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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What's Needed For Unity In the Church?

You can see quite a variety of ideas as to what is required for unity in the church. “We should only use organs during worship.” “We need to all lighten up and understand that the use of contemporary music will draw people in.” “We need to be missional minded.” “If everything looked the same from church to church we would have unity.” “We should try to look more like the New Testament church.” “We just need to focus on loving our neighbor.”

Many of these things can be broken into two categories: “fallible” and “infallible”. Things that fall into the “fallible” category are things that have been instituted by men, in many cases are in place for the sake of good order, and, may or may not have been inspired by scripture. In and of themselves these things can be fruitful. Things that fall into the “infallible” category are things that have been given to us by God and are from scripture.

What the church building looks like, the carpet, the pews, the altar, the font, the banners or paraments, these things are all fallible. The style of the music, the instruments used, how the church “does missions”, these things are fallible. That’s not to say that these things aren’t important, however, they do not serve as a primary source of true unity in the church.

So what is needed for unity in the church? Answer, that which is infallible, those things which God has given to us through scripture. I believe our reformation fathers answered this question the best in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:

      “For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word.
3 It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places.
4 It is as Paul says in Eph. 4:4, 5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” [1]

It is interesting to note that what God gave us as the basis of our unity, Word and Sacraments, deals first and foremost with Justification, Justification which is the work of Christ for us.

There is the proper preaching of the Word, in which the Law is declared in its full sternness showing our helplessness and deadness in sin, that the Gospel might be proclaimed in its full sweetness, that through the death of Christ our sins are forgiven, that through this preaching we might receive faith. (Romans 10:17) This, which is infallible, is necessary for unity in the church.

There is the proper administration of baptism, through water and the Word, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in which Christ saves us. (Romans 6:3-4) This, which is infallible, is necessary for unity in the church.

And there is the proper administration of communion, in which Christ works forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) This, which is infallible, is necessary for unity in the church.
What is needed for unity in the church? Justification, given to us through the Word and Sacrament!  Consequently, church unity is established as we gather around and properly understand these infallible gifts. Furthermore, as we gather around Word and Sacrament we will see a proper shaping of the rest of fallible aspects that make up the church.

What is needed for unity?  Word and Sacrament are needed, and thankfully they are given to us by our gracious Lord



Jesus Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria


[1] Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 32). Philadelphia: M├╝hlenberg Press.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pastors, thank you. The cross is for you as well.

I'm just a layperson. I'm an elementary music teacher. I'm not a pastor. Take this as you will.

Seems as of late that a lot of good pastors have been under fire. Under fire from those in their congregations, under fire from those within their districts, under fire from their own synods, associations and conventions. Sure, it's not like these guys haven't made mistakes along the way, some of them have made some doosies. Some have been flat out wrong. However, the condemnation seems to be consistently boiled into into this single phrase, "It's all your fault."

"It's your fault the church isn't growing." "It's your fault that there's dissension." "It's your fault the youth aren't coming anymore." "It's your fault that people are leaving." "It's your fault that things are in financial upheaval." "It's all your fault."

Here's the flipside to those coins of accusations: "It's your fault the church isn't growing because you refuse to buy into a trendy program to attract people." "It's your fault that there's dissension in the church because you spend too much time preaching about sin and not enough time about things we can do to feel better about our walk with God." "It's your fault that people are leaving because you think sound theology is more important than being loving to everyone." "It's your fault that things are in financial upheaval because your sermons don't make people feel good about themselves, saying they're helpless without Christ." "It's all your fault, pastor, because it's not the way I think it should be."

In many cases, this is what happens when a pastor faithfully preaches and teaches this: Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. (And as well within different contexts, emphasizing the sacraments.) That's right pastors, if this is what you've been doing, it is your fault. It's your fault that you did your job. It's your fault that by God's grace you were true to your calling. Shame on you for holding to scripture more than the feelings of man. Shame on you for speaking against false doctrine that's been creeping into your church. Shame on you for being "un-loving" and putting your foot down and saying "No, this is contrary to the Word of God."

To all the unloving pastors, who have been proclaiming Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins, and rightly administering the sacraments, I say this: Thank you.

Thank you for not buying into trendy programs, knowing that once that starts, our congregations will never be free of them. Thank you for bringing down the full weight of the Law, afflicting us in the security of our sin, and then rushing in with the healing salve of the Gospel, that because of Christ my sin is forgiven. Thank you for teaching us sound theology, being more concerned about us than about how we may lash out against you. Thank you for speaking out against false doctrines that have been creeping into our churches, protecting us from the wolves. Thank you for showing us our helplessness without Christ, pointing to the cross that we may rely on Him. Thank you for risking it all each week. The friendships, security and your reputations, that we might know Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins.

