Friday, June 27, 2008

Un Be Lievable . . .

Here's a wild one Rev. Ben Harju stumbled onto.

It seems there's a church which calls itself Lutheran that's into consecrating and distributing goldfish crackers to the kiddies who come to the altar.

Folks, I'm speechless.

What next?

Blog Pong, II

The game is evidently still on.

Dan Woodrung has served up a new volley, quoting my reference to the Augsburg Confession (that the Church is present wherever her Gospel is preached and her Sacraments administered rightly), and asking, "Who determines the 'rightly'?"

My reply is that, in the first place that question does not require an answer for the statement to be true. It simply is true, regardless of who determines what about it. This is the ubi question, not the qua; it is a confession of where we may find the Church, not about what the Church is.

And that, as it turns out, does speak to the question of who determines. In the 1519 Leipzig debate, Eck asked Luther a similar question: who interprets Scripture? (this goes back to a recent post of mine) . . . who interprets? You, Martin Luther? To which, if I remember this rightly, Luther replied, Yes.

Similarly, who gets to decide the 'rightly'? I do.

Now before anyone launches into a diatribe about how silly that idea is, let me remind you that I've heard all your replies already, a hundred times. Spare your fingers.

Here is what I mean. St. Paul says, "I know whom I have believed . . ." How does he know? Because Peter told him to say this? Because he was accepted into the apostolic council? Because he knows he is an apostle himself? Does not Paul's assertion here provide a pattern for every Christian to follow? Must we not all learn to say the same? Then how is it that I know whom I have believed?

I do not say "I know" because the bishop told me to say that. I say it because I really do know. I do. No one knows this for me and tells me. It is an existential thing, really. Does that make me a charismatic or an existentialist? Certainly not, no more than it makes the Apostle one.

To be sure, the ecumenical councils, the creeds, the confessions -- these verify what I know, they affirm it. But they do not do my knowing for me. Nor, even, does Scripture.

It's not that I determine the 'rightly', really; it's that I recognize it. I recognize it because I know whom I have believed.

Granted, that's a sticky wicket, but it's true.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Blog Pong

My sons just put a ping pong table in the basement, so perhaps it's fitting that I find myself meanwhile, and surprisingly, occupied with a little game of blog pong.

It seems that Dan Woodrung has taken my previous post as an opening volley, to which he replied, not here, but over on his own blog.

Fair enough, I guess, since I did not reply to his musings about his journey to Rome on his blog in the first place. Fine. So now, in the spirit of blog pong, I'll reply to his blog, yet not there, but from my end of the table.

First, he says he thinks, and then, that at least he "rather hopes" that I did not mean to say that Cyprian said both that there is no salvation outside the church and that the church is where her marks are.

No, sir: I did not mean to say that Cyprian was responsible for the second part; but then, you did know that about me, didn't you. This "rather hoping" of yours seems rather unnecessary.

What I do mean to say is that there is no salvation outside the church. Now if you consent also to the idea that the Church of Rome is the church, then unless there is some qualification you must believe that I am outside the church, and that I am among the damned. And this, though I believe the Gospel, that Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That's a problem, it seems to me.

Next, Mr Woodrung quotes Cyprian at some great length in an attempt to show that Cyprian must mean that the church may only be found where the Bishop of Rome is.

Now here's where it gets interesting. To my rescue comes my old friend Fr Gregory Hogg, an Orthodox priest, providing some additional Cyprian quotes to provide what he calls "balance": these quotes show that Cyprian is not as monolithic about the authority of the See of Rome as Mr Woodrung was evidently seeking to show.

To this Mr Woodrung cries foul, and says, if I get this right, that because the balancing quotes were (so he thought) merely lifted from another web page, therefore Fr Hogg was behaving in a "shameful" way. What, because he lifted quotes from another site (which he insists he did not do)? But even if he had done so, so what? How would that be shameful? A Cyprian quote is a Cyprian quote. Who cares where it came from?

This caused me for the second time in one sitting to raise an eyebrow. What's going on here? Are we cross?

All of this is really very intriguing to me. Perhaps I should just let Mr Woodrung and Fr Hogg debate the matter while I watch.

I guess maybe all of this would make Fr Hogg the Blog Pong referee? Not sure.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pssst!: "You (whoever you are) are outside the Church"

Although the matter of Lutheran pastors going off to other church bodies is a serious one -- the latest being the defection by one LCMS pastor Dan Woodring to the Church of Rome -- I confess that one of my knee-jerk reactions to his expressed reasons for doing so was a touch of amusement.

