Sermon for Epiphany 2: Wedding at Cana

We continue Epiphany with Jesus first miracle – the wedding at Cana. There are a lot of different things the wedding at Cana has to teach us. So many that you can’t possibly cover it all in one sermon. It’s Jesus first miracle – you can consider the importance of miraculous signs –how they prove that he speaks with authority as the Son of God. . You can look at the relationship between Jesus and his mother – she only shows up twice in John’s gospel, both times he tenderly addresses her as “woman”, both times he cares for her. Here he takes care of the problem of no wine. When we see her again, he is on the cross, and commends her to the care of Saint John the apostle.

We can look at marriage – here Jesus blesses marriage by attending, and assisting in the wedding arrangements. The Lutheran fathers often take this approach. Marriage was not highly thought of in Luther’s day. He has that in common with our own, where it is so badly abused and misunderstood. God created marriage and families as a blessing, and we should highly esteem and honor them. The Epistle reading ties marriage into the life of Christ and his church. Christ is the bridegroom, the church is the bride. Those who object to and despise God’s plan for marriage says saint Paul, are really objecting to God and his people. They are rebelling not only against God’s creation, but against the redemption given in Christ as well.

This brings in the Gospel – the good news of forgiveness for Jesus sake. He died on the cross to redeem his bride the church. And we have in the wedding at Cana a large arrow pointing to that redemption. We have Christ, water, wine, wedding banquet. If we didn’t know for sure this was a miracle of Jesus, it could almost have been a parable – directing us to the truth that Jesus brings us the wine of gladness in place of the sorrow of our sin.

Any one of those topics could be an entire sermon – and many of them could be a sermon series.

Whatever the focus, this is a comforting and joyous Gospel reading. Jesus brings joy to the guests at a wedding. He gives new wine – the good stuff so that the celebration can continue instead of an embarrassing halt to the proceedings.

It would certainly be good if that were the case today. Jesus and the church there to give joy unending, good times, good friends, good food.

But if we think that is the point of the miracle, we have missed it. The 20th century apologist C.S. Lewis put it this way, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” Why would he say that? We have Jesus here making everything ok again. Isn’t that what he does? Certainly it is. But we define ok differently than he does.

For Jesus, ok is forgiven sin and no longer facing the judgment of God. It isn’t necessarily parties filled with laughter.

We live in a very comfortable age. Someone recently wrote an article about the history of chairs. Actual chairs, with cushions seat backs were unusual. Benches were around. But a chair was for the wealthy until about 200 years ago. Kings had thrones – if you look at them, they are really just a chair. Not even all that extravagant. It was the very fact of being a chair that was unusual. Recliners were unknown. Couches were unheard of. If you wanted to go somewhere, you walked. Not in the latest hiking shoes. Basic leather foot covers – sandals in warmer climates, leather covers in colder, but not arched insoles with comfort-tech padding and grippy-grab soles.

For the most part, life used to be uncomfortable. If you had a headache, you waited until it went away. Sore muscles were a daily fact of life.

We life in a very comfortable world these days. And so, it’s easy for us to get the false idea that Jesus came to make us ever more comfortable.

And yet, we live in a world filled with comfort, but filled with despair. People chase after the latest pleasure, they try desperately to find meaning in life. Hedonistic lifestyles where every single whim is catered to with food, drink, medication. But all of that is just to make people numb to the pain of their own existence. We become so accustomed to being comfortable that we can not even hear the Law of God for our own benefit. We are filled with boundless sorrow, but can not stand to hear the diagnosis. That would be Law. It makes us uncomfortable and so it must by definition be bad. Meanwhile we are medicating ourselves into oblivion in an attempt to get the pain to stop.

Jesus offers the wine of gladness. That’s what happens here. Not that he is offering alcohol so the people can get hammered. The party can continue it is true. The banquet, the wedding, the feasting all go one because of Jesus. But Jesus picking – for his first miracle – water into the best wine is not just a coincidence. Jesus isn’t just caught up in events, and trying to do what he can to make things a bit easier for his mom. Jesus is sending a clear message about what he is for.

