Wednesday, May 20, 2015

WELS Makes it Official: All WELS congregations shall use NIV2011

NIV 2011 and filthy lucre
If they intend to use the new hymnal, that is.

As pointed out by commenters earlier this week, in our post Washington Post Editorial: The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird., by Dr. Jackson late yesterday on his blog, Ichabod, the Glory has Departed, and to me personally by concerned WELS laymen, the WELS Hymnal Project has standardized the new WELS hymnal on the NIV 2011. The Spring 2015 Director’s Update of the WELS Hymnal Project, issued May 10, 2015, by Project Director Michael Schultz, states this directly in the section entitled “Scripture Committee (SC)” – a committee of the Project chaired by Rev. Jonathan Schroeder – in the following words:
    [T]he Scripture Committee drafted a translation rubric that was approved at the first meeting of the XC [“Translation Committee” – which is also the “Scripture Committee” according to this update] in September of 2013. Their rubric followed the eclectic choice method which was approved at the 2013 synod convention. The primary working translation of the project is NIV2011, with NIV1984 serving as the backup choice where there are weaknesses or deficiencies that require changes. Since the time that resolution was approved, it has been established that NIV1984 won’t be available as a backup choice, so the committee will be bringing an updated recommendation for a backup translation... The SC reviewed all scripture references or strong scriptural allusions in the CW line of products (not including psalms). Of just under 200 instances, it identified four instances where it recommended replacing NIV2011 with NIV1984. Similarly, the PC has compared both of the NIV translations of all CW/NSS/CWOS/CWS psalmody, marking those places where changes may be necessary.
For those readers wondering what the term “eclectic” might possibly mean when applied to a Synod publication project, the statistic presented here, in Schultz’ Spring Update, ought to make that clear. Firstly, “eclectic” means either NIV2011 or NIV1984. Period. Recall, however, that the NIV2011 was touted by the Translation Evaluation Committee (TEC) – not to be confused with the Translation Committee (XC) mentioned in the Update – as being “92% identical to the NIV1984”; so, one has every right ask “How ‘eclectic’ is it, really, to limit oneself to these two choices?” (and for more helpful statistics on NIV2011 vs NIV1984, look at the Slowley and Dyer links under the ISSUES WITH NIV 2011 resources in the right hand column).

But secondly, “eclectic” apparently requires that, if the balance is cited entirely from NIV2011, only four out of 200 “scriptural allusions” contained in a Synod publication need to be cited from NIV1984. Let’s see... if only (4 ÷ 200) x 100 = 2% of all “scriptural allusions” come from a non-NIV2011 source, even the same non-NIV2011 source, well then, the “threshold of eclecticism” has been reached, and thus also full compliance with the resolutions of Synod in Convention. Yes. Two Percent is, without a doubt, manifest eclecticism according to WELS publishers... And it is very consistent with the “eclectic choice method which was approved at the 2013 Synod convention” – which turned out to be only the first step toward eliminating choices other than NIV2011 altogether. Literally. Five percent is the general threshold of statistical significance. Two percent, however, isn’t statistically significant at all. In fact, it might just as well be zero.

Thus, for those congregations choosing to use the new hymnal (apparently estimated at around 95% of WELS congregations, according to the Update), there will be no way to avoid using “Today’s” NIV2011 as a basis of their worship, even if they want to.

To be fair, the Update didn’t exactly say that only four verses would be sourced from NIV1984 instead of NIV2011, it said that of the 200 verses used in the current hymnal, NIV2011 did such an unacceptable job translating four of them, that, out of the gate, they recommended a different translation be used in those specific cases. They are apparently ambivalent about the rest, so, perhaps, of the remaining 196 verses, maybe they will cite 50% from NIV1984 and 50% from NIV2011. Again, given that NIV1984 and NIV2011 are “92% identical,” how eclectic would a 50/50 split be, in reality?

Missional Hymnal
The Missional Hymnal.
It's already been done...
The Update also said that these numbers only accounted for “scriptural allusions” in the hymnal, and specifically excluded the Psalter. Now, this is something worth salivating over. Perhaps they are actively debating the return of the greatest poetry ever published in the English language to contemporary Lutheran hymnals? Perhaps they will shock the Lutheran world by actually rendering the Psalms in the memorable cadences and phraseology of the mighty King James Version? Now THAT would be eclectic, would it not? Perhaps... But, alas!, it shall never be. The Update, under the section entitled “Psalmody Committee (PC),” indicates that NIV1984 and NIV2011 are the only two versions they are inclined to consider for the Psalter:
    [T]his review has included looking at all the differences between NIV2011 and NIV1984. Beyond that, the thinking of the Psalmody Committee has been shaped to the point that the members have come to a general consensus as far as their approach is concerned... The PC’s consensus is to [retain] the musically stronger refrains and tones and “[freshen] up” (tweaking or replacing) refrains and tones that have perhaps become tired or haven’t gained much traction.
At the same time, the Update, under the section entitled “Scripture Committee (SC),” suggests that a Psalter may not even be included with the new hymnal:
    Something that has not been determined is how much of the scriptures will actually be published in connection with the hymnal project. If a complete Psalter is published... then all the psalms would be in play.
Finally, it should be noted (again, according to the Update), the publication of the new WELS hymnal is planned to roughly coincide with the 500th Anniversary of the first Lutheran hymnal ever published – a collection of eight hymns, canticles and a Psalm, four of them by Luther – as some sort of commemoration, one would suppose. A hymnal based on a gender-inclusive post-Modern translation of the Bible that cannot be quoted throughout because of its apparent deficiencies. A hymnal that may or may not include a Psalter. A hymnal that will include who knows what else... I guess the Lutheran world will just have to wait and see.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Washington Post Editorial: “The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird.”

