Friday, January 27, 2012

Biggest on the Block - Not

Editorial Comment
[Caution: The following is an editorial, that is, in literary terms, an opinion piece. As such it has no points to prove or sources to cite, but seeks only to provoke thought and from thought, perhaps action. Some readers may find it somewhat acerbic and perhaps even a bit caustic in places. Rest assured it is written in love and hope. Pastor Spencer]

Long, long ago, at a WELS Pastoral Conference far away, a rather well-renowned speaker made the following declaration at the end of a presentation, "There is absolutely no reason why the Wisconsin Synod cannot be the biggest church on the block. We have what no other church has – the pure truth of the Gospel." Now, while it is true that I sometimes have a hard time remembering the exact birthdays of each of my five children, and have been known to arrive home without the requested gallon of milk or carton of eggs, I remember this incident with incredible clarity.

The comment received a great deal of approval at that time and place, although in those days WELS Pastors seldom, if ever, gave anyone a standing ovation, or even so much as clapped for anyone or anything – at least not in church or meetings anyway. Neither did anyone even say with jocularity, "Give the governor a harrumph!" Such things were simply not done in our circles back in the Neolithic age, i.e. before yippee-skippee worship infected us. Still, there was much nodding of heads and the murmur of "That's right!" and "He makes a great point!"

Of course, being then the rather naive and foolish person I was at the time – only a year out of the seminary – and unfamiliar as I was, not having been born and raised WELS, with the rule that a Pastor must have twenty years experience before he can so much as second a motion, much less comment on a older Pastor's statement – I arose to challenge what I felt was a rather brash and uncalled for declaration by my elder brother in the ministry.

I offered the exact opposite opinion; that there was and is indeed a very good reason why the WELS was and is never going to be the biggest church on the block. The reason, I said, was that very self-same pure Gospel, which I had the audacity to remind this Pastor, was foolishness to natural man, and completely hated by the world. I also reminded the group of Jesus' own prediction that unless the Last Day would come sooner rather than later, there wouldn't even be any believers left on earth at all! This, I declared, certainly didn't bode well for any church, but especially for one which claimed to stand solidly on the foolishness of the Cross!

Well, I discovered quite quickly somewhat to my dismay that although WELS Pastors back then weren't yet in the habit of giving expressions of acclamation, they were quite adept at booing! This would be the first but by no means the last time brother Pastors would accuse me of being "negative."

Be that as it may, and I will admit to being perhaps just a bit more cynical than some, or even most, still, there is, I believe, an important truth in my challenge of that now-famous speaker all those decades ago, that bears repeating still today.

The only reason that the darkness of this old sinful world has not completely overcome the light of the Gospel, is not for lack of effort, but because of the mercy and power of God through His Means of Grace, period! In spite of all the attacks, both from without, but more especially and more damaging, from within the church, the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, preached by His faithful servants, and practiced in the Sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord's Supper, continues to exist throughout the world, and even flourishes now and then, here or there.

[We'll leave aside for the moment the whole question of just how purely and truthfully the Gospel is being proclaimed throughout our synod today. That will be addressed in a future editorial.]

But nowhere in Scripture are we who endeavor to maintain and share the pure Gospel as delivered to us by the prophets, Apostles, and Reformers, and so beautifully professed in the Lutheran Confessions, promised that we will ever be "the biggest church on the block" (whatever that means anyway). That is simply never going to happen.

In fact, the Bible prepares us instead for the exact opposite – what I often refer to as "The Lutheran Church of the Living Room." The day may well come, and soon, when faithful confessional Lutherans will have nowhere else to meet, and have such small numbers that local groupings will easily fit into the average living room or den.

Naturally, this does not mean we will not work our hardest and put forth our absolute best efforts to proclaim the Gospel and be faithful tools in the hands of the Holy Spirit to win souls for Jesus' kingdom. But we must always remember that despite our most ardent work, the love of many will indeed continue to grow cold towards God's offer of free and faithful grace. Regardless of what we might wish and hope and pray for, the world will turn against us more and more and seek to destroy us, and in those efforts our numbers will inevitably shrink as we are hard-pressed on every side!

Yet, even then, with the darkness all around us and closing in, we can be sure that Jesus, like the U.S. Cavalry of old, is just over the hill, riding to our eternal rescue. God speed, dear Jesus, God speed!

Deo Vindice!

Pastor Spencer

They have kneelers - and they use them

I promised to share a few impressions of the symposia last week at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne. I won’t bore you with a play-by-play journal of the week. But here are some things that struck me.

