Wild West Preachers

[This appeared first at The Jagged Word on September 28.]

So I watched Pale Rider for the first time. Clint Eastwood is great, as always. The Eastwood squint/glare is in full effect. He has no actual name in the film, but simply goes by “Preacher.” And he comes as an apparent answer to Megan Wheeler’s prayer over her dog’s grave, interspersed with Psalm 23. In fact, this is a religiously infused movie, down to the coincidence of Megan reading Revelation 6:8 when the preacher first rides into the small mining town.

The people in the mining town (the “tin pans,” as Coy LaHood calls them) respect him because he’s a preacher, and the LaHoods fear him for the same reason. Preachers are dangerous, according to LaHood, because he might give the people faith, and then the LaHoods will have no chance of running them off their mining claims.

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[This appeared first at The Jagged Word on February 16.]

I’ve never been a huge fan of westerns, although there are some notable exceptions. I probably need to fill out my viewing of classic westerns, including some Clint Eastwood films I keep meaning to get around to. But Godless (on Netflix) is a limited series I wouldn’t mind watching more than once.

There are classic western tropes, like the duel, the gun-slinging sheriff standing up for his town against a gang of bad guys, the (in this case, former) whorehouse, the saloon, cowboys and Indians. But in Godless, they are definitely not ends in themselves, but utilized to push a classic story in new directions. It doesn’t feel like it’s a simple retread, even with all the familiar characters.

Although there are multiple story lines, including how La Belle came to be made up almost entirely of women, the seven episodes of Godless orbit around the relationship between Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) and Frank Griffin (an excellently evil Jeff Daniels). What allows this main lode to be mined successfully is the father-son dynamic, explored between the orphaned Roy and the childless Frank, who says to the young Roy, “You’ve got a family now, son. These are your brothers, and I aim to be your pappy. And a good one, too. I won’t mistreat you. I won’t beat you. And I won’t ever lie to you. Ever. Welcome home, son.” The show plays on this theme by having Roy wear his own dead father’s clothes, as well as become a father figure to Alice Fletcher’s son, Truckee. Episodes 5 and 6 are particularly compelling in this regard.

Godless is not the sort of subversive western that becomes a political statement about the bad old days. It doesn’t play on the stereotypes of the oldest westerns in order to show that the “good guys” were really the “bad guys.” There are indeed cowboys and Indians. There are blacks and whites. There are men and women. But what Godless does so effectively is refrain from demonizing a group of people. There are good guys and bad guys, to be sure, but they are never good or bad simply because they have or claim some identity. They are good or bad because of how they live, how they act, how they treat people or horses.

As far as Lutherans are concerned, this refers to a civil righteousness, not justification before God. But it is a real righteousness and, in Godless, it doesn’t come from class, color, sex, or job. There are good and bad lawmen. There are good and bad women, good and bad men. There are good and bad cowboys and good and bad Indians. They all have different motivations and perspectives, and in this it echoes real life with real people. There are exploitative opportunists (like the journalist, A.T. Grigg). There are oily and smiling mercenaries pretending to be protectors (like Kim Coates’ Ed Logan). There are the women who resent being left alone, and those who simply get on with it.

There is a hardness to the characters that make them seem as if they inhabit a real, difficult world. Godless simply feels like how it must have been.

Obviously, the title implies the religious connection. Frank wears a preacher’s collar (while, in La Belle, Sadie Rose keeps waiting for the new preacher) and is continually quoting the “Good Book.” When someone asks which “good book,” Frank doesn’t answer. But none of his quotes are from the actual Scriptures. It seems that his good book is actually just a collection of his favorite sayings (which probably isn’t too different from how many people treat the Bible anyway).

When one of the Norwegians whom Frank terrorizes says that Frank is not a man of God, Frank responds, “God? What God? Mister, you clearly don’t know where you are. Look around. There ain’t no higher-up around here to watch over you and your young’ns. This here’s the paradise of the locust, the lizard, the snake. It’s the land of the blade and the rifle. It’s godless country. And the sooner you accept your inevitable demise, the longer you’re all gonna live.”

