We have alluded before to the changes which we are working on behind the scenes here at NRP. I can’t reveal much yet, so I apologize for continuing to string you along, but there are a couple updates on which I would like to let you in.
You may have noticed that our physical inventory in our online store has been taken down from the catalog. As we transition in the coming months, this is a necessary and temporary step. (Please note that I stress the temporary part!) We will be adding more new downloadable products into the store shortly which I believe will have some of you jumping up and down with excitement. The rest of you won’t know why some around here may start jumping up and down, but as time wears on, you will come to understand.
Which leads me into my next update. We can officially announce that New Reformation Press will be the primary distributor of the works of Dr. John Warwick Montgomery!
“Who?” I hear some of you say?
Well, if you know about Dr. Rod Rosenbladt and his work, Dr. Montgomery was the professor who trained him. Formerly, the organization which made Dr. Montgomery’s works available was the Canadian Institute for Law, Theology and Public Policy (CILTPP). We have officially purchased all of Dr. Montgomery’s materials from them and will be making them available as we begin to work our way through it all.
C.S. Lewis will go down as the greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century, and by all accounts, Dr. Montgomery would be number two. His stuff is that good.
In the mean time, I invite you to peruse the website of the original publisher of Dr. Montgomery’s works, the Canadian Institute for Law, Theology and Public Policy, to learn more about Dr. Montgomery. As we begin to make his works available through our store, the Institute will be removing those titles from their website.
The Institute has made Dr. Montgomery’s audio recordings available as cassette tapes and CDs for years now, but we will now be able to make them available as MP3s for the first time, so you will be able to download them in the highest quality available and listen to them on your portable device. For some of you this will probably be an answer to prayer.
We plan to make some significant upgrades to our store this year, and there is much work to do with all the material we have acquired, so we will be making some titles available immediately and more will be added over time. Expect that it will take some months before the entirety of Dr. Montgomery’s works is available on our website.
Today we offer a guest blog post from our good friend Chaplain Charlie Mallie, whose newborn son has had some physical complications which have required surgery the day after being born. Please read below what he wrote for us all as he waited through the surgery today.
As a pastor with more than a decade under my belt, I’m no stranger to ERs, ICUs, NICUs and all the other scary letters in the hospital. As a Navy Chaplain, I’ve seen… well, I’ve seen more than anyone should.
I can say with great certainty that things don’t always go like we think, like we plan or even like we hope and pray. In a fallen world, things can go horribly wrong and sometimes do.
She did everything right, my wife. Prenatal vitamins, regular exercise, scads of check ups and ultrasounds. No issues. None until the delivery, that is. Double nuchal cord and then… something not quite right. Rushed to NICU, a smart intern and a chest scan revealed a diaphragmatic hernia. Basically a hole in the membrane that controls breathing. A hole that allowed the bowels to slip up into the thoracic cavity and consequently push the heart out of location and not allow the lungs to fully develop nor fully function. A biological jigsaw puzzle as an object lesson for the severity of the fall, and my son.
Ultimately it’s my fault. Not that I did something wrong, or that I didn’t do something right – like not pray enough, or have enough quiet times or any of that. (All of that is true by the way, I am a poor miserable sinner, and don’t have much hope in myself for being better.) My only hope is in Christ. But still, it’s my fault. And yours, too, by the way. Unless you’re somehow perfect, your sin contributed to this whole mess just as much as mine did.
Sin is an inherited disease, from Adam on down the line to me, to you, and to my son. Through sin, death entered the world – death in all its forms. Hair going gray and falling out, eyesight getting worse, metabolism crashing. And the more dire forms we’re all too familiar with – cancer, disease, conditions, syndromes, diaphragmatic hernias, the whole stinking mess. And not just us, but the whole creation. From earthquakes to tornados, tsunamis to drought, the whole enchilada ‘is done broke.’ The really bad news is, there ain’t no fixin’ it either. Not by us, anyway. The problem was so immense, so huge, on such a cosmic level, it actually took the death of the Son of God to set things right. There it is. I said it. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
Back to the hospital. Now the parade of doctors, interns, residents, nurses, techs and consent forms is enough to frighten any pagan into instant conversion, but more concerning to a pastor-type like me, and I’d think any God fearing Christian would be the state of his soul should things take a turn for the worse.
What would you do? Pray, surely, but what else? Commit it to God and hope for the best? I’ve seen really solid believers reach for all kinds of superstitions for comfort. I’ve seen the bargaining with God, the deals we try to make, as if we could offer anything He’d deem worthy or useful. Isaiah says something about filthy rags… I’ll let you look it up.