Lutheran Sacraments

On April 30, 2015, the Washington Post published an editorial by Episcopalian blogger and author, Rachel Held Evans, entitled Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’ This editorial points to mounting evidence of what should have been predicted by Lutherans all along, who — already knowing that the Holy Spirit works only by His appointed Means (i.e., the “Means of Grace,” the “Gospel in Word and Sacrament”), calling, gathering and enlightening His elect, and through these Means also keeps them in the faith — should have known that the Holy Spirit does NOT work by means of the false doctrines and false practices of the Church Growth Movement (CGM); thus it is no wonder that $500 billion of investment in the manipulative gimmicks of CGM, over the course of a full generation, have produced no evidence of His working, especially in terms of the one thing so ardently sought by those who practice them: numerical growth in the Christian church. Instead, among Millennials, “a solid quarter claim no religious affiliation at all, making [Millennials] more disconnected from faith than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their lives and twice as detached as baby boomers were as young adults.”

The author of this editorial cites, in a few paragraphs, recent statistics and compelling thoughts and quotations, no doubt drawn from and expounded upon in her recent book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, which forcefully suggest that, far from drawing people to the Church, CGM is actually driving them away from the Church. Using the same recent statistics, along with elements of her own story of leaving and returning to the Church (and those of others), the author further points out that, if Church practice is any aspect of drawing the unchurched, especially Millennials, into the Church, then “what works” is simply what the Church has been doing for the past 2000 years: “What finally brought me back... was the sacraments... you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the Church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained...”

Some excerpts from this editorial follow. Headings and emphasis are all mine. Hyper-links appeared in the editorial. Readers are encouraged to read the editorial in full. Noticing, of course, how some of the political concerns of the author may have colored her judgment and influenced her choice to join the Episcopalians, notice also how (in the editorial, at least) this is separate from the influence of the sacraments.

[NOTE: And I see now that Dr. Gene Veith has picked up on this article today (5/4/2015), too: Church growth tactics don’t work with Millennials. And again, today (5/5/2015): “The sacraments are what make the church relevant”.]

Disillusionment continues to Skyrocket, Church Growth Gimmickry continues to Fail...
“Church attendance has plummeted among young adults. In the United States, 59 percent of people ages 18 to 29 with a Christian background have, at some point, dropped out. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, among those of us who came of age around the year 2000, a solid quarter claim no religious affiliation at all, making my generation significantly more disconnected from faith than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their lives and twice as detached as baby boomers were as young adults.

“In response, many churches have sought to lure millennials back by focusing on style points: cooler bands, hipper worship, edgier programming, impressive technology. Yet while these aren’t inherently bad ideas and might in some cases be effective, they are not the key to drawing millennials back to God in a lasting and meaningful way. Young people don’t simply want a better show. And trying to be cool might be making things worse... [A]ttendance among young people remains flat.”

Are Millenials leaving the Church because of Church Growth Gimmickry?
“Recent research from Barna Group and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that 67 percent of millennials prefer a ‘classic’ church over a ‘trendy’ one, and 77 percent would choose a ‘sanctuary’ over an ‘auditorium.’ While we have yet to warm to the word ‘traditional’ (only 40 percent favor it over ‘modern’), millennials exhibit an increasing aversion to exclusive, closed-minded religious communities masquerading as the hip new places in town. For a generation bombarded with advertising and sales pitches, and for whom the charge of ‘inauthentic’ is as cutting an insult as any, church rebranding efforts can actually backfire, especially when young people sense that there is more emphasis on marketing Jesus than actually following Him. Millennials ‘are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion,’ argues David Kinnaman, who interviewed hundreds of them for Barna Group and compiled his research in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church... and Rethinking Faith...”

Insightful Quotations from Millennials
“I want a service that is not sensational, flashy, or particularly ‘relevant.’ I can be entertained anywhere. At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community...” (friend of author and blogger, Amy Peterson)

“When a church tells me how I should feel (‘Clap if you’re excited about Jesus!’), it smacks of inauthenticity. Sometimes I don’t feel like clapping. Sometimes I need to worship in the midst of my brokenness and confusion — not in spite of it and certainly not in denial of it.” (millennial blogger, Ben Irwin)

“When I left church at age 29, full of doubt and disillusionment, I wasn’t looking for a better-produced Christianity. I was looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity... I felt lonely in my doubts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fog machines and light shows at those slick evangelical conferences didn’t make things better for me. They made the whole endeavor feel shallow, forced and fake.” (the author, Rachel Held Evans)

Church Growth Gimmickry: Announcing to Prospects that you Think they are Shallow.
“While no two faith stories are exactly the same, I’m not the only millennial whose faith couldn’t be saved by lacquering on a hipper veneer. According to Barna Group, among young people who don’t go to church, 87 percent say they see Christians as judgmental, and 85 percent see them as hypocritical. A similar study found that ‘only 8% say they don’t attend because church is “out of date,” undercutting the notion that all churches need to do for Millennials is to make worship “cooler”’... Our reasons for leaving have less to do with style and image and more to do with substantive questions about life, faith and community. We’re not as shallow as you might think.”