It would be easy to attempt some sort of theodicy, some defense of God, in this case. But when Frank’s holding the pistol, perhaps not so wise. He is, in a very real sense, the “enthusiast” of the show: literally, his god is within him (en-thuo). Theodicies always go wrong in the face of actual circumstances. They might hold up in one case, but not in another. If there is a God, then He’s a God far stranger, far more inexplicable than any god we could construct or imagine.

And while Godless doesn’t dwell on this theme in the dialogue, it is the over-arching narrative: look at what happens out here in this “godless country.” Look at what happens to your Creede in such a place. The preacher shows up only when the people are dead. (Although, this preacher doesn’t quote the Bible any more than Frank Griffin does. He quotes, instead, a medieval Jewish poet!)

But, it turns out, the criticism of religion is precisely the Christian point: “the sooner you accept your inevitable demise, the longer you’re all gonna live.” The preacher shows up to preach to the dead and the dying, because that’s the only sort of person there is. And this is what is so foreign to most understandings of God: His death is the only life in the midst of the violence and death of this world. It is not what God does or doesn’t do in a given moment, whether He prevents this or that disease or physical death. It is what God did in the given moment of the crucifixion, the eternal Son dying, rather than simply preserving a dying world.

And now I need to watch it again.

An Entirely Wrong Scriptural Sermon

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C.F.W. Walther gives us some insight into why not every sermon (or song, for that matter) that is built from the Scriptures is a true or orthodox sermon.

That is the litmus test of a proper sermon.  The value of a sermon depends not only on whether every statement in it is taken from the Word of God and on whether it is in agreement with the same but also on whether Law and Gospel have been rightly distinguished.  If the same building materials are provided to two different architects, sometimes one will construct a magnificent building, while the other, using the same materials, will make a mess of it.  Because he is dim-witted, the latter may want to begin with the roof, or place all the windows in one room, or stack layers of stone or brick in such a way that the wall will be crooked.  One house will be out of plumb and such a bungled piece of work that it will collapse, while the other will stand firm and be a habitable and pleasant place to live.  In like manner, two different sermons might contain all the various doctrines–and while the one sermon may be a glorious and precious piece of work, the other may be wrong throughout.  …

This frequently happens when students give sermons. [Walther is giving lectures to seminary students.]  You will hear comforting remarks such as “It is all by grace,” only to be followed by “We must do good works,” which are then followed by statements such as “With our works we cannot gain salvation.”  There is no order to such sermons.  Nobody understands them–least of all the person who needs one of these doctrines most.

C.F.W. Walther, Law and Gospel, 37-38

Luther on Christ and Us

[Commenting on John 14:20:]

“By faith you also come to be in Me with your death, sin, and every trouble.  If you are sinful in yourselves, you are justified in Me; if you feel death in you, you have life in Me; if you have strife in you, you have peace in Me; if you stand condemned on your own account, you are blessed and saved in Me.”  For, my dear man, where am I if I am a Christian?  Nowhere else than where Christ is.  But where else is He but in heaven, in eternal life, joy, and bliss?  And He, of course, will not be condemned to death as a sinner any longer.  Since no sin can accuse Him, no devil can damn Him, no death can consume Him, no hell can devour Him, I must remain undamned and undevoured; for I am in Him.  “Consequently, sin, death, and every trouble in you are gone.  For all this I destroy in Myself.”  It cannot abide in Him, since He is and remains in the Father.  And it can have no power in us either, because we are in Him.

…Christ is in us, and…we are in Him.  The one points upward; the other, downward.  For we must first be in Him with all our being, with our sin, our death, and our weakness; we must know that we are liberated from these before God and are redeemed and pronounced blessed through this Christ. … We must be His own, being baptized in His name and then having taken the Sacrament.  Thereby sin, an evil conscience, death, and the devil vanish; and we can say: “I know of no death and no hell.  If there is death anywhere, let it first consume and kill my Christ.  If hell amounts to anything, let it devour the Savior.  If sin, the Law, and conscience can condemn, let them accuse the Son of God. … But since the Father and Christ remain alive, I , too, will remain alive; since He remains undefeated by sin and the devil, I, too, will remain undefeated.  For I know that just as Christ is in the Father, so I am in Christ.” …

