Saturday, May 26, 2007

Seven Things I have Learned in Life

Pr. Weedon, who's blog I really like, tagged me for Seven Things I Have learned. Well, here they are:

1) When I looked at other communions, I always found the same or worse problems than I find in the LC-MS. This is how God taught me that the Church is under the cross, and though she is his spotless bride today, we are likely only to see her warts if we look with fleshly eyes, and every confession has warts.

2) Watching Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox argue over the fathers looks a lot like Protestant arguments about the Scriptures. In both cases, it comes down to first principles, and a Lutheran's first principle is Christ--i.e. we do not seek to set up an elaborate epistemology to justify our beliefs after the fact: papal infallibility, apostolic succession, hermeneutic assumptions etc. The starting point is faith in Christ and his promises, and his promises are as clear as we can expect.

3) Having your child greet you with a big smile when you come home from work more than outweighs the difficulties.

4) When I sin and seek forgiveness, the Sacrament of the Alter is very, very comforting. I mean, it is Christ giving himself to me again, even though I rebel against him.

5) Arguing with atheists can be dangerous to my faith. Not because their arguments are so powerful, but because the sinner in me likes tidy arguments, and these can subtly encroach on simple faith in the promises of God. I can sometimes place reason above faith ans the Scriptures.

6) "Better to remain silent and have the world think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt" is a really good proverb. I should think before I speak, and read before I post. I get better at this all the time because I have learned from painful experiences.

7) When we moved and sought a local church, we learned that it is not always about our wants and needs, God sometimes has other ideas. The "best fit" for my life situation may not be where I am supposed to be.

So, who do I tag?

Chris Jones at

Pastor Fleischmann at

Monday, May 21, 2007

Papal Infallibility Raises more Questions than it Answers

Suppose papal infallibility is true as a theory. How can we use it?

A strictly theoretical infallibility is pretty useless, it is just an idea one keeps in one's head until one applies it. When we try to apply papal infallibility and development of doctrine, it seems they cannot go together. To wit, if I cannot know what the pope teaches infallibly, how can I really know what the pope teaches and hence what the truth is? A good example is Unam Sanctam and Lumen Gentium which seem contradictory on their face. I know there are harmonizations online, but I think even if the harmonizations are true there are still a lot of issues.

Unam Sanctam stated that unless one is in fellowship with the pope, one is outside the Church. Lumen Gentium states that e.g. Protestants are separated brethren, with defective fellowship with the pope. Now, assuming that these can be reconciled, I have the following questions:

1) Were all those RC theologians and believers wrong when they took Unam Sanctam as meaning what is says for 700 years, that those not in fellowship with the pope are outside the Church? If they were not wrong, where are the theologians from the middle ages who said those not in fellowship with the pope have a real though defective relationship with him, and were they widely accepted if they did say so?

2) If so many got this infallible document wrong because the pope really mean the e.g. EO are in the Church, but are "true particular churches" with a defective fellowship with the pope, and that the Prots are really "separated brethren", how can we be sure we really understand what the pope's teaching is now, that it will not "develop" into something quite the opposite of what we believe today based on his teaching tomorrow, given what Unam Sanctam states, to wit "herefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John 'there is one sheepfold and one shepherd."?

3) If certain parts of Unam Sanctam are infallible while others are not, how do we separate the infallible wheat from the fallible tares?

These are honest questions BTW.

If we try and pick out this or that particular tare, we will raise questions about other tares--whether they are really wheat or not. And if questions are raised more word chopping will occur, until we cannot be sure of what the words mean without an infallible interpreter. And I suppose we have come full circle. In a way, the justification for papal infallibility requires the same concept of an infallible interpreter it attempts to justify. If the words ""Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John 'there is one sheepfold and one shepherd'" really somehow mean the Greeks have only a defective fellowship with the pope, why couldn't an infallible interpreter simply say that?