What “works” now is what has always “worked”: Authentic Christianity
“If young people are looking for congregations that authentically practice the teachings of Jesus in an open and inclusive way, then the good news is the church already knows how to do that. The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird.

“[C]hurch is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality... [C]hurch is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve... [C]hurch is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water... [O]nly the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.

What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.

“Church attendance may be dipping, but God can survive the Internet age. After all, He knows a thing or two about resurrection.”

Friday, April 3, 2015

What do you do with a Certified Letter? Here is one idea...

Certified Letter to Faith Church
Certified Letter to Faith Church
The following letter was sent, Certified Mail, in response to the receipt of a Certified Letter from a Lutheran Congregation. While such letters are an official way for a congregation to terminate relationships with individuals and families they are releasing from membership, and an entirely appropriate form of rebuke when an estranged member cuts himself off from the congregation and refuses to respond to their overtures of evangelical concern, they are nothing but a callous expedient for the congregation which makes no attempt whatsoever to reach out to its members (who up to that point were supposedly considered their brothers/sisters in Christ) or to otherwise contact the intended recipient ahead of time to determine with certainty what their situation is; thus, such Certified Letters belie the congregation’s evangelical confession. That is what happened to the family, below. So perturbed were they with this callous expedient, that they returned the Certified Letter, unopened, along with a personally handwritten letter of their own that extended nine full pages of legal-sized paper. They had much to say, which they found important enough to deliver to their former congregation via Certified Mail. It is worth reading. As many readers may find it difficult to read human handwriting, rather than posting images of the handwritten letter, it has been transcribed, below (edited, of course, for public consumption).

1234 Anystreet Road
Nowhere, WI 54000

Faith Church
5678 Anyotherstreet Road
Next to Nowhere, WI 54000

To Whom It May Concern:

We received a piece of certified mail from you, postmarked March 11, 2015. We are returning it to you, unopened. We have very little interest in hearing what you may have to say in such a letter, that you could not preface with a demonstration of evangelical concern, or even basic courtesy, by making a simple phone call or sending an email. But, to be honest, it would have been difficult for us to imagine that you would have done otherwise.

At one point in time we were considered by the members of Faith Church to be Christian brothers. At least, we are pretty sure that we were. Feeling welcomed when we first joined, we were immediately drawn by them into the ministry of the congregation and put to work, and labouring closely with them, had established what we had considered to be close and meaningful relationships. This all came to an end after nearly seven years, when, in mid-2007, without explanation, we were shunned by the congregation. It was difficult to discern precisely, at first, as Mr. Lxxxxx was heavily involved with Church leadership, and was in constant communication with many of those who are now counted as our former friends. But by the end of 2007, his final year in any leadership capacity at Faith Church, it had become clear that the only communication being initiated by those “friends” was strictly related to church business. Beginning in 2008, the reality was unmistakable. Not just a few people, but everyone, including the Pastor, remained mysteriously aloof. He waited week after week for his friends to initiate with him some form of personal conversation. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years. Nothing. All the while, the women of the congregation pretended to carry on as normal with Mrs. Lxxxxx, but she saw very clearly what was going on, and refusing to be socially separated by them from her husband, remained by his side. She was quickly disfavored, as well. By the time Pastor Sxxxxxxxx passed away in 2009, those former friendships were regarded by us as completely severed. As the years continued to pass, however, we once again began to enjoy some social involvement in the congregation, as other marginalized members of Faith Church recognized our situation and reached out to us in various ways. We also enjoyed conversation with new members, who had not yet been fully received into the labours of the congregation.

Accordingly, Mr. Lxxxxx’s last face-to-face meeting with the Rev. Wxxxx was unfortunate, but predictable. Having had to travel for work, he was unable to attend the October 2013 Voters’ Meeting, but discovered some weeks afterward – quite by accident – that there was some concern regarding the issue of Bible translations, and that the Board of Elders had been asked by the congregation to look into it. There was no hint that this was intended as any kind of formal investigation. Nevertheless, having himself been rather notoriously engaged in research and writing on the topic, he forwarded to the Rev. Wxxxx a number of articles and resources for the Board to consider. When, at the following Voters’ Meeting in January 2014, Mr. Lxxxxx was surprised to see that the issue of Bible translations was on the agenda, he enquired of the Rev. Wxxxx regarding the nature of the Elders’ report – as he was again unable to to attend due to business travel. He was stunned to learn that the Elders would not only be reporting their findings, but would move to officially adopt the NIV 2011. “Did the Board study any of the documents I forwarded to you, for them to consider?” he asked the Reverend.
    “What documents?” was the reply.

    Mr. Lxxxxx, realizing that he had been marginalized yet again, then clarified, “The documents and links I sent to you in an email not long ago.”

    “Oh,” then after a long pause, “No. We only considered the documentation provided by Synod.”

    “But that documentation was biased in favor of a single conclusion!”

