A Provocative and True Quote

Yes, it’s been a while. Those who know me well can verify that I usually talk when I have something to say. The same goes for blogging. What’s been going on? Well, a visit to the doctor this summer resulted in the very good advice that I should have a drink immediately before the first service Sunday morning. No, not that kind of drink. Something like Gatorade, preferably. Worked like a charm. No, charms don’t really work. It worked better than a charm.

We also had a family vacation in September, and I was happy to take another course at Front Sight. Looking forward to taking it again. They are challenging, and the best way to learn how to prepare for one is to take it first. You should be able to find prior posts here about Front Sight, if you’re interested.

Anyway, here’s the timeless quote. It’s worth a ponder. It’s attributed to Winston Churchill.

“If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”

So then, what is the “right” today? What’s worth fighting for, with or without bloodshed?

Chesterton: A Thinking, Christian Citizen

Part of a Christian’s duty on earth is to uphold his government by encouraging justice, the rule of law in civil society, and the protection of his fellow citizens from evildoers both inside and outside his nation. To that end, God has provided individual gifts like memory, reason, and strength. The Christian worldview is fully compatible with the right use of reason, and even demands that use when circumstances make it necessary. Here is an example.

Eugenics is an old name for the “applied science” of influencing the human gene pool for the benefit of the future human race. It was quite popular in some circles toward the beginning of the 20th Century. Well-known advocates were Adolph Hitler and Margaret Sanger. (In case you don’t know, Margaret Sanger is the founder of Planned Parenthood, a leader in the abortions-for-profit industry.)

G. K. Chesterton wrote a book against Eugenics, which I found available in audio as a Librivox recording. (BTW, the listing I browsed placed the Communist Manifesto just after Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. There’s a contrast for you.) What Chesterton wrote is well worth reading. You may think that Eugenics is no longer an issue in the 21st Century. If so, then find a copy of the movie Gattaca and watch it. In fact, what Chesterton wrote is also quite applicable to today’s public discourse about government and its role in providing health insurance for citizens. You can find the whole book at Project Gutenberg.

Here is Chesterton’s note to the reader.

I publish these essays at the present time for a particular reason connected with the present situation; a reason which I should like briefly to emphasise and make clear.

Though most of the conclusions, especially towards the end, are conceived with reference to recent events, the actual bulk of preliminary notes about the science of Eugenics were written before the war. It was a time when this theme was the topic of the hour; when eugenic babies (not visibly very distinguishable from other babies) sprawled all over the illustrated papers; when the evolutionary fancy of Nietzsche was the new cry among the intellectuals; and when Mr. Bernard Shaw and others were considering the idea that to breed a man like a cart-horse was the true way to attain that higher civilisation, of intellectual magnanimity and sympathetic insight, which may be found in cart-horses. It may therefore appear that I took the opinion too controversially, and it seems to me that I sometimes took it too seriously. But the criticism of Eugenics soon expanded of itself into a more general criticism of a modern craze for scientific officialism and strict social organisation.

And then the hour came when I felt, not without relief, that I might well fling all my notes into the fire. The fire was a very big one, and was burning up bigger things than such pedantic quackeries. And, anyhow, the issue itself was being settled in a very different style. Scientific officialism and organisation in the State which had specialised in them, had gone to war with the older culture of Christendom. Either Prussianism would win and the protest would be hopeless, or Prussianism would lose and the protest would be needless. As the war advanced from poison gas to piracy against neutrals, it grew more and more plain that the scientifically organised State was not increasing in popularity. Whatever happened, no Englishmen would ever again go nosing round the stinks of that low laboratory. So I thought all I had written irrelevant, and put it out of my mind.

I am greatly grieved to say that it is not irrelevant. It has gradually grown apparent, to my astounded gaze, that the ruling classes in England are still proceeding on the assumption that Prussia is a pattern for the whole world. If parts of my book are nearly nine years old, most of their principles and proceedings are a great deal older. They can offer us nothing but the same stuffy science, the same bullying bureaucracy and the same terrorism by tenth-rate professors that have led the German Empire to its recent conspicuous triumph. For that reason, three years after the war with Prussia, I collect and publish these papers.


Below is his first not-so-long chapter, answering the question, “What is Eugenics?”

Continue reading “Chesterton: A Thinking, Christian Citizen”

For Whom Is that Church Bell Tolling?