I didn’t attend the Exegetical Symposium that took up the first part of the week. Instead, I attended the presentations for the Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions (Wednesday afternoon through Friday morning). The overarching theme was: Justification in a Contemporary Context.

The presentations were very scholarly. I think all the presenters had a doctorate in something or other, and several came from non-Lutheran circles. It seems that the purpose of the presentations was not to teach the truth, but to inform the audience regarding current philosophies and trends in the broader “Christian” context. Rather than, “This is what God says,” it was more, “This is what so-and-so thinks (or thought) about justification.” While that may be helpful for ecumenical dialogue, I would have preferred more discussion of the Scriptures and Confessions themselves. Justification is an article of doctrine that urgently needs to be studied among Lutherans, and the best way to get back to a Lutheran understanding of the chief article, in my opinion, would be to set aside everything written about it in the last 300 years. First Scripture, then the Confessions, then Luther and Chemnitz. Once we have learned from them how to believe and to speak like Lutherans again, then we can move forward cautiously from the 16th century.

For me, the high point of the week was getting to know the LCMS pastors and laity, as well as their culture. In addition to their friendliness, there was a seriousness among them that I have rarely seen in WELS circles, an eagerness to discuss theology and doctrine that was very refreshing. As one pastor told me, “It’s a way of life.” Say what you want about the problems in Missouri, but their conflicts and battles have forced them back into the Scriptures and the Confessions, and as a result, they are far more ready to speak and discuss than those who simply assume their orthodoxy or take it for granted.

There was actually a very open and honest admission in Ft. Wayne that the LCMS has major problems that need addressing. This didn’t just come from a few disgruntled rabble rousers. It came from everyone - from recent seminary graduates to seminary professors to the synodical president Matt Harrison (who, I should mention, expressed to me his heartfelt love and appreciation for our president Schroeder and his joy in renewed discussions with the WELS). It seems to be a given in Missouri that the synod is sorely divided and in desperate need of repentance and help from Above.

…which brings me to what struck me most about the seminary in Ft. Wayne, and it has to do with their chapel. It’s a beautiful, reverent chapel, with a baptismal font filled with water in the entryway. Many, though not all, would dip their fingers in the water and make the sign of the cross on themselves. There was lots of crossing oneself during the Matins and Vespers services, and a reverent bowing of the head at the Gloria Patri – without prompting and without any sort of chatty instruction from the presiding minister. There was a natural piety evident among the worshipers and among the ministers that was shamefully unfamiliar to me. Most noticeably to me, in their chapel they have kneelers – and they use them.

In all my years in the WELS, I can’t remember ever kneeling in church. I recall seeing kneelers (but not using them) in the pews at only a few old WELS churches I have attended, and they were unheard of at the synodical schools I attended. (I honestly don’t know if the chairs in our “newly” renovated seminary chapel have them. Maybe they do.)

What does this mean? It means nothing in and of itself. But to me, the kneeling I witnessed in Ft. Wayne is representative of a very salutary spirit within the Missouri Synod. Both of our synods have the Scriptures and the Confessions as their foundational documents. But both synods have clergy and congregations that have moved away from these foundations in this or in that area. Missouri tends to err more on the side of unionism, while the WELS tends to err more on the side of sectarianism. Neither synod practices much synodical discipline (at least, not the Scriptural kind). Neither synod is united within its own walls regarding the Office of the Holy Ministry, and both have remnants of Pietism and Church Growth philosophies and methodologies running rampant.

But Missouri is, for the most part, honest about this, open about her disunity, and prepared to acknowledge the seriousness of her flaws. More than that, her current president has repeatedly and publicly called his people (starting with himself) to repentance, and seems committed to addressing every issue from the Word of God. I see many, many LCMS pastors fighting for the historic, apostolic, Lutheran faith. But they are not fighting from a high horse. They are fighting from their knees. And that is a good thing. I hope it continues.

And I pray it rubs off. I know it did on me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Officially Intrepid

OK, so last week I received the Sabre of Boldness award from the editors of Gottesdienst: The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy. This award is given “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity on behalf of the Holy Church of Christ while engaged in the confession of His pure Gospel in the face of hostile forces and at the greatest personal risk.” You can listen to the audio of the award ceremony on the Gottesdienst Online site.

Whoever nominated me for this award surely overestimated my “gallantry,” as well as the hostility of the forces that oppose me and the rest of us at Intrepid Lutherans. There have been several cases of scoldings, condemnations and synodical shunnings. But as I noted in Ft. Wayne, I’ve received no death threats, nor have I or my children had to go begging bread. And if I were to weigh the friends I’ve lost in the WELS against the friends I’ve gained in the WELS, ELS, LCMS and beyond over the past year and a half of Lutheran Intrepidity, I think I’d still come out ahead.

