God’s 400 Year Mic Drop: Sermon for Advent 2

3400482826_9e9cc5a333_o_1_Malachi is the last of the prophets. The exact date of some prophets we don’t know. But Malachi is the last one. About 400 years before the birth of Jesus. After that – silence. 400 years of no prophets writing books, 400 years of waiting for the Messiah. To give you a sense of the amount of time we’re talking about – 400 years ago from today was 4 years before the pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock. There’s a lot that happens in Israel during those 400 years. Lot’s of political intrigue. But prophets speaking God’s Word directly to the people? Not so much. The great kings are all dead. The prophets silenced. The people waiting expectantly. But nothing really happening. The last words we hear from the mouth of God, are in our Old Testament reading.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

400 years of silence. Not the most encouraging sign. Kind of gives you the impression you might want to watch for Elijah. You might want to make sure that you don’t miss him. Sort of a last chance – watch for Elijah, and live according to the Law of God, or… pretty much fire and brimstone.

You can almost see why the people of Jesus day would have been so focused – not on the promise of the Savior – but the conduct of their own lives. We’re already tempted to works righteousness by our sinful nature – we want to be like God. We want our works to mean something – to earn us something before God. He’d better accept us, because that’s the best we can do. And our works better get us somewhere – otherwise what’s the point of working at all?

Add to our sinful human nature – our own tendency toward idolatry – add to that the words of our Old Testament reading, and it’s pretty easy to see how the people strayed from the Word of the Old Testament that said Jesus would be the Son of God come in flesh to save us from our sins – and he would be doing the saving. He would be doing the redeeming, the suffering and dying so that you would be given forgiveness.

Those last words – a decree of utter destruction – are a word of Law. And the Law tends to focus us on ourselves, threats mean we want to work hard to avoid that fate. The problem is that our own sinful nature can’t avoid that fate. We can’t reform or rehabilitate our sinful nature. Threats make it rebel. Promises of reward make it greedy. Free gift makes it lazy and entitled. The only thing we can do is drown it. “The old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance – be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires…” That’s it. Put to death the old Adam, with his sinful desires. Crucified with Jesus, we make no provision for the sinful flesh to fulfill those desires.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus talks about what’s coming – and it doesn’t sound too far off of what we heard in Malachi – signs in the sun, moon starts, people fainting, the earth shaking, and then Jesus returning. We don’t call it “Cupcakes and butterflies Day”. We call it “Judgment Day.” That doesn’t sound super fun. And yet, Jesus says that, when the signs show that Judgment day is here, we should “life up our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.” Lift up your heads – doesn’t just mean look up. It means rejoice! When we are oppressed we are bowed down – our posture reflects our mood. To look up is to be strong, confident, excited for the future.

Judgment day as a happy day? That’s not how it’s portrayed. The world hears the word judgment and knows that something bad is happening. We hear the word judgment, and are told that things are finally going our way. When things are at their worst, that’s when we should rejoice. Then we know that Jesus is returning. The judgment is coming. And, if we are careful, if we stay awake, if we are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness, if we are watchful, we might actually be able to stand on judgment day. That’s it. standing. That’s the payoff. “If we do everything that Jesus commands, “we will have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the son of Man.” Being able to stand – that’s the reward? All of this happens, and that’s all we can expect?

But that is all we need. You see, when the great judge returns, when the trumpets sound, the clouds part, and the Lord of Glory is heralded by the angelic hosts, when the earth melts away, the seas dry up, the sun turns to darkness, the moon to blood, if on that day when Christ appears, you are standing – that’s doing really well. Because there will be many fainting for fear. Many who will be utterly consumed. For all those who try to stand on their own, they will stand on their own merits. Which means they will not stand at all. It’s going to be a day of wrath for all those who stand on their own – all those who deny the word of God, who reject that word and want to just do things their way. For those it will be a day of wrath. All those who reject God’s Word, who continue in their sin, who do not repent, will be judged. And that judgment will be a judgment of condemnation.

