Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Walking Together Sunday" - The Sermon

Below is a paragraph by paragraph summary of the Walking Together Sunday sermon (based on Revelation 14:6) that was sent out from synod office to all WELS pastors. It seemed wiser in the blog format to summarize the sermon, especially since the observations that follow are not meant to "nit-pick" every phrase and thought, but mainly to identify how Law and Gospel are used throughout the sermon. The Second Use of the Law is highlighted in green. The Gospel is highlighted in yellow. The Third Use of the Law is highlighted in blue. (N.B. – talking about Law and Gospel does not count as proclaiming Law and Gospel.)


  • North Carolina has a license plate that claims, “First in flight.”
  • Truly “first in flight” was the gospel, flying to hearts and minds throughout the world.
  • It looks like the gospel isn’t flying anymore. Is it?
  • John’s Revelation assures us that…
    • The Gospel Is Flying
      1. Through God’s People
      2. To All People

Part 1: The gospel is flying through God’s people.
  • The Wright brothers faced challenges when they invented flight.
  • The flight of the gospel faced bigger challenges in John’s Revelation – Satan himself, the secular government and false teachers.
  • John had a nightmare in which he saw the saints dying and the church in a terrible fight.
  • We are living John’s nightmare:
    1. Some missionaries are coming home for financial reasons,
    2. seminary graduates are not all receiving calls on assignment day,
    3. ”WELS membership statistics show slight declines.”
    • “If this isn’t living in a nightmare, I don’t know what is.”

A brief observation: The "nightmarish" vision cast above by the author of the sermon in this paragraph seems awfully contrived in the context of Revelation 14. When compared with the murder and imprisonment of the saints that the Apostle John witnessed, the political and social persecution of the Church and the demonic attacks on the Church's life and doctrine, the three examples mentioned by the author do not seem to have much to do with the "nightmare" John was referring to.

Is the Great Tribulation really to be understood as a slightly declining membership in a visible church organization?

  • But Jesus’ promise to John and us is: “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people.”
  • The word “gospel” is used only here in Revelation. It means that the angel had “good news to proclaim good news to those on earth.”
  • John is talking about the good news of salvation. For example, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” So God says about us in the gospel, “I have written your name in the book of life. I wrote your name in the book with the ink of my Son’s blood. Believe it. You’re mine.”
  • Who is the angel? Lutherans think of Luther, through whom the gospel soared.
  • The angel is more than just Luther. The gospel flies through all God’s people, like
    1. Ms. Betty talking to her class,
    2. the pastor who baptizes in New York City,
    3. professors at our synodical worker training schools.
  • The gospel flies as every single WELS man, woman and child witnesses in their lives, like
    1. Jimmy witnesses to Jamie in Hong Kong,
    2. Timmy studying the Bible with Johnny in Times Square,
    3. Matt praying with Sara in Montana,
    4. Pastor Bob explaining the gospel to Helen in Japan,
    5. Jane telling her friend that death for a Christian means eternal life.

So far, the Law has not been mentioned in any of its three uses. In explaining the term "gospel," the sermon does apply the gospel to the hearers briefly, as highlighted in yellow.

Part 2: The gospel is flying to all people.

  • (This paragraph given word for word) But let’s get personal for a second. Is the gospel flying through you? I am not talking about the person sitting next to you anymore. I am talking about you. Is the gospel flying through you? To find out, take a little quiz: #1) Do you always look for opportunities to witness to the love of Jesus to others? #2) In your personal budget, what receives the larger share: your offerings or your entertainment? Which number should be bigger? #3) When is the last time you brought someone brand new with you to church? #4) Have you done everything in your power to share the gospel? It is a question of honesty with yourself and God. If the gospel is not flying on all engines in your life, you have sinned against God.

This paragraph is the only Second Use of the Law in the sermon. In fact, as noted in the post regarding the WT Service, this is the only Second Use of the Law in the whole proposed service for WT Sunday.

But of the four "quiz" questions used to apply the Law's bitterness to the hearer, none of them come from the mouth of God, but instead, are arbitrary condemnations by the sermon writer himself.

#1 – If this were intended as a Third Use of the Law - to encourage God's people to always be looking for opportunities to witness, it would be fine. But as a Second Use, it's inappropriate. To "always look for opportunities to witness to the love of Jesus to others" is not one of the Commandments. To "always love your neighbor and be a good neighbor" – that's a commandment, and when it's broken, there is sin. To "never be ashamed of Jesus" – that's a commandment, and when it's broken, there is sin. But when it's phrased as in #1, it reduces a Christian's service to God to his opportunities to "witness." Never once did Jesus command his disciples to "always look for opportunities to witness." We are told to "make the most of every opportunity" (even then, in a Third Use context). There's a difference. God commands preachers to preach. That is their vocation. God commands his people to be faithful in their vocation and to love those around them, and even when they're not "looking" for opportunities, opportunities arise.

#2 – Which "number should be bigger"? A Christian's entertainment budget or his/her church offering budget? I don't know. God has never reduced this to an equation, even in the Old Testament. This is another manmade law. The Law condemns me for loving myself more than my neighbor and for not being generous toward God in proportion with what he has given me. The Law does not reduce this percentages of a budget. But what if I answer, "My offering budget is bigger!" Am I then to understand that I am righteous?

#3 – "When is the last time you brought someone brand new with you to church?" How sad that the sermon condemns God's people for something God's Word does not command. What about the member who has invited all his friends and relatives to come to church, and each one has refused? The way this "Law" is worded, that poor saint has failed in the sight of God. And what of those who are in no position to bring anyone to church? Or who have no unchurched friends or relatives? Have they sinned, too? Worse – if I answer, "I brought someone brand new with me just last week!", am I therefore righteous?

#4 – "Have you done everything in your power to share the gospel?" What an unscriptural guilt trip to send God's people on! How does one even know what's in one's power when it comes to sharing the gospel? When phrased this way, the Christian is under constant obligation to be "evangelizing" from dawn till dusk, and even afterwards, if it's "in his power" to stay awake a little later and continue fulfilling the "sharing the gospel" Law.
  • (This paragraph given word for word) Yet, see the trouble for what is it. We remain the redeemed of God. Our eternity remains secure. Our names are written in the book of life. Your sins are forgiven. So are your neighbor’s sins. Even more, God has made sure that angel after angel after angel has flown into your life to make sure you remain in Jesus. Our parents, our teachers, our pastors, and even our children are God’s messengers to us, proclaiming “Jesus has forgiven you for all your sins. Yes, he forgives you for the sins of timidity, fear, and selfishness.” He sends to you angels to personally speak the words of the gospel, just like he did for the shepherds. There were just a few shepherds in the field the night of Jesus’ birth, yet God thought, “It is worth it for me to send thousands of angels to proclaim peace on earth.” Your God loves you and comes to you through angels.

I classified this paragraph as Gospel, but parts of it are questionable. First, there is no call to repentance or mention of it (even though no sins have yet been identified, according to the Scriptures). The thought process goes: "You have sinned, but that sin doesn't harm you or your relationship with God, because your sins are already forgiven, so don't worry about it." This is not the proper application of the Gospel. Christ's atoning death on the cross and satisfaction for sin is mentioned nowhere.

