Sunday, March 02, 2014

Good Old Saint Pat

The only holiday of note in the month of March is St. Patrick's Day, known in the Roman Church as the Feast of Patrick.  He was fabled to have driven all of the snakes out of Ireland, his color is green, and he is connected with the shamrock, which he is said to have used to teach the concept of the Trinity to the Irish peasants.  Here in America, the holiday is associated with Corned Beef and Cabbage, although that is an American Irish custom.  The day is connected with green beer because green is the color associated today with the holiday, and beer is enjoyed as a special dispensation for the holiday during Lent from the normal fastings and what-not that used to mark Lent, particularly among the Roman Catholics.  "The wearing of the green" originally referred to wearing a shamrock in one's lapel.  By the by, the original color associated with St. Patrick was, I am informed, blue.  There is even a color known as "St. Patrick's Blue".

What Patrick is really known for is missions.  Born in England, he was captured by some Irish pirates and made a slave in Ireland for about six years before he escaped and worked his way home.  He then became a priest, and felt drawn back to Ireland (reported to have had a vision calling him back to Ireland) to teach the pagans there the Christian faith.  He was Bishop of Ireland and a general missionary there for over thirty years, until his death.  Although he did not have the most successful mission to Ireland (according to the internet), he did capture the hearts and imagination of Ireland and has become the patron saint of the Emerald Isle.

If we want to celebrate St. Patrick, we can do no better than to celebrate Missions.  He may not have had any real effect on the snake population, since no one knows of any history of snakes in Ireland, but Patrick did spend a good portion of his life sharing the Gospel with people who did not want to hear it.  He wasn't numerically the most successful missionary, but he was faithful and persistent, and is credited with planting three hundred churches and baptizing thousands.  He credited his ability to work among the Irish to his captivity and slavery in his youth, where he learned to speak the native language, showing how God can use even our misfortunes to good effect.

He also demonstrated that one does not need to be visibly, outwardly successful or effective, as our world measure such things, to accomplish significant things for the Church.  After all, we are not the power in the church.  God and His Word is.  God grants success, and He alone determines what is effective for the spread of the Gospel.  The best we can do is be willing to confess Christ, and be steadfast in that confession.  God doesn't ask us to win great victories or be outwardly successful in our endeavors, He only asks us to be faithful and to do what He gives us to do - and say what He gives us to say.

We modern Americans live in a time not so very different from the times of St. Patrick.  Oh, the technology is different, and we are far more prosperous in the things of this world.  But people are still the same, and our culture is rapidly becoming every bit as pagan as the world of St. Patrick.  The biggest difference between his world and our is that many in his world had not yet heard the Gospel and the world around him was on the 'upswing', if you will, toward Christianity.  Our culture has heard the Gospel, and a couple of horrendous distortions of it, and our society is on the 'down-swing' away from the Christian faith and into a profound paganism.

The comforts of our age, and our culture's long encounter with and battle against the Gospel, have silenced any sense of sin or consciousness of the brutality of the godless world around us.  We can often watch horrifying conflict in other places on earth and not even recognize that there is real pain and real human suffering going on.  It seems to far too many of us, many times, as though the troubles of the world distant from us is a movie.  Our comfort continues.  Our food remains.  We can flip off the TV and it is as though nothing is really happening, and if it is, it is happening to someone else and seems oh-so-much-less than real.

We have often placed death in a hospital or nursing home, or a hospice facility.  Severe sickness is hidden in a hospital.  Pain is muted and medicated into a stupor.  Until it comes calling for us personally, many people can turn a blind eye to the grim reaper and so when someone talks of sin and its consequences, it is far too easy to pretend that any concern over it is overblown and hysterical.  Confessing Christ and proclaiming Law and Gospel in such a world is a difficult task.  Speaking, of course, is not the challenge.  The challenge lies in getting the world around us to listen and to care about something that seems so unreal and distant to them.

