Monday, February 26, 2018

The Loss of Order: Relativism

The late Allan Bloom (who in his illustrious career taught both at the University of Chicago and Yale...a subtle shout-out to two of my children who also attended these institutions while retaining their orthodoxy I might add), wrote books, one of them being The Closing of the American Mind, New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1987. His introduction explains the great challenge of the times [when Prof Bloom refers to "they" = baby boomers, generation x'rs, and millennials of course]: "The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it. They have all been equipped with this framework early on, and it is the modern replacement for the inalienable natural rights that used to be the traditional American grounds for a free society...The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years [Bloom wrote this in 1987] has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness -- and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings -- is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past...The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all (25-26)." First of all, let it be clear that Prof Bloom was not commending nor was he condoning the "virtue" of openness. Rather, he was explaining the current state and was launching into describing its devastating effect. It is fascinating, however, to consider that openness is popularly construed as inculcating true toleration and true toleration is essential for at least basic sympathy and compassion (as understood in connection to openness). Conversely, to cut off such openness and toleration, implies that one is unloving. What is loving therefore is accepting, tolerant, and approving of anything anyone else considers to be good. This notion comes up against real challenges. Openness as the supreme relativistic virtue shuts down traditional notions of right and wrong. Even the line of demarcation between good and evil is necessarily fuzzy. Who is to say what is good and evil anymore? In fact, to assert oneself that something is evil is to risk committing evil in such a system. What Prof Bloom wrote of in diagnosing this insidious malady is, however, nothing new. Consider Judges 21:25: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." As a matter of fact, since the Fall recorded in Genesis 3 and as Bonhoeffer describes in his Ethics, our employment of the knowledge of good and evil -- though the categories persist -- are no longer in line with God's employment. In the end, we echo Satan's tempting reconsideration of what God said and says and we ask, "Did God actually say...?" When we do what is right in our own eyes then the question of authority has been answered: we are the authority. If that's the case, however, then there are 7.6 billion versions of individual authorities and sources of truth running around planet earth. God's truth in this view is no longer a given; and it is certainly not objectively true nor authoritative. Lewis in Mere Christianity speaks of a universal law, a law of human nature, an oughtness, however, which persists. We know we should do right -- and there really is a right above and beyond us -- but we don't do it. In the face of this, we have two basic options: a) try our best to repress the objective right, deny it, and pretend that it isn't there & then replace it with openness; or b) repent of our sin and reclaim the truth of the Word of God, the objective and eternal truth of God's Word. Some of it is well known, for example, that it is a sin (a violation of objective and absolute TRUTH) and deadly wrong to murder another human being. This truth might still seem obvious to some, but let it be said clearly: this is an example of an absolute truth in a culture of openness that is becoming increasingly fuzzy, especially in light of the millions of future fathers, and mothers, sisters, and brothers, engineers, doctors, teachers, and pastors who were murdered before they were born. For the soul who mourns this sin, they must know that Jesus came to cover their sin with His blood; that they are utterly forgiven and loved by God in Christ. With the LORD's grace, we are now called to speak for what is right, for what is true, so that we might turn from the post-modern god of relativism that is killing our culture in the name of openness. This is yet another duality of the faith of the LORD Jesus Christ: right and wrong; truth and falsity...yes, these are real categories and to ignore them -- or to try to replace them -- is to sign-up to enter considerable peril. It is my prayer that my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture being released by Concordia Publishing House on June 13th, 2018 might help serious Christians to hold to faith that retains the conviction of objective truth. Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Confusion Between Kingdoms, But By Grace We Nevertheless Stand and Are Blessed!

