More Paulson–On What Worship Is For

[T]he “essence” of worship lies in the act of proclaiming. To say it doctrinally, justification by faith alone is the center of true worship. Christ, his divinity, humanity, death, resurrection, and Lordship of a new kingdom are to be given presently to his betrayers. They are to be given to the ungodly, who are already dead in their sins by God’s own judgment. What the dead need is resurrection, which is no less than the specific forgiveness of their sin of rebellion against the Creator in the killing of the Son.To the great dismay of most, this makes Christian worship repetitive—almost without end. Worship’s greatest temptation is satiety, whose voice says, “We’ve done that before; couldn’t we do something else?”

Christian worship is for the forgiveness of sins. People need this day in and day out for their vocations in life, which otherwise become sheer bondages that carry the weight of making ourselves and others righteous. Forgiveness is needed in order to be raised from the dead—daily. Worship is for the justification of the ungodly, day in and day out. It does this by means of a preacher proclaiming God’s words of law and gospel. By this means the dead are cured of their blindness and they are raised to new life. God has seen to it that these words are put in things (objects of the old world) so that faith has specific, historical, personal, communal, concrete “somethings” in which the word is put so that hearers may have something to believe in. So, worship concerns giving the proclamation in what the tradition has come to call word and sacrament. …

It is good to remember that theological enthusiasm is finally the same thing under different liturgical guises: the search for better words than God has given us, in particular the words that bestow the forgiveness of sins to actual sinners here and now—in bread, wine, water—and the public, verbal announcement of the gospel. Worship wars are not about different tastes or conservative versus progressive social groups, nor are such wars the mere result of generational differences in musical styles. Worship wars have one common goal: the desire to get rid of the forgiveness of sins and the cross of Christ and subsequently the cross each person must bear. Unfortunately, trading cross for glory rids worship of the gospel. Then, all that remains is a grand fight to the death over who has the better piety. …

Worship in the evangelical sense must mean that these promises are the free gifts of Christ to sinners for the forgiveness of sins, or to say the same thing, they are the benefits given to those dead in their sins in order to raise them from the dead. When these words go out they make hearers (even among those who are lacking in individual and communal piety) who assemble and want to listen again and again—daily, weekly, and throughout the year. That means that in each of the promises we find the same forgiveness of sins repeatedly being given, yet given in different ways appropriate for making faith. It would be better never to meet if you do not preach the word that is read out publicly. When you believe in the promises given there, you believe in none other than Christ himself, clothed in his word for you. After receiving such a gift, you will pray by way of giving thanks and asking freely for what is needed in the world and in the church, for ourselves and for our neighbors. So we confess and absolve, baptize whenever possible, give the Lord’s Supper as needed, read Scripture and preach from it, and pray by way of thankful response, despite our experiences and feelings to the contrary—especially in great hymns that bring the word deep into the heart and express our deepest need and thanks. This is true worship of the preached God, who is Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Steven Paulson, “What is Essential in Lutheran Worship?” Word and World 26:2 (Spr 2006), 156, 158, 161)

Preachers Are the Problem

Steven Paulson on preachers:

Christ was murdered in order to stop all preaching and election. The cross failed to do this, despite all human efforts, and now that Christ cannot be killed again, the next best thing is to execute the ambassadorial preacher. Sometimes blood is spilled again and we call it martyrdom, but more often it is easier to execute a preacher in a bloodless coup. If the preacher can be enticed to give something else than Christ as the proper predicate for the true Subject, the Creator, then a death occurs with no apparent violence. It seems like the perfect crime. Just predicate something other of God than Christ—you have the freedom to say whatever you want, do you not? Consequently, the largest offenders against God’s mission on earth are preachers themselves.

The formula for bad preaching is simple, you mix law and gospel and come out with a law that sounds like the gospel in its excessive religiosity like: “Grace means unconditional acceptance of your good creation,” or even “acceptance of your acceptance while unacceptable,” “Try, but if you fail God will not condemn.” “The Gospel is free, now all you need to do is join God’s mission and spread it.” “God is love, so there is no law” or “Christ stands for no barriers or divisions.” Most especially, bad preaching offers Christ as a principle or a sign that is supposed to influence you to become like him as measured by the law. …

Categorical preaching [instead] takes place in the “bright light” of the distinction of law and gospel. It understands that Christ is present as Lord of his church as the one whom we crucified. Otherwise, one makes of Scripture a self-justification: “Choose me Lord, it only makes sense!” Categorical preaching assumes that God’s Word always meets a bound, addicted, captivated will that refuses the truth that there is either Christ or not Christ, that no other hope or future exists.  (“Categorical Preaching,” Lutheran Quarterly 21:3 (Aut 2007), 289-290)

If Women Are Not Ordained, We Should Stop Baptizing Them?

