Friday, June 26, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

On the blog of a friend and classmate the following very sad news is posted:

A Matter Personal and Professional

Preface: This may surprise some readers of Ask the Pastor: I’ve been asked to resign my pastorate here in Emma, Missouri. I’ll provide a bit of background in this preface and then let you read the following letter, one that I delivered verbally and in print to the congregation following the service on 7 June 2009.

Such is the way in today’s churches. While I know this to be the way of the churches today, still it grieves me deeply and even catches me off guard. While I often wondered how Pastor Snyder continued as a pastor in the LC-MS without suffering what other pastors often have suffered for the sake of the Gospel, nevertheless, it still is abhorrent to observe.

I often read Pastor Snyder’s posts and asked myself how he could compromise on certain points. I knew that he was being overly gentle, seeking to avoid causing offense. While he presented very scholarly answers to many questions, I often sensed that he was holding back rather than being truly straightforward and as confrontational as the Scriptures speak.

I always figured that this was how he managed to be perceived as “acceptable” to so many readers and to the members of the congregation that he served.

But now it is demonstrated that even he is not acceptable.

How a “Lutheran” congregation could find his articles to be “embarrassing” is beyond reasonable explanation. To explain such a response requires ignoring the title of Lutheran in connection with the name of the congregation.

I have very much appreciated Pastor Snyder and his articles. He is very careful in his research. He presents valuable information that requires much effort and study. His very obvious desire is to present the truth as God has recorded it for us in His Holy Scriptures. His other very obvious desire is that people should hear the truth so as to receive God’s grace, salvation, and comfort through hearing it.

I grieve for the members of the congregation who are having their hearts shredded by what is being done to their pastor against their will. From my own experiences I know that many in the congregation are shocked and deeply injured by what they helplessly observe being perpetrated not only against their beloved pastor, but also against their Lord, whom their pastor serves.

I grieve for Pastor Snyder, knowing that he intensely feels the pain of these members and would do anything in his power to prevent their anguish. I know that he wishes that he could take their pain for them. I know that he is questioning his every action, trying to find an answer to what he may have done to cause this. I know that he hurts for his family. I know that he agonizes over the congregation.

Yet this is not about anything that Pastor Snyder has done wrong, nor about his personality. This is regarding the very strong warning given in James 4:4.

Pastor Snyder, as you will surely be examining yourself with great scrutiny, do not forget who you are in Christ Jesus. Hold fast. Remember the promises of God in your baptism. Let this be a time that drives you even more deeply into the Scriptures and into the confidence proclaimed therein. Let go of all else and cling to the Word who is proclaimed in and through these Holy Scriptures. He will not fail you. He has never failed anyone. He is the one whom you have proclaimed. Hear for yourself the blessed Word who is your God and Savior.

Know this, too, that He has a few on reserve who will continue to be your friends and brothers. There is and always has been and ever shall be a remnant, who value the Word more than all else, and who stand in unity with all who truly depend upon Him.

God be with you, Pastor Snyder, and with all who hurt as you do. This is more than a kindly wish from a fellow man, this is the sure promise of Almighty God.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Trinity Sunday & the Athanasian Creed

At Necessary Roughness is an interesting post on Trinity Sunday. His pearl illustration, in which he compares the writing of the Athanasian Creed to the formation of a pearl, generates some helpful thinking, but it is generated by thinking that is not quite accurate.

As he indicates, a pearl is the product of covering over of something that is foreign and harmful to the oyster. But the Creed is not like this. Rather than a covering over of a foreign and harmful substance in the body of Christ with an inanimate and innocuous material, the Creed is an exposition of the all-powerful Truth, which actually exposes and expels what is foreign and harmful.

It seems that the most common response to the Athanasian Creed is to call it a refutation of the various heresies. It certainly was written in response to these, but not with refutation as the foundation. The Creed is written as an exposition of the true and catholic faith, without which salvation cannot be given and received.

When a person reads or recites this creed, what is encountered is not a refutation of falsehood, but a confession of the Truth. The Creed is very much more than a refutation. The Truth always leaves falsehood refuted, simply by the light that is generated by the Truth. In the light, that which is false simply does not match that which is true.

The Creed is written as a confession of the catholic faith by which salvation is given and received. It is written for the purpose of edifying the body of Christ, for strengthening the weak and faltering. Those who refuse to receive this Creed are surely exposed by their rejection of the Truth as it is clearly stated, but that is a secondary function of the Creed.

It is a mistake to view the Ecumenical Creeds as means of keeping heresies and heretics out of the Church. Rather, they are declarations of what the Church really is, so that people may freely come to the source of the Truth and not have the true faith stolen from them by false prophets and by people’s own misunderstandings.

Conservative Lutheran church bodies have often presented the creeds and especially the Athanasian Creed as refutations of false doctrine. Because of this much legalistic thinking has prevailed amongst those holding such. Then the notion that the Bible is counted as the Word of God and that the Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions are counted as true expositions of the Word of God is counted as being equal to and truly holding and believing and living the true faith. This is what happened with the Pharisees and the scribes and Sadducees.

