Unnecessary Punctuation “Marks”

If bad punctuation leading to misunderstanding has ever annoyed you or made you angry, go here. Reminds me of the first book to make me laugh out loud in a long time: Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves. (You’ll never look at punctuation in the same way.)  [If such things make you laugh, see this.]

The other day I was putting liquid gold–I mean, gasoline–in my truck and I noticed one of the warnings on the pump: “Do not overfill, tank.” If my name’s not “tank,” does that mean I can? Do they have a lot of tanks filling themselves up in Crookston, MN? What is with the urge to put random punctuation in strange places?


What Do Other Christians Believe About the Lord’s Supper?

I would have thought this would be clear by now, but I encounter people all the time who think that “we (Lutherans of the Missouri Synod variety) really believe the same things” about the Lord’s Supper as other Christians. May this post forever put that conception to rest (if only!). The reason for this post is not to bash other Christians; they are free to choose their congregations. But let’s not have any papering over of real, substantial differences–in this case, the most substantial of them. (Remember that Luther was willing to compromise with Zwingli on nearly every article of the Faith which they discussed at Marburg, but not on the Lord’s Supper. That should tell us something.)

An ELCA pastor recently told me that the United Methodists (with whom the ELCA is in altar and pulpit fellowship) had changed their stance on the Lord’s Supper, saying that they now believe that they eat Jesus’ Body and Blood. The Methodists must have missed that memo. Here’s what their website says:

The Lord’s Supper (Communion, Eucharist)

  • The Lord’s Supper is a holy meal of bread and wine that symbolizes the body and blood of Christ.
  • The Lord’s Supper recalls the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and celebrates the unity of all the members of God’s family.
  • By sharing this meal, we give thanks for Christ’s sacrifice and are nourished and empowered to go into the world in mission and ministry.
  • We practice “open Communion,” welcoming all who love Christ, repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another.

Oops. “Symbolizes” doesn’t quite rise to the standard of the Lutheran Confessional teaching on the Lord’s Supper. But one could see how people might be confused. This is from a Methodist booklet on the Lord’s Supper:

Jesus Christ, who “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3), is truly present in Holy Communion. Through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, God meets us at the Table. God, who has given the sacraments to the church, acts in and through Holy Communion. Christ is present through the community gathered in Jesus’ name (Matthew 18:20), through the Word proclaimed and enacted, and through the
elements of bread and wine shared (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The divine presence is a living reality and can be experienced by participants; it is not a remembrance of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion only.

This paragraph points out explicitly the problem with Lutherans talking about the “real presence” in the Sacrament. We mean that Jesus’ Body and Blood are eaten along with the bread and the wine. Methodists and others believe that Jesus meets us in Communion, even at the altar, but you will never see or hear any official statement that says “We believe that when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are eating and drinking the same Body and Blood of Jesus that were crucified and raised from the dead.” If they can’t say that, they believe differently from Lutherans.

What about the PCUSA, with whom the ELCA is also in fellowship? From their website:

In eating the bread and drinking the cup offered by God, our memory of the promises are made present by the Holy Spirit.


This, then, is the Presbyterian understanding of Communion: Is Jesus physically present in the elements of the Eucharist–have the molecules of bread been changed into molecules of the body of Jesus? No.

Is Jesus spiritually present in the elements of the Eucharist, authentically present in the non-atom-based substance with which he is con-substantial with God–that is, is he genuinely there to be received by us, and not just in our memories? Yes.

The Presbyterian position (Calvin’s position) is not the Lutheran position. Though we don’t believe that “the molecules of bread [have] been changed into molecules of the body of Jesus,” we do believe that “Jesus [is] physically present in the elements of the Eucharist.”

How about the United Church of Christ? (Are you sensing a pattern? Yes, the ELCA is in altar and pulpit fellowship with, perhaps, the most liberal Christian–the word almost requires quotes–denomination in the United States. By the way, the ELCA pastors with whom I was discussing these things doubted that Rev. Jeremiah Wright was a member of the UCC. Think again.) From their website:

The breaking of bread and the pouring of wine reminds us of the costliness of Christ’s sacrifice and the discipleship to which we are all called. In the breaking of bread, we remember and celebrate Christ’s presence among us along with a ‘cloud of witnesses’ – our ancestors, family and friends who have gone before us. It is a great mystery; we claim it by faith.

Just not all of it.