We find ourselves in a cultural, religious, and political morass. Herbert Schlossberg in his book Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture (Crossway Books, 1990) had already diagnosed our situation back then. If anything his foresight has been confirmed. "...American religion is full of the contradictions and paradoxes that come from the attempt to merge a true gospel with the faltering creeds of the surrounding society (9)." Furthermore, Reinhold Niebuhr aptly observed way back in the 1950's that the predominant national religiosity was a "perversion of the Christian gospel (Schlossberg, 9)," and this -- Schlossberg points out -- has only aggravated the nation's problems. The trend continues and this confusion of religion has brought confusion to politics as so many have sought to merge the two kingdoms! I know this sounds pessimistic, but I don't take any of this to mean that we should therefore live down in the dumps. Not at all. Rather, I thank God for His clarity leading us to understand the state of affairs and more importantly, how He continues to graciously work through it for the sake of His Church. The Holy Scriptures are perspicuous on these matters. To cut to the chase we have biblical insight for distinction between Left Hand Kingdom (power and government) and Right Hand Kingdom (grace and church). But if we choose to merge these and mix these, then we lose the duality and mistakenly make them one. And this merging is what causes things to get really bad. The good news, however, is that no one understands our tendency to do this better than God. The LORD knows and what is more important than how we stray is the LORD's grace. He is by nature merciful. Thank Him! In that mercy He chooses to work through our confusion and He has established precedent in His Word that He works through the current conditions no matter how challenged they might be! Here, I would like to offer the example of King Cyrus the Great and here by the way we also come into an example of the Holy Bible's intersection with external history which by the way strengthens the veracity, reliability, and trustworthiness of Sacred Scripture (in this case in the Old Testament). The Persian King (559-530 BC) conquered the Median kingdom, but when he did he came into conflict with Babylon. He went on to conquer Babylon. It just so happened -- just an amazing coincidence (I'm being facetious) -- that the people of God were captives in exile in Babylon at the time. When Cyrus came into power, he freed the people of God and permitted them to return to their homeland! That is, God used the circumstances to find a way to bless His people! Cyrus did not know the LORD. He was not of Israel. It didn't matter, God worked through Him anyway. The politics were forced to serve God's people. Isaiah 45:1: "Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed." God made Cyrus His "anointed" in order to serve God's purposes for the sake of His people! And Jesus stood before Pilate almost 600 years later. "So Pilate said to him, 'You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?' Jesus answered him, 'You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above (John 19:10-11).'" Jesus was saying, "Pilate, I have given you your authority, now send me to be crucified." And from a human standpoint, the spectacle of Christ on the cross amounted to complete and utter failure on the part of Jesus, the would-be Messiah. Jesus lost. God was dead. And then came the rest of the story. What do we learn from this? God is still here. God is still working. God is still in control. God will bless His people. Let us therefore rejoice. No, we will not live down in the dumps. We will love God and love people around us -- regardless of their politics, worldviews, ethnicities or religions -- we will show them Jesus and even now bring healing to our nation even if through just one person at a time. Please help me spread the word about my upcoming book Faith That Sees Through The Culture being released on June 13th by Concordia Publishing House. In it, we have more to say about the duality of the two kingdoms and our popular approach to church and state. Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, February 19, 2018

2 Kingdoms: A Crucial Biblical Duality

As I anticipate the release of my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture (June 13th by Concordia Publishing House), I am reminded of just how important the two kingdom biblical teaching is. When Luther expanded on the Kingdom of the Left, he did not reduce it to government. This is a monumental point. We are in error if we assume that the two kingdoms -- the left hand kingdom of power and the right hand kingdom of grace -- are synonymous with the current use of "church and state." "Church and state" talk is reductionistic and misses the fuller realms of kingdoms. Too often when we are confronted by senseless and horrific violence, the knee-jerk answer centers upon government. "If only the government would do x, instead of y, then utopia would ensue." When Luther expounded on the Left-Hand kingdom, it always included the family. In fact, the family outranks government when it comes to this kingdom. Consider this Scripture that finds fulfillment, not so much in a village, government, or even from pastors, but is fundamentally from parents to their children: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6)." If we are going to live in the biblical dualities and at the same time have a faith that is clear with both lenses fully functional (both kingdoms in this case), then we will strive to defend and nourish the family. Nothing provides stability and strength to a society like the family. Nothing -- in the Left Hand kingdom that includes government -- comes close to the importance of the family. Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rejuvenation from the Right Hand Kingdom for our witness in the Left Hand Kingdom

