Ask Not For Whom…

Pr. William Weedon wrote the following, regarding the LCMS’s fascination with contemporary, consumerist Evangelicalism:

How’d it happen?… Doesn’t make the least bit of sense of to me at all. I don’t understand why anyone would prefer to sing “Shine Jesus Shine” to “Lord, let at last Thine Angels Come.” Maybe it came about when Lutherans forgot that our joyful task is to prepare people to die the blessed death instead of vainly teaching them to live their best life now? A shift from the true treasures of the Church to methods of coping with the present?

As we’ve been singing the “Lutheran Standards’ the past few years I’ve noticed something extraordinary about the hymns written in the 17th century and beyond. Many include stanzas of the following stripe:

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glroious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend
And I will praise Thee without end.
(“Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart,” M. Schalling, 1532-1608
Text: Public Domain)

Or take this one:

Yea, when the world shall perish
With all its pride and pow’r,
Whatever worldlings cherish
Shall vanish in that hour.
But though in death they make
The deepest grave our cover
When there our sleep is over,
Our God will us awake.
(“From God Shall Naught Divide Me”, Ludwig Helmbold, 1532–1598
Text: Public Domain)

And this one:

Let us also die with Jesus.
His death from the second death,
From our soul’s destruction, frees us,
Quickens us with life’s glad breath.
Let us mortify, while living,
Flesh and blood and die to sin;
And the grave that shuts us in
Shall but prove the gate to heaven.
Jesus, here I die to Thee
There to live eternally.
(“LetUs Ever Walk with Jesus,” Sigismund von Birken, 1626-81
Text: Public Domain)

All these texts speak frankly about the grave–and not just any grave, but the grave of the singer. Contrast this with about any hymn written in the last century. Hardly any of those address the stark reality of what is coming in our lives. I’m sure there are historical and sociological reasons for this. We know that mortality rates have decreased significantly since the 15th and 16th Centuries and life expectancies have increased.

Yet death is the final enemy we will all face. But we deny this, it seems, in more contemporary hymns and praise songs. Death is not an issue for whatever reason. And when death is no longer on the table, all we have is this life, making the most of it–or as Pr. Weedon writes, making it the best now.

This impacts modern evangelism and missions as well. If remaining faithful to Christ until death, indeed, attaining salvation after my last breath is not the priority for life and for Christian living, then why are we here? Well, to make more Christians, it seems!

While we can be sure that God is loving and merciful and desires our salvation, indeed, that Christ has atoned for our sin, this world and our lives are uncertain. It is possible to fall away, and the grave beckons with irresistible force. When we recognize this, the present comes into clear focus: the present purpose of our life is to glorify God in faith and in our deaths.

Why This Won’t Work Part IV

This part continues the previous post, exploring the objection that minimalism is a good thing. Part III maintained that two distinctions were necessary and addressed the first, that of aesthetics. The second distinction (below) speaks of pragmatism.

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When speaking of art, design, engineering and other arts, theories of minimalism do relate to theories of aesthetics: “Minimalism is efficient, and that is beautiful.” However, when we speak about religious matters, minimalism is not an aesthetic as much as it is an excuse for pragmatism and efficiency.

As a philosophy, pragmatism is grossly misunderstood and simplified to be mean, “Doing what works and no more”– a synonym for practicality. The Good, the ideal activity is that which works for the effect one wants—and no more. This view sees little value in activities for their own sake.

Take, for example, the act of planing wood. The traditional method was to give a piece of raw lumber to an apprentice, who would take the hand plane to it. He would begin with the scrub plane which would eventually be traded for the jack plane, and that for the smoothing plane. When the apprentice had a square, flat board of the required thickness, his job would be done. This was the job for an apprentice because it was back-breaking, sweaty work.

When power machinery was invented, the traditional hand planes became unnecessary. An apprentice could place the lumber in a power planer and immediately have one or two smooth, flat faces. A power jointer would square the edges, and the board would be ready. Most of us would say the power method is superior, taking less time and work. After all, what value was there in the apprentice scrubbing a board for hours?

There is extraordinary value, though. The apprentice planing a board several hours learned about the wood. He learned how wood grain can change direction half-way through the length, and then change back. He learned which direction to plane to emphasis the burl in walnut, and how to bring out the curls in maple. He learned to appreciate the value of that one board and how much work it would take to find another if the board were ruined somewhere down the line. He learned how to work. He learned patience. He grew stronger, more muscular. He learned how the tools affected the wood, and how the wood affected the tools. He learned the importance of tool maintenance and care, the value of a sharp planing iron and the method of getting a tool sharp enough to use. Later, when he was assigned the task of cutting dovetails–an exacting job, he had the fundamentals of woodwork from the years spent with the handplanes.