The good news is that our Lord has not left us without aid and comfort in such situations. He doesn’t sit back and do nothing. He doesn’t wait for us to come to Him. He has promised to extend His salvation even to the little ones. He has provided a means that not only delivers the gift of the Holy Spirit, but real assurance through the promise of salvation delivered by a Watery Flood of grace and gift. Not unlike Noah being preserved by the promise of God through the flood nor unlike Israel being brought through the water of the Jordan into the promised land, these events are but foreshadowings of a greater flood, a greater promise and a greater deliverance from sin, death and the devil.
When Christ commanded all nations to be baptized he was not unclear. Even “ready, fire, aim!” Peter got it. And if he got it, so should you. He explained the power of the promise that Baptism delivers, namely the gift of the Holy Spirit. And in case you need it spelled out for you, that gift, it ain’t just for you when you get around to it, when you feel like it, when you understand it. The gift is for you and your children. That gift, the Holy Spirit, is for your children. Don’t be stingy, don’t create barriers where there aren’t any, and don’t relegate the gift of baptism to mere superstition, because you can’t make sense of it in that big brain of yours. Its the greatest, best thing you could ever do for your children. Why would you ever withhold that kind of gift from your own kids?
St. Paul tells us that baptism delivers us into the promise of the resurrection as well– through Christ. Baptized into his death, we are united with Christ. And if united with Him in His death, surely united with Him in His resurrection. Romans 6, you might take a look.
Now all of that is truly good, right and salutary… and solid Biblical theology that some have been trying to poke holes in for mmmm… about 2000 yrs. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what is true. As I write this, Nikolas lies on a table in the next room under the knife. I can tell you good theology counts in times like these. No amount of human comfort is going to do a thing for me at this point. I have only one thought, one concern, one prayer. Now is not the time for fond wishes and hoping for the best. Now is the time to take the Word of God seriously, take His gifts seriously, take His promises to heart. Knowing the promises of God matters. God promised to save my son in Baptism. 1 Peter 3:21 says so. The rest of the world can be made liars, so long as God remains true. Kyrie Eleison! So taking that Word to heart, Nikolas was baptized by my hand right there in the middle of NICU, shortly after he was transported to the Naval Hospital. Baptized into Christ.
Lord knows, I’m thankful for all the prayers, good thoughts, well wishes and casseroles being delivered to my Facebook page and front door. But more than that, I take real comfort that my son’s name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. It was penned in the ink of Christ’s blood shed for Nikolas and every darned one of us.
Should things go terribly wrong, as they sometimes do… well… we will surely grieve, but not as those who have no hope. (1 Thes 4:13) Because more than anything else in this life we’re banking on that Word and Promise of God, applied through baptism and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. All of that means, as far as whatever the next few hours bring, the biggest concern of any Christian parent is covered. Death is a defeated enemy. Should we lose the privilege of watching our little man grow up, it’ll surely be the toughest thing my wife and I will ever go through, but the truth of it is it’ll be okay. We’ll see him again.
In the meantime, I love this hymn from the Lutheran Service Book. It just about says it all.
God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It
Lutheran Service Book #594
God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!
He, because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth’s treasures many? I have one worth more than any
That brought me salvation free, Lasting to eternity!
Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger: Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me, since my baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?
Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!
Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine.
There is nothing worth comparing to this lifelong comfort sure!
Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I’ll sleep secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising, still my soul continues praising:
I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!
Nikolas Evangelos Mallie
Baptized into Christ 07OCT2012 His name in Greek means “The victory of the people is through the Gospel.”
Written from surgery waiting room 1
4th deck, bldg 1
Naval Medical Center San Diego
LT Mallie is a Navy Chaplain currently serving as tactical Chaplain for 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, the Magnificent Bastards!
“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”” Acts 2:38-39
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:3-4
“baptism now saves you” 1 Peter 3:21
“Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Acts 22:16
“Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas” 1 Cor 1:16
“And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.”” Acts 16:15
“And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.” Acts 16:33
“But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”” Mark 10:14-15
** UPDATE -
From Chaplain Mallie: “Successful surgery! In record time. They even had time to do the circumcision. Things must have been better than anticipated.”
From Mrs. Mallie: “Here he is about an hour+ post op. What a miracle! He looks so much better than before surgery. Most of his bowels were up with his lungs. Now that they are in the right spot, he can breathe!! We are waiting for him to wake up from the anesthesia and then they are hoping to start the process of weening him off the ventilator.”
Your prayers for little Nikolas and the Mallie family are greatly appreciated.
Pastor Tchividjian simply knocks it out of the park in his lecture to seminary students. Please listen to it. It has inspired me to address a subject of recent debate in certain circles. It’s not new, but rears its head periodically and I consider certain instances to be “teachable moments” worthy of a post. This is one of those times.
If you’ve followed us for any amount of time you will not be surprised to learn that the debates of which I speak are focused on our “Weak On Sanctification” shirt and the doctrine underlying the phrase. Every time that shirt causes a stir, I am reminded of how dead-on that message is. It skewers the Old Adam and he writhes and fights against it.