This Wikipedia article on the ringing and tolling of church bells says:

Ringing them occurs in three basic ways: normal ringing, chiming, or tolling. Normal ringing refers to the ringing of a bell or bells at a rate of about one ring per second or more, often in pairs reflecting the traditional “ding-dong” sound of a bell which is rotated back and forth, ringing once in each direction. “Chiming” a bell refers to a single ring, used to mark the naming of a person when they are baptized, confirmed, or at other times. Many Lutheran churches chime the bell three times as the congregation speaks the Lord’s Prayer, once at the beginning, once near the middle, and once at the “Amen”. “Tolling” a bell refers to the slow ringing of a bell, perhaps once every four to ten seconds. It is this type of ringing that is most often associated with a death, the slow pace broadcasting a feeling of sadness as opposed to the jubilance and liveliness of quicker ringing.

Customs vary regarding when and for how long the bell tolls at a funeral. One custom observed in some liturgical churches is to toll the bell once for each year of the life of the deceased. Another way to tell the age of the deceased is by tolling the bell in a pattern. For example if the deceased was 75 years old, the bell is tolled seven times for seventy, and then after a pause it is tolled five more times to show the five.

At Concordia Lutheran Church in Hood River, the bell is rung before church every Sunday, but we do not observe the custom of chiming. On the other hand, we do toll for funerals and on Good Friday. Those who can recognize a tolling bell might easily wonder who has died: “For whom is that bell tolling?”

A tolling bell is only one example of the way a church bell communicates to the community. I realize that some community members may think a church bell to be a nuisance, because they would rather continue sleeping (or whatever they are doing) unmolested. Yet the very purpose of having a church bell is to help rouse our earthly neighbors from their slumber of doubt and unbelief to find the immortality that God has prepared for them through Jesus Christ alone. Many of them should find it a nuisance, since they do not wish to have any reminders of their sins and mortality.

Since the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary included the hymn “Wilt Thou Forgive that Sin,” a poem by John Donne, I have been more interested in Donne’s works. I find them devotional and provocative in the best possible way. Today, a passing reference on Cyberbrethren reminded me of a certain test-taking time in college, and connected it with John Donne. I had taken my seat, expecting a rigorous test, and the bell rang as the professor began passing it out. I said something about the bell tolling, and he said (as if quoting): “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” Ominous, if you understand the whole tolling thing.

A little digging on this wonderful Internet has turned up a fuller context of that quote. It’s not really from a poem, though some consider it so. Rather, it’s from a meditation by John Donne, in which he would have the reader consider his connection with all of Christendom in the body of Christ. Every time the church bell tolls, it marks the passage of one of our members into eternity, and so every toll is personally relevant to each Christian. In a similar way, every human being is connected with every other, so that we should recognize that the humanity we share with those who die means that we also participate somehow in all those deaths.

Another point of interest about this meditation is Donne’s now-familiar statement “No man is an island.” It’s good finally to know the original context of those words, and see how the author put the metaphor to a salutary use.

Here is the text of the meditation:

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

A Hymn in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary

This short hymn is a poem by John Donne. The hymn is absolutely beautiful, and perfect for Lent.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which is my sin though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive those sins in which I run,
and do run still though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin in which I won
Others to sin and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear that when I’ve spun
My last thread I shall perish on that shore.
Swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore.
And having done that, Thou hast done.
I fear no more.

Christian Doctrine Vs. Class Warfare

No godly person believes that the position of a magistrate is better in the sight of God than that of a subject, for he knows that both are divine institutions and have a divine command behind them. He will not distinguish between thet position or work of a father and that of a son, or between that of a teacher and that of a pupil, or between that of a master and that of a servant; but he will declare it as certain that both are pleasing to God if they are done in faith and in obedience to God. In the eyes of the world, of course, these ways of life and their positions are unequal; but this outward inequality does not in any way hinder the unity of spirit, in which they all think and believe the same thing about Christ, namely, that through Him alone we obtain the forgiveness of sins and righteousness. As for outward behavior and position in the world, one person does not judge another or criticize his works or praise his own, even if they are superior; but with one set of lips and one spirit they confess that they have one and the same Savior, Christ, before whom there is no partiality toward either persons or works (Rom. 2:11).

Martin Luther, 1535 Lectures on Galatians (LW 27:61)


… Thus whenever Paul writes to Christians, he calls them saints, sons and heirs of God, etc. Therefore saints are all those who believe in Christ, whether men or women, whether slaves or free. And they are saints, on the basis, not of their own works but of the works of God, which they accept by faith, such as the Word, the sacraments, the suffering, death, resurrection, and victory of Christ, the sending of the Holy Spirit, etc. In other words, they are saints, not by active holiness but by passive holiness.

