Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christian Charity and Provisions for Amiable Separation

The following is taken from my comments following Rev. Rydecki's recent post, Praise the Lord for preserving our place of worship. The editors of Intrepid Lutherans requested that I make those comments a full post, given that it takes the conversation in an important direction. Since Rev. Spencer's post on the Church Year is important, and we don't want to distract from it, we have pulled it back and will re-post it next Monday, so that it can get the full and undivided attention of our readers.

Many years ago, upon the recommendation of an ELS pastor, I purchased and read through Nelson & Fevold's The Lutheran Church Among Norwegian Americans (Augsburg Publishing House, 1960). A two-volume work, it covers a massive amount of historical material, though ultimately must be characterized as a work of propaganda for the Norwegian Lutheran church body to which the authors – both professors at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN – belonged (the Evangelical Lutheran Church), and which in the year of this work's publication joined with several other Lutheran church bodies to form the American Lutheran Church (ALC). Reading through this work, I was (and remain) astonished at the protracted and bitter nature of the struggles these Norwegian Lutherans endured.

As Norwegian immigrants settled in the upper mid-west, they brought their Lutheran religion with them, forming local congregations, which, once established, reached out to other Norwegian Lutheran congregations in neighboring settlements in hopes of establishing fellowship and enjoying the benefits thereof. A great many Lutheran "synods," "conferences," and "associations" were developed among them. And these organizations were manifestly imperfect. In the first case, perhaps due to ignorance or poor legal advice, or due to language barriers, the incorporation of congregations and church bodies was not always sound. In the second, as these Lutherans discovered over time, in their understandably natural eagerness to enjoy unity with other Lutherans sharing the same language and culture, they either overlooked or failed to recognize doctrinal differences, which, festering over the years, eventually came to a head and erupted in controversy. No, "Election" was not the only one – there were many doctrinal controversies among American Lutherans in the 19th Century. As difficult as these controversies were for those involved, once personal convictions had been arrived at and sides taken, one would have hoped that Christians of such high ideals would have amiably separated – at least out of respect for the stand upon Christian conscience taken by their adversaries, even if they vehemently disagreed. "Amiable separation" was not the term for what happened. The fact is, the most bitter, protracted and ugly public displays of petty materialistic vindictiveness occurred after the lines of doctrinal disagreement had been established and separation revealed as inevitable. The worst and most sickening fights were not over the doctrine. They were fought over the stuff – the publishing houses, the schools and seminaries, and the church buildings – and such fights were made all the more difficult given the legal imperfections of the incorporating documents, which in many cases very poorly considered the dispersion or liquidation of assets in the event of separation or dissolution.

In one famous case – the “Augsburg Controversy” – a group of Lutherans lead by Rev.'s Sven Oftedahl and Georg Sverdrup from Augsburg College/Seminary in Minneapolis, withdrew from their participation in the mergers of 1890, which formed the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America (UNLC), mostly over ideologies of Christian education which pitted Augsburg against St. Olaf college seminaries and threatened the existence of Augsburg (though the doctrine of the "Church" and the issue of church polity was involved as well). This resulted in a crisis over control of Augsburg Publishing House and Augsburg College. The Church organization to which the Augsburg professors belonged – the Conference for the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – had emerged from a preceding church body, along with another church body which claimed control over the assets of both church bodies on the basis of the incorporating documents of their predecessor body, and on the basis of deficient incorporating documents of the Conference. Already wary of its legal foundation in 1877, the Minnesota Legislature had gotten involved at the request of the Conference, passing a special Curative Act in their favor to ensure independent control of the Seminary property. Lengthy court battles ensued. In 1890, the newly formed UNLC initiated legal proceedings against Augsburg. In 1894, the control of the Publishing House was handed over to the UNLC by the courts. In 1897, the Curative Act passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 1877, was found unconstitutional by a Minnesota District Court, which then ruled in favor of the UNLC and handed to it control of the Seminary. Augsburg appealed, and in 1898, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the lower court's finding that the Curative Act was unconstitutional, but nevertheless overturned the decision of the lower court which ordered Augsburg to hand over control to the UNLC. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the independence of the School from the UNLC on other grounds. Sverdrup and Oftedahl went on to form the Lutheran Free Church (LFC), an association of free and independent Lutheran congregations, which was part of the ALC mergers in 1960. A minority of the LFC objected to union with the ALC, and, refusing to join, formed the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC) instead, and sued once again for control of Augsburg College/Seminary. They lost that battle, and today Augsburg is entrenched in liberal protestantism. Prior to the breakup of the ELCA, the AFLC was the fourth largest Lutheran "church body" in North America (just behind the WELS). It remains a conservative association of Lutheran congregations, and runs the nation's only Lutheran Bible School. Interestingly, it is my understanding that the American Association of Lutheran Congregations (AALC), a small association of Lutheran congregations which enjoys fellowship with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS)as of its 2007 Convention, is largely comprised of congregations from the former LFC which had participated in the formation of the ALC in 1960, but which refused to join the ELCA when the ALC, LCA and other liberal Lutheran Church bodies formed it in 1987. This is ironic, given the profoundly anti-Missourian positions of Sverdrup and Oftedahl from which the old LFC emerged. Anyway, I highly recommend this two-volume work, not only as a balance to the one-sided Missouri-centric history we Synodical Conference Lutherans sing in unison to each other, but as preparation for certain reality once realignment among confessional Lutherans in North America begins in earnest. As history informs us, it won't be pretty.