There are also the Moravians (do you even have to ask if the ELCA is in fellowship with them?). From their website:

In respect to the sacrament of holy communion, the Moravian Church does not try to define the mystery of Christ’s presence in the communion elements, but recognizes that the believer participates in a unique act of covenant with Christ as Savior and with other believers in Christ.

That’s an nice way out of having to struggle with Christ’s words.

I’m not even going to try with the Episcopalians. Probably some of them believe what we believe. Or what Rome believes. Or what the Baptists believe. There is this, however. Hard to know how they understand the “the inward and spiritual grace.”

Please, no one tell me that we “all believe the same things.” Not true, and if people would take ten seconds to search their websites (the UCC took me a little longer; had to get past all their social justice programming), they could compare that with even the Small Catechism and realize that there is no unity. I’ll take the Episcopalian apostolic succession over false teaching and false unity in the Supper any day. “I’d rather eat the Body of Christ with the Pope than mere bread with Zwingli.”


Muslim-Friendly Worship

I set out to write about Prof. Herb Hoefer‘s ideas for making worship more Muslim-friendly (which, I hesitate to say, I saw first in Something News–can’t quite recall its full title at the moment…), only to find out it had already been done, and probably better than I could have done it. See Father Hollywood’s remarks here.

Prof. Hoefer is a professor at (again, I hesitate to say it) my alma mater, and he has long been involved with the mission work of the Missouri Synod and the Northwest District. I know the man, and I say nothing bad about him as a person. Out of the professors under whom I studied there, he was the least hostile to the traditional tenets of orthodox, Lutheran Christianity–at least, I thought so before I read his article (which can be found at the end of Father Hollywood’s post, but, curiously, no longer on the CU-P website; it can be found here also). Prof. Hoefer’s article is the extreme end of what many LCMS congregations currently do under the guise of missional concern. Be all things to all people, they say. Isn’t that what St. Paul said? Lest anyone be fooled about where such logic leads, simply read Prof. Hoefer’s paper.

Apparently, not only should we dumb down our liturgical heritage to make people “comfortable” and so they can “understand it,” we should also remove anything remotely offensive to a religion antithetical to Christianity, Islam. Should we remove all things that talk about Jesus as Messiah so we do not offend Jews, who might then be “attracted” to Christianity? I understand that Prof. Hoefer is speaking about a particular context, say, in a Muslim country, but his examples come from the U.S. Is the U.S. now a Muslim context? I mean, we’re not Great Britain, for pity’s sake!

But this sort of emphasis, on removing or changing elements of the faith once delivered to the saints, has behind it a false understanding of conversion. What happened to the bound will, unable to come to Jesus or believe in Him without the Holy Spirit working repentance and faith? We do not attract people to the Church so that they will then believe. This is directly opposed to the total depravity of the will worked by sin. More likely, people will be driven away from the Gospel, because that’s what often happens when the Gospel confronts sinners. People will never be saved unless they encounter the full, condemning Law of God and the full, saving comfort of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. Will this offend Muslims and others?

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, andwho it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:60-67, ESV)

Thus stands the question of Jesus to Prof. Hoefer, and to us as well.

[More comments here, here, here, here, and here]


Atheism and Morality

I’ve been watching Christopher Hitchens debate Dinesh D’Souza (the first part is here). There are a number of points on which Hitchens misunderstands the nature of Christian belief. But there is one that really misses the point, which is that Christians supposedly say that atheists have no basis for making moral judgments, and that without a form of religion there will be only chaos. That is not the Christian claim about morality. The question is not whether atheists can live a “moral life” (whatever that might mean to an atheist), but whether there is anything beyond the self or the human on which moral actions can be based. That is a subtle, but highly significant, difference. In other words: atheists can and do act morally in many ways and very often. However, there is no ultimate reason why they should.

They act morally because they haven’t yet been honest enough with themselves to rid themselves of the vestiges of the Creator’s morality, as Nietzsche saw. Hitchens makes his mistake by limiting morality to the past two thousand years, i.e., anno Domini. The problem is, if the Christian conception of reality is true, morality comes not when Christ arrives on earth, but at the beginning of creation itself. If God is behind morality, it would hardly be surprising that people prior to Christ, and even prior to Sinai, acted morally; that is, in accord with the Law of God in creation. It’s built in, as Paul in Romans explicitly says. No Christian ever said that morality began with Christ, but with God at the beginning of creation.