Like children we will often get mad and not understand in the tough moments why it is that you refuse to compromise. However for many of us, we usually do understand in the end. So thank you, faithful pastors, who endure more trials than many of us, for simply doing what you were called to do. And while it's our fault many times that you are over-worked, over-stressed, disenheartened and barely breathing at the end of the day, know this: Pastors, thank you. That same comfort of the Cross that you bring to us diligently when things come crashing down around us, that same comfort of the Cross is for you as well.

Jesu Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How do we as a church respond to a changing world?

"...and these men all have their own idea of what a church should do in a changing world. The truth is, despite all the ideas, however great they sound, most have what are called "If...Then..." statements. "If we would just.....then this will happen..." So what should a church do in a changing world? The very thing that has been done since the early church mentioned in the New Testament. It's not a new concept. Quite simply, declare Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Regardless of how the world changes around us, regardless of whether a church grows or not, regardless of dissensions, church splits, lack of denominational support, we declare Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. No if, no then. Only Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins..." -- Ben Stibbs

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"O Lord, open my lips" -- The Daily Office: Part the Second

"In his Word, the Father invites us to pray with all 'freedom and confidence' (Eph. 3:12). The prayer forms of the daily office, litanies and collects are not merely the vehicles of the Christian's prayer; they are also instructors that cement the believer to the Word of the Lord and tutor the faithful in that conversation with God, which is prayer. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is a grateful recipient of these ancient forms, which have their roots in the scriptures." -- John T. Pless, "Lutheran Worship: History and Practice (c) 1993

So into the church I walk, my copy of the LSB (Lutheran Service Book) in hand. Pastor Warner leads me up to the front of the sanctuary with his copy of the LSB and the TDP (Treasury of Daily Prayer) and takes me through Matins, step by step, answering my questions as we went along. O the richness I encountered! Pastor Warner also showed me how a person can use the TDP in tandem with Matins, or any of the Daily Offices, in the LSB. In fact, if all you have is the TDP, you can still enjoy the Daily Office because it is contained within the center of it.

So what is the Daily Office? It's not all too dissimilar to a daily church service, in fact, it is. A number of Lutheran congregations will have Matins in the morning and Vespers in the evening, different from Divine Service in several ways, a big one being that there is no communion. It's a set order of service of scripture and prayer through sung and spoken Word. What's nice, is that you can enjoy the daily office at home, at the office, in the car while traveling. It can be used with your family, a small group of people gathered around the Word, or even as an individual.

With the routine of my life I am able to arrive at work early, shut the door to my classroom, and enjoy the order of Matins from the Daily Office. "But how does that work Leif? Don't you need the music to sing to? Not all of us are music teachers, Leif. What if I can't sing? And how do I know what Scripture readings to use?" Great questions. I'll give you a rundown of what I do:

I take the scripture readings straight from the TDP, which is set up with the 1 year daily lectionary. Today is Wednesday of the 4th week of Lent, so this morning I turned to page 118 in the TDP, which has the heading of "Wednesday -- Lent 4". When it's time for the psalm reading, I read the psalm listed, the O.T. and N.T. readings, I read the O.T. and N.T. When it's time for the collect (prayer), pray the prayer of the day listed.  The TDP is avaible in hardcopy, e-reader format and is available in app form called Pray Now. "What if I don't have a copy of TDP?" No problem. Turn to page 299 in the LSB and you'll find the daily lectionary, which will give you O.T. and N.T. readings for each day to open to in your Bible. On page 304 you'll find a table of psalms for daily prayer that you can use for the psalm readings.

If you're a bit of a techie, like myself, here are some great options. For the readings, check out sanctus.org, which has the daily lectionary, complete with O.T. and N.T. readings and the collect of the day. Just click on the current day on the calendar listed and it will give you the readings on the right side of the screen. You're also able to choose which Bible translation you want. One thing it does not have is the psalm reading. Another great option, for both computer and smartphone users, is liturgygeek.com. It's quite similar to sanctus.org, however, if you're using your smartphone you have the option of it reading the text to you. Good stuff.

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"But what about the singing?" Not to worry, we've got an app...er...sites for that. Christ Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, has posted MP3s of the congregation chanting and singing the different orders within the Daily Office. You can click play next to the section you're in and play it straight from the site. If you want, you can even download them to use while away from the internet. Another option is to use the CD "Morning and Evening: the Music of Lutheran Daily Prayer" available through Concordia Publishing House.

