31 July 2007

Burying the Bodies of the Dead in the Hope of the Resurrection

Commemorations this week and next present a compelling argument in favor of burial and against the now common practice (even among Christians) of cremation. That occured to me this evening, as I prayed and confessed the daily catechesis with my family, in a way that I have surprisingly never considered before. It's not my intention to burden the consciences of those whose loved ones have been cremated, but I believe this is a matter of importance, and that Christians have not been guided altogether wisely about this in recent decades.

Today is the commemoration of St. Joseph of Arimathea. He was a respected member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and presumably a wealthy man, but he was waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God. In that faith, hope and love, he was bold enough to request the body of Jesus following the Crucifixion, and along with Nicodemus he removed that holy body from the Cross and placed it in his own tomb. There is that beautiful scene, depicted in various works of art, of the Lord being taken from the Cross and received into the arms of His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who had once cradled Him to her breast as an infant. It was surely with no less piety and tender devotion that St. Joseph did his part in handling the Lord's body and laying it to rest in the belly of the earth, whence it would rise all-glorious on the Third Day.

The funeral rites of the Church confess the creation, redemption and sanctification of the departed Christian's body by the Holy Triune God; and furthermore, that the Lord Jesus Christ has hallowed the graves of His dear saints by His own Sabbath rest in the tomb. The body matters, ultimately because His body matters. Indeed, it is in and with His body that He has accomplished our salvation, by His incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension. As His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin has sanctified the pre-natal life of our children, so has His burial sanctified the tombs of our blessed dead.

The Christian soul has no life or salvation apart from the body, but receives the grace of God in Christ precisely in and with the body. The ears receive the proclamation of the external Word of the Gospel. The body is washed with water comprehended by the command and promise of God, in His Name, such that soul and conscience are thereby cleansed by Christ and His Spirit. Man, who was created in the image of God, both body and soul, is recreated in the image of Christ, the incarnate Son, who is both God and Man. The child of God, therefore, is fed unto life and salvation by the body and blood of Christ Jesus, in faithful expectation of the resurrection of the body.

The death and burial of every Christian have been taken up into the significance of the Lord's own Cross and Tomb. For He has taken our place under the Law; He has borne our sins and griefs and sorrows in His own body on the Cross; He has even gone so far as to become the curse of sin and death in our stead; He has suffered and died on our behalf, in order to redeem us for Himself and for the Father forever. In Baptism we have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. A Christian funeral is a bold public confession of that precious Gospel. What we do with the body following death proclaims what we believe to be true concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a powerful case in point. The body of Lazarus was grossly dishonored in his life on earth; it was left to languish in the streets, covered with sores and licked by dogs, ignored by the rich man and apparently everyone else. But in death he is taken up in the arms of the holy angels of God, those great majestic creatures, who are not ashamed but honored to serve the body of one who belongs to Jesus. So ought we to regard the bodies of those who have been forgiven, washed, and fed by the incarnate Savior.

Too many Christians have regrettably swallowed and perpetuated the lie that the body is nothing but an empty, useless shell following death. We would not dare to speak this way about the body of Christ the Crucified, and God forbid that we should speak in such a way concerning His dear Christians. It is precisely in the face of death that we ought to confess most boldly our faith in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Sure, it is true that the Lord who created our bodies from the dust of the earth can and will regather the dust to which our bodies return and resurrect them all-glorious, immortal and imperishable, like unto the risen and ascended body of Christ Himself. Thus, when the pagans decimated the bodies of the martyrs, feeding them to animals, or burning them and scattering their ashes to the winds, the Christians could confidently assert that it was no problem for the Holy Triune God to recreate those bodies in the resurrection. Neither do we despair, therefore, when death brings with it the destruction of our mortal frame. But let us not join sides with bitter death and pagan unbelief in our treatment of that flesh and blood which the Lord Himself has hallowed as His Temple and destined for eternal life!

I do not know by what genius it was designed, or if it is simply one of those happy "accidents" of the Church's life on earth, but consider the other commemorations that occur in these weeks, before and after today's remembrance of St. Joseph of Arimathea, who buried our Lord Jesus. This past Sunday, the 29th of July, we remembered with thanksgiving St. Mary, St. Martha, and St. Lazarus of Bethany, who are uniquely identified with Jesus' death and resurrection. St. Mary lovingly anointed His body ahead of time for burial. St. Martha confessed her faith in the resurrection, in the hope of which she had buried her brother Lazarus. And St. Lazarus himself was called forth bodily from the grave, a living sign of the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. Similarly, on Friday of this week, the 3rd of August, the Church commemorates the holy myrrhbearers, St. Joanna, St. Mary, and St. Salome, who would have tended to the body of the Lord Jesus in death, had He not already been resurrected from the dead. These Christians, even in the midst of their grief and fear, not yet knowing the Easter to come, recognized and confessed the sacred significance of the Lord's body. We ought do no less with the bodies of His saints in our own day.

Next week, the Church will commemorate St. Lawrence of Rome, that archdeacon and holy martyr who was roasted alive on a giant grill. In his life on earth, in faith and love, he cared for the bodies of the poor and lowly and infirm, until he was called upon to lay down his own body in death for the name and sake of Christ Jesus. He bravely endured his martyrdom with faith in the resurrection, not fearing those who are able to hurt the body but cannot touch the soul. He trusted the Lord of both soul and body, who raises and glorifies His saints from death and the grave unto the life everlasting. How shall we, who share his faith and the joyful expectation of the Kingdom of God, not also share his love for the bodies of our fellow Christians, yes, even for those who have departed from this life on earth. Not as though our handling of their bodies will have any affect upon their resurrection and eternal life, but as a confession of our hope and of our love for Jesus. Whatsoever you do unto one of the least of these, His brethren, you have done it unto Him. Shall we burn the bodies of those who belong to the Body of Christ? Or shall we not, rather, lay them to rest with solemn dignity and joyful confidence in His Resurrection?

The Gerhardt Project

It appears that I've finally been able to get back on track with the Gerhardt Project. My computer woes earlier this summer, and then the immediate responsibilities of the Convention, derailed my progress for a while, but it's moving forward again as of last night. I hope that my nice group of volunteers hasn't disboarded the train in the meantime, as the project depends on the participation of folks with a variety of skills and a willingness to contribute.

The Gerhardt Project began this past spring as the first and most significant phase in a larger grand scheme of mine. Several pursuits over this past year, each developing in some way out of my vocation as a pastor, brought me to an awareness of numerous historic Lutheran hymns that have fallen through the cracks and out of usage. It is often the case that hymns will fall by the wayside in the course of time because they lack the necessary substance and sturdiness to continue serving the Church. However, there are many other truly worthy hymns of salutary character and content that are lost to the Church, due to a variety of circumstances and factors. The transition from German to English, for example, left a lot of great hymns behind.

Introducing the Lutheran Service Book to my congregation this past year, and planning carefully for the deliberate use of its hymn corpus, heightened my awareness and appreciation of our rich heritage of Lutheran hymnody. I have delighted in the wonderful LSB collection, but have also mourned for the hymns that ended up missing in action. The reality is that an official service book and hymnal is bound by various parameters, not least of all the space constraints, which prevent the inclusion of everything worthwhile and significant. Yet, it would be a crying shame if those missing hymns simply end up missing forever hereafter.

Along with the introduction of the LSB, the birth of my son Gerhardt exponentially increased my appreciation for his namesake, the great Lutheran hymnwriter of the seventeenth century, Paul Gerhardt, the sweet singer of Germany. About that same time, I was asked to give a paper on Gerhardt's hymnody, which gave me the opportunity to study the man and his contributions. I have been deeply humbled by the example of his piety and confession of faith, all the more so because of the cross and suffering under which he labored as a Lutheran pastor and hymnwriter. So often, my own faith and hope and confidence have been strengthened and sustained by the Word of God that sings in Gerhardt's hymns. Thus, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover how many more hymns he wrote than I ever realized, and at the same time discouraged that so few of them are readily available for the use of the Church in our day.

The Lutheran Service Book includes sixteen of Paul Gerhardt's hymns, and one more in the electronic edition. Some Lutheran hymnals in our generation have included roughly two dozen (others far fewer). German Lutheran hymnals in this country in the nineteenth century included almost four dozen Gerhardt hymns. Altogether, he appears to have written more than 130. Even taking into account that he will not always have been at the top of his game, and that a percentage of his total output will not necessarily serve the Church so well in our day, nevertheless, many more of his hymns than the 16 or 17 in LSB would be of great blessing and benefit to the Christians of this generation.

Paul Gerhardt's hymnody is simply one example, though a prominent and most important one. In working on my book, For All His Benefits, I've encountered numerous other historic Lutheran hymns that have essentially been lost to us. In many cases, they have never been translated into English; not surprisingly, since the translation of hymnody is an especially challenging work. In other cases, English translations have been done in the past, but without the elegance and poetic qualities to lend themselves to actual use; or else, the translations have become dated with time, without having had the opportunity to implant themselves in the piety of the Church's singing.

Which brings me back to the Gerhardt Project, and my grand scheme for the future. Eventually, what I would like to do is facilitate the gathering together and publication of historic Lutheran hymns, translated into English with skill (by those who have been given such gifts), set to sturdy music (in most cases, the tunes for which they were intended), and thereby made available for the use of the Church. The twofold goal would be, first of all, the opportunity for present usage, and second, an awareness and availability of these hymns when the next Lutheran hymnal project gets underway (in the coming generation).

I've started with the hymns of Paul Gerhardt, because of his importance, second only to Luther himself in the history of Lutheran hymnody; and because there is such a significant corpus of Gerhardt hymns, not huge in number but substantial nonetheless, which can readily be identified and tackled with a clear end in sight. Gerhardt's track record is such that even this initial phase of the grand scheme will already be worthwhile and a satisfying venture for those involved. If nothing else were ever accomplished, the recovery of several dozen hymns by this sweet singer of Germany will be a salutary gift to the Church on earth. To that end, several dozen volunteers have signed up to assist with the project, bringing together pastors and poets, musicians and computer gurus, and people like myself who simply love to sing the truly great hymns of the faith. A few months ago, I offered this group a list of Gerhardt hymns that have never been translated into English (so far as I know), and thus far I have around twenty initial submissions of draft translations for the consideration and constructive criticism of the group.

