Saturday, September 10, 2022

The Office


September 10, 2022

On September 8 in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ we heard the words, "The Queen is dead.  Long live the King."  God had called Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor from this world.

Now it may seem strange for an American to write of the Queen of England, a country from which my own country was born through a war for independence.  And I am very proud of my country, or at least certain aspects of it that still remain despite recent cultural tides that have sought to sweep away foundations of part of our liberty.  And I honored to have served my country as a commissioned officer and chaplain in her military forces.  But having been stationed for some time in England, the home of my ancestors, I came to deeply appreciate the culture, the heritage, indeed the memory embedded in the very stones, the paths and hills, the trees and peoples and in the institutions of that ancient land.  The most known, the most visible of them all must be the monarchy, and the only one most of the living have known is that of Queen Elizabeth II.  

 There is a scene in the Netflix series the Crown, a historical fiction that seeks to portray the story in a way to help us understand what it might have been like to be in Elizabeth's shoes, a scene in which Edward VIII  says during the televised coronation -- look -- you take a woman of modest ability and dress her up thus and you have ... a goddess.   Well, it is impossible to know if he said anything of the sort.  But the script makes a point -- the pageantry, the tradition take a human being and places that human being into an office and in so doing something more is created.  Not a goddess...but a queen.

 The coronation of the Queen was a Christian liturgy.  Deeply embedded into the words and rites are confessions of Christ, His office as prophet priest and king.  And no, this earthly monarchy is not designed to supplant or equate to His, but to serve it. There is a book entitled "The Servant Queen and the King She Serves" that testifies to Elizabeth's faith in Christ and how she viewed her office first and primarily not as one of entitled position but of service to Christ and to the people of her realm.  

The example of Elizabeth can remind us of much, especially those who hold office.  I am thinking not just of rulers and magistrates, but first and primarily that of pastors.

In recent years I have had a number of conversations with fellow old timer pastors, including those who were before me, about something different within the pastorate of our church body, the LCMS.  Like Galadriel in the movie the Lord of the rings as she proclaims something has changed, I feel it in the water.  I feel it in the earth.  I smell it in the air.  We have felt the same, not quite able to put a finger on it.

But I think perhaps that part of it is this.  That somewhere, somehow, for some reason it is being forgotten that the office is greater than the one who holds it.  That the office of the ministry is a sacred trust.  It is not a position of entitlement or elevation.  The office is a position of trust.  It is about service.

Queen Elizabeth coronation was televised.  But at one point the cameras turned away, at the anointing.  The most holy moment of the liturgy.  The liturgy is thus:

  On the palms of both the hands, saying,
Be thy Hands anointed with holy Oil.

  On the breast, saying,
Be thy Breast anointed with holy Oil.

On the crown of the head, saying,
Be thy Head anointed with holy Oil:
as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed:

And as Solomon was anointed king
by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet,
so be thou anointed, blessed, and consecrated Queen
over the Peoples, whom the Lord thy God
hath given thee to rule and govern,
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The sacredness of office, it is something we have forgotten in the former colonies and in much of the west but here it is remembered... the office of earthly monarchs in the west trace their heritage to the first Christian emperors of Rome and is a office, an obligation, a duty of service to God and God's people.

 Now, the problem is that when we think of kings and queens we think too often of tyrannts.  Of  Mary Queen of Scots who murdered her husband and so many others, of Henry VIII who killed wife after wife, of Edward VIII who had an affair with a married woman (one of many) who he'd later marry.  Or even George III who our founding fathers saw as a tryannt in his rule over the colonies.  This and the examples of so many who have had the power of monarch, emperor, or dictator (think Hitler) has lead us to see such office as a grave threat to life and liberty.  The fault lies not in the office but in the person who holds it.  Human beings are sinners and when sinful corruption is tied to power bad things happen to people.

The contemporary monarchy of England is different.  The monarch hold not power, no authority to command, no ability to raise tax or declare war.  The monarch represents memory and service.  And while the monarchy shapes the person who holds it, the person who holds it shapes the monarchy and its perception.  Queen Elizabeth is honored as one who restored a vision to the monarchy of service, of sacrifice, of honor, of putting her people before herself and her office before herself.  This is her legacy.  I believe it will enshrined into memory.

