Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Medicine of Immortality

Given and Shed ...

... for  YOU

The Lutheran Stiff Upper Lip



Monday, October 7, 2013

How to Tell if the Worshipers Around You Actually Believe That God is Less "Far Out" ...

... than Something Far, Far Off.

Or Maybe Just Off.

A Practical, Scripturally-Based Handbook of Diagnostic Symptoms and Signs

1.)   They sway and shout loud ... really loud ... important, for the conscious or unconscious ego's attempt to gain a locked-up-in-heaven-or-vacationing deity's avid attention (1 Kings 18:28; AV translation).

According to their theories and "anxiety bench" surmises, such expression could serve as a usefully objective demonstration of faith's genuineness, as measured in dB's.   In a pinch, though, determination of the perspiring supplicant's galvanic skin response (GSR) may adequately suffice. 

2.)   Their priests are exceedingly into instruments of bodily self alteration,  so as to capture their deity's attention to themselves.

Like the employment  of a death-dealing knife plunged into the skin (1 Kings 18:28), for instance.  In a pinch, though, a hypoxia-dealing hangin' noose around the neck (perhaps secured with a natty Windsor half-knot) will often do nicely.

Others within this spectrum of clerics ... surely ... may prefer lipstick (especially Shirley); but only if the device is PETA approved.

3.)   They eschew the notion of a sacrifice to a deity, positioned on wood (1 Kings 18:26; but cf. 1 Kings 18:33)  In America, an important and domineering variation are those groups which eschew even any reminder of a corpus placed on wood, within their "sanctuaries."

4.)   God is obviously not seen hanging from their rafters or found at the drums (much less any Altar) , so they eat and drink the stuff they've selected and deemed essential for an ego-soothing worship experience ; fill up their bellies; and thence rise up to "play" (Ex 33:6; AV translation).  "Praise the Lord and pass the latte, willya buddy.  Don't forget I called firsts dibs on lane 3 at the seeker-friendly bowling alley, in the fellowship hall.  And where's your cute wife?"

5.)  They are deserving of targeted ridicule, by those familiar with the Word (1 Kings 18:27).    

Prayer Lesson Ideas from Hell

The folks over at Google have devised a fiendishly ingenious  side-bar feature which allows you to be ogled (or more forthrightly if less metrically and derivatively said, stalked) by ads which they imperiously deem to be of interest to you, their loyal and appreciative patron.  Today, while checking out the S.S.P.'s communication board ... where (some outsiders may fantasize) furtive plans are feverishly made to fix synodical elections; sack a palace (one Purple, not Lateran); age a really good beer in fine oak casks; and restore the tonsure as Lutheran haute couture ...  my peripheral vision was itself rudely invaded by this notice:

Lords Prayer Lesson
14 Fun Ways to Teach Kids the Lord's Prayer: Crafts & Games

If you're out there watching  in NSA-Land,  kindly Mr. Goo, I must admit to having some very strong trepidations about this one.   No, not about the missing apostrophe, or even about TeachSundaySchool's ability to spell "Lourdes."  Not at all.  Rather, I have had the time-worn impression, even from my mother's bended knees, in fact, that the most sublime and divine of all prayers could be readily mastered by a wee one, quite without the assistance of cotton candy, roller coasters, and clowns.   Then again, as a wimpy kid alumnus, I was creeped out by clowns ... especially those conducting Mass with grease-paint, seltzer bottles and balloons ... so maybe my opinion is a trifle biased.

But why the surrendering insistence from some quarters that kids can't possibly learn, or absorb, tough realities without being entertained?  It's not the kids' supposed lack of neurons; nay rather, this is an adult problem, by "grown-ups" who eagerly project their own repressed sense of unease, irreverence, and disbelief onto those unassuming helpless to whom (says our Lord Almighty) the kingdom of God truly and properly belongs.

What exactly is fun and games about repentance and forgiveness, for wrongs encountered daily on our pilgrimage ... whether we are carried on our mother's back, tool about in a Malibu or Mustang, or are wheeled to the bathroom in a wheelchair?   What exactly is fun and games about temptation, and the battle to overcome it?  What is fun and games about evil, and our desperate need to be delivered from it by a crossed Someone?   If there is anything valid to this didactic approach in getting a vital point across, why didn't God employ a bulbous rubber nose, over-sized shoes and frizzy orange hair to expound on this message (Gen 2:16,17) : "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.  For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."

"Umm ... because God knew that one day would do it for Him?"  Hey, wow, awesome ... you get a gold star from teacher for that one, Bobby!  And  if you continue to shine, we'll work on Crucifixion Memories Lesson Ideas14 Fun Ways to Teach Kids the Lord's Seven Last Words on the Cross: Crafts & Games!

Piffle.  These "teachers" are insulting the kids.  From a Kleinian dynamic perspective, the little ones pulling themselves along the floor, if on all fours, instinctively know about powerlessness, frustration and the sense of being dazzled and overwhelmed by those adultish giants moving around them like trees (cf. Mk 8). Why make a joke of such, to deal with the seriousness of this situation?   The crawlers and the toddlers of this world, watched over by the Lord's angels, are far braver little souls than those rascals who make games out of the Lord's prayers (and especially, His Prayer).  And who are probably not above devising cool crafts and games to hilariously inform our brave little souls about butter knives, electrical outlets, 120 V alternating current, and cardiac arrests.

Turning the Lord's Prayer into an amusement park for kids is a certain way to instrumentally condition the eventual  "grown-ups" to demand and expect a side-show at worship, instead of a Divine Service in which God offers Himself, in Word and Meal, for the remission of sins.   You don't have to understand pigeons or B.F. Skinner to know this, although I think that pigeons ... on the whole ...  make more sense.

Dear Lutheran brothers and sisters:  We worship in the House of the Lord Who is Present, not the Coliseum of Caesar who is dust.  Let the games NOT begin.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Those Pesky Marks, Seen Upon Rising

You have only one of two behavioral responses to express, following the post-slumber shock of recognition.

You will either recoil from the ugly wounds ... in terror and horror of what you inflicted on a God you perceive as having been absent, unfaithful, capricious and uncaringly vengeful; projecting onto Him your own anger and rebellious disdain (and thence tragically enough, devolve to become smugly satisfied with your delusional wisdom, as you weep and gnash your teeth in the darkness) ...

Or ...

You will be attracted to such beauty, like St. Didymus, in holy fear and love of a servant-God you now see and feel fully, face-to-face, as truly Emanu-El and Savior and Lord ...  more than you have ever experienced Him before (and thence, to advancing from memories of Fore-tasting to an engagement in the never-ending Party).

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Look! Is It an Angel? The Order of Creation? No ... It's Ralph Lauren!

It is September.

A month noted for the changing of the seasons, a slow metamorphosis from stitched horsehide to laced pigskin, and for many, a changing of the duds as well ... from those spiffy summer whites, to the more earthy tones and patterns of the browns, the grays, and the hounds-tooth.

Ah yes, September ... glorious September;  a month calendrically symbolized by a nine, wherein the laity may actually begin to shed the flip-flops, the T's, the jeans and the halters so as to dress to the nines again, in the reverent worship of the Almighty God who comes to His Altar and serves us. 