But for all those who hear and learn the Word, who rejoice in the gift which Jesus gives – forgiveness of sins, who continue to hear that word, to abide in the spirit, those who have been given a new heart by the Spirit of God, who have been not only redeemed, but made holy by the blood of Jesus – for those people then the day of judgment will not be a day of wrath, a day of condemnation. it will be a day of judgment, a day of justification in Jesus Christ. It will be a day when Jesus and his merits will be applied. That’s why Jesus says “look up” lift up your face. Because we know that, when things are their worst on earth, when things get so bad that the earth itself can no longer endure the wickedness, when our Lord returns on a cloud in glory – that is the day of redemption. The day when all that is wrong will be set at right. When the Lord himself will avenge, when the last will be first and the first last. When we will all be brought into the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, it isn’t that there are two separate days. It’s that for those who rejoice in the word of God, who consider it a joy to sing praises to the Lamb that was slain, then that day will be a day of great joy, for the angels themselves will join us in that song of praise. Those who hate the word of God, who reject God’s word of law, who refuse to acknowledge the salvation which Jesus gives – they will also have their wish granted. They will not receive the salvation that they themselves have rejected.

That’s why the word in Malachi is a warning. A warning against rejecting the gift given in the coming Savior. But it is also a promise. The hearts of the fathers turned to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Rather than having our sinful nature turned inward on itself so that we consider ourselves god – the first and greatest idolatry – we will have our heart turned toward God, and our fellow men. We will live the life God would have us live, as his dear child. That image of God is restored in us, insofar as our Spirit is renewed and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. And we can live according to the love and mercy of God, as we show love and mercy to others, rather than living according to our sinful nature, grasping and grabbing for the desires of our fleshly heart with no regard for God or our neighbor, and receiving the due reward for our idolatries.

But thanks be to God that in Jesus name, we are not given what we deserve. We are shown mercy, through Jesus Christ and his death. God in his mercy gives us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. That’s why we spend our lives in this world waiting, watching. Always being careful not to fall into the trap of Satan who would lead us astray from the word of God. Who would lead us away from the gift of forgiveness given in his Holy Church. So that, when the day of judgment comes, we would stand with all the faithful, and sing the song of praise to Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

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All Saints Day Sermon

all-saints-forerunners-of-christ-with-saints-and-martyrs-fra-angelico-c-1430All Saints Day. It’s actually November 1, but we move it to Sunday, in order to celebrate the saints who have gone before us. In our parish, this past year we saw Don Sherard transferred to from the church militant to the church triumphant. How then do we consider him – and parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, pastors, fathers of the church, apostles, prophets and so on? We don’t pray to them. We follow Jesus command and pray directly to “Our Father who art in heaven.” We don’t need go betweens or intermediaries besides Jesus. Jesus tells us this point blank. “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. …ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”

So, because of Jesus work on our behalf, we don’t need some sort of super-disciple to pray to in order to get our prayer heard. That’s why we don’t have some elaborate process to declare a person a saint. Anyone who is baptized into Christ Jesus and his death is holy and righteous before God, and is called a saint. And anyone who dies under the sign of the cross in this world, is called “Sainted.” So today, we remember those who have been examples to us of faith in Christ Jesus, and love toward their fellow man. Those who have gone before us under the sign of faith. Those who, by their own lives and deaths, stand as an encouragement to us to be faithful in times of trouble. We give thanks to God for them. They are a great gift, whether it be a parent or friend who taught us about Jesus, or a pastor who instructed and confirmed. Or even if it was someone we’ve never heard of, who had an impact on someone who knew someone, who then instructed someone dear to us. A great cloud of witnesses, scripture says. That’s what we have. And that’s what we celebrate on All Saints day. Thanks be to God.

And on this day, when we hear of the great cloud of witnesses, there’s a verse in Revelation that bears some explanation.

Regarding the great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, Saint John is asked, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

What is that great tribulation? It’s important that we understand what God is revealing to John, and what he isn’t. Because these few verses, meant to comfort the saints in the church militant – that is the church on earth, have been misunderstood. And because of that, have been seen by many as a source of conflict, a source of worry. And they aren’t supposed to be that.

So what is the great tribulation? Well, there’s a lot of theories out there. Folks pour over the book of revelation for hints about this or that little thing. There’s a thousand year reign of Christ as well. And many think that those two are specific time periods in the world that are coming. There are those who think the 1000 years comes after the tribulation, and those who think it comes before. Pre-millenialism, and post-millenialism. It’s a big industry. There were even movies about it a few years ago – the Left Behind series.

