Book of Concord-itis Part II

But it can readily be judged that nothing would serve better to maintain the dignity of ceremonies, and to nourish reverence and pious devotion among the people than if the ceremonies were observed rightly in the churches.

Thus says the Augsburg Confession under the heading ARTICLES IN WHICH ARE REVIEWED THE ABUSES WHICH HAVE BEEN CORRECTED, paragraph 4. But do we subscribe to this? Should we say that this statement is what we believe, teach and practice?

I think the clear answer is “no,” though it would be nice if we could say with one voice, “Reverence and pious devotion are no better nourished and maintained than by worship that retains the ceremonies. Likewise our worship ought to be dignified by our retaining as many ceremonies as possible.” It’s like a classic paper written some time ago which asked, “Why do people complain that our worship is ‘too catholic?’ Why don’t members complain ‘It’s not catholic enough!'”

But we don’t subscribe to this statement. It is a rhetorical device, possibly a description. And it is a rhetorical device or a description that many in the LCMS would vehemently argue with today. In fact, many (most?) pastors and many lay people assume the opposite, that dignity in worship is not important. Most of society, most of life is now completely undignified anyway. Reverence is outmoded. Being irreverant is a compliment in society, and in most churches, too, I fear. Most people would argue that retaining the ceremonies (this means all that Catholic stuff big time) actually hurts piety and faith. We need not rites and cermonies and rigor and bows and crossing and smells but direct, unvarnished, simple worship from the heart. Something to grab us, something to engage us, something that expresses our emotions and so forth. That’s what they say, anyway.

This is not to say taht faith isn’t from the heart. What I am saying is that the reformers believed and argued that retaining as many ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church as possible would maintain dignity and nourish faith and reverence like nothing else.

And we don’t have to agree with this statement.

And it’s convenient, because we certainly disagree with it in the LCMS.

Death and Capitalism

From Second Terrace:

…the Christian Right complains about abortion, the destruction of embryos, hyper-socialism, termination of the aged and disabled, and the chic redefinition of aberrant sexual proclivity as conferring “minority” status – these are all issues about which I wholeheartedly agree with my right-wing heterodox friends.

But they are not-so-strangely silent, in their insouciance, about encroaching totalitarianism, consumerism, war-as-aggrandizement, environmental rapine, and hyper-capitalism: these concerns are just as Biblical, and should be just as salient — even in such a restricted view thatsola scripturaallows.

You would be hard pressed to find a fundamentalist Christian who will say a critical word about capitalism, given their multi-generational catechism that defines the Beast as a red communist for sure. If you turn the radio dial enough, late at night (or the url-bar), you can still hear the static of cheap polyester declaiming Gog and Magog at the Kremlin.

Book of Concord-itis

A friend asked me this weekend what new was going on the LCMS, at least what was new in the last six months or so. I didn’t have much to report. There was a Walther Conference last week or so, and some have blogged about that. Matthew Harrison released a paper calling for a movement to address our problems within the LCMS via a “Formula of Concord” procedure, and there was much debating about if it would work and if it did, should it be an addendum to the Book of Concord. Consensus on that issue was a pretty solid “no,” as it would be parochial and even further fragment Lutheranism.

It begs a question, however, as to why Lutheranism is so badly fragmented anyway. What are out beefs with the ELCA? Higher criticism: not addressed explicitly in the confessions. Womyn Pastors: not addressed explicitly in the confessions. Their stance and acceptance of other issues such as homosexuality and abortion have further distanced us from them, as well as their unions with the Reformed and the Episcopalians. Similar differences would describe our relations with the other churches of the Lutheran World Federation.

What are our differences with WELS? Prayer fellowship: not addressed in the confessions. Church and Ministry: addressed, but not in a way to mandate certain arrangements, and what it does recommend neither of us do anyway (such as retaining Bishops and the other orders). What else?

Now we can argue all we wish about how faithful these other groups are to the Confessions, and they can certainly argue back, but we must admit that the Book of Concord has not ensured unity among the Lutherans as its intent was. There are controverted issues that the confessors did not anticipate or wish to address.

Members of the LWF might argue that where the Confessions are silent, then we are free to teach and practice what we wish.

Members of the LCMS might argue that we apply not only the doctrinal statements of the Confessions, but also their spirit and implications to our teaching and practice.

