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Every Sunday Communion - Part One Being Lutheran in a Protestant World - Part One
Every Sunday Communion - Part Two Being Lutheran in a Protestant World - Part Two
Every Sunday Communion - Part Three Being Lutheran in a Protestant World - Part Three
  Being Lutheran in a Protestant World - Part Four
Congregational Governance - Part One Being Lutheran in a Protestant World - Part Five
Congregational Governance - Part Two
Congregational Governance - Part Three

 

Is Now the Time? Every Sunday Communion – Part One

 

Recently one of our elders raised the issue of every Sunday communion in an Elders’ Meeting. His previous congregation practiced every Sunday communion. The Board of Elders asked my views on the subject and I indicated that every Sunday communion was indeed the practice most faithful to our Lutheran Confessions. I also indicated that I have always desired that we one day go to such a practice, but that I wanted to make sure that the congregation was ready for such a move. We further discussed the topic and all were in agreement that we ought to discuss this among our boards and with our individual members. The Board of Elders asked for the subject to be raised in the Board of Worship and that board also agreed that we ought to study and discuss the subject. In light of these preliminary discussions, both boards asked that I do a newsletter series on the topic of every Sunday communion.

I am entitling this series “Is Now the Time?” The reason for the title is that it implies that every Sunday communion is the practice most faithful to our Lutheran Confessions. I hope to convince you of that through this series. However, the title also recognizes that sometimes it takes time to bring back things that have been lost to the church through misunderstanding and cultural circumstances. Yes, this is the best practice, but have all the misconceptions been removed that color how people see a practice that has been forgotten. Thus, we are asking, “is now the time?”

It is clear that the Lutheran Confessions envision every Sunday communion, so much so that they point to this practice as one place that Lutherans outshine their Roman Catholic opponents. In the Augsburg Confession, it states:

We are unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass. Without boasting, it is manifest that the Mass is observed among us with greater devotion and more earnestness than among our opponents. Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. (Augsburg Confession, XXIV, 1; emphasis mine)

It is interesting to note that though our Lutheran forefathers were opposed to the many abuses of the Mass that the Roman Catholic Church perpetuated, they were still willing to retain the name “Mass” for the Service of the Sacrament. Again, in the Augsburg Confession we read:

Inasmuch, then, as the Mass is … a Communion in which the priest and others receive the sacrament for themselves, it is observed among us in the following manner: On holy days, and at other times when communicants are present, Mass is held and those who desire it are communicated. Thus the Mass is preserved among us in its proper use, the use which was formerly observed in the church and which can be proved by St. Paul’s statements in I Cor. 11:20ff. and by many statements of the Fathers. (Augsburg Confession, XXIV, 34-35; German version; emphasis mine.)

When the Augsburg Confession says “on holy days” it means “on Sundays.” Thus, Luther in explaining the meaning of the Third Commandment wrote: “You shall sanctify the holy day,” meaning Sunday. The Latin version of the Augsburg Confession states it even stronger:

Inasmuch as the Mass is such a giving of the sacrament, one common Mass is observed among us on every holy day, and on other days, if any desire the sacrament, it is also administered to those who ask for it. Nor is this custom new in the church … (Augsburg Confession, XXIV, 34-35; Latin version; emphasis mine)

Indeed, that “every holy day” refers to “every Sunday” is confirmed by the Apology of the Augsburg Confession when it states:

we do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it. In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals, when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. (Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, 1; emphasis mine)

Indeed, Arthur Carl Piepkorn noted already in 1938,

From this it is clear – and this is abundantly supported by the evidence of the sixteenth century Church Orders [liturgies] – that in the mind of the Reformers the normal chief parochial [congregational] service in the Lutheran Church … would include the celebration of the Blessed Sacrament. Normally, no Sunday or major festival was to go by without the opportunity for Christians to receive the Holy Communion and when necessity or devotion drove them to the Altar … they were to be accommodated with as many additional masses, as their need and desire called for. (The Church: Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn, “The Lutheran Church a Sacramental Church, 82, editorial comments mine)

In 1961, in an article in the journel Una Sancta Arthur Carl Piepkorn himself asked whether it was time to

increase the frequency of our celebrations of the Holy Communion until we have achieved the standard of the Lutheran Symbols (AC XXIV 34; Ap XV 40; XXIV 1; LC Holy Communion 47) and of the primitive Church – every Sunday at every parochial service, every major holy day, and as often in addition as the devotion of our people requires. (The Church: Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn, “Sacrament, Stewardship, and Sacrifice,” 214)

The question “is it time” has gained further urgency since the 1991 synodical catechism, in its explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism noted that,

In the New Testament, the Sacrament was a regular and major feature of congregational worship, not an occasional extra (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). In Reformation times our churches celebrated the Sacrament “every Sunday and on other festivals” (Apology XXIV 1).

Indeed, at the 1995 synodical convention of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Resolution 2-08A was adopted, encouraging

pastors and congregations to study the scriptural, confessional, and historical witness to every Sunday communion with a view to recovering the opportunity for receiving the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day. (emphasis mine)

That resolution was adopted almost fifteen years ago. In 2006, our own Concordia Publishing House published Kenneth W. Wieting’s book, “The Blessings of Weekly Communion.” I personally have taught the appropriateness of “every Sunday communion” for over twenty years. And although I have been at Redeemer for twelve years, in an effort to make sure that it was the right time to implement it, I did not push for it, during any of those twelve years. I have always wanted to wait for the right time to restore the original Lutheran practice of every Sunday communion.  Is now the time?

I believe that it is fair to ask that question. First, I assume that our people want to be educated on what the Lutheran Confessions actually teach and promote. Indeed, our congregational constitution states, in Article IV, under The Conditions and Duties of Membership: 4, that each member “Willingly supports the ongoing Christian Education Program of the church.” Now I understand that to mean that it is the duty of every member to be willing to be educated regarding matters involving our faith. Each of us should be willing to grow in our understanding of the Christian life. Second, the entire first section of our constitution provides one with plenty of reason to ask the question, “is now the time.” Our constitution states, in Article II, under the title Purpose:

The purpose of this congregation will be: The preaching of the Word of God, the administration of the Sacraments

Our constitution also states, in Article III, under the title Confessional Standard:

We acknowledge and accept all the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church contained in the Book of Concord (1580) to be the true and genuine expression of these doctrines of the Bible.

If the Book of Concord is our confessional standard and a true and genuine expression of these doctrines of the Bible AND the Book of Concord envisions every Sunday communion, then should we not ask the question of whether or not we ought to be providing every Sunday communion and if not, why not? Likewise, in Article IV of our constitution, under the title Communicant Membership, in section one, one of The Conditions and Duties of Membership is,

Attends worship service regularly and Holy Communion frequently.

Should not the word “frequently” be interpreted in light of the Book of Concord? Indeed, Francis Pieper, the great Missouri Synod theologian wrote:

We may well call the more or less frequent use of the Lord’s Supper one of the thermometers of the spiritual life of a congregation. (Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, III, 393)

Next month we will discuss why, since the Confessions are so clear on promoting every Sunday communion, we don’t just impose it or vote on it. Why the need for newsletter articles and churchly discussions? In other words, why do we need even to ask “Is now the time?”

