Evolution: Still wrong

Over at Teach These Things, you can download – for free! – session 8 of Teach These Things. It’s the one were we look at the implications and shortcoming of evolution.

For those who want more, I taught a class a few years ago. The link to all the videos is in the sidebar. And for those who would prefer a book (And let’s be honest, books are always better than not books.) I am working on a short monograph on the topic. It will be a more detailed look at what is covered in this session.

I’m doing it while simultaneously editing Catechetics. I’m hoping to release Evolution: A Defense Against, sometime near the first of the year, and Catechetics in time for some light summer reading. Of course, I have yet to ever meet a publishing deadline, but hope springs eternal!

Anyway, head over to Teach These Things and check out the free download of Session 8.

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Sermon for Trinity 11

Cain-Abel-AlbertinelliWhat is the difference between acceptable and unacceptable worship? That’s really the question that the readings address today.

In the Old Testament reading we have Cain and Abel. Of course, we know how it ends. Cain kills Abel, Cain is marked in some way – we don’t know how – and wanders the earth as punishment. But the initial problem is that Abel’s sacrifice – his worship – is acceptable to God, and Cain’s is not. It couldn’t just be that God likes sheep more than vegetables. In Leviticus, when God sets up the Tabernacle with its sacrifices, the high priest and priests and Levites, he has not only animal sacrifices, but grain sacrifices. Meat and plants. Both acceptable. So what was it about Cain’s Sacrifice that was no good.

We do know that Abel gave of the firstborn and the fat portions. Cain, it makes no mention. You could infer that Abel gave a higher quality sacrifice. But that’s not certain. We know God had no regard for Cain’s offering. And God talks to Cain. He says, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted because Cain did not do well. His sacrifice may have been perfectly fine. The problem was the heart that offered it. Cain’s heart was not in the right place. “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Sin begins in the heart. It is an evil will that gives birth to sin. We are sinners, because our hearts are corrupted. So also, for Cain. He was not giving the sacrifice out of love for God, but out of obligation. As we often hear – our worship doesn’t earn us anything before God.

And that brings us to the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The two go up to the temple. The Pharisee recounts all that he has done for God – fast twice a week, give tithes of all he has. The tax collector just looks at the dirt, and says “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” Now, the interesting thing about this reading is that the tax collector says, “Be merciful to be THE sinner.” But no English translation says that. They all say “a sinner.” But the tax collector isn’t identifying himself as just A sinner. He is THE sinner. This is a lot like the saying “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” It’s not just that I am a sinner. As far as it matters for salvation, THE sinner. The only one. Because if you’re being condemned to hell, it really doesn’t matter what the guy next to you is getting. And if you’ve been freed from that punishment by the blood of Jesus, then it really doesn’t matter what the guy next to you is doing or getting. You don’t need to compare your conduct to his. You don’t need to make him into a bigger sinner to make yourself feel better. You’ve been forgiven – totally free of charge. So much has been forgiven, that you don’t even really have time to consider anything that anyone has done against you. The debt you have been forgiven is infinitely greater.

So, when scripture says, “Love covers a multitude of sins”, what it means is that not only have your sins been forgiven by the love of God through Christ Jesus. it means that the sins other commit against you – they are no more as well. The love of God that he shows through you covers those sins. So, you aren’t really concerned with what others are doing, just what God has done for you. And the love you have in Christ covers over your neighbors sin – you don’t even see it. You just consider your own place according to the ten commandments. And there is plenty of sin there.

That’s what the Tax Collector knew – his sins were great. They were overwhelming. They were so fantastically huge that nothing else mattered to him. He was THE sinner.

And so, Jesus pronounces the judgment – the sinner is forgiven, the righteous man goes away unforgiven.

But then, part of the reason for that is that the righteous man never asked for forgiveness. You can look as closely as you want to. The prayer of the Pharisee attracts attention, it shows how good he is. But it never asks for forgiveness. At no point does he say that he is in need of anything from God.

And so, God gives him exactly what he asks for – which is nothing. He believes his own works can save him.

