Think much about death?

This may be a topic only for “dark Lutherans,” but if you’re not, you might still benefit from a little cogitation. If you never really think about death, can you ever really think about life?

We distinguish three kinds of death that the Bible mentions: temporal, eternal, and spiritual. We often generalize by saying that the fruit of sin is death, pure and simple. That remains true, but we can carry the distinction between the types of death a bit farther.

Continue reading “Think much about death?”

Birds of a Feather

It’s likely that many already know about these other ovarian species. First, there is the web site for the now-dormant print periodical The Motley Magpie. Also, another entertaining site was just brought to my attention. It may not have the same substance of the Magpie, but it’s fun! See Lark News.

It seems that someone should be able to use the Magpie’s online presence more actively. If not the original flock of Magpies, maybe a new one? I miss that old bird.

He is Risen!

The resurrection of Christ proves three things:

  1. Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God, as He said.

  2. Our sins are truly forgiven before God in heaven.

  3. We also will rise from the dead to everlasting life.

Some may wonder if the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is credible. The answer is a resounding yes. If you believe anything written from ages past, it only makes sense to believe that Jesus truly rose from the dead. Have a look at this classic. (You can also find this book online.)

A Lutheran Synod and How It May Act

As far as I know, only Lutherans use the word “synod” to describe their larger church bodies.
It seems likely that this includes only English-speaking Lutherans. So I will take this opportunity to describe what I mean by the word. I think that most of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod would agree with me.

A synod is a collection of churches. If it had no churches, but only Christian day schools, it would not be a synod. If it had no churches, but only exploratory missions, it would not be a synod. A synod is a collection of churches.

Furthermore, churches become part of a synod voluntarily. No church can be forced to join a synod. Three factors determine whether a congregation will be part of a given synod:

  1. Whether the doctrine of the synod is the same as the doctrine of the church. This is the basis for membership in a synod.
  2. Whether the purpose of the synod is compatible with the congregation.
  3. Whether the culture of the synod is compatible with the congregation.

Churches belong to no more than one synod, though they might recognize a bond of fellowship with churches of other synods. So if a congregation already belongs to one synod, it will not join another without leaving the first.

When a synod acts, it does so as a cooperative collection of churches. It has no existence beyond its member churches. Acting together, the churches can support schools and missions. The synod can research and declare formal relationships with other synods. It can issue statements in response to events or needs. It can provide assistance to congregations and people. But the purpose of a synod is really an extension of the purpose of its churches, so all of its activities should be directed toward the tasks that God has given Christians to carry out together. The most fundamental purpose and use of a synod is therefore to provide ministers for its churches who will preach and teach God’s Word and administer the sacraments.

God did not say anywhere that we should have synods, but He did say that Christians should assemble to hear His Word (1 Cor. 14:26, Heb. 10:24-25) and to receive His sacraments (especially the Lord’s Supper — “do this in remembrance of Me.”). Such a regular assembly has the essence of a Christian congregation, so it is safe to say that God wants us to have congregations. He does not say that we should have synods or that we should not have synods.

Congregations have the freedom to make synods, but it is not a requirement. So a church does not sin when it leaves a synod, nor when it declines to join one. Likewise, a minister has the freedom to join a synod, and to remain a member, or not. For its part, a synod has the freedom to determine the particular grounds for membership. It can not tell its churches or ministers what to do, but it can remove them from its membership when the basis for membership has been destroyed. A synod’s role in the business of its churches and ministers is merely advisory.

When is the basis for membership in a synod destroyed? When the doctrine that is persistently taught or accepted by the synod contradicts the doctrine persistently taught or accepted by a member congregation. This leaves room for temporary errors, admonishments, and corrections on both sides, but not for permanent contradictions. It is assumed that any human being except Christ himself, and any human organization is subject to errors and mistakes (Psalm 19:12).

The interesting thing about a synod is that it fully exists only when its member churches are actively collaborating. So in the ELS, we have annual conventions of delegates from every congregation to carry out the business of the synod and decide all matters of importance. This convention must follow the rules that define the synod (that is, the articles of incorporation), but in every other respect, it is the highest human authority in the synod. It is the convention that defines the constitution of the synod, and alters it when appropriate. It is the convention that defines offices and chooses individuals to carry out its will between conventions. It is the convention that reviews the performance of its standing officers and organizations, and makes corrections when needed. The synod convention follows its own rules, but can also change any of them except the particular rules that define the synod (that is, the articles of incorporation).

So if the synod in convention takes special interest in a matter that is being handled another way according to its rules, there is nothing to prevent the synod convention from bypassing those rules and handling the matter directly. In some cases, this may even be preferable because of the urgency or expediency involved. It seems likely that this should apply in this case.

I look forward to any comments, corrections, or corroborations that might be offered to this posting.

The ELS Ministry Controversy

Like other Lutheran church organizations, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod has been embroiled in controversy about the doctrine of the ministry. An attempt to summarize this controversy, and an archive of important documents, has begun at Already, quite a bit of material has been gathered. Those who wish to learn about the controversy should be careful to give all sides a fair hearing before reaching any conclusions.

The Definition of Heresy

Heresy or heterodoxy is the persistent teaching of false doctrine. The Bible determines what doctrines are false. This may seem dangerous to some, because they think that the Bible is open to many conflicting interpretations. Such opinions have existed for many centuries. They are nothing new. They are still wrong. The Bible interprets itself.

True, the Bible does not address some things. Which gasoline should you put in your car, which soft drink should you have for lunch —| these questions do not concern the Bible, unless you intend to harm somebody with your gasoline or steal your soft drink. We can safely decide such questions on our own.