Blessings, Pastor

Posted by Pastor at 8/30/2009 11:36 AM | Add Comment

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Is Now the Time? Every Sunday Communion - Part Two

I come, O Savior, to Thy Table,
For weak and weary is my soul;
Thou, Bread of Life, alone art able
To satisfy and make me whole:
Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood
Be for my soul the highest good!
(stanza one, “I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table”)

Last month I began a discussion on the practice of every Sunday communion. In it I noted that this was the position of our Lutheran Confessions. Unfortunately, the practice envisioned by the Lutheran Confessions has not always been maintained even by “Lutherans” throughout history, especially here in America. Already forty-eight years ago, a Missouri Synod Lutheran, Arthur Carl Piepkorn, was prompted to write,

The Lutheran ideal is therefore not four Communion services a year, or six, or twelve, or fifteen, but some sixty at the least. And until that ideal is more generally realized it is idle to speak of sacramental life among us – the only proper description of our present state is sacramental starvation. (The Church: The Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn, 82, emphasis mine)

If every Sunday communion is the position of the Lutheran Confessions, then why don’t we just simply adopt it? In other words, since our Constitution binds us to the Lutheran Confessions, why do we need this newsletter series or any discussion at all?  In our zeal to be confessional Lutherans, however, let us not forget that most life-long Lutherans have never seen Holy Communion offered every Sunday. Piepkorn’s reference to the practice of the last couple hundred years as “sacramental starvation” is a helpful image. I have heard that when one is starving or fasting that one reaches a point where one feels no hunger. Indeed, in some instances these people have to be force fed or artificially fed, if one is to revive them. Even though nutritionists argue that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, if someone has not been raised to eat breakfast, they may see no need for it. Many, never having experienced every Sunday communion, will see no need for it and have no hunger for it. But unlike physical hunger we cannot force feed anyone. All we can do is teach and teach and teach.

This approach takes time. But I am convinced that this was Luther’s approach AND that it is the right approach. John Stephenson notes:

While the reformer [Luther] can enjoin weekly celebration of the Sacrament on the clergy, he noticeably refrains from ordering the laity to commune weekly. His reticence here perfectly parallels his softly-softly approach toward accustoming the laity to once again receive the Supper in both kinds [both the bread and the wine]. Age-old custom can be overcome only gradually, and just as it would take time for the laity to become used to receiving the chalice, so likewise gentle pastoral care and unremitting instruction would be needed to make inroads into the medieval habit of communing only once or twice a year. But Luther’s refusal to dragoon the laity to the altar must not be so interpreted that we fail to mark his clear longing for frequent Communion to be the rule, not the exception, of congregational life. (Cited in The Blessings of Weekly Communion, 107)

It must be recognized that though Luther did not insist that the lay people receive the Sacrament weekly, he did insist that it be offered every Sunday. Some ministers complained about this at his time. In response he wrote:

If the ministers complain about this, however, alleging that they are thus forced [to celebrate the Lord’s Supper], or lamenting that they are unworthy [to celebrate the Lord’s Supper], I would tell them that no one compels them except God himself through his call. For since they have the office, they are already obliged and compelled (on the basis of their calling and office) to administer the sacrament when it is requested of them; thus their excuses are void. This the same as their obligation to preach, comfort, absolve, help the poor, and visit the sick, as often as these services are needed and demanded. (Luther’s Works, 49: 207)

Luther’s insistence on offering the Sacrament every Sunday, might lead some to think that we ought to simply insist, without further ado, that it be offered every Sunday.  However, it should be noted that our situation is somewhat different than Luther’s situation.  Luther had the general cooperation of his colleagues in the ministry and of the princes during the Reformation for the implementation of every Sunday communion. We do not. Most Lutheran congregations today do not offer the Sacrament weekly, although the number of congregations doing so increases every year. Likewise, people in Luther’s day began to recognize that they had been doing a whole host of things wrong before the Reformation. Today, people believe themselves good Lutherans, even though they fail to realize that they have departed from many Lutheran teachings and practices. And so I believe that we too must adopt what Stephenson calls Luther’s “softly-softly approach” when trying to implement every Sunday communion. Thus, the rationale for this newsletter series and the discussion that must go with it. However, just as Luther eventually insisted that both kinds (the bread and the wine) be received in the Sacrament, so too the move to every Sunday communion should not be delayed forever. At some point, it will be the time and Lutherans desiring to be faithful to the Confessions will recognize that.

It is important to note that the practice before Luther was for people to take communion only once or twice a year. In his work, “The Lord’s Supper,” Stephenson notes that

Now the weekly communion of the faithful had been the norm until the Constantinian establishment of Christianity in the fourth century. But once good standing in the church became a prerequisite for holding office in the empire, masses of nominal converts swarmed to the font, yet remained largely aloof from the altar … (Stephenson, The Lord’s Supper, 127-128, emphasis mine)

Thus, the earliest Christians celebrated the Sacrament every Lord’s Day up until the fourth century. When Christianity was legalized, people joined the Church for personal advancement rather than for spiritual blessing. The bad example of those who “remained largely aloof from the altar” rubbed off on others. At some point “private masses” began and with these two factors weekly congregational reception of the Holy Sacrament began to dwindle. This downward spiral continued right up until the Reformation, thus, Stephenson further notes:

As the Lutheran Reformation began, the average layman received the Blessed Sacrament no more than three times a year. (Stephenson, The Lord’s Supper, 128)

In other words, the early Christians practiced every Sunday communion and it was Luther and his colleagues that restored the practice of every Sunday communion to the Church!!! As in so many other ways, Lutherans went back to the earliest traditions of the Church, undoing the many false practices and mistaken ideas that had infiltrated the Church prior to Luther. Indeed, our Lutheran forefathers argued that less frequent communion was one of the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church!!! As late as 1880, one Anglican commentator could say of Lutherans in Germany, “The Lutherans … excel all other Protestants for they have a communion every Sunday and holyday throughout the year.” (Cited in Stephenson, 144)

So how did we get to the place that some of us can remember in our own lifetime, Lutheran churches only offering the Sacrament four times a year? Two main factors were Pietism and Rationalism. Both developed after the Reformation and both downplayed the frequent reception of the Sacrament. Pietism arose from a theology of glory. Luther’s theology of the cross recognized that the church is hidden under the cross, that she does not appear holy, but rather every Christian is at the same time saint and sinner. Pietism fell into a theology of glory and tried to measure the holiness of individuals. This stress on holiness caused Pietism to focus people inward toward their own sincerity, feelings, and emotions. The Sacrament being an external thing was downplayed. Rationalism, on the other hand, denied the supernatural and miraculous and you can’t get more supernatural and miraculous than believing that Christ gives His very Body and Blood in the Sacrament. Thus, although Pietism and Rationalism were bitter enemies, they both downplayed the Sacrament that Christ gave His Church. These two influences were brought to America by the original immigrants.

Unfortunately, our American context only made matters worse. Although some of our LCMS founding congregations practiced every Sunday communion, the American frontier situation made it difficult for many Lutheran congregations to practice every Sunday communion. On the frontier, one pastor might have served four or five congregations some distance apart. What was an emergency situation, due to lack of clergy, became the “tradition” for many and thus the “norm.” Likewise, our Protestant cultural context influenced the Lutheran Church here in America more strongly than many of us realize. In an effort to fit into the American worship scene much of what made us distinctively Lutheran was downplayed.  Likewise, Roman Catholic practice changed. Stephenson notes,

… in the early twentieth century … Roman Catholics begin to avail themselves of frequent communion (Stephenson, The Lord’s Supper, 128)

There has always been strong anti-Roman Catholic bias among Americans. Thus, anything that even looked Roman Catholic was suspect. Thus, when in the early twentieth century, Roman Catholics began receiving the Sacrament more frequently, many Lutherans here in America, who had only been offered communion four times a year in their own congregation, thought that frequent communion was a distinctively Roman Catholic practice.  This is truly ironic, since as we have seen it was Luther that brought back every Sunday communion and it was the Roman Catholic Church of his day that had for centuries downplayed and hindered frequent reception of communion by the laity. 

As we have noted there were calls for reform in our practice already in the 1930’s. However, with the battle over the doctrine of inerrancy, our Lutheran Church here in America was sidetracked from bringing such reform to pass. And unfortunately, some of those who were calling for every Sunday communion were on the wrong side of the fence on the issue of inerrancy. Thus, their pleas for every Sunday communion were considered suspect by more conservative Lutherans. But it must be remembered that Luther believed in every Sunday communion AND in the inerrancy of the Bible. Indeed, his insistence on making communion available more frequently was not a denial of the authority of the Bible, rather it came from a heartfelt allegiance to the Bible’s own admonition, “This do ... often.” Or in the words of the hymn, “I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table,”

What higher gift can we inherit?
It is faith’s bond and solid base;
It is the strength of heart and spirit,
The covenant of hope and grace.
Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood
Be for my soul the highest good! (stanza nine)

This feast is manna, wealth abounding
Unto the poor, to weak ones power,
To angels joy, to hell confounding,
And life for me in death’s dark hour.
Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood
Be for my soul the highest good! (stanza ten)

Next month I’ll deal with misconceptions involving the frequency of the Lord’s Supper.

