Should You Go to a Lutheran Church This Good Friday?

Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace…



You should definitely consider it. If you go to an LC-MS, WELS, or ELS Lutheran Church, for example*, you will quite likely be impressed with the service.

The Good Friday service is one of the things these “confessional Lutherans” do best. Even if certain congregations from these church bodies, sadly, might not be riveted on the heart of the Christian faith each and every Sunday, chances are very good that on Good Friday they will get things right.

This is one of the reasons, I think, that a Facebook friend of mine, Pastor Andrew Preus, posted the following yesterday.

Often when parents or friends or pastors try to convince someone who has been despising the means of grace to come to church, they will make a renewed attempt around big holidays like Christmas or Easter. I have done this for years. We say things like, “But it’s EASTER! Of all Sundays, you can’t skip church on this day!”

But we should be careful not to persuade people to come to church by means of mere sentimental appeals to nostalgic feelings of Easter breakfasts followed by a service. Instead, keep in mind the Alleluia verse for Easter taken from 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Let us keep the feast of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” So here is my advice for those faithful Christians who might have loved ones, neighbors, friends, relatives, or someone else who is either not familiar with the gospel or has been despising it for months or years. If you want to invite them to church during Easter, bring them instead to Good Friday service. Then ask them what they think of what they heard. Talk about our Lord’s death, the cost and payment of our sins, and the deep love of God to make atonement for them. Have a solemn assembly, so to speak.

Review the Ten Commandments, especially the third (and most likely the fourth and sixth as well!), learn to repent, and learn to take comfort in the death of Christ. Then, if this comforts you and if you are truly sorry for your sins, join us to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection in sincerity and truth!

Pastor Preus’ message was hard, but rooted in great truths. I deeply appreciate the serious way he looks at things.

One of the things his message made me think about was how years ago my family reluctantly stopped attending the Lutheran Church we were attending. Why? Because every other Sunday wasn’t enough like Good Friday…

The blood that covers sinners is for you to. “The cross is our theology,” said Martin Luther.


I am not saying that there is not time in the church for an all out Easter celebration, for Resurrection. Indeed, let the trumpets blare with a joyful noise! The point is that without Good Friday, the true meaning and joy of Easter cannot begin to be grasped: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!

In the letter I wrote to my pastor, explaining why we were leaving, I said the following:

“…Speaking for myself here, I used to ask regarding worship, “Why shouldn’t the Holy of Holies become the Friendly of Friendlies?” (Ft. Wayne theologian David Scaer’s phrase).  Was not Jesus kind to all?

This is the answer that has gradually formed in my mind over the last several years due to my reading of God’s Word, listening to many Bible teachers and commentators, and my own reflection:  Jesus, though ever-kind, only shows His “friendliness” to those who take Him seriously (fear of God)—to His own, or to those looking to become His own (if one will argue against this, at the very least could we not agree that [seriousness is at issue] when it comes to the Divine Service, to Eucharistic worship?—see Hebrews 12:22-29 for example). On the other hand, to those who do not take Him seriously—His enemies—He simply dies for them in all seriousness, with a heart of true love, which is an unpretentious, no-nonsense love, and is pure unsentimental unwavering kindness. This he does whispering “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. There is nothing that could ever possibly be construed as “cheesy” or “gimmicky” with Jesus. In short, “the Passion of the Christ” [Note: the movie had recently been released] is our theology, or we have no true theology. It alone is to be the centerpiece of our worship. And in all honesty, it’s the only way that the books of Leviticus and Revelation even start to make sense to me.

What of the lost? Well, certainly we are to be about the same business of Jesus, who came to seek and to save them. The Divine Worship, however, is serious business, and is meant for the people of God—though all seekers and even rank unbelievers may come into the presence of this wrathful and yet kind lamb—if they dare. This is the kind of worship—more—the kind of Catechesis, in which [my wife] and I desire to raise our children.

I don’t really sense much of this approach [here]….



I ended up in a much more serious church – a church where the Good Friday message was always in the background. A church where solemnity and joy went hand in hand, all the time

What is that kind of a church like? Are you not sure about this? The LC-MS church of Dr. Eric Phillips (Concordia Lutheran Nashville), who has also written for this blog in the past, has produced some absolutely standout videos (which are also short). They demonstrate, I think, the best of what the churches of the Lutheran confession has to offer.

My favorite video is this first one, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Here, Dr. Eric Phillips explains “the value of church attendance and the dangers of not regularly hearing and receiving God’s word through the gifts He has provided to nurture faith”:


So, what is in the other videos? In this second one, Pastor Phillips explains the nature of the Lutheran worship service as a whole, or as we like to say, “Divine Service”:


And here he “explains the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper from the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions.” (this is the final part of a four-part series on the Eucharist):


What about baptism? Is the Lutheran view biblical? Here, the good pastor “explains the sacrament of baptism from the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions” (this is the final part of a five-part series on baptism):


Finally, don’t those Lutheran pastors say “*I* forgive you your sins”? “How in the world can they do that!?” you might ask. This short video “discusses why absolution works”:


Again, if you don’t watch any of the other videos above, at least consider watching that first one! (and maybe the last one as well : ) )

I think it sums up well the heartbeat of Christ’s church.

For He is the Friend of Sinners.

I hope and pray that you will consider going to a confessional Lutheran church this Sunday. You may be able to find a good one here using this site (it works according to zip code). If, perchance, you will be in the northwest parts of Wisconsin, I will be leading a service in a small country church there.

Have a blessed Holy Week!



*Or perhaps, for example, an AALC or CLC church (these are even smaller, but very confessional, Lutheran congregations).

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Posted by on April 17, 2019 in Uncategorized


You Tube Livestream with Matthew Garnett

Thanks to Matthew for having me and putting up with me for 2 hours. Definitely a great act of sanctification there!

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Posted by on April 3, 2019 in Uncategorized


Is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador the “Moral Shakedown Artist of Mexico City”? Or is He Right?

Buchanan: How many people really believe that “all civilizations and cultures are equal”?


The following is a bit long. In order to facilitate a quick read, I have put key elements in bold.


In his most recent column, Pat Buchanan comments on Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s message to Pope Francis I and King Felipe VI of Spain demanding that they ask for forgiveness for Hernando Cortez’s conquering of Mexico 500 years ago.

As one might imagine, the “paleoconservative” Buchanan is having none of it.

After saying “[n]ow no one denies that great sins and crimes were committed in that conquest,” in effect admitting that what Cortez and Spain were wrong, he asks in the next breath “…But are not the Mexican people, 130 million of them, far better off because the Spanish came and overthrew the Aztec Empire?”

Buchanan on Obrador, pictured: “the moral shakedown artist of Mexico City.”


Buchanan’s article is impressive in its rhetorical force. Some of the jarring questions he asks:

  • Did not 300 years of Spanish rule and replacement of Mexico’s pagan cults with the Catholic faith lead to enormous advances for its civilization and human rights?
  • [I]s there never a justification for one nation to invade another, conquer its people, impose its rule, and uproot and replace its culture and civilization?
  • Is “cultural genocide” always a crime against humanity, even if the uprooted culture countenanced human sacrifice?
  • Did the Aztecs have a right to be left alone by the European world? If so, whence came that right?
  • Which leads to another question: Are all civilizations and cultures equal, or are some more equal than others? Are some superior?

Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell: it was “weird to receive now this request for an apology for events that occurred 500 years ago.”


Near the end of this article Buchanan states:

Behind this demand for an apology from Spain and the Church is a view of history familiar to Americans, and rooted in clashing concepts about who we are, and were.

Have the Western peoples who conquered and changed much of the world been, on balance, a blessing to mankind or a curse? Is the history of the West, though replete with the failings of all civilizations, not unique in the greatness of what it produced?

Or are the West’s crimes of imperialism, colonialism, genocide, racism, slavery and maltreatment of minorities of color so sweeping, hateful and shameful they cancel out the good done?

