Thursday, December 30, 2010

Of Commercials and Heartstrings

Watching TV last night was nearly heartbreaking. Re-runs were elsewhere, so we consigned ourselves to the near-harmlessness of the Hallmark Channel. We haven’t advanced to the age of satellite TV. We can’t reconcile ourselves to the notion of 287 channels and still nothing worthwhile to watch. We still pay for nothing more than the basic level of cable. Again, why have so many channels with little to show for it? I suppose it’s merely an indication of the fact that neither of us was raised with the TV as the first and foremost instrument in our lives. So, there we sat, watching a Hallmark Christmas movie geared to tug at our heartstrings. It was cute. Everything worked out just fine in the end.

The movie was peppered with copious commercials from the Humane Society aimed to bring even more tears to our eyes. Save the animals. Copious images of puppies, kittens, dogs, and cats were displayed with messages like, “Why was I abused?”; “Why was I abandoned?”; “Won’t someone love me?” It was certainly heart wrenching. The ads are a part of the Humane Society’s attempt to solicit funds for their campaign against animal cruelty. Yet it also includes the destruction of animals collected from the streets and euthanized at the local pound. “Is today my day to die?” was one of the questions “asked” by a sweet kitten.

Pete Singer, whose philosophical perspectives have replaced the sanctity of life with the culture of death, considers the developing human to be equal to that of the chicken. If we euthanize dogs and cats, then we ought to have no qualms about euthanizing humans. Still, Singer argues for the equal treatment of all animals, human and non-human.

So let’s play this one out in the media. I’d like to see an evening filled with ads of the sort we watched last night. Sweet little baby faces floating in amniotic fluid—it can be done now with today’s technology—superimposed with questions, “Is today my day to die?” Or kicking babies asking, “Why wasn’t I allowed to become a soccer star?” Yawning babes, “I wanted to sing, but someone stopped me!”  The baby sucking her thumb wondering, “Why didn’t anyone love me?” Or, hey! Twins questioning why their parents abandoned them to the abuse of being torn into pieces.

Years ago a Memphis TV reporter asked a young woman why she was protesting against the wearing of furs. “Oh, it’s abuse against animals. The poor things are caged up. They aren’t allowed to live freely. Then they are slaughtered.” The reporter persisted with one fatal question, “Are you also pro abortion?” “Of course,” the young woman responded. When asked how she could reconcile the two thoughts she replied, “Well, there’s no one to speak up for the animals. I make my own decisions.”

My body, my ownership. This is the face of feminism. This is how feminism is the face of original sin. Man was created to be a reflection of God in the world and to be the crown of creation. This is anathema to feminism. Feminism began when the humans God created decided to take by another means what they already had been given, the Image of God. Man now reflects the image of the deceiver, the heart turned in upon itself (incurvatus in se). Oh, what a silly thing to be concerned about! I don’t suffer from the heart incurvatus in se. It’s my neighbor who’s so arrogant! Yes, yes, It’s the fur-killers and animal abusers who have the problem, not the abortionists.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, presaging Singer, wrote, “In rejecting androcentrism (males as norms of humanity), women must also criticize all other forms of chauvinism:... making Christians the norm of humanity ... They must also criticize humanocentrism: making humans the norm and “crown” of creation in a way that diminishes other beings in the community of creation.”

The reality is the more we elevate animals to the level of humans and devalue humanity from its God-given place as the crown of creation the better we treat animals than the humans. We are simply unlikely to see an evening filled with ads tugging at our heart strings to save the baby humans—not without great protest at any rate—as was seen to save the baby animals. Animals are a First Article gift. We Christians care for them accordingly because of that. There is much in scripture to enjoin us to be kind to the furred, feathered, and finned ones, not the least of which is the fact that out Lord chose to speak through an ass and Himself was borne on one in triumph on His road to death for our sins.

Still, that does not mean that the animal is an equal to the human. When Ruether rejects Christians as the norm of humanity at the same time she rejects humans as the crown of creation, she is rejecting the first and the Last Adam. This puts her beyond the pale of Christianity itself. This makes feminism an enemy of Christianity. Of course it is, for it is the mirror image of original sin in which choice is the primary ideology. The first Adam was created as an image of the Last Adam; the Last Adam fulfilled all that the first Adam failed. The first Adam foreshadows the Last Adam. Baptism, with its Great Exchange of our sin for Christ’s righteousness, makes of Christians precisely what Ruether anthematizes: Christians are the norm of humanity. That’s what it means to be the crown of creation. That’s what baptism does.

In that string of babies running through that commercial that will never be aired but ought to be is one more superimposed tag line: “Why was I not baptized?”

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Prayer as Vocation

My mom wonders what to do with herself. She’s nearing her eightieth birthday, but age isn’t her problem. Her body is giving out on her. Her arthritic scoliosis is advanced. The pain meds have ceased working as they ought. Last week she fell backwards. It takes time for anyone to heal from such an injury, even more so for one such as she. She once asked her doctor what her prognosis was. “Grim. Not pretty,” he replied.

“I can’t do much anymore,” she says. “So what do I do with myself?”

I told her to pray.

My mom’s of that certain breed of women who’s ever been active. She was a wife, raised six children, and then went on from there to a career in hospital administration. She doesn’t know how to be still. She had her garden fed by her mulch pile. She repaired her own house. Now all these things are lying fallow. She’s simply unable to keep up because her spine is crumbling and twisting inside her. She’s well aware of the fact that soon she will be unable to live on her own and will be in supervised care.

“So what do I do with myself?”

Join the angels and heavenly hosts and pray. That’s what you do when God puts you under the cross and strips you of all distractions so you have nothing left but to pray.

“Ah,” she said. “Now I get it. I can do that. So God has use of me yet.”

Prayer as vocation. Sometimes we forget that. Vocation is what God gives our hands to do—and our mouths. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Sticky Side

Now here’s the sticky side of the bumper sticker,

“Why should God bless us when we’ve kicked HIM out of our schools?”

Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann wrote, “Just as Christianity can– and must–be considered the end of religion, so the Christian liturgy in general, and the Eucharist in particular are indeed the end of a cult, of the ‘sacred’ religious act isolated from, and opposed to, the ‘profane’ life of the community.” (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1982), 25, 26.)

We Lutherans may not agree with our Orthodox friends at all points, but on this Schmemann is correct. When Jesus says He is the door, He did not mean He was a plank of wood. He means He is the only way to the Father; the only entrance to heaven. Thus, the religion that bears His name and rests only in Him is the “end of all religion.” It is in the Eucharist, the blessed Meal of Christ’s Body and Blood in the bread and wine where Christ is Incarnationally present for His people. The liturgy leads forward to that event, setting the congregation apart from what is common and secular in the community, to  where heaven and earth meet.

Such ritual and soul-feeding prepares God’s people for their vocations in their lives. It is door-to-door vocational education. We enter the church door hungry and depleted, starved from our week long struggles in our vocation; we leave the church door fed and prepared to face our week long vocation once more.

The struggle is tougher and tougher, whether in school or the workplace. The entertainment industry inundates us with its messages that constantly pull us away from Christ’s Gospel.

I attended a workshop on the liturgy several years ago. We were reveling in how the liturgy is constructed to draw the heart, mind, and soul to the pivotal event, Christ’s giving of Himself in His Supper. The question of Contemporary Worship was ever on the mind. What of it? What was CW doing to this structure since it has none? And what would happen to this treasure of the liturgy we have now if we so callously misuse it? “Well,” said one pastor, “it’ll go out in the dust heap, where some one else will pick it up, and by God’s grace, and make use of it.” In other words, what is not used or what is not used properly is eventually taken away.

We have found that very situation happen to us in the use of Individual Confession and Absolution. For whatever history behind it, that practice fell out of use. Now it is difficult to re-instate—and for some people its use will never be acceptable.

So God has been kicked out of the schools? The marketplace? The arena of ideas? So why should God bless us if we don’t bless Him?

On the one hand, God blessing us has nothing to do with whether we bless Him or not. On the other hand, God will “bless” us in a manner we do not expect when we do not pay heed to the Giver of all Good Things.

When my children were rude and surly to me, their father blessed them with discipline. They were his children, and he loved them. He wasn’t about to set hellions loose on the world, and hasn’t. Even more to the point, I am his wife whom he swore to honor and love. That’s a promise he hasn’t broken, even with his own children.
So it is with God and His people, Christ and His Bride. When the Children of Israel, God’s wife as He called them, behaved badly, He sent them into Babylon as captives. Now there is some heavy-duty timeout! We are not beyond God’s reach as a church body or as a nation.