In my opinion, it makes sense that a Synod funding organization like CEF would include provisions for the termination of a loan in the event of a congregation's separation from WELS. They're not in the business of funding non-WELS congregations, after all. One would hope, however, that Christian charity would prevail in such circumstances, and that reasonable terms and time periods would be applied. Whether a month-and-half is reasonable, I'm not in a position to judge. What I find troublesome, however, is not that such provisions exist in a mortgage contract or that they are acted upon, but that it is done so in a way that appears vindictive, as if the objective is to hurriedly deprive a Christian congregation of its rightful property, either in favor of a minority party who is not legally entitled to it, or to simply "get back" at them for leaving the Synod, or as if such action is calculated to interfere with decisions which ought to be made strictly from the standpoint of Christian conscience. Whether there was vindictive intent or not, the appearance of impropriety is certainly evident.

Regardless of whether such impropriety is the fact, this situation opens an entirely different and more significant issue: that of leveraging the threat of "taking stuff away" to ensure the continued allegiance of Christians to an earthly organization. I absolutely do not want a pastor to lead from anything other than the convictions of Christian conscience, nor do I wish in any way, shape or form to be affiliated with a Christian organization which prohibits its members from speaking and acting from such convictions, and which threatens them with loss of home, income and healthcare if they do. There is no realistic way to maintain either doctrinal integrity or unity under such circumstances. Purists will say, and quite correctly so, that material things don't matter, that only God's Word and the integrity of pure doctrine matter, and that pastors who do not stand in the face of error are weaklings and cowards. Though many would like to face the error, such purists may say in all charity, sin has made them timid and weak. I agree. I'm a sinner too, and can identify with its depleting effects. And if these were the only factors involved, then shame on all us individual sinners for not doing the right thing, and that would be the end of the matter. But they aren't the only factors involved.

What about the organization which exploits human weakness for its own benefit by lumping the honest convictions of Christian conscience in with moral infractions like embezzlement, child pornography and marital infidelity (yes, I know, remorseful embezzlers, child pornographers and adulterers receive unconditional absolution, while those perceived as "errorists" are unrepentant sinners from whom absolution is unconditionally withheld)? Only someone worse than an embezzler, child pornographer or adulterer would dare express his genuine convictions – the threat of such a stigma is an effective deterrent. What about the organization that threatens the expression of one's genuine Christian convictions with immediate termination of pay and healthcare and the loss of housing? What does that mean to the young pastor trying to repay eight to twelve years of Synod education which he is required to have, that, outside of the Church, won't get him a job pushing a broom? What does that mean to the pastor who's been encouraged by Synod to have a large family – as the new method of "growing the church" – who is now responsible for four to six or more dependents? What does it mean for the mid-to-late career pastor whose body is beginning to deteriorate, who has begun to think that he would like to avoid a retirement in forgotten obscurity as a resident of a government-run convalescent home like the ones he routinely visits? Threatening such men with immediate loss of home, loss of income, loss of healthcare, and loss of pension does not in any way, shape or form encourage them to do what the church needs them to do: to be watchful for error and to oppose it. It doesn't even make them ambivalent towards it. Instead, exploiting human weaknesses in this way has the effect of forcefully driving them away from this activity which is vitally important to the health and integrity of the visible church. Such men may even see error or unwise activity, but will deliberately remain silent.