In the past month I have seen both a button and a bumper sticker that read:
If you’re not going to ordain women, stop baptizing them!
The logic is impeccable.

If that’s impeccable logic, I’d hate to see the peccable kind.  I don’t want to disagree with someone who describes himself as a “consumer of dark chocolate, brewer of dark beer, reader of Flannery O’Connor, [and] watcher of the Coen Brothers,” but I have no choice.  How have we lost the ability to make distinctions among the Scriptures?  I mean: how is it that a record of the pouring out of the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost is suddenly a proof-text for the ordination of women?  How is it that the gift of salvation in holy Baptism (and this point may be where the real disagreement begins) suddenly makes all people not only equal before God in Christ, but the same?  (If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?)  How is it that prophecy, or the boldness in the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the acts of Jesus, automatically means the Office of preaching and administering the Sacraments?  (And, again, here we may be already past the point of where we agree.)

Read Acts 2 again.  I don’t see Peter saying that the Spirit wipes out all created distinctions.  He clearly says, quoting the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (vv. 17-18).  But the argument of Prof. Kirk seems to be that since the same Holy Spirit is poured out as gift (the Spirit is the gift) upon God’s people in Christ (as Acts shows by describing the Spirit moving the Apostles from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the end of the earth), then that Holy Spirit must also give all people as the same gifts to the Body of Christ (see below).

But that’s exactly the opposite of Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 12:

Now there arevarieties of gifts, butthe same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Do all work miracles?  Doall speak with tongues?  Do all interpret?  But earnestly desire the higher gifts [namely, love]  (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 27ff., ESV).

Further, Paul speaks of gifts not as the ability or intelligence to do the work of the various offices described in the New Testament, nor as the call to or the feeling that I should be in one or another office; he speaks of the Office or the vocation itself as the gift.  See Ephesians 4:

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it [Paul’s paraphrase of Psalm 68:18] says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave[! see the psalm] gifts to men.” … And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, the teachers, to equip the saints[,] for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith… (Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-13, ESV sort of).

Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (I am convinced the last are two distinct aspects of the one Office) are all gifts that Christ gives at His Ascension for the sake of the one Body, made up of different members.  It has nothing to do with how I feel about it, whether I feel called, what I think God should do, or that I think He should have given different gifts to His Church.  Even in those traditions that, following the Scriptures, hold that the Office of the Holy Ministry is restricted to men, this is not automatically extended to all men by virtue of their baptism.  God has not given the same gifts through all men, nor has He given the same gifts through both men and women.

Prof. Kirk ought to have continued reading the book of Numbers, as apparently some in Israel took the pouring out of the Spirit in Numbers 11 to be a justification for all to serve in exactly the same way (thanks to Prof. Kirk, perhaps in spite of himself, for helping me make this connection).  Hear Miriam in chapter 12: “Has [Yahweh] indeed spoken only through Moses?  Has he not spoken to us also?” (v. 2)  Or Korah and his friends in chapter 16: “They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far!  For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and [Yahweh] is among them.  Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of [Yahweh]?'” (v.3)  God had not given the Spirit so that everyone could be exactly the same in Israel, nor does He do so in the Church (as Paul, echoing Numbers 11-16, makes clear).

What does baptism have to do with call or ordination?  Beyond being the sine qua non for being given as gift to the other members of the Body, nothing.  Baptism makes you a member of the one Body; you share in the one Spirit, the one Faith, the one Hope.  But the one God and Father of all does not give to all the baptized the same grace when He gives them as gifts to the rest of the Body.  Baptism is the joining of sinners to the holy Body of Christ, crucified and resurrected, by the singular Word of God’s own promise.  It is a gift, and gifts imply no rights whatsoever.  Sinners have no rights before the holy God by virtue of His gifts.  He gives, and gives, and gives, and we receive, and receive, and receive.  On the other hand, if baptism is a symbol (a symbol we perform) of something that God is doing elsewhere, apart from His specific words of promise in Christ, then it makes sense that baptism gives us rights within the community.  But baptism is not your certificate of membership that gives you all the rights and privileges attending thereto, like a diploma (I often wonder what rights and privileges actually do attend to my diplomas, but that’s a different issue).  Baptism is, as Stephen Paulson puts it, God’s attack on the sinner.  God’s work, God’s gift, God’s promise, all in Christ.  Just like apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  All gift.

The question remains: how do we know whom God has put into that Office?  Well, He says in other parts of the Scriptures.  But that’s for another time.  (Or, just read this.)