Blessings, Pastor

Posted by Pastor 8/15/2009 7:34 AM | View Comments (2) | Add Comment

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Is Now the Time? Every Sunday Communion - Part Three

Weary am I and heavy laden,
With sin my soul is sore opprest;
Receive me graciously and gladden
My heart, for I am now Thy guest.
Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood
Be for my soul the highest good!
(stanza six, “I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table)

What sort of things might make people resistant to offering Holy Communion every Sunday? Kenneth Wieting recently did a survey of congregations and pastors in our Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. In his book, The Blessings of Weekly Communion, he notes that there were four main concerns raised with respect to the idea of going to weekly communion, namely: 1) The Sacrament will Become Too Common, 2) The Sacrament will Take Too Much Time, 3) People Do Not Understand the Witness to Every Sunday Communion, and 4) Occasional Communion is Considered the Lutheran Tradition. The third and fourth concern I have addressed in my previous newsletter articles. There I have shown what the actual practice envisioned by Luther and his colleagues was and how we departed from that practice here in America. However, I have not addressed the other two concerns.

The first concern, “the Sacrament will become too common,” is sometimes otherwise stated as, “the Sacrament will become less special.” Wieting notes,

In one sense the primary concern listed here is understandable because it holds true for many things in life. Whether it is leftover turkey in the days after Thanksgiving or our favorite dessert served daily for a month, too much of a good thing quickly becomes wearisome. It is in our sinful human nature to take good gifts for granted: our spouse, our family, our work, our country, freedom. But the Lord’s Supper is no ordinary “good thing.” It is the body and blood of Him who alone is good – God (Luke 18:19). (Wieting, The Blessings of Weekly Communion, 157-158)

As Wieting notes, some things CAN become too common. Sometimes “less IS more.” However, there are other things in life that become more meaningful with more frequent use. When learning a new language, the more you use it, the more fluent you become in that language. In sports, the more you play, the better you become at the sport. Here “less IS NOT more!” Indeed, some things in life require frequency and are best when habitual. Can you imagine someone under normal circumstances saying to their spouse, “I’m not going to sleep in the same bed with you every night, so that when we do sleep together it will be more special.” Or again (under normal circumstances), “I’m not going to eat with you every night, so that when we do eat together it will be more special.” No, the habitual nature of the activity says something about one’s commitment to the relationship. Indeed, I do not believe that it is accidental that our Lord Himself describes His relationship with the church as the relationship between a bridegroom and His bride. And the most intimate expression of that relationship is when He gives us His body and blood to eat in His Supper. Here “less IS DEFINITELY NOT more!!!”

For the twenty some years of my ministry I have dismissed communicants saying, “And now may the true body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you unto life everlasting. Amen.” If it is true that the body and blood of Christ strengthens and preserves us, why would we want to take it less often? Can one become too strengthened and too preserved unto life everlasting? Of course not. Perhaps the problem is that we are evaluating the Lord’s Supper on how it makes us feel rather than what our Lord promises. Do we give the Lord’s Supper its value or does it have value regardless of how we feel about it at any particular time? Surely it is the latter, for the Lord’s Supper gives us forgiveness of sins and the very Body and Blood of Christ whether our faith is weak or strong at any given moment. Indeed, if we want to strengthen our faith, why would we want it less often?

The second concern raised was “the Sacrament will take too much time.” Someone has aptly said, that time is the new money. “Time is money.” That is, time is a valuable commodity. However, Weiting asks,

In view of the time we spend at our children’s sports or music events, the time we spend reading the paper, the time we spend watching a movie or television, and the time we spend for ourselves and for others, is the real problem an additional fifteen minutes on Sunday morning? (Wieting, 160)

If time is valuable and we value time, then what does it mean when we do not want to take extra time to receive the Sacrament? Is that not saying that we have better things to do than receive the Body and Blood of Christ? Are we not then saying that something else is “for my soul the highest good?” Of course, we should do whatever we can to help people with unusual schedules. If there are conflicts with schedules, we need to ask if those schedules can be changed or whether we need to offer the Sacrament at other times or change our worship times. But the concern for people with unusual schedules is also a reason to offer communion every Sunday. Some people are unable to be at church every Sunday. Some people have to work many Sundays. Offering the Sacrament every Sunday allows them to be able to receive the Sacrament on whatever Sunday they may be able to come.

Going to every Sunday communion will mean more work for the Altar Guild. However, it also offers the opportunity for others to help as they become aware of our new need on Altar Guild. Perhaps some people realizing the new need, will be willing to serve on Altar Guild. Also others already on Altar Guild might be willing to serve more often. Another thing to remember is that no one is forcing anyone to take the Sacrament more frequently. We are simply asking that you allow those who desire the Sacrament more frequently to have that opportunity.

While discussing the challenge to Luther of bringing back Holy Communion in both kinds, that is, returning the cup to the laity, John Stephenson noted that “Age-old custom can be overcome only gradually.” People at Luther’s time had never received the Blood of Christ. A return to the ancient, biblical practice seemed strange and surely made some uncomfortable. Some probably felt that the church had survived for centuries without the laity receiving the cup. Why should they change? Even our Lord Himself noted that many would not accept His teachings, for the very reason that some would feel that the church had gotten along just fine without His “new teaching.” Thus, Jesus said, “no one pours new wine into old wineskins … and … no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better’” (Luke 5:37, 39). In other words, “it’s hard to teach an old dog, new tricks.” However, “what is impossible with men IS POSSIBLE with God” (Luke 18:27). We have seen that here at Redeemer.

That I am even willing to bring up this discussion of every Sunday communion to this congregation says something about how I view this congregation. I am extremely proud of how open our people are and how much our people want to do the right thing. One of the things that I am truly thankful for at Redeemer has been the loving and caring attitude of our members. Let me give just one example. I have been amazed at how many of even our oldest members have adopted making the sign of the cross. This is simply amazing considering the “age-old” prejudice against this wonderful ancient Christian tradition found here in America. But I have been even more amazed at the loving and caring attitude of those at Redeemer who have not adopted the custom of making the sign of the cross. Even though they themselves are uncomfortable with the practice, they permit others to make the sign of the cross and they allow me to teach the significance of making the sign of the cross. If this does not show self-sacrificial love for their fellow members I don’t know what does. Sunday in and Sunday out they see their fellow members making the sign of the cross, something they are personally uncomfortable doing. And rather than leaving the congregation or complaining about those who do make the sign of the cross, they continue to support their congregation AND their fellow members who make the sign of the cross. For this we must simply rejoice. This is nothing less than the love of God being manifested in a wonderful way. And I pray that our people will adopt the same loving attitude regarding every Sunday communion, whether they personally receive it every Sunday or not.

Just as there will be those who will never make the sign of the cross because of “age-old custom,” that is, what they are used to and what they have previously thought about it, so there will be those who will never take communion more than twice a month here at Redeemer because they are not used to every Sunday communion. And that is OK. Please don’t judge your neighbor because they aren’t taking the Sacrament every Sunday. Remember their presence at Redeemer shows that they aren’t judging you for taking it every Sunday.