As Saint Paul says, “God demonstrated his own love for us in this – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We can not find fulfillment in the hedonistic pleasures of this world. It’s what we are told to do – to go after what you really dream about. To be the person you really are on the inside – even if that matches nothing about how God created you. But that is just piling despair on top of despair. True joy is found in the things of God. The world says it is your body, you can do with it as you please, alter, cut, add to, indulge in whatever sick fantasy your mind can create in order to find personal fulfillment.

Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s such a simple thing, even the church has trouble believing it. If you really want to serve God, you abandon family and friends and go pray in a cloister, or do mission work in darkest Peru. Living faithfully as father and mother, son or daughter, providing for family and honoring parents? That’s crazy talk. How can that be what God wants of us. Neither the world nor the church wants to recognize the reality that God calls us to be his children and to serve the world according to our calling – our vocation. Whether that means providing for family by raising cattle or teaching children, or patrolling highways. For children it means obediently doing as your parents tell you, doing your schoolwork, loving your siblings.

Does this bring happiness? In this world of sin, we still struggle. Even the holiest saints are afflicted by Satan and his lies. We still struggle with the sinful flesh. That’s why we need Jesus to continually forgive our sins. We must be constantly fed with his holy word. We must be in prayer against Satan and his lies. Not because it leads to comfortable surroundings, with fat bank accounts. But because it is the answer to the despair, the crying out of our souls for meaning and purpose. It is the only answer to the heart broken by the Law. The forgiveness – the redemption won by Christ on the cross. Jesus does not leave you without comfort. As he commended his mother to the care of John, so he commends his church to the care of pastors – who come with the healing balm of the Gospel. Who bind up the wounds of those who are injured by their sins. Who bring the wine of gladness and rejoicing from the stores of the Lord. Who offer that forgiveness to all whom come weary and heavy laden into the house of God. The peace God gives is a peace that passes all understanding.

Jesus gives the good wine – the best wine – to you. Not because he wants us to live in a drunken stupor. But so that you would be given the joy that comes from being forgiven your sins. The promise of life with him – life cleansed from sin, given relief in your suffering, joy in your sorrow. Given the life of Christ in place of your body of death.

Thanks be to God, who revealed his glory to the disciples at Cana. Who continues to come to us with his love and his mercy. Who promises you every good thing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Conversation Street

We have been hearing a lot about “conversation” lately. We are assured that the Saint Louis seminary wants to have a “conversation” about creation.

According this this article, they wanted a “conversation” about the role of women in the church as well. A conversation that involved everyone else shutting up while they continued to do whatever they wanted. In a FB comment thread, I noted that the unspoken second half of the sentence “We want to have a conversation” is “among ourselves, while everyone else just listens to what we say and affirms us.”

The seminary faculty in 1974 tried the “Bask in our brilliance” approach. The synod at the time made quite clear that the first requirement for a steward is that one be found faithful. Only then can brilliance be taken into account. Because if a person is brilliantly unfaithful, then their brilliance is not a light to guide, but a darkness made that much deeper by their own twisted intellect.

Me listening to you for only as long as you deign to speak is not conversation. If you want a conversation about a controversial topic, it doesn’t involve you talking until you’ve decided you’ve had enough and then just stony silence while you continue to practice falsely.To call that a conversation is an abuse of the word. Concordia Saint Louis seems intent on abusing various words in the last few years: “Day”, “Liturgy”, “Drink”.

The quote referenced in the article by Charles Porterfield Krauth is absolute gold:

When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the freinds of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the chruch. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgements on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommeddation is that they repudiate that faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it and to make them skillful in combating it.

It was true then. It’s true now. It will be true until our Lord returns. But some of us will not be cowed by advanced degrees and a stunning brilliance, nor by calls to allow an error, no matter how weak its proponents may be. We look first for faithfulness. And if that is lacking, nothing else matters.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

We’re Halfway There

Not a photo of the author.

In seminary, one of my professors mentioned that the average pastor will preach about 4,000 sermons. For a young student looking ahead to a (DV) long ministerial career, it sounds like a lot.

The other day, in a moment of curiosity, I clicked “get info” on my sermons folder: 1785 files. I’m quickly closing in on the half-way mark. It makes sense. I’m moving into the latter stages of middle-agism, and about half-way between ordination and social security. (Pastor’s don’t generally retire.) Of course, I could get hit by a livestock truck later today. But, if God allows it, I will continue to preach for another 20-30 years. That will be about 1500-3000 more sermons. I’ll come in right about 4,000 by the time I’m done.