Such genuine saints include ministers of the Word, political magistrates, parents, children, masters, servants, etc., if they, first of all, declare that Christ is their wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30), and if, in the second place, they all do their duty in their callings on the basis of the command of the Word of God, abstaining from the desires and vices of the flesh for the sake of Christ. They are not all of equal firmness of character, and many weaknesses and offenses are discernible in every one of them; it is also true that many of them fall into sin. But this does not hinder their holiness at all, so long as they sin out of weakness, not out of deliberate wickedness. For, as I have already said several times, the godly are conscious of the desires of the flesh; but they resist them and do not gratify them. When they fall into sin unexpectedly, they obtain forgiveness, if by faith they return to Christ, who does not want us to chase away the lost sheep but to look for it. On no account, therefore, am I to jump to the conclusion that those who are weak in faith or morals are unholy, when I see that they love and revere the Word, receive the Lord’s Supper, etc.; for God has received them and regards them as righteous through the forgiveness of sins. It is before Him that they stand or fall (Rom. 14:4).

Luther’s 1535 Galatians Commentary

LW, AE vol. 27, p. 82

The struggle between spirit and flesh

… Yet God does not impute this sin, for He is gracious for the sake of Christ. It does not follow from this, however, that you should minimize sin or think of it as something trivial because God does not impute it. It is true that He does not impute it, but to whom and on what account? Not to the hardhearted and smug but to those who repent and who by faith take hold of Christ the Propitiator, on whose account sins are forgiven them and the remnants of sin are not imputed to them. Such people do not minimize sin; they emphasize it, because they know that it cannot be washed away by any satisfactions, works, or righteousness, but only by the death of Christ. Yet they do not despair because of its size but are persuaded that it is forgiven on account of Christ.

I say this to keep anyone from supposing that once faith has been accepted, sin should not be emphasized. Sin is really sin, regardless of whether you commit it before or after you have come to know Christ. And God hates the sin; in fact, so far as the substance of the deed is concerned, every sin is mortal. It is not mortal for the believer; but this is on account of Christ the Propitiator, who expiated it by His death. As for the person who does not believe in Christ, not only are all his sins mortal, but even his good works are sins, in accordance with the statement (Rom. 14:23): “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” …

Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, 1535

Quoted from Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 27, p. 75-76

It was a beginning.

The Plucked Chicken is a blog written by a Confessional Lutheran who happens to be a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It is a place to read some thoughts about Christian doctrine. That is, about the teachings of the Bible concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of every human being.

I intend to reflect upon events in the ELS, in my local congregation, in the news, and upon interesting things from my personal studies. Your responses are welcome. Corrections are expected.

What is a confessional Lutheran? It’s not a Lutheran who has given up everything Roman Catholic except the confessional. The fact is, there is more good in the Roman Catholic Church than the confessional. Of course, even the confessional would need some paleoevangelical repristination. But I digress.

A confessional Lutheran is a Lutheran whose faith is confessed in word and deed, but particularly in the Lutheran Confessions. Not every Lutheran is a Confessional Lutheran. Some are merely social Lutherans, Lutherans of Convenience, Denominational Lutherans, Conservative Lutherans, Liberal Lutherans, or some other kind. A Confessional Lutheran equates Lutheranism with the doctrine of Martin Luther and the other writers of the Lutheran Confessions. This doctrine is important because it’s not really theirs, or mine. It belongs originally to God the Father, and to Jesus Christ, whom He sent to teach it. This is found in John 7 and 8. (The end of John 8 is the Gospel lesson for tommorrow, if your church is observing Judica, the 5th Sunday in Lent.)

More on that later.

You may wonder about the name of this blog: The Plucked Chicken. In 1918, at the organizational synod meeting of the ELS at Lime Creek in Iowa, one of the prominent visitors from the Merger (outside the synod) remarked disparagingly that the new church body seemed like a plucked chicken. You see, the ELS was formed from a tiny, numerically inconsequential minority of pastors and churches that refused to join that Merger of Norwegian Lutheran church bodies in America. Apparently a layman attending the meeting heard the remark and replied, “But if the chicken is healthy, it will grow feathers again.” (See Built on the Rock ISBN 0-9262-4645-3X, p. 69.) That’s what has happened, with God’s blessing.

I pray that the chicken is and remains healthy, because if not, it can lose its feathers and much more. Maybe this blog will help ever so slightly to prevent that.

And so it begins.