Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Valediction to Ecclesia Augustana

I wrote in my previous post on my "encouragement" that I am willing to be corrected or instructed. Here I hope to make good on that statement.

That post was my revealing of a weak argument against me -- one that bent around a fairly elementary logical fallacy (guilt by association), one that felt slick with legalism, and was enforced argumentum ad consequentiam (an appeal to positive or negative consequences.) I'm not ashamed of what I wrote. But contrary to certain outside opinions going wild on this incident, this was not coercion or bullying. The episode stemmed from genuine concern about my present and future ministry, and I will repeat here one more time, I am genuinely grateful for that concern. Nevertheless, I wish such an episode of guilt-heaping (i.e. guilting and not even using God's Law to do so properly) shouldn't exist in the Lutheran church.

Since then, after much prayer, I have come to believe that I ought to retract my authorship here. To my co-authors, I'd like to give my sincere praise. It shows great spiritual maturity to be so interested and public about Lutheran dogma. This is a rare gem to see in the youth, and I wouldn't want this enthusiasm quashed. But I would also exhort these acquaintances to "watch their life and doctrine closely," particularly in what they choose to opine in public, and especially when using sensationalist words. Wise Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 10Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil ferment and stink; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.

I am rescinding my author status and disassociating with the blog "Ecclesia Augustana".

What, now, may happen to me? If my mere association here was so grave, will my past collaboration with these Ecclesia Augustana authors unnecessarily and unrighteously haunt me into the future? I pray no. If indeed I am promised "all is forgiven," I urge: don't later revoke or make hypothetical God’s own absolution. C.F.W. Walther says about forgiveness of sins:
"If the pastor strongly doubts the repentance and sincerity of a person confessing to him, without, however, being able to convict him of it and refuse absolution, [the pastor] dare not salve his own conscience by adding all sorts of conditions, or even warnings and threats, to the absolution." (Pastorale, p. 164. Emphasis mine)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Elephant in the Room - 2 Corinthians 5:18-21

This is the third in a series of posts that seek to present key passages pertaining to the doctrine of Justification by comparing the statements of contemporary authors with the patristic writings of the the Church Catholic. It's by no means exhaustive; if it were, there would be far too many quotations for a simple blog post. But I hope it brings to mind a number of important questions: "Why is there so much disconnect? Why do the interpretations of these passages appear to completely contradict and disagree with one another?" (The first and second posts can be found here and here, respectively)


-- Interpretations of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 by modern sources --



A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (1932)
"Scripture 
teaches 
that 
God 
has 
already 
declared
 the 
whole 
world
 to 
be 
righteous 
in 
Christ, 
Rom.
5:19; 
2
Cor. 
5:18‐21;
 Rom.
4:25." (http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=415)




Francis Pieper
"God no longer looks upon sinful man with wrath, but 'before His divine tribunal' forgives the sins of mankind, does not impute their trespasses unto them (2 Cor. 5:19). 'By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life' (Rom. 5:18). And this reconciliation is, as has been shown, complete and perfect, extensively and intensively, for we certainly have no right to restrict the meaning of of either the terms 'world' (2 Cor. 5:19) and 'all men' (Rom. 5:18) or the terms 'not imputing their trespasses' (2 Cor. 5:19) and 'justification' (Rom. 5:18). Nor do these passages speak merely of a new relation between God and man, but they state definitely that God’s action produced the new relation, God’s action in not imputing their sins unto men, in forgiving them their sins, in justifying men in His heart, this is the meaning of objective reconciliation, as taught in 2 Cor. 5:19, Rom. 5:18; 5:10; 4:25. CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS, by Francis Pieper, Volume 2, pages 398 & 399



Edward Preuss
So, then, we are reconciled (2 Cor. 5:18); however, not only we, but also Hindus, and Hottentots and Kafirs, yes, the world (2 Cor. 5:19). “Reconciled,” says our translation; the Greek original says: “placed in the right relation to God.” Because before the Fall we, together with the whole creation, were in the right relation to God, therefore Scripture teaches that Christ, through His death, restored all things to the former right relation to God. We, then, are redeemed from the guilt of sin; the wrath of God is appeased; all creation is again under the bright rays of Mercy, as in the beginning; yeah, in Christ, we were justified before we were even born. For do not the Scriptures say: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19)? This is not the justification which we receive by faith, but the one which took place before all faith."
(The Justification of the Sinner Before God)


Siegbert Becker
"Paul’s actual words say that God was reconciling the world to Himself not counting their sins against them. The only possible antecedent of “their” in that sentence is “the world,” and the world certainly includes all men. What Paul actually says, therefore, is that God does not count the sins of all men against them. In his letter to the Romans the apostle indicates beyond question that not to count a man’s sin against him means to forgive his sin. Paul writes, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” We are therefore justified in saying that Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:19 teaches that in Christ God has indeed forgiven the sins of the whole world. God reconciled the world to Himself by forgiving the sins of all men." (www.wlsessays.net/files/BeckerUniversal.rtf)


J.P. Meyer

"Objectively speaking, without any reference to an individual sinner's attitude toward Christ's sacrifice, purely on the basis of God's verdict, every sinner, whether he knows about it or not, whether he believes it or not, has received the status of a saint. What will be his reaction when he is informed about this turn of events? Will he accept, or will he decline?"
J. P. Meyer, Ministers of Christ, A Commentary on the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1963, p. 103f. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.


John Moldstad Jr.
“When Paul uses the word ‘reconciling’ here, [2 Corinthians 5:19] he clearly means that forgiveness of sins is really imputed to ‘the world.’"
Lutheran Sentinel, October, 1996, p. 11



--Interpretations of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 in the writings of the Orthodox Lutheran Fathers--


The Wittenberg Faculty Writing against Huber's "Universal Justification"
“Never does Paul teach universal justification. For as far as concerns 2 Corinthians 5, the words ‘not imputing their trespasses unto them,’ they are not to be understood universally about all men regardless of faith.
Actorum Huberianorum pars prior. Durch die Württembergischen Theologen Pars posterior, p. 122


Martin Chemnitz
"10 Now this power of forgiving sin must not be understood to have been given to the priests in such a way that God had renounced it for Himself and had simply transferred it to the priests, with the result that in absolution it is not God Himself but the priest who remits sin. For Paul expressly distinguishes between the power and efficacy of reconciliation which belongs to God, and the ministry which was given to the apostles, so that it is God who reconciles the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19) and forgives sins (Is. 43:25), not however without means but in and through the ministry of Word and sacrament.

