with your children remains a critical priority for me. However, with one over half way through college, the second one entering his second half of high school (with a new job in tow), and but one in the elementary level, the time again seemed right.

So back in February, after spending much time and effort exploring the myriad of options available to me, I decided to apply to the STM program at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, usually known as simply "Nashotah House," or "The House," the oldest chartered educational institution of higher learning in the state of Wisconsin (founded 1842). The criteria for my decision included: within a 4 hour drive of home, an accredited institution, relatively conservative in its theological approach, and a program I could later use in future teaching or other church work, affordable. One person who was very helpful in assisting my deliberations was the Rev. Gaylin Schmeling, president of Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. In doing random searches on Google I stumbled across his name and biography at the seminary's website (linked above in Schmelling's name) and noticed that he had earned an STM from Nashotah House. After contacting him he was gracious to return that contact with a personal phone call and much helpful insight into the institution and its possible strengths for a Lutheran pursuing an advanced degree.

Although we have two great seminaries in our synod, I also realized that many of our pastors and teachers found value in exploring their education at institutions outside the system. Dr. Arthur Just initially pursued a STM degree from Yale. Dr. Gieschen initially earned a Th.M from Princeton, as did Dr. Wenthe the seminary's president and the holder of a doctorate from the Catholic institution Notre Dame. One value of Nashotah House is that despite their relatively small size, they are known to bring in well respected and known scholars from other institutions to compliment their own faculty. This summer, for example, they are bringing in Dr. Walter Kaiser, who was the former president of Gordan-Conwell. I will, however, always value my education at CTS, and still consider it one of the premier seminaries in this country, and possibly abroad.

Although I still need to write to the dean and formally accept my entry into the program, I have been approved (as of this past week), and now all that remains, as they say, is the paper work. My plan is to take at least one course this summer while commuting on the weekend (thus the value of my four hour limit in distance!) This degree is built on the intensive course concept, so I will not need to relocate or leave my present position. I am hoping, as well, to complete it within a three year time frame. The degree is 24 credits, total, with the last 6 being a thesis. If my prior course transfers in and I take at least one class this summer, I will technically be one third of the way finished with the course work.

The campus appears to be beautiful, and I am looking forward to the rich Anglican worship and meditative atmosphere that Nashotah House offers. In some ways going to Nashotah House is as much about find a "retreat" away from the usual responsibilities of ministry and being able to take some much needed time in prayer and reflection, as it is about academics. Luther understood this well: Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio, these are what make a theologian, he said.

So, a new adventure begins. Undoubtedly the readers of this blog will see updates from time to time as I enter into this experience. I graduated from the seminary 23 years ago this month, and it's been at least 14 years since I last took formal post-graduate coursework. Thus, at almost half way to 50 this is going to be an adjustment. Yet I am eager to jump in and be challenged.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Are We Changing Culture or Is the Culutre Changing Us?


As a pastor I wrestle with the impact the prevailing culture has on my church. A disconnect exists between Sunday morning and the rest of the week. What happens out there often appears to be in direct contrast to the values we espouse in the sacred assembly on a weekly basis. On another front the church-at-large struggles on how to change the culture by its own witness. Yet do we see any real evidence of true change?

James Davison Hunter in an article for the May issue of Christianity Today noted:

How is it that American public life is so profoundly secular when 85 percent of the population professes to be Christian? If a culture were simply the sum total of beliefs, values, and ideas that ordinary individuals hold, then the United States would be a far more religious society. Looking at our entertainment, politics, economics, media, and education, we are forced to conclude that the cultural influence of Christians is negligible. ["Faithful Presence," pp. 33-36]

Hunter notes, however, that "Jews, who compose 3 percent of the population, exert significant cultural influence, disproportionate to their numbers, notably in literature, art, science, medicine, and technology." Gays likewise.

So why are we so ineffective in cultural change? Hunter writes:

Populism underwrites American Christianity, especially within evangelicalism. That populism speaks to cherished values, but it also works against the dynamics of cultural change. The main reason Christian believers lack influence in the culture, despite their aspirations, is not because they don't believe enough or try hard enough or think Christianly enough. It's because they've been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted.

Hunter also notes that cultural change, far from a quick transformation, is actually a change occurring over the course of multiple generations. In all of this Hunter admits that he is trying to "disabuse people of changing the world. We cannot control history - God alone is its author." So instead of proposing another grand plan to change the world in our time, Hunter proposes an alternate direction. "The point is not to change the world but to serve faithfully in our relationships, tasks, and spheres of influence." Yet contrary to much evangelical thinking this is not another "individual takes on the world" plan. "Faithful presence is not about the individual alone," he writes, "but also the individual in concert with the community."

Overall Hunter does not see the burden of the church to "save America or save the West," which is a common theme among evangelicals. At least not in the sense of saving it culturally. He also warns against a strategy that looks to political power as an agent of change. Such power is at cross-purposes with the church's mission. He instead suggests the use of "social power" such as Jesus Himself employed. Such 'power' derives it strength from humility and sacrifice and looks instead to God and not to society.

Hunter's concluding paragraph offers a helpful summary of where he sees the mission of the church in the future:

Christians need to abandon talk about "redeeming the culture," "advancing the kingdom," and "changing the world." Such talk carries too much weight, implying conquest and domination. If there is a possibility for human flourishing in our world, it does not begin when we win the culture wars but when God's word of love becomes flesh in us, reaching every sphere of social life. When faithful presence exisisted in church history, it manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care - again, not only for the household of faith but for everyone. Faithful presence isn't new; it's just something we need to recover.

Hunter's ideas deserve a serious hearing, even in the work of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. As I thought through his points I could not help thinking about Rev. Matt Harrison and his work with the Lutheran World Relief and Human Care. (No, this is not a political pitch!) His written work on "mercy" as a paradigm for mission and ministry has offered refreshing avenues of service in the world in concert, it seems, with Hunter's concept of "faithful presence." Perhaps Harrison has captured his point already. At any rate, Hunter offers us a challenging critique of where the church has been with a real vision of where it should legitimately go. My reader's insights and views would be appreciated as to the value of Hunter's points. What do you think?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Who Is Responsible for the Poor?

During the early history of the Christian church and even well into the Middle Ages and beyond, Christians assumed the burden for helping the poor. Government aid, as we understand it today, simply did not exist, and the church would not have expected it otherwise. However, with the so-called "war on poverty" that began in the Johnson years, the general assumption now is that the government has a primary responsibility to care and support the poor. As the years have gone by the church has taken a step back and like everyone else looked to the government more and more for answers and solutions.

According to a ChildFund International Survey, Americans believe that childhood poverty is an urgent problem needing to be addressed, yet they rank faith-based groups last when asked who should be responsible for meeting that need. 66% of those surveyed believe that the U.S. has an obligation to help poverty-stricken children around the world. Almost 3 in 10 of those surveyed felt that international nonprofit organizations should offer relief, followed by 25% who looked to the governments where these children live, and 19% looked specifically to the developed nations. Only 16% felt that faith-based organizations should be tapped for this need.

Should the church reevaluate its own participation in this area and possibly contribute more of its own resources so as to relieve other organizations, thus reassuming again our traditional role? And how should we evaluate poverty as a need? Different definitions exist, not to mention measurements. Should we concentrate only on abject poverty, or do we have an obligation to those who are simply among the "working poor"? And to what extent to we assist? It would appear that the modern approach to this problem has largely made the issue worse by creating a virtually permanent "poverty class," left dependent on government handouts. Ancient aid was just that, "aid," not a substitute for that person's own efforts. The goal was to assist people through a difficult part of their lives, not leave them dependent on the aid they received. Many questions remain here to be answered. What do you think the church should do?

Many Americans Do Not Understand Easter

For six weeks the church lives in the glow of Easter. "He is risen, He is risen indeed!" echoes between pastor and people. Bright white or gold colored paraments adorn the altar, indicating a special "Christ time" of the church year. It would be hard to believe that anyone active in their congregation would miss the significance of all this. Yet outside those hallowed walls many remain clueless. According to a Barna Study group less than half of U.S. adults surveyed specifically associate Easter with Jesus' resurrection. Seven in 10 who responded indicated religion or spirituality when answering the question of what Easter means to them. Only 42% linked Easter to the Resurrection. Aside from Jesus' rising from the dead, how else might people see this special day? Others see it as a Christian holiday, a celebration of God or Jesus, a celebration of Passover, a holy day, or simply a special day to attend church.

It is amazing that after all the years of evangelism and outreach by Christian churches over the decades that so much ignorance still exists. Yet much ignorance, unfortunately, also exists within the church itself, at least among the moderately active ones. This is why I go to great lengths to make sure people see and hear the connection between the Easter miracle and the hope of life eternal at funerals. This is by far my greatest opportunity to preach Christ risen, especially to the unchurched Barna identified. However, it is still sobering to think there remain so many who do not know this great hope.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Learning From the Amish


Recently we have been exploring the faith and practice of various churches and denominations in a Bible class at my church. Last month we examined the Mennonite and Amish tradition, which the class requested be extended into this month as well (this class meets only monthly). In preparation for these classes I have been reading and rereading various books and sources, in addition to some film coverage on DVD. Last night I watched an award winning PBS documentary called "The Amish - A People of Preservation" as the first of three DVD films my wife ordered on library loan. While the original film goes back at least 20 years, the cover does indicate that this is also an "updated look" at the Amish origins and life, which can be seen in the difference in car models throughout the film.