Sorry, sorry . . . it's not a laughing matter, I know. But sometimes I can't help myself. Listen, I'll be glad to admit that maybe the reaction, and, for that matter, this blog, are merely opportunities for some catharsis. It's no fun seeing people leave, and they leave behind people who had trusted them, and etc. etc. . . . yes, I know it's hard to take all that.

So why else might I have grinned?

Well, there's just this. One of the common threads I see in these defections is the claim by those making them that they have finally found the Church. Before this they hadn't yet found the Church. But now they have. Ah, the Church! She is here! I've come home at last! Home at last!

Yet they're not all going to the same place. Generally the two big options are to go to Rome or to the East, though I have in my vague long-term memory some recollections of some who have gone elsewhere with the same notion, viz., the idea that at long last they have found the Church.

And to be sure, today, since it is in vogue to sound irenic in their ecumenical dialogues, people try to down-play something that was once up-front and center among them: we are the Church and you are not. Once upon a time it was stylish even to put heretics on the rack, to set an example by which peasants learned to stay at all cost in the Church. OK, so those tactics have changed, thankfully, but perhaps the allegation itself remains intact.

Anyhow, here's what amuses me: that allegation has always come with an air of great authority and dignity, no matter from whom it came.

And yet, there have been enough people making it, all over the globe, that the bottom line is this: no matter who you are, you can always find somebody of great authority and status who will charge that you (whoever you are) are outside the Church. Most times these days that claim is whispered or implied, but it is unquestionably in the air.

Therefore I propose that the debate over who is in the Church and who is not must begin with this rule: no appeals to sentimentality are allowed. No exclamations of final relief are permitted. Keep your Alka-Seltzer for that.

As for me, I still maintain with St. Cyprian that there is no salvation outside the Church, and that she is present wherever her Gospel is preached and her Sacraments administered rightly. Here is a mystery: sometimes her disguise is thicker than others, sometimes she is less evident than others, and sometimes she is well-nigh impossible to find. Of course, the same may be said of the glory of God, which is why we do well to apply a theology of the cross to the Church as well as to our individual lives.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Who Interprets Scripture?

Today my blog surfing led me to one of those uncomfortable moments in which I found myself feeling the need to provide a bit of a correction to a commonly heard mantra to which confessional Lutherans are sometimes expected to subscribe, viz.,

"We don't use the Scriptures to interpret the Confessions; we use the Confessions to interpret the Scripture."

I understand the principle behind this idea, but I disagree.

Yet not with the first part; only with the second.

Confessional Lutherans rightly reject the idea that one can subscribe to the Confessions only insofar as they agree with Scripture, for by this ruse people have tried to sell themselves as true Lutherans. So they will say, "Sure, we subscribe to the Confessions, just like you." And then comes the asterisk: "insofar as they agree with the Scriptures." By this token one could as well subscribe to the Koran. It renders the confessional subscription meaningless.

I get that, and I agree. We do not subscribe to the Confessions insofar as they agree, but because they agree. Right.

But that doesn't mean the reverse is true, and here we also need to be clear.

To say we use the Confessions to interpret Scripture is in principle the same as someone else saying he uses the Pope or the Councils to interpret Scripture, or the Book of Mormon, or anything else. Rather, we say that Scripture is clear, and we let Scripture interpret itself. Scripture interprets Scripture. Period.

We use the Confessions to express what we believe according to Scripture, but we ought never think of the Confessions as some sort of tribunal giving us the official interpretation of the Word of God, for that would be to place them over the Word of God.

For example, we do not believe that the Sacrament is truly Christ's body because the Confessions have authoritatively interpreted the Scripture on this for us; rather, we believe it because we have Jesus' own word on it, recorded in Scripture. When the Scriptures speak, God speaks. That is His word. On the basis of that word, we then confess our faith. Our Confessions become, then, our own declaration of what we take the Scriptures to mean, especially against erroneous views.

We could say they are our interpretation, or better, our declaration, of what Scripture has revealed to us, but we should not say that they interpret the Scripture for us. The difference here may seem subtle, but it is highly significant.

When the word "interpretation" is used, it carries with it an implication of authority.

We must be careful never express ourselves in a way which even appears to place any authority over God's own authority.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Who are these Morons?