    “Yes, I know it was biased. It was biased on its face. But I don’t know why it was biased...”
Now incredulous, Mr. Lxxxxx proceeded to make clear, in sharp and conclusive terms, that he would allow neither himself nor his family to knowingly sit under teaching that proceeded from a document descending directly from post-Modern philosophies known to be perverting human language, and, along with it, human thought patterns; a document which is nothing more than the translators’ paraphrasing of the original languages (paraphrasing which is further edited downstream in the publication process by “readability committees”); a document which deliberately twists thousands of words of Scripture in ways that purposely accommodates liberal theology (feminism, in particular); and a document which, rather than clarifying the Scriptures for English readers, ultimately obscures their meaning by intentionally gutting the Bible of significant vocabulary and grammatical forms found in the original languages – that do have English parallels, if translators care to take into consideration not just the limits of “conversational English,” but the full capacity of the English language to carry objective meaning – making it ever more difficult for the English reader to find and rely on “direct positive statements of Scripture,” and thus also statements that are, by definition, clear. Such translation ideologies gravely endanger the Perspicuity of Scripture in the name of making it accessible for the marginally literate English reader, they threaten to drive the laity of the Church ever deeper into a general illiteracy and intellectual incapacity such as was common in medieval times, and they certainly ought not be vaunted in Christ’s Church as the standard English form of Holy Writ in all teaching and publications.

Nevertheless, Faith Church proceeded to officially adopt the NIV 2011 as the congregation’s translation.

This was not the reason we left Faith Church and the WELS, however; it was merely the straw that broke the camels back.

A few months prior, we were warned by the Rev. Wxxxx to “prepare” our sixth grade boy, who had just entered Catechism, for a discussion of the Sixth Commandment. Finding it a bit ridiculous to rush him through “sex-ed” just to prepare him for Catechism class, we refused to go to such lengths, insisting that such matters need to be handled delicately with children his age, that discussion of sexual activity in any direct terms would be entirely out of bounds, and that there is very little basis for understanding the Sixth Commandment anyway, without a thorough positive grounding in biblical courtship and marriage – deviation from which would itself serve as a glaring example of something that is sinful.

Then we read the catechism that would be used by the Reverend to instruct our young boy, which was written by one Rev. David Kuske. In comparison with the catechism resources we afterward recommended he use instead for the Sixth Commandment lesson (Gausewitz or Koehler), Kuske goes into excessively lurid detail of sexual intercourse, including what kind of sex to have, when to have it, and how enjoyable it should be. The Rev. Wxxxx forcefully rejected use of the alternative resources we suggested (which were, in our opinion, better by orders of magnitude, without all of the direct sex-talk and associated imagery), and when we opted to keep our son home rather than attend his lesson, were indirectly criticized by him for our parenting decisions. In retrospect, given all of the sexual scandals in WELS that have been made public over the past year, and the many more that are roiling just under the surface, we wonder now whether Kuske’s catechism might have something to do with it – whether, in our over-sexed day and age, introducing direct sex-talk with sixth-grade boys and girls is a bit premature for these youngsters, and puts images in their minds that they might otherwise be inclined to struggle against, had their pastor not been the one who put them there using Synod materials that carry the approval of the Church. Given this, it is no wonder the current generation of WELS theologians prefers the NIV 2011’s use of the phrases “make love” (Ge. 4:1,17,25; 29:21,23,30; 38:2; Ru. 4:13; 1 Sa. 1:19; 2 Sa. 11:11; 12:24; 1 Ch. 2:21; 7:23; Is. 8:3; etc.) and “have sex” (Ge. 19:5; Jud. 19:22; 1 Co. 6:9) – phrases and imagery thought in previous generations to be far too indelicate to implant in the minds of pious Christians, who were probably also averse to using such terms for fear that they would indirectly reinforce immoral standards cherished by the world and ignite fleshly desires, against which Christians already struggle.

About a month after Mr. Lxxxxx’s final face-to-face conversation with the Rev. Wxxxx, he was called by the Reverend on the telephone. Mr. Lxxxxx made clear that he meant what he had said in January, and that we were looking for another congregation. He told him that we were, at that time, investigating other WELS congregations, along with LCMS congregations. The Reverend assured him that we remained members in good standing, that if we found a suitable WELS congregation he would be glad to transfer us, and if not, then we would be simply released from membership. We never heard from him again. In all of this time, we were contacted by no one from the congregation out of evangelical concern, or even curiosity, over our extended absence, save one person. We received from the congregation what we had come to expect since 2008: near deafening silence.

We quickly found that there were no suitable WELS congregations within reasonable traveling distance. In the end, we found that among those WELS congregations which seemed intent upon demonstrating their Confession through a wholesome liturgical practice, seemed uncorrupted by ambitions of glory, seemed unwilling to give place to worldly entertainment standards in their worship chambers, seemed confident in the Holy Spirit’s work through the Means of Grace to Call, Gather and Enlighten His Elect, and seemed content to allow Him to work in His way, through His Means, in His time, unaugmented by their own innovations, Faith Church was to be most commended in regard to its NIV 2011 deliberations: where Faith Church actually had the courage to at least publicly identify “Bible translation” as an issue, and to go through the motions of publicly addressing that issue (although, with a predetermined outcome, given that a single source of admittedly biased materials was all that they consulted), all of the other WELS congregations we visited simply started using the NIV 2011 without discussion, without the people even knowing it – when we asked, we learned that the new Bibles just showed up in the pews one Sunday, and no one knew the difference. We could not abide such cowardice.

