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 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Angel of the Lord in the Burning Bush

The Angel of the Lord in the Burning Bush (Exodus 3)

In Exodus 33:20, the LORD (Yahweh) tells Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.”  Scripture makes this point several times.  And, yet, those who see God, somehow, still remain alive and are surprised by it!  For example, after such an experience, Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar, said, “Have I really seen God and lived to tell about it?” (Genesis 16:13)

Yet, if someone cannot see the LORD, God, Yahweh, and live, and yet people are seeing Yahweh and not dying, who then are they seeing?  The Old Testament helps us to understand this phenomenon by often using several distinct titles for revelation of God that people see: the Angel of the LORD (Yahweh), the Name of the LORD, the Glory of LORD, or the Word of LORD.

In the New Testament, Jesus lets us know that He was active and working in the Old Testament.  He said, speaking to His fellow Jews:

You study the Scriptures, because you think that in them you will find eternal life.  It is these same scriptures that testify about me….  Don’t think that I will accuse you before the Father.  Your accuser is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope.  If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But since you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe my words? [John 5:39, 45-47]

Later, the post-resurrected Jesus was speaking to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus.  This is what Luke tells us of this conversation: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures [the Old Testament] concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

In Exodus 23, the LORD (Yahweh) told Moses:

I will send an angel ahead of you to protect you as you journey and bring you to the place I have prepared.  Be attentive to him and listen to his voice.  Do not defy him, for my name is in him, and he will not pardon such rebellion.  But if you listen to his voice and do everything I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. [Exodus 23: 20-22]

Note that the angel has the name of the LORD, Yahweh.  And one cannot separate the name Yahweh from the reality of Yahweh; thus, he is also Yahweh.  We know this to be true because this angel has the power to absolve and retain sin as well as the ability to speak as Yahweh.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul speaks of Christ being present with Israel as they traveled through the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt.  Paul refers to Christ as the “spiritual Rock”: “They [the Old Testament people of Israel] all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from a spiritual rock that went with then, and that rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4)

And so when we read in the Old Testament about “the angel of the LORD,” we should first think of the pre-incarnate Christ, not an angelic being.  

Knowing this, we see the pre-incarnate Christ appear to:
  • Hagar as a man (Genesis 16:7),
  • Abraham, as one of three visitors (18:1-2) or as a voice from heaven (22:11),
  • Joshua, as the commander of God’s army (Joshua 5: 13-15), and
  • Balaam, as an angel with a drawn sword (Numbers 22:31).
In Exodus 3, Moses uses “angel of the LORD,” “God,” and “Lord” interchangeably to describe who came to him in the burning bush.  This lets us know that “angel of the LORD” refers to God revealing himself in a special way, not simply an angelic being.

1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”  The word “angel” means messenger.  In Exodus 3, we find the pre-incarnate Christ mediating between God the Father and Moses, bringing to him God the Father’s message.

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 AD), when writing about Moses and the burning bush, said this: “Every place where Christ might be is holy.”