Fixing Confirmation: Preface

Catechetics: Fixing Confirmation is back from my reviewers, and is finishing up its time with a doctrinal review.  I thought you might like to see the Preface. Of course, nothing is in stone until it’s carved (Or rather, in ink until it’s printed). But I think this pretty well sums up a lot of what I’m trying to accomplish with this book… and with all my writing efforts.

Catechetics: Fixing Confirmation.

Preface:

The title of this book is somewhat misleading. The rite of confirmation itself is not discussed – only in Chapter 8. The process of instruction – long called “confirmation” in the Lutheran Church – is discussed at great length. It is the topic of the entire book. But the proper term for that is “catechesis.” The study of catechesis is called catechetics. The original title was: Catechetics: Teaching the Faith in the Lutheran Parish. But let’s be honest, you wouldn’t have bought that book. I wouldn’t have bought it either. It sounds like the title of a doctoral thesis. Once upon a time, book titles described their contents. Now, titles are marketing gimmicks. The title is meant to be provocative. This is a provocative book. There are a lot of sacred cows that get sent to the butcher shop in this book. But, they have lived a much longer life than they should have.

While the author has attempted to approach the topic with a bit of good humor, there is nothing humorous about the crisis we face. The humor is in our human foibles, and the author has little problem pointing these out. The things taught in catechesis are the things of God. These, the author takes very seriously. That you have purchased this book shows that you do as well.

If that sounds good to you, check out Teach These Things – there are a lot of materials over there for teaching the faith.

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Bible Studies

Most churches have at least one Bible Study – sometimes called Bible Class. Some churches have many. The Men’s early morning Bible Study, the Women’s Mid-morning Bible Study, the midweek-evening Bible Study, and the Sunday Morning Bible Study are all storied institutions at our various churches. And you’ll notice they all have one thing in common: The word Bible.

At the seminary, classes that study “The Bible” are called “exegetical classes.” But it is only a small portion of the curriculum. The pastor also studies the liturgy, hymnody, history, and the doctrine of the church. All of this is necessary. The problem for the pastor is that those classes don’t always translate well into the Sunday Morning Bible Study Hour. I’ve tried, and I can tell you that the surest way to reduce interest in a bible class is to have it study “Pietism and it’s influence on 17th century hymnody”.

The people want to study the bible.

This is a good thing. The Bible (Holy Scripture) is the word of God. The people want to hear and learn the Word of God (one hopes!). In a year like this one – Reformation 500 – the pastor is tempted to look at the history of the church, only to find that the people do not want to study “Papal decrees of the 14th century and their influence on the writings of Aquinas, Ockham, Hus, and Luther.” Of course, pastors will argue that they are not studying something as obscure as that. They want to study the book of Concord. But to many, saying, “Let’s study the Book of Concord” does not mean, “Let’s study the binding confession, whose pure doctrine and practice are what we will stand before God pleading on the final day.” They hear, Let’s study “Statement of the Reformers in response to papal and enthusiast errors, with particular attention to those writings from the periods 1528-1535 & 1577-1580 in establishing a cohesive and authoritative dogmatic.”

So what is the pastor to do? Option 1, of course, is to go through the CPH catalog looking for a bible study on the book of Galatians or Romans. Those are the “Red Meat for Lutherans” books. That’s a worthwhile task. But, eventually as a pastor you’ve covered all the books in your various bible classes – even Obadiah (I’ve done it 3 times!) You can start over at Romans, or you can try a “topical” bible study. There are a lot of topical studies out there. But, oddly, not a lot of topical studies of the Reformation History itself. Oh, there are studies, but not topical BIBLE studies.

Until now.

A pastor friend was mentioning that his people want Bible Study to be Bible study – a good thing. But he was interested in talking about the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther. Of course, the Catechism’s are just taken from Holy Scripture. But most studies don’t make the connection, and people can get restless if they are not shown that connection.

So, I went through the Small Catechism, and put together a list of Bible Verses for the various chief parts (Shamelessly stealing from Luther at many points). This handy reference chart can be used in conjunction with other studies of the Catechisms to help show the biblical background of what is taught. Check it out: Catechism Helps – Bible Study.