As we anticipate the release of my new book Faith That Sees Through The Culture on June 13th, 2018 (Concordia Publishing House), we are constantly challenged by the duality of the two kingdoms. To keep the kingdom of the left or the kingdom of power in proper perspective we need the dual lens. Balance comes only when we also know the kingdom of the right or the kingdom of grace. We feel pain -- vicerally -- and shake our heads at the myriad of problems in the left-hand kingdom which includes the government. And yet, we are informed by the Word of God: "For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Ro 13:1)." This does not mean that what those governments do is always right, but it does mean that God has not relinquished control. And in respect to God working -- for His people -- He is always (not sometimes) working for their good. Even if a nation is in decline therefore, the decline itself will often lead people to remember that their hope is not in the power of men (Psalm 146:3: "put not your trust in princes"), but only in God. Sometimes cultural decline -- as painful as it might be -- is the mediate cause for spiritual revival. This does not mean that Christians are to become passive in culture. Not in the least. We are called to engage the culture. We are called to be salt and light (Matt 5). But to know both kingdoms is to draw strength from the Right-Hand Kingdom (through the Church's ministry of Word and Sacrament), so that we may launch into the Left-Hand Kingdom to be God's witnesses with hope overflowing even in the face of cultural disintegration.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Strength for Faith Lived Out in the Culture: Individual Confession and Absolution

Please check out one of the last blogs below on Individual Confession and Absolution. One of the stories in my upcoming book Faith That Sees Through The Culture is referred to. I discovered the gift of Individual Confession and Absolution with my sister in Christ, Deaconess Patty Kristofic, when she was a parishioner in my first parish St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Covina, CA. It has a picture of a prie dieu (pronounced "pree-dia").

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Faith and Culture Considers Biblical Dualities

Please help me spread the word about my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture being released by Concordia Publishing House on June 13th, 2018. CPH has made some vast marketing improvements and this volume (approximately 250 pages long) will only cost $14.99. An added feature to this book is that every chapter concludes with a discussion guide that can easily be used for Bible Study. The discussion guides reflect on the content of each chapter through this 3-part outline: 1) Uncover Information; 2) Discover Meaning; and 3) Explore Implications. OK, let me share some interesting background information. As I was contemplating a book proposal, I happened to have an appointment with an optometrist and had to get an updated prescription. You know the drill: sit in the chair and then have that big network of lenses put in front of you. What is that thing called anyway? It has a really sophisticated name! It's called a phoropter. As you might recall, it's designed to take you through a series of lenses in order to establish maximum acuity. The optometrist asks, "1 or 2?" You answer perhaps "2." He comes back, "ok, 3 or 4?" And away you go until you find the best lens for your eye and then it's on to the next eye! Start all over again! Typically the eyes yield different results. The process highlights the importance of how the eyes work together for unified vision. If one is off, however, then everything is off! The coordination of two lenses is crucial for clarity. This concept is true in sacred theology. There are many biblical dualities relating to distinct articles of the faith. Time is one of those doctrinal considerations. Christians live in the present, the now, but there is also a sense in which they are to joyfully anticipate (and indeed think about) the future, a particular glorious future that is guaranteed in Christ. That is, they also live in the not yet. Put these two lenses together regarding time: Christians live in the now and the not yet at the same time! How does this impact how we live? How does this impact how we interact with the culture? These are important questions worthy of consideration. This is what the book is about (in taking just one of several dualities analyzed). Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Faith and Culture February 14th, 2018

I am excited to announce that Concordia Publishing House is planning to release my book Faith That Sees Through The Culture on June 13th, 2018. Retail is $14.99 with 25% off on pre-orders that will be available for 30 days up to the release date. My work has as its goal the equipping of serious Christians who desire to live out their faith in the LORD Jesus Christ more effectively. How can this be done? One way is by having a clearer grasp of the lenses of the faith, that is the two-fold dualities that mark key biblical concepts. These include the dualities of the visible and invisible; old man and new man; the inclusive and exclusive facets of the saving gospel; the kingdom of power and the kingdom of grace; the now and not-yet aspects of time; and the major biblical themes of law and gospel. With clarity about these lenses, faith itself becomes clearer for navigating in the culture. As a result, not only can a Christian be more confident about their own faith, but be more productive in serving their neighbor through loving witness and loving action. Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Christ the Life of all the Living!

My first published work was in the book now out of print Let Christ Be Christ: Theology, Ethics & World Religions in the Two Kingdoms (Essays in Honor of the Sixty-Fifth Birthday of Charles L. Manske) edited by Daniel N. Harmelink (Tentatio Press, 1999). My essay in the work is entitled, "The Christology of Martin Luther (in The Great Commentary on Galatians of 1531)." Here we examined Luther's christology both in regard the person and work of the LORD Jesus Christ. The research was fascinating and delightful.