In my honest opinion, since we want pastors to live out their Christian conscience, then in cases where separation demonstrably occurs as a result of their honest convictions, as opposed to cases of moral turpitude, the terms of separation need to reflect the fact that we have genuinely valued Christian conscience all along. The pension accounts of pastors separating under such circumstances ought to be rolled over into personal IRAs or some other retirement vehicle, and provision for severance packages which include the continuation of pay and health care for a reasonable period of time also ought to be made. While this does not at all alleviate the uncertainty involved with separation, it tends to remove the vindictive nature of termination threats, and encourages a healthy idealism and a willingness to be objective and have dialogue. Will it ever happen? I personally doubt it...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Praise the Lord for preserving our place of worship

I posted the following on our church website today.  Since many of our readers have been paying attention to our situation, I decided to link to it here on Intrepid:

Praise the Lord for preserving our place of worship

Our congregation decided on October 17, 2012, to disaffiliate from the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) so that we can continue to believe and teach that sinners are saved and justified in no other way but by faith in Christ. The WELS demanded that we believe and teach that God has already saved and declared all people to be righteous in His sight, whether or not they believe and are baptized. When they condemned our confession of faith as false doctrine, we could no longer remain in fellowship with them. The Gospel is more important than any denominational affiliation, and by God's grace alone, the Gospel is still being proclaimed in our midst.

Our congregation faced an immediate challenge. Our church's mortgage was with the WELS Church Extension Fund (CEF), and we still owed $275,000 on the property. Within 48 hours of our decision to disaffiliate, in spite of the fact that we had never missed a monthly payment, the CEF sent us a letter in which they cited a clause in our loan agreement that placed us in default on our loan the moment we disaffiliated from the WELS. In the same letter, they threatened to begin foreclosure proceedings if we did not pay off our balance in full by December 1st.

We were not entirely surprised by this letter from the CEF. On the very evening on which we decided to disaffiliate from the WELS, within two hours of our decision, Pastor Jon Buchholz, president of the Arizona-California District of the WELS, who happened to be at a pastors' conference at that very moment, began announcing to some of the pastors there that the CEF would call the note on our loan—another warning not to defy the synod.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).

The Lord provided willing and generous hearts among our members and among our brothers and sisters in Christ in other parts of the country, and we were immediately able to reduce our debt by over $25,000. At the same time, He provided a local bank that was willing to refinance our mortgage. We closed on the loan November 26th, five days ahead of our December 1st deadline.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies (Romans 8:31-33).

This is part of a letter I sent to my members yesterday:

I would like to thank all of the families and individuals of our congregation who helped to make all of this possible—those who donated large or small amounts. Your gifts for the work of the Lord in this place are fragrant offerings to the Lord, acceptable and pleasing to Him through faith in the blood of Christ that cleanses and purifies all the works of God’s children. I give thanks to God for all of you.

Most of all, let us give thanks to God together. We took a stand on a very basic but very important doctrinal issue, trusting that the Lord would preserve us in spite of the odds that were against us. It is He who has helped and supported us for the sake of His Gospel. We could never have done it. And so we pray with the Psalmist in Psalm 115:

1 Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! 2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” 3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. 4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. 6 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. 7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. 8 Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. 9 O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. 10 O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. 11 You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. 12 The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; 13 he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great. 14 May the Lord give you increase, you and your children! 15 May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth! 16 The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. 17 The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence. 18 But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the Lord!

See you Sunday,
+Pastor Rydecki

Thursday, November 22, 2012

President of the United States declares National Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer

For those wishing to know how our government has viewed the purpose of Thanksgiving – a civic holiday, not a sectarian one – the text of the first Presidential Thanksgiving Day Proclamation reads as follows:

    General George Washington prays for his troops and nation at Valley Forge.
    General George Washington prays for his troops and nation at Valley Forge, outside Philadelphia, PA, in the winter of 1778.
    Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and

    Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness”:

    Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these united States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

    And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplication to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

    Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, AD 1789

    President George Washington
See the Library of Congress exhibit, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic for additional interesting (and surprisingly well-balanced) information.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Congress issues Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

For those wishing to know how our government has viewed the purpose of Thanksgiving – a civic holiday, not a sectarian one – the text of the first Congressional Thanksgiving Day Proclamation reads as follows:

    Opening prayer of First Continental Congress, in Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, 1774.
    The opening prayer of the First Continental Congress, in Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, PA, 1774.

    Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to Him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased Him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of His common providence, but also smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that He hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success:

    It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these united States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their Divine Benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please Him graciously to afford His blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these united States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please Him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under His nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

    And it is further recommended, that servile labor, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.

This Proclamation was Issued by the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, November 1, 1777 – the day after news reached them of the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, a triumph which turned the tide of the War. It was authored by Mr. Samuel Adams, future Governor of Massachusetts, and cousin of future President of the United States, Mr. John Adams.

See the Library of Congress exhibit, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic for additional interesting (and surprisingly well-balanced) information.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Humiliation & Prayer Sunday

[Written to my congregation this past Sunday - Pastor Spencer]

Why Observe A Day of Humiliation & Prayer?

           A day of humiliation and prayer has been observed in the Church since the middle of the 4th Century, very soon after the Christian faith was no longer an outlaw religion.  Both Pastors and people recognized the need to remember our place under our Almighty Father and beneficent Creator as created beings; sinful and often arrogant ones at that. This need seemed most apparent during times of great danger, stress, or upheaval, either from political forces or from the earth itself.
          As nation-states came into being, it became very common for the leaders of a country to declare "a national day of humiliation and prayer" in the face of some natural disaster, at a time of invasion and war, or in the midst of great economic hardship for the people. Thus, in the Lutheran lands during the Thirty Year's War such proclamations came often. Such was also the case during the two English Civil Wars, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the War Between the States, and World Wars I & II. Proclamations of a National Day of Humiliation and Prayer by men like George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt have become quite famous in American history. But over the past fifty years or so, the practice of setting aside a day to focus on our great need for God and His grace and mercy, and to pray for His continued love and blessing has fallen into disuse.
          We certainly cannot say that this is the cause of the difficulties and calamities of the past few decades – Viet Nam, Watergate, terrible floods and hurricanes, AIDS, political scandal and upheaval, 9/11, economic hardship, Jihad, and the like. However, it is certain that in past centuries such problems would bring about a turn of God's people to publicly and openly recognize their sins, and their need for His help.
                   Thus, as your shepherd, I have decided that there is no better time than now to return to this ancient and worthwhile practice and set aside one of our Sundays of worship as a Day of Humiliation and Prayer. In doing this I do not desire to forget that each Sunday is in fact a celebration of Christ's Resurrection, or to detract from the joy of our sure and certain salvation by grace through faith. I hope only to give us all an opportunity to give voice to our humility as reconciled sinners before our holy God, and to our pleas for His mercy and guidance in our many trials and problems.
          Let us use this occasion to admit that we have rebelled against God's will and brought much of our troubles upon ourselves by our greed, impatience, and pride. Let us pray for His undeserved grace and continued blessings upon us, our church, and our nation. Let us then leave our worship refreshed by His love and forgiveness, and strengthened by His Word to be better and more able citizens and Christians!
          To God alone be the glory!

Propers, Hymns, and Readings
for Humiliation & Prayer Sunday

Possible Sundays:
- Sunday before Ascension (Rogate); very ancient practice from the early church
- a Sunday in late October/early November (harvest & winter planting); again very historic, especially in Germany
- the last Sunday of the Church Year; in place of Christ the King Sunday in
preparation for Advent 

The Order of Holy Communion (TLH 1941), or Service of Word & Sacrament (CW)  

Opening Hymn:
286 or 287

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the LORD has spoken, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me." They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger; they are gone away backward. If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who shall stand?

Almighty and most merciful God, our heavenly Father, of whose compassion there is no end, Who is long-sufferings, gracious, and plenteous in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, we have sinned and done perversely, we have forsaken and grievously offended You; against You, You only, have we sinned and done evil in Your sight. But we ask You, O LORD, remember not against us our former iniquities; let Your tender mercies speedily come to us, for we are brought very low; help us, O God of our salvation, and purge away our sins for the glory of Your holy name and for the sake of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Old Testament Lesson:
First Samuel 7:3-14, Isaiah 1:2-20, Daniel 9:3-19, or Joel 2:11-19

6, 32, 38, or 130

Acts 3:12-26, Romans 12:1-21, First Timothy 1:12-2:8, Hebrews 10:19-31

Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
Let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. Praise the LORD!