It is NOT a self-contained bible study. It is a list of bible references that can be used to tie the chief parts of the catechism to the scriptures. And that’s really all we need. The pastor can easily make the connections for the people.

Oh, and to help understand the Large Catechism itself, might I recommend “What Every Christian Must Know: Outlines of the Large Catechism”? Pastors have been using it to teach and meditate on the Large Catechism for a few years now, but it’s never been available before as a stand-alone resource. Now it is! It’s super helpful, super affordable, and super available at Amazon in Kindle or Paperback format.

PS. Lots more resources over at Teach These Things.

 

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Thoughts on Nashville and Denver

Yesterday, a group of Reformed theologians, after careful study and with great care, released a statement about marriage. It is called the Nashville Statement. I haven’t read it (yet?). Others have, and it seems that the statement – while incomplete from a Lutheran perspective – does speak to the reality that men and women are different, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and it does so from a carefully considered biblical perspective.

Today, one of those #HIP #EDGY spiritual leaders who exhibits none of scripture’s required qualifications for ministry (she uses extremely vulgar language, revels in past sins instead of demonstrating repentance, etc.) released a response: The Denver Statement. Again, I have not read it. But, early indications are that it is a poorly constructed gnostic document that rejects the clear testimony of Holy Scripture in favor of a crass worldly consumerist view of sexuality.

16 years ago, I was a part of a group that released a statement: That They May Be One. It was produced after months of study, based on careful study of the relevant biblical passages, thousands of pages of theological commentary from all eras of church history, a detailed study of the Lutheran confessional pattern of speaking, and feedback from many, many pastors. Over a thousand pastors and congregations officially signed it. Many more were in personal agreement, although did not feel the need to publicly declare so. (Lutherans are understandably slow to sign confessional statements). You can still read it online.

Within two weeks, someone had produced what they considered a complete response to our statement. They called it, quite un-cleverly, “That WE may be one.” (See what they did there?) It addressed none of the scriptural or theological rationale underlying our statement. It was really nothing more than an emotional response, based on their perception that we were being mean. It was laughable both as to scholarship and to an understanding of the Christian faith. It disappeared almost immediately. No one remembers it. It was an embarrassment.

I was reminded of this when I saw that Miss Weber, in 24 hours, had managed to produce a response to the carefully crafted thought of the Nashville Statement. It says a lot about her depth of theological inquiry, her commitment to what God says in His Holy Word, and her actual qualifications as a teacher in the church. I’m not surprised that someone thought they were smart enough, hip enough, edgy enough to produce such a statement on such short notice. And I’m not surprised that it was her – that has been her style all along. I’m not surprised that the News Media, which can not tell the difference between the Pope and Literally Hitler, has made a big deal about it. After all, SHE SAYS OUTRAGEOUS THINGS! Which is to say, she says things that are entirely conventional as the world sees them but incorrectly attaches Jesus name to what she says. She tries to do it from the shelter of the church, but those who know anything about the church or its teachings aren’t fooled by her.

As for what she said, I’m sure by now you won’t be surprised to learn that I have never read a single word she’s written. I may read the Nashville statement. But as I’m not Reformed, I almost certainly won’t sign it. I know it’s the hip and edgy thing to do for those of us who reject the HIP! and EDGY! theology of Miss Weber. But in a world where “he created them male and female” is hate speech, it’s easy to do six outrageous things before breakfast. I think I’ll go read the Psalms.

If you liked this post, you might like some of the resources available over at Teach These Things. Many are free.

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Updates! And Resources!

I’ve re-organized the website over TeachTheseThings.Wordpress.com. Navigation is a lot easier. I’ve added a few extras as well. And I’ll be re-doing the information pages as we get closer to the release of Catechetics.

I’ll be highlighting various resources over the next week.  (I’ll talk about one in particular tomorrow!)

If you haven’t taken a look at Teach These Things, head on over to the updated website. And if you have, take a second look. There’s some great new resources available for Reformation 500!

