I purposely waited till after Easter to write this article. I always feel different, usually better, after Easter. This is how it should be. Easter made everything different. Open graves aren’t so scary. Jesus can be held on to now in Word and Sacraments. It’s no longer just for the privileged few who walked with Him on earth to grab hold of Jesus. A risen and ascended Jesus means He can be held on to by us all in Water, Words, Bread and Wine.
The glow of Easter is to be allowed to cast its light into all the areas of our life. It is to shed its light on not just personal events but world events. Our lives do not hang on what the government decides to do about immigration, what Iran decides to do about nuclear weapons, what the cost of oil will be, or what our Synod will do or not do. All of these things impact us, but we are not in their hands. Ultimately, they are in the nail-scarred hands of our Lord. Surely, the hands that suffered, bled, and died for us will do all that is needed for our earthly and eternal well being. Those hands
know when to shield us, when to let us be ‘hit’, when to hold us up, and when to let us fall. Those hands are always here to
baptize us, to absolve us, and to feed us.
I woke up Easter morning thinking how different the day was for me than it was for those on that first Easter. With what sorrow they must have walked to that tomb. How wrecked the disciples hiding behind locked doors must have felt. The hands that had beckoned them, “Come unto Me” were dead. The hands that pointed to Himself as the way, the truth and the life were dead. The hands that could heal by touching were dead. What were they to do now? Where were they to go? They had come with Jesus from Galilee, and would have to go home to Galilee without Him.
I would hate to have to live that way, and though I never need to, I often do. I have a painting of the risen Christ with His hands extended a little from His side with His palms turned up. In my more despairing moments, I have looked at this and thought it should be captioned, “What can I do about it?” As if Jesus was shrugging and saying there was only so much He could do with those hands. No, that’s not true. He can do more than we ask or even think. His hands didn’t stay nailed to a cross. They didn’t
stayed buried in a tomb, and they didn’t stay confined to this earth. Those hands ascended into
heaven where the Father gave the Man Jesus all authority on earth and heaven. Jesus, as a Man,
won the right to rule, to control, to direct all things.
And that’s what Jesus is doing. Though His Church be but a feeble bunch of followers, though their faith never rises to the level of His promises, though they stumble as often as the hands of Jesus pick them up, it is the will of Jesus that is ultimately done. And His will is to save you for all eternity. That doesn’t mean you’ll never sin, but that He will forgive you. That doesn’t mean that you will never have problems or get sick, but that you remain in His hands even when you’re the cause of your problems and the doctors throw their hands up in exasperation. That doesn’t mean that you won’t die, but that He will raise you from the dead, as sure as His Father raised Him.
Let’s not live as if Easter never happened, but let us live in the reality of Easter and those risen, powerful, loving hands. And let us find rest in them as they touch us, caress us, and hold us in the Waters of Baptism, the sermon on Sunday, and in the Meal where He meets us.
CLOSED COMMUNION IN CONTEMPORARY CONTEXT: Summary Statement
(from The Lutheran Church-Canada a church in fellowship with the LCMS)
Lutheran Church-Canada is a Synod of the Lutheran Confessions. It’s pastors, teachers and congregations, by their subscription to these confessions, have placed themselves under the rule of faith set forth therein. As Synod discusses the issue of closed communion, it does so on the basis of the Scriptures as interpreted by the Confessions, which it testifies to be a true interpretation of the Scriptures. In doing so it recognizes the importance of being truly catholic (i.e. universal, orthodox) and apostolic in its practice.
Accordingly we reaffirm the practice of closed communion, that is, restricting access to the Sacrament of the Altar to those who with one voice "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). No precedent exists in the tradition of orthodox teaching and practice for unrestricted access to the Sacrament, even for the baptized. Rather, those called to be "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1) are entrusted with the duty to catechize those who have not yet been instructed in the truly orthodox rule of faith in order that they may boldly confess their faith in the midst of a faithful congregation, and to exclude those not yet properly catechized, as well as the manifestly impenitent.
In our pluralistic culture, it is tempting to abandon this practice in view of the fear of creating offense. However, in a society which has in many ways abandoned not only the quest for absolute truth but even the hope that such truth can be discovered, it is more important than ever to declare boldly to the world, "This we believe." We believe in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, who shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and who gives us His true body and blood in His Supper as a pledge of that forgiveness. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church, into which Christ gathers us by His Gospel, giving His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation to His people, and bringing them into communion with Himself, making them part of His mystical body, of which He is the glorious and ever-living Head. To practice closed communion is to be faithful to that confession.
Getting Hip to Religion
Hip-hop Christianity? Get used to it.
BY DAVE SHIFLETT Friday, February 24, 2006 12:01 a.m.