When Katrina hit a good many pundits claimed it was God’s way of exacting repentance on a sin-filled city. Those with clearer vision rightly pointed out that if it was so, then why is it the center of all the action, the French Quarter, was left standing? We need to be careful of pointing fingers, saying “Here is God’s retribution, there it is again.” Rather, we have enough of our own repentance for which to be concerned.

 And we can also rejoice in God’s calls to repentance. God disciplines those whom He loves, His sons (who are made so by Baptism in His Son!), to be called back to the Absolution of the Gospel in Christ.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Catechetical Bumper Stickers

The new front door arrived and was hung Friday, so I spent Saturday painting it. That meant the kitchen was closed for that evening’s meal. John found that appealing. He enjoys pizza. Picking up pizza would an exercise in receiving daily bread two ways that evening.

The car in the lane in front of me had a very interesting bumper sticker.
“Why should God bless us when we’ve kicked HIM out of our schools?”

What a curious thought. Why indeed? I had to ask myself.

In the classroom every now and again when we’d pray the Fourth Petition, “”God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people,” I’d stop and ask my students, “Who are these evil people?” They’d grin and look around at each other, and then one-by-one raise their hands, knowing I would, too. Definitely! None of us fears, loves, or trusts in God above all things. That means we must confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We, in a word, hate God, since we surely cannot demonstrate that we love Him. Yet, God would have it that we realize that He, as our heavenly Father, overlooks this in us, feeds us graciously, so that we learn to “receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” Yes, even the evil ones such as we.

God’s gifts come in spite of who we are or what we do. That is what the Third Petition teaches: The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer. The kicker is that in praying to the one who gives us all things as a heavenly Father would to His dear children, “we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.”

Prayer has not been denied any child in any school, and God’s graciousness has not been kicked out of anywhere. God has not been hindered in showering His blessings upon his people. God’s people, if anything, squander the precious gifts of the church they ought to be using in their homes as a primary resource.

I tried to teach my students to think catechetically. That is, run all things through the catechism. It wasn’t hard to do. We began the day reciting portions the catechism, the Ten Commandments plus one of the remaining Chief Parts. Whatever book we were reading was filtered through the catechism. They soon learned to do this on their own in their private readings. The catechism isn’t just for picking up one year during adolescence and then shelving away. It’s for reading, learning, and inwardly digesting. That happens by using it in the home and through application beginning when the children are very young.

The primary place of Godly education for any child should be his/her own home, not the school. Let it begin there, as Luther says in the Fourth Commandment, Large Catechism:

If that were done, God would also richly bless us and give us grace to train men by whom land and people might be improved. He would also bless us with well-educated citizens, chaste and domestic wives, who, afterward, would raise godly children and servants. Here consider now what deadly harm you are doing if you are negligent and fail on your part to bring up your children to usefulness and piety. Consider how you bring upon yourself all sin and wrath, earning hell by your own children, even though you are otherwise pious and holy. Because this matter is disregarded, God so fearfully punishes the world that there is no discipline, government, or peace. We all complain about this but do not see that it is our fault. The way we train children and subjects spoils them and makes them disobedient. Let this be enough encouragement. To draw this out further belongs to another time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dr. G and Catechetical Lessons Learned

Lately I'm enjoying Discovery Health Channel's show Dr. G, Medical Examiner. "Dr. G" is Jan C. Garavalia, M.D., chief examiner for the District Nine Medical Examiner's Office in Florida This covers Orange and Osceola Counties. I'm not a fan of the slasher movie genre, so that's not what attracts me to the show. What holds my attention is the numerous ways bodies die. While it is appointed to each of us to die (though not all may see death this side of heaven depending on Christ's return), we each die in a different way. No two bodies break down towards death the same way. The show is an exposition of original sin and its effects on humanity.

It's also an exposition of the enmity between us and God. Enmity doesn't merely mean conflict or hostility. It also means hatred. That is the word God used in Ge 3:15 when He was speaking to the serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." It's the same word Paul later used in Ro 8:7, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot." We could say that such a mind hates God. The First Commandment requires that we"fear, love, and trust in God above all things." This we have not kept. The opposite of love is. . . hate. The Third Petition even speaks to this when it allows that our sinful nature, which includes even our body, does not want to hallow God's name. This is a hard and bitter pill to swallow, but one that is the beginning of repentance.

Autopsies demonstrate just how deeply we cannot love God. Our own bodies are incapable of sustaining that which He found most precious to give us, life itself, which means of course, eternal life. The entrance to the Garden of Eden was barred from sin-filled Man so that he would not eat of the Tree of Life and remain eternally in his sin-filled state. This happened after God had given the promise of His Seed, the one who would bring eternal life to Man. So instead o Man being condemned to living in sin eternally, the Son of God was raised upon a tree as a sinner, and the fruit of that tree is given to us poor beggars to eat as His Body and Blood in bread and wine. It is from that Tree of Life that we receive forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

According to the Revelation of John, the Tree of Life appears in again in paradise, where God gives access to its fruit to those who conquer in the restored Garden of Eden (Rv 2:7). The promise of eternal life is given to those whose sins have put in Christ ( Ro 6:3-4; 1Jn 1:8-9). Our life in Baptism "which indicates that the Old Adam should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all evil desires, and that a new man might arise should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and putity forever," rushes us forward to that life in the Eden restored. Baptism places us in that now not yet. We are now in this sin-filled life; we are not yet in Eden restored. Yet it is ours nonetheless. "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1Jn 3:2).

Christ's own resurrection sustains us with that same blessed paradox. He is now as we will one day become (1 Cor 15). The resurrection teaches us that our bodies weren't meant to stay locked in tombs. God didn't create us that way. It isn't normal. Death is the consequence of hatred toward God (Ro 6:23). But Christ's resurrection not only explodes death, it shatters that hatred. Jesus' own flesh was not a new creation for Him to inhabit only for the sake of His work of saving Mankind. His flesh was that of a woman's, and that under the law (Ga 4:4). It could experience death, and did. His flesh is our flesh. His death is our death. His resurrection is our resurrection. He was made sin in order that righteousness might reign in us (2Cor 5:21). His righteousness in exchange for our sin will result in our resurrection of the dead. It can be no other way.

No matter how many different ways human bodies find to die, no matter how many times Dr. G is surprised by what she discovers in her autopsies, no matter how many time sin exacts its wages on us pitiful humans held captive to this body of death, ultimately for those in Christ death is not the end of the story. We are baptized. We eat Bread of Life come down from heaven, and in Him alone is Life (Jo 6:33; 1Jn 5:11).

How is God's will done?
God's will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's name or let His kingdom come;
and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die.
This is His good and gracious will

How can water do such great things? 
Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God's word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus chapter three:

"He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying." (Titus 3:5-8)

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?

These words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Questions and Catechesis

“If churches do not aim to help children, youth and adults become sensitive, compassionate persons who possess the knowledge, attitudes and capacity to act responsibly alone and institutionally in relation to the changing needs of society, we will have failed our children, ourselves - and God . . . To facilitate the development of this kind of persons, the community of faith needs to meet at least three conditions: first, shared meaningful celebrations . . . second, reflected-upon experiences . . . third, opportunities for political and social action.”
- John Westerhoff

This is the Quote of the Month for the October 2010 LCMS Youth Bulletin. I had some difficulty parsing it out, so I went to the source. Westerhoff was ordained UCC, but currently serves in the Episcopalian Church. He has an article online that is quite revealing, and explains much of what this quote is about: Church Education for Tomorrow. It’s well worth the read as an exposition of the quote above. While the quote itself is not found in the article, all the notes are present.

What does this mean for us? It simply begs the question: Whatever happened to “As the head of the household should teach them in a simple way to his household”?

Luther was frustrated with his people: "[M]any see the catechism as a poor, common teaching, which they can read through once and immediately understand. They can throw the book into a corner and be ashamed to read it again" (LC, Preface:2, Kolb-Wengert). We relate to that in our own way. “How do you get rid of bats in the belfry? Answer: Catechize and confirm them and you’ll never see them again.”

