Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wisdom and Hope - 9/28/08 - The Bound Will


Pentecost 20 - Matt 21

By Whose Authority?

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wisdom and Hope - 9/21/08 - Towards Predestination


Pentecost 19 - Matt 19

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Monday, September 22, 2008

I can't decide

Is it funny or sad? And notice just how much theology they actually put into this song. It's amazing.... Not sure why disco is "in," but even so...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Check this out

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I'm a Christian God Dammit!

“Paul talks about faith differently from the sophists. He does not attribute faith to people who have committed mortal sin; therefore he says that those who do not provide for their relatives have rejected the faith. In the same way, he says that the wanton women had rejected the faith.” Ap. XXVII68 (p.288 Kolb/Wengert)

How different was the Reformation view of the faith and “who” was a part of it. So too, it would seem, was the way the Apostles' approached the concept of Church.

I have been vexed of late at the number of times I have been expected by others to attribute “Christianity” to a group or to an an individual for no other reason than that they claim to be Christians. The most persuasive make an argument from a bland but coherent connection to Trinitarianism – in other words, "If they aren't 'oneness' teachers or Arians, they're in!" The most naïve argue from that not so ancient, not so obvious truth that “you can't judge another person's heart.”

Now, I'm all for not judging hearts. In fact, I'm all for not judging people. I believe in this thing called the Last Day, when the one who is Judge will judge, and he will, in fact, meet out according to our works (Ath. Creed, 1 Cor. 5, etc) AND according to Christ's own merits for us. I'll let God be the judge of that. At the same time, Scripture is pretty clear that we must be judges of the faith. “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6)

But what these words from the Apology strike at, what has bothered me so intently, is not that we've been too lax in judging these past years of moralistic-therapeutic-deisticalness. It's that we've been too quick to judge. We've judged too fast and too often.W e've judged without the facts, and, often, in spite of the facts. Reigning benevolent from on high in our little individualistic thrones, we've passed the judgment of amnesty upon all who claim the name of Jesus, so long, I suppose, as they're nice, or I've met them, or it's not their fault, or etc, etc. The point is, we have been judging hearts, and very casually so at that.

It reminds me of a conversation I overheard at a coffee shop last year, between a local “Full Gospel” Baptist youth “Pastor” (unordained) and the liberal Episcopal ex-hippy he was trying to convert. He was pretty confident heading in, turning a simple “Hi, how y'doin'?” into “the most important question: if you die will you go to heaven?” What he was completely unprepared to deal with was her confident answer: “Yes, of course. After all, I believe in Jesus.” But that's just it. She didn't. Even the Pentecostal-Baptist could see from her casual use of the f-word, her advocacy for the homosexual lobby, her new-agey definition of Jesus and the “all paths lead to heaven” schpeel – he KNEW something wasn't right in the state of Denmark. That's why he kept trying to convert her, even though she kept repsonding, “But I'm converted! I love Jesus!”

What it would seem we have nigh completely lost is that which the great Reformers assumed, and that which the Ancients more than expected: if you don't put your money where your mouth is, your mouth is lying – even to you.

James said it well, “I will show you my faith by what I do.” So what is this “doing” that we must be so concerned with? Melancthon mentions “mortal sin.” What is that? A good question. Let's just start with the notion that mortal sin is any sin you commit regularly and consider it your right to do so. That is, it's any sin that you don't think is sin. To be sure, if we go the way of the Law even here, we our bound to find ourselves condemned – but that is the necessary work of the Law! Finding ourselves judged unworthy is an important aspect of the Christian faith and life, one which must never be left behind.

But where faith (the faith) has departed, where it can no longer exist at all, where one simply must be told he or she is not a Christian no matter how much he might think he is, is where this work of the Law has departed altogether – where one's response to the Law is always either “Check, done that,” or “That doesn't apply to me.” This is the gravest place of mortal sin, the place where the First Commandment itself has ceased to be believed.

It's something worth thinking about – that faith and mortal sin cannot coexist. Why do we balk so readily at this Truth which was more than assumed by all who have gone before us? Is it because we have actually allowed sin to rule in our flesh, and, convicted, wish to remove the shackles without taking them to the cross to be covered in the blood? Is it our guilty consciences which sting at being pricked? Are we so faithless as to be incapable of repenting of our faithlessness?

Who can discern his errors? Justify me from hidden sins! Keep back your slave from presumption. Let it not have dominion over me. Then, I shall be free of blame, and innocent of transgression. Then the Words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart will be acceptable in yours sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Ps. 19

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Interesting Discussion Going

Anyone interested my join on the discussion over at Philadelphia Lutheran Underground, which came out of our last Friday night's meeting - which ended up being a discussion on the pros and cons of Pentecostalism.

The long and short, however, is that two of our regulars, who are both exploring Lutheran orthodoxy, have asked some very good questions. I've done my best to respond.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pentecost 17 - Matt 18b

Mp3 download click here

No Wisdom and Hope this week as we had a Voters' Meeting.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wanna Be a Guru?

I'm really surprised at all the self-appointed prophets arising in Christian bookstores in America. Every year, it seems, there is a new “in man,” whose little book is THE answer to all the problems facing the American Christian “churches.” The Purpose-Driven Life (by Rick Warren) wasn't the first, and Organic Church (by Neil Cole) won't be the last.

There is a common thread in all of these windy movements, which I have already pointed out. Each one is begun by one man, who, sitting alone in a room somewhere, one day, realizes that he has discovered THE answer which has escaped Christendom ever since Acts ch. 2. Now, if people will only “risk” believing him, everything can change, and the Church of Christ on earth can at last succeed in being what Jesus really meant it to be.

This mini-messiah complex is understandable, especially for Americans raised on a good does of superheroes and fairy tales. Who doesn't want to save the world? Sure, it's ridiculously arrogant and presumptuous to assume that the churning in your gut is Almighty God telling you that the entire world is wrong but you're his answer to it all. But hey, we've got the Bible on our side. How can we go wrong?

So what surprises me about these guys is how radically rarely they actually pick up on what the Bible says, especially when it talks about “growing” a faith community in a time when all attempts to grow faith communities are more or less failing. Granted, one would actually have to read the prophets to come across this kind of talk – and those prophets aren't much fun to read if you're looking for an easy pick-me-up kind of answer. But, interestingly enough, though it contain its portion of curb-like law, the prophets hold the Word of God for the Church in our age. Take Isaiah 58:

Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?

That is, “Why have we committed ourselves to pious strategic plans, and seen no success? Why have we encouraged 'mission' till we're blue in the face, and found no response? Why have we made worship heart-felt and full of emotion, yet not converted anyone to our cause? Why have we committed ourselves to saving your Church only to see it destroyed beneath our feet?”

Behold, God says, you fast, but only to seek your own pleasure, and be an oppressor. Behold, you fast, but only to quarrel and to fight, and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours will not make your voice to be heard on high.

That is, “You try to grow my Church, but it is for your own glory and satisfaction. You seek to have your own name on a book cover, to be recognized in the market as the pastor of 'This and That Greatchurch.' You want more members so that you can have a better budget, and a better salary. You improve your worship experience, not to increase unity of confession, but to have your own opinions be known. This will not do. I DON'T hear your prayers anymore.”

Is such a fast that I choose for a person to humble himself?

“Do you really think you're the answer?”

Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?

“Is it to play your guitar and dance in the aisles and be happy all the time?”

Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord.

God thinks we're all wasting our time trying to please him with our worship.

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house, to see the naked and cover him...THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing spring up speedily, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. ...

There is your Biblical plan for Church growth: stop being Americans.

If you turn back your foot from doing pleasure on the Sabbath, and call the Sabbath honorable, if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly, then ....I will make you ride on the heights of the earth. I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Seek Word and Sacrament as the only meaning in life. And spend the rest of the week serving people. AND as a corporate body, stop meeting “felt needs” and start meeting real needs, and STOP doing all of it so that you can increase your acreage in the Kingdom, either now or in the hereafter.

If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness....Take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and the speaking wickedness.

...So....where's THAT in all these “how to fix Christianity” books I've been reading since “Ragamuffin Gospel” through “Velvet Elvis.” I can't get over what a generation of yuppyish beatniks we've been raised up into. We might as well sing “the Circle of Life” on Sunday mornings and pass the peace pipe. We don't want real religion the way St. James and Isaiah have described it. We don't want the real Jesus who says, “I'm not going to listen to your prayers” when we stop listening to his Word.

Honestly, you probably could take this passage in Scripture and run with it, and be the next guru of the American faith. It would take a little work, but the time is right. With a healthy dose of “If you do this, God will...” thrown into the mix, you could probably be a millionaire by next year (granted, all your money would belong to the “church,” but don't act like it wouldn't still be yours to manage.) The topic is right, and the emergent seekers are really looking for authentic love.