Christianity has an enduring message, but can you dance to it--and should you? Apostles of the "emerging church" movement--which includes churches where services are conducted in hip-hop--insist that you can and should, which is not always music to traditionalist ears.
Hip-hop is a long way from Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," and that's exactly the point, according to pastors Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson, who serve urban communities in Minneapolis and Chicago and who recently together wrote "The Hip-Hop Church." Traditional fare, they say, often falls on deaf ears, especially ears affixed to young heads, while "holy hip-hop," such as a musical version of the Gospel of John called "The Epic," brings the old message to a new generation under constant secular cultural bombardment.
Martin Luther may be spinning in his celestial cell, yet some suggest that these developments are a continuation of his work. "Every 500 years the church has a giant rummage sale," says author Phyllis Tickle, who has been tracking the emerging church for well more than a decade. According to Mrs. Tickle, Christianity is in the midst of a new Reformation that will radically remake the faith.
The new reformers won't be nailing their theses to a cathedral door, however. "Modernity insisted there is strict separation between sacred and secular space," says Mrs. Tickle, who lives in western Tennessee. "Church was the place where you went to engage God." No longer. "The emerging church is dedicated to getting rid of that notion. All space is sacred," including bars, coffee houses and parks where the new faithful gather.
The exact number of emergers is elusive; many attend mainstream churches on Sunday and gather in small groups during the week. One emergent body, the 247 Connection Church in Hickory, N.C., bills itself as "connected, creative, fun, relevant and relational" and suggests bringing along a laptop: "During worship we recommend you instant message the speaker with questions." In cyberspace, participants gather at popular Web sites such as theooze.com and ginkworld.net.
The lack of sacred real estate and other formalities, including a seminary system, keeps overhead low. It's also very much a part of the decentralized spirit of the movement. Nor is there apparent pulpit envy. Evangelizing comes not so much through sermonizing as through song, dance and visual aids--the "cultural patois of the day," as Mrs. Tickle puts it. Pastors Efram and Jackson agree, writing that young people with artistic talent, "especially those with gifts of dance, spoken word or art with the spray can," are vital to the worship experience.
Isn't this Religion Lite, with graffiti? Quite the opposite, insists Mrs. Tickle. "This is religion like it hasn't been lived in 300 years," including a renewed interest in fasting. "They are going back to a religion that costs them something. In many ways they are going back to first-century Christianity."
A similar trend is occurring elsewhere: Advocates of "emergent Judaism" recently met with Christian evangelicals in California to learn how to bring young Jews closer to their religious traditions. "We've got to learn from what our Christian colleagues are doing," Shawn Landres of Synagogue 3000, a Jewish think tank, told Beliefnet.com. And now Guilt & Pleasure, a new magazine whose mission statement says that it is "helping Jews talk more," advocates creating salons where the magazine's articles, which include religious topics, are discussed.
Some traditionalists are not amused. A flashpoint of sorts occurred last spring when Brian McLaren, the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church near Baltimore and a leader in the emergent movement (which he prefers to call a "conversation"), was disinvited by the Kentucky Baptist Convention to speak at an evangelism conference. The organizers concluded that passages in his "A Generous Orthodoxy" strayed too far from historic orthodoxy. Executive director Bill Mackey complained that "Dr. McLaren's position diverges too greatly to be appropriate for this conference."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sounded a sterner note in a widely discussed Internet commentary. Mr. McLaren, he wrote, "embraces relativism at the cost of clarity in matters of truth and intends to redefine Christianity for this new age, largely in terms of an eccentric mixture of elements he would take from virtually every theological position and variant." Such objections aside, the beat goes on.
Mr. Shiflett is the author of "Exodus: Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity."
Rev. Scott Murray, Memorial Lutheran Church (LCMS) Houston, TX
Sometimes we hear it said in church circles that we have the gospel settled and that what gives the church problems are all the other external things that seem to impede the growth of the church. The gospel then becomes the "assumed" thing. So a pastoral conference speaker once opined, "Oh, well, we have the gospel. Let's get busy taking care of the other things." This assumption of the gospel gets us into a world of problems in the church and everyone knows what happens when we assume.
What would happen if the NASA Space Shuttle launch team just assumed that the external rocket tanks of the space shuttle booster were filled by someone else on the team? Without fuel the Space Shuttle is going nowhere, despite the fact that the rest of the spacecraft is a marvel of modern technology. If they assume the fuel is there without deliberating loading the external tanks, the space shuttle becomes an enormous, beautiful, and expensive paper weight. The most important things can never be assumed.