The problem isn’t that the material itself, or that rote memorization is antithetical to faith-building. Quite the opposite in fact. One could just as easily say that memorizing basic Math facts is useless—until that faculty is needed in daily life. Technology aside, the ability to compute mathematically will not absent itself from our various vocations. Every time, in every place, 2+2=4, and 5X5=25. When that fails, whole systems will fall apart. We learned those basic facts through rote memorization, and then we learned to apply them. We believe in them. They are, if you will permit me, the lex orandi, lex credendi of arithmetic. The same is true of the catechism. Luther explains:

Besides, catechism study is a most effective help against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts. It helps to be occupied with God’s Word, to speak it, and meditate on it, just as the first Psalm declares people blessed who meditate on God’s Law day and night (Psalm 1:2). Certainly you will not release a stronger incense or other repellant against the devil than to be engaged by God’s commandments and words, and speak, sing, or think them [Colossians 3:16]. For this is indeed the true “holy water” and “holy sign” from which the devil runs and by which he may be driven away [James 4:7]. (LC, Preface: 10, Kolb-Wengert)

Furthermore, Luther saw no such thing as delaying catechetical study until a child was in puberty. For him, the catechism was for “children and for simple folk” (LC, Short Preface: 1, Kolb-Wengert). “It teaches what every Christian must know. . . Therefore, we must have the young learn well and fluently the parts of the catechism or instruction for children, diligently exercise themselves in them, and keep them busy in them.” (LC, Short Preface: 2-3, Kolb-Wengert). This is faith bearing fruit through catechized vocation.

It begins first in the Divine Service, for Luther’s admonitions regarding the catechism and its use starts there.

We have no small reasons for constantly preaching the catechism and for both desiring and begging others to teach it. For sadly we see that many pastors and preachers are very negligent in this matter and slight both their office and this teaching. Some neglect the catechism because of great and high art ‹giving their mind, as they imagine, to much “higher” matters›. But others neglect it from sheer laziness and care for their bellies. They take no other stand in this business than to act as pastors and preachers for their bellies’ sake. (LC, Preface, 1, Kolb-Wengert)

And again:

O bishops! What answer will you ever give to Christ for having so shamefully neglected the people and never for a moment fulfilled your office [James 3:1]? May all misfortune run from you! 5 ‹I do not wish at this place to call down evil on your heads.› You . . . insist on your human laws, and yet at the same time you do not care at all whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or any part of God’s Word. Woe, woe to you forever! [See Matthew 23.] (SC, Preface: 4, Kolb-Wengert)
According to Luther, pastors and preachers who do not know their catechism should “have nothing given [them]to eat, but [they] should also be driven, baited with dogs, and pelted with dung” (LC, Preface: 13, Kolb-Wengert). That’ll get your dander up! Yet he backs his words by God’s own command, Deu 6:6-8,

that we should always meditate on His precepts, sitting, walking, standing, lying down, and rising. We should have them before our eyes and in our hands as a constant mark and sign. Clearly He did not solemnly require and command this without a purpose. For He knows our danger and need, as well as the constant and furious assaults and temptations of the devils (LC, Preface: 14, Kolb-Wengert).

This is an example for the family, as pastors are to be in their parishes. So Luther commends this responsibility to the head of the household: “Therefore, it is the duty of every father of a family to question and examine his children and servants at least once a week and see what they are learning from the catechism” (LC, Short Preface: 4, Kolb-Wengert).

Yet in the above-mentioned article, Westerhoff, critical of the catechetical method, writes:

Characteristically, Christian faith was understood in terms of nurture, which functionally corresponded to a gradual process of schooling. Church educators proceeded to develop a program of education that moved from baptism through instruction to confirmation—or, more accurately, to institutional initiation. At the same time evangelical Protestant churches, also enamored of the “schooling-instructional” paradigm, described personal conversion as their purpose and designed educational programs that used instruction to move persons to an early faith commitment. Neither side could affirm the other’s purpose though both depended upon the same paradigm. Both, I contend, have made a serious error.

The error he contends is that this is merely “institutionalized incorporation” into religion. It is not mature faith. And here is the key: “The Christian faith by its very nature demands conversion. We do not gradually educate persons to be Christian. Of course, conversion can and indeed often has been misunderstood and overemphasized, but that does not justify our disregarding it as one necessary purpose of Christian education.”

What Westerhoff misses is that faith is Sacramentally given in Baptism and nurtured in catechesis (as well as the Word preached, Absolution, and the Holy Supper). This is according to Christ’s command that the church is to be baptizing and teaching (Mt 28:19-20) to keep all that He commanded. This is not imparted as if a history lesson, but according to the work of the Holy Spirit through human agents. Catechesis is teaching. Luther writes, “So a person who does not know this catechism could not be counted as a Christian or be admitted to any Sacrament, just as a mechanic who does not understand the rules and customs of his trade is expelled and considered incapable” (LC, Short Preface: 1, Kolb-Wengert). Conversion is not a learned experience; it is a given. It is given by the work of the Holy Spirit. We do not struggle in order to say “I believe.” The opposite is true, as the Third Article confesses.

Westerhoff’s answer to Luther’s form of catechesis is

Persons need to be nurtured into a community’s faith and life. There is a basic need for religious experience. But persons also need, if they are to grow in faith, to be aided and encouraged to judge, question and even doubt that faith, to be given the opportunity to experiment with and reflect upon alternative understandings and to learn what it means to commit their lives to causes and persons. We must never depreciate the important intellectual aspect of Christian faith. Only after a long adolescent struggle with doubt and an honest consideration of alternatives can a person truly say, “I believe.” And only then is a person enabled to live the radical political, economic and social life of the Christian in the world.

In other words, it is not enough that the devil has his “darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you.” (LC, Lord’s Supper: 82, Kolb-Wengert), Westerhoff encourages a dance with the devil in order to arrive at a hearty, heartfelt “I believe.” So much for lex cedendi, lex orandi! Let’s not forget something here. Lutherans don’t run from the struggles of doubt; rather, we embrace them as life under the cross. The Lord disciplines His sons, and struggles and doubt are a part of that. But to be “encouraged to judge, question and even doubt that faith” is not what makes Christian growth. When a Christian faces the doubts that come as they may, he places them in the wounds of Christ where they belong and simply says, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief (Mk 9:24). He doesn’t go seeking them intentionally.

It is through the struggles (tentatio), being constantly driven to the cross, and ever living out the life of Baptism that the faith matures. This is sanctification, is it not, and it is not an outgrowth of intentional head-butts with the devil. Sanctification is the Holy Spirit’s own working out of faith in Christ in and through us. Even our feeble confession “I believe” is wrought within us by what the Holy Spirit has given, not through what we have done by what we have come through. One who is baptized is never alone, but is a member of the Body of Christ, His Church. Of this growth in faith our confessions say

So, until the Last Day, the Holy Spirit abides with the holy congregation or Christendom [John 14:17]. Through this congregation He brings us to Christ and He teaches and preaches to us the Word [John 14:26]. By the Word He works and promotes sanctification, causing this congregation daily to grow and to become strong in the faith and its fruit, which He produces [Galatians 5]. (LC, II, art. 3: 52 Kolb-Wengert)

I’m not as smart as Dr. Luther. Never will be. So I take his advice to heart. He used his catechism daily, thinking himself as a child in need of it that often.

I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly. These dainty, fastidious fellows would like quickly, with one reading, to become doctors above all doctors, to know all there is to be known. Well, this, too, is a sure sign that they despise both their office and the people’s souls, yes, even God and his Word. They need not fear a fall, for they have already fallen all too horribly. What they need is to become children and begin learning their ABC’s, which they think they have outgrown long ago. (LC, Preface: 7, Tappert)

He gives this advice to us all:

Look at these bored, presumptuous saints who will not or cannot read and study the Catechism daily. They evidently consider themselves much wiser than God himself, and wiser than all his holy angels, prophets, apostles, and all Christians! God himself is not ashamed to teach it daily, for he knows of nothing better to teach, and he always keeps on teaching this one thing without varying it with anything new or different. All the saints know of nothing better or different to learn, though they cannot learn it to perfection. Are we not most marvelous fellows, therefore, if we imagine, after reading or hearing it once, that we know it all and need not read or study it any more? Most marvelous fellows, to think we can finish learning in one hour what God himself cannot finish teaching! Actually, he is busy teaching it from the beginning of the world to the end, and all prophets and saints have been busy learning it and have always remained pupils, and must continue to do so. (LC, Preface: par. 15, Kolb-Wengert)

If God has so much to teach us in the catechism that we have not yet learned, then what I am wondering now is: Instead promoting a man who encourages youth to doubt what He has given, shouldn't we instead make better use of our own precious resources, which begin in and retain the things of God?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Grades and Shades of Feminism

Two items of note recently circulated through Facebook. The first was the video testimony of a saline abortion survivor, Gianna Jessen. The second was a newspaper article by Rebecca Walker, the daughter of Alice Walker the author of The Color Purple. Both bore witness to the backlash effects of feminism. It would have been easy to pass of either woman as the victim of radical-feminism.

Let’s be honest for once. We can sugar-coat feminism with any number of labels and degrees—moderate-, conservative-, Christian-, radical-, —but we’ll still find ourselves with the same fundamental error: feminism. Granted, these labels serve some purpose. They help to identify authors and time periods within the Feminist Movement itself. However, let's not use them as sort of "scale for acceptability;" e.g., radical-feminism goes too far, while Christian-feminism is comfortably OK.

Not all feminists will pursue abortion or abandon their children, this is true. Still, feminism is the ideology that pursues the social and political equal rights for women. That is its premise. However, “In the beginning. . .,” before the deception of the first woman, these things were “a given.” They were total gift and a grace from God, the Father Creator. She was, after all, created in the same image and likeness of God as was her mate, the man. That she was called his helpmeet is no reflection on her status of equality, but is a reference to her vocation. “[T]he Lord God is pleased to be called a ‘helper.’ Ezer is the Hebrew word, and the name ‘Eliezer’ means ‘God is my helper’ (Numbers 3:32).” (A Little Book of Joy, Matthew C. Harrison, 58) God is our helper, for He is our salvation. The woman would be the source of salvation for the man, for Jesus would be born of Mary (Ge 3:15;1Cor 11:13).

Moreover, when speaking of God’s creative acts, Man is a binary that includes the male and female (Ge 1:27). This does not mean “humanity” as a general classification of all peoples whether males or females or combinations thereof. Feminism presents women with a false dichotomy: “they can either be women or they can be humans” (Why is Feminism So Hard to Resist? Paul R. Harris, 149.) This leaves women—and men, who can also be feminist—perpetually searching to be human above being what they are created to be, women and men, through striving for the things they for which they were not created. It’s about vocation, and vocation is always what is God-created and God-given.

Man, male and female, were created in God’s image. Genesis 5:1-3 reiterates that fact, but then switches, stating that Adam’s sons were born in his image. Adam lost the image of God when he fell into sin. At the end of Genesis 3, the gates to the Garden of Eden were closed by God’s angels holding flaming swords, “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (Ge 3:22). Jesus called Satan “that murderer from the beginning” (Jn 8:44). Throughout Genesis 5 the refrain “and he died” is repeated. Paul exposits the truth of this when he states, “The wages of sin is death,” (Ro 6:23).

Satan’s deception of the first woman and Adam’s lack of protection for his wife resulted in the first sin. Adam failed her when he listened to her instead of paying heed to God's word. In Adam’s sin all men fell, but that does not mean women are any less culpable. Thanks be to God for that, for Jesus only came for sinners (Mt 9:13). Satan murdered not with a knife or gun or any other such weapon. Satan’s weapon was God’s own words twisted to his desires and intentions. But Satan’s victim was not merely Man, Adam and his wife. Satan’s target was the Son of the Father, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8). Satan’s deception of the woman was an attack on God the Father. She overthrew her head, and he in turn, overthrew his (1Co 11:3). This set in motion the Father’s plan of salvation wherein His own Son would die for the sins of Man (Ro 5:8; 12-20; Eph 1:4; Jn 3:16). Feminism, because it reconditions and reinvents God’s word for its own purposes, is a return to original sin and its slavery (Jn 8:31-35; Ro 6:6; Ga 5:1.) It is Rachel stealing her father’s household gods in order to take them into her husband’s home (Ge 31:19). She would not completely let go of her old ways and let her husband be her head, thus having the one true God be her Head. It is paganism.

And here is where we must begin to get truly honest with feminism. Feminism began with the first deception, and has grown from that. If feminism is anything it is paganism socially legitimized through Supreme Court rulings, Hollywood, the media, and Madison Avenue. It is nothing new (Ecc 1:9). Feminism demands human rights for women at the expense of their own unborn children: my body, my rights. Feminism demands human rights for same-sex relationships at the expense of the family and society. Lutheran CORE recently posted this entry. It demonstrates the same pattern from the ancient deceiver: A twist and a turn from God’s word is all it takes to turn mankind away from the worship of the one true God to worship of something and someone other.

Feminism with a gradient label attached to it is akin to someone claiming he is only mildly addicted to cocaine (“But I can kick it anytime I want to.”) The addiction “sticks” for a lifetime, whether one wants to admit it or not. So it is with feminism. Feminism and original sin are so closely aligned they are a part of the human condition. To be feminist is to overthrow one’s headship for the sake of another’s vocation. This was the woman’s deception, and males fall victim to it was well as females. One cannot claim to be mildly feminist and be proud of it any more than to retain pride in being a sinner. It would be the same as pride in breaking the First Commandment. For, in overthrowing headship, one becomes his or her own god; and, taking up a vocation that does not belong to oneself breaks the Second Table of the Law.

There are those who will object, pointing out all the “good” the Feminist Movement has brought to women: equality in society, better pay in the work place, more jobs. Shall we praise sin because there happens to be a good outcome? The fundamental premise of the movement is still feminism and it not only is contrary to God’s word, it also moves to separate women from God's salvific acts in Christ to her own work. Better yet we confess the fact that we are feminist and rejoice in the Gospel to come from that confession of sin; for, Jesus only came for sinners, and there is more than enough forgiveness in Him for feminists.

The truth is that there is nothing in the Scriptures that prevents women from entering the marketplace and doing business. The Good Wife of Proverbs 31 is one example, as is Lydia (Ac 16:14). Luther writes

Thus the church is the pupil of Christ. It sits at His feet and listens to His Word, that it may know how to judge everything—how to serve in one’s vocation and to fill civil offices, yes, how to eat, drink, and sleep—so that there is no doubt about any area of life, but that we, surrounded on all sides by the rays of the Word, may continually walk in joy and in the most beautiful light. (LW: 2:353-354)

Guided by God’s word with Christ as their Head, men are to care for and love their wives and families. Guided by God’s word with Christ as their Head, women submit to such love and protection. Still, Luther continues,

But alas, we are not aware of our gifts. Only those who are spiritual rejoice and give thanks to God. Because the rest are carnal, ungrateful, greedy, and proud, they will be deprived even of what they have; and the punishment will befall them that they will listen to Satan instead of Christ and to heretics instead of the apostles, namely, to men who seek in the Word their own wisdom and glory and everything else except the joy and the heavenly blessings the Word brings us. (LW: 2:353-354)

And so we have the division in which we live. There is the feminism which belongs to all that is common or profane in this temporal life, and there is the way of Godly vocation which belongs to the sacred and holy. Godly vocation is still known by nature and written as Law upon man’s heart (Ro 1:20-25; 2:14-15). We struggle midst the two planes, the profane and the sacred. There should be no surprise in this. We are at once sinner and saint, are we not? But let us not fall prey to justifying sin based on a perceived good outcome. An error at the beginning is still fundamentally an error at the end—one to be confessed so that Christ’s forgiveness may be received.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Bit From Walther

Let us picture to ourselves as vividly as we can the situation that would have been created in the early Church, when errorists like Arius, Nestorius, and Pelagius arose, if men like Athanasius, Cyril, and Augustine had not earnestly opposed them. As far back as in the fourth and fifth centuries the Church would have lost the primary article of the Christian faith; the foundation would have been removed from beneath it, and it would have had to collapse. That was, indeed, impossible in view of the eternal counsel of God concerning the Church; however, because of that very counsel, God had to raise up instruments such as those teachers were. True, while they lived, they were hated and persecuted as malicious disturbers of Christendom, but for more than a thousand years their names have been beacon-lights, as names of great witnesses to the saving truth, and in eternity they will shine as the brightness of the firmament and as the stars forever and ever. Dan. 12:3. Let no one, then, be deterred from giving his testimony in behalf of the truth by the charge that he has a false spirit. That charge emanates only from unbelief.

Again, suppose Luther, after learning the truth, had indeed borne testimony for it to his immediate associates, but had not entered into conflict with the Papacy because of the great abominations which it had introduced into the Church, what would have happened? Christianity would have to remain under the soultyranny of the Roman Antichrist, and we all should still be subjects of it.

There is no question, then, but that both, yes, both these efforts are necessary: to defend the truth and to oppose every doctrinal error.

Walther, C. F. W., Dau, W. H. T., & Eckhardt, E. (2000, c1929, c1986). The proper distinction between law and gospel : 39 evening lectures. Forward by Jaroslav Pelikan. Includes index. (electronic ed.) (350). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Of Rust and Tattoos

I just tried to salvage the front door to our house. I'd started noticing rust coming through the paint a while back, but with all my other concerns couldn't do anything about it. I'm finally well enough to do something. So I stripped it of all its extraneous hardware. Numbers were placed elsewhere. They're more noticeable in their new location anyway. The door knocker I packed away. That meant I have a few holes to patch, but a bit of car putty and sandpaper would take care of that.

