Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where the Lutheran Church Is Truly Growing

Most of us realize that the era of church growth has come to an end. In fact, it never really existed.  The mega churches simply recycled the disgruntled church shoppers by luring them in with promises of entertainment and feel-good services.  The current number of Lutherans in this country rests at 7.4 million.  That number represents a 10% drop during the years 1990 to 2010.  So, all those efforts to "grow the church" did little to nothing to stem the tide of loss.  Truth be known we probably sent as many to other denominations as out the back door. Now compare that figure with a place like India which has enjoyed a 1,379% growth rate in the Lutheran Church in that same 20 year period.  They currently have 1.9 million members in a country known more for its Hindus and other non-Christians as for Christians in general.  Ethiopia gave me another surprise.  They have 5.6 million total Lutherans and have registered a growth rate of 495%.   Not surprising is to discover that countries such as Germany and Sweden have lost Lutherans in the double digit percentage rage.  I am not aware of all the reasons for the differences, but I can't help but wonder if liberal trends are simply a church killer.  Look at the mainline churches today such as the Presbyterians and Episcopalians and the ELCA.  Each of these is in decline.  Africa is known for its more conservative Lutheranism.  Nigeria has grown by 390% in 20 years, with a total membership of 2 million.  Perhaps they cherish what we are discarding and finding that in places torn up by war and bloodshed watering down the faith simply does not bring any real comfort.  I think we should be studying the church in these places.  They have much to teach us.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reflections on an Anniversary

Yesterday my parish celebrated its 125th anniversary.  In 1886, gathering in a log cabin structure, they made a beginning in the yet unbroken wilderness of northern Wisconsin that would later become a thriving rural parish. Times such as this give pause for reflection and an opportunity to gain perspective.  Many congregations, like people, are known to go through periods of panic and concern, especially when giving wanes and pews are empty.  They look to the unknown future and predict a dismal outcome.  Unfortunately such forecasting is terribly shortsighted.  Looking back we realize that we have lived through times far more challenging than anything recently experienced.  Certainly the Great Depression should have signaled our demise when economic distress reached its critical heights.  Yet still St. Peter congregation survived. 

  • Anniversaries remind the parish that it is all about God's grace.  Looking back they should be humbled to realize that they could never have accomplished what they did without God's enduring help. 
  • Anniversaries keep the congregation connected with their past and thus inoculated against too much innovation.  We are the stewards of treasures entrusted to us, not wrecking crews just waiting to dismantle the old structures.  
  • Anniversaries remind communities that stable and faithful parishes are often the ones that have lasted the years, not the new upstarts that occur with each new trend. 
  • Anniversaries help people recapture the spirit of their ancestors who possessed a true sense of mission.  They existed to keep the gospel before isolated immigrants and scattered homesteaders.  Today we too often allow our churches to be self-serving and far too introspective. 
  • Anniversaries allow us to have a true sense of joy and celebration when darker voices wish to pull the parish down in negative thinking.  
Certainly more thoughts will come to mind later, but these are a few on the day after....

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Changing Nature of Christian College Presidents?

Recently news came in that Concordia University - St. Paul (my alma mater, class of '83) has a new president: the Rev. Tom Ries.  Although a graduate of the seminary his passion seems to lie as much with financial management as with theology. His post-graduate education involves a MBA from the University of Minnesota, along with an almost earned Ph.D, the emphasis being finances in higher education. After a time with the LCMS Foundation as president, CSP recruited Ries as its own 9th president in its 118 year history.  I have never had the privilege of serving on a search committee for a college, university or seminary, so my knowledge of the criteria used to choose a president is next to zero.  However, looking back at the various presidents of the institutions where I have studied, I wonder if the criteria is changing.  When I was in college the president was a former chaplain and two-star general in the U.S. Army.  Other successors, as I recall, were credentialed scholars and professors in the Synod.  This latest candidate seems to have been chosen for his expertise in fund-raising, as I suspect many presidents may now be selected as well.  Raising money for institutions of higher education, especially in the Synod, has changed.  Gone are the days when one could expect a check from headquarters, funded by the goodwill offerings of rank and file members from the Synod's churches.  While they retain a connection with the mother church, the financial tethers have long since disappeared.  Thus, I suspect that search committees now look for a master of fund-raising to keep the dollars flowing from the endless variety of donors.