In case you didn’t know, the term “weak on sanctification” is an old charge levied against Lutherans by Wesleyans (initiated by Wesley himself). We have embraced it, tongue-in-cheek and a with a bit of sarcasm, and turned it around to be Christ-focused. The back of shirt is Rom 4:5, for heaven’s sake! (We will probably elaborate a bit on this history in another post in order to help outsiders to Lutheranism better understand the origins of Wesley’s charge and our humorous twist on it.)
As Pastor Tchividjian says in his sermon above:
We read the Bible all too often as if it were fundamentally about us. Our improvement. Our life. Our triumph. Our victory. We read the Bible and treat it like it’s a divine fortune cookie. A book of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply them. That’s the way most of us read the Bible. … We read the Bible as if it were all about us. As if it was all about me. As if it was all about my work. As if it was all about my performance. As if it was all about my life… God becomes a supporting actor in our story instead of the other way around… This is a self-help manual from heaven… But by looking at the Bible as if it were all about us, we totally miss Jesus…
Martin Luther defined sin as “mankind curved in on himself.” In other words, we’re terribly narcissistic by nature. We are daily engaged in spiritualized navel-gazing… Unless we go to the Bible to see Jesus and His work for us, even our Bible reading can become fuel for our own self-improvement plans.
Those who would say in one breath that in saying we are “weak on sanctification” we are saying we are “weak on Christ” have not only missed the joke but they missed Christ as well! Indeed, they are frequently the same ones who will in the next breath speak of sanctification as though we need to get “busy” doing it or “insure” that our sanctification is increasing. That is, at first it sounds as though they’re correctly focusing on Christ finishing what He started as the author of our faith, but then they immediately take Christ and His work for us away and place it back on our shoulders as a significant “to do” item for us to perform in our faith — perhaps going even so far as to say we may lose our faith if we don’t stay on top of it!
The comfort we receive in seeing the truth that the Old Adam is “weak on sanctification” in and of himself (and I think this is truly putting the best spin on it – in actuality, the Old Adam in us is not just weakbut dead in his sin!) is that it becomes a statement of faith in Christ. It is a statement that in faith, I am letting go of any idea that as a sinner I can self-sanctify. It is dropping dead to my own works and trusting God when He says, “I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” (Lev 20:8) God justifies sinners who are right then at their very worst!
We are the recipients of Jesus Christ’s perfect sanctification:
“Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.” (Heb 13:12)
“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:10)
We are not the actors in our sanctification:
“…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.” (1 Peter 1:2)
And lest the Old Adam want any shred of credit for his own sanctification, even that is denied him:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess 5:23)
God Himself sanctifies you and me entirely. And through faith in His Son, whose righteousness is imputed to you in that faith, you may stand blameless before Christ on That Day.
But the Old Adam is wicked enough to try to grasp death from the grip of the victorious Christ and point us back to ourselves and our own works and use Christ’s name to help us believe it! Once again he errs greatly in trying to take the work of the Spirit upon himself. The Old Adam tries to co-opt it in order that he does not have to give credit where it is due, to Jesus Christ.
It very much reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters.” The devil loves to use Christ’s name and words in a twisted way which, in the end, turns us away from Him and back towards trusting ourselves.
This is the temptation against which all we Christians fight. Those who have been burned by such Christless and inwardly focused teachings are no longer affected in the same way when some others may rage against the phrase “Weak On Sanctification.” Those who have for the first time been immersed in Jesus’ unfettered grace and peace, seeing His perfect works and letting go of their own dead ones, will not allow Christ’s comfort and peace to be ripped away from them by such petty attacks. I know, because I’ve spoken to these blessed souls myself.
They deeply understand the origins of the term “Weak On Sanctification,” even if they’ve never heard the original charge laid against us Lutherans, and they get the joke! They are consistently amazed that we have the backbone to crank out such a blatant and honest and Christ-centered shirt and that we’re willing to so completely enrage the Old Adam in exposing his hypocrisy. They howl with laughter, knowing that such Christ-centered doctrine will cause many to want to “rend their garments.”
And they embrace it. They grab it and hold on tight and wear the “Weak On Sanctification” shirt proudly. They have come through the crucible of non-stop law, having been crushed by it time and again. They have begun to drink deeply of 200-proof Gospel for the first time and will never again let those wicked and tempting whispers weaken their faith.
I have found that it is primarily modern day Pharisees (Old Adam’s high priests) who tend to put the worst spin on “Weak On Sanctification.” Many, many people love these shirts and that phrase because it so clearly reveals the self-justifying doctrine for what it is: a lie, a failure and the path to eternal death. Now that the sound of the Gospel is in their ears, they can look back at that false doctrine and mock and laugh and bring comfort to those around them by putting the sound of a dead-and-risen Christ in their ears instead. This shirt has proven to be incredibly effective at starting that conversation. And though I have heard directly some stories of how it has been happening, I can only imagine the actual number of people who many have been led to the comfort of the Gospel through it.