May the recapturing of the original Lutheran practice of offering the Sacrament every Sunday prove to be a blessing for all. For in the words of “I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table,”

Thy body, given for me, O Savior,
Thy blood which Thou for me didst shed,
These are my life and strength forever,
By them my hungry soul is fed.
Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood
Be for my soul the highest good! (stanza eleven)

Blessings, Pastor Lange

Posted by Pastor at 7/30/2009 5:44 PM | Add Comment

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Congregational Governance - Part One

A church constitution is a human, not a divine document. A specific form of church government is not commanded in the Bible. Therefore a Lutheran congregation is permitted to adopt any form of government that she sees fit for her particular circumstances. C.F.W. Walther, the founding father of our Missouri Synod, and an avid promoter of the congregational form of government, wrote,

the Lutheran church can tolerate all constitutions of outward church government (insofar as adiaphora are concerned) even as since the time of the Reformation in the various Lutheran lands Episcopal, presbyterial, consistorial, and congregational (communal) constitutions have existed … That the Lutheran church can tolerate every kind of constitution is proved by her confession as well as by her history. (Essays for the Church, Volume 1, 194-95, emphasis added)

Our Lutheran forefathers were even willing to accept the Roman bishops and many of the ordinances of the Roman church, if the Roman church would allow the Gospel and pure doctrine. They were willing to do this “for the sake of love and peace” (Smalcald Articles Part III, Art. X). Our forefathers did not “want their way,” but simply that God’s Word would be taught in its purity and truth.

Thus that a particular form of church government is not commanded in the Bible does not mean that individuals can ignore the prevailing form of government they find in their local congregation. Rather like our forefathers, they are to conduct themselves according to those forms for “the sake of love and peace.” When one becomes a member of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, one voluntarily binds oneself to abide by the rules and processes established by our congregational constitution. Thus, it is important for every member of the congregation to know and to abide by the rules that have been established in this community of believers, “for the sake of love and peace.”

It should be noted that within our Missouri Synod, a congregational form of government prevails; however, there is some variety in regard to how that form is carried out. Some congregations are run solely by Voters’ Meetings having few or no boards. Others use the Voters’ Meeting much more selectively and instead opt for a more “representative” form of government involving a “Church Council” and many different boards. Redeemer’s form of government makes use of such a “Church Council.” The “Church Council” is given wide and great powers in this system. Read carefully the following section from our constitution.

Article VII: Powers of the Congregation

Section One: A. General Matters
Congregational delegates to the Church Council have the power to administer and manage all the general affairs of the church. All members of the congregation are welcome to attend all Church Council and Board meetings.
B. Special Matters
A congregational meeting is necessary to resolve the following situations:
1. To amend the church Articles of Incorporation, Constitution, By-Laws and Operating Codes.
2. To erect buildings.
3. To purchase or sell real estate or other expensive property.
4. To Call or remove a pastor.
A two-thirds vote of those present at the meeting is required to resolve the issue. A minimum of ten congregational members is needed to call a meeting. Notice will be given by announcement or in the bulletin in two consecutive Sunday worship services prior to the meeting. Whenever a meeting has been announced in this manner, it will be considered a legal meeting, capable of transacting church business.

Note that there are two categories clearly defined, “general matters” and “special matters.” The section on “special matters” points out there are four places where the Church Council does NOT have authority. These require a special Voters’ Meeting. Otherwise, “Congregational delegates to the Church Council have the power to administer and manage all the general affairs of the church.” (Emphasis added)

What does this mean? It means that no individual member of the congregation, no officer, no board can dictate policy or make decisions unless that has been specifically delegated to them and even then such decisions and policies are subject to review by the Church Council. This also means that each of the boards is MERELY advisory to the Church Council. Another way to put it is that the Boards serve the Church Council. This is made plain in the section on Powers of the Congregation but it is also reflected in the language that is used to describe the duties of each board. And so in the section entitled “Elders” it is said that they are to “make recommendations.” In the section entitled “Trustees” we find the words “recommend to the Church Council” and “will get final approval from the Church Council” and “will make recommendations.” Likewise, the Board of Stewardship is to “make recommendations.” I could go on and on since this same language is found throughout the Constitution. Even the President of the congregation can only “make recommendations to the Church Council.” It is also clearly found in Section Three of Article VII which under the title “Powers of Officers” states,

“Officers, boards and committees elected or appointed by the congregation will have no authority beyond that conferred on them. Whatever power delegated to them may at any time be altered or abolished by the congregation.”

What recourse does an individual, an officer or boards have if they disagree with the Church Council? According to our Constitution, if they can get nine other members to agree that there is a need to review a ruling of the Council, those ten members then may ask the President to call a special Voters’ Meeting. For such a meeting to be legal it must be announced verbally or in the bulletin for two Sundays prior to the meeting. If the Voters’ Meeting overturns the decision of the Church Council, the Church Council must submit to the wishes of the Voters’ Meeting. Why? Because the Church Council serves the Voters. The decision of the Voters’ Meeting is determined by majority vote, except in the four special cases mentioned above. Those instances require a two-thirds majority.

To use a card analogy … In matters of adiaphora, that is, things neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, the Church Council trumps all boards and all officers. But the Voters’ Meeting trumps the Church Council. The only thing that can trump the Voters’ Meeting is God’s Word. Thus, our constitution says in Article VII, Section Two, “Matters of doctrine are not subject to vote.” More on this next time!!!

Blessings, Pastor

Posted by Pastor at 7/25/2009 1:46 PM | Add Comment

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Congregational Governance - Part Two

Last month, I took a close look at our congregational constitution to clarify how we govern ourselves with regard to adiaphora (ah-dee-AFF-or-ah, adiaphora is plural, adiaphoron is singular). Adiaphora are things neither commanded nor forbidden by God’s Word. I noted that the Lutheran Church can be governed by any form of government with respect to adiaphora, that in fact the form of government itself is an adiaphoron. However, this should not be taken to mean that theological concerns did not inform the choice our forefathers made regarding our particular form of government. For our congregational constitution is not modeled after any aspect of our American system of government or any business paradigm, rather it is shaped through and through by theological concerns. Therefore, one will not properly understand our constitution by comparing it to anything outside the church and all such comparisons in fact promote a wrong understanding of our constitution. Rather to properly understand our constitution it must be understood from the vantage point of our forefathers’ theological concerns. Thus, we turn to the writings of C.F.W. Walther and Francis Pieper, the Missouri Synod’s two most prominent theologians.

One such theological concern was the very distinction between doctrine and adiaphora itself. This is seen in Walther’s assertion that,

Matters of doctrine and conscience can be settled only with unanimity and according to God’s Word and the confession of the church (Is. 8:20). If a vote is taken in matters of this nature, it must not be done in order to let the majority decide but rather to determine whether everyone has recognized what is right and agrees with it. A congregational member who will not yield and agree to what has been presented from God’s Word and the confession of the church, forfeits his right to vote and becomes subject to church discipline. (Pastoral Theology, 259)

Here we see a concern for scriptural authority. Thus, Walther further states,

… all decisions and resolutions of the congregation which are contrary to God’s Word or the [congregation’s] confession are to be declared in advance null and void. (Pastoral Theology, 264-265)

Likewise, Pieper, shows a concern for the Reformation’s sola scriptura (Scripture alone) principle, when he wrote,

Attention may here be drawn to the fact that the voting or balloting in the meetings of orthodox congregations has a different significance when it concerns Christian doctrine than when it concerns indifferent matters. The only purpose of voting in matters of doctrine is to see whether all now understand the teaching of the divine Word and agree to it; the purpose of the vote is not to decide the correctness of a doctrine by majority vote or even by unanimous vote. The orthodox Christian Church remains aware of the fact that it cannot by resolution make or give birth to Christian doctrines, but must always merely set forth from Scripture and profess over against the prevailing error the doctrines submitted and settled in Scripture. (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III, 430)

This is what lies behind our constitution saying that “Matters of doctrine are not subject to vote” (Article VII, Section Two). Indeed, Walther argues that

… in case any divisions arise, the church property should remain with those who not only retain the Lutheran name but actually retain the Lutheran confession, even if the latter were only two … (Pastoral Theology, 264)

This theological concern is also reflected in our constitution, in Article VIII, when it states,

If at any time a separation should take place on account of doctrine, the property of the congregation and all benefits therewith connected shall remain with those members who continue to adhere in confession and practice to Article III of this constitution.