Some day will be my final sermon. I may or may not know about it at the time (See “livestock truck” above).

I remember the same professor saying that any sermon could be my last – or the last for one of my members. Usually, a person doesn’t realize it is the last sermon they will hear. I’ve seen people suddenly taken ill, or faithful members who have gradually lost their strength, and even those who were violently forced from this world. Except in rare circumstances, I don’t see people who say, “This is my last sermon, pastor. Make it a good one.”

But, because any sermon could be the last, I try to make them all good. It could be their last sermon before dying. It could be mine. But the truth is, we are all dying people. Every sermon is a sermon to the dying. The good pastor will preach that way. Like a dying man to dying people. (Another saying of my professor)

I’ve had a few sermons over the years that didn’t work out. Preachers know what I mean: you start preaching, and realize almost immediately that this sermon (which looked so brilliant on the page) is academic lecture. It is a fine treatise on theology. But it has nothing to say to a person facing death. It gives no consolation. It is an essay, not a sermon.

One Sunday I had the sermon printed, in the pulpit, and ready to go. Five minutes before the service started, I realized that the sermon was all wrong. I had missed the point of the Gospel reading entirely. I was about to burden my congregation with a law-filled harangue, that had none of the promises of God regarding forgiveness of sins. How had it happened? Ask any preacher – it happens. Mercifully, I caught it in time. That sermon was put in the round file without ever seeing the light of day.

Looking back at sermons over the years, I’ve managed a few that really stand out. (At least for me.) My wife remembers a few that she thinks were really good. My children love nothing more than to quote my sermons back to me – usually by way of rebuke for something I’ve done or said. Nothing brings repentance to a preacher like the preacher’s own words.

Most of my sermons are what I’d call “meat and potatoes” sorts of things. They feed and keep alive. One blends into the next, but that doesn’t make them expendable. My goal in preaching is to remind myself of how very sinful I am, and how much I need the forgiveness of sins. If I’m not even connecting with my own heart, how much am I connecting with others?

Every sermon needs to give the life of Christ to people. For some reason, he chooses sinful men to bring that Word to the world. It’s a testimony to the power of God’s Word that it ever happens at all. I’ve been honored almost 1800 times to step into a pulpit and proclaim that Word. I’ve got a little more than 2,000 sermons to go. And the more I preach, the more I realize how much I have to learn. Perhaps by number 4,000. I will be able to say “I finally understand the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.” Although, at this point, I will settle for becoming like the little children that Jesus blesses – I will know nothing, but just trust that Jesus knows enough for both of us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Casuistry, etc…

Further reflections on the CSL refusal to repent.

In a recent post, I said that some conversations are not allowed. This may seem a rather bold thing to say. But it is the truth. And it deserves a bit more attention.

Pastors often have questions of casuistry. A good Winkelconference will set aside time for pastors to confidentially bring such matters to the group. These situations can be difficult. They deal with matters that are not directly addressed in scripture or the confessions. The pastor will often search the scriptures, confessions, and writings of the fathers for guidance. Based on those scriptural principles, the pastor must then choose the path that best serves the Gospel, and gives the least occasion for offense against the Gospel. These conversations deal not in “This saith the Lord”, but in the wisdom God gives drawn from the Word of God. An example in Holy Scripture would be Solomon and the two women who each claimed that a child was theirs. An example that pastors often must deal with is what should be allowed for funerals. There is, of course, what is best. And then there is what is necessary for a pastor to minister to the family.

Should the pastor offer services for those who are non-members? When I got a phone call from someone whose dearly departed was baptized in the church decades ago, and now resided in a different state, was not a member of any church, and the family was seeking a “venue” for a “celebration of life”, the answer was easy. They would have walked away anyway when I showed them the service we would be using, and forbid the use of projection screens. But what if the person was related to a member? Ideally it is still no. But if the pastor refuses to offer services, the family will seek pastoral care elsewhere. Is it better to make a clear statement regarding pastoral services and the need for membership in the church, or to ensure that, even in a bad situation, a family is cared for properly? The local “marryin and buryin” generic pastor will say terrible untruths. Do we simple abandon the family to them? What if the person came to church regularly, or even occasionally? They were receiving spiritual care from the pastor, even if they did not commit to membership. The pastor may have had conversations about spiritual matters – especially as death approached. The pastor will have to balance many factors when making a decision. Other pastors can help clarify things and give an objective opinion.

