Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Messiah Lutheran is a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The ELCA does not condone nor endorse same sex marriage.
Messiah Lutheran Pastor Steve Berntson told his church Sunday he would be resigning after months of difficulty since the legalization of same sex marriage. Berntson stated his views in June to his nearly 1,000 worshipers at Messiah. "Based on what the scripture says about God's design for marriage I would not be able to participate or officiate same gender weddings," said Steve Berntson.
Berntson says he decided to step down since his view differed and caused a riff. . .
"It does strike me sometimes how little tolerance in certain circles there are for people with biblical views. That has kind of struck me in the midst of all of this," said Berntson.
You can read more about it here. . .
We are not told if this involved a specific couple but clearly the issue reveals the hollowness of the so-called bound conscience idea that supposedly gave cover to those who disagreed with the ELCA decisions. Bound conscience does not prevent this issue from dividing a congregation in the same way it has divided the ELCA (and led to a bleed off of some 1,000 congregations).
Another proof of Neuhaus' law: "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." The Biblical and historic Christian view until the last few years was dominant and now it has become, in some churches, a minority that cannot be tolerated. Proof again there are none so intolerant as those who claim liberty and diversity.
The process, legal in only a few countries including the U.S. and Mexico, combines in vitro fertilization (IVF) with genetic testing to guarantee accuracy. Couples undergo IVF—the woman’s eggs and her partner’s sperm are used to create embryos. Instead of implanting right away, the embryos are first tested using preimplantation genetic diagnosis. The test is often used to determine if an embryo has any genetic diseases, but it also identifies the sex of the embryo. In the sex-selection process, only the embryos of the desired sex are then implanted in the woman. Read the rest here. . .
I suppose we might say that if people are paying the freight for the cost of reproductive technology, they ought to get what they want (what they are willing to pay for). The reality of this is that the vast majority of choices are made to select male embryos, not female. So what about those not chosen or found to be of the wrong sex? The conceived embryos of the “wrong” gender are discarded or indefinitely frozen.
Hmmm... another case in which the fruits of feminism, the power of choice, and the privilege of technology has worked against women instead of for them.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
In 1969 then Gov. Ronald Reagan signed into law the first no fault divorce. Prior to this legal grounds of guilt had to be laid to set aside a marriage. Within 15 years every state US had followed California’s lead. It seemed the perfect solution, nobody was wrong and everyone got what they wanted. We knew it was legal and we thought it was moral. Now a court has redefined marriage so that it includes at least same sex couples and maybe more. From this point on, I am sure to upset some folks by what is said in this sermon but all of us are vulnerable here. And so it was when some folks asked Jesus a question about divorce so long ago.
We want to know also. Is divorce okay? Is homosexuality okay? Is living together okay? Jesus refused to frame the answer about who is okay and who is not. Instead, Jesus reminds us what is God’s will and purpose in creation. Jesus turns us not to the broken pieces we see after the fall but to the intention in God’s design. God created male and female and ordered their life in such way that they were not consulted but discovered the joy of His purpose and design.
The Pharisees approached Jesus not from the perspective of what God willed but what rules permitted. Though He was asked about rules Jesus answered with another question about design: WHY did Moses command and why? It was not what they asked but it is the key to understanding Jesus’ words. Moses did not permit divorce but Moses did regulate it. There is a difference. Moses regulated what had been done for the sake of protecting both the people and the very idea of marriage itself. The concern of the Pharisees was simple. What rules do we have to follow to get what we want. They confused their own happiness with God’s will and forgot that their will had not resulted in the happiness they desired. They did not want righteousness; they wanted to justify whatever they thought was good or right.
If they followed the rules to do what they wanted, they assumed God was happy. In other words, as long as the letter of the law was kept, you could keep your hard heart and God put His stamp of approval on you and what you did. Jesus refused to frame righteousness or a clear conscience on rules or best efforts or good intentions.
Jesus’ concern is not justifying the rule keepers but calling sinners to repentance. Jesus directs us not to take comfort in the fact that we followed all the rules, dotted all the i’s, crossed all the t's or did our best, but rather that we repented of our sins, we trusted in the mercy of God, and we are forgiven.
So what is marriage --before sin screwed it up? God created man for woman and woman for man. Adam found this out when he named all creatures but found no one like him and Eve found this out when Adam exclaimed that this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This marriage was not merely given to us but we were created for it. It framed our very identity; it mirrored God’s own creative love in providing children. Be fruitful and multiply was not a choice but a command, the first Great Commission. Love always bears fruit. This fruit for husband and wife is the flesh and blood of children.
When sin entered the world, it corrupted marriage. Adam looked at Eve and felt guilty and Eve looked at Adam and felt the same guilt. Desire distorted God’s gift and left us captive to our selfish desires. Yet God did not walk away from us nor did He relieve us of His purpose and plan in marriage. He did, however warn us, that the very things we desired would come at great cost to us and love would require us to sacrifice the very desires that made marriage pleasing to us. And He taught us the love that repents and forgives.
As we approach the Gospel for today, we ask ourselves what is God’s purpose and plan? Has it changed? In the end, God must now protect us not only from others who wish to harm us but from our desires soiled with sin. And He must challenge our vain attempts to cover our sin with His approval by appealing to rules or best intentions.
The trouble is that we look at marriage much like the Pharisees of old. Follow the rules, do your best and you can have a clear conscience and be happy. What we seek from God is His approval of our desires and not instruction in love or marriage. So now it does not matter if you just tire of your spouse or your marriage is broken by adultery, we rush to find refuge in the rules or our intentions Jesus speaks harsh words to us. Rules do not create clear consciences. Repentance and forgiveness do. The answer to the question is always the same. Confession and absolution. This is where new marriages begin and where old marriages end. Not with rule book righteousness but with Christ’s righteousness, purchased upon the cross and given freely to sinners.
If you are married, Jesus is to be the middle between husband and wife, leading you to repentance and teaching you forgiveness. If you are divorced, your comfort is not that you gave it your best shot but that God forgives sinners who repent. Sin has left us with no innocent parties and no appeal to desire can create a clear conscience. We are all called to confess our sins and trust in the mercy of God in Christ.
As a nation and people we have tainted marriage by separating sex from love and commitment, we have laid upon our spouses the impossible burden of making us happy, we have made children an unessential option to marriage, and have decided that marriage is just definition and desire -- and nothing more.
So our Lord calls us to set aside the desires that rule our hearts and to give up a righteousness of works and, like a child, trust in God’s Word and in His ways. We are called to repent and be absolved, and promised here the clear conscience we seek. Marriages cannot long survive unless a husband and wife learn to confess and forgive each other. When marriages fail, our consolation lies not in the rules we followed or did our best but in confession and forgiveness. This is not new but old, what has always been, from the conversation Jesus had so long ago to us today. And the miracle of it all is that where repentance and forgiveness rule the home, God repairs our broken marriages. Where this cannot be done, He repairs us as broken people through the same absolution to the penitent.
Too long we have hidden behind best efforts, best intentions or following the rules. There is no righteousness there, no clear conscience, and no contentment or peace. These are found only through repentance and forgiveness. None of us are righteous; all of us are sinners. For the sinner there is grace to absolve, heal, and restore but if you are not a sinner, there is nothing for you here. When we learn this, then we will be wise unto salvation. Amen
Therein lies the rub. Lutheran spirituality often tends to be Word oriented (and ever more feeling based) instead of the classical Lutheran orientation in the means of grace. Lutherans buy popular books by evangelical authors and do not find in them much different from their own estimation of things -- especially in the area of sacramental theology. But we have ended up drifting away from the vibrant sacramental understanding of our Confessions and from the robust baptismal and eucharistic spirituality of our forbears.
Nowhere does this become more evident than in the way we approach the presence of Christ in the bread and cup. Having grown up in an era when some of our pastors had been taught and turned out somewhat receptionist in their thinking, there is not much of the sacrament when the real presence seems tied to the moment of reception. Never mind that the Confessions are clear that the Body and Blood of Christ are distributed and eaten and drunk. It is safer to confine Christ's presence to the moment of reception. Then you do not have to deal with the messy issues of dropped hosts or spilled cups or reliquae.
Then there are those who insist that the presence of Christ is spiritual only. In our fear of munching on flesh and bone we have shied away from the idea that you are chewing on the flesh of Christ. In this respect it has become for some an unnatural eating and drinking that happens not with the lips or the mouth but with the mind and heart. It is definitely less messy to feed on Christ by faith in thine heart than it is to deal with such things as consecration, real presence, spills, and leftovers. Never mind that the Formula of Concord insists that Paul teaches not only the sacramental union, but also a physical union, namely, that the communicants receive the body and blood of Christ orally (manducatio oralis ), and that the unbelievers truly receive the body and blood of Christ (manducatio in- dignorum) (SD, VII, 60). To be sure, the Confessions attempt to avoid misunderstanding, and distinguish this "oral or sacramental eating" by saying that it is not a "coarse, carnal Capernaitic manner, but in a supernatural [above nature], incomprehensible manner" (SD, VII, 63; cf. also 127; and Ep., VII, 42).