For the season of Lent, my wife suggested that if I wanted to, she'd be willing to "try one of those chant things" with our evening readings from the TDP. So we've been doing either Vespers or Compline (close of the day, before bed). One night a week we do Vespers as a family with our 1 year old son and 3 1/2 year old twin daughters. The girls will ask "Can we pray where we have the singing?" Yes, it's possible for children to be a part of this, though, please don't use my kids as the average. At the age of 3 they were praying the Lord's Prayer and reciting the Apostle's Creed...my kids aren't exactly...normal....  They seem to catch on quickly. They don't know all the music or all the words, but they know how to and do follow. One of the things we've been working on with them is the concept of reverence. I think this has been helping to establish that concept with them.

I can't express how grateful I am for these daily orders of service. I wish I would have found them sooner. I appreciate the order to daily reading and prayer. I appreciate the reverence used within them as we approach the readings of God's Word, and the reverence in which we respond to what we have just received. Some days, besides Sunday morning worship, the Daily Office is the only order to the chaos of my family's day.

A thing to keep in mind: Don't make a Law out of what I've just said. I'm not saying that this is the way things must be done, though, I would strongly encourage you to spend time daily in scripture reading and prayer as is possible for you. These are merely examples of how you can incorporate these rich daily prayer offices into your daily routine of life.

Jesu Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"O Lord, open my lips" -- The Daily Office: Part the First

"In his Word, the Father invites us to pray with all 'freedom and confidence' (Eph. 3:12). The prayer forms of the daily office, litanies and collects are not merely the vehicles of the Christian's prayer; they are also instructors that cement the believer to the Word of the Lord and tutor the faithful in that conversation with God, which is prayer. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is a grateful recipient of these ancient forms, which have their roots in the scriptures." -- John T. Pless, "Lutheran Worship: History and Practice (c) 1993

For some of you readers, the Daily Office is nothing new, and you might think "Well, duh, sir...", so let me explain the context that I am writing from. I'm a Confessional Lutheran, one who is not from a liturgical synod, slowly understanding and longing more for things liturgical. I'm not a cradle-born Lutheran. I'm a former Evangelical. My parents saw to my baptism and my father took me through Luther's Small Catechism as a child. My father is a Lutheran. My mother is an Evangelical, though much less now than she was when I was a child. My life is a paradox :) Some of these postings are more for former Evangelicals and others within the Scandinavian Lutheran heritage who have now found themselves in the realm Confessional Lutheranism, though it may very well be beneficial for others also.

Over the past several years, the further and further I've delved into and studied the Book of Concord, read from Walther, Pieper, Vieth, Hallesby, and Luther, I've found my "preferences" changing. The things I read, the podcasts and "YouTube addictions" I frequent, even down to the types and stylings within what my synod calls the worship service. Because of the chaos of my life, I have grown to appreciate order, consistency and things that will last. This is all so contrary to where I was, say, 5 years ago, and I didn't completely understand this change. Finally, my pastor would point out to me so poignantly  "Leif, practice follows the theology. Practice follows doctrine."

By vocation I'm a music teacher. I've taught Kindergarten through college level. I have a tendency of procuring hymnals. Dear friends have given me copies of "The Lutheran Hymnal", "Lutheran Worship" and I even got a copy of "Lutheran Service Book".  Within the pages I came across the Daily Office. I even noticed the Daily Office in the middle of "The Treasury of Daily Prayer" that my wife and I use together. We had been using the "text" format of service that it offers as well. I began to peruse these pages more and more, finally contacting the local LC-MS pastor, a man whom I respect and is the leader of the Lutheran Confessions Reading Group that I attend. He agreed to take me through Matins early one  Tuesday morning.

All I can say is, wow.

Jesu Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria



Friday, February 22, 2013

I'm Not On A Journey

"I am not on a journey. Christ's body and blood are present with the bread and wine. He is at the right hand of the Father, and the Father's right hand is everywhere. Where I am, Jesus is with me. Jesus brought me to my destination when He baptized me, He keeps me in my destination through his Word and Supper, and I have been home ever since. So don't invite me to a so-called journey of synthetic, self-chosen works, laws, satisfactions, disciplines, or whatever the vogue term for such vainglory is now. Word, Sacrament, and Cross are my origin, life, and destiny."

-- T.R. Halvorson

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sometimes being "loving" is not loving

"...but doing things for the sake of "love" is not always a loving thing. Churches and denominations are guilty of this when pastors and laypeople are silenced for preaching and teaching key doctrines that are a part of what makes that denomination the denomination that it is, proclaiming truth, because it "rocks the boat", is uncomfortable, might offend. So for the sake of being "loving" it is required of them to just ease up, to not press theology, to not confront sin, even to the point of shunning them for teaching the very key doctrines that the denomination states they hold to. This is not love. This is the type of cowardess that inhibits the proclamation of the Gospel and the assurance of what Christ has done for them..."
-- Ben Stibbs