In matters of doctrine, the majority does not rule. Rather one man with the Word of God is a majority. However, one may not appeal to just anyone’s interpretation of God’s Word, rather this congregation has bound herself to a specific exposition of God’s Word, namely that which is found in the Lutheran Confessions. This is called our “Confessional Standard” (Article III) in our constitution.

What does this mean? It means we cannot vote to practice open communion, nor vote to teach that Holy Communion is merely symbolic and not the True Body and Blood of Christ. If one does not wish to follow the interpretation of Scriptures that we have bound ourselves to in the Book of Concord, then to be ethical one should separate oneself from our congregation. Here again, it is no secular model of governing that causes us to distinguish between doctrine and adiaphora, but rather our theology.

How then did our forefathers understand one’s course of action regarding issues of adiaphora? Pieper wrote,

In adiaphora a vote is taken to ascertain what the majority regards as best. The natural order is that in adiaphora the minority yields to the majority and acquiesces, not because the majority has the right to rule, but for love’s sake. Since, however, love is queen here, it may happen that the majority will yield to the minority. (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III, 430)

How different than other systems!!! Thus, even though we vote, our system is not based on democratic principles, but rather it flows out of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (that all Christians are equal) and the doctrine of the freedom of the Christian man (that in the church only God can make rules). Thus, Pieper notes that, “Adiaphora are not settled among Christians by compulsion, but through mutual consent (per mutuum consensum) according to love.”

Another doctrinal concern that motivated our forefathers was the scriptural teaching of avoiding giving unnecessary offense. Therefore, Walther noted,

A congregation must place the observance of matters decided by a majority resolution within the good will of the minority or of individuals. If it is to be feared that recklessly carrying out a majority resolution would lead to disunity or division, the pastor should try to move the majority to give up its resolution for the sake of the minority. (Pastoral Theology, 259)

Each of these aspects of the constitution flow forth not from mere pragmatic concerns, or by the adoption of models from the church’s surrounding environment, but rather out of concern for major doctrinal and theological aspects of the Reformation. More to come!!!

Posted by Pastor at 7/24/2009 1:53 PM | View Comments (3) | Add Comment

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Congregational Governance - Part Three

Last month I noted that both Walther and Pieper point out that in matters of adiaphora the normal procedure in voters’ assemblies is for the minority to acquiesce/ yield to the majority. However, it was also noted that there are times when the majority should yield to the minority. Under what circumstances should the majority acquiesce to the minority? In discussing this issue, Walther distinguished between “weak” believers and those persons who “stubbornly oppose good churchly ordinances.” Walther writes,

one must first of all know who the weak ones are, to whom the majority should sometimes yield. They are not the persons who stubbornly oppose good churchly ordinances and refuse to hear and learn – to these one dare not yield. The weak are those who would gladly conform, but for conscience’s sake are unable to do so (because they are afraid they might wound their conscience) – to these one must yield, according to the example of St. Paul, who indeed circumcised Timothy in order to gain the Jews (Acts 16), but refused to circumcise Titus because false teachers demanded it. (Essays for the Church, Vol. I, 196-97; emphasis added)

According to Walther one must yield to weakness, but one should not yield to stubbornness. That raises another question, how then does one tell whether one’s own attitudes and actions or the attitudes and actions of others stem from genuine weakness or from mere stubbornness? Walther continues,

The distinguishing mark, whether one is weak in faith or not, is on the one hand the erring conscience on the part of a sincere Christian who is willing to be instructed, and on the other hand stubbornness on the part of an obstinate person who does not want to be instructed. One only need ask, “Is it because you don’t want it, or do you have a reason why you refuse?” (Essays, 197)

Note that Walther’s distinguishing mark of whether someone is weak or merely being stubborn is twofold, namely, whether or not it involves their conscience and whether they are willing to be instructed. When he says, “do you have a reason why you refuse,” he does not mean that just any old reason is sufficient, rather the reason given must involve one’s conscience. In other words, there must be the fear of sinning involved. Note also that he calls it an “erring” conscience. The weak person holds an incorrect opinion, but because they mistakenly view the matter as “sin” it is wrong for them to do what their erring conscience forbids. For example, even though moderate drinking of alcohol is not sinful in itself, if the person drinking believes it is sinful, because he has been taught that all use of alcohol is sinful, and he goes ahead and drinks alcohol, say, at the urging of friends, his action becomes sinful not because drinking alcohol in moderation is sinful but because his drinking was not done in faith, for “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) and “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6) Likewise, if we know an individual avoids alcohol, not because they are stubborn, but out of weakness, we sin if we drink in front of them, without first convincing them that such actions are not sinful. That is why Walther writes,

If a Puritan … were to visit us … it would be right if we would strictly avoid everything by which he could be offended in his prejudiced conscience in order that we might not repel him to begin with. (Essays, 197)

Thus, the idea of the majority acquiescing to the minority flows out of a specific theological concern, namely, that we not cause someone to sin against their conscience. It is for the sake of our brother’s conscience that “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.”(Romans 15:1-3a) The example of Christ is instructive in this matter. In His actions we see clearly the twofold nature of what Walther calls the distinguishing mark between the weak and the stubborn. On many occasions we see Jesus “pleasing his neighbor for his good to build him up.” In these cases, it is evident that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Matthew 12:20) Yet when Jesus dealt with the Pharisees, He often offended them. For example, He healed on the Sabbath. They certainly claimed that their consciences were involved because these matters were sinful in their eyes. Thus, if the only aspect of the “distinguishing mark” were that someone claims that the issues involve sin, then Jesus would have had to yield to the Pharisees. However, Jesus does not yield to the Pharisees. He does not try to please them. Rather He tries to instruct them, but since they persist in not listening to His instruction He then rails against the obstinate Pharisees. His refusal to yield to them was both for their good and for the good of those who might be wrongly influenced by them. The Pharisees refusal to be instructed shows that they were not weak but stubborn.

In a letter providing advice to a brother pastor, Walther writes,

Only such a person who can prove that he feels himself bound by a Word of God, and indeed is, can appeal to his conscience … However, if he cannot cite such Word of God by which he considers himself bound, and if in contrast one quotes in vain a Word that ought to satisfy his ostensibly troubled conscience, then he is not to be listened to when he uses his conscience as a pretext. According to God’s Word at times even Christ’s enemies think they are doing God a service (thus acting according to conscience) when they brutally persecute Christ’s disciples (John 16:2-3) … Therefore Luther writes: “Even if you would urge your conscience, that will not help you. You are required first to allow your conscience and purpose to be substantiated by the Scripture or to be instructed by it … For a really good conscience does and desires nothing better than that it might hear the instruction of the Scripture and discuss its matters on the basis of Scripture.” (Walther Speaks to the Church, Selected Letters, 72)

The Pharisees were unwilling to be instructed. But because every Christian still retains the sinful flesh there are times when all of us don’t want to be instructed. Therefore it is a sign of the old Adam when Christians resist instruction and do not desire to discuss doctrine and issues of practice flowing out of these doctrines. For in the words of Luther, the new man in every Christian “desires nothing better than that it might hear the instruction of the Scripture.” More to come!!!

Posted by Pastor at 7/23/2009 2:03 PM | Add Comment

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Being Lutheran in a Protestant World - Part One

The Battle Over Christmas – Whose Side are You On?
Or
Being Lutheran in a Protestant World

Recently there has been a great deal of debate over whether or not stores ought to celebrate “Christmas” or simply the “holidays.” Many stores have changed their ads to “Happy Holidays” in order not to offend non-Christians. Many Christians are rightfully upset over such craziness and what amounts to reverse discrimination.

Are you for Christmas or against it? Might sound like a silly question, but here is where the irony comes in. You may have answered differently two hundred years ago. Did you know that Christmas was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681? Do you know who outlawed the celebration? Christians! That’s right. The Puritans (pilgrims) outlawed Christmas. And such attitudes were not confined to them. In fact, Christmas did not become a legal holiday in America until 1870, almost a hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Historians note that there were several factors that contributed to the anti-Christmas feeling in America. One factor was that the celebration of Christmas was identified with England and for a long time after the Revolutionary War, English customs were looked down upon in America. But the main reason that Christmas was rejected at that time was because America was a Protestant country and Christmas was viewed as a Roman Catholic holiday. One great irony then in the current debate is that those who are yelling the loudest in support of Christmas today, would have been totally against it prior to the late 1800’s!!!