I believe this is a real problem with how the RC presents itself as an authority, because ultimately the authority is not clear as to what it teaches, things can develop no matter how clearly worded. Just read Unam Sanctam and see what I mean. Its meaning seems clear, and the Medieval Church seemed to take the view that the pope really did have temporal authority over the princes, the spiritual sword over the profane sword--just ask the German Emperor who's vassals' vows were unilaterally revoked by the pope. If this was not the true Tradition of the RCC, were are the contrary views, and if they exist, why didn't a pope or two say "Yes, that is what we really meant!"?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chi-coms try to restrict Bible because of sex and violence

"Residents" are calling for an indecent label to be placed on the Bible. A restricted label would mean that the Bible could not be sold to anyone under 18 years of age--just like pornography. This sounds a little like Julian the Apostate's campaigns against Christianity--you can believe, but don't teach. A subtle way to suppress Christianity without the bad publicity of police beating believers with truncheons.

In any case, it is typical for us to focus on the "negative"; in this case violence and sex which the Bible either is silent about, condemns or is of a piece with God's judgement, and leave out God's love for us, a love so great he gave himself and subjected himself to the violence of the unjust--so we might be reconciled to him. The violence counts--even if taken out of context (and there IS blood-curdling violence in the Bible), but the love never seems to make an appearance--unless we want a free ticket to sin.

Pray for China, that God may convert her.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mortal and venial sins

Some Lutherans sneeze whenever they hear anything that sounds like Roman Catholicism. Here is the Roman definitions of "mortal" and "venial" sins:

1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture,129 became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

Or, mortal sins destroys "charity", which is another word for grace, while venial sins are what we might call "ordinary, decent sins". This distinction does not seem at all to be wrong. It is even scriptural, in that some sins, e.g. causing a little one to sin, make it better if one was not even born. I do not believe I have distorted the Roman view in the slightest. can anyone tell me why a Lutheran would reject these ideas? It does not call into question anything in the Gospel--it is simply an elementary distinction between the one who dies while shooting innocent children in the back and the one who dies after saying "F--- you!" to the guy who cut him off just before he goes over the cliff. I was speaking with someone who tried to say that this distinction is not right, that it is "Roman" etc. No amount of persuasion could shake him from this conviction. It is my opinion that this is due solely to an aversion to things RC--things like confession, vestments, chanting, and even some useful concepts like mortal and venial sins. This is not what we Lutherans are about. We are about Christ and his gifts to mankind, about his giving himself to us in Baptism, Holy Communion, about our sharing this unmerited love he has with us with each other and with those who do not know him. We should not define ourselves as "Not the Roman Catholic Church" but as the stewards of the fullness of the grace of God given through the Church. One is a "negative" definition, the other is who we are, and what we should present ourselves as.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Poping, or Crossing the Tiber

It seems another Lutheran pastor has gone over to the Bishop of Rome. I am tired of reading stories like these, it is very saddening and demoralizing. Though Darel E. Paul is not LC-MS (though he was about 5 years ago), he has some stinging comments re: Lutheranism in general and the LC-MS in particular. His former Lutheran body, the ELCA, gets the brunt of his criticism, and I really cannot disagree with him. About the LC-MS, he says we are subject to the same problems only in a conservative culture. What pushed him out, so to speak, is the ultra-liberalism and ungodly doctrines of the ELCA. He writes:

...Particularly serious are the ELCA’s “full communion” agreements with several Reformed churches and The Episcopal Church (and soon with the United Methodist Church as well). The ELCA confesses through these agreements that the gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered among these non-Lutheran bodies. It thereby also confesses that Reformed doctrine is as true as Lutheran doctrine, and that the Evangelical Lutheran Church has no unique claim to be the visible Church of the Creeds. I do not believe what these agreements confess, particularly regarding the sacraments (viz. the Real Presence and baptismal regeneration) and the establishment of what is in effect a visible united ‘American Liberal Protestant Church’.

More recently I have become troubled by what I consider to be a pervasive and pernicious antinomianism (i.e. moral lawlessness) spreading throughout the ELCA and its full communion partners such as the Church of Sweden and The Episcopal Church. It is now common to hear (such as at the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly or the 2006 General Convention of The Episcopal Church) proclamations of the Gospel over against the Law, or teachings that the Gospel somehow abrogates the Law. What has been particularly troubling, however, is how this antinomianism is defended as an eminently Lutheran confession of salvation by faith alone, imputed righteousness and simul justus et peccator.