The true Church does not have as its business the refutation of falsehood. Rather, it is the living body of Christ, founded upon and gathered unto the Truth. Where the Truth is taught and guarded, all that is false is naturally perceived as false and foreign. Where the activity is continual confession and exposition of the Truth, falsehood has no foothold and those who prefer falsehood expose themselves. Such shall be acknowledged according to what their own works/confessions expose concerning them and they are thereby refuted and ultimately excommunicated. But this is actually a foreign work of the true Church and of the Creeds of the true Church.

It is notable that in the Gospel accounts the Lord Jesus is not reported as having given orders to the apostles or to the others who were sent out that they should refute falsehood. Rather He sends them forth to preach the Gospel to all who will receive their peace. He said that where that peace is rejected that they should simply depart and make clear in their leaving that they are not one with those who reject their peace, which is the peace of God in Christ.

In contrast, consider the immense amounts of energy wasted in the building and defense and reclaiming of people’s church bodies. Consider the amount of time and money and energy thrown away on evangelism programs and on trying to win souls for Christ. If only those professing to be the Church of the Creeds would live by them, not counting their confession of them as anything more than the Truth at work in them. Then they would be true gatherings unto the pure Word and Sacraments, rather than gatherings of mangled church bodies where fighting for the Truth is the order of the day.

The Athanasian Creed is not written to be used as a refutation of heresies, but as a confession of the true faith by which all men must be saved. Salvation, not refutation, is the foundation of the creeds. Since this salvation is unlike any other proclamation in the world, it stands in such stark contrast to everything else that the foreign notions, when exposed to the Truth’s light are by their very nature exposed as foreign and false. Anyone who truly knows the God of the Athanasian Creed naturally cringes at the hearing of anything else and will gather only to the proclamation of the catholic faith confessed in this creed.

This is the purpose and nature of the creeds.

Monday, June 01, 2009


The Festival of Pentecost is a glorious day of celebrating the gift of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. With this marvelous gift the Lord Jesus guaranteed that His Church would be kept safe from the powers of sin, death, the devil, the world, and the sinful fleshly nature.

But the devil and the world and our sinful nature are still at war against the saints both as individuals and as the Communion of the Saints, the holy catholic Church on earth. Surely yesterday was a day of battle for the souls of mankind.

In our household, as we made preparations for the service, my wife and I entered into a terrible argument over something absolutely stupid. The matter in dispute was not the cause of our argument, but rather our own obstinance and selfishness. The argument was so intense that it would have stolen away from us the very faith that the day is given to nurture in us. Sin and pride and selfishness are powerful enemies of our souls. Thanks be to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who tirelessly comes to us through the engrafted Word to call us to repentance. He never stops calling to us and working within us to work conversion anew so that repentance transpires within our hearts, minds, and souls and forgiveness is received.

As we struggled, we both cried on account of our sinfulness and we cried on account of our obstinate refusal to subject ourselves to the will of God and to one another in His love. We cried because we knew that we needed the gifts that are bestowed in the divine service through the holy liturgy and through the Word that would be proclaimed in the sermon. So we knelt in prayer and prayed that the Holy Spirit would give to us the forgiveness and love to submit to Him and receive His gifts, humbling us that we might be open to Him. Then we moved forward in His love, forgiving one another and rejoicing in the renewal that He works in the liturgy, the hymns, and the sermon.

This is the life of those who are called by God to be His saints. This is what Pentecost is about. Surely the devil was mightily at work to tempt us to destroy ourselves. But the Lord is not willing to permit this and He calls to our remembrance all that He has previously taught us and continues teaching us. He comforts us with the means of grace, so that we trust that we have yet again been reconciled to God and His peace fills us and renews us once again.

This great miracle, however, can be resisted to the point of losing the gift of the Holy Spirit and the regeneration that He works in Baptism and the renewal that He works in the Communion of Christ’s body and blood. It is possible to resist or ignore the Holy Spirit’s continual urging until we finally are left with only our own thoughts, and our traditions and rituals, and our own faith that ultimately is nothing more than pretense and excuses.

Yesterday afternoon, my mother-in-law called to tell us that she had heard that George Tiller had been shot in the head and killed while attending the Sunday services at Reformation Lutheran Church. Truly the devil and his legions are at work in the world.

Should such things as this murder surprise us? Outrage and shock have been expressed as this news fills the headlines and air waves and digital signals both locally and nationally. But is this really a surprising event?

The man who killed Tiller, is obviously not thinking rightly. He obviously is not one who abides in the everlasting love of God. On the day of Pentecost, instead of God’s love, murder filled his heart to such a degree that his murderous thoughts became murderous actions.


Perhaps we should stop and consider what he has been taught by our society. Last evening my wife and I went to look for a movie to rent and we had trouble finding anything that appealed to us. We observed the large number of horror movies newly released. Most of the other movies were about murderous revenge or destructive perversions of life in other forms. Revenge and self-gratification are taught and promoted continually and much money is made in the promotion thereof.

What about the response of our nation to the terrible events of 9-11. War! More War! War with Iraq. War with Afghanistan. Threats against Iran. Were any alternative avenues pursued first? Were there even any genuine additional threats against the USA and her citizens? Were the presumed causes for the war ever found in Iraq? Yet the nation is still at war and talking of more war. Justify it with the flag. Call it patriotism. Call it self defense. How many have been killed in the name of justice and freedom and patriotism. The numbers killed by the warmongering exceeds by many times the number killed in the events of 9-11. And, like with the movies, great sums of money have been raped from the people. Some have made billions of dollars from this.

What about the 36 year reign of the abortion industry? Our government has approved and sanctioned the mass murder of millions of helpless human beings. Our society has accepted these brutal murders, these acts that are so atrocious that people become angry that pictures of such things are made public. Pro-life people who try to expose the brutality that abortionists commit daily upon these dear children are decried as extremists and insensitive and uncaring and as opposing true caring for the women and their “rights.” Yet those who actually do the things exposed in the photographs and diagrams are held in honor as gentle and caring. Those who make millions and even billions of dollars enacting these atrocities at which society cringes when the photos are shown, those who kill more than a million babies every year, those are given prestige and government protection. The police arrest those who protest against these killers. The media vilifies those who seek peacefully to expose these atrocious crimes against humanity. And all this by the same society that sanctions chainsaw murder movies and vampire movies and movies about revenge and vigilante justice.

Last night a vigil was held in the Old Town area to remember and honor the man whom some have labeled Dr. George Killer. Contrary to the laws that Dr. Tiller violated in order to perform late term abortions, even when charges were brought against him in court, the Kansas governor and the news media defended him and attacked the Attorney General with false accusations. They worked tirelessly to discredit the Attorney General. Dr. Tiller spent many dollars supporting this and supporting an alternative Attorney General who subsequently won the election, only to be found to be a law breaker himself. But the job of removing the Attorney General who was properly carrying out the law was thoroughly accomplished.

The man who killed Tiller very likely imagined falsely that he was carrying out the justice that could not be carried out by any other means. He probably also imagined himself to be a son of righteousness, a son of God, a Christian.

But so did George Tiller and the pastor and members of Reformation Lutheran Church. Yet while Tiller killed babies by the hundreds and even thousands annually, his family and pastor and the members of the congregation counted him to be a Christian and a son of righteousness. They were gathered on the day of Pentecost, pretending to be gathered as a congregation of God’s grace, mercy, and peace, pretending to worship in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, while condoning a murderer in their midst. Did they call him to repent of his actions? No, they appointed him to usher them to their pews. They joyfully welcomed him as a fellow pretender. The Greek word is hypocrite. St. John warns that such is self deception and calling God a liar. Tiller was formerly a member of a congregation in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LC-MS), but joined with Reformation Lutheran Church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) because of the ELCA’s acceptance of abortion. It is notable that Dennis Rader, aka, the BTK Strangler, was a long-time member of Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita, also of the ELCA which teaches that abortion is acceptable. Does this connection mean anything? It certainly stands to remind us that where sin is tolerated and even mislabeled as honorable, the Holy Spirit is not being heeded and true repentance is not being worked.

Now the point of this is not that Tiller or his killer or the pastor and congregation of Reformation Lutheran Church are worse people than any of the rest of us. No, for the Lord tells us that anyone who is unjustly angry with a brother is a murderer. On that basis how many murders have we each committed in our hearts?

No, the point is that true faith and the peace of God that the Holy Spirit gives by means of this true faith cannot exist apart from true repentance. The work of the Holy Spirit is to convict us regarding the Truth so that He works true repentance in our hearts. The work of the Holy Spirit is to call us unto Jesus to be baptized into Him and to eat the body and blood of His Holy Communion so as to be regenerated unto the Lord’s righteousness in His kingdom and to walk in His righteousness. He works continually to call us back again, for we are obstinate and turn away continually.

Regarding Tiller’s killer, many have condemned him. Regarding Tiller, many have condemned him. For Tiller, repentance is no longer possible. It is for his killer. It is for all of us killers. Like Tiller, like his killer, we all commit murder in our hearts and we even try to justify or excuse our murderous thoughts. Sometimes we even act upon these and kill with our words.

The Lord God calls to us through His means of grace to hear what the Spirit says. He calls to us to move us to true repentance so that we turn from all else to His mercy to receive from Him the forgiveness of sins and renewal into His Holy Communion. The devil, the world, and our own flesh, continually work against this. But God is greater. His forgiveness knows no limits. His love is everlasting. His healing is for our spirit, our heart, our mind, our body, and together our very being or soul. This is the ultimate lesson that we are to hear and to take with us from these tragic atrocities. Then the day of Pentecost is for us what God has already made it to be, a day of rejoicing in the gift of salvation that is in Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen Savior, who has established His Church for us and has poured out His Holy Spirit to us in His Church for our everlasting forgiveness, regeneration, renewal and comfort. Truly, no matter what else happens around us, this is cause for humble rejoicing!