Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Lutheran Manifesto

Dear "men of Wittenberg",

I urge you to read this confessional statement carefully and, if you agree with it, affix your signature according to the instructions of the website. As I understand it, this statement is not meant to be all-inclusive of the problems in our synod, but it can serve as a starting point.

There has been much discussion about the Manifesto on the Brothers of John the Steadfast website, where I believe it was first published. Some of the negative comments I have read thus far are, in my opinion, inappropriate
ad hominem arguments. Logically, it matters not how the manifesto was generated nor who generated it. What matters is whether or not it expresses true doctrine. I believe it does. Otherwise I wouldn't have signed it.

I have been praying for someone to write such a document, and I anticipate that it will be expanded and perfected through discussion.

Doctrine divides. This Manifesto is not unnecessarily divisive. It is true to the Lutheran Confessions. It is unifying. A unity based on anything short of this Manifesto is false unity. We need to boldly profess the truth in this age of anti-truth. Satan hates a faithful confession, and the Manifesto is a faithful confession. Let's turn up the volume!
I urge every Lutheran blogger and online Lutheran discussion participant to post a link to the Manifesto wherever they can. Let us start the discussion that might expand this faithful confession to address all the matters that divide our synod. Let us, by the grace of God, "Honor the Office of Holy Ministry" as "men of Wittenberg" and "Brothers of John the Steadfast" by supporting pastors in Confessing the truth as expounded upon in this Lutheran Manifesto!

Monday, August 4, 2008

John Dewey and Confessional Pastors

"How about just telling people about Jesus and away with the stupid pastor tricks? -Pastor Todd Wilken

Since the Brothers of John the Steadfast have linked to this blog, I will begin to post some things here once in a while. I turned down a column at BJS because life has handed me a lot right now. But informally jotting down thoughts, observations, and questions here is less scary a commitment than actually having a responsibility to write and publish a column at something that feels more like an actual publication.

Writing here, I do not feel like I am afflicting anyone.

Life is busy. I am 47, my kids are mostly teenagers, and my mother, who has increasingly advanced-stage Alzheimers, lives with us and causes my wife and me a fair degree of stress. I have also tentatively started another graduate degree in Educational Leadership at a Roman Catholic university, mainly because I have to take classes to keep my Michigan teaching certification. I am the only conservative dinosaur in my cohort.

So vocations can be challenging.

This summer, I took a class in curriculum development that has me thinking about another vocation, the Office of Holy Ministry, and with this post and a fair degree of trepidation, I would like to raise a question that has concerned me and a group of confessional youth that I took to a Lutheran youth conference this summer.

As a conservative educator, I have to incessantly fight against a great deal of liberal nonsense within public education. The Progressive Education movement of the 20th century left an infamous and perhaps indelible mark upon American education, and in many ways, its specious and septic ideas of "relevance" and "student-centered instruction" mirrors much of the church growth movement's "seeker-sensitive" theories that have deeply damaged so many American churches, even within the LCMS. These are problems that confessional Lutherans have rightly identified and eloquently opposed.

But admit it: Most of us grew up attending public schools or within institutions, even Lutheran schools, that had deeply imbibed the progressive beliefs of men like John Dewey. These institutions have gone about their business, either knowingly or unknowingly, with progressive assumptions as their guiding influence. I have even been told that the Concordia University system's various schools of education have already drunk deeply from the noxious wells of progressive thought. To quote an ex-administrator of the Concordia system who now works at Hillsdale College, "The Concordias don't know what they believe anymore!" And to make matters worse, the 20th century also saw the rise of a pervasive entertainment culture with similar assumptions that teaching and preaching are obligated to fulfill the progressive mandate to "make learning fun."

Let's be honest: The waters in which we swim have been muddied for many years now. Even though we confessional Lutherans like to think that we are immune to such thinking, we are not, and it would be prudent to remember Richard Feynman's two rules of science:
  1. Don't fool yourself.
  2. You are the easiest person to fool.
Alas, I am now rambling, not only because, like Steve Martin, I'm a ramblin' guy, but also due to my fear of asking a question, as it might actually seem like I am not honoring the holy ministry, and that would be pretty ironic for this blog, wouldn't it? But here it goes, and I will pose it to my fellow Brothers of John the Steadfast.