Ministers indeed are said to loose and remit sins on account of the keys, that is, because they have the ministry through which God reconciles the world to Himself and remits sins.
Thus Paul says (2 Cor. 1:24) that although he has authority, he nevertheless does not lord it over their faith but is a servant and steward of the mysteries of Christ (1 Cor. 4:1), so that he who plants and he who waters is nothing, but He who gives the increase, namely God (1 Cor. 3:7). Nevertheless, he shows that the use of the ministry is useful and necessary, for, says he, we are co-workers, that is, assistants, whose labors God uses in the ministry, but where nevertheless all the efficacy belongs to Him. We are servants, says he, through whom you have believed. Likewise: “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). Paul treats this distinction clearest of all in 2 Cor. 5:18–20. It is God who reconciles us to Himself through Christ, not counting our sins against us. To the apostles, however, He gave the ministry of reconciliation. But how so? “He entrusted to us,” says Paul, “the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Thus this distinction honors God and gives Him the glory that properly belongs to Him; it also claims for the ministry the honor and authority it has according to the Word of God. For even as it is Christ who baptizes through the ministry and also imparts His body and blood, so also it is Christ who through the ministry absolves and remits sins.

Chemnitz, M., & Kramer, F. (1999). Vol. 2: Examination of the Council of Trent (electronic ed.) (559–560). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. (HT: http://www.faithalonejustifies.com/reconciling-the-world-but-not-without-means/)


Philip Melanchthon
"2 Corinthians 5:19

…not imputing their sins to them.

This demonstrates what the effect is of the reconciliation made by the Son. For since God the Father transferred the sins of us all from us to the Son so that He might pay for us the penalty for sins and in this way reconcile again the offended Father, the eternal Father now does not impute sins to those who believe in His Son; He regards them as righteous on account of the obedience and intercession of His Son. For the righteousness of man which God regards as righteousness is that sins are remitted, are not imputed and are covered, as Paul defines righteousness in Romans 4, citing Psalm 32. Therefore, the effect of reconciliation is that sins are not imputed; instead, the faith that embraces Christ the Reconciler is imputed for righteousness.

And He placed among us, etc.

That is, He instituted the ministry of teaching about the reconciliation made through the death of the Son. For God wants it announced to the entire human race that reconciliation has been made by the Son, so that sins are not imputed to believers; instead, righteousness is imputed to them, and thus believers are saved. For this reason, among the ruins of the empires and so many sects and heresies, God has to this day wondrously preserved this ministry, and will continue to preserve it until the end of the world and the advent of His Son, as Paul says, “You shall announce the death of the Lord until He comes.”

(http://www.faithalonejustifies.com/philip-melanchthon-on-2-corinthians-519/)


St. Augustine
He says this, of course, of the whole Church, which, by itself, He frequently also calls by the name of the world: as when it is said, God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:19...But that world which God is in Christ reconciling unto Himself, which is saved by Christ, and has all its sins freely pardoned by Christ, has been chosen out of the world that is hostile, condemned, and defiled.
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701087.htm>.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Historic St. John's Lutheran Hijacked by Sodomites

It has come to the attention of this blog that Historic Saint John's Evangelical-Lutheran Church, a former epicenter of Lutheranism in Milwaukee where two sainted WELS Synod Presidents were pastors and the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America was founded, had its pastor removed and property seized by two unrepentant homosexuals.  Mr. Tim Niedfeldt, who recently left his WELS church with the intent to join and revitalize St. John's, has graciously offered this "guest post" of sorts, which is essentially a cross-post of his "press release" on the St. John's Facebook page.  We will update readers with further details in the days to come:
It is with great sadness I write that St. John's is in crisis. This is Tim Niedfeldt writing today for full disclosure. Although I joined St. John's on Feb 16th as a new memberm I have not been officially accepted as a member and I never will be.

Yesterday, Pastor Hastings received a letter of dismissal from two of the existing 4 members. One member and council member is in AZ. He was not notified of any action. Another elder matron is in a hospital. The remaining two are members who, if there was anyone to implement official church discipline, would immediately be under discipline and excommunicated. Although it is embarrassing to admit that the only remaining attenders before my arrival are homosexual, Pastor without any other members would have no way to do anything with these two members. He often had zero attenders to worship. 
It is worse as one of the offending members was in a state of crisis a few years ago and needed a place to stay. He was given some rooms in the parsonage to stay in (perhaps it was still "the closet" at that time). The parsonage is furnished with furniture Pastor Hastings provided. Liberace paid no rent out of the graciousness of Pastor's heart. The other member came a few years ago after a recent divorce. At first he came with his son. Soon he started coming with his new lover. So St. John's got two gay members and a gay attender all through the backdoor (pun intended).

Fast forward to February when my family came to church. I have been increasing the public exposure of the church by inviting members on facebook. I had prepared the St. John's Ustream account to start streaming services on Easter. I was working on releasing a kick butt web site with all the social media widgets. Soon I hoped to engage St. John's to become a center for discussion and proliferation of confessional and Independent Lutheranism. 
So why a near neck-breaking pace to remove Pastor with no official warning, no official meetings, no voters, and no constitutional basis for the removal? The gay club was coming to an end. They knew church discipline was coming the moment they voted me in. They saw guests starting to come. They saw me, the "non-member," setting up recordings and broadcasting confessionalism to the world and paying to make sure we had an organist they didn't want for St. John's grand organ. As of Sunday, Karen and I were supposed to be voted on for membership. I'm guessing that's a no. 
So why do 3 gay guys hang out in a confessional church that condemns their sin for nearly 3 years week after week. This is just SPECULATION but I would guess it would be to hasten the departure of Pastor Hastings. When he was retired or removed the church can be sold and the endowment divvied up to the remaining members. Perhaps fund anew Gay bar or something.
My prediction, if we cannot stop this improper action: St. John's is sold as a campus church to Grace and the gays go off and have found a nice way to keep sinning and have church pay for it. Stay tuned for some calls to action in the next posts.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rusch: "Encouraged" to Take Your Name Down


I've just been proverbially "called into the principal's office" for my contributing to this blog. (Cue dramatic music.) Beforehand, I had only a vague idea of what or why I was being called in, and therefore had no defense prepared.

The French call it L'esprit de l'escalier -- the spirit of the staircase. It is the flood of retorts and rebuttals that arrive in your mind after you've already exited the argument. The term comes from Diderot when he wrote: "a sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument leveled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again when he reaches the bottom of the stairs on his way out." It is my privilege to voice my L'esprit de l'escalier below.