Of all the other options in our area, there was one ELS congregation and two LCMS congregations that were in many ways very suitable. But we ultimately decided that we were unwilling to dance around the issue of Universal Justification, merely for the convenience of attending those congregations.

Universal Justification” is the teaching espoused by name in the WELS, and with one name or another by ELS and LCMS, as the centerpiece of Christian teaching – the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls. It asserts that all mankind, including every individual, is righteous before God, and forgiven of his sins, whether he has faith or not. The natural, and fully accepted and confessed, consequence of this teaching is that those who die without faith, though they are righteous and forgiven by God, nevertheless spend an eternity barking in hell – not as punishment for their sins (since no one bears sin before God under the teaching of Universal Justification), but merely for their lack of faith. Thus they are willing to accept the teaching that righteous and forgiven saints spend an eternity in hell. The doctrine of Universal Justification, however, is nowhere named, described, or articulated in the Scriptures. It is a purely derived doctrine, without a single word of direct positive attestation in the entirety of Holy Writ.

In all, however, according to the Rev. Dr. Siegbert Becker in his essay Universal Justification, there are a total of three distinct doctrines of Justification taught by WELS. The first is Universal Justification. The second distinct doctrine of Justification, which is merely a corollary of Universal Justification, is “Objective Justification.” It teaches that God, and not man, is entirely responsible for man’s Justification. Such a teaching is not peculiar to WELS, or to Lutherans for that matter; for even the Calvinists do not deny that Justification is objective in this sense. However, WELS, ELS and LCMS seem to assert that Objective Justification also defines “faith” as “man’s work”, and therefore insist that claiming Justification comes by faith is thus to assert a doctrine of synergism. Normally, Universal and Objective Justification are conflated by them, and referred to as “Universal Objective Justification,” but, Becker makes clear, they are, in fact, distinct doctrines, with Objective Justification merely a happy consequence of Universal Justification.

The third distinct doctrine of Justification espoused by the old Synodical Conference Lutherans is so-called “Subjective Justification” – the only doctrine of Justification spoken of and articulated in the Scriptures, and the doctrine identified in the Lutheran Confessions as the main doctrine of Christianity. Except, the Scriptures don’t name it “Subjective Justification”; the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions refer to this doctrine interchangeably as “Justification” and “Justification by Faith Alone.” According to WELS, “Subjective Justification” is entirely superfluous. All of mankind is already righteous and forgiven before God (they say); Justification does NOT come though faith, since that is man’s work, and to suggest that faith is in any way the cause of Justification (even an “instrumental cause”, as it was defined by Leyser and Gerhard) only robs God of the glory He is due for the work He has already accomplished. Subjective Justification (they say), isn’t “Justification” at all, properly speaking – it’s merely “the reception of faith,” and with it merely “receiving the benefit” of the righteous and forgiven standing they, and all men, have had in the eyes of God since the time of Christ’s death and resurrection. Prior to faith (they say), all of mankind is already Justified – fully righteous and forgiven before God – but individuals are denied “enjoyment” of this Justification until God gives them faith.

According to the Bible and the Confessions, however, “Justification by Faith Alone” is the only doctrine of Justification that is taught; mankind (including every individual) is NOT already Justified before God, he is already Condemned; the unbeliever is NOT already righteous and forgiven before God, but stands before God in the filth of his own sin, in need of righteousness and forgiveness; this Justification was earned by Christ in His Passion, and is now offered to mankind in the Message of the Gospel, via which the Holy Spirit works to produce faith; and a person is said to be Justified when the promise of Salvation has been appropriated to himself through the faith God gives him, and not before.

Frankly, it was a shock to us to learn that WELS, ELS and (it seems) LCMS all believe, teach and confess a doctrine of Universal Justification. This fact was withheld from us during Bible Information Class (adult catechism). The fact is:
  • We reject the doctrine of Universal Justification as without a scintilla of Scriptural or Confessional support;
  • We reject as Scripturally unfounded and as entirely fallacious reasoning the assertion that Justification must be Universal in order for it to be objective, or to be accomplished entirely outside of man;
  • We, rather, fully embrace and confess the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone;
  • We, further, confess and insist that the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is the only doctrine of Justification taught by the Scriptures in direct positive terms, and that it is therefore the only Scripturally defensible doctrine of Justification that Christians may confess;
  • We fully reject the assertion that faith is in any way man’s work (the Scriptures directly forbid this notion), and we therefore reject the assertion that Justification by Faith Alone is a doctrine of synergism;
  • We reject the assertion that “Objective Justification” is a doctrine of Scripture which is taught in distinction from Justification by Faith Alone, and find it impermissible to define “Objective Justification” as any kind of justification at all;
  • We, rather, confess that the objectivity of Justification is a defining attribute of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, and insist that Justification by Faith Alone does, indeed, constitute a fully objective Justification – that is, our Justification is accomplished fully outside of us, without any merit or participation of our own in any sense;
  • We confess with confidence and rejoicing that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit;
  • We reject as flippant hyperbole the assertion that saving faith, under the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, is reduced to merely “a profound hope that man conjures within himself”;
  • We further confess in this regard, that it is fully biblical to speak of faith being active (i.e., receiving, appropriating, trusting, etc.), without it also being considered volitional and thus synergistic;
  • We recognize that the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is the only doctrine of Justification confessed in the Lutheran Confessions, and was the only doctrine of Justification directly named and taught by the orthodox Confessors and Concordists;
  • We further recognize that a form of Universal Justification was asserted by a heterodox member of the Wittenberg Faculty, a teacher whose doctrine was roundly condemned by his orthodox peers, and who was dismissed in 1595 for clinging to his false doctrine – for denying that Justification is restricted to believers;
  • We therefore reject as unfounded fiction and utterly preposterous all claims that Universal Justification is “implicitly taught in the Lutheran Confessions,” that it was understood, embraced and taught by the Confessors and Concordists without ever being named or articulated by them, and that it must therefore bind the consciences of any Christian today who would lay claim to an orthodox confession;
  • We recognize the introduction of Universal Justification and its corollary teachings in American Lutheranism, as a biblically indefensible innovation of the old Synodical Conference.