The gospel is the fuel of the good ship "Church." It cannot, must not, be assumed. The devil would be very pleased to lead us into the shame and vice of assuming the gospel. We cannot assume the gospel any more than we can assume our spouse knows we love them without telling them. Do other things need to be taken care of in a marriage? Yes, of course. Food has to be put on the table, children fed and clothed, the mortgage paid, and so on. But most of all love must not be assumed. So it is in the church, forgiveness, sacraments, holy absolution, preaching, and all the gifts of God must be the constant meat and drink of those whose life depends on these things.
Everything the church is and does must be ordered to the delivery of these gifts. Let us reject this godless assuming, so that the gospel would always abide among us.
Church is for Girls
By Rev. Todd Wilken
(Issues Etc.Vol4, No.1)
Continued from Mar/Apr newsletter
I’M YOUR HANDY-MAN
Not every emasculated church repels men. Some attract men by the thousands.
Joel Osteen is pastor of the largest mega-church in America. The growth of Lakewood Church has eclipsed even mini-denominations like Willow Creek and Saddleback. Lakewood will soon move into Houston’s 18,000-seat Compaq Center after a 70 million dollar renovation. Joel’s secret? A simple message, typical of the emasculated church:
We’re all about building people up. We’re all about helping people reach their full potential. . . .I believe that’s the message this generation needs to hear. We’ve heard a lot about the judgment of God and what we can’t do and what’s going to keep us out of heaven. But it’s time people start hearing about the goodness of God, about a God that loves them. A God that believes in them. A God that wants to help them. That’s our message here at Lakewood. 15
Combining his Word-Faith roots with his seeker-sensitive savvy, Osteen has produced a message that is overtly therapeutic. Osteen presents this self-help message in a winsome and non-confrontational style. His sermons read like long lists of suggestions — advice on how to be nice. As a result, the subjects of sin and the Cross seldom come up. When they do, these subjects are milked for maximum emotional, rather than theological, impact.
According to Osteen, sin is essentially self-doubt. Rather than being moral and spiritual depravity, sin is a failure to live up to your innate goodness and potential. Sin is bad because it makes you or others unhappy. The solution, according to Osteen, is realizing your potential with God’s help:
…God wants to make your life easier. He wants to assist you, to promote you, to give you advantages. He wants you to have preferential treatment. But if we’re going to experience more of God’s favor, we must live more “favor-minded.” To be favor minded simply means that we expect God’s special help… 16
Lakewood is also typical of the emasculated church in another way Osteen himself functions not only as pastor to Lakewood’s thousands, but also as the model modern male.
To the women in his audience Joel Osteen is the man they wish their husband could be: young, good looking and sensitive. Osteen routinely tells the women in his congregation that they are under-appreciated by their husbands. Likewise, Osteen regularly regales the congregation with stories from his own marriage and family in which he invariably emerges as an exemplary husband and father. For the women in his congregation, Osteen is James Taylor’s Handy Man:
If your broken heart should need repair,
Then I am the man to see.
I whisper sweet things, you tell all your
friends, They’ll come runnin’ to me. 17
For the men, Osteen has long lists of how they are single-handedly ruining their marriages and families. As a remedy, Joel dispenses advice on how to be... more like Joel. It’s Christian Eye for the Straight Guy After all, something must be working for Osteen. As often as the camera pans to his beautiful wife, Victoria, she looks blissfully satisfied. She is the spiritual version of the smiling wife at the end of the Enzyte Male Enhancement pill commercial.
Doubtless, some men in Osteen’s audience are there against their will, at their wives’ insistence, but not every one of them. One wonders how men could be attracted to Osteen’s message, but many obviously are. Apparently, the emasculated church is also the emasculating church.
Few other pastors are able to position themselves between men and their wives as successfully as Osteen does. However, even if he lacks Osteen’s total package, the pastor in the emasculated church tends to become the object of adoration for the women and of emulation for the men. In his message and his method, Joel Osteen is the shape of things to come in the emasculated church.
16. Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now, New York, Warner Faith, 2004 p.38
17. Otis Blackwell, Jimmy Jones, “Handy Man,” 1959
What Makes a Hymn a Lutheran Hymn?
Concord Vol XV, num. 5
Nov 2000, Rev. Chad Bird
(continued from Mar/Apr 06 newsletter)
Criteria #2: A Lutheran Hymn is not entertainment but proclamation.
The goliath music entertainment industry towers over the American cultural landscape and, sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a Davidic hero about to bring it down. This industry has radically transformed the way people view the purpose of music and song. Music as entertainment certainly has its place in a society, but increasingly its function solely as entertainment overshadows all other functions. Music has traditionally been used in education and other fields not with the goal of entertainment but enhancement of learning and memorization. Over the past half century, however, music has become largely a source of everything from titillation to exploitation. The quality of such songs is gauged not by their beauty or truth content, but the emotional effect and appeal they have upon the masses. And often the appeal of such lyrics and music is to the basest of passions in sinful man.