"Do you think it is a good thing to associate with such people on this blog?"

Association is a powerful device. If one associates with heavy drinkers, can he be expected to sympathize with excessive drinking? If one associates with heretics, can he be expected to sympathize with heretical doctrine? If one associates with Lutherans, can he be expected to sympathize with Lutheran doctrine? The correct answer is: "it does not necessarily follow."

But is it a good thing to associate with such people? This begs the question: Who are "such people?" This blog has its purpose statement in its very first post, which, I will concede, is not at all well publicized:
At the same time, this blog will not present itself as more than it is.  It is a platform for a group of laymen to opine concerning the state of Confessional Lutheranism in America and abroad.  We do not pretend to be esteemed theologians or learned academics.  We have no fancy degrees or extensive doctrinal training.  We come armed only with Sacred Scripture, the Confessions, the writings of the Church Fathers, and our Liturgical heritage.  We welcome constructive criticism and diversity of thought.  We hope you will join us in struggling with the difficult questions we attempt to face. (emphasis mine)
Note the emphases. My first post, on Holy Baptism, although it was in its original form a somewhat scholarly treatment, I deliberately removed much scholar-talk. I don't want to confuse/alienate a large part of blog readers with such thick stuff. I merely commentated using what mere undergrad skills I had, not attempting to stand upon the shoulders of theological giants in order that I see more than they, but rather I attempt to stand up at all, supported by quotes and paraphrases of theological giants. I'm writing more about theology and reading more Lutheran church fathers than I have ever before in my life. Yes, my association here is so far a very "good thing". Potential "bad things" will be addressed below.

"You have not taken serious theological classes yet. It would be better if you were to wait before you attach your name to anything that this."

Does that negate private study? Does that negate your very own undergrad classroom theological instruction? Does that negate the exegesis class I am currently taking? Am I incompetent in Lutheran dogma if I am young and not yet in seminary? But, ah, "we do not pretend to be esteemed theologians", so let us assume for the moment that I am incompetent. "We welcome constructive criticism" would therefore be my stance as an author here.  The truth is, I have received no negative criticism about my theology yet, even though my colleagues have received plenty, especially concerning Universal Objective Justification (a subject on which I have not published anything yet). Besides, here, I am able to collaborate with and be curbed by other professing confessional Lutherans (both authors and visitors) should I ever write heresy.

I am not expected to agree entirely with my co-authors on this blog, either. For example, there are posts of a deliberately inflammatory nature, and posts containing sensationalist language. Even though using some sensationalism can be very effective in capturing attention, I dislike using it to excess. Polemic has its place, and I am no polemicist.

"Since I don't agree entirely either, what if I wanted to write articles against Ecclesia Augustana?"

This absurd question has no place in whether or not I ought to be able to write for Ecclesia Augustana. It seems more like a question to trap me into acknowledging that the blog is heretical. To treat a blog as an apple barrel with one bad apple is not an applicable comparison. You're welcome to join the discussion, although if you are actively publishing against other author's theology, I would be prepared for a barrage of criticism (although criticism, it seems, is unable to deter many Lutheran bloggers.)

"What if I were a lay member of yours looking at this, and I discover Pastor/Vicar Rusch had been a contributor on this blog?"

If that is the case: Hooray! I have a lay member who is interested in theology! I can have an intelligent conversation with him about Lutheran dogmatics!

If Mr. Theoretical Lay Member is concerned about my association with certain theological stances, I'd be delighted to talk to him, as well as recommend that he read my own posts in the context of this blog's statement of purpose (quoted near the beginning of this post.) Were there one intelligent enough to be so interested in theology, would he immediately and rashly brand me a heretic for such a petty grievance?

"That doesn't really answer my question. What if this were the average lay member, not well-versed in theology?"

Alright, you've got me there. First off, such a person I would be delighted to chat with, too. I hope you can tell by my presence on this blog, and my choice of career path, I love to talk about Christianity.

What I'm confused about is: if he were not theologically strong, how would he detect heterodoxy in this blog in the first place? A lay member going to this blog would find: the authors here call themselves confessional Lutheran laymen, and he would be a bit intimidated by the Latin quotation at the top of the page. Would he only be perturbed by posts objecting to [current] Lutheran pastors' theology, or posts questioning Holy Mother Synod (please pardon the borrowed term) -- neither of which any of my posts here have done? At the moment, the only way I can think such a man would be offended is if there were some absurd public synodical declaration that "this blog is heterodox. Mark and avoid!"

__________________________________

I was explicitly "encouraged" to think about my association with this blog, out of concern for my future. Do not be mistaken: I am genuinely grateful for that. "Out of concern for my future," though, touches on a culture problem (and harmful doctrine), detected by many, many people, that makes Lutherans very defensive. When there is a witchhunt for heretics (for me, in this episode, a theoretical future witchhunt), I believe it is at least partially because of pietism. But, interestingly, my own theology was never brought up, just my mere association with this blog! How petty! I wanted to explore theology. That is the reason I began to write for this blog. Other faculty members praise my interest in Lutheran systematic theology. But here I was scolded with weak "what if" arguments (which might be perceived as intimidation).

The unspoken suggestion is that I remove my name from the blog. I contend that it is foolishness to attempt to remove my name from the list of authors. This blog is powered by Blogger -- Google has already read and cached my posts for all posterity. Oops. I guess my Christian stance at this point in time cannot be erased now. 

Am I young? Yes. Am I inexperienced? Yes. Am I not widely trained in systematic theology? Yes. Am I hateful of instruction and unwilling to be corrected? Absolutely not! Should this episode stop discussion and study? Not at all! 

I am not yet at the terminus of my education, and in my meeting it was implied that I may yet remain a contributor, so that is what I intend to do for now, unless otherwise convinced.


--------
My name is Benjamin Rusch, and I am currently a senior at Martin Luther College who plans on attending Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary this coming school year.

(And, no. I don't necessarily agree 100% with every contributor to this blog.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Divine Liturgy: Part 4 (Nunc Dimittis through the Benediction)

This is the fourth and final installment in a four part series explaining the various parts of the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Common Service.  To view the first three installments of the series, click herehere, and here.

