Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmass Prayer

As a prayer, I found this to be a bit awkward on a couple of levels. As a Christmass meditation, though, it's a wonderful way to begin the Twelve Days of Christmass. spt+

O Merciful, Eternal God, heavenly Father, we Thy children thank Thee from the inmost of our hearts, that Thou hast so faithfully kept Thy promise and didst turn to us They heart of fatherly love, in sending to us the highest Good, Thine only begotten Son, for our Savior, and making us acceptable in Thy Beloved.

O Christ Jesus, Thou eternal Son of God, we honor, praise and magnify Thee, that Thou on this festal day didst become our brother and Emmanuel, that is, God with us; that out of unspeakable love, Thou hast befriended us and clothed Thyself with the garb of our flesh and blood. In no wise didst Thou assume the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham, our human nature, that is but earth and ashes and dust, Thou didst so honor as to unite Thyself with it personally, inseparably and eternally. Thou wast conceived without sin and born into this world by a pure and chaste virgin; thus Thou didst sanctify and consecrate our sinful and impure conception and birth, that it may not be harmful to us, we being by nature the children of wrath, conceived in sin, and flesh born of flesh. Thou wast born in a stable and didst lie in the manger on straw in abject poverty and Thou didst not take offense, so that, having enriched our souls, Thou couldst make us great lords in Thy heavenly mansion. Thou hast humiliated Thyself in order to exalt us; Thou didst come down upon this earth, that we might go up to Thee in heaven.

O God, The Holy Spirit, our highest teacher and comforter, we today offer Thee the sacrifice of our lips, heartily thanking Thee that Thou hast revealed unto us this great "mystery of godliness"; and as the angels proclaimed and chanted it to the shepherds on the field, even so dost Thou proclaim it to us through Thy Word and Thy servants. Glory be to Thee, O God, Father Son and Holy Spirit in the highest, peace on earth and good will towards men. Grant, O faithful God and Father that sharing in the benefits of the human birth of Thy dear Son and delivered from the evil results of our sinful birth, we may be and remain newborn children of Thy grace and heirs of Thy kingdom. O dearest Jesus mine, Do Thou in my heart's shrine, As on a bed incline, That I be ever Thine.

Do Thou, O God the Holy Spirit, bring it about that this our Savior be spiritually born and grow in us at present and ever after. Help us also to rejoice over this birth and find comfort in it amidst all temptations, to suffer all things patiently and to gain the victory, so that we may honor, praise and glorify Thee with all the angels of God, here in time and hereafter in eternity. Amen.

- from Abridged Treasury of Prayers (early 1930s), as used in For All the Saints as the Closing Prayer for Christmass Day of Year Two

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

50 Stars: The Rest of the Story

The photo is a clipping of the first time I appeared in a church publication, the monthly newspaper of the old Pacific Southwest Synod, LCA. The date, as you can see (click for a larger version), is January 1971. The names aren't listed in the order we're standing: its Mr. Pfundstein, me, Bruce, Greg, Ken, and Jon. Here's the story.

I first went to camp when I was 11. It was one week in the summer of 1970 at Camp Yolijwa, the Synod's camp outside Yucaipa, California. That's in the mountains east of San Bernardino. I had never been that far "back east" before. I'd never been away from home that long before.

First thing every morning we'd all gather at the flag pole to raise the colors and say the Pledge of Allegiance. "Hey," I whispered to one of my friends the first day, "you notice anything about that flag?" The stars looked different. It was a 48-star flag! For boys who had been born the year Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the Union, we thought it was pretty pathetic that the church camp would have an out-of-date flag.

Naturally that became an item of conversation when The Odd Squad -- Bruce, Greg, Jon, and I were all in the same Sunday School class, Ken was a year ahead (and who'd been trying to get all of us to Yolijwa) -- and we'd been we palling around Resurrection, were in the choir, etc. -- came home. I don't recall who gave us that moniker, but I'm thinking we were tagged with it shortly after The Mod Squad came on the air. None of us, of course, were anything as cool as Linc, Pete, and Julie.

Several weeks later, Pastor Gibson gathered us all together at church and took us to one of the Canoga Park mortuaries, where we were presented with a brand new 50-star flag. Which we then presented to Mr. Pfundstein, who came up to the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Canoga Park from the Synod Office.

I've intended at some point to tell that story here just because. The old Odd Squad doesn't have much contact with each any more. Bruce and his family would move away after we were confirmed and his dad got a new job in Ohio. He's an ELCA pastor in Reading, Pennsylvania. The rest of us stayed in the West Valley through high school. Ken went to ULCA and, after working a while at Hughes Aircraft, headed to Silicon Valley -- his older brother (Wayne) is an ELCA pastor in Port Byron, Illinois. Jon and Greg went to Humboldt State and made their lives elsewhere. Jon is the Director of the New York Aquarium.; Greg (last I heard) is with the Portland, Oregon, water works.

So why "the rest of the story?" That showed up Monday over at the pretty good lutherans blog, which I recently discovered as a fine source for ELCA news.
Robert Heft, the designer of the 50-star U.S. flag, died Saturday at Covenant Medical Center in Saginaw, Mich. He was 67.

Heft created the flag in 1958 for a high school project. He was 17-years-old and a junior at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, Ohio.

He received a B- for the project, but the teacher eventually changed his grade to an A.

“His interest in flags originally came from his volunteer work as a former Boy Scout,” his newspaper obituary said. “Bob was a very proud American. He devoted his life to inspiring others.”

President Dwight Eisenhower chose Heft’s design to replace the 48-star flag. At the time, Alaska and Hawaii were expected to soon make the country a 50-state nation.
Should you read it all here, you'll discover that Mr. Heft was -- a Lutheran.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Set the Course for Mars!

From Humans To, hat tip to the Mars Society. Zip+:


President Obama: Set the Course for Mars

The American space program, begun and carried out so successfully during the Apollo era, has drifted ever since. Four decades of stagnation is enough. It is clear that if progress is to resume, NASA needs a goal that can mobilize and focus its efforts today in the same way that the reach for the Moon did in the 1960's. That goal should be sending humans to the Red Planet.

Mars is where the challenge is, Mars is where the science is, and Mars is where the future is.

While there are problems that must be solved, overall from a technological point of view, we are much better prepared today to send humans to Mars than we were to reach for the Moon in 1961, and we were there 8 years later. Given leadership willing to embrace challenge, we could have our first teams of human explorers on the Red Planet before the end of the next decade. We should settle for nothing less.

The American people deserve a space program that is really going somewhere. Therefore, we the undersigned urge President Obama to courageously embrace the challenge before us, and commit the nation to send humans to Mars before the end of the next decade.

Tell President Obama to Set the Course for Mars:

Click Here to Sign the Humans for Mars Petition
I signed!

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy...

Yes, it was 68 years ago today, some 17 years before I was born. Nevertheless, this is in my bones. And what follows remains a marvelous speech that evokes in my mind "President of the United States" — even if it is "That Man." You can listen to it here from a radio broadcast, but if you're like me, you can hear the voice just by reading the words.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area.

The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation. As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. [applause]

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. [cheers, applause]

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us. [applause]

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God. [applause]

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

[applause, cheers]

Friday, December 04, 2009

Conference Re-scheduled

The Conference on The 50th Anniversary of The Hammer of God that I posted last month has been rescheduled. It will now be held on Tuesday, 14 September 2010 -- one week later than previously announced. All other details are the same. Click here for the corrected announcement.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What Are Pastors for, anyway?

This question was recently asked in a Facebook group made up of ELCA Lutherans, lay and clergy, I'm in. There were several different sorts of answers offered. Here's what I wrote — and since that group is going to be closed soon, I figured I ought to put it in a place that won't disappear:
Key to the question, "What are pastors for, anyway?" especially from a Lutheran perspective, is Article V of the Augsburg Confession.

"To obtain such faith [that is, the faith described in Art. I-IV] God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. And the Gosepel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this.

"Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that the Holy Spirit comes to us thorugh our own preparations, thoughts, and works without the external word of the Gospel."

What are pastors for? The Faith. The Gospel. The Means of Grace (of which the ministry -- that's flesh and blood pastors, not some platonic ideal of "the ministry" -- is one).