Just as I am in Christ, so Christ, in turn, is in me. … Now He also manifests Himself in me and says, “Go forth, preach, comfort, baptize, serve your neighbor, be obedient, be patient.  I will be in you and will do all this.  Whatever you do will be done by Me.  Just be of good cheer, be bold, and trust in Me.” [AE 24:141-143]

“I see a strange and novel mystery”

I see a strange and novel mystery: shepherds sound all around my ears, not piping a barren tune, but singing a heavenly hymn. Angels are singing, archangels are dancing, the cherubim are hymning, the seraphim are glorifying, all are celebrating, since they see God upon the earth, man in Heaven. [I see] the one who is on high lower because of His plan, the one who is below on high because of His love for humanity. Today Bethlehem resembled Heaven: in place of stars it received angels hymning, in place of the sun it contained the righteous One without confining [Him]. And do not ask how: for where God wills it, nature’s order is overcome. For He willed it, He had the power, He came down, He saved – all things follow upon God. Today, He who Is is born, and He who Ιs becomes what He was not. For being God, He becomes human, though He did not cease from being God. For He hasn’t become human by separating from His divinity, nor again has He become God by advancing from a human. But, being Word, because He could not suffer [as Word], He became flesh, His nature remaining unchanged. But when, on the one hand, He was born, Jews denied the strange birth, and Pharisees misinterpreted the divine Books, and scribes spoke what was in opposition to the Law. Herod sought the [child] who was born, not in order to honor Him, but to destroy Him. For today they saw [that] all things [were] opposed [to them]. For the psalmist says, “it was not hidden from their children for another generation.” For kings came, in astonishment at the heavenly King, for He had come upon the earth without angels, without archangels, without thrones, without dominions, without powers, without authorities, but walking a foreign and untrodden path, He came forth from an uncultivated womb, neither leaving His own angels deprived of His authority, nor having ceased from His own divinity in His incarnation with us. But kings came to worship the heavenly King of glory, while soldiers [came] to serve the commander-in-chief of power; women [came to see] the one who was born from a man, in order that He might change the woman’s grief into joy; the virgins [came to see] the child of the virgin, because the Creator of milk and breasts, who makes the fountains of breasts to produce naturally flowing streams, received a child’s nourishment from His virgin mother; the infant [came to see] the one who became an infant in order to furnish praise from the mouths of infants; the children [came to see] the child who produced witnesses because of Herod’s madness; the men [came to see]  the one who was incarnated and healed the woes of slaves; the shepherds [came to see] the good shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep; the priests [came to see] the one who became the high priest in the order of Melchizedek; the slaves [came to see] the one who took the form of a slave in order to honor our slavery with freedom; the fishers [came to see] the one who makes hunters of  people from among fishers; the tax collectors [came to see] the one who appointed an evangelist from among the tax collectors; the prostitutes [came to see] the one who offers His feet to the tears of prostitutes; and, that I may speak but briefly, all sinners came to see the lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world, Magi accompanying, shepherds praising, tax collectors speaking the good news, prostitutes bearing perfume, Samaritans thirsting for the fountain of life, the Canaanite woman with undoubting faith. [St. John Chrysostom, “2nd Homily on the Birthday of Our Savior, Jesus Christ”, transl. Bryson Sewell]

See the rest here.

Merry and Blessed Christ-mass!


Salty or Sweet?

Requiescat in pace, Fr. Capon…

But if the salt of the earth becomes insipid–if a disciple of Jesus forgets that only losing wins, and a fortiori, if the apostolic church forgets it–where in the wide world of winners drowning in the syrup of their own success will either disciple or the church be able to recapture the saltiness of victory out of loss?  The answer is nowhere.  And the sad fact is that the church, both now and at far too many times in its history, has found it easier to act as if it were selling the sugar of moral and spiritual achievement rather than the salt of Jesus’ passion and death.  It will preach salvation for the successfully well-behaved, redemption for the triumphantly correct in doctrine, and pie in the sky for all the winners who think they can walk into the final judgment and flash their passing report cards at Jesus.  But every last bit of that now and ever shall be pure baloney because: (a) nobody will ever have that kind of sugar to sweeten the last deal with, and (b) Jesus is going to present us all to the Father in the power of his resurrection and not at all in the power of our own totally inadequate records, either good or bad.