As I have already said, I was a group leader at a youth conference this summer, and my kids were bewildered that there seemed to be a change in the teaching style at this conference, a change from the previous conferences that they had attended. Confessional pastors were now joking around in excessive and awkward ways during the teaching times -- in ways that actually undermined the instruction -- and at least to my kids, in ways that insulted their intelligence and sense of propriety. To these teenagers, there seemed to be a failure by the pastors to remember the prudent distinctions of work, play, and worship.

These teens in my group, in the conversations that I heard, were bewildered as to why this goofy change had taken place in conferences that they had grown to love. One sixteen-year-old girl complained:
"At other conferences, the speakers might joke a few minutes, but then they would shift to teaching and the teaching was serious. I don't get why these speakers had to joke and goof around throughout the plenary sessions."
Again, these questions came from my youth, as I had never been to one of these conferences before, and these kids aren't whiners. They're smart and they spoke out of theological conviction.

So how should laymen respond to this problem? The temptation to listen to the likes of John Dewey and dumb things down in the name of being "student-centered" is always there for pastors and teachers alike, even for good guys like the confessional pastors at this conference. Should lay folks just pray, keep quiet, and hope that other pastors will address it?

Here is one more apparent example of John Dewey's influence that I noticed at the same conference. The evaluation sheet that was used in each class that we attended had a question like this: "Did this class meet needs in your life?" Or something like that. The organizers of the conference seemed to be asking the kids what they wanted to be taught. Was it relevant to them?

If this layman may be so bold, let me suggest that pastors need to go to the Word to define what the needs of youth are. Teenagers might flock to classes on sex, drugs, or rock and roll, as they always do, but they also need to go to classes like the one I attended on the Athanasian Creed, which was completely void of youth and also seemingly hidden in a small room that required the adults who attended to follow a maze of hallways and stairs. As I looked for the room, I heard some adults engage in the following exchange, as they also tried to find the classroom:
"Looking for the Athanasian Creed?"

"Yep," the other answered.

"I guess this is where they put talks that aren't about sex."
Are the Creeds now irrelevant to the needs of youth? How about the Augsburg Confesson? They are most certainly relevant to teens, although as a teenage male, I would have most certainly chosen sex over Philip Melanchthon. And that is why kids need adults and why we all need pastors, for regardless of what teenagers or anyone thinks they need, we all need the purity of the Gospel as so faithfully unpacked in our Confessions.

Therefore, confessional pastors who oversee such conferences and retreats should develop "knowledge-centered" curricula that are based upon the Lutheran Confessions,
curricula that are decidedly not "student-centered." For when our youth are asked, "Do you find this class relevant to your life?" in evaluation forms, then I am afraid that Mr. John Dewey is in our midst.

If this layman may once again be bold, let me also suggest that pastors involved in youth ministry need to step up and reject the tenets of the Progressive Education movement and the expectations of our entertainment-driven culture. This will be difficult because, like fish not noticing the water in which they swim, cultural assumptions are often not explicit. We do not naturally think about or even notice the prevailing philosophical waters in which we swim.

Older pastors also need to act like bishops and give younger pastors needed correction if their joking around actually undermines the public teaching of the Word. To quote Pastor Klemet Preus,
"When we work, we work. When we play, we play. When we worship, we worship."
The temptation is always there to mix these things up. Recently, Issues, Etc. rightly ridiculed a pastor who started a motorcycle as a sermon illustration, and then accidentally drove it into the first few rows of pews. Although it is unlikely that confessional pastors would do such a silly thing, there are certainly varying degrees of foolishness.

Brothers, confessional pastors who teach our youth, please beware of the temptation to pander to kids in the name of relevance or hipness. The temptation is always standing at the door, and as a teacher myself, I have also at times failed in resisting it.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Missourian Ecclesiology

Below are the theses that C. F. W. Walther defended in the Altenburg Debate, which is considered the first major crisis in Missouri Lutheranism. This was a disputation held April 1841 at Altenburg, Perry Co., Missouri, on questions of church polity that had agitated Saxon immigrants since deposition of M. Stephan Sr. The disputants were C. F. W. Walther and F. A. Marbach. Walther drew the constructive conclusions, partially modifying a position that Carl Vehse had taken. We DESPERATELY need disputations on the issues that are agitating deep divisions within our synod today.

