Heaven and Earth Bear Witness

As usual, the political divisions over various issues do not match the division between a Scriptural understanding and an idolatrous one. In this case, it’s the division between “conservatives” and “liberals”–or, better, between the rabid Republican and the rabid Democrat–on climate change (what an anodyne, meaningless phrase) and other, related environmental issues. You know it’s a disease because any response is immediately knee-jerking, fist-pumping, and unthinking.

But Christians ought not to be caught up in the extreme partisanship of what seem to be America’s twilight years. There is enough foolishness on either side to make any so-called “discussion” an exercise in engaging a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4, not 26:5). When it comes to human responsibility for the volatility of the climate (and similar issues), too many Christians have been sucked into either viewing extreme weather as the moral challenge of our time, an issue of Biblical proportions; or into an involuntary muscle spasm of  mockery and denial.

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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

St. John Chrysostom on Scripture Reading

But many in these times, even when they come to church, do not know what is read; whereas the eunuch, even in public and riding in his chariot, applied himself to the reading of the Scriptures. Not so you: none takes the Bible in hand: nay, everything rather than the Bible.

Say, what are the Scriptures for? For as much as in you lies, it is all undone. What is the Church for? Tie up the Bibles: perhaps the judgment would not be such, not such the punishment: if one were to bury them in dung, that he might not hear them, he would not so insult them as you do now. For say, what is the insult there? That the man has buried them. And what here? That we do not hear them. Say, when is a person most insulted—when he is silent, and one makes no answer, or, when he does speak (and is unheeded)? So that the insult is greater in the present case when He does speak and thou wilt not hear: greater the contempt. “Speak not to us” (Is. 30:10), we read, they said of old to the Prophets: but ye do worse, saying, Speak: we will not do. For there they turned them away that they should not even speak, as feeling that from the voice itself they got some sort of awe and obligation; whereas you, in the excess of your contempt, do not even this. Believe me, if you stopped our mouths by putting your hands over them, the insult would not be so great as it is now. For say, whether shows greater contempt, he that hears, even when hindering by this action, or, he that will not even hear? Say—if we shall look at it as a case of an insult offered—suppose one person to check the party insulting him, and to stop his mouth, as being hurt by the insults, and another person to show no concern, but pretend not even to hear them: whether will show most contempt? Would you not say the latter? For the former shows that he feels himself hit: the latter all but stops the mouth of God. Did ye shudder at what was said? Why, the mouth by which God speaks, is the mouth of God. Just as our mouth is the mouth of our soul, though the soul has no mouth, so the mouth of the Prophets is the mouth of God. Hear, and shudder. There, common (to the whole congregation) stands the deacon crying aloud, and saying, “Let us attend to the reading.” It is the common voice of the whole Church, the voice which he utters, and yet none does attend. After him begins the Reader, “The Prophecy of Esaias,” and still none attends, although Prophecy has nothing of man in it. Then after this, he says, “Thus saith the Lord, and still none attends. Then after this punishments and vengeances, and still even then none attends. But what is the common excuse? “It is always the same things over again.” This it is most of all, that ruins you. Suppose you knew the things, even so you certainly ought not to turn away: since in the theatres also, is it not always the same things acted over again, and still you take no disgust? How dare you talk about “the same things,” you who know not so much as the names of the Prophets? Are you not ashamed to say, that this is why you do not listen, because it is “the same things over again,” while you do not know the names of those who are read, and this, though always hearing the same things? You have yourself confessed that the same things are said. Were I to say this as a reason for finding fault with you, you would need to have recourse to quite a different excuse, instead of this which is the very thing you find fault with.—Do not you exhort your son? Now if he should say, “Always the same things!” would not you count it an insult? It would be time enough to talk of “the same things,” when we both knew the things, and exhibited them in our practice. Or rather, even then, the reading of them would not be superfluous. What equal to Timothy? tell me that: and yet to him says Paul, “Give attention to reading, to exhortation. (1 Tim. 4:13.) For it is not possible, I say not possible, ever to exhaust the mind of the Scriptures. It is a well which has no bottom. “I said,” saith the Preacher, “I am become wise: and then it departed from me.”—(Eccles. 7:24.) Shall I show you that the things are not “the same?” How many persons, do you suppose, have spoken upon the Gospels? And yet all have spoken in a way which was new and fresh. For the more one dwells on them, the more insight does he get, the more does he behold the pure light. … but now we will hold our peace. For if what has been spoken has done you no good, much less would it, should we add more. We only pour water into a vessel full of holes. And the punishment too is all the greater for you. Therefore, we will hold our peace. Which that we may not have to do, it rests with yourselves. For if we shall see your diligence, perhaps we will again speak, that both ye may be more approved, and we may rejoice over you, in all things giving glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: to Him be glory and dominion now and ever, and world without end. Amen. –Homily XIX on the Acts of the Apostles

The more things change since AD 407…

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What is Clericalism?

It seems the ugly Stephanite beast has reared its head in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  From all the letters, blog posts, and Facebook comments in the past six months, you’d think that a cabal of clergy in cope and chasuble had stormed the International Center, thrown out every layperson, abolished voters’ assemblies, and made it a crime for non-clergy to talk about Jesus or even be in His presence.  But now a popular rebellion has arisen from the very roots of the grass [led, oops, by a bunch of clergy] to tear down the clerical elite with their bishops and Article XIVs.

The latest salvo aimed at priestcraft in all its forms comes from a former president (down with bishops!) of the LCMS (which, technically, makes him more bureaucrat than clergy).  Since the moderator is a little slow to approve comments, I post my response here:

President Kieschnick, with all due respect, I think this ought to be retracted. It is unproductive and divisive, especially following a convention that was perhaps the most unified we’ve seen in decades. You smear, by implication, every pastor who wears a clerical collar as wanting to dominate and be served, rather than to serve. I confess that my old sinful flesh would rather be served, but I doubt that temptation comes more easily to one in a collar than it does to one who wears a suit and tie, or jeans and a t-shirt.

Did you speak to any of those pastors in clerical collars? Do you know them? Or are you assuming the worst of them, because this is an easy card to play?

I have seen this “clergy-focused” canard thrown around recently, but I have yet to see any real evidence of it. The fact that seven of the ten Concordias have clergy as presidents doesn’t really tell us anything, nor does the fact that our president and vice-presidents are clergy. What about Boards of Regents? The laity are always represented, according to our bylaws. Voters at Synod conventions are equally divided between clergy and lay, and voters at district conventions are equal, as well (despite recent attempts to increase lay voters at conventions).

But those things are really beside the point, since the one standing out front is, as you say, to be a servant, rather than to lord it over those in his care. Therefore, if you have evidence that those in leadership positions have been lording it over those whom they ought to be serving, you should speak to them, rather than making vague accusations on a blog.

Further, the idea that we might somehow return to a sort of “Herr Pastor” culture in the Missouri Synod is laughable. If, after Stephan, such an LCMS existed, it certainly does not exist now. In what congregation of the Synod could a pastor, abusing his authority in the Gospel, ram his opinions and his way down the throats of his congregation, and not be run out of town on the slickest rail? Pastors don’t even have the authority to implement evangelical, Scriptural practices such as communion every Lord’s day without the fiercest opposition.

For every example of clergy attempting to exercise an unbiblical and unevangelical power, I could give you two of unbiblical and unevangelical lay domineering. But what does that prove, except that we’re all a bunch of damned sinners, pastors and lay alike?

Please don’t increase the unnecessary strife between pastors and people; each member of the Body has his or her own vocation, and it does not help to tear down the pastoral vocation in order to elevate the vocations of the laity.

I went searching for actual examples of clergy dominance, and the Facebook had this to say:  fb comments

I don’t know how the first person counts, but from this page, it looks to me like there are 35 lay people to 34 pastors (LCMS career missionaries).  Of the 1-2 year and other short-term missionaries, I highly doubt that they are even primarily clergy.  And if lay people have been removed from serving as missionaries, where is the evidence that it was because they weren’t pastors?  The above are not concrete examples; they are vague insinuations that require hard evidence.  Without such evidence, they just serve to stir up division and distrust between pastors and people.  And where is a degree needed for deacon or lay minister?  The LCMS doesn’t even have uniform language for these positions, let alone required degrees.

Further, cops who don’t wear uniforms don’t want people to know they’re cops.  I doubt that’s what the commenter wanted to say about pastors not wearing collars.  And I categorically deny that there is a special class of person called “theologian.”  Everyone who talks about God is a theologian, whether informed or uninformed, good or bad.  To preserve a class of theologian, above and apart from every Christian, is to denigrate lay people who study the Scriptures and give articulate and well-formed witness to Christ.  Not only that, but I find it hard to understand how a shepherd is supposed to shepherd the flock of God if he is not a theologian.

I don’t know about anyone else, but what I, as a pastor, want more than anything else is a theologically well-educated laity.  No, I don’t mean a seminary education.  I mean knowing the Scriptures and the Confessions, in order that they might do exactly what the above commenters want: to present the Gospel clearly and succinctly to their unbelieving family, friends, and neighbors within their vocations.  I want that.  And guess what?  They don’t have to be pastors to do it!  The cry of “clericalism!” (besides coming, strangely, from clergy) often comes from those who are, in practice, the most hyper-clerical of all.  Because they seem to think that lay people who are living out their vocations as Christians in the world are somehow not enough.  Instead of bearing witness within the places where God has put them, these anti-anti-clericalists want lay people to be “ministers.”  We’ve had this modernization of medieval monasticism feuchted on us for long enough.  (That is, unless you’re engaged in “ministry,” you’re not doing “Christian” work.)  If everyone is a minister, no one is.  And I wonder if that’s not what the end goal is.  There are more than a few people in the LCMS who think that the role/goal of pastors is to “work themselves out of a job.”  In other words, from a false translation of Ephesians 4 (see here, here, and here [as well as another essay by Hamann: “Church and Ministry: An Exegesis of Ephesians 4:1-16,” Lutheran Theological Journal 16:3 (December 1982)] for the technical evidence) has come a false idea of what a pastor is and is for.

A pastor is indeed given to the Church for the equipment of Christ’s saints, but not for the purpose of making them into little ministers.  He equips them for their life in the world (to do what they’ve been given to do) by doing what he’s been given to do: preach, teach, baptize, absolve, and give them Jesus’ Body and Blood.  This has nothing to do with pride, arrogance, or lording it over the flock of God which the pastor has been put there to serve; nor is it even about ability or education (but why would any congregation want a pastor who does not have the aptitude to teach and who can go no further in the Scriptures than the latest English translation combined with his feelings?).  This is simply about an Office, which–Lutherans confess–Jesus Himself has established, for the giving out of the forgiveness of sins.  Can lay people forgive sins?  Absolutely: within their vocations.  Can lay people preach the Gospel (as they clearly do in Acts 8:4)?  Absolutely: within their vocations.  Can lay people baptize?  Absolutely: within their vocations, as emergencies arise.

The whole “clergy-focused” argument is a denial of vocation and a return to what Luther vociferously opposed: the elevating of a certain vocation above all others.  It says to pastors: don’t do your vocation, we want to do it.  It says to lay people: don’t do your vocations, do the pastor’s.  When I as a pastor insist on doing my own vocation, it is exactly the opposite of clericalism: it is the upholding of every vocation as holy in Christ, including the pastor’s.

Is it clericalism to insist that the correct interpretation of the Scriptural Office of the Ministry is found in Articles V and XIV (as well as XXVIII) of the Augsburg Confession?  Then every single pastor in the LCMS and every single congregation of the LCMS is “clergy-focused,” because it is exactly these articles pastors vow to uphold in their ordinations and which congregations uphold in their constitutions.

Is it clericalism to want, as far as possible, the best trained pastors for every congregation in the Synod?  Then what is it to insist on giving congregations (who could otherwise have a fully trained pastor) pastors who don’t know the Biblical languages?

Is it clericalism to ask that our congregations abide by the Confessions they claim to, well, confess, and for them to put lay people who are publicly preaching and administering the Sacraments into the Office which was created by God for that purpose?  How would this deprive them of anything?  In fact, it would assure them that the man who is giving out the gifts of God in Christ is indeed put there to do exactly that.  No further degree necessary (although, again, is learning the Scriptures more deeply a bad thing?), no further cost.  Simply prayer and the laying on of hands to signify that this man is put into the one Office by God.  Instead of making up new terms, such as “licensing,” why not simply do what the Church has always done, and ordain them?  (And what is ordination, but a “license” to preach and teach according to AC XIV?  What’s with the neologisms?)

Is it clericalism to ask that churches that are planted have a man in the Office to do the AC V things?  How does this limit the missionary activity of lay people?

Vocation, vocation, vocation!  If we could get this straight, the struggles over and between pastors and lay people would essentially dry up (except, of course, for the peccator that remains in every pastor and every lay person!).  Pastors, you have a vocation partially outlined by your ordination vows and your Diploma of Vocation(!).  Do it.  If you don’t want to do it, don’t be a pastor.  Laymen, you have a vocation outlined by your relationships and what various people require from you.  Do it.  If you want to be a pastor, go through the process and be put into the Office.  Live your vocation.  It’s holy in Christ.  You don’t have to be a “professional church worker,” or even a non-professional church worker.  God has put the Body together in the way He wants it, and all the parts work together.  Let’s stop tearing down certain parts of the Body to elevate others, and let’s stop implying that certain members of the Body are less important because they’re not “doing ministry.”

Timotheos 

The American Timeline: The Book of Judges, pt. 1

I think it was Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion (although I seem to have misplaced my copy) who tried to make the point, using the Book of Judges, that the Bible is not a good source for morality.  Which, if you read the Book of Judges, is pretty clear.  In other words, if you think the Bible is only or primarily a book of rules and morality, you will have trouble figuring out how the Book of Judges fits in.  Despite the fact that Dawkins reads the Bible like a seventh-grader who’s had one world religions class, he is right on this point: the Bible is not a book of morality.  There’s all sorts of morality in there, some good and some bad.  There is also the additional point, which Dawkins–typically–fails to consider, that some parts of the Bible are meant to be prescriptive for moral action, while other parts are meant to be descriptive of how human morality, left to itself, always devolves.  Those who think that atheists can act morally are correct, but for the wrong reason; they act morally out of the vestiges of a dying moralism rooted in a Christian past.  We cannot say what would have happened had the West not been rooted in a Christian past (although, perhaps we could consider the Middle East as an opposite case study), but the fact is that a nearly universal Christianity of one sort or another has ruled the West since Constantine.  Whether the political implications of that are good or bad, I think we can definitively say that the moral implications are almost universally good.  Christians have killed and do kill other people, but the New Testament (through which Christians read the Old Testament) is fundamentally against murder, even murder committed in one’s heart.  Christians have committed adultery and still do, but the New Testament is everywhere opposed to it.  Christians have stolen, and still do, but the New Testament says you should give, rather than take.  You get the picture.

But, back to Dawkins: his point is that religion is dangerous.  Why?  Because the Old Testament.  There are ways to read the Old Testament, and Yahweh’s holy wars, in continuity with Jesus (and I read it that way), but the main point for Dawkins is that he assumes Christians (and, I’m guessing, Jews) read everything in every part of Scripture prescriptively, and therefore the Bible is a poor, even evil(!), guide to morality.  One of his major examples, as I noted, is Judges.  There are horrible things in the Book of Judges, but as I read it, people in Judges do horrible things not because they are following the lead of the sadistic god Dawkins sees in the OT, but because they are not.  That is, in fact, the entire point of the Book of Judges.

God tells the people in Deuteronomy 31:

For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant.  And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring).  For I know that they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.  [20-21, ESV]

Joshua says many of the same things in Joshua 23-24.

But all of this is exactly what Israel does when we get to the Book of Judges: “And the people served [Yahweh] all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that [Yahweh] had done for Israel.  And Joshua…died…And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers.  And there arose another generation after them who did not know [Yahweh] or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7-10, ESV).  Everything that happens from now on is precisely because the people forgot God’s salvation.  Because “not knowing” Yahweh doesn’t mean they don’t know His Name or that they’ve never heard of Him.  No, the people in Judges are all very religious, very pious.  That’s exactly the problem: they are running on the religious fumes of the Instruction (Torah) that Moses and Joshua had handed on to them.  But they all get fat and comfortable in Canaan, and they do not teach their children the Faith of Israel.

June 28, St. Irenaeus of Lyons

I know I’m a day late, but here are a couple great quotes from Irenaeus (ca. 130-200).  First, from a fragment recorded by Eusebius:

These4798 opinions, Florinus, that I may speak in mild terms, are not of sound doctrine; these opinions are not consonant to the Church, and involve their votaries in the utmost impiety; these opinions, even the heretics beyond the Church’s pale have never ventured to broach; these opinions, those presbyters who preceded us, and who were conversant with the apostles, did not hand down to thee. For, while I was yet a boy, I saw thee in Lower Asia with Polycarp, distinguishing thyself in the royal court,4799 and endeavouring to gain his approbation. For I have a more vivid recollection of what occurred at that time than of recent events (inasmuch as the experiences of childhood, keeping pace with the growth of the soul, become incorporated with it); so that I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse— his going out, too, and his coming in—his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance. Whatsoever things he had heard from them respecting the Lord, both with regard to His miracles and His teaching, Polycarp having thus received [information] from the eye-witnesses of the Word of life, would recount them all in harmony with the Scriptures. These things, through, God’s mercy which was upon me, I then listened to attentively, and treasured them up not on paper, but in my heart; and I am continually, by God’s grace, revolving these things accurately in my mind.

     [4798   This interesting extract we also owe to Eusebius, who (ut sup.) took it from the work De Ogdoade, written after this former friend of Irenæus had lapsed to Valentinianism. Florinus had previously held that God was the author of evil, which sentiment Irenæus opposed in a treatise, now lost, called περὶ μοναρχίας.]

     [4799  Comp. p. 32, this volume, and Phil. iv. 22.]

The second from the excellent Treasury of Daily Prayer for yesterday:

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith….  But they are altogether deceived who imagine that they may learn from the scriptural text adduced by heretics, that [doctrine] which their words plausibly teach.  For error is plausible and bears a resemblance to the truth but requires to be disguised; while truth is without disguise and, therefore, has been entrusted to children (TDP 472; find it all here and here).

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