But does the church preach that salty message?  Not as I hear it, it doesn’t.  It preaches the nutra-sweet religion of test-passing, which is the only thing the world is ready to buy and which isn’t even real sugar let alone salt.  In spite of all our fakery, though, Jesus’ program remains firm.  He saves losers and only losers.  He raises the dead and only the dead.  And he rejoices more over the last, the least, and the little than over all the winners in the world.  That alone is what this losing race of ours needs to hear, even though it can’t stand the thought of it.  That alone is the salt that can take our perishing insipidity and give it life and flavor forever.  That alone….  [Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, 183-184]


Truth and Comfort

Teaching is no joke, sonny!  I’m not talking of those who get out of it with a lot of eyewash: you’ll knock up against plenty of them in the course of your life, and get to know ’em.  Comforting truths, they call it!  Truth is meant to save you first, and the comfort comes afterward.  Besides, you’ve no right to call that sort of thing comfort.  Might as well talk about condolences!  The Word of God is a red-hot iron.  And you who preach it ‘ud go picking it up with a pair of tongs, for fear of burning yourself, you daren’t get hold of it with both hands.  It’s too funny!  Why, the priest who descends from the pulpit of Truth, with a mouth like a hen’s vent, a little hot but pleased with himself, he’s not been preaching: at best he’s been purring like a tabby-cat.  Mind you that can happen to us all, we’re all half asleep, it’s the devil to wake us up, sometimes–the apostles slept all right at Gethsemane.  Still, there’s a difference….And mind you many a fellow who waves his arms and sweats like a furniture-remover isn’t necessarily more awakened than the rest.  On the contrary.  I simply mean that when the Lord has drawn from me some word for the good of souls, I know, because of the pain of it.

[Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest, 42]

A Christian Life?

It’s an intriguing question.  Now that I’m a Christian, what should I do?  Yes, I know I’m forgiven.  Yes!  YES!  I KNOW I’M FORGIVEN!  Now what should I do?

It used to intrigue me a lot more than it does now.

At my university alma mater, the distinction between Law and Gospel was taught nearly this crudely: the Gospel is good, and since the Gospel is the solution to the Law [yes, I recognize the false premise there], the Law must be bad.  This is the sort of polarity that is commonly called (at least among particular Lutherans centered in the lower Midwest) “Gospel reductionism.”  It has all sorts of nice off-shoots, such as using the “Gospel” to determine which parts of the Scriptures we ought to take as “the Word of God.”  Because the Bible is not coterminous with the Word of God, you know?  (Notice, the reverse is certainly true: the Word of God is not coterminous with the Bible, because Jesus.)  The Bible contains the Word of God.  And, of course, hence nearly all of mainline Protestantism.

But now you’ve gotten me off my main point, which is that because Law and Gospel were taught so crudely, I had a hard time thinking about good works at all.  I knew that both Jesus and all the apostolic writings commanded that Christians do certain things.  But I was being taught that the Law not only always accused, but that it only accused.  So these teachers avoided the charge of antinomianism because they still held that the Law had a purpose, but only an accusatory one.

But if the Law has only an accusatory function in the life of the Christian, I was stuck on how to deal with good works as good.  Because if good works are the Law, they must actually be bad.  See?  The old controversies never really go away (see Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration IV:3-5).

There are different ways to approach this problem, both theoretical and practical, but where it actually hits the ground is in preaching.  With the above polarized dichotomy of Law versus Gospel, combined with the exhortations to good works in the Scriptures, Lutheran preachers often ended up with a Law-Gospel-Law sandwich: I know I have to preach Law and Gospel, because that’s the fundamental distinction in the Scriptures, but I also know I have to actually preach this exhortation (especially in Paul’s letters), so I will phrase the Law in terms of the Gospel: you now get to do all these good things that you don’t really want to do.  This is your response to the good news of the Gospel!  Don’t you want to do these good works now?

Still felt like a burden to me; still felt exactly like the Law, but now it gummed you to death instead of tearing your head off with sharp teeth.

