For the Church Newsletter

Lutheran Service Book: Whatís In A Name?

This past October, the members of Saint Matthew voted unanimously to obtain a new hymnal and its accompanying resources. We hope to begin using this new hymnal on Sunday, December 3 as this is the first Sunday in the new Church Year and the beginning of Advent. This Sunday will bring in a time of transition for Saint Matthew. While the hymnal includes many familiar hymns and parts of the liturgy, there will also be some new elements. In addition to some of these changes, there is also the actual usage of the book that will offer a challenge. The Board of Elders and those of us involved with planning the worship services here at Saint Matthew will work diligently to introduce the new hymnal carefully. As we approach this transition time, I encourage you to pray for Saint Matthew and the hymnal project. Pray for wisdom. Pray for patience. Pray for the Holy Spiritís presence in the Christ-centered worship services.

This new hymnal has a nameóLutheran Service Book. Those three words in the name tell us a lot about what is behind the front cover. First, this hymnal has been assembled by and for Lutherans. Of course, any Christian can use the hymnal, but Lutheran Service Book was created for the congregations of The Lutheran ChurchóMissouri Synod. As you know, Saint Matthew has been and, God willing, continues to be a member of the LCMS. Thus, we can say that respected scholars, musicians, and theologians, for the past eight years, have been preparing a new hymnal for Saint Matthew Lutheran Church! They worked, prayed, studied, debated, and met deadlines in order that you would be presented with a hymnal that is faithful to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. You can be assured that the worship services at Saint Matthew will reflect our Lutheran identityóan identity that is established by Jesus Christ. We will have a Lutheran Service Book for a Lutheran congregation. I suppose we would not want it any other way.

The next word in the name of the new hymnal reveals a central belief of Saint Matthew: Our gracious Lord serves us through His Word and sacraments in the Divine Service. Perhaps when you think of the word ďserviceĒ you think of the time we gather together on Sunday morning. We think of meeting with one another. But as we consider Lutheran Service Book, you and I are reminded that this hymnal is full of worship services that highlight Godís gift giving. He gives His forgiveness, His grace, His love to us during the Divine Service. When we gather together on Sunday morning, the service is not primarily about us bringing our praises to God. It is about God serving us! He gives His gifts. The services in Lutheran Service Book reflect this great truth.

Finally, we ponder the last word in the name of our new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book. The new hymnal offers more than just some hymns and services for Sunday morning. The book sets the tone for the piety of the congregation throughout the week. Every day, you and I live in Godís grace. This belief affects how we pray. How we pray affects what we believe. What happens on Sunday morning is the foundation for the rest of the week. We also give thanks that our new hymnal is a book full of pages that we can use every day as we walk by faith, not by sight. Before congregational meetings on Tuesday, we can pass around copies of our hymnals and pray, praise, and give thanks. After returning from a congregational retreat, we can enter the sanctuary at Saint Matthew and open up to a Responsive Prayer section in the new hymnal. Whenever the opportunity arises at Saint Matthew, we know that we have Lutheran Service Book available, ready for us to use. Thanks be to God.

Whatís in a name? When it comes to Lutheran Service Book, a whole lot is in its name. It is a hymnal that points to Jesus Christ, the name that is above every name. It is a hymnal that points to the God who knows you by name. It is a hymnal that we can call our own. It is Lutheran Service Book.

Evolution

I do not post very often on the great debate between Science and Religion, or whether a debate exists at all. But this post by Luther at the Movies makes me want to note a few things. (First of which is that the Luther here is obviously for entertainment purposes only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the real Luther! I’d stick with movie reviews.)

Evolutionary theory is a shell game. Listen to or read books by the primary players (e.g., Richard Dawkins) and you can easily see the deft maneuvering and illusionary tactics used to make points. The move is essentially this: “Any real scientist knows that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming.” When asked what that evidence might be, the answer is: “You know, the fossil record, the adaptation of species to their environments, the fact that it explains everything so well.” While you’re trying to say that none of those things have anything to do with the idea of evolution from lesser to greater species, the evolutionist (or Darwiniac) has moved on, as if he has proved his point. When he is asked for the proof that one species has evolved into another, he says, “Imagine…,” or “If such-and-such…,” or some other what-if story. He will then go on to assume that his hypothetical was indeed the case, and pretty soon he’s got the whole cosmos explained from that single what-if. Before you can say, “wait, what about…,” he’s already to “overwhelming evidence.”