That is where the example of St. Patrick can be of help.  He went where he was not particularly wanted - at least not as a Christian.  The Irish pirates that kidnapped him wanted a slave, but they had no apparent desire for a missionary.  Patrick also had to have some personal issues with going back to the place where he had been a slave.  He felt called to do so, none the less, so he went.  He went and he preached and he endured beatings and abuse, and slowly his work prospered.  He was not as famous, or as appreciated, during his life as he was after his death.  God did what He wanted to do, and at his own pace.  Patrick was charged with being faithful, and, to a large extent, it appears that he was faithful to what he believed.

Part of the problem that the church has in our society today is that the spirit of humble faithfulness is not all that common.  We crave success, with all the trimmings we have come to identify with success.  People seem oh-so-impressed with the fancy, wealthy-looking preachers on TV.  Some of them even preach about how their success is a sign from God, and try to tell others how to emulate them.  It should be clear that what they are proclaiming is not Christ, but themselves and outward, worldly success.  They say, "If God loves you, He will abundantly bless you!"  If that were true, one would have to wonder about Jesus Himself.  He did not have the trappings of worldly success.  He had scorn and persecution during His life, and false imprisonment, torture, and an ignominious death at the end.  He had no fancy suit, no expensive wrist-watch, no stadium thronging with adoring fans, except when He was feeding them a free meal, and that outdoors!

Our schools seek men of academic respectability, and certification by the world rather than men of faithfulness.  Sometimes the two can and do go together, but not as often as our leaders like to suggest.  We simply like to look good to the world around us based on standards that have nothing to do with what the Church is about.  Similarly, congregations sometimes seek to hide their identity and mask their confession to keep from offending people who are responding to God's Word from the flesh just as the Bible teaches us the flesh will respond.  They don't want to hear about sin, so we stop making confession of sin - and the absolution - part of the public worship.  People don't understand what "Lutheran" is, so some churches drop the name to avoid offending.

On the other hand, our leaders are sometimes quite willing to step into the public limelight and do things that deny our doctrine and mute our confession because it makes them look good in the eyes of the world around them and dresses them up in the appearance of compassion and what-not.  Joining with non-Christian religious leaders in a community service during a time of crisis may look good and feel all compassionate, but at the precise moment that people need the clear comfort of the Gospel, such leaders are proclaiming by their actions - and sometimes their words - that the Gospel is nothing unique and has nothing to offer them that the pagan religions cannot give them.

The problem seems to be that for many, the concern is for how we look to the world around us and not for the welfare and salvation of others in that world.  The so-called great commission in Matthew does not command us to go, as so many quotations of it make it sound, it commands us to make disciples by Baptizing and teaching once we have gone - that is, wherever we may find ourselves!  It says, literally, "having gone, make disciples". 

Nowhere are we commanded to come up to the expectations of society in accomplishment or prosperity, or to look good to our neighbor - except that we be decent and honorable in the sight of all men, as far as it depends on us.  The modern desire to look successful or respectable in any way other than being moral and godly is just one of the desires of the flesh that actually works against the Spirit and the spirit-worked desire to confess Christ and the Gospel.  The Gospel is the power of God to the salvation of all men - the Jews first (as Paul says it in Romans 1:16) and then the Gentile - everybody else.  We will not make the difference, if the Word of God is being used and confessed.  The Word of God will.

Our part is to confess that Gospel both in what we do and in what we say.  We need to live lives that reflect the Gospel - and set us apart from the world around us.  If we try too hard to 'fit in' with the world around us, they will not see any difference.  They will not see Christ or what difference being a Christian makes, because, as we try so hard to look like the world around us and win their respect by being what they want us to be, being a Christian will make no difference in us.  We have no call to be deliberately strange, as snake-handlers are, for example, but we do have the call to live as God's holy people, and in a way that reflects what we believe, that is to say, the hope that is in us.

St. Patrick demonstrates the power of a consistent, faithful confession of both  life and lip.  While we are not all called to become missionaries in a foreign land, we are all called to live out our confidence in God, to show what forgiveness means and what difference it makes in life, and to be the sort of people that we know by the Word of God that we ought to be - patient, kind, decent, compassionate, forgiving, and so forth.  Just run through the lists that appear in the New Testament of the gifts of the Spirit or the characteristics of the Spirit as opposed to the flesh and you will see that the same sorts of things pop up in each list, "love, joy peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control".