While Christ is The Good Shepherd, pastors are also shepherds of their flocks, and we confess that this is something instituted by God.
And, as I acknowledge when I teach Ordination as a fourth sacrament for Lutherans, what I wrote there is a good way to get Lutheran pastors debating.

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's About the Teaching

On Wednesday, Lutheran CORE announced -- among several other matters -- that it "will aid in the formation of a Lutheran church body for those congregations and individuals that choose to end their affiliation with the ELCA." (No, I'm not particularly interested in that.)

Yesterday, Lutherans Concerned/North America "responded with sadness" to that announcement. Said LC/NA's Emily Eastwood, "It seems with yesterday's announcement that some ELCA Lutherans cannot even tolerate being in the same church family with congregations who accept us. Anger and fear have overtaken the great commandments from Jesus himself: to love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself."

This morning on ALPB Forum Online, my brother in the Holy Ministry and friend Pr. Marshall Hahn replied more appropriately than my one-word initial reaction (note: I've added the emphasis):
People are not leaving the ELCA because they cannot stay in the same church with homosexual people. They are leaving because they cannot stay in a church which teaches error. They are leaving the ELCA because they cannot agree with blessing what they understand to be sin. Either Emily Eastwood knows this - and is mischaracterizing people on purpose - or she does not know this - and clearly is the one who has not been listening to those with whom she disagrees.
Remember that. It's about the teaching of the Church. Sounds kind of Lutheran, doesn't it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Baltic Lutheran Bishops Send Message


The leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania met in Tallinn on the 3rd and 4th of November, 2009 to strengthen the long experience of unity of the Lutheran churches in the Baltic countries and to pray for the fellowship among Christians of the whole world, recognizing that in our time the ties among and within Christian communities in many places are put to the test. Bishops also discussed tasks and responsibilities of their churches looking for better ways of co-operation in the future. Christian faith means living with Christ and serving one another.

Especially at times of the economic difficulties when so many people have lost their external foothold and inner peace, we invite our compatriots to expand their appreciation of their Christian roots and to utilize all the spiritual wealth that is revealed in the Holy Scripture and offered to everyone who turns to God and puts their trust on Christ. The present crisis in the world economy is a fruit of a long term failure to act accordingly the principles which God has laid in the foundations of His creation. Consumerism and individualism of the modern society have taken their toll. To look for solution only by means of mending economy would mean to repeat the same mistake. A spiritual renewal must come first, a renewed sense of balance between rights and obligations, communion empathy, solidarity, and mutual support. We believe that the most convincing inner motivation for that change is found in an encounter of a person with the living Christ. To facilitate that encounter by word and deed is the first and foremost calling of the Christian church. Jesus Christ said: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matt.28:19-20)

The Christian community as a part of the society is not separated from issues related to the natural and human environment both locally and globally. Justice in the society and life quality of the people or protection of our Baltic Sea against the state negligence and corporate exploitation are some of the critical examples of this area of concern. As communities gathered around the Word of God and the keepers of Christian ethos our churches must address the spiritual root-causes of the contemporary problems. The churches must remember that the main instrument entrusted to them by God is His word – the law and the gospel - and the service to the neighbour in charity.

We also invite our political powers to realize more clearly the spiritual dimension of the human life and the good fruits of a positive co-operation between state, municipalities, schools and the church. Teaching and implementing Christian principles strenghthen the family as well as the whole community. Liberty of conscience and freedom of speech belong to the values of society defining religious life not only as a private but also as a public social right which has to be fostered. Religious education and religious studies form an inseparable part of this right.

At the present time a common witness of churches is vitally important, therefore we express our deepest concern about modern tendencies that weaken the fellowship among Christians and cause divisions in and among churches. The recent decisions made by some member churches of the Lutheran World Federation to approve of religious matrimony for couples of the same gender and to equate such conjugal life with marriage or to ordain non celibate homosexual persons for pastoral or episcopal office epitomize these tendencies that are tearing apart fellowhip among Christians. We affirm that the marriage is the conjugal life between a man and a woman and that a homosexual activity is incompatible with the discipleship of Christ. We believe that in following the modern trends, churches are departing from the apostolic doctrine of human sexuality and marriage. We see the Lutheran communion and eccumenical efforts endangered by such decisions and actions because they lead to a situation where the Lutheran churches, members of the Lutheran World Federation are not able to fully recognize each others ecclesiastical offices, to exchange the ministries and to participate together in preaching the Word and celebrating the sacraments.

We call upon our Lutheran sisters and brothers to unity and co-operation based upon the foundation of Holy Scripture and loyalty to the Lutheran confessions. Contemporary challenges demand a firm stand based upon timeless truths and values. The common understanding of the Gospel by churches is a treasure we cannot afford to lose and it needs to be passed on to the current and future generations. Our mission is to be faithful in that which we have received, God’s mercy. We are to serve our Lord and our neighbours thus until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 4:13)

Archbishop of Riga Janis Vanags
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia

Bishop of Daugavpils Einars Alpe
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia

Bishop of Liepaja Pavils Bruvers
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia

Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania

Archbishop Andres Põder
Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church

Archbishop emeritus Kuno Pajula
Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church

Bishop Einar Soone
Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Conference: The Hammer of God

The International Giertz Society
(English Language Section)
& the Pittsburgh Pastoral Conference honor…


with two lectures on Bo Giertz’s beloved and influential novel, which appeared in English for the first time in 1960


The Rev. Hans O. Andræ on “Tyranny and the Gospel: Freedom from Temporal and Spiritual Bondage in The Hammer of God
Pastor H. Andræ translated the final chapter of The Hammer of God for the 2005 edition, for which he also provided a historical and biographical introduction. While a pastor in Sweden, Andræ worked with Bishop Giertz in Kyrklig Samling. He was a parish pastor in the U.S.A. 1979-2007. His translation of Giertz’s first book, Christ’s Church (Kristi Kyrka, 1939), is expected to be published in 2010.

The Rev. Eric R. Andræ on “‘The best treatment of the proper distinction of law and gospel in the history of Lutheran theology:’ A Historical and Systematic Overview”
Pastor E. Andræ completed his S.T.M. thesis on Giertz’s use of the ordo salutis in 2003 (Concordia, St. Louis). He has had several essays on Giertz published in journals and books in the U.S. and in his native Sweden, and has translated numerous short pieces, as well as a booklet: Life by Drowning: Enlightenment through Law and Gospel (2008, from Kyrkofromhet). He is the founder and president of the International Giertz Society.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

9:00 a.m. — Noon Continental Breakfast, Matins (9:30), Lectures (10:00)
Noon — 1:30 p.m. Lunch Break (lunch is not provided)
1:30 — 3:30 Screening of The Hammer of God — the brand-new feature length FILM based on the entire first novella

First Trinity Lutheran Church
535 N. Neville St.
Pittsburgh, Penn. 15213 U.S.A.

There is no cost, but you must register:
412-683-4121 x2

Note: Life By Drowning is available in pdf format here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

For Hallowe'en/Reformation Day

From "BrotherBoris" on ALPB Forum Online:

"The Reformed are like vampires. They are horrified by the sign of the cross, literally run away from holy water (I wonder if it burns them?) and suck any good ceremonial out of a congregation. No wonder they dress in that dreary black robe of death. God forbid we should have something beautiful, colorful and worthy of the King of Kings like a Gold colored Chasuble or a Gold plated chalice instead of some plastic, disposable Nyquil cup for the Sacrament."

Trick or treat!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Remembering the Signs

So there I was, driving north-bound on I-35 about a half-hour after crossing the Iowa-Minnesota border, on my way to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis. It's not the most exciting drive, but I had the lecture series by Br. William Short, ofm, St. Francis of Assisi: A New Way of Being Christian, on the CD player to keep my mind occupied.

When I was in seminary I worked for the Franciscan School of Theology -- first as it's Controller then, upon my return from intership, as the (personal) Assistant to the President. Brother Bill was FST's President all that time, though in the Spring-Summer of '92 he was on sabbatical, so I was Bill Cieslak's assistant my last few months there. Anywho, listening to Bill's lectures -- and I highly recommend them -- had reminded me of just how compelling lecturer he is. I'd not thought for years of how his lectures in the GTU's pre-Reformation Christian history courses were immensely well received. The CDs were (are) a nice reminder of what I really liked about going to seminary in Berkeley, and one of the reasons I've always had a stronger affinity for FST than my official alma mater, PLTS. But I digress.