So “well-deserved” the Sabre of Boldness is not.

But then, it isn’t really an award for merit or accomplishment. It’s essentially an award for being an “unworthy servant” (Luke 17:10). It’s an award for doing what every Christian is called upon to do: to confess the Christ and bear the cross. It’s like honoring a man for being alive. There’s a bit of humor in that, even a hint of sarcasm.

There’s also a degree of sadness in it, an element of commiseration, as we acknowledge together that the cross borne by Christians, and especially ministers of the Gospel, is real, and it’s heavy, even deadly. To quote the Rev. Daniel Deutschlander, “As Christians bear the cross and follow after their Lord, they can expect to endure hostility and persecution from those outside of the church. Sadly, however, some of the most painful experiences of Christians come not from outsiders but from fellow believers.” Ja, das ist gewisslich wahr.

But this is not the sadness of defeat or despair. There’s no room for whining or for bitterness among the people of God. To bear the cross is to be like Christ, and pastors have a unique calling to stand in His stead and take their lumps. If we would be shepherds under Christ, then we must imitate Him and be ready to die with Him. Only the hirelings escape the wounds inflicted by wolves.

So more than anything, I see the Sabre as a display of Christian love, a show of support and encouragement and of steadfast resolve to fight together the good fight against the devil, the world and the sinful nature, to make the good confession that leads first to shame, and then to glory; first to the cross, and then to the crown. (There’s a Transfiguration sermon in there somewhere…)

I’m thankful to God for the committed and confessional Lutheranism I have seen in my Missouri Synod brothers and sisters, and I’m grateful to the editors at Gottesdienst for their display of Christian love in the selection they made for the Sabre, misguided as it may have been. I accepted the award “on behalf of all Intrepid Lutherans everywhere.”

I do recommend a subscription to Gottesdienst. You can subscribe here. We’ve also added them as a link under “educational resources” in the right-hand column.

I’ll post a little more later in the week on my experiences in Ft. Wayne.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Love & Hate

Editorial Comment

[Caution: The following is an editorial, that is, in literary terms, an opinion piece. As such it has no points to prove or sources to cite, but seeks only to provoke thought and from thought, perhaps action. Some readers may find it somewhat acerbic and perhaps even a bit caustic in places. Rest assured it is written in love and hope.
Pastor Spencer]

I love email. I love email because I can see what I'm saying, run spell and grammar checks, and thus not sound foolish when I speak, though some might find that debatable. I love email because I can read and answer when I want, any time, day or night – on MY schedule. I love email because I can send a "read receipt" as soon as I turn on my computer after my devotions – usually around 5:30 AM or so – and know that some will say when they see the time stamp – "Wow, that guy sure starts work early!" (Cue the sound of one hand clapping!)

I hate the telephone and I always have. The telephone has always seemed to me to be like a Western Union telegram – seldom bringing good news. It interrupts sleep, dinners, romance, movies, and family time. Plus, a lot of people don't know how or when to stop talking on the phone – and thus waste countless hours with inane prattle. I especially loathe cell phones which interrupt all the events mentioned above and numerous others, not to mention causing distracted driving. And don't even get me started on texting!

I despise all phones so much and adore email do much that I think of people who are the opposite as backward fools and dolts. I do not and cannot understand why anyone would use a phone when they could email, and I reserve my special ire for all those who don't check their email at least a half-dozen times each and every day, and reply within the same day!

So, why should you care, and why am I boring you with this? Very simple. I believe this is exactly the way many feel about sectarian worship forms being used in otherwise professing confessional Lutheran churches! Some love it. Some hate it.

But in addition, those who love sectarian worship forms being used in what should be confessional Lutheran churches seem to think that those who hate such and refuse to use them are backward cretins who don't give a fig about sharing the Gospel. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth!

As a confessional Lutheran Pastor, I love the liturgy. I love the liturgy because it proclaims the Gospel from beginning to end. There is hardly a sentence throughout that is not permeated by the message of God's love in Christ! And all this has already been done for me by believers from Adam to Augustine. I don't need to add a thing. Even my sermons are sometimes a rather poor addition. From the Invocation to the Benediction, all the elements of the historic liturgy, and even the titles these elements have acquired down through the centuries, speak volumes about the undeserved love and kindness of God to the world in and through Jesus Christ. In addition, each part is designed and built by the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles to feed the faith of believers in every time, place, and culture. Simply translate the words into any language, and BINGO, the liturgy will still function perfectly! Indeed, in my humble opinion, the liturgy IS the Gospel in all its grace and glory!

As a confessional Lutheran, I hate sectarian worship. Is that too strong? Sorry. I hate sectarian worship because it is, in the final analysis, man-centered, not Christ-centered. I hate sectarian worship because, as someone born into a sectarian (Baptist) family, and surrounded by this errant branch of Christianity for most of my life, I have seen up close and personal the long-term spiritual damage done to souls by such aberrant man-centered, emotion-based, so-called worship, and the theology that created and feeds it.

Yes, Jesus is sometimes there in sectarian worship, but He is disguised as much in sectarian services from the authentic Christ of the Scriptures as He is in the abomination of the Roman Mass! In both cases the service is built around human emotion, and that emotion for the most part is fear. You'd better be dunked – or else! You'd better make your decision for Jesus – or else! You'd better be joyful – or else! What's the matter, why aren't you happy?! What are you, some kind of back-sliding reprobate?! (Just like, you'd better say your rosary, etc... – or else!)

So, the question is – why in the world would anyone who already has the historic, comforting, beautiful liturgy in the truly Gospel-centered, orthodox confessional theology from which it flows and which it supports and proclaims, substitute such for the mostly empty, law-centered, Christ-hiding, and fear-filled sectarian pseudo-worship?!? That's just plain crazy! Kind of like not turning off your cell phone in church!

Deo Vindice!

Pastor Spencer

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Must-listen mini-gems from Marquart: What is the Liturgy?

All it takes is a couple of minutes to listen to this short clip from a longer lecture on Liturgy and Evangelism by the sainted Rev. Kurt Marquart. The full-length audio recording can be found here.

Here's Marquart correcting some common misconceptions of the Liturgy.


A few quotes from the above clip:
    "The Liturgy is far more than ceremonies."

    "'Liturgy' means a 'public service.' Therefore, says the Apology, the word 'Liturgy' - leitourgia - fits very well with our understanding of the Ministry, because a minister who preaches offers Christ to the people...just as he who consecrates offers the Lord's body and blood to the people."

    "So what happens is, the public celebration of the mysteries of God, the giving out of the life of God that flows as at a living oasis. It's a connection to the Eucharist."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Must-listen mini-gems from Marquart: For whom is the Sunday service?

All it takes is a couple of minutes to listen to this short clip from a longer lecture on Liturgy and Evangelism by the sainted Rev. Kurt Marquart. The full-length audio recording can be found here.

Here's Marquart on the question, "For whom is the Sunday service?"


A few quotes from the above clip:
    "The church meets on Sunday morning in response to the Lord's instituting mandate, 'This do in remembrance of me.' That's how he chose to be remembered. That's why we meet."

    "The Western Mass and the Eastern Liturgy from time immemorial is based on the Eucharistic service, and has preaching and the Sacrament. These are the two high points."

    "That means that the service is not for unbelievers. The service is for the Church. If unbelievers are there, that's all for the good. They should be drawn to it. But the service is not tailored for the interest of the general public. That would be the end of all worship."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Must-listen mini-gems from Marquart: Corporate Worship

All it takes is a couple of minutes to listen to this short clip from a longer lecture on Liturgy and Evangelism by the sainted Rev. Kurt Marquart. The full-length audio recording can be found here.

Here's Marquart on Corporate Worship.


A few quotes from the above clip:
    "If faith is all that is essential, then the essence of corporate worship is the celebration of those things which kindle faith and which build it, therefore, the Gospel and the Sacrament."

    "That means that, from antiquity on, preaching and the Eucharist have constituted the Divine Service."

    "Corporately, worship is, first of all, preaching and the Sacrament by which the faith is given us and confirmed. And out of that, then, comes the praise and thanksgiving which is a result of what God gives us."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Must-listen mini-gems from Marquart: Private Worship

Some of the best theological lectures I've ever heard are recordings of the Rev. Kurt Marquart, who now rests from his labors. Many of these recordings are available at Rev. Jay Webber's site. I recommend listening to them all.

But for those who only have a couple of minutes today, please take the time to listen to this short clip from a longer lecture on Liturgy and Evangelism. The full-length audio recording can be found here.

More clips will be posted in days to come.


A few quotes from the above clip:
    "If you're talking about private, individual worship, you can hardly define worship as anything but faith itself. The highest worship of God is faith itself."

    "We cannot honor God more highly than simply to receive what he gives. There is no greater worship than receiving the Son of God as our Savior in faith."

    "And without faith, no ritual, no genuflection, no gesture is any good. With it, almost anything is good. But it's got to express that faith and not fundamentally counteract it."

    "In Christian worship, the mind and the soul are in control, not the body with its foot tapping and its thigh slapping."

    "Anything worthwhile in worship, in the service of God, has to arise out of faith."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Tale of Two Tunes

Editorial Comment

[Caution: The following is an editorial, that is, an opinion piece. As such it has no points to prove or sources to cite, but seeks only to promote thought, and from thought, perhaps action. Some readers may find it somewhat acerbic and perhaps even caustic. Rest assured it is written in love and hope.
Pastor Spencer]

The other morning as I sat at my desk surrounded by the cold and inky darkness of the day's fifth hour, yet in the glow of two small candles on either side of a humble crucifix sitting on my desk, and finished up the last versicles of the Office at Prime, two musical tunes insinuated their way into my early morning devotions. One was a hymn, #462 in TLH (I never have memorized the hymn numbers in the new hymnal), "I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord." At the time I did not know why that particular hymn came to me at just that moment. It didn't seem to have much to do with the Scripture verses I had just read a few moments before, Luke 3:10-14. But there it was, the words appearing almost before my eyes in the heated vapors above the candles:
    "I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
    The house of Thine abode,
    The Church our blest Redeemer saved
    With His own precious blood."
The hymn, of course, is speaking of the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the total sum of all believers of all times and places. But we are not wrong to think also of particular churches - our churches - congregations of the faithful, in their worship buildings, be they ever so humble or grand. We do indeed cherish and treasure the places where God's Word is preached, where the Holy Sacraments are administered according to Christ's command, where our children are baptized and married, and from whence our mortal remains shall be taken on their final journey. And too, we think of church bodies that train and send Pastors to preach and administer, that monitor and protect doctrine and practice, and that go where we cannot go, in our stead, to announce the Gospel of the finished work of Christ's atonement to the far-flung reaches of the world. We love all these kingdoms and we support them and pray for them.

But then there came another tune, not so outwardly ecclesiastical, yet very familiar. It was a popular song of the 60's by the Beach Boys, "Be True to Your School." The opening words came to me now too:
    "When some loud braggart tries to put me down and says his school is great,
    I tell him right away,
    'Now what's the matter buddy, ain't you heard of my school?
    It's number one is the state.'
    So be true to your school . . . . "
Now, why did I think of that song and those words right after hymn 462? Some might suggest it was because I hadn't had my orange juice yet that morning. Perhaps. But as I put away my brevery, blew out the candles, and got up to turn on the office lights and my computer, another thought came to me. Maybe believers are too prone to take a rather worldly and boastful pride in our little pieces of the Lord's kingdom.

Ah, then I remembered - that previous evening I had submitted my 2011 parish statistics to the synod offices. Could it be that I was taking just a tad of silly human pride in the accomplishments of my little parish over the previous year? After all, attendance did go up a bit - well, at least it didn't go down! And, besides the normally expected infant baptisms and child confirmations, there were those golden numbers, the most prized possession and the holy grail of stats among us Pastors - Adult Baptisms and Adult Confirmations! And, even though we showed a net loss in communicants for the year (that too is becoming the norm with most places), still, that's only because I was diligent in cutting out the "deadwood." Now, I felt like turning the lights and computer back off and hitting my knees for a healthy dose of repentance! Of this I was most surely guilty. Forgive me, dear Jesus!

But there is yet something else here among us - a pride not only in the individual parish figures at the end of the year, but a pride in our synod's purity and unity. A boast and a brag, almost as palatable as a "Lambeau Leap!" Alas, as our little blog itself has shown beyond any shadow of a doubt - perhaps simply by our mere existence if nothing else – such unity is no longer ours in the WELS. Yet, to even suggest this seems to be a great heresy. But why? And why haven't we been able to deal with what looks and sounds to many like aberrations in doctrine and practice in a number of places around the synod? Could it be a reluctance or even refusal to see and admit the problems? Could it be an immense hubris that assumes that all is well and right in WELS, and cannot and will not brook any thought or claim or even suggestion to the contrary?

It comes down to this – Are we so ready and willing to be "true to our school (synod)" that we don't love the Lord's kingdom as we need to, that we aren't and won't and can't carefully and prudently give our beloved church body the tough love it truly needs in a firm and timely manner? The answers to all these questions seem clear enough and quite evident to me. How about you? Perhaps more light in the coming year will help!

Deo Vindice!

Pastor Spencer

Friday, January 6, 2012

NIV Translation Posts Compiled

Thanks to one of our friends who has compiled all of our IL posts on Bible translation issues into a single Word document. It's split up below into one file that contains the comments under each post, and another file without the comments. Click on the links below to download.

NNIV Thoughts with Comments

NNIV Thoughts

Another of our friends presented this interesting observation:
    I frequently hear advocates of the 2011 NIV use the following argument to give merit to the translation:

      95% is the same as the 1984 version

      3.5% is better

    What then goes without saying is that 1.5% is worse, and that number sounds very small.

    There are ~775,000 words in the Bible. I’m sure it varies a few hundred from translation to translation. 1.5% is ~12000 words. 12000 words is 15-20 pages, depending on font type and size. So, if one wants to rationalize with numbers, a small number like 1.5% becomes a very big number in terms of words and pages. And I am again reminded of Luther's words regarding purity of doctrine.

Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Part 3: Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian BachOur Third and final installment1 of Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas, features a famous Christmas piece by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Before introducing that piece, however, it may be interesting to review a little about Bach and his artform. As we summarized last April in the post, Music for Holy Week, Part 1 – excerpts from Matthäus Passion,
    Bach perhaps needs little introduction: he was and remains the master of counterpoint and represents the pinnacle of Baroque musical achievement. In addition to his many secular works, as Cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig he composed a full series of Cantatas to accompany the Lutheran liturgy for each week of the Church Calendar, along with many other Sacred works as he was commissioned... It is worth noting, however, than in addition to his status as a composer, Johann Sebastian Bach was also fiercely orthodox in his Lutheranism. Being active as a composer during the rise of German Pietism2 and attempting to ward it off through the Sacred works he was often commissioned to compose, his professional library was proliferate with personally annotated works of Lutheran theology – he had the library of a theologian, and he used it as reference material in the composition of his works.
Bach's genius as a composer was not entirely his own. He is known to have studied the Masters of the previous generation and incorporated their genius into his own art: men like Michael Praetorius, Samuel Scheidt, Johann Schein, and especially Heinrich Schütz – who was the subject of Part Two of this Music for the Twelve Days of Christmas series. Indeed, Bach's relationship to Schütz is almost serendipitous. Recall from Part Two the concern Schütz had in the second third of his life over the decline in compositional integrity he had been witnessing, for "
    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.
As a result, he published his Geistliche Chormusik (Sacred Choral Music) in 1648, dedicating it to the choir of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, to "encourage budding German composers, before they would try their hand at the concertante style first demonstrate their skill in this area."

It seems to be unknown whether Bach took the recommendation of Schütz to heart, or whether those responsible for calling Bach to be Cantor at St. Thomas in Leipzig were seeking to diligently live up to the encouragement Schütz obviously meant for them, or whether his Geistliche Chormusik had any such impact by that time at all. But it is, at least, an interesting coincidence. Other interesting coincidences include Bach's place in time: Heinrich Schütz died as Pia Desideria (published 1675) was percolating in the mind of Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705); Bach was born as plans for the Pietist learning center, University of Halle were being drawn; while Bach served in Leipzig, the last of the Lutheran theologians from the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy," and vigorous opponent of Pietism, Valentin Ernst Löscher (1673 - 1749), served as Superintendant and as pastor at the Kreuzkirche in Dresden (practically a stones-throw from the Royal Court, and a place known to benefit from regular collaboration with Schütz); and both Bach and Löscher, being in such proximity, battled with fierce dedication against Pietism in their respective vocations. Löscher and Bach died at the opening of the Enlightenment, in 1749 and 1750, respectively – with no one, really, to take their place.

Art following the Enlightenment ceases to speak of objective subjects
The opening of the Enlightenment, around 1750, marks the end of the Baroque Period, and the beginning of the Classical Period. This period lasts roughly until the period in which German Romantic philosophy began to have cultural significance, around the turn of the 19th Century; this is about the time that Romanticism began to displace Classical expressions of the Enlightenment. But what is it about Baroque music that sets it apart? What really were the "the more profound aspects of composition" referred to by Heinrich Schütz (above)? Why does there appear to be a rigid structure and order in the Baroque period, to the point where J.G. Walther (a cousin of Bach) would define such music as "a heavenly philosophical and specifically mathematical science?"3 From the time of Plato and re-emphasized by Martin Luther, music was viewed as a direct reflection of and "evidence of divine order,"4 in the world and in the Universe. Johannes Kepler wrote "Now one will no longer be surprised that man has formed this most excellent order of notes or steps into the musical system or scale, since one can see that in this matter he acts as nothing but the Ape of God, the Creator, playing, as it were, a drama about the Order of celestial motions."5Evening in the Palace of Reason, by James R. Gaines