But here's the problem. If you feed the poor for your own glory, you've missed the point again. The Church doesn't need another messiah – and it certainly doesn't need a new mini-messiah every new book-season. All this chicken-little talk has wrought us nothing good at all. What we do need, what Isaiah says, is a little more pure Word of God – a little more Jesus on Sundays and throughout the week. And by Jesus I don't mean the smiley guy with long hair and a beard. I mean the man who hangs on the cross and says, “Come, follow me, even if it means taking a poor person off the street and putting him up in your house.”

But can we Americans believe in such a Jesus? Can we let him be the Christ?

That, I'm afraid, is a very scary question.

Sundary School Teachers Prep - 9/10/08

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Speaking of Children

I am with great regularity amazed at how timely the Evangelical Confessions of the Lutheran Church are. There are enough rascals in the Ministry who for who-knows-what kind of selfish reasons claim reading old books is a waste of time. But they couldn't be more irrelevant in their search for relevance. Only arrogance could be so bold.

The passage which struck my fancy this morning is from the Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession – a marvelous, if long-winded, document. In it, Art. XXIII, Lutheran layman Phillip Melancthon takes time to defend the Evangelicals against Romes' charge that the marriage of priests is a heresy worthy of execution.

Most Lutherans today may be little interested in either the condemnation or the rebuttal. Should they read it, they would no doubt skim it lightly, especially, I would guess, the parts which particularly condemn our more modern practices as well.

WHAT!? The Lutheran Confessions condemn our modern Lutheran marriage practices? In a manner of speaking, indeed they do. ... How so?

To begin, let me recount a conversation I had a few years ago with a fellow seminarian – a good man: caring, earnest, clever. We were discussing the matter of having children. Recently married, he was at pains to convince his wife that they should put off having children, perhaps permanently. In time, they could adopt instead.

“Wonderful!” I said. “Adoption is a gracious thing! But,” I continued, “there is no reason to refrain from procreation. You can surely do both, for both are a good thing.”

From thence ensued a rather long debate – good natured, if not without passion – in which his chief argument upon waiting to have/not having children rested upon this one, universal FACT: "Yes, God said to be fruitful and fill the earth, but now the earth is full. Shouldn't we see that there is a population crisis and, in the name of good stewardship, refrain from overpopulating the earth?"

Did he know that he had leapt over the alps and allied himself with those who forbid the marriage of priests to make his stand for pseudo-chastity? Probably not. But without question he was making an argument that the Scripture saturated Evangelicals in Wittenberg perceived to be horridly misinformed:

"Genesis teaches that human beings were created to be fruitful and that one sex should desire the other sex in a proper way. ... This love of one sex for the other is truly a divine ordinance. However, since this order of God cannot be suspended without an extraordinary act of God, it follows that the right to contract marriages cannot be removed.... Our opponents trivialize these arguments. They say that in the beginning there was a command to fill the earth, but now that the earth has been filled, marriage is not commanded.

"Look at their clever argument! [But] The Word of God formed human nature in such a way that it may be fruitful not only at the beginning of creation but as long as this physical nature of ours exists."

Wait a minute. Are you saying that procreation is the only reason for marriage?!

(sigh) That response is the sure sign of a guilty conscience. But, “No, of course not.”

"The natural desire of one sex for the other is an ordinance of God in nature....Concupiscence inflames it so that now it rather needs an antidote. Marriage is necessary not only for the sake of procreation, but also as a remedy. These things are so clear and well established that they can in no way be refuted." least until we modern peoples, so much wiser than our fathers, discovered the great boon of storing up treasures on earth. Liberating woman from the connection between “conjugal intercourse...childbirth, and ... her domestic duties...the particular works of her calling” (Ap. XXIII 32, to be specific), has made it so much easier to keep up with the Jones'. And that abundant life, is, after all, what Christianity is all about.

See how the mighty have fallen. Within this tickle of an argument hide the seeds not merely for the homosexual lobby and their anti-humanity agenda, but also for a form of the prosperity Gospel (“God surely wants us to be happy, doesn't he?”) I would also go so nuclear as to suggest that herein lies the primary reason for the mass exodus of 20-30 year olds from the American churches, Evangelical L's and otherwise.