Hymns at funerals are an area where the pastor must often compromise and do things that, in the best of circumstances, he would not do. And yet, limits exist. Where does the line get drawn? If we put all hymns on a spectrum, divided into such categories as A) Great hymns that are encouraged (“A Mighty Fortress”), B) Acceptable hymns used without complain (“Amazing Grace”), C) Unnaceptable hymns that might, in certain circumstances be allowed anyway (“In the Garden”), and D) No (“Ragtime Cowboy Joe” – Not kidding). But where many hymns/songs might fall on that spectrum is a question of human wisdom. Short of taking the strict Calvinist “Only the Psalter” route, these questions will need to be addressed at some point. This is not a matter of confession or of intentional sin. It is a matter of human wisdom in ministering to those who are faithful, but weak in some way. Love covers these sorts of sins.  An ongoing conversation can help us all strengthen our practice as we continue to instruct our people.

That is casuistry.

Matters clearly taught in Holy Scripture are not casuistry. For example, scripture could not be clearer that Jesus – in his body – died on the cross and that Jesus – in his body – was raised on the third day. You can not claim the resurrection was only spiritual. It is not a conversation we can have. Similarly, as Pastor Harrison notes, “you cannot stretch days into eons” regarding the six days of creation. Day means day. Anything outside of the normal definition of day is not a conversation that is allowed. Dr. Jurchen has recognized this, and has asked for forgiveness for causing such confusion. That the Saint Louis faculty published an article that posits day means eon, is not acceptable. They are not allowed to have this conversation. They are not leading the church in a fruitful discussion, they are suborning heresy. That is not allowed. The conversation must end with a statement of the clear truth of holy scripture on their part, as Dr. Jurchen has done. They not only published the article, they rebuked pastors who spoke clearly and faithfully to them. They must acknowledge all of this. An anonymous statement online that they will no longer discuss it, while it can still be downloaded and read without so much as a disclaimer, is so inadequate as to be farcical. I’m not saying this for ego’s sake. I’m saying it because the clear confession of Christ commands it. But an example may help show why I say this.

If I am in the Navy, serving on a boat, I can have a lot of different discussions. I can talk about the weather, the state of repair of the ship, the latest news about the work being done in congress, my dislike of taxes, my daughter’s loose tooth, the terrible food, etc. But a conversation I may not have is “How about we get rid of the captain and take over the ship ourselves.” That is mutiny. Even the conversation is disallowed. Back in 2000, when the election was in doubt for over two months, our armed forces were reminded that, no matter how they may feel about the election, the recount, and the court case, they were not allowed to talk about the Vice President in a disrespectful way. They could not suggest that he was trying to “steal the election”, they could not suggest that he was unfit for the presidency. Had he not been the Vice President, the situation would have been different. But as the Constitutionally elected Vice President, certain conversations about him were not allowed. To engage in them would place the soldier outside of the proper discipline   required for the military.

So also in the church. We are under orders. (That is what ordination means.) We are to teach and preach according to the Word of God. In matters that are reflective of human wisdom, there may be discussion, and even disagreement. In matters made clear by Holy Scripture there can not be. We are not to disregard Holy Scripture. It is not allowed. We can not teach that Jesus didn’t really rise from the grave. We can not teach that the body and blood are only spiritually present. We can not teach that infants should be excluded from Holy Baptism. And we can not say that day means eon. It is not up for discussion.

Leading a discussion that suggests Scripture is untrue is theological mutiny. It is not allowed in the church. It is especially not allowed by those under orders as teachers in the church. And it is most especially not allowed by those who are set forth to train future pastors. If the limit of what can and can not be discussed is not clear to them, they can not be teachers in the church of any sort. While I think they are sincere when they say they personally teach a six 24-hour day creation, it is still disingenuous of them to say that they are leading a conversation the topic of which is “how many years was each day of creation”. The topic is off limits.