And it’s all absurd. It’s really very simple. The book of Revelation is written not as a detailed manual of events to come. It is a vision given by God to John, to comfort and strengthen him. It isn’t supposed to worry and frighten the church. It is a view of how things look from heaven. The prophecies of the Old Testament were similarly misunderstood – it wasn’t until after Jesus rose from the dead and explained the prophets that the disciples understood what they meant when they said things like, “he was despised and rejected a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. By his stripes we are healed…” Jesus had to die and be raised from the dead. Even though Jesus said it to them point blank, they didn’t get it.

But when we look at it in light of Jesus Crucifixion, we see what the prophets meant. So also, the book of Revelation doesn’t need to frighten us. We don’t need to sit around watching the clouds wondering if this or that thing is coming. Jesus has it all in his hand.

And Saint John records Jesus explaining things to the disciples in his Gospel.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you… I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus tells us that life in the world for those in the church will be a time of trouble. It won’t be easy. This is the great tribulation right now. The time when the church groans with the pains of childbirth. We are under constant attack from Satan and his forces. He tried to tempt God himself to sin. Certainly he’s not going to say, “Oh you were baptized? You go to the LCMS church? Well, better pack up and go home. I’m defeated.” Of course not. Our time in this world is troublesome. Satan is always attacking us. Not only tempting us to sin, but causing grief of every sort, accusing us of sin so we would despair of God’s mercy. Lie after lie he wispers into your ear. The world hears the lies of Satan and rejoices. The world is corrupted. That’s why we live in the world, but not of the world. We are indeed here. We are faithful citizens as far as possible. But we put no trust in the world to support or encourage the truth of God’s Word. We don’t expect that the world will appreciate what Jesus has said. Because he tells us it will not. Whether the rich, the powerful, the politically connected, we don’t look to them for salvation. We look to Jesus. And the world can’t stand that we don’t bow down to it’s pomp and power and beauty. We look to our heavenly Father, who sent his son Jesus Christ, for all things. And so we are hated by the world.

We are in a time of trouble. As we heard last week, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. This is the time of trouble and tribulation – the time when we have the promise of Christ’s victory, but he has not yet returned with the sound of the trumpet. He has not returned in glory to judge the living and the dead.

And so we wait. But there is another part of Revelation that confuses those who try to read it according to human reason, not according to the Spirit of God. And that is the 1000 year reign of Christ. When is that? Well, that is now as well. Jesus says so at the end of Matthew. All authority in heaven and earth is given to me… I am with you always even to the end of the age.” This is the time of Christ’s reign on earth.

But how can it be the time of his reign, and the time when he is rejected? A time of tribulation from what we see. A time of glory, with angels and archangels around the throne from the perspective of heaven. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. He has conquered death and hell and the devil. For a little while we struggle in this world. But he has already won the victory. This week one party with celebrate, the other concede. Or maybe in a few weeks or months. There will be an inauguration, power will transfer from one to another. Will this side win or the other?

It really doesn’t matter. We don’t put our trust in princes and powers of this world. We put our trust in the one who has conquered in the fight that really matters. The one who has beaten the real enemy – death and hell and the devil. He is the one we praise and laud and magnify. He is the one to whom all glory is given. We do it here feebly, struggling, oftentimes weak and feeling overcome. That is why he continues to feed us, that’s why we have the promise, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.” That’s why he has promised that when we are persecuted for the sake of Jesus, we are blessed. We walk in the path of the prophets and apostles, and yes, of Jesus himself. Who was rejected because he brought God’s word into a sin-filled world.

We already know how the story ends. We’ve seen loved ones go through this world and conquer death by the blood of the lamb, even as their bodies gave out in this world. But their lives their faith stand as testimony to the salvation won for them by Jesus. And now, they sign with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And for a few brief moments in a week, we get to come and join them before the lamb’s throne. And receive the lamb’s victory feast. And be fed and nourished with food that does not spoil. For a few minutes, we get to sing with them again, the song of praise, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.” and for a few minutes the veil is torn, and heaven and earth are not separate, but you are given a foretaste of the feast to come. For a few minutes, before you go back into the world of great tribulation, you get to see the glory of Christ reigning. And then, living a life of faith toward God and fervent love toward your fellow men you go back out. But the day will come when you will join the saints who have gone before. You will join them, and this time you will not walk back out. You will enter the presence of God forever and ever. You will not struggle with the sins of the flesh any longer. You will be with the saints around the throne of God and the lamb, singing praises. Thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Grant this Lord unto us all.

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The Hymnal in a Time of Persecution

lu_wormsI didn’t even notice it missing. But then I wasn’t looking for it. For the first Ten years, I didn’t need it. When I did, I looked only to discover it wasn’t there. Well, technically, it’s there. But, not really.

Let me try this another  way.

Imagine going shopping for a new couch. The salesman shows you a hard wooden bench, with no back. This used to be standard fair in most households (before 1700 or so). But you want an overstuffed cozy couch, or reclining chairs. Something you can rest in. Of course, if you were camping, a hard unfinished log would be great. If you were in a foxhole in a war, a log would be a luxury. But we live in comfortable times. Hard stumps are not what we want.

Maybe that helps explain what was missing. I was looking in the hymnal for resources in times of persecution. I’d never really needed it before. Sure, for people far across the see. But never for a member in my own district, persecuted solely because she made the hateful claim that God created them male and female. I looked for prayers or other resources. There is one prayer. Yes, the Prayer (singular) of a righteous man is effective. But there are actually two prayers for going on vacation. This is a hymnal with overstuffed padded cushions. It’s not a hard stump.

I love a good reclining chair. But a reclining chair is heavy to carry. It’s impractical, even dangerous, in a war zone. That hard stump is a place to rest the bottom, no frills, but that’s what you need.

When Lutheran Service Book came out I was very impressed. I still am. But as the tide has quickly turned against the church, LSB seems like a Lazy-Boy chair on the front lines of a war. It was made for fat comfortable people. Not for times of war. I don’t blame it for that. I never noticed. If you had given me a hard, stumpy hymnal a decade ago, I would have asked to see a new salesman. One who could guide me to a hymnal for out-of-shape, middle-aged, slightly paunchy folks like myself. Because that was where we were ministering back then. God gave us levels of comfort entirely unknown to previous generations. It’s where we were. But like expanding soldiers at a reunion, we weren’t really in fighting shape anymore.

Now, we enter a time of confession. A time of persecution. And the things missing from our hymnal start to show themselves ever more clearly. There really is not much for a church being persecuted. Hymns that are too militaristic in tone are either re-edited, or removed. (TLH 260) The Psalter is a happy book – because the imprecatory psalms have been excised.

And once you notice these things, lots of things about our synod fall into place.

Our Synod President has said that as a synod, our preaching of the Law is toothless. He is correct. But really, that is to be expected from a cozy, comfortable church. How do we change that? Removing the imprecatory psalms from the hymnal certainly doesn’t help. And then you notice other things.

The new catechism revision says that to fear God is “to take God seriously as our creator and judge. He means what He says when He threatens to punish those who disobey.” This sounds like a parent whining that his children do not listen to him. “I am serious now! I mean it! 1… 2…” It just does not have the ring of truth to it. Compare that to Stoekhardt’s explanation: “God hears; God sees; God punishes.”

That’s Law. Our confessions say that we are to repent. The first part of that is “terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin.” Which of the above statements is more likely to inspire terror? “He means what He says…” or “God sees; God hears; God punishes”?

I don’t blame the people who made the hymnal, any more than I blame previous catechism revisions, that offer almost equally toothless law. LSB was a hymnal made in a comfortable time. There was no war, no plague, no famine, no persecution. Aside from some small foreign wars, there really hadn’t been any of those for two generations. Persecution was a thing that happened elsewhere – Islamic nations, or Soviet Russia. We were blessed. Liberty and justice for all as far as the eye could see.

And doctrinally, our synod has sort of the same attitude. False teaching is a thing over there. Rome, Geneva, etc. Not Wittenberg and Saint Louis. Roofing tiles and Koinonia as far as the eye can see. That’s fine as far as it goes. But that will not produce a generation of churchmen who are ready for combat. Those who teach falsely operate with impunity, and those who call attention to it are chastised for their ungentlemanly attitudes. That’s all part of the life of the soft church. The couch potato church.