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Sermon for Trinity 11 / Saint Monica

The Pharisee is a warning to us – but not the warning the world thinks. The Pharisee’s problem is not that he is a hypocrite, or that he is religious. His problem is that he sees himself as righteous. The parable is aimed at those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous”. If you do not come before God humbly as a sinner, then God has nothing to offer you.

Those who think they don’t need forgiveness will not receive it. The Pharisee was convinced he didn’t need forgiveness. So, he doesn’t ask for forgiveness, he doesn’t look to God for forgiveness, and he is not forgiven. The parable is not a parable against church people. It’s not a parable that says “God is loving so we should just ignore what he says in the Ten Commandments”.  This parable is not license to sin any which way you want because God will forgive you anyway, because he loves sinners more than the righteous.

There are a lot of people today who say, “Jesus accepted everyone.” But that’s not true. He didn’t accept the Pharisee in this parable who refused to repent. There are people who say, “Well, Jesus accepted all sinners.” But that’s not really true either – the unrepentant thief on the cross has no word of absolution spoken to him. There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents – more than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. But the difference there is repentance. Those who think they don’t need the Word of God, that they can just continue in their sin – which they refuse to even call sin – will find that God’s mercy has limits. They will find themselves under his wrath. So, this parable stands as a warning.

God gives according to what we ask. The Pharisee did not ask for forgiveness, and so was not forgiven. The Tax Collector knew his sin and pleaded for mercy – and so received mercy. That’s why we pray in the collect today “Forgive us, and give us the things we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus.” It is Jesus merit that stands for us. His mediation that intercedes for us before our heavenly Father.

But those who do not want forgiveness – which is all those who don’t see themselves as sinners – will get exactly what they ask for – nothing. They will not be forgiven because they see no need to be forgiven. They don’t want to be forgiven. Because that would require admitting that they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

They don’t want anything to do with God’s Law, and so they can not receive the Gospel either.

That’s the way the world works – license and libertinism as far as the eye can see  – but those who humbly submit themselves to the Word of the Lord are decried as bigots and haters. They world mocks and disdains those who hear and receive the word of God, even calling them un-Christian, but they themselves will have nothing to do with that word. The world even celebrates one of the great sins – pride. Content with who they are, proud of their sins, the Lord lets them continue in their sins, and so continue on the path to judgment.

That’s the warning. May it never be so for those in the church. May we never rejoice in our sins. Sin always – and only – separates us from God. We are saved in spite of our sin. not because of it. Our faith increases, our lives continue according to the narrow path of God’s Word only when we turn away from our sins. Sin corrupts, it leads to destruction. It does not increase our faith, or give us a greater appreciation for forgiveness.

As Saint Paul says, “Should I sin more so that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?” When we stray from the Word of God – especially when we knowingly walk away from that word to our own desires and passions – then we reject God’s Word, we step outside of our baptism, and we risk eternal damnation. May God bring us to repentance, that we return to him. Because there – in repentance over sin and faith toward God is a wonderful and blessed promise. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. Those who repent of their sin and look in faith toward Jesus and his sacrifice will be forgiven.

That is why it is so important for us to keep hearing and learning that word – because Satan does not rest. He is always tempting, always lying to you. Always trying to get one more little dig, one more error. Always trying to make your works seem at least a little bit necessary. So that you too would work very hard to please God.

But your work can not please God. Rather than following the example of Satan – who never rests, we must rest – we must return to the one who promises us rest in him. To Jesus. And we receive the gifts Jesus gives when we come to hear and receive the Word, to taste of the Lord in his Holy Supper. To be joined to him, and forgiven our sins, at his command, “Drink of it all of you. This cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins…” That is the promise we have. It’s what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel reading today – those who repent of their sin, and come humbly before the throne of God, will receive forgiveness.

And so, Jesus gives a warning and a promise. And the promise is greater than the warning. Because the promise is the forgiveness of sins – and Jesus forgiveness is greater than your sin.