The real problem is not that Lutherans had got Law and Gospel wrong (the whole Scriptures is still divided into those two Words), but that we forgot where the Law belongs once you become a Christian.  Insofar as you are a Christian, it no longer has anything to say about your relationship with God (unless Jesus didn’t really do it all); now, it can only and always speak about your relationship with your family, friends, neighbors, communities, co-workers, etc.  If you can only speak in terms of one kind of righteousness (between you and God), then you are either driving people into despair with your constant exhortations to do good works; or you are replacing your neighbor with God, so that you never actually want to help your neighbor in himself, you only want to serve God through your neighbor (which makes your neighbor expendable and interchangeable; as long as you have someone to serve, it doesn’t matter that the person is an actual person with concrete needs).

From this point, my question is this:  Do we really not know what to do?  Is that the problem?  And the solution is to tell more people what they should do more?  I suggest trying that with your children.  All you’ll get is little hypocrites, no matter how nicely you tell them what they now get to do.  Once you’ve reminded them 85 times that it’s not good to break the Fourth Commandment, I think they probably know what they ought to do.  The problem is not that they don’t know what to do, it’s that they, according to themselves, don’t want to do it.  And not only do they not want to do it, they will become defensive and argue to the death why they shouldn’t have to do it.

I overstate the case slightly.  Sometimes children want to do what’s right.  (I had that conversation with my oldest daughter yesterday.)  But in both instances, when they want to do what’s right and when they don’t, they know what the right thing is.  Once you’ve disciplined the Old Adam after you’ve drowned him (or even if you’re trying to discipline an undrowned Adam), children are not ignorant about what is right.  They hear nothing all day long but what they are supposed to do.  Occasionally, the advice conflicts (and leaving aside for the time being those examples of schools and others who explicitly and actively contradict parents), but for the most part, they hear consistent messages: show respect, don’t hit, be nice, don’t take what isn’t yours, work things out.  The solution, as counter-intuitive as it is to our common, sinful logic of the Law, is not to tell them what to do more and more (I should take my own advice).  The solution is confession and absolution, or the two parts of repentance.  The solution is to get them to the Gospel, always.  No, you can’t just tell them “you’re forgiven” when they are caught in a lie; the Gospel without contrition produced by the Word of God only builds self-righteousness and complacency.  Law and Gospel, applied like finely tuned surgical instruments, according to the specific diagnosis.

Which brings me back to the beginning: are Christians really supposed to live lives that look different from an unbeliever’s actions?  We naturally assume so, and I grant that Christians ought to live lives different from the general mass of unbelievers, who naturally do what their flesh demands (Eph. 4:17).  That is, we ought to live lives in Christ that are fundamentally opposed to our lives outside of Christ.  And I grant that in a fundamentally decadent culture, not lying, cheating, and stealing will in themselves be enough to set a Christian apart.  But when we come to the specific actions that Christians are to do, I can’t see that they are any different from how we’d want a virtuous pagan to live (regardless of whether any actually live that way).  In other words, which of the following things require Christ to do externally (ad hominibus)?  Don’t murder?  Don’t steal?  Don’t hold grudges?  Don’t lie?  Bitterness, undue anger, slander, etc.?  Which of these things would, say, virtuous pagan philosophers reject?  None of these are specifically Christian virtues, except perhaps to forgive as Christ has forgiven you.  But at that point we are in a different realm, the single realm where the truly Christian life is played out: the communion of the saints in the holy things.  The only truly and particularly and explicitly Christian actions I can see are: hearing the Word of God, receiving His sacramental gifts, and worshiping Him in return, two of which are completely passive, and the third is simply returning to God the praise for what He has already done.

I’m open to correction on this, but is there any single action that is done by a Christian that we would not want to be done by an unbeliever, because if everyone did such things the world would be a better place?  And which of those things would not be commended by a thoughtful, atheist philosopher?  Don’t the atheists have it correct on this point, when they (unfortunately) whittle the Christian faith down to its moral content?  Isn’t this also part of the cause of the attrition from Christian churches, that people who have been told over and over to live a particular kind of “Christian” life find that they can do it without even being a Christian?

Christianity is not about morality, and anyone who says it is might as well give up the mirage of Christianity altogether, and simply teach how to live a good life (cf. Osteen et al.).  There is not, as far as I can see, any particularly Christian ethics.

