Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seelsorger Discovers the Advantage of the E-reader

For my 51st birthday my wife blessed me with the gift of a Nook, the e-book reader created by Barnes and Noble.  Many of you have probably long since discovered this technological tool, but the Seelsorger often lags behind the pack (Confession: I have yet to send a text message from my phone.  Goal for 2012.)  At any rate I have come to truly appreciate the benefits of this device.  Not wanting to spend a lot and finding the Barnes and Noble site very workable to find books, I began to explore the many offerings available for bargain prices.  What an amazing treasure trove of classics!  Works by Luther and other reformers, plus an abundance of works by several church fathers, are all accessible for just under a dollar.  Admittedly, the translations are not the most recent, and many of the books are public domain, some dating back many decades.  Nevertheless, for a small budget you can amass a nice portable library with the flexibility of adding many other documents and books as you are able. I have only begun to explore, so I'm sure there are several undiscovered features yet to be found.  Now, if I can just master texting...

Top Ten Religious News Stories of 2011

Christianity Today has once again announced its top ten news stories for the past year.  Do you remember any of them?

1 - Rob Bell tries to legitimize universalism, prompting huge backlash.  He later announces leaving Mars Hill Bible Church.
2- States adopt 80 abortion restrictions in their 2011 legislative sessions, an all-time high (the previous record was 24).
3 - Mideast Christians conflicted about the Arab Spring, especially a anti-Christian violence follows Mubarak ouster in Egypt.
4 - John Scott, evangelical statesman, pastor, and builder of the global church, dies at 90.
5 - Beijing's Shouwang Church holds outdoor services for more than six months, enduring mass arrests as it leads China's booming house churches in unprecedented demands for religious freedom.
6 - HarperCollins, which already owns Zondervan, buys Thomas Nelson; it now has about 50 percent of the Christian book market.
7- How best to translate "Son of God" in Bibles for the Muslim world becomes a flashpoint, prompting Wycliffe to clarify standards and missionaries to pledge more civility.
8 - Tim Tebow's prominent display of faith becomes one of the sports world's major talking points.
9 - Largely Christian South Sudan votes for independence; persecution ensues for Christians in the Nuba Moutains and Khartoum.
10 - The PC (USA) votes to allow noncelibate gay pastors, prompting defections from presbyteries.  (Meanwhile, the United Methodists hold the line on same-sex unions amid a planned clergy revolt.)

From: Christianity Today, January 2012 issue, page 9.

I provided a few links for names and subjects you may wish to explore further. 

Happy New Year! to all who drop by here to read.  May the Lord richly bless you!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Repristination Press

My wife also blessed me with a couple of smaller works from Reprisination Press, Why? A Layman's Guide to the Liturgy by Burnell Eckardt and Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe: Portrait of a Confessional Lutheran by D. Richard Stuckwisch.  I have purchased books from Repristination before and have watched as their inventory has grown over the years, eventually branching out from reprints and translations into more recent original publications.  I get regular updates and sales offers, so I see the works as they become available.  They have been especially helpful in providing valuable reprints and translations of Gerhardt and other authors from the Age of Orthodoxy.  If you are unaware of them or have never visited their site, take a moment and peruse the many fine offers at Repristination Press

The introduction on their main page reads:

Repristination Press was started in Fort Wayne, Indiana in June of 1993, beginning publication with several books by Wilhelm Loehe, Charles Porterfield Krauth, and other works by 19th century Lutheran theologians. Over time, Repristination Press has become a leading publisher of English translations 16th and 17th century Lutheran theology, including works by Johann Gerhard, Nicolaus Hunnius, David Chytraeus, and J.A. Quenstedt.  Repristination Press has been located in Texas since 1998.

My New Reading Project for The New Year

After seeing the book at conferences and bookstores and passing it up, I finally determined that it was high time to stop neglecting it.  So when my dear wife asked for suggestions for Christmas I put Charles Porterfield Krauth's The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology on the list.  Even as the holiday quickly approached she was able to locate a copy on and I am now the proud owner of this 800+ page tome.  Having given her the CPH information I was surprised when I opened it up and looked for Dr. Larry Rast's preface and it was not there.  Come to find out this theological gem is part of the public domain and more than one publishing company has printed it.  My copy comes from Nabu Publishers, published in 2010, and is a public domain reprint. One reviewer of the CPH reprint notes that "They simply reprinted the old book, they didn't bother scanning it, OCR-bridging it and then using a cleaner typeface, which would make this much more readable."  Apparently my copy was from one that was scanned and the typography seems good.  Google Books also has a free ebook copy for those who wish to take this route.  For myself I still prefer an actual bound book in my hands.  However I am open to the e-readers out there such as Kindle.  Eventually I'll break down and buy one.

By the way, do any of the readers that stop by here know where I could find a copy of Dr. Rast's preface?  I would like to read it.

I know many others long ago discovered Krauth's gem.  However, it's still nice to find new treasures and I look forward to benefiting from this theologian's insights. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

White Christmas Not Scarce in This Part of the North

According to an AP article today, "Dreams of a white Christmas are hanging by a thread in the North, where unusually mild weather has left the ground bare in many places...."  Well, for those suffering with a green or brown Christmas, those of us up here in the "Northwoods" tundra section of the lower 48 will have a white Christmas.  Sorry to rub it in if your place is unseasonable mild, but northern Wisconsin is once again magically blanketed with a pleasant covering of frosty white.   To all who stop by to read - Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Church Participates in Gun Buy-Back Program

Recently a Lutheran church participated in a gun buy-back program in New York in the wake of the tragic shooting of a career police officer.  It is run by the New York Police Department in an effort to get more guns off the streets.  As an NRA member such programs admittedly raise questions for me, especially regarding effectiveness.  I believe that guns should be used safely and legally and support any effort that will strengthen that discipline.  However, it would seem that this well-meaning (but misdirected) effort is not as effective as supporters would like it be.  On the site the author notes: "It’s true that offering $200 for a weapon will likely draw people to bring in their firearms. But, more interestingly, how many of these people are bringing in all of their weapons and how many are simply bringing in the ones they don’t have a desire to use anymore? It is difficult to measure the actual effectiveness of these programs and there are differing opinions about their effectiveness. Law enforcement typically says that these programs do work. Any firearm they collect is a firearm not being used on the street. The likelihood that the firearms turned in would have been used in a violent crime is probably very rare."

As one who remains active in my own community with concern for others outside the walls of my church, I would encourage churches to be discerning in how they choose to offer their services to the governing authorities.  It is not always a matter of engaging in symbolic gestures that look good to some, but end up simply lending our support to efforts that have no proven track records of success.  As Christians we all want to see a lessening of violent crime.  To that end we support our law enforcement departments with prayer that the Almighty would protect them and use them as effective instruments of defense on our behalf.  A gun buy-back effort, though sponsored by a law enforcement agency, carries more political baggage than we may realize and in the end may not truly contribute to their safety or our own.

We have many laws in this country governing the use of firearms, some of them quite strict.  Enforcement of these laws should be the greater priority of our authorities, not attempts to take from the citizens the ability to protect their own lives under the Second Amendment.  I highly suspect that true criminals are not turning their guns in at these collections, and that very few of these collected guns, if any, would ever have been used in violent crimes.  We need to go after the criminals directly, not indirectly.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Atheists' 'Navivity Scene' Counters Christian Scene with Blatant Insensitivity

As reported in an earlier post, the Freedom from Religion Foundation decided to put up a 'nativity scene' at the Wisconsin capital to counter one placed by a Christian group.  They put up their 'scene' on Wednesday.   According to a recent AP article it depicts Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein.  What the article did not report were the other figures and captions, including a child in a manger with the sign "Heathen's Greetings," and a female figurine announcing "It's a girl!"   According to The Blaze: "In the atheist version of the nativity, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein are the three wise men. The baby, an African girl, is intended to represent the birthplace of mankind. The beloved angels are an astronaut and the Statue of Liberty."

