Alien Worship

While teaching catechesis yesterday, I realized something. I have heard of people getting “burned out” on worship. It’s actually not an uncommon occurrence in churches that worship according to the American Evangelical style. I’ve heard of it happening in Baptist churches, and in various baptistic churches (non-denom, etc.) I’ve even heard of it happening in Lutheran churches that have traded the birthright of Lutheran worship forms for the pottage of weekly reader contemporvant worship. But I’ve never heard of it happening in Lutheran churches that are actually Lutheran.

Oh, people do leave the church. They may come to despise the substance of Lutheran Worship (For that is what the proponents of “style” actually do). They may reject the doctrine behind it. They may decide that Jesus was not being serious when he said to baptize “all nations” or that he was only kidding when he said “this is my body.” There are many reasons for leaving the Lutheran church – Satan is always at work in our midst. And I have seen Lutherans get burned out on “church” – in the sense of the committees, and boards, and meetings, and activities, and, and, and… But I have never, in almost 25 years as a laymen and 20 years as a pastor, heard of someone getting burned out on the Divine Service itself.

And yet, it happens with startling frequency among the Arminian churches. And today while I was teaching the catechumens, I realized why. Because if we are worshiping according to a baptistic understanding, worship is primarily something we do to please God. We are fulfilling our obligation to serve him. We are fulfilling the great commission. We are, we are, we are. Which is to say, we are worshiping in the way of the Law.  Worship is what we are doing. And, such worship is exhausting. I’ve been to services in Baptistic style Lutheran Churches. I’ve been to services in Baptist churches. And the worship of such churches is exhausting. Firstly, because you have to stay so focused on whatever new thing is being presented that you can never lose yourself in the word and promises of Christ, and in the comfort of the Gospel.

But mostly, such worship is exhausting because there is no rest given. Jesus is never presented as the one who takes your burden. And even when it’s mentioned that Jesus carries our burdens, then the burden is placed on you to give the burden up to him. You need to do that so he can take it. You must turn it over to him. You must decide. You must. I’ve heard sermons that wore me out – not because of their length, but because there was no rest offered for a weary soul. If I only did this, and trusted more, and worked harder. If I, then God can… But the focus was always on me. And I left not only without comfort, but tired. Physically, emotionally, spiritually tired.

And such weariness made me almost angry at God. Where was the promised rest for my soul? Where was the green pasture to lie down in? Certainly not in the church. That was a spiritual aerobics class. Let’s go! One more! One more! One more!

Truly Lutheran worship (Page 15/184) let’s God do the work. “God wishes us to believe Him and receive His gifts, and this He declares to be true worship.” That is so freeing; it does not exhaust; it refreshes.

Oh, the pure word of God certainly offends the old Adam. And Satan stokes that, whispering all manner of lies in our ears. “Not friendly…” “Inward looking…” “Out of date….” “Boring…” Any lie to push us away.  But I’ve been to other services. I’ve talked to people who attend them regularly. And I’ve seen a lot of cases of people just getting burned out on worship. Because they are worshiping under the Law. The Law is God’s Alien work. That means it is an alien worship. And it is all work. Constant pressure to perform.

We can’t live that way. God doesn’t want us to live that way, and he certainly does not want that sort of worship. He wants to be the balm for our wounded soul. He wants to give us rest. Of course, the most important thing about the Divine Service is that forgiveness, life, and salvation are given through the Words. But the restfulness of the Divine Service is also a wonderful gift. That is the comfort of the Gospel. And the Divine Service, that is, the Historic Liturgy, offers it in a way that is unparalleled.

If you are burned out on church, try a Lutheran service. You will find rest for your soul, as God intended.

 

If you liked this, you will love the devotional nature of Luther’s writings. And with What Every Christian Must Know: Outlines of Luther’s Large Catechism, you can dive right in and enjoy the rest that comes from God’s Promises.

If you’re a pastor, take a look at “Teach These Things: Catechesis for the Lutheran Parish“. It offers a liturgical and prayerful approach to teaching scripture and the Small Catechism.

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Sermon for Midweek Service

I don’t usually post these (because they usually aren’t in manuscript format), but here is the sermon from tonight’s midweeks service. Explaining the Epistle reading from Sunday, Galatians 3:15-22. That’s a lesson that needs some explanation.

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Some sections of scripture just flow from the tongue. They form beautiful word pictures in our mind that are easy to grab hold of and remember. “The Lord is my shepherd…” “I am the Light of the world…” “You shall not kill” We teach them to children, we remember them our whole lives.

And the Epistle reading this evening is not among them. It is densely packed with wonderful things. But it takes a bit of unpacking to follow what Paul is saying. It’s not easy. But it is worthwhile. Continue reading

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Mocking our Fathers

Yesterday in our circuit Winkel, we were discussing the difference between seminary and pastoral practice. Specifically, the conversation turned to the tendency in seminary to denigrate recent teachers in the church (Walther, Pieper, Kretzmann). And yet, those same men become some of the most useful to the pastor when he arrives in the parish.

In discussing the rationale behind it, a brother pastor mentioned that Pieper was described as “Woodenly Dogmatic” And then he followed up with “But look at the name of the text”.  (Christian Dogmatics, vols. 1-3)

Of course, Dogmatics need not be woodenly dogmatical. One hopes that any theological writing is filled with the lively hope of the Gospel. Certainly a dogmatics text will be a bit more formal, and perhaps less filled with outright songs of praise. In any dogmatics text, you must proceed systematically from topic to topic, explain the correct teaching, show why it is correct, and defend against false teachings. Peiper does this. And he does it well.

There is a new two-volume dogmatic, available after nearly forty years of work. Hopefully, the new book is not “Woodenly dogmatic”. Although, given the time in which it was produced, I would be more concerned that it ends up being a bit more squishy than one would like to see in a dogmatics text. CTCR documents from the same period certainly turned that direction. Early in its history, the CTCR produced  concise statements (like “Gospel and Scripture: Interrelationship of Material & Formal Principles in Lutheran Theology” or “The Inspiration of Scripture”). But at a certain point, things changed. In more recent years, the CTCR has produced statements that recommended against using scriptural language, (“Defending Pre-Implantation Human Life in the Public Square”), statements that disagreed with themselves (“Guidelines for Participation in Civic Events”) and statement that are long (and I mean LOOOOOOONG) on virtue signaling, but short on any practical theology (“Immigrants Among Us: A Lutheran Framework for Addressing Immigration Issues” and “Together With All Creatures: Caring for God’s Living Earth”).

The pastoral theology text from the same period was also… weak. The pastoral approach recommended in that book is largely, “Be nice to everyone, don’t be too concerned about what God says in His Holy Word, and hopefully everyone will like us.” Faithful pastoral practice takes a decided backseat to the synod’s struggle with self esteem in the wake of the seminex era.

I don’t know that the new Dogmatics text does any of the things I’ve mentioned above. But it is telling that early reviews I’ve read have already said, “It would be nice if it went into more detail than it does, like Pieper did.”

For now, I’ll stick with Pieper. It was a masterwork. Only one theologian in the last century could even make a claim to match Pieper’s stature as a theologian. (Robert Preus). But he was humble enough that he would never make such a claim. And those who did all of the planning for the new text were absolutely united in one unshakable dogmatic conviction: They hated Robert Preus. They were theological gnats who could not handle the greatness of his conviction or the clarity of his confession. The one advantage they had over him was that they knew how to play the political game. With his death at their hands, now more than twenty years ago, any thought of producing a dogmatics text that was comparable to Pieper’s has long since disappeared. To be honest, I’m not sure a new one is needed. The doctrine has not changed. The application of it – that is explaining it against the backdrop of our own cultural milieu and refuting current errors – certainly may call for occasional revision. But until God raises up a theologian that has Pieper’s or Preus’s insight into and love for the orthodox theology given in Holy Scripture, we will not see a book that can match the depth or breadth of Pieper.

We may mock him, we may think he is outdated, or too stark in his presentation. But Pieper does correctly lay out the theology of scripture – in a detailed and systematic way unmatched by any other available text in English. He also warns against false teaching – in a way that is winsome but never yields. And if you’re looking for a text that does that – as faithful pastors must do – it’s still the best out there. I would recommend it to any seminarian or young pastor. And I hope the seminaries continue to require it, even if they say mean things about it.

 

If you like Pieper, you may like this little biography of Luther. Short, clear, and with a great explanation of the place of the Gospel in the life of the church, it really is a Reformation 500 classic!

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Humiliation: Not a Bad idea

First a disclaimer: I don’t think (Hurricane/Fire/Earthquake/whatever) is a punishment for the specific sin of (electing Donald Trump/Repealing DACA/Raising the Debt Ceiling/etc.) it is true that in the Old Testament, there were specific punishments for specific national sins. But He sent prophets to identify the specific sins and corresponding punishments. Lacking that, it’s dangerous to guess at the motivations of the Living God. Ok, with that out of the way…

A while back, I commented that our current hymnal seems more fitting for a comfortable middle class church than a church suffering under the cross. (TLH 260, where are you?) You can argue about this or that aspect of the hymnal, but a church that has two prayers for going on vacation and one for persecution is not exactly a “take up your cross daily and follow me” sort of hymnal.

The last month or so has seen some dramatic events in our nation: The Northwest third is covered in smoke and fire, the southeast third is covered in wind and water. The President called for prayer for the nation. In the past, the proper term for such a day was “Day of Humiliation and Prayer”. The new hymnal has “Day of Supplication and Prayer.”

That’s a significant difference. In days past, the church understood that, if some calamity befell the people, it was a time to rend garments, to sit in sackcloth and ashes, and to hear the word of the Lord regarding our sin. It was an opportunity to repent and return to the Lord God. No judgment was made regarding general sins committed by the nation. Individuals have enough specific sins that any one person is worthy of judgment. Times of tragedy are times to consider our own black hearts and turn away from our own sins. Not as self-improvement, but as the proper response of the heart to God’s work in and through the things of this world. In times of plenty, we give thanks and remember how merciful God is. In times of want, we repent of our sin and trust in the mercy of God.

But the new hymnal has “Day of Supplication and Prayer.” No longer do we humiliate ourselves before God. Of course, the meaning of “humiliate” has changed. In the past, to humiliate was to humbly bow before another greater than yourself. Perhaps “Day of Humility and Prayer” would better convey the old meaning. (And Four exegetes just started typing angry responses…)

But the modern tendency to ignore the need for repentance comes through loud and clear in the new title. I haven’t counted words, but posts from national church bodies I respect have been more “pray for mercy” in a generic way than “repent and pray for deliverance.” That’s not a good thing. It’s always a good idea to look at our own conduct in light of God’s Law. Our hearts – even renewed by the spirit – are wayward blackened things. To steal an analogy, it isn’t that the ground of our hearts contains some rocks we must remove to be perfect. It’s that a thin veneer of dirt is on a layer of rock that will grow nothing. Only God can make our hearts able to bear fruit. And the more we look at our conduct honestly in the light of God’s Law, the more and clearer we see our sin.

Prayer does nothing if it is merely a facebook meme. Typing Amen does not equal 1 prayer. Prayer is the earnest and sincere heart laid bare before God. The prayer of the righteous man is effective because God looks favorably on those prayers. But they are effective because of the one we pray to, not because of the prayer itself. I see a lot of people who say they are sending out prayers for those who are suffering. That’s a good thing, assuming the prayers are not offered to idols, and assuming they are actual prayers, not just a click of the “like” button.

But I don’t see anyone suggesting godly repentance. During these trying times, it may be a good idea to consider not only prayer for our neighbors in need, but repentance in our own hearts and lives. Oh, celebrities have foolishly suggested that the Atlantic Ocean is unhappy with the results of last year’s electoral college contest. That’s the sort of shallow worldliness one expects from those who spend their lives chasing fame and glory. But even in their self-delusion, there is a hint of a deeper truth. We could all stand to consider our place in life according to the ten commandments. Repentance of that sort would be a good idea for each of us individually.

Then maybe our churches would not be bashful about a “day of humiliation and prayer” as we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may lift us up in due time.

 

If you liked this post, you might like “What Every Christian Must Know: Outlines of Luther’s Large Catechism.” Pastors and lay people have been telling me it really helps them to read the Large Catechism. The Large Catechism is a series of sermons –  some of the best ever written. And now, you can read them with deeper understanding.