After the work came out, Luther Digest: An Annual Abridgment of Luther Studies, Volume 10, 2002 published a good portion of the essay offered in Let Christ Be Christ.

Proper theology is christological! What follows is one of my favorite Luther quotes from his Galatians commentary (Luther's Works, American Edition, Volume 26, pg 280):

He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: "Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that you pay and make satisfaction for them." (Luther expounds on "vicarious" and here explicates Galatians 3:13 which states in Holy Writ: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'").

Monday, February 12, 2018

Before Concern About How To Live We Must Know Christ

Having studied Luther's christology, I was thrilled to have been granted the privilege by Concordia Publishing House to write the study on "God the Son," as part of The Lutheran Difference series. The Bible Study booklet came out in 2003.

The study covers six major areas of christology, namely: 1) the eternality of Christ; 2) the Incarnation; 3) Christ's impeccability and His active obedience; 4) the vicarious atonement; 5) the resurrection of Christ; and 6) His ascension, eternal reign, and second coming.

In 2007 we followed up "God the Son" with "Creation." In this volume I defend the traditional view on creation. This is a hot topic in Christendom, but I don't hide from the old position. The study covers these six chapters: 1) the distinction between Creator and creation; 2) creation out of nothing; 3) creation in six days; 4) creation that is orderly and distinct; 5) creation fallen from the Creator; and 6) Creation and the Gospel. 

My contributions were just two studies among many and evidently the overall Bible Study series went on to become CPH's all-time best-selling Bible Study series.

In 2010 the studies were complied into a hard-cover book:

In 2014 CPH followed up with a special edition hard-cover celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (the 500th anniversary was in 2017).

Sasse records Luther's strong protest against his followers using the name "Lutheran": "How should I, poor, stinking carcass that I am, come to have the children of Christ call themselves by my dreadful name? Not so, dear friends; let us do away with party names and call ourselves Christian after Him whose teachings we have (Sasse, Hermann, Here We Stand: Nature and Character of the Lutheran Faith, Adelaide, South Australia: Lutheran Publishing House, 1987 paperback edition, p. 33)." The normal designation for Lutherans, however, would become "Evangelical" until this term was more or less claimed by the Reformed. Today, confessional Lutheranism is thoroughly biblical and Christian.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Be Prepared To Give An Answer 1st Peter 3:15

In the same year as my last contribution to The Lutheran Difference Series I was granted the wonderful honor of contributing to the book Theologia et Apologia [Theology of Apologetics]: Essays in Reformation Theology and its Defense Presented to Rod Rosenbladt, edited by Adam S. Franciso, Korey D. Maas, and Steven P. Mueller (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007).

I look back on the fact that it was a great joy for me to honor both Rev. Dr. Charles Manske (in his 1999 festschrift) and Rev. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt (in his 2007 festschrift). These two servants of God were instrumental to my undergraduate formation at Christ College Irvine (before it became Concordia University Irvine). Dr. Manske inculcated a zeal for the gospel that was second-to-none, and his spectrum of scholarship inspired me to strive to be as well-rounded as possible. Dr. Rosenbladt demonstrated precision of thought that honored God with the mind as well as the heart and soul. Additionally, his skill in apologetics was matched by his Christ-centered focus.

Here is the book:

My specific essay is the book's anchor (the last essay): Apologetics as Pastoral Theology.

It should be said that Lutherans are not as high on theistic apologetics as are some from other Christian traditions. The renown evangelical apologist William Lane Craig, for example, has powerfully demonstrated how theistic apologetics can buttress biblical teaching on creation through philosophical and scientific considerations (see his expansive work for example on the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God). In all of this, however, no one comes to know the Gracious God who sends His Son to save people from sin and death (a fact that Dr. Craig knows full well of course which is why -- I would venture -- he also invests a great deal in defending the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ). As for theistic apologetics, I like the reminder put forth by Alister McGrath who corrects the tendency for folks to refer to theistic arguments as "proving" God (see his work Intellectuals Don't Need God and Other Modern Myths). They don't. McGrath certainly sees their value, but only as "pointers" toward what is real.

That is theistic apologetics, while important, are also quite limited.

Lutheran Christian apologetics, however, has typically focused on two main areas and these are examples not of theistic apologetics, but Christian or special-knowledge/revelation apologetics (that which cuts to the chase and goes to Holy Scripture, not by the way to engage in circular reasoning but to demonstrate how the Scriptures themselves correspond to the rest of what we know from history):

1) The reliability of Sacred Scripture.

2) The historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

These two areas are most vital in the realm of apologetics (giving rationale answers/a reasonable defense for the faith):

But does such "evidentialism" automatically imply that mere men are attempting to do what only the Holy Spirit does through the communication of the saving Gospel?

Luther offered this explanation for the third article of the Apostles' Creed:

"I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel..."

So how does one come to saving faith? By the Holy Spirit calling through the Gospel.

So where does this leave Christian apologetics?

Some would say therefore that Cornelius Van Til was correct: apologetics is presuppositional. It only effectively serves the one already possessing saving faith (the person who presupposes the faith). For such a one, apologetics strengthens the faith of the believer.

But is this correct? We don't recommend Van Til's position though this does not deny that Christians also benefit from apologetics.

On the other hand, going into my essay, I was also concerned about a certain pragmatism surrounding apologetics. Too often we hear of a 1-2 approach describing the relationship between apologetics and witnessing to the Gospel. The idea is something like this: "Apologetics will clear the path or remove obstacles, so that the Gospel may be effective." This sounds like a departure from Luther. It sounds like evangelistic synergism.

So if this is how evidential apologetics is going to be used, then again, maybe Van Til was right.

I still disagree with him while also not going along with the assumption that evidentialism is proffering a 1-2 approach.

Thus, finally, we come to my essay. My argument is that the elements in Scripture typically viewed as the basis for evidentialism are framework or delivery manifolds of the saving Gospel itself. For example, words that demonstrate historicity are embedded in the proclamation that is the power of God unto salvation. These are inextricable. Indeed, it is ONLY the Gospel that the Holy Spirit uses to draw people to Christ and when this is proclaimed, it is proclaimed in complementary fashion with God-given reason, logic, historical grounding, and sound, sensical communication. When the Risen Christ came to the hiding disciples, He invited them to see and to feel that His was the body raised from having been dead. His words were giving them life and they were words inherently marked by evidence. Again, the two are conjoined.

Apologetics are, therefore, very much for the one yet to know the Gospel, the one without faith in Christ. In this sense Lutheran apologetics holds to a fundamental evidentialism as opposed to pre-suppositionalism. Lutheran theology points to the Gospel as the power of God unto salvation (Ro 1:16), and when this Gospel is proclaimed, the elements of apologetics serve the Gospel. It has been said that philosophy is theology's handmaiden; in much the same way, apologetics serve evangelism even while it (apologetics) is a sub-category of systematic theology proper. Still, it serves the Gospel and without the Gospel, it doesn't accomplish much of anything. When used, however, to deliver the Gospel, apologetics knows its place and we should thank God for the field.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

This Was The Work That Got Me Into Culture Analyzation

From this background in the considerations of fundamental theology, I ventured by God's grace to complete my Ph.D. dissertation. You can see the title here on the cover. Notice that the spelling is based on the English in England. Indeed, I was reminded by more than one Brit that what is spoken here in the states is "American." Note for example the spelling of the word "programme." I was a student at the University of Birmingham, England for 7 years from 2002-2009.

This work, however, completed in 2009 was that which took me to my next step in the consideration of culture. For years I had been fascinated by our popular culture's infatuation with Hal Lindsey's (The Late Great Planet Earth) and Tim LaHaye's (Left Behind) and like-authors and teachers in the U.S. Their specific teaching is pretribulational premillennial dispensationalism. The basic question was why this form of modern apocalypticism was/is so popular in America? This question, however, led to more important questions impacting our culture: 1) what is the affect of this teaching upon American politics? and 2) what is the affect of this teaching on how Christians should live out their faith in culture?

At this point I was hooked and as I continue to blog I will share some of the insights I've gained over time.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Battle Introduces Us To A Vital Duality

To consider Christian life in culture is to begin to realize more than ever that the Christian life within itself is also crucial to consider. Our vantage point is powerfully influenced by our own condition, especially as the Christian learns to live as simul justus et peccator, that is simultaneously justified and a sinner. To consider our simul state forces us also to consider how the justified Christian lives in sanctification. How we actually live and interact within ourselves, towards others, and the rest of the world is extraordinarily important. Our holy lives in Christ matter. But what do these look like? What do these feel like?

