Flags in the Sanctuary

I remember something Rev. Horace Hummel once said about national flags hung in the sanctuary. He called it the “Abomination of Desolation” and he was not joking. Hummel was very hard core in the way brilliant academics usually are. He argued that where the Lord of Lord reigns, there can be no other lord, no other power, no other authority. Christ is above all, and taking the State and placing it into the Holy of Holies (the sanctuary) is idolatry, he said.

I just made all our veterans mad, didn’t I? Men and women have died for that flag and what it represents. They salute it every day of their lives. They treat that flag with honor and respect. This is a very good thing. It is good for people to be reverent, to be respectful, to treat something with such devotion. We are citizens of this nation which we love, which grants us freedom upon freedoms, and as good citizens, we honor our country and state.

But this calls to mind something Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19 ESV). And, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36 ESV). The fact is, whenever we call Jesus Lord we are subverting the State. We are confessing that the State is not the ultimate authority, and that we are citizens, not of this world, but of the Reign and Kingdom of God.  “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil. 3:20 ESV).

Now that I’ve stated things bluntly, read this piece by Fr. Larry Beane, who is much more gentle in his approach. An example:

Everything in the church is about Jesus.  Everything in the sanctuary points us to Jesus.  Art is a powerful communicator of Christ and the Gospel – from the candles (representing the Light of Christ, the Light of the World), to the linen-shrouded altar (representing the empty tomb), to the baptismal font (often eight-sided pointing us to the eight people saved through water in the ark), to the stained glass windows depicting events in the life of our Lord and of the church, to statues and paintings, even to the plants and flowers (reminding us of Eden and of “the Lord and giver of life,” everything in the church points us to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and ultimately to the restored communion with the Triune God won for us by the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Why “Lazy” is a Four-Letter Word for Pastors

It always hurts when someone charges a pastor with laziness. We always feel convicted when that word is sounded. Always and immediately. Pastors hide that pain in all sorts of ways: in boasting about hours away from home, in how many shut ins and visits we make, in how “busy” and tired we are, in how many we have in worship. But they are all justifications and excuses. Laziness hurts and we are scared of it. We are thin skinned and defensive because deep down inside we all fear it. All of us fear being lazy.

We fear it because we know we have the most important job in all the world. We hold the keys of heaven and hell and God forbid we lose them in a desk drawer. We fear laziness because we know how holy this job is. We fear it because we know we will give an accounting to the Judge of all mankind. We have this high and holy calling that none of us deserve, that we are all unworthy of having, and we have little accountability, no human supervisor, and few genuine expectations. The job is laid upon our shoulders and the Maker of the Universe says to go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching, handing our forgiveness, preaching Law and Gospel and sent on our way. There is no supervisor to look over our shoulders. We have no boss giving us projects to complete. We are self-employed, “creative class” types with nothing tangible to create and no portfolio to offer. At the end of every sermon and Bible study and visit and meeting, there is no market analysis to “measure our success.” There are no objective standards to measure how effective our sermons are. We do not “generate profit” for the congregation. We do our job and sometimes it feels like we are preaching in the vacuum of space, our words going forth into…what?

To be fair, we do have people who write us checks. We do have congregational leaders to give us oversight and help and accountability, to give us positive and helpful expectations…when all works in harmony. Sadly this is not the case in many parishes. Too often there is animosity between pastors who get a little big for their britches and lay leaders who want to treat them like hirelings. Sometimes its simply misunderstanding and mistrust. All too often the leaders see the pastors as temporary, while they and their families are the permanent leaders of the congregation. But even when the relationship is harmonious, it is not a true employee relationship. We have not been hired by them, but called by God. We answer to Him, not to any human expectations, no matter how well intentioned.

I am blessed with a great relationship with my congregation. They know how to give help and support, to humbly communicate their expectations. They are able to disagree and discuss as Christians and work compromise. I am truly blessed here. I really appreciate the accountability, support and guidance we give one another at Grace. But still that Accuser rests in the shadows of the night and the quiet afternoon hours. That demon apatheia, ennui, laziness, name him what you will, it’s still there.

So we worry. None of us want to be lazy. None of us desire to fail. None of us want to hear our Lord’s judgement. So we get defensive at times. We’re sorry for that. We don’t want to be thin-skinned or self-righteous either. That’s why lazy is a four-letter word for us.

What is a Lazy Pastor?

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Dale Meyer, the President of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, posted this, which I would characterize a rant. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve got a few of my own, after all. But it raises the question for me: what is a lazy pastor? Dr. Meyer never defines for us how to measure this, and as I recall my seminary education, it was never given a positive definition either. The one example he sites is a complaint letter from a donor:

It seems that this young pastor’s interpersonal skills are sadly lacking and that his work ethic leaves something to be desired.  He claims his only job is to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.  If that were true, it’s like the Depression-era song, “Nice work if you can get it.”

