Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Real Story of “Christmas”

How the Observance of Our Savior’s Birth Became A Winter Festival of Holly, Deck the Halls, and Saint Nick!

'The Nativity at Night' by Guido Reni, 1640The term “Christmas”
The word “Christmas” comes from the Old English term Cristes Maesse, or the “Mass of Christ,” first found recorded in A.D. 1038. In Dutch it is “Kerst-misse,” and in Latin “Dies Natalis,” from which we get the French word “Noël.” In Italian it is “Il natale;” but in German “Weihnachtsfest,” named for the sacred vigil which takes place the night before Christmas. The word “Yule” simply comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “geol,” or feast, which was also the name of their month in which this feast took place. In Icelandic the term is “iol,” a feast still celebrated there each year in December.

As far as we can tell, Christmas as an observance of the birth of Jesus Christ, was not celebrated during the first hundred years of the Christian Church. The first evidence of the feast comes from Egypt. Sometime just before A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria said that some Egyptian theologians set the year and the day of Christ’s birth, placing it on 25th day of the Egyptian month Pachon, or our May 20th, in the twenty-eighth year of Caesar Augustus. However, Clement also tells us that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany, and with it, the Nativity, most often on 11 Tybi, or our January 6th. Indeed, this double celebration became quite popular, partly because the appearance to the shepherds was seen as a manifestation of Christ’s glory, with the other being the worship of Magi from the East, which was already observed on that day. The December feast day did not reach the rest of the Church in North Africa until around the Third Century A.D.

When Was the first “Year of Our Lord?”
When was Jesus born? According to the present system of reckoning time, Jesus was born on December 25th before the year 1 (thus 1 B.C. as there is no year “zero”), or 754 years after the founding of Rome. This system was introduced by the Roman abbot, Dionysius Exigius in the Sixth Century, and is therefore called the “Dionysian System.” It was first used in historical writings in the Eighth Century by The Venerable Bede. Shortly after this, it was given official sanction in public documents by the French king Pepin the Short, and later by his son, Charlemagne. However, nearly all theologians are generally agreed that the year is not correct. The majority of the theologians of our day have accepted the year 749 or the early part of 750, four or five years before our era. This is based on the following facts:'Herod the Great' by Théophile Lybaert, 1883
  1. Jesus was born, according to both Matthew and Luke, before the death of Herod the Great. King Herod died during the 37th year after he had been appointed in Rome to rule over Judea. Thus his coronation took place in the Roman year 714. (Romans marked years from the founding of the City of Rome, which in our calendar took place in 753 B.C.) It was the Jewish custom that the royal years should always be counted from the 1st of Nisan (usually corresponding to our month of April), the first month of their religious year. Thus, his 37th year makes it’s beginning on the 1st of Nisan, 750, and runs to 751. Therefore Herod died in 750 or 751, four or five years previous to the present era. And since Herod ordered all the infant males in Bethlehem killed who were less than two years of age, Jesus would have to have been born in late 749 or very early in 750, that is, 5 or 4 B.C.
  2. The Jewish historian Josephus states that an eclipse of the moon took place shortly before the death of Herod. Astronomers have established that this happened in the night of March 12 to 13, 750. The death of Herod therefore falls in the latter part of March or early in April 750. At that time Jesus was already born, and as His circumcision, the Presentation in the temple, the visit of the wise men, and the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem belong between these two events, there must be a reasonable interval before the death of Herod. Herod died shortly after the murder of the children in Bethlehem. Jesus must have been born, then, in the final days of 749 or early in 750.
  3. In John 2: 19-20, we are told that when Jesus was in Jerusalem for His first Passover after His own baptism, He said, “Destroy this temple...” after which the Jews answered Him, “Forty and six years was this temple in building...” The sanctuary was not at that time completed, and we know that the work of reconstruction was begun in the 18th year of the reign of Herod.'St. John the Baptist' by Leonardo da Vinci, 1516 The first year Herod actually ruled in Judea came in 717, the 18th year then falls between 734 and 735. The year of this visit of Christ to Jerusalem must therefore be 780. Since Luke informs us that Jesus was about thirty years of age when He commenced His ministry shortly after His baptism (Luke 3:23), we therefore come once again to late 749 as the year of His birth.
  4. Luke 3:1 contains the account of John the Baptist and of his appearance as the Forerunner of Christ. According to his report, the activity of John dates from the 15th year in the rule of Tiberius. The emperor Augustus died August 19th, 767, and was succeeded on the throne by his stepson, Tiberius. However, we should note that Luke uses the word “hegemony,” not “monarchy,” when he mentions the fifteen years in the reign of Tiberius. The Roman historian, Tacitus, informs us that Augustus, in a manner consistent with Roman law, made Tiberius his co-ruler toward the close of 764 or in January 765. From that time on then Tiberius was also Caesar. The Baptist’s appearance upon the scene comes then in 779. After John had begun his work, Jesus came to him. Thus, we arrive at 779 as the year of Jesus’ baptism, which brings us yet again to the Winter of 749-750 as the time of His birth.

What Was the Month and Day of Christ’s Birth?
'The Anunciation' by Phillippe de Champaigne, 1644But, in which month and on what day was Jesus born? Our present system uses December 25th, as we all know. And this date was universally accepted in the Fourth Century by the Western Christian Church, while the Churches in the East observed either January 6th or 10th. According to the old Julian calendar, December 25th was the shortest day of the year, and referred to in Rome and elsewhere as “the birthday of the unconquerable sun” or Dies natatis invicti solis. After that day, the sun began to rise on the horizon, and the days began to lengthen once again. As Jesus is the light of the world, early believers felt it was eminently fitting that the day of His birth should also be December 25th. This date was first placed on record in Rome in connection with Christ’s birth in a chronicle dating from A.D. 354. The Christian writer Chrysostom said, “It is not yet ten years since this day (December 25) was made known. Even so, it is now just as seriously observed as if it has come to us from the beginning. It is very plain, according to the Evangelist [Luke], that Christ was born during the first census, and in Rome it is possible for anyone to deduce, with the aid of the public archives, when this came about. From persons who have intimate knowledge of these records and who still live in the city, we have obtained this day; for they who dwell there and who have kept the day in accordance with an age-long tradition have recently given us this information.” In writing on the 132nd Psalm of David, Augustine says, “John was born on June 24th, when the days already began to diminish; but the Lord was born December 25th in which the days began to lengthen; for John himself has said: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).’”