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Nunc Dimittis
As is the case with a foretaste, the Holy Supper comes to an end.  Refreshed and renewed, we rise and sing the Nunc Dimittis.  This is a uniquely Lutheran addition to the Divine Service, as it was not part of the Ordinary prior to the Reformation.  Still, it is an immensely fitting canticle to sing after the Distribution of the Blessed Sacrament.  The Nunc Dimittis, also known as the Song of Simeon, is the song that St. Simeon sang after seeing the Infant Lord Jesus at His presentation in the temple (cf. St. Luke 2:29-32).  Through it, with St. Simeon we proclaim that the Lord lets us, His servants, “depart in peace, according to Thy Word.  For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.  A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.”  In the Holy Supper, we have literally seen, felt, and tasted the Light of Gentile nations and the Glory of Israel.  Having received Christ and His forgiveness, we are truly ready to depart in peace - whether to our earthly vocations or from this veil of tears.

Communio

After the Nunc Dimittis, the Common Service prescribes the singing of the versicle “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.”  This versicle takes the place of what was historically known as the Communio chant, the last of the Proper chants that the people sing throughout the Divine Service.  In ancient practice, this antiphon was accompanied by a longer Psalm that was chanted during the Distribution of the Sacrament.  By the time of the Reformation, however, the Communio was relegated to a shorter verse that was sung after the Distribution.  Luther recommended the retention of the Communio (along with all the Propers), so it is highly fitting to sing the Proper Communio verse.  It also serves to remind us that the Services of Word and Sacrament are not two separate entities, but rather are two halves of one whole Service.  In short, the Communio gives us one final thought pertaining to the theme of the day, bringing our reception of the Sacrament into that same context.

Post-Communion Collect
After the Communio verse, the pastor prays the Post-Communion Collect.  In the Roman Missal, this prayer varied according to the day.  However, Dr. Luther wrote a beautiful form of this collect, which the Common Service utilizes in place of a variable prayer.  In it, we thank God (“make eucharist”) for the gift of the Blessed Sacrament and ask Him to use it to strengthen our faith in Him and love toward one another.  It concludes with the familiar doxology that was previously used in the Collect of the Day.

Benedicamus
After the Post-Communion Collect, the pastor greets the people a final time with the familiar Dominus Vobiscum.  He then proceeds with the Benedicamus, proclaiming to the people: “Bless we the Lord!”  Before the Reformation, the Benedicamus was only used when the Gloria in Excelsis was omitted (i.e. the penitential seasons).  On other Sundays, the phrase Ite, missa est (“Go, the Mass is ended”) was used.  However, Lutherans adopted the practice of using the Benedicamus throughout the year, regardless of season, following a suggestion made by Dr. Luther.  This reflects the more ancient practice of the church and ends the Service with a reminder of the fact that we are unable to do anything but bless or "praise" the Lord for the gifts he has bestowed.  In point of fact, it is His gifts that - by their own power - cause the praise that is due to Him.  Regardless of the phrase used, however, this statement marks the official end of the Divine Service.  The people respond with one final making of eucharist: Deo Gratias; “Thanks be to God!” 

Benediction
After the conclusion of the Divine Service, the Common Service tradition instructs the pastor to bestow the Aaronic Blessing upon the people.  The Aaronic Blessing is the great blessing that the Lord instructed Moses to teach Aaron and the Levite priests;  it was the form they were to use when they blessed the Hebrew people (cf. Numbers 6:22-27).  Since by faith we are the true children of Abraham, it is appropriate that the Church’s ministers should bless us with the same blessing.  


Monday, March 18, 2013

The Divine Liturgy: Part 3 (Preface through the Distribution)


This is the third installment in a four part series explaining the various parts of the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Common Service.  To view the first and second installments of the series, click here and here.

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Preface: Sursum Corda and Vere Dignum
The Service of the Word now complete, the pastor turns toward the people with the familiar greeting, Dominus Vobiscum.  After the people’s response, he intones the Sursum Corda, which means “lift up your hearts” and comes from Lamentations 3:41.  After the people assent, he bids them to make eucharist; that is, to give thanks to God.  The people respond by saying Dignum et iustum est; that is, “it is meet and right.”  This dialogue between pastor and people has been used in a multiplicity of liturgical traditions since the 3rd Century.  It leads directly into the Proper Preface, also known as the Vere Dignum.  Notice the people’s last response also began with Dignum ("meet"); the pastor draws from the people’s response and affirms that “it is truly meet, right, and salutary” to give God thanks.  In this way, the Sursum Corda serves as a formal assent to the pastor's "making eucharist" on the congregation's behalf, indicating that with one mind we lift our hearts before the Lord in gratitude and humility.  

The Proper Preface also serves to hone our thanksgiving into the context of the theme of the day; each season of the church year has a unique Preface that accompanies it.  The Preface concludes with a sort of doxology, saying that with Angels and Archangels and the whole company of the heavenly army we praise and magnify God’s Name with the song of heaven:  the Sanctus.

Sanctus with Benedictus
The Sanctus (meaning “holy”) is an ancient hymn that comes from the Old and New Testaments.  It is the song that the Prophet Isaiah heard the Blessed Seraphim singing before the Throne of God (as recorded in Isaiah 6:3).  St. John also heard the “four creatures” that surround the Throne of God singing a version of the Sanctus (Revelation 4:8).  In a sense, then, the Sanctus is the Song of Heaven - that which the Angels sing before the very presence of God.  It is most fitting to sing this hymn directly before the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, at which point heaven deigns to be on earth.  This is where, with Angels and Archangels, we laud and magnify the Lamb Who - though He sits upon the Throne - in wondrous mystery sits upon the Altar in the Holy Supper. 
Also befitting this mystery is the text of the Benedictus (“blessed”), which comprises the second half of the Sanctus.  The Benedictus, originally based on Psalm 118:26, is the song (“Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord!”) that people of Israel sang as the Lord triumphantly entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, as recorded in St. Mark 11:9-10.  It is surrounded by the refrain “Hosanna in the highest” (hosanna is a Hebrew word that is related to “Savior” and was probably used as an expression beseeching Divine aid).  It is appropriate for these words to be used as we beseech the good graces of Him “that cometh in the name of the Lord.” 
Even more symbolic is the fact that the Benedictus represents the people of God’s earthly song of acclamation, while the Sanctus represents the heavenly song of acclamation.  In a very real sense, the Sanctus with Benedictus represents the meeting of heaven and earth - the ultimate expression of the fact that heaven and earth become indistinguishable as we progress toward the celebration of the Holy Supper, where Saints and Angels regardless of time and space join together in adoration of the King of kings.