Both groups hedge and fudge and “nuance” their understandings of the Confessions. Recently I heard someone arguing the obtuse issue that we subscribe only to the doctrine of the confessions, and not every word or the exegesis of certain texts. That lets us off the hook for having to confess the ever-virginity of Mary. The other bit of back-peddaling we do is to say that “descriptive statements” applied to Lutherans then but not to us; therefore we are justified in “abandoning the mass” and inventing new ways of worship even though the Augustana describes that the early Reformers hadn’t.

Men and women smarter than I may find fault with these brief statements. Perhaps this assement is unrefined, plodding. Regardless, it seems clear that all Lutheran Church bodies are in crisis. We have this strange relationship with Confessional statements written 500 years ago, statements which we all neglect in various ways, and to which we have added confessions and doctrinal statements, officially or not.

Saying of the Day

[Abba Cassian] also said, “There was a distinguished official who had renounced everything and distributed his goods to the poor/ He kept a little bit for his persona; use beacuse he did not want to accept the humiliation that comes from total renunciation, nor did he sincerely want to submit to the rule of the monastery. Saint Basil said to him, ‘You have lost your senatorial rank without becoming a monk.'”

Sayings. Cassian 7

Note: This saying applies to us when we commit half-heartedly to our vocation or any other holy calling. But it also applies to the sinner who might “cut back” on certain sins, but not repent whole-heartedly. The effect of this is all loss and no gain, so to speak.

A Rerun

Two half-written posts, unpublished. Today is not my day to blog here. So instead, a blast from the past. Originally published on August 23, 2007

Last week my wife started reading The Swiss Family Robinson (in adapted form) to the kiddos. I love it when she does this. A year or so ago she read a children’s redaction of The Pilgrim’s Progress and even the littlest ones loved it (and the illustrations).

The story has been on my mind a lot lately, and the stupidest question I had was, “What kind of Swiss name is ‘Robinson?’” It’s not, obviously, and the title should be emphasized as The Swiss Family Robinson, not The Swiss Family Robinson. In other words, the Swiss author (a pastor) is telling the story of a Swiss Family like Robinson (Caruso). The first few chapters tell of the shipwreck and the initial scavenging of supplies from the ship. Unlike modern versions of the castaway genre, however, there seems to be little hope, indeed, no expectation of rescue, at least in the first five or six chapters. The Family wrecked, apparently alone on the island, and they just go about making the best of it.

All of this raises an important question about our identity and purpose as Christians. If you strip away any consideration of worldly comfort, i.e., hardwood floors and granite counter tops; vacations and leather seats in your automobile; if you strip away considerations of worldly recognition, i.e., making an impact on this world, a contribution to society; if you even take away the children and grandchildren and enjoying future generations, what do you have left? What is the purpose of living?

This is the situation of the Swiss Family. On a desert island with the means for survival but nothing else: no hope of rescue, no possibility of marriage and children for their sons, only growing old and dying on this island with the animals to bury the last survivor. How then would you live? What is the purpose of such existence?

Some cultures (and subcultures) would find nothing and commit suicide. What’s the point, after all? Why struggle to survive day to day when death will still come at the end? The modern castaway stories are not so bleak: Gilligan and Co. always had a scheme of rescue. Even the Tom Hanks movie ended with his rolling of the die and leaving the island, his leap of faith upon the waters on a makeshift raft. I’m not sure we can existentially handle the possibility of a life without the world. Suicide or the hope of rescue would be the only options. More can be said about this.

However, the biblical witness does not see a difference in castaways with no hope of rescue and citizens living in this world with family and community all around. The Psalmist writes,

You turn man to destruction, And say, ‘Return, O children of men.’ For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it is past, And like a watch in the night. You carry them away like a flood; They are like a sleep. In the morning they are like grass which grows up: In the morning it flourishes and grows up; In the evening it is cut down and withers” (Psalm 90:3-6 NKJV).

“As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children” (Psalm 103:13-17 NKJV).

‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, And turns around to the north; The wind whirls about continually, And comes again on its circuit” (Eccl. 1:2-6 NKJV).