So I'm driving northbound on I-35 in the middle of August. Also known as "road construction season." Especially this summer as where ever you drove, you weren't far from watching our grandchildren's money at work stimulating the economy for us. So we're actually driving northbound on the southbound lanes, as the northbound ones are closed so they can be rebuilt.

And, suddenly before my eyes, an hour or so away from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly that would be called to order in just a few hours, came this sign:

Lutheran CORE in Illinois

I sent the following last evening.

Illinois CORE Update #1

Greetings in Christ Jesus.

This message is to give you a brief update on what has been happening with Lutheran CORE Illinois since a Steering Committee was elected Sunday evening October 4 at American Lutheran Church in Rantoul. You are receiving this because you left this e-mail address with us at that meeting, or you have indicated to me in some other way an interest in Lutheran CORE's efforts in Illinois. Please feel free to forward this message to anyone you believe would be interested, lay, clergy, or congregation.

But first, most of you receiving this were sent an invitation on October 18 to join a "CORE_Illinois" group at Yahoo! -- and a few of you have joined are receiving this message from it. This group will be used for announcements and updates of what is happening with Lutheran CORE in Illinois. It is set up for anyone interested to receive messages only. We will not use this group/list to fill up your e-mail inbox. We will be setting up another Yahoo! Group for conversation, questions, etc., and will announce that on the CORE Illinois group once it is ready for CORE members to join.

If you wish to keep up with CORE Illinois news and events, please either:
  + respond to the original invitation, or
  + send your name and e-mail to CORE_Illinois-subscribe (at) yahoogroups (dot) com, or
  + send your name and e-mail to me personally at or Lynn Bivens at 7Whites (at) comcast (dot) net, or
  + go to and follow the instructions to join.

That website and the messages on it anyone can read. You do not need to join Yahoo! to receive the messages via e-mail, but with a Yahoo! memberships you will be able to manage how you receive the messages yourself and use other features that come with Yahoo! Groups.

If you are not interested in CORE Illinois messages, you need do nothing. We will not be sending you further messages about CORE Illinois unless you tell us you want us to.

Now, for the update:
  1. The Illinois CORE Steering Committee is made up of:
      + Pastor Steven Tibbetts (Zion, Peoria), Chair
      + Ralph Cox (American, Rantoul), Vice-Chair
      + Lynn Biven (Bethel, Bartonville), Secretary
      + Mike Kasten (Champaign)
      + Jim Taeger (Prince of Peace, St. Joseph)

  2. We have been formally received as a member of Lutheran CORE That means we will be part of a larger coalition of Lutheran reform groups that, over the next year, are discerning how to continue mission and ministry with each other even as some stay in the ELCA and others leave in light of the actions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. Lutheran CORE is looking to be a movement for the renewal of Lutheranism in North America, as part of the ELCA when possible, apart from the ELCA when necessary. There is much helpful information on their website, as well as clarification of misinformation. They are still in catch-up mode after the overwhelming attendance at the Fishers Convocation -- so you may still also find materials that reflect how things were before the Assembly.

  3. As you read materials about and from Lutheran CORE, and as you find yourselves in discussions about this summer's actions, you will notice that the controversies are not simply about sex. Yes, we in Lutheran CORE believe the Social Statement on Human Sexuality is fundamentally flawed and the changes in ministry standards are unacceptable. But these are symptoms of deeper issues within the ELCA (which most of us are still part of) over the use and authority of Holy Scripture; how we speak about and to God in worship, prayer, and study; and Christ's Great Commission to make disciples. The temptation is to focus on the ELCA's new perspectives on sexuality; that diverts the churches from Christian mission.

  4. I am forming a Clergy Advisory group of about a dozen C/SIS pastors. They are not only providing the Steering Committee guidance and advice, they are at work building a web site for Illinois CORE. Watch for an announcement of the site's launch.

  5. The Steering Committee has been creating a brief Powerpoint (TM) presentation for use with smaller groups, such as Congregation Councils, etc. It has been used with at least one congregation so far, but is still a very much a work-in-progress.

  6. Representatives of the Steering Committee and/or Advisory group have addressed Lutheran CORE with the pastors and rostered leaders of at least two Conferences, at least one congregational forum, and with at least one Congregation Council. Other inquiries are being made in various spots throughout the Synod, but nothing has been scheduled as yet. If you'd like a representative from Lutheran CORE Illinois to be part of your conversations responding to the Assembly's actions, contact me or Lynn.

  7. As I'd indicated at Rantoul, I attended a gathering of clergy from the Northern Illinois and Metro Chicago Synods concerned about the Churchwide Assembly's actions. Before this, they have been isolated from one another, thinking that they were alone in their concerns. (That will sound familiar to some in our Synod, too.) Now they know otherwise. While it seems more likely that they will form their own Lutheran CORE group rather than join with ours, we intend to support each other as much as we are able.

  8. The October 4 gathering called for a January convocation open to all Lutherans within the Central/Southern Illinois Synod, or even the entire state of Illinois, in order to complete the necessary organization of a Lutheran CORE Illinois member. The Clergy Advisory group is currently scouting out possible locations, initially focussing on the Decatur-Springfield area.

  9. Please keep Bishop Freiheit and the pastors of the C/SIS in your prayers. As across the ELCA people are divided over the actions of the Churchwide Assembly, we find the same divisions within the Synod, among the pastors, and even within congregations. Even those who have supported the Assembly's actions are aware of the negative impacts this has had throughout the ELCA. Lutheran CORE aims to be a means for the faithful to stand together in the Gospel and to work toward the future the Lord is giving us in our places. That begins in this difficult time by holding all our called leaders in prayer.

Again, please feel free to forward this message to anyone you believe would be interested, lay, clergy, or congregation.

Your servant in Christ, Steven+

The Rev. Steven P. Tibbetts, STS
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Peoria, Ill.
Chair, Illinois CORE Steering Committee

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reformation Sunday 2009

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I’m doing something unusual with this sermon, for in my 17 years as pastor at Zion, it has been very, very rare for me to preach on Sunday from a manuscript. Furthermore, just about everything I’m going to say is not my words, but the words of another pastor, Frank Senn, whose name many of you will recognize as the Senior of the Society of the Holy Trinity. This is a sermon that he has offered to be preached in many churches throughout the ELCA for this particular Reformation Sunday, one that is being preached in one form or another by a few dozen pastors across our church who are in the process of uniting to proclaim a clear word within the church we have been called to serve. So, here goes.

Ecclesia semper reformanda. "The church must always be reformed."

Martin Luther didn’t invent it; it was a medieval slogan. In fact, as the Luther biographer Heiko Oberman, reformation was "a medieval event." It grew out of the experience of the monasteries, which were always growing lax with regard to the observance of their Rule, and which required calls for reform and renewal. Sometimes this led to splits in monastic communities: for example, the Cistercians split off from the main body of the Benedictines. Martin Luther belonged to the "observant" branch of the Augustinian Order rather than the "conventual" branch. By the way, Luther was not, strictly speaking, a monk; he was a friar. Monks are cloistered religious; the friars were out and about on the streets and highways. Anyway, calls for reform were not new by the 16th century; and schism had been experienced—not only in religious communities, but in the papacy itself. The Protestant-Catholic schism was not the first schism in church history; but it was a pretty major one.

"The church must always be reformed." Once Luther’s reform movement settled into being a church established by law in the cities, territories, and nations of central and northern Europe, it too needed reform. The first major reform movement within Lutheranism was Pietism in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, which set out to "convert the outward orthodox profession into a living theology of the heart." Later in the 19th century, after the period of rationalism during the Age of Enlightenment, there was a confessional revival movement that sought to recover the confessional identity of Lutheranism.

Our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America came into existence in the 1980s on a wave of ideologically-based culture wars. The idea was to transcend the differences between the merging church bodies by creating a "new" Lutheran Church which cut continuity with preceding traditions. Sometimes in silly ways. For example, when I receive a notice from the ELCA I am addressed as "rostered leader," not "pastor." If you’re trying to be relevant to the contemporary world, who in the world knows what a "rostered leader" is? But there have been more serious issues raising the concern among many about whether "this Church" takes seriously the Scriptures, creeds, and confessions.