The need here is not a legal need for salvation, the sort of thing you must do in order to get into heaven, but the need of the world around us to be able to see Christ through us and distinguish us from the unbelieving, pagans around us.  We can talk endlessly about the joy of salvation, but if we reflect no joy ourselves, the talk doesn't make much sense to anyone.  We can speak about peace, but if we are never at peace ourselves, we won't be very credible.  Forgiveness as the gift of God makes no sense if it is proclaimed by someone who never has any for anyone else in their life.  If you don't appear to enjoy being God's child or have any happiness that you are a Christian, what about your conduct would make anyone who sees you want to be a Christian, or to share in that Gospel you confess?

The power of Easter is tremendous.  It is the power of resurrection from the grave.  It is the power of the knowledge of the love of God for us - and we can all use that knowledge when times get difficult.  It is the ultimate answer to every fear - particularly to the greatest fear of mankind - the fear of death.  If God is for us, who can possibly be against us?  Oh, we know who the enemy is, but the victory is already won, and has been given to us.  That is the power of Easter.

And, like St. Patrick, we have the charge of God to share the news of that victory both by how we live and then by what we proclaim and confess.  The grace of God is one of the few things that you cannot diminish your possession of by giving it away.  Now, don't misunderstand me.  Patrick was a Roman Catholic - although very long ago, before many of the errors and abuses that Luther tried to set right had been developed - and I am not endorsing Rome's myths about him or every Roman doctrine, but one thing he surely did right was set the example of sharing the Gospel and confessing Christ.  So, if you want to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, have some Corned Beef and Cabbage, and maybe a little green beer, and think about sharing the Gospel.  Do missions right where you live, among the people you live among.

Yours in the Lord,
Pastor Fish

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Important Truth

This was in my daily devotion today.  It just struck me as too good to be lost between the pages of a book.  Every Christian should be confronted by this trusth regularly.

"At the beginning of the fourth century, the church historian Nicephorus informs us, the entire Christian congregation at Nicomedia in Asia Minor was suddenly attacked on the orders of the emperor Maximian.  They had been instructed to sacrifice to the gods, but instead were celebrating the joyous Christmas festival.  Their attackers quickly surrounded and burned the church, killing more than a thousand worshipers,

These were indeed hard, sad times.  It is still a sad situation when a Christian is unable to gather with his brothers in his church without the threat of persecution.  Yet it is incomparably sadder — and more dangerous — when Christians possess a beautiful church where they are free to gather peaceably and unhindered and they either abandon or falsify God’s Word.  A church in which man’s delusion and wit are proclaimed instead of Holy Scripture is nothing but and open gate to hell, a butchering table of Satan, a house of plagues to the soul.  Whoever enters such a church of unbelievers and enemies of Christ would have done better to come into a den of robbers and murderers, for there only his mortal body would have been killed, In a church of unbelievers, it is his immortal soul that is slain.  There are also churches in which the Word of God is indeed read aloud, but it is either taught only in part or interpreted falsely.  Here soul are led on dangerous detours and Satan sows handfuls of poisonous weeds next to the good seed of the Scriptures, tempting the hearts of the hearers, Christ Himself said of such churches, “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13).   A person would be better advised to read the Word of God alone at home, even in tears of loneliness, that to attend such a church."

God Grant It, Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther, Trans. By Gerhard P. Grabenhofer, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 2006, p. 218-219.

Friday, August 16, 2013

+ Paul A. Bartz +

Paul Bartz was born on May 1, 1948.  The Lord called him home to glory on August 15, 2013 after an extended battle with cancer of the tongue and jaw.

I met Paul while I was a student at Concordia College in St. Paul Minnesota.  I can no longer recall if it was my first year or my second year there.  There are too many memories and it was too long ago, back in 1969, I believe.  We met because his dormitory roommate at the time was struck by how our senses of humor were so alike.  We were introduced at the campus coffee shop's informal "Laugh-In" evening of improvisational humor.  We went on to make quite a hit of our improvised skits and jokes.  We were fast friends ever after, discovering that we shared the same love for theology as well.  I met Paul the day after he had met the woman who became the love of his life, and eventually his wife, Bonnie Bruhn.  I was always a third wheel for that first year.