The Museum of Effective Propaganda

Listen, if you want to know how to do propaganda right, you should visit the Museum of Tolerance next time you’re in L.A.  My aunt and uncle took me, and we spent most of our time in the Holocaust exhibit, which, except for a few minor annoyances, was a good cursory introduction to the Holocaust.  There were some arresting photographs and personal stories (the most horrifying of which was a story about Nazi soldiers tossing living babies into a truck from an upper floor of a hospital).  I have, as I said, minor complaints about the way things moved and the superficial way in which some events were covered, but overall, not bad.

On the other hand, “tolerance” is apparently like obscenity: you know it when you see it.  It was not defined, which made me wonder by what standard we should “tolerate” the victims of the Holocaust, and not the Nazis.  (I have a standard by which the Nazis were evil; do you?)  The exhibits were anything but tolerant toward the Nazis and Hitler, calling them monsters and speaking incredulously of the very possibility of the Holocaust.  But here’s the issue: if the problem with the Nazis was that they treated their victims as sub-human and not worthy of life, what does it accomplish to make the Nazis sub-human in their actions?  The Jews, the gypsies, the homosexuals, and the rest should never have been dehumanized in order to facilitate their deaths.  But if we concede that, and emphasize it by drawing attention to the inhumanity of the Nazis, what have we done but the same thing in reverse?  And from there it is only a short step to being unable to believe that we ourselves are capable of such atrocities.  No, the Nazis were not monsters; they were depraved human beings who did what depraved human beings with unchecked power do: destroy those they do not like, or those who oppose them,  or those who believe in a God higher than the State.  (Frankly, we are all currently sub-human compared with the Son of Man.)

But the Holocaust exhibit was really only the beginning.  It was really only preparation for what, it seems, the museum’s designers really want you to take from it.  And don’t they need a greater point?  Because while there are still neo-Nazis (some of them actually dangerous), and there is anti-Semitism around the world (France seems poised to drown in it), there are very few places–certainly not in L.A.–where such prejudice is socially and openly acceptable.  We have all been taught that the Holocaust was a Very Bad Thing, and whenever someone would like to take up the Nazi mantle, he or she is roundly and publicly denounced, whatever might be said behind closed doors.

No, the punchline doesn’t come until you enter the “modern” part of the museum, where it is not hard for elementary school to connect the dots: Holocaust: Very Bad = All Negative Statements About Anyone: Just As Bad.  So you travel from the fruit of extremism during the ’30s and ’40s to modern day, where crazy religious extremists and misogynists and just all-around haters combine to make our modern world not too different from Hitler and Nazism.  So on a video screen images of the planes flying into the Twin Towers are juxtaposed with the “God hates fags” folks and some pastor who said that Muhammad was a pedophile (how old does your wife have to be before you are not a pedophile?)  Along with timelines and videos of women marching for the vote, and the formation of the National Organization for Women (obviously definitive of tolerance for women–except for the unborn ones), desegregation, etc., we are reminded that “Words Have Consequences.”

See, children: Nazis, racists, religious fanatics, and those who want to keep women from voting are all the same, and anytime you hear someone saying negative things, we are only steps from another Holocaust if we let such people have any political power.  Forget nuance and distinction; they do not exist where tolerance rules.  The key to propaganda is to narrow the vision so that the viewer or hearer never sees anything but what the producer of the propaganda wants you to see.  (Quick, move along from those pictures of Jewish corpses to the story of Matthew Shepard, before anyone sees those burned and dismembered fetuses.)

And yet…  The tolerant mind can only go so far.  We were reminded numerous times that when we make people into objects (a strange picture of a Hustler cover, where they promise not to treat women like meat anymore–did someone tell Larry Flynt?), when we treat them as less than human, we are on the inevitable path to murder and genocide.  Which, in itself, is true.  But the logic never goes all the way: there was a surreal moment when a staff person said something to the effect that there is still genocide around the world, and even in the United States–from which she immediately backpedaled and said, well, not literally.  Really?  There is no example of people treating millions of other people like objects and less than human and a problem to be taken care of?  No example of the taking of life considered unworthy of life, or, sadly, better off dead?  No example of progressive thinking that progressively defines people out of the human race, all the easier to dispose of them in mass graves (or dumpsters, as the case may be)?  Hm.  Nope, nothing comes to mind.

That’s the problem with a general “tolerance.”  It is always circumstantial and perspectival.  You cannot be tolerant of everything and everyone, or you will be incoherent.  The Nazis were tolerant–as long as you fit their narrative.  As long as you didn’t try to interfere with their program.  As long as you had the right genes.  As long as you didn’t worship anything greater than National Socialism.

And you think you would nevertolerate a repeat of the Holocaust?  Never tolerate the taking of millions of lives because they didn’t fit your personal or national narratives?  Never tolerate the disposal of human beings because their genes weren’t perfect?  Never tolerate the State as the Most High God?

Yeah, me neither.


P.S.  I cannot wait for the first commenter who will be exempli gratia for Tolerance.