Friday, December 30, 2011

Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Part 2: Heinrich Schütz ... and other thoughts to ponder over the New Year Holiday...

The Nativity, by Matthias Grunewald
Art is a conversation
Competent art is hard to come by these days. True, there are many who have been trained in the techniques of their particular artform, or who have practiced on their own, and have developed an impressive skill. But the execution of technical skill alone is not art. The most that such accomplishes is to showcase the skill of a work's creator, while reducing the measure of art’s usefulness to the act of gratifying consumers. True art has little to do with either the artist or his immediate consumers, but centers on a subject which is external to both. More than just centering on a subject matter, compelling art succeeds at drawing the viewer, reader or hearer of it into a conversation regarding the subject. And this is no small task for the artist! In a single work, he must initiate a conversation and say everything he intends in a way that holds his end of the conversation throughout the inquiries and developing thoughts of those who may engage in it. If the artist is to avoid babbling, this requires that he have such a thorough familiarity with his subject that he can anticipate questions or objections associated with his expression of it, and respond to them while also reinforcing areas of agreement. Sometimes, the subject is simple and the conversation is short. Other times the conversation is longer. Sometimes, the artist points toward or draws conclusions. Other times, he only questions. Sometimes he is speaking for himself. Other times, he represents the voice of others. Regardless of the type of conversation, enduring art is that to which its viewers, readers or hearers return again and again, to admire how the conversation is carried out by the artist, or even to renew it again for themselves. Thus, in addition to technical skill, true, compelling and enduring art requires an abundance of creativity.

Adoration of the Magi, by Albrecht DürerIn the case of Christian art, the creation of a compelling and enduring work is truly an amazing accomplishment. The subject matter of Christian art itself is generally despised by the World; and ambiguity, which is inherent to art and very often its most appreciated aspect, is at the same time a great enemy of Christian subject matter – fidelity to which requires clarity and closure. Thus, Christian art that remains beloved and acclaimed by all, over centuries and across cultures, which succeeds at engaging its viewers, hearers or readers in unambiguous conversation regarding the reality of Christ and the impact of His Gospel, represents skill and creativity towering over that which produces ambiguous works of profane subject matter for which people already have natural affinity. Why? Because it is an easy task to produce works of art having the World’s approval by appealing to fleshly desires and worldly sensibilities, relative to the task of producing generally acclaimed works which militate against what naturally appeals to man and which serves to lift up the offense of the Cross instead.

Creativity is refined through study and emulation of the Masters
Descent from the Cross, by Peter Paul RubensOne would think that such Christian artists have been endowed by God with a superabundance of creativity. And this is undoubtedly so. But is this as far as any explanation extends? No, it isn’t. For, excepting the rare savant, such artists also acquired training and education: training, that they might develop the technical skill required for their vocation; and education to cultivate the intellect and equip them with the Tools of Learning1, and prepare them for a lifetime of inquiry, study, thought and expression. But what of creativity? It is no accident that, in the West, we see an explosion of enduring creative expression in the realms of art and science beginning with the Renaissance2. It was this period of Western history which called for “a return to the sources” – ad fontes!, as we often hear in our own circles today, was the principle of Renaissance Humanism itself – and this call applied to all areas of inquiry. As a result, Renaissance era students and scholars found themselves “returning to the sources,” and in so doing, learning directly from the greatest and most creative minds that the West had produced; and to this greatness they added their own portion of creativity by using the “tools of learning” with which they had been equipped.

Christian artistic expression during the Renaissance, and its impact on the Baroque
Throughout the Renaissance, patronage of the arts was supplied mostly by powerful Italian families. In the abundance of extant art that they commissioned, it is often very clear that the inspiration behind it (and in many cases, even the subject matter) was derived directly from the pagan works of ancient Greece and Rome – such were “the sources” which one would consult. These sources were the novelty of the period, of course, since inspiration was also to be found and built upon in the works of previous “little Renaissance’s,” like that of Charlemagne (Carolingian Renaissance) or the Renaissance of the 12th Century which was essentially book-ended by the careers of St. Anselm and Thomas Aquinas. Nevertheless, non-Christian influences were not always negative. Of great positive influence on Western Art, for example, were the ideas of the ancient Ionians and of the Pythagorean Brotherhood, whose pre-Socratic philosophies dictated “Everything is Number” (or “integer”) and elevated wholeness and perfection in unity (or the number “1”), which, having constituent harmonies of integer ratios, served as the basis for the development of our Western system of music (a perfect octave comprised of twelve discrete whole- and semi-tones, perfect ratios of which create harmonic chords) and thus also the design of musical instruments, and also led to the study of perspective, proportion and combinations of color in visual art – “Mighty are numbers,” said the ancient Greek playwright Euripides, “joined with art, resistless.”

The Risen Christ at Emmaus, by RembandtAs these Italian families used the Church in their power struggles against one another, and even began to occupy the papacy, the Church became a patron of the arts as well. Ruinously so, in fact. As a result of the opulent artistic tastes and ceaseless spending of Pope Leo X, of the prominent Medici family, the Roman Church faced insolvency, resulting in corruption of various forms in attempt to replenish its treasury: sale of bishoprics, for instance, and most famously, the sale of indulgences. The infamous peddler of indulgences, Johann Tetzel, who raised the ire of Dr. Martin Luther and prompted him to post his 95 Thesis in 1517, worked under the direction of Leo X. While slowing Rome’s investment in artistic expression, the onset of the Reformation hardly ended it. In fact, the arts were vigorously employed by both the Roman Catholics and the Reformers, who, each seeking to be justified in their religious positions in the eyes of the other and looking ever more intently into Scripture and/or the teachings of the Church for inspiration, employed the arts as a means of engaging the discussion, with one another and with the masses, of unity under pure doctrine. And this is especially the case as the Catholic Counter Reformation began to exert pressure on the movement begun by the Reformers. The pressure of theological warfare, the vastly overriding value of ultimate truth, and the urgency of keeping that truth pure in the face of its enemies, propelled Renaissance and Baroque Christian artists to the heights of creative expression such as the world had never seen before, and rarely since. By the close of the 16th Century, the cemetaries of lower mid- and southern Europe were strewn with monuments to the masters such pressures, learning, and sources of inspiration produced – the Church’s own uniquely Christian masters, from whom successive generations of Christians could learn without having to draw their inspiration directly from pagan sources. This had radical influence on the Christian Baroque period of the 17th Century.

Heinrich Schütz: The greatest German composer before Bach
Renaissance Master of Antiphonal and Polyphinal Music - Giovanni GabrieliEnter Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). Born in 1585, he was raised the gifted son of a prominent Hessian businessman. He became a talented student of law, but so strong was his giftedness for music that in 1609, the Landgrave of Hesse, insisting that he study music instead, procured for him a scholarship to study under the Renaissance Master of antiphonal and polychoral composition, Giovanni Gabrieli, at the St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. At that time, St. Mark’s enjoyed a quasi-independence from Rome – while residing within its precincts, it was not a church of the Western Rite, but of the Alexandrian Rite (or Coptic rite). As a result, many of Europe’s most gifted students and composers flocked to Venice to study; yet, so remarkable was Heinrich Schütz’s performance as a student, that Master Gabrieli was compelled to assure the Landgrave that “In Schütz you will have a musician such as one will not find in many other places”3. Indeed, upon his death in 1612, Gabrieli willed his signet ring to Schütz. Thus the influence of Gabrieli was brought to Germany and upper Europe. Schütz was appointed Kapellmeister at the Royal Court in Dresden in 1615, and from there through the remainder of his career, he masterfully wedded the highest musical art of the Renaissance with the German language , the purest manifestation of which, for him, was Martin Luther's translation of the the Bible. Thus, it is impossible to substantively confront the compositions of Heinrich Schütz without also being confronted by the message of the Holy Scriptures.