I consider thesis VIII below to be the one Altenburg thesis that applies the most to our current crisis in Missouri. What constitutes the "common public confession" of members (congregations and pastors) of the LCMS? I would submit that as a result of a long history of neglected oversight, what is written on paper in Missouri does not represent the public confession of many members of the LCMS, or even of the corporation in Missouri. Many members have deviated from this confession, publicly preaching and teaching and practicing contrary to orthodoxy. Many have even removed "Lutheran" from their congregational names. The public confession of the corporation called the "LCMS" is no longer the "COMMON" public confession of churches maintaining membership in the corporation. The corporation is now even planting a large number of "mission" congregations which have no Lutheran identity, touting them as the "best practice" to emulate, and using our financial contributions to synod to do it. The corporation has thus abandoned its public confession, outwardly confessing a foreign protestant doctrine of missiology referred to as "Ablaze!" It is perhaps yet to be determined if the LCMS has reached the point of no return. I believe we need disputations on the issues that divide us "so that those who are proven may be made manifest." [1 Cor. 11:19] Is such a thing even possible in Missouri today?

Altenburg Theses

I. The true Church, in the most real and most perfect sense, is the totality (Gesamtheit) of all true believers, who from the beginning to the end of the world from among all peoples and tongues have been called and sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the Word. And since God alone knows these true believers (2 Tim. 2:19), the Church is also called invisible. No one belongs to this true Church who is not spiritually united with Christ, for it is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ.

II. The name of the true Church belongs also to all those visible companies of men among whom God's Word is purely taught and the holy Sacraments are administered according to the institution of Christ. True, in this Church there are godless men, hypocrites, and heretics, but they are not true members of it, nor do they constitute the Church.

III. The name Church, and, in a certain sense, the name true Church, belongs also to those visible companies of men who have united under the confession of a falsified faith and therefore have incurred the guilt of a partial departure from the truth; provided they possess so much of God's Word and the holy Sacraments in purity that children of God may thereby be born. When such companies are called true churches, it is not the intention to state that they are faithful, but only that they are real churches as opposed to all worldly organizations (Gemeinschaften).

IV. The name Church is not improperly applied to heterodox companies, but according to the manner of speech of the Word of God itself. It is also not immaterial that this high name is allowed to such communions, for out of this follows:

1. That members also of such companies may be saved; for without the Church there is no salvation.

V. 2. The outward separation of a heterodox company from an orthodox Church is not necessarily a separation from the universal Christian Church nor a relapse into heathenism and does not yet deprive that company of the name Church.

VI. 3. Even heterodox companies have church power; even among them the goods of the Church may be validly administered, the ministry established, the Sacraments validly administered, and the keys of the kingdom of heaven exercised.

VII. 4. Even heterodox companies are not to be dissolved, but reformed.

VIII. The orthodox Church is chiefly to be judged by the common, orthodox, public confession to which its members acknowledge and confess themselves to be pledged. CSM

J. F. Köstering, Auswanderung der sächsischen Lutheraner im Jahre 1838, ihre Niederlassung in Perry-Co., Missouri, und damit zusammenhängende interessante Nachrichten, nebst einem wahrheitsgetreuen Bericht von dem in den Gemeinden zu Altenburg und Frohna vorgefallenen sog. Chiliastenstreit in den Jahren 1856 und 1857 (St. Louis, 1867), pp. 51–52; W. O. Forster, Zion on the Mississippi (St. Louis, 1953), pp. 523–525.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Roll Call

Who is coming to the demonstration in support of Issues, Etc. between 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Monday, April 14 at the LCMS International Center, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road in St. Louis?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pulling Back the Curtain: The Specious Siren Call of the Purple Palace

I was just asked for permission to use this old TUEBOR post, and re-reading it this morning in light of the cancellation of Issues, Etc. has me thinking.