Because the Christians put up a display the atheists insist they needed to have their views represented as well.  So, let's see if we can interpret their message as apposed to the Christian one.  Given the fact that it is a deliberate spoof on the traditional nativity scene, the clear message to me is that they believe in ridiculing things sacred to people of faith.  Of course, they wouldn't think of doing such a thing for those embracing other world religions such as Islam or Judaism.  That would be insensitive. But Christians are a different story. They invite ridicule, right?  Well, let's see if the Christian scene was insensitive to people who choose not to exercise faith in a deity.  I can't see that it was.  As reported before its really an historical representation.  As Christians we believe that the baby in the manger is God in human flesh.  But that's our interpretation.  We do not insist they interpret it that way, and no sign is provided to announce that.  In no way does it insult atheists - unless, of course, they choose to be insulted.  Yet that should mean that any depiction of the miraculous would be a deliberate insult to them and they should stage counter demonstrations wherever they find such depictions, especially if they should be on public land.   

The whole spectacle is a telling commentary on the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Insensitivity and ridicule seem to be their primary message.  How sad....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ordain Women Now Adjusts to Reactions

As I reported earlier, OWN opened a Facebook page for the purpose of supposedly fostering discussion, even though the title of their group indicates the opposite.  As of yesterday they felt constrained to 'turn off' regular posting to the wall because of what they termed "spaming."  Experienced FB uses corrected this observation and noted that what was occurring, for the most part, was simply a spirited discussion, exactly what they were aiming for, or so it seemed.  Unfortunately, for them, much of the discussion was not supportive of their goal. As of today the reported "likes," a FB attribute to indicate popularity, is now at 222, up significantly from a few days ago when it was first launched.  It's hard to determine, however, where all those 'likes' originate, as some posters willingly admitted that they are LCMS refugees now living and working in the ELCA.  So, one would be cautious about concluding that this is a groundswell of support for their cause.

In reaction to the closing of the wall posting a parallel group was launched just yesterday, playing off of their name and logo: ORDAIN MEN ONLY in the LCMS.  Their "like" category is quickly catching up, now registering 171 as of today.  So, are there more who want ordination for women than do not?  I certainly wouldn't use FB as a barometer.  Still, it's interesting to watch the debate. 

A comment from the group's organizer notes: "Jayne, we're hoping that conversations will occur in congregations and throughout the Synod. CS."  How they will stimulate such 'conversations' in most local congregations remains to be seen.  Pastors, by and large, are 'gatekeepers' for mail coming into the parish, so a major push in this way will accomplish little, as those in Jesus First and Renewal in Missouri undoubted discovered in a past era.  Internet media is still largely untapped by many parishoners, especially those of the older generation (some of my elderly members hadn't even heard of it!).  Then we must factor in whether most of our younger women will even discover this site, let alone their main web site, and if they do whether they will be catalysts to inject a debate in their own churches.  Unless they could launch a major media campaign that would have maximum exposure in the average congregation, I seriously doubt that their 'movement' will gain any meaningful traction.  So, in the end, the desire to impact people at ground level will probably fall far short of its intended goal.  Their best hope is that the pastors themselves will champion their cause, and from my vantage point it does not seem that there are enough sympathetic to their cause to make even a dent.  

For now it therefore remains just another localized internet phenomenon. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Seasonal Attack on Nativity Scenes

'Tis the season to object to outdoor nativity scenes, especially those in public places.  Here in Wisconsin the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation is once again working to counter the Christmas spirit.  In reaction to a conservative group setting up a nativity scene at the capitol building, they are applying for a permit, the AP article reports, "for an opposing display."  They claim that the nativity scene isn't appropriate for a state building.  So what will their display be?  One that's "slightly blasphemous" with an "irreverent tweak" on the nativity scene.

Let's think about this for a moment.  First of all what is there in a typical nativity scene that should be so objectionable?  The article claims the scene includes "six statuettes."  That probably means there is one representing Joseph and Mary, three for the Magi, and one for the baby Jesus.  Or it could be Mary, Joseph, a shepherd or two, the baby Jesus and an angel.  As I remember most nativity scenes the figures are not labeled.  Now most people realize who the figures represent, but the point is that it is left to the viewer's interpretation.  There are no crosses or other overt religious symbols anywhere to be seen.  Just the figures, and maybe a star, but that certainly can't be construed as a distinctive religious symbol.  The scene makes no claims about what it represents.  It is, strictly speaking, simply an historical representation and no more.  Unlike icons and other traditional religious art, I don't even think that the Jesus figure is usually represented with a halo.  While some of the figures are often seen kneeling in the direction of the Christ-figure, the purpose of the kneeling is again left to the viewer's interpretation.  

Yet, the atheists, in the true spirit of mean-spiritedness, have decided to erect something that is "blasphemous" and "irreverent."  And this from the people who pride themselves on being "freethinking."  A quick look at their website reveals slogans that are intended to ridicule faith.  I thought that freedom of religion meant mutual respect.  How naive I must be.  Well, I think their efforts speak volumes about the direction and tone of their organization.  It's just sad that a strong belief in the separation of church and state has to result in an attack on religion itself. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

When Churches Started to Ordain Women

I found an interesting chronology on the Religious Tolerance site regarding when churches started to ordain women.  This timetable begins with the early 1800's, which is interesting in itself.  One of the arguments against women's ordination is its historic novelty, not its ancient roots. Given the more liberal nature of this site, I wonder why they didn't try to trace women's ordination further back?  Could it be that the church did not know such a novelty in previous eras, except in cases of heretical sects?  Furthermore, it is interesting to see how some of those initially ordained to the ministry in the 1800's, outside of the Quakers, either gravitated toward the Unitarians or came out of this group.  The Unitarian Universalist denomination, the site notes, became "the first large denomination to have a majority of female ministers. In 1999-APR, female ministers outnumbered their male counterpart 431 to 422." Looking at the remainder of the chronology, one wonders how close an association there is between the ordination of women and the liberal decline of theology in a given denomination. No doubt there is already a study on this worthy reading....

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Ordain Women Now" (OWN) Opens Facebook Page

Today it became official, according to website manager Carol Schmidt.  The name is changed, as is the mission. Initially the purpose was discussion surrounding the CTCR document "The Creator's Tapestry."  Such discussion did not occur, as was hoped.  Now the direction has changed.  As Ms. Schmidt notes:

While we have no idea how many people in the Missouri Synod want to advocate for the ordination of women, some of us believe there can be no hope for discussion without a place and voice for such advocacy.  Without a voice for advocacy, all voices who desire true discussion will be silenced even if an appearance of discussion is projected.

To widen their push for "advocacy" they have also opened a Facebook page.  Under the mission of the group the following is posted:

There are many theological perspectives on the role of women in the LCMS, but not all aspects have been heard or considered. Studies conducted over the last four decades by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) on the topic of women in church have created confusion and unnecessary division within and among congregations due to a lack of thorough study of the issues and of relevant Biblical texts.

For discussion to occur, all positions on an issue must be voiced or put forth. While there are many groups that ironically speak in favor of the silencing of women, there has never been a group in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod that has advocated the ordination of women. Therefore, the purpose and mission of LCMS OWN is twofold:

1) To help create a space where the voices and writings of people in favor of the ordination of women can emerge and
2) To openly call for the public discussion, within congregations and synod-wide, of the ordination of women.

Obviously those desiring women's ordination in the LCMS do not intend to go away quietly.  In fact, they would like to see their agenda and debate spill over into our local congregations.  Such is the direction of "advocacy."  Respect for decades of responsible scholarship from our trusted theologians has been exchanged for a call to seek answers until we find the one we were looking for all along.  Obviously the seminaries are not on board.  Obviously officers in the highest place do not show a willingness to champion their cause.  So to the streets they go.  Create a space for local unrest until it rises high enough to force the hand of those above.  Or so it appears from my vantage point.

While this is being couched in terms of "discussion," the title of their group and website say it all.  Only one outcome is acceptable, so all "discussion" will ultimately have to arrive there.  This was the agenda all along, but only now is the impatience and boldness fully evident.  How does one "discuss" an issue impartially when the other side is screaming in capital letters: "ORDAIN WOMEN NOW!"??  No, discussion is not the goal.  But then again it hasn't really been so from the other side either.  While one can discuss theology to learn, their idea of discussion is to open up the matter for change.  Unfortunately to do so only creates the very confusion about which they complain.  I can only imagine if my seminary training had been nothing more than endless discussions of this sort.  Until very recently, historically speaking, women were not ordained to the office of the public ministry.  Two Millenia of theologians held that Paul and the church did not approve.  We have accepted their seasoned wisdom.  So, no, it is not a topic open for "discussion" if the purpose is to seek overthrowing centuries of hallowed practice for the sake of current sociological change. 

Whether this new initiative gains traction remains to be seen. Their first attempt fell flat. So far the Facebook initiative is mere hours old.  I will keep watching.

Addendum (on 12-10): After at least 20 hours of being published, the Facebook page has only 8 "likes."  In FB reality this seems awfully slow and small.  Apparently the ideas are not necessarily going "viral" yet....
Addendum (on 12-11):  They now have 50 "likes," and a few people have begun to comment, although not all in favor of WO.  Still a bit slow for Facebook....

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"The Creator's Tapestry" Transitions into "Ordain Women Now"

A while back a website was formed in reaction to the LCMS's Commission on Theology and Church Relation's document "The Creator's Tapestry."  This document discussed the roles of women from a biblical point of view as understood in the Missouri Synod.  Predictably some disagreed with this document and established a site to address it, having been largely unsuccessful in getting the powers that be to seriously change their views or revise the document.  Although one could readily guess the underlying sentiment of the website and its author's, it appeared that the initial goal was simply to open the discussion about the role of women in the church.  That has now changed.  Although the address still lists the site as "," the new title proclaims: "Ordain Women Now in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod."   To their credit they are at least fully honest about their true intent.

Although it is no surprise to me, the site is now clearly linked with Dr. Matthew Becker and his blog, as well as the Daystar Journal, both of which have been reviewed by the Northwoods Seelsorger.  In the past such views were kept largely hidden from public view.  Now they are very much in the open.  Dr. Becker has commented on multiple discussion boards/blog sites, being very forward in his conviction that women should be ordained.  The reaction from conservative/confessional lay people and pastors has been resistive, and the reaction of officials in the Synod....well, it appears silent for now.  He is free to proclaim contrary to Synod's positions very publicly as often as he desires without any repercussion. 

By following the link above you can visit and review the site for yourself.  The rhetoric remains predictable, so no new review is needed here.  One point, however, can be noted.  A couple of the articles ascribe "fear" to the motivation of the LCMS for not moving forward with desired change in the synod, especially in ordaining women.  Unfortunately this demeaning interpretation is applied to all who oppose the changes for which they clamor, assuming we are just too afraid to do what is right. In other words, we are cowards, holding back to save face. To correct this misinterpretation, let me state as clearly as possible that many of us in the Missouri Synod oppose the ordination of women, not out of craven fear of change, but out of deep commitment to the Word.  If anything we are fearful of offending our holy God and the Truth.  It is too bad that they cannot respect this motivation, even if they disagree with it.  I have no doubt that many of those who desire this change may be equally committed to what they view as truth.  They are wrong, and I am will call it as such.  But to ascribe further motivation is often risky, as we must delve into the unseen reaches of a person's mind and heart.  So, please, at least give us credit for our convictions and leave fear out of it.