The Protestant reaction to Christmas had nothing to do with the over-commercialization of Christmas or on an overemphasis upon Santa Claus (he didn’t become popular in America until the 1800’s). These are issues we face today. No, at that time, most Americans were against Christmas because it was too Roman Catholic! The connection between an anti-Christmas and an anti-Roman Catholic mentality is surprising to us today, but it was still fresh in the memory of some people in the early 1900’s. John Sullivan, a Roman Catholic scholar, writing in 1917, notes this when he writes, under the title Christmas, “A Catholic Feast,

Christmas has, indeed, come to be a festival day for all; and the universal observance of this Catholic feast is the more remarkable when we remember how this “Papist” custom was frowned upon only a few years ago in this Christian land of ours. Perhaps some of us can recall when there was little respect for Christmas, either in a religious way or otherwise, among non-Catholics in this country. It was only when the narrow-minded sects had ceased to be in a majority, and when European immigration had infused new vigor and new ideals (sic) into the life of America, that the anniversary of the Saviour’s birth began to be a religious and social festival. (The Externals of the Catholic Church, 136, emphasis mine)

Sullivan is not making this up. Christmas was indeed “frowned upon” by most non-Roman Catholics in America for the first three hundred years of our history. What changed this attitude here in America? Well, historians again note several factors, including the literary works of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens which glamorized the celebration of Christmas in the 1800’s. However, Sullivan mentions what I believe to be the most important factor when he refers to “European immigration” infusing new ideas into the religious makeup of America. This “European immigration” included what were then known as the “old Lutherans” or “European Lutherans” most notably our forefathers in the Missouri Synod. Our forefathers left Germany in 1838 to come to America. Lutherans had been celebrating Christmas for years in Europe. Our Missouri Synod forefathers brought Christmas with them and they continued to celebrate it here in Protestant America unafraid of being labeled too Roman Catholic!

What were the Protestant arguments for rejecting Christmas as Roman Catholic? First of all, Protestants pointed out that the celebration of Christmas is nowhere commanded in the Bible. Second, there is no biblical example of anyone celebrating our Lord’s birth in the years that followed His birth. In fact, we are not even absolutely sure at what time and season Jesus was born. Thus, our celebration of Christmas is merely a tradition. Third, the Roman Catholic church contends, perhaps rightfully, that the day of Christmas was instituted by Pope Julius I in the fourth century. Finally, “Christmas” is made up of two words, “Christ” and “mass.” Christmas is the Mass celebrating Christ’s birth. Unfortunately, any talk of a “Mass,” even today, conjures up all the errors of Roman Catholic teaching.

So that’s a pretty impressive list of arguments against Christmas. Add to this that some people suggest that Christmas was originally a pagan festival and you can see why Christmas had a hard time becoming established in Protestant America. So how did our Lutheran forefathers counter these imposing arguments? What about the fact that there is no command to celebrate Christmas and no biblical example of anyone celebrating Christmas in the years that followed the event? Lutherans would counter by pointing out that there is no prohibition against celebrating Christmas in the Bible either. Lutherans do not add nor do they subtract from God’s Word. To prohibit what God has not prohibited is to add to God’s Word, it is to make something “sin” which God has not called “sin.” If God has not commanded it, nor forbidden it, then it is free for Christians to decide. Rome says “you must,” the Protestants say, “you must not,” Lutherans say neither and do both. What God has left free, Lutherans leave free. The fact that a pope may have instigated the celebration does not make it sinful. Popes have at various times instigated fasts and vigils, praying and singing. That does not make praying and singing “Roman Catholic” or somehow “sinful.” Likewise, the term “mass” is not in and of itself “sinful.” In our Lutheran Confessions we say, “Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass.” (Augsburg Confession, XXIV, 1) We had no problem with the term “mass,” our problem was with the false theology connected to Rome’s practice of the mass. Finally, whatever possible pagan connections there may have actually been with Christmas, these do not explain the Christian celebration of Christmas today. Thus, no one today worships Janus or Juno, even though we all speak of the months January and June. In Zechariah, the prophet has adopted the Babylonian names for the months, even though these originally referred to pagan worship. By the time of Zechariah these associations were long forgotten. The same can be said for Christmas.

On the issue of Christmas, our Lutheran forefathers were able to remain Lutheran in a Protestant world and to pass their heritage of celebrating Christmas down to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren and they even influenced American culture. As we will see in next month’s issue, they were not so fortunate in other areas of their faith and practice.

Blessings, Pastor

Posted by Pastor at 7/22/2009 9:14 AM | Add Comment

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Being Lutheran in a Protestant World - Part Two

The Battle Over Christmas – Whose Side are You On?
Or
Being Lutheran in a Protestant World Part 2

Last month we saw how the Protestants in early America charged those who celebrated Christmas as being too Roman Catholic. Not only on this issue, but on various topics, our Missouri Synod forefathers had to respond to this same charge again and again, especially in regard to our worship practices. Sadly, it was not just Protestants who leveled this charge. Even other “Lutherans” criticized our worship practices as being too Roman Catholic. Unfortunately, these “Lutherans” had been influenced by the Protestants in our country for a couple hundred years and had either forgotten their Lutheran heritage or despised it in order to blend into the American religious scene. The difference in worship practice between our Missouri Synod forefathers and these other “Lutherans” can be seen in the following account in the 1850’s given by a J.B. McAfee, a “protestantized” Lutheran, who describes a visit he made to a Missouri Synod church in St. Louis, in the publication The Lutheran Observer:

I …arrived in St. Louis on Saturday night, July 19. Sunday morning at 5 o’clock I left the boat in order to seek out a Lutheran church. First I went to Concordia College, but finding no church there, returned to the city, and wandered from place to place till nearly 11 o’clock, when I found the long-sought object. Upon entering I found all seats occupied, with the exception of one, which I took. Here I saw, for the first time in a Lutheran church, image and crucifix. I came to the conclusion that I had come to the wrong place and was in a Roman church. The preacher was attired in priestly vestments, the sacrament was to be distributed, wax candles burnt on the east side of the altar, wafers were used, etc. People bowed towards the images, and as I supposed, before them. Thus the ceremony ended. Rarely have I seen a preacher seemingly more solemn, serious, and zealous. But do not believe that because I admire the zeal of the man …I also admire the ceremony. This is something to which I am totally opposed … (Cited in Kurt Marquardt, Anatomy of An Explosion, 23, emphasis mine)

Like the celebration of Christmas, all of these wonderful Lutheran practices were thought to be too Roman Catholic. In spite of this tremendous and persistent opposition, our Missouri Synod forefathers continued to practice these things and strove to introduce them wherever possible. For example, CFW Walther, the first president of our Missouri Synod, lamented the prejudice against liturgical worship, writing,

It is too bad also that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced into many congregations. The prejudice especially against the responsive chanting of pastor and congregations is of course still very great with many people – this does not, however, alter the fact that it is very foolish. The pious church father Augustine said: “Qui canat, bis orat – he who sings prays twice.” This finds its application also in the matter of the liturgy. Why should congregations or individuals in the congregation want to retain their prejudices? How foolish that would be! For first of all it is clear from the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:16) that the congregations of his time had a similar custom. It [chanting] has been the custom of the Lutheran church for 350 years. It creates a solemn impression on the Christian mind when one is reminded by the solemnity of the divine service that one is in the house of God where the children of God, in childlike love to their heavenly Father, also give expression to their spiritual joy in such a lovely manner … it … also …does not indicate a good disposition when people do not want to kneel at confession and at Holy Communion. Who would not be willing to bow the knees before the great God? And would it be wrong to teach Christians in this matter? Of this Luther says fittingly that when Christians kneel when they receive the Sacrament it seems to him as though everyone had his censer with which he approaches the throne of grace (Ps. 95:6) (Essays for the Church I, 194)