Then it goes on to say, "So are your neighbor's sins." What does this mean? To whom is the Gospel being applied? If he means the person sitting next to me in church, for what purpose does he assure me that his sins are forgiven? If he means my atheist neighbor, then he's simply wrong. My atheist neighbor does not have the status of a forgiven child of God, for my atheist neighbor still rejects the Son of God and remains condemned in the devil's kingdom. If he wanted to say that Jesus died for my atheist neighbor and wants him to be saved, too, then he should have said that.

  • Now that you have the gospel, God makes you an angel so that the gospel may fly to many others – fly, not sleep or walk or stroll or sprint.
  • The angel in Revelation had good visibility, was flying “in midair” so that many people could see him.
  • How can we make it so that everyone hears the gospel? You make it happen because you’re part of a synod that makes it happen. We are “Walking Together,” or maybe it should be “Flying together.”
  • “Together in the Wisconsin Synod, the gospel really is flying to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” Example: Sure Foundation Lutheran Church.


  • Just as the Wright brothers faced many nay-sayers, we face Satan. But the gospel will prevail and it’s ours to proclaim. Let’s fly with it! Amen.

Once the Law paragraph and Gospel paragraph are out of the way, the rest of the sermon preaches neither Law nor Gospel, except for two short, guiding encouragements that "we are angels," so "Let's fly with the gospel!" The rest of this part is spent explaining how we are already carrying out God's will simply by being members of a synod that is practicing evangelism.

In summary, any sermon writer can have a bad day – many of them, in fact, in the course of his ministry. But this sermon was prepared, sent out and promoted by synod headquarters as a model sermon for pastors to emulate and even copy and paste portions into their own sermon (although I doubt any did). I don't know who authored the sermon. I doubt that the synod president saw it. But it must have had the opportunity to be reviewed by any number of pastors. If any sermon should reflect solid exegesis and bold, confessional Lutheran Law/Gospel proclamation, it ought to be one that's sponsored by the synod itself.

As with the service, maybe next year? Then again, maybe a sermon doesn't have to be written and sent out to pastors at all. We have been trained to prepare our own sermons for the people God has entrusted to us.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Walking Together Sunday" - The Service (Updated!)

The specially created Order of Service offered as a resource for the WELS Walking Together Sunday is outlined below. I’ve noted in parenthesis how Law and Gospel are used throughout the service.
  • Hymn: CW#556 – (Gospel, Law – 3rd Use)

  • Invocation (Gospel)

  • Opening Litany: Isaiah 60:1-6, read responsively (Gospel)

  • Confession and Absolution: Ps. 51:1-4 and 1 Pet. 2:9-10, read responsively (Gospel)

  • Hymn: CW#64 (Gospel)

  • Prayer of the Day

  • First Lesson: Daniel 7:13-14

  • Psalm of the Day: Psalm 67

  • Second Lesson: Revelation 14:6-7

  • Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

  • Hymn of the Day: CW#570 (vv. 1-2) (Law – 3rd Use)

  • WELS Connection Video

  • Hymn of the Day: CW#570 (vv. 3-4) (Law – 3rd Use)

  • Sermon: Revelation 14:6

  • Creed (not specified)

  • Offering

  • Responsive Prayer of the Church

  • Lord’s Prayer

  • Hymn: CW#394 (Gospel)

  • Responsive Prayer

  • Blessing (Gospel)

  • Hymn: CWS#778 (Law – 3rd Use)

Observation #1: The Use of Law and Gospel

As noted above, there are several proclamations of the Gospel in one form or another, and some proclamation of the 3rd Use of the Law (Guide) in some of the hymns.

The proposed service itself does not proclaim the Law in its Second Use (Mirror). This is not a criticism of the service, but a simple observation, the point of which will become clearer in the post on the sermon. A regular liturgical service doesn’t usually proclaim the Law in its Second Use, either, except at times in the Scripture readings for the day, or in an occasional hymn.

I’m not referring here to the result of the Second Use, that is, the contrition of the sinner or the sinner’s prayer of confession or supplication to God. I’m speaking only of the actual proclamation of the Law that "afflicts the comfortable," either from the pastor to the people or from the people to the people. Again, just an observation that will be clarified in the next post.

Observation #2: The “Confession and Absolution”

The “Confession” in this service consists in the congregation reading Psalm 51:1-4. That’s not a bad confession of sins, and it’s by far preferable to a “new” confession crafted for this particular day.

But the “Absolution” is not really an absolution. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). At best, it’s an indirect and impersonal absolution in which the pastor quotes a Scripture verse to the people, speaking to them as if he had applied the loosing Key, without actually applying the loosing Key. 1 Peter 2:9-10, in context, reminds Christians of what we are by faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. The Absolution is intended to be more than a reminder, but to actually apply Christ’s atoning sacrifice to us and give the forgiveness of sins to the penitent.

Observation #3: A Non-liturgical Service

A synod that wants itself to be known as a confessional Lutheran synod would do well to promote a service that retains at least the basic structure of the historic Lutheran (i.e., Christian) Liturgy, which the Lutheran Confessors retained and devoutly celebrated.

[Update! This paragraph has been added since the original post.] Part of being non-liturgical is setting aside the Church Year in order to preach on a topic of choice. The Gospel for the day in this order of service is the Epiphany Gospel, Matthew 2:1-12. This illustrates the point about swapping in "special service" readings for the regular Lectionary readings. The Church has known for centuries that the Festival of the Epiphany - January 6th - has a special "missions" emphasis. Why bring the Magi into the Proper of the Pentecost season three months before Christmas? Why insert this Gospel artificially in September when it fits into the Church Year so naturally three months from now? Speaking of the Proper...

One could say that the service includes a sort of Proper (in the hymns, prayers and Scripture lessons), but since it’s disjointed from the liturgical calendar, it’s a Proper without an anchor, and if having hymns, prayers and Scripture lessons qualified a service as liturgical, then practically any Christian denomination could be considered liturgical.

But the Liturgy includes more than this. It also includes the Ordinary. The Ordinary, however, is almost entirely missing from the WT service. Of the five historical parts of the Ordinary (the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Nicene Creed, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei), only the “Creed” remains, and since it’s not specified, the Apostolic Creed will likely be used in many cases, thus leaving none of the historic elements of the Ordinary.

This does not make the service “sinful.” But it does make it non-liturgical, together with the following observation…

Observation #4: Where is the Sacrament?!?

The Liturgy includes the Sacrament. This, to me, is the most glaring omission from the proposed service. We all know that most congregations in the WELS do not celebrate the Sacrament every Sunday. And no one is suggesting that the Synod ought to compel a congregation to celebrate the Sacrament on Walking Together Sunday.

But would it be too much to ask the Synod to at least encourage that a congregation include the Sacrament with the Word, or at very least offer an option for including the Sacrament in this “special service”?

Instead, the service suggests showing the WELS Connection Video between stanzas of the Hymn of the Day! This is not an improvement.

WELS president Mark Schroeder recently defined well what the essence of Lutheran worship is:
“Lutheran worship is primarily the proclamation of the gospel in Word and sacrament. As we gather together for worship, God speaks to us in his Word. Through the preaching of his law he crushes us with the stark and painful reminder of our own sin and unworthiness; he causes us to tremble at his holiness and justice; he speaks to us his urgent call to repentance. But in that same time of worship, a gracious God speaks to us words of full and free forgiveness. He points us to Christ and to the cross where his sacrifice paid the price of our sin, removed our guilt, and opened the door to heaven itself. In that same time of worship, we poor miserable sinners kneel side by side and receive the same body and blood that were given and shed for us. We commune with our God and with each other."