Paul loved Luther.  He was the first person I knew who subscribed to the Luther's Works subscription program, buying every volume of the American Edition as soon as it came out.  His other great interest was the Creation/Evolution debate. When it came time to write his Master's Thesis, it included those two interests.  It was entitled, "Luther on Evolution".  It was great stuff.

This is not an authorized obituary, but a remembrance of a friend.  We saw each other through very difficult times.  He was my friend when my first wife chose another man and divorced me.  I was his friend, and hopefully of some comfort, when he was driven out of his parish in Garrison, Minnesota, by the sort of unjustified abuse and unconscionable attacks that have become all too common in the Lutheran Church today.

We were there for one another in good times too.  He was best man when I married my second (and still) wife, some twenty-seven years ago, and he is God-father to my first-born son.  I was his close friend when the Lord surprised Paul and Bonnie with a daughter in their mid-forties, and he honored me by asking my wife and me to be god-parents for their only child, a daughter, now 17 years old.

Paul was an amazing man in so many ways.  He was the editor of the Bible Science Newsletter for many years.  He created the one minute radio spots called "Creation Moments" that continue yet today.  He spoke widely on Creation and the issues surrounding the debate in our society, and not just in Lutheran circles.  It is little known that Paul was, briefly, an independent publisher, co-founder of Onesimus Publishing, which published several tracks and pamphlets and one good book.  Paul served faithfully as a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a vacancy pastor for different congregations, and did pulpit supply after he left the parish ministry many years ago.  He was a member of the ministerium of the LC-MS to the day of his death. He was also a sinner, one that rejoiced in the forgiveness Christ poured out on Him in Word and Sacrament.  That, too, was part of what marked Paul as special.

One character trait that struck me as marking Paul was consistency.  He was a faithful Christian.  He was a consistent and thorough theologian.  He was a meticulous researcher and and excellent teacher.  When Paul settled on something, he did not change.  For example, I knew Paul before he had a mustache.  I always liked to grow a beard every winter and cut it off in the spring.  Paul asked me about it and I suggested that he should try it.  He did.  He grew a beard and then he wore it for it for years.  Eventually he shaved the beard, but after that day, I never saw Paul without his mustache.

Mostly, to me he was a good and faithful friend.  In our final conversation just a couple of weeks before his passing, he reaffirmed his friendship, confessed his faith, and joked about having Martin Luther pour a beer for me, too, to be ready for the day I would be joining him at the heavenly table for that meeting with brother Martin we have been waiting for anxiously for so long.  His sense of humor was the primary impetus in our meeting, and it was still active in our final conversation, during which we spoke of death.  I said it was weird for me to be talking to him about his death as such an immanent thing, and he said, "Yeah, it's kind of weird for me, too."

Now He has finished the race, passed through that dread door, and is with the Lord he served for most of his life.  I thank God for Paul.  My life would have been much poorer, and certainly a great deal different without Bartz in it.  It is at times precisely like this that the message of Christ and the salvation He has wrought for us is so precious.  I shall see him again, because of Jesus Christ and His great grace.  I take comfort there, and pray for Paul's family, that God will strengthen and comfort them through the Gospel.  Meanwhile, the tears are appropriate.  Paul Bartz is man to be missed.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Humanism is a Fraud

While searching for specific information about the court stating that Secular Humanism is a religion (Torcaso v. Watkins – 1961) for another topic, I came across the following, numbered “1" at the top of the webpage:

Humanism is the approach to life based on rational thinking and includes ethics based on our shared human values and on human compassion. If you live life without religion and strive to do good within society just for the sake of doing good, then, you are a natural humanist. Humanism’s core belief is that everything has a natural cause rather than a supernatural cause, therefore it falls under the banner of philosophical naturalism and the vast majority of humanists are atheists although there are some agnostics too. Science and reason continue to be major positive influences on Humanism. Humanist activists typically battle for human rights and for secular politics. Secularism, promoted by secularists, is the belief that religion should be a private, personal, voluntary affair that does not impose upon other people. Public spaces and officialdom should therefore be religion-neutral. Secularism ensures that religions are treated fairly and that no bias exists for a particular religion, and also that non-religious folk such as Humanists are treated with equal respect.”   (http://www.humanreligions.info/humanism.html)