But where the Bible does have something for us to learn, it is possible that we might contradict it. Such contradictions happen all the time. We all make errors, because we are not divine (as the saying goes anyway). If our error is teaching false doctrine, and we insist on continuing to do so in the face of the Bible’s clear correction, we have become “heretics,” or false teachers.

All of this was taught at Northwestern College, a school you will no longer find in Watertown, Wisconsin.

There is another kind of heretic, though it is not recognized by God in the Bible. Instead, it is increasingly recognized by various leaders of church and para-church organizations. If you state, … No let me rephrase that. If you merely imply that the organization has made a doctrinal error, and you fail to backtrack and correct yourself once the implication is noticed, then you have found the alternate path to heresy.

OK, so that alternate path does not really exist. Then why are there such debates over whether someone has or has not charged a particular organization with false doctrine? Why such disbelief when someone points out an error, whilst giving assurances that no charges are being made? It’s as though the organization has a self-preservation reflex. I should point out that such things have been noted before, about 500 or so years ago.

It seems to me that if an organization were quietly to become heterodox, it would never admit it. It probably would not even realize it. Rather, it would act in precisely the way previously described: defending its reputation on the basis that it simply can’t make mistakes, because it’s “orthodox.” Heresy would no longer be a contradiction of the Bible, but a contradiction of the organization. The issue, then, is not “What have you said that is wrong,” but “What have you said that might impugn us.”

Just some food for thought. I’m not naming any names here, or implying anything. Use at your own risk.

Echoes of Babel

When there is a controversy between opposing points of expression, it seems that much of the problem comes from the variety of meanings that the participants give to the same terms. In order for us to communicate, we must have a common language. By that I don’t mean English vs. German vs. Japanese, but an even finer distinction. We must be certain that we are understanding one another the same way. Without that certainty, the controversy can’t really be ended. Therefore it’s always worthwhile to spend enormous energy and time to come to a common understanding of our terms and expressions. If that can be achieved, then the controversy should be easily ended. It is not an easy achievement, and we are tempted to try to “fix” the controversy before the common understanding exists. This may appear to work sometimes, but in reality it either postpones the argument until some future rupture occurs, or it truly fixes the controversy, i.e. makes it a seemingly permanent fixture that can never be resolved. Now, let’s see what we can do about those big-endians.

Children of Christian Households Who Die in the Womb

Nobody can say that I avoid tough topics.

So, what happens to such children? This question is one that many Christian parents must face at some point.

We know that everyone is conceived and born already guilty before God (Psalm 51:5). Therefore, even the unborn must be saved through the forgiveness of sins that is only found in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). In the case of infants, God alone can detect whether they have faith in Jesus, because we humans rely upon the the outward confession of faith. We can’t see into someone’s heart, even the heart of an infant. How can we be sure that any infant is saved? We know that faith is required, and works do not avail (Romans 11:6, Ephesians 2:8-9). Since works are excluded, but faith is required, it follows naturally that faith is not a work. It is a gift from God.

How does God provide this gift of faith? Through God’s Word of forgiveness (Romans 1:16) and through Baptism, which is a special application of that Word (Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38-39). It may seem that the Word must be cognitively understood in order to be effective. That seems reasonable, but it’s not necessarily true. In fact, it’s quite likely that the Word has power to create faith in infants who do not yet speak (Luke 18:15-17, Isaiah 55:11). Furthermore, there is no reason to suppose that God cannot grant the gift of faith through Baptism to little infants. So we can be sure that infants who have been baptized into Christ and who hear the Gospel are saved through faith in Christ.

What about the unborn? We should note that the unborn can detect sounds from outside the womb, and it is possible that they attach some significance to what they hear (Luke 1:44). This would be especially true in the case of God’s Word, since it has an efficacy of its own from the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, there is a parallel between Old Testament circumcision (the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants) and New Testament baptism (the seal of God’s gracious adoption in Jesus Christ) — see Colossians 2:11-12. Only the baby boys underwent circumcision, not the baby girls. Yet the Hebrew women and girls were also included in the covenant of which circumcision was a sign. They were included not by the act of circumcision itself, but through their connection to the family where the covenant is believed. The outward sign of that faith (and the promise too) was the circumcision of the boys (Romans 4:9-12).

Today, in the time of the New Testament, we have been given the sacrament of baptism, which provides rebirth, forgiveness of sins, and the righteousness of Jesus Christ by connecting the baptized sinner to Him (Matthew 3:15, Mark 1:4, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27, Titus 3:5-7). When a baby is born who may not survive very long, Christians will baptize the baby immediately, to be sure that God’s precious gift has been provided. When a baby dies in the womb, that is not possible. What are Christian parents to think of this?

We are to remember that God is gracious and merciful. His promise to you is certain, sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Our times are in His hands, and it was His wisdom that allowed the unborn child to die in the womb. He knows that you planned to baptize the child and bring him to receive the precious Gospel on a regular basis. You probably brought the child to hear the Word already, even while he was living. It is certain that our loving God has provided what was necessary for His little one to be saved.

This comfort can not be given to parents who treat salvation and God’s Word so lightly that they did not plan to baptize their child, and intentionally stayed away from the preaching of the Gospel. Such a family would be like the unbelieving Philistines of the Old Testament: outside the covenant that God made with Abraham. But a family of faith, that esteems the Word of God and His gift of baptism highly, can be sure that God’s mercy in Christ Jesus can not fail.

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.