In contrast to the past four or five years, which had me working with clients primarily from my home office, these days are filled with a great deal of travel – I put nearly one thousand miles on my car, per week, mostly between Chicago and Minneapolis. To keep me company during my travels, I do have an iPod filled with the finest music, and with many edifying podcasts, lectures and readings from important Christian works (like the Bible, of course, and the Book of Concord). However, use of this type of gadgetry seems to be more of a distraction and frustration for me while I am trying to focus on driving, so I find myself doing what I learned to do before the advent of Satellite Radio, iPods and even CDs: flipping through radio stations. With only one button required to advance to the next station, it is easy to do and there is very little to think about while doing it; and if I rest my hand on the shifter (as I often do), that button is within the lazy reach of my index finger.
And, of course, there is alot of variety on the radio between Minneapolis and Chicago. There is always plenty of pop, rock and country of various flavors, most of which I can hardly tolerate for more than a few minutes at a time (although there is a local station in the Black River Falls area that plays old Country Western and Polka music as I am passing through at about 4am – that’s kind of fun to listen to). Unfortunately, there is a great gaping hole in Wisconsin, between Eau Claire and Madison, with no radio stations dedicated to Classical Music programming. However, one can travel virtually the whole distance with continuous Christian programming of one kind or another. From Minneapolis to Eau Claire, and picking up again in Madison, there are the Evangelical stations – strategically placed, of course, as with their suburban church-plants, to reach out to a target audience with the highest numbers of wealthy middle-to-upper class listeners – while between Eau Claire and Madison, there are at least a couple of Fundamentalist stations.
I like listening to these latter stations, as the music tends to be far more tasteful and reverent (even if it is Baptist), and the preaching is nearly always from the King James Version of the Bible. In fact, the language of the KJV falls so naturally from the experienced lips of these Fundamentalist preachers, that one hardly recognizes that it is Elizabethan language they are using. Contrary to what our post-Modern NNIV defenders would require us to think, it’s not those Pastors who habitually use the KJV that have a problem reading and using it in public, it’s the dunderheads with limited literary exposure who stumble and bumble over fine language as something completely foreign to them, and so torture themselves and others in their public use of it as to draw negative attention to the Word of God. I remember thinking this many years ago, as my then-future-wife and I were investigating the peculiarities of the various Christian confessions, and found ourselves visiting Fundamentalist churches for awhile. While we found ourselves “fundamentally disagreeing” with many of their doctrinal positions, we were delighted by their use of English, and their effortless and very natural use of the King James Version of the Bible in their preaching.
Where are the Lutherans?
I’ve found myself re-appreciating the sound of the King James as I’ve listened to these radio preachers over the past months make use of it in such a natural way that I don't even realize that “Nobody talks that way anymore.” There is no occasion to realize it, since, despite the fact that such words are not part of vulgar everyday-parlance, they are nevertheless simple, very easily understood English words. One preacher that seems to be on the radio as I am normally passing into the signal of that particular station, is Dr. J. Vernon McGee. It is always nice to hear a pious Christian speak directly from the text of the Bible in a way which makes it plain that he has the utmost respect for the inspiration, authority and perspicuity of God’s Word, and rather than suggest, through use of clever syllogisms or analogies, that the Bible is inadequate or unclear by preaching what it does not plainly say, merely relies on the text in front of him. In this respect, McGee’s Through the Bible series, though far from perfect, is alot of fun to listen to. He’s not trying to make the Bible sound or speak any differently than how it plainly reads. And so it had me wondering, “Confessional Lutherans, with all of the lip service they pay to the importance of the Word of God, and their utmost reliance upon it, surely must have produced a ‘Through the Bible’ audio commentary series, much like McGee did, for use on Lutheran radio.” So I looked. Not only have I not found any such thing produced by Lutherans in a wholesome Bible translation like the KJV, NKJV or even the NASB, I couldn’t even find any such thing in the wretched NIV.
Of course, maybe it is actually because Lutherans have done market studies and SWOT analyses and, calculating the ROI of such an effort, reasoned that the return on broadcasting the Bible simply wouldn’t justify the expense. How could it? In a route traveled along interstates and major state highways, cutting a path from Minneapolis, between Madison and Milwaukee, and into northern Illinois – the “Trail through the Lutheran Fatherland of the mid-western United States” if there ever was one – not a single Lutheran voice can be heard on the radio in any segment of the route. Not a one. Of course, I may be mistaken. Maybe one of the “Evangelical” stations I usually skip past is actually a Lutheran station, but I just don’t recognize it as Lutheran based on its programming. Yes, that’s entirely possible.
But there is another category of Christian radio which can be heard, nearly continuously, from Eau Claire to Chicago – which brings me to the quote in the title of today’s post: Catholic radio. It’s everywhere. It’s as proliferate as all of the protestant stations combined, and it isn’t weak-kneed, bland, “ecumenical,” soft-peddling-the-message-to-win-converts programming. It’s full-throated high-church, even creepy at times, Roman Catholicism. Most often, I find myself listening to one of these stations. Why? Because they have the best music, for starters. It’s the only source of classical music from Eau Claire to Madison, and they also frequently play hymns and even allow the organ to be heard over the airwaves (Baptists and Evangelicals don’t use organs). They also have the most interesting commentators. Nearly always very conservative, they feature keenly insightful political pundits and intelligent scholars. Interestingly, one of the programs dedicated to disaffected Catholics who have wandered through Protestantism and are now returning to Rome, frequently features laymen and clergymen who have returned to Rome and speak the language of Evangelicalism and of Rome very well. This is in contrast to Roman priests, who’ve always been nothing but Roman priests, who think they understand Evangelicalism and venture to lecture or even merely question these (former) Evangelicals on Evangelicalism: they have no idea what they are talking about, and are usually called to account and corrected by the laymen and clergymen who know better.