The webpage goes on to assert that humanism is no religion – as other humanist pages also assert.  They decry the abuse of the footnote reference in the Supreme Court decision that lumps secular humanism in with other religions that do not hold to the existence of a deity (such as Buddhism and Taoism).  It is not right or fair to lump them together, or to use this footnote as any sort of indication that, before the law, secular humanism is a religion.

Okay, let us look at what humanists assert and go from there. A caveat: in the course of the article, “humanism” is used to refer not to the general philosophical category, but to the political and religious movement, whether formal or informal.  The Humanist Manifestoes (one and two) both make assertions of a clearly religious nature, denying explicitly the existence of a God, rejecting as unreal and irrational any talk of a savior or salvation coming from outside of ourselves, and decrying specific religious texts.  The original Humanist Manifesto referred, in point of fact, to the humanism it espoused as “religious humanism”.  Their goal was, “To establish such a religion”.

The second Humanist Manifesto reflected the forty years of experience following the writing of the first, and attempted to shed the explicitly religious image of the original, but failed.  The opening assertions were boldly religious, and they identified themselves again in religious terms.  “We believe, however, that traditional dogmatic or  authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species.”  A statement of belief, making theological points, does not mark one as non-religious.  They even take a position that must be marked as religious: “As nontheists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity.

I quote these ancient resources to make the point simply that modern humanism is distinctively religious from its foundations.  The courts acknowledgment of that fact does not establish humanism as a religion, it simply acknowledges the obvious.  So, our modern resource, above, is being disingenuous when it asserts that humanists are non-religious, “non-religious folk such as Humanists”.  In number 2 on the same website, the authors say, “Humanism as a religion in its own right, rather than a philosophy or outlook, has been proposed occasionally, although it has never gained much support.

The truth is that humanism may not be identified with any single specific religious organization, (although the recent news of the establishment of “the Atheist Church” challenges that notion) but that does not exempt it from being a religion.  If that were the identifying feature of something not being a religion, Christianity would fail the same test.  There are hundreds of bodies that claim Christian doctrines, but distance themselves in their teachings from others.  Humanism is a religion, with very specific doctrines, which the Humanist Manifestoes go to great lengths to detail.

The vast majority of humanists are atheists, according to the author of this web-article.  Others could make counter-claims, I am sure, although many humanist sites would agree with this author’s assessment, and, as pointed out previously, doctrinal variety does not remove one from the sphere of religion.  The notion offered above that “Secularists” are a separate and autonomous group fighting to create a religion neutral space is simply another fraud of humanism.  When one makes it necessary to ignore the existence of a deity, in specific or in general, they are making a theological statement, and establishing (in the sense of the Constitution) a religious viewpoint or doctrine in public policy.  Such a policy is contrary to the Constitution, and making atheism the standard of public discourse is a distinctively religious action.

Even the now common restriction on naming a specific God is an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of anyone praying in public.  That is true even if the Courts might rule otherwise.  The Courts have erred egregiously before!  Just as certainly as one might invoke the right not to hear another deity appealed to in prayer, it would be as rightly said that the rights of the offended not to hear another’s prayer extend only as far as the right of the next man to freely exercise his religion.  You may have the right not to listen to my prayers, but your right not to listen does not extend so far as to limit my right to pray.  Surely the religious garb of a Muslim forces the confession of his or her faith upon everyone who can see them.  The yarmulke of the observant Jew confesses his faith.  The cross or prayer of the Christian is no more offensive.

Banning, restricting, or limiting any of these observances is wrong.  Restricting one particular confession while ignoring the others is to establish their faith in preference to the discriminated-against one.  Barring them all from public would be tantamount to establishing those faiths which do not acknowledge a god, and suppressing and abusing those who would otherwise mark their faith by sign, attire, or audible prayer.  Regulating prayer, as in the case of forbidding a public prayer before a football game, violates the free exercise clause of the first amendment, and gives priority (thereby establishing, in the reasoning of the court in recent years) the faith of those who would plead offense.  They have the right to not listen.  They do not have the right to regulate the rights of others to pray.