Walther again describes the liturgical practice and worship tradition of the Missouri Synod, when he defends chanting in an article in Der Lutheraner (the Lutheran Witness of its day!). Walther writes,

Whenever the divine service once again follows the old Evangelical-Lutheran agendas (or church books), it seems that many raise a great cry that it is "Roman Catholic": "Roman Catholic" when the pastor chants "The Lord be with you" and the congregation responds by chanting "and with thy spirit"; "Roman Catholic" when the pastor chants the collect and the blessing and the people respond with a chanted "Amen." Even the simplest Christian can respond to this outcry: "Prove to me that this chanting is contrary to the Word of God, then I too will call it `Roman Catholic' and have nothing more to do with it. However, you cannot prove this to me." If you insist upon calling every element in the divine service "Romish" that has been used by the Roman Catholic Church, it must follow that the reading of the Epistle and Gospel is also "Romish." Indeed, it is mischief to sing or preach in church, for the Roman Church has done this also . . .Those who cry out should remember that the Roman Catholic Church possesses every beautiful song of the old orthodox church. The chants and antiphons and responses were brought into the church long before the false teachings of Rome crept in. This Christian Church since the beginning, even in the Old Testament, has derived great joy from chanting... For more than 1700 years orthodox Christians have participated joyfully in the divine service. Should we, today, carry on by saying that such joyful participation is "Roman Catholic"? God forbid! Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us boldly confess that our worship forms do not tie us with the modern sects or with the church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian Church that is as old as the world and is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. (Der Lutheraner, July 19, 1853, issue, volume 9, number 24, page 163, translation by Paul McCain)

Our Lutheran forefathers strove to remain Lutheran in a Protestant world. They clung to their heritage of celebrating Christmas and they clung to their worship forms. Thanks to their courage, I can today unashamedly wish you a blessed Christmas!

Pastor

Posted by Pastor at 7/21/2009 9:44 AM | Add Comment

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Being Lutheran in a Protestant World - Part Three

The Battle Over Christmas
Or
Being Lutheran in a Protestant World Part 3

We have seen that our Missouri Synod forefathers retained the celebration of Christmas in spite of the fact that it was viewed as too Roman Catholic by most Americans. Likewise, we saw that they fought for many Lutheran traditions in spite of encountering the very same prejudice and resistance that they experienced in trying to celebrate Christmas. Our Lutheran forefathers believed that these traditions were not sinful, not contrary to God’s will and that such practices were left free by God to our Christian choice. Thus, Walther wrote,

For true Lutherans know that although one does not have to have these things (because there is no divine command to have them), one may nevertheless have them because good ceremonies are lovely and beautiful and are not forbidden in the Word of God. Therefore the Lutheran church has not abolished “outward ornaments, candles, altar cloths, statues and similar ornaments,” but has left them free. (Essays for the Church, Vol. I, 193)

Lutherans leave free what God has not prohibited. This distinguishes Lutherans from Protestants and Roman Catholics. Thus Walther continued,

The sects [Protestantism] proceeded differently because they did not know how to distinguish between what is commanded, forbidden, and left free in the Word of God … The Roman antichristendom [Roman Catholicism] enslaves the poor consciences by imposing human ordiances (sic) on them with the command: “You must keep such and such a thing”; the sects enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as sin what God has left free. (Essays, 194)

This citation shows that our Lutheran forefathers recognized that Christian liberty was at stake in these issues and they believed that the Protestant misunderstanding of traditions was just as wrong as the Roman Catholic misunderstanding of traditions.

But if we are free to decide whether to retain these traditions or abandon them, why did Walther encourage the retention of the old Lutheran traditions? Indeed, why does our own congregation’s constitution still today instruct our leadership to, “Vigorously protect and support the liturgies and traditions of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod” (Under Duties of the Board of Elders, No. 9, emphasis mine)? Why not just let these traditions go? Walther answers,

We [the Missouri Synod] on our part have retained the ceremonies and the church ornaments in order to prove by our actions that we have a correct understanding of Christian liberty, and know how to conduct ourselves in things which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God. (Essays, 193)

We confess with our deeds, what we profess with our lips. When others stubbornly make something a matter of sin that is not sin, then we ought to ignore their protests and act contrary to their wishes as a witness to the doctrine of Christian freedom. We teach the doctrine of Christian liberty and in our American context we practice it by retaining these traditions. In another context we might confess the truth of Christian liberty by means of discarding various practices. But in America, the pressure on us is not to keep these wonderful traditions but to discard them. It is in this context that we have to make our confession of Christian liberty.

In this regard we have both command and example. The inspired apostle, Paul commands “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). We also have his example with the issue of circumcision. Paul initially circumcised Gentile converts in order not to create unnecessary offense among the Jews (Acts 16:1-3). But when certain Jewish Christians demanded circumcision and contended that the lack of circumcision was a sin, Paul forbade the Galatians to be circumcised. He told them, “if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all” (Galatians 5:2). The practice of circumcision, something in and of itself left free to Christian liberty, had become “a matter of confession.” Our Lutheran Confessions note that in times of confession, that is, when someone tries to make something a sin that is not a sin, “we should not yield to adversaries even in matters of indifference.” (Formula of Concord, X, 10) This is why Lutherans generally do not practice immersion in America. Although immersion is an acceptable form of baptism and we do not re-baptize those who have been immersed, because certain churches in America stubbornly insist that the only proper form of baptism is immersion, Lutherans in America have normally not immersed in order to defend the doctrine of Christian liberty. Likewise, we normally do not use a loaf of bread in Holy Communion and we retain the use of wafers because there are those who stubbornly insist that wafers are sinful. Concern for the doctrine of Christian liberty influences what we do and what we don’t do.

Walther applies this same principle in dealing with the issue of worship forms and practices at his time. Walther cites the Formula and applies it to our American context stating,

“[A]t a time of confession” …“one dare not yield.” Now, however, that “time” is for us “always,” because we are everywhere surrounded by Reformed and other sects. (Essays, 197, emphasis mine)

Walther is saying that in America we Lutherans are always in a state of confession. There are always those who call our worship practices too Roman Catholic, thereby suggesting they are sinful. Therefore it is our duty to defend these practices and when possible to implement them in order to defend the doctrine of Christian freedom.

The Formula of Concord’s teaching was aimed at a situation where the Roman Catholic Church was trying to enforce certain practices on Lutherans. If the Roman Catholic Church were to one day conquer America, either spiritually or physically, and she was to insist on things that God has left free, we would then be in a state of confession over against them. But this is not the case. Today, in America, the pressure comes from the Protestants. Indeed, this dangerous influence of Protestantism has not lessened since Walther’s time. Very few, if any, of our members are influenced by Roman Catholic teaching and practice. In this country, Protestantism is a greater threat to Lutheranism than Roman Catholicism. However, many American Lutherans do not recognize the danger of Protestantism. Proof of this is seen in the fact that many Lutheran congregations have generic Protestant hymnals in their pews, with hymns that teach falsely regarding the sacraments and conversion but these same Lutheran congregations would never dream of placing a Roman Catholic hymnal in their pews. Why? Because most American Lutherans clearly see the danger of Rome, but they fail to see the danger of Protestantism. Indeed, the prevailing religious culture inclines them to Protestantism.

More to come! Pastor Lange

Posted by Pastor at 7/20/2009 9:47 AM | Add Comment

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Being Lutheran in a Protestant World - Part Four

The Battle for Christmas
Or
Being Lutheran in a Protestant World Part 4

We have seen that our Lutheran forefathers retained the celebration of Christmas and many other traditions in spite of the accusation that these things were too Roman Catholic. One reason for the retention of these things was to confess and bear witness to the doctrine of Christian liberty. But, our forefathers retained these wonderful traditions also to make an important statement to Rome and the Protestants. Walther wrote:

We also refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. The Roman antichristendom[Roman Catholicism] enslaves the poor consciences by imposing human ordiances (sic) on them with the command: “You must keep such and such a thing”; the sects [Protestants] enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as sin what God has left free. Unfortunately also many of our Lutheran Christians are still without a true understanding of our liberty. This is demonstrated by their aversion to ceremonies. It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and papism[Roman Catholicism] in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when one sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American sects, lest they accuse one of being papistic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that the sects can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them? (Essays for the Church, 193-194)

Note that Walther rejoices that “the sects can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them.” If we abandon the ancient traditions and adopt the practices of Protestantism, we are no longer making such a statement to them. Most Protestants mistakenly believe that Lutherans are still somehow caught in the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. Because Lutherans retain the ancient traditions, Protestants look down their noses at Lutherans as still “superstitious” because we are still find value in outward forms. But Protestantism’s aversion to outward, physical forms is precisely Protestantism’s problem. Protestants reject outward ceremonies for the same reason they reject the Sacraments. But Protestantism’s aversion to ceremonies and outward forms indicates its failure to understand how God works in this world. Protestants fail to see that God still works through physical, earthly means. Indeed, God Himself has bound us to outward forms, namely, to Word and Sacrament. Our retention of the ancient outward forms as helpful for piety indicates that we recognize that God has redeemed His creation not rejected it and it stands as a witness to God’s redeeming ways against Protestantism’s false notions.

Yes, our retention and restoration of the ancient traditions makes an important statement to Protestantism. However, it also makes an important statement to Rome. Rome arrogantly asks, “Where was your church before Luther or Zwingli or Calvin or Wesley or whoever started your church?” Protestants, abandoning all tradition and having no connection to the Church of the past, have no satisfying answer to give to Rome. Lutherans, however, because they see themselves connected to the past, can respond with the counter question, “where was your face before you washed it this morning?” It was there, it was just dirty. The church did not disappear prior to Luther; it was there, but it had simply become dirty. Luther washed off the dirt. But if the church was simply dirty and not completely evil, then one should not be surprised to find that many of the ancient practices of the church are beneficial and not harmful. Unfortunately, Protestants act as if the church ceased to exist right up until the time of their particular founder. But this contradicts Christ’s promise, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against My church” and His assurance that “lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the ages.” Just as Christ promises to be with the individual Christian and yet, we continue to sin, to get dirty, so Christ promises to be with His church and yet, His church can also sin and get dirty. But just as individuals Christians also have the Holy Spirit active in their lives even when they sin, so too the Holy Spirit remained active in the church, even though the church sometimes sinned. Thus, we confess with our lips that we “believe in one holy Christian church” and we confess that same truth by our actions when we retain the ancient traditions that are beneficial. By such actions we are confessing that we believe Christ’s promise to never completely abandon His Church.

That leads to the question, “If Christ has not abandoned His church, then why aren’t Lutherans still ‘Roman Catholic’ or ‘Eastern Orthodox’?” Indeed, some people on this basis have “returned” to Rome or “gone East.” But here with Luther we must distinguish between doctrine and life. We are never told to flee repentant sinners, who recognize their wrong, who err in life. But we are told to flee false prophets, who do not recognize their false doctrine. We are told to separate and thereby bear witness to them of their false teaching. Thus, Luther did not separate from Rome because of her failures in life, rather he separated, indeed, was kicked out because he would not accept their false teaching. Many people are attracted to Rome and to the East because we tend to view the church as an organization. Of course, the church can and should organize. “Where two or three are gathered in My name.” But the church is a “communion of saints” not a visible organization. The church is “sheep who hear their shepherd’s voice.” Here the form of the New Testament church differs from the Old Testament church. In the Old Testament, the church was a visible “organization” and thus, the way to get rid of false prophets was to kill them. So Elijah killed the prophets of Baal. But in the New Testament we are not given that authority, because the church is not a visible “organization” tied to a particular location and a particular people. In the New Testament, we are not told to kill false prophets, but to “keep away from them” (Romans 16:17). And so faithful Lutherans cannot “go home to Rome” or “go East” until these churches remove their false teachings, even though we recognize that many of these people are part of the holy Christian Church.

Yes, the retention of tradition allows us to make a necessary statement to both Rome (and the East) and to the Protestants. Retaining the church’s tradition allows us to focus on the false teaching that hinders us from outward fellowship with both groups. Thus, Walther wrote,

Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us boldly confess that our worship forms do not tie us with the modern sects [Protestantism] or with the church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian Church that is as old as the world and is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

More to come.

Blessings, Pastor

Posted by Pastor at 7/19/2009 9:48 AM | Add Comment

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Being Lutheran in a Protestant World - Part Five

The Battle Over Christmas
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Being Lutheran in a Protestant World Part 5

As we have heard throughout this series, Walther and our Missouri Synod forefathers retained Christmas and other traditions of the ancient church. Not only did they retain them, they also endeavored to reintroduce them where they had been neglected or forgotten. Thus, Walther wrote:

Therefore, as we continue to hold and to restore our wonderful divine services in places where they have been forgotten, let us boldly confess that our worship forms do not tie us with the modern sects or with the church of Rome; rather, they join us to the one, holy Christian church that is as old as the world an is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. (Der Lutheraner, July 19, 1853 issue, volume 9, number 24, page 163, translation by Paul McCain)

We are not a “Johnny Come Lately” church and our retention and restoration of the ancient traditions makes that point very well. It also shows a proper attitude on our part toward the Holy Spirit and toward His holy Christian church in two ways. First, the retention and restoration of the ancient traditions says we believe that the Holy Spirit never totally abandoned His church and that holy Christian church has always existed in accordance with Christ’s promise.

This attitude towards traditions shows that we are the true “catholics.” Unlike the modern misconception that Luther left catholicism, a closer reading of Luther shows that he was defending genuine catholicism against Rome’s departure from catholicism. This is seen also in the fact that Luther rarely calls the Roman church “catholic” and even at Walther’s time, our Lutheran forefathers referred to the Roman church, not as “catholic,” but as the “papists” or some other term of derision. They did this because they viewed themselves as the genuine catholics. The word “catholic” comes from two Greek words, “kata” and “holos,” that is, “according to” and “the whole.” A catholic is one who wants the “whole counsel of God” and will receive “whole and complete” all the gifts of God. In the early church the opposite of a catholic was a heretic, from the Greek word meaning “to choose.” A heretic picks and chooses according to his own whim, his own feelings, his own thoughts what he will accept and what he will not accept from God. A true catholic receives not only all of the Lord’s teachings, but a true catholic also accepts all of the gifts the Holy Spirit has granted His church throughout history. These gifts include the wonderful traditions of the church.

The second way in which the retention and restoration of the ancient traditions shows a proper attitude toward the Holy Spirit and the holy Christian church is that adoption of these traditions shows a spirit willing to “submit to one another” (Ephesians 5:21) for Christ’s sake. Recently, this has become an issue again even in the Lutheran church. There are those who are abandoning the ancient traditions, for more modern styles of worship, claiming to be making an effort to be “all things to all people” as St. Paul advises (1 Corinthians 9:22). But surely St. Paul refers here to our individual encounter with others and not to group gatherings such as worship. It would be impossible to be “all things to all people” in such a setting. What mass confusion would there be if everyone sang their own individual favorite song at the same time during worship services! What mass confusion there would be if everyone chose their own date to celebrate Christmas! Indeed, if everyone chose which day of the week to go to worship! No, the Christian attitude is to not insist upon one’s way in these things, but to adopt what has been handed down to us from the past. Indeed, Paul writes, “submit to one another for Christ’s sake” in the context of discussing worship practices, for just prior to this he writes, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19) And thus, our logo for several years has been “Redeemer Lutheran Church: Where the liturgy lives and God’s people worship as one.” That makes the point very nicely I believe. Blessed Eastertide,

Pastor

Posted by Pastor at 7/18/2009 9:51 AM | View Comments (2) | Add Comment

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