What ought Christians do qua Christians?  Hear the Gospel, receive the Sacraments, and live toward your neighbor in the best way you can, according to their needs and your means.  Not complicated to say (though, of course, carrying it out against the desires of your sinful flesh is a completely different animal).  You are pleasing to God in Christ, so do what your neighbor needs.  No calculating, no motive-checking, no hesitation, no measuring of sin as if it were a substance you could separate from your sinful flesh or reduce to a manageable level.  You have good works, your neighbors need them, God commands them.

I suggest that if people are not doing good works toward their neighbors, it’s because they are not receiving the good works of Jesus, the fruit of His cross and resurrection.  In other words, they don’t really believe the Gospel, and that sort of superficial faith (not really faith at all) is what James condemns.  True faith in the Christ who has done everything does indeed produce good fruit, but the branch must be connected to the Vine.

What should you do?  Pretty much what you would have done if you were a virtuous pagan; but now you know that Christ has redeemed your entire life, your “good” works and your bad.  Live your life, for Christ’s sake!

[fire away…!]


A Series of Unfortunate Events

I believe Jesus is Lord.  He is the only Man who keeps His promises.  That’s not in dispute.  I do not despair, no matter what happens in any given country, because my hope is not in this world or its rulers or its laws.


As far as the secular realm goes, this is not a good day.  This is not about Mitt Romney.  I have no idea how a Romney Administration would have turned out, and we will never know.  This is about the policies of the current Administration, as well as the arguments that this President and his Administration have made in the public square.  In the Hosanna-Tabor case before the Supreme Court, the Obama Administration argued that there is no “ministerial exception,” which, if that argument had succeeded (and with 2 or 3 new Justices in the next four years, it may yet), would mean that neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod would be able to limit its ministerium to men.  You can bet that both churches’ Biblical and traditional arguments would have been challenged in court, if the Administration had won that argument.

More recently, the Administration has argued that religious freedom (i.e., “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]”; and, further, the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly) does not extend to business owners such as the owners of Hobby Lobby.  If you think this is going to stop with contraception and places that are not explicitly “houses of worship,” you are fooling yourself.  Who really believes that the pushers of the absolute secularization of the public square are going to let churches get away with flouting the new progressive order?  (“First they came for the Roman Catholics…”)  For a litany of other attacks on religious freedom in the United States, see here, including

In our universities, those citadels of toleration, we find that toleration can be sharply limited. At the Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, the student chapter of the Christian Legal Society was denied any status on the campus because it would not abandon its requirement that members commit themselves to traditional Christian norms regarding sexual morality. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling in 2010, held that the student group’s rights were not violated by a “take all comers” policy. Following this lead, Vanderbilt University has rewritten its student organizations policy and effectively chased every traditionally Christian student group off campus, denying them regular access to campus facilities. And at the University of Illinois, an adjunct professor of religion, hired to teach a course on Catholicism, was let go because a student complained about his patient explanation of the Catholic Church’s natural law teachings on human sexuality. (He was later restored to his teaching duties, but at the expense of the Newman Center, not on the state payroll.)

In our states and localities, we see other kinds of pressures. Authorities in Washington state and Illinois have attempted to force pharmacists, against their conscience, to dispense “morning after” pills when other pharmacists short distances away make these abortifacients available. New York City has barred church congregations—and them alone—from using public school buildings outside school hours. In New Mexico, a Christian wedding photographer was fined for violation of a state “human rights act” because she refused to take the business of a same-sex couple who claimed to want her services at their civil union ceremony. And in Massachusetts, Illinois, San Francisco, and the District of Columbia, the adoption and fostering agencies of Catholic Charities have been shuttered because they will not place children with same-sex couples, as the local authorities demand.