If only the Order of Service published by the WELS that promotes Walking Together Sunday in the WELS reflected the same Word-and-Sacrament emphasis that WELS President Schroeder describes! Wouldn't a service with Holy Communion reflect and inspire a much more real "Walking Together" with our brothers and sisters in the faith than any video ever could? United together as “one loaf” around the Lord’s Table, proclaiming together the Lord’s death until he comes, singing the ancient texts that the saints have been singing on their walk together for centuries, and giving thanks to God for the Gospel that he has graciously placed into our trembling hands in the WELS – wouldn’t that make for a truly “special service” on Walking Together Sunday?

Maybe next year?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Walking Together Sunday" - The Concept

In this month of September, congregations in the WELS were encouraged to pick a Sunday and celebrate “Walking Together Sunday,” aka “Synod Sunday.” This encouragement came mainly through the office of the Ministry of Christian Giving, though it was also featured in one of the biweekly “Together” e-mails that go out from our president. Packets of information were mailed to my congregation (and I assume every congregation), and resources were made available online for all pastors to use at their discretion. These resources included a Bible study, a one-time Order of Service with special readings to use in place of the regular Lectionary on that day, and also a complete sermon based on Revelation 14:6. Another option suggested in the materials was “to do a shortened regular service and end with a Walking Together emphasis that includes showing the video, praying the Prayer of the Church, singing a hymn, and referring members to the special offering opportunity highlighted in the brochure.”

I am fully in favor of promoting the work of our synod, and if a pastor chooses to take a Sunday and have a special emphasis on the synod that day, I have no problem with it. I don’t do it at my congregation, but that is my preference. I don’t see the wisdom in setting aside the Lectionary for this. The Lectionary has a balanced emphasis, which includes missions and the Church. Picking a random Sunday in September because there is a general “Pentecost theme of preaching the gospel across the world” seems to miss the point of the Lectionary.

Instead, at my congregation we promote the work of our synod by regularly praying for our missionaries, pastors, teachers and synodical leaders, and by sending in a generous percentage of our offerings to support the synod’s work, including special offerings like the “Jubilee” offering last year. I try to keep my members informed of the work that is being done and of special needs that arise, but I have found that the less I try to “sell” the work of the synod, the more interested they are in supporting it. People can recognize an advertisement when they see it, and frankly, they are tired of being the targets of mass marketing campaigns in our advertisement-laden culture.

Don’t get me wrong. Talking about the Lord’s work and the Lord’s kingdom and our place in it is not “advertising” per se. As a world missionary, I was asked to visit congregations and talk about our mission and the work the Lord was accomplishing there. I would encourage people to support our synod so that these missions could continue.

But even when a congregation asked, I would decline doing a slide show in the middle of the Divine Service, insisting instead on doing such presentations before or after the service, or at another time. And my “missionary” sermon was always a Law/Gospel, text-based sermon, with a few examples of how the Word and Sacraments were producing fruit in the foreign country to which I had been sent.

I recall once, after such a service, the pastor reprimanded me rather sternly, saying, “They can hear all that Law and Gospel stuff from me anytime. You were supposed to tell them what mission work is like in foreign countries. That’s what they came to church to hear about today.”

My mistake.

In any case, I’m not bashing the concept of a special “Missions” Sunday or of a “Walking Together Sunday.” Even if it wouldn’t be my preference, I can see it being a positive thing, depending on how it’s carried out. As I’ve said before, I think President Schroeder is doing an excellent job at promoting confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice in our synod, and I don’t fault him in the least for encouraging congregations to celebrate a WT Sunday.

Although I wasn’t planning on using them, I did peruse the resources being offered to our congregations this year. (I mean, a lot of time and money went into preparing, sending out and promoting them.) I found them to be – less than helpful. They may well be promoting our synodical “Walking Together,” but if we mean to be “walking together” as a confessional Lutheran synod, we can put forth better materials than these.

I won’t comment on the Bible study materials. They weren’t bad. In the next two posts, I’ll comment on the Order of Service and the Sermon that were provided.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"The New White-Wine Pietists," by Craig Parton

Given that we have been focusing over the past several weeks on the impact Pietism has on Lutheran practice and doctrine, we thought that the following essay would be helpful to our readers, as they digest the impact and consequences of Pietism in its modern forms, and begin to struggle with identifying and responding to it. The following article was originally published in 1997, and is reproduced below with the written permission of its original publisher, LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology, and its author, Mr Craig Parton.

The New White-Wine Pietists

THOUGH LACKING SCRIPTURAL SUPPORT for this, I contend that hell consists in some small part in viewing films with English subtitles. Babette’s Feast, however, is an exception — a must-see film for adherents of confessional orthodoxy. The film is set in Denmark in the nineteenth century. A bleak, windswept coastal fishing village is inhabited by the exceedingly bleaker remnants of a barely discernible historic Lutheran orthodoxy. The film begins with the village remnant already drinking fully from the founts of a crossless, mystical “Christian” pietism. Vestiges of a long-lost orthodoxy appear only in the names of two sisters within the remnant — Martina (after Luther) and Philipa (after Philip Melanchthon). Their papa had, apparently, some sense of the contribution of these Lutheran reformers. Any appreciation of theological orthodoxy is slim pickings indeed by the time of the arrival of the central figure of the film, Babette.

Babette is a haunting Christ figure. Her origins are obscure and not fully revealed until the film’s astounding conclusion. She brings gifts to the remnant at a level that these pietists cannot appreciate. In fact, at one point she is considered to be completely demonic. Babette, though, comes only to serve. Eventually (after over a decade of silent servanthood) she does make a “demand” — she requires that the villagers attend a Michelin Guide five-star feast. Babette’s gastronomical gift is presented in stark contrast to the frozen cod and lumpy porridge of these law-driven, gospel-starved people.


Having fully emasculated Lutheran orthodoxy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the pietism portrayed in Babette’s Feast took flight to America, where it found willing bedfellows.

Nary would a contemporary American pietist, however, ever recognize himself as one of the villagers in Babette’s Feast. But Martina and Philipa are alive and well in 1996. The new American Christian pietist of the ’90s is often a hip, white-winedrinking, Land-Rover-buying, laptop-computer-owning, kinda-MTV-watching, wannabe-generation-X member sired in the hottest evangelical temples. He may or may not have a ponytail and an earring — he definitely does have a testimony. The new white-wine pietists are big on “fellowship” and “accountability groups.” They may wear Ralph Lauren Polo shirts and loafers with no socks. They invite equally hip renegade Catholic priests and socially and politically liberal evangelicals to “fellowship” meetings and “ecumenical prayer breakfasts.”