The idolatry of works – Luther says it’s the greatest idolatry. And of course, it’s true. The desire to be like God. The need to feel ourselves somehow helping, somehow making it on our own – or at least making some small part of it. We want to know that we can do something.

But the truth is, there is nothing we can do. It’s all Jesus all the time. And we can’t even begin to earn anything before God. And if it were somehow possible for us not only to keep the law, but to go above and beyond to show our Love toward our neighbor in everything we do always, for ever, all we’re really trying to prove is that we don’t need Jesus.

There is no “without Jesus”. It’s him or nothing. And we can’t keep the law. We begin by turning away from God and his word. Turning toward the things of this world.

 

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Free to Good Home (Or Classical Schools)

the-letanyI realized as I was looking for it on my Hard Drive, that I never posted the Latin Litinia Correcta (Luther’s Latin Litany in Latin). Given that Latin is in the name, you might think it’s easy to find online.

Hah-hah-hah!

Obviously you didn’t realize that the interwebs exist to show pictures of cats.

Well, here it is. As nearly as I can figure, based on how hard it was to find the constituent parts, this is the first time this has been available in many years (except in the Weimar Ausgabe). It’s perhaps the first time in history it is available with Luther’s pointing, but in modern notation – thereby making it easier to use in schools.

Anyway, if you’d like to pray Luther’s Latin Litany – in Latin, feel free to download, distribute, alter, whatever you need to do to make it useful for you.

And as an added bonus, the facing page has the English Translation. (If you prefer, just delete those pages, and it’s “All Latin, All The Time.”)

Given the challenges facing the church in these latter days, it seems to me that more and fervent prayers are probably not a bad idea.

So, enjoy the Latina-Litania by Martinus Luther.

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LCMS Convention: An Outsider’s Perspective

KoinoniaSome may argue that “Outsider” is not an apt description. But, I was not a delegate, I saw no updates on the convention until after it was finished, and I was not even around the internet for most of the week. Certainly, as a member of synod, I have “skin in the game”. But this isn’t a blow-by-blow account of how this resolution, or that resolution came about. It’s a general observation about the state of the synod.

The state of the synod is very good.

Now, I don’t make that claim lightly. When necessary, I have been known to speak up regarding changes I think need to be made in our synod. District Presidents, the Seminaries, the COP, the President of Synod – a tour through past blog posts will show that I am not ashamed to call out what I see as unfaithful practices.

I’m not saying I won’t be speaking up in the future. And I’m not saying the synod is now perfect. Nothing this side of heaven is – except our Lord Jesus Christ, and the salvation he offers through his Holy Church. But, even with her faults, our synod is on a stronger footing than we have seen in many years.

The convention, considering carefully lists from both sides of synod, decided to go with United List candidates for 80 out of 90 elections. Even some of the non-UL candidates elected were hardly what one would consider “liberal”. The United list doesn’t claim to endorse the only possible confessional Lutheran Candidate. In some cases, it was merely a difference of opinion regarding who was most qualified. The United List had their opinion, and the convention thought differently. But never in my lifetime has the president of Synod been given such a strong slate of candidates up and down the roster. Every board where I know the names of people was either strengthened, or had faithful members returned.

The Resolutions were much the same way. With one exception (And that will be it’s own discussion…) the resolutions which passed the convention have either strengthened our witness, or returned us to more faithful practice. In one especially controversial case, we ended a generation-long unfaithfulness.

But can it really be called controversial when the vote was 74% in favor? In most votes, that is an overwhelming super-majority. It was not even close. Those who oppose restoring Ausgutana Article XIV are truly a minority voice. The synod has overwhelmingly spoken, and they need to move on.

Interestingly, President Harrison said before he was ever elected that, with prayerful discussion centered on the Word of God, he believed the synod could have 80% agreement on controverted issues. Many I know thought he was nuts. (Or making political promises he had no intention of keeping). It wasn’t so long ago that the synod voted 55%-45% that we were not divided doctrinally. That’s not a good result, no matter which side you were on.