Matthew 3:1-17, Matthew 5:13-20 & 6:1-8, Matthew 6:16-34, or Matthew 7:1-23

Hymn of the Day:

Prayer of the Church:
The Litany

P: Lord, have mercy upon us.
C: Lord, have mercy upon us.
P: Christ, have mercy upon us.
C: Christ, have mercy upon us.
P: Lord, have mercy upon us.
C: Lord, have mercy upon us.
P: O Christ, hear us.
C: O Christ, hear us.
P: O God, the Father in heaven:
C: Have mercy upon us.
P: O God, the Son, Redeemer of the world:
C: Have mercy upon us.
P: O God, the Holy Ghost:
C: Have mercy upon us.
P: O Holy Trinity, One God:
C: Have mercy upon us.
P: Be gracious unto us.
C: Spare us, good LORD.
P: Be gracious unto us.
C: Help us, good LORD.
P: From all sin; from all error; from all evil:
C: Good LORD, deliver us.
P: From the crafts and assaults of the devil;
From sudden and evil death;
From pestilence and famine;
From war and bloodshed;
From sedition and rebellion;
From lightening and tempest;
From all calamity by fire and water;
And from everlasting death:
C: Good LORD, deliver us.
P: By the mystery of Your holy Incarnation(+);
By Your holy birth;
By Your Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation;
By Your Agony and bloody Sweat;
By Your Cross and Passion (+);
By Your precious Death and Burial;
By Your glorious Resurrection and Ascension;
And by the coming of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter:
C: Help us, good Lord.
P: In all times of our tribulation;
In all times of our prosperity;
In the hour of our death;
And on the Day of Judgment:
C: Help us, good Lord.
P: We poor sinners do beseech You;
C: To hear us, good LORD.
P: To rule and govern Your Holy Christian Church;
To preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your Word, and in holiness of life;
To put an end to all divisions and causes of offence;
To bring into the way of truth all such as have erred, and are deceived;
To beat down Satan under our feet;
To send faithful laborers in your harvest;
To accompany your Word with Your Spirit and grace;
To raise up them that fall, and to strengthen such as do stand;
And to comfort and help the weak-hearted and the distresses:
C: We ask You to hear us, good LORD.
P: To give to all nations peace and concord;
To preserve our country from discord and contention;
To direct and defend our President, and all others in authority;
To bless and keep our magistrates, and all our people:
C: We beseech You to hear us, good LORD.
P: To behold and rescue all who are in danger, necessity and tribulation;
To protect all who travel by land, air, or water.
To preserve all women in the perils of childbirth;
To strengthen and keep all sick persons and young children;
To set free all who are innocently imprisoned.
To defend and provide for all fatherless children and widows;
And to have mercy upon all people:
C: We beseech you to hear us, good LORD.
P: To forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts;
To give and preserve to our use the fruits of the earth;
And graciously to hear our prayers:
C: We beseech You to hear us, good LORD.
 P: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God;
C: We beseech You to hear us.
P: O Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world;
C: Have mercy upon us.
P: O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of world;
C: Have mercy upon us.
P: O Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world;
C: Grant us Your peace!
P: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Who desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his evil ways and live: We beseech You graciously to turn from us those punishments which we by our sins have deserved, and to grace us grace hereafter to serve You in holiness and pureness of living; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.
C: Amen.

Communion Distribution Hymn:

Closing Hymn:
408, 409, 412, or 413

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Gospel motivates fidelity to doctrine in practice: Brief words on the use of distinguishing clerical attire

Way back in September of 2010, I published a brief essay entitled, "How, then, shall we be attired?" or "Why I Wear a Tie to Church". It began with a statement in the introductory paragraph suggesting that there is a foundation in what people are convinced as a matter of Christian Conscience is True for how they act; suggesting, that is, that Christian doctrine may actually be the foundation of Christian practice rather than being completely disassociated from it: "There's a reason why people have reserved some of their finest clothing for Sunday, referring to it as their 'Sunday Best,' and I think there are good reasons for Christians to continue doing so. What we do is a reflection of what we hold to be True."

From this point my brief essay proceeded by describing some of the important Truths of Christian doctrine which confessional Lutherans, who recognize the significance of historical belief and practice, consider the ongoing realities of incarnational and sacramental doctrine, and suggesting that these realities, if they are actually regarded as such rather than merely claimed as such, are sufficient to motivate practice that is consistent with them. Namely, we believe that Jesus Christ is actually present in the Divine Service, and is there actively serving us. If we not only claim that this is true, but actually believe it is true, then we are apt to engage in practice that is consistent with actually believing it, rather than merely saying it. This includes our choice of attire, as I continued in that little essay. At no point was Law used as a basis for suggesting that certain attire may be more appropriate than certain other attire; instead, it pointed to the significance of the Gospel as motivation for the desire to represent with fidelity what we confess to believe. Indeed, it concludes with the strong suggestion that such practice is not only consistent with important Christian realities, but is evangelical as well: "The reality is, in Western Society, the Christian's 'Sunday Best' is his 'religious garb' – it openly communicates his Christian religion and his observance of it to those who see him, and opens doors of communication where inconspicuous dress would fail to do so."