So welcome to the continuation and expansion of the Brave New World, where the unborn are problems, diseases, and accidents; where fighting against a “war on women” is a euphemism for fighting against the birth of human beings (including, obviously, unborn women); where there may not be any limit whatsoever on the “right” of a woman to kill her own child, as long as it’s still inside her womb; where we have a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) policy of Lebensunwertes Leben, whether the youngest, the oldest, or the most handicapped.  (It is not a coincidence that somewhere between 80-90% of those diagnosed with Down Syndrome–whether diagnosed correctly or not–are aborted.)  Welcome to a world where the most pro-abortion President in history (Cecile Richards’ fawning is evidence of this) now does not have to worry about being re-elected, and so has more freedom to push the extreme edges of his agenda.  Welcome to a world where you have the freedom to worship, but that’s it, and when your religion’s convictions come into conflict with the State, the State wins, simply by virtue of being the State.  I would take a civil-religion, one-nation-under-whatever-god, syncretism over this anti-religion any day.  If the State is the overarching authority, that means that it must and should overrule family, community, religion–anything that opposes its all-consuming agenda.  We will soon discover if this is an overreaction.  But the Obama Administration has given us no hints of any moderation on this or any other issue.  They know what is right and good, and if you oppose them, you are wrong and evil.  There is very little gray area for the defenders of such statism.

If these things are true, the next four years are going to be very bad, and successes on the part of the Administration will mean a lot of this will be very hard to repair.  The damage will already have been done.


The Church will continue to do what the true Church always does: preach Law and Gospel to sinners; pray for and obey the properly constituted authorities up until the point when the State interferes with the Church’s proper sphere (and the HHS contraception mandate clearly crosses that line).  Then we must always obey God rather than men.  But what am I going to do today?  The same thing I do every day, Pinky, try to take over the w–, oh, um–I mean, prepare my sermon, visit my people, pray, and confess.  We’re not in control, anyway.  God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes in Christ.  Will this country progress (regress) to the point where it is illegal to call sin sin?  Will churches lose their tax-exempt status?  Will churches be sued for refusing to violate their collective conscience?  Perhaps, and we should fight against such things for the sake of our neighbors.  But, ultimately, the Church may lose those battles.  No matter.  Trust the promise of the Promised One.  Though all men are liars, He is the Truth.

“O Thou, whose coming is with dread/To judge the living and the dead,/Preserve us from the ancient foe/While we dwell on earth below” (LSB 351:5).

And, “Preserve Your Word, O Savior,/To us this latter day,/…O keep our faith from failing;/Keep hope’s bright star aglow./Let nothing from truth turn us/While living here below. … Preserve, O Lord, Your honor,/The bold blasphemer smite;/Convince, convert, enlighten/The souls in error’s night. … Preserve, O Lord, Your Zion,/Bought dearly with Your blood;/Protect what You have chosen/Against the hellish flood./Be always our defender/When dangers gather round;/When all the earth is crumbling,/Safe may Your Church be found” (LSB 658:1, 2, 3).


Luther On the True Preaching Office

But this is our consolation, I can boast to them: if it pleases God, good enough; if it does not please him, let it fall.  I wouldn’t risk a hair of my head to uphold my office.  But if it pleases God, I’d like to see the fellow who could knock it down. …

Therefore we preach something better [than the fanatics who only preach the Law to try and make people better]: the Spirit and the New Testament, which is that Jesus has come for your sake and taken your sins upon himself.  There you hear, not what you should do, but what God is doing through Christ, which means, of course, that he works faith and bestows the Holy Spirit.  But nobody who wants to make people good through laws is practicing this preaching.  That’s Moses’ and the hangman’s business.  Otherwise all people would long since have been good; for I preach daily that you should be good and not steal, but the more you hear it the worse you become; you remain the same rascals you were before.  Therefore it remains merely letter… We have the confidence to say that we preach rightly, that we are sufficient [2 Cor. 3:5] and the fruit follows, that our doctrine is true, and that our ministry is pleasing to God.  If we have these three things, then I who preach and you who hear have enough.  If the vulgar crowd departs, what is that to me?  I might well be angry on account of ingratitude and the fanatics, but I must let it be, as Paul did.  If it does not please the world, it is enough that it pleases God.  If it does not produce fruit in all, it is enough that it produces fruit in some.  If the doctrine be true, let those who preach falsely go.  There I can defend myself against spite and vexation.  But that I should wish to stop their mouths and persuade the people not to despise me and to be grateful, this confidence we must not have.  God is my Lord, the world is my enemy.  The fruit will come and the third [that my ministry should please God] will come too.  So in the fourth chapter [of 2 Cor.] also, Paul comforts himself and his followers, admonishing them not to be offended when it appears that our doctrine is lost, if only it please the One who is above. [LW (AE) 51:224, 226-227]