Maybe even the "ministers" themselves will come to so shed, if we are truly blessed.  Maybe       

But speaking of a changing of the duds, one such transition occurred within the Roman church on an autumnal Oct 15, 1976.   On that date, its Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith  issued a declaration entitled Inter Insigniores (cf.  The treatise is probably best known, today, for summarizing the theological and historical rationales for excluding women from the Holy Offices of priest and bishop.

There is a bit more to it, however.

Section 4, paragraph 3 of I.I. solemnly intones the following:

"Another objection [to the permanency of the Lord and His Apostles' restrictive views regarding pastoral gender] is based upon the transitory character that one claims to see today in some of the prescriptions of Saint Paul concerning women, and upon the difficulties that some aspects of his teaching raise in this regard. But it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value."

The attitude expressed here, immediately above, decisively decapitates Canon 1262 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which mandated that women "shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord."  The authorized Roman counter-argument made some sixty years after the formulation of the 1917 Canon Code, then, is that a discipline assigned to and assumed by saintly women is of little real consequence; and that St. Paul's prescriptions to the Corinthian people of God (and other churches of the Christian Way) were driven from prevailing cultural influences ... the very stuff serving in the formation of tradition, in other words.  Somehow, the spectacle of the Roman church so blithely deserting a tradition because ... because ...  well, because it's nothing but a tradition not only puts a serious crimp in the wearing of those lovely and laudable mantillas; but also threatens the gaining of indulgence through the twitterings to a pope.  And the latter's been a smart-phone tradition for but a few weeks, at most.  The head-covering's been around for a couple of millennia, at last count.

Frankly, in comparison (all right, all right; better said "in theory" ), the Church of Augustana treats ancient tradition far less cavalierly than Rome's Sacred Congregation of our era.  In the Augsburg Confession (Art XXVII.40,41), to illustrate, the assertion is made by the Evangelical Catholics that "many traditions are kept among us, such as the order of   readings in the Mass, holy days, etc., which are conducive to maintaining good order in the Church."  Elsewhere (Art XXVII.45), the Lutheran fathers quote the Tripartite History, Book IX, which reads "It was not the intention of the Apostles to make decrees about festivals but to preach good conduct among people and godliness."   There you have it.  There is found the proper role of tradition; not something with which to forge a salvific justification apart from Lord Christ, but rather something to encourage a Godly etiquette and behavioral decency, in His Presence.  A humble head-covering can do that, as can the study of the lives of the saints, that cloud of witnesses which has gone before us, and triumphed.

The 1976 I.I. is sorely mistaken on a very vital point.  The prescriptions of blessed St. Paul in 1 Cor 11, regarding the head-coverings of women in the context of the Mass (i.e., the Divine Service) were not "probably inspired by the customs of the period."  Piffle.  This weighing of the statistical confidence levels is a blatant resort to brain cells which can lead to a Fall.   The Apostle does not make any excuse for his advice, based on the haute couture of the first century A+D world.  Read the text closely.  The reasons given for a specific, womanly example (to Adam's brutes) of a deep reverence towards God are 1) the acknowledgment of the Order of Creation, which reality of Order testifies to the mystical relationship existing between Christ (Head) and His Church (body); and 2) "because of the angels," who apparently take great interest in what we the children of God are up to.  We can delight these creatures, it seems, and perhaps even inspire them; but we can certainly also appall them.  The styles of the New York, Paris and Milan runways come and go, and are exceedingly ephemeral; the angels, in contrast, come and go and are eternal.  They're still around, and it's all very, very Scriptural.  It thus would be well for the members of the Church catholic, both men and women alike, to take angels and their sensitivities seriously. 

But then perhaps St. Paul's 1 Cor 11 is speaking more directly to our attitudes, and those broken and contrite spirits directed towards our merciful God (Ps 51), than to an eye-balling of our external accouterments ... however lovely, and however good, they may be. The over-arching theme of St. Paul's writing places a far greater value on the circumcision of the heart, than on an excision of the epidermis.  This is the Age of Unmerited Grace.  We are saved by Christ's blood and His merits; we are salvaged by a cross; not by our scarves, our derbies or our i-phones.

But here's the thing.  Even St. Peter admits that he finds St. Paul's letters to be difficult to understand at times (2 Pt 3:16); and that the "unlearned and the unstable wrest [with such], as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction (Authorized Version)."  Unlike the supposedly learned and magisterially stable Sacred Congregation, however, that fellow nicknamed "the Rock" by Lord Christ doesn't blow off the Pauline head-scratchers ... if they indeed are really that ... as little more than cultural phenomena and mere habits, subject to autopsy by the neighborhood anthropologist.   Maybe these constitute a special occasion for Lutherans, instead, to remind ourselves that great mysteries like order and even the angels do matter (including that jackass walking around like a roaring lion); to admit to our weaknesses when it comes to the Word; and to take some time in our Sunday frivolities and freedoms to earnestly repent, as well as to praise.              

Sunday, August 25, 2013

That All Generations Shall Call the Altar-Guild Blessed

So over at Gottesdienst Online (Thursday August 22, 2013), the Rev. Father Burnell F.  Eckhart, Jr.  stoutly asserts  that the Altar Guild is “the most important group in a Christian congregation.   It is the first group to which any new pastor should pay attention. More important than the board of elders or trustees; even more important than the church council itself is the altar guild.”

At the risk of stirring the progeny of Karlstadt and Vehse to further deeds of historical mayhem, cowardly vigilantism and the counting-of-collars as something of real note, I am convinced that the good father is absolutely correct.  God’s Presence far transcends in importance the work of brushes, hot water boilers, ballots, and certainly of axes taken to church statues.  That Presence may be overlooked within the  modern Lutheran nave by the chatting, the latte-swilling, the snoring and the spiritually arthritic in this our Age of Grace; but this does not in any way negate the Reality of Emmanu-El desiring to come to His sanctuary.  Those who recognize such Reality are blessed beyond measure.  And so, the Lutheran pastors are and will be blessed to help the layfolk to open their eyes and see the Reality there on the Altar; to come to revere, adore and love the Presence who has given us His all, for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation.   
The duties of the Altar Guild predate the dawn of the Christian Pentecost and a subsequent Voters' Assembly; such Guild’s inspiration and guide were in evidence at the stark foot of the cross on Good Friday, and on early Easter morn (Jn 19:38-42; Mark 16:1-4).  
Often taken for granted as but a kind of "mop-up" expeditionary force, the Altar Guild is a grand thing.  The important task of looking after the saving body and blood of our Lord has kindled a courage and love in men and women to confront the butcher Pilate over a spent and wearied Body; to cradle, cleanse and incense the battered Lord’s Presence, and to focus on Him so very intently that a large stone blockading the sepulcher … not to mention that burly Roman squadron on active duty … was but a forgotten meme, for a while.
If today's Lutherans are actually true to their so easily voiced beliefs, then the fair linens, the Corpora and the Pall must not be taken lightly … for Lord Christ Himself did not do so.  In Mt 23:20ff, He identifies the Altar and “all things thereon (Authorized Version)” with the very God of very God.   Physical materials which touched the body of our Lord could heal; and indeed, many with divers diseases importuned the Christ to simply clutch His garments, for their relief.  Rest assured, this is not the stuff of medieval legend or popish superstition; for inspired Scripture goes on to relate that “and as many as touched [the hem] were made perfectly whole” (Mt 14:38).
The Altar Guild deals with holy things, the touching things which are no more profane than the “handkerchiefs or aprons” secured from the body of St. Paul; the touching things which the cloud of witnesses says dispelled disease and cast out demons (Acts 19:12).  There is, of course, no guarantee that the fair linens will render physical cures to suffering Lutherans.   Scripture is abundantly clear that “God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:12; Authorized Version), through means of his servant's humble apparel.  Special miracles, please note here … events soaring far beyond what was already beyond ordinary expectations.  We beggarly rascals have no right to order God's will to meet our fancies.
It is enough then, perhaps, that the local Altar Guild comes to fully treasure as holy what God Himself treasures … what Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James treasured … to honor our gracious Father, through the honoring of His Son’s crucified Presence, so that we His people and Church may live long on this earth. 
And most especially miraculous, to live and commune in that new heaven and new earth which is to come; and to exist perfectly whole and fully embodied throughout all of eternity with our God face-to-face, as Promised.    

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Synoptic Docs-ology

Gary Ferngren, in his fascinating book Medicine & Health Care in Early Christianity (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009; 246 pages), points out that the ancient Church was not at all adverse to a naturalistic understanding of disease causation, whether the ailment was of body or of mind.  Not every illness was attributed to demons (although demons there were, and are, to harass and combat the Incarnate One and the saving Kingdom of heaven come to earth).    In fact, as Ferngren documents, the compassionate, charitable and selfless Body of our Lord was exceedingly adept in competing with secular physicians inside the community at large ... and the latter guild of professionals, attempting to make a living from the medicinal arts, belly-ached plenty about it.

Perhaps it was the hole in his pockets, or that rust on the stethoscope, which made the arch-critic Celsus especially bitter towards the rising tide of Christianity. 

But God is always gracious, understanding and seemingly bemused towards His creatures.  And He's not above a gentle nudge in the ribs, or all-Fatherly or all-knowing "wink-wink," towards those of high degree. 

Consider the narrative of the woman with a distressing hemorrhage (a case, perhaps, of fulminating menorrhagia?) of 12 years duration, as related to us in the blessed Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  The woman was healed of her torment through a faithful encounter with the Lord's hem, as He winds His way to wrest Jairus' daughter from Death's cold grip.

St. Matthew, who knew his way around those earthly accounts with a bottom line, is business-like to the point of brusqueness.   He expends three verses in stating the bare facts:  Jesus heals a woman of a bloody disease, of chronic condition (Mt 9:20-22).  As they say in the waiting room, in a similar nod to terseness:  "Next."

St. Luke, the beloved clinician, is much more detailed than the former tax-collector (Lk 8:43-48), but with the demeanor of one chagrined and  stately apologetic.  The evangelist  acknowledges (v. 43; Authorized Version) that the poor dear "spent all her living upon physicians, but could not be healed by any."  I don't know.  There's probably a reason why, according to tradition, St. Luke is also said to have taken up art as a vocation. You can almost hear him advising the green interns and residents:  "The patient's Prozac may disappoint, fellows; but the palette's red ochre ... like the blood of Jesus ... never will!"

St. Mark's Gospel, some claim, was dictated to the younger man by St. Peter himself; and indeed, it has a certain excited, breathless and quick-moving character to it ... as if the words were issued moments before a martyr's execution.   Here, though, the reportage (Mk 5:25-34) is noteworthy for its extraordinary thoroughness, and it is altogether revealing to the bone:  The woman, we learn (v. 26; Authorized Version), "had suffered many things under many physicians,  and had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse." 

Grew ... "worse?" 

Speaking as a doctor to all doctors ... including Hippocrates, Galen and the contrarian Celsus ... all I can say is "Stick out your tongues and say 'Ouch;' and then as you kneel,  'Jesus is Lord'!" 

Your (unworthy) servant,
Herr Doktor

Friday, August 9, 2013

Polycarp: Old Hero for Young Christians

By Rev. Larry Beane

I have just ordered a copy of Polycarp: The Crown of Fire, a highly rated book aimed at young people about St. Polycarp.

It is fast-moving historical fiction, and is part of the "torchbearers" series, "Biographies of brave Christian men and women who suffered and even died as martyrs for the cause of Christ and the gospel. Ideal for ages 8-12 to read, or to read aloud to ages 5-7."  They come highly recommended by homeschoolers.

If the book lives up to its reputation, I'm looking forward to reading it to my eight-year old son.

Children need heroes and role models - and not just one more pampered millionaire athlete/felon who can throw a ball and trash-talk.  We need real heroes, real Article 21 heroes, for as we confess, our churches "teach that the memory of saints may be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works, according to our calling."

St. Polycarp remains a pivotal figure for today, one of the last links to the holy apostles, one of Christendom's first martyrs, one of the apostolic fathers whose writings resonate with the Holy Scriptures that dripped liberally from his pen and preaching.

A teaser from Amazon:

Polycarp, anxiously waited until the sound of marching footsteps faded away. The Praetorian guard were on the move - ready to pounce on Christians or any other 'revolutionaries' that they might find. Papais is ready with his sword but Polycarp has another course in mind. These are the days when the catacombs are the dark shadowy refuges of the Christians and the amphitheatre is the sound of death to the believer. Polycarp though is one of the church leaders called on to give his life for Christ and his Kingdom...and this is something he counts as an honor. To gain the Crown of Fire he must be willing to suffer for Christ. But will his courage hold? Will he give in to the struggle? Accompany Polycarp and his companions as they face up to the Roman enemy and yet still pass on the legacy of truth. The golden chain around Polycarp's neck is a link to the past in more ways than one...the truth with it will be passed onto future generations. To people like you. Included in the book are a time line and further facts about the early church.
I look forward to receiving this retelling of the story of our blessed patron and holy father in the faith.

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Prehistoric Psychopathology and Its Cure

If there ever was a "spark of goodness" lurking inside a now fatally abscessed and fallen nature of man, it really should have kindled up and come to the fore during the Garden crisis, in an hour of extreme need.  But the Scriptural narrative is crystal clear about it.  There was no spark, beyond that of the crackling motor neurons which triggered a panicked leap into the bushes.

Too bad for man.  Our gracious Lord God, after all, extended an unmerited mercy to the arrogant murderer Cain, when the rascal pathetically whined about his suddenly becoming stalker's meat (Gen 4:13,15).  So who's to say what would have happened, had Adam and Eve simply bent the knee and whispered:  "Against You, You only have I sinned and done evil in Your sight ... Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Nota bene:  I deduce here from the tip of St. David's own pen, that he diagnosed that "spark" thing as having gone kaput, with a single bite).  Cast me not away from Your Presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the Joy of Your Salvation, and uphold me with a willing Spirit." 

Curiously, in sharp contrast to brat Cain, our first parents made no tantrum about their own punishments being altogether tougher than they could possibly bear.  And we're talking a strong dose of reality here:  birthing with pain, pestiferous weeds, sweating sorrows, and an ignominious return to dust ... not some hallucinated victimhood, at the hands of bounty hunters.   Instead, the first couple's  psychological and behavioral instincts were to flee and hide from the Spark (of better, the Light) of Holiness; and in the special case of the Old Man, the floundering leader of the one-flesh unit, to slime God for creating something (i.e., Adam's wife, and a relationship), which had been earlier described  as "good" (Gen 1:31; cf. Gen 2:18) .

So what stopped any self-serving, impulsively kicking ruckus by the 'One-Flesh?'  Ah, well, not the lack of ability, certainly; for Cain's sparkless antics duly establish the heritability of stinking, deeply ingrained and horribly metastasized sin ... embedded in a nature which our Brother, our Lord Jesus Christ, carried absolutely flawlessly for us (see the Book of Concord's just whipping of the Flacian baloney, for details).  Adam murdered his wife, with his cutting remarks; and Cain murdered his brother, maybe with a cutting hoe for all I know.  Like son, like father.  And the latter could whine; this we know, along the paraphrased lines of  "God, it's Your fault.  What'd I ever do, besides maybe take an innocent snooze and then eat some, to deserve this mortifying development?"  The difference from junior's attitude, of course, is that the Old Man is never portrayed by Moses as summing things up as  "AND I JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!" 

No.  I think Adam and Eve were spirit-calmed ... their pitiless demons cast out, like those of an agitated Gadarene... by the healing Promise of an Incarnate Rescuer-God (Gen 3:15), and the forgiving Divine gift of bloodied skins to cover their pock-marked nakedness (Gen 3:21).   For as Lutherans insist (or should), there's nothing like Word and Sacramental Mystery to sooth the savage soul.                   

Monday, August 5, 2013

Every Lord's Day and on the Other Festivals

"At the outset, we must again make this preliminary statement: we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously keep and defend it. Masses are celebrated among us every Lord's Day and on the other festivals" (AC XXIV:1). 

The observant reader of our Society's Rule will notice that the SSP is committed to promoting and encouraging both the weekly (every Lord's Day, i.e., every Sunday) celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar (Rule 4) and the observance and celebration of saints' days and commemorations (Rule 7), which is in line with what we Lutherans confess, as made clear in the quotation above.

As Dean of the SSP, I am engaged in several ongoing conversations with men who are interested in learning more about our Society. A question that keeps popping up within these conversations is: Are weekly Communion and the observance of saints' days prerequisites to joining the SSP?

No. These are not prerequisites. We have members who serve, or belong to, congregations that do not have either weekly Communion or observances of saints' days. Our Rule simply requires that our Society's members will promote and encourage these practices in their congregations. The expectation of our Society's members is that they will work toward restoring these practices, where they are not currently in place, through ongoing catechesis. We readily recognize that the restoration of these practices takes time and patience, varying from congregation to congregation, and so we do not place any time constraints upon our members to restore them, but simply trust that their voluntary commitment to our Rule means that they are promoting and encouraging these practices to the best of their ability and within whatever limitations their particular circumstances place upon them.   

Having hopefully clarified where our Society stands on this, I'd like to add that I do believe that the restoration of observing and celebrating saints' days and commemorations can be accomplished without much opposition by most Lutheran pastors inclined to restore such. Do note that I said, "most." There are certainly some congregations where this might invoke severe opposition, but, in most of our congregations, I doubt that pastors have much to fear in this regard. There is a huge difference between changing what happens every Sunday (e.g., restoring weekly Communion where that is not currently in place) and adding Services during the week to observe and celebrate saints' days. While the former will certainly bring many challenges and some degree of opposition, the latter can usually be done without the raising of too many eyebrows. Do note that I said, "usually."

My advice to my fellow Lutheran pastors who wish to begin observing and celebrating saints' days and commemorations is: Just do it. Well, actually, don't just do it. Let people know you're going to do it. Teach them why you're going to do it. Show them how all our hymnals contain sanctoral calendars, and how the expectation of our Confessions is that we will celebrate Mass "on the other festivals." Then, just do it.

Actually, I should add one more caveat to my "just do it" advice: Don't require anyone else in the congregation to participate in the planning or implementation of these additional Services. In other words, be prepared to unlock the doors, turn up the heat or A/C, prepare the altar, change the paraments, and conduct the Service sans organist or elders or ushers or acolytes, etc. It may be that some of your parishioners will voluntarily step forward and offer their assistance with these additional Services, but, if you are prepared to do everything yourself, no one will be able to argue that these additional Services are placing an additional burden upon members of the congregation.

I have experience with this. I added the regular observance and celebration of saints' days where I serve back in 2006, a little over a year after beginning my service here as pastor, and received no opposition or complaints about it. I did have a couple of parishioners question me about it, as they had never heard of Lutherans observing saints' days (sad, that), but I simply showed them pages x-xiii in our then-new Lutheran Service Book hymnals, which includes a nice summary of why Lutherans observe saints' days on p. xii, and they were fine with it. Besides those couple inquiries, I heard nothing else. The beauty of adding additional Services like this is that those who may be opposed to them, for whatever reason, simply don't have to attend them. These Services are not forced upon anyone, but are simply added for those who wish to receive our Lord's Gifts at them, in addition to their regular reception of His Gifts every Lord's Day.

Our observance of saints' days where I am blessed to serve has evolved over the years. For the first few years, we simply stuck to the list of Feasts and Festivals on p. xi of LSB, and observed them on their actual days. Over time, we began to add some of the Commemorations (pp. xii-xiii), and eventually we went to a regular Wednesday evening schedule for our observance of Feast Days, moving the closest Feast Days/Commemorations to each Wednesday evening, which may not be the liturgical ideal, but has provided a consistency that allows more of our parishioners to attend them. We still observe every Feast and Festival listed on the sanctoral calendar in LSB annually, using not only Wednesday evenings, but also Thursdays at Noon, after our regular weekly Bible Study, when there are more Feasts/Festivals in a month than Wednesdays. But, we have also observed other Feasts/Festivals beyond those listed in LSB, using the sanctoral calendar provided in Daily Divine Service Book: A Lutheran Daily Missal, edited by Fr. Heath Curtis, which I've found to be an invaluable resource, as it provides all the propers one needs for all the Feasts and Festivals found therein. It really is an awesome resource and, as a bonus, you can even design your own custom cover:

Anyway, I really do think that most Lutheran pastors would be pleasantly surprised by the lack of grief they might be worried about getting in beginning the observance and celebration of saints' days. But, again, do note that I said, "most." 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is "Pogo" a Comic after God's Own Heart?

In Walt Kelly's immortal comic strip, "Pogo," the anguished thought is famously expressed ...  by the ever cigar chompin' Albert the Alligator, perhaps; but maybe by the ever-intrepid, skiff-commanding possum with a pole, I don't recall ...  "We has met the enemy, and he is us."

Such memories, tattered and uncertain as they may be, are prompted uneasily from the words of the blessed (and insightful) Psalmist:

For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul; they have not set God before them. (Ps 54:3; AV)

If Christ is the "me" and the "animus," Who is speaking here ... and I believe He is ... then are we modern Lutherans ... pledging a loyalty to the Confessions with our lips, perhaps, but not as often with our heart-perfused postures and behaviors before the Holy Presence of God our Maker ... strangers?  Or, God help us, are we ... in the attempts to mollify the "seekers" ...  our Lord's oppressors?  Are we causing God no little dishonor and grief?

The very first instinct of fallen mankind is not to repent, but to go defensive and stubbornly hide from God's Presence.  Adam, sirdar of sand and dust, did not express any sorrow about his failure, observe; but he did praise God ... albeit in a half-hearted and grudging kind of way.  He did confess the first Article of the Apostle's Creed.  After all, Scripture intones, quite clearly, that Adam acknowledged Eve, that marvel of material, as given to him by God.  That's praise of a sorts.  Of course, Adam ... caught in his own miserable mischief ... didn't go on to manly allow that this lovely if erring piece of creation was the flesh of his flesh, and the bone of his bones.  He didn't say, "She's in open rebellion, but as the head of this little unit, I'm the real stinker here."   Hell, no.  Not at the time of crisis (i.e., an opportunity for an ego-shattering and soul-searing bit of private confession).  Caught with the pants down, and the fig leaves sewn, Adam did find the time to be creatively blaming, to use the little gray brain cells to strike up the twisted praise band, and to attempt to deflect the Judge's attention away from his sin (and ours; we were in his loins, just waiting to burst forth and wallow in the mud, in the fullness of time) by some fancy-footwork:  "Look, okay, this looks bad, I know.  But it's a complicated situation, Lord.  So don't focus on me.  Take my wife.  Please. [The editing Dean wistfully interjects:  "If you thought Henny Youngman's joke is old, you probably had no idea, until now, as to just HOW old it is."]  And on even further reflection, Your ways are messed up; your venture into orthopedic surgery was NOT a success; and now that I've seen this woman that You gave me in action, I'm thinking seriously that the giraffe is man's best friend.  Can we start over?"    The implications from this Adamic hem-hawing are inescapable for today.   As actor Robert ("Dr. Welby") Young once generically prescribed in another of his lives on TV, "father knows best."   So we the children of Adam also unconsciously wish, with all our perspiration in the course of our entertaining worship riffs, that the holy God would just go away and stay put; let us rake in the lost, by our cleverness and our Madison Avenue sales-pitches and our descending projection screens and our lattes ... by our bait-and-switch tactics, in other words.  And if the Hound of Heaven won't heel and behave,  perhaps He can be sung mightily into heaven, stuck gloriously and conveniently in a celestial box.    But not hanging there in our sanctuary, naked on a cross, before our very offended eyes!  Oh, no.  We won't have it, or at least our family-friendly stores won't.  So lissen up now, Jesus, as if You didn't have the chance, once before, when Peter himself sharply warned You about that crazy death-talk of  Yours:   "Come down from that cross, if you are the Christ; separate yourself from that disreputable and ugly and shameful thing ... and THEN we'll believe.  But if You won't do it, trust that we'll do it with our theology of clean living and sweet smells, all on our own.  And as You go about thanking us for the rescue, through the means of preaching Us Merited or a Worked Holiness, can You cosmetically airbrush those disturbing marks on Your hands, feet and side?  That stuff makes us feel bad, like we're (gasp) responsible, and like reprobates with filthy rags for righteousness.  How do You expect us to hit the high "C" of praise, when You're looking imperfect like flayed meat, and our precious self-esteem is  brought low by those bruises?  First principles demand, you see, that a deity worthy of us closet narcissists must be Sovereign, Sovereign, Sovereign ... well, okay, maybe just Sovereign ... and bestowing riches on our work ethic and our decisions ... and not some kind of  beaten Worm, hooked on a piece of timber." 

What I am necessarily saying, too, is that the very first instinct of fallen mankind is to flee from the Presence of God (Gen 3:8).  The fleeing (or the failure to "set God before [us]") is diagnostic of a core refusal to repent, you see.   Fleeing from God, and impenitence, are all one and the same.  Yet the whole point of Divine worship is this:  to truly meet with Jesus (and the blessed Church of Augustana insists on the reality of such meeting), and to receive the gifts He graciously and mercifully bestows on us ... for the forgiveness of sins.  Once His priceless Son was sacrificed for all, to sin's and Satan's crushing end, God didn't and doesn't NEED any further sacrifices (i.e., further torture) for our merit, "bloodless" though they may be described by the philosophers of Dame Reason;  and He certainly doesn't NEED pumped-up, sweaty but bloodless "sacrifices" by us,  for our good feelings ("I'm OK, You're OK ... But I Throw My Arms Up Higher then You Because I'm More Pneumatically-Gifted.").

Yet modern Lutherans, far too often, through deeds which call their 16th century fathers liars, eschew the sacramental and mysterious Presence of Christ every Sunday and on festival days.  All too often they fail to behave Apostolically towards the Presence, and consider it "Romanist" to bow towards the Presence from whence comes our Salvation  (cf. Rev 1:16 for an example of Apostolic behavior; we may as well practice  the Pauline, Scriptural bending of the knee, now, to the Lord's true Presence ... as the whole world will be doing so when He comes in glory to judge it).

But God's will is this:  our nail-scarred Salvation comes to us in the mask of "simple" means, of God's eternal and Living Word spoken through the mouths of ordained and chosen men, and of a Meal far more than mere wheat and wine.   He does not come from antics borrowed from the hysterical royal priesthood of Ba'al, those inclined to believe that God may be snoring, or on a far trip basking in heavenly luxury.  So that we have to go tripping into ecstasy, dude, in order to find Him.  That "far trip" flummery is for the Calvinists, and the arthritic crypto-Calvinists amongst the Lutheran community ... who, by their demeanor and very behavior ...  "do not set God before them."

But you, oh Christian of the ancient faith, set God's Altar before you with reverence, and commune intimately with your living Savior-God.

Oh,  one other thing.

Mind your Table manners, and your Scriptures ... the narratives written for  our example.  The believing Father Abraham of Mamre, as well as St. John of Patmos, knows best when it comes to proper etiquette before God. 

Don't forget to bow (Gen 18:2).                      

Friday, July 26, 2013

Breaking NEWS: Cambridge Scholars Validate Luther's "Bondage;" Erasmus in a Snit

It only took some 500 years or so, but the academy's finally on board.  See 

Next from the experimental psychologists:  letting birds nest in your hair is not as good for your soul's well-being, as maybe a secure toupee. 

Your (unworthy) servant,
Herr Doktor

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

APA Endorses Dr. Augustine as Being Spot On ...

... but likely subject to Restless Legs Disorder.

There are rumbles about, that with the employ of the newly released "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual" Version V (American Psychiatric Press, 2013) ... the counting in Latin, if not praying in such, giving an immediate veneer of credence, esteem and validation to the trivialities of American life; witness the Super Bowl ...  your chances are greater than 50% that you, yes you, dear reader, will succumb to a formally recognized mental disorder in your lifetime.   Welcome to the asylum.

And it really doesn't require much mental sweat to snag the attention of insurers, Secretary Sibelius of HHS, and maybe the emergency room personnel down the block. "Caffeine withdrawal," for example, has at long last been recognized as that entity entailing a precipitated headache, for cause; and at least one other symptom.  Here, according to the worldly wise and their criteria to make the call,  something like "drowsiness" will do.

Frankly, I could be diagnosed with "caffeine withdrawal," simply by perusing the pages of DSM-V.

If "drowsiness intermittently interrupted by cackling laughter" were on that list of necessary additional symptoms, it'd be a no-brainer.  But then, that's what DSM-VI is for.

As Robin S. Rosenberg of "Slate" (12 April 2013) wryly observes, "abnormal is the new normal."   How to account for this?  Ms. Rosenberg suggests the possibility that "we are labeling as mental illness psychological states that were previously considered normal, albeit unusual, making the tent larger."   Perhaps.  And let's face it:  there are bucks to be made by fattening up the DSM bible; and the American Psychiatry Association is more unto Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Morgan than Moe, Larry and Curly.

