Friday, February 24, 2012

A Lutheran Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday: Vespers at Christ Lutheran Church.
Begins: 7:02 P.M. (two minutes late)
Attendance: about 45.
Lutheranism has a set of practices that don’t fit together like those of other Protestant denominations because it combines an insistence on the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith alone with a liturgical form of worship that includes elements that Protestants would associate with Catholicism. The priest celebrates facing the altar, back to the congregation. After the confession, no namby-pamby assurance of God’s forgiveness of our sins -- the priest forgives them himself, straight up. 
Christ Lutheran Church is associated with the Lutheran Church of Canada, the section of the church associated with the Missouri Synod in the United States, not the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the branch which is racing the Anglican Church of Canada into perdition.
I associate the Lutherans with Germans. I wonder how much fact there is to this association in this day and age.  The pastor preaching speaks to my question, mentioning in his sermon that people ask him how he became a Lutheran minister with an English last name like “Duke”-- shouldn’t he be an Anglican or Methodist or something?
The Lutherans combine their prayer book and hymnal into one book.  Smart move -- prevents congregations from wandering off the reservation and selecting a hymnbook according to their own preferences. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a Vespers service before. There is no Bible on the pews, nor are the texts of the lessons shown on the overhead, so you have to actually listen to the reader. Lutherans don’t seem to be big on lay participation -- priests read the lessons, no lay-led prayers for the people.
I would receive communion, but although I would consider myself enough in communion with the Lutherans,they don’t feel the same way about me.
I don’t approve of preachers giving personal stories from the pulpit, but Pastor David Duke (wonder if he’s thought of changing his name) has a long one that’s worth the time. It’s about his grandfather, who was sent to SMU to be trained to be a minister but discovered there that he wasn’t Christian, went to Europe in World war I, was shot in the back and told that he would never have children, developed an addiction to morphine, came home and found his wife taking up with another man. he refused to grant a divorce,and his wife attempted to poison him, to murder him. they divorced. He married an indian woman (not sure whether Creek or Cherokee) and fathered four children. His family disinherited him, not approving of his Indian wife. Now we’re into the Depression, and his humanities-type skills and interests are of no help finding a job. He becomes a dirt farmer. Granddad is a hard drinker and beats his children. The Methodist and Baptist preachers come by once in a while to tell him he’s going to Hell. He thoroughly prepares himself for these visits with substantial anointing with hard whiskey and enjoys inviting them and confuting everything they say, with Scriptural support as required.(remember, he was going to be a pastor himself).  The Lutheran preacher comes by...and unlike the others, when Granddad offers him to take something from the whiskey jug himself the Lutheran accepts, and their conversation is, if not exactly friendly, civil.  (This would also be a fine anti-temperance story.) The wife ends up coming to Church, converts, and is allowed to join the Church despite their officialwhites-onlypolicy. Their children are thus raised as Christians. At the very end of this life, after a stroke and in serious agony, Granddad eventually goes down on hsi knees, makes a confession and avowal of faith,and becomes a Christian.
The lesson from the story is that Granddad is just as much a Christian,  just as “good as”, other Christians, despite his late conversion; the foil is an unnamed woman leader within the congregation (presumably not this one) who looks down on Granddad, his being a drunkard and child-beater and all, and scoffs at his deathbed conversion. It’s a good lesson, but after the boffo opening, it’s a bit of an anticlimax.
At this Ash Wednesday service there is no Imposition of Ashes. I know from being here on Sundays that there is no coffee hour, so I don’t expect to find anything available after the service with which to end my (supposed) fast. Nor are they into the modern practice of training members to gravitate towards visitors and impress upon them how welcome they are. But I felt welcome anyway.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Xmas Only 344 Days Away

Although it seems increasingly likely that I will never be able to take advantage of its precepts, no request for an engagement of lay preaching having been received by me, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones’ book Preachers and Preaching has been for me a greater blessing than any of his publications except Spiritual Depression, and is one of the great Christian books of the Twentieth Century. By seeing what a preacher should be trying to accomplish in the pulpit, the layman learns how to hear and understand that which is being done.

I have sometimes wondered how one would give this book to a minister as a gift without giving offence. Would it not be like giving him a book entitled How to Start Giving Good Sermons, And The Sooner The Better?

Well, now there is a way. Zondervan has just published a 40th anniversary edition of Preaching & Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This classic book on containing the original text along with reflections by six well known American preachers, John Piper being the one most familiar to me. It is available at a price very reasonable for a Christian book these days, $13.79, from Westminster Books, which advises us by way of a bright red banner that it is “Now Shipping to Canada”. Sample pages from the book may be found
. You can explain to your pastor that you're sure that his copy of the book must be worn and dog-eared and that you thought he might appreciate having this anniversary edition, little though he himself might need it.

I. Packer said of Lloyd Jones that he had "never heard such preaching”; it came to him "with the force of electric shock, bringing to at least one of his listeners more of a sense of God than any other man."

(h/t Desiring God)

An aside: ignore what Lloyd-Jones has to say about Stanley Baldwin in the sample pages linked to. Lloyd-Jones was a Welshman and never lost his disdain for English politics and political figures, despite his long ministry in London. Baldwin was in fact the first English politician to master the medium of radio, giving popular fireside chats well before Franklin Roosevelt gave his more famous ones.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Abhorring a Vacuum

The U. S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops has sponsored a
promoting traditional marriage and warning of the growing threat to religious freedom created by the state’s insistence that same-sex marriage be treated as equivalent to traditional marriage for all purposes. The letter itself is sensible in downplaying the possibility that ministers will be forced to perform same-sex marriages. That is not a realistic possibility. The real threat is interference through so-called “civil rights” laws with churches’ secular activities of all kinds:
Religious marriage counselors would be denied their professional accreditation for refusing to provide counseling in support of same-sex "married" relationships. Religious employers who provide special health benefits to married employees would be required by law to extend those benefits to same-sex "spouses. "Religious employers would also face lawsuits for taking any adverse employment action—no matter how modest—against an employee for the public act of obtaining a civil "marriage" with a member of the same sex. This is not idle speculation, as these sorts of situations have already come to pass.
It’s good to see churches being able to come together across denominational lines for joint actions such as this. The UCCB press release says:
Signatories include leaders from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, and Pentecostal communities in the United States. Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was one of the four signing Catholic bishops.
Anglican? What are the Anglicans doing signing this? Everyone knows that the Episcopal Church doesn’t support anything that isn’t endorsed by the New York Times editorial board, the Socialist Party of America, or preferably both. At the moment they still officially believe in traditional marriage, but that’s with a nudge and a wink.

Looks like the Catholics didn’t bother with TEC. The “Anglican” signature on the letter is that of the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America.

This should not be taken as tantamount to “recognition”by the Roman Catholic Church or anything like that, but is a promising development nonetheless. Because there’s a vacancy in the Orthodox Christian team. There’s only 8 players in place on the diamond, only 10 defenders on the gridiron, only 4 cagers on the parquet floor; nobody is occupying the position of “Anglicanism”. There’s no official voice emanating from TEC speaking for orthodox Christianity as it has been understood, well, forever. So long as ACNA can stay united it can be sucked up by that vacuum -- which is good, because that can make it, for orthodox Christians, the true voice of Anglicanism in North America.