Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bacon, Context, Theological Education, and the Gospel

Viral among my LCMS friends recently was a YouTube video clip from non-denominational preacher Joel Osteen in which he spoke about the dangers of some foods (like bacon) prohibited in the Old Testament. To be fair, it is obviously an edited clip so we do not have the benefit of full context here. And, to be fair, some of the issues raised about the nature and quality of the food are to be taken seriously. Nobody would argue that bacon, for example, is a food so healthy that one should eat it every day.

The above being said, if the the entirety of the message is consistent with the clip then the man is preaching as the Word of God a dangerous distortion, for to suggest that it is against God’s will to eat pork, for example, is to display an ignorance of the Scriptures and theological implications of the incarnation.

In Mark 7.19 the Gospel tells us that Jesus “thus declared all foods clean.” In Acts 10 Jesus reaffirmed this to Peter, telling Peter to go ahead and eat the foods that had been prohibited before the New Testament. Peter reacted strongly to this, at which The LORD  replied, “Do not call anything unclean that I have made clean!”

Again, I refrain from utterly condemning the preacher here, for I do not have the full context, (The recent Shirley Sherrod incident should teach us—as it has taught President Obama—about being careful with context in internet videos.) but—for me—among the many other issues this raises is the importance of a good theological education for pastors. Now, even a good theological education can’t keep one from error, but (again, if this one is true) this one is one of those seemingly elementary errors that has serious theological and practical implications, for this error throws people back on to the keeping of “The Law” for salvation (see my earlier post from today.) and to do that is to TOTALLY UNDERMINE the essence of the Christian faith.

Friends, bacon is clearly not a health food, but it is not forbidden by God. Guard and protect your body by avoiding gluttony of all sorts, but don’t be afraid to enjoy the good things of the creation that have been declared “clean” in incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus.

On that note, here’s some country fried bacon from “Chicago’s must-try dishes” in the Chicago Tribune on-line:

country fried bacon

Love and Fulfilling the Law

There is a proper Biblical understanding of the relationship between justifying faith and the related good works. If this aspect of the faith is misunderstood it leads to utter despair. To understand this relationship rightly, on the other hand, is to have true peace with God and abiding freedom.

The readings for July 31st in The Treasury of Daily Prayer include—in addition to Ps 80.14-19; 1 Sam 16.1-23; and Acts 25.13-27—the beginning of Article 5 of The Apology of The Augsburg Confession (AAC), “Love and Fulfilling the Law.” This article brings comfort to the reader by explaining the Biblical relationship of faith and good works.

I am reading from the new Reader's Edition of The Book of Concord, the collection of faith statements that summarize Lutheran theology and which include the AAC. This edition includes the following helpful preparatory note on AAC V:

Good works do not cause justification; rather, they are the result of justification. Melanchthon [the writer of the AAC] carefully distinguishes between the effect of the Law before a person is justified and he effect of the Law after a person is justified. Rome had garbled these critical biblical distinctions with disastrous consequences. Melanchthon returns to them constantly, writing the longest article in the Apology. Lutherans believe that Christians improve at keeping the Law, and they require good works. However, good works are not necessary for salvation, but are the necessary fruit of salvation…

Copyright may prevent me from extensive quotations from the Reader’s Edition, so here are paragraphs 1-8 of AAC V from an older translation that is in the public domain. In a few places I have put explanatory material in brackets [italics]:

Article III: Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law.

1] Here the adversaries [Roman church] urge against us: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments, Matt. 19, 17; likewise: The doers of the Law shall be justified, Rom. 2, 13, and many other like things concerning the Law [10 Commandments] and works. Before we reply to this, we must first declare what we believe concerning love and the fulfilling of the Law.

2] It is written in the prophet, Jer. 31, 33: I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts. And in Rom. 3, 31, Paul says: Do we, then, make void the Law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the Law. And Christ says, Matt. 19, 17: If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Likewise, 1 Cor. 13, 3: If I have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 3] These and similar sentences testify that the Law ought to be begun in us, and be kept by us more and more [that we are to keep the Law when we have been justified by faith, and thus increase more and more in the Spirit]. Moreover, we speak not of ceremonies, but of that Law which gives commandment concerning the movements of the heart, namely, the Decalog [10 Commandments]. 4] Because, indeed, faith brings the Holy Ghost, and produces in hearts a new life, it is necessary that it should produce spiritual movements in hearts. And what these movements are, the prophet, Jer. 31, 33 shows, when he says: I will put My Law into their inward parts, and write it in their hearts. Therefore, when we have been justified by faith and regenerated, we begin to fear and love God, to pray to Him, to expect from Him aid, to give thanks and praise Him, and to obey Him in afflictions. We begin also to love our neighbors, because our hearts have spiritual and holy movements [there is now, through the Spirit of Christ a new heart, mind, and spirit within].