Is the white race, as Susan Sontag wrote, “the cancer of human history”?”…. (bold mine)

“American writer, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist” Susan Sontag, pictured in 1979.


I point out that Buchanan brought up “whiteness” like he did and in the context that he did for a very strategic reason. While I would argue that Western civilization, or Christendom, and being white are clearly not synonymous, that distinction appears to make very little difference to many today.

Buchanan’s last paragraph is particularly interesting:

“Query: Can peoples who are ashamed of their nation’s past do great things in its future? Or is a deep-seated national guilt, such as that which afflicts many Germans today, a permanent incapacitating feature of a nation’s existence?”

“I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native people during the so-called conquest of America.”


To address Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell—who “wondered if Spain should seek an apology from France for the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula and crimes committed by the armies of Napoleon…?”—I note with interest that after World War II, Germany actually did apologize for their crimes, while Japan did not.

I don’t think Rome apologized either… “The Romans, being conquerors, naturally considered themselves superior and entitled to rule eastern peoples regarded as militarily inferior.” (Benjamin Isaac, 510).


And, other than having some real issues currently with immigration, Germany, as a whole, doesn’t seem to be doing too badly, do they? Perhaps this kind of thing is worth thinking seriously about….


Speaking of Germany, in his scholarly book about racism in antiquity, Benjamin Isaac also talks about the desires of powerful empires to subjugate others.

I know you are probably thinking about Hitler right now (probably not Merkel and Germany’s leadership role in the E.U.), but that is actually not where I am going with this. Hold on…

In Isaac’s book, he looks into the matter of empire and race in no little depth, speaking of what we learn from the works of men like the Roman senator and historian Cornelius Tacitus:

The Roman views—and especially those of Tacitus—on the Germans are probably the best example to be found anywhere in ancient literature of a full integration of proto-racist stereotypes and imperialist ideology. To conquer and rule them was not only the ultimate test of a warrior-empire, it was also a necessity for its long-term survival. As long as the Germans would remain independent and maintain their pure lineage—as emphasized by Tacitus—they would preserve their strength. Their subjugation and Romanization would corrupt them and remove the threat they represented. Romanization represented a successful process of ethnic decomposition and imperial integration, necessary for the establishment and maintenance of full control. Where this failed, the empire was under threat. There is a continuous preoccupation with the decline of Empire in antiquity. When Gibbon chose the title of his great work, this entirely reflected ancient views of history (515, bold mine).

Cornelius Tacitus.


At the same time, not everyone in Rome shared Tacitus’ view about how to run an Empire vis a vis those whom it would conquer. In fact, in Tacitus’ own writings, (Annals 11.24.1, from the 1st and 2nd century A.D.) we hear about how the emperor Claudius had a different view than his own. Claudius, he says, believed Rome should allow men from Gallia Comata to attain public office and hence membership in the Senate, and hence said the following:

“The oldest of my ancestors, Claudius, was originally a Sabine. He was adopted at the same time into the Roman state and into the patrician class. These ancestors encourage me to follow similar ideas in governing the Republic, by relocating here anything of excellence. You are not, of course, ignorant of the fact that the family of the Julii come from Alba, the Coruncanii, from Camerium, the Porcii, from Tusculum, and—to pass over ancient history—men have been accepted into the senate from Etruria, Lucania, and the whole of Italy. Then, the very expansion of the state to the Alps united not just individual men but whole lands and tribes under our name. There was a firm peace at home and our influence abroad was strong at the time when the people living beyond the Po were given citizenship, when we accepted the strongest provincials to support our weak empire under the pretext of spreading our legions over the world. Are we truly sorry that the Balbi have come to us come from Spain? That no less remarkable men have come from Gallia Narbonensis? Their descendants are still with us and their love of our country is no less than ours(bold mine).

Claudius, 1st century Roman Emperor.


In other words, Claudius is all about, at least rhetorically, promoting multiculturalism/diversity and the sharing of power in the Roman Empire.

Now, this might seem like par for the course for us today, but I note that, per scholars like Isaac and Denise Eileen McCoskey, it has not always been this way… In fact, Isaac notes that this kind of thinking was extremely uncommon in ancient Greece and Rome, which tended to distrust foreigners.

In short, they simply did not believe that diversity or multiculturalism was a benefit to the empire. Given the sampling of documents that have come down to us intact today, they rather believed such things led to “degeneracy” (even as, in the Roman mind, “peoples who are entirely cut off from the rest of the world [also] have no merit [508]). For the Romans, it was possible for a people to regress though contact (contamination!) with outsiders but not progress – and, hence, fear of the foreigner at times actually put the brakes on imperial ambition.

The more or less universal story of the “Golden Age,” from which earth fell, and continued to fall…


Issac goes on:

At the root of these fears was, first, the idea, familiar throughout antiquity, that traveling and contact with foreigners are bad because they impair the traditional integrity of a people. Second, it was thought that a change of environment can only lead to deterioration and never to improvement. Third, there is the elementary absence of a belief in progress. Change can only be for the worse. Fourth, and connected with the third concept, we have seen that, ever since the second century b.c., Rome was preoccupied with the decline of her Empire, a process considered inevitable by many Romans. Loss of masculinity, integrity, and patriotism, factors just listed, was frequently thought to be the main cause. Thus the expansion of empire carries with it the cause of its destruction. An interesting connection between Roman stereotypes of other peoples and the self-perception of the Romans as conquerors can be discerned.

These attitudes often go far in their imperialist hostility. There are elements for which there is no parallel in modern or early modern thinking, such as the almost total absence of any belief in long-term progress….(510, bold mine)

John Gast, American Progress, c. 1872


At this point Isaac, writing in his book from 15 years ago, goes on to say something extremely interesting, and something which begins to bring us back around to this article’s main point:

…Furthermore, the deepseated mistrust of communication and contact between peoples is not common in modern western culture, nor do we encounter in the history of European colonialism anything like the Roman fear of corruption of the colonial armies by natives. In modern times, disapproval of individuals “who went native” was censure of an individual form of presumed degeneration, which could be avoided and was not regarded as a serious large-scale threat. On the whole the European colonial powers were confident of the superiority of their own Christian faith and they felt comfortable ruling masses of Moslem, Hindu, or Buddhist subjects without Old Cato’s fear that these religions, or the native cultures in their colonies, would prove stronger than their own cultures. Such fears have increased in recent times. As I write these lines, parties in western Europe are in the ascendance which warn of the dangers supposedly posed to western cultural, moral, and social identity, by immigrants who do not identify with and accept the existing values. (510, bold mine)

On the one hand, I find it interesting that Isaac attributes Western colonialism’s relative success to its confidence in its own culture, and particularly its confidence in its Christian faith. There are few these days, after all, who would find any confidence from such a thing. On the other hand, I find what he says to be somewhat mistaken. The reason for this is that my every impression is that colonialism, whatever positive benefits may have come out of it, was, according to Christ’s teachings, a deeply misguided process.

Even worse?: “For all we can tell, enslavement and the slave trade constituted the principal means of geographical and (both upward and downward) social mobility in the ancient world.” — Scheidel


After all, colonialism is fundamentally selfish and related to theft. It is like going into the home of another person and setting up shop. It’s offensive. Like the proverb says, “when in Rome you should do as the Romans do” and show respect. In fact, I think the only good kind of colonization is the Kingdom of heaven advancing! And Christians should adopt other cultures insofar as they are able to do so without sin.

Especially if you are going to live in another country, you should do everything you can, without sin, to become like them. If you are going to live there for an extended period of time, you should expect to be willing to fight in their military and die. Anything less on your part demonstrates a lack of respect and love.

Assimilation as an act of love and not of power?!


This is not like a marriage, where a man marries a woman and should expect to adjust his way of life to be a married man but to nevertheless act like headship is a real thing. It is a matter of showing proper honor to a people and their home. If Christians can’t get this, no one will.