But we are quickly entering a period when that will not do. I know of pastors with young congregations that are going back to TLH. The hymns of TLH are being taught in grade schools, to wild applause from the students. They may be young, but even at their tender age they can see the storm clouds of persecution on the horizon. They want hard hymns that can handle the rigors of persecution. Now, TLH is far from a perfect hymnal. It was produced not in a time of persecution. But it was a time of war. It is just a little bit more hardened, a bit more stumpy, than what we have now. If things continue along their present path – that is, unless we as a nation repent and return to the Lord, and hope it is not so late that he hardens our hearts so we can not hear, I expect the next hymnal to be a much harder product. It will bear the beautiful scars of those who have suffered. It will be lean. Twila Paris will likely not be among the authors. But Psalm 69 or 137 might reappear at long last.

In other words, it will be a hymnal to comfort a church in distress. It will be less elegant, but of more utility. It will have the hard edges of God’s Word on each page. No blunt edges. No softened language. But it will be potent. It will be powerful.

That’s what the church needs, and will need in the years to come. I expect that in such a time, the inability to preach the law will fade. The tolerance for false doctrine will decline. Those extra flourishes don’t really belong in a time of suffering. The church will demand that her leaders speak the truth in plain, unvarnished language. The loquacious eloquence of the experienced and respected churchman will be replaced by the hard truths of the prophet.

For now, we pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send workers into the fields. And pray that they be strong enough, brave enough, bold enough, and faithful enough to do the job.

We’ve gotten out of shape. That time is over. It’s Time to get off the couch.

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Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est

Happy Reformation day everyone!

I was pondering Reformation Day, and began wondering: What is the thing most in need of reform in the church today? But there need to be rules. So I set myself some basic ground rules:

No fair identifying things about other denominations. Their problems, their reformation. So, “The Papacy needs to be reformed” is out. (It’s also true, but not the answer to my question.)

The Reformation began with a question about a specific practice. But it morphed pretty quickly into an attack on the entire philosophical system of Rome. Today, we should consider the same – what are the large and long-term philosophical problems. This means that “I know this RSO / Free Range Group that’s really annoying / heretical” is probably not the correct answer either.

“My Old Sinful Nature” is an obvious answer, but also not what I’m aiming for. Something systemic in the church on earth (what you non-Cyprianites call the “visible church”)is what I’m thinking.

So, here’s my take: I think the church would be far more faithful, more Christo-centric, less easily led astray, and more committed to the Word of our Lord if we returned to the practice of the early LCMS that pastors served in parishes. If you aren’t in a parish, you aren’t a pastor, and don’t need to be on the roster. (I’m not talking about CRM here.)

There are just too many “undersecretary for the office of the assistant to the President for Deployed Staff” ministers in our synod. District officers? Parish. IC workers? Parish. RSO director? Parish.  Somewhere in the 1950’s, we got it into our heads that we needed “Experts” who could focus on how to do housing ministry, and these experts could not possible serve a parish while doing their important work. But the parish is the important work.

And when the IC calls good men out of the parish to do “Amazing work in Saint Louis”, what we really do is set up a bureaucracy that will change when the administration changes. That is, instead of faithful people, we will have less faithful people. How much better if, instead of that, we had people who were faithfully in a parish, who assisted with whatever it is that the IC thinks needs done, in their spare time.

If there is objection that there are too many responsibilities, too many things that need done, then the response is the same as to a child who is too busy at school to do his chores at home: It is a matter of priorities. If we are so busy with the work of “the church” that we don’t have time to serve the people of God with preaching and the sacraments, then we have forgotten what the church is.

That’s my take. What’s yours? What do you think needs reforming in the church? Try and be constructive with your answers.

 

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Contact the Catechism Revision Committee

1108-lutherscex-jpg-550x0I’m sure many of my readers have filled out the Catechism Revision survey online. But if you, like me, thought that perhaps there was more to say about it, you might want to contact the Catechism Review Committee directly. Unfortunately, the LCMS website doesn’t have a link for those who wish to offer more feedback. But the good news is, in this age of technological marvels, the entire committee is on the email. And those email addresses are available on the synod website.