'The Vision of Zacharias' by JamesTissot, 1899Also, in his account of the alternation of priests in the temple, Luke gives us additional information touching upon the date of Jesus’ birth. We read that the angel Gabriel came to Zacharias in the temple where he was carrying out the priest’s office before God. From I Chronicles 24 we find that there were twenty-four orders or classes in the priesthood. Each order took its turn eight days twice annually. Zacharias was of the order of Abijah, the eighth in the list given in the Chronicles (1 Chr. 24: 10). From the Talmud we learn that the first order, that of Jehoiarib, was charged with the service on the day the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and that this catastrophe occurred the 9th day in the month of Ab, the 5th month of the Roman year 823, corresponding to our August 4, A.D. 70. Working back from this date, we can therefore determine that the later turn of the order of Abijah came October 3rd to 9th in the year 748. Thus, Zacharias officiated for his order on one of these days. After this he returned home, with the conception of John the Baptist occurring sometime after his return. Six months later comes the Annunciation to Mary, in the spring of 749. After three months John the Baptist was born in midsummer 749. And six months after this comes the birth of Christ, in the Winter of 749, December 25th, or January 6th or even the 10th.

Still, if Jesus was born in the dead of Winter, how would this be reconciled with the presence of shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night? Those who have traveled in Palestine will testify that weather conditions may remain almost perfect through the month of December, and even far into January.Thus, there is no reason why the last month of 749 or first month of 750 should not be settled upon as the time of Jesus’ birth. This would be our 5 or 6 B.C. Yes, it sounds odd to have Jesus born five or six years “Before Christ,” but unless we want to add five or six years to the number of our current year, we’ll just have to tolerate this little anomaly.

'Annunciation to the Shepherds' by Jacob Gerritz Cuyp, 1594-1650The feast of Christ’s birth was brought into the official life of the Church and the Empire by Constantine as early as A. D. 330. The Christian historian, Epiphanius, writing in Cyprus near the end of the Fourth Century, asserts that Christ was born on January 6th, and the Christian churches in Mesopotamia observed the birth of the Savior thirteen days after the winter solstice; that is, January 6th. But in Cappadocia December 25th was already celebrated as the anniversary of Christ’s birth before 380. About 385 Cyril of Jerusalem asked Pope Julius I to assign the true date of the nativity “from census documents brought by Titus to Rome;” and using this information Julius assigned December 25th. Jerome, writing about 411, chastises the Christian churches in Palestine for observing Christ’s birthday on Epiphany rather than the now accepted December date. In Antioch in A.D. 386, St. Chrysostom tries to unite Antioch in celebrating Christ’s birth on the 25th of December. Indeed, a large part of the community had already observed this festival on that day for at least the previous ten years. In the West, he says, the feast was thus kept, and goes on to say this was no novelty; for from Thrace (Greece) to Cadiz (Spain) this feast was celebrated. Finally, he asserts with authority that the census papers of the Holy Family were still at that time in Rome and could be used to verify the date of this celebration. Unfortunately, these records are no longer extant, otherwise there would be no mystery.

Is the Feast of Christmas Simply a Cover for a Pagan Holiday?
It is clear that the origin of Christmas did not come simply from the Roman festival of Saturnalia. True, the Emperor Aurelian, during his brief rule, tried to institute a lavish festival around the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, on December 25th, A.D. 274, borrowing heavily from the Mithras observances of Persia. He pushed this celebration in order to breathe new life into Roman idol-worship, which was already dying out. And Aurelian’s pronouncement came after Christians had already been associating this day with the birth of Christ for many decades in at least a few parts of the Empire. Indeed this “Sol Invictus” festival was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to believers. Thus, Christians were not imitating the pagans, rather the pagans were imitating the Christians!

Where Did Some of the other “Traditions” of Christmas Come From?

Feasting and Partying
'Christmas Eve' by Carl Larsson, 1904This did not come from the Church. In fact, the Church attempted to impose strict discipline on this festival, and make it day of worship and contemplation. Emperor Theodoric, in A.D. 425, forbade Circus games on 25 December; though not until the time of Justinian III, in 529 is the cessation of all work imposed throughout the Empire on Christmas. The Council of Agde in 506 orders Holy Communion be celebrated on Christmas regardless of what day of the week it falls. The Second Council of Tours in 566 sets the sanctity of the “twelve days” from Christmas to Epiphany, and the duty of an Advent fast. Still, after that merry-making increased so much that the “Laws of King Cnut,” written around 1110, ordered a complete fast for all Christians from Christmas to Epiphany. In England, Christmas was forbidden by Act of Parliament in 1644; the day was to be a fast and a market day; shops were even compelled to be open on pain of a heavy fine; plum puddings and mince pies were condemned as indulgent and heathen. Even after the Restoration, Baptist and Puritan “Dissenters” continued to call Yuletide “Fooltide,” and refused to have anything to do with Christmas.

Christmas Pageants & Carols
Victorian CarolersThe tradition of putting on dramatic, sometimes spectacular, displays of the various incidents of the Nativity began early in the Middle Ages. Often the Apostles and Martyrs would be included with Old Testament prophets, angels, kings, popes, and even well-known poets and artists in honoring Christ in these plays. In fact, the old adage, “To out-herod Herod”, that is, to over-act, dates from the often vivid depictions of Herod’s cruel violence in these plays.

These plays also had a part in bringing about a great number of “noels,” and carols. Prudentius writes a hymn to the nativity in the Fourth Century, and Sedulius in the Fifth Century. The earliest German Weihnachtslieder date from the Eleventh and Twelfth centuries, the earliest French noels from the Eleventh, and the earliest English carols from the Thirteenth. “Adeste Fideles,” for example does not appear in its present form until the Seventeenth century. Most certainly however, these very popular tunes and words must have existed long before they were put down in writing.

Nativity Scenes or The “Crèche”
The word “crèche” comes from the French word for crib or cradle. St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 set up the first crèche outside of church. Normally these nativity scenes, some quite small, others actually life-size, were displayed only in churches, and mostly in the side altars. Almost immediately, however, these little replicas of the stable where Christ was born, along with the central characters of the story, became immensely popular in Christian homes and town squares throughout Europe. The presence of an ox and donkey were seen as a commentary on Isaiah 1:3 and Habakkuk 3:2, and they appear in the unique Fourth Century “Nativity” discovered in the St. Sebastian catacombs in 1877.

Christmas Tree
'Round the Christmas Tree' by Viggo Johansen, 1891In the Thirteenth Century, Gervase of Tilbury wrote that in England grain was exposed on Christmas night to gain fertility from the dew which then falls. Indeed, the tradition that trees and flowers blossomed on this night is first quoted from an Arab geographer of the Tenth Century, and from there the story made it’s way to England. In a Thirteenth Century French story, candles are portrayed on a flowering tree. In England it was Joseph of Arimathea’s rod which was supposed to bloom at Glastonbury and elsewhere. Ivy, holly, mistletoe, and evergreen trees were all used by the ancient Druids as symbols of life in the dead of Winter. These were then appropriated by Christians for the same use.

From these various sources then came the practice of many types of greenery being used as decorations during the Christmas season. One of these customs developed into the Christmas tree. It is thought Martin Luther first brought an evergreen tree into the home and placed small candles on its branches to illustrate everlasting life coming from Christ, the Light of the World. However the first definite mention of such a tree is in 1605 at Strassburg. From there the custom entered the rest of France during the next century, and finally came to England in 1840 by way of the Prince Consort, Albert, the Lutheran husband of Queen Victoria.