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A So-Called Warning

A while back I saw a quote from someone – not a member of the LCMS – who used the term “so-called Third Use of the Law.” Of course, I don’t expect non-LCMS people to confess the Formula of Concord properly – if they did, they would be in (or at least in fellowship with) the LCMS. It was published in a book of Law-Gospel dialogues with the LCMS. Obviously there is a long way to go in those discussions.

We don’t get to choose which part of the Formula of Concord is correct. Are there parts that maybe could have been phrased better? I’m not saying those don’t exist. But, phrased poorly or well, it is our confession. If you don’t want it to be your confession, then you need not be a member of the LCMS. It has been a lot of years since the church ordained men at the point of a sword.

But you can’t just relegate sections of the Formula of Concord to “so-called” status because you feel like it. Even if you can demonstrate that Luther never used the term, or preferred another term, that’s irrelevant. Luther is not the pope of the Lutherans. His writings must be held up to and examined in the light of Holy Scripture just like anyone else. Some of them are exemplary (Galatians Commentary). Others are weaker (Romans Commentary). Some are execrable (even “old and grumpy” isn’t an excuse. Seriously, what was he thinking!)

Our confession is not “Luther’s writings” it is “The Book of Concord (1580)”. I wish they had included the admonition of confession from the Large Catechism in the 1580 edition. They didn’t. And, like it or not, they included an article on “The Third Use of the Law” that never – not even once – uses the term “so-called”. Neither does our confession subsume the Third Use under the First and Second Uses, or consider it properly only an application of those uses to the life of the Christian. I don’t care what Froderick Stumpenfeldt wrote about it in his magisterial treatise of 1799. I don’t care what some hotshot doctoral student at Cambridge has shown about the differences between Melanchthon and Luther in describing the use of the Law. I care what our confession says using words. If Stumpenfeldt’s work helps to understand those words according to their plain meaning, if Luther or Melanchthon helps to understand those words according to their plain meaning, by all means, enlighten me.

But do not – DO NOT ON PENALTY OF MAKING FALSE PROMISES BEFORE GOD – freely make as your confession the Book of Concord, and then expend your intellectual energies making that confession of no account by saying that the Formula does not mean what the words clearly mean. Going against your own conscience is neither safe nor open to you. But neither should lying about what you really believe teach and confess before the throne of God on the day of judgment be a legitimate method.

If “so-called” is our understanding of the Third Use, I do wonder what other articles of the Formula may be relegated to that status. Can we call it the “So Called Doctrine of Original Sin”? Perhaps because that is covered in the Augustana, we should leave it. That would be best, because otherwise we allow “The So-Called Lord’s Supper”. But even if we hold to those articles also covered by the Augustana, we can still end up with such dangerous teachings as “So-called Free Will”, “So called Righteousness of Faith”, “So Called Adiaphora”, “So Called Election”, and (my personal favorite) “So Called Person of Christ.”

In this case, we may as well begin calling it the “So Called Formula of Concord”, and the “So Called Book of Concord.”

Let’s stick to what the book says. And let’s keep everything Quia. “So-Called Quia” sounds a lot like Quaetanus. Which is a fancy way of saying “Not quite”. And “Not quite” confessing the truth of God’s Word as it is contained in the Book of Concord is neither safe nor open to those who take seriously the Word of Holy Scripture.

To put it another way, “Let’s no go there.”

 

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy reading the Large Catechism. If you’d like a help for that, might I suggest “What Every Christian Must Know: Outlines of Luther’s Large Catechism“.

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Reading Words in a Postmodern Church

It is always interesting to read past generations. Things that they took for granted oftentimes stick out like a sore thumb. I don’t just mean candles instead of light bulbs. I mean philosophical presuppositions. It makes me wonder what generally accepted philosophies in our own day will sound quaint and time bound in the future.

While reading my District President’s STM thesis (that’s a phrase you don’t often see in the LCMS) I came on one of those moments of discovery and self-realization. Since before my seminary days, I have been fed a steady diet of post-modern hermeneutics. It looks something like this: Meaning is only to be found by the receiver of a message. You may send one thing. But the person on the other end may be receiving something entirely different.

In an extreme form, this hermeneutical principle is used to justify the post-modernist ideal of “no objective meaning”. So, our synod’s CTCR has spent the better part of a decade studying the meaning of the word “authority”, with no end in sight. They have spent the last three years trying to discern the secret meaning of the word “drink”. In the wide-world, we are told that “male” and “female” are neither necessary nor sufficient to describe humanity. Marriage can be between any or all of the 57-and-counting genders.