The biblical witness tells us that despite the number of toys, the power and influence we may achieve–even the good that we may do–all is temporary and, well, meaningless. Despite the company and comforts we have all around us, we ought to think of ourselves as citizens on the Island. As the Septuagint of Psalm 103 reads, “Remember, man, that we are dust” (LXX Psa. 102.:14).

So again, what is the purpose of the few years we have in this life? If you were to find yourself separated from all humans with no hope of ever returning, like the Swiss Family who will die within their generation, what would you do?

How would you keep on living?

What would be the point of it all?

The way you answer that question is the most important thing in your life.

123 Book Meme

Christopher tagged me. Here’s the instructions:

The rules state that I must pick up the book closest to me and:

  1. turn to page 123
  2. count the first five sentences
  3. post the following three sentences

Here it is, fudging a little due to a fragment, a quote and the end of a chapter:

But he said no Sons, but the Son of the Living God. He recognised the oneness of the Person.

This Father therefore do we pray, that He prepare for us His wonted banquet, His precious and varied dishes, and that He place in the centre the bowl of His holy teaching; and that He may give us to drink of that strong drink which is the mother of sobriety. Let us then cry out to Him:Arise, O My Father, arise O my Glory, arise psaltery and the harp of the Holy Spirit, and the harp of glory and empire for ever. Amen.

(The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers:A Manual of Preaching, Spiritual Reading and Meditation. M.F. Tofal, ed. Vol. 1: From the First Sunday of Advent to Quinquagesima. Preservation Press:New Jersey, 1996)

I tag: Fr. Milovan; Dixie; Scott; Hollywood; and Mason.

A Free Lunch?

UPDATED & CORRECTED: changes to the last sentence of the first paragraph

Scott Diekmann blogged about a District President who claimed that The Book of Concord is no longer relevant. For those who don’t know, the Book of Concord is the compendium of what Lutherans believe, teach and practice; our doctrinal standard. It’s composed of various confessions of faith, some by Luther, others by his peers, and one by the “next generation” Lutherans. However, Scott didn’t name names, so it’s hearsay and gossip for me to be reporting it, I suppose.

But did a DP really say it’s irrelevant? It wouldn’t surprise me. It doesn’t surprise me when pastors say it (I’ve heard it). And in the LCMS we live like it’s irrelevant, even if we don’t say it out loud.

What do I mean by this? We ignore a good bit of its teaching. See Pr. Weedon’s infamous Lutheran Eye for the Quia Guy, a list of many statements in the BoC that most of us ignore these days.

I think I would be a much happier, well-liked pastor if I ignored our Confessions. You see, as long as I try to be a Lutheran pastor, I cannot give many people what they want. But if Iignored our confession and practice, a few would be turned-off and alienated, but most would go right along.

I’d have to figure out a good marketing plan, though. What kind of niche would we fill here? There are plenty of other churches around, and we would have to distinguish ourselves from them in some way. Right now, it’s Confessional teaching and practice. But if I was going to ditch the irrelevant relics of our Lutheran past, man, the thing is wide open.

It appeals to my latent hipness.

It appeals to the American Dream, of creating something new and making a success.

It appeals to people-pleasing. Who doesn’t want to be liked? It’s giving the people God without a whole lot of extra stuff.

And you know, the emergent church stuff includes some “ancient” stuff like candles, so I could tie-in there, and like, still keep my interest in history, you know?

But there’s that vow I took and everything. And then there’s the fact that I believe in my core that what passes for American Christianity has but the barest resemblance of what Christ and the Apostles taught, that they are barely hanging onto whatever shreds of Christianity remain. There’s my conviction that the Church does not belong to me, that I am a man under compulsion, under orders to do what may not be popular, what may not seem best to me, stuff I normally wouldn’t even like. We in the LCMS supposedly bound ourselves to this. We are free not to, but then we wouldn’t be in the LCMS anymore.

Treasury of Daily Prayer Review

Having already taken a first look, I was excited to sit down with my copy Saturday evening, and it was a good experience.

It is a big book not designed for portability, but considering it contains the entire daily lectionary, it’s not too bad. The smell is nice, but not remarkable. I do not know much about bindings, so I can’t comment on that, though it does stay open well and does not appear to be prone to coming apart with use.