I took some 150 grit to the worst of the rust. It flaked. Not a good sign. Sure enough, the rust was worse than I'd thought. It'd eaten clean through the steel of the door. So I looked over the door more closely, and with my fingers. Sure enough, there was a large bubble to the left. That means the surface rust just revealed a greater cancer lying beneath the paint.

Now, I could spend a great deal of man hours and supplies and wind up with a door that looked like it had been repaired (one hole was in the detailing), or I could bite the bullet and buy a new one and have it installed. Priming and painting I can do. Installation is another thing altogether.

The point is, before we bought the house someone painted that sucker with rust already on it. We changed the color of that paint, giving it even more protection. It's taken seven years for the rust to finally eat through the coats of paint. So now we are at the point we are. A bit of prevention at the first would have solved this.

It's not really about the money we are shoveling out for the door and the installation, although there is that. It's about that lack of care for the things given us. It's about stewardship. It's like that commercial of that kid destroying his toys just to prove that one certain car gets a load of testing. My kids wouldn't have had any toys for a while had they treated theirs like that.

There are basics and essentials that need to be taken care of up front. It has been the setting aside of the Confessions and through that the Word of God that has turned synod into the bureaucratic nightmare that it is, instead of the supportive institution to its pastors and congregations that it was meant to be.

We slap the paint on top of paint through all sorts of commissions and reports to cover the fact that the Confessions are being eroded like rust on steel. In countless congregations what can be seen is there is no unity in practice according to the Word of God and the Confessions. Moreover, the demand that we depart further from the Confessions increases. The rust spreads no matter how quickly we slap that paint on it.

Furthermore, because of the rust and the coats of paint to cover it up, significant dialog on the issues that matter by using the Confessions and the Word of God is getting to be well nigh to impossible. The issues are no longer the focus, the paint and rust (rulings by commissions and reports) are!

A friend got himself a Luther Rose tattoo in honor of the installation of Matt Harrison as President. “Big deal!” I thought, “That’s an honorific? Better yet, study more the Confessions.” Of course, to cut this one some slack, I’m not a tattoo person, and he already does spend a good deal of time with his nose in the Confessions, which he honors in his practice.

The local Methodist church proudly displayed Luther’s Rose in front of their church for several months. It isn’t “ours” anymore. It also belongs to the place of “Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors.” Their demonstration of Luther’s Reformation symbol at a place which rejects so much of what the Reformation won demonstrates that merely slapping a Luther Rose on a thing is no indication of unity in doctrine and practice. Two hours after the installation of Harrison on Sept. 11, St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in downtown Jackson, MS, is having a come-one-come-all Eucharist in memory of 9-11. Christ’s Supper isn’t His anymore. That same practice is observed and encouraged among many of our own LC-MS churches, too.

The LC-MS is on the cusp of repentance or rejection. She can either stand as the true repository of Luther's Reformation inheritance, in which her Confession is that of the Apostolic Church, or she can slide into conformity with those around her. A few more coats of paint and who would know the difference, anyway? I pray my friend didn’t waste a good tattoo. There is much to celebrate this Saturday, but there is also much work ahead.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Bit from Luther Based on Luke 2:42-52

This is a Gospel that presents to us an example of the holy cross, showing us what experiences those who have to pass who are Christians, and how they ought to bear their sorrow. For he who desires to be a Christian must expect to help to bear the cross. For God will place him between the spurs and thoroughly test him that he may be humble and no one will come to Christ without suffering. Of this we have here an example, which we ought to imitate and shall now consider.

Although the holy mother Mary, who was highly blessed and upon whom many favors were bestowed, had undoubtedly the greatest delight in her child, yet the Lord so ruled that that her joy was not without sorrow and like all others she did not attain complete blessedness until she entered heaven. For this reason she had to suffer so much sorrow, pain and anguish on earth. It was her first great sorrow to give birth to her child in Bethlehem, in a strange town, where she found no room with her babe except in a stable. Then her second sad experience was that soon after the six weeks of purification she was compelled to flee with her child into Egypt, a strange country, which was indeed a poor consolation. She undoubtedly experienced many more like trials, which have not been recorded.

One of them is related here, when her Son caused her so much anxiety, by tarrying behind in the temple and letting her seek Him so long, and she could not find Him. This alarmed and grieved her so that she almost despaired, as her words indicate: “Behold, thy father and I sought thee sorrowing.” For we may well imagine that thoughts like these may have passed through her mind: “Behold this child is only mine, this I know very well, and I know God has entrusted Him to me and has commanded me to take care of Him; why is it then He is taken from me? It is my fault, for I have not sufficiently taken care of Him and guarded Him. Perhaps God does not deem me worthy to watch over this child and will take Him from me again.” She was undoubtedly greatly frightened and her heart trembled and was filled with grief.

Here you see what she experienced. Although she is the mother of a child in whom she might have gloried before all mothers, and although her joy was immeasurably greater than any she had ever felt, yet you perceive how God deprives her of all happiness, in that she can no longer call herself the mother of Jesus. In her great dismay she probably wished she had never known her child and was tempted to greater sins than any mother had ever committed.

In the same manner the Lord our God can take from us our joy and comfort, if He so desires, and cause us the greatest sorrow with the very things that are our greatest joy, and, on the other hand, give us the greatest delight in the things that terrify us the most. For it was the greatest joy of Mary that she was the mother of this child, but now He has become the cause of her greatest sorrow. Thus we are afraid of nothing more than sin and death, yet God can comfort us so that we may boast, as St. Paul says in Rom. 7, that sin served to the end that we became justified and that we longed for death and desire to die.

The great sorrow of the mother of Christ, who was deprived of her child, came upon her in order that even her trust in God might be taken from her. For she had reason to fear that God was angry with her and would no longer have her be the mother of His Son. Nobody will understand what she suffered who has not passed through her experiences. Therefore we should apply this example to ourselves, for it was not recorded for her sake, but for our benefit. She is now at the end of her sorrows; therefore we should profit by her example and be prepared to bear our sorrow if a similar affliction befall us.

When God vouchsafes to us a strong faith and a firm trust in Him, so that we are assured He is our gracious God and we can depend on Him, then we are in paradise. But when God permits our hearts to be discouraged and that He takes from us Christ our Lord; when our conscience feels that we have lost Him amidst trembling and despair our confidence is gone, then we are truly in misery and distress. For even if we are not conscious of any special sin, yet in such a condition we tremble and doubt whether God still cares for us; just as Mary here doubts and knows not whether God still deems her worthy to be the mother of His Son. Our heart thinks in the time of trial thus: God has indeed given me a strong faith, but perhaps He will take it from me and will no longer want me as His child. Only strong minds can endure such temptations and there are not many people whom God tests to this degree. Yet we must be prepared, so that we may not despair if such trials come upon us.

. . . God does all this out of His superabundant grace and goodness in order that we might perceive on every hand how kindly and lovingly the Father deals with us and tries us, so that our faith may be developed and become continually stronger and stronger. And He does this especially so as to guard His children against a twofold danger which might otherwise threaten them. In the first place, being strong in their own mind and arrogant, they might ultimately depend upon themselves and believe they are able to accomplish everything in their own strength. For this reason God sometimes permits their faith to grow weak and to be prostrated, so that they might see who they are and be forced to confess: Even if I would be believe, I cannot. Thus the omnipotent God humbles His saints and keeps them in their true knowledge. For nature and reason will always boast of the gifts of God and depend upon them. Therefore God must lead us to a recognition of the fact that it is He who puts faith in our heart and that we cannot produce it ourselves. Thus the fear of God and trust in Him must not be separated from one another, for we need them both, in order that we not become presumptuous and overconfident depending on ourselves. This is one of the reasons God leads His saints through such great trials.

First Sunday after Epiphany, Wittenberg, 1523

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Timing Among the Non-Peripheral Things

Two years ago this past July a friend of mine opened her house to my granddaughter and me for a couple days. They were on their last leg of a trip to Europe. We were in town for a wedding and the Higher Things Conference. I was busy preparing a welcome home dinner for her when I suddenly had a tightening in my chest and pain in my right jaw. I did what any right thinking person would do. I called the expert, my husband. He advised me to wait it out. If it subsided quickly, all was well. It did, and I went on with my business.

Good thing, too. The timing was all wrong. We were several miles away from a hospital, and hundred miles away from home. I didn’t have time for any serious illness. Higher Things started the next day. I had a presentation to make. I had my granddaughter to care for.

During the next week I proved that all was well with me. I trekked that long walk up and down the hill from our lodging to the chapel services and any sessions, for meals, etc. I was just fine. Nothing even to mention to anyone, so I didn’t.