Why does this shell game work? Same as any other: while we’re focused on the argument about adaptation of species, the evolutionist has already moved on to adaptation between species. The result is the same as well: any way you choose, you lose.

I’m no scientist, so [the rest of this sentence has been edited slightly to make my meaning clearer] any argument I put forth about the inconsistency I see with particular examples of evidence for evolution will likely meet with a nicely formulated evolutionist’s objection. Thus it is hard for a non-scientist to argue with a scientist, no matter how much knowledge we have gathered from the “outside.” Such objections, however, we might be able to meet if we knew more. But it seems to me that evolution, as a grand theory of everything, simply does not work logically. Missing links, as in transitional fossils, simply, logically, cannot be found. That’s as clear as day to anyone who has not, as Richard Dawkins puts it, had their “consciousness raised” by the idea of natural selection. Transitional fossils (what in the world would that possibly look like, anyway? how would they be fossilized in transition?), to the evolutionist’s mind, are fossils that appear to have similarities to two different species, the evolution of one to the other having already been assumed. Had evolution not been assumed, why would anyone be looking for a transitional fossil in the first place? They will attempt to tell you that macro-evolution is really just micro-evolution with a lot more time. But that is simply one more unsupportable assertion based on the assumption that evolution is necessarily true.

I’m sure an evolutionist out there has a “perfectly” “reasonable” explanation for every one of my questions. Such always-ready explanations have brought me to this opinion: non-scientists are not equipped to argue with scientists, into whom evolutionary science has been irreversibly drilled. Scientists who have doubts about the explanatory power of Darwinism are not allowed to argue, because it is a particularly egregious form of betrayal.

What shall Christians do? 1: Know as much science as possible, while realizing that actual scientists will always have an explanation (though often confusing explanation with proof). 2: Understand that the scientific field is not the real battlefield for non-scientist Christians. Let the scientists from both sides do their work. 3: A real battlefield is over neo-Darwinian implications in the area of bioethics, for example. 4: An ultimately more important battlefield is the theological. That is, perhaps a Christian can shoehorn natural selection into a theistic framework (often resulting in a near-deist god, but we’ll let that slide for the moment), which allows him to make something up about how evolution and Genesis 1-2 can be reconciled. What cannot be reconciled, however, are natural selection and Original Sin, the primary consequence of which was spiritual and physical death. Natural selection requires physical death to work, hence reversing the order of sin and death to death and sin (this is for a “theistic evolutionist,” whatever that is; obviously, atheistic evolutionists are not concerned about something called sin). Death is not “natural;” it does not belong to our God-given nature. If someone suggests that it does, tell them that they simply haven’t read the Bible. The entire narrative of the Scriptures declare with one voice that death is an intrusion into God’s good creation and an enemy to be conquered by Christ. There is no way around this fact. At this point, natural selection/evolution fundamentally contradicts the whole of the salvation history, not just three chapters at the beginning of Genesis. To this I have never been given a good answer. Because there is none.

So go on, Christians, bowing to the experts and giving away ground to the denizens of mere material. But death cannot be reconciled with both creation and evolution. If it fits in one, it cannot fit the other, and vice-versa. They are mutually exclusive here. They move in diametrically opposed directions.

For my money, I’ll take the one where death is unnatural and ultimately conquered by the death and resurrection of Christ over the one where death becomes us as a naturally occurring pheomenon of nature. You cannot make your peace with death. It aims to kill you.

Timotheos

Is the Battle Lost?

Pr. Kinnaman, at Blog My Soul, wrote:

Morally and ethically, what kind of society will we have when we no longer protect our most vulnerable members? What do we become when we are willing to protect those who in the name of preserving or enhancing life are willing to destroy life?

That’s the question, and the results are not fully in, but early exit polls show the culture of death ahead by a large margin. We could argue whether embryos or fetuses are the most vulnerable, but I think we long ago crossed the line that kept us from exploiting the vulnerable for selfish ends. Pr. Kinnaman’s comment reminds me that abortion on demand has brought about a society that sees nothing morally wrong with producing human embryos for experimentation. Far from it, they see the experimentation as a moral duty. The debate over embryonic stem cell research is only the symptom of the cancer that’s been metastasizing for thirty years+.

I will put signs up, get bumper stickers, vote on Nov. 7–but I will not expect to be on the winning side on Nov. 8. The supporters of this amendment know what is at stake: this is an amendment to the Missouri Constitution. It takes a simple majority to add this legislation in; it takes a two-thirds majority to take it out.