This was probably inevitable.  Still, as one views the selection of these future leaders, one wonders how much time is spent evaluating the candidate's theological insights and views, considering whether that candidate best represents the institution's goals in service to the Synod.  Recently Concordia Theological Seminary - Ft. Wayne chose a new president as well.  The Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast certainly brings impeccable credentials as a theologian.  Maybe things are different with seminaries as opposed to the universities.  Yet should they be?  We prepare our future teachers and other professional church workers at these institutions, so we have a stake in their theological maturity.  Why should a president here be any less of a leader in the teaching of the faith than at a seminary.  I have nothing against the Rev. Ries.  Nevertheless, he does not impress me as a theologian.  His service to the college has been in administrative and financial roles.  Likewise was his service to the church-at-large.  When talking about his church experience the main things touted was the tremendous growth his congregation experienced.  Then again, his pastor-mentor was the Rev. Dr. Guido Merkens, one of the early mega-church pastors.

I have not examined the other Concordias to see what different directions may be afoot, but I do wonder.  My fear, though, is that with faculty charged with the instruction of our future church leaders, we need leaders prepared to hold them to account and supportive of the Synod's overall theology.  I pray that Ries can be such a man for his own time.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Evangelism and Guilt

Over the years I have wrestled with evangelism.  Not so much the doing of it, but the guilt of it, or better said, the guilt of not doing it.  Looking back in the history of my congregation as we prepare for our 125th anniversary, I noticed huge evangelism pushes back into the 1960's, and no doubt beyond.  It was "Church Growth" and "web evangelism"  and things of this sort by the 80's when my ministry started.  I remember going down to Ann Arbor to be trained in the Dialog Evangelism II program that had just been launched.  They took D.James Kennedy's work and reworked it again from Biesenthal's prior reworking, changing the "dialog questions" to reflect the new realities they observed in the population.  By the time I arrived out here in the country in 2000 Evangelism as a 'program' seemed much on the wane.  At any rate, one finds it difficult to carry out traditional door-to-door methods when your neighbors are mostly a half mile separated from each other, not to mention the fact that catching people home in the evening no longer is a given.  Nevertheless, St. Peter congregation has not ceased proclaiming the Gospel, and last Sunday I brought into membership a man who had spent much of his adult life outside the church.  This Sunday or maybe next I might bring in a couple who went through adult instruction and found our church as people who lived in the area and felt at home here since he was a Catholic and she was Nazarene. Both are educated with graduate degrees. People of all types  come to the faith and grow in the faith even when we don't go knocking on their doors every Wednesday, and despite the fact that we don't have an organized program. Amazing.  Along those lines I appreciated a recent piece posted by Pr. Weedon on his blog:
What I have come to rejoice in is this:  our Lord did not command, "Go, fish for men!" He rather promised, "Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men."  He did not say:  "Go, witness!" He promises, "Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high and you will be my witnesses...to the ends of the earth."  And He does make us so:  fishers and witnesses.  As we follow Him, as we seek to love Him and to love our neighbor, serving them and honoring them and opening our mouth whenever they ask us to account for the hope that is in us, the Lord actually has use of us in bringing others to faith.  But He solidly keeps His hands on the verbs for conversion.  Not only is it true that I cannot believe by myself; I cannot give faith to a single other person out there - no matter how clever I may be in my attempts.  But I can love them, serve them, rejoice in them, and whenever they ask an account - open my mouth to declare this great joy in which we live with our sins forgiven, our death destroyed, secure in the love of a Savior who loves them too and did all this for them as well.