As Herman Sasse put it: Luther was right when he indicated that it is impossible to understand one part of this explanation literally, [and] another part figuratively. One cannot say, “take and eat” are to be literally understood, “this is My body” is figuratively to be understood, and “for you” is again to be literally understood. These words are a unit; they are the gospel itself.
Lets get physical. Lutherans may disagree with the explanation of that presence that Roman Catholics use (transubstantiation) but we also refuse to be defined as holding to consubstantiation. We are bound by the Word of Christ who insists that His flesh is real food and His blood is real drink and, as St. Paul insists, that such eating and drinking is a full participation in the body and blood of Christ. We do not locate the moment of the consecration and Christ's presence to a syllable but to the Word. We insist that the Sacrament is neither given for nor can we have confidence in Christ's presence without the intention to complete the usus (eating and drinking) and therefore we do not adore Christ in the elements outside the Divine Service as a substitute for the eating and drinking which Christ commands in His Word. We
The Lutheran Confessions affirm, "[Christ] was speaking of his true, essential body, which he gave into death for us, and of his true, essential blood, which was poured out for us on the tree of the cross for the forgiveness of sins" (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VII, 49). In the SD VII, 75 it says, “The true and almighty words of Jesus Christ which He spake at the first institution were efficacious not only at the first Supper, but they endure, are valid, operate, and are still efficacious so that in all places where the Supper is celebrated according to the institution of Christ, and His words are used, the body and blood of Christ are truly present, distributed, and received, because of the power and efficacy of the words which Christ spake at the first Supper.” And to our contention that the bread remains with the body and the wine with the cup, we turn to our common history for voices to affirm that which transubstantiation rejects: Certainly the sacraments of the body and blood of Christ are a divine thing, through which we are made partakers of the divine nature; and yet the substance or nature of bread and wine does not cease to be.-- Pope Gelasius De duabis nature. In Chr. Adv. Eutych. Et Nestor. Patrology IV, 1:422
The Lord's Supper was instituted for us Christians to eat and to drink. Our confidence in Christ's presence in and with the bread and the cup is based upon Christ's solemn word and promise (Words of Institution). We do not speculate about how or attempt to define the nature of Christ's presence except to say what it is not and what it is as Scripture tells us. We refute those who would dilute the Sacrament by spiritualizing what takes place and we refuse those who would dilute the Sacrament by deriving benefit from anything other than the eating and drinking of the faithful as Christ clearly says. Christ's presence is real, it is physical, it is located in the bread and wine (not the believer to the exclusion of the elements themselves), and it is a full koinonia in that body and blood of Christ where we receive the forgiveness of sins.
To quote a beloved father, St. John Chrysostom, the fourth-century Doctor of the Church: Let us submit to God in all things and not contradict Him, even if what He says seems to contradict our reason and intellect; let His word prevail over our reason and intellect. Let us act in this way with regard to the Eucharistic mysteries, and not limit our attention just to what can be perceived by the senses, but instead hold fast to His words. For His word cannot deceive.
We Lutherans are guided too much by our fears of being misunderstood or sounding too Roman Catholic so that even the very words of our Confessions become alien and strangers to our voices today. This problem keeps us from knowing and enjoying the full, rich, and blessed gifts which Christ gives to us in this Holy Sacrament. We sometimes sound as if the real absence would be easier for us to deal with than the blessed Real Presence of Christ who does what He promises and delivers to us what His Word insists for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, for the strengthening and nourishment of His new life in us by baptism, and for the seal of our eternal life which this Eucharist anticipates.
Monday, October 5, 2015
You can read about it all here. . .
One of their staff pastors and the one listed as Interim Leader, has spoken about the 70 life span of a congregation and the prospect of being reborn. This is a hopeful spin on a story filled with disappointment, pain, and bitterness. The point here is ampilifed by the fact that, typical of mega churches, this is an independent congregation and there is no real denominational leadership to assist them in their strife. Now they are down to some 1,300 - 1,600 in attendance (depends on who is reporting) and have laid off the majority of their paid staff, closed satellites, and hunkered down to figure out if this parish has a future and what kind of future that might be. . .