5] These things cannot occur until we have been justified by faith, and, regenerated, we receive the Holy Ghost: first, because the Law cannot 6] be kept without [the knowledge of] Christ; and likewise the Law cannot be kept without the Holy Ghost. But the Holy Ghost is received by faith, according to the declaration of Paul, Gal. 3, 14: That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 7] Then, too, how can the human heart love God while it knows that He is terribly angry, and is oppressing us with temporal and perpetual calamities? But the Law always accuses us always, shows that God is angry. [Therefore, what the scholastics say of the love of God is a dream.] 8] God therefore is not loved until we apprehend mercy by faith. Not until then does He become a lovable object. Concordia Triglotta - English : The Symbolic Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Milwaukee WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1997), 161.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Creativity and Christian Education

This is a follow-up on a previous post in which I reflected upon economic ideas I heard from clips at the Aspen Ideas Festival

In the previous post I quoted futurist Richard Florida, who said:

Every single human being is creative. The key task of our time is to move behind an economic model where the creative talents of 30 or 35 percent are harnessed and utilized for economic gains . . . The true challenge of our time is to stoke the creative furnace that lies deep within every single individual.

I then went on to speak about my role as a pastor of a parochial school and my sense of what a Lutheran education can be:

My belief is that the Christian Gospel and the Lutheran understanding of vocation can and should undergird an education that rejoices in the unique gift of God that is each child. Only the Gospel of Christ truly sets one free; only the Word of God which proclaims this Gospel truly understands freedom. I believe this truth calls for teachers who are faithful disciples and passionate learners. I believe this calls for a dramatically different approach to just about every aspect of education. I believe this calls for courage on the part of parents and a true partnership with them in the education of their children. My struggle in this is analogous, I suspect, to that of many a business owner: How do we facilitate transformation?

Another presenter from the Aspen Ideas Festival, a man I am familiar with through the TED podcasts, is education and creativity specialist, Sir Ken Robinson. In the talk below from AIF he presents a summary of his latest book, The Element.

If you are interested in education, creativity, and helping people discover and utilize their God-given gifts, it’s 74 very valuable minutes. Surprising and wonderful is the video shown at about the 68 minute mark by the founders of The Blue Man group and the school they have begun.

Having seen this extended talk I’m rather interested in reading The Element with some others who want to explore the future of Lutheran education. Perhaps my planned Sunday night “Cana Bible Study” for this fall will become the “Cana Book Club.” We’ll see…

The Church and the New Economy

Back in the spring of 2009, before the possibility of a move to Chicago, I picked up a copy of The Atlantic monthly because I was a former subscriber and intrigued by the cover, "How the Crash Will Reshape America".

The author of the cover article, Richard Florida, thinks that the restructuring that is taking place is the most significant change in economic history. He believes that of the Midwestern cities Chicago is most likely to thrive. He has some particularly intriguing thoughts on home ownership, opining that it inhibits creativity and growth. It is, of course, too early to tell about many things, but even if he is partially correct, whether about the specifics or the grand scheme of things, the implications are dramatic.

Mr. Florida argues that “creativity” is key to new economy. At about 18:30 minutes into the video below he says:

Every single human being is creative. The key task of our time is to move behind an economic model where the creative talents of 30 or 35 percent are harnessed and utilized for economic gains . . . The true challenge of our time is to stoke the creative furnace that lies deep within every single individual.

I believed this to be true long before I ever heard of Richard Florida, but as the new pastor of a church with a long-established parochial school, I am thinking even more deeply about these issues. My belief is that the Christian Gospel and the Lutheran understanding of vocation can and should undergird an education that rejoices in the unique gift of God that is each child. Only the Gospel of Christ truly sets one free; only the Word of God which proclaims this Gospel truly understands freedom. I believe this truth calls for teachers who are faithful disciples and passionate learners. I believe this calls for a dramatically different approach to just about every aspect of education. I believe this calls for courage on the part of parents and a true partnership with them in the education of their children. My struggle in this is analogous, I suspect, to that of many a business owner: How do we facilitate transformation?