Well-meaning Christians sometimes bemoan the use of the letter “X” in place of Jesus’ title of “Christ” when used to designate the term “Christmas.” Almost every year lately there are emotional calls from believers to “keep Christ in Christmas!” Rest assured, the Savior is still very much in “Xmas.”

The Chi-RhoThe letter ’X’ of the English alphabet closely resembles the Greek letter “chi,” which in that language gives a sound much like our English ’k,’ as in cholera or chrome. From very early in the Christian Church the first two Greek letters of the word “Christ,” were used as a symbol for the Redeemer. The Greek letter for the “r” sound, or “Rho,” looks like our English letter “p”. We see this combination in the symbol used in many church decorations which we call the “Chi-Rho;” what looks like an “X” and a “P” superimposed over one another.

Eventually, just the single letter “X” also came to represent Jesus Christ. This symbolism came to England with Christianity. As the Anglo-Saxon language grew into first Old English and then common English, it was considered very acceptable to abbreviate “Christ,” or “Jesus Christ” with either the Chi-Rho, or just the Chi or “X”. We can see this done frequently in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles beginning around A.D. 1050. This usage continued to be quite common through the Middle Ages, to the Victorian period, and of course is still used today. There was never any intention to do away with Jesus. “Xmas” means “Christmas,” period.

Santa Claus and Gift-giving
It is said that the origin for the mysterious benefactor of Christmas night: Knecht Ruprecht, Pelzmärtel on a wooden horse, St. Martin on a white charger, St. Nicholas, or Father Christmas, comes from Saints stepping into the shoes of the pagan god Oden, who, with his wife Frigga, descended during the nights between 25 December and 6 January on white horses to bless both earth and people. Welcoming fires were set on the hilltops, houses were adorned with many kinds of decorations and lights, work and trials suspended, and great feasts celebrated during these nights.

Indeed, it was quite common for peoples once they converted to Christianity to incorporate their one-time pagan deities into many of the customs and traditions of the new Christian Church. However, that is only part of the story, and it would not be fair not to give due acknowledgment to the individual most certainly more responsible than any other for the “Santa Claus” phenomenon, namely, Saint Nicholas of Myra.

Santa Claus with GiftsAs with many heroes of the early Christian Church; i.e. those that lived during that period of nearly three centuries before the faith could be practiced openly and without persecution; the life and works of Nicholas have acquired a great many myths and legends, some of them quite fantastic. In fact, one could say he is perhaps the most honored and venerated of any of Saints of this period. These facts we know: He was born about A.D. 270 at Patara in Lycia in the Roman province of Asia, now modern Turkey, to well-to-do Christian parents. Both his parents died in a plague when he was quite young and left him very wealthy, and he was raised by an uncle who was the Bishop of Patara. From very early in his childhood he was known for his piety and zeal for the Lord and the Church. He underwent severe hardship and imprisonment during the intense persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, but survived to see the legalization of the Christian faith during the rule of Constantine. When the office of Bishop at Myra, the provincial capital went vacant, the people persuaded him to take on this office, even though he was still quite young at the time. He was said to have attended the great Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, and the story is that he walked right up to the arch-heretic Arius and slapped him in the face before the entire assembly. He is said to have died on December 6th, A.D. 343, in Myra, and buried there under the altar of his church. After the Muslim Saracens took over the area in the Eleventh Century, his bones were removed to the town of Bari in Italy, where they remain today.

Among the nearly countless stories of amazing miracles attributed to Nicholas, two stand out as explanations for why he became the model for Santa Claus. During a severe famine a man of Patara lost all his money and was about to lose his home and property. He had three daughters of marriage age, but because they had no dowry they had no prospects of finding husbands. The father planned, it is said, to force his daughters into prostitution so that the family could survive. Nicholas heard of his plans, and one night, tossed three bags of gold in though an open window where the daughters were sleeping. Finding the gold when they awoke the next morning, they now had their dowries and soon were married off successfully.

In some versions, the bags were given in three successive nights, or even years on the same date, and by some accounts the bags were thrown – where else – down the chimney. Another variant has the daughters wash out their stocking and hang them to dry, the gold bags landing in them to be found the next morning. All these variants were widely known throughout the Christian world as early as the A.D. 700s. Another story takes place during yet another famine. An innkeeper on an island just off the coast of Myra supposedly killed and butchered three little children, and put them in pickling barrels to sell them to unsuspecting guests. Visiting the island to give aid to the needy, Nicholas surmised the evil deed done by the innkeeper. He brought the children back to life and returned them to their parents, thus becoming seen as the special protector and benefactor to all children.

From these pious legends it is easy to see how Saint Nicholas could become so dear and important to people of many countries down through the centuries. That his “saint day” was so close to Christmas also lent itself to a close association between the two. Once we throw in various other aspects left over from early pagan sources, such as elves, reindeer, sleighs, coal, and the like, and stir the whole mixture together with an excuse for merry-making at the end of the year and the natural commercialism of free enterprise – viola! – Santa Claus!

Christmas Eve at ChurchOf course, Christian believers, should, can, and do filter out all this interference with their worship of the Christ-child, and the celebration of the great fact of Christmas, which is Immanuel – God with us! As the Apostle John writes so beautifully by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the Only Begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

A very blessed and joyous Christmas to one and all!

Pastor Spencer

[Once again, no claim is made for originality in this material. It has been collected from many sources over many years, for the benefit of my local congregation.]

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Queen James Bible: The next stage of "interpretive ambiguity"

The Queen James BibleRound and round and round it goes.
     Where it'll stop, who really knows?
          Or cares?

The strictures of gender-neutrality placed on the translation of the NIV 2011 superimpose a feminist worldview on the entire text of the Bible. But this is old news. The next controversial phase of attacks on God's Word is to superimpose a homosexual worldview on the Bible. How long will it be before confessional Lutherans join this movement? From the Product Description on Amazon:
    A Gay Bible
    The Queen James Bible is based on The King James Bible, edited to prevent homophobic misinterpretation.

    Homosexuality in The Bible
    Homosexuality was first mentioned in the Bible in 1946, in the Revised Standard Version. There is no mention of or reference to homosexuality in any Bible prior to this - only interpretations have been made. Anti-LGBT Bible interpretations commonly cite only eight verses in the Bible that they interpret to mean homosexuality is a sin; Eight verses in a book of thousands!

    The Queen James Bible seeks to resolve interpretive ambiguity in the Bible as it pertains to homosexuality: We edited those eight verses in a way that makes homophobic interpretations impossible.