Not surprisingly, almost from the very beginning of the ELCA there has been agitation for reform. In the early 1990s, when I was still in seminary, there were two "Call to Faithfulness" conferences sponsored by three independent Lutheran journals and held at St. Olaf College. They attracted nearly a thousand participants who paid their own way, people whom at the second conference then-Presiding Bishop Chilstrom insinuated didn’t love the Church. In the year 1995 a document called The 9.5 Theses came out, claiming a "crisis of faith" in the Church. More than 700 pastors and some 300 lay people subscribed to them. The leaders of this effort appealed to then-Presiding Bishop Anderson to at least have the Theses discussed within the Conference of Bishops, but he refused to put it on the agenda, saying that he would be proposing his own faith formation initiatives. No one seems to remember what those were.

Out of this intransigence, the Society of the Holy Trinity was born in 1997 as an inter-Lutheran ministerium that seeks to renew the ordained ministry, a Society I joined shortly after its formation and which after our latest General Retreat last month now numbers over 260 pastors in 8-9 different Lutheran church bodies in North America. In the wake of the most recent ELCA Churchwide Assembly, a coalition of reform groups numbering 1200 people came together in Indianapolis a few weeks ago (again, at their own expense) to propose forming a free standing synod that will include pastors and congregations that are in the ELCA and those that are not in ELCA. I think there is promise in this proposal, if groups that have quite different, sometimes diametrically opposite, views on the nature of the church and ministry, can transcend those differences and organize an annual convocation in which pastors and congregations come together to do what the church needs to do: worship, study the Bible, discuss mission strategies and congregational life, and move beyond the culture wars that have dominated ELCA assemblies for twenty-one years.

Back in the 1530s there were lots of ideas about reforming the Church. Since early in the Reformation, Luther had been calling for a free synod under the presidency of the Emperor, rather than the Pope, to deal with the differences in theology and proposals for reform. He called for such a synod one last time in a 1539 treatise called On the Councils and the Church. People were confused about where the true church was found. He said, "not in Rome; not even in Wittenberg," but where the word of God is preached and the sacraments of Christ are administered. In other words, not in the churchwide structure, and not even in the local judicatory, even if that local judicatory is more to your liking. He expanded this to discuss Seven Marks of the Church, which Society of the Holy Trinity has spent the last three years studying.

Here in these Seven Marks is the basis of church reform and renewal, based not on human effort, but on the divine means of grace. In a time of crisis when reform is needed, you go back to the basics. Here are the basics, said Luther, but in their catholic fullness. It’s not just, as one reform movement has coined, "word alone."

In this treatise, Luther wrote:
The Children’s Creed [that is, the Apostles’ Creed] teaches us… that a Christian holy people is to be and to remain on earth until the end of the world. This is an article of faith that cannot be terminated until that which it believes comes, as Christ promises, "I am with you always, to the close of the age" [Matt. 28:20]. But how will or how can a poor confused person tell where such Christian holy people are to be found in this world?
And thus Luther introduces these Seven Marks of the Church, which some of you may find familiar from a Lenten series Pastor Lund and I taught a few years ago. The Marks are:

1. "The Holy Word of God"

Luther writes:
First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God....

[W]e are speaking of the external word, preached orally by men like you and me, for this is what Christ left behind as an external sign, by which his church, or his Christian people in the world, should be recognized....

Now, wherever you hear or see this word preached, believed, professed, and lived, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, "a Christian holy people" must be there, even though their number is very small. For God’s word "shall not return empty," Isaiah 55 [:11)
God’s strong word is creative and accomplishes what it sets out to do. The word which the hymn writer Martin Franzmann wrote cleaved the darkness and created light can create and sustain the church.

2. "The Holy Sacrament of Baptism"

Luther writes:
Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered according to Christ’s ordinance. That too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession by which God’s people are sanctified. It is the holy bath of regeneration through the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5], in which we bathe and with which we are washed of sin and death by the Holy Spirit, as in the innocent holy blood of the Lamb of God.
God claims us as his own people in Holy Baptism and places his Name on us. In times of difficulty we affirm with St. Patrick, "I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity."

3. "The Sacrament of the Altar"

Luther writes:
Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it is rightly administered, believed, and received, according to Christ’s institution. This too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession left behind by Christ by which his people are sanctified so that they also exercise themselves in faith and openly confess that they are Christian, just as they do with the word and with baptism.
The Eucharist has served as the glue that binds together in one fellowship the body of Christ on earth. We are bound together not by our organizations, but by the body and blood of Christ.

4. "The Office of the Keys publicly exercised"

Luther writes:
Fourth, God’s people or holy Christians are recognized by the office of the keys exercised publicly. That is, as Christ decrees in Matthew 18 [:15-20], if a Christian sins, he should be reproved; and if he does not mend his ways, he should be bound in his sin and cast out. If he does mend his ways, he should be absolved. That is the office of the keys. Now the use of the keys is twofold, public and private.... Now where you see sins forgiven or reproved in some persons, be it publicly or privately, you may know that God’s people are there.
A real church, as St. Matthew’s Gospel taught, has to deal with real forgiveness of real sins.

5. The Office of the Holy Ministry

Luther writes:
Fifth, the church is recognized externally by the fact that it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices that it is to administer. There must be bishops, pastors, or preachers, who publicly and privately give, administer, and use the aforementioned four things or holy possessions in behalf of and in the name of the church, or rather by reason of their institution by Christ, as St. Paul states in Ephesians 4 [:8], "He received gifts among men…"
A public church has a public ministry which publicly preaches God’s Word and publicly administers the sacraments of Christ. In other words, the public ministry does God’s work, not just the work of human institutions.

6. "Prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God"

Luther writes:
Sixth, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God. Where you see and hear the Lord’s Prayer prayed and taught; or psalms or other spiritual songs sung, in accordance with the word of God and the true faith; also the creed, the Ten Commandments, and the catechism used in public, you may rest assured that a holy Christian people of God are present. For prayer, too, is one of the precious holy possessions whereby everything is sanctified, as St. Paul says [1 Tim. 4:5].
The church is visible in public assemblies for worship and in its public catechizing of the people.

7. "The holy possession of the sacred cross"

Luther writes:
Seventh, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord’s Prayer indicates) by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. And the only reason they must suffer is that they steadfastly adhere to Christ and God’s word, enduring this for the sake of Christ, Matthew 5 [:11], "Blessed are you when men persecute you on my account."
The true church will experience trials and tribulations and persecution for the faith.

Finally, Luther writes as a conclusion:
Now we know for certain what, where, and who the holy Christian Church is, that is, the holy Christian people of God; and we are quite certain that it cannot fail us.
The Seven Marks are signs of the true visible Church. Where you see and experience these marks, you see and experience a real church. But these marks also serve as a basis for reform and renewal, whether we’re talking about the 16th century, the 21st century, or any other period of the church’s history.

Ecclesia semper reformanda. "The church must always be reformed." It’s been a church slogan for nearly 1000 years.

Renew the preaching of the Word, the practice of Baptism, Holy Communion, and Penance, the holy Ministry, and public prayer and worship, and experience the cross of Christ in our common life — and the church will be reformed.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

N.B. The quotes from On the Councils and the Church are as they are found in Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings, 1st edition (1989), edited by Timothy F. Lull, pp. 545-564.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

An ELCA Confessional Crisis?

The adoption of Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (the link here is to a pdf file of the Statement as it was adopted by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, and not the version linked at this moment on the ELCA web page entitled "Adopted Social Statement") has precipitated a confessional crisis in our church, if my brother in the Holy Ministry and friend, Pastor Marshall Hahn, STS, is correct. I first saw this on ALPB Forum Online, but he also presented it at the most recent gathering of Call to Faithfulness, the Northeast Iowa Synod reform movement.

I think he's correct. But I'm wondering if the ELCA is capable of recognizing the possibility of a confessional crisis. Read it and weep.

The Confessional Crisis Created by the Decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly

The decisions surrounding human sexuality made at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly have created a confessional crisis within the ELCA. The controversy over these decisions is not simply a disagreement over a social issue concerning how to treat homosexual relations in the church. These decisions touch upon the issues of the authority of Scripture and the role of the Lutheran Confessions in the life of the church.