As of last night, I shared with the Gerhardt Project a list of forty or fifty hymns that have been translated into English in the past, in one place or another, but which are presently missing (in whole or in part) from the Lutheran Service Book. Some of these could simply be resurrected for publication in a supplement of Gerhardt hymns; others will require editing and polish to be useful in our modern English context. But I am excited at the prospect of moving forward with this work. And I am profoundly grateful for the interest and energy of those who are willing to help make it happen. To God alone be all the glory, honor, worship and praise, for Jesus' sake.

30 July 2007

Harry Potter Interview Last Night

Well, I enjoyed my time on Issues, Etc., last night, being interviewed on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Todd Wilken is such a great guy (even if his name does apparently have roots in Norse mythology), and I love the way he handles the show. The Sunday evening program, with all the phone calls from listeners, is especially good fun. The callers weren't quite as hostile toward me as they were last year, though I still had a predominance of questions about how it is that a Christian can possibly allow or tolerate these books about "witchcraft." I hope I came across as patient as I was endeavoring to be. Really, I appreciate all the people who took the trouble to call, and who spent at least some of their time listening to what I had to say.

I spent most of my free hours over the weekend preparing for the interview, mostly by trying to cover as much of the book again as possible. Didn't get all the way through a second read, but did manage to digest most of it, and to revist the highlights toward the end. I'm still in the process of reading it aloud to my children, as well, but that will probably take us a week or two to finish. At the risk of overkill, I've also been listening to Jim Dale's performance of the book on audio CD in my car. That man has done such an amazing, outstanding job with all of these books, and there is something particularly satisfying about listening to him read.

(Actually, listening to those audio books on our vacation last summer was one of the factors that prompted me to do away with "bulletin inserts" of the Sunday Lections, and to encourage the people simply to listen carefully to the public reading of the Holy Scriptures. I was just so struck by the experience of listening and hearing, and the contrast that provided to the more active enterprise of reading something for myself. We have pew Bibles now at Emmaus for those who do find it helpful to follow along with the Lections, but most of the congregation now give their full and careful attention to hearing the Word as it is proclaimed from the lectern.)

I would have been happier, in some ways, to spend the interview talking about more of the specifics in The Deathly Hallows, as there is such a richness to the story. I'm intrigued now by the apparent connection of these "hallows" to the Arthurian legends, but I haven't had a chance to pursue that. For those who are interested in Harry Potter and related matters, I recommend hogwartsprofessor.com (John Granger) and swordofgryffindor.com, which are both worthwhile. Another point I picked up from perusing those sites is the possibility of seeing the three deathly hallows in the story as parallels to the three temptations of Christ in the wilderness. I'll have to give that some more thought, but it is a compelling suggestion. The third "deathly hallow," the invisibility cloak, is in any case more ambiguous, since it can be used wisely and well, "in faith," if you will. I compared it on the show last night to the covering of Holy Baptism, whereby we are dressed in Christ and His Righteousness. That comment came in response to a great question from my future son-in-law, Sam, who asked about baptismal imagery in the Harry Potter books. The problem with answering that is, where do you begin? There's so much to be considered, really. The main example I gave is the scene when Ron comes back and destroys the locket horcrux. I loved that portion of the book to begin with, but it had not fully occured to me at first what a marvelous image of the return to Baptism it provides. Harry and Ron both go fully into the water to retrieve the Sword of Gryffindor, which has just been described as a silver cross. Then, when the locket has been opened, it sets upon Ron with accusations and taunts, doubts and fears and guilt, just as we are attacked and accused by the assaults of the devil in all such ways. With Harry's encouragement, Ron destroys the locket with the cross-like sword, and it is then that he is reconciled to Harry, having abandoned him and Hermione previously. Turns out that he had been called back to his friends by the gift that Dumbledore had left him.

Along similar lines, I do appreciate the way in which remorse is described as the only way, the very painful way, by which a person who has rent his soul to create a horcrux can be healed and restored to whole again. The word "repentance" isn't used, but that's what it sounds like to me. And then how marvelous it is that Harry, in the final showdown with Voldemort, pleads with him to find remorse, as the only hope he has left to him. It is yet another example, among many, of Harry's compassion even for his enemies. That's one of the points I tried to make last night, that it isn't just self-sacrifice, but self-sacrificing love, accompanied by mercy for others. It was that aspect of Dumbledore's sacrifice at the conclusion of The Half-Blood Prince that finally opened my eyes to the underlying themes of the entire series. It was perhaps most obvious at the end of The Deathly Hallows, when Harry once again uses the Expelliarmus! spell against Voldemort's Avada Kedavra! Lupin had warned him previously to avoid making such an unusual move his signature mark, but Harry refused to blast people out of his way. "That's Voldemort's job," he said. With rare exceptions in the course of the story, Harry refuses to go for the kill, but uses only as much force as necessary to defend and protect his friends.

28 July 2007

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

"Though we have received forgiveness and obtained a good conscience, haveing been fully absolved, yet life is such that one who is standing today falls tomorrow. Therefore, although at the present moment we stand upright and with a clear conscience before God, we must go on to pray that He will not allow us to fall, defeated by trials and temptations.

"Temptation (or allurement) is of three kinds: by the flesh, the world, and the devil. We live in the flesh and carry the old Adam hanging around our necks; he is at work every day inciting us to unchastity, laziness, gluttony, and drunkenness, to greed and deceitfulness, to acts of fraud and deception against our neighbor -- in short, to all kinds of evil lusts that cling to our nature and to which we are stimulated by other people's company and example and by what we otherwise hear and see. All this often bruises and scorches even an innocent heart.

"Next comes the world, which hurts us by word and deed, and drives us to anger and impatience. In short, one sees nothing in the world but hate and envy, enmity, violence and injustice, disloyalty, revenge, cursing, abuse, slander, arrogance and pride, combined with excessive finery, flattery, fame, and power. No one is satisfied to be low on the ladder but wants to be at the top and visible to everyone.

"Now comes the devil as well, harassing us and fuming at us from all sides, concentrating his attacks especially where conscience and spiritual matters are at stake. His chief aim is to make us discard both God's Word and His works, to tear us away from faith, hope, and love, to draw us into misbelief, false security, and stubborn impenitence, or else to drive us into despair, denial of God, blasphemy against Him, and countless other horrible sins. These are the devil's traps and nets, or more exactly, the most venomously poisoned 'fiery darts' which not flesh and blood but Satan shoots into our hearts.

"These grave perils and great temptations, which every Christian must endure, are grievous even if they come singly one by one. They constrain us, as long we remain in this wretched life, where we are pursued, hounded, and harried on all sides, to cry out and pray every hour that God would not allow us to become faint and weary, and to fall back into sin, shame, and unbelief. Otherwise it is impossible to overcome even the very slightest temptation.

"'Leading us not into temptation' consists of God giving us the power and strength to resist it even though the tribulation itself is not turned aside nor put to an end. For not one of us can successfully bypass temptations and enticements as long as we are living in the flesh and the devil is lurking about. Nothing else is to be expected than that we shall suffer trials and temptations, yes, even find ourselves bogged in them. However, what we pray for here is that we may not fall down into them and be drowned. . . .

"None of us dare carelessly go about in a false sense of security as if the devil were far away. Instead, wherever we are, we should expect his blows and be ready to ward them off. Even if at the moment I am chaste, patient, kindly, and stand firm in the faith, yet this very hour the devil is likely to drive such a shaft into my heart that I can scarcely hold my own. For he is an adversary who never lets up, never tires, and no sooner has one attack ended than new and different ones begin.

"Your only help or comfort at such times is to hurry for refuge into the Lord's Prayer and to appeal to God from the heart, 'Dear Father, You have commanded me to pray; do not let me fall into this temptation.' You will then see the temptation lessening, until it finally admits defeat. On the other hand, if you try to save yourself by your own devices of thought and feeling, you will only make a bad situation worse and give the devil a better opening. For he has the head of a serpent; if he finds a gap through which his head can slip, the whole length of his body wriggles in unchecked. Prayer, however, can oppose him and drive him back." (Luther's Large Catechism, CPH 1978)

Such prayer is really nothing else than the voice of faith, which lays hold of God in Christ. It is such a sure and certain weapon against the devil, because the very Lord Jesus who has taught us to pray, and in whom we pray, has crushed that serpent's head and defeated him forever. He also intervenes to defend and protect us, as our great and mighty Champion against the devil; so that by His prayer and fasting, even where ours falter and fail, He shields us by His grace and mercy and protection. Only let us avail ourselves daily of His Gospel, and thus find shelter in the shadow of His wings, a steady bulwark in the Mighty Fortress of His Church, and a most precious recourse in His gift of prayer. "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise."

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

The Fifth Petition "is concerned with our poor, miserable conduct. Although we have the Word of God, believe in Him, obey Him, and submit to His will, and though His gifts and blessings nourish our lives, yet we do not live without sinning. Because we live in the world among people who sorely vex us and give us occasion for impatience, anger, revenge, and so on, we stumble every day and overstep our bounds. We also, as we have heard, have Satan coming up from behind to close in on every side and aim his attacks against all our earlier petitions. Amid such conflict, it is not possible always to stand firm.

"Here again, therefore, the need is great for us to pray and to call upon God, 'Dear Father, forgive us our trespasses.' Not that He does not forgive sins without our prayer or before we ask. In fact, before we prayed for it or ever thought about it, He gave us the Gospel, in which there is nothing but forgiveness. But here the point is that we should recognize and accept this forgiveness. It is the way of the flesh, in which we live our daily life, to distrust and disbelieve God and to stir itself up constantly with evil desires and devices, so that we sin every day in word and deed, doing what is wrong and omitting to do what is right. As a result, our conscience feels unrest, fears God's wrath and displeasure, and thus lets the comfort and assurance of the Gospel sink low. Therefore it is necessary to keep running to the Gospel and drawing comfort from it by means of this petition in order to receive our good conscience.