Have you ever been in a conversation where you had the distinct impression that the other person asked a question of you, but really wasn't listening, wasn't interested, was only waiting to talk?  How frustrating that is?  And yet that's how we've made evangelism come off too often.  What a different critter it is when our witness to the Savior comes as a result of genuine inquiry.  And with no need to pressure the person - just to share with them the love that we have come to know and rejoice in and live from - and to assure them that it is for them as much as for us.  I see that as the Lord's keeping His gracious promise to us - to make us fishers, to make us witnesses.  Gift, not demand.  Promise, not burden.  Peace, not pressure. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Close(d) Communion and the Confession of the Church

Dr. Matthew Becker recently highlighted the case of Pr. Robert Stuenkel who admitted to communing with his wife in an ELCA church and now finds himself under the cloud of discipline for his actions.  However, beyond Stuenkel's personal situation, Dr. Becker takes the opportunity to expand his discussion to the Synod's overall policy and practice regarding Close Communion.  Having faced this issue in my own parish with all the emotion and divisiveness that it can often bring, I understand the difficulties involved in the actual application of this policy. It is not my intention of arguing the pros and cons of the Synod's close(d) communion practice or the general tenets of our fellowship practice, although such would be a useful discussion.  I simply wish to ponder the implications of dispensing with our policies in these areas and what it would mean, long term, for our churches.  Now I do not propose strict avoidance of all worship settings in other churches, or the WELS policy regarding prayer, as Dr. Becker implies has been the case in Missouri at times.  My concern, at this point, mainly concerns fellowship at the altar.  Dr. Becker argues that agreement in the essential elements of the doctrines of the Creed and Catechism proper as sufficient for fellowship at the altar.  I suspect in stating this that he exempts from this confession the currently divisive teachings between  some of our churches such as differences on sexual orientation and origins, that he would see as not taught explicitly in the Catechism (despite their relationship to a confession of the Decalog and the Creed). 

Beyond the above another issue that comes to mind involves the reason for membership in a congregation and that congregation's membership in a given denomination.  Does membership in a denomination imply nothing more than a 'brand' leaving churches no more than differing franchises that happen to offer the same product but under a different name?  Or are they mere fellowships not unlike a service club, like the Optimists or Kiwanis, where one joins together for a common cause without the need for common agreement?  Or is this simply a matter of minimalistic agreement where we avoid issues that we know will be divisive?  I understand the struggle involved in the Stuenkel case as it has been argued energetically in my own parish.  I understand that many of our rank-and-file members probably don't even understand many of the divisive issues separating our given parishes.  But again, does this mean that our denominational membership is for all practical purposes meaningless?  American denominationalism is a difficult reality to grapple with, especially when compared to the seemingly simpler conditions in prior historic eras.  Still, we need to answer the question of what it will mean for the future.  Denominations exist for fellowship and confession.  If we ignore that on the local, parish level, then what does that membership ultimately mean for any of us?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dr. David Scaer's Article on the Validity of Churchly Acts by Ordained Women

Pastor H.C. Curtis, in addition to referencing C.S. Lewis, who I included in the previous post, also mentioned what he termed the "seminal" article on the subject by Dr. David Scaer.  Predictably Dr. Becker scoffed at the 'seminal' idea of it all, suggesting that even his peers at St. Louis had issues with what he wrote.  At any rate, for those who may not have read this essay, a pdf copy of the CTQ article, "The Validity of the Churchly Acts of Ordained Women" from 1989 can be found here.  It is worth reading, despite Becker's disapproval.  Dr. Scaer does refer to his writing as "an exploratory essay," recognizing that responses to the issue of women's ordination is a relatively new challenge for the church to face (perhaps much more then than now.)  He notes well how the movement toward WO may also bring about adjustments in other theological areas, including our view of God Himself (as in the intrusion of inclusive language substituting for that of scripture).

Recognizing that how one views ministry determines in large part how one approaches the question of WO, Scaer writes:

With certain views of the ministry, to be sure, it would be perfectly proper to ordain women. If the ministry is viewed merely as function (i.e., activities which the church is required to carry out irrespective of the agent)," then there can be no ultimately effective argument against giving this function to any man, woman, or child. If the ministry is seen as an extension of Christian faith and sanctification and not as a unique office, then the same tolerance of any lay person is not only proper but even encouraged. One may add to this view the idea that Christians are endowed with spiritual gifts which they are encouraged to discover. Each has his or her own ministry. Thus, if one's mother, wife, sister, or daughter discovers that she has the gift of leadership, she and the whole congregation with her may with good logic conclude that she may serve as minister or at least exercise some of the functions commonly assigned to this office. The problem is not helped by the lack of clarity about the word "ministry."

To understand the approach of Dr. Becker, and undoubtedly many proponents of WO today, you must understand that their view is largely functional.  