This testimony sounds familiar, unfortunately. In my opinion, what initially drives "converts" away from Lutheranism is usually a combination of liberal nuttiness and denial of Christian truth, which then engenders seeking an authority to simply stop the arguing and constant infighting between the "progressives" and the traditionalists. When I say "liberal nuttiness" I mean saying things like it is OK to be in communion with a church body which denies the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which has a like, modern, "relevant" "liturgy"--man, which ordains actively gay clergy, which is not a prophetic voice against the world, but which functionally parrots the party line of one political party or another, which indirectly pays for the murder of unborn children, which believes the only "tradition" which matters is the authority of liberals to impose their innovations upon traditionalists. In short, this happens when a church body places other agendas above that of the Gospel, and the Gospel becomes another word for the other agenda, whether that is feminism, being "relevant"--i.e. conforming to the spirit of the age, or any other number of ideologies which obscure the cross. And who can really blame someone for leaving a church like that? I do not believe many Lutherans wake up one day and say "Hey, the Confessions are just wrong, wrong, wrong!" and then go out to find the nearest RC/EO church. They usually have some sort of crisis (in the LC-MS it is usually caused by some "liturgical" innovation or power politics, which the "conservatives" introduced BTW). This crisis is caused by ungodly innovations according to the wisdom of this age instead of the wisdom of God.

So, what to do? Dr. Luther at says we should preach the pure Gospel. That is true, and as he says that is all our Lord asks. But I would go further, at the risk of adding to what our Lord has commanded us. I would ask all of our "progressives"--Anglican, Lutheran, even Roman Catholic, to look at that their innovations are doing to the Body of Christ, and whether things are better outside the particular obsessions they have--feminism, liturgical silliness, gay rights etc. How many people have left for the RCC or the EOC because we retained our liturgy, because we retained the teaching of the law AND the Gospel, because we remained true to our roots--not only back to the Reformation but all the way back to the Apostles! And please, don't tell me that the liturgy drives people away--the EOC is growing and it has a very "old" and "outdated" liturgy! Please don't tell me that when I approach the ultimate Judge of the Universe for the forgiveness of my sins that I have to be entertained if I am to receive his gifts--something no one expects from an earthly judge! Please don't tell me that we have evolved beyond God's law so that what was universally believed a sin is now something to celebrate--as if God's word is not eternal and has an expiration date! In other words, before we ask the Church to change according to our tastes, please make sure you are on firmer ground than modern fads like feminism. As for "conservatives", how about prayer and more prayer, and maybe a little more prayer--alone and together, and only THEN organizing for earthly political battles.

OK, I will end my rant.

In any case, I don't think the LC-MS is a gonner, nor am I attracted to the RC/EOC (though I flirted as recently as two years ago). But f the last major confessional Lutheran Church collapses in on itself, where can I go? Thankfully, I don't believe the Lord will put me in such a position.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Trail to Wittenburg

Over at confessingevangelical, I found a pretty good discussion about whether many prots who "swim the Tiber", i.e. join the Roman Catholic Church, are really looking for what we have in Lutheranism. In Lutheranism, we have the historic liturgy, sacramental theology, by which I mean assurance through objective means. This is contrasted with American Evangelicalism which has none of those. I think I have to agree. I have spoken with several converts to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy who seemed "Lutheran" in the way they saw things. Not every one, but a rather significant number.