    Who is Queen James?
    The King James Bible is the most popular Bible of all time, and arguably the most important English language document of all time. It is the brainchild and namesake of King James I, who wanted an English language Bible that all could own and read. The KJV, as it is called, has been in print for over 400 years and has brought more people to Christ than any other Bible translation. Commonly known to biographers but often surprising to most Christians, King James I was a well-known bisexual. Though he did marry a woman, his many gay relationships were so well-known that amongst some of his friends and court, he was known as "Queen James." It is in his great debt and honor that we name The Queen James Bible so...

    [bold emphasis is mine]
Are confessional Lutherans ready for this? It only changes eight verses. How could that be so bad? Some confessional Lutherans are more than ready, I'm sure, but my guess is, most are not. Give it time, though. That's the way change takes place. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, but little by little until new ideas take hold and become normative. Give it a couple decades or so for a more emancipated social consciousness to work its way into the leadership and schools of confessional Lutherans. Maybe then they'll be ready for a Bible such as "The Queen James Bible." For now, I am sure that the ELCA is ready to endorse it as a translation which can be used with "a high degree of confidence," and that should be good enough to encourage the beginning and continuation of changes elsewhere.

Cultural Change and the Church
As Koehler pointed out to us in defending the Historical Disciplines (see the Introduction to my Conference paper, Why is this Happening to Us?), the only way to tell that change has occurred and is impacting the Church is to examine the past:
    The truth must remain unchanged but the method must vary in order always to remain the spontaneous expression of the truth. Today we are confronted by new situations... They can be covered with one term, the intrusion of worldly ways into the church... It won’t do to go into isolation and pretend that problems do not exist... But neither is anything accomplished by making compromises and bringing the world into the church... What counts is that we actually stay with the truth in doctrine and conduct and actually shut our church against worldliness. What is the remedy?... In our case it is the historical studies that indicate that a change is taking place, and it is highly important that we do not remain inactive and let it dominate us so that our church may not be harmed by it.

    [Koehler, J.P. (1997). The Importance of the Historical Disciplines for the American Lutheran Church of the Present. In C. Jahn (Ed.), Wauwatosa Theology, Vol. 3 (I. Habeck, Trans., 1975). Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1904). pp. 436 - 437]
But once harmful change has taken root, it's too late. It's probably too late to reverse many harmful changes hindsight has been revealing to us, especially since the resolution is to bring "clarity" to confusion, while the harmful changes we see often have their root in a love for the power and independence that "ambiguity" brings to the individual.

As I stated in my last post, How does one interpret language in a post-Modern Age? What about the language of the Bible?, it used to be that among confessional Lutherans, "all doctrine was taken from direct positive statements of Scripture, only," – a grammatical definition – but now, "all doctrine is taken only from "clear statements" of Scripture" – a relative definition. It may seem like this sort of thing happens by accident. And maybe it does. But the strategic use of "ambiguity" is also a weapon, used by man to wage war against the clarity of the Scriptures. In fact, I concluded a previous post entitled, When the Third Use of the Law pre-dominates..., which characterized the decline of sound doctrine in the ELCA as a decline in the perceived "clarity" of the Scriptures, with the phrase, "Pursuing freedom from Scripture's clear teachings, by arguing for their ambiguity, results only in tyranny," and used that phrase as the title of two successive posts:These posts briefly examine the debate between Erasmus and Luther in their works on Human Will (Freedom of the Will and Bondage of the Will respectively), and focus on Erasmus' appeal to "the ambiguity of the Scriptures – to maintain the freedom and authority of man over against Scripture," characterizing such appeals as essentially the same sin of Satan himself – the sin of pride and of desiring equality with God (Ge. 3:1-19). Deliberately making wholesale changes to God's Word, even deliberately changing His Word in only eight places, to satisfy what seems to be laudable values of contemporary social consciousness, only vaunts ambiguity in Scripture in order to employ the freedom of man's arbitrative rights and obligations. Indeed, it often succeeds at inventing such ambiguity in the face of Scripture's clarity, in order that ambiguity can be claimed and strategically used to put man, and what man wants, in the place of God and what He says. This is a childish game played by man from a heart of sinful pride and a desirous love for freedom from Authority. And as the ELCA has amply demonstrated, ambiguity empowers this love, mightily.

Shall confessional Lutherans follow them?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How does one interpret language in a post-Modern Age? What about the language of the Bible?

The notion that all language statements and assertions stand in need of interpretation and may be interpreted in many different ways – including those that contradict the explicit meaning – is wreaking all kinds of havoc. Especially when treating the Bible. Theology has often become an exercise in interpreting away Biblical statements that the theologian does not agree with.

To be sure, some language calls for interpretation, but other language is clear on its face. Some of the controversies involve questions about which is which. But even interpretation is supposed to help us understand what has been said, rather than undoing what has been said.

These were words written this morning by Dr. Gene Veith (italics and bold are mine), in his blog post, Cranach: How to interpret "kill Americans", in response to an apology offered by South Korean "Gangnam Style" rapper, Psy. Eight years ago, Psy preached/rapped the following message to a crowd at an anti-war concert:
    “Kill those f—— Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captive / Kill those f——- Yankees who ordered them to torture / Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers / Kill them all slowly and painfully.”
But today he apologizes in the following words:
    “While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words” (bold emphasis mine).
What Dr. Veith finds interesting is Psy's assertion that his words need "interpreting." “In what sense is that statement in need of interpretation?”, Dr. Veith asks. Here he is not really addressing the offensive and inciting words of the rapper, or even his apology, but is using this situation, as he stated, to address “The notion that all language statements and assertions stand in need of interpretation and may be interpreted in many different ways – including those that contradict the explicit meaning...

While a former member of a "conservative" Lutheran church body (not WELS, not ELS, not LCMS), I learned that "all doctrine is taken from direct positive statements of Scripture, only." Positive statements are identified by the grammar and vocabulary of the texts, and distinguished from comparative or normative statements. Direct statements are identified by the context, whether the author is speaking directly, or repeating what someone else said. Only the author is recognized as inspired and empowered by God to issue prescriptive statements, so, unless he is quoting God, indirect statements of the author – that is, statements he is making through another human – are not sufficient to prescribe doctrine. This categorically rules out anecdotal sections of Scripture as offering prescriptive statements or of having sufficient authority to qualify other direct positive statements of Scripture. This is a significant fact to remember, especially when considering, for example, the Bible's teaching on "The Roles of Men and Women." Many advocates of feminist theology among confessional Lutherans (nearly all such advocates, by my estimation), fixate on anecdotal sections of Scripture and set those sections at war against what the Bible says in direct positive terms. "B-b-b-but, what about Deborah?" (attempt to build doctrine from anecdotal sections of Scripture); "B-b-b-but, what about Priscilla?" (another attempt to build doctrine from anecdotal sections of Scripture); "B-b-b-but, what about Lydia?" (more anecdotal references...). WELS advocates of feminist theology were quoted extensively in my post, Post-Modernism, Pop-culture, Transcendence, and the Church Militant, displaying this very hermeneutical approach – attempting to derive meaning from anecdotal sections, even those which have nothing to do with the teaching of "Gender Roles," and vaunting that derived meaning over the clear statements of Scripture.

When my wife and I joined WELS, we learned that the statement "all doctrine is taken from direct positive statements of Scripture, only," is no longer used. Instead, the phrase "all doctrine is taken only from clear statements of Scripture," is used, alongside the warning to "distinguish prescriptive from descriptive statements." I thought that was odd, because the former of these two statements is not a "clear" statement at all. The term "clear" is relative. What is clear to one person may or may not be clear to another. Moreover, if it is unclear what a 'clear statement' is, then it is also unclear whether a statement may be 'prescriptive' or 'descriptive'. So I asked my pastor about this.
    "I learned that 'all doctrine is taken from direct positive statements of Scripture, only.' Is this what you teach? Is this what you mean by 'clear statements'?" I asked.

    He replied, "Well, essentially, yes. We don't use that phrase anymore because the terms 'direct' and 'positive' require a knowledge of grammar that people don't have anymore. They wouldn't know how to apply it. So we just say, 'clear statements', now."

    "So how do they know what a 'clear statement' is?" I further inquired.

    "Well, I know the grammar, of course... but for the most part, it's pretty obvious. If someone has a question, though, I am able to clarify it."
"But," I continued to think, "isn't the WELS school system one of the finest private school systems, and among the most highly regarded, in the country? Surely, each one of these students is well-trained in English grammar. Doesn't WELS take into primary consideration who their own people are when establishing hermeneutical principles like this?" Ultimately, I later discovered, it doesn't matter how literate WELS students (who are groomed as future Lutherans, and even WELS members, one would think) are, or how well trained in English grammar and vocabulary they are. The fact is, when you teach people to pay attention to the grammatical construction and the specific vocabulary used as they read their Bibles, then the Bibles they read need to make a faithful attempt to reproduce both the form and content of the original text. The NIV doesn't do this! As a consequence of Dynamic Equivalency (the translation principle governing the translation of the NIV), it makes no academic attempt whatsoever to reproduce either the grammatical form or the specific vocabulary used in the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Rather, the grammar and vocabulary used in the NIV is purely a creation of the translators, who recast the original texts in their own English prose – much like one would as he faithfully summarizes the work of another author in a paper, without quoting the other author directly, by restating what that author said in his own terms. The purpose in making such a summary is to use another author's words to help one make his own point, the grammar and vocabulary of the summary being carefully chosen to serve one's own purpose while still being "faithful" to the author's original message (and as we have frequently pointed out on this blog, in neutering the Bible, in purposefully adopting the politically-correct and feminist requirement of a gender-neutral translation ideology, the NIV translators most certainly have "their own point" to make). The fact is, a "direct positive statement" is defined by the specific vocabulary and grammatical construction in which that statement occurs. Because the grammar and vocabulary of the NIV does not strive to represent the grammar and vocabulary of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, but is merely a creation of the translator as he seeks to restate the meaning of the original in his own English terms (which are reduced for the reader of sixth-grade reading level), what may be a "direct positive statement" in the original texts may or may not make it into the NIV as a "direct positive statement," and what may be a "direct positive statement" in the NIV, may or may not be a "direct positive statement" in the original. Indeed, studiously paying attention to the specific grammar and vocabulary that is found in the NIV may very well lead one astray. That's not the purpose of the translation, after all. (Indeed. Try participating in an inductive Bible study sometime, with NIV and NASB users. It's a real hoot!) And so the precisely defined "direct positive statement" gives way to the relatively defined and manifestly unclear "clear statement," and the poor layman, who may or may not know his own language well enough to follow grammatical construction, is reduced to seeking human authority, rather than the Scriptures themselves, to clarify for him the Bible's teaching. This was the topic of last year's post, The NNIV, the WELS Translation Evaluation Committee, and the Perspicuity of the Scriptures (so far, our third most popular post of all times), and is well worth the reader's review.

The reality is, Psy's offensive and inciting anti-war message doesn't need "interpreting." It is a direct positive statement, and stands on its own. In fact, it was issued as a series of command statements, and, thus, is categorically clear. But, as Dr. Veith intimates, post-Modernism would rob us of such clarity – the clarity of "direct positive statements." Hence, it is not only at war with the political and legal structures of the West (a war which is contributing mightily to social upheaval), but is at war against that on which these structures are ultimately founded, and that which gives us the Message of Jesus Christ and the Hope of Salvation: the Holy Scriptures, the very Word of God. In the opening paragraph of Part 1 of our series, "Relevance," and Mockery of the Holy Martyrs, we introduced this war as the same war that the World, one of the Christian's three great enemies, has always waged against Christ's Church:
    “The Christian's three great enemies are the devil, the world, and his own flesh. They each work to lure him into sin, in order to separate him from his Saviour, Jesus Christ. The World especially, Jesus tells us, hates us on account of Him (John 15:15-25), therefore, we should not marvel when the World conspires against us to rob us of His sustaining Word (1 John 3:13), which includes all aspects of Scripture: not just every word, as Jesus tells us directly in Matt. 4:4, but the form, or grammar, as well – as St. Paul amply demonstrates, the central teaching of Scripture hinging on a single point of Hebrew grammar (Gal. 3:13-16).”
Stripping the Scriptures of the significance of their inspired form, as post-Modernism does, robs them of their clarity and requires that even "direct positive statements" be subjectively interpreted. Dynamic Equivalency and the NIV has primed an entire generation of American Christians to accept this notion.

Kyrie Elesion.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Christian Church Year

In the Lutheran Confessions it is stated,

"Of Usages in the Church they teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquility and good order in the Church, as particular holy days, festivals, and the like. Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation." (Augsburg Confession, Article XV: Of Ecclesiastical Usages)

"Holy days, festivals, and the like" can be seen as representing what we know today as the ancient and historic Christian Church Year. Throughout the Confessions our Lutheran forefathers repeatedly make two excellent and necessary points with regard to things like the Church Year: 1.) That the Lutheran Church has been and shall always be known for its faithful practice of following various human church customs like this; indeed that to continue to observe such is very beneficial for believers and 2.) That such observances are NOT necessary for salvation. Note well: To be continued, not to merit righteousness, but still to be continued. This is one of things that makes us confessional Lutherans.

Below is an outline and explanation of the Christian Church Year. This was shared with my congregation some years ago in a series of bulletin inserts. I've revised and edited it a bit and post it here for your information and edification. This may be "old news" to many of our readers, but I hope it will encourage us all to continue to make use of this salutary tool for our worship and spiritual education. Since Sunday, December 2nd is the First Sunday in Advent and thus begins a new Christian Church Year I thought it good to share this with you, our readers, today. Enjoy!