The view one has of the church, likewise, determines how one approaches WO.  Scaer again writes: 
Another factor in whether one finds women acceptable as public ministers is one's view of the church. If the church just happens to be any ad hoc gathering of Christians gathered for devotions, Bible study, or prayer, then women leaders or pastors might be acceptable.

Ultimately the reality of the living Christ must drive the discussion more than the approach of proof-passaging your opponent into submission.  It is at the heart of the issue.  Scare writes: 
Should a functional view of the ministry be seen as correct in the sense that the pastor is a representative not of Christ in His church, but of the church members themselves, then there is little which can be said against the validity or legitimacy of the churchly rites administered by women. The only wall left standing in the functional view preventing the introduction of women pastors are some Bible passages which hang suspended as prohibitions behind or under or over which nothing substantive exists. The biblical and confessional principle that behind the divine word of revelation there exists an even greater divine reality which supports the divine word must prevail. This greater reality is the incarnation. This view must prevail over a fundamentalist type of Barthianism which refuses to go behind the word of revelation to the reality of the incarnation....
The argument against women pastors cannot be that God simply forbids women to preach the word and administer the sacraments because He takes some kind of sadistic joy in seeing us weak humans saddled with still another negative commandment. The prohibitions against women pastors rest in a prior, deeper understanding of the incarnation and the divine reality of God Himself. Even the quite valid argument that women may not be pastors because Christ chose only men as apostles rests on the prior more fundamental reality of the incarnation. God did not choose to become incarnate in a male, as if He had a choice between male and female, but rather because He was the Son of the Father...
Where women serve as pastors, the doctrines of God and Christ are distorted, because women cannot represent God and Christ in His incarnation. God is of such a nature that He could not have become incarnate in a woman and He could not have chosen women to represent Him as apostles and pastors.
 
In these last comments Scaer illustrates well the real divide in the debate with Becker, especially since he tends to view God in more 'androgynous' terms and uses gender-specific labels only as incidental and critical to the issue at hand. 

In the end the issue must be seen in the full sense of what it means to be the Church, not in the isolated sense of personal rights or other such arguments.  Scaer thus notes: 
Resolving the difficulty by saying that the women pastors have the word and sacraments is at best a superficial and finally an inadequate judgment, because such a resolution of the problem looks at rites by their outward appearances and not as integral parts of the whole of the church and its theology. The Formula of Concord in denying the Supper to the Reformed at least alerts us to the possibility that what looks like a sacrament may indeed not be a sacrament. Preaching, just because something is being proclaimed, is not necessarily the word of God. Speaking and performing ritual acts inside of a church building do not necessarily qualify as word and sacrament. Here is a case in which what looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, flies like a duck, eats like a duck, and swims like a duck may indeed not be a duck after all. Gnostics simply were not Christians, though they called themselves Christians and engaged in what appeared to be certain New Testament rites and were Bible scholars. Ordained women pastors are not a phenomenon isolated from the remainder of a church's theology.

After rereading Scaer's article I can see how Dr. Becker foams in disgust.  The two men are miles apart and so, too, the church at present.  Although I have excerpted sections for your review, I still commend the article to your review in its entirety.

Luther and the Confessions Used to Argue 'Gay is O.K.'

Dr. Ed Schroeder of the Crossings website certainly represents the left side of Lutheran thinking.  Thus, one should not be surprised if he champions liberal topics and issues (e.g. women's ordination, ecumenism, etc.), or if he refuses to embrace items like the inerrancy or infallibility of Holy Scripture.  After all, Dr. Schroeder left the LCMS many years ago in disagreement over many of those very issues.  It did seem surprising, however, to see his willingness not only to support homosexuality, but to allow the argument that the Confessions and Luther could be used to defend the idea that a person is "wired to be gay."  The thinking asserts that Luther would discuss the issue from the point of view of this theology of Creation (First Article) and given his opposition to forced celibacy in the priesthood would find homosexuality simply a 'left kingdom' item outside of the dictates of Scripture.  I would encourage readers to review the article "Topic: Gay is OK.  An Argument from the Lutheran Confessions. What!?" a reflection on Mary Zeiss Stange's article "When it comes to gays, 'What would Luther do?"  Since Dr. Matthew Becker lists Crossings under his "Recommended Blogs and Links," it may well give additional insight into his own willingness to support such theological thinking. It also gives insight into the way liberal Lutherans and others defend their position on homosexuality in the ministry. 