But, to save you the trouble, here are the email addresses of the committee:

joel.lehenbauer@lcms.org (Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Chairman)
arandc@csl.edu (Dr. Charles Arand)
warp@sllcs.org (Rev. Wally Arp)
eggert@csl.edu (Prof. Thomas Egger)
janlohmeyer@lea-hou.org (Dr. Jan Lohmeyer)
john.pless@ctsfw.edu (Prof. John Pless)
larry.vogel@lcms.org (Rev. Larry Vogel)

And remember, hurry! The deadline for comments on the field test is October 31, unless they follow the advise of the Wyoming District and allow time for the field test to be … well… tested. I’ll be sending in my three part review, along with my personal plea for extending the deadline. Hopefully others will email them as well with their own comments.

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Reviewing the “Field Test”: Part 3, Fatal Flaws and a Prescription for Recovery

1108-lutherscex-jpg-550x0In Part 1, I reviewed some of the strengths of the Revised Catechism Field Test. In Part 2, I looked at some new things that didn’t quite work. In Part 3, I go over what I see as problems that are severe enough to force me to return to the 1943 edition in my parish.

Deficiencies of the old explanation remain, and in some cases, have been made worse.

The old explanation had only two questions about the resurrection. The proposed revision does not ask at all about the fact or the significance of the resurrection It is recorded in all four Gospels. Paul devotes an entire chapter of Corinthians to its significance. Without it, we are above all men to be most pitied.

If the revisions are accepted without fixing this, it would practically disqualify the new catechism for use in the Lutheran Church – or really in any Christian Church. It is an especially stunning omission, given the new catechism’s focus on apologetics. This is THE apologetic challenge for the church, and always has been.

One may argue that it is addressed in more than one answer to various questions. But there are 6 specific questions on the states of humiliation and exaltation – which makes its appearance in the Lutheran Symbols only in one article of the Formula. You would think that perhaps one question might be spared for the sine qua non of the Christian faith!

Left unimproved is the Lord’s Prayer’s Law-focus. The 1992 questions speak only of the need to pray in terms of Law, never Gospel. Luther talks of Prayer as a great gift. But the promise of God to hear our Prayer, and the benefit of prayer in our state of great need in this world are never covered. Instead we are presented with the Lord’s Prayer as a way to fulfill the commandments (“What is the connection between this petition and the second Commandment?”). True, the Lord’s prayer does this. But it is also the way that Christians express and live out their faith, while asking God to fulfill that which he has promised. Luther makes the connection repeatedly in the Large Catechism. The revisions do not mention it.

The section on Baptism still keeps the discussion of Infant Baptism in Part 1. In the Large Catechism, Luther discusses it after he discusses the benefits of Baptism. The problem with the approach taken in the explanation (as anyone who has an Arminian friend can attest) is that the argument invariably devolves into a discussion of what is meant by “all nations”. For Luther, the discussion of Infant Baptism is centered entirely on the benefits of Baptism, and how those are given to infants who can believe, but can not yet articulate the faith. The benefits of Baptism for infants are discussed in the explanation.  But that happens before the benefits of Baptism itself are presented. Left un-discussed entirely is Luther’s point that Baptism is God’s Work, and has God’s Promise. While faith receives the promise, faith must have an object. That object is where God has promised to be in His Word, connected to water. This discussion would be very helpful for apologetics, given America’s strong Arminian religious background. But once again, it is entirely missing.

In Part 4 of Baptism, Luther’s connection between “contrition and repentance” and “Confession and Absolution” is missing. It is not in the old explanation either. But it is a key point in the Large Catechism, and it should be restored.

Inexplicably, explanation for “Confession and Absolution” is placed after “The Office of the Keys.” That is not the order it is presented in the text of the catechism itself. Perhaps the committee hopes to reverse that order (as it was in the 1943 catechism) when the catechism is printed. They have been given no authority to even recommend changes to the text of the catechism itself. When the new hymnal was introduced, the synod in convention resolved not to change the text of the catechism itself. The committee has been given no authority to do so. Which means that the explanation will not present the catechism in the same order that it is presented in the text of the catechism. That is simply bad pedagogy.

The benefit of Confession and Absolution has been significantly weakened by the addition of sociological terminology. (“safe place to name his or her sins…”) It never says that the pastor forgives the sins of the penitent. That is the point of private absolution. It should be restored to the 1992 version. (“God himself through the pastor forgives each individual the sins that are confessed.”)