Heinrich Schütz died in 1672. Having lived for 87 years, he was active composing from 1611 through the rest of his life. Of his compositions, over 500 remain extant, and they distinctly represent the nature of the changing times and the needs of Christians throughout his career. Interestingly, the first third of his life was enjoyed in the lucrative and relatively peaceful times following the Reformation, as Luther’s program of universal education began to have the civic benefit he was certain would result, and we see this in lavish and massive compositions like the Psalmen Davids (Book 1, 1619), and the rather avant-garde Cantiones Sacrae (1625).Heinrich Schütz, by Rembrandt Composed for the context of worship, these pieces appeal to the pocketbook, and the intellectual predispositions, of the wealthy and well-educated. Yet his Auferstehungshistorie (1623) of this same period (which was featured on Intrepid Lutherans on Easter 2011) was clearly a piece that would be edifying for all.

On the other hand, the second third of Heinrich Schütz’s life was scarred by the devastation of the Thirty Years’ War4, and in works of this period we see an ever increasing focus on Scripture texts preaching assurance in the promises of Christ in the face of what seems to be never-ending death and destruction, while his compositions simultaneously grow simpler and more modest over time to accommodate the increasing lack of highly skilled vocalists and instrumentalists, culminating in 1648 with a collection of music containing what are considered his greatest works: Geistliche Chormusik. Written for the context of worship, as all of these pieces were, also of prime consideration to Schütz in the composition of this collection was the significant decline in skill – no doubt wrought by the War – demonstrated by the younger composers of that time. He wrote Geistliche Chormusik to teach them the finer points of contrapuntal composition (counterpoint) and to encourage them to study the masterly techniques of previous generations and carry such expertise along with them in their own musical creativity:
    Geistliche Chormusik (Sacred Choral Music) was published in Dresden in 1648... It is dedicated to the Leipzig City Council and St. Thomas’ choir. The original title provides a clue to the performing practice which Schütz had in mind. It reads in full:

      “Sacred Choral Music for 5, 6 and 7 vocal or instrumental parts composed by Heinrich Schütz... and provided with a figured bass not out of necessity, but for reasons of expediency.”

    Schütz was clearly concerned about the decline of polyphonic writing which the widespread adoption of the figured bass had brought in its wake, notable in Germany. The advent of the chordal style dispensing with linear but rich polyphonic textures made it possible for technically less accomplished composers to shine with concertante figured-bass music. According to Schütz, there were hardly any younger composers in Germany willing to deal with the more profound aspects of composition. So their tonal idiom was bound to become increasingly shallow and banal, for there was

      “no doubt among the well-trained musicians that only those who are sufficiently versed in the basso continuo style are capable of coping successfully with an exacting contrapuntal style in other types of composition.”

    As Schütz made abundantly clear, his aim was to

      “encourage budding German composers, before they would try their hand at the concertante style, to crack this tough nut (the right ‘kernel’ and foundation for good contrapuntal writing) and first demonstrate their skill in this area.”

    We can see here that Schütz was by no means looking backwards in artistic terms. He was not opposed to the new basso continuo style as a matter of principle, but merely insisted that it should be employed only by composers who made the most exacting demands on themselves and who were unwilling to jettison the masterly compositional techniques of the past, seeking instead to combine it in creative fashion with their own new insights and thus keep it alive.5
The Triumph of Christ over Sin and Death, by Peter Paul RubensNot only had the number and quality of musicians declined, so had the musical integrity of the compositions. Increasingly, new composers were unwilling to study the Masters and add to their accomplishments their own pittance of creativity, but seemed to prefer jettisoning those accomplishments for something of their own novel creation, something comparatively shallow and banal.

The final third of Schütz’s life saw the challenges of reconstruction after the War. Not only infrastructure, but commerce and community needed to be rebuilt everywhere. Most significantly, the Church in Germany had been thrashed in many places from Protestant to Catholic, as various territories exchanged hands during the War, or suffered manic reversal of religious sentiment as a result of political pressures and deal making. In many places the churches had been physically razed to the ground, and in many more had grown severely dilapidated from the ravages of war, misuse and neglect. The laity was utterly demoralized. He had by this time buried his wife and all of his children. Schütz continued to compose, although as he grew older his compositions seemed to grow more spartan, as if his intentions lay more with serving the Court by serving the needs of the laity. Thus, it is from this period of his that we receive his Passions (many of which were featured in the Music for Holy Week 2011 series on Intrepid Lutherans), and it is from this period of his life that our current selection comes: Weinachtshistorie (or the History of the Birth of Christ), composed in 1664. The recording below is a performance given by the very excellent MonteverdiChor. Available on YouTube in five parts, each part is automatically played in succession below:

Heinrich Schütz, Weinachtshistorie
performed by the MonteverdiChor
One recording of this piece we've enjoyed this Christmas Season can be found here

What kind of learning cultivates the intellect, nurtures creativity and passes along a society’s culture to successive generations?
'Praeceptor Germaniae' - Dr. Philip MelanchthonOver the centuries, the form of learning described above, which equips a person with the “tools of learning” and prepares him for a lifetime of learning and creative expression, had been termed within educational circles as “The Great Tradition;” and right away during the period of the Renaissance, it became the means of passing along Western culture to each successive generation, to which each generation added their own accomplishments and by which Western Society advanced. It was this form of education that was systematized by Melanchthon (along with the important contributions of Bugenhagen, Trotzendorf, and especially Sturm) at the request of Luther, advocated by him among the German princes and eventually adopted as the form of education provided to both boys and girls, not only in Germany, and eventually not only across the continent and in England, but was adopted early in America as our Founding Fathers realized the need for a universal education in our own country6. When the German Lutherans came to America in the mid-19th Century, it was Luther’s form of education that they adopted as a pedagogical framework for Lutheran Education in America7, and which equipped generations of Lutheran theologians, pastors, businessmen, artisans, and homemakers.