With such widespread use of music solely for entertainment purposes, it was only a matter of time before some within the church hopped onto the bandwagon. The attempt is made in Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), for instance, to utilize the secular sounds one would hear on the radio or MTV to convey a Christian message. Leaving aside the fact that this message is commonly a heterodox message, what can be said for or against the express intent of CCM? Commenting on the mixture of language to and about God with language to and about man, Kantor Richard Resch points out the dire results emanating from this union of sacred and secular:
Examples of that confused language are plentiful in Contemporary Christian Music, in the popular, experiential supplemental hymnals found in many Lutheran pews, in the gimmicky Vacation Bible School music, in school musicals that use religious themes, and in solo and choral music available from a host of publishers. If one heard this language from afar, minus text, one would never guess that it means to be faith language for it blatantly has its source in the musical expression of the world. However, the concern is not just a mater of music but has to do with the total expression. As early as 1985, Amy Grant said in a USA Today interview, “We prefer to be a little bit sneaky with the lyrics. . . when you start getting churchy, they start running “[USA Today 11-8-85]. After Miss Grant spoke of her fast-paced drumbeats, her “deafening screams” and her sensually oriented apparel, the reporter ended the interview by asking the reader the question, “This is gospel music?” In a 1986 magazine interview Miss Grant said, “There are songs that can go both ways. I call these God-girlfriend songs — meaning you are either singing it to God or to your boyfriend or girlfriend” [charisma, 7 7-86, p. 21].
When words are so vague and rubbery as to be capable of addressing either “God” or my girlfriend, we are no longer singing to the Holy Trinity but to an idol. It seems Miss Grant — and many others — have failed not only in providing Christian music, but Christian words as well.
Lest, however, we suppose that the blending of the sacred and secular is a mere late-twentieth century phenomenon, listen to Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 379) describe what was happening to the church in his day.
What belonged to the theater was brought into the church, and what belonged to the church into the theater. The better Christian feelings were held up in comedies to the sneer of the multitude. Everything was so changed into light jesting, that earnestness was stripped of its worth by wit and that which is holy became a subject for banter and scoffing in the refined conversation of worldly people. Yet worse was it that the unbridled delight of these men in dissipating enjoyments threatened to turn the church into a theater, and the preacher into a play actor If he would please the multitude, he must adapt himself to their taste, and entertain them amusingly in the church. They demanded also in the preaching something that should please the ear; and they clapped with the same pleasure the comedian in the holy place and him on the stage. And alas there were found at that period too many preachers who preferred the applause of men to their souls’ health. St. Gregory could well be speaking to a Central Texas Free Conference. Solomon is right: There is nothing new under the sun.
The appeal is made ad nauseumn by the proponents of CCM and others who use music and song in the church for entertainment purposes, that the form of the music is neutral; it is the substance of the text that counts. Music, however, is never neutral. As Kantor Resch has written:
Music was respected as power [in the past]. The power was not questioned until the l96O’s, when it was first argued that music is neutral The argument was raised, not on the basis of any new findings, but in order to remove the fear of music so that it could be used with complete freedom. The argument could be defined as a battle of the ancients and traditionalists on one side and the materialists on the other. The ancients and traditionalists believe that music affects character and society, and therefore artists are to be responsibly moral and constructive, not immoral and destructive. The materialists disclaim responsibility and the need for value judgements, and therefore pay no heed to the outcome of their sounds. The materialists want to sell a product at any cost, and so they play with fire. But they must first convince their audience that playing with fire is harmless.
Music is powerful, and as with any power, it is capable of accomplishing good or evil purposes. When entertainment music is wrapped around Christian lyrics — even if those lyrics are orthodox — the truth is obscured. The secular overtones of the music overpower the sacred claims of the text.
The purpose of hymnody within the liturgy is not to put on such a grand performance that the congregation rises to its feet with feverish hand-clapping. The hymns proclaim a divine message, which is not entertaining, but sustaining, designed to feed the sojourning church as she makes her way through the world, but is not of the world. Entertainment has its place, but that place is outside the bounds of the church.
Trinity Lutheran Church
1207 West 45th Street, Austin, Texas 78756
The Te Deum is published bi-monthly. Deadline for all articles is the 15th of the even months. All articles must be approved by Rev. Paul R. Harris
As Young as I Used to Be?
My husband and I decided to purchase his family’s old farmhouse to fix up as a possible retirement home for ourselves. After a completely exhausting weekend of scrubbing, varnishing, removing old wallpaper, and various other physical tasks, it felt wonderful to sit in the car and relax on our drive home.
“Guess I’m not as young as I used to be,” I said, rubbing my sore muscles.
“Sure you are, honey,” he quickly replied. “Just not for as long.”