C.S. Lewis on the Distictions of Man and Woman

Pastor H. R. Curtis, in responding to Dr. Becker, recommended to the latter that he read the short article by C.S. Lewis entitled "Priestesses in the Church?"  Given the limitations of his venue of response he could not reproduce the source.  However, below, I share with you some passages quite pertinent to the current discussion on the relevance of gender when speaking of the Office of the Holy Ministry, or as Lewis puts it in Church of England terms, the role of priest.  I encourage anyone to read the article in full which can be found here, among other places, I suspect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 7, 2011

An Interesting Discussion/Debate with Dr. Matthew Becker

On many occasions this blog site has highlighted and critiqued Dr. Becker's own blog posts and other comments. Recently one of his posts spilled over into the realm of the Brothers of John the Steadfast site.  He also made an appearance on the ALPB site under the thread "Women's Ordination in the LCMS."  The dialogues have been spirited, to say the least.  After reading many of the posts on both sites (which I encourage readers here to review as well), a few thoughts occur to me:
  • Dr. Becker expresses a theology that more and more resembles what I thought we battled and put to rest in the 1970's (more or less).  He does not seem to like the idea of a fully infallible and inerrant scripture, preferring to retreat instead to a culturally conditioned message of questionable relevancy (for some sections of scripture, at least.)  
  • Although he quite willingly airs his views publicly and forcefully (on his blog and in other forums such as Gottesdienst, ALBP and Steadfast Lutherans), knowing that they are in opposition to the official stance of the Synod, he seems nevertheless quite defensive and indignant that his views would be challenged to such a degree. Does he realize that the appeal for women's ordination, according to Synod, is no longer an issue of debate?  As Dr. Gard expressed on the ALBS site: "Please try to understand that for the vast majority of Synod this is a dead issue. It is settled. Missouri does not and will not ordain women."
  • He seems to believe that certain topics of theology are never quite decided in a definitive way, such as the issue of the role of women in the church.  I am all for open discussion in order to learn.  Yet even the ancient church drew a line at some point and said: "Decided!"  It reminds me of children who believe that an absolute "no" should always be open to appeal, at least until they get it changed to a "yes." 
  • Although Dr. Becker believes that Luther and the Confessions support his convictions, one might still legitimately question whether his theological home is more comfortable with the ELCA or the LCMS.  Unless one believes that a sizable number of people in the Synod agree with him and it is up to him to fight for the right to change.  Or, is it a matter of "This is my home too and I should be able to stay whether the powers that be agree with me or not"?  In the end what does Dr. Becker hope to gain?  Any reasonable look at Missouri will tell you that if his view were to prevail and the Synod did eventually ordain women, many, many pastors and laity would most likely leave.  I can hardly think of a more divisive decision at present. This, for a number of clergy, is the 'deal breaker' of whether to stay or leave the LCMS (although some would argue that other issues should have long ago fulfilled this role.)  Does Dr. Becker want to push the issue until this happens?  Obviously he is not content simply to achieve an "agree to disagree" stalemate in the debate.  To stop at this would still leave the apparent injustice in tact.  He must push until the goal is reached.  Yet many women who wished to be ordained have quietly moved on to other denominations that were open to this, and it would seem that they are pleased with their move.  Or do they feel disenfranchised and wish to have someone like Dr. Becker rectify the injustice?  Is he the chosen champion, the one elected to be the public voice for an unseen mass that are simply waiting for the chance at victory?  The questions elude me. 
  • Some of his thinking, especially as it touches on Christology, appears to be wandering into areas that do not seem at all orthodox.  A while back I commented on his remark about an "androgynous Christ."  Recent remarks on sites referenced above move in similar directions where the maleness of our Lord is considered, philosophically speaking, an "accident" to the real "substance" of what it means to be the Redeemer.  In other words, the fact that He was born a man is really neither important nor critical to who He is or what He did.  To assert that Jesus' maleness is at all important to the essence of who He is, Becker would claim, is itself to wander into areas less orthodox.  I do not see how, considering the very clear biblical identity of God as Father and the second person of the Trinity as Son, that we can claim his maleness as "accidental" to who He is.  Am I missing something here?  
Dr. Becker might well be commended for his honesty and forthrightness, and seeming courage of entering into realms usually found more comfortable by conservative, confessional Lutherans.  Nevertheless, I remain confused as to his ultimate purpose and goal.  That would be most revealing in light of the nature of his higher profile in the last year or so.  There must be a larger or broader agenda at play here.....

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Abstractions?

The Rev. Dr. F. Dean Lueking, a noted name from a past era in LCMS battles and current personality supporting present efforts to see certain liberal topics find acceptance, wrote an article on the renewed Daystar Journal website that offers interesting insights into a time of importance in Missouri's history.  I leave you to read the whole article, "Lutheranism: A Confessional Movement in the Church Catholic," and draw your own conclusions on its overall message (follow the link above.)  For my part I wish to extract but one section for comment.  Toward the end of his article in a concluding section entitled "SO, THEN...," Dr. Lueking states:
Current hot button issues before LCMS Lutherans, women’s ordination and sexual ethics come to mind, are abstractions until and unless met by real people of faith, women and men, gay and straight, who wrestle them through in the power of the Word in the congregation. Denominational resolutions devoid of what is learned in congregations where gifted people, women and men, gay and straight gather, do more harm than good - especially when “doctrines” about each are made matters of majority vote. Similarly, what is learned in congregation by leaders, women and men, by believers, gay and straight – all doing courageously and faithfully what they’re called by Christ to do - is what congregations owe their church bodies.

It is a risk to exegete the words of someone else, but I think a summary interpretation is in order.  If I understand what he is saying, it seems that the point is: issues like women's ordination and homosexuality are not governed by strict time-honored and ancient doctrine, as such.  How the contemporary church responds to these issues in a larger (national) way should be generated by insights and interpretations from rank-and-file people from the midst of our local congregations first.  Until they have had a 'say' on the issue - pro or con - pontifications on these 'issues' from on high are mere 'abstractions' detached from the real life of the church.  Interesting....I suspect we could take this further on other 'issues' or teachings of the church, but I will resist the temptation for the moment.  I do agree that doctrine in the church is not determined by "majority vote."  Unfortunately, it appears that Dr. Lueking views the stance of the national church body as purely driven on these issues by the relative swing of a vote.  Hardly.  If one simply takes a serious look at the scriptures and the witness of nearly two millenia of the church fathers, the conclusion is anything but a mere arbitrary vote at a convention.  Instead, it is the confirmation of what the church has taught historically and faithfully until modern inclinations decided that personal choice trumps truth.  Instead of praising false teaching as "courageous," we ought to be speaking about confessing truth, which is, supposedly, what the original article wished to address.  Still, Dr. Lueking has caught the spirit of much of what still divides us, and unintentionally helped us to again see clearly that the issues still involve the truth of the Gospel. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nashotah House Summer Intensives - Part II

Well, it didn't take long to jump back into parish work.  Since the pastor scheduled to preach for me yesterday finds himself suffering from acute back issues, I returned to the pulpit a bit earlier than planned.  The past two weeks, however, offered a wonderful respite and sabbatical from regular parish responsibilities, so resuming work didn't bring the stress it might otherwise have.  Nevertheless, this session, like the one last summer, did bring challenges, at least in the ability to sit for extended periods of time and remain alert.  Between the two courses I logged around 60 hours of class time.  Dr. Pfatteicher and Dr. Herman provided much to think about and gave me a nice closure to the coursework part of my degree work.  I also took time to meet with my thesis advisor Dr. Arnold Klukas, to discuss preliminary work on the capstone of my degree.  As mentioned earlier I will be researching the use of the Apocalypse in the worship of the church.  To narrow down my field it looks like the parameters will encompass the period from the NT to around 1054 AD.  Initial work indicates a paucity of material from Revelation in this era, yet the research will hopefully uncover heretofore neglected research.  At the moment I am trying to tract down my first lead by working my way backwards from Vatican II.  The lectionary remained relatively unchanged, at least in Western Christendom, for at least 500 years before the massive reforms of this council.  According to Annibale Bunini in The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 I discovered some research carried out by Fr. Fontaine around 1964 which should include numerous charts mapping out the use of the scriptures in a variety of early and modern lectionaries.  Unfortunately the author fails to offer further documentation regarding where this voluminous research now exists, and I am on a detective mission to find it.