The Great Tradition of education, terminated by John Dewey and utopian industrialists
An intellectually capable and creative citizenry militating against the utopian ideals of late 19th Century Western industrialists8, they determined that what they required was a labor pool which was merely trained to perform tasks well, and intellectually suited only to follow the orders of their superiors. So they plotted together, planning over time the overthrow of the “The Great Tradition” as the form of universal education in our Nation, because it equipped individuals with the tools of learning and prepared them for a life of creative independence as free men. Reserving this form of education only for the elite (for those who would lead others in business and government), industrialists of the late 19th Century desired that the “The Great Tradition” be replaced with something more pragmatic, more well-suited to the needs of industry, to prepare the masses in the arts of efficient labor rather than the arts of free men – to replace education with training. To this end they enlisted the assistance of the radical pedagogue, John Dewey (Dewey's connection to Rockefeller and other industrialists is well-documented...), and with him taking the lead, their educational coup d'état was accomplished early in the 20th Century. It is referred to as the “Educational Revolution” of John Dewey9, who, responding to the calls of the industrialists (who also financed him), systematized and aggressively advocated his educational philosophy of Progressivism – a pragmatic pedagogy focusing only on what is useful in immediately tangible terms, eliminating “idea” from the content of education as superfluous to the need for “doing”10. By the 1950’s, succumbing to the pressure of Naturalistic and Progressivistic pedagogics being pushed in secular academia, “The Great Tradition” had also disappeared from the LCMS11, and by the 1970’s, had disappeared from WELS ministerial education schools as well12. Dewey’s Progressivism served the pragmatic needs of the industrialist quite well, up until the 1980’s when America ceased to be a nation that produced tangible goods. A new learning theory was required which would serve the West as it exited the “production” era, and entered the “service” era: post-Modern Social Constructivism, which scoffed at shallow task oriented education as much as it scoffed at an education in which students imbibed the enduring ideas and accomplishments of the past as a foundation on which to build the future. On the contrary, according to Social Constructivism (a post-Modern "epistemological learning theory"), truth and value are discerned through common experience with one’s immediate social collective13. Hence, contemporary education strives to provide learners with ever broadening “experience” (which is really nothing more than “interface with phenomena in a social context”) that works to liberate them from the constraints of “underdeveloped schemata” (i.e., “shared narrative”). Emerging from twelve years of dependence upon one's social collective, individuals are (supposedly) fully equipped as socially relevant persons able to tap the collective knowledge and creativity of his milieu. Today “The Great Tradition” is conflated with Dewey's “Progressive Education,” both being referred to together, without distinction, as “Traditional Education,” and is referenced by post-Modern educators in conjunction with a scornful laugh, or even a dramatic spit upon the ground. Only, post-Modern Social Constructivism is no educational panacea, either. Even if the social nature of Social Constructivism advantageously positioned America for dominance in the Services Industry, today that industry has been shipped overseas, along with the production of tangible goods. Today, America’s single most lucrative export isn’t the production of tangible goods, nor is it services, nor is it science and research, nor is it even art: it’s Entertainment – movies, games, pop-music and all of the associated gadgetry that exploit mankind’s weakness for self-indulgence and sloth. Thus, America’s public educational institutions, and the private institutions which have followed them, are left destitute of genuine education when our Nation and our Christian Confession seem to need it most.

Bringing back “The Great Tradition”: A plea to consider Classical Lutheran Education
'The Great Reformer' - Dr. Martin LutherThose of us who see that in a free society the artes liberalis are to be valued by free men far above the artes servilis, and those of us Christians who are convinced that in order to effectively learn and hold on to pure doctrine and to express it eloquently and persuasively to one another and to the World there is no better educational model than the Trivium, and who therefore wish to see the return of “The Great Tradition,” work toward this objective referring to it by another name: Classical Education.14 To be sure, there are those in the secular world who yet value this form of education: St. John’s College and Nova Classical Academy are two such examples. Among Lutherans, Classical Education is making a comeback as well: the Evangelical Lutheran Synod had attempted to promote Classical Education among Lutherans with their Lutheran Schools of America initiative, and the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education has made significant progress in advocating and effecting a return to Classical Education in the LCMS. To the shame of confessional Lutherans everywhere, however, credit for the return of Classical Education to American Christianity really belongs to the Reformed, who, influenced by the leadership of groups like the Association of Classical and Christian Schools, have about a two decade head-start on Lutherans in bringing Classical Education back to Christianity. Christian Home Educators are well-known for having adopted this model of education in great numbers early on. In fact, many of the underground Home Educators of the 1970’s were Roman Catholics who wanted their children brought up with Latin and the Classics, but found that both had swiftly disappeared after Vatican II mandated that the Mass be conducted in the vernacular. Yet it remained essentially Evangelical Reformed sources which, apparently being far more attuned to and suspicious of educational movements in secular academia, developed educational resources and supplied encouragement and assistance to Classical Home Educators. The trend proceeded a little more slowly among Christian day schools, but these days the number of Christian schools adopting Classical Education is nearly proliferate – even in the small northwest Wisconsin village of 1500 people where I live, a sound K-12 Classical Education can be had just a few miles down the road, near the Christian Reformed and OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) congregations (although the school is run by Christian parents in the surrounding area, not the congregations). Even the subtitle of Veith & Kerns’ well-known work on the subject, Classical Education, was changed by their publisher in its recent second edition, from “Towards the Revival of American Schooling” to “The Movement Sweeping America” – and this is true, largely due to the efforts of the Reformed and of Home Educators.

What shall be the lot of us Lutherans? Right now, the real brain-trust in Lutheran Education seems to be congregating among the scholars, pastors and laity of the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education. I know for a fact that over the years they have made several overtures to the WELS, officially contacting our ministerial education college (Martin Luther College), and Wisconsin Lutheran College (which is independent of the WELS political structure but is still 'affiliated' with WELS), and others within WELS leadership; yet, as reported in their 2009 business meeting following their Ninth Annual Conference, their overtures have been met with utter silence. It was reported, with no small amount of frustration, that there has been no return communication. In 2010, after another year of attempting to stir some interest among WELS leadership, WELS was mentioned at the business meeting with a resounding “humph,” and written off. I know for a fact, that all they want is an audience with receptive listeners, to whom they can make their case for Classical Education – perhaps a struggling high-school or elementary school having little left to lose by giving Classical Education a try. Many confessional Lutheran schools have made the switch under similar circumstances, with surprising results – both in terms of student appreciation, academic achievement, teacher satisfaction and enrollment growth. Is there any interest in sound Classical Lutheran Education in WELS?

Something to Ponder in the New Year,

Mr. Douglas Lindee

P.S.: Don't forget to read the footnotes!

  1. Sayers, Dorothy. (1947). The Lost Tools of Learning. (First delivered at Oxford in 1947, by Dorothy L. Sayers, this little essay stands at the foundation of today’s strong movement to return to Classical Christian Education. The “Tools of Learning,” which had been lost by the time of Miss Sayers’ essay in 1947, are the Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium is the structure of all learning: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric – every area of study having its own knowledge structure (Grammar), its own process of deciphering meaning (Dialectic), and means of expressing it (Rhetoric). And the Grammar of Learning itself is the medium in which human thought is expressed: Language. That the Grammar of Learning is learned through study of either Latin or Classical Greek is due precisely to the facts that both (a) are complete grammars, and (b) are dead, or unspoken, languages and therefore must be learned through deductive epistemological processes. The Quadrivium is the four Classical areas of study to which the tools of learning are applied: Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astronomy. The Grammar of the Quadrivium is Arithmetic. Simply described, Arithmetic is the study of numbers, Music is the study of numbers in time, Geometry is the study of numbers in space, and Astronomy is the study of numbers in space and time15.)

  2. Kopff, E. Christian. (2008). Greek to Us: The Death of Classical Education and Its Consequences. (An address delivered by Dr. Kopff at the H.L. Mencken Club’s Annual Meeting; November 21-23, 2008)

  3. Quoted from the liner notes of Heinrich Schütz: Cantiones Sacrae (Manfred Cordes, Rogers Covey-Crump; Weser-Resiassance)

  4. Lindee, Douglas. (2011). Law and Gospel: What do they teach? – Part 3.2, What Happened to the Events of the Gospel? (The Church Responds to the Enlightenment: Pietism). This essay includes a section summarizing the impact of the Thirty Years’ War on Lutheranism.