And yet, with six years of instruction, and the last three specifically and intentionally devoted to studying the issue, the synod came to 74% agreement. Had there not been such opposition to Augustana Article XIV from a very vocal minority of the District Presidents, he might have found that extra 6%.

But the results were consistently in that range or better for the most controversial issues. As an example Dr. Keischnick used to joke that the church argued over Wine, Women and Song, and that she always would. How about this: Faithful Practice of Closed Communion and rejection of intinction: 83%, Against Conscription of Women into Military Combat Positions: 91%, He even got 95% of the synod in convention to agree that truly Lutheran Worship – nothing high church or froopy, but simple hymnal worship – is edifying and delightful. How’s that for wine, women, and song? Every one of them was passed at over 80%. Perhaps the problem is not that Lutherans can not agree on these issues, but that we were in need of leadership that is willing to teach faithfully on them.

District Presidents or other synod leaders that are pushing more Open Communion Practice or intinction, Feminism, or sub-Lutheran Evangelical Worship, take note: the synod has clearly said that such things should not be. If you want to reshape the synod into some sort of Evangelical, Catholic, or Episcopal version of Lutheran-lite, the synod is not interested.

In 1974, A Brief Statement passed with roughly 55%-60% of the vote. Dr. Preus took it as a mandate to cleanse the seminary of false doctrine. For most of the 90’s, you could not get 60% of the synod in convention to agree on the color of the sky. The most controversial resolution at this convention passed with a 3/4 majority. That speaks well of the synod and her future.

There are still challenges. We aren’t there yet. There’s a lot of hard work ahead as we continue to discuss divisive matters. But, I am more hopeful than ever that, under the Word of God, we can come to a resolution on these issues. Only time will tell. And in the coming years, we’ll see whether those who disagree are willing to submit themselves to that Word or not.

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So I’m a Liar. You Should Do It! Or: How to Be Blessed By God to Be Blessed to Be A Blessing.

Just so we’re clear, the title refers to two different topics. I said my last post was my last post before convention. It’s not. I’m a liar.

As for the second? The convention has a chance to right a great wrong. After my post this morning, I have been given more information regarding LLD. There are District Presidents who are lying to small congregations. They are telling them that pastors are a nice luxury for rich, large suburban congregations. But poor rural or inner city congregations just can’t expect to have such a luxury.

I’m proof that they are lying. I have served two congregations in my ministry. One was a tiny urban congregation, in the city of Chicago. The other – where I now serve – a small rural congregation in central Wyoming. Distances between towns here are measured not in miles, but in hours. My district is the perfect district for LLD – we are small. We are scattered. There is no way pastors would be willing to give up calls elsewhere to come here.

But they do. There is practically a waiting list for pastors willing to get into the Wyoming District.

Ok, There really isn’t a waiting list. But every time I go out and about in our synod, I hear from pastors how much they would love to serve here. Why?

Some years ago, the Wyoming district did have LLD. Then, they studied the scriptures and found out what it says about how pastors are a blessing to congregations, and congregations are a blessing to pastors. They resolved to have each and every congregation served by a called and ordained servant of the word. Because, despite the hardships involved in such a pledge, they knew that when God makes a promise, he keeps it. If he promised to bless congregations and pastors together, then that was what they wanted.

Pastoral tenures increased. Congregations have been very blessed. So have the pastors that serve them.

I saw a post recently in favor of LLD that challenged those of us who oppose them to take calls to rural Wyoming. Ok, I’ll take you up on that challenge. I’m so convinced God’s Word is right that I’ll do it 12 years before you even ask. And let me tell you, those twelve years have been more of a blessing than I ever could have imagined. We are small – less than 50 on a Sunday. We struggle – there’s not a lot of money in their for Hot Air Balloons, or foam rubber replicas of famous Lutherans. But there is a love of God’s Word, and a determination to receive the blessings God promises in that word. God promises to bless him when we are faithful to His word. My congregation is committed to that. I am too. And God has blessed us both under that Word.