Pietism is thus no longer championed by nerdy, pocket-penladen, Catholic-bashing, Louisiana Bayou Baptists who condemn dancing, drinking, smoking, and doing the Hoochy Coochy. The new white-wine pietists have few social hang-ups with alcohol, tobacco, or music. Pietism is cross-dressing in American Christian culture today in a way that would have been unthinkable to the pietists of twenty-five years ago. The new white-wine pietists are cotton-clad, jeep-owning preppies, football coaches of major powerhouses, Yuppies who know the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay, and political insiders who walk through the halls of Congress comfortably with the New York Times under their arms.

Thus the cultural and social package in which pietism dresses in the 1990s is often dramatically different from that which initially arose in reaction to the Reformation of the sixteenth century. But while the package is much different today, the theology of pietism remains, incredibly, unaltered. That manmade theology (what Luther called a theology of glory) was created by the first Adam while in rebellion in the garden and continues to this very day with its proclamation of the redeeming power of the law. Theologia gloria remains an enemy of the theologia crucis (theology of the cross). It must be vigilantly identified, scoped, and slain in every generation if our Lord is to find faith when he returns.

Thus the greatest threat to the church today is not from the ACLU, Martin Scorese, The New Age Movement, Gangsta Rap, Planned Parenthood, Time-Warner, Madonna, Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, or Hugh Hefner. The greatest threat is a crossless pietism that has been given luxury-box seating within the walls of the church militant. It is a crossless pietism with confidence in the old Adam and in the life-giving power of the law. It is, though, the old, dank, putrid theology of glory now in the guise of dominion politics, or the seven promises of a promise keeper, or yielded or victorious living, or traditional family values, or any other appeal to life and salvation not centered in the daily inglorious and lowly forgiveness of sins found only in Christ’s atoning death. The new white-wine pietists are lethal because they don’t look, smell, dress, or socialize like the pietists of old. They are, however, enemies of the theologia crucis.

I am a recent convert to Reformation theology. After spending almost twenty years in white-wine pietism, I come to warn. Martina and Philipa are now with us, only they wear lycra work-out shorts, carry head-sets, and drink designer water. They are alive and well in the church and they are legion. They are also alive and well-fed in the historic churches of the Reformation. The following are the nine spiritual laws of white-wine pietism (ten being too doctrinal a number to use), which are increasingly espoused by the ignorant and arrogant within even confessional churches. Thus these laws are no longer being championed by fringe members of confessional churches; they are being brought in like the Trojan horse at the highest levels of influence. They seek to turn Babette’s Feast into a serious bout of botulism.

  1. Doctrine divides.
    As one white-wine pietist told me recently: “Who cares how many natures Christ has? It’s enough to just love Jesus.” The point regularly made by white-wine pietists is that the quest for theological depth, clarity, and maturity lead one away from Jesus Christ and the Scriptures and frustrate the work of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Subjectivity is spiritual.
    White-wine pietists encourage people to look inside themselves to their very core. Here one finds purity of motive, willingness to follow God, good thoughts, marital fidelity, and truthtelling. To the extent these qualities do not exist in one’s heart, the more one must strive to obtain them through various welltested ladders of ascent (for example, fasting, accountability groups, a “discipleship” relationship, prayer, and displaying “integrity” in one’s profession). While the Reformation identifies the heart as the problem, white-wine pietists see it as the answer.

  3. Liturgy dulls.
    White-wine pietists distrust ordered worship — it shackles the heartfelt response. These pietists in confessional churches incessantly clamor to “update” worship so that the “spirit can lead.” Thus Lutherans, for example, now experience the strange phenomenon of having an Amy Grant song in the middle of a “modified” Divine Service. In response to questions about this dubious practice, a white-wine pietist told me roughly the following: “We’ve been doing this liturgy-thing for years and nobody knows what they are saying anymore. It’s only meaningful and alive to you because it’s new to you. Anyway, the liturgy is a sixteenth-century German invention. Frankly, it’s all rote and boring to us (and too hard to understand) and to our children. By the way, can you believe how the public schools dummy down to the lowest common denominator? It is scandalous!” The result is that we now have more user-friendly services because the historical (and thus liturgical) service doesn’t “work” for white-wine pietists who have specialized needs within varying age groups, as well as soccer games at 12:10 P.M. on Sunday.

    Pastors of white-wine pietists are encouraged to use their word processors on Thursday night to rearrange the liturgy in order to “surprise” victims on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, evangelicals coming to the Reformation come precisely to get away from “surprises.” (A “surprise” on Sunday morning is usually prefaced with the “worship leader” asking: “Does anyone have something that they would like to share this morning?”) The stability of an historic liturgy and its constant reminder each Sunday that we are in need of the gospel and the forgiveness of sins is what I, for example, found so utterly compelling about the Lutheran Church. Instead, white-wine pietists encourage services that end up being cheesy, mid-1970s praise meetings (but without bell-bottom pants) that eclipse the gospel, promote a theology of glory, and teach the congregation that they don’t “participate” unless they’re up front with the white-wine Yuppie “leadership team” doing piano bar music.

  4. The Sacraments are scary.
    White-wine pietists neither promote nor defend growth in and by the sacraments. Why? Because the objective forgiveness of sins in the means of grace is gospel through and through. White-wine pietists drink from the chalice of the law and either turn sacraments into ordinances or downplay their centrality in the Christian life (“once a month is more than enough — and why not do it on Sunday night so it is less time-consuming?”).

  5. Catechesis is for teenagers or intellectuals.
    The new white-wine pietists (like their forefathers) disdain the systematic learning of Christian doctrine. Catechesis, it is thought, smells of Rome, and we all know how little good catechism class does them, right? There is the perception among white-wine pietists in confessional churches that confirmation classes are to be endured and that works like Luther’s Small Catechism are to be thankfully put on the shelf at the end of the eighth grade. The concept of a thorough theological education from the earliest grades through adulthood is gone. Pietism has killed it. White-wine pietists keep the coffin nailed shut.

    Vacuous Sunday school curricula that catechizes one in the theology of glory (with no emphasis, of course, on the sacraments) are brought in wholesale and fed to the children. Youth rallies stress the inner spiritual life over objective growth in faith through the means of grace (word and sacrament). Yet no one understands why kids are leaving confessional churches in droves for the evangelical movement as soon as they get to college. Of course, they are! Why stay? Johnny Angel goes to college and soon realizes that the evangelical parachurch organizations and other non-denominational Bible churches do a theology of glory with more enthusiasm and quality. The very churches that bemoan declining membership have set the next generation up for the completely logical next step.

  6. Small groups promote “real” growth and “accountability.”
    I thought I had left the horizontal approach to Bible study back with my white-wine pietist past. Not so. The Relational Bible Study School of Theology is being resuscitated by the new white-wine pietists operating in confessional churches. The result is an erosion of confidence in the value of corporate worship tied in with the worship of all Christians throughout time, in the sacraments and the word as the only sure means of growth in the Christian life, and in the liturgy as both cross- and counter-cultural.

    Pietism created The Horizontal School of Theology. That school will never support an emphasis on confessional orthodoxy or on sacramental corporate worship. Small groups within churches that do not foster commitment to corporate worship and thus to the means of grace are enemies of the cross of Christ. The premise of such groups is that word and sacrament are not enough to meet individual felt needs. Everyone is different, so everyone must be met on a different level. Some have daily sins to confess and to be absolved from and some don’t. All have something different they need or want from the church salad bar on Sunday morning. This is a malignant American individualism, and it smells of Lucifer’s droppings.

