What is a Lutheran?

Anthony Sacramone tells about his own spiritual history, his current frustrations in trying to find a Lutheran congregation, and various theological difficulties.  He closes by asking “what is a Lutheran?” and asks for help in sorting through all of this.

The man is a great humorist, but this is a plaintive post.  His experiences are important for us Missouri Synod types to face up to, how in our doctrinal purity we sometimes scare people off and drive them away even when they desperately want and are open to precisely what we can give them–Christ, the Gospel, the Sacraments. And can anyone help him with his search for a congregation that would put up with him and vice versa?  (I do know that Lutheran identity is, in practice, more flexible than it is sometimes presented and that congregations vary a lot, in some positive as well as negative ways.  He lives in New York City, a small town when it comes to the number of Missouri Synod Lutherans.  But perhaps some of you could give him suggestions.)

If I send you over to his blog Strange Herring, will you help him and not attack him?

If so, here is the link:  Nadia Bolz-Weber and Lutheran Identity « Strange Herring.

The early church on abortion

Charles Pope, a Roman Catholic priest in Washington, D.C., is compiling a list of quotations from the early church on abortion, which is not a modern invention but was extremely common during the Roman Empire.  Some samples:

The Didache (“The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”) ca 110 AD. Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion. (2:2)…The Way of Death is filled with people who are…murderers of children and abortionists of God’s creatures. (5:1-2)

Letter of Barnabas, circa 125: You shall not kill either the fetus by abortion or the new born

Athenagoras the Athenian (To Marcus Aurelius), ca 150 AD: “We say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion…, [For we] regard the very fœtus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care… (# 35).

Clement of Alexandria: (circa 150 – 215 AD) Our whole life can go on in observation of the laws of nature, if we gain dominion over our desires from the beginning and if we do not kill, by various means of a perverse art, the human offspring, born according to the designs of divine providence; for these women who, if order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the child completely dead, abort at the same time their own human feelings. Paedagogus, 2

Tertullian circa 160-240 AD: For us, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter when you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one: you have the fruit already in the seed. Apology 9:6 . . . .

Minucius Felix (180 – 225 AD): Some women take medicines to destroy the germ of future life in their own bodies. They commit infanticide before they have given birth to the infant (Octavious (30, 2))

St. Basil the Great (330 – 379 AD): The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed. In this case it is not only the being about to be born who is vindicated, but the woman in her attack upon herself; because in most cases women who make such attempts die. The destruction of the embryo is an additional crime, a second murder, at all events if we regard it as done with intent. The punishment, however, of these women should not be for life, but for the term of ten years. And let their treatment depend not on mere lapse of time, but on the character of their repentance. Letter 188:2

St. Ambrose: (339 to 397 AD) The poor expose their children, the rich kill the fruit of their own bodies in the womb, lest their property be divided up, and they destroy their own children in the womb with murderous poisons. and before life has been passed on, it is annihilated. Hexaemeron”, (5, 18, 58)

via Ancient Testimonies Against Abortion | Archdiocese of Washington.

There are more, and the church fathers are in complete agreement about this.


UPDATE:  There is a whole book on this subject that I’ve read years ago and can heartily recommend: Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish and Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World by Michael Gorman.

HT:  Matthew Cantirino

The St. Ambrose Hymn Writing Contest

Who says conservative Lutherans don’t like contemporary Christian music in church?  We do.  It’s just that we want the contemporary Christian music to be, you know, hymns, as opposed to pop ditties.  And we do need new hymns.  Towards addressing that need, I am happy to announce that some twenty-somethings in our congregation, St. Athanasius Lutheran Church in Vienna, Virginia, have organized a major hymn-writing competition.  They have raised a $1,000 prize and have arranged for publication.  For details and for just learning about what the big deal is about hymns, check out the website:  St. Ambrose Hymn Writing Contest.

Here are the parameters of the contest:

The Challenge:

Many of the Gospel readings throughout the historic Church Year lack hymns which properly exposit their true sense. It is the purpose of this contest to provide profound and artistic hymns for such unaddressed pericopes (that is, a set of readings given for a certain day). Therefore, the challange of this contest is as follows: to compose a hymn which discerns and declares the meaning of the chosen lectionary texts and properly expresses the congregational response to the work of our Lord in the Word.