Pater Noster with Doxology
Following the Sanctus, the pastor begins chanting the Pater Noster, also known as the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer.”  It is the prayer our Savior taught us and has long been used in the Service of the Sacrament.  In it, we specifically pray for God to “give us this day our daily bread,” which is none other than Christ Himself - that Bread of Life we are about to receive in the Blessed Sacrament.  But in a real sense, all the petitions of this venerable prayer find their completion in the Holy Supper.  God’s Name is hallowed by the work of His Son, in Whose presence we are soon to dwell.  God’s Kindgom most literally comes to earth as the Communion of Saints is manifested in the Body and Blood of Christ.  And His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  How is it done?  By the giving of this wonderful bread from heaven, which surely forgives our sins and empowers our Christian living as we forgive those who sin against us, are led away from temptation, and are delivered from evil. 
In joyful response to these blessed truths, the Common Service tradition has the people respond by happily singing the doxology; for the Kingdom, Power, and Glory truly belong to God for ever and ever, Who has bestowed upon us these wonderful gifts, the work of His hand alone.

Verba Christi and Pax Domini
With our minds focused on the gifts about to be received, the pastor chants the Verba Christi, the Words of Institution that are recorded in the three synoptic Gospels and St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.  Beyond all human comprehension, when the Pastor recites these Words of consecration, the powerful Word of God effects the Sacramental Union by which the earthly elements of bread and wine become the very Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We leave to Him alone how this can be; His Word alone is sufficient.  It is historically appropriate - and endorsed by the blessed Dr. Luther himself - for the pastor to elevate the consecrated elements in recognition of the Lord’s sacramental presence.  After the consecration, he turns toward the people with the host and chalice in hand and speaks the Pax Domini - that is, the “Peace of the Lord” - to the people.  Luther recognized this little saying as one final, comforting form of absolution before the reception of the Sacrament, to which the people emphatically respond "Amen."

Agnus Dei
After receiving Christ’s peace, the people sing in humble adoration the Agnus Dei, the great hymn to the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world (based on St. John the Baptist’s acclamation in St. John 1:29).  In this canticle, we beseech Christ’s mercy and peace before approaching His Altar to receive the gifts He has prepared for our benefit.  The text takes us to Good Friday, the day on which the Lamb of God completed the task for which He was sent by suffering and dying - taking away the sins of the world.  The only time of the year that this canticle is omitted is during the great Paschal Vigil; the day the Church celebrates Christ’s victorious resurrection from the dead.

Distribution

After the Agnus Dei, the people of God take part in the Distribution of the Holy Sacrament.  This is the highest point of the Service of the Sacrament, where the people of God literally and physically receive forgiveness by receiving the Body that was broken and the Blood that was outpoured for their sins.  They also experience the Communion of Saints; for where Christ is, there His members are too.  In the Blessed Sacrament, all the saints of God - living and dead - are united as one.  In the Holy Supper, death has no power over us and we are given a brief foretaste of the Endless Day, wherein all who have been made one with Christ in Holy Baptism live and reign with Him forever.  In short, at the Altar we experience heaven on earth with all who are in Christ.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Divine Liturgy: Part 2 (Scripture Lessons through the General Prayer)


This is the second installment in a four part series explaining the various parts of the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Common Service.  To view the first installment of the series, click here.

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Scripture Lessons: Prophecy and Epistle
After the Collect has honed our attention on the theme first set by the Introit, we are ready to hear the reading of the Holy Scriptures.  No one may teach or preach the Scriptures in the Church unless he is the servant of God called and ordained for the task.  The proclamation of the Scriptures is one of the highest points of the Divine Service and should not be taken lightly.  In ancient practice, the first reading was known as the “Prophecy” and was taken from the Old Testament.  However, by the time of the Reformation, there were only two readings - Epistle and Gospel.  This two-reading model mimicked the Jewish synagogue service, which also had set readings from the Law and the Prophets.  
Lest one thinks that the Reformation-era model led to a neglect of the Old Testament, however, it should be noted that the Proper chants of the congregation are almost always from the Old Testament.  In addition, while the prescribed Epistle lessons on Sundays were almost exclusively from the New Testament, the “Epistle” prescribed for weekdays was usually from the Old Testament.  So the Old Testament was kept in regular use.  Still, due to shifting social paradigms, the Sunday Service has become one of the only worship opportunities in most regions.  In this light, the Common Service allows for a reading from the Old Testament.  

Gradual
Since the days of the Jewish synagogue, believers have chanted Psalms between the various Scripture lessons.  In the earliest days of the Church, two whole Psalms were chanted between the three separate readings.  Over the ages, the Psalms were shortened (likely to accommodate the extended chants to which they were set); by the time of the Reformation, the remnant of the first Psalm became known as the Gradual.  Its name is drawn from the Latin word gradus, meaning “step,” because it was sung from the steps of the lectern from which the Gospel was read.  The Gradual is usually comprised of two or three verses that specifically highlight the theme of the day.    

Alleluia
The remnant of the second responsorial Psalm became known as the Alleluia, because it was preceded and followed by the ancient word “Alleluia,” a Latinization of a Hebrew word meaning “praise the Lord.”  In medieval practice, the Alleluia verse became little more than an extension of the Gradual; in fact, in many missals it is listed with the Gradual.  However, as previously mentioned, it was initially an entirely separate Psalm and should be viewed as a unique chant in its own right.  In the Common Service tradition, where a Prophecy reading is often retained, the Alleluia verse is chanted after the Epistle and completely separated from the Gradual (which is chanted after the Prophecy), thus mimicking the ancient practice.
In the seasons of  Septuagesima and Lent, the Alleluia Verse is replaced by the Tract, a chant which is comprised of selections from the Psalms (or other Scriptures) that usually take on a more somber tone.  This “alleluia fast” is a symbol of our repentance in preparation for Passiontide.  In contrast, the season of Easter sees the reinstatement of a second Alleluia verse, which displaces the Gradual; together, the two Alleluia verses of Easter are known as the “Greater Alleluia.” 

Holy Gospel and its Acclamations
The Alleluia verse also serves as a segue into the acclamation of the Holy Gospel.  The reading from the Holy Gospel is the pinnacle of the Service of the Word, because it represents the direct words and actions of our Lord during His time on earth.  Before the reading of the Gospel, the people rise in due deference to Christ; following the ancient practice, they may also use their thumbs to make the sign of the cross three times - once over the forehead, once over the lips, and once over the heart - silently praying: “the Holy Gospel be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.”  After the pastor introduces the book from which the Gospel shall be read, the people are unable to contain themselves and exclaim: Gloria tibi Domine, “Glory be to Thee, O Lord!”  So too, after the reading, in unbridled joy they proclaim Laus tibi Christe, “Praise be to Thee, O Christ!”