All thanks be to God.
The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.
–Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three, pg. 114-115
IF there’s one nationality the rest of the world thinks it readily and totally understands, it is the Germans. Combine their deep involvement with Nazism and anti-Semitism and, voilà! — 2,000 years of gripping, complex history vanishes.
Since the beginning of the euro crisis, this reductionism, which can be found inside Germany as much as outside it, has come in the form of sifting through the fatal legacy of the Weimar era, the years of promising democracy that began in the defeat and humiliation of World War I and ended with the Nazi takeover in 1933.
On the one hand, we’re told, the 1920s legacy of destabilizing inflation explains Germany’s staunch aversion to expansionary monetary and fiscal policies today; on the other hand, the Nazi taint on the interwar years seems to prove for some that, even in 2012, the intentions of democratic Germany can’t be trusted when it comes to Europe’s well-being.
But rather than scour tarnished Weimar, we should read much deeper into Germany’s incomparably rich history, and in particular the indelible mark left by Martin Luther and the “mighty fortress” he built with his strain of Protestantism. Even today Germany, though religiously diverse and politically secular, defines itself and its mission through the writings and actions of the 16th century reformer, who left a succinct definition of Lutheran society in his treatise “The Freedom of a Christian,” which he summarized in two sentences: “A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none, and a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all.”
Consider Luther’s view on charity and the poor. He made the care of the poor an organized, civic obligation by proposing that a common chest be put in every German town; rather than skimp along with the traditional practice of almsgiving to the needy and deserving native poor, Luther proposed that they receive grants, or loans, from the chest. Each recipient would pledge to repay the borrowed amount after a timely recovery and return to self-sufficiency, thereby taking responsibility for both his neighbors and himself. This was love of one’s neighbor through shared civic responsibility, what the Lutherans still call “faith begetting charity.”
How little has changed in 500 years. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, a born-and-baptized daughter of an East German Lutheran pastor, clearly believes the age-old moral virtues and remedies are the best medicine for the euro crisis. She has no desire to press a secular ideology, let alone an institutional religious faith, on her country, but her politics draws unmistakably from an austere and self-sacrificing, yet charitable and fair, Protestantism.
If Ms. Merkel refuses to support so-called euro bonds, it is not because it would be like giving free money to the undeserving poor but because it would not help the redeemed poor take responsibility for their own houses and grow strong for both themselves and their needy neighbors. He who receives, recovers and profits from society in a time of need has a moral responsibility to pay society back by acting in turn as a strong citizen who can help fill the common chests and sacrifice for his now needy neighbors, who had once helped him. Such is the sacrificial Lutheran society.
For this point of view Ms. Merkel has been derided as the “austerity queen,” and worse. But she is undeterred. She admits that austerity is the toughest road home but hastens to add that it is also the surest and quickest way to recover the economy and gain full emancipation from the crisis. Luther would agree.
According to polls, so do Ms. Merkel’s fellow Germans. They hold tight to their belief, born of staunch Lutheran teachings, that human life cannot thrive in deadbeat towns and profligate lands. They know that money is a scarce commodity that has to be systematically processed, recorded and safeguarded before being put out to new borrowers and petitioners.
And they take comfort in the fact that, unlike what they consider the disenchanted, spendthrift countries of Greece and Italy, those living in model German lands have obeyed the chancellor’s austerity laws and other survival programs designed for a fair, shared recovery.
But if their Lutheran heritage of sacrificing for their neighbors makes Germans choose austerity, it also leads them to social engagement. In classic Lutheran teaching, the salvation of the believer “by faith alone” does not curtail the need for constant charitable good works, as ill-informed critics allege. Faith, rather, empowers the believer to act in the world by taking the worry out of his present and future religious life.
It is true that Lutheranism, as a faith, has declined in Germany in recent decades, as the forces of multiculturalism and secularism have washed over the country. And yet witness the warmth with which Germans of all backgrounds embraced their new president, Joachim Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor.
And it is true that Lutheranism is hardly the only social force alive in Germany today. Yet it is of a piece with the country’s two millenniums of history, filled as it is with redemptive self-sacrifice and bootstrapping. In the fourth century A.D., German warriors controlled virtually every senior military post in the Roman army. Later, Germans turned the wilds of northern Central Europe into a bountiful breadbasket — and, most recently, an industrial machine.
What’s more, Lutheranism survived both right-wing Nazism and left-wing Communism, both of which tried to replace its values with their own. If anything, its resilience comes to the fore when challenged by change.
With the steady advance of Islam into Europe over the last two decades and in the face of unrelenting economic pressure from their neighbors, it is no surprise that Germans of all backgrounds have now again quietly found “a mighty fortress” for themselves in their own Judeo-Christian heritage.