It would be well if pastors would remember.  Remember the office is greater than the man who holds.  The office is more important than the man who holds it.  Let the man be diminished rather than the office.  Let pastor remember we serve the King who is Lord of Lords and king of Kings, who is the one true prophet, priest and king, and he calls us to not be served but to serve God's people.



Saturday, July 30, 2022

Higher Things

 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

-- Colossians 3:1-11

Have you ever stood outside and felt something change?  At first you couldn't put your finger on it but then you realized the leading edge of weather front was passing through.  Or you were standing in the ocean and felt the first hint of a shift in the current that might signal a rip tide.  Back around the year 2000 I began to feel this itch, this sense that something was changing in our western culture, a shift and in ways not friendly toward Christ and His teaching.   

At first I couldn't put my finger on it.  But others sensed it too and soon we began to hear of political correctness and today we hear the term "wokism".  About the same time I was starting to feel this "itch" a LCMS professor Dr. Gene Veith was studying and writing about culture and changes.  I found one of his books "Postmodern Times" by chance in a used bookstore and began my over twenty years study of how the sands of our culture are shifting and continue to shift.

Other pastors were experiencing the same.  Some LCMS congregations responded by changing their worship and other practices and customs to remain popular often failing to critically examine what baggage such culture adoption might bring with it.  Other saw this approach as a dangerous threat to Lutheran identity and the integrity of the Lutheran confession of faith.   I remember in those days a few pastors starting a youth movement that appeared to have some promise in its early days.

Yes, there was a growing interest in understanding these changes and asking how we could preserve our faith in the midst of landscape increasingly hostile toward conservative Christianity.  But unfortunately the temptation of legalism raised its head as some reacted by simply adopting the defensive strategy of traditionalism versus the new rejecting anything that was not traditional.

Today that same itch is back, that a current is shifting, something is changing, and not in ways friendly toward Christ and His teaching.  But it isn't the obvious change blasted through western culture so visible at so many levels.  This is more subtle, more devious, harder to detect... a change not outside but inside as elements of our Lutheran church manifests reactionary and defensive legalism.

These are the two poles as Lutheran Christians we find ourselves between in the midst of deep and widespread cultural change:  unthinking adoption or reactionary rejection.   Allow me to illustrate with two examples.   On the one hand was a retired Lutheran pastor suggesting it was appropriate to bless the relationship of two women because one was his daughter and the times were changing and he could envision the day the LCMS would accept homosexual relationship between two committed people.  On the other hand was a pastor who demanded the removal of the children's message because it was not liturgical and likewise demanded angrily the processional cross be moved to a specific place to meet tradition even though it would be in the way of a camera streaming the service.

Uncritical adoption.  Reactionary legalism.   Paul tells us there is a higher way.

When it comes to culture and changes there are those who advocate for the church to learn, change and adopt as much of contemporary culture as possible without losing our Christian identity.  How much change this is and what it looks like runs the gambit of personal preference and opinion.  You often hear the claim that this is for the sake of more people hearing the Gospel.  But sometimes these advocates are honest.  There is fear.  Fear that if we are not popular enough people will leave or they won't come in the first place and that will result in not having enough money to keep the lights on and the doors open.

Others argue that Christ is and must be "against" culture.  That because of human sinfulness all of culture is corrupt no matter its forms and the church must work to make culture conform to Christian values.   And the church must look a certain specific way usually understood as conforming to liturgical tradition.  You cannot often successfully remind these advocates that Christ has left many things not forbidden nor commanded but free for the church to decide upon in responsibility to the Gospel.  Too often they seem to view others who are not reacting strongly enough as if they were the lukewarm of Revelation 3, not hot nor cold and hence worthy of being spit out.  

Recently a lay person posted a question online about the presence of US flags in Lutheran sanctuaries.  It seems her new pastor has forbidden the practice causing a bit of a stir.  Many correctly recognized that this practice is a matter of adiaphora, meaning scripture had neither commanded it nor forbidden it but allows freedom for the church to decide its practice in responsibility to the Gospel.  It was eye opening when a couple of pastors heatedly and adamantly berated anyone defending the practice because it is not viewed by them as sufficiently traditional and therefore has no place inside a church.  

It is likely easier for us as LCMS Lutherans, as conservative Christians, to understand and appreciate the dangers of uncritically adopting cultural changes that can lead us away from God.  It is more difficult for us to recognize when legalism is in our midst because it proclaims itself as defender of Christ and Lutheranism.  And who among our Lutheran community would not want to defend Christ and Lutheranism?

The world has changed.  In the midst of these changes there is a growing appreciation in Lutheran circles of how Christ and His teachings exist alongside and even in the midst of a culture that is foreign and in many ways hostile to the way of Christianity.  In that, we are one similar ground to the first generations of the church.  And here we must remember that Christ is Christ.  The Kingdom is the Kingdom.  The kingdom is not of this world, but it is very much in the midst of this world.  The church was not created to be a little walled fortress safe on top of a hill while the pagan hordes go pillaging by.   Christ has planted the church here in the world using people drawn from the world to witness to the world -- to proclaim a kingdom that is different and relevant, if not always popular.

So true, we cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption of the world and the impact it is having on people both now and eternally.

Consider the following from St. Paul.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:1-11)

Paul reminds us that because of such things as sexual immorality, impurity, evil desires, covetousness and more that the wrath of God is coming.  Many Christian like focusing on the love of God, the acceptance of God, the affirming of God but ignore or discount these revelations that the wrath of God is coming.  And there is only one escape, to be saved in Christ, to be raised with Christ.

Paul encourages us to seek the things that are above because they things that are on the earth are rather a mess.  We are to put away anger, wrath, malice, slander and not lie to one another but put off the old self.  And in this there is something for us to consider as we defend and advocate for our Christian faith.  Too much of our conversations (and actions) with others and other Christians is born not of love no matter how much we claim it so, but born of anger.  When someone gets angry because a cross is in the wrong place, when pastors call others poor Christians because they don't have a problem with a flag in the sanctuary, when Christians, pastors and entire churches don't consider other churches as faithfully Lutheran because they don't practice communion every Sunday or they do something other than a service straight out of the hymnal, this is not seeking higher things, this is defensive fear.   And such defensive fear too often gives place to anger, malice even slander against other Christians, pastors and churches.   When a newly arrived pastor rails against a children's sermon in a service because it isn't liturgical this isn't defense of Christ nor is it defense of Scripture, this fear and anger born of fear masquerading as godly zeal.  This is not seeking higher things but is falling back into the ways we all once walked.  

There is a better way between the two poles of uncritical adoption and reactionary rejection -- a higher way.  You have been raised with Christ and that means something.  It means you are now part of the kingdom of Christ, adopted into something that was once forbidden but by grace is now yours.  You have been raised with Christ because your sin was put to death with Christ upon a cross and in your baptism you have been buried with Christ so that you may rise with Him.  It means you may seek the higher things above, the things of Christ.  It means a new self is yours, putting off the old self with its practices and putting on the new self that is renewed in the knowledge of its Creator.  It means something different when we are faced with change, with challenge, or with opposition.  The world responds with anger, rage, malice, slander -- whatever is needed to gain the upper hand; whatever is needed to win.  We are called to be as Christ.   Yes, holding to Scripture above all things as the source of all teaching and doctrine.  Yes, upholding all the teaching of Christ found in both Old and New Testaments.  Yes, proclaiming the kingdom of Christ and the Gospel that all may believe and be saved.  Yes, being careful and thinking before we rush in and adopt ungodly practices of culture.  But also not afraid as we face change, not retreating into fortresses built of traditions of men that have their place as useful for teaching but not as walls to exclude others or weapons with which to attack others and even spit them out.  

Lutherans have long recognized the value of traditions and customs for teaching the doctrines of the Kingdom.  But the first Lutheran reformers also recognized the following as proclaimed in the Augsburg Confession:

And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3 the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.

To include a children's message so the little children may know too can be very much in the service of the Gospel.  To move a cross to another place so that people who cannot come to church may see the service online can be very much in the service of the Gospel.  Let us indeed thing of higher things, the things of Christ, the ways we can faithfully in accordance with Scripture proclaim the Gospel to all with the certainty of faith not with a spirit driven by fear.