Sequence and Hymn of the Day

In the Middle Ages, elaborate Latin hymns were often used to recapitulate the theme of the day on chief festivals of the Church year.  These hymns were called Sequences (Sequentia), named after the Latin for “following.”  They were called “what follows”  because the texts of the earliest sequences were created to fit into the elaborate chants sung on the last syllable of the word “alleluia.”  Hence, the Sequence is “what follows” the Alleluia verse and is liturgically an extension of the same.  While only the Sequences for Easter and Pentecost (which were inspirations for Luther’s famous hymns “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” and “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord”) officially made it into the Roman Missal, there were numerous Sequences composed before and after the Reformation.  The Lutheran Church took many of these Sequences and used them as inspiration for creating hymns in the vernacular, which are now known as the “Hymn of the Day.”  Like its ancestor the Sequence, the Hymn of the Day is a Proper in its own right that is based on the theme of the day, recapitulating the Scripture lessons and chants.    Unlike the Sequence, however, the Hymn of the Day is sung after the Credo in the Common Service tradition.

Credo
The Credo (meaning “I believe” in Latin), also known as the Nicene Creed, is the great Confession of the Christian faith professed by every sect claiming the Christian moniker, including the Papal church, the Eastern churches, and the Protestant denominations.  In the Lutheran Church, as part of the Church Catholic, we hold the Nicene Creed as the second Confession or Symbol of our faith in the Book of Concord.  The Creed originated at the First Council of Nicea (c. A.D. 325) and was finalized at the First Council of Constantinople (c. A.D. 381), which are respectively known as the First and Second Ecumenical Councils of the Church (because, like the Creed, they are universally accepted by all Christian sects).  The Creed itself was crafted in opposition to the Arian heresy, which denied that Christ and the Holy Spirit are God.  As such, it specifically focuses on the person of Christ and His “being of one substance with the Father;” that is, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”  It likewise emphasizes the Holy Spirit and His being the true “Lord and Giver of life,” Who “in unity with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,” as only God should be.  The Creed follows the reading of the Gospel in the Divine Service as the people’s profession of the fundamental truths revealed in Holy Scripture.  While the Nicene Creed is universally used on Sundays and high feasts, in some regions the Apostles‘ Creed may be used instead, especially at non-Eucharistic Services.  In the Lutheran tradition, the Athanasian Creed may also be used on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, because it specifically focuses on the nature and doctrine of the Most Blessed Trinity.

Sermon and Pax Votum
After reciting the basic truths of the Christian faith in the Nicene Creed and focusing on the specific theme of the day in the Hymn of the Day, the pastor ascends the steps of the pulpit for the preaching of the Sermon.  The Sermon should be the highest point of the Service of the Word, because in it the Pastor brings together all of the day’s various Scripture lessons and chants and exposits them through the Gospel in the context of the primary teachings expressed by the Creed.  The Sermon also serves to tie the Service of the Word into the Service of the Sacrament, causing the people to hunger for Christ’s gifts in the Holy Supper.  While the Divine Liturgy can still present Word and Sacrament without the Sermon, the lack of a good Sermon can result in an out-of-context and misunderstood Liturgy and a people who fail to understand the full ramifications of the day’s theme.  As such, the public preaching of the Gospel represented by the Sermon is one of the most important functions of the Pastoral Office.  Likewise, it is one of the oldest biblical traditions in the Christian Church, with its first Sermon being preached by St. Peter on Pentecost - the day of the Church’s birth (albeit that Sermons were preached before the Church’s birth, especially by Moses, the Prophets, and the Lord Jesus Himself).   The Sermon concludes with the Pax Votum, the “Word of Peace,” which is a verbatim quote from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (4:7).

Offertory
Immediately following the Sermon is the Offertory (Latin: Offertorium), which goes hand in hand with the “offering.”  In modern practice, the “offering” is often understood as monetary; historically speaking, however, the primary elements that the people “offered” were the bread and wine for use in the Blessed Sacrament.  As such, at this point in the Service the Pastor prepares the elements for use in the Holy Supper.  While this is being done, the people sing the Proper chant of the Offertory.  The Common Service of 1888 allowed for the singing of the proper Offertory; however, it also provided two options as a sort of “ordinary” offertory: Psalm 51:10-12 and Psalm 51:17-19.  However, making use of the Proper Offertory offers the congregation a broader exposure to the Scriptures - ones that specifically bring out an aspect of the day’s theme.  


General Prayer
After the Offertory, the people rise for the General Prayer.  Standing for prayer on Sundays is an ancient practice with a variety of symbolic meanings.  During the week, the people traditionally knelt for prayer.  On Sundays, however, we rise, just as our Lord, Whose resurrection is commemorated every Sunday, rose from the dead.  Likewise, it is a reminder that we are to always look forward to the life to come, the “eighth” and endless Day of eternity, which Sunday also represents.  On that Day we shall rise from the dead and die no more.  Although we kneel during the week in recognition of our sinful unworthiness as mortal creatures of this world, we rise on the “eighth day” to remind ourselves that we are bound for the immortality of heaven. 
The General Prayer is a Lutheran restoration of the ancient practice of having general intercessions prior to the Service of the Sacrament.  In the Papal church, the abomination known as the “Canon of the Mass” was used in place of the General Prayer; the Papists imagined that their Canon actually helped to effect the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Lutherans abolished Eucharistic Prayers on this account (though orthodox Eucharistic Prayers have been retained in some regions) and replaced them with the General Prayer, which retains the best elements of the Eucharistic Prayer and omits its unsavory papal elements.  The General Prayer used by the Common Service predates the Reformation and is based on a form of prayer that has been used by Christians since the earliest days of the Church.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Divine Liturgy: Part 1 (Introduction through the Collect of the Day)

In my previous articles "Liturgy is Anything but Indifferent" and "Using the Propers is Proper!," I introduced the concept of the Divine Liturgy and promised future articles highlighting the individual parts of the Liturgy.  My original goal was to dedicate a unique article to each segment of the Divine Service.  However, over the course of the past week I put together a document highlighting the various aspects of the Communion Liturgy from the Common Service for St. John Evangelical-Lutheran Church's new website (as of right now, the old site is still up, but eventually you will be able to find the new website at http://www.stjohnsmke.org).  Rather than duplicate my efforts, I'm going to cross-post the explanations in four parts at this blog as well.  I hope you find these tidbits interesting.  And be sure to check out St. John's new webpage when it's up!