If that is the conversation that is being had in evangelical circles today, I do not care. They may note that the conversation is taking place. They may not put it forward as a legitimate option. We are not evangelicals. In the same way, they can note that Rome is teaching the infallibility of the pope. But they may not put it forward as a legitimate God-pleasing option.

The existence of the discussion elsewhere does not make it acceptable in a church that takes seriously the Word of God. And if they can not see that distinction, then they need to step down from their position as teachers in the church, and yield to those who “have been found faithful.” (1 Cor 4:2)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Satis Est & Non Satis Est

Update: Letter from Dr. Jurchen.

Thanks be to God! Dr. Jurchen has asked that his article be withdrawn because he recognizes that it gives the impression that false doctrine is acceptable. He asked that the church forgive him for his lapse. For this we give thanks. As noted last evening, as far as I am concerned, this marks a successful conclusion to the incident with Dr. Jurchen and Concordia Seward.

Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis, however is another matter.

The anonymous statement from Concordia announcing the withdrawal is unacceptable. It could have said, “Dr. Jurchen has asked that the article be withdrawn and has sought forgiveness for submitting it in the first place. We can not speak for the faculty as a whole, but we ask for patience as we reconsider our own position. In the meantime, we will be asking our tech department to remove the issue from our online archive until we can make note of the withdrawal and correction by Dr. Jurchen.”

Instead, they turned off comments, and said they would no longer discuss the matter.

Here is what needs to happen in the coming days:

The Saint Louis Faculty, which defended the article in an open letter, assured us it contained no false teaching, and rebuked us for noting the false teaching, must now repent of that position, as Dr. Jurchen has done. Instead, they feel it is appropriate to “continue to lead the discussion” a discussion that will not include their own culpability in causing confusion, nor the effect of his repentance.

The faculty must withdraw the article from their internet archive. Perhaps they could include a statement at the beginning and end of the article noting the withdrawal and the reasons, and including Dr. Jurchen’s letter. It would clarify the matter for the church, without whitewashing the pages of an academic journal.

Instead, they have taken the wholly inadequate step of saying they will no longer discuss the matter, but will continue to present us with the latest scholarship from evangelicals with whom we are not even in fellowship. Do they understand that we are not in fellowship with American Evangelical Christianity? This raises significant questions (again) about the addition to the faculty of a Southern Baptist man who was admitted to the faculty while he was still a catechumen – in violation of Saint Paul’s admonition, and in violation of our synod’s own policies. He would not at the time have been allowed to serve the church as a seminarian, and yet he was allowed to teach them!

In addition, two other faculty members recently signed unionistic confessions jointly with Evangelicals. Do they recognize their unionism? Do they know that Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and the constitution of the LCMS forbid such sins? Are they willing to repent of that sin?

Does the faculty understand that the Evangelical churches teach falsely regarding the nature, authority, and interpretation of Holy Scripture?

Does the faculty believe that American Evangelical churches have something to teach the Lutheran Church about biblical interpretation? They seem to believe that American Evangelicalism has something to teach us about worship – they are wrong in this regard. Has that false belief spread to the interpretation of Holy Scripture?

Many questions and doubts have been raised about the faithfulness of the faculty of the Saint Louis seminary. Not because of fear mongering on the part of pastors in the church, but because of the faculty’s own statements. And each statement they make which attempts to confirm that faithfulness only raises more questions.

Dr. J.A.O. Preus would finally have to send a committee to investigate the seminary in the early 1970’s. Their investigation (The Blue Book) showed significant unfaithfulness on the part of the faculty. If President Harrison were to take a similar step, would he be able to report to the church that a faithful faculty was serving well? Or would we find similar unfaithfulness? It is the faculty’s own public actions and statements that have raised serious doubts about the answer to this question. It indicates that the time is ripe to have those questions answered formally for the sake of unity and clarity in the church.

The Faculty in Saint Louis would do the church a tremendous service if they would show the humility and integrity that Dr. Jurchen did in repenting and seeking forgiveness for their error. They are not leading the church in this matter, because they have not been clear and faithful in their teaching in the Concordia Journal.

It is time for them to stop the disingenuous posturing, and to faithfully and clearly confess the truth, and reject error.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Withdrawn! (Again!)