Now, it isn’t always smooth sailing. Sometimes in these far flung parishes, district officials are called in to help settle disputes that arise. But when that happens, congregation, pastor and district official all submit themselves to God’s Word. Because they know it’s important. Pastors know they are protected if a congregation wants to depart from that word. Congregations know they are protected if a pastor wants to depart from that word. And District Officials know they are only welcome insofar as they come to bring that word. So, how does it work itself out in practice?

Congregations get to joyfully receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins!

Pastors are humble servants of the word of Jesus!

Our District President is a humble servant of the Lord and his church, who has no thought of lording it over his fellow pastors, and the congregations committed to him!

It’s amazing.

And if that sounds like the sort of church you’d like to be a part of, take the first step this week. Vote in favor of real called and ordained by God pastors. It might be a struggle. But you won’t be sorry.

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My Last Blog Post. You Won’t Believe What I Have To Say.

Teachings_of_Jesus_15_of_40._the_good_shepherd._Jan_Luyken_etching._Bowyer_BibleThis will be my last blog post before the LCMS convention begins in Milwaukee. (What do you mean, clickbait?) One way or another, this will be known as the “Lay Ministry” convention. Either we do away with this unfaithful practice, and return to a truly Lutheran ecclesiology, or we continue further down the road of unfaithfulness, in which case it’s time to stop pretending as a church body that we are serious about our confession.

For years I have been challenging those in favor of lay-ministry to make the theological argument in favor of it. This convention has given them a chance to do just that.

The Northwest District, led by Mr. Paul Linnemann has been leading the charge. The President of the New Jersey District, Mr. Anthony Steinbronn recently entered the fray with his own opinions. (I assume they are ok with not being called Reverend, since they see no difference between clergy and laity.)

And the theological rationale is every bit as shallow as I expected. Equivocation and obfuscation are the order of the day. The faithfulness level is somewhere between “Everyone A Minister” (“0”) and Seminex (“-100”). It is plainly obvious that no one who supports LLD has ever so much as read Luther’s Infiltrating and Clandestine Preachers – the standard reference work for understanding Luther’s views of Church and Ministry. In it, he lays out the promise, necessity, and comfort of the call – not just for those who presume to preach – but for those who will hear. Compare the following two statements:

Knowing that God, through the proper call and ordination, has placed a man in your midst to be shepherd of God’s flock is a tremendous comfort. He is to stand and risk his own life to defend you against the wolf.

Knowing that an elected official, by filing the proper paperwork, has hired someone who will do the best job he can with the little training he has received to keep you safe.

Those who are in favor of continuing the Licensed Lay Deacon program are essentially recommending that we encourage the use of infiltrating and clandestine preachers. That is not the right thing to do.

I encourage the synod to vote for accountability for those who would lead congregations, for faithfulness to our confession, and more importantly for faithfulness to the word of our Lord, who gives the right of calling to his church. He does not give the right of licentiousness to the bigwigs. That’s what this program actually does. It embiggens the District Presidents with illicit powers not given by God. They decide who will serve you, and how unqualified he will be. That’s not good order. It’s not good accountability. We rage against the un-accountability in our public political arena, and then grant just that same unaccountability to our synod’s own elected leaders. Some of the District Presidents don’t want to lose their illicit powers. They like them. And they are pulling out all the stops to keep them in place.

This relates also to the sensible provision that would restore the previous accountability of District Presidents by allowing for limited review by the Presidium of certain decisions they make that impact the entire synod. Interesting that in one breath they say, “We do not need pastors.” and in the next they say, “Do not interfere with my absolute authority in my district.”

They are the modern day popes, who do not like that the seminaries and the synod have a say in who serves “their” churches. And they really do consider it “their” church, not “Christ’s Church.”

Don’t be fooled. 27 years is enough. Ending Licensed Lay Deacons is not about depriving people of the Comfort of the Gospel.It’s about restoring proper order to the church. It’s about making sure that every congregation has the proper comfort of the Gospel.

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The Church in A Time of Babylon

goldenWhen Babylon conquered the kingdom of Judah, the best and brightest were carried off to Babylon. Things looked pretty bleak. It seemed as if perhaps God had utterly abandoned his people. The northern kingdom had already been destroyed. Now, the Southern Kingdom was in ruins. Either God had let his people be conquered, or he wasn’t strong enough to stop it. The pressure to compromise was immense. Even something as simple as eating a meal became a matter of confession for the captured Israelites. Daniel and his three friends were faithful. They would not eat the food. There was no practical reason for them not to eat it – a foreign land, a God who did not save them from exile – except of course that God decreed a thousand years before they not eat that food. So, they didn’t eat it. They had no proof that God would bless them. They remained faithful because they trusted in in the Word and promise of God.

Later, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were trusted advisors to the king. When a golden statue was made, they were the only three who would not bow down to it. There was no proof that God would deliver them. There were no accounts before this of God stepping saving men from fire. But the three refused to bow down. There answer was unequivocal: God could save them. “But if not…” they would still not bow down to it.

The early church took a similar attitude. They would not offer the sacrifice to Caesar. They would pray for him, not to him. This path cost the church dearly. Much blood was spilled over the years. Many were maimed or even killed. But the faithful did not offer the sacrifice.

Talk of Babylon may seem out of place today. Today we celebrate the birth of our nation.

And yet, we should never celebrate without a full realization of exactly what we celebrate. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be out watching the fireworks, listening to patriotic music. My sons and I will be eating that western American staple, Chili, made with authentic American Antelope meat, cooked outdoors over a fire. It will be a day to give thanks for what our nation has been, and even what it is. We still have more freedom here than in most other nations on earth. No one is coming and dragging us away for the crime of owning a bible, or of attending church.

But, except in the extremely oppressive regimes of the 20th and 21st centuries, such has never really been the case.

In Rome, you could believe what you wanted. That was your private business. There was no objection to reading or hearing about Jesus. They objected to the anti-patriotism of the church that would not offer the pinch of incense. In ancient Babylon, you could worship whomever you wanted most of the time. But, on special occasions, the King expected prayers to him. Free, full ride college scholarships and the kings own food – who would be ungrateful enough to refuse it?

Persecution doesn’t usually come from jackbooted soldiers knocking down doors and dragging people away. It comes when you are asked to compromise – just a little bit, for the greater good of society. A trifle really.

I’ve seen reports in my feed recently that a popular Christian dating site agreed to a court settlement – they will now offer their services to same sex couples. A judge approved the agreement. But it was an agreement that the dating site entered into willingly. They were pressured to change. They did. There was no “But if not…” from the dating site. They will continue to exist, continue to please their stockholders. They settled because it seemed easier than continuing to fight what they saw as a losing battle.

In Washington State, Christian Pharmacists can no longer refuse to stock abortofacients. Will they stand up and say, “But if not…”? Wedding photographers and Bakers already have. Some have faced financial ruin. When they come for you, it likely won’t be with guns blazing. It will be with court orders and consent decrees.

How are we, as the church, to consider our nation which looks more and more like ancient Babylon, and less and less like the last fifteen hundred years of Western Civilization?

Those three men offer us an example. So does the early church. Scripture reminds us that we may be citizens of an earthly nation, but our true citizenship is in heaven. We live blameless lives, working hard to do our jobs with integrity. We pray for kings and all in authority – even the very leaders that would ruin us with their radically secular paganism. That’s what Daniel and his friends did. God delivered them. That’s what the early church did. God did not always deliver them from the punishments of the world. The church continued to confess and to pray faithfully – even for those who were persecuting the church. Rome fell. The church endured, and picked up the pieces.

So today, we live as faithful citizens, praying for our leaders, participating in the civic life of our nation as much as we can. And, if we are brought before tribunals, or commissions, or even the Supreme Court, we continue to be faithful to God and his word. We continue to pray and give thanks in all things. And, we stand boldly with the saints who have gone before. We stand firm, and, like the saints of old, proclaim “But if not…”

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