How does this work out in the LCMS?

In the Small Catechism, Luther writes, “Who receives this Sacrament [of the Altar, i.e., the Eucharist] worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’

In the LCMS the emphasis many of us seemed only to hear the words “But…truly.” Luther does not deny that fasting is good preparation. But he miminalisticly determines that faith is a necessary and sufficient condition for receiving the sacrament. In other words, if one has faith in the words, that is enough, that is sufficient. Fasting is neither necessary nor sufficient; one may receive the sacrament “worthily” without it.

Would the Reformer agree that is is beneficial? No doubt—he says it is good preparation. Would he have gone so far as to say that one who despised fasting for preparation was despising the Sacrament itself? Perhaps. Did he himself fast before receiving the sacrament and at other times? Most likely. Yet this minimalistic definition, heard as minimalistic as possible.

So we hear what is sufficient and make this the standard. In this scheme, fasting before the Sacrament is neither sufficient nor necessary, and so it need not be done. It is extra, and therefore unnecessary. Schooled in the way of minimalism and practical considerations, Lutherans today blanch at doing something that is unnecessary. Why take the extra step? What’s the value in doing something that is not necessary?

My answer, and the answer of Christianity going back to the Didache and to the word of Christ itself is, “Fasting is good for you and is basic for spiritual preparation.” Asking if it is necessary is missing the point. It is good and beneficial, even as Luther admits.

Punny Stuff

For my Father-in-law, whose pun-ishments are extraordinary:

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The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. The winners are:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an ah.
3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation a bout yourself for the purpose of getting lucky
7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
9. Inoculatte: To take coffee! intravenously when you are running late.
10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
12. Karmageddon: It’s when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, and then the Earth explodes, and it’s a serious bummer.
13. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you
14. Glibido: All talk and no action.
15. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
16. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
17. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosqui t o, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
18. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

There’s another list of alternate definitions over at: Big Papelbon

Berger on Ablaze!®

My congregation is not Ablaze!®.

Last year the Oklahoma District pushed to have an Ablaze!® presentation at every circuit (grouping of 10 congregations). The purpose of this was not so much to inform the congregations of the Ablaze!® movement; rather it was to get them to commit to the fund-raising side of the program, entitled Fan Into Flame!®. You see, the goal of Ablaze!® is to reach 100 million people by 2017. In order to meet that goal, the Synod has also set the goal to raise $100 million.

But money was not coming in. The books are not open, but it appears from recent reporting that the Synod is millions in debt from the program right now. Hence, the Districts are pressured to sign congregations up to contribute 10% of their budget in over-and-above giving to send to Fan Into Flame!®

The scheme was presented to my congregation in a voter’s meeting. The congregation declined to participate.

But why is Ablaze!® so bad? David Berger, Associate Professor and Director of Library Services at Concordia Seminary wrote an essay describing the un-Lutheran foundations of Ablaze!® here. Please note: there is no direct link to the essay, but you must click the essay title (“‘Ablaze!®– the Movement’ by David Berger”)

For Contemplation…

Fr. Jonathan Tobias’ blog, “Second Terrace,” is one of the more intellectually stimulating blogs I read-and at times the strangest. The man has been gifted with a staggering intellect and creativity (which sometimes blows right past me). Here’s an excerpt from a post some time ago:

Q: What is blasphemy?

A: Saying, humanly speaking, any of the following:

“I am what I am.”

“It is what it is.”

“I tell it like it is.”

“Whatever.”

“God really messed up. This is God’s fault. Inshallah.”

“That’s your problem.”

“What can I do?” or it’s cognate “What can you do?”

— to be accompanied with the ritual shrugging of shoulders, about the only secular liturgical gesture there is — a physical devotion, if you will, to the abyss of totality, or the nihilist horizon

“Oh well.”

— ditto

“Oh well, that’s just me.”

— who else can it be, pray tell?

“I speak my mind.”

“I say what I want.”

— note the opportunistic ambiguity that conflates the two possible connotations: “I say whatever is passing for thought in my cerebral apparatus,” or “I am committed to the expression of my wants, and I have substituted my true logos and telos with the acquisition of my demands … I have become a Ferengi in my soul”

“My feelings are important.”

“Me time.”

“Celibacy is the cause of scandal.”

— celibacy, by definition, cannot ever be the cause of pedophilia: there are other reasons, but not celibacy, and female ordination will not help, either.

“Chastity is impossible. Asceticism is impossible. Effectuality and righteousness and sacrament are all unrelated. Prayer is just, you know, an intrapsychic epiphenomenon within a closed biological and predictable system.”

— what matters today is not atheism so much, nor immorality, nor wahhabist sharia, nor even globalized idiot quotidianism: what matters today is today’s complete renunciation of Christian prayer — for prayer is, after all, predicated on the union of the Divine nature with the human, the intersection of eternal predestination with psychic freedom: if there is no prayer, there is no remembrance of the Incarnation, and the spirit of antichrist will coalesce into identity and cultural power: “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith?”

“We need progressive religion. We need church to meet our felt needs.”

— the single greatest heretical challenge against apostolic, Nicene Christianity. It is the slogan for the establishment of autonomy in opposition to ecclesial authority.

“We all worship the same God.”

— uh, no, we don’t.

“We all worship.”

— uh, no, we don’t.

“I feel that …”

— the conflation of feeling and thinking is one of the great strategic triumphs of the dark age.

“I am entitled to my opinion.”

— well, yes, but what of it? The road to hell is NOT paved with good intentions, because goodness is never oriented to hell, or present in hell. Dr. Samuel Johnson (blessed be he) and St. Bernard are wrong in saying so, because hell admits no goodness, not even in mere intentional form.

Hell, rather, is paved with opinions, and the “road to hell” (i.e., its rehearsal in history and eschatological anticipation) is asphalted black with opinion. The devil started his comet-like career with opinion, not good intention. Heresy starts with opinion. Liberal Christianity starts with opinion, not reality or vision. Materialism (capitalism and marxism) starts with a blinkered, prejudiced and jaundiced opinion that excludes all metaphysics.

So yes, you can have your opinion, and you’re welcome to it. But heaven doesn’t rejoice at your having an opinion. Even rocks and snails have an opinions, but they are not too interesting (although they would probably get a lot of votes). Human nature, though, ought to gain knowledge of reality that stretches beyond perception. When examined in the light of day, opinion is of a rather lower, more pedestrian, quality. The freedom to foster opinions is like saying, “Yes, Adam, you can sin, but it sure as hell isn’t good for you.” But to know the truth, the gospel truth — as opposed to mainline opinion — is to be set free.

Why This Won’t Work, Part III

To the Reader:
Part II introduced minimalism as a problem why reform in the LCMS will not work. This post continues on the same theme. The long delays between installments are due to my thinking these issues through myself. Therefore, please read these in such a light.

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But isn’t minimalism a good thing? Isn’t it efficient? Does not minimalism have a certain beauty of its own, when one recognizes that everything is in its place, that nothing extra has been added to it, that the piece before you has the elegance (aesthetic) of everything necessary but nothing more?

It could have such beauty, and does for many. But there are two distinctions here. First of all, when we make assertions as to what is necessary in worship, or, God forbid, aesthetically pleasing, we become judge over the things of God. Our notions of excess and necessity become the criteria for judging worship instead of receiving the Word of God and what has been handed down for us. There is no substantial difference in determining that, say, in Holy Baptism making the sign of the cross is an unnecessary action and is not intrinsic to Baptism and saying that John 3:17 is unessential to the Gospel, indeed, offensive and need not be read. In both instances—in every instant of judging necessity or aesthetics in worship—we place ourselves, our views, inclinations, logic and judgments over the things of God.

But suppose one says, “Yes, but the New Testament describes baptism only in terms of water and the Word of God, that is, ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ and makes no mention of signing the cross. In determining that the sign is not necessary we are not placing ourselves over God, but over a man-made tradition.”

For the sake of argument, let’s grant that making the sign of the cross is “man-made.” The objection remains valid. What makes the man who says it is unnecessary judge over what others have done in the past? On what basis does he suppose himself better, or better suited to determining the value of making the sign of the cross? Does he think it is wise or Christian to say that he finds this sign empty or unnecessary or an inelegant accretion of human tradition—and by implication—that it should never have been ‘added’ to the necessary minimum of the Sacrament in the first place?

I’ll answer that question: it is hubris to suggest that you have a greater knowledge of aesthetics and necessity than others, especially forefathers (and mothers) in the faith.

Garfield Minus Garfield

No doubt you’ve seen it elsewhere by now, but just in case, here’s the link:

http://garfieldminusgarfield.tumblr.com/

From the website:

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb.