Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.


Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.

Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar. For what that stuff in the banner means, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar.

30 May 2008

Lutheran Public Radio Is On The Air -- And Online!

Issues Arising! The Christ centred, Cross focussed programme once known as Issues, Etc. and formerly offered by the radio station of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is back! Click the link below:
God speed!

24 May 2008

Putting out the fire, for the real, not strange, fire.

A huge hat tip to Frank at Putting Out The Fire for the following link to an article by David Berger of Concordia Seminary St Louis. No summary from me, just jump in, this is good.

22 May 2008

21 May 1997

It's been an eerie feeling, listening to the reports of Senator Kennedy's diagnosis, in Boston and just before Memorial Day.

On 21 May 1997, my pregnant wife called me at work from her work to say she had had a moment or two of paralysis in her arm on one side, had called her ob/gyn who said something like that is not a pregnancy thing and get to the hospital right away for some tests. That was about noon.

By late afternoon, the diagnosis was in -- three cancerous brain tumours, an aggressive adenocarcinoma, about three months to live, meaning an unusually early artificial birth for our second son who would likely have serious developmental difficulties if he even survived.

You really don't need days like that in your life. Those who've had them know.

As it happened, there was a radiation oncologist from Massachusetts General Hospital doing a locum (a temporary period at another institution) here, who said the treatments available here though very good would not do much, but if we could come to Boston, a place I have known and loved for years, there was a treatment they could do, available in only one other place, that would kill these tumours though not cure the cancer, which would add another three months giving time enough for a reasonably normal birth. He was a Christian from China.

So we did. And it unfolded exactly as he said. The tumours were killed by proton therapy and the Summer passed fairly well considering the circumstances. Then in late August, about five to six weeks before the expected due date, she stopped making amniotic fluid, for reasons medically inexplicable. So our son was born by Caesarian section, came along quite well in neonatal intensive care, and went home about his due date at the start of October. Then within a week or two of that, the cancer began to spread everywhere, and she died the night before Thanksgiving, 26 November 1997, six months almost to the day from diagnosis.

Pretty amazing timing in those six months.

Even more amazing, I did not curse God and turn my face to the wall. I've been me for a while now. That is what I would do. After all the religious upheaval in my life, now this last insult from a God who doesn't exist anyway. That's me, but that isn't what happened.

When they say faith is entirely the work of the Holy Ghost, they ain't kidding. That's for real, as real as it gets. What has happened in me is entirely beyond my ability to produce.

What happened in her was beyond her ability to produce either. I remember at the hospital our vacancy pastor came by to call on her. She didn't particularly like him, found his preaching and pastoral style wooden and formal. I watched him head off to her room thinking of all the guys we get this one -- no rapport, not particularly liked by the person, not even clerical garb as a prop, nothing that is but fidelity to his call. Turns out, that was enough; she later said his visits to her in the hospital really turned it around for her, and she was ready. Hmm.

And I heard at her funeral sermon the most magnificent Gospel proclamation I think I shall ever hear -- from our new pastor just out of sem. You could not possibly have missed in that funeral sermon that the only dead people at this funeral were the ones not alive in Christ.

The sermon concluded with words I will always hear as if just spoken: a few days ago most of us celebrated a thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy began one that lasts an eternity.

That's a miracle, both in that God has done this for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in that I believe it.

I wish you well, Senator. There is not a better place on earth than Massachusetts General Hospital if you're ill, and this from a guy who about grew up in the lobby of Mayo Clinic.

The doctor from China is no longer there. His English first name became our second son's middle name -- Calvin. Probably the only cradle Lutheran kid in the world with Calvin in his name. Got nothing to do with theology.

Oh, and don't worry about calling a new sem grad. On anything that really matters, he'll be just fine. I hear we got a bunch available.

10 May 2008

Revised Blogroll

Please check out the sidebar Lutheran Blogs. I have made a number of changes.

Since a couple of blogs already on the blogroll have changed not only locations but names, I have updated them and also supplied the last name, where applicable, of the authors of all blogs listed on the blogroll.

The Issues, Etc. disgrace has called forth a number of new blogs, and created deeper awareness that the issues about Issues are symptomatic of issues well beyond Issues. My sidebar "Reformissional Resistance" has a link to find them all. The ones that address the larger situation I have included in my blogroll itself.

You will see one by a guy named Diekmann, of whom I said "not THAT one". So who's THAT one? Godfrey Diekmann, OSB. A leading light in the "reforms" of Vatican II and a peritus (that's Latin for "expert") at the Council, a major figure in my undergraduate experience, with whom I disagreed on nearly everything, as cultured, articulate and compassionate a person as I have ever met, deeply convinced of the benefits of that in which he believed, and I look forward to experiencing the Heavenly Table with him where we all shall, to borrow the thought of the death note of Philipp Melanchthon, no stranger to controversy himself, go to the light, see God, look upon His Son, and learn the wonderful mysteries we have not been able to understand in this life.

A "Quia Subscription" to Trent

We Lutherans sometimes encounter a challenge to our Book of Concord that runs something like this: if you guys are really into sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone, that Scripture alone is the norm for the church, then why do you make such a big deal about your confessional documents collected in the Book of Concord?

There are some who use the name Lutheran who indeed see the BofC as a document of immense historical significance, but whose insights as with all documents contain limitations deriving from its time and place, which admit of further development and deeper understanding by later times and places. Not unlike the approach taken to Scripture itself in some, usually the same, circles!

In an article in 1858, CFW Walther, the first president of the Missouri Synod (or The Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other States -- Synode von Missouri, Ohio und andern Staaten, actually -- as it was known at that time) wrote that while a Lutheran is not bound to historical references or matters of science, logic, "indifference" (adiaphora) or the manner of presentation contained therein, he is bound by the doctrine it contains, and this not insofar as (quatenus) it agrees with Scripture but because (quia) it agrees with Scripture.

Thus, regarding the symbolic books of our church, the ones that contain our doctrine, whose servants we would be, those who hold such a position are said to have a "quia subscription" to the Book of Concord. We accept the doctrine stated in the Book of Concord not as a document that is a point in the gradual development of doctrine, that itself may admit of further development or understanding -- John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism who brought much of this type of thinking into the Roman church, which crystallised in Vatican II, was 57 in 1858 and his famous Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, written when he was yet Anglican, was published in 1845, in which same year he converted to Roman Catholicism, just 13 years before the Walther article -- but because it agrees with and accurately states and presents the doctrine of Scripture. Period. End of story.

Not period and not end of story with a quatenus subscription, which though a phrase of Lutheran origin describes an approach taken in many churches toward their own confessional documents (statements of binding doctrine) and Scripture itself. And so we come to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, pka (let's start something, pka for popularly known as!) the JDDF, which was prepared and signed by official representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation (to which LCMS does not belong) in 1997 in which same year it was formally adopted by the by far largest American denomination with the word Lutheran in its name, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (pka ELCA and which does belong to the LWF). Might be worth noting that in the same convention the ELCA also adopted a Formula of Agreement declaring full communion with the Presbyterian Church USA, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ, finding those of their positions which the BofC soundly condemns right along with Rome's errors acceptable and even complementary diversities.

LCMS was quite forthright in its rejection of the JDDF -- as well as the actions of the ELCA, which we leave for another time. No way, no how, can one do or say such things and call it Lutheran. You may find a short and then a longer official statement of our position at the following links:

So the Lutheran side. But guess what? There's a lot of Catholics out there who also think that when a church formally says what it teaches it means what it says, and you don't come along later and say well hey, that was great for that time and place but it ain't such a big deal now, and/or now that we think about it we understand it better and it ain't what we thought, so here's what we think now with our new and deeper understanding which doesn't mean anybody was ever wrong, just that we were on the same path but couldn't see it at the time and now we do. You might say, these Catholics have a quia subscription to their documents just as we do to ours. And to them, the Joint Declaration betrays what is Catholic as much as it betrays what is Lutheran to us. With the consequence that it may place the Roman church under its own anathema. That's serious stuff, if you're a Roman Catholic, which I once was.

Ad fontes, as we say -- to the sources! Let them speak for themselves. Here is the conclusion to a Letter to Friends and Benefactors from October 1998 by a District Superior of the Society of Saint Pius X, Father Peter R. Scott. The full document can be found on the Society's website,

"However, the most damning of the condemnations of this decree of the Council of Trent, and the most necessary for our time, is the very last one. For the very least that the Joint Declaration can be said to do is to state that the "doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century do not apply" (§13), and that they are no longer (if ever) for the good of the Church, providential and helpful for making the Church and the Faith more clearly known. And yet it is this very statement which is condemned by a solemn, binding, infallible anathema. Even those who accept the Catholic teaching on Justification, but refuse to accept that the clear definitions of Trent are truly for the good of the Church, are anathematized. This is the sense of Canon 33, Dz 843:

If anyone shall say that because of this Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the Holy Synod in this present decree, there is in some degree a detraction from the glory of God or from the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that the truth of our Faith, and in fact the glory of God and of Jesus Christ are not rather rendered illustrious; let him be anathema.

Horror crawls up our spine at the thought of Catholic prelates falling under such an explicit anathema, and attempting to officially bind the Church itself to be condemned by its own anathema. Yet we must face up to this sobering reality if we are to understand the gravity of the present crisis in the Church, which is truly a crisis of Faith in the most profound way, and not just of discipline. May the Blessed Mother grant to us all the interior life, a life of prayer budding forth from sanctifying grace, to see through this confusion and keep up the combat of Faith for the kingdom of truth and life, the kingdom of holiness and grace, which Our Lord pours into our souls from the Cross."

There you have it. I suggest there is more "ecumenism", more brotherhood though we are separated by substantial differences, between Lutherans and Catholics who are really Lutheran and Catholic than between those who are false to either and both, and proclaim thereby some sort of new unity or stage toward unity. Soldiers can understand each other as soldiers, though they wear the uniforms of different armies. I get it about my brother (generic) who holds a quia subscription to his confessional documents, though those documents do not confess at some key points what mine do.

And I wish him well and God speed, whether he is Roman or for that matter Episcopal, Presbyterian, Reformed or any other body under assault by those who would "develop" or "deepen" what he subscribes to into something else under the same name.

He's got a far more dangerous opponent in his own ranks than he does in me. And I betcha he knows the same about me. And I'd say we both know, and if we don't we'd better start, that in the end we now face the same ultimate opponent regardless of uniform more than each other.

The opponent for damn sure does about either of us.

03 May 2008

Pentecost / Shavuot / Pfingstfest 2008

(The 2008 edition of my Pentecost post.)

So why does the "birthday of the church" have the Greek prefix for fifty in it?

Because it wasn't originally the birthday of the church, but an observance commanded by God in the Law of Moses which is to be held fifty days after the second day of Passover with each day formally counted.

The counting is called the Counting of the Omer. What's an omer? Omer are the sheaves of a harvested crop. During the days of the physical Temple, the priests would offer newly harvested barley on the second day of Passover, which represents the start of the seven week harvest season. Which is why Pentecost is also called the Feast of Weeks. In the Law, Shavuot is called Hag ha-Katzir, the Holiday of Harvest's End.

Ah, so we have a harvest festival, taking its place among the various harvest festivals in world culture and religion. Well, yes and no. Yes, it's another harvest festival, another instance of a human cause for celebrating a human milestone, the end of the harvest, particularly in a pre-industrial society. But there's something a little different about this one. The Talmud (What's a Talmud? Ancient rabbinical writings -- for more, look it up, Wikipedia is linked to the right of the page) says it was on the 6th of Sivan (a month in the Jewish lunar calendar), which is the first night of Shavuot, that God gave the Ten Words, better known among Gentiles as the Ten Commandments. Consequently, a popular observance has been an all night Bible study at home or in the synagogue, breaking for morning service, called shakharit, the ancestor of our, well, morning service. This all nighter is called tikkun. Traditionally only dairy foods are eaten on Shavuot, and while no-one knows why for sure, the thinking is that on the first Shavuot they had slaughtered all these animals for food but after the Law was given it turned out they were not kosher so they only ate dairy foods. In the liturgy of the synagogue, the readings for the service for the first day of Shavuot are: Torah portion Exodus 19:1 - 20:23 and Numbers 28:26-31; haftorah Ezechiel 1:1-28 and 3:12. (Sorry, grew up pre Vatican II RC, so those Greek Septuagint derived spellings for OT names kind of persist!) In case you're a little rusty, this is the Exodus account (actually the first of two Exodus accounts, the other being Chapter 34, and there's another in Deuteronomy) of the giving of the Law, specifically the Ten Words, and Ezechiel's account of the chariot of fire -- you know, the flying saucer.

This is the feast that Acts 2:1 (in the Epistle for Pentecost, which even the Vatican II three year lectionary couldn't overturn) refers to when it speaks of Pentecost arriving, and why there were men from all over everywhere in Jerusalem for it. It's to celebrate the giving of the Law, the whole reason why there was a Passover and a deliverance, the most important event in Judaism. And like Passover just had been, it was about to be transformed!

For God himself had become Man in Jesus Christ, suffered the condemnation for our sins in his death, and then rose again. Now, if this were all to the story, why didn't he just stick around, proof positive that he had risen? If the whole point were "All you need is Jesus", "I am saved because Jesus died for my sins and rose again", "Jesus first, as long as you believe that the rest isn't that important", then what would make that point better, what would make that point more irrefutable, than if he had stayed right here, so you could see him, talk to him face to face, hear him teach, and say to those who don't believe "Look, there he is right there, go ask him yourself".

But it didn't happen that way, because that is not the whole point and not all to the story. Just as the Passover and exodus from bondage in Egypt had been not for its own sake but in order to gather with God so he could give his people his Law, so the Passover of the full paschal lamb Jesus had been not for its own sake but in order to gather with God so he could give his people his Spirit! Just as God had commanded the counting of the Omer, the fifty days connecting Pesach, Pascha, and Shavuoth, Pentecost, so now God himself counts the Omer from the Pascha of the Lamb he provided, his Son, to the Shavouth or Pentecost so that on the very day where his people once celebrated only the giving of the Law, they still celebrate that and added to it is the giving of the Spirit!

And what happened as a result of that? His Apostles, men who knew all you need is Jesus, men who knew for a physical fact that Jesus had died and risen again, men who knew Jesus is first, men who had all that and like any men on that basis alone were scared and afraid and huddled around each other in the comfort of others who had all that, tending to their prayers and the internal matters of their little band, did something utterly amazing on this day of celebrating the giving of the Law -- they gave the Law, and the Gospel. Not only that, each one there heard it in his own language, addressed directly to him!

And what did the people do? Same as the Apostles had done when the women told them the tomb was empty and he had risen. They didn't believe them. Some thought this is just a foolish wishful story, others sought to figure out what this means, others thought they're just crazy, probably drunk, out of their minds. That's what happened first. Pretty much what still happens when people hear the mighty works of God told to them -- when WE hear the mighty works of God told to US. It's a really nice story stemming from our deepest wishes; let's talk about this and dialogue as to what it all means; those guys are crazy. That's what happened first. The rest didn't happen until something else happened.

Peter then stood with his brothers in the Office of Holy Ministry and laid it right out for them, clean and clear. This is what Joel and David had spoken about, Jesus delivered by the plan of God to us whom we in our sinfulness abandoned the Law and in turn delivered him to the power and law of the world to be killed, Jesus delivered by the power of God from the power of death and our sinfulness which inflicted that on him, Jesus risen again and now placed on the throne of David at the right hand of God, Jesus having been given the promise of the Spirit so that now you see and hear this: Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

That's the Law. And when they heard the Law, given now for the first time in its fulfillment on this day of celebrating the giving of the Law long ago, they were cut to the heart. People by nature want a religion of works, stuff they can do to make it all right, stuff they can do to feel OK with God, with each other, and within themselves. And the world offers all sorts of versions of that. Some of them go by the name Christianity. And the feelings and purpose they impart are utterly false. God himself has shown us in the Law exactly the stuff he wants us to do, and we showed ourselves absolutely incapable of it by our own reason and strength, to the extent that we handed his prophets and finally the One he sent over to the power of our own ideas and law to be killed, and still reject their message to this day. So much for a religion of works. We can't do it even when God himself shows us exactly how, no matter how hard we try in purpose driven living or to attain our best life now. What's worse, just like those on this Pentecost, we don't get it even when the mighty works of God are directly addressed to us even with wondrous signs, preferring instead to think it over or think they're just nuts!