Which is to say, post-modern deconstructionism leads to madness, in and out of the church. So, it was interesting to see that such was not always the case. In discussing Augustine, President Hill writes:

The things to be used are the signa, which point to the things to be enjoyed, the res. The highest thing which is to be enjoyed in the ascent of the soul to God is God himself:

The things which are to be enjoyed are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a single Trinity, a certain supreme thing common to all who enjoy it, if indeed, it is a thing and not rather the cause of all things, or both a thing and a cause. (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine.)

Augustine then goes on to unfold what it means to enjoy the res. He comes to the incarnation of the Son as “the Way” to God, God, “appearing to mortals in mortal flesh.” By analogy to speech, in which thought is expressed in words without causing change to the thought, so “the Word of God was made flesh without change that He might dwell among us.” His theory of language is expressed again here, “But our thought is not transformed into sounds; it remains entire in itself and assumes the form of words by means of which it may reach the ears without suffering any degradation in itself.” (John Hill, The Development and Place of the Notae Ecclesiae in Luther and the Lutheran Confessions, p. 30. Emphasis mine.)

Augustine ties the incarnation conceptually to the movement from thought to speech. A post-modern hermeneutic would allow for no such conceptual understanding. Thought moved to speech is always contingent on the hearer. That is, it CAN and DOES change the thought.

And, as I write this, I am now pondering how such an understanding on the part of Augustine gives insight into our own generation’s problems. Augustine is not just picking an analogy that is now out of date. He is pondering the incarnation of THE WORD. If thoughts, when turned to words, are contingent on the receiver, rather than the objective and unchanged meaning of the speaker, then Jesus as the Word made flesh is contingent on our own reception of him.

Jesus is not contingent. And I think that perhaps our approach to a lot of church issues has been. I’m guessing that a more concrete understanding will have profound benefits, and solve a lot of problems in the church, such as preaching, worship, the sacraments, pastoral practice, marriage…

 

If you find this intriguing, you might like Luther’s Large Catechism in outline form. Luther, more than any other theologian, manages to avoid getting caught up in the philosophies of his day, instead adhering to the Word of God. Now with these outlines, you can delve into perhaps his greatest writing.

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Sermon for Trinity 12

      Today Jesus heals a man who could not hear, and could not speak.  But this was not a first time event.  Jesus has been making people speak from the beginning of time.  The Word of God is not silent, and he is the one who gives to us words with which to praise our Heavenly Father.  The psalmist cries out “O Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.”  It is Christ who opens our lips, and only then can our mouths show forth His Praise.  He is the one who opens, makes us to hear, who gives us words to speak.

On our own we have ears but can not hear, and we have tongues but can not speak.  Our hearts are cold and dead, and unable to hear God’s word.  Just like the man in the parable who was deaf, we can not even recognize what it is that God says to us.

Imagine what his life must have been like.  No sign language, no closed captions for the hearing impaired.  His life consisted of living off the charity of others, whether it was family, friends, or whether he begged for a few coins from those who passed by. He could not talk, could not hear, could not communicate beyond a few rough hand signals to those who new him, he was alone and isolated.  When he was taken to the synagogue he heard nothing, he knew nothing of the wonderful way God had led His chosen people out of the land of Egypt, and out of the house of bondage.  He knew nothing of King David, knew nothing of the psalms, he knew nothing of the prophets, nothing of the saving message of the promised Messiah to come.  This man was cut off, living in his own world of silence.  Unable even to ask for help.  His life had been a difficult life, a confusing life, a life without any apparent purpose, and he was a man without any apparent usefulness.

Christ comes to this lost isolated man, and gives him the most precious gift of all – a chance at a fuller life.  A life where he can talk to people around him, he can hear people talk to him – communication can now occur.  And more importantly He can hear God’s Word.  When Jesus tells the man “Be Opened”  his life changed instantly, radically, and forever.  The God who created the heavens and the earth, who with a word created light from darkness, and gave to us all the wonders of creation, now speaks a word; and this man, who was deaf and mute, hears. Continue reading

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