They are advertising for a Senior Pastor so some of you might apply?!?
Perhaps one of my biggest complaints is that these meetings too often have a distinctly practical emphasis that is, in reality, not all that practical. We are inundated with ideas on how to raise more money, how to fill the pews, how to increase the Sunday school attendance, and how to get with the times (usually something referring to technology). I should suppose that it would not be all bad to increase offerings, to have more folks in the pews, to find more kids in Sunday school, or to use the many forms of technology and media more effectively. But we too easily forget that the Church grows through the means of grace and not through programs that come and go.
I have been a pastor long enough to remember a host of acronyms for programs introduced at over hyped pastor meetings -- nearly all of which are now forgotten and probably rightfully so. In that same amount of time I can recall fewer agendas in which the subject was given over to the eminently practical stuff of the leadership of the liturgy, the preaching of the faith, the teaching of those new to the faith or of youth, or the subject of prayer. Whether they were directed to the pastor as an individual or to his role within the parish, the times when clergy have been gathered to be instructed in their basic duties or schooled in the skills related to those duties have been too few.
This is not always the case but it is more often the way clergy meetings are. I will admit that even though I have been a pastor for 35 years, I need to continually be nourished in the liturgy, nurtured in presiding, challenged by and equipped for the preaching task, helped with the major task of teaching the faith to the faithful and those not yet of the faith, and my own personal piety as well as aiding the people with their piety and lives of good works and mercy works.
Pastors face the same struggles in the daily living out of the faith that our people do. Wouldn't it be great if we were prepared by others to meet these challenges and struggles and this, in turn, helped us to equip those in our care to meet these challenges and struggles? We spend a lot of money and we expend a great deal of precious time on clergy meetings. It would help all of us if we made sure that these meetings were focused and faithfully directed to us and to the essential tasks and challenges of the faithful living out the faith. Not really a rant here but a sigh. I thought Lutherans did away with purgatory. Perhaps we merely shifted the burden from laity to clergy.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
Lutherans in particular are guilty of carrying a certain amount of angst or insecurity about how we appear on Sunday morning. Lutheran pastors are often apologetic about the liturgy as if it were some weird uncle in the family that new people must be warned about. We are self-conscious about ceremonial as if the worst possible thing on earth would be to be judged Catholic (in the Roman sense of that term) and so we gladly forego the catholic (whole, complete, universal sense of that term) that our Confessions claim just so people won't get the wrong impression. But I have complained about this here too many times.
My point is that there is something wrong when we treat the baptized people of God like guinea pigs or lab rats upon whom we are free to experiment. Again, this is NOT the same thing as restoring Lutheran liturgy to those among whom it has been lost. What I am speaking about is the practice of borrowing from Evangelicalism the latest and greatest trends and fads and then trying them out on our unsuspecting people to see if things improve, change, etc...
Lutherans seem intent upon shopping in the aisles of the big box Evangelical establishments for books, songs, worship forms, and preaching techniques. Even those of us who condemn it are subtly influenced by such. We have lost confidence not only in ourselves but in the means of grace and seem to think that if we tinker with the mix of songs and actions and sermon styles we will find the formula for growth and we will be able to raise our heads high once again. Meanwhile there are Lutheran people who come to church on Sunday morning not knowing what they will encounter. Some come with a certain sense of fear and foreboding but others come because they are delightfully curious about what the pastor or worship diva will do today.
Why do we think it is okay to inflict our own angst as leaders upon the assembled people of God? Okay, some of us as pastors and worship leaders may have preferences or suspicions against the shape of Lutheran piety on Sunday morning. I get that. But why do we think we have the right to inflict them upon the people of God? Such honesty with the flock is inherently dishonest and disingenuous.
I have heard Lutheran pastors joke about wearing robes (which we do not; we wear vestments) or snicker about how old fashioned they think the liturgy is or who lead worship as if the liturgy were a straight jacket upon their wonderful creativity and sparkling personality. It grows wearisome for me, the occasional visitor, but what does it do to the people who hear it or see it week after week?