  7. Doctrinal hymns are elitist, but praise choruses edify.
    As the white-wine-pietist son of a Lutheran minister told me recently, the first priority should be on whether the song can be sung easily and only then should one focus on the text of the song. Since the key is to experience God directly, immediately, and quickly (like an Egg McMuffin), the easiest way is by using the ubiquitous Maranatha praise book dearly cherished at the local McChurch.

    It is known among trained musicians that within certain groups simply playing certain chords will immediately elicit the response of closed eyes or raised hands (somewhat like Pavlov’s dogs salivating at the ringing of a bell). It has nothing to do whatsoever with any content that is being sung — it is simply a matter of musical form eliciting a certain emotional response. Because of their abject ignorance of doctrine, the new white-wine pietists disparage the historic hymnody of the church and encourage a musical style that allows them to put one arm around their girlfriend and the other in the air. While Bach signed his works with “Soli Deo Gloria,” the music of white-wine pietism is signed with the godly reminder that it is “used by permission only, Big Steps 4 U Music, License #47528695, copyright 1986, administered by Integrity Hosanna Music, Incorporated.”

    The hymns of the Reformation are often theologically dense and difficult to sing. They can elicit an emotional response too, such as contrition, falling prostrate in fear of God, or despairing of the merit of one’s good works. The impression is given that because there is a language and style to learn, and that it is difficult, it is not worth making the effort. If I had listened to this kind of advice during the first year of law school, I would never have become a lawyer. To those who say you can put any content to any praise chorus and get the appropriate result, I respond: Then why don’t we put the content of Luther’s catechetical hymn “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee” to the Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun ’Til Daddy Takes the T’ Bird Away”?

  8. The Holy Spirit hates apologetics.
    White-wine pietists despise apologetics, because it deals with rational argumentation, and pietists distrust the mind. The heart promotes worship while the mind just gets in the way. The new white-wine pietists are no different from their sixteenth century predecessors (and Luther’s nemeses) the so-called “Zwickau Prophets,” Carlstadt and Muenzer — they put the head and the heart at war with one another. While we would gladly agree that no human effort (intellectual or otherwise) can ever be attributed as the cause of regeneration or saving faith, Scripture calls us to give a defense of the hope that is within. This takes work, study, and contact with the objections of unbelievers. White-wine pietists don’t do well in these waters, though to their credit they often socialize well with unbelievers. It is easier to attack apologetics as trying to “argue people into the kingdom” than it is to do serious, time-consuming study. Historically, pietism has ignored and disdained apologetics, placing it in tension with the “testimony from the heart.”

    The new white-wine pietists, unlike their fundamentalist forefathers, do go into the marketplace to “win the lost.” But their method of winning the lost is presenting a theology of glory based on their “lifestyle of integrity,” their “model family,” or by showing unbelievers how “tight” their “fellowship group” is. Mormons and all other moralists or anyone else with their lives halfway together, however, should be profoundly unimpressed. A reasoned and vigorous (and thus apostolic) defense of the cross is simply gone. In fact, it is arrogantly mocked as a strictly unspiritual endeavor. The “good news” preached by the new white-wine pietists is never really that good, because the bad news of the law is never fully grasped or preached in its awful severity.

  9. Growth in faith comes through obedience to the law.
    This is the central theological sulfur of all strains of pietism. The Reformation in general, and Luther in particular, were emphatic that the prime function of the law was to slay and kill Adam, the first pietist. Growth in the Christian life is a growth in grace — that is, a growth in the life and salvation given by Christ and springing out of the daily forgiveness of sins. A focus on the forgiveness of sins will always push a person to the means of grace, where a holy God promises and delivers that forgiveness. The new white-wine pietist, true to his origins, has an individualistic and pragmatic interest in the church. Pietists interest themselves in the work of the church to the extent that it fosters relationships, love for God, “fellowship,” a growing commitment to small groups, and access to God unencumbered by the means of grace or by liturgy, in favor of more emotional worship.


The irony of white-wine pietism is that it has so broadly infiltrated into historically orthodox churches, and yet it is hostile to orthodoxy’s emphasis on word and sacrament. Pietism devoured Lutheran orthodoxy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (it is generally agreed that Lutheran orthodoxy in Europe died for over seventy-five years with the death of J. S. Bach in 1750, an ardent foe of pietism in his day), and now casts its bulbous eyes toward the confessional orthodox churches of America.

Fortunately, a few confessional churches are still faithfully serving Babette’s Feast each Sabbath. Our Lord Christ still comes faithfully to feed his sheep with his own word and with his own body and blood. For those white-wine pietists in our midst who enthusiastically seek to offer up cold cod and porridge, they should be supplied with rowboats and pointed out to sea. They disdain Babette’s Feast. For the confessionally orthodox, however, dinner is served, and the wine is most assuredly red.

Parton, C. (1997). The New White-Wine Pietists. LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology, VI(1), 33-36.

Mr. Craig Parton, Esq. is a trial lawyer and partner with the oldest law firm in the Western United States located in Santa Barbara, California. He is former Chairman of the Litigation Section of the Santa Barbara County Bar Association. Upon graduation from college, he spent seven years on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, the last four of which were spent as national lecturer for Crusade. Mr. Parton traveled to over 100 universities and colleges across the country defending the Christian faith through lectures and debates. He received his Master’s degree in Christian Apologetics under Dr. John Warwick Montgomery at the Simon Greenleaf School of Law, an institution devoted to the integration of Christian faith and legal reasoning. Mr. Parton then took his Juris Doctorate at the University of California, Hastings Law School in San Francisco, where he served as Executive Editor of the Law Journal, COMM/ENT. Craig Parton is also the United States Director of the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights in Strasbourg, France ( The Academy meets for two weeks each summer in Strasbourg to provide advanced studies in apologetics to laymen and pastors. He is the author of 3 books, including The Defense Never Rests: A Lawyer’s Quest for the Gospel. He has published articles in both law reviews and in numerous theological journals, including Modern Reformation, Logia – A Journal of Lutheran Theology, and the Global Journal of Classical Theology. Mr. Parton has recently contributed articles to Festschrifts for both Prof. Dr. John Warwick Montgomery and Prof. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt. His latest book, just released in August of 2008 by Wipf & Stock Publishers, is entitled Religion on Trial.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"How, then, shall we be attired?" or "Why I Wear a Tie to Church"

I'm glad that Tammy Jochman broached the topic of growing informality among those attending the Divine Service, yesterday, in a series of comments following our last blog post, What's Missing in Groeschel's Sermons? – A brief review of Craig Groeschel, Part 2. As Rev. Rydecki suggested, she made many fine points. This is a trend which I also have noticed, even going back to the early 1990's, prior even to joining confessional Lutheranism, and it irked me then as it does now. There's a reason why people have reserved some of their finest clothing for Sunday, referring to it as their "Sunday Best," and I think there are good reasons for Christians to continue doing so. What we do is a reflection of what we hold to be True.