The crisis these decisions have created can be shown by examining two crucial passages from the Social Statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. In Part IV (lines 620 - 628 in the Pre-Assembly Report) this statement reads:
The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10: 6-9: "But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder." (Jesus here recalls Genesis 1:27; 2:23-24.)
On the next page of the statement, (lines 740 - 744, as amended) it reads:
Recognizing that this conclusion differs from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions, some people, though not all, in this church and within the larger Christian community, conclude that marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong monogamous relationships.
The statement then goes on to treat these two positions and the variants within them as of equal validity, on the basis of the "conscience-bound beliefs" of those who hold them (lines 809 - 868). Moreover, it is on this same basis of the "conscience-bound lack of consensus in this church" (lines 452 - 453 of the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies) that the resolutions on ministry policies were recommended and adopted.

These actions are contrary to and done in violation of the ELCA Confession of Faith, which reads, in part:
Chapter 2
2.03  This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm or its proclamation, faith, and life.

2.04  This church accepts the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as true declarations of the faith of this church.

2.05  This church accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel, acknowledges as one with it in faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.

2.06  This church accepts the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord, namely, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord, as further valid interpretations of the faith of the Church.
The Social Statement and the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies present the two positions mentioned above as of equal validity in the church, even though it is admitted that the first position - namely, that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman - is the position supported by Christian tradition, the Lutheran Confessions, and Scripture; and that the second position - namely, that marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong monogamous relationships - differs from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions.

Given the confessional and constitutional commitment of the ELCA to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions noted above, once a position is identified as that of the Confessions and the Christian tradition based on Scripture, there should be only two options for a Social Statement of the ELCA:
  1. State that such is the position of the ELCA, based on our Confession of Faith, which commits us to the authority of the Holy Scriptures and the witness of the Lutheran Confessions; or,

  2. Demonstrate, by an appeal to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and with the aid of sound reason, that such a position ought to be abandoned or, at the least, present evidence enough to raise serious questions about that position.
Likewise, once a position has been identified as differing from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions, there should be only two options for a Social Statement of the ELCA:
  1. Reject such a position on the basis of our Confession of Faith, which commits us to following the witness of the Lutheran Confessions; or,

  2. Demonstrate, by an appeal to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and with the aid of sound reason, that such a position ought to be adopted or, at the least, present evidence enough to argue that it ought to be considered a valid position within the Lutheran Church.
However, the Social Statement does none of these. It does not present a compelling argument based on Scripture, the Confessions, and sound reason for overturning the stated position on marriage. Neither does it present a compelling argument based on Scripture, the Confessions and sound reason for adopting this alternate position. It does not even attempt to do this. It simply states that within the church there are differing opinions on the matter, and treats both opinions as equally valid. In doing so, it fails to honor our confessional and constitutional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as "the authoritative source and norm of [our] proclamation, faith, and life" and treats the witness of the Lutheran Confessions as a matter of indifference.

Such actions are in violation of our Confession of Faith. The ELCA ought to repent of these actions, take steps to render them ineffectual, and overturn them at the first opportunity. The synods and congregations of the ELCA ought to reject these actions and refuse to abide by them on the basis of our own and identical Confession of Faith. Each pastor in the ELCA ought to oppose these actions and decisions on the basis of the vows taken at ordination to teach and preach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and in light of the Lutheran Confessions.

If such actions are not taken, it leaves those who oppose the actions of the Churchwide Assembly in a state of confessional resistance to the ELCA, and possibly to the synods of which they are members. Appeals to unity and "churchmanship" are of secondary importance to the confessional commitment which undergirds this opposition. Even if one were to make a compelling argument from Scripture and the Confessions in support of the changes in ministry policies at this point, such an argument must also acknowledge and repent of the violation of our Confession of Faith which the actions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly have committed. If these actions are allowed to stand, it will undermine the very Confession of Faith by which we are united.

Pastor Marshall Hahn
St. Olaf Lutheran Parish - Marion & Norway Lutheran Churches
St. Olaf, Iowa
NE Iowa Synod, ELCA

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wolfe: "Broken Keys"

An excerpt from an excellent essay, "Broken Keys," by my brother pastor Ian Wolfe, STS, posted today at Lutheran Forum:

Our liturgical tradition has witnessed to the belief that the pastor speaks in the place of and with the full authority of the eternal Son of the Father. Thus we have the absolution spoken by the pastor in the rite of Confession and Forgiveness, “Cling to this promise: the word of forgiveness I speak to you comes from God. [Name], in obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” And going back earlier within the tradition, the Service Book and Hymnal offers these binding words from the rite for Public Confession in preparation for receiving the Holy Sacrament:
On the other hand, by the same authority, I declare unto the impenitent and unbelieving, that so long as they continue in their impenitence, God hath not forgiven their sins, and will assuredly visit their iniquities upon them, if they turn not from their evil ways, and come to true repentance and faith in Christ, ere the day of grace be ended.
From this theological and liturgical tradition within the Lutheran church, a pastor whose bound conscience belief in the Word of God that homosexual behavior is sin for the sake of pastoral care exercises the keys and binds that sin until repented. In doing so, that pastor speaks God’s own binding word upon such a person. His sin is not forgiven, neither by the pastor on earth nor by God in heaven. The Office of the Keys is exercised in this way so that a person might be convicted by the law and saved by the gospel. This is the ministry of the gospel and a fulfillment of the pastoral calling to be ministers of the Word. I must be painfully clear this concerns every unrepentant sinner and every unrepented sin. I only address homosexual behavior, because it is the issue upon which the ELCA now struggles and according to the bound conscience doctrine the keys are a valid and correct response to this sin and must be respected.

The social statement, however, affirms and lifts up the exact opposite teaching and interpretation. According to the statement, an equally valid and correct interpretation of Holy Scripture is that, not only is homosexual behavior not a sin, but that it is something that the church should recognize and possibly even bless. The same Word of God as is taught above to be correct is now also correct in the opposite interpretation and application. The Office of the Keys rightly used above by pastors has no place in this interpretation.

The ELCA formally holding these two opposed positions as equally correct raises obvious and difficult challenges to the ministry of the keys and the unified witness of the gospel. Because the social statement puts forward the bound conscience, which cannot be violated, as the criterion for allowing opposite interpretations of Holy Scripture to be normative within the church, it is also putting forward two different and opposed ministries of the gospel. One ministry of the gospel is to use the Office of the Keys on those who engage in homosexual behavior. The other ministry of the gospel is to use the Rite of Marriage (for lack of a clearer term for a rite for recognizing a publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships). One ministry of the gospel is to stand in the place of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and be His representative and witness to the vows that same-gender couples make. The other ministry of the gospel is to speak in the place and stead of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, to call a person engaging in homosexual sex to repent amend her life and strive to avoid it at all costs to save soul and body. And now in the ELCA according to the social statement and ministry policy resolutions both ministries of the gospel are correct, valid, and equal.

The implications of these two opposite ministries of the gospel are unthinkable. I truly pity our homosexual brothers and sisters who now hear from one pastor in the ELCA the keys and from another pastor blessings and welcome. Does Jesus speak to such a one, through the office of pastor, a word of admonition and warning to their soul or does Jesus speak to such a one, through the office of pastor, a word of joy and blessing for that same behavior? Which Jesus is speaking the truth to our homosexual brothers and sisters? This church unfortunately has confused the gospel to the point that a person engaging in homosexual sex doesn’t know whether he’s condemned by God or blessed by God! The bound conscience doctrine now condemns a person to his or her own conscience to determine whether this behavior is or is not sin, because this church can no longer give a clear witness. How can any one do that?

The social statement condemns us because, due to our fallen nature, we truly cannot discern our sins. We need an outside word. We need the Law of God (second use) to show us our true nature, to say “no” to our sinful desires and to show us what truly is good, right, salutary and God pleasing....

Read it all here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Voice of Heaven

It was brutal, last night's 11-0 Dodger loss to the Phillies.

I was listening to the Dodger feed on my XM Satellite Radio. For the playoffs, the Dodger Network is taking a page from history. You see, during the season the principal Dodgers announcers are Charley Steiner and Rick Monday. They share the announcers' booth beginning in the 4th inning of all games, and for most road games they broadcast the entire game.

