Friday, October 30, 2009

Reformation Day 2009: Plus Ca Change, Plus C'est Pareil

Tomorrow, in addition to on of my favorite secular holidays: Halloween, is Reformation Day. On Reformation Day we celebrate Martin Luther nailing the Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. What was Dr. Luther’s problem with the selling of indulgences? Plain and simple; indulgences were the forgiveness of sins; not on the account of Christ vicarious atonement on the cross but rather forgiveness based on coins placed in a coffer or through works demanded by church leadership.

Here is a portion of a Reformation Day sermon (Reformation Day was actually celebrated last Sunday) that outlines some… similarities, to what we see going on in many churches across both the country and as well denominational lines and certainly within my own beloved synod the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod:

Back in October of 1517 there was a man who was not on board with the plan. It was the church’s plan and (as usual) it involved a building and fund raising program. The more things change…

Anyway, this man was not on board either with the building or the fund raising plan. In fact, he was not on board much at all with the general plan of the contemporary church. His objection, in a nutshell? Too much work. Too much of our work, that is. Too much about me and not enough about Christ. That was essentially his objection. This man figured the Christian Church should be about Christ and His body the church which Christ Himself bought with His own blood and builds with His own hands, freely, graciously, without needing our hurrying, scurrying around, all our building and fund raising and outreaching efforts. This man figured that since Christ is God, after all, He can be trusted to take care of everything, while we simply ride the wave of Baptism all the way into the Kingdom…

This was not the plan corporate headquarters hatched. Theirs was more… fiery. Headquarters had sent mission execs to all the provinces, even to little Wittenberg in Saxony where this man lived and taught at the local university. It was listening to one of these mission executives (guy named Tetzel) that moved our man to post some theses pointing out what was wrong with the plan and what Scripture had to say about the plan. 95 theses he had, detailed objections to the plan. It’s what we’re recalling today.

As we said, the plan ultimately revolved around a building program, and every building program has at its heart a fund raising strategy. Because church fund raising goes better if it is tied to the essential mission of the church, the plan from church headquarters tied it ultimately to our eternal destiny in heaven or hell. The pitch went something like this:

“People are dying and going to hell every day. This is terrible. A terrible, tragic thing! Surely, you, dear Christian friend, don’t want to see people dying and burning in hell, especially you or your loved ones, do you? Of course you don’t want to see that. So here’s what we can do about it: the church has these little mission pamphlets. We call them “indulgences”. The name isn’t important. The mission is what drives it! You purchase one of these indulgences (they are like five bucks or so—and what’s five bucks compared to eternity in hell? Surely you can spare five bucks to get a soul out of hell, can’t you? Of course you can. Even in this economy!). You purchase an indulgence, use it yourself or share it with someone in danger of hell’s fire, and voila! They’re on the fast track out of hell, toward heaven…

“Because it’s a process, the more you buy, the quicker the trip. The more they see you care. Now it’s not like the paper itself gets a person out of hell. Of course we rely on Christ to do that, ultimately! But Christ has called us to help Him with this very big job. You wouldn’t want Jesus to have to do this all Himself would you? Didn’t He do enough, getting the ball rolling, dying for you on a cross? Don’t you want to help Jesus? Sure you do. So here’s how you can help: Jesus called 12 guys, we call them apostles, to get people out of hell. Our boss at corporate headquarters is the direct successor of Peter, the head guy. He is empowered to announce the way to life to all people and everyone needs to hear this from him. By purchasing these indulgences you create mission moments where lost souls hear how much the church can do for them and find their way to our doors. From there, the chances they get out of hell and into heaven improve exponentially. All for five bucks. Are you in, dear friend? How many do you want to buy today?”

Some of the purchasers of the indulgences had a good question: “what exactly does the five bucks go for anyway?”

“Well, of course, some of it is for overhead, to pay our international center staff’s salaries. Copying costs, advertising, etc. But half of it goes for building a new corporate headquarters. We need a visible, tangible sign of our church’s great power to save, something to inspire the heart and fill the eye. We call it “St. Peter’s Cathedral”. It’s being built right now in the holy city and will be the biggest and best cathedral in the world, as is fitting for Christ’s holy church…

“When pilgrims come to St. Peter’s, they will see how powerful the church is to save! They will want to tell more of their friends and neighbors and this will put them all on the path that leads from hell to heaven.”

“So, what,” the purchaser wondered, “is required of us to get to heaven, after we come into the church that is?”

“Well, Christ did the hard part dying on the cross! But, of course, you have to do something too! Clean up your act a bit. Live a better life. And buy more indulgences to create mission moments to get you and your neighbors out of hell…

Hmm, plus ca change, plus c'est pareil...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Time Out Episode 37

Dan over at Necessary Roughness has the newest Time Out; Time Out, Episode 37 posted.

The Scripture reading for this episode is Psalm 46 and Revelation 19:11-21 and the hymn is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” found on page 656 in the Lutheran Service Book.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God by Dr. Luther is considered the battle hymn of the reformation and it is usually sung on Reformation Day which commemorates Martin Luther nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in which he laid out the abuses of the Roman church’s selling of indulgences.

Dan treats us to a bit of commentary on the end of the third verse when he writes:

At the end of the third verse, the lyric is, “one little word can fell him (Satan).” We dropped the volume on the phrase, and I almost sing-song-taunted the line. What little word fells Satan? There’s no official answer. Some have said, “Jesus”; others have said, “Liar!” “Jesus” works, but “Liar” is great because it goes to the core of the problem of the devil. He is the deceiver. He doesn’t care if we believe in him, just that we don’t believe that Christ died to save us. The Pharisees of the New Testament time didn’t worship Satan outright, and yet they were of their father, the devil (John 8:39-47).

He’s judged. The deed is done. Amen.

Be sure to stop by, say howdy, and thank Dan for doing such a great job on Time Out, Episode 37!

Previous Time Out episodes:

Time Out Episode 32
Time Out Episode 33
Time Out Episode 34
Time Out Episode 35
Time Out Episode 36

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Something’s Rotten In…. Sweden?

The Lutheran Church of Sweden last week joined a growing number of denominational bodies that have chosen to reject their heritage as reformation heirs and bless homosexual unions. With a margin of 70-30% in favor of the change, the church body now falls in line with its governments recent passing of a new law in May allowing homosexuals the same marriage rights as heterosexuals in spite of homosexuality being declared as sinful.

From the BBC story the Archbishop of Sweden, Anders Wejryd is reported as saying:

"For my part, the right decision was taken, but I can empathise with the many who believe this has gone too fast."

No surprise I guess that Archbishop Wejryd is following the culture as so many have done recently as opposed to remaining faithful to God’s Holy Word and calling a sin what it is; sin. Apparently the only thing Archbishop Wejryd is sorry for is the moving too quickly to reject God's Word.

It is also not surprising that the same story reports that church attendance is rather low in a church body where right and wrong or truth and falsehood are not absolute but change from culture to culture and situation to situation.

I’m starting to believe that there is something really, really wrong with the water in Sweden. Just last week I found out that Sweden was burning bunnies to warm their homes. Yep, something is very rotten in Sweden.

Monday, October 19, 2009

POTF Blog Of The Week: Germs and The Common Cup

This week’s blog of the week is a post titled “Germs and The Common Cup” over at Elephant’s Child’s self titled blog. Elephant’s Child, a frequent commenter here at the firehouse, has a few observations of sanitary practices that add to the reasons for her wanting one chalice and not individual cups, even during flu season, at the Lord’s Supper.

A few of her observations:

The edges of your plastic individual cups were touched by an altar guild member, when she inserted them into the trays. Then, your cup was touched by you, when you removed it from the tray.

Did you wash your hands after you shook hands with the greeter before church?
Does your congregation "share the peace" during the service? How clean are YOUR hands?

I've seen our communion assistants grabbing the cups by the edges and rearranging them in the tray, too

What’s brilliant in it’s simplicity concerning Elephant’s Child’s observations is that germs are indeed everywhere and the more individual cups are handled the greater the chances that a virus is spread.

The debate for and against aside the common cup at the Eucharist aside, the recent H1N1 swine flu pandemic has certainly produced some rather interesting debates on a host of blogs across the blogosphere. Sadly, there are actually people who advocate individual cups with the argument that our Lord and the authors of Scripture had no way of knowing about diseases and such.

It frustrates me to no end to hear folks say that the same Jesus who both created and redeemed the human race was ignorant of the flu and therefore couldn’t have had enough insight to mandate individual cups so that the sheep wouldn’t get sick. Sorry, but if you want to make an argument for individual cups, you’ll need to better than that.

Great post Elephant’s Child!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Daughter of Kobol Gets A Record Deal At Word Distribution

All too often a goodly number of my evangelical friends get frustrated that I really don’t want anything to do with contemporary Christian music. Generally speaking I just can’t stomach what passes itself off as Christian songs as the standard seems to be only an inclusion of the word God or worse yet an illusion to some spirit that is guaranteed make us feel better about the place we have earned by our accepting his (it’s) knock at the door of Americanized Christianity.

If Jesus does happen to make an appearance in CCM, He is regularly cleaned up and polished so we aren’t reminded of all our innumerable sins which our Lord bears as He does his salvific work on the cross. Often in CCM the Lord of heaven and earth who makes footstools of his enemies is turned into some poor shlub we want to have a beer with while watching a football game after brunch at Applebees or worse yet; an eroticized significant other that we want to curl up on the couch with so we can feel him breath on our happy selves. Eeeeww!

But what happens when the music and songs that claim to be Christian offer up a new, improved, and made here in America Jesus? What happens when the Jesus of God’s Word is substituted with a plan B Jesus who is neither eternal nor begotten but rather a creature like you or I whose brother is Satan himself? Is it possible to divide the Jesus of Scripture and His work so that we can have songs that sing of a Jesus that inflicts some kind of bosom burning (sorta like last night’s kielbasa casserole surprise?) and automatically get a pass as something a Christian can or even should sing?

Answers; we run as fast as we can away from a Jesus of our own creation, ditto, and hell no.

Recently on Chris Rosebrough’s radio program, Fighting for the Faith, Chris reported that Marie Osmond is getting a record deal at Word Distribution; a company that focuses on the contemporary Christian music market. What’s the problem with Marie Osmond getting a record deal at a company dedicated to providing CCM to the masses? She is Mormon and therefore not Christian! Marie Osmond’s Jesus is not the Jesus of the Old and New Testament but a creature like us who becomes a god (like we all can be according to Mormon theology; “as god is so can we become” see Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20).

A few “frank facts” on what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, believe about Jesus:

  • Jesus is our elder brother who progressed to godhood was first born to heavenly parents: Doctrine and Covenants 93:21

  • Jesus became a god and reach a great state of understanding through obedience of all universal laws: The Gospel Through the Ages, Milton Hunter pg 51.

  • The blood of Jesus does not atone for all sins. Murder for instance is not covered as this sin is too grievous to be forgiven: Doctrine of Salvation J.F. Smith Vol. 1, also Mormon Doctrine, Apostle B.R. McConkie 1979, pg 93 (although later on page 669 McConkie says that Jesus only died for Adam’s sin…. Hmm, confusing ain’t it?)

Is this Mormon Jesus the Jesus revealed in Scripture? Is this Mormon Jesus the kind of Jesus that Word Records wishes to promote by signing Marie Osmond? Does Word Distribution really want to hold up a neutered creature who can’t atone for all the sins of the world and that managed to work his way to godhood as something to sing joyfully about?

Answers; No. Apparently yes they do. Ditto.

The only song appropriate for the Mormon’s Jesus is Highway to Hell (and yes, I have heard that song played in during a seeker sensitive church service)

I cringe nearly every time I hear contemporary Christian music as most of what I hear too often sings of so generic a God, Jesus, or Spirit that even a Mormon, even Marie Osmond, could join in and say “see, we believe in that Jesus too!” I just don’t want to sing or listen to songs being sung of a God that can’t be differentiated when placed next to a made in America god of Joseph Smith’s imagination. I’ll be passing on that Jesus thank you very much.

No doubt Word Distribution made a business decision hoping to cash in on Marie Osmond’s recent career revival. Signing Mormons to a Christian record label is well within Word Distribution rights as a business. However, they really should break out the seer stones and try to figure out how well they’ll be doing when even those prefer CCM can only look at their offerings and call it vapid drivel at best or if they are honest; heretical. The writing is already on the wall (or the golden plates of Kobol) where this is all headed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

One BIG And Very Cool Study Bible!

My copy of The Lutheran Study Bible LARGER Print Sangria Genuine Leather edition arrived on Friday! Wow, this is one big honking study bible! What a tremendous resource that I look forward to using in my daily devotional readings and in the preparation of my weekly Sunday school class! Hmm, more exclamation points than a district, uh, newsletter… need to work on that I guess.

Now I know what some of you good folks are asking; “Frank, exactly how big is the The Lutheran Study Bible LARGER Print Sangria Genuine Leather edition?” Well, I’m glad you asked because as a metrologist I simply love to measure things. A few “frank” facts on my new favorite study Bible:

· There are 2,372 pages of theological goodness to the TLSB
· For those of us who like pictures with our reading material there are over 800 maps and 120 charts and diagrams in the TLSB
· There are over 200 articles covering a variety of Scriptural themes

But how BIG is the LARGER Print Sangria Genuine Leather edition you ask as the number of pages and all the study notes and cross references and introductions and outlines and reference guides and concordance guides and application notes might be just a tad bit deceiving or a clever marketing ploy. So I, being a metrologist and all, decided to measure the mass of my Bibleand to figure out how the good folks over at Concordia Publishing House were able to fit so much in The Lutheran Study Bible. Here is what I found:

· When the Holland Freight truck pulled up and the The Lutheran Study Bible LARGER Print Sangria Genuine Leather edition was unloaded the box minus the pallet weighed 2887.1 grams or 6.3650 pounds.
· When unpacked from the box the The Lutheran Study Bible LARGER Print Sangria Genuine Leather edition weighs 2408.0 grams or 5.3085 lb.

Both readings were obtained from a balance (scale) that has been calibrated by standards traceable to NIST with a measurement uncertainty of .0027g (3sigma) with known measurable variables.

In other words, if you want to get the very best study Bible available and insure that you get the BIGGEST bang for your buck, do what I did and give CPH a call and order your own copy of The Lutheran Study Bible LARGER Print Sangria (or black)Genuine Leather edition today!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Thoughts On A Thesis Of Worship(?)

The following is what I sent to a friend of mine after he emailed me the Theses on Worship issued by the Council of Presidents and asked for my ever so humble opinion (I actually hadn’t seen them myself until Monday as I’ve been pretty busy with matters outside and off of the interweb):

While I have a love for theology I’m certainly not a trained theologian. I’m also by no means a wordsmith or anything approaching a good communicator. That being said; this document is a convoluted mess that a council of trained theologians should be embarrassed to issue! My thoughts on the thesis are as follows:

· We’ve surrendered the word worship to the evangelical view that worship is something that we do instead a Divine Service where it is God who gives His gifts.
· The liturgy is adiaphoria so we can each do what is right in our own eyes and anyone who says otherwise is only doing so to burden the souls who seek to experience God through their worship. In other words, AC XV 1 should be ignored and we amend AC XV to simply say all liturgy is a human tradition and therefore contrary to the Gospel. AC XXIV should also be amended to reflect the same.
· Our view of the Old testament is now equal to that of the Mormons where the liturgical rites that prefigure temple and synagogue worship were plan A and B and where overturned By Jesus and the apostles and are rightfully ignored and condemned. Our understanding of these rites as essential to understanding the vicarious atonement of Christ at Golgotha is as old fashioned as those dusty sixteenth century confessions and need to condemned.
· Worship is about you and community (read into this the emergent influence and undertones). Your calling is to expand your community so that more folks can understand that worship is about you and community.
· There can be true forms of worship just don’t tell me that there are wrong forms of worship because that will make me sad and I’ll accuse you of burdening my conscience.
· We should talk about the above until everyone agrees with us and can then claim unity.

Well, that’s my thoughts on this nonsensical drivel.

Pastor Klemet Preus also has some things to say about the thesis over at a post on Steadfast Lutherans.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

POTF Blog Of The Week: Pastoral Meanderings ”Who Is On The Defensive”

This week’s blog of the week (or month… or year even) comes from Pastor Peter’s blog PASTORAL MEANDERINGS in a post entitled “Who Is On The Defensive?” Pastor Peter writes:

When the objection is an exception to the established practice or teaching of the Church, then the innovators have to prove the point… not those who continue that established practice or teaching… Imagine if (reference the discussions below) we did not have to prove in every generation baptismal regeneration, the Eucharistic mystery, the efficacy of the Word, the wisdom of penance, the importance of faithfulness, the maintenance of the Truth (and not its adjustment) in times of question… whether Lutheran or Orthodox or Roman… ah… if that were the day… when those raising objections to or departing from historic and accepted teaching and practice had to prove not only the rightness of their point but the wrongness of the accepted tradition…

From my perspective, this is the genius of the Lutheran Confessions… they do not innovate but reach back to what was and claim it as what is… from Scripture and the fathers… No, not perfect at all, but a vast improvement upon the corruption that was average parish life in Luther’s day… and if only we Lutherans kept to it… what a dynamo it might mean for today…

Absolutely brilliant!

HT: Christopher Gillespie (no relation that I’m aware of) over at Outer Rim Territories

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hymn Review On Issues, Etc.: Praise The One Who Breaks the Darkness

I’m a few days behind on listening to my podcasts so it took me a few days to get to…

The Rev. Dr. Arthur A. Just Jr. of Concordia Theological Seminary was a guest last Friday on Issues, Etc. and had the opportunity to look at a relativity new hymn that offers both catechesis and proper praise of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

Too often folks like myself are accused, yes accused, of not appreciating or even tolerating any hymnody that isn’t from the sixteenth or prior centuries. This simply isn’t the case at all. What people like myself require of our hymnody is that the hymn be a sung confession that speaks both what Jesus did for us and continues to do for us today.

Praise The One Who Breaks the Darkness is one of those hymns that speaks beautifully of the salvific work of Jesus who breaks into our world of sin and darkness and rescues his fallen creatures by offering up Himself as a sacrifice. This simple yet sublime hymn was written by Rusty Edwards only a few years ago and I’m sure will stand the same test of time that the church catholic has put to many of the Greek, Latin, and reformation era hymns that we joyfully sing today.

In the embedded clip, Dr. Just walks us through this wonderful hymn and discusses the Biblical themes of salvation that our Lord so graciously offers. Here is the text of this great hymn:

Praise the one who breaks the darkness
with a liberating light.
Praise the one who frees the prisoners,
turning blindness into sight.
Praise the one who preached the Gospel,
healing every dread disease,
calming storms and feeding thousands
with the very bread of peace.

Praise the one who blessed the children
with a strong yet gentle word.
Praise the one who drove out demons
with a piercing two-edged sword.
Praise the one who brings cool water
to the desert's burning sand.
From this well comes living water,
quenching thirst in every land.

Praise the one true love incarnate:
Christ who suffered in our place.
Jesus died and rose for many
that we may know God by grace.
Let us sing for joy and gladness,
seeing what our God has done.
Praise the one redeeming glory,
praise the One who makes us one.