I think it’s futile to try to defend or analyze how much work or how many hours makes one diligent. In my situation the absolute minimum number of hours required in an average week is around 30. And that is with an associate pastor. Some weeks I work 50 or more. I have 12 hours days and 6 hour days. Sometimes I waste more time than others. Does sitting in every meeting possible mean you are working hard? What about at your computer? What about hours spent with shut-ins? Time well spent?

Laziness is subjective and somewhat arbitrary label. So, if you suspect your pastor of laziness, have a talk with him about what your expectations are. Don’t make accusations about how much or little he’s working. After all, reading a theological journal is working in my profession. As is chatting with the secretary and lending a hand in the kitchen. Reading a newspaper can even be part of the job. So communicate with your pastor. Tell him you have expectations that may or may not be wrong, but you have them and ask if you can share them. You still may think the oaf is lazy, but at least there will be room for open discussion and growth.

A Reminder of our True Enemies

….there is nothing which troubles, incites,irritates, wounds, destroys, distresses and excites the demons and the supremely evil Satan himself against us, as the constant study of the psalms. The entire holy Scripture is beneficial to us and not a little offensive to the demons, but none of it distresses them more than the psalter. In public affairs, when one party sings the praises of the emperor, the other party is not distressed, nor does it move to attack the first party. But if that party begin reviling the emperor, then others will turn on it. Thus it is that the demons are not so much troubled and distressed by the rest of holy Scripture as the are by the psalms. For when we meditate upon the psalms, on the one hand, we are praying on our own account, while, on the other hand, we are bringing down curses on the demons. Thus, when we say Have mercy upon me O God after your great goodness; and according to the multitude of your tender mercies, do away with my transgressions and Cast me not away from your presence: and take not your holy spirit from me and Cast me not away in the time of age: forsake me not when my strength fails me, we are praying for ourselves. But then we bring down curses on the demons when, for instance, we say: Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him, and again: Let him scatter the people that delight in war, and I myself have seen the ungodly in great power and flourishing like a green bay-tree: I went by and lo, he was gone; I sought him, but his place could nowhere be found and Their sword shall go through their own heart….”

Taken from The Spiritual Meadow, by John Maschos

HT: Again and Again

What’s Wrong with Lutherans: A Rant on Sanctification and Good Works

I feel a rant coming on. Why? Here is what was posted on a Lutheran blog I read often:

Another bit of Gerhard from the tomb of forgotten theology: we cooperate with God in our sanctification and He rewards our good works with eternal rewards. That’s one reason why the rewards are promised – so that we will not lose heart in struggling against our sin and living righteously. This volume on Free Will and Free Choice is going to be worth every penny when CPH puts it out (and I don’t get royalties, so no conflict of interest).

“If rewards and punishments in the forum of divine judgment are under discussion, response must be made differently, for rewards are either of this life or of the life to come, as also are punishments. God rewards the external discipline even of the unregenerate person with the rewards of this life or temporal rewards and regularly punishes atrocious sins with atrocious punishments so that societies may be preserved. In Exod. 1:21, because “the Egyptian midwives feared God, He built homes for them.” God rewards only the works of the reborn with eternal rewards, and He does that not out of condign merit but out of gracious mercy, nor does God crown anything in us except His own gifts. In this way the question pertains to the reborn who, we do not deny, are coworkers [συνέργους] with God in good works, because the will, now freed from the yoke of sin, cooperates by virtue of new powers granted by the Holy Spirit.”

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The rejection and ignorance of this doctrine is what is wrong with you Lutherans today. We are so focused on the one kind of righteousness we forget the other. We are so focused on the grace that saves us we forget the new life we are called to. We are so intent on divine monergism we neglect the synergism of sanctification. We teach your kids that we don’t earn heaven and they learn you don’t earn anything. We forgive without temporal punishments and consequences, which we still receive from God anyway, and they learn that grace is cheap and love means nothing. We fail to reward good behavior because we think that would teach kids “works righteousness” when in fact God does reward good behavior, and works are righteous through faith.

We are ruining our lives and our churches and our families, making them into, at best, heartless libertines or shell-shocked robots of passivity.

Please, for the love of God and all that is holy, give the people what Lutherans really confess and teach.

You think Gerhard is wrong on this point? Listen to this:

Therefore, of works that are truly good and well-pleasing to God, which God will reward in this world and in the world to come, faith must be the mother and source; and on this account they are called by St. Paul true fruits of faith, as also of the Spirit. 10] For, as Dr. Luther writes in the Preface to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: Thus faith is a divine work in us, that changes us and regenerates us of God, and puts to death the old Adam, makes us entirely different men in heart, spirit, mind, and all powers, and brings with it [confers] the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do good without ceasing. (FC SD IV.9)

See those letters after that quote? Yep, that’s your Book of Concord. A real quote. And not from McCain’s version or the ELCA version. That’s from the Triglot.

Rant mode off.