Friday, May 28, 2010

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7

In my report of the Prayer and Spiritual Workshop I attended I said that there were several portions of the workshop that I thought were very good. These sections met with my approval because they were most identifiable the reformation era confessions, historical practices, and finally and most importantly Scripture. The portion of the class that stood head and shoulders above the rest was the section on the practice of private absolution and confession. I remember thinking that if only the rest of the class was good as this section was then maybe the goofy stuffy like suggesting that we emulate the practices of heretics like Julian of Norwich could “sorta” overlooked. Yep, the portion of the class covering the practice of private confession and absolution was that good. Really.

Since I posted part two in this series of posts where I briefly covered what was discussed concerning the practice of private absolution and confession I’ve been contacted by a reader of POTF (who is one heck of a lot smarter than me and a very, very well read individual) who informed me that this section might not be what it seems at first glance. Huh? Let’s take a closer look shall we?

The handout for the class covers the practice of private absolution and confession this way:


There is a quiet reformation going on in many Lutheran congregations. There is a return to the Reformation understanding of repentance, forgiveness, and the Holy Ministry. People are coming individually to their pastor to confess their sins and receive the forgiveness that Jesus died to win for them. Pastors are seeking fellow pastors toserve as father confessors. Some congregations have scheduled hours specifically for private confession. (cf. “Confession Makes a Comeback,” The Wall Street Journal, by Alexandra Alter, September 21, 2007).

Is private confession a Lutheran practice?

Our Augsburg Confession states that "private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse." (Article XI) The Apology to the Augsburg Confession calls Holy Absolution the "voice of the Gospel," and states that "we must believe the voice of the one absolving no less than we would believe a voice coming from heaven." Luther included a short liturgy for private confession in the Small Catechism to teach people how to make confession. He also commended the practice highly from his own personal experience. The Lutheran fathers regarded this matter so highly that, in some places, they referred to it as a ‘sacrament.’ Thus the Apology of the Augsburg Confession states, "Therefore Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly sacraments. For these rites have God's command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament" (Ap. XIII.4).

Confession was known and practiced by the Apostles (James 5:16, 1 John 1:9) and is established on the authority of Jesus Christ to forgive and retain sins which He entrusted to His Church and exercises publicly through the Office of the Holy Ministry (Matthew 16:18-19, 18:15-20, John 20:19-23;I John 1:9; Psalm 51).

Our own Synod’s founding president Dr. Walther, strongly encouraged the practice, along with every leading Lutheran theologian since Luther (e.g. Concordia Theological Quarterly, October 1992, Vol. 56, #4, pp, 241-262, Fort Wayne, Indiana). The 2007 LCMS Convention urged a return to “Individual Confession and Absolution” (urged congregations to “study,” toward “recovering” the practice, to give “guidance to seminarians and pastors,” “encouraged to make greater use of”, Res. 2-07a, page 117) and our new “Lutheran Service Book” includes the rite (pp. 292-3, Agenda, p. 41f.).

But isn't private confession a "Roman Catholic" practice?

Roman Catholics retained the practice, but focused it primarily on what the confessor said. The Lutheran reformers did not do away with private confession. Instead, they reformed it so that Christ's free forgiveness was the primary focus. The Lutherans set aside such legalistic practices as forcing the faithful to come to confession, requiring that every sin be confessed in order to be forgiven, and prescribing certain good works to offset the punishments of sin. Thus, the Lutheran reformers never would have imagined a Lutheran congregation without private confession.

What exactly is confession and absolution?

There are two works present. The first work is ours. We confess and tell the truth about ourselves from what God has revealed to us in His law. We say what we have done and what we have failed to do. We confess only those things that are known to us and that particularly trouble us. We need not torture our memories. Remember that God's forgiveness is always complete and perfect, while our confession will always be partial and incomplete.

The second work is God's. He absolves, or forgives, our sins on account of Jesus' sacrificial suffering and death in our place. God tells the truth about us in Christ, and that is a greater truth than the truth of our sins.

But can't I simply confess my sins before God alone?

Indeed you must, for Jesus teaches His disciples to pray daily for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, and St. John says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." But the real question is: How is the forgiveness of sins applied to you when you pray to God by yourself? A sinner who is alone and isolated in his or her sin often will not "feel forgiven" and may not be consoled by reading or remembering a passage from the Holy Scriptures. St. Paul wrote that "faith comes by hearing," and so it is for the creating and strengthening of our faith that God has provided for Christ's forgiveness to be spoken into our ears by someone else.

Must I go to my pastor?

That's a Law question. You get to go to your pastor. He is Christ's gift to you (Ephesians 4:11). Nowhere is your pastor more a pastor for you than in private confession and absolution. He is Christ's ear and mouth for you. He is bound by a solemn vow in his ordination never to disclose to anyone what he has heard in confession.

What is the benefit of individual confession and absolution?

Just as a good shepherd tends his flock both as a group and each sheep individually, so a good pastor applies the blood-bought gifts of Christ to his congregation as a whole and to each member individually. In fact, individual absolution is a wonderful way to administer this gift. Here the pastor can apply the forgiveness of Christ to us specifically and personally.