    See also: Thirty Years’ War

  5. Quoted from the liner notes of Heinrich Schütz: Geistliche Chormusik (Rudolf Mauersberger; Dresdner Kreuzchor)

  6. Kopff, E. Christian. (2011). How Classical Christian Education Created the Modern World. Classical Lutheran Education Journal, 5(1). pp 12-17.

  7. Korcok, Thomas. (2011). Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. pp. 163-236.

  8. Hein, Steven. (2011). A Politically Incorrect Review of American Progressive Education: What was it intended to be and do? Classical Lutheran Education Journal, 5(1). pp 1-12.

    see also this work by former New York State & New York City Teacher of the Year, John Taylor Gatto:

    Gatto, John. (2006). The Underground History of American Education: an Intimate Investigation into the Prison of Modern Schooling. Oxford, NY: Oxford Village Press.

  9. Nock, Albert. (1931). The Theory of Education in the United States. (From the 1931 Page-Barbour Lectures at the University of Virginia.)

  10. Kern, Andrew. (2009). Classical Education: Theory & Praxis. The Plenary Lecture delivered at the Ninth Conference of the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education in 2009.

  11. Hein, Steven. (2009). Classical Lutheran Education: What is it and Why is it Good?. Lecture delivered at the Ninth Conference of the Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education in 2009. He did also state that the precise reasons for this disappearance remain uninvestigated.

  12. Lange, Lyle. (2006). A publicly offered comment by Professor Lyle Lange (Martin Luther College) in response to a direct question asked by Rev. Dr. Edward Bryant (ELS) during Q&A following his lecture, Truth and Uncertainty: Assumptions, Message and Method in American Education at the last Confessional Christian Worldview Seminar in 2006, who asked whether Classical Education was being promoted or discussed in the WELS ministerial education program (and I quote from memory): “I’ve been at DMLC since the 1970’s, and in that time I don’t ever recall this being discussed as a part of our curriculum, much less emphasized or promoted”.

  13. Lindee, Douglas. (2011). Post-Modernism, Pop-culture, Transcendence, and the Church Militant. Summarized from paragraph 7.

    I will add the following, however, in this footnote: The post-Modern epistemological learning theory, Social Constructivism, has several tangible and observable consequences on the roles of “teacher and student,” the goals of education and the manner of assessment. For example, since according to Social Constructivism, “teacher and students” are merely co-learners, there is no “master/learner” relationship between the two. Rather, their relationship is principally a social arrangement in which the elder learner becomes a sort of social peer to the younger learners, rather than the outmoded professional separation between teacher/student or adult/child (especially at the high school level). Thus, the “teacher” disappears from Social Constructivist educational settings. Having more experience as a learner, therefore, the “elder learner” instead becomes the “learning facilitator” or “mentor” of the collective (or “cadre” as they are being called now). This has the deliberate effect of diminishing authority structure, resulting in a “shared authority” across co-learners. This “shared authority” collaboratively determines not only the rules of social order, but most significantly, the “meaning” to be found in the object of the cadre's collective interface with new phenomena. That is, in a Social Constructivist learning environment, “meaning” is generally not something predetermined and lectured upon by a “teacher,” but is precisely what is "negotiated" among the co-learners in a given cadre through various social experiences contrived by the learning facilitator for this purpose – like group projects, group investigation, group discussion, open ended questioning and other mechanisms of arriving at group consensus through "negotiated meaning." In addition to disappearing “teachers,” the “classroom” also disappears from Social Constructivist education settings, instead becoming a “learning laboratory” in which co-learners experience phenomena and negotiate its meaning together, and in this way construct their collective knowledge schemata (or “shared narrative”) – all of which requires considerably more space (two-thirds again the space, approximately... at least that was the rule of thumb back in the 1990’s – even then we knew that Social Constructivism would result in sharply higher property taxes and educational costs, though none of the research showed any kind of improvement in academic achievement). From here, assessment devolves considerably. Rather than individual assessment where there is “right or wrong” answers – a procedure which is “deeply disrespectful of the students’ point of view” – assessment is preferably administered to the group all at once for the purpose of determining whether the negotiated conclusion of the collective is consistent with its own schemata, and if not, whether their schemata has been altered to accommodate it; if it is administered individually, the purpose is to test whether the learner was a genuine participant with the collective by determining if his answers are consistent with those of his cadre and the schemata of the collective. That is to say, and this is emphasized among post-Modern Social Constructivists, individual learners are not expected to be owners of their own knowledge. Instead, the collective owns knowledge and determines meaning. Of course, this sort of assessment doesn't very often get to the point of praxis these days, as “No Child Left Behind” mandates require that “students” measurably achieve at certain quantifiable academic standards – in other words, the Federal Government says that public school students have to answer right or wrong. This is why most post-Modern educators in America agree that government should get out of education...

  14. The following web resources are eminently useful introductory resources for understanding this term:

  15. Veith, Gene. (2010). The mathematical part of classical education.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Not exactly the image I had in mind

Last week in my Pastoral Rationale for Using the Common Cup, I suggested that the Common Cup is more consistent with the Words of Christ than Individual Cups are, and that the Common Cup is a much more appropriate symbol for Holy Communion than Individual Cups are. (See that article for the reasons I gave.)

I used several graphics and artistic representations from church history to illustrate those points:

But a new image for the Sacrament of Holy Communion just arrived yesterday in my mailbox. Without further comment, I’ll just say, I think it (unintentionally) strengthens my arguments for the Common Cup.

I’m very glad the editors of Forward in Christ decided to run an article on “The Sacramental Life,” from Jon Zabell’s worthy essay presented at last summer’s synod convention. This is good. At least the Sacrament is in focus! But the picture on the cover is better suited to the Reformed church down the road where they obediently drink shots of grape juice in memory of Jesus’ absent blood. The Lutheran Church has a better image for the Communion that takes place with the really present blood of Christ and with one another at the Lord’s Table. It looks like a chalice. Let’s not be afraid to use it!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Part 1: Michael Praetorius