As a result of such a lofty view of music and composition, Baroque composers infused their music with numerical code and allegory, attaching meaning to specific numbers and ratios, and in this way, the learned composer attempted "to replicate in earthly music the celestial harmony with which God had joined and imbued the Universe."6 Therefore, as Luther put it, music is the "faithful servant of theology" and ought to deliver "sermons in sound."7

Contrary to those of later era's, like the Classical and Romantic, the Baroque composer saw
    "himself as an artisan: not an artist 'expressing' a personal idea or feeling – a conception the Baroque composer would have found entirely strange – but as a professional with an assigned task and learnable, teachable methods of doing it. Combined with the Baroque infatuation with encoded allegory, this concept of music as an oratorial craft inspired a vast compositional vocabulary of passages, rhythms, key changes, and other devices that could telegraph in music the meaning of a text, the language of which came to be known as musical-rhetorical figures."8
Thus we see the force of Natural Law9, observations of Divine Order and understanding of their significance, informing the expression of Baroque "artisans."
    "The rich acoustic medium of the medieval stone church had encouraged composers' experiments writing note against note (punctus contra punctum) and eventually of braiding related vocal lines through one another to form increasingly rich weaves of melody. The most rigorous of part-writing, such as cannon and fugue, came to be known collectively as learned counterpoint."10

    "For Bach and his musical ancestors ...composing and performing music was ...a deeply spiritual enterprise whose sole purpose, as his works were inscribed, was for the glory of God. [And to His glory], Bach represented Church music and especially the learned counter-point of cannon and fugue"11
Yet, as the Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy came to a close, as the strong Lutheran voice in culture began to wane, as fidelity to God's Word in thought, word and deed gave way to new ways of thinking, and as man in his natural state of rebellion thereby sought freedom from God and the Church, clinging to the only other tools available with which to make sense of the world, empiricism and reason, the necessity and reality of Divine grace also gave way to "confidence in human perfectibility."12 Oddly, the result in artistic expression was that instead of outward or objective subjects, the work of the composer became significantly more subjective, especially by the time of the Romantic Era, standing as much as self-projection as anything else:
    "the expression of feeling in music was all, and the affectation that mattered was not a text or other object for depiction but the feeling state of the performer and composer... the new 'enlightened' composer wrote for one reason and one only: to please the audience."13
In this way, the subject of musical compositions following the Enlightenment became the composer, became his thoughts and his feelings as he struggled to give voice to them through his art, while the performer strove to abscond with that subject by embodying and personifying the composition in his own performance of it, thus making himself the subject of the art.

By the time of Frederick the Great of Prussia, Enlightenment composers had thoroughly
    "denigrated counterpoint as the vestige of an outworn aesthetic, extolling instead the 'natural and delightful' in music, by which they meant the easier pleasure of song, the harmonious ornamentation of a single line of melody... For Frederick, the goal of music was simply to be 'agreeable,' an entertainment and a diversion, easy work for the performer and audience alike. He despised music that, as he put it, 'smells of the Church,' and Bach's chorales specifically as 'dumb stuff.'"14

Bach's Evening in the "Palace of Reason"
Frederick the Great of PrussiaLater in life, Bach was given the opportunity to respond to the Enlightenment, in one of his most outstanding works. As one who represented the modern philosophies of his day, Frederick the Great of Prussia grasped an opportunity to summon the elderly Johann Sebastian Bach to his palace in 1747, for the purpose of presenting "history's greatest master of counterpoint the most taxing possible challenge to his art,"15 for what seems to have been simply a joke out of contempt for the "old" style of music which Bach so ably represented – that of the "learned counterpoint" of cannon and fugue which had been used for centuries to mirror the celestial harmony of heaven and nature. Frederick proceeded to play for Bach a melody of twenty-one notes which had been "constructed to be as resistant to counterpoint as possible"16 and then challenged the elderly composer to improvise a three-part fugue using the theme he had played. Bach, who had mastered the art of his craft and who understood the mechanics as well as the power of music to communicate, was able then and there to improvise "a three-part fugue on Frederick's Royal Theme [which] had all the intellectual rigor of a finished work."17 Not impressed, Frederick demanded that Bach start over, this time composing a fugue in six parts – something which Bach had never done. Bach agreed, but added that he would need time to work out the composition. Two months later, Bach had finished his six-part fugue – but not only this, for Bach had something to say to the monarch who had not simply challenged him, but who had rejected God and the music of the Church. In that time he had composed two fugues, the first being the three-part fugue requested by Frederick, the second being the six part fugue he had also requested, along with ten cannons (each representing the Ten Commandments) and a sonata, bundling them in a single work he titled, Musikalisches Opfer (Musical Offering). The two fugues he named Ricercar, a term he had never used as a title for a fugue. The term is at once a Latin acronymn representing the words Regis Iussu Cantio Et Reliqua Cononica Arte Resoluta (At the king's command, the song and the remainder resolved with cannonic art), and is also a Latin word meaning, "to search out with diligence."18 Bach wove his message to Frederick throughout his composition, using musical-rhetorical tools such as rising and sinking keys. For example, inscriptions were written to the king in the cannons, telling him in one cannon to "Seek and ye shall find" (referring to God's mercy), and indicating the fate of Enlightenment thinking in another cannon which was inscribed to represent the king's glory: though the notes would rise, it never seemed to have left its original key or to go anywhere. One could say that this "Musical Offering to Frederick represents as stark a rebuke of his beliefs and worldview as an absolute monarch has ever received,"19 and at the same time "it is one of the great works of art in the history of music."20 And this is but a small taste of what was going on in art of the Baroque Period. Not just vague sentiment the artist attempted to evoke in the heart of his viewer or hearer, but a specific message using a system long developed according to observation of God's General Revelation.