So, why don't more of these "see the light"? I believe there are several reasons:

  • Historically, we don't try and convert people from other Christian Churches--one reason is that we believe other churches, like the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian etc. are churches because they still have the Gospel, though defectively. This is a barrier to evangelizing other Christians, even if there can be good justification for it.
  • Lutherans are basically Northern European, the "Frozen Chosen", inhabiting Scandinavia, Northern Germany, the Baltic States and little else. As an immigrant Church in the USA Lutherans were ethnic for a pretty long time. (This is not 100% true, I know) The LC-MS only moved to English in the last century!
  • It sounds like a cliche, but we don't tell people who we are and what we believe. We have a tendency to put our lamp under a basket and try to be like our protestant neighbors.
  • We are lumped into generic "protestantism", which implies we have things in common with other prots which we do not, for example a symbolic understanding of the Lord's Supper. This is actually a sore point with some Lutheran pastors I know. If may believe we are just another species of protestant, why even bother?
  • We are divided against ourselves. The ELCA is larger then the LC-MS and the WELS combined--that means if someone checks out a local Lutheran congregation the probability is that he will find an ELCA parish, which will very likely be very trendy and on the path to Anglicanism. This will likely turn away those who seek the historic Christian Church.

I don't really have any solutions to this. I suppose the best thing to do is tell everyone the reason we are joyful: we are baptized members of the Body of Christ, and because of his love we have forgiveness and eternal life. Or, in the words of Phillip in 1 John 46 "Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

Substitute "Wittenburg" for "Nazareth" you may begin to see the outlines of a solution.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church

We have been attending here since we relocated to Albany in January. I am happy to say the worship is "liturgical" and we use the familiar (to us anyway) "Red Hymnal". The assistant pastor is a "traditionalist" in things liturgical. For instance, we chant the Psalms, the Introit, which we did not do at our previous parish. All in all, it was not too much of an adjustment. I have come to like it quite a bit. I believe the lirutgy is a valuable teaching tool--I can remember the first time I realized I could read: I was able to follow along with the Creed! Unfortuantely, the congregation is mostly compose dof elderly people--65 years plus. Tania and I felt called to be there though and so here we are! We hope and pray that God will use us to help this congregation, and no doubt we will grow in the process.

What touched Tania and I though, was an old couple, married for 65 years, who sit in front of us. They cannot stand or kneel when it is required, and sometimes they seem to be uncomfortable. Yet, they come just about every Sunday to praise their Lord for the life he gives them through his death and resurrection. I pray that we will have as much faith and desire to see our Lord when we are old as this couple do.

On a lighter note, here is a corny joke I actually used:

My wife asked me if she should make the check out to St. Matthew.

I replied that since he is in heaven, he might not be able to cash it.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

This is a bit much, don't you think?

As is well documented, the Episcopal Church is a bit lacking in some essentials of the 'ancient customs of the Church"; how about women's ordination, bishop? How about former bishop Spong? How about a gay "bishop" who wants to "marry" his homosexual lover? The list could go on and on. While I am not an expert on all things Episcopalian, but aren't there more important "ancient customs of the Church" than bishops protecting their turf from dreaded traditionalists?


I saw this on the New York Post this morning:

May 3, 2007 -- Call him Father Jim.

Gay former Gov. Jim McGreevey is becoming an Episcopal priest and has been accepted to study at a seminary school in Chelsea.

The lapsed Catholic will enter a three-year master of divinity program at the General Theological Seminary in September, while undergoing the long process of ordination at St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue.

McGreevey, who sensationally announced that he was a "gay American" after former lover and aide Golan Cipel threatened to out him, went through the first step to becoming a priest on Sunday when he was received into the Episcopal church.

We Lutherans are not a works based people, to say the least. But there does come a time when the fruit of rebellion is there for all to see.

An adulterous man who engages in homosex? A candidate for bishop, or priest.

A traditionalist who wants to ordain in another diocese, which happens to approve of the heresies above? Beyond the pale. Anathema!

Sometimes I worry about the LC-MS. I can even see cracks in the RCC and to some degree the EOC. I pray to God he will preserve his Church, that there will always be a parish for our family to attend where we can hear, tase and feel the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For, how can we hear if there is not a preacher?


Quoth (well, sort of) Archbishop Anikola:

The American presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, condemned this poaching of souls on her turf as a violation of the "ancient customs of the church." To which the archbishop replied, in essence: Since when have you American liberals given a fig about the ancient customs of the church?

Great minds think alike. :-)