Finally, an NRP YouTube Channel. Our first Youtube video is the full length presentation of Dr. Rosenbladt’s ‘The Gospel For Those Broken by the Church.’ More videos and presentations will be added soon. In the meantime we would like to enlist your support to help this video go viral. Link it, share it, Facebook it, email it. Do whatever you can to get this Christ centered message to as many people as we can.
Recently, our friends on the White Horse Inn radio program covered a subject near and dear to our Lutheran hearts – antinomianism. Here is a concise little quote from Dr. Michael Horton regarding what antinomianism is:
“We’re talking about Antinomianism, a heresy in church history that is sometimes kind of hard to define because it comes in so many packages and forms. Basically, it is “against law” and a lot of people may live as if they are antinomians, but antinomianism is an explicit, aberrant view that says that Christians aren’t obligated to the law in any sense.”
We have been known to be (errantly) accused of antinomianism here by some. Considering, though, that we still consider Christians to be bound by the law, recognize how the law reveals our sins in our daily lives and drives us to repent and seek confession and absolution every week, the charge misses the mark. After small discussions with many different pastors, you may be surprised to learn that it seems that true antinomians are exceedingly rare.
But it is a great subject to study so that we can all have a proper understanding of what the actual heresy of antinomianism is. Please stop by the White Horse Inn website and enjoy these programs.
(And if you haven’t heard of the White Horse Inn radio program before, you’re in for a big treat! Peruse their blog to get more stellar content and doctrinal discussions.)
I saw this no holds barred post on the realities of the Pastoral ministry, written by Pastor William Cwirla. It is posted over on the Four and Twenty+Blackbirds blog, which serves as kind of a Pastoral round table discussion of all things church and ministry. Pastor Cwirla’s wisdom concerning pastoral ministry is a must-read for anyone considering the Pastoral office or for those already there.
Congratulations, my dear pastors-elect! Squarely in possession of that first set of call docs to Anywhere Lutheran Church, you are one pair of quasi-episcopal hands away from joining the ranks of the clergy. Even if you are first-born parsonage born and raised, you have no idea what you are getting into or you would have already run the other way like a groom with cold feet on his wedding day.
Rick Stuckwisch asked me to write a piece as the summer ordination season begins. He ought to have known better. He’s worked with me before. Rick, I’m the one who once suggested crowd-surfing the processional cross, remember? I’ll leave the lofty “from above” view to guys much more pious, capable, and holy. I’m here to deliver the view “from below,” the kind of practical “Real-theologie” one does not get at the seminary, chiefly because the professors would be summarily fired for pouring this brand of undiluted honesty.
What follows comes from my own experience twenty years downstream from that sweltering hot August afternoon hands when officially laid on my dripping head and I became, for good and for ill, a pastor. I’m going to channel my “inner Anthony Bourdain” for this one, and give you a piece of unvarnished truth-telling, a kind of “clergy confidential” of what I wish someone would have told me twenty years ago. The comment stream is sure to be full of indignant howls of “How dare you, you Philistine!” but never mind them. This drink needs to be served straight up, no ginger-ale.
Colleagues. You are entering a byzantine caste of rogues and scoundrels the likes of which the seminary was but a foretaste of the dysfunction to come. Your fellow pastors are a motley crew of slick entrepreneurs, ambitious ladder climbers, bookish scholars, chancel prancers, monks, zealots, pietists, PKs, and “bad boys” who smoke, drink, cuss, and generally “sin boldly.” I won’t mention the ones who will wind up in prison. These are your colleagues, your comrades in arms, your brothers. Learn to get along with all of them as best you can, and learn to love them for who they are: Deeply damaged, damnable sinners justified for Jesus’ sake. Any one of them, one day, could be your district president. Don’t ever burn a single bridge.
Conventions. None of us individually is nearly as dumb as all of us put together. Conventions prove this. Ignorance loves to pool around the floor microphones. Stay away from them. Floor microphones are not trees waiting to be marked by every bulldog in the backyard. Empty your theological bladder elsewhere. Resist the urge to spout off at conventions for at least three years. Six if you can possibly contain your brilliance. Make it an apostolic dozen, and we just might invite you out for drinks. Just chill, listen, and drink in the absurdity. Your time will come. And when it does, you’ll realize that what you so desperately had to say doesn’t matter anyway, and nobody is listening.
Congregations. Let me cut to the chase: You serve the Lord, and you work for your congregation. You may not like the sound of that, and you may even be tempted to argue with me on lofty theological grounds, but the sooner you get this, the better off you are going to be.
If you understand this one little paradox, you will understand why 80% of your future colleagues are giving serious consideration to buying that B&B in Vermont, opening a dive shop in Belize, a microbrewery in Milwaukee, or simply disappearing from civilization like an Australian on a “walkabout.” Your call and ordination remind you that you serve the Lord. Your W-2 and paycheck remind you that you work for the congregation. You also answer indirectly to a variety of ecclesiastical inspectors and regulators: your district, the synod, and just about every Tom, Dick, or Harry who decides to make your business his business.
There are standards and practices for which you are answerable beyond the immediate clientele. Like Hebrew National Hotdogs, you answer to a Higher Authority. The trouble is that the words “Lord Jesus Christ” will never once appear on the signature line of your paycheck. And therein, my friend, lies the problem.
Sometimes you must toe the Gospel line. Like the doctor asked to write a bogus prescription or the butcher told to put out marginally rancid meat, you may have to tell management to take a hike when you are asked to violate Scripture and Confessions. Just be sure that’s what you are being asked to violate. I’ve seen far too many guys invoke higher principles when in fact they were simply being jerks. Being ground between a Gospel rock and an institutional hard place is never without suffering and loss, and you will pay a price. So choose your battles wisely, don’t ruffle the feathers of management unnecessarily, never forsake principle, conscience or personal integrity, compromise when you can, pray without ceasing, and be sure to drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach and the frequent ailments you are sure to have in abundance.
A sense of humor helps. Pastors with good senses of humor, not to mention an appreciation for irony, are not necessarily more successful, but they are a lot more fun to be around and seem to be less prone to career destructive behaviors. And the institutional beast doesn’t know what to do with Gospel-crazed pastors who don’t take themselves, or their careers, terribly seriously. You have been, after all, declared forensically dead in your Baptism. The nice thing about being dead is that you have nothing to lose. This prompted Luther, who knew a thing or two about dealing with difficult management, to pen the line: “Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife. Let these all be gone. They yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.” You’re dead to Sin and Self but alive to God in Christ. At the end of the day, the kingdom yours remaineth too. If Luther could survive the medieval papacy, you can survive the voters assembly.
Liturgy. How do I say this nicely? I can’t. Don’t mess with the liturgy! It’s not yours, it’s ours. The churches all together. Community property. You have the books, and you hopefully know what to do with your hands. Now learn to do the liturgy – naturally, reverently, respectfully, with a due sense of awe, wonder, and mystery. We don’t need the Rituale Romanum any more than we need Jesus Palooza. Do the liturgy you’ve been given. Do it without faux friendliness, fake accents, goofy gestures, and anything that would make a kid say, “Hey, what’s with that funny guy up there in the white dress?” Pretend that the people actually came to meet Jesus not you. I know most protestants, and even many Lutherans, come for the preacher, but pretend anyway. Maybe they’ll catch on one day, probably after you’re dead and gone.
People. People fatigue me. It’s not that I don’t like people; I actually do. Quite a lot. Maybe too much. But like a few beers on a warm summer afternoon, a round of meet and greet leaves me ready for a good, long nap. I’m an off-the-charts introvert in the Myers-Briggs world. It’s the way I’m wired; I make no apologies.
You’ve probably heard it a hundred times, but I’ll make it a hundred and one. Know your people. Visit them. Spend time with them. Listen to them. Do pastoral anthropology on them. Hang out with them in their homes and gardens, their businesses, barns, and garages. I won’t use that awful “relational” word the bureaucrats like to toss around, but like it or not, believe it or not, want it or not, pastoral ministry is a people business.
Consider Jesus – eating, drinking and generally hanging out with pious pharisees, greasy tax collectors, hot off the street hookers, and riff-raff of all shapes and varieties. He didn’t trust people, but He sure hung around with them. Rant, fume, and theologize about this all you want. Go and bury yourself and your dysfunctional personality under a pile of brocaded vestments, dusty books, a computer screen or theological presuppositions. But your people won’t trust you with the big stuff – their terminal illnesses their infidelities and divorces, their daughter’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy or their son’s coming out of the closet at family Christmas – if you haven’t been around for the little stuff.
This is where I have screwed up most royally. To be sure, I’ve burned more bridges than Patton on the march to Bastogne. I’ve pontificated at far too many microphones, far too soon, for far too long. I’ve alienated, angered, agitated, and generally pissed off quite a few people. But if I could undo just one thing, if I could retract just one sin of omission, it would be this: I would know my people better. This kind of pastoral work, what the old masters called Seelsorge, takes enormous amounts of time, patience, energy, endless phone calls, wasted trips, and stubborn persistence. There is no substitute for it.
OK, enough. Probably too much. This article is beginning to rival the length of one of Stuckwisch’s tomes, and I have editors stalking me for projects whose deadlines are so long past they need to be tracked by carbon dating. It’s time to wrap up.
Had I known twenty-six years ago what I know today, had I known what the state of the church, society, and my own fragile, dysfunctional psyche would be, I probably would not have ditched a lucrative albeit morose career in chemistry to run off to the seminary. I had no idea what I was getting into.
However, knowing what I now know after twenty years of pastoring a congregation in my local patch of Anywhere, USA, all the remarkable saints I’ve come to know, all the heartaches, headaches, and bellyaches, all the heroes and villains, all the sermons preached, Suppers distributed, Baptisms administered, confessions heard, classes taught, weddings and funerals officiated, and people pastored more or less, I would not have things any other way.
The apostle Paul once wrote to a young pastor named Timothy: “He who desires the office of bishop, desires a noble task.” Even when viewed “from below,” this remains most certainly true.
I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, ‘Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,’ or, ‘Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!’ But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.
American Christian[s]… are drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god… We’ve completely taken this Disney notion of ‘when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true’ and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different. There’s something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream. I mean, we walk away from marriages to follow our dreams. We abandon children to follow our dreams. We hurt people in the name of our dreams, which as a Christian is just preposterous.
["It's Not About the Dream," WORLD magazine, Sep 24, 2011, 57-58]
If you have kept an eye on our blog for any length of time, you may have seen a post some years back about “Veggie Tales” which Pat posted and with which I wholeheartedly agree. (I have thrown out or shredded more than one of those moralistic DVDs in the defense of my kids’ faith.)
It appears Mr. Vischer is beginning to recognize that the “Christian” teachings (typically pulled from the Old Testament) were actually Christless moralistic teachings in his videos. All thanks be to God! My dislike of the moralism in some “Veggie Tales” videos is visceral. It’s tragic because it could have been such an enjoyable and quality kids’ program.
If you’ve ever heard my father speak about his childhood experiences in the church, you may remember that our family doesn’t do well with moralism. The world offers that salvation-less teaching in spades. Pick your brand! There is no shortage of them. Stop by the “Self Help” section of a book store (if there are any brick-and-mortar ones left besides Barnes and Noble) and you will find some very similar “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” teachings as you will find in the “Religion” section. Except that when Christianity is used as the underpinning the moralism is backed by the implied meaning that if you don’t succeed, hell might await you. How awful.
Personally, I wish Mr. Vischer had just stuck with “silly” for the whole cartoon series. When they weren’t being moralistic, those videos were wonderfully silly and entertaining—perfect for their intended audience. I didn’t mind at all when those episodes were playing in the background. But it was one of those things that had to be monitored to see what was going into the kids’ heads. I finally decided that it just wasn’t worth the effort I was spending reviewing and approving them and that it was good, right and salutary to make sure all those DVDs and digital videos were cast into the “sea of forgetfulness”, as it were.
Here’s an idea: how about we keep our theological teachings separate from our entertainment, in general? (Leaving room for exceptions, obviously.) So far this has worked well in my home—working with the kids on Luther’s Small Catechism (and/or other solid Scriptural teachings for their age using proven resources) in times of study, and making sure they have easy access to something on par with Warner Bros.’ “Looney Tunes” (wonderful and completely safe for kids, even if originally intended for adult audiences) if they want to watch a show or two. It’s a great combo and it helps keep things in their proper place, much like basic rules such as “no toys at the dinner table”. They get to hear the Gospel and learn about what Jesus did for them out of His love for them, and they don’t risk having Jesus washed out by some insidious “be good and follow all the rules and then God will be happy with you and you’ll get into heaven” Christless garbage.
Now, if we can just get rid of similar moralistic, Christless teachings in our churches!
The church had to traverse a long distance before it could fully clarify its understanding of the cross of Christ in Luther’s theology of the cross.
It has often been observed how small was the role played by the theology of the cross in the ancient church. It is true that the church in the first centuries along with the church throughout the ages has lived by Christ’s death and has recognized this fact. The death of the Lord is a present reality every Lord’s Day and at every celebration of the Lord’s Supper (there has never been another Supper!).
The Fathers hardly quoted any Old Testament passage as often as they did Isaiah 53. The sign of the cross was already an established Christian custom by the second century, and yet Christian art of the time represented our redemption by portraying types from the Old Testament rather than scenes of Christ’s passion.
Only by the fourth century does Christian sculpture begin reluctantly to depict the passion as one of the gospel stories. Even early theology is not able to say much about the death of Christ.
When, at a later date, the great question was asked: Why then did God become man? It is not directed to Christ’s death but to the reason for his incarnation. In this way the cross is taught in connection with the incarnation and not yet as a doctrine on its own.
The cross is also included in the mystery of the resurrection (what we call Good Friday and Easter were celebrated by the oldest church simultaneously in the festival of Pascha or Passover). But even so, the actual event of our salvation remained the incarnation, as Irenaeus said: “On account of His infinite love He became what we are in order that we might become what He is.”
Thus for the ancient church, as for the Eastern church even today, the cross is hidden in the miracles of Christmas and Easter.
The darkness of Good Friday vanishes in the splendour of these festivals in which the cross is outshone by the divine glory of Christ the Incarnate and the Risen Lord. Even long after the church had begun to represent Christ Crucified in its art, the glory outshone the cross.
When, at the end of antiquity and in the early Middle Ages, the crucified Christ replaced Christ the Victor (Christos Pantocrator) in the triumphal arch of the church above the altar, he is still portrayed as kind and triumphant. The Christ represented in the ancient church and in the Romanesque churches of the Middle Ages does not suffer; he remains triumphant even on the cross, and the cross itself always appears as the sign of victory rather than of suffering and death: “In this sign you will conquer” or “The royal banners forward go; the cross shines forth in mystic glow.”
The resurrection of our Lord, then, marked the beginning of our redemption and of our resurrection.
Why was this the case? How are we to explain the limitations of the theology of ancient Christianity?
To be sure, we must not forget that the divine revelation in the Holy Scriptures is so rich that whole centuries are needed to clarify its contents. We cannot expect that the church of the first Ecumenical Councils would already have solved the questions of the medieval Western world. Their problems were determined by the horizon of their time and its thought. Thus, for example, it would have been in bad taste for a Greek to portray artistically the scene of crucifixion – after all, would you hang a picture of a criminal on the gallows in your dining room?
As for understanding the redemption, the Greek Fathers could not escape their idealistic conception of man. Even the great Athanasius never considered “by what measure one weighed a sin.” They were all Pelagians; for them, as for Dostoevsky and the Russians, the sinner is at bottom a poor, sick person who needs to be healed by patient love and the heavenly medicine and not, as was the case for the Romans, a criminal and lawbreaker who needed correction and justification.
How is it possible for a person to understand the cross if he does not know who and what sent Christ to the cross? How can he understand the cross if he does not know with Paul Gerhardt that “I caused Thy grief and sighing by evils multiplying as countless as the sands. I caused the woes unnumbered with which Thy soul is cumbered, Thy sorrows raised by wicked hands”!
Lacking an understanding of the full dimensions of sin, the ancient church and the Eastern church never attained a theology of the cross.
Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 18; October, 1951.
“Preach one thing: the wisdom of the cross!” That is Luther’s answer to the vital question posed by the ministers of all ages: what shall I preach? The wisdom of the cross, the word of the cross, that great stumbling block to the world, is the proper content of Christian preaching, is the Gospel itself. So teaches Luther and the Lutheran church with him.
The Christian world regards the preaching of the cross as greatly one-sided. The cross is just part of the Christian message beside others.
The second article of the Creed is not the whole creed, and even in the second article the cross takes its place among the other facts of salvation. Thus Luther is guilty of a narrowing of Christian truth when he limits real Christian preaching to the theology of the cross. Even some Lutherans say the same thing today!
After all, is there not also a theology of the incarnation and a theology of the resurrection? Ought we not supplement what is taught about God in the second article with what is taught in the third article of the Creed about the theology of the Holy Spirit and his activity in the church?
Luther did indeed have much to say about these matters too – for example in his teaching on incarnation and on the sacraments. He also understood the article of creation as few theologians before him did.
How then shall we answer the charge of the one-sidededness of Luther’s theology of the cross, which is a criticism much heard?
What do the critics mean by the alleged narrowing?
Apparently it does not mean that the whole church year shrinks to Good Friday, but rather that one cannot understand Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost without Good Friday. Luther, like Irenaeus and Athanasius before him, was certainly one of the great theologians of the incarnation; yet he was so because he saw the cross behind the manger. While he understood the victory of Easter as well as any theologian of the Eastern Church, he understood it because he saw Easter as the victory of the Crucified One. The same can be said about his view of the Holy Spirit’s activity.
According to Luther, then, all topics of theology are illuminated by the cross.
Because the deepest meaning of revelation lies hidden in the cross.
For this reason Luther’s theology of the cross wants to be more than one of many theological theories which have appeared in the course of church history. In contrast to that other theology prevailing in Christendom, which Luther calls the theology of glory, the theology of the cross claims to be the correct scriptural theology by which Christ’s church stands or falls.
The preaching of the cross alone, Luther contends, is the preaching of the Gospel.
What then is the theology of the cross?
– Hermann Sasse, From Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 18
Despite studying under Harnack, Holl and old Liberalism, Hermann Sasse became a prominent figure in confessional Lutheranism by the time of World War I. He was a prominent figure in the German ecumenical movement for years and untiringly advocated that real unity could only be the result of real doctrinal agreement.
He had the respect of Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and the Reformed alike. In his later years, Sasse believed that the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod was the last hope for world confessional Lutheranism and dedicated his efforts to raising the Synod’s consciousness of its world significance.
This collection of the writings of Hermann Sasse is comprised, with several exceptions, of materials never before published in English. The two volumes compile material from 1927 through 1976, including articles, papers, essays, theses, lectures, and pastoral letters.