Appealing to the Gospel, Rev. Michael Berg (WELS) suggested much the same thing in his excellent paper, The Beauty of the Western Rite, which he delivered at the 2012 Conference of Intrepid Lutherans: Church and Continuity – see pages 11, 26, 36 and 54, for example, or hear his comments @~5'45" to ~7'35", @~10'45" to ~11'50", @~38'10" to ~42' or @~44'35" to ~54' in the video we posted of his presentation. Who is actually present in the Divine Service, and how does that motivate the order of our practice? Rev. Berg offers a very compelling case.

Likewise, Rev. Anthony Voltattorni (LCMS), in a November 6, 2012 interview on Issues, Etc., makes a compelling and motivating case for the use of traditional clerical garb instead of the non-distinguishing casual wear that continues to grow in popularity as pastors grow more and more disconnected from their office, and take on the role of representing contemporary culture before the congregation rather than Christ.

Why Does a Pastor Wear a Clerical Collar? – Rev. Anthony Voltattorni (LCMS), 11/6/12


In this 30 minute interview, Rev. Voltattorni centers his discussion on the evangelical significance of Office of the Holy Ministry. He makes the point that according to this Lutheran teaching, the pastor does not represent the culture before the congregation during the Sunday morning Divine Service or through the week as he carries out the functions of his Office. On the contrary, the pastor represents Christ. The evangelical significance of this teaching is compelling enough to motivate the conscientious Lutheran pastor in his public practice, such that he strives to carry it out in an unambiguous and consistently representative way. The purpose of casual garb, observes Rev. Voltattorni, is to fulfill the former (and wrong) understanding of his role – that of representing the culture before the congregation – by drawing attention to himself as a representative of mankind. In contrast, the purpose of clerical garb is to fulfill the latter – of unambiguously representing Christ by adopting the attire recognized worldwide as peculiar to his Office – by reminding not only the congregation of this fact, but himself as well, helping him submit to his Office and refrain from frivolity and offense. Rev. Voltattorni proceeds by pointing out that distinctive clerical garb does draw attention to it's wearer, in agreement with one of the primary criticisms of its use. Yet, he continues, casual wear attracts attention as well – it does not make the wearer inconspicuous, it only makes his Office inconspicuous. Distinctive clerical garb, on the other hand, draws attention to its wearer as one who occupies the Office to which Christ appointed him through His congregation, and as one who is always eager to represent Christ and share his Message everywhere he goes. Moreover, concludes Rev. Voltattorni, by publicly distinguishing himself in this way, instead of remaining inconspicuous when in public, the pastor is not only announcing his desire to share the Good News of Salvation through Faith in the promises of Christ, he is also boldly inviting persecution from those who hate Christ and His messengers.

It is an informative and compelling little interview, and, of course, Rev. Voltattorni expresses himself far better than I have summarized him here. We recommend that our readers listen to and consider what Rev. Voltattorni has to say.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Johann Gerhard on Romans 5:19

Previously I had posted a translation of Johann Gerhard on Romans 3, Romans 4, and Romans 5:18.  Here's a translation of his interpretation of Romans 5:19.

(Translation copyright 2012 by Paul A. Rydecki.  All emphasis is in the original.)

Adnotationes ad priora capita Epistolae D. Pauli ad Romanos (1644)