As for content, it is very similar to the two-volume Daily Prayer, edited by Robert Sauer (CPH, 1986), though the Treasury is clearly marketed to more than just pastors, unlike Sauer’s volumes. Sauer’s does have the advantage of size. However, one major difference with the Treasury is the inclusion of the Feasts and Commemorations in the “Propers for Daily Prayer” section. And this is its chief strength.

How does this work? Take December 4 for example. Under the date the commemoration for John of Damascus (note: no honorific before his name) is included in italics. Next is the Psalmody for the day, conveniently pointed for chanting and a suggestion for an additional psalm. Following this is the Old Testament reading (Isa. 10:12-27a, 33-34) printed in its entirety, then the New Testament reading, 2 Pet. 1:1-21 likewise printed. A writing follows that, and for December 4 it is from the Formula of Concord (XI 13-14), a hymn stanza, and a “Prayer of the Day” which joyously commemorates St. John of Damascus, saying, “O Lord through Your servant John of Damascus, You proclaimed with power the mysteries of the true faith. Confirm our faith so that we may confess Jesus to be true God and true man, singing the praises of the risen Lord, and so that by the power of the resurrection we may also attain the joys of eternal life…” Finally, a brief biography of St. John of Damascus follows and a suggested further reading from the Book of Concord.

When LSB was produced, I was excited to see a fuller list of feasts and commemorations, but until now, there were no rubrics nor resources to use in the actual commemoration of the saints. Now we have appropriate collects and martrologies to read so we can know whom we are thanking God for. It’s too bad such materials were not included in the Altar Book, or even the lectionaries.

A resource like this has long been needed in Lutheranism. As others have noted, the book is flexible enough to be used in a number of ways. One who does not wish to flip pages, for instance, could refer only to the “Propers for Daily Prayer” and have a fuller devotional life. Or one could use the propers while using the form Daily Prayer:For Individuals and Families, or Matins and Vespers. If one is feeling maximal, he could even refer to the chart which gives the Psalms for the liturgy of the hours and pray seven times a day. Good stuff, and very flexible for Lutherans is various situations and vocations. It would bring a sea change in our synod if even one third of our laypeople began using this daily. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

Now for the criticism. The biggest problem I see is that in the “Time for Easter” the commemorations are not included in the Propers as they are in the second half of the book. The book begins with labeling the days “Ash Wednesday”, “Monday-Lent 1” and so forth. Obviously, it’s impossible to include a specific commemoration when that Monday could be in February or March. So the editors placed those commemorations and propers in an appendix. Well enough. But they did not include any collects! Only a reading and biography. Why were collects commemorating the saints included in the second half of the year, and not during the time of Lent and Easter? There is some precedent of course, in allowing days to be privileged, and commemorations to be unsaid. However, I didn’t read that this was intentionally done in any of the forwards and introductions. And there is no hint of privileged days in the second half of the book. It appears that collects were forgotten to be included.

Furthermore, it would have been nice if the days of commemorations would have included a reading from the one being commemorated. In other words, why is there a reading from the Formula of Concord on and not John of Damascus on December 4? The editor noted in the introduction that a Lutheran bias was intentional, but there are many, many days where no one is commemorated that could have served for readings from Lutheran sources. Likewise, there are commemorations of saints who wrote nothing that has survived, such as Joseph of Arimathea on July 31. Those dates likewise could have included other writings of the editor’s choosing.

Finally, the Orders of Matins, Vespers, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and the shorter “Daily Prayer: for Individuals and Families” all require this order: Versicles/Invocation, Ordinaries or Psalm, then :psalm/hymn, readings, then collects. For example, say I’m using Matins. I pray the Opening Versicles, the Common antiphon, Seasonal Antiphon (which the editors also call the Invitatory), the Venite, and then the rubrics say, “Additional Psalms, Office Hymn, Readings.” But I turn to November 9, and I see Psalmody, then Readings, then Hymnody. Why wasn’t the hymn placed before the Readings, so that this section could have been read straight through? Again, every prayer service included follows the same pattern as Matins, yet the Propers are given in a different order. This makes it just a little harder to keep up with, especially for beginners.

These problems are not deal-killers by any means, but they are more than just peeves. Perhaps a second edition may make these corrections. However, for those Lutherans who do not have a devotional life, or one that is lacking, call CPH and get this book. If you go to church here, you’ll be hearing about it soon. And when you get it, use it.