The Church Year developed slowly, and began and centered around what was regarded, and rightly so, as the highlight of the Christian faith – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Christian calendar can first be divided into two main sections. The first runs from Advent, the preparation for Christ's Nativity, through the Festival of Pentecost, that day being the completion of His promise to send the Paraclete to His Church. This part of the Church Year then deals with the Biblical facts surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior. Beginning with the Feast of the Holy Trinity and running through the rest of the Church Year, the focus falls on the teachings of Christ in the New Testament.

The The Church Year is then divided into six seasons, beginning with Advent. The first Sunday in Advent is always the Sunday closest to St. Andrew the Apostle's Day (November 30th). The early part of this season is devoted to Christ's Second Coming in the lessons and liturgy; while in the latter part, especially the 3rd and 4th Sundays, the Christmas theme is prominent.

In the early Church less stress was laid on the actual birth date of the Lord than on the fact that the Son of God became man (John 1:14). Accordingly there was a festival celebrating this fact as early as end of the First Century. Also by this time, the 6th of January was the accepted date for the Festival of Epiphany, or the Manifestation of the Lord, and commemorated not only the birth of Christ, but also His baptism and, in some places, His first miracle, thus expressing very well the general idea of the revelation and manifestation of the divinity of Christ in His humanity.

Just as Christ's Passion and Resurrection prompted a special season of preparation, so a similar period was set aside before Christmas. The length of the Advent season varied according to the ancient Christian communities where it was observed. For example, in Milan and parts of southern France there were five Sundays in Advent, while in Rome there were only four. Still other places counted as many as seven. Finally the custom of having four Sundays was generally accepted throughout the Western Church.

The nativity of Jesus is observed on the Christmas Festival, December 25 in the western church, and is the first primary festival, with two or three days devoted to its observance. It is followed by the feasts of Saint Stephen (December 26), Saint John the Evangelist and Apostle (December 27), and the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem (December 28). Thus, it is said, the feast of the birth of the King of martyrs is followed by the “heavenly birthdays” of the first martyr in will and in deed, the apostolic martyr in will but not in deed, and the infant martyrs in deed but not in will.

It will be noted that December 25th falls nine months after March 25th, which is the Feast of the Annunciation. In the early Christian calendar March 25th was New Year's Day, as it was considered to be the beginning of the era of grace with the incarnation of the Son of God. It is still considered such in various parts of the church. However, the earliest references to this Feast come from the 5th Century, hundreds of years after the Nativity began to be celebrated in December.There are many other reasons why December 25th is the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, but that is not the purpose of this article. Perhaps we will have a future piece dedicated to that topic.

Note: “Feast” and “festival” are synonymous in this context; both reflect the Latin term dies festus; feasts and festivals indicates only that both words are used in reference to certain special days other than fast days.

The eighth day of Christmas is the Festival of the Circumcision and the Name of Jesus; it concurs with the New Year's Day of the civil year. In the Western Church, the festival of Epiphany (which means "manifest"), January 6, recalls the episode of the Wise Men; but in the Eastern Church, this is counted as the Festival of Christ's Birth. In addition, as mentioned above, from very ancient times January 6th was celebrated as the date upon which Christ was baptized, and the date of His first miracle at Cana. These two events, along with the visit of the Magi to the Christ-child, were certainly occasions when He manifested His divinity. The number of Sundays in the post-Epiphany season varies with the date of the Festival of the Resurrection. (more on that later)

A season of pre-Lent contains the Sundays named "Septuagesima," "Sexagesima," and "Quinquagesima," the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday, which take their names from Latin words indicating that they fall approximately seventy, sixty, and fifty days before the Resurrection. These Sundays often take on some of the characteristics of Lent.

Date of Jewish Passover determines the dates of Ash Wednesday and the Feast of Christ's Resurrection
At first the Good Friday-Pascha event was thought of as being commemorated every Sunday. Indeed, the first festival commemorated annually was the Pascha. An early controversy about this date was settled A.D. 325 by the Council Nicaea which decreed that the anniversary of Christ's Resurrection be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox, or one week later if the full moon falls on Sunday.

Note: Personally - and this is just my own opinion, I prefer to try to avoid the use of the pagan term "easter" to designate this event. The modern English term, Easter, developed from the Old English word "eastre" or "eostre." The name refers to Eostur, a month in the pre-Christian calendar, and named for the fertility goddess Eostre in the Anglo-Saxon pagan pantheon. This goddess of spring also corresponds to many other such fertility gods and goddesses around the western world, the two most well known being "Astarte" in the Balkan countries and "Ishtar" in Mesopotamia. The month named for this goddess was the equivalent to our month of April, and so, unfortunately, the name became attached sometime after the Tenth Century to the most prominent spring festival in Christianity.

Following the much more ancient Christian custom, I believe it best to refer to the Resurrection of Christ as the "Pascha," and the weeks surrounding it as the Paschal Season. The Greek word pascha is derived from Hebrew PeSaCH (פֶּסַח) meaning the festival of Passover, as it was during the celebration of the Jewish Passover that Christ the perfect Lamb of God was crucified, died, buried, and rose again. In addition, the Greek the word anastasis (upstanding, up-rising, resurrection) is often used as an alternative.

Ash Wednesday ends the period of Epiphany and begins the period of Lent
From early days Pascha was preceded by a period of preparation called Lent. The custom of fasting during this time was already widespread throughout the Church from a very early date, but the length of the fast varied. Finally the fast was extended to forty days (excluding Sundays), after the analogy of the period of the Lord's temptation (Matthew 4:2). Ash Wednesday (so called from the custom of daubing the foreheads of worshipers on that day with ashes of the previous year's palms, in token of penitence and human mortality) has been the first day of Lent since at least the Sixth Century. The season of preparation for Easter closed with Holy Week. Thursday of Holy Week commemorated the institution of the Lord's Supper. It is called Holy Thursday by some, and its present name, Maundy Thursday, is derived from the Latin translation of the beginning words of Jesus in John 13:34, mandatum novum do vobis, "a new commandment I give you, that you love one another." Good Friday was a day of deep mourning, with a complete fast till 6:00 PM.

Festival of the Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost
Forty days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3) came the Festival of the Ascension, which was celebrated from the early Fourth Century. Pentecost, which comes from the Greek word "pentekostos," or “fiftieth”, is observed on the fiftieth day after the Pascha, and its celebration can be traced to the Second Century. It is also called Whitsunday, from white garments worn on that day.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity
The Feast of the Holy Trinity, the fourth and final great festival of the Church Year follows on the Sunday after Pentecost. In the second part of the Church Year, the post-Trinity season, there are no festivals of the first rank. The number of Sundays after Trinity varies depending on the date of the Pascha.

Other Festivals of the Church Year
After the Sixth Century, the number of festivals in the Church increased rapidly. In particular, with the increased, though misplaced, veneration of Mary her festivals became more numerous. The Feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the conception of our Lord, was fixed for March 25, and that of the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary for February 2; the latter festival is known as Candlemas, from the custom of blessing candles, carrying them in procession, and holding them lighted during the reading of the Gospel. Mary's meeting with Elizabeth is commemorated on the Feast of the Visitation, July 2.