Romans 5:19
σπερ γρ δι τς παρακος το νς νθρώπου μαρτωλο κατεστάθησαν ο πολλοί, οτω κα δι τς πακος το νς δίκαιοι κατασταθήσονται ο πολλοί.
[The Apostle] demonstrates the basis for the preceding comparison, which consists in this, that these two men (Adam and Christ) have been established as two stocks from which righteousness and life are propagated to others. For Adam was established at the beginning of creation as the stock from which righteousness and life should be propagated to all his posterity.  But since he turned away from God through sin, from that time on unrighteousness and death are propagated from him to all his posterity. Therefore, God out of grace took pity on the human race and opened up another source of righteousness and life for us.  He sent Christ the Mediator, from whom as a stock and a tree of life, righteousness and life should be communicated to all who are grafted into Him by faith.
What he had earlier called transgression (παράπτωμα) he now calls disobedience (παρακοήν), because the origin and source of transgression was disobedience. And what he had earlier called righteousness (δικαίωμα), he now calls obedience (πακοήν), because Christ, by obeying His heavenly Father to death, even death on a cross, acquired that righteousness for us (Phil. 2:9).  Then in turn, what he had said earlier—by one transgression condemnation (κατάκριμα) came upon all—that he brings out in this verse saying that many were made sinners, because that propagation of sin and contraction of guilt is the cause of condemnation. And what he had said earlier—through one Man’s righteousness the benefit overflowed to all for justification (δικαίωσιν)—that he brings out here saying that through one Man’s obedience many were made righteous. But he uses a future tense verb on account of those who will believe (τος μέλλοντας πιστεύειν).
Godly men of old speak in this way concerning this contrast of Adam and Christ.  Irenaeus (Book 5, ch. 18, p.342): Just as through one conquered man our race descended into death, so again through one conquering man we have ascended to life.  And just as death won the prize against us through a man, so again we have won the prize against death through a man.  Augustine writes in Letter 57 ad Dardan. q. 2: In the one case it became clear how the choice of a man should prevail for death; in the other case, how the help of God should prevail for life. He says the same thing in Book 2 On Original Sin, ch. 24: The Christian faith properly consists in the case of these two men.  Through one of them we were sold under sin; through the other we are redeemed from sin.  One of these men caused us to perish in himself by doing his own will rather than the will of Him by whom he was made; the other Man saved us in Himself by not doing His own will, but the will of Him by whom He was sent. Lyranus in h.1: Just as through the disobedience of Adam his posterity were made unrighteous, so through the obedience of Christ many are justified in the wood of the outstretched cross.
The Papists try to wrest out of h.1 that we are justified through an infused and inherent righteousness.
Pererius in h.1 says: Paul did not say that they were made sinners by the disobedience of Adam, nor should one imagine that they were made so through imputed disobedience.  Rather, he said “through disobedience,” that is, disobedience that came through the sin that dwells intrinsically in them due to Adam’s disobedience. Similarly, therefore, it is not that the obedience of Christ makes them righteous, as if men became righteous not through an inherent righteousness but through an imputed righteousness.  Rather, they are made righteous through the obedience of Christ, because this was the meritorious cause.
We reply:  This presupposes that that phrase righteousness makes righteous and unrighteousness makes unrighteous, is only meant formally; but that the other phrase, through righteousness they are made righteous and through unrighteousness they are made unrighteous is only meant with regard to merit[1].  And yet Pererius himself is forced to deny this hypothesis when that which is through faith δι πίστεως), Rom. 3:22,30, is interpreted formally.  Thus in 2 Tim. 3:15, faith is not the cause because of which a person merits becoming wise for salvation, but is rather itself the form of that wisdom. Thus when in Gal. 5:6 faith is said to work through love, love cannot be understood as the meritorious cause why faith works. Bellarmine himself in Book 2 On Justification, ch. 3, says: We are justified through his grace, i.e., through the righteousness given and infused by him, and this is the formal cause.
Bellarmine, in Book 2 On Justification, ch. 3:  Through the unrighteousness of Adam we were made unrighteous by an unrighteousness that truly and really inheres in us, not by imputation.  Therefore, in the same way we are made righteous through the obedience of Christ, by a righteousness that inheres in us.  Becanus, in Part 1 On Justification, ch. 2 section 14: Just as we were made unrighteous through the disobedience of Adam, so through the obedience of Christ we are made righteous. Yet we are made unrighteous through Adam’s disobedience, not formally, but only efficiently and meritoriously. Therefore we are also made righteous through the obedience of Christ, not formally, but only efficiently and meritoriously.
We reply:
1) The comparison between the disobedience of Adam and the obedience of Christ is not instituted simply[2] and absolutely, but according to something in particular[3]. For the Apostle is considering at that time the causes of our salvation and condemnation, for just as the condemnation draws its origin from Adam’s disobedience, so our salvation draws its origin from Christ’s obedience. Then, the Apostle considers the propagation and effects of Christ’s obedience and of Adam’ disobedience, for just as through the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners, so through the obedience of Christ they are made righteous. 