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Introduction
The Common Service, as its name implies, is the compilation of worship orders common to all of American Lutheranism.  It was published in 1888 as a joint effort between various Lutheran Church bodies and is (or was) widely used by members of the ELCA, LCMS, WELS, and ELS, among others.  As such, it represents an expression of Lutheran solidarity that is almost unparalleled.  But the Common Service was not created in 1888; in reality, it represents an English (and Lutheran) version of the Latin Mass and Divine Offices, which in one form or another are the continuation of a liturgical tradition that predates the time of Christ.  Its chief elements are Word and Sacrament; it exists to present them as a golden ring might present a priceless diamond.  At its core, the Common Service is nothing other than the Psalms, prayers, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19) found in the Holy Scriptures.  In this context, it is rightly called the “Divine Service,” because it is the medium through which we receive God’s gifts.

A Note on Terms
While the Common Service was originally an umbrella term for three different orders of worship - the Communion Service, Matins, and Vespers - it has come to be associated most closely with the former of these three.  This Communion Service is often called the “Divine Service” in Lutheran practice, coming from the German word Gottesdienst.  The term developed as an acknowledgment of the Lutheran belief that the true worship of God is not focused on what we do, but rather on what God does for us, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession says: “Faith is the latreiva [divine service], which receives the benefits offered by God; the righteousness of the Law is the latreiva [divine service] which offers to God our merits. By faith God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers” (IV:49). 

However, insofar as the term “Divine Service” can rightly be applied to any order of worship that presents the gifts of God, the Communion Service is often distinguished with the title “Chief Divine Service.”  It was historically known as the Mass in the Western Church, the Divine Liturgy in the East, and the Eucharist (coming from the Greek word εὐχαριστία, meaning “thanksgiving”) in both.  The Eucharistic Service can be divided into two parts:  The Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament.  The Service of the Word has its origins in the ancient Jewish synagogue service, which was marked by readings from the Law and Prophets (prefiguring the Epistle and Gospel lessons) and interspersed with Psalms.  In turn, the Service of the Sacrament is prefigured by the Jewish Passover Seder, from which the Lord Jesus instituted the Most Holy Supper of His very Body and Blood.  In this way, the Eucharistic Liturgy predates Christian use, since it was used by Hebrew believers even before the time of Christ. 

Finally, there are two terms worth mentioning that refer to the congregational portions of the Chief Divine Service:  Ordinary and Proper.  The Ordinary refers to those portions of the Service which are “ordinarily” used week after week without change.  In the Common Service tradition, these are the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Agnus Dei, Sanctus, and Nunc Dimittis.   In contrast, the Proper refers to those portions of the Service that vary from week to week and are “proper” to the given day; these are the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia or Tract, Sequence and/or Hymn of the Day, Offertory, and Communio.  The history and liturgical use of these canticles and chants will be explained in the paragraphs that follow.

Preparation
The Preparatory or Penitential Rite exists to prepare our hearts for the Divine Service.  Its chief part is the Confiteor (meaning “I confess”), during which we confess our general sinfulness and particular sins that make us unworthy to stand in God’s presence.  Before the Reformation, this Rite was prayed by the clergy alone.  In the Common Service tradition, it is a rite of corporate confession that points us back to Holy Baptism.  Starting with the words of St. Matthew, “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19) and ending in the words of St. Mark, “whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved” (16:16), the rite is a stark reminder that Baptism provides both the basis for Christian repentance and the assurance of our forgiveness.  This is all made possible through our baptismal crucifixion, burial, and resurrection with Christ, through which we have received the “full right of sons” (Galatians 4:5) as redeemed children of God.

Introit
After readying our hearts in the light of Holy Baptism, we are prepared to enter into God’s presence.  The Latin Introitus plays off this theme, meaning just that: “entrance.”  The Pastor symbolizes this on behalf of the congregation by approaching the Altar while the Introit is sung.  The Introit is the first of the Proper chants that belong to the congregation, so-called because they are selections from Scripture that vary throughout the Church year with themes that are proper to the given day.  As the first of these chants, the Introit helps to set the tone for the day’s worship.  In fact, the names given to the days of the Church year are taken from the first word or two of their Latin Introit.  The Introit follows a standard form, starting with the singing of an Antiphon (from the Greek word 
ἀντίφωνα, meaning "responsive") followed by the chanting of a Psalm verse and the Gloria Patri (“Glory be to the Father”), and concluding with a reprisal of the Antiphon.  

Gloria Patri
The Gloria Patri is the little hymn or doxology of praise contained in the larger chant of the Introit, expressing glory to the Triune God.   It emphasizes that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  This is true not only in time, but “world without end;” that is, in eternity.  It is a hymn truly befitting of the great “I Am” (Exodus 3:14).  The Gloria Patri is only omitted during the season of Passiontide (the last two Sundays in Lent), wherein the Church omits nearly all of its joyous hymns and celebrations in solemn remembrance of the Lord’s suffering and death. 

Kyrie
The Kýrie, Eléison (Greek for “Lord, have mercy”) is an ancient prayer that is repeated throughout the Psalms (Psalm 123:3, Psalm 86:3, etc.).  After entering into God’s presence, we implore Him to bestow His grace upon us.  Historically, the Kýrie, eléison was used as a congregational response similar to “Amen.”  The pastor would pray a series of intercessory petitions, after each of which the congregation would respond Kýrie, eléison.  Over time, the pastoral petitions were phased out and only the congregational responses remained, making it a prayer or canticle belonging to the people.  This prayer has also come to be recognized as a confession of the Trinity, with each of its three petitions (Kýrie, eléison, Christe, eléison, Kýrie, eléison) traditionally repeated three times (3x3).  Another unique aspect of this prayer is the fact that it was one of the only parts of the Latin Mass sung in Greek.  In the ancient days of the Church, everyone spoke Greek; the Kyrie is a vestigial piece of evidence testifying to this fact, providing a strong indication that the language of the Divine Service should be in the language of the people.  Still, there are some words and phrases that have been continuously used since believers spoke Hebrew (such as “Amen,” “Alleluia,” “Sabaoth,” and “Hosanna,” to name a few); these short phrases are easily explained to the simple and unlearned, so retaining words like “Kyrie” in the original Greek is not inappropriate. 