Bach: Weinachts Oratorium
For this final installment of Christmas Music, we present Bach's Weinachts Oratorium. It's six parts were intended for the context of worship on three generally observed Church holidays immediately following Christmas Day: Parts 1 and 2 for the Feast of Christ's Circumcision (celebrated on January 1), Parts 3 and 4 for the Sunday following the New Year, and Parts 5 and 6 for the Feast of Epiphany. There are multiple recurring themes in Bach's Christmas Oratorio – one of which is a Lutheran lenten theme the reader may recognize from Bach's use of it in his Matthäus Passion. What does he do with this theme throughout the Oratorio? As you listen, what else do you hear?

Johann Sebastion Bach: Weinachts Oratorium
The standard recording of this piece in our household, should the reader be interested,
has become that of the Dresdner Kreuzchor, under Martin Flämig

This full recording of Bach's Weinachts Oratorium is broken into two videos, which play consecutively. It is about 2.5hrs in length.


  1. I had planned additional installments, but illness has prevented me from getting to them – so I publish this post, even though it is no longer Christmas, but the first day of Epiphany. In fact, credit for most of the content of this post belongs to my wife, who, as an accomplished vocalist and skilled artist, knows these details better than I do. Since her interest and growing area of expertise is cultural apologetics, I asked her to help me out, giving her a few guidelines from which she produced most of the above...
  2. Radical German Pietism, its causes and impact on orthodox Lutheranism, was briefly described in the following post on Intrepid Lutherans: 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)
  3. Gaines, James. (2005). Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment. New York: Fourth Estate. pg. 116.
  4. Ibid., pg. 49.
  5. Ibid., pp. 49-50.
  6. Ibid., pg. 47.
  7. Ibid., pg. 81. Note also, that numbers not only had significance in music, they had significance in Lutheran theology at the time and even today, particularly in the interpretation of prophetic books of the Bible: the numbers 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10 & 12 have long been recognized as significant – Dr. Siegbert Becker's (WELS) work on Revelation, Revelation: The Distant Triumph Song, and Rev. Wayne Mueller's (WELS) follow-up commentary on Revelation for the People's Bible Commentary series, are evidence of this significance. Rev. Jack Cascione (LCMS) published a work studying the use of number in prophetical books of the Bible, entitled In Search of the Biblical Order, and the publisher of this book, Biblion Publishing, used his research in their typesetting of of the Book of Revelation that appeared in the Lutheran translation of the New Testament, God's Word to the Nations (1988), to visually, and very effectively, impress upon the reader how number was being used in the text.
  8. Ibid., pg. 81. See also this Wikipeadia article on "'musical-rhetorical' figures," a.k.a. Musica Poetica
  9. Intrepid Lutherans featured a piece which included a brief explanation of General Revelation or Natural Law. For more information, read Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 2, The Teaching of the Law
  10. Gaines, James. (2005). Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment. New York: Fourth Estate. pg. 50.
  11. Ibid., pp. 7-8.
  12. Ibid., pg. 8.
  13. Ibid., pp. 117,220.
  14. Ibid., pp. 7,8.
  15. Ibid., pg. 11.
  16. Ibid., pg. 9.
  17. Ibid., pg. 226.
  18. Taken from the liner notes of the album, Bach: Die Kunst der Fugue & Musikalisches Opfer
  19. Gaines, James. (2005). Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment. New York: Fourth Estate. pg. 12.
  20. Ibid.

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