Many a troubled Christian has been greatly blessed by disclosing the awful secret of his or her sin to a pastor only to hear Christ's beautiful word of forgiveness. Individual confession and absolution is also a very potent weapon in the struggle against habitual sins and addictions such as drunkenness, sexual immorality, laziness, greed, gluttony, etc. (cf. Steps 4 & 5 of the Twelve Steps)

How then is individual confession and absolution practiced in a Lutheran congregation?

Private confession is a confidential conversation between a pastor and a penitent. Our Lutheran Service Book Agenda book suggests that private confession take place where people regularly receive the Lord's Supper. A confessional chair may be placed near the altar. Alternatively, a chair or a kneeling bench might be set up in some part of the nave. A short liturgy of confession should be used. (cf. The Lutheran Service Book, pp. 292-3 or Luther's Small Catechism with Explanations, pp. 218-219)

It is helpful to have regular, published hours for private confession. Of course, the pastor will always be ready to hear confession and speak absolution at any time it is needed. Devotional literature should be made available to help people prepare for confession. Particularly helpful are the "penitential psalms" (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) and the Small Catechism.

Suggested Reading:

P.H.D. Lang, "Private Confession and Absolution in the Lutheran Church: A Doctrinal, Historical, and Critical Study." Concordia Theological Quarterly (October, 1992) 56(4):241-262. Eric D. Stumpf. "Private Confession: A Call for Restoration in Pastoral Care." Concordia Journal (July, 1993) 19(3):218-233.
Fred. L. Precht. "Confession and Absolution: Sin and Forgiveness" in Lutheran Worship: History and Practice. Concordia Publishing House (1993). pp. 322-386 Wilhelm Loehe. "The Sacrament of Repentance." Translated by Delvin E. Ressel. Una Sancta 10(2):1-11 and 10(3):10-23.

Unlike the rest of the handout, this portion of the workshop quotes both Scripture extensively (and in context!) as well as the confessions of the Lutheran reformation. Also, the bibliography is solidly Lutheran without a goofy mystic who thinks God is a she and Christ is the literal maternal manifestation of the she-god anywhere in sight. The only non-Lutheran sources are found in the introductory paragraph when quoting a Wall Street Journal article and under the benefits of the practice of private confession and absolution where Steps 4 & 5 of the Twelve Steps are referenced. I don’t remember the Twelve Steps being included in any translation of the Lutheran Confessions but then again, as several people have pointed out, I’ve never been to seminary so that one might have slipped by me as I traipse through the casual reading stacked on the library table in my office.

Anyhoo, one would hope that everyone can see why I thought that this portion of the class was pretty good: the presenter ties the practice solidly to history through both Scripture and the Confessions and even includes contemporary Lutheran sources (as opposed to medieval mystics or laicized priests!) to substantiate the claim that this practice is one that Christians have practiced since the Apostolic age. Or does he? That reader of POTF, the one that I said is a good bit smarter than me, pointed out that there is one name missing from the bibliography of the workshop’s summary of the practice of private absolution and confession; the author who wrote the piece: Pastor William M. Cwirla. Here’s a link to the Pastor Cwirla’s original article.

Notice the similarity between Pastor Cwirla’s credited article and the presenter’s handout? It’s clearly the source document that the presenter must have used to put together the practice of private absolution and confession portion of the handout!

See anything different? The handout does include some extra stuff not found in the original piece. The genuine author of the “What is the benefit of individual confession and absolution” section certainly didn’t think it was necessary to reference the Twelve Steps program. Why do you think that is? It’s because the holy things of God don’t need validation from worldly programs to be good, right, and salutary. The practice of private absolution and confession is a holy thing because our Lord himself instituted the very practice and not because we can find examples of owning up to our mistakes in some program.

But something in that section is missing. The presenter didn’t include the last paragraph of the actual author’s explanation of the benefit of the practice did he? He left off the following:

The most important benefit is that we are given to hear a clear, external, objective, official word from God that applies the saving merit of Jesus’ death to us personally and individually.

Now why anyone would leave the last paragraph off? We can only speculate as to the reason but we might have the smallest of hints when the presenter stated, “I wouldn’t want to debate right and wrong because both are right. I would expect where ever each person is at in the room around this issue because it’s not right or wrong” when a participant declared in no uncertain terms that she would never teach her child to confess his sins to a pastor. So, even though the practice was instituted and commanded by Christ, we’re going to say that rejecting that same practice can be right or acceptable as long as a person is in a different place? I would argue that the last paragraph of the actual author’s piece was not included since the words “clear, external, objective, and official” do not lend themselves favorably to postmodernity’s rejection of the absolutes of right and wrong.

It’s odd really that the presenter went to such lengths to credit Jesuits who fought the reformers, mystics that believed that God is a she-god and that sin was a necessary part of life, laicized Roman Catholic priests who believed that the church grew primarily through healings and exorcisms, and even went so far as to ensure that even an unnamed Russian monk were properly credited in his bibliography but failed to credit the actual author who wrote 95% of what was in his handout. Folks, that’s just a little bit odd wouldn’t ya say? Shouldn’t somebody be doing some, uh, public confession and ask for forgiveness from the actual author: Pastor Cwirla.

Now, as I’ve stated before and as it’s been pointed out numerous times in this series of posts by numerous individuals, I’ve never attended seminary (I’ve been to seminaries, taken classes at seminaries, but never as a MDiv student). Even so, I have to wonder, just a teensie-weensie little bit, if there is some kind of, sort of word for when somebody takes another’s work, uses it as his own while making subtle changes and never crediting the person who wrote it? Gosh I wish I knew if there was a word for that, because there certainly should be. Shouldn’t there?

Maybe that wickedly smart reader who brought this to my attention knows if there’s some fancy thirteen-pfennig word that we could use here…

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 2
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 4
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 5
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6

Monday, May 24, 2010

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6

I said at the end of my last post I would address some questions that popped up since I wrote my first post on the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop so here we go…

One thing that came up a lot more often than I expected was whether or not I was even qualified to critique the material in the workshop. More than one commenter suggested that since I had never gone to a seminary that any criticism, which I may offer, should be considered invalid. If that is the logic with which we are to live by then wouldn’t it be fair to say that a surgeon who amputates a leg instead of removing his patient’s tonsils as had been scheduled is also above critique from either the patient of his family? Certainly not! The wronged patient’s phone would be ringing off the hook because lawyers, who don’t usually have a degree in medicine and love an easy paycheck just like the rest of us, would love the opportunity to critique the doctor in front of a jury. Just because I don’t have a degree in theology from one of the Concordia seminaries does not mean I’m excluded from asking questions of a theological nature.

I have never claimed to be well read or even smarter than the average Joe pewsitter. And since I view myself as just a slack jawed yokel all I ever try to bring to the table to test what is said or promoted in the name of God by people that have been through seminary is the Bible and our Lutheran Confessions. If someone, even if they have been to a seminary, makes a claim that can’t be verified or corroborated by the Bible or our confessions, the burden of proof is on them to justify these new doctrines or practices and not me or anyone else sitting in a class where subjective truths trump that which is Scriptural, Confessional, and historical.

One of the questions I keep getting asked since posting what happened at the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop is where are such teachings coming from. I’ve also been asked why would anyone from the LCMS promote practices and doctrines that seem to contradict both Scripture as well as the Lutheran Confession in that “spirituality” seems to be turned inward to our subjective imagination or our feelings.

I’m not sure it can be pinpointed where, when or who exactly thought that reintroducing the very things that led to the abuses of the medieval Roman church was a smart endeavor for growing the kingdom (Remember, the presenter said we should be all about growing kingdom but not necessarily the church and he didn’t care if people we talked to went down the street to XYZ church. Thank you post-modernity!). I do know that what was promoted in the workshop mirrors pretty close the practices and the epistemology promoted by those who follow the emergent or emerging church movement in their desire to return to a more ancient form of Christianity.

While it’s difficult to nail down specifics of the emergent theology (although not impossible as more of them write books detailing their heresies!) I think it’s fair to say that most emergent folks, in rejecting what tries to pass itself off as Americanized Christianity (think the purpose driven church movement or church growth by looking less like church and looking more like Stewart Smalley motivational seminars so that the “unchurched” can go away thinking they’re good enough, smart enough and gosh…. you know the drill.), have decided to go backwards in time in search of a genuine Christianity and who can blame them! With the state of Americanized Christianity the way it is why would anyone get up early on a Sunday morning to hear some clown in a polo shirt walk through a vapid PowerPoint presentation on how the Bible can make your life better if you’d just give a try and follow the seven easy steps. Admit it, wouldn’t you look for an authentic Christianity if you had to listen to watered-down life application speeches by Oprah wannabes week after week? Sure you would and I would too! (If you have a quibble with me on this point chances are you probable wouldn’t recognize the historic Christian church anyways and you should just skip down to the next section ‘cause this is going to be lost on you.)

Still, to jump back in time and completely skip over the Reformation and go back Roman Catholic monastic practices and desert mysticism in an effort to achieve an authentic church experience or spirituality while completely ignoring the teachings of the apostles is wrong whether you are following the emergent movement or you are a member of a congregation in the Southeastern District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It is silly and na├»ve to think that it is possible to introduce the practices and theologies of mystics in such a way that they can be transformed into anything recognizable to a confessional Lutheran or a first century Christian. Ain’t gonna happen! An amalgamation of deconstructed Christianity and navel gazing mysticism is never going to be Christianity, ever!

Someone on message board asked me why in the world would people gravitate towards what was promoted at the workshop. This is just supposition on my part but I think that those who are the most receptive to such practices are basically sick and tired of going to churches that no longer bear any resemblances to the church that their grandparents went to. What’s funny, in a sick and perverse kind of way, is that in the last five years there have been two presentations in my own congregations (under the auspices of the Ablaze! banner) that encouraged us to look more seeker sensitive and not too much like our grandfather’s church so that we might have a chance at capturing the “unchurched” seeker demographic. One district official even told our congregation that if it came down to saving souls and being Lutheran that he would much rather be concerned with saving souls as if being Lutheran (and I would argue Christian!) is a detriment to reaching the lost.

Does anyone at the district office understand that in striving to become so seeker sensitive and not look at all like grandpa’s church just might be the very reason why so many can excited over a class teaching and promoting ancient practices even if those practices and theology is in direct conflict with Scripture, the history of the church catholic, and our Lutheran Confessions? Talk about falling off both sides of the horse…sheesh!

And while I’m on the subject of the Southeastern District, I’ve also been asked if district officials knew that such a class was being taught. The answer is yes, everybody all the way up to district president Dr. Jon Diefenthaler knows about the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop. The class notes, as I’ve found out, have been on the SED website for as long as the class has been taught and that has been for some time now. In addition, DP Diefenthaler after getting numerous calls concerning the posts I put up here at POTF called individuals in my circuit personally to make inquiries as to what was going on with my blog. However, DP Diefenthaler failed to call either my pastor (who if I understand things correctly is directly under his ecclesiastical supervision) nor did he bother to call me to inquire if I could corroborate anything or everything that I reported in my posts. One would suppose that DP Diefenthaler would at least want to clarify a point or two that caused him so much concern to start calling people in the circuit to begin with, wouldn’t ya think?

Now some might say that DP Diefenthaler simply didn’t know how to get in touch with me and this might be the reason for calling around to people other than myself. Well, that’s sorta a red herring because DP Diefenthaler does know my pastor’s phone number and my pastor could certainly could have pointed him to at least a phone book if he didn’t want to give out my digits. But it wasn’t even that difficult because all of my contact information is already on file at the district office as I sit on several mission committees as well as serving as my congregation’s Ablaze! educator. All DP Diefenthaler had to do is turn to the letter “G” in his Rolodex if he didn’t want to crack open a phone book.

The question that really needs to be asked is why hasn’t DP Diefenthaler called me to investigate what I’ve written relating to the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop?

Well, that’s just one of the many, many questions that somebody should be asking…

When I started these reports I said that I was even more concerned than ever before with the direction of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and my district. If everything that I’ve written concerning the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop is accurate and be verified (as I’ve stated on more than one occasion) doesn't such a report raise serious concerns and what does this mean concerning the state of our beloved synod? The answer is yes and that the LC-MS as an institution and as a church body is in very serious trouble.

quod erat demonstrandum

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 2
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 4
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 5
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 5

And to quote the famous theologian and apologist Samuel L. Jackson from chapter three of the third book of Tarantino; “Well, allow me to retort…”

Let me first state that contrary to what some might think I’m not against people learning to get into the habit of daily praying or studying privately or corporately the Bible. I believe that if folks both prayed and read their Bibles with just modicum of regularity neither the Southeastern District nor the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod would be as confused and as divided as we currently seem to be.

It’s a plain fact that Saint Paul, an apostle of Christ, encourages us to both pray (see Rom 12, Col. 4, Eph 6 and numerous other passages.) and grow in Biblical knowledge so that we might not be deceived (see Eph 4 as well as 1 Peter 2 as being especially applicable!) by those who might offer us a “new” gospel. As Christians we need to pray and we need to read Scripture.

So, what’s my problem with the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop if I’m all for encouraging folks to read their Bibles and pray more? Why would I not want to be, as the presenter claimed on the first night, reintroduced to “prayer forms and spiritual disciplines that were lost” and thereby reclaim “our ancient heritage going all the way back to the New Testament”? It really comes down to three things: it’s Scripture, history, and the Lutheran Confessions. It is these three criteria that should guide us in determining if what is taught in the name of God is actually from God and to be embraced or not from God and therefore to be condemned and avoided. Let’s walk though each of the practices using the only the handout provided by the presenter and test each (not according to how Frank Gillespie wants things to be using his imagination or even his feelings) to see if there is a sufficiency of evidence to say that such practices were clearly taught, by Moses or the prophets or Jesus and His disciples, and were always practiced by the church catholic as well as the Lutheran reformers who made it clear that they wished to not create a new church but reform the Roman Catholic church who had burdened the peoples consciences with practices that were to merit God’s favor and propitiate his wrath. It’s a simple three-part test that should clear things up in a pretty short order. Let’s begin shall we?

Breathing prayer In the breathing prayer we are told that “You are “offering your body as a living sacrifice to God.” Dedicate your feelings about your body to God. Express to God your intention to know God’s love through your breath and body” and that “You may find it helpful to envision breathing in the Spirit of peace and light and breathing out the darkness, distractions, stress or dis-ease you are holding

Is there any place in either the Old or New Testament where it is explicitly taught that we breathe in the Holy Spirit and through such a technique we get to dedicate ourselves and our feelings to God? No. The handout lists Genesis 2:7 where God breaths life into Adam and John 20:22 when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit onto the disciples as the proof texts but in both of those cases it is one of the Persons of the Trinity doing the breathing and it is not said nor implied that as humans we take any action other than the passive reception of life and Spirit. In other words, God is running the verbs not us.

What about the historicity of the breathing prayer? No evidence was presented or referred to in the handout.

The Lutheran Confessions? Augsburg V after stating how the Holy Spirit is given (and that’s “Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments,” for those really not all that familiar with the Lutheran Confessions) condemns “the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” and therefore fails this part of our diagnostic. (Also, we could look at AC XXVII regarding monastic traditions and spiritual disciplines that had burdened the consciences’ of the people living under the tyranny medieval church but for the sake of brevity and since the Augsburg Confession is so precise and clear, I’ll only deal with that article in a future post if necessary based on the comments and discussion).

Conclusion on the breathing prayer? The breathing prayer should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Praying without words In Praying without words we were told that we should be praying bible stories though “holy imagination” and that we should pray images like stepping stones, forgiveness, healing.

The question that we must again ask is if there is any place in either the Old or New Testament where it is explicitly taught that we are to pray without words. While I do believe that a case could be made that we can pray a Bible story, running the words “holy imagination” through my computerized Bible yielded no hits, not one. The number of times that the handout uses the word imagination becomes troublesome when it comes to separating what is a valid prayer on a pericope from someone’s overactive imagination that seems holy because of warm fuzzy feelings. The Lord’s Prayer, using words as our Lord has instructed us, is missing in actions in our handout.

So is the prayer form of praying without words a historical practice according to the handout? The chief proponent of praying without words seems to be Ignatius Loyola who lived from 1491 to 1556 AD. Not exactly “going all the way back to the New Testament” is he? Ignatius Loyola is noted for founding the Jesuits in order to combat the Protestant reformation. A fine insight on Ignatius Loyola’s ability to differentiate objective truth versus holy imagination: Loyola's devotion to the Church can be summed up in Rule 13 of the Jesuits' "Rules for Thinking with the Church" by him: "I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical Church so defines it" The handbook neglected to tell us that Ignatius Loyola definitely not a friend of the reformation tradition.

Do the Lutheran Confessions make a claim that praying without words is either a scriptural or historical practice that the reformers would approve of? Let’s stick with AC Vthe Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” and put this in the garbage where it belongs.

Conclusion on praying without words? The prayer form that is described as praying without words should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Journaling We are told that journaling is an ancient form of prayer in action where we can “express your desire to have a conversation with God” by writing both sides of a conversation with God and that “The left side is for your words; the right side is for God. You are the scribe for both.” Where does God’s side of the conversation come from? Thoughts, feelings, and dreams can be used to record this inspired conversation.

Once again we ask ourselves if journaling is “an ancient form of prayer in action” is explicitly taught in either the Old or New Testament or is it from somewhere else. My computerized Bible failed to register any hits in either the Old and New Testament for journaling no matter which translation I searched so the answer to our question is no.

Does journaling pass the historicity test? The handout says that journaling’s advocate or supporter is a gal by the name of Julian of Norwich who lived from 1342 to 1417 AD. Thirteen hundred years after the apostles doesn't really seem to meet the criteria of being “an ancient form of prayer in action” going all the way back to the New Testament does it now? Who is Julian of Norwich and what special insight can she impart to the church today if Scripture doesn’t seem to teach journaling? She was a mystic who claimed that while ill she had several visions of Jesus (which went away when she got better… I wonder why that was!) , “believed that sin was necessary in life because it brings one to self-knowledge”, “believed that it was inaccurate to speak of God granting forgiveness for sins because forgiving would mean that committing the sin was wrong”, and believed that God was a mother and that “that the maternal aspect of Christ was literal, not metaphoric; Christ is not like a mother, He is literally the mother”. Would anyone like to debate me whether or not Julian of Norwich is somebody we should be looking to for spirituality advise? I’ll take the position that her character and her false theology prevent us from taking her journaling idea seriously.

The Lutheran Confessions? AC Vthe Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” makes it clear that we shouldn’t be putting too much stock in journaling.

Conclusion on journaling? The prayer form that is described as journaling should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Dreams In the dreams portion of the handout we told to “Take one of the symbols and write down anything you might associate with that symbol (memories, feelings, attitudes, etc.). Repeat the process with other symbols as time allows”, record the dreams in a journal, and “circle the associations that have the most energy behind them or give you an “ah-hah” feeling.

Are dreams taught in either the Old or New Testament? Yes they are as the handout correctly points out. However, we need to ask if whether it taught that God revealed Himself or communicated to individuals or does our Lord promise to make Himself or His will known to all persons throughout all time? For example, God told Moses to stretch out his hand and part the Red Sea and Moses was able to lead Israel out of Egypt and away from pharaoh. But if I try to part the lake I like to kayak on in the summertime nothing happens because that which was given to Moses was not for me. Likewise, while dreams are prevalent in both the Old and New Testament they should not be considered a spiritual gift (Saint Paul certainly didn’t list dreams as a spiritual gift) meant for the church of all times and all places.

Does the teaching of dream work meet the historical test? The handout lists Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement, Tertullian, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, Ambrose, Augustine as people that had dreams where it is said that God communicated to them. That may be the case but does the handout doesn’t list any quotes in context from these Christians that would have us believe that they were journaling the “associations that have the most energy” or the ““ah-hah” feeling” brought on by a dream and attributing it to divine revelation.

For the Lutheran Confession test we can once again quote AC V condemning “the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” to anyone who wants us recording warm fuzzy feelings from our imaginations.

Conclusion on using dreams as a prayer form? The prayer form that is described as dreams should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Jesus Prayer In the Jesus prayer handout tells us to repeat continuously repeat ““Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” for five to fifteen minutes.

The one verse of Scripture for justifying such a practice is Mark 10:47 where blind Bartimaeus asked repeatedly to be healed by Jesus. The handout states that such a prayer form is a valid because “We take seriously that there is power in the Name of Jesus” while ignoring that it was not Bartimaeus prayer that healed but rather it was his faith, at least that’s what Jesus told him. Also, nowhere in the rest of the New Testament are we told to repeat this Jesus prayer by either Christ or His apostles.

The handout’s historical case for the Jesus prayer seems to be Eastern Orthodox Christian monastics, or by the other name have for these chaps: the Desert Fathers, five centuries after the New Testament church and the anonymous 19th century Russian author of The Way Of The Pilgrim. If the best that we can do is the 5th or 19th century, I fail to see where the case is made that the Jesus prayer is “going all the way back to the New Testament

The Lutheran Confessions don’t directly address folks using the Christ’s name as a mantra and the handout doesn’t state what the Jesus prayer is supposed to accomplish so it’s hard to say what the reformers would say exactly to this particular practice attributed to Eastern Orthodox monastics (Desert Fathers) and anonymous Russian authors outside of what the confessions address concerning matters of monastic vows and how they impacted the peoples ideas of what merited grace and propitiated wrath.

Conclusion on the Jesus prayer? The prayer form that is described as the Jesus prayer should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Healing Prayer With the healing prayer the handout makes the case that healing is part of Jesus Great Commission (Matthew 28) and that the Church, if she is to remain faithful to that commission should be able to do everything that Christ did as an act of obedience; including healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out of demons. The handout quoting Francis MacNutt’s book “Healing” states “The test of orthodoxy is not doctrine alone, for doctrine remains incomplete unless it is accompanied by the power to make doctrine come true.

Is healing prayer a prayer form that can be supported by scripture? Well, prayer is certainly all through Scripture as is the healing of the sick. Just like dreams, healing is not a gift that is given out universally so it’s troubling to read the handout claim “Lutherans have emphasized true doctrine or “explanation and proclamation,” almost to the exclusion of an experience of God and His powerful Spirit.” Does standing for sound doctrine automatically mean that Lutherans don’t pray for healing or experience joy if one of us is healed be it the Lord’s will? Certainly not and the handout has set a false dichotomy that pits those who hear Saint Paul in 2 Tim 3:16,17 say All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work with those who have not had an experiential event that involves healing! Lutherans have traditionally prayed the Lord’s Prayer (which was completely avoided throughout the workshop) and said “Thy will be done” in faith knowing that healing is not always going to occur.

What about the historical case for healing prayer and healing as ““signs” of the Kingdom of God”? The handout would have us believe that “the primary means of conversion was not preaching, but healing and exorcism” according to the unquoted church fathers Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Cyprian, as well as Tertullian. The problem with the statement goes back to Scripture and Saint Paul writing to the church in Rome and declaring that “so, faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” in Rom 10:17 and not by healings, exorcisms, or any other miracle. It’s the word of God that grew Christ’s church then and the Word is what grows the church this very day! Certainly Christians throughout history have prayed as we are welcomed by our Lord to do but to suggest that Christians only seem “to associate "salvation" with saving souls for the afterlife” after the Black Plague during the Middle Ages, as the handout does, shows a remarkably uneducated understanding of not only Christian history but world history as well. It would serve anyone making such claims to actually read the church fathers said concerning healing and the prayers for healing and not what laicized Roman priests imagine the church fathers said.

The Lutheran confessions don’t speak specially to the issue of people praying a healing prayer but the reformers didn’t have people running around implying that if Jesus healed people, exorcized demons, and raise people from the dead then, if we really are a bible believing church, we should do even greater things than the Crucified and Risen Lord. The confessions do remind the Christian that our Lord desires each of us to call on Him whether we are on our deathbed and dying or in good health. In the Small Catechism we are taught that the forth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread, means we pray for our health and even the health of our neighbors as well. (The Large Catechism goes into this in great detail and is a wonderful read that I would recommend to anyone not all that familiar with the Lutheran Confessions) In both the morning and evening prayer we commend our bodies, our health to the Lord.

Conclusion on the healing prayer? The prayer form that is described as the healing prayer should not be taught as the handout presents it.

Lectio Divina In the Lectio Divina we are told to read a text and listen for the word or phrase that is touching our heart, repeating it silently within ourselves while not concerning ourselves with the literal meaning. Then we read it again, taking time to reflect and allowing our imagination to unfold while paying attention to the images, thoughts, feelings, and memories that are stirred in us. We read it a third time, listening for where God might be calling us (a change, new direction, area that needs some work) at this time in our life. “How are you being invited by God to respond?” we ask ourselves. After holding this in our heart we then take time to rest in silence.

Can a case from Scripture be made that the Lectio Divina is a prayer form from “our ancient heritage going all the way back to the New Testament”? Is there any place in Scripture where it is clearly taught that we should read verses that move us and allow images, thoughts, feelings, and memories to guide our meditations while not concerned with the literal meaning of what we are reading? Does Moses or the prophets tell us to follow this formula in the Old Testament? Does Jesus or His apostles tell us anywhere to not get hung up on what the Scriptures say but rather that we should trust that we can hear the Spirit speak to us though our imagination? If you guessed no then you know your Bible pretty good.

Can the Lectio Divina pass the historicity test? Well, that depends which Lectio Divina you’re referring to. The Lectio Divina promoted by the workshop is from the Roman Catholic monastic system which isn’t going all the way back to the Apostolic era as the presenter kept promising us that we’d return to. The handout rightfully accredits the Lectio Divina to Benedict of Nursia (the handout lists him as St. Benedict but I’ll have to look that one up later as I can’t find a good reference that Benedict is considered a saint outside of Roman Catholicism in any of the Lutheran books in my library…) who lived from 480 to 547 A.D., the father the western monastic system that had it’s hand in corrupting nearly everything spiritual by making grace something to be worked out through poverty, celibacy, and obedience in addition to the manual labor of monks of the Benedict’s order. There is a very short section that states Martin Luther practiced a form of the Lectio Divina. However… the handout, to its credit, correctly points out that Dr. Luther’s practice of Lectio Divina was a very different discipline and not the Lectio Divina of Benedictine monks that was promoted in the workshop. Dr. Luther knew darned well the damage that could be done practicing spirituality through imaginations and feelings because he endured the hell of the Roman monastic system. Isn’t it more that a bit strange that the form that Martin Luther practiced is but a paragraph tacked on the end of a two-page section like an afterthought?

For the Lutheran confession portion of our diagnostic we bring up AC V again which condemns “the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.” because handout keeps trying to get us to look inward for some revelation and not explicitly Scripture alone. Revelation is always extra nos or outside ourselves and to keep telling folks to look inside themselves betrays those who would teach otherwise as not understanding concupiscence or how broken we are thanks to original sin.

Conclusion on the Lectio Divina? The discipline that is described as the Lectio Divina should not be taught as the handout presents it. If the handout had tried to even remotely be Lutheran and used Dr. Luther’s form of the Lectio Divina there would be something there to grab onto but the workshop just didn’t gravitate to the reformers or their confessions instead relying on mystics and the like.

So was there any part of the class that did pass the Scriptural, historical, and Confession test. Sure there was! The workshop was nearly dead on when it taught the church catholic’s practices of private confession and absolution as well as fasting. Both of these were practices that have both scriptural and historical precedence and our confessions acknowledge this. It was these two practices that had the longest sections in our handout and both were supported with numerous verses and passages from Scripture (and in context as well!) and the Lutheran Confessions and did not have to quote some desert mystic or Roman Catholic monastic moonbat to make the case that such practices are historical in nature. Both practices are good and salutary and have a long tradition going back to Old Testament and New Testament in the case of fasting and the New Testament in the case of confession and absolution as such practice was commanded by Christ Himself.

In the next post I’ll answer some questions that I keep getting as well as addressing the proverbial elephant in the room that had some advising me to not post anything about the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop

Update: I forgot to include a link to the handout used in the workshop when I put up the post. I did intend to include the link because it seems that some have questioned whether or not I was being truthful and accurate in my reporting of what was said and presented at the workshop. As I have said before, I took extraordinary measures to insure that what I said was factual and could be verified. Here is the link to the handout that was given to us at the beginning of the workshop.

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 2
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 4
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 4

Let me first state that the account of the discussions during lunch were not part of the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop nor were they heard by all who attended said workshop. There were two professional church workers, two laypersons, and the presenter at my table but not everybody participated in the conversation. It is because these discussions were not heard by all in attendance that I felt that what was debated deserved to be set aside and handled in a separate post; this post.

The first thing that popped into my head when the presenter sat down at my table for lunch was the line from Casablanca when Rick played by Humphrey Bogart says “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine” after an old love shows up in his bar one night. There were seven or eight other tables in the room that morning and the presenter picked mine to sit down and enjoy his lunch. What crazy random happenstance.

For what it’s worth I had absolutely no intention of asking the presenter any questions other than what I, or any other person for that matter, could ask during the workshop proper. When the pastor who was sitting at my table asked what I thought about the workshop before we started that morning I answered by stating that it seemed that what was being presented seemed to go against Scripture, the clear historical records, and our own Lutheran confessions but I also made it clear that as I was not a member of the congregation who was hosting the workshop and that since I was a guest, I would keep the majority of my concerns to myself, as I did not want be disruptive. The pastor I was chatting with made it perfectly clear that as the presenter was asking if anyone had any questions or comments that I should feel welcome to voice my concerns even if I was not a member of our daughter congregation.

Did I mention that the presenter sat with me during lunch?

The presenter and the other pastor at the table started up a brief conversation on why it was so important to teach a class like the one being presented. The gist of the presenter’s case was that church most folks “talk a lot about Jesus and the Father but we never seem to talk about Spirit and I think we need more talk of the Spirit in our churches.

I could not tell from the presenter’s remark however if he was referring to historic Christianity, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, or what I call Americanized Christianity. I believe that in the context of the entire presentation the case could be made that the presenter may have been talking about all three groups but that is my supposition only. One thing is certain; the workshop was clearly focused on the Spirit in both the material provided as well as presenter’s discussions and instruction on how we are able experience things and how “access” the Spirit whether it is through imaginations, feelings, dreams, or the new prayer forms that were covered in the preceding posts. The Spirit was definitely front and center in the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop.

After finishing up his short conversation on the importance of giving the Spirit right and proper praise the presenter turned his attention to me and asked, “Frank, what do you think of the class so far?

I respectfully said that he seemed to be teaching things that were neither taught by Scripture, Jesus, or the apostles. The presenter tried to make a case that we no longer look or act like first the Christians in our spirituality but never referred to the New Testament texts to validate his assertion. I also asked, “You said last night that the apostles had to develop and use these new prayer forms so that the Holy Spirit would come because they tried the Lord’s Prayer, which you skipped over when it came time to talk about how we pray, and that the Lord’s Prayer didn’t work; where is that in Scripture and how can you make such a claim? Where is that in the account of Pentecost?” After claiming that “it’s in there, Frank” while not actually being able to state where such a statement could be established through a clear and plain reading of the book of Acts chapter 2, the presenter declared, “Well, it worked didn’t it?

To be honest, hearing the presenter’s claim for what was the second or third time that Holy Spirit had come on the day of Pentecost not because of our Lord’s promise to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, but rather because of new prayer forms developed and used by the apostles but not listed anywhere in Scripture had me a bit flummoxed. Where does one go with someone whose epistemology is allowed to be influenced by his or her imagination, feelings, or individuals such as Julian of Norwich, Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, or a host of eastern mystics and monastics and not solely by Scripture?

Realizing that the I was getting nowhere appealing to the first two chapters of the Lukan account of how the Holy Spirit was sent to Christ’s church as Christ Himself promised, I thought I might make an appeal to the Lutheran Confessions and at least get us on the same sheet of music and then maybe we could work our backwards from there. I asked the presenter what he thought concerning our confessions when they condemned those who claimed they could experience and know the Spirit (or the Son or the Father!) through means other than God’s Holy Word. His response was that he simply didn’t think that any of our confessions spoke on the matter under discussion. When I got a bit too frustrated and insisted ACV and ACVII at bare minimum addressed the issue, the presenter simply said, “Frank, I’m just not all that familiar with the confessions.

This ended our discussion on the purpose for teaching the Prayer and Spiritual Formation Workshop as I just had no more to say as Scripture and the historic Lutheran Confessions were no longer going to be the standard by which the workshop could be judged.

The only other thing of note was that shortly before the class resumed the presenter was talking with a young lady who hopes to someday be a professional church worker. The young women told the presenter that it is her hope to serve the church catholic as a deaconess. The presenter, always willing to talk about gifts of the Spirit, told the nice young lady sitting next to me that he wished that the LCMS would ordain women as he knows so many who “have the gift” and that one of the women on the SED staff, a deaconess, would make a fine pastor and wished it could be so. When I asked the presenter if the epistles of Saint Paul (whom he had said the night before over systemized the Christian faith and might have placed too much stock in doctrine to the exclusion of spirituality) would have anything to say on the office of pastor being extended to women working in the church the presenter looked at me and said, “Frank, I’m just not going to argue with you on this.” My reply was “That’s good, because I have Scripture on my side of the debate.”

If one can come to some kind of understanding that it was the apostles developing new prayer forms that caused the Holy Spirit to arrive at Pentecost, should we then really be all that surprised when that same SED representative states that Saint Paul’s qualifications for who may be called to be a pastor, even if Saint Paul is an apostle called by Christ Himself and writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are to be considered archaic with relative ease?

Sadly, none of us should be stunned with the discussions at our lunch table. It should have just been appalling to see a representative of the SED argue with a layman who says that Scripture alone is our formal principle and that Holy Spirit never, ever point to Himself but instead He points Christ and His cross claiming that the LCMS is too concerned with systematics and sound doctrine; but more and more this is becoming normative in our beloved synod.

Now, let me remind everyone again; all of this was not some private conversation over a beer with a couple of people playing devil’s advocate but rather a continuation of the earlier class conducted by a representative of the Southeastern District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The dialogue between the presenter and myself, and everything that was said at the table, was public and witnessed by multiple persons so it can’t be said that such discussions were not meant for public discourse.

Finally, I want it to be know that I have taken extraordinary measures to make sure that my testimony in this and the preceding posts is unimpeachable, accurate, and truthful even as I know there are some who doubt what I have reported as being imprecise at best or outright lies and slander at worst. If anyone feels that I have made a mistake in my account or that I have bore false witness; I welcome the chance to be corrected if I did in fact err.

Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 1
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 2
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 3
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 5
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 6
Prayer And Spiritual Formation Workshop Part 7