Pictured: Saint Louis seminary faculty member

After vigorously defending an article published in the official journal of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, the faculty now wishes to change the subject. The parallels to the  the cowardly “Statement of the 44” in ’45 are striking. Rather than repent of false teaching, they 44 withdrew the statement as a basis of discussion. So, the false doctrine was allowed to quietly fester for another 30 years. Seminex was the result.

The faculty now tells us that they will not discuss the article by Dr. Jurcehn further. That is not acceptable.

If I preach in a sermon “Jesus and Satan were actually brothers”, I don’t get to follow it up in Bible Class with “I withdraw the statement. Moving on.” Umm… no. Do I really believe that? Am I a Mormon or a Christian? I need to clarify so that my congregation knows that they are not being pastored by a false teacher. So, the faculty, which until yesterday was still telling us that this was the “intellectual trend” in evangelicalism, and that they were leading us in a discussion when they were clearly just following the latest claptrap from false teachers in an attempt to be popular in the world of biblical exegesis, now want to ignore that discussion and move on.

If a member of my parish struggles with the age of the earth that is one thing. I will patiently bear with them while I teach them the Word of God.

But these so-called men pretend to be faithful teachers in the church. They can not simply withdraw the statement and move on without letting us know: DO THEY REJECT ANY INTERPRETATION THAT ALLOWS DAY TO MEAN MORE THAN DAY? Will we see articles of this sort again? Or will they actually hold to the word of God and fulfill the vows they made before the altar of God and in the presence of his church when they were ordained? These are not trifling questions.

You don’t get to lob a heresy bomb into the nave of the church, and then after it explodes, just say “let’s move on, shall we?”

Unless and until they recant for promoting false doctrine in the church, every member of the faculty in Saint Louis – for they unanimously rebuked the Wyoming District when we spoke the Word of God to them – every single one of them are guilty of allowing and encouraging false doctrine in the church. As a called minister of Christ, I could not in good conscience forgive the sins of someone who un-repentantly allows and encourages false doctrine while chastising those who teach rightly.

They can repent, or they can face judgment. They can not change the topic in this way. It was tried by the 44 in 45. It led to Seminex. We don’t need that again. And faithful pastors need to stand up and demand that they not lead us down that path once more.

UPDATE: Dr Jurchen and District President Snow wrote very clear letters which indicate that they recognize the error contained in the article, that there is repentance for that error and a desire in the future to confess the truth of Holy Scripture clearly. We can ask no more than that, and, as far as I am concerned, the matter with Concordia, Seward is concluded. But Saint Louis has not “retracted” the article. Nor have they acknowledged that the article falsely gave the impression that false doctrine was acceptable. The problem now is with those who continue to allow/promote false doctrine in the church. I would encourage the faculty of CSL to read again the letter from President Snow and Dr. Jurchen, to see how godly and faithful public repentance is handled in the church.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Clearing up the Confusion

In the words of Jimmy Stewart, “This is a very interesting situation!”

Briefly, the Saint Louis Seminary published an article which proposed damnable heresy (day does not mean day). The Wyoming District called them on it. The Seminary Faculty said we were being mean, and could not understand such matters – being very academic and all. Our District President wrote a nice letter that made clear we did understand it, we were not confused, they were confusing “mean” with “shepherd”, and that we would love to talk to them one on one, instead of having them impugn the integrity of two Districts worth of pastors and their Presidents.

Earlier this week, our synod’s President wrote a nice article for the Lutheran Witness, in which he (as all faithful Lutherans should) re-affirmed the importance of a six-day creation. In it, he quoted (As did the Wyoming District, the Faculty Majority of CSL, and the original article) the Brief Statement from 1932. It turns out, we all agree that the Brief Statement is really important.

Both sides are now commending President Harrison for his article. That is good to see. I rejoice to see that no one in the current debate (which seems to have left the original author behind some time ago) is denying the obvious importance of saying that day means day.

But then, how did the original article get published? The article from Dr. Arand can help explain it. “As we continue to develop resources related to the creation debates within Evangelicalism and a ‘Lutheran option’ to those debates…” He also uses a word I have heard numerous times from him: “conversation.” Now, conversation is not a bad word, if it is used lawfully. Inquiring after clarity where there is confusion is a legitimate use of the word. Inquiring after knowledge where there is ignorance is a fitting use of the word. But constant discussion, with no end in sight, no goal, and no purpose is not a right use of the word.