What is going on in the Divine Service?
Thesis II of C.F.W. Walther's The Evangelical Lutheran Church: The True Visible Church of God on Earth states: While the one holy Christian church as a spiritual temple cannot be seen, but only believed, there are nevertheless infallible outward marks by which its presence can be known. These marks are the unadulterated preaching of the divine Word and the uncorrupted administration of the holy sacraments. It is with the Una Sancta that the true visible Church wishes to be identified, and it does this not by merely saying so, but by giving evidence of it in practice – by exhibiting the Marks of the Church in meticulous fidelity to true doctrine and administration of the sacraments. That is, the visible Church, if it wishes to be true to its designation as a Church of God, strives to give every evidence that it is the One True Church on Earth, or the Church Militant.

"Church" in this True sense, is that which the Divine Service manifests. It's not a mere meeting of people, nor is man's act of worship on display. Worship, rather, is what the Church, the Bride of Christ, does before Her Lord in joyful response to His service toward Her. In the Divine Service, the truth is displayed that the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, together as Una Sancta, worships in unity the One True God as He serves Her with His words and with His body. Indeed, She is called into Worship that He may so serve Her.

We Christians are highly privileged to enter into this other-worldly reality. Not only are the Christians in our congregation present, but so are all the saints on earth, as are all the saints and angels in Heaven. All the saints from across time and space are assembled. Our catholicity is an expression of this fact. Liturgical forms founded in the practices of the Old Testament Church have come to us through the ages, modified, not as personal preference dictated, but as corporate wisdom indicated – in order to preserve and reinforce sound teaching. A hymnody spanning the millenia of the New Testament Church has come to us from a breadth of Christian experience and cultural influence that simply cannot be reproduced within the confines of any contemporary era. The catholicity of historic liturgy and hymnody teach and remind us of the reality of the One True Church in a way that sectarian contemporary forms simply cannot.

Arrayed in Robes of Righteousness, and in our "Sunday Best"
So, how are the saints attired? Is any special clothing necessary to gain entrance to the wedding feast? Isaiah 61:10 speaks of being arrayed in special "garments of salvation," in "robes of righteousness," and Zechariah 3:4 indicates that such is a "change of raiment" – not something common, but special. In the parable of the Marraige of the King's Son in Matthew 21:11-14, the King singles out the guest who was not properly attired, who was thus bound and cast out "into outer darkness..." When the Prodigal Son was welcomed back by his father, Luke 15:22 indicates that it was the best robe which was selected for him to wear. In Revelation 6 and 7, we see vivid pictures of the saints in Heaven wearing gleaming white robes, and this is the impression we get from the many fantastic accounts of angels appearing before men in glory, along with the account of the Transfiguration. Of course, it isn't the saints who, in these references or any other, array themselves in such fine garments, but Christ Himself who gives these garments to us – the best and most priceless of garments, the gleaming white robes of His righteousness.

The Christian's choice to don his "Sunday Best" reflects the reality of his own status before God as saint – that he has been attired in His best – and displays his recognition that in the Divine Service he is actually in the company of the Church's saints. It also reflects the reality that he is actually present before Divine Royalty – that he is assembled with all the saints before the King and Creator of the Universe. Picture this: when the King or the President or some person that one regards as important, announces that he is coming to one's house for a visit, whether that person is among the poorest or the richest he puts forth the effort to appear properly, cleaning his home and grooming and attiring himself with the best that he has. The more important the visitor is, the more effort is put into preparing one's appearance. It is understood that the result isn't an objective matter of "price tag," that unless a person spends a minimum amount then he isn't showing the respect for his important visitor that he says he holds. Rather, motivated by joy and gratitude for the presence and priceless Gifts of his Divine Visitor, it is a subjective matter of the relative best that an individual responds with, representative of his means and station in life. Only an arrogant person would deliberately "dress down" when these realities occupy his mind. But do such thoughts really occupy the mind of the contemporary Christian at all anymore?

Waning importance of doctrine of the Church leads to nonchalance in practice
That we are losing the broader concept of "Church" is nearly impossible to deny. We may confess it, but in practice we are losing it, and along with that loss, the force of our confession regarding it. As we have noted in previous blog posts (see Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism and C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry) Pietism changed the Marks of the Church from 'the gospel rightly proclaimed and the sacrament rightly administered' to 'where people are living correctly,' and divided the church into groups according to subjective standards of outward behavior. Under Pietism, the Marks of the Church, Word and Sacrament, were reduced from the Means of God's work, to the measure of man's work – right living and outward behaviour. Divine Service, a reference to God's service to us, became Worship Service, man's service to God. Since the early 18th Century, the entire focus of the popular Christian concept of Church has slowly shifted from "what we believe" to "what we see," from "what God does" to "what man does," from "what has occurred and who is gathered from across time and location," to "what is occurring and who is gathered in the immediate presence the worshiper." There is no King really present, He's far away. The Christian is not really joining the saints in the Invisible Church, who'd ever think that? – maybe one day in Heaven, but not now. Right now we have service to render. We have to give glory to God. And we have to evangelize. And it seems most efficient to do both at the same time. So, we report to Worship Service on Sunday mornings, dressed in our dungarees, ready for work.

Of course, that was last decade. More recently, even the Law has disappeared from the contemporary Evangelical's concept of Church, leaving only man, his preferences and his comfort as primary factors in his expectations of the Sunday morning "experience." The Emergent Church movement has pressed this notion further, to the point of eliminating visible Church almost entirely – Christian's don't do the "church thing" anymore, they just be Church. And these ideas are becoming dominant among contemporary Lutherans, as well. When we borrow our practices from the heterodox, it impacts our doctrine.

Dressing for Reality
The reality is, when I and my family go to Divine Service, God comes to us as He comes to all His saints on earth, and brings Heaven with Him. I am actually going to be in the presence of Divine Royalty; therefore, I am going to dress in a manner reflecting this reality. All the saints assembled are arrayed in the finest garments; therefore, I am going to dress in a manner that reflects this reality. The Words with which God Himself serves me, are the fount of everlasting life; therefore, I am going to dress for this occasion in a manner that reflects this reality and my consequent gratitude. And in the Sacrament, Christ Himself personally joins Himself to me in a most intimate way, not just spiritually, but physically, as I actually receive His body and blood in the elements of the Eucharist; therefore, I will dress for this event in a way that reflects this reality and demonstrates the gravity of its potency. When my boys occasionally ask me, "Why do we have to wear a suit and tie on Sunday," this is the explanation I give. If they protest, saying, "But we can't play in these clothes," I reply, "Church is not a social club. We are going to Church prepared for the Divine Service, not for the social activities that may precede or follow it. We should not allow those things to interfere with the purpose for which we are there." And this is true. The advice that we dress for other people, whether we are asked to dress up or dress down for others, is a request that we take our eyes off of Christ and the reality of Heaven's presence in the Divine Service and instead make man and various social criteria the object of our preparations.

Finally, I contend, such a practice is evangelical practice. Following the Service, since we are in town, our family will often go to lunch at a restaurant, and do some shopping at the grocery store, or maybe at the local Fleet Farm or Home Depot – dressed in our "Sunday Best." What is the reaction of those who see us? They are immediately reminded that it is Sunday, they are reminded of Church, of God, and of their relation to those things whether good or bad. We know because we are on occasion informed by those who see us, "I don't go to church, but I probably should." Or, "I need to start going to church again." The reality is, in Western Society, the Christian's "Sunday Best" is his "religious garb" – it openly communicates his Christian religion and his observance of it to those who see him, and opens doors of communication where inconspicuous dress would fail to do so.