THE Dodger announcer is, of course, Vin Scully, who's been at a Dodger mic since the 1950 season. At home and West Coast games, he broadcasts the first 3 innings on radio, then heads over to the TV booth. But in this post-season, we get to go back (in a sense) to the old days, when Scully had the mic solo for most of the game, with Jerry Doggett giving him respite for a couple of innings each game. For this post-season the Dodger feed is Vinnie for innings 1-3 and 7-9. It makes all the difference.

Growing up, Vin Scully's voice was in the background whenever Grandpa Hutchinson was around (his house or ours) and the Dodger game was on. His voice echoed throughout Dodger Stadium as fans brought our transistor radios and tuned to KFI to listen to him describe the game we were watching. Just a couple of years ago, as I was driving on a September Sunday afternoon, I marvelled as Scully kept his listeners entertained as a batter fouled off something like 15 pitches in a row.

Last night, as the Dodgers were receiving a royal shellacking, Vin Scully told it straight. No whining like the more "homer" announcers we have here in the mid-west. No harsh criticism of "bad decisions" by Joe Torre, his coaches, or players. Oh, there was no doubt as you listened just how badly the game was going for Los Angeles and how they weren't executing the way the team with the best record in the National League ought to be executing. But the story is the game, and Vin is a master storyteller, bringing in all sorts of background -- one story was of when the "Whiz-Kid" Phils beat the Dodgers in a one-game playoff to make the World Series, and he didn't need to mention that it was 1950 and that he was there in the booth -- to put it all in the proper context. Baseball's a game. A wonderful game, even when things aren't going well for your team.

Sadly, the 2010 season will be his last. Then no more will a ball game begin, "Hi everybody, and a very pleasant evening to you, wherever you may be."

There's a Facebook group called "Vin Scully - The Voice of God." That's not quite right. Vinnie doesn't speak and things come into being. Rather he describes what's happening, and you are there and you understand what's going on in ways that never would have come to mind. When Scully's announcing the world is right. Evan when the game is brutal. Vin Scully - The Voice of Heaven.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What I Didn't Get to Say at Fishers

During the open discussion time last Friday evening at the Lutheran CORE Convocation in Fishers, Indiana, I stood in line to speak. But because of time restrictions (and having yielded to another at my mic to ask a follow-up question), I was unable to do so (though I did get to express part of my second point the next morrning). My intent was to say something like this:

I'm Steven Tibbetts, Pastor at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria, Illinois.

I stand before you to say to you all the same thing I told my congregation from the Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, and the same thing I said last Tuesday evening before the pastors and lay leaders of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod during our annual conference:

By the actions of the Churchwide Assembly, I lost my church.

Nevertheless, I am not leaving. As I've been saying, with a smile, for several years, "I'm threatening to stay." I have been called to serve in my congregation and in my Synod, and I intend to continue participating as fully as I can for as long as I can. I don't know that I can do this all the way to my retirement, but the Churchwide Assembly committed the ELCA to respecting the bound conscience of those of us who believe the church needs to repent of its errors, and that can't happen if we all leave.

Not everyone here can make that sort of commitment, and I understand that. But some of us here who have been with Lutheran CORE from its very beginning four years ago have made that commitment. And you need to remember that. We can do no other.

Second, many of you are having difficulty with the idea of a "free-standing synod." I've been writing about it some since the Churchwide Assembly on my Pastor Zip's Blog, and I hope some of you will take the opportunity to check it out tonight if you can. But whether you do or not, I encourage you to focus not on the word "synod" -- a good churchly word that has been hijacked by the ELCA for other purposes -- but on the word "free."

Those of you who know about the Free Lutheran heritage might then begin to see how those of us united as we are in matters of faith and doctrine can do so inside or outside the ELCA, and can continue to work on a common mission free from the encumbrances of the ELCA when they get in the way, while still being able to take advantages of the good things that continue to happen through the ELCA.

And some of you may be able to think of the Free Synods in the Churches of Sweden and Norway, who for some 25-30 years were able to remain in the State Churches, sometimes even to participate fully in assemblies and be elected to diocesan offices, while holding firm to orthodox Christian faith as the Churches increasingly persecuted it, using the gatherings of the Free Synod for mutual support and encouragement.

No, it will not be easy, and in Sweden and Norway the Free Synods ultimately could not continue. But they enabled faithful proclamation in the church for another generation or two even as church leadership controlled by atheistic governments fell into apostasy. I think we have a better chance than they did.

Finally, to those of you asking tonight, "When are we going to do something?" we are indeed doing something right now. We have tonight, and we will tomorrow, speak the truth to the leaders of the ELCA and to those in our society who care to listen that the Churchwide Assembly has led the ELCA astray and we will not just sit there and let that continue. We will go home to speak the truth in our congregations and synods, to encourage congregations and synods to express consciences bound by the Word of God and the Creeds and Confessions of the church to do what we're doing right now -- rejecting the teachings of the Churchwide Assembly.

One key factor enabling the various parts of Lutheran CORE to work together these last 4 years is that we were all in the ELCA. I do not think it is too much to ask that we spend the next year figuring out how to continue to work together -- that is not waiting -- now that we no longer can hold that in common.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Project Return of Peoria on Web

Now on the website of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria is information on the Mission to Prisons we began (with the collaboration of our nearby sister congregations) last year and its biggest ministry so far, Project Return of Peoria.
In partnership with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), Karen Wong, AIM, is a part-time chaplain at the Pekin Women's Federal Work Camp. Her ministry there includes leading classes on "Boundaries" and "Changes That Heal," and one-on-one spiritual counseling.

Project Return of Peoria helps incarcerated mothers reintegrate into the Peoria community by matching each returning mother with a team of trained and supported volunteers for one year. We also educate the public about the barriers these women face as they seek to make a successful re-entry into the community.
Project Return currently has teams, groups of 3-5 men and woman from several churches in the Peoria area, working with three mothers who have returned from prison. A fourth team is presently being formed for another woman who has just been released.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Fallout Begins

Meetngs have been held, and now there is a website. Traditionalist ELCA Lutherans are seeking to re-establish the historic Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Texas. For the moment it looks like they are forming some sort of free synod:
Lutheran traditionalists in Texas include every strand represented in the country. The ELST is being formed to “think globally, and act locally,” to lead by example. The goal is to get Texas Lutheran traditionalists together on one boat, and show that these issues can be worked through, unity on essentials achieved and the Church among us set onto a positive, open and expanding course. What a gift that Texans are bound together by seemingly limitless good will and optimism, and can put these attributes to work on behalf of Lutheran Christians all across America.

Some have already decided to leave the ELCA, some may intend to stay, and many are unsure which way to jump. The ELST will function as a synod in formation, comprised of congregations which retain their status within the ELCA or other existing denominations (such as the LCMC or the UCC, for example), or independent congregations. Congregations may first become “Participating Congregations” by Congregation Council action, or later “Member Congregations” by action at a congregational meeting. A structure will be provided for participation by individuals who are in other congregations as well.

After a period of discernment, the shape of the future will emerge. Traditionalist Lutherans may find themselves in a new synod, or in a special synod within the ELCA, or perhaps held together in some structure which encompasses both.

But the Lutheran confessional movement will not have splintered apart, or disintegrated, or turned anxious or even bitter, and will have begun to achieve its destiny on North American soil.
Some of these folks will be at the Lutheran CORE Convocation later this week.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Requiescat in pace: Bishop Bertil Gärtner

Bishop Bertil Gärtner, who served the Göteborg (Gothenburg) Diocese of the Church of Sweden 1970-1991, died early this morning. He was 84.

I first met Bishop Gärtner in 2004 through the Society of St. Birgitta, whom he served as Fader Visitator (father visitor). This year during the Mass on St. Birgitta's Day (that's where I took the attached photo) he preached. Afterwards and for the next couple of days people kept asking me, "Did you understand any of Bishop Bertil's sermon?"

"Not really," I replied each time, "but I know he preached about Jesus." That word I understood. At that point my questioner would tell me some point or detail from the sermon.

It was a deeply personal sermon, which was unusual for him. Actually, I'd suspected that, for there was a brief moment his voice halted and tears filled his eyes. Turns out that was the moment he spoke of his fears from earlier this year when his leg had to be amputated because of his diabetes. Yet even in that darkness, he was given the strength to trust in his savior, Jesus. A word that was helpful to all of us listening to him, for the faithful who have been so beset upon by the church we serve.

