Monday, October 30, 2006

Synodical Handbook News Conference


Concordia Junior College - New Berlin

Professor G. P. Sault of the Pre-Textual Studies Department at Concordia Junior College - New Berlin (New Berlin, Illinois) announced a startling discovery at a hastily called press conference last Wednesday (October 25, 2006). At the sparsely attended conference, he presented evidence that suggests that the 2004 Handbook of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, presently used as a “covenant of love” to govern the diverse and stagnant church body, owes its origins to a night of drinking, music, and performance art at the Blue Note (New York City) in 1953.
To quote Professor Sault: “It is simply stunning to discover that an organization like the Missouri Synod has been using what is essentially beat poetry to try and govern itself for years. It is no wonder that they have had increasingly more difficulty in resolving disputes, achieving consensus in doctrine and practice, or even getting along with one another civilly, as they have used the Handbook - for it was never intended as anything other than a clever send-up of American corporate culture in the early 50's....”
Professor Sault began his research into the origins of the Handbook after the conclusion to the 2004 Synodical Convention of the Missouri Synod. He claims that two factors led to his curiosity. One factor was what he describes as the “absolutely opaque” verbiage used in section 1.10, "Dispute Resolution of the Synod." It is his claim that this “couldn't possibly be intended to ‘resolve’ anything, as its very structure creates a process that mitigates the effects of disputes and regularizes their existence, so that what is produced by following the letter of the Handbook is a state in which mutually exclusive positions are supposed to achieve peaceful co-existence.” So he claims to have asked himself “what kind of literature says one thing while meaning something that is completely different?”
The other factor that set his mind to inquiry was a pure accident. At the press conference he claimed that as he was listening to a vintage recording of Thelonius Monk and reading Article III of the Missouri Synod’s Constitution, "Objectives," he noticed a similarity in the rhythms of the spoken word and tempos Monk was using, “if” Professor Sault said, “you could provide missing words to make the scan work.”The words he eventually found to “make the scan work” were such stock Beat phrases and words as man, daddy-o, dig it, pow, righteous, heavy, copasetic, and a previously unknown Beat expression, weasel.When these words were supplied to the text of the Handbook at proper intervals, Professor Sault claims that what emerges from the page is not the constitution and by-laws of a corporate entity, but a “very clever” beat poem. He further asserts that by using formgeschite on the reconstructed text, one cannot escape the conclusion that one is in the presence of a poem rather than a set of guidelines for governing a voluntary organization of independent congregations.
However, at his press-conference, he was not content to simply report the initial conclusions of his research. Having recognized that discovering the actual “form” of the Handbook was only a first step in properly understanding it, Professor Sault then took the small audience through his inquiries into the Handbook’s original sitz in leben. Since listening to Thelonius Monk had been one of his first clues as to what the Handbook really was, he decided to look into the literary culture of New York in the early 50's (the period in which the Monk recording had been made). His discoveries shocked him to the core. He claims that among the beat poets, he found a culture dedicated to improvisation, “performance art,” and the clever lampooning of what they considered to be “self-important bureaucratic types.” Where else would a poem be composed that appeared to be a constitution and by-laws, but was really a recipe for self-delusion and self-destruction? Sault was convinced that he was on to something.
As he researched the various venues where the Beat poets met and regaled each other with their wit and bravado, he was led to the infamous cafe/bar/jazz club called the Blue Note. Furthermore, as he looked into the personal correspondence and memoirs of a group of Beat poets he refuses to identify, beyond calling them “the Five,” he claims to have been able to place them all at the Blue Note on the evening of April 23, 1953.While Sault promises that he will bring adequate documentation forward to substantiate his research, he currently refuses to name the central participants in this evening of genius and “tomfoolery.” Rather, Sault notes that in the personal writings of all the central figures, there are voluminous references to being “totally wasted, high, altered, ‘jazzin,’ ‘jizzin,’ screaming drunk, ‘groovin,’ ‘funkin,’and ‘tripping the light fantastic with a weasel’” on that specific night, and at that particular club. Why they were all there, and whether they intended from the beginning to create what Sault calls the “ur-Handbook,” is an issue that Sault claims is “beyond the scope of reasonable academic research.”
So, what did happen at the Blue Note on the night of April 23, 1953? Sault believes it began innocently enough with “the Five” listening to Monk and his combo as they laid down one “cool” breeze after another, pausing only long enough in their informal jam session to make sure that they maintained a good mix of “pharmaceuticals” in their systems. As they played, conversation among “the Five” apparently turned to their usual contempt for corporate America, and how the “buttoned-down mind set” would eventually take over every aspect of North American culture. One of them, unidentified by Sault, then giggled as she suggested that even Christian churches would succumb to this malady. All of “the Five” immediately fell into paroxysms of laughter at her bon mot. But it didn't end there.
In Sault’s hypothetical reconstruction of the evening, the trouble began to brew when Monk and his crew took their next break to do, “who knows what.” In that interval, one of “the Five” took the stage at the Blue Note, and began with these words:

Preamble - man
Reason for the Forming of a Synodical Union - pow, daddio
1. The example of the apostolic church. Acts 15:1-31 - cool, man, cool
2. Our Lord’s will - zee bop
that the diversities - dig it
of gifts - weasel boyo
should be - heavy righteous man
for the common - dig it, really
profit - for that is our god, man
1 Cor. 12: 4-31

Supposedly the room fell dead silent as those who heard the words tried to make sense of them. But then another one of “the Five” took the stage and continued in the same vein, and then another joined them, and so on. All of “the Five” were finally together, reciting clauses, by-laws, and creating sub-paragraphs in a frenzy akin to modern “poetry slams.” When Monk and his crew returned and saw “the Five” on the stage, he simply brought the musicians back up, let the drummer find a rhythm that complimented the poets, and began to play behind them. Apparently this went on for hours until all the principals were either too tired or too intoxicated to continue. Sault claims that in their personal papers, those who sobered up the next day, reported head-splitting hang-overs.
The question was asked of Sault, granting that his theory of the Handbook’s origin was true, “how did it become a governing document for the Missouri Synod?” Sault paused, mused for a moment, and then - in a tone that could only be described as puzzled - answered: “I don't really know - I mean - it must have been an accident - no one could have seriously thought that the ur-Handbook was a church constitution - in fact, I don't even know that there were any recordings or transcripts of the poem made that night - I haven't seen any references to that in the papers of ‘the Five’.....”
What one is left with as an explanation, according to Sault, are two possibilities. Either, by random chance, through triennial meetings and resolutions, the Missouri Synod “just happened” to organize itself so that it developed a structure that eventually mimicked the ur-Handbook perfectly; or, and Sault lowed his voice as he spoke these words, “someone who was there, who knew the poem, has been working, unseen, to guide the Missouri Synod to this juncture.”
Sault allowed one more question before ending the press conference. The question was: “so what should the Missouri Synod do?” Sault became quite grave at this point, and said, “Again, I just don't know....certainly there is more research to be done...but how on earth does an entity like the Missouri Synod wake up one day to discover it has been the subject of a rather cruel joke?”The administration at Concordia Junior College was contacted in order to find out how the press conference was received. Their only reply to our inquires was that they could find no evidence of anyone actually attending.
So the mystery deepens.

10/27/06 Staff writer - Religious News Today!


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Thank You Amy!

I just heard from V's parents that you think highly of the blog. Thank you very much for the kind words! I can tell by your impeccable taste that you come from a very good pedigree. Heck, I bet I would even get along just fine with your folks. Hmm.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cool New Blog

When I finally got to work on Friday, the first thing that popped up in my email, from a buddy of mine who’s out on vicarage, was a link to a new blog and the one sentence that said “If you haven't seen this site yet, you should”. When I arrived to the shop on Saturday to catch up on a promotional project I’ve been working on, I opened up my email to find yet another email, this time from a member of the priestly caste, highlighting the same blog and calling it “screamingly funny.”

The Rev. Brig. Gen. C.F.W. Scuttlebutt’s blog is the self titled generalscuttlebutt. Humor is not the easiest thing to do, especially when it comes to theological issues. But the General really hits the mark with his earthy military lingo. If you haven’t been to his site yet, fall into formation and double time over there right now. You be glad you did.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Good Post Over At All The Fulness

Christopher Jones over at All The Fulness has a excellent post on Paedoconfirmation and Paedocommunion. Paedocommunion is something that I’ve long advocated in spite of the screeching cries of “heretic” from many of those around me.

Friday, October 20, 2006

What's Wrong With Ablaze!: Part 7

This post will conclude my answering “B’s” question "You may have done this in the past but could you please post your reasons for being so hostile against Ablaze! Do you have theological issues and can you back them up with scripture and the Lutheran confessions. I hear so much negative talk but no one to my knowledge has ever backed it up with scripture.”
Last post I wrote that Ablaze! says that it’s not an answer but an invitation. Now I know there are those who say whether its called a program or a movement is unimportant, as long as we get the Good News out, that’s what’s important. After all, if Ablaze! gets us excited about spreading the Gospel, we’ll bring more people into the church. The previous issues discussing that faith looks only to where our Lord says He meets us, in Word and Sacrament, aside, what are we inviting people to? When all these “seeds of faith” and “critical events” that we are counting that “lead” people to the local congregation, what are they going to find? Are they going to find the Word preached purely and the Sacrament administered rightly? Let’s start with the official “Start up to Ablaze!” manual. Inside the manual are several featured resources that may or may not be familiar to some. The congregations that are strongly encouraged by their districts to have an Ablaze! educator can choose from programs like Friendship Ablaze!, 50 Days Ablaze!, Groups Ablaze! or Individuals Ablaze!. Lots of stuff about being Ablaze!. One of these days I’ll need to do a post on how much fun fire is in Scripture, but that’s for another time. Friendship Ablaze! promotes itself thusly;

Welcome to Friendship Ablaze!
This resource will help your congregation to celebrate friendship in Jesus Christ, both among the saints of the congregation, as well as new and familiar people in the community. Jesus declared: “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). He expressed that loving friendship perfectly and profoundly on the cross, giving His life as a ransom for all. And now, the friendships which God’s people create and nurture are dynamic opportunities for Christian witness, authentic relationship involvement which provides the opportunity for the Word of Christ to be shared and received.
A group of gifted friends of Jesus gathered to plan and prepare this resource to support and strengthen outreach to friends in your personal life and congregation.
Christian demographers claim that there are more than 150,000,000 unchurched people living in the United States, making this nation the third largest English-speaking mission field in the world. Jesus Christ yearns for them to be His friends in faith and connected to His body, the church. There is a growing need for God’s people to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (I Peter 3:15)
Through the Ablaze! initiative, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) has called the people of our congregations to share the Good News of Jesus with 50,000,000 unchurched/uncommitted people here in the United States by 2017, and to plant 2,000 new congregations by the same year.
Individual Christians can do that. Congregations can do that. And your congregation can help your people to always be prepared to give that life-changing answer about faith in Jesus Christ. This resource was prepared with the prayer that we will be encouraged and supported in sharing the Good News about Jesus, especially with our friends. This is the reason for gathering these resources under the theme Friendship Ablaze!
Welcome to the fire, the cozy fire of Friendship Ablaze!

Since I spent so much time in the series of posts pointing to Word and Sacrament, I’ll start with the Divine Service and what to expect when gearing up for friendship Sunday. The program starts out with tips on greeting people. Now in this area, let’s be honest, all our churches could use a little work with a few exceptions. The program suggests things like wearing name tags, having ushers that know how to greet people properly, welcome cards in the pews, and good signage inside and outside of the building. Good suggestions all!

Then things take a strange turn. The program suggests that a gift be given to each guest; often a congregational coffee mug, (how Lutheran!)? and parking attendants with brightly colored umbrellas for rainy days.? All of these are innocent by themselves, but what happens when you add the dreaded “Four Touch Rule”? What is that you ask? See here;

The “Four Touch Rule.”
This “rule” says guests should have at least four experiences of someone smiling at them, shaking their hand and welcoming them. The four touches are:
A host/greeter smiles, shakes their hand and welcomes them.
An usher smiles, welcomes them, offers a bulletin and assistance in finding a place to sit.
At a time of greeting at the beginning of the service, a fellow worshiper smiles at them, shakes their hand, welcomes them and introduces him/herself to the guest.
At the end of the service, the pastor greets and welcomes them as he greets all worshipers at the door.
Some congregations add a fifth “touch.” They have hosts greet guests in the parking lot (assumes a dedicated guest parking area), welcoming them and giving them directions to the sanctuary.
Does your congregation observe The Four Touch Rule?
What fifth or sixth “touch” could you add?

That’s just plain creepy if you ask me. Actually what it is, is more business model lingo creeping into our churches. How can we close the deal if we don’t touch the client four or five times? Newsflash, someone tries to make sure they touch me four times is in serious trouble! All of this can be explained away with just very enthusiastic people trying to do their best at putting on a good face. But what happens when the visitor goes into the sanctuary? Let’s look at what to expect from the Friendship Ablaze! folks:

Week One
Goal: introduce the theme during worship, children’s message, and Sunday School. We cast the goal of at least 100 “friends” in worship on May 1. Our average attendance is 300.
Bumper music for greeting/handshake time: “I’ll Be There for You” by The Rembrandts (theme from TV show “Friends”)
Week Two
Goal: by the end of the sermon, each hearer will identify 3 individuals that they will invite to Friendship Sunday on May 1. The sermon included teaching on receptivity. Children’s message included this focus. Makes use of a baseball theme.
Bumper Music for greeting/handshake time: “Centerfield” by John Fogerty (“Put me in, Coach”)
Gave out “Impact/Invitation Cards” for individuals to “target mail” with their signature and personal postage stamp.
Sunday School students received child-focused invitations to give away to their friends.
Enlisted additional greeters, Welcome Center workers, and people to staff the name tag tables.
Enlisted people and distributed phone call lists with “talk sheets” to invite people from our attender and pre-attender data base.
Enlisted people to make follow-up phone calls within 2 days of Friendship Sunday.
Week Three
Goal: teach the congregation how to “do the ask” – extending the invitation through both indirect and direct methods. Instructed the congregation how the next Sunday would work, the things we needed them to do to welcome people, the challenge to park away from the choice parking spots, and the importance of personal follow-up.
Bumper music for greeting/handshake time: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman (Song from “Toy Story”)
Gave out additional “Impact/Invitation Cards” for individual mailings. Sunday School received additional child-focused invitations.
In the week prior to May 1, Milpitas Post Newspaper carried an ad about Friendship Sunday on May 1 which included the promotion of special guest musical performance by Manuel Romero (Latin Grammy Nominated Recording Artist and member of our church). Manuel sang two Chris Tomlin songs, “Unfailing Love” and “How Great is our God,” accompanied by our worship band.
All the guests in the database received phone call invitations and also an “Impact/Invitation Card” in the mail prior to May 1.
Week Four – Friendship Sunday
Goal: invite our friends to personally know our friend, Jesus.
A substantial “coffee bar” with a wide variety of juice, coffees, flavor additives, creamers, fresh scones, and juices was available before and after each of the 3 services.
Name tag tables in place; greeters to welcome every person who attended
Welcome Center staffed all morning, even during worship
Special welcome of guests to Sunday School
People introduced their friends and family to others. Those that invited friends walked them to the Welcome Center after worship to get their gift and turn in the Welcome Card (registration).
Awesome morning of worship! We had 120 more people in worship on May 1 than we had on April 24!
Special Production Pieces within worship
“Jay Walking” – man on the street interview video - “What’s a Friend?”
“Friendship” by Cole Porter performed in character by two drama team members to a recorded accompaniment track

What in the world is a visitor going to think when he hears those great Christian hymns “I’ll Be There for You” by The Rembrandts, “Centerfield” by John Fogerty, or “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman? Are they going be reminded of the sacred or the divine? Let look at things realistically, even Twila Paris would look that those songs and say “what the hell?” Chances are, the “unchurched” visitor is going to think they just walked into the local optimist club gathering.

The service does to its credit focus on making the visitor welcome. But that is the problem, the focus is the visitor. And what should the focus be? The Marks of the Church, Word and Sacrament, that is how a Christian Church is to be identified. So where are the Marks of the Church? Where was Jesus in all of this? Well, he was mentioned once in week 4. I guess he had to be brought up sooner or later.

Seriously, the parish that followed the Friendship Sunday Worship series was not focusing on Christ and His gifts at all. What they were focused on was what they were going to do for Jesus. The service was all about satisfying and validating the stupid idea that God just can’t get by without our help. True faith looks to Christ and what he did for us and continues to do for us on the cross. A Christian by faith hears his or her Lord in the faithful preaching of the Word. The faithful believer experiences a foretaste of the eternal feast in the right administration of the Sacrament.

What Friendship Ablaze! and Ablaze! with it’s counting of “critical events” and “seeds of faith” looks to, is what we do. Ablaze! and all programs like it make us no better than Pharisees who count our own righteousness as worthy.

Perhaps we should follow the example of Paul who in 1 Corinthians 2:2 said “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

When we look to our works instead of Christ we fall short. Ablaze! looks to count human works and declare them divine. Ablaze! falls short by design, and it is therefore wrong.

And that, “B”, is why I seem to be so hostile to our beloved synod’s latest fad. The thing that upsets me most, even though we have the Confessions and Scripture, is the fact that we should know better.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What's Wrong With Ablaze!: Part 6

Let’s take another look at the Ablaze! website’s use of scripture. The “What is Ablaze!?” site uses the following passage and explanation:

“They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon’”—Luke 24:32-34.
Ablaze! is not a program or a campaign. It began as a mission vision with the hope of starting a mission movement. Each participating congregation, group, mission society, partner church, individual, etc. is challenged to pray about its own particular situation and the part of the mission endeavor it can impact and to design its own strategy to contribute to reaching 100 million people. LCMS World Mission is asking the church to develop mission models that work and can be shared with others. Ablaze! is not an answer…it’s an invitation!

Hmm, why would I spend any time on a three verses that seem to directly contradict my own argument? Just as I looked at an entire parable last post, I think it just as important here to look at what leads up to the apostles saying what they said. The road to Emmaus account is recorded in Luke 24:13-35

Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him. And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?” Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.” Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them. Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

I think the key verse for us to look at is not verse 34 “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” but rather verse 25 “ He said to them, How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” But doesn’t verse 34 make Ablaze!’s argument? No, I don’t believe it does. But I do believe this verse is crucial as to why the confessions seem to not speak to our way of evangelism in America today.

As the apostle start their journey to Emmaus, they are clearly demoralized. The guy they thought was going deliver Israel had just been crucified on a cross and had died. They can’t even mourn him properly as there is no longer a body to sorrow over. For three years they traveled with someone who they thought would be a king only to see him nailed to the cursed tree like the lowest of criminals. They wanted a messiah, and they went looking for the Anointed One at a tomb. I for one do not blame them for losing hope, I’m positive I would have done the same. (truth be told, I would have been one of the Pharisees plotting his arrest. My natural human tendency is to want to follow the Law. But that’s just me.)

Jesus meets them on the road and still they do not recognize him! Why? Because they still are not looking (does anybody blame them?) for Him where he says he will meet them. Jesus even tells them where in Scripture He is and still they do not see him. Just a few nights ago he told them where he could be found, and still they just don’t see him. But when He breaks bread, blesses it and gives it to them, their eyes are opened and they see their Lord and Savior where he said he would be; in the Word and in the Sacrament.

So what are the disciples saying when they proclaim “Did not our heart burn within us”? What was the cause of this holy heartburn? Why is there is no mention of the holy heartburn after Christ reveals Himself in the breaking of the bread? Just think about it and it should not be a surprise.

I would argue that they were looking for Christ outside where He states He’ll continue to serve us to this day. Christ has no other option on the road to Emmaus but to say “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” In these verses we see our Lord frame how His church will come to him until the end of time. The disciples did not believe and for that they were chastised by their Lord. But through the Preaching of the Word and the administration of the blessed Sacrament they met their Lord where we met him, for all time and in all places, just as at Emmaus. Their hearts were burning because they were foolish and unbelieving. After Jesus shows them once again where He meets them (and us as well) the holy heartburn goes away. Emulating the faith of a child is one thing, but emulating the faith of the foolish and slow of heart is something else entirely. We should seek Jesus where he has told us he will be.

Today we sing the Church’s first hymns when we chant the psalms. We read the lessons from the Old Testament where the Prophets spoke of the coming messiah. We hear the apostles, who have been sent by Christ Himself to preach the Word and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, speak to us in the Epistle reading. We hear our Lord himself not only speak to his hearers in ancient Galilee but to us sitting in the pews of our modern churches. In the Emmaus story, Christ gives us a model for all ages to emulate. Word and Sacrament is where he has chosen to meet us. Word and Sacrament is where we are given that saving faith that allows us to see Christ where he wants us to see him.

Now, let’s look at Ablaze!. Just as Julie Martinez stated in her paper “Is Ablaze! Evangelism?” Ablaze! gages itself by the number of critical events reported to a website. This approach is in direct contrast to the Emmaus. Instead of pointing us to the one place where Christ has told us He will be, it has as the “critical event” us and our work. Ablaze! has all the earmarks of making a visible church out of the invisible. How can people be brought to faith outside of the means of grace? As Dr Luther wrote in the large Catachism explaining the third article; “For where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Spirit to create, call and gather the Christian church, apart from which no one can come to call the Lord Christ.” If we want to stop being Lutheran and start being PentaBaptiMethoCostal that would make Ablaze! ok and hunky-dory as well. Actually, nothing makes Ablaze! ok and hunky-dory . The teaching that faith can be obtained or sustained outside of Christ’s Church is wrong when other Christian denominations do it, and it should be clearly and obvious to all it’s wrong when we do it!

We in this country have a problem with very poor catechesis. We seem to think Christianity started the day we were confirmed. Or, for the masses with a more bronze tinge, as soon as the ink was dry on the first copy of TLH. Christianity starts and ends at the cross. To look elsewhere, especially at our own works, is foolishness.

We need to reach the “unchurched” by preaching the Law so that the sinner understand his (or her) sinful nature that has existed since Adam’s fall. Whether or not he wants to hear it (the Law) is irrelevant, he needs to hear it. The second part of the equation is once he understands that he falls under the curse of the Law, he needs to hear the sweet message of God’s saving faith in Christ given to us freely for the sake of and on account of Christ.

Ablaze! points to events outside of the Church as critical. This is why Christ tells the apostles and us today to stop being foolish and look to Scripture for those things concerning himself. (“And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself”).

Ablaze! is a foolish attempt to appeal to our inner theologians of glory and make us the subject of the verbs. We need to stop being so foolish and make Christ the subject our evangelism. When we run the verbs, we do it wrong!

The confessors rightfully understood that we only find Christ where he says he is; in Word and Sacrament! We should understand that as well!

“But”, you might say, “Ablaze! is about sharing Jesus. And besides, the website says “Ablaze! is not an answer…it’s an invitation!””

We’ll go over what exactly we’re being invited to in the next post.

Friday, October 13, 2006

What's Wrong With Ablaze!: Part 5

Let us now look at the Ablaze! website that asks the question “Why count? Why report"? The site starts like this: "Counting has always been important in the Bible as one of the indications of how things are and what needs to be done. A fine example is the parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15:4-7. When the shepherd gets to 99, and he knows that there should be a hundred sheep, he leaves the 99 to seek and find the one lost sheep. Without counting, human beings often do not have a clear picture of the real state of affairs."

So, according to the Ablaze! program Luke is telling us that Jesus says we are supposed to count to know how well we are doing. Let’s look at the whole parable:

Luke 15:1-7
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, saying: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

So, did you see what was left out in synod’s promotion of Ablaze!? The first two verses introducing the parable are missing! Why is that important? Because, if we don’t know who the parable is addressed to, it can take on a very different meaning as we shall soon see.

The parable is being addressed to the Pharisees and Scribes who count themselves as righteous and object to Jesus welcoming and eating with sinners. The parable is not about counting sheep for the kingdom. As the Rev. Dr. Arthur A. Just Jr. writes in his commentary on Luke in the Concordia Commentary Series;

“the Pharisees know that these parables are directed against them. They know that, in Jesus’ view, all need to repent, so that there is no such thing as people who have no need for repentance. The Pharisees know that they have rejected John’s call for repentance and so have also rejected God’s plan for salvation in John and Jesus (cf. 729-35). As they listen carefully to the parable, they are never told whether the ninety nine are still in the wilderness or have returned to the village. Jesus leaves it up in the air because the parables are his call to them to repentance. Are they going to be rescued by Jesus and rejoice with the tax collectors? If so they should stop grumbling, repent, be brought to the village, and join the feast with Jesus. If not they will be left in the wilderness, in need of a shepherd to find them and bring them to the feast. The remaining ministry of Jesus, and the mission of the church, is to continue to call – and carry the ninety nine in from the wilderness home to the eschatological feast of Jesus.”

Paul E. Kretzmann, Ph. D., D. D., goes further in his "Popular Commentary." "The ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance are evidently people like the Pharisees and scribes, who in their own opinion are not in need of a Savior."

So, is this parable from Jesus telling us that we need to count to measure how well we are doing? No! It is about those who believe that they hold the law perfectly enough to count themselves guaranteed a place in heaven while grumbling about the one sinner who is not worthy of table fellowship. The ninety nine look at what they do to count themselves after all, they kept the Law perfectly. The parable is accusatory to those who who count their own work. And yet, this is what Ablaze! holds up as its proof text in justifying the counting of “critical events.”

This is just one place where Ablaze! twists scripture to defend its existence. The good news for the ninety nine is that if they repent, they will enjoy being brought back to the village and eat at the table with Jesus with the rest of us poor miserable sinners who don’t count ourselves worthy.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What's Wrong With Ablaze!: Part 4

So let’s continue answering “B’s” question by asking a question of our own (and answering it of course). What’s wrong with counting? It tells us in the Bible to count ourselves doesn’t it? After all, one of the Ablaze! websites states: “Without counting, human beings often do not have a clear picture of the real state of affairs.” So, we should be counting, shouldn’t we? Let’s take a look at two instances of counting in the Old Testament.

The first chapter of the book of Numbers written by Moses is a report of a census taken by newly liberated nation of Israel encamped at Mount Sinai. Right there in Numbers 1:1 the Lord tells Moses to take a census and count all of Israel before they went to the Promised Land. Moses and Aaron were directed to count all men and their families.

But what Moses and Aaron were not directed to do, is go into foreign lands and proselytize and give the “unchurched” a chance to respond. Under Ablaze!’s rules they could have went back into Egypt and given the Egyptians another chance to respond and that would’ve counted as success. Imagine that scene, “hey remember us, remember all those plagues and stuff, yeah, that was us, well, uh, we’re back and, hmm, we were wondering if you want these seeds of faith that we’re planting. So, ah, whatchya think about that hmm?” Yeah, that would have gone over well. But in the bizzaro Ablaze! world, that incident would be counted because the people of Egypt could have responded. Heck, if the Lord had just directed the census to be taken before they even left Egypt, Pharaoh could have been counted. Even though Pharaoh’s heart was hardened against the Lord, he still had a chance to respond. Like I said, it’s like bizzaro world!

But what made the whole counting thingy ok when Moses and Aaron did it was that it was commanded by the Lord himself. The Lord told Moses and Aaron to count and that’s exactly what they did. Because the Lord commanded it, it is just and right.

But what happens when we decided to count to see how we are doing? What happens when we decided to look not at the Marks of the Church, where the Lord has promised He will be? Is there anything in scripture that points to counting on our own, without being commanded by the Lord, not being such a good idea?

2 Samuel 24:1-17 records an account of what happens when we count just to “have a clear picture of the real state of affairs.” The text is as follows:

Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, “Now go throughout all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and count the people, that I may know the number of the people.” And Joab said to the king, “Now may the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times more than there are, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king desire this thing?” Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab and against the captains of the army. Therefore Joab and the captains of the army went out from the presence of the king to count the people of Israel. And they crossed over the Jordan and camped in Aroer, on the right side of the town which is in the midst of the ravine of Gad, and toward Jazer. Then they came to Gilead and to the land of Tahtim Hodshi; they came to Dan Jaan and around to Sidon; and they came to the stronghold of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and the Canaanites. Then they went out to South Judah as far as Beersheba. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. Then Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to the king. And there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men. And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,“Go and tell David, ‘Thus says the LORD: “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.”’” So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.” And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.” So the LORD sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of the people died. And when the angel stretched out His hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the destruction, and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.”

At the time of David’s decision to call a census, the nation of Israel was at peace. There was no reason nor was there a command from God to count anyone. The reason for the Lord’s anger and wrath is that David started counting just to get his website numbers up. The sin of David was the sin of pride. Even Joab, not the best or nicest kind of guy to have around to begin with, even Joab recognizes that this whole counting thing is going to bring the Lord’s wrath. 1 Chronicles 21 records the same event and tells us to “not help” the counting process along, Joab elected not to include Levi and Benjamin in the census because (recorded in 1 Chronicles 21:6-8) “the king’s command was repulsive to him. This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.” Now how bad off is David’s sin if Joab thinks it’s a bad idea? Apparently bad enough to have God send Gad to deliver three possible punishments to David.

David’s sin of pride is our own sin of pride. What Ablaze! wants to count is what David wanted to count, our own sinful works. This measuring of the “seeds of faith” or “critical events” counts what we think we do for God instead of what God has already done for us in Christ.

Instead of worrying about what we do, we should look to the cross and the Crucified and Risen Lord. We should always (I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but) look to the Marks of the Church. The church that preaches the Word purely and administers the Sacrament rightly does not have to worry about Gad knocking on her door asking her to choose between three punishments. But the synod that purports to see the hearts of men, when Scripture says it is the Lord’s privilege alone, should not be in such a hurry to answer her door. And the synodical president, or anyone else for that matter, which stands at a podium at every district meeting and snaps their fingers five times slowly saying “in those five seconds, five more people went to hell because we didn’t tell them about Jesus” should not only lock the door, but probably disconnect their phones as well.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

What's Wrong With Ablaze!: Part 3

So, where were we? Ah yes, I was answering “B’s” question “why are you so hostile to Ablaze? Do you have theological issues and can you back them up with scripture and the Lutheran confessions. I hear so much negative talk but no one to my knowledge has ever backed it up with scripture?” Let’s wrap up our look at the confessions with a quick look at the Large Catechism’s explanation of the third article of the Apostils Creed, which is one of the three Ecumenical creeds in our confessions.

Dr Luther in his explanation of the third article writes in 40-45

40] Learn, then, to understand this article most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. 41] But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 42] For, in the first place, He has a peculiar congregation in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.
43] For where He does not cause it to be preached and made alive in the heart, so that it is understood, it is lost, as was the case under the Papacy, where faith was entirely put under the bench, and no one recognized Christ as his Lord or the Holy Ghost as his Sanctifier, that is, no one believed that Christ is our Lord in the sense that He has acquired this treasure for us, without our works and merit, and made us acceptable to the Father. What, then, was lacking? 44] This, that the Holy Ghost was not there to reveal it and cause it to be preached; but men and evil spirits were there, who taught us to obtain grace and be saved by our works. 45] Therefore it is not a Christian Church either; for where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Ghost who creates, calls, and gathers the Christian Church, without which no one can come to Christ the Lord.

Notice how Dr. Luther states that under the papacy, there was no Christian church as there was no right preaching. Rome preached salvation by one’s own works, which does not look to Christ but rather looks inward. Again, “For where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Spirit to create, call and gather the Christian church, apart from which no one can come to call the Lord Christ.” This is why I spent so much time on identifying the Marks of the Church as the only thing we would need to look to in my last posts.

Now contrast what Dr Luther wrote with Ablaze!. How does Ablaze! measure success? By counting what our synod’s President Kieschnick calls “critical events” which is defined as sharing a "shared the hope that is in you, so that another may encounter Christ."

The Ablaze! website entitled “Are We Really Counting” describes the counting process as “When one person gives a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to another person, so that there is an opportunity for that person to respond, this activity “counts” toward the 100 million goal. A person may “respond” by receiving the message, rejecting it or asking for more information.”

Now there are two ways to look at the above statement. First, our synodical leadership now has the ability to see these seeds of faith that they want us to start counting. The problem with that is a pesky little verse in 1 Kings 8:39 which says "then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men)" . So, now we really can see into the hearts of men, since that is the only place that Holy Spirit works to bring us to faith? Apparently the writer of the book of Kings wasn’t aware of the Ablaze! program since we now know that a website can measure what was long thought to be immeasurable. Hmm.

The second and more disturbing option (as if the first wasn’t disturbing enough) is that the Ablaze! program just doesn’t care that it doesn’t point to the Marks of the Church. This is why I spent so much time on the last post on what the confessors thought identified the Church.

Remember, the Ablaze! website records not people confessing Christ as Lord nor baptisms where Christ seals the child (or adult) with his cross by the Word of God. All that is required for the website numbers to go up to reach the 100 million “unchurched” is only the opportunity for the people to respond. This is why the LCMS can run a TV program and the numbers jump up by a million in a single month. Anyone watching the LCMS happy clappy hour might have a seed of faith in them. Who knows? Well, apparently we do, so we are counting them as having the opportunity to respond.

All of this Ablaze! stuff looks to own works as a sign of all the good that we do for God instead of what God has already done for us and continues to do for us in Word and Sacrament. 1 Kings 8:39 states that God alone knows what’s in our hearts and that’s good enough for me. We have a responsibility to give a confession of faith anytime we are asked. If the opportunity comes up in our daily vocation we must confess Christ crucified. But counting our work, and taking credit for a work that is very clearly the work of the Holy Spirit, is intolerable.

So, is there anything wrong with counting? We’ll tackle that in the next post.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What's Wrong With Ablaze!: Part 2

As I said in my last post, I will now use this post to address what the Augsburg confession says about the means of grace. The reason we are going in this direction is that I believe we all need to be talking the same language later on in this series.

In the last post I said that the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration was strangely silent concerning evangelism. In fact the confessors say that those who reject God’s word have hardened their own hearts and are deserving of God’s righteous judgment. Now those who advocate the Ablaze! program would say that it is all the more important that we tell people about Jesus NOW. But isn’t that what Abaze! does you ask? No, by the very definition of the Ablaze! website, the definition of success is, wait…wait I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s get back to the confessions.

Let’s first look at Augustana, articles V and VII:

Article V: Of the Ministry.
1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3] the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.

4] They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.

Article VII: Of the Church.
1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4, 5. 6.

First, what is the Church? We need to define this first as this is crucial for this and all later discussions. The Church is, simply put, the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. The reason this is an important issue to the reformers is that Luther and others had been excommunicated for preaching the Gospel. Rome believed and still believes in a visible church that can be seen and ruled by an infallible pope as if the word of God were handed to him as Peter himself! Luther rejected the hierarchy and said that the church was a communion of saints, one bride of Christ with Him as its Head. So what is the basis for this? Read Eph 1:17-23, Eph 3:15,16 Eph 1:17-23, and 1 Cor 1:2 All these verses point to Christ as the head of His Church.

But, secondly, what do the confessors keep pointing to as the way to identify the Church? The Marks of the Church, that is to say Word and Sacrament. Over and over they talk about the Word preached purely and the Sacraments administered rightly.

So, is it possible to see the Church? Well, yes and no. No because it is hidden under the Cross and yes because it is “hidden” in Word and Sacrament! Hidden? Yes, in Word and Sacrament. Faith allows the saints to see this hiddenness of God in the spoken Word and the same crucified Christ hidden in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. There are many reform churches that would join the Romans and say they can see God’s church or His people. They say by evidence of an alter call or a sinners prayer the true church can be seen. This is utter nonsense as only God knows his own! And yet the Ablaze! program states it can actually do some counting…wait, wait that’s getting ahead of myself again.

The confessors believed so strongly that Church is “hidden” that the following article was written:

Article VIII: What the Church Is.
1] Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: The Scribes and 2] the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat, etc. Matt. 23, 2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men.

3] They condemn the Donatists, and such like, who denied it to be lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.

The confessors understood that we meet Christ where He says he will meet us, even if that office is held be hypocrites and sinful men.
So what does this mean concerning any evangelism program? We must look for the Marks of the Church. If they are not there, then to whom shall we go? Hmm…
Now contrast what I just wrote with Ablaze!. How does Ablaze! define success? Well, by counting “seeds of faith” or “critical events”. As Julie Martinez wrote in her brilliant article “Is Ablaze! Evangelism?", the Ablaze! DVD defines a “critical event” as any one-time encounter where the Word of God is shared on a one to one basis, regardless of the response.

Where are the Marks of the Church in the reporting of these critical events? The events reported point to things outside of the Church and therefore not what the confessors had in mind when confessing their faith in the Crucified One. Ablaze! looks not to Word or Sacrament for its success but to works, while well intentioned, by poorly catechized laity and roistered church workers alike.

Isn’t it just a little scary that while St. Paul states in Colossians 3:3 “for you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” Ablaze! purports to be able to see into hearts to see these supposedly hidden seeds of faith? Perhaps Colossians needs to go through the Doctrinal Review Board in St. Louis before too many people read that little verse. Oops, sarcasm. Sorry.