I don't know how many Christians consider such things as they choose their attire on Sunday morning, but I think they ought to.

My Opinion,

Mr. Douglas Lindee

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What's Missing in Groeschel's Sermons? – A brief review of Craig Groeschel, Part 2

by Rev. Paul Lidtke

Preaching is the one area of the ministry that WELS pastors receive plenty of training. Each of the three years on campus a WELS seminary student completes two sermons to preach to his classmates. During his third year of training, a vicar preaches about fifteen times. So, by the time a seminary graduate receives his first assignment into parish ministry, he's had about twenty sermons critiqued by professors, classmates, and his supervising pastor.

At times WELS preachers are criticized for the predictability of their sermons. In other words, you know what you'll be hearing in the sermon: law and gospel, sin and grace. Even well-meaning Lutheran laypeople may say, "It just always seems like we hear the same thing." Whether they realize it or not, many people who make this criticism are looking for less gospel and more law, less justification and more sanctification, less “Christ for us” and more “Christ in us."

It's taken me twenty years in the full-time ministry to appreciate it, but I'm glad that my sermons speak of the same things week after week. I won't apologize for following the pericope series that takes my congregation through the life of Christ each year. After all, pointing to Christ is what I am supposed to do as herald of the gospel. Christ for us is at the center of Scripture. So, he and his work ought to be at the center of my sermons. You should expect that in a sermon preached by a WELS trained pastor.

But, I wondered, what about Craig Groeschel, whose sermons are being consulted by an increasing number of WELS pastors? So I signed up at his website,, and began reading his sermons. I didn't think it'd be fair to review only one sermon. I decided to read the five sermons that make up the sermon series entitled, "The Sickness Within."

By the way, Mr. Groeschel and his associates are very gifted at giving themes to sermon series and providing interesting weekly parts to the series. "The Sickness Within" dealt with these five sicknesses: anger, envy, pride, issues of control, and bitterness. It's obvious that Groeschel follows the church growth belief that what draws people to worship are the needs they feel must be addressed in their lives.

Good Lutheran preaching addresses sin in a person's life. Each week Lutheran preachers help their listeners stare into the mirror of God's law and be convicted by what they see there. Averaging nine pages and 30-minutes of preaching each, Groeschel and his two associates in the five sermons of "The Sickness Within" focus much on how sin is a part of our daily lives. There was a plethora of daily examples to support each sin that was being exposed. Scripture was used to justify most examples. Anyone listening would certainly walk away from worship knowing that he or she is infected by the sickness within.

Yet, the one thing missing the most in all the sermons was Jesus. A good Lutheran preacher would never allow a sermon to end without a clear statement of how we have a Savior from sin who's already acted on our behalf to save us. Stressing justification (what Christ has done for us) allows sanctification (what we do out of love for Christ) to follow naturally. By not stressing the gospel, Groeschel and others like him are depriving people of exactly what they need to live their lives in Christ.

A WELS layperson told me recently about a pastor who makes use of Groeschel sermons often. On one Sunday the law had been preached long and hard. The gospel, it was said, would be shared the following Sunday. When this man and his family were leaving worship, they encountered a woman in tears in the church lobby. When asked what was wrong, she explained that she felt so guilty of her sin and hoped that God could forgive her. My friend said to me, "I just couldn't help but think, 'if the gospel had been preached today, she'd know that God forgives her through Christ.'"

Jesus was mentioned in passing in each of the first four sermons. Only in the final sermon of the series did the preacher mention – in a few words – that Jesus died to forgive us. Otherwise, Jesus wasn't made to be the Savior from sin. He was made the Savior for a better life. Sanctification overshadowed Justification.

That's what happens when you try to meet the felt needs of people. You'll end up talking a lot about earth and not much about heaven. By the way, heaven was never mentioned once in five sermons. Also missing from all the sermons was any mention of Christ's resurrection, which is truly the power for Christian living. As you might expect, the sacraments had no mention, either.

A long-time friend of mine called me the other day. He's a former WELS pastor who visits his home congregation in the Fox Valley whenever he visits his mother. His home congregation is one that has used Groeschel materials in the past. Speaking of the worship in his home church he said, "It doesn't seem like we're worshiping, it really seems like I'm being entertained."

That surely is one thing that this Groeschel sermon series had in abundance, entertaining stories. Laughter was a big part of the sermon presentation. I get it. These preachers are down to earth. They're regular guys. They're funny. Who wouldn't want to come to worship?

That's what the church growth camp wants confessional Lutheran pastors and congregations to bite on. They want us to believe that what draws people are the funny stories, the relaxing atmosphere, and the answers to everyday questions. Yet, as Bill Hybels at Willow Creek has already admitted, these things may bring people in but they won't keep the people there. Fortunately, confessional Lutheran churches have known for years what keeps people in the pews. Preaching the whole counsel of God. Highlighting Jesus in our ministry. Craig Groeschel hasn't figured that out. WELS pastors are wise to follow in the steps of their homiletics professors and not Craig Groeschel when preparing their sermons.

Here's what I mean. Since several of my members are residents at a local Methodist-owned nursing facility, I take our church organist along one Sunday every two months to conduct worship. Sunday was my day. I preached the same sermon there that I preached in the morning. On my way out I heard a gentleman say to his daughter, "You can always count on those WELS preachers."

I smiled and walked to the car happy. Not because I may have received a back-handed compliment, but because our WELS preaching is really what God's people need. It centers on Christ. You won't find that in a Craig Groeschel sermon.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Contemplation: The Wonders of Creation

by Brian Heyer

Confessional Lutherans have an advantage in the study of the physical sciences given that we see the universe as God's creation for our benefit, and yet we also can understand the evolutionist-uniformitarian perspective as well, even if we dismiss it as baloney. The Confessional Lutheran acknowledges our Maker and Preserver and goes about discovering and marveling at the intricacies of creation laid out for us.

David Blume's book on permaculture-based, small-scale fuel-ethanol production, Alcohol Can Be a Gas, contains many sidebar notes on the complexities of nature and how we should take advantage of these inter-species relationships. For instance, a particular genus of bacteria erects a tiny spike onto which molecules of water vapor are attracted. The bacteria survives by accumulating this water and dissolving sugar from the leaf surface it colonizes. No spike, no water, no bacteria. Evolutionists would see that as just another happy accident. Those of us that are lead by the Holy Spirit to trust in Genesis take that tidbit of bacterial knowledge as another happy revelation of God's love for us.

The concept of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi is a wonderful example of symbiosis in Creation. Most land plants exchange surplus phytogenic simple sugars to fungi that grow from the surrounding soil to inside the plant root cells in trade for minerals and water from the fungi. The fungi are entirely dependent on the plant, and the plant is stunted without the exponential increase in surface area of the fungi mycelia to dissolve soil minerals and draw in water. To add to the soil complexity, mezofauna like microarthropod springtails move through the soil consuming fungi and bacteria. As they do so, they translocate and distribute their prey. Soil that tills itself! This gives us a glimpse into the complex order and roles that God gives to even His microscopic creations in the dirt.