Humanists have stated the goal of establishing a world free from religions which contradict theirs.  They are surely free to set such goals and pursue them.  The rest of us do not need, and dare not attempt, to pretend that those goals are religiously neutral.  They advance the religion of Humanism.  These are not morally or ethically neutral activities.  They are the establishment and advancement, by the courts and any participating legislatures, of a specific creed.  The rest of us have no duty to respect that activity.  We have our rights, too.  The plea of the humanist for our sensitivity is, like the rest of Humanism (as a political and religious movement) a fraud.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Post-Stupid

A chaplain of the US Military has been censured for expressing his faith (http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2013/07/24/Military-Censors-Christian-Chaplain-Atheists-Call-for-Punishment).  If that isn't military oxy-moronic.  Chaplains are there to express faith!

The MRFF is to be censured for hate speech.  The fact that it is hate speech aimed at Christians should make absolutely no difference.  To quote the MRFF, “Faith based hate, is hate all the same.”  His hate should not be tolerated either.  His assault on a military chaplain doing his duty is an act of “spiritual rape”and must be stopped immediately!

The Atheist faith -- or lack thereof -- is no less religious, and having it imposed on us in this nation is every bit as obnoxious as any other public establishment of religion!

It must stop.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Continuing Education

Pastors rise at convention to encourage the requirement of continuing education for all pastors.  I would like to know why.

"This is the only profession that does not require continuing education."

Okay.  There is nothing new about the Gospel.  Jesus has not come and updated and revised the good news.  Preaching and teaching has no necessary new stuff to it.

Mind you, I have regularly participated in continuing education, attending at least one theological conference of substance every year (a three day conference!) for the past twenty-four years, plus numerous seminars on counseling, family, ethics, pastoral conduct, and the like, presented by the Synod, districts, and various Lutheran organizations, often Recognized Service Organizations.  I don't object to continuing to study and learn.  I insist on it.

I object to being compelled to do so because the compulsion to do so is surely followed by the compulsion to do specific study, which amounts to indoctrination to the modern thought.

I left the Seminary persuaded that I knew what I needed to know to begin my ministry, and that I knew how to learn and find the stuff I discovered along the way that I still needed to know. I was proven correct in that persuasion.  I don't want somebody else telling me that I need to study what they choose in order to continue to serve the Lord and the parish to which He has called me.

If you want to continue your education, by all means, do so!  I have.  But don't make it a law that I should have to do what someone else chooses.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Stupid Politics

I am watching the convention of the Missouri Synod on computer.  It makes me happy that I am not actually there as a delegate.  Once again, the stupid politics of our Synod is standing in the way of listening to voice of the Synod.  Points of Order are being called every few minutes -- which generally are not points of order -- taking time from discussion and deliberation.  The discussions reveal that there is an expectation among an element of the convention delegates of sinister intent.  Every step of the business of the convention is being fought and hobbled by parliamentary procedures.  Something as simple as changing the name of the circuit counselor to its historic name of circuit visitor is debated for twenty minutes, with attempts to amend and to refer it back to committee.  The single point of the resolution is to change a job title.  It was finally adopted by a significant majority, which points out that all of the parliamentary maneuvering was simply to slow or stop the business of the Synod and to obstruct the peaceful work of the convention.

I have been to many conventions -- several as a delegate.  Each convention has the same bizarre behavior.  All that this obstructionist behavior accomplishes and stopping the Synod from working together and expressing their will -- leaving us in the hands of bureaucrats to make the decisions about who we are and what we can and will do.

The people of our Synod have been denied a voice in so many ways.  Nominations from the floor now must come from a pool of names already having been nominated.  Then the convention has to vote on each nomination individually just to get them on the ballot.  There is very little voice left, and the points of order and the calling of the question, and the motions to re-commit to the committee, just robs the people of the Synod of a voice.