Putting the best construction on our experiences, and despite any appearances that might cause some to conclude otherwise, we assume, Faith Church, that you are, in fact, possessed of great evangelical concern over our plight, and though, over the course of a full year, you exerted no effort to find out from us directly, we also assume that you are nevertheless deeply interested to know how we fare today.

We have found a Lutheran congregation. It is a congregation affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (ELDoNA). Of this congregation, we are happy to say:
  • They are confessional – that is, they understand the dire need for a clear Christian confession in a sinful world where otherwise well-meaning believers, as victims of sin’s corruption, everywhere misunderstand and pervert the Scripture’s teaching;
  • They fully subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions, as articulated in the Christian Book of Concord, not insofar as they are a correct presentation and exposition of the pure doctrine of the Word of God, but boldly confessing before the world and other Christians, that they are so;

      in particular:

    • They positively reject the doctrine of Universal Justification, and instead, believe, teach and confess the single Scriptural and Confessional doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone – the very doctrine for which Luther and his fellow confessors struggled so mightily, risking their lives that it would be preserved to the Church for the eternal benefit of mankind;
    • They do not confuse laity with clergy – that is, laymen are NOT considered Ministers of the Word, and are NOT tasked with carrying out the functions of the pastoral Office;
    • They fully trust the Holy Spirit to work through His appointed Means, and being confident in the efficacy of those Means and content with His timing, do not feel compelled to augment His work with their own innovations;
    • Not merely mouthing the words of their confession, they endeavor to make manifest this confession, maintaining in the Divine Service a wholesome liturgical practice that unmistakably demonstrates Lutheran catholicity, rather than supplanting it with the obnoxious sectarian practices of pop-church evangelicalism.

  • They are conservative – that is, rather than dispose of their Lutheran birthright (which, in order to keep it, requires much honour, trust, patience and a keen awareness of the past) for an immediately satisfying bowl of sectarian and worldly porridge (which, if it satisfies at all, does so merely for the moment, soon afterward requiring the satiation of new and different cravings), they endeavor to carry into the future that great deposit of wisdom wrought of Christian experience over the millenia. Thus they endeavor to conserve the past, rather than discard it as quaint, passé and irrelevant in favor of the wisdom of the day;

      in particular:

    • They reject (as far as we can tell) the post-Modern philosophies of contemporary times, which represent a full frontal attack on the very morality of language itself, mightily threatening the Church, not by changing the words She confesses before the world, but by dramatically altering that Confession in place – altering the meaning of Her Confession by altering the structures of language employed to express it;
    • They have chosen to use and promote a wholesome translation of the Scriptures which not just theoretically, but manifestly honours the doctrine of inspiration, retaining in English as much as practicable, both the grammatical forms and the vocabulary found in the Greek and Hebrew originals, and which honours the tradition of English ecclesiastical thought and expression by maintaining continuity with the English translation Received by English speaking peoples over 400 years ago as the Bible in English, and that continues to this day as a dominant Bible translation preferred by English speakers;
    • They hold that it is wise practice for the Church to maintain a sharp distinction from the world in Her practice, including the use of terminology in their catechesis and during the Divine Service, which maintains a continuity with the past and which reinforces the “other worldly” reality of the believer’s citizenship in the Kingdom of Grace.
And to top it all off:
  • They – like Lutherans across the globe (in our experience) – are just plain nice folks.
Unfortunately, this congregation, being a two-hour drive for us, is not very conveniently located. We are not able to attend weekly, as we would like, but endeavor to attend at least twice monthly. When we are unable to attend, however, we do take time to worship as a family in our home, following a modified form of “The Order of Morning Service” from The Lutheran Hymnal (pg. 5), and reading from Luther’s Postils for the Sermon. This works very nicely.