Later at the formal dinner, I shared with him the reactions I was getting from people who wanted me to know what he had preached. He smiled at my answer, and told me the story of refugees from Finland who had come to Sweden during the War. Every Sunday they came to church, even though it was all in Swedish and they spoke Finnish. Finally the priest, while pleased they were worshiping, asked them if they were getting anything out of it not understanding the language. "You preach Jesus," they responded, "and that's all we need." Thank you, Bishop Bertil.

Prior to his election as the immediate successor to Bo Giertz as Bishop of Gothenburg, Gärtner was known as an academic theologian, teaching at Uppsala University and then as Professor of New Testament at Princeton University (1965-1969) -- which meant that conversing with him in English was quite easy. After his retirement in 1991, he continued to be very active in the Swedish Church, particularly as a Bishop for various renewal groups and organizations within the Swedish Church.

He had been with arbetsgemenskapen Kyrklig Förnyelse (aKF or the Church Union, a "high church" renewal group) since its founding in 1959, and served as its chairman for many years. He was unable to attend aKF's Church Days at the end of August, but his written message was delivered and appears on their web site -- which, in reporting his death, also describes (at least as Google translate puts it) exactly what many of my SSB friends are feeling at this moment: "Many of us feel like sheep without a shepherd."

He was also active in Oasrörelsen i Sverige, an independent charismatic renewal group, since its beginnings. In their announcement, Oasrörelsen links to an article he wrote for their latest newsletter, "Vara kvar eller inte?" Google translates that as "to remain or not" and, while it needs a lot of polishing, you can get his answer here.

Do we leave the Swedish Church today? he asks. (Is that hitting home, fellow ELCAers?) Wrestling with that question since at least 1979-80, Bishop Gärtner had opportunity to meet Eastern and Western Patriarchs -- the Russian in Moscow, the Greek (the then Patriarch and the current one) in Constantinople, the Roman in Rome (the then-new Pope John Paul II). And in those conversations, he sought their counsel to this question.

Each Patriarch gave the same answer: remain where God has placed you. And that has been Bishop Bertil's conviction ever since.

The Bishop was active in the Free Synod throughout its existence. And from hospital on Saturday, the day before he was called to his eternal home, came his final post on Bertil bloggar ("Bertil blogs"), where he wonders why people knowing nothing about, or not believing in, the Christian Faith would seek election to next year's Church Synod -- and encourages his readers to vote for nominees from Frimodig kyrka.

A Churchman to the end,

Bertil Gärtner (13 December 1924 – 20 September 2009).

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetuam luceat eis.
Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Seventeen Years

What follows is a slightly edited re-post a previous blog post. A blessed St. John Chrysostom's Day to you all. Zip+

+ + +
O Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am indeed unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation.

But since thou hast appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teaching and the instruction, O be thou my helper and let thy holy angels attend me.

Then if thou art pleased to accomplish anything through me, to thy glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of thy pure grace and mercy, a right understanding of thy Word and that I may also diligently perform it.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, thou shepherd and bishop of our souls, send thy Holy Spirit that he may work with me, yea, that he may work in me to will and to do through thy divine strength according to thy good pleasure. Amen!
That is Luther's Sacristy Prayer, and I pray it every Sunday as I vest for the Eucharist. I'll sometimes think then that it would be good to post it here and it is particularly fitting to do so today (thank you, Father Weedon, for the idea), for it was 17 years ago today that the Rev. J. Roger Anderson, Bishop of what was then called the Southern California (West) Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America addressed me as we stood in the Chancel of the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Canoga Park, California, about 15 feet from where I had been baptized 33 years (less one week) earlier:
According to apostolic usage you are now to be set apart to the office of Word and Sacrament in the one holy catholic Church by the laying on of hands and by prayer.
Bishop Anderson was joined in the addresses that followed by the pastor loci and my pastor, the Rev. C. David Olsen (of blessed memory, who preached that afternoon), the Rev. Brian Eklund (pastor then at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Los Angeles, who had supervised my seminary "Cross Cultural Experience"), and the Rev. Jeffrey Frohner (a friend and seminary classmate who had just begun serving his first call at Trinity Lutheran Church, Santa Barbara). With them standing around me, the Bishop then examined me:
Before almighty God, to whom you must give account, and in the presence of this congregation, I ask: Will you assume this office, believing that the Church's call is God's call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

The Church in which you are to be ordained confeses that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and are the norm of its faith and life. We accept, teach, and confess the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds. We also acknowledge the Lutheran Confessions as true witnesses and faithful expositions of the Holy Scriptures. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and these creeds and confessions?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

Will you be diligent in your study of the Holy Scriptures and in your use of the means of grace? Will you pray for God's people, nourish them with the Word and Holy Sacraments, and lead them by your own example in faithful service and holy living?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

Will you give faithful witness in the world, that God's love may be know by all that you do?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

Almighty God, who has given you the will to do these things, graciously give you the strength and compassion to perform them.
After the Prayer of the Church and Come, Holy Ghost, they (though Brian and Jeffrey aren't really visible from this angle) were joined in the laying on of hands by the Rev. John Stump (Pastor Olsen's predecessor and my pastor at Resurrection during most of my college years) and the 2 nearest neighboring ELCA pastors, the Rev. John Lundeen (then of St. Luke Lutheran Church, Woodland Hills, and one of the Augustana Synod's Lundeen clan) and the Rev. Bryan Woken (then and now at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Canoga Park (West Hills). And thus they committed the Office of the Holy Ministry to me. Every time I attend an ordination, or simply take a few moments during devotions to review those promises -- many of us who have been in the Society of the Holy Trinity for a longer time have a card with them imprinted on the obverse of a holy card of Rublev's icon of the Old Testament Trinity -- I am struck once again by what I have been called to. How awsome! And how inadequate I am to bear that office.

Being reminded of that is a good thing. There is another similar Sacristy Prayer of Luther's that I don't use, but it always makes me smile, then ponder:
Lord God, thou hast appointed me a bishop and pastor in thy church. Thou seest how unfit I am to undertake this great and difficult office, and were it not for thy help, I would long since have ruined it all. Therefore I cry unto thee; I will assuredly apply my mouth and my heart to thy service. I desire to teach the people and I myself would learn ever more and diligently meditate thy Word. Use thou me as thine instrument, only do not forsake me, for if I am left alone I shall easily bring it all to destruction. Amen.
What an exciting day it was 17 years ago. And despite all I've done since, somehow it's not yet been destroyed. What a gracious Lord God we have!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The "Inerrancy" Question

What follows is a slightly edited version of a statement I wrote last week for a Facebook group of folk who, in the light of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly's actions, are wondering about what's next for Lutheranism in North America.

I begin by recalling that "inerrancy" was a matter of significant debate in the 1980s during the discussions that led to the formation of the ELCA. In part because the word was included in the ALC's statement of faith in its constitutions and it was not in the LCA's. This is not a new question.

Here is how the Epitome of the Formula of Concord begins (using the Tappert edition):
We believe, teach, and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged, as it is written in Ps. 119:105, "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." And St. Paul says in Gal. 1:8, "Even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed."

Other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, should not be put on a par with Holy Scripture. Every single one of them should be subordinated to the Scriptures and should be received in no other way and no further than as witnesses to the fashion in which the doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved in post-apostolic times. (Epitome, intro 1; p. 464f.)
And further to paragraph 3 of the intro,
In this way the distinction between the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments and all other writings is maintained, and Holy Scripture remains the only judge, rule, and norm according to which as the only touchstone all doctrines should and must be understood and judged as good or evil, right or wrong. (p. 465)
The Solid Declaration reads,
We pledge ourselves to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments as the pure and clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated. (SD, intro 1; p. 503f.)

If you a looking for a *Lutheran* description of the Holy Scriptures, that's it in the Formula of Concord.

This is reflected in the ELCA's Statement of Faith (much like that of our LCA and the ULCA predecessors):
This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.
"Inspired" comes from the Scriptures themselves, "source and norm" from the Lutheran Confessions.

So, whence "inerrancy?"

19th Century American Evangelicalism and its encounter with modernism, science, the mass immigration of Roman Catholics, and -- as the 19th was turning into the 20th -- Darwinism. "Inerrancy" didn't enter American Lutheran lingo until WWI and the use of English in Lutheran theological discourse. It was first formally adopted with the formation of the "old" ALC (1930) and the LCMS soon afterwards.

What are the problems with asserting "inerrancy?" As Wartburg Seminary's J. M. Reu argued during the discussions the led to old ALC, it goes beyond what the Bible claims for itself. If that isn't enough, it goes beyond the Lutheran Confessions themselves (see above).

Furthermore, as was pointed out in a comment on [this group's] Wall, one indeed finds factual errors in the Bible. The usual solution to this is to define the idea further as "inerrant in the original autographs." That may help some people, but the original autographs of the biblical books are, like unicorn horns and Atlantis, neither available nor recoverable.

More to the point, it is not the original autographs, but the Holy Scriptures as we have them that are the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.

Finally, the idea comes from a stream of protestantism that rejects such things as baptismal regeneration and the bodily presence of the risen Christ in the Holy Communion -- both of which are taught directly in the Scriptures and which are central to the catholic faith, particularly as Lutherans teach it. Which ought to raise the question of what "inerrancy" actually protects us from.

Friday, September 11, 2009

R. R. Reno: "Marriage, Morality, and Culture"

The always thoughtful lay theologian Rusty Reno posted the following on Wednesday over at First Things: On the Square.

Marriage, Morality, and Culture

R. R. Reno

The tide is going out. Words like fornication have a musty, antiquated ring. Unwed mothers no longer suffer social stigma. Divorce has become common. The large, complicated human reality of sexual desire, mating, romance, and childrearing no longer finds itself ruled by elaborate and widely accepted social norms. And now, of course, we are in the midst of a drive toward same-sex marriage.

I’m not surprised by the latest development. In my years as an Episcopalian, I came to see that homosexuality plays in important role in the much larger phenomenon of changed social mores in the area of sex, family, and marriage. The image of two men or two women kissing gives a dramatic immediacy to the many aspects of sexual revolution: real people, genuinely felt desires, new possibilities, the courage to transgress old norms, and the hope for the lasting happiness based on love’s unifying power.

In other words, homosexuality richly suggests freedom from an old, restrictive moral order, freedom from the inhibiting power of shame, freedom from the burdens of judgment, censure, and condemnation. And it evokes the promise of existential freedom, the inner release from inhibition and fear of social censure.

The allure of existential freedom is not new. In 1859, John Stuart Mill published On Liberty, an argument for expanding the scope of human freedom beyond the realm of the political narrowly understood. In order to undertake what Mill famously called “experiments in living,” we need to be able to escape from “the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling.”

Mill was correct. We are social animals. Hardwired to want to fit in, all of us feel the soft coercion of cultural norms. As a result, a deep freedom to live as we please requires more than political rights. We need something like “social rights” that give us leverage over and against inherited culture.

To a very great extent, the cultural history of the twentieth century can be understood as the gradual acceptance of “social rights.” In America, a long dominant Protestant and bourgeois ethos eroded—and then in the 1960s collapsed. In a short decade, divorce went from something dangerously shameful to socially acceptable. Premarital sex and cohabitation followed the same trajectory. Acceptance of out-of-wedlock childbearing came more slowly, as did same-sex relationships. But the end result is now the same. Gay couples now have a social right to live their personal lives free from social censure.

Our courts tend to reflect social reality. In 1965, the Supreme Court was faced with a case (Griswold v. Connecticut) that challenged a law against contraceptives. In its majority decision, the Court identified a right to privacy. As a legal right narrowly understood, it means that the government has no business policing bedrooms. However, it has become more expansive, most notoriously to include right to abortion. Today, the right to privacy pretty much accords with Mill’s notion of freedom from “prevailing opinion and feeling.” It amounts to a right to conduct one’s personal life as one wishes, unhindered by other people’s ideas of right and wrong.

This expansive legal right has been reinforced by a new social consensus. Today, it is singularly gauche to announce that you regard someone’s marital, sexual, or parental choices to be “wrong” or “immoral.” Indeed, the very fact that I put scare quotes around “wrong” and “immoral” is telling. We are now heavily socialized to be tolerant and non-judgmental—with the exception, of course, of refusing to tolerate the intolerant and quick to judge the judgmental. But there is no contradiction. Both the tolerance and intolerance serve to provide and reinforce the now dominant culture, one that believes we should be able to live as we wish.

The controversial question of same-sex marriage is so interesting and important because it marks decisive new phase in our cultural drive toward an every deeper freedom to live as one pleases. Freedom from censure is no longer sufficient. Today, we see an emerging right to cultural approval and endorsement.

Some months ago, the Supreme Court of Connecticut handed down a decision that required the state legislature to make provisions for same sex marriage. The most interesting part of the opinion concerns the alternative of civil unions. As the Court recognizes, the artifice of “civil union” is a bloodless affair designed to remove the legal disadvantages that adhere to the private choices of same-sex lovers: matters of inheritance, health coverage, and so forth. The Connecticut judges deemed civil unions separate but unequal, and their reasoning is telling. Civil unions are unsatisfactory, because they lack the “transcendent historical, cultural, and social significance” of traditional marriage.

Gays and lesbians, by this way of thinking, have a right to a full range of cultural resources for defining their lives together, including the rich symbolic legacy of traditional norms for marriage. Privacy is not enough. It is unfair to deny public endorsement and quasi-sacred sanction to personal choices.

Therein lies the final act of the sexual revolution that has defined Western culture for the last fifty years. A traditional culture constrains and limits desire, especially the volatile complexities of sexual desire. The reasoning behind the drive toward same-sex marriage reverses the direction of authority. Our secular elite culture believes that desires—as long as they do not directly harm others—should command and shape culture. We should be able to make of marriage what we wish.

Result: the emerging postmodern Empire of Desire. In the past, the instruments of political power (e.g., the right to privacy) have been used to tear down official forms of limitation and censure so that desires can find their satisfactions. The soft power of culture has followed the same path. Our present and widespread social censure of moral censure inculcates and reinforces a non-judgmental ethos. Now we are embarking on a much more aggressive program. Everybody should have access to the cultural symbols of affirmation. Everybody has a right to feel normal.

This right to normalcy is very different from the right to privacy. Indeed, they can seem antithetical, since the former requires mobilizing the power of the state to redesign social institutions that we all must live with, while the later is focused on minimizing the role of government in people’s personal lives. Yet I think the right to normalcy follows from the logic of John Stuart Mill’s insights.

As social animals we don’t just want to be free from censure. We are not rugged individualists. We want to feel like we are part of the pack, and as everybody knows, feeling marginal can be very painful, even if everybody is smiling and nodding and uttering reassuring platitudes of acceptance. Therefore, if we really believe that human beings are most happy when they design their own lives, then eventually we will come around to the view that culture as a whole should be turned over to serve our desires. Moral traditions must be available for personal tailoring.

Thus, whatever one thinks of homosexuality, one can see that the judges in Connecticut framed the issue clearly. Same-sex marriage is about achieving a social or cultural equality for everyone, regardless of their experiments in living. It’s about our need to feel normal, and it’s about giving everybody access to institutions that confer feelings of normalcy and legitimacy. In the Empire of Desire, everybody gets ceremonies and ribbons and prizes and their fifteen minutes of fame.

But we cannot turn culture into the equivalent of a public access channel. As Aristotle explained in his account of moral formation and human flourishing, culture humanizes us by demanding our obedience. Happiness does not come from living according to your desires. It comes from desiring to live according to demanding and disciplining social norms that transcend individual desires.

The judges in Connecticut and elsewhere, as well as the larger same-sex marriage movement, are entertaining a fantasy. It is sociologically incoherent to imagine that we can both radically redefine marriage and transfer its “transcendent, cultural, and social significance” to same-sex couples, as if the former does not alter and undermine the later.

We cannot make culture serve our desires—or our ideals for that matter. We cannot turn traditional modes of moral discipline such as marriage into a ready resource for conferring feelings of normalcy or equality. To consciously modify the moral norms of moral institutions such as marriage turns them into something else: existential decoration, imaginary seriousness, or an engineered garment of meaning that cannot help but feel plastic and artificial. A bespoke “transcendent, cultural, and social significance” is ephemeral and short lived.

R.R. Reno is features editor of First Things and professor of theology at Creighton University.