Another problem: Hitchens loves examples of supposed Christians acting contrary to what he considers moral. But where does Hitchens’s morality come from? From the human collective? Talk about arbitrary. And even if morality was decided by human consensus, there is no basis or foundation within atheism to object if an individual within that collective decided to act contrary to the general human consensus. What other basis could there be than a trumped-up emotivism? “Well, I don’t much like it when you do that.” Good for you.

The second problem with arguing on the basis of Christians behaving badly is that Christianity has within it the ability to critique the actions of its members and correct them. There are explicit and particular standards, within the New Testament especially (seeing Christ as the fulfillment of the whole Old Testament), for deciding whether behavior is wrong or right. Regardless of whether Hitchens or anyone else believes that God is behind those standards, they exist. Thus, Christians have it within their religious conception the ability to say, “Yeah, killing people for the sake of land, money, difference of belief or opinion is wrong. We shouldn’t do that, and if any Christian does do those things, he or she is not acting according to Christian belief.” The abuse of something does not negate its use. By what standard do atheists judge the acts of zealous Christians or Muslims? Surprisingly, they sound very nearly like what Christians would say about the same actions. What does such a coincidence prove? It proves, or at the very least suggests, that the standards are inherent to humanity. That is what Hitchens and others say, but such a statement does not mean what they think it means. They think it means that humans came up with things very much like the Second Table of the Ten Commandments (sort of like how those same humans invented God–which begs the question, if the invention of God was a poisonous idea, why is not the invention of morality equally as poisonous?). However, Christians also claim that a general sense of right and wrong is inherent in humans, precisely because their Creator put it there. Hitchens doesn’t get that we’re not arguing this point. He thinks that Christians think that Christ brought a completely new teaching, as if we believed in a NT God and an OT God (fyi, that’s called Marcionism, and it was rejected by Christians a long time ago). No, as St. Paul says, even Gentiles (i.e., unbelievers) have the Law of God “written on their hearts” (cf. Romans 1:18-20; 2:14-16). (By the way, Paul is far more harsh with hypocritical believers than Hitchens could ever be: see Romans 2:1-5.)

Finally, it should seem strange to Hitchens et al. that when they describe Christianity, Christians do not recognize their descriptions. They’ve taken caricatures and parodies and pretended that they are the thing itself. Why should anyone take their critiques seriously when they, from the outside, claim to understand Christianity better than those inside, who disagree not only with their conclusions but with their premises?


Chesterton on Drinking

I’m searching Chesterton for a particular quote (“Morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost his principles”; if you know where it is found, please, please tell me) and I found this in Heretics under “Omar and the Sacred Vine” (Chesterton quoters should be required to give attribution!):

The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other sound rules–a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the laughing peasant of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell.  But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

This is the Scriptural rule as well: “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15, ESV)

No one can be really hilarious but the serious man.  “Wine,” says the Scripture, “maketh glad the heart of man,” but only of the man who has a heart. The thing called high spirits is possible only to the spiritual. Ultimately a man cannot rejoice in anything except the nature of things.
Ultimately a man can enjoy nothing except religion. Once in the world’s history men did believe that the stars were dancing to the tune of their temples, and they danced as men have never danced since.  With this old pagan eudaemonism the sage of the Rubaiyat has quite as little to do as he has with any Christian variety.  He is no more a Bacchanal than he is a saint. Dionysus and his church was grounded on a serious joie-de-vivre like that of Walt Whitman. Dionysus made wine, not a medicine, but a sacrament.  Jesus Christ also made wine, not a medicine, but a sacrament.  But Omar makes it, not a sacrament, but a medicine. He feasts because life is not joyful; he revels because he is not glad.  “Drink,” he says, “for you know not whence you come nor why.  Drink, for you know not when you go nor where. Drink, because the stars are cruel and the world as idle as a humming-top. Drink, because there is nothing worth trusting, nothing worth fighting for.  Drink, because all things are lapsed in a base equality and an
evil peace.” So he stands offering us the cup in his hand.  And at the high altar of Christianity stands another figure, in whose hand also is the cup of the vine. “Drink” he says “for the whole world is as red as this wine, with the crimson of the love and wrath of God. Drink, for the  trumpets are blowing for battle and this is the stirrup-cup. Drink, for this my blood of the new testament that is shed for you.  Drink, for I know of whence you come and why. Drink, for I
know of when you go and where.”


