Magic, Means, and Mystery

What is happening when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Is Jesus inviting us to His table, to dine upon food that He’s providing, or do we initiate the meal ourselves, retracing important events of that evening as a reminder to ourselves of what we intend to do? Are the powers involved in the Lord’s Supper comprehensible by the human mind, or are they beyond us? Who is really bringing the word to the element, and when does this happen?

A number of fellow ELS pastors and I have been troubled by certain practices and the underlying doctrine that we have observed among conservative Lutherans. Instead of arguing about what has been said or done, I’d like to have a discussion about the doctrine, as we find it originally in holy scripture and also in our Lutheran confessions.

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The author writes for Christians:

Let this be the first and most important point, that all our prayers must be based and rest upon obedience to God, regardless of who we are, whether we are sinners or saints, worthy or unworthy. We must know that God will not have our prayer treated as a joke. But He will be angry and punish all who do not pray, just as surely as He punishes all other disobedience. Furthermore, He will not allow our prayers to be in vain or lost. For if He did not intend to answer your prayer, He would not ask you to pray and add such a severe commandment to it.

In the second place, we should be more encouraged and moved to pray because God has also added a promise and declared that it shall surely be done for us as we pray. He says in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you.” And Christ says in the Gospel of St. Matthew, “Ask, and it will be given to you; … for everyone who asks receives” (7:7-8). Such promises certainly ought to encourage and kindle our hearts to pray with pleasure and delight. For He testifies with His own Word that our prayer is heartily pleasing to Him. Furthermore, it shall certainly be heard and granted, in order that we may not despise it or think lightly of it and pray based on chance.

You can raise this point with Him and say, “Here I come, dear Father, and pray, not because of my own purpose or because of my own worthiness. But I pray because of Your commandment and promise, which cannot fail or deceive me.” Whoever, therefore, does not believe this promise must note again that he outrages God like a person who thoroughly dishonors Him and accuses Him of falsehood.

Besides this, we should be moved and drawn to prayer. For in addition to this commandment and promise, God expects us and He Himself arranges the words and form of prayer for us. He places them on our lips for how and what we should pray, so that we may see how heartily He pities us in our distress, and we may never doubt that such prayer is pleasing to Him and shall certainly be answered. This <the Lord’s Prayer> is a great advantage indeed over all other prayers that we might compose ourselves. For in our own prayers the conscience would ever be in doubt and say, “I have prayed, but who knows if it pleases Him or whether I have hit upon the right proportions and form?” Therefore, there is no nobler prayer to be found upon the earth than the Lord’s Prayer. We pray it daily, because it has this excellent testimony, that God loves to hear it. We ought not to surrender this for all the riches in the world.

Large Catechism, part 3, Paragraphs 17-23

Quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions

What kind of worship do you prefer?

The Summer, 2007 REACH! newsletter for WELS youth workers says that the upcoming youth rally will offer “Open Space.” This will be a collection of topical discussions or presentations in “an informal/open format.” Sounds like a good idea. It then lists some questions that will serve as topics, with a bit of explanation for each. Here’s one.

What kind of worship do you prefer?

The results from the 2007 Survey of WELS Teens found 72% of the 421 respondents preferring public/group worship that was described in these two ways: a) creative worship using the hymnal along with a variety of other resources, led often by an organ but also regularly involving other instruments – 51%, and b) contemporary worship, informal, with nothing from the hymnal, with praise choruses and a praise band of various instruments – 21%. Only 12% preferred historic worship using only the orders of service and hymns from the hymnal, led by an organ. 16% were unsure.

If I had to answer this, I don’t know where our congregations’ current worship practice would fall. As I began reading it, I thought that option A described what we’re doing. Really. We’re open to church members who can contribute musically on their own instruments, though we haven’t recently seen enough interest from any musicians (besides myself) to make it happen. It does take a lot of preparatory work to play an instrument in church. Ask any organist. I can vouch that our worship is creative, because an awful lot of work goes into the preparations for all the various parts — many hours each week. Sometimes even the choir sings, which I think is creative, too. We also use a variety of resources besides the hymnal. One look at my own library will confirm this. Chief among our “other resources” is the Bible.

But then there’s the bit about “historic worship,” which also describes what we do. We almost always use the orders and hymns from the hymnal, and that means that every single service is unique in theme and form as we proceed through the year. Many of the differences are a matter of choice: we could do things a certain way, but we opt for another way. Variety and options abound. I don’t see “historic worship” working against creativity in the least, so I’m puzzled.

Maybe I missed the real meaning of option A. Is it really what Lost and Found describes in Opener?


That wasn’t my impression the first time I read A. Or, maybe “Creative” really means something more like “entertaining,” “amusing,” “diverting,” or “fun.” Or it could mean “spontaneous,” “unprompted,” or “impulsive.”

An important observation is the difference between Israel around the golden calf (“Is that the sound of battle?”) and Judah celebrating the Passover under King Josiah, about 8-900 years later. On the one hand, Israel impulsively does what seems right to man, and on the other hand, Judah pays close attention to observe exactly what God has provided, because therein lies His blessings. This was quite the Passover celebration. It was a universal sacred meal, recalling the time when God’s people were shielded from death by their communion in the body and blood of a lamb. Do we have any such thing today? We have something even better.