Ruminants and pastures are a more visible parallel example of sustainable relationships. The ruminants browse and trample the forbs and brush giving a competitive advantage to the grasses and clovers which can more easily recover from damage. (We do mow our lawns regularly, right?) For millennia, sheep were said to have "Golden Hooves" as their manures distributed seeds and their hooves improved germination by pressing seeds into firm contact with the soil. The plants not only fed the herds, but the bacterial multiplication through the digestion of the plant matter within the ruminants meant that the resultant manures would yield more bio-available nutrients for the plants themselves. (Let's take note that our Lord mentions in Luke 13 the benefit of manure to plants.)

But what if the grasses turned the tables and ate the cows? Let's revisit our microscopic arthropods and their fungi buffet. When springtails attack the fungi too vigorously, the fungi release a paralyzing enzyme into the mouth of the springtail. The mycelia then grow into the body of the tiny forager, consuming it from the inside out. Through radiological tagging of elements, researchers found that up to 25% of the biomass of a tree was the result of the symbiotic fungi's carnivorous defense! Vegans may have to rethink their premises.

The Psalmist says, "By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth." (Ps 33:6) Our Creator-King, who set each galaxy cluster swirling in the sky and showed His promise to Abraham, even made 'simple' photosynthetic bacteria that utilize quantum physics in determining the most efficient path for electrons. It took more than one and half millennia for man to understand that a single point of light seen by the naked eye in the night sky can actually be a billion stars arrayed for us to discover. It took another few centuries to even begin to discern quantum infinities. The unbelieving evolutionist-uniformitarian, to his eventual eternal terror, boasts that it's just an infinite chain of random -yet fortunate - happenstance. The joys of the Creationists are that not only are we led to trust in the unseen promises of our Redeemer, but we also get to marvel at the infinite photosynthetic splendor of even the lilies of the field.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

All in favor, say "Yep!"

The Brothers of John the Steadfast have posted this comment by WELS President Mark Schroeder and are making arrangements for this most official summit. If you would like to see such a summit take place, say "Yep!"

WELS President Schroeder Reaches Out with Offer of Banjo/Guitar Summit, by Pr. Rossow

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) President, Mark Schroeder, dropped a fun little comment on our site this week. He said:

I sugggested to President-elect Harrison that, if I brush up on my guitar, the two presidents could tape a YouTube video entitled, “Dueling Confessional Banjos.” (see comment #5 on this post by Norm)

We are very honored to have President Schroeder visit our site. His work and leadership in the WELS is consistent with what we are doing here at BJS to uphold Biblical, traditional, historic, liturgical Confessional Lutheranism. President Schroeder has been no stranger to the BJS site. (Use the search mechanism on the right hand sidebar and under “WELS, Schroeder” you will find six posts on the WELS here on BJS. Here is the shortcut to the list.)

Issues, Etc. host Todd Wilken has hosted President Scrhoeder on the show and has done Lutheranism a big favor by providing a means for confessionalism in the LCMS and the WELS to hear each other. Schroeder’s Banjo/guitar gesture suggests that there will be a healthy interaction on the highest administrative levels between the two orthodox Lutheran bodies.

The LCMS is a two-million member denomination head-quartered in St. Louis and is the largest Lutheran denomination in America. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the largest Lutheran body by name but with their recent votes against the Bible’s teaching on sexuality it is accurate to say that they bring shame to the name of our beloved church father Martin and ought not to be considered Lutheran. The WELS asserts on their website that they are the third largest Lutheran body in America but by our count, dismissing the ELCA as Lutheran, our buddy, President Schroeder can consider the WELS to be the second largest Lutheran body on the continent with nearly 400,000 baptized members.

But of course the Lord does not focus on numbers. He focusses on faithfulness and so the real question to ask is this: “Is your denomination faithful to the Scriptures and the Confessions?’ For the most part the WELS and LCMS are faithful and so are other smaller bodies such as the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), Lutheran Church – Canada (LC-C), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti, the Church of the Lutheran Confessions (CLC), the United Lutheran Mission Association (ULMA), ELDONA, etc.

Surfing the WELS website I was reminded that both the WELS and the LCMS have large parochial school systems. Our Concordias have certainly done their fair share of turning out undesirable “church growth” church workers but overall, our schools have contributed to confessional strength in Lutheranism and ought to be supported.

In true Lutheran fashion I have taken a fun gesture and turned it into a serious discussion of church and theology. In an attempt to return to the fun I’ll close with a challenge to our readers. Let’s help the two presidents out by providing some ground rules for the Lutheran Banj0 Diplomacy Summit (LBDS). I’ll open the bidding with the following:

Rule #1 - No riffs on “Pass it On.” We might allow “The Lamb” but under no circumstances shall there be any “fires lit by any sparks.”

(Comments on other points above are also welcome.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And That's The Way We See It

This Means War!

Someone asked me recently, "What if everyone in the WELS -- Pastors, Teachers, laypeople -- spent hours each day checking church web sites for heresy, pouring over online sermons with a fine-tooth comb, and dissecting every decision and action or lack of decision and action by every Circuit Pastor and District President?"

My response, "And that would be a bad thing, how?!?"

He, of course, intended his question to be a criticism of what I spend some time doing at some point during just about every day. He says I could find more constructive and productive things to do, and that basically being my brother's theological keeper is a waste of my time. Au Contraire Mon Frère! I contend this is not only a good use of my time, but would be a good use of any believer's time, especially a confessional Lutheran in today's topsy-turvy religious world.

Imagine every Called Worker, every staff member, every communicant over the age of 16, spending an hour a day or maybe more, studying the Bible and Book of Concord and then comparing what they read with what is being done in their congregation, school, or sacristy! Wouldn't that be great?! Of course it would!

Is there anything better than reading, learning, and "inwardly digesting" the Word of God, and the writings that we accept "because" they are a true exposition of that Word? Of course not!

Should we "test the spirits to see if they be of God?" Absolutely! Is it true that "no man can save his brother?" Yes, of course. But is it also the responsibility of every believer to see to it that their brothers and sisters in faith are also fed with only the pure doctrines of the Bible? By all means!

Should I as a Pastor, or any Pastor, or any teacher, or any professor, or any administrator be afraid of being held to the highest standard of theological excellence in the entire universe found in the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions? How absurd!

Is it possible for any of these, myself included, to be led astray by the cunning tricks of Satan into some subtle or gross false teaching, so that another believer must point out the heresy, and using the Bible and Confessional writings turn me or anyone from their wayward path? This should go without saying!

In short, are we not in a war against the Prince of this World, the Master of the Air, and the liar and murderer from the beginning, and thus should we not see the enemy for what he is -- a deadly danger to our immortal souls, and someone against whom to take up arms and fight with all our might and the strength of the Holy One who is our King? In the words of one feisty political figure currently making the rounds, "You betcha!"

So, I leave you with some words from our great God and Lord, given to Jeremiah,
    3"Line up the shield and buckler,
      And draw near for the battle!
    4"Harness the horses,
      And mount the steeds,
      And take your stand with helmets on!
      Polish the spears,
      Put on the scale-armor!
    5"Why have I seen it?
      They are terrified,
      They are drawing back,
      And their mighty men are defeated
      And have taken refuge in flight,
      Without facing back;
      Terror is on every side!"
      Declares the LORD.

    Jeremiah 46:3-5 (NASB)
And that's how we see it!

Pastor Spencer

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