Years ago I read from a respectable LC-MS theologian that in his view the first president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther, was severe in his piety (his reverential sense of holiness, his experiential sense of Christian spirituality was extreme). Thus, this theologian diagnosed Walther as a pietist. This is derogatory. It said that Walther -- who was a great and orthodox theologian -- was not orthodox in his sanctification and that a problematic subjectivism overshadowed his objective reliance upon Christ alone. All of this is the baggage that goes into the problem of pietism when pious thoughts, feelings, and intuitions drive faith. When this happens, eyes of faith are taken off of the Lord Jesus Christ and are cast upon one's own religious experience. Talk about sinking sand!

Was this Walther?

The claim didn't settle well with me. I decided to take up Walther's works and ask myself as I read them, "How does Walther understand Christian sanctification?" Results: Walther was not in his core doctrine and practice a pietist.

One of Walther's emphases in teaching on Christian sanctification is the reality of the battle or the struggle between the sinful nature/the flesh on the one hand, and the born-again spirit/new creation on the other. The Christian is both and these two sides are in conflict with each other (Gal 5). Walther was brilliant in his teaching that this battle is in itself basic to sanctification.

This work yielded the following highlights on Christian sanctification that C.F.W. Walther knew:

  1. The proper order between faith and good works;
  2. The necessity of good works in the life of the Christian;
  3. The new life that faith produces;
  4. The spiritual battle leading to the mortification of the flesh;
  5. The feeling of anguish and despair that maintains humility; and
  6. The basic discipline against living in unrepentant, deliberate sin, which would otherwise destroy faith.

The book published by CPH is C.F.W. Walther: Churchman and Theologian (2011). My essay is "C.F.W. Walther on Sanctification."

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Strength For Our Journey Along The Way

Following that last published essay in the C.F.W. Walther book, I started to spend more time on individual confession and absolution. The very next year in 2012 permitted me a key-note address at the Catechism Convocation for the People sponsored by LC-MS pastors in Southern California. My paper was entitled, "Individual Confession and Absolution as Integral to Pastoral Care: An Apologetic." Issues, Etc. had me on the air to discuss the paper and the project turned out to be invigorating and the delivery of the paper was exciting.

The following year, this very subject matter came up at the national, synodical convention of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Here is Resolution 4-13 from the 2013 national convention:

To Encourage Confession and Absolution for Pastors RESOLUTION 4-13 Overture 4-13 (CW, p. 168–169)

Whereas, In confession “[i]t is not the voice or word of the man who speaks, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command” (AC XXV 3 [Tappert]); and

Whereas, Our pastors are bound by the Word of God and their ordination vows “never to divulge the sins confessed to them” (Lutheran Service Book: Agenda); and

Whereas, While no one should be forced to go to confession (“no one should be compelled to recount sins in detail” (AC XXV 7), it is also true that confession should be made available for those whose conscience is troubled (“Yet the preachers on our side diligently teach that confession is to be retained for the sake of absolution,…for the consolation of terrified consciences” [AC XXV 13]); and

Whereas, Pastors may also become aware of sins that they themselves have committed and desire to confess them to another pastor, as Luther describes in the Small Catechism, and so receive absolution; and

Whereas, The Synod in 2007 “[r]esolved, that both laity and pastors be encouraged to make greater use of individual confession and absolution” (Res. 2-07A); therefore be it

Resolved, That the Synod in convention state its commitment that in all activities, offices, and agencies of the Synod, the goal is that all might “hear the Word of the Gospel” (Acts 15:7), as referenced in the Preamble of the LCMS Constitution; and be it further

Resolved, That the pastors of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod be reassured that the Synod takes very seriously the spiritual welfare of her pastors and encourages them, when they feel a need to avail themselves of private absolution, that they should do so; and be it further

Resolved, That pastors be encouraged to seek a father confessor or the district president will provide for the penitent pastor the name and contact information for another pastor who is able and willing to hear that confession and offer absolution; and be it further

Resolved, That the convention make clear that no one is being forced to confess sins, or even to confess privately, but that this resolution makes provision only for those pastors who have a desire to make use of private confession but who are unsure where they may go to make such a confession to another pastor and hear the word of absolution; and be it further

Resolved, That the Commission on Theology and Church Relations provide a document that sets forth our church’s teaching on confession and absolution and offers positive guidance to pastors and congregations in their exercise of the Office of the Keys; and be it finally

Resolved, That the Synod in convention give thanks to God for all the means He has given to His church whereby the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ is received.