2) But by no means is this comparison to be extended to the mode of propagation and communication, which the Apostle is obviously not treating in this passage; but he dealt with that in the preceding passages, teaching that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us by faith, but that Adam’s sin is propagated to us by carnal generation.
3) If we wanted to go beyond the limits of the Apostolic comparison, someone could infer from the same that the righteousness of Christ is propagated to us through carnal generation, since the unrighteousness of Adam is communicated to us in that manner.  Likewise, one could infer that the righteousness of Christ is propagated to all men together, without any regard for faith or unbelief, since the sin of Adam is propagated to all through carnal generation. 
4) But since that is absurd, a distinction must fully be made between the acquisition and the application of the merit of Christ; or between the benefit itself and participation in the benefit.  The acquisition of the merit, or the benefit itself obtained by the death of Christ is general.  For as Adam, by his disobedience, enveloped all of his posterity in the guilt of sin, so Christ, who suffered and died for the sins of all, also merited and acquired righteousness for all.  But this benefit is only applied to those who are grafted into Christ by faith, and only they become participants in this benefit. 
5) The contrast is evident in this Apostolic text between justification and condemnation, v. 16 and v.18. But since they are contrasted under the same genre, and condemnation is, to be sure, a judicial act, from that it follows that justification is also a judicial act, and hence it consists, not in the infusion of righteousness, but in the absolution from sins. Undoubtedly, as through the sin of Adam sin is propagated to all men, for it results in condemnation for them, that is, because of it they are damned by the righteous judgment of God unless reconciliation and remission take place, so through the merit of Christ righteousness and salvation have been obtained for all, so that they may be justified by faith, that is, that they may be pronounced righteous, absolved from sins and freed from condemnation. 
6) To be made righteous and to be justified are considered by the Apostle to be equivalent expressions (σοδυναμοσι).  Therefore, to be made righteous is contrasted with for condemnation in v.19; so also to be justified in v.18; and hence each has a forensic meaning. The verb they will be made (κατασταθήσονται) indicates that these things are carried out before the tribunal of God’s righteous judgment, who condemns Adam’s posterity on account of sin, but absolves believers in Christ from that damnation and makes them righteous (Rom. 10:3, 2 Cor. 5:21). 
7) By no semblance of truth can it be denied that the sin of Adam is imputed to his posterity.  For although the corruption of nature that arises from Adam’s sin inheres in his posterity, nevertheless it cannot be denied that Adam’s sin, from which the corruption of nature arises, is imputed to them (Ex. 20:5, Rom. 5:13).  For as soon as our first parents sinned, in whose loins was the entire human race, and who received gifts not only for themselves, but also for their posterity, their transgression was considered the transgression of the entire human race, and hence was imputed to all of them so that they are damned before they are born. Therefore, Bellarmine himself in Book 4 On the Loss of Grace, ch. 10, writes: The sin of Adam is imputed to all his posterity in such a way as if all had committed the same sin. And he cites the statement of Bernhard: Adam’s guilt is ours, for although it was in another, we still sinned; and it was imputed to us by God’s righteous judgment, although secretly.
Stapleton in Antidoto h.l. presses the verb they will be made (κατασταθήσονται).  This vocable, he says, is most suitable for explaining inherent righteousness, for the use of Scripture teaches that it does not mean imputation, but the true and inherent acquisition and possession (Luke 12). Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2 place him over all things.  You placed him over all the works of your hands.  James 2, He is made an enemy of God.
We reply:
1) Some declare that the verb to be made applies to the status of the believers in the future age in which they will be made righteous by inherent righteousness—and that a most perfect righteousness. Certainly the benefits of Christ do not end with this life, but are extended also into the future life.  Therefore, in this way this phrase would designate the effect of justification.  This is what they make of the words of the Apostle, those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life. For distinct times are noted: they receive the abundance of the gift, already in place in this life; yet they do not reign in life, but will reign, that is, someday and in the future age.
2) In justification, believers are truly made righteous by the imputed righteousness of Christ, no more truly than a servant who is at some time placed by his lord over all his goods, or a man who is placed by God over all the works of His hands.  But it does not follow, if someone wishes to infer from this truth an inherence of righteousness.  Nor in the examples cited is inherence necessarily established.  A man is made lord of the creatures not through inherence, but through relationship; a man is made a friend of God, not by some affection inhering in the man himself, since God loved those who did not exist.

[1] meritorie
[2] simpliciter
[3] secundum quid

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