Let me make a confession: I’ve had a terrible road rage lately. And it’s not because someone cut me off or won’t get out of the fast lane (although those things are annoying). It’s the bumper stickers and signs that I see on the road advising me to vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 2. I had to park next to one yesterday. (Okay, so my Old Adam has not been drowned completely.) But here’s my question. What is to stop me (other than the fear of God and going to jail–two different things) from ramming that car into the guard rail, cutting open the person, taking his or her organs and giving them to someone who obviously needs them more? Or what if I want to play the Body Parts Robin Hood, go into a house with a bunch of those blue signs, and take from the rich (in body parts) to give to the poor (in body parts)? You don’t think that’s a good idea? What’s wrong with you? A true culture of life depends upon sacrifice. And, by the way, I’m going to make the sacrifice for you. You think, because you can tell me ‘no,’ that it makes a difference? Fine, if it will help, I’ll knock you unconscious first. All good, right? After Nov. 7, we can all say “Right.”

Timotheos

Why Confirmation Must End, Redux

[I post this again, because you should go to the earlier post and reflect on Anna’s comment there]

This is not a joke. This is not me trying to be provocative (as some seemed to think with my comments on private Bible study–including my wife). This is serious.

What is Confirmation? You can easily find out if you ask a Roman Catholic. It’s an important Sacrament–but even Rome doesn’t tie it to a kid’s first Communion! What is it for Lutherans? Apparently, nothing different. It’s right up there with the High Holy Feast Day of Mothers (Third Sunday in May). It may take place on Pentecost (read: the day that the Holy Spirit descends on the youngsters); it may take place on Palm Sunday (the day Jesus enters into the holy cities of their hearts?). It doesn’t really matter. It’s a Sacrament. Let’s just admit we have three Sacraments (Absolution doesn’t count) and get on with it.

I remember my actual Confirmation day, but I remember very little of the actual catechesis. That could be for a number of reasons. I had three different pastors over two years (plus another female teacher in sixth grade). I was young and I cared more about buying candy at the store than about what I was being taught. There are any number of reasons (the girls in the class not being the least).

Perhaps our children leave Lutheran congregations because of Confirmation, not in spite of it.

What other deleterious effects does our current elevation of Confirmation have? How about a devaluation of Baptism–which, by the way, actually is a Sacrament? This is proportionately tied (I think; I haven’t done a scientific study–yet) to the fact that Confirmation, by its close association with Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, has become the important event because we all know that those kids are ready to “confirm” their devotion to God at that point.

I know that pastors and professors have worked hard to salvage this point by emphasizing that it is the Holy Spirit who confirms the kids in the Faith, not by the rite of Confirmation, but by the Word which is taught during their instruction. It’s a laudable effort, but I believe it fails theologically. What, then, is Baptism, if Confirmation becomes the point, or process, at which the Holy Spirit confirms them in the Faith? Why not just call it catechesis instead of spiritualizing it so they can wear white robes (when was the last time you saw a baby wearing one at Baptism?) and red carnations and get money and eat cake?

I know that it is very easy to snipe at practices I don’t like. I have a tendency that way. So what do I propose? Because we all know that the chances of actually getting rid of Confirmation are as good as the U.S. winning a World Cup. I’m not saying it won’t happen; but it’s going to take a better team.

If we’re going to keep the Day, let’s call it what it should be: First Communion. And let’s actually stick with–again–a real Sacrament. Let’s have catechesis first…and second, and third, and fourth, and forever. Let’s form a real Catechumenate made up of whomever is ready at the time: adults and children together. Let’s take as much time as we have to. Let’s teach the whole of the Faith, and not expect that children–or adults, for that matter–know what a Bible is and how to use it. Let’s teach the liturgy of the Church, both broadly as the form of the Church’s life throughout the liturgical year and narrowly as the form of the Divine Service. Let’s teach them how to pray. Let’s teach them how to examine themselves prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Let’s teach them to sorrowfully confess their sins when they weigh heavily upon them; let’s teach them to gladly receive the absolution of the Lord through the mouths of His servants, pastors.

Am I naÔve? Probably. I’m not even a pastor yet. But I know this: half-hearted (I had a football coach who used another term), short-term teaching and quasi-sacramentalism have no place in the Church of Christ.

Timotheos

“Sacrifice” and Stem Cells

In the October 2006 issue of The Lutheran, the publication of our estranged brothers and sisters in the ELCA, a man claiming to be a pastor in Christ’s Church, Ron Letnes, wrote the following in an opinion piece about his legally blind son (“My View,” p. 10):

Many speak of a “culture of life.” I like that. It’s a sound ethical principle because it’s about hope. What is necessary for a culture of life to be real, for hope to happen, is to enlarge the tent to include the minority. A most hope-filled path is to broaden the availability of stem cells from as many sources as possible, from adult to embryonic stem cells. Open the possiblilities for hope and for cure.