I realize some will point out that the colonial project was more complicated than this,[i] but I will still maintain that it was evil and wrong, whatever benefits it brought. At the same time, one is not wrong to insist that those who took part in it, being as influenced as they were by Christianity (I am sure that some involved in all of this were Christians and that others were not), had, for the most part, very different attitudes about and towards the people they ruled than those in Rome… There was no doubt a lot of horrific sin there, but nothing, I think, like that found in the ancient world. Why do I say that? Because of simple little paragraphs like this found in the midst of Isaac’s massive book:

The last section of chapter 2 [sic] discusses large-scale killings and genocide. Although these happened not infrequently, it is clear that there was no accompanying proto-racist justification. It appears the perpetrators of such deeds felt no need to justify their actions (250)

And the more humane option? Of course lots of chattel slavery, particularly for Asia Minor (with “born to be slaves” Syria bearing the brunt…), as McCoskey tells us they likely made up to 3/5 of all Roman slaves…. (54, 55, Race: Antiqvity [I.E. Antiquity] and Its Legacy, 2012)

More on that:

It should not surprise us that a society which developed the amphitheatre as a form of entertainment should also enjoy graphic descriptions of slaughter in war and, more important, have armies willing to engage in them. Polybius may, of course, be right in his belief that it had a function. This is made probable by the combination of uninhibited violence with discipline: first systematic slaughter without robbery, then, upon a signal, systematic pillage. It is also quite likely that causing terror was the intention and the actual result. Furthermore, to return to the previous topic, there was no emotional need for the Romans to declare their victims animals or inferior humans. None of our sources express a need to justify such acts, unlike the alleged behavior by rebels described above. Unlike genocide, cannibalism is not permitted whatever the circumstances.

It is therefore a common accusation directed at the enemy. It is important to note that large-scale massacres were not really a moral issue. One commander was more interested in killing than another was, but it was quite possible for a commander to be a gentle philosopher and also to exterminate entire peoples, as we hear in the case of Marcus Aurelius… (222)

This, along with things like slavery, may well have been a trans-cultural and trans historical phenomenon prior to “the light shining in the darkness” and the coming of faith (see John 1 and Gal. 3 here), but try getting away with that now in a land heavily influenced by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.[ii]

You can’t — at least not for long in historical terms. Even hard right Christian men like Buchanan will call you out. And here, reflecting on this, saying “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue” is not enough.

“Hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue” — Francois de La Rochefoucauld


We also need to say this:

Rationalization is also the homage that lawlessness pays to the law of God.

For those who do not believe, all they can do in the face of the evil that Christians among them will inevitably call out is to pretend there is a non-material force, being, thing, or entity which is a) not the God of the Scriptures, b) that is sufficiently good and strong enough to dissuade particular human beings who have the power to impose their evil wills on other human beings.

Steven Pinker: The technological and moral imperative for bioethics means that “dignity”, “sacredness”, and “social justice” must get out of the way…


Isaac offers no help here. At the end of his book, all he has, in effect, are damning words of truth:

“This study therefore is an attempt to give the Greeks and Romans their due: if they have given us, through their literature, many of the ideas of freedom, democracy, philosophy, novel artistic concepts and so much else that we regard as essential in our culture, it should be recognized that the same literature also transmitted some of the elementary concepts of discrimination and inequality that are still with us. It is possible also that in considering these phenomena in their early shape, we may gain a better understanding of their contemporary forms” (516).

And why doesn’t Christianity make the sub-title here? Without Christianity, we open up the West to wicked currents again….


The Bible, on the other hand, is different, as great men in history like William Wilberforce could surely tell us. As we read in Acts 17, we are all one in Adam, all God’s offspring (also see the glorious picture in Rev. 7!):

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

“Trade and commerce are seen as the vehicles for the corruption of much that is valuable or even essential. Like mixed marriages, they harm integrity and soberness” (508).


It is indeed a cruel world out there, but Jesus changes everything. As such, we can…

  • Contra the currents of the ancient world, realistically seek some progress among the races.[iii]
  • Without any shame, marry one another, even joining one community with another and extending our bonds of family and friendship.[iv]
  • Insist that no person or group, by nature, is “born to be a slave” and deserves to be oppressed because of this.[v]
  • Even welcome the foreigner without any fear (!) — while yet insisting on the goodness of assimilation without wider imperial designs.
  • And… because of Christ, we can utterly condemn all wars of offense, especially wars waged where the main goal is perhaps to enslave and subjugate peoples.[vi]

“Roman slave society stands out for the crucial importance of the direct link between Roman campaigning and slaving: to a much greater extent than other slave-rich systems, Roman elites relied on their own military forces to procure a captive labor force.” — Scheidel


Oh yes – and getting back to the title of this article?

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador might well mean an apology from Spain for evil – in that it will make them weak – but God can use it for good, as a golden opportunity for national repentance and a turn once again to Jesus Christ!

After all, if you think an apology like this is realistic, you must also be saying that you want a Christian people!

In the end, a people will only stand before God – and stand tall before all people, including one’s enemies – in Him. When the Psalmist writes to rulers of the nations, “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,” that exhortation still stands today. For there is still indeed the “hope that [the nations] might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…” (Acts 17).

“Struggle is not the basic principle of the original creation, and a fighting attitude is therefore not a commandment by God established by the original creation.” — Bonhoeffer, in his “Bethel Confession”.


So, you kings and peoples, just apologize… turn towards Christ, and stand strong.

And to do that, consider listening to people like Matthew Cochran as he speaks of nations living in a way that accords with God’s designs….




Images: All non-book images are from Wikipedia.


[i] A smart friend, who is a linguist and pastor, says makes a distinction between imperialism and colonialism and says the latter was actually all about Western nations letting capitalistic, perhaps even “proto-globalist” impulses running wild:

“Putting aside later justifications for colonialism, such as the civilizing of barbarians etc, and putting aside the ‘colonialism’ of Spain and Portugal, which were almost entirely extractive in nature, and thus more imperialistic than colonial, properly speaking, the ‘advantage’ of colonialism was that it, in essence, established puppet governments, run by one’s own people, with which the mother government could conduct trade. It was an early way of creating a ‘trade block’ when, in general, imports and exports were, as a rule, heavily taxed by all nations. If one wanted ‘free trade’ one needed to actually secure the territory with which one wanted to trade through the formation of a colony.

There is no denying that there is a large economic benefit to free trade, and so, in an age of tariffs and imports, colonies were a good way to establish ‘free trade’.

An economic problem with free trade is that it benefits both parties involved in the trade. However, if one is not fond of one’s neighbors, you are not thrilled that trade with them is also helping them while it helps you. But colonialism also helps solve this problem, because if you only really trade with your own colonies, you are never trading with your rivals, so the parties that benefit are merely ‘the mother nation’ and ‘the colony of the mother nation’.

These things become obsolete when free trade as a policy becomes, to varying degrees, adopted by most nations, and the ‘defense’ risk of trading with other nations dissipates when those nations are your allies.

For example, it was a national security risk for Britain to trade with France, as they were rivals. It was therefore safer for Britain to buy textiles from the Northern American colonies than from the textile factories of Lile. Now, however, Britain and France are allies, so trade between the two not only makes them economically richer, but geostrategically more powerful, as they act as a single military unit due to their various alliances since 1900.”

[ii] People in west felt like they needed to rationalize their slavery also…they had no choice because while the bible does not condemn slavery it also does condemn man-stealing, even calling for the death penalty here, and the Old Testament law also required that Israelites free fellow Israelites after seven years. Katharine Gerbner, in her recent book Christian Slavery, argues that slavery developed in the peculiar way it did in the United States (race-based emphasis) because, it seems, people did know their Bibles… and didn’t like what they heard. What if all my slaves convert and thereby become my brothers? Or at least the missionaries in this Christian culture I am living in are telling them I need to treat them like my brothers? (again, on the basis of what the Bible says about how believers are to treat, and eventually free, their believing slaves)… Since I can’t say they can be my slaves now because they are unbelievers, I need another reason… Race, and the notion that some persons are “born to be slaves,” as Isaac points out. She summarizes her key arguments from her book in the following podcast: and here is a helpful book review:

[iii] Again, not in the ancient world, says Isaac:

“At another level, the third and last section of chapter 3 considers ancient doubts about the desirability of contact with foreigners. Fear of strangers and their ideas, corresponding fantasies about a golden past in which there was no need to travel elsewhere and no foreigners disturbed peace at home, are frequently encountered in Greek and Latin literature. There is a connection with the view, discussed in the first chapter, that pure lineage is better than mixed ancestry. So it is frequently asserted in ancient Greek literature that any contact with other peoples, seafaring, trade and commerce, not only endangers safety, but may also have social results: moral decline through the influence of foreign languages, customs, and trade is to be expected” (250).

[iv] Isaac:

“The idea of pure versus mixed lineage proves to be one of essential importance to many peoples of all periods. Indeed, the idea that there is a permanent connection between race and soil is a concept revived with vigor in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries… The Romans did not claim pure lineage, let alone autochthony, for themselves, yet regarded the descent of other peoples as important. They shared with many others the assumption that mixed descent is a form of corruption and results in human beings of inferior quality.” (504). “There is a firm conviction, encountered in numerous texts, that mixing leads to degeneration. The idea is not so much that purity of lineage will lead to improvement; the reverse is true: any form of mixture will result in something worse” (514).

[v] Isaac:

“Most Greek and Roman authors did not feel an urgent need to justify and rationalize slavery in the manner in which Aristotle attempted to do this. Slavery was a fact of life and not a topic for active contemplation and discussion. Yet the theory was known among intellectuals and there were elements of it…

The idea, however, that long-term imperial rule reduces peoples virtually to a condition of natural slavery was very influential. Thus, paradoxically, what is seen in our days as a remarkable success of the Roman Empire, namely its

integration of subject peoples, is represented by at least some of the important Roman authors as a process which reduces those peoples from fierce and free humans to degenerate slaves. Since the common assumption is that this is an irreversible process, we end up with the image of something rather akin to Aristotle’s natural slaves….” (249).

[vi] It should be clear that Christians do not have “a green light” to bear the sword in God’s name, as some did in the new world vs. the indian tribes. That said, it is indeed a time of war for us, whether we realize it or not, but it is a spiritual war – and our weapons must likewise be spiritual – not fleshly (Eph. 6:10ff. also see John 18:36; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Isa. 42:2-3). There are some judgments that only God is meant to administer.


“Thus this proto-racist ideology [we see in Rome] serves to justify wars of conquest. This does not mean it causes such wars, but it helps in justifying them” (506). More: “Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery influenced later writers. Several accept the natural inferiority of some peoples as a given fact and posit that this justifies their subjugation and enslavement. This was a matter of both inevitability and justice. Moreover, both sides profited from the relationship. In this form it recurs in Cicero’s de Republica. Relevant passages, however, have been preserved only indirectly, through quotations in Augustine’s City of God, where arguments are cited in favor of the justice of slavery and imperialism. The foundation for this is that some peoples are by nature suitable to be subject to others” (183)…


“From this it follows that even warfare is by nature a form of acquisition—for the art of hunting is part of it— Aristotle thus asserts that among the barbarians there are only two categories of human beings: male slaves and female slaves. Among them there are no masters by nature such as we find among the Greeks. Following his grand theory he immediately draws the conclusion that the barbarians should be slaves of the Greek (men) who have a category of masters among them. So far he has not stated whether there are any natural slaves among the Greeks, but it is clear that among the barbarians there are only slaves. Later in the work he says so explicitly again: “the uncivilized peoples are more servile in character than Greeks (as the peoples of Asia, in turn, are more servile than those of Europe); and they will therefore tolerate despotic rule without any complaint.” These are ideas that we saw in chapter 1: they first appear in explicit form in the treatise Airs, Waters, Places which is undated, but certainly belongs to the fifth century” (177, 178).



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Posted by on April 2, 2019 in Uncategorized


Avoiding the Wrong Right Side of History


Ben Shapiro has a new book out called The Right Side of History where he maintains “As a society, we are forgetting that almost everything great that has ever happened in history happened because of people who believe in both Judeo-Christian values and the Greek-born power of reason.”

Ben Shapiro is a religious Jew who has recently had prominent Christian spokesmen like Jon MacArthur on his popular radio program to discuss not only politics but theology. Interestingly, David Horowitz, a secular Jew, also has released a recent book titled Dark Agenda: the War to Destroy Christian America.

Interesting times we live in to be sure!

In any case, all of this put me in mind of a recent message I wrote “Avoiding the Wrong Right Side of History”.

And why did I write this particular kind of message? Because I preached it. And why did I preach it? Because I have been finishing up getting my Masters of Divinity degree through the AALC (the Association of American Lutheran Churches) and I had a preaching class. In addition, I am now getting some more experience in some local congregations in the Twin Cities area and beyond (If any of you have more questions about that, feel free to ask in the comments below).

Here’s the message, based on the texts for last week’s 3 year lectionary:




“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just..”


— Ezekiel 33:17




“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just..”


How can we in the church avoid such confusion? Where we come to believe that the words given to us by God to believe and do are not just?


How can we be sure we are among the godly ones whom the Lord hears?


The text from a few weeks ago, from Jeremiah 17, gave us the right advice: “…the man who trusts in the Lord… is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green…”


This morning, to better comprehend how to avoid saying “The Lord is not just,” let’s begin with our Prime Example of a Good Tree.


I am speaking, of course, of the tree, the roots, and the leaves of our dear Lord Jesus.


You might recall the beginning of the book of Luke, in that story where Jesus, as a 12 year old, gets accidently left behind in Jerusalem by his parents.


There, He was amazing the teachers in the temple courts, listening to them and asking them questions.


There, we are told, in His “Father’s House,” “ everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers….”


In other words, Jesus wasn’t just interested in memorizing the right answers for the test, but He was engaged in this content, content that helped Him to grow as a human being….


As the text goes on to tell us “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man….”


Like that tree, planted by the water, producing the wonderful green leaves.


Let’s take a step back, and try to relate this to us: Do you like to learn things? Well, it depends on what you’re learning about, right?


For example, am I learning how to be better at something I enjoy? We all like to learn sometimes.


And evidently, when Jesus was almost a teenager, there were certain things that he was really interested in as well.


For example, He loved the Holy Scriptures passed down to God’s people….


But here is the question that might nag you: Why does God need to learn?


Why does He need to grow?


How is it that “very God of very God,” could increase in Wisdom?


How is it that the Son of God (who became sinless man in Jesus Christ) could increase in favor with God?


Before we move on this morning — getting to how I’ve titled this message — we need to deal with a little challenging theology.


Hold on, because I don’t think it will be too bad.


The short answer is that this text mainly refers to Jesus according to his human nature, not according to his divine nature.


As you know Jesus Christ is amazingly 100% man AND 100% God. So as God, yes, Christ did know everything, but as man, He did not.


Still, don’t the Scriptures also tell us that this baby boy, born of Mary, even now this budding teenager(!), was sinless?


If this is the case, why would Jesus need, even as man, to learn?


To grow in wisdom? Even to grow in favor with God?


Here we need to remember that even if we were sinless, that wouldn’t make us omniscient.


That is, if we ever found ourselves to be without sin, that would not mean that suddenly we would know everything that we needed to know, or even that we had matured into what we are to be.


The angels, after all, have no sin, bur are they all-knowing? No.


Now here as Christians, interesting enough, according to our New Man, we are, like the angels, without sin.


In other words, our New Man in Christ simply does not like sin by definition.


Our old Adam does of course, but not our New Man.


But even though that is true, it doesn’t mean that our New Man knows everything it could or should know.


Nor does it mean that our New Man has matured into that which it should ultimately be.


How can we better understand this?


Think of a sapling of an apple tree that we would plant in our yard  — no doubt some of you have done just this.


Now there is nothing wrong with that sapling, it is exactly what it should be as a sapling.


But as it grows into a mature tree, what does it do but provide shade for our lawn, beautiful flowers in the spring, a place for birds to nest, and squirrels to hide, pollen for the honey bees, ultimately fruit, good fruit for us to eat.


Better yet, right?


And yet, was there anything wrong with the apple tree when it was a sapling, when it was just not fully matured into a fruit bearing tree?


No, not at all!


In like fashion, there is nothing wrong with our New Man when it is created within us by grace through faith in Christ.


But, we must say like the boy Jesus, Jesus according to his human nature:


“There is room to grow, room to bear fruit, room even to do those things which are pleasing to God.”


Like that tree, planted by the water, producing the wonderful green leaves.


So we grow. We increase in wisdom and stature with God and men. We progress.




And what does this look like as far as the big picture?


Where, in other words, are we going?


What is the real end to which God is leading us, and would have us see?


If we are to believe the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments, God ultimatley means for His world to know not only true order… true hierarchy… but beautiful harmony as well!


A peace where everything knows its place and everything will come together as one — just like Eden again only even better!


More mature!


He means for us to increasinlgy know what the Old Testament calls shalom! Here, Scripture often gives us the picture of a grand feast, a great wedding party that all enjoy in full.


And this shalom, this abundance, is something he means for us to begin to know here as well. In our families, our churches, our neighborhoods, our towns, our states, our nations… and beyond…


As Revelation 7 beautifully puts it, giving us a picture of heaven:


 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”


Worldly politicans want to recreate a similar kind of picture. They cannot.


How is it that we get there? What makes for such joy and unity? Where is the blueprint for this?


Remarkably, we’ve heard it all before, and maybe, unlike pre-teen Jesus, we are sorely tempted to think we don’t need to know it better…


Why, God has given us the 10 commandments! Let’s take a brief look at these again with that picture from Revelation in mind.


“You shall have no other Gods before me.” He is the Maker of all human beings, from Adam and Eve down to today.


We are all, not just Christians, brothers and sisters — ultimately “one blood” because of our glorious God who demands of His offspring their worship, their fear, love, and trust.


Their all.


“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” This is the Name He has commanded us to put on all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; claiming them as His own.


“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

His words alone are Spirit and Life! Rest! Abide! Be at peace! You–along with all the nations–at Jesus’ feet.


And, of course, there’s the second table of the Commandments: Honor your father and your mother,

you shall not murder,

you shall not commit adultery,

you shall not steal,

you shall not give false testimony,

you shall not covet your neighor’s house, wife, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We know we don’t follow this blueprint. Even if we know we should and make the effort to do so, we fall short of the glory of God.


Because of our sin, we simply do not love the way that Jesus Christ loved, and that God requires we love.


It is ultimately because of Jesus’ living in accordance with God’s law — the law of love — and His great sacrifice, that this sin is forgiven us.


And… we can begin to know in our own experience that picture of heaven, that picture of people united in praise of their King.


Because of what He has done, our good works really are acceptable in God’s eyes, and take on eternal significance, producing not just earthly blessings but blessings that will persist in the life to come as well.


Our work is very, very meaningful…


And so driven by the Gospel of Jesus Christ — the glorious truth that through His perfect life and innocent death we have peace with God — we can know what makes for the beginnings of real peace in this world.


So act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God… and entrust final judgment to the Lord, not the world…




After all, how does our world, living off the fumes of Christian influence of days gone by, look at the matter?


There are times where we might feel some real discouragement over the lack of growth we see…


Or, in the world’s opinion, not “progressing” or “evolving” like we should.


These are not always the same things. God means for us to grow in one way, producing the leaves and fruit that is pleasing to him, and the world, perhaps another.


We might hear powerful and compelling voices around us, talking about how we have failed, because of what we have done or have not done.


We might even hear of the failure that is our family line or or our town or our nation or our race or our class or our religion.


Some might look and say:


“I don’t see much good there.”


“It looks to me like you have real privilege! And that you are only interested in feathering your own nest!”


“It looks to me like you are only concerned to retain your own connections and the power they bring you!”


“It looks to me like you are only concerned about caring for your own….”


Nevermind that you know that you are already not the kind of father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, church member, citizen, or neighbor that you should and could be!


Like those directed againt the prophet Jeremiah, the attacks can be relentless and unmerciful.


And now, the accusation that is greater than them all:


“You make yourself out to be a victim?” “You, the oppressor?” “You the vicitmizer….”


“What — are you the poor? Are you hungry and thirsty? Are you the one weeping now? Give me a break!”


Perhaps such persons might even accuse God of playing the victim when, in His word, He complains about spurn and betrayal from His people!


This is wrong.


And yet, it is very possible that many, hearing such things, begin to wonder: “It is true? Am I, by virtue of my blessings, my accompishments, my status… uniquely evil?”


It is even possible that some who are Christians might begin to doubt that they are Christians…. “Maybe if I do what they say, maybe I can still be saved…”


In this world of constant accusation, “Who should we listen to? What should we do?”


Take the world’s accusations with a grain of salt, and flee to the Word of God.


There is no doubt that an element of the truly righteous life, or good life, is that it is characterized by real love and compassion which does not think about rewards, comes spontaneously comes from the heart, and shares the love of God with all people (see, e.g., Deut. 11).


That said, here is the answer you will be hearing from evensome quarters of “Bible believing” churches–more and more:


The truly righteous life, or good life, is always about compassion (acts perceived as compassionate!) which never thinks about rewards, always comes spontaneously from the heart, and never fails to indiscriminately share the love of God with other full human beings in equal measure.


Do you see what I did there? There is so much that is wrong with that kind of assertion. There are so many Scriptural truths that that kind of statement “throws under the bus”…


I won’t go into detail now, but the point is this: even those in the church may turn against you.


Don’t be bamboozeled by the world and its “right side of history”.


Don’t buy into just any “arc of the moral universe [which] is long, that bends toward justice.”


Don’t just buy into any notion of “social justice” and fall for the smiley face hiding the venoumous tongue.


Don’t say “The way of the Lord is not just,” when it is man’s own way that is not just..


There is no doubt that all of us need to feel the conviction of God’s law, for our Old Adam — not our New Man — would like nothing better but to remain and wallow in its hatreds, and prejudices, its arrogances, fears, and envy.


We need to feel the weight of His demands… we need to be brought back to the realization of what he has created us for.


That we might be “in the groove” as one theologian has put it.


You cannot, however, trust the world to do this convicting rightly.


The Bible speaks of the searing of the conscience that occurs when a people abandons the word of God and His “natural law,” that is, the law which is in accordance with how we were made, what we were designed for.


The world can, to say the least, be “off the reservation”. They will assert that there is no God ; they will call evil good and good evil ; many will get to the point where they will not even be able to detect their sin…


They will get the law wrong.


And when they give you their law, they will not do so to help you, to “judge” you like your dentist might in pointing out your cavity, but in order to write you off at the drop of a hat if you question them… or if you do not immediately submit to their authority.


They will get the gospel wrong.


The world wants us to grow in one way, our Savior another.


In the face of this, do not ever despair. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man!” And remember, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind.”


So do not discount everything the world says, but also hold it lightly and go to the Word of God that you might discern what is right…


…for by it you can trust that you will not only find peace with God and other men there, but you will find the growth–the critical growth–that the Lord intends for you and all persons.


So, let us grow and increase in knowledge!


As Jeremiah says,


“let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth!”


For He, and only He, is the friend of sinners. The One who is compassionate, who forgives, who even lifts you up to His throne — to reign with Him forever.


Rich and poor, powerful and not powerful, black and white, privileged and outcast, good and bad, come to the feast!


All you who are poor in Spirit.


Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.








Posted by on March 29, 2019 in Uncategorized


The LC-MS Machine, Circa 1935?: of Conspiracies and Changing Culture…

Frederick Photenhauer, first victim of LC-MS politics?


“To speak of a party split or divisions in the Missouri Synod, of a liberal and a conservative party among us, would be absurd.”

–Missouri Synod President Frederick Photenhauer in 1923 (quoted in Alan Graebner, Uncertain Saints, p.188)


Following up with the article by Pastor Mark Brown the other day, my guess is that Pastor Wilken, in his tweeting out of the article, means to get everyone really thinking with this statement….[i]

Here is my take (which I don’t doubt that Pastor Wilken would agree is obviously true):

While it may indeed be enthusiasm/pietism to say that politics in the church are bad, it is also a good and salutary thing to desire that our politics would be less contentious, and that the trust among us stronger

To be sure! I would go so far to say that those who do not think our politics should be democratic at all should have our respect. : )

Who, after all, really wants vigorous politics in a family environment?

And what, first and foremost, is the church if not the family of God?

Furthermore, when people proceed as if things like government or even marriage are just tools, that misses the point, I think. These are first and foremost descriptions of various kinds of relationships we have with others.

All this said, in this post, I want to quote some excerpts from one of the most engaging, vigorous and challenging papers I have ever read from an LC-MS pastor. This paper dealt with the relationship between theology and politics in the church…

Years ago, in the year 2000 (or 2001), my mother-in-law attended a theological conference geared towards laypeople in St. Cloud Minnesota. To this seminary drop-out who had left in part due to theological confusion (I still was thinking about women’s ordination as something the church should do at the time!) she passed on a paper written by Pastor Laurence White, of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Texas. The paper, titled “Strangers in Our Father’s House: the Dilemma of Missouri’s Confessional Remnant,” had made quite an impact on her and it is easy to see why.

Pastor White:

In 1923, commenting on the divisive modernist/fundamentalist battles that were tearing other Protestant denominations apart, Missouri Synod President Frederick Photenhauer confidently asserted: “To speak of a party split or divisions in the Missouri Synod, of a liberal and a conservative party among us, would be absurd.” (Graebner, p.188) Less than two decades later that which had seemed absurd was becoming reality. Ironically, Photenhauer himself would become the first casualty of Missouri’s party split. The cumulative result of the changes to come over the next seventy-five years would be the loss of Missouri’s most treasured possession, her unique identity as a confessional church, fully united in doctrine and practice. In his book Uncertain Saints, Dr. Alan Graebner, certainly no bronze age Missouri conservative, expressed this sense of loss by aptly choosing to entitle the chapter on the Synod’s most recent history “Humpty Dumpty and All the Kings Men…”

Pastor Laurence White. Listen to a recent interview here.

Curious to know more? I jump to the section in White’s paper (you can read the whole 45-page blast here) where he talks about his own confusion as a student at the St. Louis seminary in the turbulent 1970s, during Missouri’s own “Battle for the Bible”…

In 1974,  during my last year at Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield,  a group of the more conservative students on campus arranged for a series of informal gatherings with leading faculty members on Sunday evenings.  Our first guest was Dr. Clarence Spiegel, already in his seventies, and a longtime veteran at the Seminary.  Dr. Spiegel drove up in his massive Cadillac, smiled his impish smile under a halo of fuzzy white hair, and sat down in my living room with a bottle of beer.  This was, of course, the year of the Seminex walkout at St. Louis, and our first question to the venerable professor was “How did we get into this mess?”  His response took over two hours as he reviewed forty years of history.  Let me attempt to cover some of the same ground a bit more rapidly.

Spiegel contended that the initial overt indication of the existence of two theological factions within the Synod was the appearance of Missouri’s first organized political campaign at the 1935 Cleveland Convention.  Dr. Frederick Pfotenhauer, synodical president since 1911, was standing for re-election at Cleveland.  The silver haired president, for whom English was a sometimes uncomfortable second language, was the stalwart epitome of Missouri’s “old guard. The general assumption was that he would be re-elected without significant opposition. Missouri had never unseated an incumbent president.  In this establishment oriented, conservative church body, the concept was almost unimaginable.  For such a thing to happen a great deal of organizational work would had to have been done well in advance.  But it did happen, thus indicating that behind the scenes pockets of unrest and theological dissent had come to exist in Missouri long before the 1935 convention. Pfotenhauer failed to gain a majority on the first ballot.  The second runner up was J.W. Behnken, the Synod’s 1st Vice President.  Tension gripped the convention hall as it became obvious that something very unusual was about to happen.

Dr. Spiegel’s memories of this dramatic moment were particularly vivid because he happened to be the pastor of the local congregation in Cleveland which hosted the 1935 convention.  He recalled being summoned from the vestry of his church after the opening service by Vice President Lankenau who had come from the floor of the convention, dismayed at the organized attempt to oust Pfotenhauer.  Something had to be done, the Vice President declared.  But by then it was already too late to stop the well organized campaign.  Behnken repeatedly pleaded with Pfotenhauer for permission to address the delegates in support of the incumbent.  With the gentlemanly grace of a bygone era, the president refused, saying, “You must not say anything.  Let God decide the matter by the vote of the convention.” On the next ballot Behnken was elected.  Missouri’s introduction to church politics was a resounding success – but it did not stop there.

The group that engineered Pfotenhauer’s ouster was emboldened by their success at Cleveland.  That which they had been doing surreptitiously for a many years now moved confidently into the open.  They continued to meet regularly in a series of “Roundtable Discussions” during subsequent years.  With the former president, and the “old guard” which he personified, safely out of the way, the time had come to begin to openly nudge backward Missouri into the American Lutheran mainstream.   In 1945, they issued the bitterly contested Statement of the Forty-four, along with an  essay entitled 32 Theses Against Unevangelical Practice by Pastor H.C. SchwanShortly thereafter, a companion volume of supporting articles, Speaking the Truth in Love, was published.  The forty four signers of A Statement, styled by their opponents as the “Statementarians,” included some of the most prominent pastors and professors in the LCMS – men like Richard Caemmerer, O.P and A.R. Kretzmann, Theodore Graebner, William Arndt, and Oswald Hoffmann (22-24, link added by me).[ii]

Interestingly, in a recent dissertation by a well-known WELS pastor, we read this…

By the early 20th century some in the Missouri Synod began to think that there was a need to improve the public image of their synod. Missouri Synod Lutherans in the Eastern United States and those who were predominantly English speakers were particularly sensitive to the image of their synod as an insular, German-speaking church body. The anti-German spirit and hysteria that developed during World War I served to increase those concerns.

In 1914 a group of Lutheran pastors and laymen in the Eastern United States founded the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau to help Missouri Synod congregations with publicity and advertising….

Those who founded the Bureau set out to change the image of their synod, but in so doing also ultimately changed the doctrinal stance of their synod…[while] the Bureau claimed that [their periodical,] American Lutheran[,] was only a “technical magazine” which suggested “modern methods of congregational work,” in the 1930s and beyond it contained articles advocating fellowship with the ALC and promoting an understanding of church fellowship that was contrary to the historic practice of the Missouri Synod…. (239-241)

Hmmm. American Lutheran Publicity Bureau… Lutheran Forum… The Engelbrecht Machine article… Does this say to you: “…the plot thickens…”?

“I’d argue that the Walther period, being immigrants and not really speaking the local language, was something of a Garden of Eden period. We all got pushed out and have to figure it out now.” — Pastor Mark Brown

Or, maybe not.

Maybe it is basically as simple and challenging as the following, which my pastor, after I asked him, said about this 1935 election:

I would say it had much to do with breaking away from German culture. Hitler had risen to power in Europe. War (caused by Germany!) was once again on the horizon, and the realization was growing that the synod must finally embrace both English and the United States. In such a scenario the younger generation, which knew nothing of Germany or the German language, certainly had the upper hand. So the transition was forced upon the synod from an insular and self-maintained church body held together by the discipline of German culture, i.e. “one big German family,” to a church body sans such an identity.

Jettisoning such an identity, what would replace it? At the time, I would think, the model most appealing would have been that of a political party, which at that time, created a unity by assembling the “planks” of minorities within the party into a “platform” which then became the identity of the party.

In such a model, political maneuverings would be expected.

Certainly much to be pondered here. About secrecy. About conspiracies. About theological vs. “practical” ideas driving us. About the importance of cultural and even ethnic glue. About how culture and accommodations to it changes us for good and for ill… (I think this post summing up one of my pastor’s papers is also worth looking at in this regard…)

For now though, here is my prayer:

Lord, thank you for the gift of politics in this fallen world – even in the church. Help us to be good political players, looking to please you, as we are mindful of your calling us to be the church through your Son Jesus Christ. Help us to be as one, even when we disagree… to be “good churchmen” as used to be said. Let us not look on contempt on the brothers who actually do make their heartfelt concerns known to us! Let us examine our own complacency, and desire to be loved by the world! Let us be quicker to listen than to speak, to endeavor to treat all among us as brothers and sisters dearly loved by our Lord who bled and died for our sins.

Make us to be able to trust one another more often and as individuals about more things – even as we also realize that you, ultimately, are the only One who will never let us down! Lord, if it be thy will, calm our politics more and more. Let us not be sons of thunder, but those who always find common cause – even as we struggle about particular means – in the work of your own dear Son. Amen.



[i] Pastor Wilken’s more complete statement, left at my blog and in a Lutheran Facebook group, was as follows:

“I only disagree with one point. As a card-carrying member of Your Grandfathers’ Church, I have absolutely no problem admitting that politics is a necessary part of church life. And NOT a necessary evil, but a necessary good. Choose your side or candidate, and work openly for it.

Only a misguided pietism/enthusiasm supposes that things like church elections and conventions are directed immediately by the Holy Spirit. And it is evil to claim to believe such a thing while working the political system secretly.

Politics is a good gift from God. Like all good gifts, it can be, and often is abused. What we need is honest politics. If you work behind the scenes to compile lists of candidates, count votes, rally for a candidate or issue, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you do, don’t lie and say you don’t. Own it.

That goes for both sides in church politics.”

[ii] White goes on to say the following:

“A Statement’s focus was inter-Lutheran relationships.  It denounced the “ingrown legalism and traditionalism” which had crippled the Synod’s theological vitality.  It must be admitted that there was some truth to their charges.  Our theological arteries had hardened a bit over the years.  But more significantly, A Statement’s twelve theses constituted what Kurt Marquart has aptly described as “a radical, revolutionary overturning of the Lutheran doctrine of the church.” (Marquart, p.58)

One contemporary observer noted that the publication had “set Missouri aflame.” While scathing denunciations poured forth from across the church, the Statementarians actively lobbied throughout the church body for additional support and hundreds of other pastors added their names to those of the original Forty-four.  Five of the St. Louis Seminary’s best known professors were Statementarians, while the faculty of the Springfield Seminary formally rejected the document as false doctrine.  The harsh words of condemnation with which the Springfield faculty deplored A Statement and its divisive potential are indicative of the intensity of this debate:

“It has been a real shock to us that such a loveless, unmotivated, and widely disseminated attack should be made on brethren in Synod by men in prominent positions, presidents of districts, leaders of youth or of the LLL, a university president, and worst of all, five members of a theological faculty in our Synod.  Such an attack cannot but bias many young and inexperienced pastors to whom it has been mailed…The Statement leaves the impression that it is veiled propaganda for a liberal and loose Lutheranism…You are pouring water on the wrong fire.  We certainly are not with you in this unhappy undertaking, brethren.” (Robinson,p.268,269)

President  Behnken protested the issuance of A Statement and made it very clear that he also believed it to contain false doctrine….”  (24-25).

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Posted by on March 25, 2019 in Uncategorized


L’affaire Englebrecht

Post by Pastor Mark Brown

Presenting a precis of an argument around an article in a journal with a circulation of around 1,500 is probably not the most exciting hook for a posting, but give me a chance.  It demonstrates a desperate need that we in the LCMS have to admit something and build something.  The journal is the Lutheran Forum published by the ALPB (American Lutheran Publicity Bureau).  The ALPB is one of those hardy little groups that live to keep the institutional church honest.  I’d say it was dedicated to a prophetic calling, except that word in our day has been abused beyond recognition.  The argument revolves around three intersecting things: a) LCMS “silly season” otherwise known as the run-up to the Synodical Convention, b) the facts of organizational behavior and c) the missing somethings.

An interim editor, Pr. Matthew Staneck, was presented with a submission by a former chief big-wig at CPH, Pr. Edward Englebrecht.  If you have a copy of the Lutheran Study Bible, you can open the title page and see his name.  When you get your name on the Bible, you’ve made it.  Pr. Englebrecht’s article could be boiled down to two parts.  The first part was an introduction to a particularly nasty form of organizational behavior called mobbing.  Mobbing is coordinated clandestine activity by a larger group to bring an individual or a minority group into line.  The legitimate form of this is how political parties act.  The “whip” is the person who counts the votes.  If you are not lined up with the “correct” vote, the whip can apply the whip.  In the Congressional format that is things like losing a chair on a committee, having your bills moved to the back of the schedule, having expected monetary help for your campaign disappear, and other such events that would hurt your chances of staying a congress-person.  Vote the correct way or bear the whip.  When politics becomes something unclean instead of just how we humans make collective decisions, whip activities take place in clandestine ways.  Shadowy unknown groups operating behind anonymity carry on the whip activity.  It should surprise nobody that mobbing activity happens.  It can be seen as part of the scapegoat phenomenon detailed by Girard.  The ultimate whip is the identification of the scapegoat.

It is when you move into the second part of Pr. Englebrecht’s paper that questions rise.  If all of this was simply the typical progressive consciousness raising exercise, we could all mutter “yes, yes, terrible thing, thank you for informing us of the blatantly obvious” and having fulfilled all righteousness gone back to life.  But Englebrecht’s paper was not just a lecture in organizational behavior.  He proceeded to say that all this mobbing activity is how the LCMS works at the highest levels, and that he himself had born the brunt of this activity.  Of course, he did this with the largest brush possible, smearing everybody that works at CPH and the International Center as part of a nefarious machine.  And approaching the LCMS silly season the implication was that the current administration was involved in mobbing.  The insinuation was left hanging that if we wanted to purify the synod, these folks had to go.

For the most part, the whips that Englebrecht claimed to have suffered are simply the everyday existence of a lowly small parish pastor.  During talks his microphone would cut out.  People would approach him afterward a little too friendly with backslaps a little too hard.  While he was speaking people in the audience would stare at him.  But then it crossed into the strange, and the only confirmable detail of his claim was disconfirmed.  Englebrecht claimed that the person ordering these nefarious activities to get him in line was called the “main nag” and that this “main nag” was the person who posted under “Gan ainm” (Gaelic for without name) on the ALPB online forum.  (Part of the claims for the machine was a penchant for anonymous activity with anagrams taken directly from Tom Riddle to Lord Voldemort.)  Pr. Staneck had claimed that he had checked out the story and believed it, but within a couple of days “Gan Ainm” had been proven not to be connected in any way to a “main nag”.  The editors and Pr. Englebrecht steadfastly refused either to retract the article or to clarify who they were speaking about.  Those who could conceivably have been slimed as part of “the machine” bailed out of participation at ALPB.  Those who had been most vocal in support of Pr. Englebrecht retreated to consciousness raising defenses.  And eventually interest just dwindled.  A tempest in a teacup.

Which is probably where it should end. Rehearsing the sad affair doesn’t help in any way.  A place that had a well-deserved reputation as a fair dealer had burned a good bit of that reputation.  Plenty of heat had been added to a silly season, and a coda to a distinguished editorship.  But the real point of this article is those missing things, and to address why such a silly article would not only be considered for publishing, but that an informed LCMS reader would have to spend more than a second thinking about it.