And, on this day – when we celebrate Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine, we also have an example of this warning and promise. She lived out this Gospel reading in her life. Her son Augustine was not a boy who makes his mother proud. He lived a profligate life. She was a faithful child of God, and so she prayed for him – not like the Pharisee prayed. She prayed in humility, recognizing her own unworthiness, and yet pleading for the grace and mercy of God for her son Augustine.

He would finally repent of his sin, return to the Lord, and become one of the great pastors and teachers in the church. His work was especially comforting and influential to Martin Luther, when he struggled to find the Gospel amid the indulgences and other false teachings in his own time. Augustine’s mother prayed for years for him. It seemed like all hope was lost. And yet, she didn’t give up. She didn’t brag about her own works like the Pharisee. She prayed for him in humility. Knowing she herself was a sinner, and that she needed the grace and mercy of God as much as her wayward son.

We only even know about her prayers because Augustine records her faithfulness. She didn’t brag about it. He did – because she was constant in prayer for him, even in his sin.

So, we have a warning against ignoring the Word of God and thinking we are something we are not. We have a promise to all those who repent of their sin and look to God for mercy. And we have an example of faithful prayer for those who have fallen away from the faith. That we would, in humble and faithful service, and constant prayer for our loved ones, live out the faith we have been given in Baptism. May God grant it for Jesus sake.

Amen.

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Human life: Dignity or Quality?

Early in my ministry, I had a conversation about an allegedly-Lutheran Hospital. A clergy-member had served on the staff there at one point as a chaplain, and was involved in discussions that eventually became their policy on pregnancy terminations. He spoke emotionally about the difficulty in crafting a policy that weighed all the different competing factors: our commitment to love all people, our duty to show compassion in difficult circumstances, and the tragic cases of permanent disability, deformity, or low quality of life that sometimes are shown by pre-natal testing. It was obviously a deeply personal thing for him to discuss, and the other pastors in the room nodded sympathetically at all the right moments.

My declaration that he had helped to craft a eugenics policy was not well received. I was assured that these were all tragic cases. That the lives would be short, filled with suffering and pain. That they would have reduced mental capacity. The parents would likely expend enormous amounts of time/attention just to keep them alive for a few short years.

I pointed out that this was the very definition of eugenics – not as moral judgment, but according to the definition of the word.

Apparently, eugenics carries with it a moral judgment, regardless of whether the term is used properly.

It should. It is a reprehensible thing. But failing to call eugenics by its name does not make it less morally reprehensible.

This was brought to mind by recent mainstream Media reports that “Iceland is getting rid of Downe’s Syndrome” and Patricia Heaton’s observation that killing all those who have a condition is not the same as getting rid of the condition. It is eugenics. You can call it compassion. But it is eugenics. You can call it difficult cases. But it is eugenics. Calling it something else does not change what it is.

The word itself means “good genetics” or “good birth”. The implication is that there is also “bad genetics” or “bad birth”. We want to get rid of those. Either by selective breeding – as we do with cattle or dogs – or by selective termination – as is sometimes done with malformed livestock. (Do you see a pattern…)

Of course God knows of no such thing as a “bad birth”. There is life – which is created by God. He is the author of life. There is plant life – created for man’s use without regard for feelings or emotional state or ability to feel pain. That is, plant life exists to be used only according to patterns of responsible behavior that allow it to continue propagating. We need not take the feeling of the plant into account as we work. We can cut branches and graft them, we can reshape and rework the plants to our hearts content . There is animal life – also created for man’s use, but with regard for the condition of the animal. So, we use cattle for food, but treat them humanely when they are alive. We kill disease carrying vermin, but we must weigh effectiveness of treatment against the suffering the animal endures. When animals are in constant pain, we euthanize them: They can not understand the value of suffering. They do not comprehend the value of rehabilitation. They only know that they hurt. They can not reflect on it, learn from it, grow from it.

People are different. They are created by God to be the rulers of creation. They are given life by God as well. But that life has inherent dignity and worth; it is the most precious thing. We can not create it; we can only begin the life of humans according to the limits set down by God who created – and continues to create it We facilitate the creation of new life, but it is always God that gives that life.