During Holy Week 2011, we ran a series called Music for Holy Week, which focused on our great heritage of Lutheran music and worship accompaniment, and which is recognized in many instances as bona fide 'high art'. The compositions of late Renaissance and Baroque era Lutherans, like Michael Praetorius, Heinrich Schütz, Samuel Scheidt, Johann Schein, and Johann Sebastian Bach (considered to be the greatest composer the West has yet produced), are highly valued to this day, if not by Christians on the basis of the strong theological content they artfully deliver, then by all those with a modicum of cultured taste on the basis of their artistic merit alone. It is these composers, rather than contemporary entertainers, who have established a standard of excellence that has, at least in previous generations, been pursued by the greatest talent the church could muster, and has produced musical gifts for Christ's Church that extends to, and continues to impact, the World as well:
    “But especially in sacred song has the Lutheran Church a grand distinctive element of her worship. 'The Lutheran Church,' says Schaff, 'draws the fine arts into the service of religion, and has produced a body of hymns and chorals, which, in richness, power, and unction, surpasses the hymnology of all other churches in the world.' 'In divine worship,' says Goebel, 'we reach glorious features of pre-eminence. The hymns of the Church are the people's confession, and have wrought more than the preaching. In the Lutheran Church alone, German hymnology attained a bloom truly amazing. The words of holy song were heard everywhere, and sometimes, as with a single stroke, won whole cities for the Gospel'” (Krauth, C. (1871). Conservative Reformation and its Theology. Philadelphia: Lippincott. pp. 152-154)
A Tradition of Excellence, eschewed for a more Contemporary standard
Michael PretoriusGiven the importance of the Incarnation at Christ's Nativity, the necessity of the Church's recognition and continuing announcement of it before the World, the example and high standard of excellence displayed in Lutheran works of previous generations, and the ever increasing contentedness with mediocrity in today's contemporary Church and resulting devaluation of core Christian truths, we at Intrepid Lutherans thought it would be a good idea to reacquaint our fellow Lutherans with some of these composers and the tradition of excellence we have inherited from them. In the first installment of the Music for Holy Week series in 2011 (Music for Holy Week, Part 1 – excerpts from Matthäus Passion), we briefly introduced the Lutheran composer that we will be featuring today: Michael Praetorius (~1571 – 1621). Michael Praetorius, who was no relation to two other important Lutheran composers of the same era, Hieronymus and Jacob Praetorius, was raised the son of a second generation Lutheran pastor (who had been a student of Dr. Martin Luther's), lived his adult life in the service of the Church, being educated in theology and philosophy at Frankfurt and then holding the position of court Kappelmeister in Wolfenbüttel for most of his carreer, and dedicated his service to the cause of advancing Lutheran church music. By the time of his Wolfenbüttel appointment in 1604, he had already earned acclaim as one of the most accomplished organists of his time – a title he still holds, partly by reputation and partly by indication left us in his extant works for organ (around ten). Some numbering his works at over one thousand, his total output as a composer was prolific by any standard, and creatively broad: in just the forty choral works included in his Polyhymnia Caduceatrix alone (only three volumes of a planned fifteen were published) , "every type of liturgical music from two-part bicinia to large-scale polychoral concerti for voices and instruments in the Baroque style"* is represented. His compositions weren’t limited to the intellectual expectations and abilities of court worshipers and musicians either, as he endeavored to equip the common countryside parish with such works by "writing music that could be performed, if necessary, by the humblest village choir."* His most enduring and broadly influential work, however, was written to equip composers of church music and instrumentalists with every type of information they would need to execute their art with the highest musical integrity: his three-volume Syntagma musicum – a treatise on baroque instruments, composition and performance, from historical, theoretical and practical standpoints – which is considered definitive even today. Considering this productivity, many consider his early death in 1621 to be due to illness wrought by exhaustion! Yet his legacy endures, if not in the Church (which, these days, seems ever too happy to turn its back on the past), then in the World, where relatively recent rediscovery of Michael Praetorius has confronted today's musicians not only with his dedicated energy and his creative genius, but his motivations in the Gospel of Jesus Christ to produce as he did. This rediscovery is generally credited with inspiring the Early Music revival we have enjoyed over the past two or three decades.

A Tradition of Excellence, preserved in recordings...
The following three video selections from the works of Michael Praetorius are common Christmas pieces, mostly neglected by the church today. The first is a traditional choral piece harmonized in 1609 by Praetorius, which those of us who are middle aged or older may remember hearing or singing in our youth: Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen – referring to the birth of Christ. It is certainly one of those works that can be mastered by the humblest of parish choirs. The parts are simple, the harmonies natural (mostly), and the variation of consonant sounds (hard and soft sounds alternating from front to back of mouth) make it very easy for a basic choir to enunciate and for hearers to clearly understand the words. This selection is actually two videos. The first is of the Mainzer Domchor, and for those who prefer protestant voices, I tacked on a second performance of this piece from the Dresdner Kreuzchor, which starts a few seconds after the first video ends. Recordings of this piece can be had on just about every "traditional Christmas" album. Two such albums that have become favorites in our household are: Festliche Weinacht (Ivan Rebroff und die Regensburger Domspatzen) and Die Schönsten Weinachtslieder (Dresdner Kreuzchor)

Michael Praetorius, Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen
performed first by the Mainzer Domchor and then the Dresdner Kreuzchor.

The second work is a rousing antiphonal piece, ideally meant to be be sung responsively between choir and congregation: Puer natus in Bethlehem. It is arranged in two languages. Latin is the language of the choir, representing the voices of heaven bearing the announcement of Christ's birth and exhorting eternal praise to God, yet it is accompanied by only a thin "incomplete" sounding string section; the congregation, on the other hand, is accompanied by resounding trumpets, timpani and organ, and singing in the vernacular (German, English, etc), responds to, affirms, and repeats Heaven's message and praise. Perhaps the best example of this piece, should the reader desire it, can be found on this very popular album: Praetorius: Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning (Gabrieli Consort & Players)

Michael Praetorius, Puer natus in Bethlehem

Finally, the third work: In dulce jubilo. It is an exremely dynamic and celebratory antiphonal piece, but is led principally by the congregation, not the choir, and exchanges parts mostly with individual soloists from the choir rather than with the choir itself. This piece also calls for a full trumpet section and timpani, as one would expect heralding the birth of a King. Praetorius even advised that the trumpets be placed outside the church building, impressing upon those inside the building, and actually having the effect, that Christ's birth is being joyously heralded to all the World. In addition to the Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning, mentioned above (and from which the music in the following video is taken), two other recordings of this piece which can be frequently heard in our home throughout Advent and Christmas seasons are found on the following two albums: Christmas Music by Michael Praetorius (Westminster Cathedral Choir & The Parley of Instruments) and Praetorius: Polyhymnia Caduceatrix & Panegyrica (Musica Fiata Köln & La Capella Ducale).

Michael Praetorius, In dulce jubilo

Mr. Douglas Lindee

* Direct quotes taken from the liner notes of the following album: Christmas Music by Michael Praetorius (Westminster Cathedral Choir & The Parley of Instruments).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Bridegroom's Gift to His Bride at Christmas(s)

(Reposted from last year)

Like it or not, Christmas is one of those holidays that the Church shares with the world. Many festive traditions have grown up around it, like trees and lights and music and presents. The Church uses these to celebrate the birth of Christ. The world uses them simply to celebrate. We may bemoan the secularization of the Christmas season and we may complain that the world has stolen from the Church more than she has willingly shared.

And yet, how can we complain? Even though the world abuses it and often refuses it, Christmas is God’s gift to all men. The whole world is invited to the celebration. Shout it from the mountaintops! Proclaim it from the pulpit! If you belong to the human race, then “a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” Hear the good news and believe!

But there remains one Christmas tradition that is reserved for the Bride of Christ, his Church – a gift meant only for her. This gift is unpretentious. It doesn’t sparkle; it doesn’t shine. In ancient times, the entire Christmas season grew out of this gift that now lingers modestly in the background, no longer the focus of Christmas, and yet not quite forgotten. It is a Christmas gift given for the Church alone to receive, wrapped up and waiting for her on Christmas morning.

You won’t find this gift under the Christmas tree or at the dinner table, but you will find it on many a Table in many a church on Christmas morning: a body that was given in and from the womb of a virgin; given under law to redeem those who were under the law; given over to death for the sins of all; a body born in time but prepared in eternity so that God could die and man could live, the Word Made Flesh who once made his dwelling among us.

See! He makes his dwelling among us still – the same body, the same blood, no longer wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, but wrapped in bread and wine, cradled in a pastor’s hand and given to you...and to you...and to you.

You didn’t get to hear the angelic host singing in the night skies of Bethlehem, but you do get to join the saints on earth and the hosts of heaven in glorious song, “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” You didn’t get to be there for the miracle of the virgin birth, but you do get to be there for this miracle when God comes to earth and gives himself to his people to touch and to taste, to eat and to drink in Christmas communion. You get to celebrate the birth of Christ in the sacramental presence of Christ. Who would have thought?