For all the boasting about added scriptural references, some important passages are missing. In the 1992 revision, the question about the seal of the confessional had three bible verses in support of the pastor “never revealing sins confessed to him”. In the new revision, that has been reduced to 1. If we are to restore the treasure of private Confession and Absolution to the life of the church, it is imperative that we speak of the seal of the confessional in the clearest terms. The 1992 revision is clearer than the new proposal, and so is to be preferred.

I do like the inclusion of hymn references at the end of each section. But for those who are being introduced to the faith, having those references without the hymn verses themselves limits the benefit. Those hymn verses should be printed, or not included.

I have not gone through each question with a fine-tooth comb. Each review I have seen makes note of one or two questions with answers that are doctrinally misleading at best, and false doctrine, at worst. I did notice that one question gives a factually incorrect answer. Question 93 states “Each of (the three creeds) clarifies specific areas of doctrinal controversy and confusion.” This is historically demonstrable regarding the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, but not the Apostle’s. Its first use is as a Baptismal creed, not as a creed for clarifying specific areas of doctrinal controversy.

As noted in previous parts of my review, the committee is to be commended for their work. But, having missed receiving approval at this past summer’s convention, we now have until 2019 to finish the revisions. I have heard that there may be a desire to simply skip that step and begin printing the revisions without convention approval. That is a bad idea. There needs to be more conversation on this than simply an online survey. The changes suggested are significant, both regarding the content, and the method of instruction. No part of the survey even asked about the changes to the method of instruction, or the assumptions behind it. This catechism – if it used at all, will affect the instruction of our children and grandchildren. The catechism is the “laymen’s Bible.” It is the means by which pastors fulfill the command of our Lord to “Teach them to observe all things I have commanded.” It should not be taken lightly, and any changes to the content or method – and they are many on both counts – should be thoroughly discussed.

There is much good in the revisions. But there is also much that needs to be improved. There are also disqualifying errors in the format and content. I would neither be able to use it, nor recommend its use to others. In its current form, I would recommend that pastors hoard copies of the 1991 explanation for as long as possible. And when those run out, revert to the 1943 version. It is missing a great deal regarding changes in the surrounding culture in the past 75 years. But it avoids the confusion that the current proposal would bring to the church.

Once again, the committee has done excellent preliminary work. But the difference between a mediocre book and a great book is an editor. While the members of the committee are all professional theologians, none of them actually teach the catechism to children in the parish. The next step in editing needs to be choosing a group of pastors who will actually be using the catechism to instruct children and adults, and have the theological and catechetical acumen to properly evaluate the revisions. Yes, this would slow down the release – perhaps by a couple of years. It would not be ready in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. But this is too important a work to leave half-finished solely to meet an arbitrarily imposed marketing deadline. What we have is a fine first draft. But that draft needs significant work of a specialized kind that the scholars and theologians currently serving on the committee can not offer. Commend them. And then pass this on to the next group, who can hopefully complete the fine work they have started.

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Oops!

This morning in my sermon, I said something very badly. Just a misplaced word, but if true, we are Arians. A paragraph later I stopped my sermon and corrected it. For those who are interested, here is a transcript of my internal monologue during that paragraph…

<WAIT! WHAT! Did I just say that? Ok, keep talking. But look back at what you just said…. Yup. You said it alright. Oh my word, I just denied the Holy Trinity! That’s bad. In seminary they were very clear that our sermons should not deny the Trinity. Smooth move, oh thou preacher of heresy.>

<Well, this is the middle of the sermon. Maybe no one heard it. Look, they’re all a little bleary eyed. I mean, it was just a misplaced word. Most of them probably didn’t notice.  And if you go back and fix it, you’ll have to stop the sermon. You’re really making a big deal about something that’s not too big.>

<Wait? Are you saying heresy isn’t that big? That’s a terrible thought. You can’t just let this stay out there. You have to fix this. Bible Class, maybe? Yes, but that’s only a few people. There’s a pretty good crowd here today. You’d have a hard time getting in touch with all of them individually to fix this. If they even heard it. It was pretty quick.>

<Yes, but it was wrong. And not even a close call either. One badly placed word and you really go against all that you have spent 18 years trying to defend. People deserve to know that you made a mistake. We really do need to be clear in how you speak. There’s enough false doctrine out there. Look, there’s a nice break coming up at the end of this sentence. How about you stop there, fix what you said, and then move on.>

“Before we move on, I need to correct something…”

A lot of thoughts can occur to a pastor while preaching…

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