If the truth be told, however, we started this practice of home worship years before finally leaving the WELS. We began to notice that there was a consistent dearth of Law in the preaching and teaching, not only of Faith Church, but in every WELS church we visited. The emphasis on the Gospel was so smothering that the Law, if present at all, was virtually indiscernible. While both of us had grown up within pop-church Evanglicalism and among confessing Pietists, were fully acquainted with the Law, and personally found Law-less Gospel preaching a sufficient (and welcome) balance to the smotheringly Gospel-less Law preaching we had been reared with, the impact on our children, who, over a decade had only become familiar with the Gospel, was unmistakably negative. Having literally no acquaintance with the Law, they failed to place any real significance on the Gospel, taking for granted that they were already forgiven and righteous regardless of what they do, as if they were entitled to it. The result was behaviour issues of various kinds, a general disregard for God’s Word, and a failure to respond to correction which was drawn from it. We appealed at various times to our WELS pastors for more Law in their preaching, so that there would be a more discernible balance between Law and Gospel, but when our requests were dismissed – sometimes with ridicule for being “lovers of the Law” – we realized that there would be no changing their nearly Law-less Gospel preaching. Mrs. Lxxxxx had finally grown so fed up with the fact that our children had not imbibed the Law in any significant way from our association with WELS, that she began taking them through the Book of Proverbs every month, and visiting with them other sections of the Bible that emphasize Law – like the Book of James. This had quite an impact. As the the older children would read the Proverbs, they would stop, read it again, gulp, and say things like, “Oh, boy...” They had no idea. At one point, Mrs. Lxxxxx even suggested, somewhat facetiously, that we leave Lutheranism entirely, and go back to Pietism, just so that our children could be acquainted with the Law through the teaching of the Church, and finally come to appreciate the Gospel. Needless to say, that is not what we did. Instead, we started reading Luther’s sermons for semi-regular family worship, in place of attending Faith Church every Sunday. Luther is very direct in his preaching of the Law, and equally so in his preaching of the Gospel, nearly every sermon being very well balanced between the two. It is unlike any preaching we had heard over the past four decades, including the last fifteen years of association with WELS. Acquaintance with the Law has helped with discipline in the home, too, and improved our family’s appreciation for the Gospel.

Finally – you may be interested to know – there is informal, though very serious, discussion of opening a Lutheran mission congregation in our area (River Falls, Hudson, New Richmond, Baldwin, etc.), of confessional and conservative character similar to the congregation in which we currently enjoy membership. The intent would be to use our family, and perhaps other interested individuals, to seed this mission. Efforts are underway, now, to investigate possible meeting places.

Ta Ta for Now,


Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Devotion and Prayer for Thanksgiving Day

Rev. Johann Friedrich Starck
Rev. Johann Friedrich Starck
successor to Philipp Jakob Spener – the “Father of Pietism” – in Frankfurt, DE (early 18th Century)
The following devotion and prayer was written by noted devotional author and poet, Rev. Johann Friedrich Starck, of Frankfurt am Mainz, in his mightily influential devotional work, Daily Handbook in Good and Evil Days, first published in 1728, here translated into English by Rev. Joseph A. Stump in 1904, from the posthumous and final edition of 1776. Starck was also a noted pietist, the successor of Philipp Jakob Spener (d. 1705) in Frankfurt, and evidently a preferred devotional author of Rev. Dr. Franz Pieper (LCMS): in 1900, Concordia Publishing House (CPH) – the publishing organ of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) – published a German edition of Starck’s devotional work that had been “Missouri-ized” by Pieper; and in 1921, Concordia subsequently published an English edition in two separate volumes, entitled, Starck’s Prayer-Book and Starck’s Motherhood Prayers. Both can be purchased today in a single volume from Emanuel Press as Stark’s Prayer-Book: Concordia Edition.

Regarding Stump’s translation, the translator of the 1921 Concordia Edition (W.H.T. Dau), had this to say in his Preface: “The translation is made from the German edition of Dr. Pieper of 1900. Comparison was possible to the translator only with the editions published by Kohler and the German Literary Board. Each of these editions has its distinct merit, the latter excelling by its faithful adherence to the original, its apt renderings, and happy paraphrases.” Regarding Starck, his Prayer-Book and Pieper’s endorsement of it, Dau comments further in his Preface, as follows:
    “Johann Friedrich Starck, a favorite author of evangelical Germany in the era of Pietism, has more than other writer of devotional literature maintained his hold on the hearts of practising (not merely professing!) Christians. Even Arnd’s True Christianity booksellers assert, does not equal the incluence which Starck still exerts on thousands of Christians by his Prayer-Book...

    Rev. Dr. Franz Pieper (LCMS)
    Rev. Dr. Franz Pieper (LCMS)
    published a German edition of Starck’s Prayer-Book for LCMS Lutherans
    “Starck’s predecessor in Frankfurt had been Spener, ‘the father of Pietism,’ and it fell on Starck’s lot to water what Spener had sowed. For thirty years he conducted ‘private’ devotional exercised on Sunday afternoons. These exercises, which were attended by a number of earnest souls, were private only in as far as they were distinct from the regular publis services at the church. At these exercised Starck endeavored to impress the evangelical truths of Christianity, the priceless privileges of the grace of Christ and the Christian ordinances, and the practical duties of a consistent Christian life on his individual hearerswith true pastoral tact...

    “Starck loved nothing sensational, nothing that was for mere display in matters of religion. Christian life, to him, was real and earnest, to be conducted in a sober mind... While he maintained the confessional position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and rejoiced to be a member of it, his teaching was tinged with the peculiarities of the Pietistic tendency... However, this defect occurs only occasionally, perhaps least in the Prayer-Book, and there are so many sections in Starck’s writings that are entirely free from error that Starck himself supplies the needed correction for his occasional deviations from the straight path of the sound doctrine.