Action: Adopted (9)

(After debate, the resolution was adopted as presented [Yes: 840; No: 32].)

After the resolution was passed, I was contacted by the CTCR and invited to draft the document. I was happy to comply. In 2014 I submitted my first draft to the CTCR and the following year, 2015, presented the final draft. I have a feeling that the Church might be seeing this come out in 2018. We shall see. The document I submitted contains the following major sections:

Part 1: Foundations

This section covers definitions, the Scriptural witness on the subject matter, the Confessional witness on the subject matter, history on its use and development in the Church, and finally contemporary challenges.

Part 2: Helping the Pastor

Here several needs are discussed which amount to the unique challenges encountered in the pastoral ministry. This is rounded out by who may serve as a confessor, reasons why every pastor ought have a confessor, Luther's example, learning to embrace the tentatio in holy ministry, and finally implementation with guidance on how to find a confessor.

Part 3: Extending the Gift to the Congregation

Here I discuss the general need which persists in the local parish, the great benefit involved in offering this resource both to the pastor and laity, the specific benefit of confessing what needs to be confessed, the second specific benefit of ensuring that the gospel is personally received, and the last specific benefit which discusses how the practice brings pastor and people closer together. Finally, I discuss the restoration of the practice.

But what does this have to do with the Christian in culture? It is a singular hiding place. I don't mean "hiding" as in a monastery or a form of escapism. Rather, it is a place to regather; it is a place for restoration. Indeed, we are called to be Christ's witnesses; light to the world, and salt to the earth. To be these, however, is to feel and know exertion, and it is to be confronted by our own sin and weakness. Where do we go when we feel our burden? One place we may go for help is where we go to receive individual confession and absolution. It is one of the free gospel-gifts. That is to say, it is optional, but it is still there. This is yet another reason pastors are given. Let us use this gift. Let us receive the great consolation that flows from it. It will also strengthen us to go back out to live in the culture as people with those who have received it and who now share it with a world that desperately needs it. 

If you are interested, take a look at the short service as presented in The Lutheran Service Book hymnal on pages 292-293. Remember, what is most important about this gift is not the "quality" of your confession, but the enormity of the absolution. This is the real treasure: the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ pronounced to you beyond a shadow of a doubt.

In the upcoming book Faith That Sees Through The Culture one of the most important stories in the book is about my personal discovery -- beyond academic knowledge -- side-by-side a sister in Christ that I served at my first parish. She granted her permission for me to use her real identity in the book. LC-MS Deaconess (retired) Patty Kristofic permitted me to the great honor and privilege of serving her with this gift. What I witnessed in her was transformative. The Lord worked through my sister to teach me the importance of this gift. I have not stopped using it sense, both for myself and for others. I take this opportunity to thank my Father Confessors over the years: Rev. Timothy Seals, Rev. Dr. Scott Murray, and Rev. Robert Dargatz. Pastor Seals served me during my first stint in Southern Cal, Pastor Murray served me while I was in Texas; and Pastor Dargatz serves me now. I thank God for these men.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Enabled to Walk by Faith on Account of God's Mercy in Christ!

What sustains our living faith as we interact with and journey through the culture? Yes, it is the Word of Christ and His blessed Sacraments, but for what reason are these guaranteed? For what cause are these even available? It is on account of the LORD's mercy. In 2016 the book "The Mercy of God in the Cross of Christ: Essays On Mercy In Honor Of Glenn Merritt" was released by The Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod. My essay in this book is "God's Nature as Merciful God."

The book is edited by Rev. Dr. Ross Edward Johnson and Rev. Dr. John T. Pless. Pastor Ross Johnson is a church son of Saint Paul's Lutheran Church (formerly of Laguna Beach) and now in Irvine. I had the distinct honor and privilege of catechizing and confirming Pastor Johnson who is now the Director of LC-MS Disaster Response.