What a miracle! What a gift – better than any present waiting under the Christmas tree! The gift of real peace. The gift of eternal life. The gift of divine forgiveness. The God-given medicine against guilt and condemnation. At the heart of Christmas is the Word Made Flesh – in the Gospel that tells of his incarnation, and in the Sacrament that brings the Incarnate Word to earth again.

Of all the Christmas traditions that the world has borrowed and emptied, this tradition belongs to the Church and to her alone: to meet together on December 25th in the Real Presence of her Savior, born in Bethlehem, to receive him with all his benefits and to offer him the worship of faith. And in this Christmas communion, her song speaks of the past as well as the present, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Pastoral Rationale for Using the Common Cup

The following is a pastoral letter sent to the members of my congregation. I share it with our readers here in the hopes that you might find something useful in it.


Rorate Coeli, AD 2011

Dear members of Emmanuel,

As promised, I have put down in writing an expanded version of the things I shared with you on Sunday after the service regarding our introduction of the Common Cup on Christmas Day. I hope you find it edifying. (And I hope you’ll read all the way to the end. Take a break in between sections if you have to!)


“The cup” is a picture used throughout the Scriptures to symbolize what we receive from God, as we “drink” from his hand either blessing or wrath.
    Psalm 23:5 (NKJV) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

    Jeremiah 25:15 (ESV) Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. “

    Psalm 116:12–13 (ESV) What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.

    Matthew 20:22–23 (ESV) Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

    Mark 14:36 (ESV) And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave his own cup to his disciples, filled, not with wrath, but with blessing. What could be a more fitting symbol for Holy Communion! The one “cup of blessing” symbolizes the blessing we receive from God through the One Man, Jesus Christ. More than that, the one cup actually distributes to many individuals the real blood of the One Man, Jesus Christ, “shed for many for the remission of sins.” One Sacrifice for many sinners, one cup for many individuals.

Luther says this about the cup:
    In reference to this particular cup, then, Matthew and Mark may be understood as saying that each of the apostles had a cup before him on the table, or at least that there were more cups than one. But now, when Christ gives a new, special drink of his blood, he commands them all to drink out of this single cup. Thus, in proffering it and with a special gesture, Christ takes his own cup and lets them all drink of it, in distinction from all the other ordinary cups on the table, in order that they might better observe that it was a special drink in distinction from the other draughts which had been given them during the meal. The bread he could readily—indeed, he must—have so distributed that each received a piece for himself. But the wine he could not have distributed in this manner, but had to serve it in a cup for them all, indicating verbally that it was to be a drink in common for them all, not offered to and drunk by only one or two or three, as the other cups on the table were available to each as he wished. (AE:37:311)

The use of a Common Cup matches exactly the symbolism that Jesus chose to use on the night he was betrayed. With a Common Cup, we all literally receive from God’s hand (through his called servant) a single cup from which to drink, and in that cup is the blood of a single Man, literally distributed to many individuals.

The use of Individual Cups completely removes this symbolism and introduces its own faulty symbolism. Rather than each one receiving the blood of the One Man from the one cup, the wine is pre-separated into many tiny cups so that, by the time the wine is blessed (or “consecrated”) and the real presence of Christ’s blood comes to the wine, it is already divided into dozens of individual portions. Many cups for many individuals instead of one cup for many individuals; many neatly separated measurements of Christ’s blood instead of a single supply that flows to many.

This is not the symbolism Christ intended. He could have easily blessed all the wine that was already poured in the various cups that were already on the table on the night he was betrayed. But he didn’t. Instead, he blessed the one cup to be given to many. The Common Cup fulfills this symbolism beautifully.


But even more important than the symbol are the actual words of Christ and the real presence of Christ in this Supper. It is clear from all four Scripture accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper that Christ took a single cup, gave thanks over it and instructed all of his disciples to “drink from it.”
    Matthew 26:27-28 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

    Mark 14:23 Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

    Luke 22:20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

    1 Corinthians 11:25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

In Scripture, the Sacrament of the Altar is so closely tied to the use of “the cup” that the word “wine” is never even mentioned in connection with the Lord’s Supper (although, from the context, we are 100% certain that grape wine was the content of the cup). Here is another reference:
    1 Corinthians 11:26-28 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Now, there are three questions we must answer. First, does the real presence of Jesus’ blood in this Sacrament (and thus, the forgiveness of sins!) depend on the kind of vessel that is used? The answer is, no. When the Word of Christ is spoken over the bread and wine that says, “This is my body; This is my blood,” nothing in the world can make the Word of Christ invalid. All the wine on the altar is blessed with the Words of Institution, consecrated, set aside for sacred use. Christ’s blood is really present in, with and under the wine, no matter what vessel contains it.

As our Small Catechism says, “’Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’”

Second, is it completely incompatible with Christ’s command to use Individual Cups? In other words, is it sinful? Are we bringing guilt on ourselves in the very Sacrament that is intended to erase guilt? Again, the answer is no. 1) Bread, 2) wine, 3) the Words of institution, 4) a called pastor who administers the body and blood of Christ, and 5) communicants who receive them – those are the essential elements in the Lord’s Supper which absolutely must be retained among Christians in order to celebrate the Sacrament according to Christ’s institution.

It’s important to view the Sacrament rightly. The Roman Catholic understanding of the Mass is that it is man’s sacrifice to God, man’s work done for God to merit the forgiveness of sins. But the Lutheran, Scriptural teaching of the Mass is that it is entirely God’s work done for us. We are on the receiving (the “drinking”) end, not the giving (the “pouring out”) end. Christ did not set up another Law in this Sacrament, as if, by our meticulous obedience, we earned his forgiveness, or as if, by our failure to observe the non-essential details of the institution, we incurred His wrath. “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). The only “service” we render to God in the Sacrament is the worship of faith – faith in his words that we are truly receiving his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. By faith in Christ, who did all things in the right way for us, we are rescued from the burden of having to do the right things in the right way in order to become righteous before God.

So it is neither a “good work of the Law” to use the Chalice, nor is it a “sinful work under the Law” to use Individual Cups. We are not rendering to God our service in the Sacrament. On the contrary, he is handing out the benefits of His service to us.

Finally we have to ask the question, is it fully consistent with Christ’s command to use Individual Cups? Are we following exactly the pattern that Christ set for us, the pattern that his Church has observed for almost 2000 years? Here we must frankly answer, no. “Drink from it, all of you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

While the vessel of distribution is not an essential part of the Sacrament, it is not an entirely insignificant part, either, because of Jesus’ words. His words are everything. They matter. He could have said, “This wine is the new covenant in my blood.” He could have said, “The wine in these cups is the new covenant in my blood.” But instead, he chose – in every single Scripture reference – to refer to “the cup” from which we are to drink.

We are not minimalists in the Lutheran Church. We don’t ask the question, “How little do we have to do to get by in following Christ’s words and institution in order to have a valid Sacrament?” Instead, we simply stay as close to his words as possible, and rejoice in the blessings we receive through them.

The use of a Common Cup matches exactly the practice that Jesus instituted on the night he was betrayed and follows his words to the letter. The use of Individual Cups, while not sinful, is still not fully consistent with the practice Christ instituted.


As you may remember from catechism/confirmation classes, there is both a vertical communion and a horizontal communion that take place in the Sacrament of the Altar – a communion of each individual with Christ, and a communion of all individuals with their fellow communicants.

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (NKJV), “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”

This is also stated beautifully in our Lutheran Confessions:
    Consider this true, almighty Lord, our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, after the Last Supper. He is just beginning His bitter suffering and death for our sins. In those sad last moments, with great consideration and solemnity, He institutes this most venerable Sacrament. It was to be used until the end of the world with great reverence and obedience ‹humility›. It was to be an abiding memorial of His bitter suffering and death and all His benefits. It was a sealing ‹and confirmation› of the New Testament, a consolation of all distressed hearts, and a firm bond of unity for Christians with Christ, their Head, and with one another. (Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration: Art. VII, 44).

Our American culture emphasizes individualism and independence. But the Sacrament of the Altar does the opposite. It pulls us away from ourselves into a very real experience of unity and oneness, as all the individual believers come together to drink from the cup of Christ. Here no one is better or worse than another; no one is too good to drink from the same cup as his fellow believer, and no one is not good enough. All are one in Christ.

The Common Cup displays the striking reality of this oneness as we leave our individualism behind and, for a brief moment, come together around the cup of Christ. We return to our seats with an unavoidable realization of our oneness in the body of Christ. Our spiritual oneness is invisible, intangible. But that spiritual oneness is acted out visibly and tangibly when all drink from the one cup of Christ.

The same is really true of the bread. While the bread is cut into many wafers, all those wafers are gathered together in one place. They touch one another. There is no separation between them.

But the wine in the Individual Cups is kept completely separate from one cup to the next. One never touches the other. Individual Cups continue to foster the false notion that we are nothing more than a bunch of separate individuals coming forward to receive our own individual meal, and then go back to our seats just as separated from one another as before, perhaps even thankful that we didn’t have to drink from the same cup as our fellow members. This hardly fits the reality of what is going on in the Sacrament.

One of the founding fathers of the Lutheran Church, Martin Chemnitz, sharply criticized the 15th Century Roman Catholic theologians for giving in to this notion that Christians may not wish to drink from the same cup as their fellow Christians. One reason why the Council of Constance (1414-1418) chose to withhold the cup entirely from the laity was that “it might, as it were, become unappetizing for many to drink, when many others had drunk before.” Chemnitz responded, “It is evident, therefore, that the church has now become quite dainty, seeing that antiquity often reiterates that the sign and token of the church's unity is that one cup is offered for all, as Chrysostom says” (Examination of the Council of Trent, Vol. 2, p. 370).


The simple truth is that for nearly 1900 years of church history, Individual Cups were unknown. Only a Common Cup was used in the Christian Church – in every church and in every denomination that observed the Lord’s Supper. It’s not as if all those Christians were incapable of figuring out a way to individualize the distribution of Christ’s blood. And it’s not as if those Christians didn’t have to deal with issues of hygiene. They simply rejected the concept of “individualization.” Everyone in the church drank from the Chalice. They did it for a reason, because it was perfectly consistent with Christ’s words and with their belief and confession regarding the Sacrament. Why would they ever do anything else?

The answer is that in the late 1800’s, some Reformed churches began introducing Individual Cups. The Reformed churches rejected (and still reject) the real presence of the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, so for them, there is no real communion taking place; only a symbolic meal of remembrance. They believe Jesus meant to say, “This represents my body; this represents my blood.” They deny the very essence of the Sacrament by denying the presence of the body and blood of Christ in, with and under the bread and wine. In effect, they have no Sacrament!

So since the Reformed already empty Jesus’ words of their literal meaning in the Sacrament, they do not mind changing other aspects of its institution, including the substituting of grape juice for the wine, since alcohol can be abused.

The use of grape juice was common among the Reformed by the late 1800’s, and some began to fear that, without the alcohol content, there might be more of a chance of germs being passed from person to person, so they introduced Individual Cups, and the practice caught on as a matter of concern over hygiene. This change was perfectly consistent with their Reformed theology, because, since the body and blood of Christ are not present, there is no real communion taking place, neither between believers and Christ, nor between believers and one another.

By the mid 1900’s, Lutheran churches, influenced by the concerns over hygiene and spurred on by American pragmatism, were slowly beginning to adopt the practice of using Individual Cups, so that, by the late 1980’s, most Lutheran churches were at least using Individual Cups as an option alongside the Common Cup. In these cases, the Lutheran churches took a minimalist approach to Holy Communion, and allowed the Reformed practice to influence their own. The problem is, practice carries theology along with it!

In all honesty, the past 50 to 60 years have largely been an era of “experimentation” for Lutherans in the United States, an era in which the historic practices of the Church have been downplayed, criticized, and, in many cases, abandoned in favor of “trying something new,” either to “blend in better with the culture” or to be more “pragmatic,” or simply out of boredom with traditions they never understood. This infatuation with innovation has affected Communion practices, worship practices, and evangelism practices, to the point that even our very theological underpinnings are jeopardized. More often than not, the wisdom of our elders has proven to be wiser than our presumptuous innovations. We shouldn’t have been so quick to assume that we were wiser than the Church that has gone before us.

Is hygiene really something we should be concerned about in using the Common Cup? 1900 years worth of Christians say, “No, fellow saints of God! Don’t be so dainty!”

Modern scientific studies also say, “No!” These studies have shown that the alcohol content of the wine combined with the precious metal of the Common Cup (gold plating, in our case) combined with the wiping of the cup after each person drinks from it make it nearly impossible to transmit diseases this way. The same studies have shown no rise in sickness among church members who use the Common Cup as opposed to those who use Individual Cups. Everyone gets sick, but the Common Cup isn’t to blame.

And most importantly of all, the Lord Jesus says, “No, you don’t have to be afraid that I will hurt you.” We believe that it is more than bread and wine that we are receiving in the Sacrament. We are receiving Jesus himself. Jesus gave “the cup” to his beloved Church, his Bride, not to harm her but to heal her. The only ones harmed by receiving the Sacrament are those who eat and drink in an “unworthy manner,” that is, without faith in Jesus’ words. Do we really believe that the same Lord who said, “Drink from it, all of you,” is incapable of preserving us from physical harm when we follow his words? Let us have faith in Jesus!


There is one more reason why we will be introducing the Common Cup, and it has to do with our public confession. As we have seen, the Reformed churches use Individual Cups for a reason. They deny the presence of the blood of Christ and the efficacy of the words of Christ. We do not agree with them. On the contrary, “Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and distributed to those who eat the Lord’s Supper. They reject those who teach otherwise” (Augsburg Confession: Article X).

Since we reject the Reformed teaching regarding the Sacrament and since we believe the opposite of what the Reformed believe about this Sacrament, then it hardly makes sense for us to imitate their practice, as if we, like them, confessed the absence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament.

And since we confess that it is the true blood of Jesus that is present in this Sacrament, do we learn reverence for our King and confess the presence of the King better with a goblet of gold or with disposable plastic cups? Our public confession both announces to the world what we believe and reinforces among ourselves what we believe. If we wish to line up our practice with our confession, then it is clear that a Common Cup is the better choice.

I will confess to you, as your pastor, that I have not always seen the issue this clearly. I grew up seeing the Common Cup and Individual Cups side by side, and thought little of it. The practice of using Individual Cups has become so accepted in our church body that even our seminary treats it as a non-issue. It is only after further studying the Scriptures and the Lutheran fathers myself that I have come to see the great benefit of the Chalice, and also the inherent detriment of the Individual Cups.