Gloria in Excelsis

Following our prayer for God’s gracious mercy in the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis (“Glory be to God on High”) is immediately sung.  The Gloria (sometimes called the “Greater Gloria” to distinguish it from the Gloria Patri) is the great angelic hymn that the Holy Angels sang on the eve of our Lord’s Nativity (St. Luke 2:14).  It also serves as an emphatic answer to our plea for God’s mercy:  “on earth peace; good will toward men.”   The “peace” and “good will toward men” are explained by the hymn, in the words of St. John the Baptist, to be none other than the “Lamb of God...that takest away the sins of the world” (St. John 1:29).  He is the one Who has “mercy upon us” and “receive[s] our prayer.”  And, true to form with the other parts of the Liturgy thus far, the hymn also beautifully confesses the glorious mystery of the Holy Trinity:  “Thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father.  Amen.”  During the penitential seasons of Advent, Septuagesima, and Lent, the Gloria in Excelsis is omitted as the Church’s worship takes on a more somber tone.

Salutation

With our entrance into God’s presence, our prayer for mercy, and God’s gracious answer having all taken place, the pastor greets the people with the ancient ecclesial greeting or “salutation,” Dominus Vobiscum (“the Lord be with you”), which has its basis in various passages of Scripture (Judges 18:6, Ruth 2:4, 1 Samuel 17:37, 1 Chronicles 22:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:16, etc.).  The people respond with “and with thy spirit,” a response which may have its basis in 2 Timothy 4:22, where St. Paul specifically applies the response to St. Timothy, a pastor.  

Collect of the Day
The pastor then bids the people with the Oremus, “let us pray,” after which the Collect of the Day is spoken or chanted.  The word “collect” comes from the Latin collecta and is a term meaning “prayer,” but is distinct from the more common Latin word for prayer, oratioCollecta implies a corporate prayer - a “collective” prayer of the people.  This is an important distinction, because the pastor is not praying on his own behalf, but on behalf of all the gathered saints of God.  Through the pastor, the congregation approaches God with one voice. 
The structure of the Collect of the Day follows the same basic pattern throughout the Church year, but the theme changes to corroborate with the Propers and Scripture lessons.    The Collect typically includes 1) an invocation of God, 2) a declaration of one of one of God’s Divine attributes, which is usually related to 3) the request being made, 4) the reason or reasons the request is being made, and 5) a doxology, which, in the Common Service Tradition, usually takes the form of:  “through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God: world without end.  Amen.”

Monday, March 4, 2013

Public Error Warrants Public Rebuke

*Please note:  The views expressed below represent myself and not necessarily any of the other contributors of this blog.  I know some of you grow tired of hearing about universal justification all the time - I grow tired of writing about it over and over and over again.  But as much as I'd like to lull myself into thinking that the topic is entirely semantic like some of you do, I can't.  I constantly see public errorists like the ones exposed below criticizing and condemning faithful Ministers of God's Word and members of Christ's Church, and it needs rebuking.  So here we are.*

Earlier in the afternoon, Dr. Bethany Kilcrease (wife of Dr. Jack Kilcrease, self-proclaimed Theologian of the Church) posted an interesting discussion prompt in the “Confessional Lutheran Fellowship” Facebook group:

“I was just finishing Gerhard’s Theological Commonplace on the Ministry (II) last night. Chapter VIII was about heresy and section 371 is about dealing with heretics. Gerhard notes ordained clergy have an obligation to publicly ‘muzzle‘ public heretics (a vice made much more common by the internet). I was struck, and rather disgusted, but [sic] how very little any ordained clergy (with two exceptions I can think of) have had anything to say about the heresy of denying universal objective justification that seems to be gathering stem in the WELS and LCMS. Is it because some of the public heretics are really nice guys and you kind of like them because they don’t like CoWo either? Rant over.”

Her rant being over, she went on to say a few minutes later:

“To be fair, the WELS has done an admirable job dealing with this problem among their clergy. You don’t see LCMS publicly denying UOJ, I imagine because of [sic] the 1932 brief statement is pretty explicit. At least openly, this is more of a lay and WELS problem. The problem is that a tiny number of people are continually hammering on this on the internet and uneducated lay people are in danger of being led astray.”

While her posts are obviously a reference to this chain of events, Mrs. Kilcrease raises a good point: If the teaching that every sinner has been declared righteous for the sake of Christ is “the central message of Scripture upon which the very existence of the church depends,” why are the glorious defenders of the One True Fatih™ so silent in their opposition against the pernicious heresy of Justification by Faith Alone? Why was Arch-Heretic Rydecki’s excommunication from the Holy Mother Church by Pope Buccholz worked out so quietly? Why hasn’t Rydecki been publicly exposed for the heretic that he is?  Doesn't public error warrant public rebuke?  Moreover, why does the Magisterium have to lie about what he teaches, insinuating that he somehow denies the universality and all-sufficiency of the atonement, instead of simply stating that he teaches the damnable lie of a God-given, justifying faith?

The answer, my friends, should be as obvious as the sarcasm in the preceding paragraph. The answer is that Pastor Rydecki is no heretic.  The reason so many pastors refuse to publicly castigate his doctrine is that they recognize him as no false teacher.  Why, then, don't they publicly support his position?  There are some pastors and laymen (I know them) who neglect to speak up out of fear.  There are also many pastors and laymen who, though they are familiar with this issue, have lulled themselves into the notion that the entire debate is semantic. But the topic is not semantic. If it was, Pastor Rydecki would not be excommunicated. If it was, the Holy Michigan See would not have found it necessary to place Intrepid Lutherans under interdict. If it was, there wouldn’t be people like Paul McCain, Dr. Kilcrease, and Mrs. Kilcrease floating around the internet castigating the “heresy” of justification by faith alone.

No, this issue is not semantic; rather, it boils down to the foundation of the Christian Church. It's the reason the Ecclesia Augustana is no longer part of the Papal Church. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one may boast.” “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved; whoever does not believe shall be condemned.” Yea, “whoever does not believe stands condemned already, for he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”  The sinner is justified - and only justified - by grace through faith.  The sinner is not justified on Mt. Calvary (St. Dismas notwithstanding).  The sinner is justified when the Holy Spirit works faith in his heart - faith in Christ and His merits - by Means of the Holy Gospel.  Grace of God. Promises of the Gospel. Merits of Christ.  Faith.  Period.