Pastor Wilken and Jeff Schwarz always exercised great prudence and restraint by never discussing synodical concerns on the air. Instead, Issues, Etc. simply equipped the priesthood of all believers through solid, engaging catechesis, and consequently, this enabled increasing numbers of laymen within the LCMS to see the very real contrast between what synodical officials say they believe and what they actually practice.

This is why Kieschnick cannot open up in even a semblance of pastoral concern for the thousands of Christians who have been hurt by the cancellation of this popular ministry. The programming of Issues, Etc. "pulled back the curtain" that now shrouds his Purple Palace in a seeming Lutheranism. Appearances and power are everything, so they had to axe Issues, Etc. for the sake of their "vision" or ideological goals -- yet claim that it was merely due to present financial constraints. They had to maintain the guise of still being Lutheran, and that meant that the Christ-centered, cross-focused message of Issues, Etc. could not be given as the reason for its cancellation.

Like the usurping Claudius in Hamlet, Kieschnick cannot come clean, so the sad fact of how two honorable men were fired because they faithfully taught the biblical doctrines that he, himself, is supposed to believe, teach, and confess -- this is an embarrassment that cannot be publicly acknowledged, even though he has at least, at the very minimum, allowed the public defaming of these two good men. Kieschnick must now hide behind the people he controls, the increasingly ludicrous excuse of financial constraints, and the hope that this public relations problem will simply go away with the passage of time, like it did with Pastor Wally Schulz.

As Kieschnick leads the LCMS to gradually and quietly reject its rich, confessional heritage, he must continue, like the Minister of Magic in Harry Potter who stubbornly denied the return of Voldamort, to say that the LCMS is united and orthodox: All is well in Missouri! Do not look behind the curtain! Stop talking about all this doctrine stuff! We need to focus on the mission! (See the direct quotations here.)

Mr. Kieschnick sounds exactly like the liberal leaders of the various liberal mainstream protestant church bodies over the past 30 years: ELCA, United Methodist Church, PCUSA, The Episcopal Church, et al. If you would read or listen to their convention speeches during the last few decades, this very same diction that Kieschnick spews has been the constant specious siren call of the liberal mainstreams that are now hemmoraging members by the tens of thousands: "Forget about our differences and all those concerns about doctrine. We need to love people. People are hurting and desperately in need of the Gospel!" Meet the new libs, same as the old libs.

If rebellion against the Office of Holy Ministry puts the Gospel at stake, then so do members of the Office of Holy Ministry who, supposedly in the name of the Gospel, point us to our own hand-wringing selves just as the mainstream liberals have done now for over 30 years ago. "Deeds, not creeds!" has been their constant battle cry.

But Issues, Etc. has warned us that, at this point in history, American Evangelicalism is following the exact same path to apostasy that the liberal churches chose 30 or 40 years ago, only now Rick Warren, probably Billy Graham's successor as media darling and Evangelical figurehead, is the one using the very same specious siren call of deeds, not creeds. And the wizards who sit behind desks in the Purple Palace are telling us to follow these very same siren voices. Kyrie Eleison!

Do not let anyone tell you otherwise: Kieschnick cancelled Issues, Etc. because Pastor Wilken and Jeff, like that little dog in the Wizard of Oz, were pulling back the curtain of the Purple Palace by equipping the priesthood of all believers. Kieschnick wants us all to run out from under God's Word, wringing our hands like some pious chicken little in the name of so-called compassion for the lost. But Pastor Wilken pointed us to the Gospel and reminded us of its power in this postmodern age.

Personally, Issues, Etc.'s Christ-centered, cross-focused message made me ten times more effective and compassionate as a lay witness than all of the Church Leadership Conferences at Willow Creek that I attended. Those who do not care about apologetics and doctrine do not really care about genuine Evangelism or the people to whom they witness. Their hearts and egos might race and swell with the numbers of those who come to their meetings, those whom St. Paul warned would seek teachers in accordance to their own desires, but it will not be on account of biblical Evangelism. The training and teaching that we received from Issues, Etc. was exactly what I needed in order to confess my faith as a fellow beggar in need of the same Gospel that I shared with non-Christians.

