Nothing doing…

I don’t really have an idea to write about, I’m just trying to form the habit of writing.  But in case YOU have nothing to think about, think about this:

Every parish needs at least 3 ordained/consecrated men, one being a fully trained theologian who serves as the chief pastor; two being consecrated /ordained deacons who assist in the Divine Service, hold daily offices (at least on occasion), and most importantly, help care for the sick and shut-in.  These would not be associate pastors or assistant pastors, but deacons.  Like it or not, LCMS, the Scriptures clearly show a hierarchy among the holy office.

If the parish is big enough (I’d say 100 average worship), she should have two deacons and three sub-deacons who are given the responsibility of 10 to 20 families each.  The sub-deacons, would also assist in the Divine Service (maybe as Crucifer and Gospel Bearer) and would visit their families yearly if not every 6 months.

The reason all these men should serve in the Divine Service is to make their public service to the congregation known.  They would be part of the ministry.  Their faculties would be limited (no celebration of the Holy Supper, no ordinary baptisms, they wouldn’t preach or hear confession) but their service would direct the people to the Divine Service.  They wouldn’t be babysitters or caretakers, but men consecrated (set aside) to assist in the ministry of the word.

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Shun Profane Novelties

For those of us who use “Treasury of Daily Prayer” as our breviary, we heard from the lips of Vincent of Lerins that which is most applicable in our day, especially concerning the so-called “worship wars”.

“‘O Timothy, keep the deposit, shunning profane novelties of words and oppositions of the knowledge falsely so called, which some professing have erred concerning the faith’ (1 Tim. 6:20). After words such as these, is there anyone of so hardened a front, such anvil-like impudence, such adamantine pertinacity, as not to succumb to so huge a mass, not to be crushed by so ponderous a weight, not to be shaken in pieces by such heavy blows, not to be annihilated by such dreadful thunderbolts of divine eloquence? ‘Shun profane novelties,’ he says. He does not say shun ‘antiquity.’ But he plainly points to what ought to follow by the rule of contrary. For if novelty is to be shunned, antiquity is to be held fast; if novelty is profane, antiquity is sacred. He adds, ‘And oppositions of science falsely so called.’ ‘Falsely called’ indeed, as applied to the doctrines of heretics, where ignorance is disguised under the name of knowledge, fog of sunshine, darkness of light.” (Taken from the Treasury of Daily Prayer, Sept. 18, pg. 734.)

Go to fullsize imageNow someone is bound to point out that what Fr. Lerins is speaking of is doctrine, and so utterly disdain the idea of applying it to liturgical practice.  But I ask, what is liturgical practice if not doctrinal expression? Indeed, is not what we say and do directly and intricately interwoven with what we believe and confess?  Beware of vain novelties.

So also this speaks to the novelties of the ordination of women, unrepentant homosexuals, as well as to running the church of God like a business.  So many vain novelties have crept up on us.  Let us hear and obey the apostle when he says, “Purge the evil from among you.”  BUT, this doesn’t mean get rid of the people, but “purge the evil”.  The evil is the false doctrine.  If people leave, that is their concern before God, but if we drive them out, then we are guilty of division and dissension.  Rather, we demonstrate from the Scriptures what we receive and so pass on.  I have recently heard a comparison between the Anglicans and Lutherans (it’s in the book, Philosophy & the Christian Religion, by Robert Brown).  It goes something like this: Anglicans will tolerate all manner of false doctrine but never tolerate schism, whereas Lutherans fight all false doctrine but will abide by infinite schisms.  The irony is that schisms are false doctrine.

On Word and Sacrament

We are saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ (cf. Eph. 2:8).  The question now arises, “How does God deliver His grace that we may be saved?”  The Holy Scriptures, God’s witness of Himself, gives us the answer: “Faith comes … through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17; cf. Eph. 6:17).  God delivers His grace (and mercy) through His Word.

But the “Word of God” is not simply the Bible.  The Word became flesh. The Word of God is Jesus.  The Bible is God’s witness concerning Himself, as Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).  Jesus is the life of the world. He is the light that illumines the path. He is the way.  And the Scriptures bear witness to this.

The word of the Lord – a popular Old Testament saying – is Jesus, the Word made flesh.  And through and in Christ, God delivers His grace, as it is written, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

So to receive God’s grace, you must hear His word.  You must hear Jesus.  You must be received by Jesus.  Thankfully, God’s mercy is so great that He forces Jesus upon you.  You need to hear Jesus, so God forces His word upon you.  He forces His word upon you through His Church as fathers and mothers teach children the ways of God, and as friends and neighbors teach others the ways of God.

And when one hears Jesus, the Word of God, speak faith is created.  For faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Ro. 10:17).  So when a son hears his father confess the creed, the son hears Jesus who confesses the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And upon hearing, faith is born (and re-born, and born again).  And this faith responds by seeking out Christ just as the blind, deaf, and lame sought Him out in the gospel accounts.  So where does one find Jesus, the Word of God?  We find Him where He says He will be.

The Lord has promised to be where His word is preached and His sacraments administered.  Thus does He say: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded you, and behold, I will be with you always even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:16ff).  The Lord promises to be where He speaks.  And He speaks through His sacraments.

So, back to the question: “How does God deliver His grace by which we are saved?”  Answer: through His sacraments, which is Christ with us and Christ for us.  By His grace we are saved.

Lectures on Lutheranism

Come and hear the Rev. Dr. Jon Bruss speak on “Reading the Bible as a Lutheran in North America” this Saturday (the 18th) beginning with a Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist at 12:30pm, followed by Beer & Brats at the Parsonage around 5:15pm.

Dr. Bruss

Here’s more information.

The Sacrifice of the Mass

So as I understand it, in the Holy Supper the Father is giving us His Son that we would be made holy (sinless, etc.), but it is also we offering or holding up the Son before the Father so that the Father would receive us on behalf of the Son. It’s a both/and. The Father gives us the Son and we, in turn, plead our case by the merits or righteousness of the Son.

So the chief difference between Rome and Lutherans, then, is not who sacrifices who or what is given or offered and to whom and by whom (though certainly different areas are emphasized by the different theologians), but rather the chief difference is that Rome teaches that mere participation, regardless of faith is legitimate (ex opere operato), while we confess that proper participation is born of faith.

So the chief difference is this: do we receive the benefits because we partake, or because we believe? Because we believe. Moreover, we partake because we believe. So faith both receives and yearns for the Sacrament. So the Small Catechism once again becomes for us the most blessed and sacred teacher: “The words, “Given and shed for you” along with the eating and drinking are the main thing in the Sacrament…whoever believes these words has exactly what they say…the words ‘For you’ require all hearts to believe.” Beautiful.

The Sin of Parish Hopping

What if we taught our people, the people of God, that parish hopping is a sin. I know we preach against it, at least to other pastors and to the board of elders. But what if we said it was sinful from the pulpit? Of course, not every type of parish hopping is sinful. A military family that hops from one city to another, and so from one parish to another, is not sinning. But this isn’t really parish hopping. This is moving. Parish hopping is when a family or individual hops from parish to parish in the same general geographic location trying to find the one that best suits him or her or their family. What if we preached that this is sinful? After all, isn’t it?

Why do people parish hop? To go where their itching ears lead them. Their “ears” may be a desire for a better single’s group or a better youth group or a better choir or a more energetic preacher/service. How many Christians parish hop because they don’t think Christ is present among His people in their initial parish? How many leave for doctrinal reasons? Not many. People leave to suit their fancy. This is paramount to divorce. Let not man put asunder what God hath joined together. But our people have been led to believe that while parish hopping is not good, it certainly isn’t sinful. It’s in bad taste, but not sinful. But I argue that it is.

When a person leaves a parish for reasons other than moving or some other reason of necessity, then whatever the reason they leave is that which defines their relationship to the parish. If this reason is not Christ, then it is sinful. So if a person leaves because the baptismal font is moved, then his relationship to the parish, to the people of God gathered there, is either the position of the baptismal font or that nothing should change. If a family leaves the parish because the parish down the street has a better youth group, then it is the youth group that defines their relationship to the parish. This is sinful because it is not Christ. They are in essence confessing that it is not Christ that keeps them there, but other things.

Now the defense is that they’re not leaving Christ because they go elsewhere. They still believe, they still want the Sacrament, etc. But in fact, they are sinning against Christ. To say otherwise is like saying that the man who divorces his wife for another is not really sinning because he only divorced his wife because she was ugly or boring. But he still wants to be married, he still enjoys the benefits of marriage, he just wants to enjoy them with someone else. Is that so wrong? To want to be happy?

Is not the Body of Christ gathered to Christ at the parish where there is a small, inactive youth group or Sunday school? Or do these things make the Body of Christ more the Body of Christ? Are these the things of which our Lord says, “One thing is needful.” When a person leaves (again, not because they’ve moved or something akin to that, but because of personal preference) they have abandoned the place where God has placed them for selfish reasons. This is sinful.

But it is not only the parish hoppers who sin. It is also the pastor who lets them go and the one who receives them. Both should rebuke them. The one who lost them shouldn’t have transferred them out. He should have said “no”. He should ask them why they’re there and what their relationship is to the parish. He should point out their sin that they may be saved. If they do not listen and leave anyway, they will die for their sin (so to speak), but he will not be condemned. After all, we don’t need professional choirs or singles groups or whatever to be the Body of Christ. So the preaching has fallen far short in this regard. Moreover, the receiving pastor shouldn’t receive them. He should ask them, “Was Christ not proclaimed there? Was the preacher a heretic? Was the Sacrament neglected?” If not, then go back to where you came from; you have not the things of God in mind but the things of men.

Consider the family who left despite the pastor’s admonition not to, and then wouldn’t be received by the pastor they sought. Notwithstanding their traveling to yet a third parish, where would they go? From whom would they receive Christ? All things being equal, they would return to their original pastor and seek reconciliation. And he in turn would receive them back, reconciling them to Christ. What a picture of the Law and Gospel! What a picture of what it means to belong to Christ; to abide in Him! This is incarnational living.

And, no, just because they would go to a third, maybe a Methodist parish, does not free us from preaching the whole council of God. We’re not instructed to preach because they will hear, but because the word must be preached.

I know, this is drastic, even borderline psychotic, but I actually think it’s the truth. Parish hopping is sinful, and we pastors need to actively condemn it, not incidentally or occasionally call it a bad idea. I know, when you get a family of 5 from the parish down the road because you’re Bible Class is so good, it’s easy to receive them. But should you? Should you be one that causes division in the Body of Christ? After all, what is Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. Is not Christ everything?