One program I heard last week featured the quote in the title of today’s post: “I need a poor person in my life, so that I can grow in holiness.” The priest who said it was quoting a Cardinal, who offered this as an explanation to the priest after returning to the dinner table following an interruption from a beggar who routinely visited asking for handouts. “Why do you always give this man money?” the priest had asked.
As I heard the answer I thought, “What? Poor people are for the use of the clergy to gain merit in their own minds before God and/or man?” As I was thinking this, the priest, practically swooning with admiration for the Cardinal, commented further, “But you have to be a Valliscaulian to truly understand and appreciate his wisdom here” (Hmmm... contextual theology again. Well, I’m not a “Valliscaulian,” thank you, so I’ll take his words as they stand). His fellow commentator, a nun, let a little air out of his bag, however, when she replied, “Only if you love the poor can they forgive you your gifts to them.”
Again, I thought, “What?”, and was immediately joined by the priest, who asked, “Uh, what? Can you repeat that please?”, which request the nun obliged, adding (and I paraphrase): “The Right to Food is a Natural Right, all of humanity is entitled to food. If the rich have it in abundance, they are obligated to give it to the poor. It is the Right of the poor to have food, so it is a sin to withhold it from them. And it is a sin for anyone to think of their obligation to give as merely a gift that they voluntarily give. But if given in true love and concern for the poor, and no other motivation, the poor can, and should, forgive them this sin.”
There is a need for Lutheran Radio in the Midwest
This exchange brought to mind a story I had recently read in an old edition of the Lutheran Witness. It is a story about the efficacy of the Word, and its simple, yet central message of the forgiveness of sins and peace with God. Offered in the manner and language in which the old Lutherans used to speak, it is a reminder of the need for the Lutheran message, the true simple message of the Scriptures, to once again be heard.
The Story of a Bible.
from The Lutheran Witness, Vol. 6, No. 6. August 21, 1887
“Did he leave any message for me?”
“Yes, and he cursed the day he ever saw you.”
This was the answer given by a nun to a lady in London under the following circumstances, which were related to me by a gentleman of culture and piety, as we were sailing along the coast of Norway, from Trowdhjem to Bergen, in and out among the beautiful fjords and snow-capped mountains: Monsignor Capel was asked by a lady of position in London, “How can I find peace of mind?” Instead of pointing her to Christ and telling her that He atoned for our sins on the cross, he bade her dismiss such unwelcome thoughts and attend places of amusement. One day she followed a crowd of people into Exeter Hall, expecting to have her mind diverted from serious thoughts about the future by a musical entertainment. She was surprised when she found herself in a great religious meeting. Annoyed at this, she attempted to get out, but in doing so she knocked some umbrellas on to the floor, and abashed took her seat. Her attention was soon riveted upon the speaker. He explained our relation to God, as under condemnation already, and spoke of Christ’s suffering on the cross as an atoning sacrifice, of God’s willingness, for His sake, to pardon us. She was deeply moved, and at the close she said to some one near her. “Can I speak to the gentleman who has just addressed us?”
Soon after, in conversation with her, he said: “You will find the truth which I have mentioned often repeated in the Bible.”
“But I have no Bible,” she replied.
He quickly handed her his own, saying: “I have pleasure in giving you mine.”
Some time after this the high Catholic dignitary, remembering the advice he had given this lady, sent the priest to inquire about the state of her mind. Instead of needing his help he soon found that she was able to direct him in the way of life. Before leaving she gave him the Bible that had been given her at Exeter Hall, and begged him to read it with prayer, and to trust alone in Him who “bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” Some time after she received a note from the priest asking her to call upon him. As she was about to take her son to Eton College, she did not accept the invitation at the time.
When she called some weeks after, she was shown into a room where there was a coffin, and in it the body of the priest. Beside it a nun was kneeling in prayer. The lady approached and asked: “Did he leave any message for me?”
“Yes,” was the reply. “He wished me to say, if you called, that he died in the full faith of the Catholic Church, and that he cursed the day he ever saw you.” The poor lady turned away, greatly distressed, saying to herself: “If I had gone to his bedside when he sent for me, I might have pointed him to Christ, and he might have been saved through faith in Him, and now, alas! it is too late, I fear through my negligence he is lost forever;” This reflection produced such an effect upon her that it destroyed her peace of mind, which she sought to overcome by foreign travel. One day in Rome a lady approached her and said: “Do you remember standing by the coffin of Father -—-—, and the dreadful message delivered to you?”
“Yes,” she replied, “and it has followed me night and day.”
“But it was not a true message. The words he bade me deliver to you were these: ‘Tell her that I bless the day I ever saw her, and that I die in the full faith of Jesus Christ. Tell her that the Bible she gave me was the means of leading me to trust alone in Him for pardon. Tell her I shall meet her in heaven.’ And then,” added the nun, “he gave me that precious Bible, which has also been the means of leading me to see myself as a lost sinner and Christ as my only Saviour. Will you forgive me for telling that falsehood?”
Dear reader, are you a Christian? If so, may the recital of these facts strengthen your faith in the promise of God, “My word shall not return to me void,” and lead you with more faith and determination to assist in putting the Bible into every sinner’s hand. If you are not a Christian, I pray that these striking incidents may lead you to feel your need of Jesus, and that you can never have lasting peace and joy till you come as a lost soul and believe in Him. He has suffered that dreadful death on the cross in your stead that you might be forgiven and fitted for heaven. Will you confess your sins, and believe in Him? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:6). You see how he saved this lady, this priest and the nun. He is willing to save you.