Pastors -- do not treat your people like guinea pigs or lab rats. Do not experiment on them. Restore the Divine Service if it is missing and teach people why. Re-introduce them to the shape of Lutheran piety with its source and summit in the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood. Preach the Word faithfully. Refrain from inflicting your preferences or your doubts about it all to those who have come not for these but for the Christ who comes to us where and when He has promised. Do not preach your doubts but proclaim the Gospel so that the people may confidently look to and receive from the Word of the Lord what He has promised.
The people God has placed in our care are worth more than our whims or our uncertainties. They are worth nothing less than the means of grace, in full and without apology. You undermine their faith when you do anything less.
Saturday, October 3, 2015
So let us rejoice that the super majority was not met but let us not forget that this is one more majority and that this stance rests on the fragile foundation of a dozen and a half delegates who could change their vote the next time this is taken up (and, to be sure, there will be a next time). Let us praise the Lord that the LCA held the line for now but let us not fail in our prayers for the future. There will be another vote at some point in time but I expect it cannot be sooner than a few years and probably will not be soon unless the supporters of the ordination of women believe that there is a change in the complexion of the delegates to make the vote passable.
The LCA is not a huge church body but it has produced some exemplary confessional Lutherans who are international figures. We have had a faithful partnership with the LCA for many years and it is our hope and prayer that this continues and that both the LCA and the LCMS remain confessional in doctrine and practice. That is not an established fact but a choice and a battle which we fight each day in every parish as well as in the larger venues of district, synod, seminary, etc...
God bless our brothers and sisters in the LCA!
Update. . .
I am told the breakdown for the vote was:
Pastors in favor of WO: 63
Pastors opposed to WO: 75
Laity in favor of WO: 206
Laity opposed to WO: 70
As is clearly noted, the majority of pastors are NOT in favor of the ordination of women but the delegates are stacked 2/3 lay and 1/3 clergy and this is where the majority numbers for changing the LCA stance has come.
Not all was disappointing, a very fine confessional pastor, Andrew Pfeiffer, was elected Assistant Bishop (and without much of any opposition!).
My own parish has a kind of lost generation -- some of the boomers who bought into a casual church in which the music mirrored the sounds of the radio and the participants in the rites were accorded their roles by estimations of equality and egalitarian ideals. They have followed their ideals to their logical conclusions and now their attitudes toward the faith itself has become somewhat casual and distant. They go when they feel like it and do not feel like they are missing much when they are absent.
Some of their children and grandchildren gave up on the church at the same time as their parents and grandparents and remain largely unchurched or underchurched. They have come to define nearly everything by personal preference and judge everything according to its entertainment value. On the other hand, some of their children and many of their grandchildren have rebelled against their casual attitudes toward church and worship. They have sniffed around for authority and legitimacy in transcendence rather than relevance and the old patterns of liturgy have called them home to a place they never knew existed before. In Rome and in Lutheranism younger folks have shown a definite affection for liturgical worship and doctrinal preaching.
Our renewed rites with their focus on the catholic ceremonies we once knew and the doctrinal certitude we once espoused have fostered a faith that, God willing, will raise up a new generation without the blinders of preference and relevance to betray them the way my own generation was. We are the products of our rites. Just as we grew apart from the transcendance of the Holy One and the worship shaped by awe, reverence, and transcendence, so we will grow again into a renewed understanding of the Mighty God who delivered up His only Son into our flesh to redeem us from sin's curse and its despecible child of death. We are the products of our rites. That very same principle which worked against us and the Lord's purpose will now become the rootes and foundation of a new generation of people who want the thing signed more than the mere sign, who insist upon the full counsel of God's Word, who believe that words mean something and that doctrine does not change or transform to fit cultural norms. Yes, we were the products of our rites and we shall be still.
I am personally encouraged by young men coming from our seminaries expecting to be Lutheran pastors and expecting their parishes to be Lutheran in doctrine and practice. I am hopeful that just as we were once led by a spirit at odds with our catholic identity, we will be led anew by the a spirit which is insistent upon the Word yesterday, today, and forever the same the worship which proceeds from this conviction. That is why we must work to support those who will lead us into a new generation of faithfulness. Sure, they will make mistakes and people will rebel against their leadership and some will raise untrue suspicion against their commitment to be fully Lutheran and confessional. But they will prevail if we who get it support them and insist that this is who we are, who we have always been, and who we must be if we have a future. We are the products of our rites -- both for ill and for good. A little child shall lead them and this child begins our journey on Sunday morning. Come, let us follow...