Can I really draw a line from mommy finding her career as a teacher more important than her six week old infant to that infant eventually believing that mommy isn't so trustworthy, and then striking a chord with the decision to consider mommy's part-time hobby-religion of ChristMEanity as a bit naïve, unpostmodern and useless, at least compared to the many more ancient and hallowed practices on the world stage?

Yes, I think I can.

Abraham Lincoln, by no means my favorite president, but a genius of politics and wisdom nonetheless, advocated the true form of FEMININism best: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

At least, so seemed to think the Lutheran confessors. With great joy, I defer to them.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Pentecost 17 - Matthew 18

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Wisdom and Hope - Camera Craziness

I could almost scream. I reinstalled windows on my laptop and got the camera so that it was working like a charm. I also learned how to upload larger files to my domain - to provide better image and sound quality videos to you. And then, the cpu couldn't find the camera's driver this morning. I was livid. are the notes from today, including the review (which made up most of last week's class.) We only got through Thesis 13 today - and it's an important one --> the one that really got the Reformation rolling.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Touchstone Magazine and "Kids"' Kids

In the September issue of Touchstone magazine, I found an echo of something I've long experienced (at least, for the last three and a half years.) Beginning with reference to a French anti-procreative book No Kid: Forty Reasons Not to Have Children, SM Hutchins responds to the accusation that kids are parasitic to joy due to their “damaging, demanding, disorderly and ungrateful” journey into “killjoy” adulthood:

“My own experience of parents and children leads me to react sharply to such manifestos with the observation that parents whose children are like this have usually brought it upon themselves. Assuming the superior knowledge of their own more evolved (Baby Boomer) generation, they are easily seduced by the Spirit of the Age, who has discouraged traditional parental wisdom and undermined its authority at every turn. Their offspring may be expected to become ... burdensome and unenjoyable company....”

I am with astonishing regularity informed that I don't know anything about children or raising them. To be certain, I am told this almost as often as I am told what an amazingly polite, conversational, caring, intelligent and well-adjusted three year old I have – and usually in the same conversation. The assumption, on nearly every level, is that good children are a fluke. “Wait till the next one,” I am told. The smiling, giddy one-year-old who belts out beautifully horrid imitations of hymnody during (and after) the sermon hymn apparently has not settled the point either.

“Wait till they get older,” they say. Apparently, I have no choice. And to be sure, the prospect of teenagers that look, act and think like the typical American genus terrifies me. But that is precisely why I (and my blessed wife) have taken vigilant, intentional and rather patriarchal steps to head off the Armageddon asteroid long before it walks out my front door with the car keys. I certainly will not claim that our approach to parenting – no TV, read the Bible daily, sing hymns not “kid” songs, toy limits, stay-at-home-mother/homemaker, no babysitters besides Grandma, no candy, the occasional hand-slap, lots of hugs and kisses, etc – is the only way. But I downright demand that raising good children must be possible. And I issue this battle-cry for the rather fundamentalistic reason that it is plain and simply Biblical.

St. Paul makes rather bold claims in his letters to the young Pastor Timothy. Chapter three of the first letter is flush with the mandatory requirements to be expected of those who seek to inhabit the office of Bishop or Pastor: “A bishop must be above reproach .... He must manage his own household well, with all dignity, keeping his children submissive.” Elsewhere, to Titus, he allows a man to enter the priesthood only if “his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.”

What has ever struck me about these stark commandments of the New Testament Church order goes beyond the simple implication that there are far too many “pastors” who have slipped into the cracks without truly due process. It is that Paul commanded such civil requirements of Timothy and Titus precisely because they were possible. Children are a legacy from the Lord. If they have abandoned the faith or become lukewarm-Christian killjoys, then trust the axion: “Your children are always your fault.” From their original sin to whether or not they hear resurrection promise as if it were True, their sin is your sin. They are your fruit.

So the next time you see some punk millenial with a three year old who's better adjusted than your teenager, do him a favor: congratulate him (and his wife) for the (ironically) audacious decision to take a different tact than you did, for hoping in Hope rather than against it, and for proving that multiplication can be fruitful after all. You might even consider asking him for his advice, rather than insisting on giving him a taste of your own.

More Gems from Pete

(on Holy Scripture)

Therefore, the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology. The ministry of the Word, too - “ pastoral preaching, catechetics, and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place - “ is healthily nourished an thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture.

The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful ... to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

-from the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wisdom and Hope 9 - On the Way to Predestination

Pentecost 16 - Matt 16b

mp3 download click here

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