The Texts:

The hymn should concern itself with the following texts, with a focus on the gospel reading:

Zephaniah 1:7-16
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

The Prize:

The winner of the contest shall be awarded $1,000. The winning hymn will be publised by Liturgy Solutions, which will be granted first right-of-refusal to the hymn upon acceptance of the prize money.   The author/composer royalty to be paid by Liturgy Solutions will be 50% of all receipts from sales and any other profitable uses of the hymn (public performance for profit, radio broadcast, etc.).”

So the texts the hymn is supposed to elucidate deal with the Day of the Lord, Jesus coming back like a thief in the night, and the Parable of the Talents.

Yes, I have been asked to be one of the judges, but I will show no favoritism to the tunes of Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, or other artists that I can go on and on about on this blog.  (Well, if Bob Dylan enters the contest with a lectionary hymn, he might have an edge with me.)

But, seriously, you can use an existing hymn tune, if you like, or you can compose your own.  The words will be key.  You know those numbers at the bottom of each page in a hymnbook?  7.7.7.,,  Those are the number of syllables in each line.  That’s important to know in writing words to go with a particular tune.

Anyway, enter!  Try it.  You need not be Lutheran to win.  There is a thousand dollar prize!  The deadline is December 1.  Maybe your hymn too will be sung in future centuries.

Mainline liberal Protestants look for a new name

It isn’t just [some] Southern Baptists–or [some] Missouri Synod Lutherans–who are looking for a new name.  So are mainline liberal Protestants.   From Amy Frykholm:

In a recent interview with the Century, historian David Hollinger talks about his preference for the phrase “ecumenical Protestants” to describe non-evangelical mid-20th-century American Protestants, instead of the more frequently used terms “liberal” and “mainline.”

“Ecumenical” refers to a specific, vital and largely defining impulse within the groups I am describing. It also provides a more specific and appropriate contrast to evangelical. The term evangelical comes into currency in the mid-century to refer to a combination of fundamentalists and Holiness, Pentecostals and others; ecumenical refers to the consolidation of the ecumenical point of view in the big conferences of 1942 and 1945.

I appreciated this shift in vocabulary because I have long disliked both the terms “liberal” and “mainline” to refer to whatever-kind-of-Protestant it is that I am.

“Mainline” emerged as a label in the early part of the twentieth-century to distinguish a certain kind of Protestant from a fundamentalist. Some have speculated that the name comes from the Philadelphia Main Line, a suburban rail line that passed by one denominational church after another. But its two parts, “main” and “line” are both utterly unhelpful in describing the people, theology, social commitments or religious identities contained under that category today.

If anything, so-called mainline Protestants are less “main” and less “line” than they’ve ever been.

“Liberal” likewise is useless. At our particular moment, it is primarily a political term. While it can apply to theology and abstractly to philosophy, that isn’t its main rhetorical purpose now, and it lumps people from a broad spectrum under a term that is awkward and uncomfortable for most of them. Many people in this category would not consider themselves “liberal” in theology, but they might in politics. Or they might be liberal in theology, but decidedly not so in politics. Or they might claim neither or both, or have no idea why it matters.

But “ecumenical” has its problems too. For one thing, is ecumenism still the defining impulse of the group of Christians in questions? What’s more, the word may no longer helpfully distinguish us from evangelicals, who are a whole lot more ecumenical than they used to be.

It isn’t that we must have a term that everyone can agree on, one that suits us all perfectly. But it would be nice to have something, as Hollinger says, that “refers to a specific, vital and largely defining impulse.” We know—at least I think we do—who we are talking about. Why can’t we put a name to it or to ourselves? Is it because of an identity crisis? An awkward transition toward a less central cultural role?

Evangelicals are just as “ecumenical” in the sense of accepting different churches as these other guys.  And isn’t defining today’s churches by their attendance at a conference in 1945 rather retrograde?  I’m not sure what’s wrong with “liberal” as a descriptor for those denominations that aren’t constrained by Biblical authority, that think the beliefs of the church should change to conform to the dominant culture, or, rather, the dominant cultural and intellectual elite.  While it’s true that many people who are conservative theologically are liberal politically, I’m not aware of anyone who is liberal theologically who isn’t also liberal politically.  But help these folks out.  What is a good name for them?  What is their “identity” today?

The penalty if religious institutions won’t comply

So what will happen if religious and other pro-life institutions refuse to go along with the Obamacare contraceptive and abortifacient mandate?

Under President Obama’s healthcare law, the HHS can levy $100 per employee, per day against institutions that won’t comply with the mandate.

Therefore, religious employers with hundreds of employees could be fined millions of dollars each year. A 50-employee institution, for example, would face a penalty of $1,825,000 each year.

“ObamaCare gives the federal government the tools to tax religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, universities and soup kitchens right out of existence,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), sponsor of the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act.

Using the language that the Supreme Court recently decided covered the penalties in ObamaCare, Sensenbrenner cites a February report by the Congressional Research Service that adds up the noncompliance tax to $36,500 annually per employee. Any group health plan and health insurance issuer subject to insurance market reforms in Title I of the Affordable Care Act that objects to coverage requirements based on religious and moral convictions does not qualify for an exemption.

via PJ Media » ‘ObamaCare Catch-22′: Crushing Fines for Religious Entities in Mandate.

John the Baptist and us

We had another great sermon from Pastor Douthwaite on the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29).  A sampling:

John the Baptist never was at home in this world. He was an interloper. A stranger. A misfit.

It began with his birth which was not the usual way. He was born miraculously to a couple who could not have children because they were too old and she was barren.

He was given the wrong name (in the opinion of all who were there when he was born). Everybody wanted him named Zechariah, after his father. That was how it was done; that was the tradition – to name the first born son after the father. But no. His name would be John.

He didn’t wear what everyone else was wearing. If he was around today, he’d be one of those people you notice walking down the street that everyone points to and snickers and says “really?” A camel’s hair shirt with a leather belt around your waste?

Then there was his diet. John went primal before it became a fad diet! Locusts and wild honey.

He did his preaching out in the wilderness. And he didn’t pander to the crowd – he was a fiery preacher of repentance. And if you got into his crosshairs, he wouldn’t let you out. He didn’t care who you were – Pharisee, Sadducee, Scribe, King. And he’d keep after you, even from prison . . . he didn’t care. He just didn’t care.

John was like a bizarre visitor from another place and time. The world was not his home. It never would be. . . .

Truth is, Christians do have a little John in them; a little bit of weird in them. Because like John, we have a whole lot of Jesus in us.

Think about it. Like John, you too were miraculously born – born from above by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.

Like John, you too wear different clothes – the robe of righteousness given to you by Christ.

Like John, you too eat strange food – the Body and Blood of the Lord in His Supper here.

Like John, your thinking and values and loves are different.

And so as a Christian, like John, you’re never quite at home in this world and life. Just a bit out of step.

Then again, we are also like Herod:

King Herod, on the other hand, was a man of the world. He lived large. He saw what he wanted and took it. And he made no apologies for it. Yet even so, though Herod gets what he wants, he never seems to get what he wants. He’s never satisfied. Never at peace. But that’s the way of the world. That’s the way of it with sin. It never leaves you satisfied, but always wanting more. It enslaves in that way.

And it enslaved Herod on his birthday. A lustful king made a foolish promised and an angry wife took advantage of the situation. And Herod, who didn’t want to disappoint his guests or look out of step with the world, is trapped. Sin isn’t as harmless as it looks. A dancing girl, a little lust, what’s the harm?  . . .  But Herod’s hand is forced. He’s not as free as he thinks. So he sadly gives the order, and John loses his head. . .
To confess that we’ve played the Herod and played the Herodias and listen to John, who though he was beheaded so many years ago is still preaching to us today. Preaching to us to repent – but not only that! But even more, preaching us to the cross. To behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

To see Jesus there on the cross as the one who became enslaved for you and bound to the cross with the chains of your sin, in order to set you free. For that’s what forgiveness is. The word for forgiveness in the Greek is the same word for being released, for being set free. And so forgiveness is to be set free from your sin, from your slavery to sin, from the condemnation of sin – free to be a child of God. And that is what you are. In Jesus. . . .

And so Jesus, in your place, enters the prison of sin, death, and the grave. He puts His neck on the chopping block for your foolishness, your lusts, your murder and anger and pride and hate and rebellion . . . and as the blade is coming down says: Father, forgive them. Set them free. And He does. And you are.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 7 Sermon.