Perhaps fortunately, the transformation is upon us at my parish. It cannot be delayed.

Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.


Here is a the recent Aspen Ideas Festival address by Mr. Florida that I mentioned above.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thinking about University Education (with a little poke at my Buckeye friends)

I recently ran across an interesting interview in The Atlantic online, “What’s Wrong with the American University System,” by Jennie Rothenberg Gritz. Ms. Gritz interviews Dr. Andrew Hacker, Professor Emeritus of Queens College (NY), who has recently published the book Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It.

barkhorn_jul27_highered_post Dr. Hacker, apparently, is a advocate of both liberal arts and practical training (e.g., engineering), and he’s not a terribly big fan of the Ivy League. Ms. Gritz asks him some very pointed questions about the merits of an elite school education. Dr. Hacker gives pointed responses. The interview is worth the read. I don’t know if I’d buy the book, but I might get it from the library…

One choice little nugget is about Division I athletics, in which Dr. Hacker takes a dig at Ohio State that is guaranteed to decrease demand for his book in the Buckeye state and find itself on posters in Ann Arbor:

At a college like Ohio State, the team makes money. The undergraduates pour into the stadium for the big Ohio-Michigan game. They paint their faces red and blue and all the rest. But what are they cheering for? Victory in a football game. Michigan is actually a much better university than Ohio State—its reputation, its medical school, its law school, and so on. It makes you wonder whether Ohio is putting so much into its sports teams because its academics really aren't so great.

Here's what my wife says to all this!

Music and the Word of God

Today many churches commemorate the faith and work of Church musician Johann Sebastian Bach (cf. Bach devotee Paul McCain’s blog post here.). As such, it is a great day to extol music. The Treasury of Daily Prayer has  a wonderful quotation today from Martin Luther’s 1538 introduction to Georg Rhau’s symphony and a lovely prayer giving thanks for Bach and the gift of music.

diamond ring This calls to mind a great quotation from a seminary classmate, spoken years ago, if I recall rightly, at a joint student discussion of worship between student leaders at Concordia Theological Seminary (Ft. Wayne) and Concordia Seminary (St. Louis).

My classmate said something like:

The Word of God is like a diamond, pure and sparkling. The task of Church music is, like the prongs of a ring, to uphold the diamond without obscuring it.

Well said, and as the prayer from the Treasury for today says:

Almighty God…Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your new creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let’s Be Careful with “Salvation” Shall We?

Cub great Andre Dawson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame recently. He gave a nice speech, with a rebuke of those who stain the game and an admonition to youth to be aware of the dangers of the street. But he also said to youth, “Baseball can be your salvation.”

Now, Mr. Dawson presented himself as a man of God, and I have no reason to say otherwise, but I want to suggest that Christians avoid earthly references to “salvation.” I think we are wiser to use that word for things that are truly eternal.

If you want to see the speech, click here. The quotation to which I referred to takes in a section of the speech that begins about six minutes in.

A Prayer for—and Reflection upon—the Resurrected Life


Christ, our risen Lord, Your resurrection showed us what we will someday be and what we already are now through our Baptism into Your holy name. Give us courage to bear in our bodies Your resurrected life as we live out the fruit of Your victory over death through works of charity and mercy; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. –Prayer of the Day (1065) for July 27 in The Treasury of Daily Prayer.

This prayer in the Treasury follows the New Testament reading from Acts 22.30-23.11 where St. Paul lives the resurrection life by confessing the Christ before an antagonist council. The Lord “rewarded” this by “imprisoning” Paul and sending him via guard to Rome, saying, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23.11, ESV)

The thing is, of course, is that Christians are simul justus et peccator—simultaneously saint and sinner (cf. Romans 7)—which means that though we pray to live the resurrected life and desire to do so, sin still enters in, often in ways that are oblivious to the Baptized. This brings me to a quotation from Martin Luther where he describes the sacraments:

Therefore we always teach that the Sacraments and all external things which God ordains and institutes should not be regarded according to the coarse, external mask, as we regard the shell of a nut, but as the Word of God is included therein.(Triglotta, “Large Catechism,” IV.19)

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but even non-Christians might find this helpful in viewing their Christian neighbors. Be careful of judging a Christian by the “external mask,” for as sinner-saints we have, in a sense, two competing natures. The old sinful nature hates God and doesn’t want anything to do with the ways of God; the Christian nature wants to keep God’s name holy and do God’s will. Thus, we pray prayers like the one above, but sometimes—often—we fall into temptation. In Galatians St. Paul puts it this way:

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17, ESV)

Nowhere in the Bible is the Christian’s daily internal battle better described than in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans  (referred to above). Here Paul describes both the conflict and the proper focus of the Christian:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being [Christian nature], but I see in my members [“flesh,” the sinful nature] another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." (Romans 7:21-8:2, ESV)

This is why following Christ is a life of “daily contrition and repentance.” (Luther, Small Catechism, Part IV). In fact, this daily struggle and the importance of maintaining the proper focus on the free Gospel of Christ, is the heart and soul of Christianity and the very beginning of “The Reformation,” for the first of Luther’s famous "95 Theses" says:

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite [Repent!], willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

Repentance involves sorrow over sin (contrition) and belief the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of sins (faith). So it is that “the resurrected life” is lived not by faith in self-improvement (which would lead to despair as we see our failures) but by faith in the Son of God (Who always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor 13)). Indeed, as Paul wrote in Galatians 2:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)


Monday, July 26, 2010

Is Religion Necessary?

Interesting that Lutherans are mentioned prominently in this discussion of NY Times bloggers (Do We Need Religion?). More interesting is the assumption that the United States is headed the way of Europe, albeit on a different timetable. I question that assumption. I wonder if others do, too…

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Harrison Speaks about Missions and the Role of LCMS Seminaries

Below is a clip from the address of Rev. Matthew C. Harrison the day after his election as President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.  The impromptu address was given at a reception for the two seminaries of the LCMS held at Memorial Lutheran Church of Houston.

The video was taken from my phone, so I apologize for the image quality, but it is the audio—the passion and theological vision of the speaker and the response of the community gathered—that makes this powerful.

A Little Sunday Afternoon Humor

Something brought the old Saturday Night skit, “Wedgie Fever” into my brain, and so I went searching for it on the web. I found found it!

And I also found this fun little Dilbert number…

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Relationship of Faith and Works

Lutherans have long been accused, as also St. Paul was, of preaching faith at the expense of works. By no means!

Today’s suggested reading in The Treasury of Daily Prayer includes paragraphs 61-74 of Article IV in The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, one of the chief summary statements of Lutheran belief. Here are paragraphs 73-74, which speak to the question of the relationship of faith and good works:

The term alone [sola] offends some people, even though Paul says in Romans 3:28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” He says in Ephesians 2.8-9, “It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” He says in Romans 3:24, “justified by His grace as a gift.” If the exclusive term alone displeases, let them remove from Paul also the exclusives freely, not of works, it is the gift, and so on. For these also are exclusives. It is, however, the notion of merit that we exclude. We do not exclude the Word or Sacraments, as the adversaries falsely charge against us. We have said earlier that faith is conceived from the Word. We honor the ministry of the Word <Preaching Office and Word> in the highest degree. Love and works must also follow faith. Therefore, they are not excluded so that they do not follow faith, but confidence in the merit of love or of works is excluded in justification. We will clearly show this.

For Lutherans, and for those who want to understand Lutheran teaching, I highly recommend the translation of the Lutheran Confessions from which this quotation was taken. Published by Concordia Publishing House, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions contains many historical notes, explanations, etc. that greatly assist the reader.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Humility and Class as the LCMS Leadership Torch is Passed

I have known Rev. Matthew Harrison for years. I have watched him present. I have read his translation and writing, and I have believed for some time that he was well-suited to lead our synod. And, though I have disagreed with some of Dr. Kieschnick’s policies and approach, I have always found him a very personal, approachable, and pious man. He also runs a very “tight ship” at convention; that is, he knows how to run a good meeting.
Below is video of President Kieschnick receiving the news that he was being replaced as President of the Synod. You will see him receive this bitter disappointment with dignity and class. You will see the President-elect, Rev. Harrison, speak with great humility. There was no triumphalism from him, no self-aggrandizing.
After the convention I greeted President Kieschnick and wished him God’s blessings on his next venture, and I certainly do pray that for him. He is a vigorous man, with a devoted wife, and I pray that when the disappointment ebbs that he and Rev. Harrison will be able to speak and find a way for the new President-emeritus to use his gifts in service to the church he served for so many years.
For this time, as we approach the 500th anniversary of The Reformation in 2017, I believe The LORD has given us a servant who has shown himself to faithful to the Lutheran Confession of faith and simultaneously vigorous in engaging the culture. We, as the people of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, have also given his office great new power. May he use it with the humility and grace that both he and his predecessor showed on 13 July, A.D. 2010.