Kieschnick, by opposing the Christ-centred, cross-focused message of the New Testament and selling out to the Church Growth Movement, is turning the LCMS into the Gelded Church of the Reformation -- all in the name the name of mission or Evangelism. If we follow him by taking our cues from American Evangelicalism -- the new, Bible-believing liberals -- then the LCMS will tragically end up in the very same sad place that the old mainstream liberals are today, only by a different, more ironic route, one draped with a curtain that seems Lutheran.

I know not seems...
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

Kyrie Eleison!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Issues, Etc.: Educating Congregations on the LCMS Mess

Thought Closing words on Doctrine:  The LCMS got this way due to years and years of no church discipline for aberrant teaching and practice.  

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The White Horse Inn Interview of Mollie Hemingway on Issues, Etc.

An den Herrn Strand: "Misapprehension about the Size of the Issues, Etc. Audience"

Mr. David L. Strand
Executive Director
Board for Communication
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

Dear Mr. Strand:

I read with great sadness your explanation yesterday as to why you have canceled Issues, Etc., and today, after reading the Wall Street Journal article that has now brought your report into serious question at a national level, I am even more concerned about the veracity of your claims and the integrity of our synodical leadership.

I am writing you today about the supposed "misapprehension about the size of the Issues audience" that you mentioned in your statement yesterday. The most obvious omission in your statement and your grossest miscalculation of the Issues, Etc. audience, was your failure to even mention downloads of the program via iTunes podcast subscriptions. In fact, you don’t even mention podcasts!

I am one of probably thousands of Christians of all ages from around the world and in numerous denominations who received and enjoyed each and every hour of Issues, Etc. through automatic mp3 downloads with iTunes, the primary and most popular means through which its thousands of avid listeners received the programming. This was the chief reason I financially supported KFUO as a member of the Reformation Club.

I literally listened to each and every hour of Issues, Etc., but I never could listen live. I work during the week and care for my mother and my family after work; likewise, the Sunday night broadcasts were just too late for me, since we live in the eastern time zone. So I am one of the thousands of avid listeners that you failed to even acknowledge in your report yesterday, for you did not even consider podcast subscriptions at all. Mr. Strand, we count in the eyes of our Lord, and we should have counted in your eyes as well.

To put the best construction upon this conspicuous and telling omission, I must assume that you just don't know about podcasts or iTunes, the most popular means on Earth for people to receive podcasts and the method of downloading that was most prominently suggested on the Issues, Etc. web site. Not knowing about this would be amazingly ironic considering the position that you hold and the sad, apparently rash, uninformed action that you took last week -- the sudden and unannounced termination of a program that brought the life-giving message of Christ to thousands around the world.

If I were less charitable, I would simply conclude that you were deliberately trying to obfuscate your actions and protect yourself or those who control you. Sadly, this is the perception of many, and now that the termination has been further revealed in a Wall Street Journal article, your actions and the specious reasoning upon which you have based them are now known nationally. This is truly a sad day for the cause of Christ and for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, but it is NOT due to those of us who are merely asking honest questions.

Mr. Strand, even though you are not a pastor, I ask you to please be pastoral to God’s people, even when those ordained persons in positions of political power over you may not be. Have you not read some of the heartfelt comments on the Issues, Etc. petition which now has more than 5,200 signatures? Does that not tell you anything at all? As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, there comes a time in every man’s life that will test him, perhaps profoundly, and how he handles and responds to that challenge will decide how he will be remembered. Frankly, this seems to be your time, Mr. Strand. Please be honest and open with God’s people! Do the right thing. Bring everything out into the light, for Christ commands us to do so.

I hope that you can provide Issues Etc.’s thousands of avid listeners more information, so that we can correct any false perceptions that you have given your brothers and sisters in Christ, and if necessary, humbly ask your forgiveness. I would at least like to know why you completely ignored podcast subscriptions in your report yesterday, for this is the primary means through which the vast majority of Issues, Etc.’s listeners -- thousands of Christians outside of the St. Louis area and around the world -- enjoyed this Christ-centered, cross-focused program.

I look forward to your response, and I pray that God would give you the grace to to clarify these matters in biblical openness and under and in the light of God’s Word.