There is no such thing as a “bad human life.” And yet, in many places, those who are deemed “unworthy of life” or terminated. Sometimes this termination is self-imposed (suicide or assisted suicide). Sometimes it is externally imposed (euthanasia, abortion, etc.) In discussions of this sort, we are less likely to hear about “the dignity of life”, and more likely to hear about “the quality of life.”

Not every discussion of quality of life is bad. Doctors, nurses, therapists want the best quality of life possible for their patients who are sick or disabled. They speak of “improving the quality of life…” That is a good thing for measuring the quality of care patients receive – which is to say, for evaluating the medical professionals. But its most common use is as an  evaluative instrument for the patients themselves. This is a bad use. We don’t speak of “quality of life” in determining whether someone should live or die. We speak of “the dignity of life” – the inherent value each life has. This can not be measured. It is given by God, and we dare not trespass onto this holy ground. We must acknowledge it, and live according to it. And suffering does not diminish the dignity of life. There is value in suffering, even if it is not a pleasant process for the individual or those around him.

This does not mean we never allow death to occur. There is a difference between a person who is disabled and one who is dying. Medical advances may blur that line. I’m sure there are hard cases. But as a pastor I see a lot of people die. And it is always (or at least almost always) quite clear when that line is crossed. As Christians who believe in the resurrection, we don’t keep bodies alive just because we can. But neither do we hasten their deaths. We don’t give so much morphine that a patient dies. But neither do we withhold morphine so that a patient suffers

All human life is precious in the sight of God, and so also must it be precious in our sight. We help those we can help, we comfort all – especially the dying. But we never move from “comforting those who are dying” to “comforting the suffering by helping them to die.”

And we certainly never encourage killing the less able. Because at some point, there will be someone who is more able than yourself. And that would give them the right to kill you.

That’s eugenics. No matter what euphemism you use for it.

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Reformation 500 Resources: Life of Luther

There are a lot of biographies of Martin Luther out there: Scholarly, thorough, filled with the latest research, and lots of historical detail. I recommend one that does not have those things. Life of Luther by Gustav Just, is a great book for congregational study of the Reformation.

It’s brief – perfect for a book club or bible study at church.

It’s simple.

It’s not so much historical as it is theological.

It does not have the latest research because it was written over 100 years ago.

Put that all together, and you have the best reason of all: It’s a classic.

“The Life of Luther” was originally intended as a brief introduction to Luther and the Reformation – I suspect for use in schools.

It isn’t fair and balanced. It doesn’t try to play devil’s advocate about Luther. It is not a sophisticated attempt to explain Luther’s influence in terms of political and economic theories, and show how Luther’s influence on government institutions even today is significant.

Because none of that really matters.

Luther is the angel prophesied in the book of Revelation “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.”

That is the premise of the book: Luther was given to the church by God to restore the pure Gospel. And that is what he did.

Because it was written at a time when people stood up for what they believed without flinching, Life of Luther treats all of Christian history as the story of Christ and His Gospel. The Reformation was the moment that God restored that Gospel, the moment when Luther stood with Saint Paul, and refused to accept any other Gospel than the one proclaimed in the Word of God.

Life of Luther places Luther in the context of the church – the teaching, and people, the history of salvation being proclaimed to the world. It gives Luther’s life the proper Gospel context, instead of the historical, sociological, economic, or political context.

There are certainly more complete biographies of Luther. There are better ones for pastors and scholars to read. But Life of Luther does everything a pastor wants to do when teaching the Reformation in the parish. If you are looking for a good study for Reformation 500, you might consider Life of Luther, by Gustav Just.

You can view it online through Google books. But the Lulu version is a new book (with minor updates), and it’s only $5. At that price, you can order enough for everyone in the class to have a copy. (The updates mostly relate to the recent history of the LCMS at the end of the book.) It also includes crisp scans of all the woodcuts. They really do add a note of beauty to the story. The print of Luther’s Wedding is framed and hanging in my home. The 95 Theses is hanging in my study at church.

Here’s a short sample from a couple of chapters. You can see one of the engravings as well.

If you are planning a study of Luther or the Reformation, consider Life of Luther by Gustav Just.

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