More Seeds of Discord

Quoted from LW 27:36-37:

The entire epistle gives ample evidence of how disappointed Paul was over the fall of the Galatians and of how often he pounded at them — now with reproof, now with appeals — about the very great and inestimable evils that would follow their fall unless they reconsidered. This care and admonition, so fatherly and truly apostolic, had no effect at all on some of them; for very many of them no longer acknowledged Paul as their teacher but vastly preferred the false apostles, from whom they imagined that they had derived true doctrine rather than from Paul. Finally the false apostles undoubtedly slandered Paul among the Galatians in this way: Paul, they said, was a stubborn and quarrelsome man, who was shattering the harmony among the churches on account of some trifle, for no other reason than because he alone wanted to be right and to be praised. With this false accusation they made Paul detestable in the eyes of many. Others, who had not yet fallen completely away from Paul’s teaching, imagined that there was no harm in disagreeing a little with him on the doctrines of justification and faith. Accordingly, when they heard Paul placing such great emphasis on what seemed to them a matter of such minor importance, they were amazed and thought: “Granted that we have diverged somewhat from Paul’s teaching and that there is some fault on our side, still it is a minor matter. Therefore he should overlook it or at least not place such great emphasis on it. Otherwise he could shatter the harmony among the churches with this unimportant issue.”

If Luther’s description of the situation is correct, would you have allowed Paul to remain an apostle in your church? Hard to say, unless you’ve lived through a similar situation, in which a conscientious teacher of God’s Word is slandered in such a way. It would seem that breaking fellowship with Paul would be a worse evil than enduring the strife that resulted from his “stubborn and quarrelsome” nature. Luther continues:

Paul answers them with this excellent proverbial statement: “A little yeast leavens the whole lump.” This is a caution which Paul emphasizes. We, too, should emphasize it in our time. For the sectarians who deny the bodily presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper accuse us today of being quarrelsome, harsh, and intractable, because, as they say, we shatter love and harmony among the churches on account of the single doctrine about the Sacrament. They say that we should not make so much of this little doctrine, which is not a sure thing anyway and was not specified in sufficient detail by the apostles, that solely on its account we refuse to pay attention to the sum total of Christian doctrine and to general harmony among all the churches. This is especially so because they agree with us on other articles of Christian doctrine. With this very plausible argument they not only make us unpopular among their own followers; but they even subvert many good men, who suppose that we disagree with them because of sheer stubbornness or some other personal feeling. But these are tricks of the devil, by which he is trying to overthrow not only this article of faith but all Christian doctrine.

The controversy over the sacrament is appropriate to consider. It serves as a good basis for comparison and contrast with more recent controversies, in which similar complaints have been made about “insufficient detail” in holy scripture to warrant such “sheer stubbornness.”

In hindsight, we know that the chief question in that controversy was “What does the pastor distribute and the communicants receive in the Sacrament of the Altar?” The sectarians denied “the bodily presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper,” while the Lutherans insisted upon it. Is it true that scripture provides “insufficient detail” to settle that controversy? Not at all, for how could Jesus have answered the question more simply and plainly? “This is My body.”

Granted, not every theological question will have such a simple and plain answer in holy scripture. However, that does not mean that scripture will settle every controverted point. This shows that the theological questions we ask are just as important as the answers we give. For example, there are miles of difference between asking, “What is the office of the ministry of the Gospel?” and asking, “What do we mean by the term ‘office of the ministry’ in relation to the Gospel?” One answer will not be found in scripture. The other might, but the question still suffers from inexactness that will inevitably show up in the answer. Hence, the PMW and its tragic controversy. Some understood the question one way, others understood it another way, while a growing number understand it both ways simultaneously.

Remember doublethink? This is similar. But instead of holding two mutually contradictory propositions to be true (something akin to the Lutheran principle of living with the tension of apparent theological contradictions in scripture), this holds two mutually contrasting senses of an expression to be valid usage, each in its proper context. Its weakness is that the “sense” of an expression is not a matter of doctrine at all, but a matter of the ephemeral usage of language. However, it may be the best hope for the ELS to arrive at some kind of unified confession with regard to the PMW.

Final word from Luther:

To this argument of theirs we reply with Paul: “A little yeast leavens the whole lump.” In philosophy a tiny error in the beginning is very great at the end. This in theology a tiny error overthrows the whole teaching. Therefore doctrine and life should be distinguished as sharply as possible. Doctrine belongs to God, not to us; and we are called only as its ministers. Therefore we cannot give up or change even one dot of it (Matt. 5:18). Life belongs to us; therefore when it comes to this, there is nothing that the Sacramentarians can demand of us that we are not willing and obliged to undertake, condone, and tolerate, with the exception of doctrine and faith, about which we always say what Paul says: “A little yeast, etc.” On this score we cannot yield even a hairbreadth. For doctrine is like a mathematical point. Therefore it cannot be divided; that is, it cannot stand either subtraction or addition. On the other hand, life is like a physical point. Therefore it can always be divided and can always yield something.

Is the sense we impart to the words “This is my body” a matter of doctrine, or of life?

Is the sense we impart to the words “The office of the public ministry of the word” a matter of doctrine, or of life?

In one case, they are the words of holy scripture. In the other, they are not. What difference does that make? I may answer this question in a subsequent post, if it is not answered earlier in a comment.

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

Blogs and Allegiances

The Church is not a business, though some aspects of business experience are helpful when managing earthly aspects of the Church.

Because of that, a Christian congregation is also not a business. Likewise, a synod or larger church body is not a business.

The business world is a bit like the military world. Decisions are made by a few, and everyone else has to follow them. Dissent is not tolerated. The leader(s) determine the principles of the organization, and anyone who contradicts them is terminated or disciplined.

This has been extended to publications. If an employee writes a book or blog that somehow comes against the principles or interests of his company, then he is in trouble. His allegiance, even in his privately published writings, is to his company. Personally, I think some companies have taken this way too far, but it’s a free country. They have the right to be wrong, just like the rest of us.

In the Church, our primary allegiance is not to our own congregation, nor to our synod, per se. That would be a kind of idolatry. It would be denominationalism, like backing the Red Sox only because you live near Boston, rather than because they have any particular virtue or skill. Applied to baseball, that approach is fine. Applied to churches, it’s wrong. Some churches and synods are more virtuous than others, because they hold to the Word of God in doctrine and practice better than others.

Continue reading “Blogs and Allegiances”

Happy Birthday, United States of America

May you honor your fathers and their wisdom, that you may live long in the land where God has established you.


The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Copyrights on Church-related Works

While I was on vacation, there was a lively little comment discussion at Cyberbrethren about copyright laws. Since the comment period is ended, and since I have my own blog, I’ll add my two cents here.

Pastor McCain and those who left comments expressed one important purpose for copyright laws, and the reason we ought to abide by them. That is, the people who produce works under copyright should be certain that they will receive fair compensation for their efforts. Our society benefits as a whole by their work, so it is in our collective interest to assure creative people that their time and energies will support them and their families.

However, there is another, equally important element in the concept of copyrights. This element was largely left out of the discussion at Cyberbrethren, possibly because it does not apply to the immediate issue of contemporary works from CPH. Yet I think it does apply. The other important element is this: copyrights expire.

The expiration of copyrights is not an afterthought, but an essential part of the way they benefit society. You see, if they did not expire, then society would forever have to pay a premium to benefit from the copywritten works. How would you like to pay $35 today for every copy of Hamlet you might need to use? Or how about $3 per individual license of the lyrics to A Mighty Fortress? But thankfully, Hamlet is now in the public domain, like the Triglotta. Some day, Concordia will also be in the public domain. At that time, its benefits to our society will continue, possibly even increasing due to its expanded availability.

A copyright may be used by those who hold it for more than producing a monetary income. It may also be used to ensure that the copywritten work and its derivative works continue to be available for use by the public as long as the copyright remains in effect. For example, see Copyleft. This is a good thing, which is not to say that the traditional use of copyrights is necessarily a bad thing.

Blurb on the Council of Nicea

There’s a reasonably good summary on the Council of Nicea at LiveScience. The writer shows small appreciation for the implications of Arianism’s divergence from orthodoxy, but in such a short piece, there’s hardly room for all that anyway. The bit about the Son being of the same substance doesn’t really do justice to the earlier part of the Nicene Creed’s second article: “…God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God; begotten, not made…”

It is worth noting that from a secular-historical point of view, Arians were Christians, and thus the Christian Church at the time was possibly more Arian than orthodox, if counted democratically. From a theological point of view, however, Christians are defined by doctrine, not by labels alone. This might be hard for some of our contemporaries to grasp, but it has been the Christian approach from the Beginning. Therefore, the Arians were not Christians, just as their present-day counterparts (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and the like) are not Christians.

Two Years and Counting: Lessons (Re-)Learned

So it’s been two years since the Plucked Chicken hatched. Here are a few things I’ve learned, especially from readers of the PC with their reactions and responses.

  • Covering a wider spectrum of topics attracts more visitors. So if I could only make the time for posting on more of the things and thoughts that happen each day, the PC might be read more than it is.

  • Persistence helps, but logic does not always prevail. You might think it should, but remember, we’re dealing with human beings here.

  • People will respect others for sticking to their principles, but it can take a long time before they recognize it. In the meantime, things can be unpleasant.

  • You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Other things can draw flies too.

  • The quick and practical way is politics. That is the dark side. Matters of truth and virtue are sometimes impractical, but that does not mean they are bad.

  • There is a difference (though it is hard to express) between merely sticking to one’s principles and also publicly advocating them. The latter is risky for everyone, because Christians are sinners, too. However, God would have us take such risks, so that His Word may prevail.

  • People who leave comments don’t necessarily want a response to their comments. They may especially not want a response when I take issue with something they’ve written. I would encourage them to respond at length on their own blog. Really.

  • When someone happens to write what others are thinking, the others are thankful and supportive. That does not mean they are ready to write publicly too.

  • A lone voice in the wilderness is much better than no voice at all.

  • An effective way to prevail over a lone voice in the wilderness is to ignore it. However, those with truth and virtue on their side do not need such a strategy.

Can you think of other lessons learned these last years? Do you think I’m full of something here? Do you want to suggest other possible topics? Feel free to contribute your thoughts.

“Authentic” Worship

Just last night, I was reading a book recommended by dear members of one of the churches where I serve. It comes from the Evangelical tradition, written by a highly influential minister that I’ve been mostly unfamiliar with. I haven’t avoided his work purposely; I just don’t enjoy listening to Evangelical sermons on the radio, watching them on television, or (usually) reading their materials. Part of my problem is that I have a considerable library of excellent theological writing that I still need to read through for the first time — including Luther’s Works.

Because of the recommendation, I began reading this book last night and found it rather easy to read. Most of what is written there so far is edifying. My only criticism is that the author seems to have little appreciation that our Christian growth and identity are rooted in Law and Gospel, the basic messages of holy scripture through which God acts upon us. Instead, he (so far) has expressed that our experience as Christians in cognitive contact with the events of Jesus’ life is what provides our growth in the faith.

One thing gave me pause, since I had never noticed its use before. The author described the worship of his congregation as “authentic.” On the surface, it meant little to me. Then I wondered what the alternative would be. Inauthentic, false worship? Still, it made little sense, because I could only think of false worship as that which focuses upon false gods. On the other hand, the Bible is replete with examples of people who want to worship and express their spirituality in a way of their own choosing instead of God’s way. Could the author simply mean that his church worships as God has directed in Holy Scripture, instead of incorporating the spontaneity that characterized the Israelites’ decision to bow down before a golden calf, or the independence that characterized the sin of Jeroboam? I was skeptical.

By a happy coincidence (if there is such a thing), Gene Edward Veith calls attention today to an article in Touchstone by Michael Horton, which sheds light on the term “authentic worship.” “Authentic” is paired with “spontaneous” and contrasted with “predictable and disciplined.” In other words, it’s pretty much the opposite of worship in the churches I serve, where the attendees always know what sort of things will happen before they arrive. Yet I still wonder if the author of this book and I are still understanding his expression in the same way. Is his “authentic” worship also predictable and disciplined? Is it spontaneous? I wonder.

The Horton article contains a lot of other food for thought. Since he is a bit closer to the Evangelical world from which this book comes, I’m inclined to believe that he understands its language better than I do.