Thank the internet for the lunacy that gets so much press, and even now is getting time on FOX news. I refer to the 9-11 conspiracy theorists who say it was an inside job. This morning on FOX they actually let one of these wierdos blather on for five minutes. Anchor Megyn Kelly was clearly doing her best to oppose his insanity, but I don't think they should even have allowed him on, it's all so goofy.

I decided to check out one of their web sites today, half expecting it to do some damage to my computer, and I read through some of the lunacy. In a way it reminded me of the film JFK, which advances the conspiracy notion regarding the shooting of the President by means of a slew of wild ideas presented as "facts." I guess some people just get off on believing crazy things. If they had a creed, it would probably run something like this:

I believe in the JFK conspiracy theory and all other conspiracy theories regarding especially the US Government. Since the US Government is so utterly corrupt and beyond all reforming, therefore I believe that George W. Bush is the devil himself, but that even the most progressive President would be powerless to undo all the evil in this wicked realm.

I believe in Nevada's Area 51, where all the aliens are being held, alongside their flying saucers, the ark of the covenant, Jimmy Hoffa, and Elvis Presley.

I believe we never landed on the moon, that it was all a hoax.

I believe in the tooth fairy, that she is really an evil demon planting capitalist propaganda in the minds of unsuspecting children. That goes for Santa Claus too.

I believe that 9-11 was an inside job, that the US Government somehow managed to arrange for all the destruction and murder of that day, without anyone leaking any of this to anyone in the media.

These people are really nuts. And now they're getting TV time. Thumbs down to FOX and anyone else who give it to them. I suppose I should be ignoring them too, come to think of it. OK, thumbs down to me too . . .

. . . it's just that they're sooo nuts . . .

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Grammarian, XIII

In St. Luke 15:1-10 (the Gospel appointed for Trinity III), Jesus tells two parables. The first presents the image of a man who, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, leaves the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and goes after that which is lost, until he finds it; the second is of a woman with ten pieces of silver, who loses one piece, lights a candle, and sweeps the house, seeking diligently till she finds it.

Why do you suppose, boys and girls, that we have two parables here? Would not one suffice?

Well, let's see. The parables are very similar, yes; but who can tell me some differences?

The first has a man, the second, a woman.

Ah. Very important.

The first has sheep, the second, coins.


The first has a hundred, the second, ten.

Right again. Any others?

The man has more sheep than the woman has coins.

Very good.

And the rejoicing of the woman's friends is likened to that of angels.

Good. Now we're getting somewhere. So perhaps we can draw some conclusions, then: the first parable speaks of the very thing Jesus Himself (a man) is doing here, eating with publicans and sinners. And the second? It is surely no accident that the Church is the Bride of Christ. And she carries out the same activity as He does, in each particular circumstance on a lesser scale -- as also ten is less than one hundred. And Jesus sees His people as sheep, while the Church sees His people also as having value (bought with His blood).

And best of all, the rejoicing of the Church with friends and neigbors, what is that? Surely, it is the Holy Mass, the Divine Liturgy of the Church, where, as we are reminded when we hear the Preface, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Christ's holy name. The Blessed Sacrament is the Feast of eternal joy.

Now, class, if you wish to do some extra credit, go home and find some other helpful points of comparison between these two parables.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Pirate Christian Radio

The blogosphere has been abuzz with the latest on the demise of Issues, Etc., the confessional radio program that had been the most popular feature on KFUO in St. Louis, until it was nixed by the bureaucrats at LCMS headquarters. This was all exposed, back when, by our friend Molly Hemingway in the Wall Street Journal. (For *ahem* the real reason, click here.)

Anyhow, we're told that Rev. Todd Wilkin and Rev. Jeff Schwartz, the former anchor and producer, are now moving to an independent, web-based show called Pirate Christian Radio. It should be good, and we look forward to it. Check out the promo here.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A Nice Place to Visit . . .

A week in San Francisco was a really nice way to refresh and retool.

My wife and I did just about all there is to do, I think: take in the bridge, the bay, walking the hills of town, Chinatown, downtown, Italian district, Fisherman's Wharf, the Pier 39 sea lions, Muir Woods, Napa Valley wine tasting, Highway 1, Monterey, whale watching, the 17-mile drive, and more.

I heartily recommend it.

Yet it was, as ever, good to get home again, and celebrate mass again, and partake in the mysteries again. Nothing, but nothing, can beat that . . .