But perhaps the real answer is that sinful man is reflexively inclined to be anxious.  At some fundamental level of being or consciousness, man "knows" there is a judgment afoot around the corner.  Oh, we may deny God and the existence of that sure reckoning to come.   We may sew the fig leaves tightly together, and unrepentantly hide with alarmum and within a bush, so as to avoid any exposure of our pox-marked nakedness.  Behold, Ms. Rosenberg:  "Old" abnormal is the normal, in this our fallen state.  But God will find us out.   And thank the compassionate Almighty Lord for that!   Miracle of miracles, He wants all men to be saved, and willed His only Son to be nailed to a cursed tree, to that end.  So while we're frantically running around, trying energetically to forget and avoid through our business, busy-ness, carousing, mischief, excuses, debauchery, hiding or even our caffeine, the Hound of Heaven is relentlessly calling and pursuing.   "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you" (Augustine, Confessions, Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5) .            


Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Testimony of the Ark's Repetition-Compulsion: A Case Report

Dr. Freud (yes, that rascally Sigmund fellow) said it:  “We may assume that as soon as a given state of affairs is upset, there arises an instinct to recreate it, and phenomena appear which we may call 'repetition-compulsion' (quote from "New Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis," chap. 4). " In essence, the idea is that the unconscious mind is veritably compelled to revisit an earlier affective relationship of great significance, through means of an analogous relationship belonging to the present.   Among us poor miserable sinners, the repetition-compulsion could represent an attempt to assert a psychic mastery over a situation we had once found threatening to body and peace of mind.  We try it all over again, neurotically using our unwitting acquaintances as bit players ... or our convenient punching bags ... in our pathetic effort to re-run life.  "THIS time we'll get it right."    We lie.  Usually, we undermine ourselves  in some perverse way, so as to make absolutely certain that we don't "get it right."   We're actually quite comfortable with flagellating ourselves; or maybe better said, we're absolutely comfortable with the security to be found in the oh-so-familiar, no matter how ghastly the familiar might be.   Chances are great, though, that we're especially comfortable with blind-siding and punishing the bit-players caught up in our expertly produced soap-operas.  Misery loves company, after all.  Then, too, the womanly reshaping of yet ANOTHER alcoholic and violent boyfriend, each possessing that mesmerizing dimple and dazzling grin of the dad who abused us as a child, is no easy task.  So we can point to our self-righteousness in all this, assumed through our raggedly dismal  failures at total control:  "Well, at least we TRIED."  Then we move on to the next cleft chin.  But bumbling Adam is no less susceptible to the delusional game, than Eve.

But folks, more grandly and far more Truth-full, the repetition-compulsion is God faithfully fulfilling His Scripture in the life of His dear Son, Jesus our Lord.  After all, the Incarnate One was exceedingly clear and jealously firm about it:  The Scriptures speak about Him (“And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in ALL THE SCRIPTURES the things concerning Himself.”  Lk 24:27, Authorized Version; emphasis supplied).   For all the prophets’ (and the Word’s!) testimony to be validated, there would have to be a lot of repetition to be found, in the narrative of Lord Christ come to earth.

The psychoanalytic concept of repetition-compulsion is elaborated in some detail in Freud’s study entitled “The ‘Uncanny’” (Collected Papers, Vol. IV).  The Polycarpian sees the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Ark holding the Incarnate Holy God; and it turns out that a joyous event in St. Mary’s life bears a remarkably uncanny testimony to the past, to the Ark of olden days where God could be found, where God promised to be among His people.

In 2 Sam 6:2, we find the Ark of the Lord in the process of being transported to the high country of Judea.  In order to accomplish this, it is set on a new cart, evidently one fresh and unused … a most interesting detail, that thing about the new (2 Sam 6:3).  Why is the newness of the vehicle stressed, by the Holy Ghost?  In Lk 1:39, St. Mary rises to venture into “the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah (AV).”  Earlier in this chapter, we are informed by Luke that Mary is a virgin (v.27), a detail of no little importance to our God-won salvation.  She is "new" ... unused and pure, from the standpoint of sexual knowing (Lk 1:34).

In 2 Sam 6:9, David blurts out, in holy fear of his Savior-Lord, “How then shall the Ark of the Lord come to me?”  In Lk 1:41 Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, cries out loudly in perplexed holy wonder and with hauntingly similar phrasing: “And why is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
In 2 Sam 6:11, the Ark of God rests for 3 months at the home of Obed-edom (derivative: “servant of the ruddy, or the earthly”), before it is brought to its permanent residence; in Lk 1:56, Mary stays with Elizabeth and her husband three months, before the Virgin returns to her “own house” (AV).  Elizabeth and Zacharias not only sheltered St. Mary for a time, but were the loving and servantly caretakers of their own “miracle-child,” one who “grew and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts until the day of his appearing unto Israel (Lk 1:80).”  In such climes, the Baptizer could have assumed a ruddy appearance much like that of Isaac’s Esau, whose “nickname” was … lo and behold …“Edom.”                                   
In 2 Sam 6:14,16, David leaps for joy at his encounter with God’s Ark and His Presence; in Lk 1:44, the gestating Forerunner of Christ also leaps for joy upon hearing Mary’s Good News salutation, confirming God’s miraculously conceived Presence safely sheltered within her womb.
Holy Scripture:  It ALL points to our Lord and Savior.    It's why Marcion, who despised the Old Testament as something hateful and uninspired, was a heretic fiercely opposed by the early Church of our fathers.   Why, even the pre-Christmas narratives of St. Mary in action ...  a virginal cart/body carrying the Ark/womb, which in turn holds the Testimony of the Eternal God (Num 4:5)  ... honor and recall the Old Testament's pointing unerringly to the Messiah and Rescuer of all men:  the Testimony (Word) of God, now enfleshed (Jn 1).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Not Contradictory, but Complimentary

I received an email from a gentleman yesterday morning, who informed me that our Society's Rule was contradictory, since, in his estimation, Rule 1 is contradicted by Rule 7 (you can read our Rule in the right sidebar). He stated:
"Your Society begins its list of rules by confessing Holy Scripture as the sole norm or judge, but you go on to negate that with your Rule 7, which is not based on Holy Scripture at all, but purely on tradition, and in fact directly contradicts what Holy Scripture teaches us about Mary. How can you guys claim that you confess Holy Scripture as the sole norm or judge, but then go on to confess against what Holy Scripture declares so clearly, that Mary gave birth to other sons and daughters, as recorded in Matthew 1:25; 12:46-47; 13:55-56; Mark 3:31-32; 6:3; Luke 2:7; 8:20-21; John 7:3?
I must preface my response by noting that I completely understand where this gentleman is coming from, as I used to adhere to this same argumentation, using these same Scripture passages to refute this silly notion of the perpetual virginity of St. Mary. Indeed, I was so convinced of this that, when I first learned that Martin Luther himself confessed the perpetual virginity of St. Mary years ago, I began to question whether or not being a Lutheran was for me. I really struggled with that. How could Luther, who had become my theological hero during my mid-teens, after bouncing around from this or that Protestant denomination during my childhood, betray me so? How could the king of Sola Scriptura get this one so blatantly wrong? It's right there in black-and-white, for crying out loud! Jesus had brothers and sisters. His mother could not have possibly remained a virgin.

Interestingly, the thing that saved me from leaving Lutheranism and allowed me to cut Luther a little slack on this issue was an LCMS pastor telling me, "Remember, Luther was just a man and capable of error. He accomplished a lot of good in the Reformation he led, but he wasn't able to shake off everything in his Roman Catholic upbringing." That made sense to me at the time. Luther's confession of the perpetual virginity of St. Mary was just an unfortunate vestige of his past.

Many years later, I found myself scratching my head in confusion over this issue again. I was at seminary now, studying Pieper, who, like Luther and, as I learned, nearly every other orthodox Lutheran since him, including Walther, confessed the perpetual virginity of St. Mary. Suddenly, the contention that Luther's confession of the perpetual virginity of St. Mary was due to him still having a little Roman Catholicism running through his veins didn't make as much sense. What of the Lutherans who followed in his train? Were they somehow infected with this vestige of Luther's Roman Catholic past? Why couldn't any of these Lutherans shake this infection?

To make matters worse, I then learned that even Calvin and Zwingli confessed the perpetual virginity of St. Mary. That really had me confused, since these guys led their own 16th-century Reformations, which, to one degree or another, were focused on wiping the slate clean from any vestige of Roman Catholicism. How in the world could these guys allow this anti-Scriptural, purely traditional belief to stand pat in their churches? They had no problem teaching something completely new regarding the Holy Sacraments and many other doctrines, but somehow retained this doctrine? It made no sense.

The explanations given to this confused seminarian at the time revealed that this is something about which Lutherans in general are confused. Some remain wholeheartedly convinced that Holy Scripture clearly rejects the notion of St. Mary's perpetual virginity, relegating the fact that nearly every orthodox Lutheran right into the early part of the 20th-century confessed this to a sort-of perpetual clinging-to of a tradition long ago proven false. Others vehemently defend this belief, pointing out the absurdity they find in charging nearly four hundred years' worth of orthodox Lutherans with missing the boat on something their opponents find so clearly refuted by Holy Scripture. The solution? Pious opinion. You believe what your piety allows and I'll believe what my piety allows, and we'll all live happily ever after.

That remains the solution to this day, although the "we'll all live happily ever after" part is a bit far-fetched. We don't really live happily ever after holding different pious opinions in this matter, which is evidenced by the fact that, whenever this subject comes up for discussion among fellow Lutherans, sparks begin to fly. Those who continue to confess what is confessed in our Lutheran Confessions, and what was confessed by nearly every orthodox Lutheran right into the early 20th-century, like those of us in the SSP, are looked at with suspicious eyes by fellow Lutherans, who are convinced that Holy Scripture rebukes our pious opinion, such as the gentleman who sent me the email.

Be that as it may, this gentleman's charge that our Socitey's Rules 1 and 7 are contradictory is patently false. In fact, it is precisely because of what we have written in Rule 1 that members of our Society confess what is found in Rule 7. The two are not contradictory, but wholly complimentary. We do not approach the Holy Scriptures and attempt to interpret them in isolation, in a "Me and My Bible" fashion, but rather through the guidance of the Church and her Holy Doctors and Fathers throughout the centuries. This is the true Lutheran approach to the Scriptures, as our own Symbols testify clearly. We approach and interpret Holy Writ through the lens of our own Lutheran Confessions, who approach and interpret the same through the lens of the Holy Doctors and Fathers of the Church through the ages, so that, as our Rule 1 states, "the Lutheran confessors could say that 'the churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith.'"

Thus, what this gentleman, and others like him, find so clearly taught in Holy Scripture is definitely not in keeping with the hermeneutical approach adhered to by Lutherans. The list of Scripture passages he provides as proving his case against the perpetual virginity of St. Mary, which were near and dear to my own heart in proving the same case many moons ago, were simply never interpreted in this fashion by our own Lutheran Fathers or the Doctors and Fathers of the church catholic who preceded them. On the contrary, many modern Lutherans would no doubt be shocked to learn that the church catholic has been well aware of the attempt to use these same Scripture passages to refute the perpetual virginity of St. Mary since the earliest centuries following our Lord's first Advent among us, and that she rejected those who attempted to do so. In other words, it is not as though the church catholic was ignorant of these Scripture passages until post-Enlightenment, liberal "scholars" began pointing to them and using them to deny the perpetual virginity of St. Mary, something that our own Lutheran fathers at the time wholeheartedly rejected. Rather, they knew these Scripture passages very well and interpreted them as doing no damage to the catholic tradition upholding the perpetual virginity of St. Mary, but as actually supporting the same, an approach the members of our Society continue to take today.

All of that said, our Society is perfectly content in following the approach laid forth by Pieper in his Christian Dogmatics, where he states that, while the default position among Lutherans is to confess the perpetual virginity of St. Mary, a Lutheran who does not confess the same, but whose Christology is orthodox in all other respects, is not to be regarded as a heretic. Even so, with Pieper, we must emphatically object when fellow Lutherans, who believe that their superior exegesis leads them to deny the perpetual virginity, disparage us, pointing out that the very Scripture passages they cite do not, in fact, provide the decisive proof against the perpetual virginity they believe (cf. Pieper's Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 2, 308-309; note, in the original German, Pieper provides three pages worth of footnotes to prove that the belief in St. Mary's perpetual virginity is orthodox).

Contrary to what some seem to believe, while members of our Society do confess the perpetual virginity of St. Mary, and are not shy about pointing out that this is the traditional, Lutheran view (and the traditional view of the church catholic through the ages), we do not exist to make this a doctrine upon which the church stands or falls. Neither is it our goal to promote ourselves as superior Lutherans for adhering to this doctrine. We readily recognize that there are many fine Lutherans who do not share our belief in this matter, and we are glad to call them brothers. We are not here looking for a fight over this at all. Our Society is about much more than the perpetual virginity of St. Mary, as our Rule makes clear.

At the same time, we will readily defend ourselves against false charges, such as the one that prompted this post. Our Rule does not contradict itself. Rule 1 and Rule 7 are complimentary. We interpret Holy Scripture with the guidance of the Church through the ages, which all confessional Lutherans must admit allows for our confession of St. Mary's perpetual virginity, even if they are not inclined to confess the same, since, well, it is that same guidance that lead our own Lutheran Fathers to make this same confession. You do not have to confess the perpetual virginity with us, but neither can you disparage us for confessing it - at least, not if you claim the name Lutheran. 

Pax Christi vobiscum!     

The Lord Signs without Ceasing

There are exceptionally strong encouragements directed at the Christian laity, in regards to that laudable behavior which traces out the  "sign of the cross."   Not laws, mind you, but encouragements.  Oh, I know.  Those spiritual Jews and Greeks among some collections of Lutherans may see the "sign of the cross" as something of a stumbling block, or as foolishness; somehow seeing lip-work as enough for the worshiping creature, or perceiving any action beyond the moving of the mouth, as a mark of rank Romanism.   But there are catechetical, historical and indeed Divine reasons for having the honoring ... and believing ... heart (cf. Mt 15:8; Mk 7:6)  pump some measure of hemoglobin into your upper extremities, and thus move the fingers.

Why, even the General Rubrics of  The Lutheran Hymnal (CPH, 1941; p. 4), that product of a "conservatively" united Syndodical Conference, openly advocated its use.  Blessed Martin Luther championed its use  in the course of the Office prayers of the Morning and Evening hours, inside Confessional documents.  This, before they were eventually air-brushed away to protect its youth,  by certain offended "conservative" Lutherans once belonging to the 1941 Conference.

The blessed Reformer also more informally encouraged little Lutherans to its use, in all times of danger and emotional distress; not as a piece of medieval superstition or rabbit's foot, but  instead as a reminder, I think, of their Baptism, which blessing grants entrance to the Kingdom of the Savior.  There in the Kingdom's arms, safety and Peace truly prevail, and the evil Foe has "no power over us" whatsoever.   Dear little children, inside a hostile and overbearing and perverse world, need to know and remember that they are empowered by the cross and that the ultimate victory is thus theirs, through such means.  Since St. John gently addresses all Christians as little children, the reminder is accordingly useful to all sheep of the Good Shepherd's pasture.  Gestures, after all,  can help and discipline the body, so as to remind the mind and soul.  It is why we lovingly teach our children to fold their hands.   Look at all the little crosses, the tiny fingers make.  So should we stop folding our hands, then, o ye "conservatives" of little logic?  

There is also that witnessing example recorded by Lactantius, about 320 A+D.   The emperor Diocletian (ruled 284-305) is responsible for the Great Persecution, through the issuance of a series of proclamations which re-ignited an intense harassment of the Church after an abeyance of some forty years.  For Diocletian, this was to be  a death-match struggle to the end; the frustrated "conservative" emperor sought no less than the total extirpation of Christ and His people from the lands of the Romans, through means of four imperial edicts.  All Christian holy books and edifices for worship were to be destroyed; and those clergy of the eastern Empire, who refused to sacrifice to the gods, were subject to arrest.  What happened next was entirely up to the local jailers and the mobs.   Eventually and inevitably, in 304, the heel (and dungeon) of the state was extended to all Christians, of whatever stripe or vocation.   So Lactantius recalls that Diocletian was sacrificing to his gods, one fine day, "and some attendants of his, who were Christians, stood by and they put the immortal sign on their foreheads.  At this, the demons were chased away, and the holy rites were interrupted."    I'm not sure quite what to make of this, except that in my own anecdotal experience, the demons do seem to fly away at the sign of  the cross, when used while thanking God for His mercy, at a public restaurant.  See, I have never been arrested and clapped into irons by a demon for so quiet, yet so powerful, an action.

At least, not yet.

Now  in truth, I must warn of the "danger" of being accosted by endearingly sweet, elderly Roman Catholic ladies on occasion, who spy and then express tears of joy and admiration that there are still faithful Catholics around.  This has happened.  But this gives the cheeky the grand opportunity to say "Thank you, my dears.  Yes, yes,  I've been discovered! I am indeed of the Lutheran variety, still  preaching Christ Crucified. "

Diocletian's "holy rites" may not be interrupted, by this riposte, but the restaurant conversation sometimes can be.   Or not.  Usually the exchanges which follow are rather heart warming, let me tell you, and not because I'm being put to the staves like stalwart Robert Barnes.

Finally, the last and finest piece of evidence supporting the use of the sign of the cross, is our dear Lord Christ Himself.  Now I suppose He who freed the leper of his dermatologic deficiencies, could easily have banished completely and forever His nail-puncture and spear-thrust wounds.  But He didn't .  Instead, He appears to have reveled in them; in fact, He asked His stunned disciples to touch and thrust their hands in them (Lk 24:39; Jn 20: 27).

If "conservative" Christian folk are made aghast by the ancient sign of the cross, within the vale of this transient earth, then consider the angst emerging when they  are confronted with a Sign of the Cross, one which never ends, in the new heaven and earth to come.

Your (unworthy) servant,
Herr Doktor 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Aeiparthenophobia and the “Decalogic Burden”

No doubt there are many laying claim to a membership within the evangelical Catholic  Church of Augustana, who find the Marian devotion of the Society of Polycarp a bit odd, or medievally other-worldly, or  perhaps even as something  altogether threatening to the precious faith once given to the saints.

But there are no Societal calls to worship Mary or to pray to her, as you can plainly see from the Rule.  Certainly not, when our Lord and Brother Himself  invited, instructed and gifted us to pray to His (and our) Father, employing His most blessed Name.  Our Lady herself did not encourage the stewards at Cana to importune her, with a need for a wine to be wrestled from water; she directed them instead to seek out her Son, and do whatever He told them to do.   This is quite in keeping with the earliest icons of the Holy Child and His mother, for she is consistently portrayed as pointing to Him.  What do these then say to those with eyes to see, and ears to hear?  The spotlight, according to God’s mother own meek and demure hand, is to be steadfastly kept on the Giver of all good things … the Bread of Life.    Mary’s emphasis is solidly Christological and hence is, Q.I.D., inescapably  and totally orthodox Lutheran.

Her behavior is so stirring that she needs to be remembered and honored as a shining example among and to us Lutherans … not simply a blue-cloaked kneeling figurine dragged out of a storage box, designed to aesthetically fill up a gaping hole in a crèche, come December.

Although Mary is not the dramatic centerpiece of attention inside the Pauline, Petrine or Johannine epistles of the New Testament ...  or even that of James! …  she is prominently placed  at the Nativity of our Lord (of course), His crucifixion, the news-breaking events at the empty tomb, and yet another birth, this time of the Bridegroom’s Church at Pentecost.   Ever-virginal, Mary is ever faithful to her Son, God and Savior and in seeing her Son at work, from “start” to  “finish” (which finish keeps on going, to the end of time).

The de-emphasis or ignoring  of Mary , among most ”churchly” Lutherans as evidenced in their calendars and their liturgical prayers of the Church, is therefore mystifying if indeed not utterly scandalous .  The incarnate Christ, as already foretold long ago to Adam and Eve,  had a mother.  If He is our Brother in the flesh … if this testimony is fully grasped by the modern day Lutheran as being true … then Mary is our mother as well.   We honor our Father (Fourth Commandment), and rightly so, when we pray to Him for all our needs of  soul and body.  Ought we not then to honor our mother (Fourth Commandment), with the calendrical observances at intervals deemed wise and most laudable by Christ’s Bride … not to worship her, but to honor and love the one who was placed in the Apostle John’s care, the disciple who Jesus loved?  Are we too not the disciples, who Jesus loves?  Is Mary’s memory not in our care, today?   Do we fervently preach about the glories of earthly motherhood, in May; but then conveniently forget about a blessed spiritual motherhood that is miraculously  ours, too,  through our kinship with dear Lord Christ in August (and April,  June, and October)?

Do not worship Mary, as she with the serene face and the pointing hand would be severely stricken and distressed; but love her, love her as mother, as our Truth once declared her to be (Mt 13:50; Mk 3:35; Lk 8:21).  You see, His mother heard His Word, and pondered it in her heart, so as to keep it ;  and the brave little maiden surely did the will of the Father, when she unflinchingly acquiesced to carry His beloved Son in her virginal womb, without shame.   And Christ’s true brothers and sisters are those who follow His Father’s will … which will include, of course, the joyous task of honoring their mother.
Your (unworthy) servant,
Herr Doktor