How God preserves His church

We were on our own for several days in Copenhagen, so on Sunday we attended a service of the Church of Denmark.  Gabriel had invited us to a congregation in fellowship with the LCMS, but the service was at 4:30 p.m., and we had to meet up with our hosts around then.  We had earlier come across a magnificent church (“the Marble Church”) near the palace (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are all constitutional monarchies, like England).  We thought we would go to a service there.  So we set forth from our hotel for a trek of probably just over a mile or so.

When we saw it as tourists, we saw a sign that the building would be closed to the public during services, so we hoped that they would let us in.  We were graciously received by the usher.  There was a far bigger crowd than I was expecting, around 100 people.   We were given an English translation of the liturgy.  We could have probably followed it without the translation, since it was the basic service that we had in the United States.  The tunes of the hymns were some of the same that we sing.

There were certainly differences.  Pastors there wear a black gown with a cool 17th-century-style ruff.  There was no offering, since the government and church taxes support the churches financially.  (They did have a box that you could put coins in as you leave, which I think is an ancient practice, before the advent of pews and passing the plate.)  They also had no confession and absolution.  (I was told later that liberal congregations tend to leave out that part of the service, while conservative congregations retain it.  Later, in Norway, we went to an Inner Mission service, which did include the confession of sins, though not an absolution from the pastor.)  [Read more...]

“I love my country, it’s the government I’m afraid of”

Tourist shops here in the D.C. area sell a t-shirt that says, “I love my country, it’s the government I’m afraid of!”  (sic, the comma splice)   I believe it was first worn by liberals opposed to George W. Bush.  Now it’s being worn by conservatives opposed to Barack Obama.  (I present this as evidence for my assertion that both liberals and conservatives have become cynical when it comes to patriotic ideals.)

Now I understand the point.  It’s possible to love America with its purple mountain majesties, its history, its people, and its ideals while being utterly opposed to the government.  That’s a commendable distinction.  At the same time, in a democratic republic, the people choose their leaders and elect their government, so there is going to be a connection between the country and the government.  There is a fine line between hating a nation’s government and hating the nation.

In the older patriotism of my childhood, which I talk about in that other post, there was a palpable distinction–parallel to the rejection by orthodox Christianity of the Donatist heresy–between the office and the person who holds the office.  Critics respected the office of the presidency or of a Senator or Congressman, even if they attacked a particular office holder.  A person might complain about politicians in Washington, but not “Congress” as a whole.

Today. . . .I don’t know.  I worry about the preservation of our institutions if hardly anyone has any respect for them.

I suppose some people are afraid of their country–thinking the American people are essentially racist, plutocratic, and oppressive– but love their government, which they want to protect them from society.  Is there a similar danger in the sentiment on the t-shirt?

Gay ordination vs. women’s ordination

Which is more problematic, ordaining a homosexual man or ordaining a woman? To ordain someone who sins publicly and without repentance would be a scandalous failure of discipline and Biblical fidelity on the part of the church body. And yet, there have been homosexual pastors before. No one has denied that, whatever their sin, they are true pastors and that the sacraments they administer are valid.

To question that would be to fall into the heresy of Donatism. A Lutheran cannot hold that position. The Augsburg Confession, Article VIII, says of Lutherans that “They condemn the Donatists, and such like, who denied it to be lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.”

In the case of women, though, the question is whether they can be pastors at all. If not, their orders are illegitimate. That would seem to mean that the sacraments they administer–with the exception of Baptism, which can be performed by any layman–are invalid. (Question: Is that the position of those who reject women’s ordination? Or since the keys are held by the congregation, can the congregation have valid sacraments no matter who the pastor is?)

So wouldn’t women’s ordination be worse than gay ordination? Yes, both are wrong. The ELCA has both, and the new breakaway denomination will only have the former. But still, it keeps surprising me how this one issue keeps inspiring breaks in denominations, even though more serious transgressions that have taken place earlier are ignored. Am I missing something? I’m just asking.