The Saturday before school opened that year the pain returned. This time John and I went so far as to drive to the hospital, only to decide not to do anything. Our reasoning was simple: I’d be in the hospital over the weekend. No tests would be done until Monday. I’d miss the first day of school. What would that accomplish? Besides, we could talk to a doctor friend in the congregation the next day. He’s a cardiac surgeon.

We did just that. He called me mid morning Monday at school and said I had an appointment with a cardiologist and I wasn’t to miss it. I didn’t. After an EKG the cardiologist wouldn’t let me go home. My heart had tried and might still try to have an attack. That’s just what it had done in July.

The next morning a simple procedure fixed things. He placed a stent in the partially blocked artery. Then he told me what I didn’t want to hear: change your lifestyle.

I don’t like bad news from doctors. I’ve heard it before. I heard it in 1993 when the doctor said, “Malignant? Oh, most definitely.” I don’t suppose he considered whether it was bad timing for me to hear that news or not. Maybe I was too busy with other things going on and didn’t have time for the radiation treatment, and the week long trip the Philadelphia away from my family to receive it. Maybe I didn’t want to be bothered with it at that time. “No thank you, doctor. I’ll deal with this another day. Cancer can wait for me.” Just like that heart attack could wait for my good timing instead of me seeking treatment for it while the warning signs were clearly there!

It's the Felix in us, who when confronted by the Word of God "about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment,"--things rightly exercised in and among the community of believers as per 1 Cor. 5:12-13--wants to exercise self-righteousness and control based upon his own personal desires and considerations instead. Felix responded to Paul: “Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you” (Acts 24:25). Putting off medical care is breaking the First and Fifth Commandment. It does harm to ourselves. It is putting ourselves in the place of God, and not allowing others to fulfill their God-given vocations for our sakes. That is what we do when others call us to repentance and we say the timing is not right.

Timing, good timing, bad timing which timing? One of the criticisms leveled against the ACELC is that the timing of their Admonitions is poor, coming so soon after the election of Matt Harrison as president of the LC-MS.

What the ACELC is pointing out are those things that have become matters of unrepentant false practice that have not been admonished. Therefore they have become entrenched in the heart of synod as if they are good and salutary.

It wasn’t that long ago that a man passing through these parts inquired about our communion practice. When the Christ-ordained, church-honored practice of Closed Communion was explained to him, he refused to participate with us. His reasoning was simple: He could not in good conscience practice in one place what his home pastor did not teach and practice in another. He recognized there was no unity where there ought to be, and did not for himself cry peace where there was no peace.

So I ask: How soon is too soon to seek recovery from the illness that pervades our synod? How long is too long to ignore the illness that infests her?

Rather than unhinge ourselves on such peripheral piffle (such as timing), shouldn’t we instead be more mindful of the merits of what the ACELC is saying and doing?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Disclaimers on Altars

A good friend reminded me that this altar does have a disclaimer over it. The last photo didn't reveal it. This one does. Here the "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus" is clearly visible. After all, it doesn't say "Hagios, Hagios, Hagios." (Thanks, Dave.)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sitting Solidly on an Inerrant Two-Legged Stool

In a recent entry on his blog, (The Inerrancy of Scripture: The Fifty Years’ War . . . and Counting) Paul McCain praised the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler, and his blog. McCain urged his readers “I recommend you add [Mohler’s blog] to your regular blog reading.” What apparently excited McCain about this particular blog entry was the topic, inerrancy. Kathy S tried to point out that we ought to be more careful of our reading, being concerned with who we let into our heads. She tried to point out the matter of efficacy, which is missing in the minds of Baptists with regard to the Sacraments, but didn’t gain much traction. McCain’s response was that Good News doesn’t put disclaimers over the artwork it uses, some of which is decidedly non-Lutheran. He wasn’t going to do the same.

On August 13, 2008, Rev. Wm. Weedon gave accolades to the newly dedicated altar at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, MS. While others joined in to praise its design, not everyone was so disposed.

Paul McCain said...
I'm not really comfortable making Lutheran altars look like Eastern altars.

Here's my favorite Lutheran altar!
6:15 PM

Does that mean we at Good Shepherd ought to put up a disclaimer over our altar?

In other words, McCain was really making the same assertion about our altar that Kathy was trying to make about Mohler’s piece. According to McCain, Orthodox art doesn’t speak the same language as Western art. And, as Kathy tried to point out, Mohler does not mean inerrancy the same way we Lutherans do—especially, as she pointed out, when inerrancy and inspiration are absent efficacy.

That doesn’t mean Lutherans can’t use Orthodox art. Catechized Lutherans can “handle” altars with icons because they have been taught that the art is merely an earthly reminder of heavenly things. Nothing more. An icon is not the thing itself. It is no more to be worshiped and adored than one having this on it.

And in Good News magazine, the art is used as a jumping off point to explain a theological point. It never stands alone. Selection of pieces is so careful that art is rejected if even the title is inappropriate to the theological point being made to the reader. The reader is not left to his subjective opinion. A decidedly Lutheran catechesis is drawn from every piece of artwork used in Good News.

So in truth, the argument about the use of Orthodox art vs. Western art is actually a weak one. Orthodox art and Western art have their well known connotations for use in worship, and they are known to be different. Art is received subjectively. It can mean different things to different viewers. This is not so easily true with words. Words mean things, generally the same thing time and again. The inerrancy of scripture is a word known by theologians to mean the scriptures are without errors because they are God’s words breathed by the Holy Spirit into human authors to be written down for our sakes (2Ti 3:16). This carries with it certain implications with what the word actually is and does for our sakes (Is 55:11). When any part of that that is denied, then inerrancy takes a huge hit. How can inerrancy stand when its very usefulness as God intended it is denied because the men who handle it say, “That’s impossible!”? At that point a different connotation of the word inerrancy—perhaps it could be said even a whole other word being named “inerrancy”—is being used. One thing is certain; we aren’t speaking with the same terminology. To not deal with the text as it is given for our sakes is an indication that one is rejecting inerrancy at that point. Thus, inspiration and efficacy are sacrificed as well.

Inerrancy and inspiration absent efficacy is like a two-legged stool: just try to sit on it. But Baptist inerrancy is just that, a two-legged stool. They’ll tout inerrancy because of inspiration and shout out a good belief in creation or the flood story. Then they’ll look you straight in the eye and swear “Yes, ma’am, you and I, we believe the same thing.”

That’s when it’s time to get down to where things really count. Now it’s time to set that stool on the floor and see if she’ll set still and hold a body up. “Do you baptize babies? Do you believe what 1Peter 3:21 says?” Simply put, deal with the text: Does Baptism save now?

And that’s where the derrier hits the dust. That’s where inerrency is shown to be just another pretty word batted ‘round. Baptists deny baptismal regeneration. That kicks the stuffing out of inerrancy. Inerrency is certain because God inspired (God breathed) the word to His authors, therefore it does what He says it will do; it is efficacious.

But get a Baptist to grasp that when it comes time to baptize an infant; or set out wine for the Lord’s Supper; or even agree what’s in that Precious Water or Meal. It’s not happening without some very, very careful catechesis and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Most of the children enrolled in our school are non-Lutheran. Yet it is not uncommon a number of these children to come to desire Baptism for themselves. They hear of their Lord’s desire of it for them and its benefits daily in chapel.

One of my students waged an ongoing battle with his mother and grandparents for a good two years before he was given permission by them to go to the font and receive what our Lord would give him, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. It was a respectful battle, to be sure. He was armed only with God’s word. For every one of their protests he simply pointed to one of any several texts and said, now what do you have to say? He was told he didn’t need baptism because he wasn’t of the age of accountability; well, babies die don’t they, proving Paul correct, Rom 6:23. And then there is Ps 51:5. Heaven must be filled with a lot of sinners, those babies who die without baptism. He was told baptism doesn’t save. So he’d point to 1Pe 3:21. Get around that one, he’d reply. That’s God talking. God says baptism saves now. They’d have to deny God was talking through Peter, thus sacrificing their own belief in the inerrancy of scripture, in order to deny that baptism doesn’t save now.

He’s not alone. Our students, either those of the school or those of the congregation find they must be prepared to defend their Baptism against the onslaughts of their neighbors and friends. This is Baptist Country. Inerrancy only goes so far in the mind of a Baptist. That’s because efficacy has no place in their thinking with regard to the Sacraments Christ instituted for their sakes.

Mohler is a great read, up only to a point. Kathy would agree to that, I am certain. But he’s to be read critically, with Lutheran sensibilities. We do this with the Fathers. We do read them not as is if we are idle-minded sponges. We read as if in dialogue with them, saying “Amen” here, and rejecting what is written there.

Mohler simply doesn’t mean inerrancy the same way we mean inerrancy. If he did, he would agree to baptismal regeneration, and Christ’s very real body and blood presence in the bread and wine at the Holy Supper. But then he’d be a Lutheran, not a Baptist, wouldn’t he?

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Bit More

There is another truly wonderful bit to pull from that icon of Adam I like so much.

Just as the Ancient of Days calls Adam to life with His breath of life and gives him a name and vocation, standing by his side as he fulfills it, so too the Ancient of Days calls us to life in Baptism. We then are all “Little Christs,” growing from His vine going about our vocations with Him beside and in us. We are remade in His image as God’s own sons (Eph 1:5; Col 3:10).

Wherever there is such faith and assurance of grace in Christ, you can also confidently conclude with regard to your vocation and works that these are pleasing to God and are true and good Christian fruits. Furthermore, such temporal and physical works as governing a land and people, managing a house, rearing and teaching children, serving, toiling, etc., also develop into fruit that endures unto life everlasting. Thus the holy patriarch Abraham and our holy ancestress Sarah will be commended and praised on Judgment Day for their marital life. Although the married estate will come to an end and be no more, as will all the life and activity of this world, yet this holy Sarah, and others with her, will receive their little crowns because they were pious spouses and mothers, not by reason of their works per se—for these had to cease—but because they did these works in faith. In like manner, the works of all Christians are performed to God’s everlasting pleasure; they will not be despised, as will those of non-Christians, but will have their eternal reward also in yonder life, because they are works done in Christ and grow from the Vine. (LW, 24, 220-221)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Adding Woman to the Narrative

One of my favorite icons depicts the Ancient of Days bringing Adam to life in the upper right portion, while Adam is naming the animals with God by his side in the lower, major portion of the work. The former work preceded the latter; God’s single work of breathing life into the clay that would become Adam is prior to Adam’s given work of naming the animals. Adam’s features are evocative of those of Christ’s own in other icons. This is to signify that Adam is God’s own son as Luke names him in Chapter 3 of his Gospel. 1Cor 15:45 makes the connection between Adam and the Last Adam. Christ took on Adam’s image for our sakes, as this icon makes clear for us to see. This is an icon of Adam before the fall, of Adam in his purest state. It is not a depiction of Adam when God declared that all was “Very good.”

For that a woman was required. And for that Adam was put into a deep sleep. This icon demonstrates Christ as the Agent of Creation, taking the woman from Adam’s side as he sleeps. After this was accomplished, God would say that His created world was “Very good,” and rest.

Now, feminists are not happy with this tale and even accuse Christianity of “not touching” the woman’s side of the story in this. In the first, Adam not only names the animals, he also, after the fall, names his wife. In their eyes, this reduces the woman to the same status as the animals because she isn’t allowed to choose her own name—ignoring the fact that Adam didn’t choose his own name either. That name was given him by God. The headship progression is already established: God names Adam, husband names wife. It’s Trinitarian. Jesus’ Head is His Father (as is demonstrated abundantly by the Gospel John; the husband’s head is Christ; the wife’s head is her husband. Paul lays this out for us in Ephesians 5:

23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Even Peter, speaking to the baptized, gives witness to this when he writes of Sarah.

1 Peter 3:5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

However, 1 Corinthians 11:4 makes the case the clearest, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”

When we speak of the work of God’s creating and of either man’s or woman’s part in it, we are also speaking of the work of the Trinity behind them. Therefore, when we speak of Creation prior to the fall, we may also look at God’s work as a view of paradise. There is no reason to call anything God does in His act of creation either on His own or through His agent, the man Adam, as evil, inappropriate or improper. What God calls “Good” and “Very good” is beyond our standards of those labels.

Far from never examining the role of the woman in this narrative (as Aileen Kraditor claims), the church went forward from the time of the fall and built herself around the story of Eve. It was the woman who was deceived in the fall (Ge 3:13). Yet, it was upon Adam, as head of the race, that the burden for the sin fell. This did not relieve the woman of her sin. Adam, as the first of all mankind, pointed to Christ, who would bear his image to rescue all of mankind in by taking on all mankind's sin in His flesh. He would not be deceived as the woman was. He would protect His wife, as Adam ought to have done (Mt 4; Mk 1).

Having been found in sin, Adam blamed God for “the woman whom you gave to be with me” (Ge 3:12). As for the woman, the serpent was to blame. She was deceived into not being able to keep to God’s word. Now, an easy solution would have been to place each in a hemisphere and let them go their separate ways. The world was large enough. Adam was essentially asking for separation from the woman anyway. It was her fault, and none of his own. He wanted out. The woman might have agreed.

God would have none of it. Married they were, married they’d remain. Their lives would be hard, but He gave them hope. He gave them a promise. One day His own Son would be born, and that One would crush the head of the serpent, their enemy (Ge 3:15). It is at that time Adam names his wife Eve, Mother of all living. This is a play on words. Sin has not taken everything from them. They will still have the blessing of children. Not only that, one of those children will save them from their sins. Eve is the prototype of the Church, even taken from her husband’s side while he slept.

That Adam and Eve trusted in God’s Promise is indicated by the fact that they came together as husband and wife. Eve rejoiced in the birth of her firstborn, even thinking he was the Promised One, exclaiming (as the Hebrew makes clearer), “I have gotten a man, the Lord!” (Ge 4:1). It wouldn’t take long before Adam and Eve knew that Cain was not the Promised One. One of the remarkable things of Ge 5 is the constant refrain “and he died,” reinforcing the fact Paul makes clear in Ro 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.”

Eve, the Mother of all Living, is the mother of Mary, who bore the Second Adam, the Son of God. The Second Adam is the sinless Son of God, just as Adam, the created son of God was sinless before he fell in the Garden. However, the Son Mary bore was not created, but existed from eternity, conceived of the Holy Spirit, not by any human father. The God of Creation becomes our Father also when the Second Person of the Trinity takes on human flesh and becomes a Son whose sole purpose is to take on our sins and lead us back to His Father as sons (Jo 14:6). This is the Son of Mary’s womb, the one before whom John leapt inside his own mother’s womb.

Eve is the prototype, the foreshadow, of the church. Mary, as the Theotokos, is the Christbearer, the type. In Mary we see Christ within her, just as Christ is within the church. It is in the womb of the church that Christians are born by water and Word, and sustained by Christ's own Body and Blood in the bread and wine and the Word He serves us through His agents through preaching and Absolution. We can speak of Mary in a way that is healthy, without it becoming Mariolatry, and we should. Tying the threads of scripture unites the One Voice by which it was written. Eve leads to Mary, and there are a lot of women along the path that serve as a part of the story, too.

Far from women being the neglected or untouchable as feminists are wont to claim, God knew that Man needed a helper. His creation was incomplete without a woman. God built one for Adam in the Garden while he slept. While Christ, the WOrd of God, slept a tomb in another garden, the Church was being built from the blood and water that flowed from His side. The Christbearer, as the one who bore the Last Adam into the world, makes that proclamation of “Very good” ring even more joyfully now. The angels sang it so when Jesus was born, “Peace on earth, good will to men!” It is so even now when the chosen agents of Christ speak His word of Peace to us in the liturgy from the womb that is the church where Christ is present in His Word and Sacraments.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Honesty in Choices

Many thanks to my good friend the Rev. Mark Schlamann for alerting me to this blog posting. My position has long been “return to the source,” and here is a prime example of why this should always be done in the case of feminism.

In his blog article Albert Mohler identifies the problem as this, according to Antonia Senior:

If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too." That statement, published for all the world to see, perfectly distills the inescapable logic of the abortion rights argument. It is based on a willingness to kill - and on the horrifying audacity to call this killing "the lesser evil."

Feminists for Life make a brave front in their contention for both feminism and pro-life issues. They will even boast Elizabeth Cady Stanton as their hero, claiming she was staunchly against abortion. That she was against abortion and for feminism may be true. But there is a greater dichotomy undergirding Stanton’s position that eventually leads to where Antonia Senor goes, that of sacrificing the Greater Good for the lesser good.

I am not saying that those who are of the FFL would all (or any) agree with Antonia Senior. What I am saying is that feminism shares a common root with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and that root bears both a vine and branches which are connected. That there could be similar ideas from both is not beyond the bounds of coincidence. Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked to destroy the very foundation of motherhood in women's lives. With what has it been replaced? What does the world now catechize its women with regard to the sanctity of life and choices?

In other words, one evil is accommodated by another, so one must choose which evil should be in support of the other. It's application is seen in all walks of our life, whether one is pro-choice or against abortion. However, there is truly only one way to walk in this life, truly, and that is catechetically. But we will get to that later.