Pentecost came to-gether not in the signs and wonders, which can still leave us in unbelief, but when Peter and his brothers in the Office of Holy Ministry laid it out clean and clear. It still does. It was then, when Peter had given the Law in its horrible consequences, that they, we, thought not about what it all means, not let's think this over, not maybe there's some good ideas here, not maybe these guys are nuts, but instead were cut to the heart by the fruitlessness of their, our, own reason and strength, and asked Peter and his brothers, Men and brethren, what shall we do? It was then and only then that they could tell them the Good News, the Gospel.

Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

What happened then? Same thing that happens now. They that gladly received his word were baptised, and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Guess what! There's an emerging church all right. Not just lately, not out of some marketing scheme supposedly crafted to the taste of the times, but ever since the outpouring of the Spirit on that Pentecost whose historical happening we celebrate every feast of Pentecost.

We may not be in Jerusalem, the Temple is not physically there to go to in one accord, and Peter and the other Apostles are not personally our preachers. And it makes not the slightest difference. The taste of our or any time has no taste for the Gospel and it is worthless to pander to it thinking that will produce a taste for the Gospel. That will produce only what it always produces -- a religion of works, stuff to do to catch the God buzz in a quest after one's own feeling better, on the surface all about Jesus or God but really all about me, or, a lot of discussion about what it all means, or, a rejection of it as wishful thinking at best and lunacy at worst.

What produces a taste for the Gospel is the Law. That's why the Spirit was given to proclaim the Gospel on the feast celebrating the giving of the Law! And we have the reality of Pentecost before us no less than they. The Temple is in ruins and Peter and the Apostles are gone. So how's that, how is Pentecost not just another thing you read in a book that supposedly comes from God, maybe it does. maybe it doesn't. Because the true Temple Jesus has been raised again on the third day, and has taken his place with the Father, and has sent his Spirit as he promised. And that Spirit speaks the same message to us as it did that day in unbroken continuity and succession, not that Peter and the Apostles are still physically here, not that other men are still here in a succession of corporate hierarchy, not in those who produce signs and wonders or miracles of church growth and attendance in his name, but that the clean and clear laying out of Law and Gospel as was heard that Pentecost continues to be heard in the faithful preaching of those in the Office of Holy Ministry unto the ends of the earth despite sin, the world and the gates of hell itself.

And when this happens, the same thing follows as did then. Those who receive this proclamation of Law and Gospel are baptised, they continue steadfastly in the Apostles' teaching handed on in the church, especially in those books upon which the church has said you can absolutely rely as the inspired word of God without error, the Bible, and in preaching by those called to do so of that Word, they continue steadfastly in fellowship and community and gathering with each other, they continue steadfastly in the breaking of the bread, the mass, the church's liturgy, wherein Jesus was only fully discerned for who and what he is even when he was bodily here for forty days after he rose, and they continue steadfastly in prayer.

That is the gift of the Holy Ghost, and every bit of it is as available here and now as it was on that day we read about in Acts, in the Epistle or Christian haftorah for Pentecost, every bit of what was pointed to in Ezechiel's chariot of fire we read about in the original Pentecost haftorah. Pentecost comes to-gether, despite all our vain and sinful efforts to make it happen in some other way more to our liking, the same now as then as ever. Accept no substitute! There is no substitute, even if it claims his name or produces signs and wonders and warm feelings in his name, as true and false teachers and even Satan himself alike can do!

Pentecost is about the one thing they cannot produce and only the true Sprit of God can. As the Little Catechism explains:

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Christian church; the communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

Amen.What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian church He daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers, and will at the Last Day raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life.

This is most certainly true.