Despite its age, however, I found the film quite informative, well done, and in a surprising sense, insightful about matters in my own faith and church. Historically the Amish and Mennonite traditions arise from the same Reformation period as my Lutheran forefathers. Known then as the Anabaptists, these "radical reformers" sought a return to what they perceived as a more pure and original expression of the Christian faith. To that end they endeavored to restore a more robust practice of church discipline, resulting in the seemingly harsh act of "shunning." They believed that the church had to be truly holy, even its outward appearance. They also believed in a strict separation of church and state, along with a commitment to passivity in regards to any expression of civil force, either military or otherwise. Theologically Lutherans parted ways with the Anabaptists from the very beginning, finding their abandonment of infant baptism and the office of the ministry to be clearly unscriptural, as well as their separation of the work of the Holy Spirit from the divinely appointed means of Grace (Word and Sacrament.) Numerous references in the Book of Concord indicate in greater detail the Reformer's concerns, such as various sections in the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord.

Aside from these theological concerns, though, certain aspects of their life and culture may prove all these years later to actually be a powerful reminder to Lutherans of the value of certain parts of our own faith we seem to be losing. Many remained perplexed by the Amish as they see a church seemingly frozen in time. Although they may be intrigued by the quaint nature of their way of life, they fail to understand what almost appears as an inconsistent and nearly hypocritical adoption of some forms of technology as they in turn reject others. However, one can understand the Amish fully only if one understands their extreme commitment to family and their need to guard it at all costs. How refreshing! In a culture where sex is a commodity to be used at will with no regard for its proper context, and where marriage too often degrades into an arrangement of convenience, the Amish continue to preserve the biblical essence of marriage and family as the core strength of their own society.

As I struggle pastorally with what often seems like a steady parade of divorces and trial marriages (a.k.a. living together), the Amish commitment to these biblical ideals is enviable. While we feel so progressive compared to these 'backward folk,' in truth we are the ones who have missed the point of it all. Our "progression" is actually "regression," and we are systematically destroying our own society by disregarding its most basic building block and foundation.

The Amish remained steeped in tradition in these regards and in many others as well; a tradition and respect for the past they find stabilizing and reassuring in the midst of constant change. As I watch my church and denomination fight against the past and look longingly to other churches that seem so much more 'successful,' I realize that they are blindly racing into the future with no real security. Tradition gives stability to the church as it encounters a culture in constant flux. The Amish realize that some things do not need to change. Some practices and techniques remain timeless and deserve to be passed down rather than thrown away. Of all people the Amish may be one of the few groups today which understands how history is still a living aspect of a culture's future and survival. We can and should learn from our past and its elders.

Unfortunately we see the elders of our society as out of touch and often useless to progress. We set them aside as relics no longer needed as we embrace the amazing power of our technological wonders. The Amish do not reject advancement and technology, however. What they do is evaluate its impact on their culture and families and then decide its usefulness and appropriateness. Does it strengthen the bonds of family, or does it tear them apart? Does it encourage community and fellowship, or does it elevate individualism and selfish pride? Lutherans would do well to ask similar questions of those changes they see in their own churches. Do the new worship forms and programs elevate individualism and cater to every whim of the ever-changing tastes and trends, or do they strengthen the idea of community gathered as one around Word and Sacrament? In our day we lift the individual up as the ideal. We cater to what the occasional visitor demands. We possess an insatiable need to please everyone lest someone become bored or put off and desire to go elsewhere. Not so the Amish. Principles comes first. Individual tastes and desires bring pride which they fear more than anything else. Thus the clothing that makes all look the same, and the commitment to a "plain" lifestyle. We have much to learn from these people.

I often wonder if my commitment to historical and confessional Lutheranism is a dying tradition. One church after another abandons every semblance of what once identified my faith. Sanctuaries give way to "worship centers." Formal steps aside for informal. Reverence vanishes as the need to be relevant and current steps in its place. Will the little country churches remain as outposts to preserve what it left as the larger city churches move on without us? Perhaps I am a kind of Lutheran Amishman, of sorts, refusing to give up what worked so well for my ancestors and still seems invaluable today. I do not reject new advancements and techniques outright. I do not believe that faithfulness is enshrining the past in museum-level security. Yet I do realize that the present should always be evaluated by the past. Caution is not resistance. It is simply being responsible. I do not want to abandon my Lutheran faith to become Amish. That said, I do wish my church was a bit more like theirs in its respect for what it too often throws away like abandoned relics of a bygone era.