Senior, even though she admits the contents of the womb is a child from the point of conception, is willing to kill for her cause, feminism. She is a mother, and still supports abortion rights. Mohler contends,

In this essay, published in one of the world's most venerable newspapers, Antonia Senior goes public with the argument that feminists should just admit that abortion is the killing of a human life, and then they should go on to assert that the right to kill an unborn human life is just the price that must be paid if feminism is to be defended.

Well, how did we get to this point, and so casually that the world didn’t explode with such news?

Elizabeth Cady Stanton saw her life’s work as the removal of scripture from women’s hands and the dependence of religion from their lives. She wrote in “The Degraded State of Women, 1896:”

I have endeavoured to dissipate these religious superstitions from the minds of women, and base their faith on science and reason, where I found for myself at last peace and comfort I could never find in the Bible and the church. I saw the first step to this was to convince them that the Bible was neither written nor inspired by the Creator of the Universe, the Infinite intelligence, the soul and center of Life, Love and Light; but that the Bible emanated, in common with all church literature, from the brain of man. Seeing in just proportion as women are devout believers in the dogmas of the church their lives arte shadowed with fears of the unknown, the less women believe, the better for their own happiness and development. . .

The honor and worship accorded the ideal mother, if the ideal man, has done naught to elevate the real mother of the real man. So far from woman owing what liberty she does enjoy, to the Bible and the church, they have been a greater blocking the way of her development. The vantage ground woman holds today is due to all the forces of civilization, to science, discovery, invention, rationalism, the religion of humanity chanted in the golden rule round the globe centuries before the Christian religion was known. It is not to Bibles, prayer books catechisms, liturgies, the canon law and church creeds and organizations, that woman owes one step in her progress, for all these alike have been hostile, and still are, to her freedom and development. . .

In her own efforts to teach, Stanton stepped up to the dinner plate.

I often saw weary little women coming to the table after most exhausting labors, and large bumptious husbands spreading out their hands and thanking the Lord for the meals that the dear women had prepared, as if the whole came down like manna from heaven. So I preached a sermon in the blessing I gave. You will not notice that it has three heresies in it: ‘Heavenly Father and Mother, make us thankful for all the blessings of this life, and make us ever mindful of the patient hands that oft in weariness spread our tables and prepare our daily food For humanity’s sake. Amen.” (Lutz, Created Equal, 201)

Such words are not unfamiliar to our ears, for they are the very words of feminist or inclusive prayers heard in many churches in our communities.

The language of choice rings well in our ears and throughout the land. We can’t get away from it. It is in our nature. Stanton was calling us back to it. Feminism thrives from that nature, clings to it. It is why Antionia Senior can hold on to two opposing dichotomies and yet be satisfied. She has her choices; her primal nature is being fed.

Scripture-less catechesis, as Stanton has already informed us, is one of those things of which we must rid our lives. The irony, of course, is that she set in motion her own form of catechesis. Consider this insight by Ravi Zacharias, “The establishment of new orthodoxies by the intellectual elite and the dismantling of others is not as formidable a task when the desired change propelled by scholars appeals to the common person’s autonomy while enthroning the elite at the same time.” (Deliver Us From Evil, 45). Granted, Stanton was no elite scholar. However, by systematically undermining the authority of scripture in the view of women, Stanton catechized women with a whole new set of ethics by which to live. There are no absolutes.

The “Woman’s Bible” comes to the ordinary reader like a real benediction. It tells her the Lord did not write the Book; that the garden scene is a fable; that she is in no way responsible for the laws of the Universe. The Christian scholars and scientists will not tell her this, for they see she is the key to the situation. Take the snake, the fruit tree and the woman from the tableau, and we have no fall, no frowning Judge, no inferno, no everlasting punishment, —hence no need of a Savior. Thus the bottom falls out of the whole Christian theology. Here is the reason why in all the Biblical researches and higher criticism, the scholars never touch the position of the women. (Aileen S. Kraditor, Up From the Pedestal, 119)

In fact, it is the absolutes of the Scriptures that give us the foundation of Christianity, of which the woman plays a major role. Feminism recognizes this, and yet, in her demand for choice, rejects what her Savior gives. Choice was the offer of the serpent, see Ge 3.

Of course, The Women’s Bible is not alone in catechizing women in choice. Choice is the airwaves we breathe. We are inundated with information overload that rips us away from the sacred and into the profane. There is hardly a TV show, radio station, commercial, movie, magazine, or internet site that doesn’t have an overtly feminist theme to it. And by feminist, I mean overtly sexual, choice-oriented, OMG-driven, sexually-oriented. Our lives are constantly driven to choose between the Greater Good and the lesser things, and in fact justify our choices and entitlement to the lesser things over and against the Greater Gifts from God.

At how many tables would it be clearly understood that even through much fuss and bluster, even though the pizza was delivered or the chicken brought home, God is the Giver of the meal? Only through catechesis can these things come to light to our children and ourselves.

The July, 2010, issue of For the Life of the World featured articles by Rev. John Pless, What does This Mean? Pastoral Forman: Thoughts About the Future), and Re. Brian Mosemann, (Forming Servants into the Future). Both articles were directed toward the formation of pastors. However, much insight can be gathered for a much younger set, and another sex.

This age seems to have adopted the Simone de Beauvoir ideology of childrearing: bear the child, and then outsource the raising. Underlying this system is the fact that the child will necessarily adopt the core values of his or her caregivers. If he or she goes through multiple caregivers, then he or she will have a multiplicity of catechetical choices already formed by the time he or she is ready for school (usually public), another major catechetical factory. It is rare today to find a child of seven who knows his Catechism as well as his ABCs, and yet, as the Jesuits would say, “Give me a child for seven years and I will show you the man.” Sounds an awful lot like Pr 22: 6.

Luther would have had it so.

These are the most necessary parts of Christian instruction. We should learn to repeat them word for word. Our children should be taught the habit of reciting them daily when they rise in the morning, when they go to their meals, and they go to bed at night; until they repeat them they should not be given anything to eat or drink. (LC, Short Preface)

That is where Luther would have us start. Here is where he suggests one stops learning the Catechism:

But this I say for myself: I am also a doctor and a preacher, just as learned and experienced as all of them who are so high and mighty. Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the catechism—and I also do so gladly. These fussy, fastidious fellows would like quickly, with one reading, to be doctors above all doctors, to know it all and to need nothing more. Well this, too, is a sure sign that they despise both their office and the people’s souls, yes, even God and his Word. They do not need to fall, for they have already fallen all too horribly. What they need, however, is to become children and begin to learn the ABCs, which they think they have long since outgrown. (LC, P. 6)

The liturgical life of a seminarian can help to inform us how our own liturgical lives are meant to be. This is the liturgical life Stanton strove so hard to and, with others, in many ways successfully ripped away from both women and men who are also now caught the feminism that rules our age. Mosemann writes:

From the chapel. . . out into their daily lives where they die to self and serve the Lord by loving their neighbor. This rhythm of being filled with the Lord’s grace and living in that grace toward others forms servants in Jesus Christ who

• are strengthened in the Lord’s forgiveness and daily prayer,
• daily meditate on Scripture,
• grow in charitable ways in character and behavior,
• learn to live by the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s prayer, which will sustain them in their service an
• develop a healthy balance among all aspects of life: prayer4, worship, study, service, family and relaxation. (FTLOTW, July, 2010, 13)

The life of the Christian ebbs and flows from the liturgy of the Divine Service itself. This is where Mother Church feeds her young, and men and women alike first learn what God's design for motherhood is.

So what does FFL offer us in response to the pro-choice movement? Motherhood, yes, but what sort? Motherhood shared with fatherhood? Or that which is also considered smashingly wonderful between two mommies? And what of the Motherhood that can be received only from the womb that is the Church through the waters of Baptism? Absent the very foundation of which motherhood is in God's eyes, the FFL sacrifices the Greater Good for the lesser, for it springs from the same root as does all feminism.

The lesser of two evils is still an evil. Luther says to “sin boldly,” but he does not by that invite us to sin. We therefore do not rejoice in sin as the support for one’s chosen cause! The Fifth Commandment in Senior’s hands is a mere plaything. The lesser evil, killing one’s own child, as she would call it, is permissible for the sake of the Greater Good, feminism. However, abortion strikes at the heart of the Incarnation, for every child conceived is yet a reminder of the Babe born of Mary. Satan’s head is still bruised by the heel of that One’s foot! Still, if all sin is removed, as it is for women in feminism, then of what need is there for a Savior? No sin, no Savior. Yet Jesus only came for sinners (Mt 9:13). What then of mercy? Mercy is known only by what God gives through Christ. Oh, dear. What a Catch-22 we have here.

What a lost race we are when we decide what is we are to be or not to be.