Sad, Sad Little Girl

I don’t really know what’s going on in the mind of Aliza Shvarts, but it’s sick and twisted. Her statements are a degenerate example of post-modernism (I know, I know, the bogeyman; but let me explain). Post-modernism is a slippery concept, but as I see it, it is the general loss of any overarching narrative that is true for most people. In other words, human beings have finally shed the modernist, Enlightenment search for a narrative that explains everything with which to replace Christianity. For hundreds of years, Christianity, or at least the Bible, had provided the narrative taken for granted by most, if not all, people in the Western world. But that began to change (see Hans Frei’s The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative), and we are seeing the fruition of that change in the dumbed-down version of people like Shvarts.

So, she can write idiotic, nonsensical things like:

“Because the miscarriages coincide with the expected date of menstruation (the 28th day of my cycle), it remains ambiguous whether … there was ever a fertilized ovum or not. The reality of the pregnancy, both for myself and for the audience, is a matter of reading,” she wrote.


“No one can say with 100-percent certainty that anything in the piece did or did not happen,” Shvarts said. “The nature of the piece is that it did not consist of certainties.”

And all of this. (The comments are interesting, too.)

It does remain ambiguous whether there was a baby or not, unless she had a pregnancy test. But the “reality of the pregnancy” is clearly not a “matter of reading.” (How do you “read” a pregnancy, anyway?) No narrative, no sense of reality. Reality is a construct invented by the individual. This is the stupid person’s version of post-modernism. What is beneficial for Christianity about this loss of a common narrative is that Christians once again have to make their case. There is no appeal to the Bible for an end-all-arguments position. There is no end-all-arguments position. Thus, the high school frustration of telling unbelievers that the Bible says thus-and-so and hearing not an argument in response, but laughter.

We are, I think, back in a pagan world, but one where reality is splintered into a million, unconnected pieces. This is the ultimate root of the “that’s just your opinion” mode of “argument.” Which is just as juvenile, and just as frustrating, as the high school debate. Even Christians, who, above all, should have an overarching narrative (God’s story of salvation) are into it. When confronted with the witness of the Scriptures (the case for an interpretation presented) for a particular teaching, they don’t respond with counter-arguments, but with “that’s just your opinion.” As a pastor, that’s far more frustrating than being back in high school.

Aliza Shvarts has swallowed hook, line, and sinker dumbed-down post-modernism (is this the Yale status quo?); I wonder if Nietzsche would recognize his work in hers.

By the way, everything I’ve said presupposes if Shvarts actually did become pregnant and murder her own children, her actions are beyond reprehensible.  Further, I presuppose that nothing that Shvarts has done has any actual relationship to what normal people call “art.”

[LifeNews articles here, here, and here.]

UPDATE: Yale pretends to have integrity by threatening to pull the exhibit if Shvarts doesn’t admit that it’s “creative fiction.” What I can’t understand is what difference it makes. What standards are available to or used by Yale’s administration to decide that if Shvarts pretended to inseminate herself and then abort her children, that’s okay, but actually doing it is not. Yale has no common narrative with Shvarts, so why do its administrators think they can require cooperation on this point?


Why Is Jimmy Carter Playing Stupid?

Or should that be a rhetorical question?

Former President Carter said Monday that Hamas — the Islamic militant group that has called for the destruction of Israel — is prepared to accept the right of the Jewish state to “live as a neighbor next door in peace.”

But Carter warned that there would not be peace if Israel and the U.S. continue to shut out Hamas and its main backer, Syria.

Clearly, the problem is democracy.  If only the U.S. and Israel weren’t so…whatever they are.  Hello?  Jimmy?  You do realize Hamas is a terrorist organization?  They blow things up and murder people?  You know?

Apparently the AP agrees with Jimmy:

Israel considers Hamas to be a terrorist group and has shunned Carter because of his meetings with Hamas’ supreme chief, Khaled Mashaal, and other Hamas figures. Hamas has been behind dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed some 250 Israelis.

“Israel considers Hamas to be a terrorist group…”  I’m sorry, did I miss something?  Is there anyone who doesn’t consider Hamas to be terrorists?  Except former presidents and the AP?  I’m surprised it doesn’t say “Hamas is alleged to have been behind…”

And then there’s this:

“Let me read exactly what they accepted verbatim. This is their language: ‘If President Abbas succeeds in negotiating a final status agreement with Israel, Hamas will accept the decision made by the Palestinian people and their will in a referendum monitored by international observers … even if Hamas is opposed to the agreement,'” Carter said.

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said Hamas’ readiness to put a peace deal to a referendum “does not mean that Hamas is going to accept the result of the referendum.”

Someone’s lying.  “Don’t negotiate with terrorists” still seems a sound operating principle to me.