"This process, however, is to serve God's purpose, namely to break our pride and keep us in humility. For He has reserved the prerogative, in case anyone insists on his own goodness and despises others, to let him look into himself when this petition confronts him. He will find that he is no better than others and that in the presence of God everyone must duck his head and come into the joy of forgiveness only through the low door of humility. Let no one think that in this life he will ever reach the point where he does not need this forgiveness. In short, unless God keeps on forgiving us, we are lost.

"Thus this petition is really an appeal to God not to rivet His eyes on our sins nor to punish them as we daily deserve, but to deal with us according to His grace and forgive us as He promised, and so to give us a happy and cheerful conscience able to stand before Him in prayer. Where the heart is not right with God and cannot draw such confidence from His Gospel, it will never dare to pray. But such a confident and joyful heart can come from nowhere else than from the knowledge that our sins are forgiven.

"Meanwhile, a necessary yet comforting word is attached here: 'as we forgive those who trespass against us.' God has promised us the certain assurance that all is completely forgiven and pardoned, yet with the understanding that we are also to forgive our neighbor. For just as God in His grace forgives everything by which we sin much against Him every day, so we also must constantly forgive our neighbor who does us harm, violence, and injustic, treats us with abomindably shabby tricks, and the like. If you do not forgive, do not imagine that God will forgive you. But if you do forgive, you have the comfort and assurance that in heaven you are forgiven. But you are forgiven not on account of the forgiveness you granted to your neighbor, for God forgives completely and for nothing, out of pure grace and because He promised it, as the Gospel teaches. Rather, God has linked our forgiveness of our neighbor to God's forgiveness of us for our strengthening and assurance, and as a sign alongside the promise in Luke 6:37, which agrees with this petition, 'Forgive, and you will be forgiven.' Hence Christ repeats the promise immediately after the Lord's Prayer, Matthew 6:14, and says, 'For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you,' etc." (Luther's Large Catechism, CPH 1978)

Praying to Our Father in Heaven

In anticipation of the Holy Gospel for this Sunday (St. Luke 11:1-13), I took the opportunity to re-read Dr. Luther's catechesis on the Our Father in his Large Catechism. As always happens when I give attention to this most precious of the great Reformer's writings, I find myself called to repentance, strengthened in my faith, and comforted by the Word of the Gospel. That seems a most salutary thing to share with anyone else who may care to read Dr. Luther's helpful words:

"The first and most necessary point is this, that all our prayers be founded and fixed upon obedience to God, regardless of our person, whether we are full of sin or upright, worthy or unworthy. And we should know that God will not have this commandment taken as a jest but will punish us in His wrath if we fail to pray, just as He punishes all other disobedience. Nor will He let our prayers be useless or wasted. For if He did not intend to hear you, He would not have told you to pray nor nailed His words down with such a strict commandment.

"In the second place, we should all the more be impelled and encouraged to pray because God has also added the promise that our prayers will surely be answered, as He says in Psalm 50:15, 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you,' and as Christ says in the Gospel of Matthew 7:7-8, 'Ask, and it will be given you,' etc. 'For everyone who asks receives.' Promises such as these certainly ought to awaken delight in our hearts and kindle in them the love to pray. For God by His Word testifies that our prayers heartily please Him and will definitely be heard and granted. This He does so that we may not disdain His promise or cast it to the wind or pray in uncertainty.

"You can hold Him to His promises and say, 'I come to you, dear Father, and pray not of my own accord or in my own worthiness, but because of Your command and Your promises, which cannot fail me nor mislead me.' Whoever does not believe His promises should once again realize that he provokes God's wrath by grossly dishonoring Him and accusing Him of lying.

"We should be all the more encouraged and induced to pray by the fact that, in addition to giving us His command and promise, God Himself takes the first step by supplying and putting into our mouths the words and pattern for the how and the what of our prayer life. He wants us to see how genuinely He is concerned about our needs, so that we may never question whether our prayers please Him or are really answered. This gives the Lord's Prayer a great advantage over all other prayers that we ourselves might devise. For in their case the conscience might constantly be in doubt and say, 'I have prayed, but who knows if it pleases Him or whether I have hit upon the right measure or manner of praying?' Nowhere on earth, therefore, can a nobler prayer be found than the Lord's Prayer, since it gives such splendid testimony that God delights in hearing us pray. We should not wish to trade this assurance for all the world's riches. . . .

"Where prayer is genuine, there must be earnestness. We must feel our need, the kind of pressure that drives us to cry aloud. Then prayer will arise by itself, as it should, and we will need no instruction on how to prepare for it or from what fountain to draw a spirit of devotion. The need that should concern us, both our own need and that of others, is indicated amply enough in the Lord's Prayer. This should serve to remind us and deeply impress upon us not to become slack in our prayer life. We all have more than enough needs, but our trouble is that we do not feel or see them. Hence God wants you to lament your needs and express your wants, not as though He did not know about them, but in order that your heart might kindle with stronger desires and more insistent and more frequent prayer requests, and that you then might simply open up and spread out your cloak to receive God's plenty.

"Each of us from his youth up should form the habit of praying every day for all those needs of which he becomes conscious when something affects him or the people around him. We should pray for preachers, government officials, neighbors, employers. We should always, as stated before, remind God of His commandment and His promise, realizing that He will not allow them to be despised. I say this because I would so like these things to be again brought home to people, so that they would learn to pray rightly instead of carrying on in the raw, cold manner that makes them daily more clumsy at praying. That indeed is what the devil wants as he bends every effort to that end. For he well knows what harm and danger it does to him when prayer life flourishes.

"We need to realize that prayer alone is our protecting shield and shelter. We are much too weak to cope by ourselves with the devil, his might, and the forces he has lined up against us. They could easily trample us under foot. Therefore we must be alert and grasp the weapons with which Christians should be armed in order to withstand the devil. . . . For when any good Christian prays, 'Dear Father, Thy will be done,' God in heaven answers, 'Yes, dear child, it will most certainly be done despite the devil and the whole world.'" (Luther's Large Catechism, CPH 1978)

Thanks be to God that Christ, who died and was raised again, ever lives to make intercession for us before His Father in heaven. For though we are so cold and reluctant to pray as we ought, the prayer of that one Righteous Man, our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, avails for us both night and day, evening and morning, unto the life everlasting. In the same way, His Holy Spirit helps and sustains in in our weakness, praying in us and for us with the deepest groanings of repentant faith. Abba, Father. Kyrie, Eleison. Amen, amen, it shall be so.

27 July 2007

Big Picture: The First Shall Be Last

It's been a full week since the Convention concluded. As I have stepped back to assess and reassess what happened, I remain unconvinced that the "Jesus First" (sic) political action group was really all that effective in accomplishing its goals. Oh, I readily agree that much of what happened was comfortable to "Jesus First," and compatible with its agenda. But I am mainly of a mind that this was far more a matter of momentum and coincidence than any great political success. Perhaps that seems a pointless distinction, given the end results either way. Yet, I believe it is important to consider what has actually happened, and why, lest we take our cues and draw our conclusions from superficial appearances, and be misled even further away from the heart and substance of the Church.

To be sure, "Jesus First" was impressive in its organization and presentation, both leading up to and at the Convention. Clearly, a great deal of time and energy were expended, and what must have been a lot of money was invested (in something other than fanning the flames of Ablaze!). At least nine mailings of glossy, full-color newsletters to all of the delegates, as well as multiple "letters" from individual delegates, a professionally-printed voting guide (not that "Jesus First" is in favor of telling people how to vote, normally, but desperate times call for desperate measures), a daily bulletin handed out to delegates as they left their hotels in the morning, a display table in the Convention center, and well-identified workers available on every hand. It is not hard to imagine the long hours and sleepless nights that were required to make all of this happen, since I have good friends and colleagues who engaged in the same kind of efforts for the conservatives three years ago. It's all well-intentioned, no doubt, on everybody's part. But does it actually do any good (even aside from whether one's positions are right or wrong)?

My Mom always said that it takes two to argue or fight, and I warrant that is no less true on the level of national synodical politics. Political sparring tends to be self-perpetuating, in my opinion, and can easily become an all-consuming distraction from the very things for which we all contend. I've said before that, without a conservative counterpart to butt heads against, I think "Jesus First" primarily came off looking bad, perhaps even a little silly, at this year's Convention. I'm sure their ardent supporters didn't think so, but the non-partisan lay delegate sitting next to me became increasingly frustrated and impatient with the "Jesus First" posturing and propaganda as the week wore on. I never said a word against "Jesus First," but as far as he could tell, the people representing that group were primarily interested in preventing discussion and debate. From my perspective, he was not the only one who quickly grew weary of having the same two or three gentlemen stand up and call the question after only one or two speakers. That ploy worked for the first day or two, before the delegates got the feel of parliamentary procedure, but the assembly became less and less tolerant of terminating debate prematurely.

The fact of the matter is that "Jesus First" was in an agreeable and advantageous position going into this Convention. There is no secret that it has been supportive of the current LCMS administration (with the exception of the Board of Directors), and sympathetic to the President's agenda. Indeed, the main line of argument from "Jesus First" for the past four or five years has been that we must "trust our respected leaders" (except for the Board of Directors). It is hardly a surprise, therefore, that the business at hand throughout this Convention tended to be in line with the "Jesus First" agenda. The incumbent administration will always have the momentum, just as incumbent officers are normally a shoe-in for re-election (barring any major guffaws). The Floor Committees, appointed by the President, for all intents and purposes control what comes before the delegates, and of course the Chair determines and directs how things are handled. That's not a fault of the present administration, but an aspect of our polity, be it good, bad or otherwise. Sometimes one interest group has the advantage, sometimes another, and that's just the way it goes.