A culture of life is about compassion and mercy. What is so purely ethical and merciful about protecting tens of thousands of embryonic stem cells that will be destroyed because nobody wants to use them for producing a child while allowing tens of thousands of the living[!!] to languish in paralysis, dementia, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, blindness and loss of hearing for the rest of their lives?

A culture of life has a price–sacrifice. We want it for free so we can feel moral and righteous. We forget that God sacrificed God’s Son so the world could have life. A culture of life is born out of accepting the necessity of suffering love–of reframing some of our beliefs so others may live and of making sacrificial choices for the sake of justice for the least of these.

Forget for a moment that this is a pastor in the ELCA. The quoted comments are indicative of the proponents of the stem cell debate, though I have yet to hear anything this chilling or blasphemously ironic.

The irony of claiming that embryonic stem cell experimentation is “pro-life” is the very least, and the most generic, of Letnes’ moral problems. For Letnes, “enlarg[ing] the tent to include the minority” means, not giving them life, but destroying embryos for scientific experimentation. Yeah, that makes sense. Do whatever you can to prolong earthly existence, even at the expense of the “minority.”

Letnes is so blinded by the needs of his own son, that he can’t even call the “experimental material” an embryo. It’s “embryonic stem cells” that those damn pro-lifers are trying to protect, not embryos. People don’t even want to produce a child with them! As if an embryo was equivalent to sperm and egg as pieces that go into the production of a child. What must be added to an embryo to “produce a child”? A womb? Parents? Birth? Perhaps Ron Letnes the biologist can tell me what the difference is between an embryo in the womb and and embryo outside it. Obviously he doesn’t think it should be included in the category “living.” So now he’s the arbiter of that category? What if I don’t like including Mr. Letnes in the category “living”? Can he be killed for the sake of my relatives with dementia? Are the twentieth century, genocidal parallels not clear enough?

There is a deeper problem with that second paragraph: the feeling that “since no one else is going to use those ‘extra’ embryos, why can’t we, and for ‘good’?” But that’s not the conclusion I draw from extra embryos. In the world of the truly pro-life, extra embryos are in themselves the sign of a distorted view of God’s creation. Modern reproductive technology is not morally neutral.

Finally, the last paragraph of “his view” contains the most mind-numbingly blasphemous words I have read by a supposedly Christian pastor in recent days. This guy has out-and-out heretics like Spong beat hands down. To suggest, to even consider, an analogy between embryonic stem cells and Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross simply defies explanation. How does one come to the point where he so idolizes human, earthly life that he’s willing to not only sacrifice the lives of others for it, but compare the death of human offspring to the death of Christ on the cross? For Letnes, making “sacrificial choices” means “I will make a sacrificial choice for you.” Does his Christology allow him to say that Jesus went unwillingly to the cross, that His will was not in line with His Father’s? You want sacrifice? How about sacrificing the “good life” of those who already have the voice to speak for those who cannot yet speak for themselves? That means you might have to stop thinking about yourself and your own family for a minute.

“A culture of life has a price–sacrifice.” Ron, might the price of a culture of life extend the other way? To your son, Alzheimer’s patients, diabetics, and the paralyzed? As much as I love my new son, and as much as I might sinfully wish it, how could I claim the lives of others so that he might live? Do you have no faith in the providence of God? You talk about hope. Do you have no hope in the resurrection of the body? Your blind son will see again one day, if he is a Christian; but likely not from embryonic stem cells. It will be because the One who gives sight to the blind is coming again to make all things new. And you presume to take for yourself this promise of God and have it fulfilled now at the expense of others for whom Christ Himself became an embryo, a child, an adult, died, rose, and ascended. You don’t speak for “the least of these.” You speak for those who would be the greatest at the expense of the least. God have mercy.

Timotheos

Jonas Michael Ottomar

Our first-born son (and second-born child), Jonas Michael Ottomar, came into this world on Friday, October 13th at 8:23 in the morning. Thanks be to God for a safe and healthy birth for both mom and baby (all 10 pounds, 8 ounces of him!). He will, God willing (and I think He does), enter the Kingdom of God through Holy Baptism next Sunday.

Psalm 127

A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.
1Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

3Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
5Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Timotheos