From early in the Church, the feasts of Apostles and Evangelists were soon celebrated, especially those of Peter and Paul. And with the coming of the Middle Ages came the many saints' and martyrs' days. All Saints' Day, November 1, commemorated all the saints together and All Souls' Day, November 2, commemorated all the faithful departed.

Many of the Sundays of the Church Year are known by special names, usually after the first words of their introits, so, for example, the names of the Sundays in Lent are: Invocavit; Reminiscere; Oculi; Laetare; and Judica. The name Palm Sunday, as mentioned, is derived from the traditional use of palms in ceremonies of the day. The first four Sundays after Easter are Quasimodogeniti; Misericordias Domini; Jubilate; Cantate; Rogate precedes the Rogation Days, from which it takes its name; and Exaudi.

Following the lead of Martin Luther, the historic Lutheran Church has retained the ancient festivals in honor of Christ and the Triune God as a matter of course, and also regards most of those surrounded Jesus' mother as being properly Christ-centered festivals.

Festival of the Reformation, and the Sundays of the End-Times, close the Church Year
However, relatively few commemorations of other Biblical saints have survived. The same is true of most saints, martyrs, and events from after Apostolic times. One fairly recent exception is The Festival of the Reformation, October 31, commemorating the posting of Dr. Luther's 95 Theses, which dates back to the end of the Sixteenth Century.

The Church Year ends with the so-called "End-Time Sundays." The first of these is All Saints, followed by a Sunday focusing on the "Last Judgment," the "Church Triumphant," and finally the last Sunday of the Church Year, which, since Vatican II commemorates "Christ the King." Here again, I prefer to make this a Sunday of "Humiliation & Prayer," a fitting end, in my opinion, to the Christian Church-Year.

It is truly a sad commentary on the state of the church today, even in an otherwise conservative church body such as the WELS, that so many congregations, especially newer ones which use so-called "contemporary" (i.e. sectarian) worship styles, make very little, if any, use of the Church Year of the historic Christian church. Following the Church Year brings worshipers into contact with all the great events of Christ's life and ministry, and thus all the necessary and important doctrines of Christian faith and life. This is actually a great time-saving device. There is no need to work to put together a whole long list of various sermon series to try and accomplish the same thing. We hear constantly that it is not good to "re-invent the wheel," and that is why some of our brothers borrow certain styles and content from the sectarian churches. But in trying to replace the historic Church Year with a series of topics of their own, they are truly trying to make a new and different "wheel!"

Deo Vindice!

Pastor Spencer

(I freely admit that very little of the information here is original with me. I made use of the following sources in putting together this material: "The Sermon and The Propers," Fred Lindemann, CPH; "The Early Days of Christianity," Frederic Farrar; "Church History," Professor Kurtz, Funk & Wagnalls; "A History of Christianity," Kenneth Latourette, Harper & Row; "The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church," J.D. Douglas, ed., Zondervan; and of course, Wikipedia and Theopedia.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Having Accumulated One-Half Million, We Continue On

This past Wednesday, exactly two years and six months since our inception, Memorial Day weekend, 2010, our humble little blog ticked past one-half million page-reads. That may not seem like much compared to other blogs, but given the type of content we offer, and the relatively small audience who might take an interest in it, we are pleased to have passed this milestone in only two and a half years. So, we thought that we would close out this Church Year, reflecting on the past thirty months.

In the past thirty months, Intrepid Lutherans has published over 355 articles, the majority of which are substantive essays covering a wide range of topics from Christian doctrine and practice, to history, philosophy, education and the arts, from the technical and ideological aspects of Bible translation to politics and culture, from apologetics to devotions and homilies, altogether having attracted over 2660 comments from readers who comment under their own name, discussing and debating the various points and issues raised within them.

The “Categories” section at the bottom of the right-hand column indicates the most frequent categories treated in these articles.. As of the writing of this post, the top ten most frequently covered categories are as follows:Our content has attracted a regular readership from all over the world, most of whom link to us directly (evidently from a bookmark) or from RSS or Facebook. Others find their way to us from links on other blogs, whether links to Intrepid Lutherans appear on their blogrolls or are contained within their own discussion of the content found in our posts. A great many of our readers find their way to us via search engines, as they specifically seek out the content we offer. Fifty percent of the page-reads our blog has attracted represents the number of unique visitors, over twenty percent of whom have visited over 200 times.

As one can imagine, our daily page-read count has fluctuated over the past thirty months, but on average has steadily increased. Today, we attract an average of approximately 900 page-reads per day, with Monday through Wednesday easily topping 1200 page-reads, while traffic tapers off through Sunday. Over 75% of these page-reads come from return visitors.

As a result of our expanding readership, Intrepid Lutherans incorporated in 2011 as a non-profit tax-exempt religious and educational organization, in order that we could more easily manage donations that we wished to solicit to help finance conferences and other events. Many generous contributors responded, and continue to do so.

Thus, in June of 2012, we held the first Annual Conference of Intrepid Lutherans: Church and Continuity. It was held on June 1-2, 2012, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oshkosh, WI, and attracted over seventy attendees. In that short time, five fantastic papers were delivered, as follows:We can only say, Church and Continuity was an enormous success, especially given that it was our first Conference – and we simply could not have pulled it off without the generous support of our donors, to whom we offer special thanks. As a result of this success, a second Conference is certainly in the works, which our readers can expect to hear about shortly after the turn of the New Year.

Of course, it will be asked, What has attracted our readership? What had attracted interest in attending our Conference in 2012? The answer: our content – substantive and compelling, and sometimes controversial. Over the past thirty months the following twenty posts have been the most popular:

 Page TitlePage ViewsDateAuthorCommentsObservations
1.Dear Pastors Jeske and Ski: You are clearly in the wrong483002/15/11Intrepid Lutherans13Juicy controversy – everybody was interested, relatively few had the courage to comment.
2.Fraternal Dialogue on the Topic of "Objective Justification"368109/26/11Mr. Douglas Lindee54Rev. Webber (ELS) recommended “Fraternal Dialogue” on the topic, so we opened it with a position and a series of questions to debate, and attempted to keep the ensuing “dialogue” civil and centered on Scripture and the Confessions.
3.The NNIV, the WELS Translation Evaluation Committee, and the Perspicuity of the Scriptures354907/28/11Mr. Douglas Lindee71The catch-phrase, “There is no perfect translation,” ultimately devolves into a denial of Scripture's clarity and an affirmation of the Roman position that the literate Christian still needs a “Priest” to explain it to him. The sufficiency and authority of Scripture being one of the planks of the Protestant Reformation, this will never happen among Protestant Christians. Not directly. Translators now take on this role in the Protestant world, under the translation ideology of Dynamic Equivalency.
4.Change or Die – Update319402/24/11Intrepid Lutherans13The “juicy controversy” continues, as does both interest in the controversy and reluctance to become involved.
5.Why I No Longer Attend My [WELS] Church314802/06/11Intrepid Lutherans26Cross-post from Mr. Ric Techlin's blog, Light from Light, publicly revealing difficulties he was having in his congregation, namely, the refusal of his congregation to address his concerns regarding error in doctrine and practice that was being promoted in his congregation. A handful of local pastors volunteered to work with Mr. Techlin, his congregation and district to resolve these difficulties...
6.The WEB: A viable English Bible translation?274609/19/11Rev. Paul Rydecki94Discussion over an unsuitable version of the Bible degenerates into a melee over Universalism, and this version's mistranslation of certain sections which support it.
7.Emmaus Conference – Recap260705/10/11Rev. Paul Rydecki17Were some people excitedly thinking that perhaps this event represented the reunion of Missouri and Wisconsin?
8.Suspended from the WELS – Why?252710/09/12Rev. Paul Rydecki0More “juicy controversy...”
9.The whole flock won't survive 'jumping the shark'244802/02/12Mr. Brian Heyer42Thoughtless and ridiculous last-ditch efforts to “save the congregation” by abusing the term evangelism are transparently pathetic acts of desperation, make the congregation a laughing stock in the community and bring shame upon the name of Christ. The methods of the Church Growth Movement are not methods, they are antics, and kill the church by trivializing Scriptures' teachings. Shame on Lutheran congregations who do such things!
10.NNIV – the new standard for WELS?232507/15/11Mr. Douglas Lindee62Yup, it sure looks that way...
11.Thoughts on Gender-Neutral Language in the NIV 2011231009/15/11Intrepid Lutherans9Intrepid Lutherans aren't the only ones in WELS concerned that whitewashing gender differences in the Bible, by way of imposing a feminist ideology of translation over the entire text, will lead not only to doctrinal error, but to a culture of thought among supposedly “conservative” Christians that is at war against the Nature of God itself and incompatible with His message to Man.
12.The Silence Is Broken: An Appleton Update226905/08/11Rev. Paul Lidtke17An update on Mr. Techlin's difficulties, from one of the pastors personally involved in his defense. After formally objecting to what he was concerned were unscriptural practices and teachings in his congregation – and asking to be corrected where he might be in errorMr. Techlin was simply removed from fellowship: no discussion with him over the issues he raised was entertained, no brotherly attempt was made to work with him through these issues, no example of Christian humility was displayed by his “brothers” which might have suggested they were themselves open to correction. Instead, without Mr. Techlin's or his family's knowledge, the congregation scheduled a meeting, and without even offering him the opportunity to defend himself, voted to remove him and members of his family from fellowship. To his surprise, he received a “Certified Letter” in the mail informing him of the congregation's action against him. Not so much as a phone call from a “concerned brother” or even from his pastor. Just certified mail. Furthermore, this letter made no mention of any doctrinal error to which he obstinately clung, regarding which the congregation collectively determined “further admonition would be of no avail.” To this day, Mr. Techlin has no idea what his error may have been, as no admonition has ever been attempted, certainly none by a “genuine brother” who was himself open to correction. Moreover, this congregation's action was openly defended by their Bishop, and formally approved by a committee he personally appointed to review Mr. Techlin's appeal, which found that “[his] congregation had Scriptural reasons for removing [him] from membership and, in doing so, acted in the spirit of Christian love.” Mr. Techlin's is not the only recent example of similar processes used to remove “undesirables” from WELS, but his is very well-documented and betrays what seems to not only be acceptable practice but one which Christian congregations are apparently not above employing.
13."Walking Together Sunday" - The Sermon225509/25/10Rev. Paul Rydecki58Walking together under Law, cooperating in evangelistic efforts because we are commanded to do so. From a commenter on this post: “The unfortunate thing about the 'Walking Together Sunday' sermon, and the entire event, is that Evangelism is the only emphasis. Yet, our 'walking together' is predicated on our standing together. Despite this, there was no emphasis given to our full agreement in all matters of doctrine and practice, nor any mention of our Confessions or Confessional Unity. No explanation or celebration of our 'togetherness' as fundamental to our walking in this togetherness. The clear and sole emphasis was the command of Evangelism followed by an appeal for money. This is entirely the wrong emphasis, in my opinion, leading to the wrong notion that our working rather than our confessing is the essence of our togetherness.”
14.Issues with the NIV 2011: "The saints" are no more219708/15/11Rev. Paul Rydecki12Another example of Biblical and Ecclesiastical language being stripped from the Christian lexicon by liberal feminist and sectarian translators...
15.What Part of the Word "Wrong" Don't We All Seem to Understand These Days?!218012/10/10Rev. Steven Spencer47Is someone who, or something which, is wrong, merely suffering from a misunderstanding? A fantastic series of thoughtful comments follows from this post.
16.Ambivalent217606/27/12Rev. Steven Spencer47Does no one care about the threat of doctrinal error and sectarian practice? One might pardon the laity for not being informed, but what do we make of the silence and inaction of Lutheran clergy?
17.Law and Gospel: What do they teach? – Part 1216410/26/10Mr. Douglas Lindee79The message of Law and Gospel teaches the saving message of Justification, a message which is central to all of Lutheran doctrine and practice, “affirming that, through faith, men obtain remission of sins, and through faith in Christ are justified (AC:IV:1-3).” Thus, Christ is the object of faith: “In order for Justification to be taught correctly, in order for man to make Christ the sole object of his faith... the Law must be stripped from [the Gospel] entirely. That isn’t to say that the Law is not to be taught. On the contrary, in order to understand Justification properly, it is necessary that the message of the Law precede it. In other words, Justification cannot be preached properly unless Law is distinguished and kept separate from the Gospel, and the Gospel has no application unless it follows the message of the Law.”
18.Differences between Reformed and Lutheran Doctrines214204/13/11Mr. Douglas Lindee4The majority of hits on this post are from Reformed and Evangelical sources, as it has been passed around and discussed in a number of different forums.
19.The NIV 2011 and the Importance of Translation Ideology204908/02/11Mr. Douglas Lindee25Functional Arminianism is at the root of observing “The Great Commission” so slavishly as to labour under it as “The Great Law.” As a result, the adoption of translation ideologies like Dynamic Equivalency, which are derived directly from dangerously anti-Truth and thus also anti-Christian post-Modern philosophies, are observed as equally imperative.
20.C.F.W. Walther: Filching from sectarian worship resources equals "soul murder"201703/23/11Mr. Douglas Lindee26Practice and doctrine are not independent of one another. This post saw wide circulation and commentary on the internet, and opened the eyes of many people to the connection doctrine has with practice. They are not independent. They impact each other.

So,what shall our readers expect from us in the next two-and-a-half years? We'll start with this: we don't plan on quitting, that's for sure. And we'll proceed with this: we plan to continue speaking and writing from the convictions of Christian conscience, fully trusting that God will use it to the benefit of His Bride, the Church.

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