    “When Dr. F. Pieper, years ago, examined the Prayer-Book with a view to applying, wherever needed, this self-correction of Starck, this was done with no sacrilegious hand, but really to secure for Starck a fuller reward of his faithful labors for a sincere and zealous Christian life. The revisor really helped Starck to speak his full Christian mind everywhere, and to discard what was of inferior value or even misleading in his presentation of Christian truths...”
Both Stump’s and Dau’s English editions included English hymns. I preferred neither that were included with the following devotion, so concluded it with my own selection from The Lutheran Hymnal.



Pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Phillipsburg, NJ

Burlington, Iowa
German Literary Board



For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal. Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness (Ho. 2:8-9).

IF there be a striking manifestation of God’s goodness which is apparent to all men, it is undoubtedly the annual harvest, when God, after having guarded the seed throughout the winter in the earth, having let it bloom and grow and bear fruit in the summer, and having warded off hail and damage by storm, fills barn and cellar with His blessings. But if there be a benefit of which the world makes light and for which it is least thankful to God, it is this very harvest. For ungrateful men imagine that it must be so; that according to the course of nature things must grow, and that God has nothing to do with it. For this reason God in just anger sometimes makes the harvest a failure, in order that all men may see that the ground cannot produce if He does not make it do so, and that nothing can grow without His blessing.

A Christian views the matter differently. When he beholds the full ears of grain, and the vines heavily laden with grapes, (1) he lifts his eyes to heaven, and praises the almighty Creator, Giver, and Preserver of these blessings, who from one grain has produced so many grains, and from an insignificant vine has brought forth such precious fruit. (2) He praises God’s Providence, which has sent the early and the latter rains in their seasons, warded off hurtful thunderstorms, drought, hail, and floods, and preserved the harvest. And when he now sees the grain harvested and hauled into the barn, and the grapes crushed in the wine-press, (3) he receives all these gifts with grateful heart and hands. (4) He uses them and enjoys them with thanksgiving. He acknowledges that God nourishes, sustains, and preserves him. (5) He lets the goodness of God lead him to repentance. If men are thankful to their fellow-men for the gift of clothing or food, and avoid offending their benefactors, why should not we give thanks to our greatest Benefactor, who gives us all things?


O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: and His mercy endureth for ever. Thus I say, O my God, now that I have seen another blessed harvest gathered. O gracious God, how great is Thy mercy to us! Thou hast laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed forever. And in this earth Thou hast laid Thy glorious treasures, and makest it bring forth the fruits which nourish and sustain us. Thou hast crowned this year abundantly with Thy goodness; and Thy paths drop fatness. Thou hast watered the hills from Thy chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Thy works. Thou hast caused the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that Thou mightest bring forth food out of the earth.

O faithful Father! Thou hast this year again bestowed upon us. Thy unthankful children, food and drink; Thou hast preserved the harvest. Heaven has heard the cry of the earth; and the earth has brought forth corn and wine. Thou hast given us the early and the latter rains in their seasons. And now our fields have bloomed and offered us the bounty with which Thy blessing covered them. Our trees have brought forth all manner of beautiful fruit, and the vine has made us glad. Loving God and Father, Thou hast spread the wings of Thy mercy over all the land: Thou hast let the sunshine ripen the crops, and hast protected them from hail and blight and drought and flood. When we slept. Thou didst wake; Thou wast Guardian and Keeper over our fields. O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches. All creatures, men and beasts, wait upon Thee, that Thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That Thou givest them, they gather; Thou openest Thine hand, they are filled with good.

Yes, abundantly indeed hast Thou, O God, blessed us this year with Thy gifts. And now we thank Thee from our inmost soul. O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. Let us enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Let us say with grateful heart: The Lord hath done great things for us; yea, the Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. O Lord, Lord, grant us grace not to misuse these gifts and benefits which Thou hast bestowed, but to learn from them to appreciate Thy love and faithfulness toward us. And if, O God, some unthankful souls should abuse Thy gifts by gluttony or intoxication, do not on that account withdraw Thy blessing from us, but preserve it unto us according to Thy mercy.

O Father, who hast loved us with an everlasting love, and who through these bodily blessings also hast drawn us with loving-kindness, desiring that in the gifts we may recognize the Giver, and in the benefits the Benefactor; grant, that Thy goodness may lead us to repentance, and that, whenever we see Thy gifts before us on the table or take them into our hands or mouth, we may lift up our eyes to Thee, the Fountain of all blessings. And as by these gifts Thou dost sustain our body, so let us be nourished and strengthened in the inward man, and increase in faith and love and holiness through the means of grace which Thou hast ordained; that we may grow in all goodness, and be changed from glory to glory, till at last we shall be admitted to the enjoyment of the heavenly blessings of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Amen.

    O Lord, whose bounteous hand again
         Hath poured Thy gifts in plenty down,
    Who all creation dost sustain
         And all the earth with goodness crown,
    Lord of the harvest, here we own
    Our joy to be Thy gift alone.

    Oh, may we ne’er with thankless heart
         Forget from whom our blessings flow!
    Still, Lord, Thy heav’nly grace impart;
         Still teach us what to Thee we owe.
    Lord, may our lives with fruit divine
    Return Thy care and prove us Thine.

    Lord, grant that we who so to Thee
         With joy in endless life may reap.
    Of ev’ry heart the Guardian be;
         By day and night Thy servants keep
    That all to Thee may joy afford
    On thy great harvest-day, O Lord.


    The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), #567
      Author: Unknown
      Text: Ps. 65:9
      Strassburg, 1541

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