In view of the advantages that "Jesus First" had this time around, and given the tremendous amount of time, energy and money it devoted to accomplishing its political goals, the real surprise is not what it achieved, but what it did not. The "Jesus First" voting guide, the "One List," was somewhat successful, but not overwhelmingly so. The resolutions that we dealt with as delegates were largely agreeable to "Jesus First," yet they did not come to us from "Jesus First," but from the Floor Committees. Despite my own frustrations and disappointments with Floor Committee 8, positive adjustments in many of the other resolutions were brought about through open hearings with the other Floor Committees. Those preliminary amendments by and large reflected the concerns and constructive criticism of conservative delegates, who spoke on the basis of their personal considerations and convictions. The process worked.

As resolutions came to the floor of the Convention, amendments and substitutions were largely resisted, but not entirely so. Where discussion and debate were permitted to happen, there were further corrections and improvements made. Some resolutions were tabled and died, and at least one resolution was defeated. Here, too, the process was working: that is to say, the real political process of the Convention itself, in contrast to the lobbying of para-synodical political action groups. There was give and take, and productive argument in the best sense of the word. Bad things were avoided, and good things were accomplished. In my opinion, nobody "ran away with the show." Certainly, there was plenty of stuff that didn't go my way, but I'd frankly be shocked and a little nervous if it had (or ever did). I surely don't have all wisdom, but I am prone to pride and presumptuousness; so on both counts I pray that the Church at large would assist me in correcting my errors, curbing my ego, and clarifying my confession of Christ.

Thus far, I've been analyzing the elections in particular, and that has been interesting. Despite the prejudicial comments of the Chair and one of the newly re-elected vice presidents of Synod, floor nominations were permitted and received (as the democratic process and the rules of good order require). Even so, and not surprisingly, the floor nominees did not do well in the elections. But that was true across the board. "Jesus First" included four floor nominees in its "One List," and all four of them made it onto the Big Ballot, but none of them were elected. The "United List" called for many more floor nominations, and most of them made it, but only one of them was elected. There can be no question, therefore, that incumbents and the initial slate of candidates from the Nominations Committee had a decided advantage, irrespective of political alignments. What is more, in almost every case where there needed to be a second ballot for any given office, the nominees receiving the most votes on the first ballot were then elected, again irrespective of anyone's voting guide. These things suggest that delegates were taking their lead from a variety of sources and considering a variety of factors. As it should be.

A couple of outstanding examples are the elections of the vice presidents, the Secretary of Synod, and the Board of Directors. Naturally, these are the offices to which "Jesus First" directed the bulk of its attention, but it honestly didn't do very well in these cases. True, its candidates for President, First Vice-President, and three of the other vice presidents were elected, but all five of these were incumbents, and their winning majorities were not impressive. Chaplain John Wohlrabe not only did respectably on the presidential ballot, but came very close to winning the office of First Vice-President, and was then elected as Third Vice-President of the Synod. The "Jesus First" candidates who weren't already incumbents didn't come close. Similarly, Rev. Ray Hartwig was handily re-elected as the Secretary of the Synod, despite the rhetoric of "Jesus First" against him, and Rev. Robert Kuhn was re-elected to the Board of Directors, even though no one has been subjected to greater criticism by "Jesus First" than he has been for years.

Well, these are simply examples that I have noted, and I am aware that exceptions to the rule can always be discovered. I'm not suggesting that "Jesus First" was entirely unsuccessful, but I am arguing that its impressive political efforts were a poor investment on its part. More to the point, and aside from the fact that I disagree with "Jesus First" pretty widely on most things, I am more and more convinced that political posturing and propaganda does more harm than good (by almost any criteria). I know there were conservative political efforts, as well, but I'm glad they didn't amount to much organization or any spit and polish. That's in spite of the fact that I am sympathetic to, and largely in agreement with, conservative goals and intentions. I just don't believe that para-synodical political groups are the right means to those ends.

I do encourage everyone to discuss elections, nominations and candidates, overtures and resolutions, and even our synodical polity and processes. I'm not inclined to frown upon voting guides, either, because I doubt that anyone can possibly know everyone on the ballot; the laity probably know fewer than a handful of the people, and little biographical paragraphs can be as misleading as they are helpful. We ought to be talking to like-minded colleagues and peers, but also to colleagues and brothers in Christ with whom we don't see eye-to-eye. Not simply for the sake of argument (though genuine argument is usually beneficial), nor only to correct what we believe to be errors in our neighbor, but for the sake of correcting and strengthening our own understanding of the Christian faith and life. We are in a precarious position indeed, if any one of us ever presumes to be the anchor of orthodoxy. Come, let us reason together in the fear of the Lord, in the faith of Christ, in the true wisdom of His Word and Holy Spirit. Amen. Maranatha!

26 July 2007

Wedding Propers

In some respects, determining the Propers for a Lutheran wedding is a rather straightforward task. Appropriate Lections (Readings) of Holy Scripture, Psalmody, prayers and hymnody are recommended in the Church's service books. The Lutheran Service Book Agenda, already one of the most oustanding contributions of the entire LSB project, is an excellent case in point. It offers a list of six Psalms, two Collects (and a fitting Prayer of the Church), four Holy Gospels, seventeen other possible Readings, an Alleluia Verse, and nine suggested hymns. Obviously, one cannot use all of these Propers in any one service, but these provide the pastor with valuable guidance and parameters in preparing for the wedding. Among the Readings, five are highlighted for "special consideration due to long standing usage." Those are: Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:7, 18-24; Ephesians 5:1-2, 22-33; St. Matthew 19:4-6; and St. Mark 10:1-9 (13-16).

As I have previously indicated with respect to the rites and ceremonies of holy matrimony, one ought to follow the direction of the Church's official service books also in this case of the Propers. Nevertheless, by the very nature of the case, greater latitude is allowed for pastoral discretion here, and a host of circumstances will come into play, especially in the case of the hymnody. What I offer, therefore, are simply a few comments on the basis of my own experience.

Among the six Psalms included in the LSB "Propers for Holy Matrimony," I have generally preferred to use either Psalm 127 or 128. Of course, there is nothing to prevent the use of more than one Psalm, and several different Psalms could be incorporated in a variety of ways. A choir or cantor could sing responsively with the congregation on a single Psalm, or could sing a choral setting of one Psalm in addition to a simpler congregational intonation of another. A metrical Psalm paraphrase might also be used, whether as one of the hymns or along with other Psalms. For example, Luther's "May God Bestow on Us His Grace" is a fine hymnic setting of Psalm 67, one of those suggested for holy matrimony in the LSB Agenda. If the wedding is set within the context of the Divine Service, the Psalmody will occur in the form of the Introit and the Gradual.

As far as the Lections (or Readings) are concerned, I do suggest some slight deviation from the indicated preferences of the LSB Agenda. I have generally read three Lections at each wedding, an Old Testament, Epistle and Holy Gospel. For the Old Testament Reading, I have used the appropriate verses from both Genesis 1 and 2 (including also Genesis 1:1 to begin with). The Epistle Reading from Ephesians 5 is really a must, it seems to me, but I have found it beneficial to include verses 15-21 of that chapter, in addition to the versification indicated above. And for the Holy Gospel, I have almost always opted for the Wedding at Cana from St. John 2. I would not use St. Mark 10 apart from exceptional circumstances (such as a remarriage after divorce); and while St. Matthew 19:4-6 is certainly a fine and fitting text, it is taken out of its context (again, the question concerning divorce), and essentially repeats what is already heard from both Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5. The Wedding at Cana (St. John 2:1-11) is such a profoundly significant Gospel, which gets to the Christological heart and center of marriage, and is hearkened to in many of the strongest hymns for holy matrimony. So, even if it may not have such "long standing usage," it is my own strong preference in most cases.

The selection of appropriate hymnody, for a wedding as for almost any service, is probably the most challenging aspect of the Propers. To some extent, it will need to be undertaken with a pastoral sensitivity to the abilities and experience of those who will be gathered for the occasion. In some cases, congregational singing may need to be quite limited and kept simple. Wherever possible, however, it is surely a good thing for the congregation to be included in the Church's collective proclamation and confession, prayer, praise and thanksgiving, which occurs in the singing of hymns. Not simply for its own sake, nor only to get the people "involved," but, as in all things liturgical, for the service and support of God's Word.

Hymnody ought to be selected for its liturgical purpose within its proper liturgical context. That is to say, it is not to be a case of picking a number of "old favorites" and then plopping them here or there, wherever they might be made to "fit." Everything begins with the appointed Lections of the Holy Scriptures, and with the divine gift of marriage, while also taking into account the structure and flow of the service itself. The processional should be musically robust and stately, and, more important, invocational and doxological in its textual character and content. Metrical Psalm paraphrases often tend to make excellent processional hymns. The Office Hymn, in the case of Matins or Vespers (or Evening Prayer), would normally be a morning or evening hymn (though here, again, a metrical Psalm paraphrase is often appropriate). In the case of a wedding, however, the Office Hymn might well be one focusing on marriage. The Hymn of the Day, in the context of the Divine Service, would either be a marriage hymn in particular, or one that confesses well the Lections and other Propers of the service. I have found it helpful, in the context of Matins or Vespers, to include a hymn between the sermon and the wedding rite; in which case, the Office Hymn might be the more usual morning or evening hymn, and the hymn preceding the wedding rite focused more specifically on the theological significance of marriage.

If the wedding occurs in the context of the Divine Service, hymns for the distribution of the Holy Communion would be chosen according to the usual criteria. For that purpose, I tend to use hymns that are highly seasonal in character (according to the season of the Church Year), as well as hymns with a strong connection to the Holy Gospel of the day. In this way, there is a continuity identified between the life of Christ and the gift of His Body and Blood in the Supper. Hymns employing the imagery of the "Marriage Feast of the Lamb" would be ideal in this case.

For the processional out of the church, a hymn of thanksgiving and praise is to be preferred, especially one that offers such doxology by way of confessing again the Word and works of God in Christ. It is also fitting that a hymn at this point should include a more explicit eschatological thrust, looking forward to the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and the consummation of all things in His holy city, New Jerusalem.

In addition to the suggested hymns included in the LSB Agenda, I would offer the following possibilities: Paul Gerhardt's "Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me," and "I Will Sing My Maker's Praises." Gerhardt also has two wedding hymns, both translated into English by John Kelly, yet in need of a more eloquent and felicitous rendering (which I hope to facilitate in the near future): "Full of Wonder, Full of Art," and "O Jesus Christ, How Fair and Bright." A wedding hymn by Chad Bird, "O Father, at Creation," was printed in Gottesdienst a number of years ago; it is a nice contribution that fits beautifully with the Lections from Genesis, Ephesians and St. John. "The Church's One Foundation" also works well for the occasion of holy matrimony. Finally, there are the king and the queen of chorales, that is, Philip Nicolai's "Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying," and "O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright," either one of which might serve quite well. (The second stanza of "Wake, Awake," makes a grand processional.)

It should be noted that, in the case of a wedding in the context of a Sunday morning Divine Service, or on a festival day, the Propers for that Sunday or Feast should be used, and the divine gift of marriage preached on the basis of the Holy Gospel appointed for that Lord's Day. By way of example, when my DoRena and her Sam are married on the 31st of May this coming year, the Propers for that occasion will be those appointed for the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lord.

Higher Things

The first of two Higher Things Lutheran Youth Conferences is taking place this week in Minneapolis. The second will be held next week in Ashville, North Carolina. A number of my Emmaus folks are attending one or the other of these conferences, and I'm glad of that. Young people from Emmaus, including my own Zach and DoRena, have enjoyed and benefitted from Higher Things since the Making Waves conference in Duluth, Minnesota (2002). I was able to join them for Dare to Be Lutheran in St. Louis (2005), and it was my privilege to serve as the chaplain for last year's conference, The Feast, in Colorado Springs. Regrettably, I could not attend either of the conferences this summer, but perhaps I will have the opportunity again in 2008. We'll see.

There are various people who have viewed the Higher Things conferences as a competing alternative to the LCMS National Youth Gatherings. I suppose it is true that one is not likely to attend both, especially when they coincide in the same year. Admittedly, it is also the case that Higher Things and the National Youth Gatherings operate on rather different principles. However, the purpose of the Higher Things conferences is not to compete with anything else, but simply to assist in the catechesis of the Church's youth. Where is it decreed that only one sort of youth conference is permissible? What is the point or purpose to questions that have sometimes been raised, whether Higher Things is an "official" organization of the LCMS? It has been a labor of love from the beginning on the part of LCMS people. Why not simply rejoice that there are such pastors and congregations, parents and other laity who are willing and able to devote their time and energy and resources to the benefit of young people within the Synod.

Well, others can make the comparisons if they so desire, but for my part I recognize that Higher Things has been a meet, right and salutary contribution. In fact, along with the Concordia Catechetical Academy, I firmly believe that Higher Things has been one of the best and most encouraging developments in the life of the Church within my lifetime. It is such a blessing because it has had the Word of God, and in particular the Gospel, as its foundation and focus. The goal, again, has always been catechesis in the Word of the Lord, centered in Christ Jesus, that the Youth might be served by His life-giving Holy Spirit. Such catechesis takes place in two principal ways: (1.) through plenary and sectional presentations on a wide variety of topics, and (2.) in the liturgy of daily prayer and the Divine Service. There is playtime, too, but that isn't the point or purpose of the conferences. Actually, I love the basic rule of thumb: "When we play, we play. When we work, we work. When we worship and pray, we worship and pray." In this way, everything is given its due place, and nothing is confused or contrived.

The daily rhythm of worship and prayer is the most oustanding feature of the Higher Things Lutheran Youth Conferences. Each day is punctuated by the offices of Matins and Vespers and Evening Prayer, and then the week culminates in the closing Divine Service. That's a lot of church, by almost any estimation, and I've heard people wonder and worry about how that goes over with the Youth. Not only is it tolerated, but thoroughly embraced. Indeed, the liturgical life of the conferences has consistently proven to be the best-loved and most deeply appreciated aspect of the experience. Praying the offices, receiving the Divine Service of the Gospel-Word and Sacrament, and singing the sturdy hymns of the Church are the crucible of true catechesis. In many ways, the plenary addresses and sectional presentations are themselves a preparatory catechesis toward that Christian life of prayer, praise, confession, and receiving the gifts of God in faith and with thanksgiving.

One of the things that I appreciated most about last summer's conference was the opportunity to introduce the Youth to Dr. Luther's mighty Easter hymn, "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands." There were those who had expressed concern that such a hymn would never fly, but it was both readily grasped and sung with fervent conviction throughout the week. That hymn is typical of Higher Things in general, which has been determined all along to feed and nurture the young people of the Church with the real meat and potatoes of the Gospel, rather than glutting them with the spirtually empty calories of pop culture and sacrilegious forms of entertainment.

There were three good friends and colleagues of mine who, seven years ago, took the intiative to host a Lutheran youth conference for the benefit of their own young people and any others who might be interested. The rich opportunity they provided that summer, in Laramie, Wyoming, served the Church well, meeting a real need and exceeding all expectations. I give thanks to God for the tremendous blessing He has bestowed upon us in this way, beginning with the faithful efforts of those several men, and continued enthusiastically by any number of others who have received and handed over the Higher Things tradition.

24 July 2007


I've been asked what it is that I have against a hierarchical form of church government. The simple answer is that I'm not really opposed to such hierarchy, leastwise not on principle. In fact, I believe that foundations for a hierarchical polity are rooted in the New Testament, in the way the Apostolic Church was ordered and aranged under the providence of God, and that it was exemplified in a salutary way for the first several centuries of the Church's history. Matters of polity are largely adiaphora (neither commanded nor forbidden by God), and, as such, I don't regard any particular form of church government to be essential. All things are free; but then again, not all things are profitable. Given my preference, I'd opt for an historical form of ecclesial hierarchy over and above a strictly democratic rule of the majority (via suffrage). The one true Head of the Church, either way, is the Lord Jesus Christ, who rules and governs His Church on earth by His Word and Holy Spirit. Hierarchs and voters' assemblies alike can fall into error and may become tyrannical, and our trust must remain in the one true God alone.

Within the Missouri Synod, the fact of the matter is that we have not had a hierarchical form of church government; nor has there ever been a conscious decision on the part of the Synod to adopt such a polity. Thus, I have expressed concern over what I perceive to be a shifting in practice toward hierarchy, because I sense that it is happening without the real knowledge or consent of the pastors and congregations who collectively are the LCMS. Over the last two Conventions, at least, more and more power has been assigned to the Council of Presidents, and at the same time removed from the pastors and the laity of the congregations. I'm not going to go into detailed examples here; one can always quibble about the particulars. But the overall trend, so far as I can tell, appears to be in the direction of centralized power and a top-down approach to the governance of the Synod. (The new dispute resolution process introduced at the 2004 Convention is perhaps the most striking case in point.)

It is also my opinion that hierarchy can be arranged in a variety of ways, according to all sorts of different criteria. Historically, what bishops and patriarchs did was to serve as pastors of the larger parishes. Even Pope Gregory the Great, for example, is rightly remembered above all as a pastor; not only to the pastors under his jurisdiction, but to the people of Rome. Those great early bishops of the Church exercised oversight principally by preaching and teaching and administering the means of grace, by the ways and means of catechesis and pastoral care. Such things, broadly gathered under the "Office of the Keys," are the definitive authority of bishops. Whatever other authority they may be given, whether within the Church in the freedom of the Gospel, or by the powers that be in the kingdom of the left, those things are peripheral to their office as pastors, as ministers of the Word of God, as preachers of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. These are the things that every parish priest (or pastor) is given to do; for all pastors are equal in office, though they differ in gifts and may well be given different jurisdictions.

What I have observed happening in the LCMS, however, is not a hierarchy of pastors, but of bureaucrats and politicians. I don't say that to be insulting, nor to be critical of anyone, but to be descriptive. It's a problem that Dr. Weinrich called attention to in one of my classes at the Seminary, already fifteen years ago. That is to say, the closest thing to "bishops" that we have in the LCMS, our district presidents, by and large do not do the things definitive of the pastoral office, but primarily exercise temporal authority, determined not by the Word of God but by the polity of the Synod. If the district presidents are to be the bishops of the LCMS, then I would prefer to see them function like real bishops, that is, as pastors of the Church. Which is to say that each would be and serve as the pastor of a congregation, wherein he would regularly preach and teach and catechize, baptize, absolve and commune the sheep of the Good Shepherd. The oversight of other pastors, and of the Church in a particular geographical region, would be in addition to these pastoral responsibilities, rather than in place of them. Being thus rooted in the work of the Gospel, their episcopacy would more readily lend itself to an evangelical manner.

I am aware that some district presidents, at least in the past, have continued to function as pastors within congregations of the Synod. I applaud those situations, although it would strike me as very odd if the bishop of a district were to be an assistant pastor within a congregation of that district. A man who aspires to the office of bishop ought to manage his own household well.

In general, it seems to me that we actually remove a man from the office to which he has been called and ordained, in order to give him, instead, an office of human invention and temporal authority. We rightly insist that our "bishops" be ordained pastors, but we make it harder and harder for them to do the real work of pastors, the work of the Gospel, because we load them down with more and more political responsibilities. I don't believe that our district presidents desire this sort of position, but I don't see how many (or any) of them can stave it off for long. More and more they are being called upon to deal with concerns on the national level, and less able, therefore, to serve as pastors of their own districts (to say nothing of pastoring congregations). I fear that when a man is "called" to such an office, in which he is largely pulled away from the administration of the divinely-given means of grace, there is a real temptation to invest temporal political duties with divine auspices. That is the sort of hierarchy that I oppose, because it no longer serves the Gospel as it should.

Further Adventures on Life's Highway

The surprising thing is that we actually made it out of Iowa before it happened. Admittedly, we were only just barely beyond the border, into Illinois, and the problem had been developing as we made our way across that great long stretch of I-80 between Council Bluffs and Davenport. Still, it seems an accomplishment to have gotten entirely through the state of our previous higway adventures.

We stopped for gas in Colona, Illinois, already feeling somewhat tentative about noises the van was making and its less than stellar performance over the previous hours of driving. Then, as I worked on washing our big front windshield, my heart sank at the sight of radiator fluid running out from under the front end. This was around lunchtime yesterday, and I figured we still had between five and six hours of driving to do before we'd be home in South Bend. Well, there was nothing else for it, but to have the problem checked out. The filling station attendant directed us to a service station in town, not far from where we had gotten off the interstate. Off we went.

I'm picturing in my mind, at that point, a huge repair bill, a lost day of traveling, another night in a motel, and several extra meals along the way. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I was also wishing that I knew how to get hold of my good friend, Charley, who knows vehicles in general pretty well, and who knows big white 15-passenger vans (like ours) exceptionally well. It was exactly at that moment that my cell phone rang, and it was Charley, calling out of the blue on his lunch hour. Didn't realize that cell phones had thought-activation software. Actually, that was but the first indication that the Lord would deal mercifully with us, and enable us to deal with the problem.

Charley's a good engineer, but apparently not able to repair vehicles over a cell phone. He did give me his assessment of what was likely to be wrong with the van. Turned out that he was exactly right: the water pump was "leaking." To say it more accurately, it was gushing radiator fluid, and there was a bearing on the verge of destruction, as well. Not good. We're not going to attempt any further driving under such circumstances. So, let's see what the mechanic says.

If you're going to have vehicle breakdown problems on the highway, let me recommend that you do so in Colona, Illinois, and be sure to bring your busienss to the good folks at Transmissions Plus. What gracious and good-hearted people they were. The water pump would be tricky to get to, involving the dismantling of other things around it first. But they gave us a very reasonable estimate (about a third of what I had been dreading!), and then bumped us up to the front of the line (ahead of other customers) when I told them please to go ahead with the work that needed to be done.

We ended up spending about four hours in Colona. Had a nice lunch at a local diner, "Smokeys," where we whiled away a good portion of the time. Then we walked to a lovely little park with a playground, and the little people of the family spent the next hour and more burning off energy on swings and slides and spinning things, while LaRena and I took turns waiting in the shade. Nicholai spent the entire time reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which he did then manage to finish before we got home last night. All in all, we had a good time in Colona.

By the time we had walked back to Transmissions Plus, the van was almost ready to go, and just like that, we were on the road again. It cost us a few hours and a few hundred dollars, but it was not the disaster that had loomed in my mind when I first observed that snakey green liquid slithering out from under my poor vehicle. We could not have landed in a more ideal spot for such a mechanical breakdown. Good folks, good food, good fun, and a relatively painless ordeal. I'm grateful to the Lord for His lovingkindness, by which He protected us from harm and danger, and provided for us in our need. He's with us and provides for us in both good times and bad, but I'm glad for those times when life's highway isn't quite so adventurous.

23 July 2007

King's Cross

I've finished my first reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Good stuff. Kudos to J.K. Rowling for another fine piece of work. I'm gratified to find that I had the big picture more or less figured out, and not disappointed that I missed the mark on some of the important details. I'm looking forward, now, to reading the book aloud to my children, which will not only provide me with some quality "Daddy time," but will also allow me to reflect upon the entire story and all of its intricacies more carefully than I have on my speedy first time through. My youngest children will not yet have the thrill of discovering these things with the rest of the world, but I was thinking today of the joy and satisfaction they will have in reading (or hearing) these books years from now. I stand by what I have said for some time, that the Harry Potter series will find its place among other literary classics.

As I prepare for my interview on "Issues, Etc.," I will probably blog a bit on my thoughts and reflections, especially as I am reading through the story a second time. There are many things I relished as I was reading this weekend, and it will be a pleasure to revisit and savor those experiences. For the time being, the five things that most struck me were the following, listed in chronological order: (1.) The fact that remorse (read repentance) is the only remedy for damage one has done to his soul. (2.) The verses of Holy Scripture inscribed on the tombs of Dumbledore's and Harry's families. (3.) The process of Ron's return, which was, I thought, almost as profound as the dragon-shedding "baptism" in C.S. Lewis's Voyage of the Dawn Treader. (4.) Probably my favorite, that Harry's victorious self-sacrifice lands him at King's Cross! Brilliant. (5.) Harry's preaching of repentance to his enemy, when it finally comes down to it, demonstrating yet again the compassion that he has learned.

All of these were short, poignant moments in the course of a masterful story. Bravo! I also applaud that the truth about Snape was brought to light, at least for Harry and the reader. And, along similar lines, it was good to have the full picture on Dumbledore, too. From the beginning, one of the best things about the series has been the down-to-earth realism of the characters. They aren't artificial, plastic, one-dimensional, cookie-cuttered folks, but flawed and finite and frail and frustrated along the way (like me!). Readers who got too caught up in the literary device of witchraft and wizardry missed the far more important heart and substance of these books, which is the true-to-life struggles of the people whom Rowling has so beautifully created in this fictional universe of hers. For those who understand that each Christian is both saint and sinner, both old Adam and New Man in Christ, there can be a ready sympathy and appreciation for the journey of daily repentance, of faith and love, which Harry and his friends undergo.

Thanks be to God that, in this real universe of His gracious creation, His only-begotten Son has voluntarily handed Himself over to sacrificial death, in order to atone for the sins of the world, crush the serpent under His foot, reconcile us to the Father, and bring us at last into the peace and rest of life everlasting with the Holy Triune God. We walk by faith and not by sight, for now, but our faith shall not be disappointed. The cross that we are given to carry is a heavy and painful burden at times, but the true King's Cross has gotten the victory for us. Nothing shall ever be able to separate us from that love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even death has lost its sting and is no longer able to frighten or alarm us. For it is already defeated, and at the last it shall be vanquished evermore.

22 July 2007

St. Mary Magdalene

Today is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, faithful disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ, eyewitness of His Cross and Passion, and first witness of His Resurrection from the dead. The Eastern Church names her "the apostle to the Apostles," which sounds a bit shocking to our ears, but simply confesses that she was the one Christ sent (apostled) to the Apostles with the news of His Resurrection. I know that some of my friends and colleagues have been disappointed that the LSB opted for St. John 20 instead of St. Luke 7, but we deemed it appropriate to hear the testimony of Holy Scripture concerning St. Mary of Magdala on her festival day. St. John there and thereby commemorated her, long before the Church determined this date in her memory.

The fact that St. Mary is identified as the first witness of the Resurrection is indicative of the Gospel's veracity. If the Apostles had invented these things, they would surely not have written a woman into that position. I believe it was also by the Lord's own intention that one of those faithful women who followed and supported Him should be the first to see Him arisen from the dead. The Church ever receives her Lord as the heavenly Bridegroom of us all, and relates to Him collectively as His Bride. It is that feminine posture of faith and love which are exemplified and embodied in St. Mary's witness. Indeed, all of the DaVinci Code nonsense aside, it is the case that she is herself a living member of the Bride of Christ, His holy Church, as are all (both men and women) who believe and are baptized into Him. As He cast out seven unclean spirits from her, so has the Lord Jesus cast out the unclean spirit of sinful unbelief from our hearts, and bestowed His Holy Spirit upon us, by the washing of water and the Word in Holy Baptism.

Now when St. Mary was called by name to recognize and rejoice in her risen Lord Jesus, she was not yet perfected in faith and love. She would then have clung to Him apart from His Ascension to the Father, according to the familiar earthly manner in which she had known Him previously. It is much the same with all of us. We cling to our loved ones, and to our own temporal lives in this world, more comfortable and content with what we have known and are able to see than we are with what is given to us in the Gospel-Word and Sacrament. Yet, the same Lord who called St. Mary to discipleship, who recalled her and restored her to faith and hope and love, likewise calls each of us by name and gathers us again and again to Himself. The Word that He sent to His Apostles via this faithful woman, is a Word that He speaks also to us. Which is to say that His Resurrection and Ascension are for us, for whom He suffered and died, such that His God and Father are now also our God and Father, by grace through faith in Him.

21 July 2007

A Book in the Hand Is Worth Four on Pre-Order from Amazon

I'm sure I won't have the stamina to read the whole thing before I give up and go to bed for the night, but I have Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in hand, and have just finished chapter four. I'm impressed with how quickly it has launched into action, fast and furious from the get-go. Already I perceive that my young friend Nathaniel was correct in assuming that the broken mirror from Sirius will come into play importantly. Well spotted, Nat.

Assuming all goes well, I should be able to finish the book by the end of this day, the 21st of July (or tomorrow). Then I can also begin reading it aloud to my dear younger children, who are breathless with anticipation. Of course, by then I will know whether and where my predictions were right, and where they were all wrong. Either way, this is great fun! I'm looking forward to chatting about Deathly Hallows on Issues, Etc. next Sunday (the 29th); at least, I believe that is the plan.

Back to it, then. I believe that something rather tragic has just happened at the end of chapter four, and of course it would be futile for me to attempt falling asleep at this point.

A Beautiful Disaster

I've heard various friends and colleagues bemoaning the lack of organization on the part of conservatives in preparation for the Convention, and now I'm hearing many suggestions that we need to get organized as soon as possible for the next go-round. I respect the men who are making these comments and suggestions, and I respect their opinion, but I disagree. I believe that we did as well as we did at the Convention, and we did far better than I had anticipated, in large part because there really wasn't much in the way of conservative para-synodical organization. We certainly did as well or better than three years ago, in my view, when there was such a huge amount of time, energy and money invested in organizing. That's how I see it.

Anyway, we already have an organization, a structure and processes, known as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. We belong to that fellowship of pastors and congregations, and it is therein that we ought to be working, contending as needed, but above all confessing and catechizing. By catechizing, I don't mean informing people about the "issues" in the Synod, although I do believe that congregations ought to be kept well informed about such things (because they are the Synod). But the real work of catechizing is that of the Word of God, the speaking of the Law and the Gospel, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is what alone changes hearts and minds, and what ought to govern and guide the entire life of the Church.

The pastors who spoke so eloquently and persuasively from the microphones at the Convention, spoke as they did, theologically, because they spoke from within their office as pastors, in the way they preach and teach and catechize all year long. It was striking, the contrast between the speeches of those men, who are confessional not only in name but in this very such practice of speaking the truth in love, and the "Jesus First" (sic) leaders who by and large said nothing but to call the question, or to get riled up and defensive about such and such. I'm thinking that for many of the delegates to this Convention, "Jesus First" ended up looking rather bad, if not downright silly, with all their politicking, posturing and propaganda. Without a conservative political action group to butt heads against, they were mostly a group of Don Quixotes, waving their sharpened swords at imaginary windmills. They bewail and rail against thost nasty, mean-spirited conservatives, but it was "Jesus First" that was engaged in all the negative behavior. The confessional pastors and lay delegates simply did what confessionals ought to do (what every Christian ought to do): they confessed. They spoke intelligently, politely and respectfully, persisently and carefully. And I really believe that many of the delegates listened and learned and began to be moved by the straightforward truth of the Word of God.

He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. "Jesus First" got a little taste of that on Monday, when the tide turned against their scarlet letter campaign to identify plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Meanwhile, the churchmanship and collegiality that the President of the Synod praised more than once, were mostly demonstrated by confessional pastors who simply behaved in a manner becoming of their office, animated by the Gospel that they preach and administer. Voting results aside (though the fluctuation in the margins of the votes was telling), those speeches made a difference that matters, whereas the "Jesus First" spokesmen came off badly, because they don't appear to have anything of substance to say.

The thing is that the Synod is not the elected officers and full-time executive staff in St. Louis. The Synod is the fellowship of pastors and congregations that make up the membership of the LCMS. This is the argument I made concerning the nominations process last year. We don't need to invent a means of determining who the confessional congregations of the Synod want to nominate; what we need is for those congregations to nominate the men they believe to be the best suited for the office of president (and other offices). That's our process already!

Both at the last Convention and again this time, Sam Nafzger was able to point to the fact that, when the CTCR document on the service of women in the church was put before the Synod for study and response (in 1998), almost no responses were received (it was like only a handful). That's why they were able to bring the thing back and recommend it. We simply gave it up to the "respected leaders" to do our thinking for us, which is more and more what is being put into place as the structure and polity of the Synod. That's what we'll get with a new Constitution and Bylaws, and it's what we deserve, if we don't actually engage the process and participate in it and work within this organization to which we belong, and which belongs to us as members. No matter how hokey it may seem at times, or pointless, it is the polity that we have received under God's providence in our temporal life together.

There were some significantly positive things accomplished at this Convention. I've mentioned some of those highlights previously, and I intend to say more about such things in the future. But for now I want to reiterate that these things were accomplished by and through the organization of the Synod itself. Perhaps the most notable example, again, is the correcting of false teaching on St. Matthew 18. That is tremendous. And how did it happen? In two ways, really: the dissent process, and the submitting of overtures especially from district conventions.

There will be opportunities, stemming from this Convention, for dialogue and discussion on various theological matters, including the doctrine and practice of "worship." Everyone should participate in those discussions to the fullest extent possible, and trust the confession of the Word of God to change hearts and minds. Our own hearts and minds daily need to be changed by the same Word of God, which we need to hear and receive, as well as teach and confess. We do that in our vocation as the children of God, within our respective stations in life, including the place that God has given us within the Missouri Synod. We pastors need to be active in our circuit winkels, and contribute to the life of our districts, and do those things that we are given to do, rather than diverting all our time and energy to creating organizations of our own devising. I'm not saying this as a criticism of various study groups and ministeriums, which I believe to be important and necessary in their own right (though not for political action, but for catechesis and the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren). What I am saying is that we already have a structure and polity within which we can work, and that we ought to be working within it.
Meanwhile, along with doing what each of us is given to do within his (or her) own vocation and stations in life, I'd suggest that everyone read Augstine's City of God, Jaroslav Pelikan's little book on the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Machiavelli's The Prince. I need to read and/or re-read these things, myself, for the sake of better understanding genuine politics in relation to the life of the Church on earth.

20 July 2007

Too Good to Be Forgotten

In the midst of the excitement and exhaustion of yesterday, I neglected to comment on another significant event in the circles of my life and loved ones. Therefore, a belated but no less sincere "Happy Anniversary" to my dear friends, Rob & Sandra, who were married on the 19th of July, I believe it was in the Year of Our Lord 1980.

I've been thinking out loud about weddings and the estate of holy matrimony quite a lot lately, and this couple is surely an example of a Christian husband and wife who live together in faith and love, in daily repentance and forgiveness, in Christ Jesus. Their love for one another is regularly manifested, not only in their commitment to each other, but in their gracious hospitality toward others, not least of all to my wife and I and our family. Their four beautiful children are likewise a tribute to their love, and evidence of the good thing that God began in them 27 years ago. May He grant them, for Jesus' sake, many more happy and healthy years of life together here in time, and hereafter, to them and all of their children, a joyful participation in the great Wedding Banquet of Christ and His Bride in heaven, which is even now set before us in the Holy Communion, and ever shall be in the world without end. Amen.

19 July 2007

The Fat Lady Has Sung

The Convention concluded at 1:00 p.m. earlier today. Now it is time to decompress, as I began to do, delightfully so, with my good friends Pastor Bender and Pastor Gehlbach over a late lunch. Such "good friends, faithful neighbors and the like," are assuredly a divine gift and blessing, for which I give thanks. I was similarly grateful for the opportunity to share supper with several good friends from Detroit last night, and with a group of like-minded colleagues over Starbucks (liquid dessert) this morning. No Christian, far less any pastor, should allow himself to go it alone. There is a time to go apart from the crowd for prayer, but one really must return from such prayer to hear and heed the Word of the Lord from brothers in Christ, and continue to pray in the midst of the brethren, and confess and proclaim the Word to them, that one and all may be sustained by the Spirit of Christ as members of His holy Church. Sincere thanks to all of those brothers who faithfully admonish and encourage me, who call me to repentance by speaking both the Law and the Gospel to me.

Speaking of both the Law and the Gospel, I had a lightbulb moment this afternoon when my brothers and I were speaking of God's discipline. The comment was made that the same Lord God who raises up the pious and faithful ruler, like David for example, also raises up and seats upon the throne a tyrant like Ahaz. Why? In order to discipline His people for the sake of calling them to repentance. And suddenly it dawned on me, in a way I had never considered before: Why should we suppose that God is less adept at properly dividing the Law and the Gospel in His dealings with us, than we strive to be, by His grace and Spirit, in pastoral care and practice? The best advice I heard all day is for each of us to do what he is given to do, within his vocation and stations in life, be they great or small, and to rely upon the Word of the Lord to deal with us and with His Church as He would, according to His good and gracious will for us in Christ. There is only one thing that we can be sure of: that is the Gospel! Not a club with which we are to be pummeled, nor a duty and responsibility for us to fulfill, but His sweet Word of forgiveness.

On that very note, I am exceedingly thankful that the final resolution adopted by the Synod in Convention (2-07A), by a 95.7% majority, encourages "Christian Forgiveness and Greater Use of Individual Confession and Absolution." In my preparations for this week, I had identified this resolution as the one that I was most eager to see adopted. As of this morning, I was doubtful that it would even come to the floor for consideration. At my first opportunity, in between floor committees coming and going, I appealed to the Chair that he allow the time for this resolution to be moved. My thanks to Pastor Gehlbach for seizing the chance, at the end of today's session, to remind the Chair of that request, which, I am happy to say, was then granted. Christ be praised! I was able to speak briefly in favor of the resolution, suggesting (in the words of the late Dr. Korby) that the true key to the renewal of the Church is the Office of the Keys; that Individual Confession and Absolution is a largely lost and forgotten treasure among Lutherans; and that there is no more powerful means of encouraging forgiveness among Christians than for them to be given the opportunity to examine themselves, to confess their sins, and to receive Holy Absolution in the name and stead of Christ. This is the Gospel at its very heart and center.

I rejoice that such a resolution was adopted, because it will ultimately mean that more people will hear and receive the forgiveness of sins. Convention resolutions add nothing to the Word of God, nor to the clear teaching and confession of the Small Catechism and the Book of Concord. Holy Absolution is what it is, and does what it does, because it is the Word of Christ our Lord, whereby our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. Nevertheless, a synodical resolution that urges greater use of Individual Confession and Absolution will lend it a credibility with those who might otherwise refuse to consider it. And if such people are consequently more inclined to avail themselves of this means of grace, then this entire Convention was worth it. This Fifth Chief Part of the Christian faith and life is more evangelical, and has more to do with the actual Gospel, than any one other thing that we dealt with all week long.

In looking back over the course of this Convention, somewhat surprisingly, I would have to say that it was in many ways a turn in the right direction; or at least the beginning of such a turn. Despite my crankiness on Tuesday, I have to agree with President Kieschnick's assessment, that this Convention demonstrated a consistent collegiality and churchmanship that have not characterized many such occasions in the past. Significantly, where discussion and debate were allowed to take place, I believe that the delegates listened and weighed carefully what they heard, and voted largely on that basis. And after my own consternation about the quick calling of the question earlier in the week, I sensed that the assembly was not of a mind to terminate debate without hearing sufficient arguments from all sides first. I'm rather glad, actually, that it is this group of delegates who will (in all likelihood) be back in 2009 for a special Convention of the Synod; because, frankly, I think this particular group might actually be able to make something positive out of that sort of work. As I've previously indicated, it is my opinion that some sort of restructuring does need to happen, for the sake of good stewardship of the Church's resources. My concerns have been (and remain) with the approach that will be taken to that work. But I am not going to despair over it. I'm going to pray for wisdom and clarity and the chance to work with brothers in Christ who will give me a hearing and also help me to think through things more comprehensively and carefully than I would on my own. Call me naive, but that is my hope and prayer.

One other very important and positive thing that happened today was the adoption of Resolution 8-05A, "To Encourage the Study of CTCR Documents Relating to Public Rebuke of Public Sin and to Amend Synodical Bylaws Relating to Matthew 18." I'm not much enamored with the title of this resolution, but the bottom line is that we corrected a grave error that was made at the previous Convention. One of my dear colleagues, an impressive young pastor from Illinois, summarized the situation well: As of 2004, the LCMS said something the Bible does not say, and now, with this resolution, it doesn't say that anymore. That is a very good thing. The dissent process, which various pastors and congregations followed, along with overtures that were submitted from a number of districts, actually accomplished what was most necessary. The dispute resolution process adopted in 2004 still stands, with most of its flaws and weaknesses intact, but it no longer suggests that the words of our Lord Jesus in St. Matthew 18 prohibit the public rebuke of public sin. Another resolution (8-06) begins the process of addressing another problematic aspect of the dispute resolution process, namely, the composition of the hearing panels. Let us hope and pray that equity and fairness may be restored, even if it happens slowly and in a more cumbersome manner than we would prefer.

As I take some time to look back over the proceedings and actions of this Convention, I intend to offer a constructive critique, because I believe that is necessary and beneficial, and really part of my responsibility as a delegate. But I also intend to consider and highlight, both for myself and others, the things that were accomplished positively to the glory of Christ and the benefit of His Church on earth. Already on this last day of the Convention, exhausted though I am, and glad to be done with this tiring work, I recognize glimmers of light and signs of hope. Not the least among those positive blessings is the number of faithful young pastors who are able to get up and speak with intelligence, confidence, faithfulness and eloquence. These are men not driven by political ambition or desire, but by a love for the Gospel and for Christ's Church, and by the Word and Spirit of God. They speak to the rest of the Synod, not outside of their vocation as pastors, but precisely from within that vocation, as a continuation of their preaching and teaching and catechizing and pastoral care. God grant that I would be counted among them.

18 July 2007

Friendly Amendments

Despite the fact that fuses are short and tempers on edge, today was the day of "friendly" amendments, seemingly to every resolution that was considered. Since the floor committees control everything, they are given the prerogative to accept any amendments proposed from the floor of the Convention, if such amendments are deemed "friendly" to their motion and its intentions. I'm not opposed to this procedure, because it does facilitate things, but I am amused at how frequently it was invoked in the course of this day. I don't recall that any such "friendly" amendments occurred at the 2004 Convention (which wasn't very friendly, anyway), but we had dozens of them today. Those that were not deemed "friendly" enough to the floor committees were then put before the assembly for consideration, as usual. What did cause me to wonder a bit were those several occasions when the person posing the "friendly amendment," the Chair of the Convention, and the chair of the floor committee, essentially engaged in a bit of back-and-forth, three-way conversation, trying to negotiate the wording of an amendment. I'm somewhat surprised that no one objected to the apparent suspension of any and all rules of order at such points, but I guess it never got out of hand.

We finished up the elections this afternoon, so that is all said and done. I was impressed by the efficiency of the process, all things considered. Credit where credit is due. Can't say that I'm delighted with the outcomes, but exactly one-third of the people I voted for were elected (27 people out of the 81 elected to boards and commissions of the Synod). I suppose that I've also been on the prevailing side of the vote on as many as one-third of the resolutions, too. Of course that includes the mom-and-apple-pie resolutions that only a Nazi or a Communist would vote against. (The only unanimous vote has been for the re-election of Tom Kuchta to be the Treasurer of the Synod, who was unopposed for that office.)

As for the resolutions dealt with today, the Convention did adopt (by a 76% majority) the Specific Ministry Pastor Program. Perhaps I will need to think out loud about that particular matter at some later point, but I don't want to say too much about it for the time being. I am aware of the very mixed feelings that many of my friends and like-minded colleagues have had about it, and I myself have had similar mixed feelings, too. I realize that it is prone to abuse, though I don't believe that is the intention of those who have developed and proposed it. Of course, we all know the road that good intentions pave, so I won't try to argue that point either way. As I indicated earlier this week, I think the Specific Ministry Pastor Program, despite the somewhat hokey title, has the potential to be a rather good thing for the Synod. It may be hoped that it can help restore the practice of Augsburg Confession XIV, by gradually doing away with the licensing of lay ministers to preach and administer the Sacraments. We'll see. I'm not holding my breath, but I would like to be optimistic about something. I still have concerns about this new program, don't get me wrong. Yet, in all fairness, I believe that it does have some theological integrity and genuinely historic precedent, especially with reference to the ordained deacons and parish priests of the early church, as well as the men who were trained by apprenticeship for the Office of the Ministry in 19th-century Lutheranism. Nevertheless, I am sympathetic to those who are opposed to the Specific Ministry Pastor Program, and I hope they will not think me loosey-goosey for trying to look on the bright side of things.

Actually, I'm trying to take my cues from some of my younger friends and colleagues here, who have maintained a cheerful disposition and a measure of enthusiasm - not because things are going well (they aren't), but rather in the joyful confidence of the Gospel. Better to be good-humored in the face of adversity than to become morbid and down in the mouth about it. Let us rejoice when we are counted worthy to carry the cross and to share in the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us also give thanks for the Lord's discipline and call to repentance, not only for "the other guy," but especially for ourselves, who must also repent.

I have been reminded, yesterday and today, of Abimelech in the Old Testament. We studied him recently in Bible Class. He relied upon nepotism and favoritism to recruit support for his rebellious takeover of Israel. The priests of Baal from Shechem funded him with 70 pieces of silver, with which he hired 70 worthless fellows to kill off his 70 half-brothers, the sons of Gideon. Only Gideon's youngest son survived, by going into hiding, and he then uttered a prophetic curse against his half-brother Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. If they had dealt honorably with each other and the house of Gideon, then God bless 'em, one and all. But if they had dealt dishonorably, then would fire come out from Abimelech to destroy Shechem, and fire would come out from Shechem to destroy Abimelech. Well, sure enough, after Abimelech had reigned in Israel for three years, Shechem rebelled against him, and when all was said and done, they were all dead and gone. "Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father in killing his seventy brothers. Also God returned all the wickedness of the men of Shechem on their heads" (Judges 9:56-67). I'm not suggesting a one-for-one comparison or correspondence between Abimelech and Shechem and current synodical politics, but I am admonishing myself (and anyone else who cares to listen) that justice belongs to the Lord, and He is more than able to visit vengeance upon those who live by the sword. What is all the more amazing, and encouraging, is that He is all the more willing and able to bring even us to repentance and faith in the free and full forgiveness of sins, for the sake of Christ Jesus alone.

Anyway, one of the most interesting discussions today was concerning Resolution 7-08A, which would introduce a process for the removal of individual members from boards or commissions. No matter how important it may be to have such legislation put into place, the language of this thing as it was set before us was troubling. Among the nine possible reasons identified for the removal of a board or commission member was the undefined term, "insubordination," which was thankfully stricken from the resolution after persistent questions about its meaning and intention. The remainder of the debate was almost humorous, if not for the seriousness of the matters at stake. A question was raised about the permissability of the provisions for removing even members of the Board of Directors of the Synod. When Synod's legal counsel was consulted on this question, the first lawyer who spoke said, in fairly simple and straightforward words, that state law requires that members of the Board of Directors of a non-profit corporation (such as the LCMS) can only be removed by the body that elected them to that position; which, in our case, would mean the Synod in Convention. That seemed clear enough to me. The resolution, as it was presented, was asking us to put into the bylaws something contrary to the law of the land. That should have settled it, in my opinion. But, no. Instead, we got to listen to the long-winded explanation of another lawyer, who basically said that, yes, if the proposed bylaw were put to the test, and a particular case involving removal of a member from the Board of Directors were tried by a judge, it wouldn't hold up; but it wasn't likely that such a thing would happen, so we could probably get away with it, and, after all, we can say whatever we want in our bylaws, because we're a church. That was the gist of the argument, so far as I could tell. In short, it sounded like the attitude of many of my friends back in high school: it isn't wrong unless you get caught. Uh-huh. I've tried to teach my own children differently, and the Synod should know better. Thankfully, persistent pressing of this point brought back the first lawyer, who repeated even more simply what he had already said previously. The floor committee did then voluntarily withdraw the motion and return it to the drawing board for further work.

The final excitement of the day was a substitute motion from Floor Committee 8, no longer asking us to approve a special Convention of the Synod in 2009, but simply to entrust that decision and action to the Council of Presidents. As one delegate speaking in favor of this new proposal described it, we need to "empower the leaders of our Synod" and trust them to do what needs to be done. Here we go again with the trusting of mortal princes and the relinquishing of rights and responsibilities on the part of the delegates as representatives of the Synod. The fact of the matter is, though, that there will be a special Convention to consider a complete restructuring of the Synod from the ground up. We were told as much again this afternoon. It is not a question of "if," but only of when this will happen.

Treasurer Kuchta, a man I deeply respect, and whose integrity I do not question in the least, indicates that there is a financial urgency for this restructuring, lest the national ministries of the Synod be cut. He is surely correct in urging that something needs to be done, the sooner the better. There is, however, something more important at stake than finances and the ongoing funding of "missions and ministries." The integrity of our doctrinal standard and confession, and of the Synod as a fellowship of Christ's holy Church on earth, must be maintained, first and foremost: for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel to His own people and to all the nations. Keep the message straight, and get that message out, Missouri. Our Constitution and Bylaws are in many ways theological documents and confessions in their own right, defining our relationship to one another and our place in the world on the basis of our doctrine. These are things, no matter how free, that we ought not be too quick or easily willing to give up. Let us rather take our time and allow the entire Synod to give careful consideration to whatever might be developed, rather than leaving such things largely in the hands of the relatively few.

In fairness, it should be indicated that the substitute resolution we received this afternoon, regarding the proposed special Convention, specifically includes the assertion "that no propsed changes to the Structure and Governance of the Synod will conflict with Article II and Article VI of the Constitution." These are the articles that set forth our doctrinal standard. It is good that such things are protected, at least to this extent, but it would be much better and far stronger to insist that Articles II and VI will simply not be changed. They aren't broke. Don't try 'n' fix 'em.