Nor is it a right use of the word to allow debate to continue ad infinitum, supported by a stubborn refusal to reject error as well as confess the truth. And note: both must be done. As an example, we can not accept that Jesus is “Of the same substance with the Father” and “of a similar substance with the Father”. We can not confess that “Baptism now saves” and that Baptism is merely “an outward sign”. We can not confess that “that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise” while also confessing “that ‘with’ bread and wine are truly exhibited the body and blood of Christ to those that eat in the Lord’s Supper.”

One of the foundational principles of logic is that “A” and “not-A” can not both be true. One of them must, by definition, be false. “I will eat meat for dinner” and “I will not eat meat for dinner” can not both be true. So, in the church, it is not enough that we confess the truth. We must also reject error. If we fail to do that, we are like a shepherd that builds a wall and gate to protect the sheep, but then refuses to close the gate to keep the sheep in and the wolf out.

Postmodernism tells us that we can have both “A” and “not-A” at the same time. What, after all, is meat? We call the good bits of a walnut the “meat”. But it is not. Rome says that fish is not meat. In Wyoming, Chicken is a vegetable. What does it mean to “Eat”? Can it mean also to drink? Some monks subsist on only beer during the season of Holy Lent. Do they eat? What about a feeding tube? Is that eating? Can I be administered a steak through a feeding tube, and say “I ate no meat”? What if I blend the steak? I could drink it. And what is “dinner”? In Indiana, dinner is at noon. In other places it is in the evening. Is 4 pm evening? In the summer it is still bright. In the winter, that is dusk. If 4 pm is not evening, is 4:59? Is 5 pm evening? At what precise moment do we go from afternoon to evening? And who even decides that? Because we can not precisely define our terms, we can not know with certainty that either statement is true or false. So, while I will affirm “I will eat meat for dinner”, I will also affirm “I will not eat meat for dinner”.

This is the problem. Our synod’s court theologians feel they must “stay current on the intellectual trends”. The current intellectual trend is post-modernism. It would actually be almost impossible to find modern theological resources that are not either post-modern or a specific reaction against post-modernism. This means that the heads of our theology faculties are steeped in this appalling anti-theistic mess. One of our professors even wrote a post-modern hermeneutic textbook. I doubt it will prove to be of value once post-modernism fades.

I truly believe they do not realize the harm they are causing. They believe this really is a discussion that can be had. But it is not. There can be no admittance of “day is not day” into a faithful scriptural understanding. That is the way of Seminex, of the AELC, and of the ELCA. It leads to destruction. Even if they support the Brief Statement, even if they “hold to and teach… both the thesis and the antithesis” regarding the creation, it is insufficient, if they will not reject that which is thereby rejected. It is not enough to agree with a rejection, if you do not thereby also reject the thing rejected. Melanchthon got confused about this when it came to the Variata – to his eternal shame. And it seems our seminary faculty in Saint Louis is not clear on it either.

It is not a conversation. It is for them to clarify their teaching – not what they affirm regarding the creation, but what they are willing to reject as an error. It is a part of the Ordination vows – do you confess… do you reject… They seem to have no problem confessing, but no appetite for rejecting.

My question to them (and they have no obligation to me to answer, other than to confess the truth before men), and the question that they will one day have to answer before someone who is most assuredly “above my pay grade” is whether they confess the truth of the creation, and reject anything that would deny that truth and that confession. Because right now, they want to have it both ways. They want a conversation that has no boundaries, no goal, no end, no rules, no order, and no point. Much like evolution itself. And we don’t need evolutionary conversations in the church, any more than we need evolutionary teachings being let in under the guise of “conversation” or “intellectual”.

If “intellectual” is going to become a byword for error, if “credential” is going to become the code word for hireling, then we need to rethink how we staff our seminary faculties. Maybe they need to be a bit less smart, a bit less trained, and whole lot more willing to confess the truth and reject error. The first requirement needs to always be faithfulness. And if we have strayed from that, it’s time for a return.

Dr. Arand, you probably won’t even read this. But if you do, I implore you for the sake of your eternal salvation, repent. Continue to confess the truth. But also recognize the error and reject it. I promise, it won’t kill you. It may just save you.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments