Monday, November 27, 2006

The Latest from Lutheran CORE

Lutheran CORE is a coalition of ELCA pastors, laity, congregations and reforming groups who seek to preserve within that church body the authority of the Word of God according to the Lutheran confessions. I have been a part of this coalition for reform since its formation in 2005. This is the latest correspondence from the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee:

Dear Christian Friends,

The Lutheran CORE steering committee continues hard at work, as we seek to advocate for Biblical faithfulness and confessional loyalty in our church. We intend to remain in the "calling to which (we) have been called" (Ephesians 4:1) as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA is our church. With the help of God's Word and Spirit, it is also God's church. Our intention, as Lutheran CORE, with the help of God's Word and Spirit, is to be a voice for the Word of God within our church. We are neither of the left not of the right. We are for the center, where Christ is Lord, and where his Word redeems us and calls us to newness of life.

At our November steering committee meeting we took a number of positive steps in furthering our mission and ministry. We approved the printing of a brochure about our work. We authorized the expansion of our web site, reachable through our new web address We considered how we might cooperate more effectively with the other reform movements in our church. In a spirit of mutual endeavor, we shared among ourselves how Lutheran CORE and the WordAlone Network can work together. This latter conversation will continue in January, when we meet with the WordAlone board of directors.

The bulk of our meeting time was spent on reviewing and projecting ways for us to implement the four basic themes for our work and ministry.

HUMAN SEXUALITY. We are anxiously awaiting the study guide in December, the run-up to a proposed social statement on sexuality in 2009. We are considering how we will respond to this study guide. We are watching carefully how the synods are implementing the decisions of the 2005 churchwide assembly on blessings and ordinations. We are also exploring how to respond, should attempts be made to overturn the decisions of the 2005 churchwide assembly.

LEADERSHIP in the ELCA. Among the most important actions of the 2007 churchwide assembly will be the calling of a presiding bishop and secretary and elections for the Church Council. Lutheran CORE is seeking to work in cooperation with WordAlone and others, so that our church may be led by persons who are committed to the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions. We plan to be in communication with the voting members of the churchwide assembly regarding our hopes and concerns.

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION. The 2005 churchwide assembly called for a churchwide study of the Bible and its interpretation. The plans for this study are still in process. We applaud the intention of this study. A number of regional conferences on Biblical interpretation are being planned. As Lutheran CORE, we want to be supportive of this study process. But we also want to be careful how this study deals with classic Lutheran norms and principles.

The NAMING of GOD as FATHER, SON, and HOLY SPIRIT. The imminent arrival of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (the "new hymnal") will cause considerable distress among many Lutheran CORE supporters. As Lutheran CORE, our concern is not so much about the liturgical elements, about which we have different opinions. Our chief concern is how the Trinitarian formula for God is used in the liturgy and hymnody. It is very worrisome to us that at so many points the classic Biblical name for the Holy Trinity is placed in parallel with other titles of address for God. It is as if the Holy Trinity were an option for right worship! Lutheran CORE is analyzing this matter. We are not against the new hymnal as such. But we are considering how we can give guidance, so that pastors and congregations who choose to use it will use this book responsibly.

We are grateful beyond words for the faithful and prayerful support we receive from throughout our church. We are thankful for the partnership we have with the WordAlone Network. We appreciate the financial support that we receive from individuals, congregations, and other reform movements.

We ask that you continue to pray for us. We encourage you to speak on our behalf to others. We invite you to support our work financially. We know that we are in this for the long haul, and we sense very keenly that ours is not an easy task. But we are sustained, as you are, by Christ himself, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Head of the church and the Lord of all creation.

Lutheran CORE Steering Committee:

Paull Spring, State College, PA, chair
Erma Wolf, Brandon, SD, vice chair
W. Stevens Shipman, Watsontown, PA, secretary
Mark Chavez, Landisville, PA, director
Mark Graham, Roanoke, VA
Scott Grorud, Hutchinson, MN
Ken Kimball, Waterville, IA
Ryan Schwarz, Washington, DC
Paul Ulring, Columbus, OH

For more about Lutheran CORE, see its website. And if you wish to be supportive of or part of this coalition (especially if you are in an Illinois ELCA congregation), feel free to contact me.

Friday, November 24, 2006

"The Church of Sweden is about to implode."

This past summer I visited Sweden for the second time to attend the General Chapter of the Society of St. Birgitta and to explore both my ancestral and churchly roots. (The photo here is one I took of the Kristdala kyrka (Kristdala parish church), where my maternal grandfather's mother and her family and ancestors were baptized and confirmed before they started immigrating circa 1870.)

Because of those connections I have long held an interest in the Church of Sweden, and I have followed the news of her decline particularly in the last couple of generations -- a decline the leaders of the Episcopal Church in the USA and, alas, our own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seem eager to emulate.

Among the leaders of the faithful in the Swedish Church is Fr. Yngve Kalin, chairman of
Kyrklig samling (The Church Coalition for the Bible and the Confession) and pastor of the Hyssna congregation near Gothenburg in western Sweden. His latest public letter, which has also been published in the journal Svensk Pastoral Tidskrift, was sent to me by my friend Dr. Birgitta Peterson who wrote, "Yngve Kalin would be grateful if you in different ways could help spreading this 'message from Sweden' to fellow Christians in the Church Universal."

A Commission of Inquiry, Please!

Hyssna, Sweden 16th September 2006

Dear Friends,

Many people have seen it and increasing numbers are beginning to discover it: Our church is in the process of fragmentation. We have to speak the truth in order to save what can be saved. The facts speak clearly. Attendance at worship has collapsed in many places (only a few more than 100,000 people constitute the average attendance at the Sunday service in the 1837 parishes that make up the Church of Sweden), parishes are being amalgamated (681 parishes and 212 joint parishes have disappeared in five years) and the members withdraw from church membership in large numbers.

Current prognoses predict that in 15-20 years, the membership will have decreased so much that the current level of work can no longer be maintained. We can see that already. Everyone will be affected. The Church of Sweden is about to implode. Now we must act and speak out. We must point out the reasons and work out plans of action.

The Church Order, copied on the Swedish Law of local self-government, expressing and aiming at uniformity, holds together a rocking and reeling organisation. The church is held together by its outward organisation, providing a structure of national coverage, by its organisation of territorial parishes, by its jointly held property, investment funds and pension commitments, but also by the secular social legislation regulating employment rights and the system of fees collection.

The formally free Church of Sweden did not become really free. The Church-State reform at the turn of the millennium only meant that the principle of democracy took effect at all levels in a way that was hitherto unknown throughout the history of the universal Church. Those responsible for preparing and adopting the Church Order chose to ignore the fact that the Church is, by its very nature, something different from a regular democracy. It is not an association, nor a popular movement, ant it is not a legally imposed authority. The theologically motivated national "folk-church" became the democratic "folk-church" at the turn of the millennium, in which the people, through their elected representatives have the right to make decisions on all matters, including matters relating to the "faith, confession and teaching" of the church. This is the threat against the identity of our church as part of the universal, worldwide Church of Christ. If decisions that are contrary to the revealed faith continue to be taken, the Church of Sweden will become more and more isolated from the rest of Christendom. This provincialism threatens her catholicity. The description, "the Swedish Church" will take on an entirely new meaning, with the emphasis on "Swedish." If that will still be a church in the real sense of the word remains is debatable.

This is the reason why the Church of Sweden is losing ground in all areas. How can a church province that is profoundly uncertain about its profession of faith in the living Lord ever hope to awaken and sustain faith in the hearts of its people? How can a church that undertakes its activities on a foundation of doubt and uncertainty ever hope to encourage people to live their lives by faith in the Risen Lord and to proclaim their faith through their actions?

The foundation of the Church of Sweden, its faith and teaching, is in principle unchangeable at all times, regardless of any majority decisions by the politically constituted General Synod. The proud reference in opening statement of the Church Order, proclaiming that the church "is founded on the Holy Word of God," does not seem to have any real consequence in practice. We cannot pass over the fact that the politically elected General Synod is the teaching authority of the Church of Sweden, wielding unimpaired power and primacy as the interpreter of matters of faith and teaching. The so-called Doctrine Commission is purely cosmetic. It can be voted down by a two-thirds majority of the political General Synod. What the Universal Church has formulated during a long process of handing on the tradition of teaching, by ecumenical councils, by studies of the Holy Scripture under guidance of the Holy Spirit can all be changed by political majority decisions.

In this outward framework, a modern, experimental theology flourishes, which has made a virtue out of its own constructed theological model of a continuous revelation. Someone has put it like this: "The church wrote the Bible, and therefore the church can rewrite the Bible." Now that is plain speaking. The Bible is not the revealed word of God which contains everything we need to know for our salvation, and by which the church stands and falls. The Bible is rather a collection of peopleÂ’s experiences of God, and it should be considered in relation to our own experiences and insights. Now you can no longer declare with St Paul: "I know in whom I believe" (2 Tim. 1:12). The cry is rather: "What is it that I no longer have to believe in?" All this takes place under the cover of the concept of biblical interpretation, which now no longer means to translate the words of the Bible into our own circumstances by penetrating ever deeper into the divine Revelation itself, but rather to seek to find out what you might plausibly consider to be the real message of the Bible, and which is often summarised as its "message of love." That is theology without pastoral action, without any enthusiasm for mission and testimony. That can only serve to impoverish the church and its parishes. We have become a church of questions, but without any answers! A "folk-church" without the folks, because the folks are deserting the church!

If you want to pinpoint this a little further, you could say that this theology, which has lost its faith in the Revealed word, make God unknown to us, and Jesus becomes no more than an interesting person, whom some people might find either interesting and others will resist. That which we call the church is no more than an organisation among others, mission equals propaganda and liturgy is reduced to ceremonies. The Christian life-style becomes no more than ethical action, which can change over time. However, the faith in the revealed Word, and in the Risen and living Christ, present in his Church and in the Gospel, is a life-giving power that recreates and transforms us human beings. Even the hardest of hearts might one day be transformed into hearts of flesh...

In the past, I have been accused of painting a black picture. Never mind. I will not cease to speak what is obvious and what an increasing number of people can feel, right into their bones. The words in the Book of the Apocalypse, 3:17 "You say: How rich I am! What a fortune I have made! I have everything I want" would seem to fit the Church of Sweden only too well. That text in the Bible continues: "In fact, though you do not realise it, you are a pitiful wretch, poor, blind and naked."

It is possible to turn things round. First, however, insight about the real situation is required; an awareness of the crisis, in other words. There are still counter-images and there are places where the profession of the faith in the church as "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" are still proclaimed and expressed, in faith and life. There are people who stand firm in this profession of the faith of the apostles, and who uphold that faith in relation to both doctrinal and ethical issues. They take the view that this faith carries far more weight than the political majorities, who have taken on the role as the teaching authority of the Church of Sweden. It is these people, these groups, which are the future of the Church of Sweden. We must not abandon our church in these difficult circumstances, even though there are serious and skilful attempt to drive us out by administrative measures and ever new decisions. To remain will require sacrifices from many of us, and we will have to find unconventional solutions in order to survive. We will continue to tell the truth about how things really are, and to plead for a "commission of inquiry." A commission that would have the courage to evaluate the consequences of the decisions taken, and that would analyse the causes behind the collapse of customary and popular church attendance and the alienation felt by such large groups of the Swedish population in the face of developments in the parishes. We need to recover our confidence and our courage to profess out faith, and we need to find ways to live an authentic Christian life and to be the Church in a minority situation.

If nothing is done, the ecclesiastical system will collapse. Our role is to remain and firm and assiduously proclaim and keep the apostolic faith. When destruction hits, we must start building again on the old foundation, because "There can be no other foundation than the one already laid: I mean Jesus Christ himself." (1 Cor. 3:11)

Kyrklig samling (The Church Coalition for the Bible and the Confession) wants to continue to play the role as the mouthpiece of the truth. I therefore appeal for support for our work, seeking to be a meeting place for all those in our church who desire that the only guiding principle for the church should be the Bible and the Confessional Documents of the Church of Sweden, as the opening paragraph of our constitution puts it.


Yngve Kalin
The Church Coalition for the Bible and the Confession

Translation: 2006 © Sr Gerd Swensson, Te Deum
2006 © Yngve Kalin

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A National Day of Thanksgiving

The first National Day of Thanksgiving in these United States was proclaimed by the Continental Congress in 1777, as the Revolutionary War was still being fought:
November 1, 1777

FORASMUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth "in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost."

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.
Similar proclamations by the United States in Congress were made annually for the next seven years. You can read them all here. Rather amazing language, isn't it, by today's standards.

The first Presidential proclamation was issued by George Washington in 1789, and he issued another one in 1795. President John Adams proclaimed National Days of Fasting and Humiliation in 1798 and 1799, and President James Madison (at the request of Congress) proclaimed a "day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States" and a Day of Thanksgiving, both in 1815. Read them here.

The next Presidential Proclamations for a Day of National Thanksgiving were issued by Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis in 1862, both of these being specific thanksgiving for battle victories during the Civil War. 1863 brought the next Presidential proclamation for a general Day of Thanksgiving. He proclaimed another one in 1864, then President Andrew Johnson did so in 1865 (you can read them here), and the sitting President has done so annually ever since. All of them are linked here.

Again in 2006, the President of the United States has proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving, encouraging "all Americans to gather together in their homes and places of worship with family, friends, and loved ones to reinforce the ties that bind us and give thanks for the freedoms and many blessings we enjoy." So tonight at Zion, at President George W. Bush's request, we will gather together as a congregation to offer such thanks. And, as has been my practice since arriving here in 1992, I will read the Presidential Proclamation during the Divine Service, as we also hear the proclamation of the Gospel and celebrate the Great Thanksgiving commended by the Lord Jesus Christ to his Church.
Thanksgiving Day, 2006
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

As Americans gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we give thanks for the many ways that our Nation and our people have been blessed.

The Thanksgiving tradition dates back to the earliest days of our society, celebrated in decisive moments in our history and in quiet times around family tables. Nearly four centuries have passed since early settlers gave thanks for their safe arrival and pilgrims enjoyed a harvest feast to thank God for allowing them to survive a harsh winter in the New World. General George Washington observed Thanksgiving during the Revolutionary War, and in his first proclamation after becoming President, he declared November 26, 1789, a national day of "thanksgiving and prayer." During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln revived the tradition of proclaiming a day of thanksgiving, reminding a divided Nation of its founding ideals.

At this time of great promise for America, we are grateful for the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and defended by our Armed Forces throughout the generations. Today, many of these courageous men and women are securing our peace in places far from home, and we pay tribute to them and to their families for their service, sacrifice, and strength. We also honor the families of the fallen and lift them up in our prayers.

Our citizens are privileged to live in the world's freest country, where the hope of the American dream is within the reach of every person. Americans share a desire to answer the universal call to serve something greater than ourselves, and we see this spirit every day in the millions of volunteers throughout our country who bring hope and healing to those in need. On this Thanksgiving Day, and throughout the year, let us show our gratitude for the blessings of freedom, family, and faith, and may God continue to bless America.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 23, 2006, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage all Americans to gather together in their homes and places of worship with family, friends, and loved ones to reinforce the ties that bind us and give thanks for the freedoms and many blessings we enjoy.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.

See the official proclamation here. And whether or not your view of this President is favorable, I hope that you will follow his encouragement.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Make a gratuitous sign of the cross!"

Over at the Pontificator, Alvin Kimel posts some wonderful advice for "improving the liturgy" -- teaching some ways laity (or, to use the term another friend uses of himself, "pew-warming schlumpfs") can easily get more involved in the liturgy -- in a blog entry called "Living on the ritual edge—the wild world of crossings and bowings."
But Catholic worshippers can help improve the liturgy now, immediately, without waiting for the eschatological reform of the reform. All they need do is take a page from the Anglo-Catholic playbook and start gesturing like mad. Suddenly you will find yourself worshipping more fully and more actively, despite the liturgy, despite the celebrant, despite yourself. The first place to begin is with the sign of the cross. Why restrict yourself to the opening invocation, gospel, and closing blessing? Live on the edge! Push the ritual envelope! Make a gratuitous sign of the cross! I know. It feels wild and irresponsible, but be of good courage and step out in the freedom of the Spirit. Cross yourself! But when, you ask. Okay, I know it’s helpful to have some suggestions. Fortunately, Anglo-Catholics have blazed the trail—or perhaps more accurately, remembered the trail—for all of us. In addition to the three occasions mentioned above, Anglo-Catholics also make the sign of the cross at the conclusion of the Gloria in exclesis (”in the glory of God the Father”), at the conclusion of the Nicene Creed (”the life of the world to come”), at the Benedictus qui venit (”Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”), at the consecratory elevations, and at the presentation of the Holy Gifts to the congregation. And this is just the beginning. Once you have mastered these difficult gesturing moments, look for other opportunities within the liturgy to cross yourself.

After you experience the joy of crossings, you may then want to take a step into the exciting world of bowings. Just think to yourself: “at the name of Jesus …”

Be bold. You don’t need a rubrical command. You don’t need the permission of the priest. Gesture!
Read it all here (including comments).

And yes, Lutherans can do this, too. In fact, the Lutheran Reformers (who in the Augsburg Confession claimed to keep the Mass better than the Papists) would be rather surprised that so many contemporary Lutherans don't do such rituals in the presence of the Lord God, King of the Universe, but rather just sit there barely warming their pew. As several Zionites have learned over the years, Pastor Zip doesn't make the sign of the Cross, bow, genuflect, etc. for show -- he's worshiping the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Morning After the Election

or Pastoral Care and Public Church?

Tuesday was Election Day. I was not at home, but in Fort Wayne on a Society of the Holy Trinity multi-chapter Retreat (I had voted in Peoria the previous week). We watched some of the election returns on the TV, then went to bed with control of the Senate still up in the air and unaware of most of the Illinois results.

Wednesday morning there was "free time" as the Retreat was winding down. I had brought a couple of the books I'm currently in the middle of reading, hoping I'd have some time to spend with at least one of them. And finally, with this particular period of "free time," I took one of the books, opened to my book mark and -- seeing that I'd not marked anything for a couple of pages -- I went back a few paragraphs to remind myself of the context. And I began reading...
Now, gold is dimmed when a holy life is corrupted by earthly deeds. The finest colour is changed when the former esteem of those who were credited with living religiously is diminished. For when anyone resigns himself to earthly activities after a life of constant holiness, reverence for him is ignored and grows dim, as though his lustre had faded in the eyes of men.

Further, the stones of the sanctuary are scattered in the streets when those who should have occupied themselves in the interior mysteries for the adornment of the Church, as it were in the secrets of the Tabernacle, wander outside in the broad ways of secular affairs. Evidently, they were made the stones of the sanctuary, that they might appear in the vesture of the High Priest within the Holy of Holies. But when the ministers of religion do not demand the Redeemer's honour from their subjects by their meritorious way of living, the stones of the sanctuary are not in the vesture of the High Priest. Indeed, the stones of the sanctuary lie scattered through the streets, when persons in Sacred Orders, given over to the laxity of their pleasures, cling to earthly affairs.

We should observe, too, that these are said to be scattered, not merely through the streets, but at the top of the streets; that is, to say, even when they are engaged in earthly matters, they wish to appear at the top, so as to both occupy the broad ways in the enjoyment of their delights, and yet to be at the top of the street in the external repute of holiness.

Furthermore, we are not prevented from understanding these stones to be the stones from which the sanctuary had been constructed. They lie scattered at the top of the streets, when men in Sacred Orders, in whose office of holiness the glory of sanctity was previously seen to exist, devote themselves to the preference of earthly affairs. Secular employments, then, are sometimes to be sympathetically put up with, but never sought after out of affection for them. Otherwise, when they oppress the mind of him who is attached to them, he becomes submerged by the weight and sinks down from the concerns of Heaven even to the very depths.

Some, on the contrary, undertake the charge of the flock, but wish to be so free for spiritual occupations, as not to give any time at all to external matters. Now, when such people wholly neglect to attend to what pertains to the body, they afford no help to their subjects. It is no wonder that their preaching is disregarded for the most part, for while chiding the deeds of sinners, and not giving them the necessities of the present life, their words certainly do not find sympathetic listeners. Doctrine taught does not penetrate the minds of the needy, if a compassionate heart does not commend it to the hearts of hearers; but the seed of the word does germinate promptly, when the kindness of a preacher waters it in the hearer's heart. Therefore, that the ruler may be able to plant within, he may be able to plant within, he must also, with irreproachable intention, make provision for what is external. Let pastors, then, give their entire devotion to the inner life of their subjects, yet not neglect to provide for the exterior life also.
-- Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, Part II, Chapter 7