On the other end of the research I am also attempting to tract down what appears to be a fairly scarce work by Ned B. Stonehouse, entitled The Apocalypse in the Early Church: A Study in the History of the New Testament Canon.  It was published in 1929, yet remains an oft quoted reference even to the present.  I discovered it initially in a footnote of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. XII - Revelation, edited by Dr. William Weinrich of CTS-Ft. Wayne.  If any of the readers out there have a lead on these subjects, let me know.  I'm open to any assistance.

To close out my course work, however, I also have a couple of papers left to write by Sept. 1.  In an effort to have this work assist my thesis I am gearing each in this direction.  For Dr. Herman my final paper will be Allusions to the Apocalypse in the Church's Hymnody, and for Dr. Pfatteicher I will be writing a paper about the Revelation pericopes in the current Revision Common Lectionary and other ancillary texts for special festivals.  It turns out that the lectionaries that came out of the  revisions of Vatican II, while opening the scope of scripture to include the Apocalypse, included only six readings from this book, offered only during the Easter season in Series C, including material from a mere 5 chapters.  While these papers may not contribute immediately to my thesis research, they will contribute to what may yet become a wider reach of research stretching to possible doctoral work, or even extended writing beyond the degree.

My time at Nashotah, as I indicated above, offered a needed respite and sabbatical from the routine of normal parish work, despite the rigors of classroom work.  Twice daily chapel services took me back to a quiet corner where I could meditate on the mysteries apart from the distractions of parish responsibilities.  While not being able to participate in the Eucharist, the exposure to the richness of the liturgy and Word offered ample refreshment.  The rhythm of the Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer would probably be seen by some as mundane and uninspiring, but for me it was quite the opposite.  As I worked my way through countless lines of Anglican chant it occurred to me that one of the benefits of such music is that it slows down our responses enough for us to actually meditate on the Word.  So often the words blur past our minds, but slow and rhythmic chant allows us to see it and hear it more easily.

Aside from worship I also enjoyed the opportunity to expand my horizons and meet a variety of people I would never encounter in my normal travels.  Sitting in one class I discovered an Anglican bishop from Kenya (The Rt. Rev. David Mugangi Mutisya), who was sitting next to an archdeacon from Nigeria.  I suspect that little Nashotah is becoming a bit of an international haven for conservative Anglican clerics to study, although these churchmen are coming from what we used to see as Third World countries.  With opportunities available throughout Europe and in England, I wonder what keeps pulling them to the states.  CTS-Ft. Wayne has also drawn a fair number of internationals as well, I suspect it is because they need to come here to find places uninfected with liberal theology, places they can still study the scriptures where God's Word is seen as holy and inspired.  Africa is now the place where the church is being reborn, it seems.  Archbishop Walter Obare of Kenya remains a powerful reminder of this new leadership.

Nashotah also attracts scholars from outside its own tradition, as is evidenced in many of my fellow students who come from such traditions as Methodist and even non-denominational.  One student in both of my sessions this summer was a baptist scholar from Carley Theological College in Vancouver Canada.  Having already earned a Ph.D from Baylor University, she was now working on a D.Min at Nashotah.  It was nice to see a mix of such scholarship in our classes, as it enriched the discussion overall.  


Although kindly chided at times as "Dr. Luther" for being the token Lutheran clergyman in these sessions, I enjoyed my place as a representative of my faith.  It afforded me the opportunity to share insights into the Lutheran church that many outside seldom receive.  Being a member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod offered an even rarer glimpse for many still, since clergy from this denomination seldom make their way into Anglican enclaves for advanced study.  Nevertheless, I found nothing but respect and camaraderie from my fellow students.  Anglicans are much like Lutherans, in some ways.  They show a healthy sense of self-deprecation.  I will miss many of these people. 


The time at Nashotah is going by with amazing speed.  It is hard to believe I only started last summer and have taken five courses in that time.  I am looking forward to the thesis and for occasional return trips to Nashotah for consultation and research.  For now, though, I need to get back to my "day job"......