Returning to the Mission

After two weeks of serving as a delegate for the LC-MS convention and a short vacation I am back to my mission work in Chicago…

There is a vortex of financial trouble here (I know we are not unique in that regard.) that threatens to draw me in an render me unable to see the work that God has before us here at St. Philip: gathering God’s people around word a sacrament for forgiveness and life, and preaching and teaching the Gospel to all nations.

Thus, I delighted in reading some blog posts by our fourth grade teacher, Miss Lexi Schmidt. In spite of my own foibles and mismanagement, God managed to enable us to secure Miss Schmidt’s talents for the coordination of local outreach in June and for international outreach (Guatemala) in July.

Miss Schmidt did a marvelous job of organizing our first Vacation Bible School in years. We had around 120 kids, 25% of which were not from our church and school community. Praise the Lord! Now, as I said, Miss Schmidt is in Guatemala (Miss Schmidt's Blog). She is teaching Christ via various means, including Bible studies, teaching English, and through service. (If you click on her blog you’ll hear music from a July 13th post. If you don’t want to hear that you’ll have to scroll down and hit the “stop” button.) I am very thankful for her, and my fervent prayer is that this is just the beginning of a new era of outreach here at St. Philip.

Lord Jesus, earthly concerns abound. Help me to keep my eyes fixed on You, the author and perfecter of my faith, for You bore the shame of the cross with joy, forgiving my sins, that I may be Your own and live with You in Your kingdom, and serve you in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Amen

Monday, July 19, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

LCMS Convention Wrap-up, Part 1

Since i'm traveling and on my phone I'll be brief...

1. I think the LCMS is a lot more united than much of the voting % suggest.

The weighing of issues and voting on them tends to make for two convenient "camps." The reality is vastly more complex than that, and the way to reveal that broader unity is not through oppositional voting but through real theological dialogue. Structure and governance DO make a difference, but my sense is that Pres.-elect Harrison was elected because--at the end of the day--he offered a deeply theological leadership and has an established record of facilitating the effectual and merciful use of God's gifts in the church.

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cooperation in Externals

Before the LCMS convention is Res. 3-03A, which attempts to grapple with the challenges presented by the long-agreed cooperation of the LCMS and the ELCA in social service type of arrangements ("externals"). The challenge is that even though there are many cooperative agencies and arrangements, the two church bodies are traveling increasingly divergent theological paths...

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Convention adopts radical structure changes on narrow margins

The LCMS convention seemed to begin to get "edgy" today as many proposals were adopted by very narrow margins. I sensed the tenor of many delegates turning as this continued, a concern for basic fairness. We'll see what this means tomorrow when we turn to significant constitutional issues...

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Monday, July 12, 2010

Soon to vote on radical resolution 8-08A which would grant dramatic new authority to Synod president. Efficient? Perhaps. But at what cost?
Lost internet connection in my room. Will update as soon as I can.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Election for LCMS President

I expect this morning to see a motion, as the convention opens, to change the proposed schedule. I wasn't sure about this at first, but I now tend to think that having the Presidential election completed will help us to focus on the merits of the proposals themselves.

-- Sent from my Palm Pre

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Proposals to Franchise “Commissioned Ministers” in The LC—MS

A new proposal is out to enfranchise commissioned ministers in the LCMS. Proposed by-laws 4.2.3 and (see Today's Business) allows a congregation to send a congregation to send either the pastor or a commissioned minister (non-pastoral church worker) to vote in district convention.

This proposal is a radical departure from historic LCMS practice, which recognizes two distinct and God-given “offices” in the church: the pastor, an office that can be occupied only by men who are rightly called; and the royal priesthood (1 Pet 2.9), the office that belongs to all the baptized.

More formal floor committee meetings are scheduled for Saturday, July 10th. We shall see what transpires…

Friday, July 9, 2010

Long floor hearing on structure. I made the case for term limits for all synodical (LCMS) offices, but for some reason those in authority are standing pat.
I just set up mobile blogging. This is my test.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2010 LCMS Convention Updates

As I promised the folks in my circuit (E15) of the Northern Illinois District, Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I plan to be giving daily updates from the convention via this blog.