I think a great deal of creativity is appropriate for God’s people. King Josiah and his subjects took the initiative to do things in a way that God’s people had never done before: worship according to God’s Word, without any compromise.
But maybe I don’t really know what is meant by “creative.”

Or, maybe there’s something wrong with the way those three choices were described. So, I’d be glad to hear your thoughts. What kind of worship do you prefer?

DSL Update

I finally was able to contact our ISP about our personal Internet connection. It turns out that the local telco is locally upgrading its capabilities so that the “other” pair of wires that comes into the house will be usable.

In case you’ve never bothered to look, there are two pairs of wires in Plain Old Telephone Service. Phones only use one pair, and DSL has used the same pair by making use of such high frequencies that they don’t interfere with telephones. At least, they mostly don’t interfere.

Our ISP is now going to use the other pair of wires, so the DSL signal will be carried separately from the telephone signal. I’m a bit intrigued to see how well it works. The ISP is making appointments for on-site installs, probably to make sure that all the wires involved really have four conductors. A lot of telephone wiring has only two conductors, since that’s all that anyone’s needed for phone service. Most of our phone patch cables have only one pair.

Intermittent Connectivity

The Plucked Chicken is not professionally hosted, and relies upon our home DSL connection. It’s never been really fast DSL, but it’s been reasonably reliable. Most of the time. It seems now that our ISP is making some changes to their DSL setup in this area. I need to call them back to find out exactly what and schedule a time for them to stop by and update things. I’m guessing it’s a new DSL modem.

Anyway, since we received that message, our current DSL modem has been losing its DSL link intermittently. It actually requires a modem reboot for it to reacquire the link. So, if you can’t get to the Chicken at some point, don’t worry too much. I hope that things will return to normal next week.

It’s just possible that these changes will hamper my ability to host the Chicken. Many ISPs seem to push asynchronous bandwith with blocked ports, turning their customers from fully-fledged (no pun intended) Internet citizens into mere end-users or consumers of content, with no possibility of participating in the production of content (hosting web sites, etc.). I really hope that our ISP (Gorge Net) won’t try to herd us farther in that direction. We already have asynchronous bandwidth, and that’s not helping anything. If you find that the Chicken is down for an extended time, this too-common, misguided ISP philosophy may be the problem.

Do you fear tinkering with the PMW?

As it turns out, the two memorials sent in by Bethany and Concordia churches (both of which I serve) are half of the memorials scheduled to be considered by the 2007 convention! Wow. Maybe that means they’ll receive some serious consideration. I hope they do.

You may fear the effects of the longer memorial, because it calls for a change in the status of the PMW, as a step toward restoring a God-pleasing spirit to our doctrinal conversation. The change would “demote” the PMW from an adopted statement to a study document. You might fear that this would be the first step in dismissing the PMW altogether. That is not my intention, nor even a necessary outcome, in my opinion.

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Arizona State Credit Union (updated)

This may be a “news post” of some kind, but it’s of a specialized interest. I’d call it a caveat. In other words: Beware!

One of my sisters recently had a problem with Arizona State Credit Union. It was disappointing to hear about, especially considering my own good experience with University of Wisconsin Credit Union.

This is what happened, briefly. They charged her a total of between $200-300 dollars, claiming that she made some accounting mistake. It would be easy to do that, if you miss one deposit and have a whole raft of withdrawals that cut your balance close enough.

Anyway, she wasn’t convinced and checked their math. It was wrong. She went and explained it all, complete with paper documentation. Their explanation? The critical deposit in question, which made all the difference — they had put a “hold” on the deposit, so it wasn’t registered in the proper time frame. This, they said, wasn’t their fault.

Problem was, it was a cash deposit. As she told them, since when does anyone put a hold on a cash deposit? Something is rotten in the county of Maricopa. When asked what the next lame excuse would be, they simply said they didn’t really know what happened. And it still wasn’t their fault.

Now, an unjustified charge of $200-300 dollars would irritate me sorely. It’s what we call theft. Go ahead and look it up in your catechism. You’ll find it under the seventh commandment, unless you’re in a Reformed church. Then it’s probably the eighth. That’s not the sort of practice I look for in my financial institution. Even to contemplate doing this would be wrong — see the Ninth (aka Tenth) Commandment.

Will there be justice? I think we all begin to accept these situations after a while. Most of us are not really in a position to set things right. That’s why Solomon was appreciated: he was a just king. But for anyone in such a position to set things right, to turn a blind eye is to participate in the injustice. The Day is coming when those accounts will be settled forever.

Update on 5/13

The excuse about a hold on the critical deposit amounted to an uninformed guess from the customer service representative. That’s less than impressive by itself, but not necessarily malicious. I’ll take one of my “bad marks” away from ASCU. But they still keep a whole pile of other bad marks, since they have no explanation for their charges, and no willingness to acknowledge that their customer with supporting documentation could be right, after all.

Risk of Theocracy

Last week I was on my way to Portland, and settled on a talk radio station where the dominating theme is liberal politics. At one point, someone was ranting against the usual things, like “corporate” interests and the death of mother earth. Amongst all that, she said something that interested me. She said that people need to wake up and smell the risk of theocracy.

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