But as your pastor, my concern is also for those who may be struggling to digest all of this. After all, our congregation has been using Individual Cups ever since it was founded in the 1980’s, and some of our members had never even heard about the history of the Chalice in the Lutheran Church until recently. Additionally, some may be struggling to overcome their fear of germs, and many years of using Individual Cups has only reinforced their fears, unfounded as they may be.

So, as we have discussed on several occasions, both the Common Cup and the Individual Cups will be offered together at our church at our regular Sunday Divine Service, and we must not look down on one another for our choices in this matter. If the day should come that the congregation decides to stop using Individual Cups, so be it. As for me, I make no command. But I do strongly encourage all of our members to leave behind the Individual Cups and embrace the Common Cup, for all the reasons given above. I fault no one for using the Individual Cups, and I rejoice to administer the precious blood of the Lord to you no matter what vessel is used. I do hope that you find the rationale offered here to be a compelling reason to choose the Chalice as that vessel.

Your servant in Christ Jesus,
Pastor Rydecki

Friday, December 16, 2011

WELS Synod President Mark Schroeder issues scorching rebuke of Church Growth Movement

In an official Synod address, though in a most even mannered and gentlemanly way, Rev. Mark Schroeder, President of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, excoriates the Church Growth Movement (CGM) and Sectarian Worship within our midst, and in their place emphasizes fidelity to Scripture and the Confessions in doctrine and practice, and uplifts a deliberate, unified and unique Lutheran identity under them. The first 42 minutes of this address is well worth a congregational study.

[As an aside, notice Schroeder's use of Power Point (PP). Black lettering on white background. Nothing to look at. Nothing to distract his hearers from what he had to say. According to the latest in leadership studies (and statistical research regarding the helpfulness of PP), if an organizational leader is forced to do PP to his audience, Schroeder's method is the way to do it: no color, no animations, no diagrams, no silly pictures; only black lettering on white background (which has been proven to maximize PP retention). Anything else, while increasing audience approval (i.e., they enjoyed it more because it was more entertaining, giving them the impression that they "got more out of it"), results in much lower retention of what was actually said. Preferably, it is increasingly being advised, if the actual words of the speaker are important enough to be retained and considered by his hearers, studies and theory are beginning to show that doing PP to one's audience ought to be avoided. It is only useful for summary of detail, and only when the speaker and his words don't really matter.]

NOTE that this video is no longer available. Perhaps there is a desire that it no longer be seen by anyone... More than likely, however, access to video simply lapsed. Someone should look into that. In the meantime, here is a link to the report itself: 2009 WELS Convention Presidents Report (beginning on pg. 98). I doubt very much that WELS will ever see CGM referred to so directly, in the negative, at a Synod Convention, again.

Rick Techlin — the excommunicated-communicant-member of the WELS who still doesn't know what his doctrinal error was (which doesn't seem to be of great consequence after all, since, as I understand it, he is communing at a different WELS congregation now... perhaps his DP can help straighten that out?) — has offered summary excerpts from this address on his blog, Light from Light, some of which is included below:
    "WELS describes itself as a confessional Lutheran synod. That means that we subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions as contained in the Book of Concord of 1580 not insofar as (quatenus) they are a correct exposition of biblical teaching but because (quia) they are. It means that our synod boldly, and without qualification or hesitation, upholds the doctrine (what we believe and teach) as articulated in the Confessions and is committed to reflecting those doctrinal beliefs in our practice (how we express our faith and carry out our mission). Our unity in faith is created by the power of God’s revealed Word and shaped by the doctrines of Scripture; it is expressed in our common commitment to the Lutheran Confessions as correct expositions and explanations of biblical truth. Since the time of the Reformation, Lutherans have recognized the importance of articulating not only what we believe as Christians, but what distinguishes Lutheran belief and practice from that of other Christian churches that have departed from scriptural truth."

    "There is no doubt that the early fathers of our synod were filled with a fervent zeal for mission work, but not all of them were fully committed to Lutheran doctrine and practice. They were sent to America by mission societies in Germany in which the distinction between Lutheran and Reformed teachings was blurred at best and virtually non-existent at worst. Their roots in pietism also resulted in a lack of commitment to sound Lutheran theology. True to those roots, they preferred to emphasize the importance of subjective feelings over the objective truth of God’s Word, sanctified living over justification, and the power of prayer over the efficacy of the means of grace. They emphasized the priesthood of all believers to the point where they downplayed the importance of the public ministry. John Muehlhaeuser, the first president of what would become the Wisconsin Synod, gave evidence of this doctrinal laxity when he said, 'I am in a position to offer every child of God and servant of Christ the hand of fellowship over the denominational fence.'"

    "By God’s grace that orientation soon changed. In 1861 John Bading was elected as the second president of the synod. In contrast to Muehlhaeuser, Bading regarded the Lutheran Confessions as a proclamation of God’s truth for every age and was committed to sound Lutheran doctrine and practice. In his first address as president, he encouraged the young synod to sacrifice 'blood, life, and limb and suffer all rather than depart one hair’s breadth from the truth we have learned.' In the years that followed, we are grateful that through his leadership and through the beneficial influence of the Missouri Synod, God transformed our synod into one that was truly committed to the doctrines of Scripture and to the Lutheran Confessions.

    "Striving to remain faithful to the Scriptures — and to maintain our confessional identity — does not involve a single battle fought and won. It is an ongoing struggle for the church militant. When the battle ends on one front today, Satan opens another front tomorrow. That’s why each generation needs to recognize this struggle as its own and engage in it zealously. Each generation, including ours, needs to resist the temptation to be led astray by false teachings, both blatant and subtle... When orthodoxy is assumed or taken for granted, it is likely soon to be lost.

    "As Confessional Lutherans we are committed to holding on to the truth of God’s Word and to defending against all error. We do that, however, not merely to keep that Word for ourselves, but rather to share that message with the world now and for generations to come. It is a false antithesis to say that faithfulness to doctrine is somehow opposed to, or detracts from, a commitment to sharing the gospel. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The truth of Scripture, entrusted to us by God, is what gives us a message to proclaim. A truly correct understanding of biblical doctrine always produces a correct understanding of the mission of the church and recognizes the compelling need to share God’s truth with the world."

    "As Confessional Lutherans we will look for every opportunity to proclaim God’s law in all its harshness, and we will be zealous to share the sweet message of the gospel to every sinner convicted by God’s law. But we will never adjust or hide or downplay a single word of God’s truth in order to make it somehow more attractive. To do that is to empty the gospel of its power and to lose the gospel itself."

    "Doctrine and practice are intimately related to each other. Therefore, it’s essential that we be wary of methods and practices that have their roots in evangelical and reformed theology and that may inherently reflect that theology. For example, these 'theological underpinnings' can show themselves in worship and outreach methods that emphasizes subjective feelings over the proclamation of God’s objective gospel truth; or that gives the impression that prayer is a means of grace; or that emphasizes the role of praise over against the centrality of the Word proclaimed and the sacraments administered."

Those of us who remain publicly supportive of Synod President Schroeder's leadership recall this address with fondness. It remains evidence of his intention to lead in the direction of confessional Lutheran unity, of his fidelity to Scripture and the Confessions, and of his trust in the efficacy of God's Word. May such continue among us.

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