The reason that an informed LCMS reader, even as the strangeness of the claims compounded, would spend more than a second is because the LCMS has a reputation for brass knuckled politics.  Part of this is simply the fact that the progressive faction lost in the LCMS.  And just like in our national temporal politics, the official organs of news tilt heavily in their favor.  The wrong side lost, so it must have been by nefarious means.  You are seeing the same thing play out in the UMC today with various “false voter” conspiracy theories regarding their most recent gathering.  But even correcting for the general FUD of progressive atmospherics, LCMS politics has been tough.  Maybe tougher between factions that agree, than with the defeated progressives.  Every convention is the battle for the bible.  Every gathering is a bunch of pastors longing for their “Worms Moment”.  Here I stand, casting whoever is on the other side as the nefarious agents of pope and antichrist demanding they recant.  And much of this politics takes place behind a veil of anonymity.  The United List, a slate of candidates that has won most slots for many elections, is put together by an anonymous group.  Wherever Missouri politics is talked, the number of anonymous ID’s goes up dramatically.  Official sources are read like Pravda where the news is between the lines.  And in that fever swamp you can imagine mobbing being a real activity.

How do you get to such a politics?  The short answer is that we don’t believe our own two-kingdoms theology.  That two-kingdoms theology would tell us that Christ rules everywhere, but in the gospel he rules directly, in the law he rules by means and those means are often fallible and sinful humans.  The church is part of that same two kingdoms split.  The vast majority of the visible church is part of the left hand kingdom.  And the way that things in the left-hand kingdom are decided is called politics.  We should be able to admit this without problem.  And in admitting this there is the great freedom from fear in admitting that even your political adversary is trying for the same good if by different means.  But the LCMS has never been able to admit the place of politics within the church.

There are two sides of the same coin of political denial.  One side is almost perfectly represented by Pr. Englebrecht.  Rooted in the deep history of people like CFW Walther and the German experience, the LCMS would find a leader and grant that person, if not officially then unofficially, almost unlimited authority.  LCMS Ph.D.’s have long expected that type of genuflection.  As one LCMS wit has put it, LCMS polity has a North Korea Juche element.  Let us now praise our wise and benevolent leaders.  When someone, especially someone not credentialed, even worse someone who simply counts votes, challenges a decision these folks have tended to lose it. Everything from the Walkout to imagining deep cabals. We can’t engage in politics, because we are the experts permeates everything, because we are simply right.  The flip side of that coin has always been the “grandfather’s synod” set or those more Luther than Luther.  Always on the lookout for doctrinal degradation, these often self-appointed guardians are there to spot Stephan or the CSL faculty or Melanchthon going off the rails talking with Calvin.  This group knows how to count votes, but will never admit that it is driven by politics.  Instead they are fighting for a pure church.  And we are always only one bad election from losing the gospel.  Admitting that politics is good and necessary for a left-hand kingdom entity, and that we are engaged in it, would be giving up their self-image.  The image of the great wise sage, or the image of the Steadfast Protector of the gospel.  Hence both groups engage in anonymous and opaque forms of politics.

Admitting the fact, necessity and goodness of politics by itself would go a long way to helping the synod.  But you can admit that and have nowhere to go.  That was part of my initial charm with the ALPB.  Prior to this article, it was not ruled by fear and carried on its work in a visible way.  The other missing something in the LCMS has always been a viable clearinghouse for honest politics, an honest broker.  The in-house organs are fine, but they are in-house and always have been.  I don’t really want to use the word propaganda because of its severely negative overtone, but they are always good representatives of the spiffy image of whichever group is in political power.  And there is nothing wrong with that, but it is not an independent source. And because we have branded politics as unclean, the only source for political news has been from the far outside – Herman Otten and Christian News.  There are two things you can depend upon CN to deliver.  Whoever is the challenger for political authority will be making a trip to New Haven, MO, and within three years of winning authority CN will be running “I’m so disappointed” stories about the new boss.  Warped and twisted by the secret wars of decades, because we are unwilling to establish a visible source, CN remains the only open venue for politicking within the LCMS.  This is the second missing thing.  The LCMS desperately needs a News Outlet that is not Issues, Etc, or Congregations Matter, or CN.  These all have their place, but none of them are both open and licit.

Maybe there is a political version of Grisham’s law at work, the bad politics drives out good.  But as long as we in the LCMS put up with a politics of anonymity and purity, we will never move to a better church-political environment.  And the necessary somethings for that better environment are an admission that politics can be a noble endeavor and having an open and licit venue to practice it from.


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Posted by on March 22, 2019 in Uncategorized


“How Shall We Sing…? With Joy!” by Rev. Delwyn Campbell

Pastor Delwyn Campbell


For my post this week, I want to give the floor to the Reverend Delwyn Campbell. His excellent article informs us of current Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod mission efforts in inner city communities. Enjoy!

For those interested in more of the kind of history Pastor Campbell mentions below, see pages 17-21 in this LC-MS document (the document will download upon clicking that link), and also check pages 41-61 in the book United by Faith (2004).


The LCMS project, “Mission Field: USA,” led by Rev. Dr. Steve Schave, has an ambitious goal. Going into inner city communities that have either a declining Lutheran population or no Lutheran presence at all, to preach the pure Gospel and establish Confessional communities in such places as Ferguson Missouri under Rev. Micah Glenn, Albuquerque, NM with Rev. Adam DeGroot, and Gary, IN, where I serve. Each of these communities has in common a lack of a Germanic Lutheran population, and a population of groups that are not stereotypically Lutheran.

For many Lutherans, the idea of developing a Lutheran community in places where there seems to be little cultural connection seems like a fantasy, a foolhardy notion, or perhaps something akin to romantically going to Africa or South America.  We go there, implant our (German) Lutheran culture and worship, subliminally in that order, and make that community become Lutheran. To a certain extent, that works because the missionary understands his/her native culture much better than the culture of the mission community. It also requires that both the missionary and the people he serves accepts the cultural superiority of the missionary’s exegesis of the Christian faith.

One issue that clearly sets Confessional Evangelical Christians apart from the general Christian culture in many urban communities is the issue of “Enthusiasm.” I’m not talking about the feeling of joy that one has when the Cubs win ball games in September and have a clean shot at the post season, or the Bears get quarterback that can throw passes that actually reach receivers instead of linebackers and defensive backs. I’m talking about what the Epitome of the Formula of Concord describes in Article II, paragraph 13:

The Book of Concord Article II: Concerning the Free Will

[13] 6. Likewise, we also reject and condemn the error of the Enthusiasts, who contrive the idea that God draws people to himself, enlightens them, makes them righteous, and saves them without means, without the hearing of God’s Word, even without the use of the holy sacraments.

The glossary of the newest edition of the Book of Concord, Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions, defines the term this way:

Enthusiasm. Enthusiasts. Belief that Christians should expect special revelations or experiences from the Holy Spirit. Enthusiasts expect God to draw, enlighten, justify, and save them without the means of grace (Word and Sacraments)[1].

Although that perhaps sounds weird or spooky to your typical cradle Lutheran, for those who have come to hear about Jesus Christ at a “revival,” watching The Word Network or Trinity Broadcast Network, or going to church with their grandmother, that is part and parcel of Sunday church or Wednesday night Bible Study or Friday Night Evangelism service. That is the essence of the song, “The Presence of the Lord is Here.”

The presence of the Lord is here,

The presence of the Lord is here.

I feel it in the atmosphere,

The presence of the Lord is here,

The presence of the Lord is here[2].

For those who came out of the American Slavery experience, God was not found in the text of Scripture, because from colonial days, many of the local governments made it illegal to teach them to read:

Excerpt from South Carolina Act of 1740

Whereas, the having slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences; Be it enacted, that all and every person and persons whatsoever, who shall hereafter teach or cause any slave or slaves to be taught to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe, in any manner of writing whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such person or persons shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds, current money.

Excerpt from Virginia Revised Code of 1819

That all meetings or assemblages of slaves, or free negroes or mulattoes mixing and associating with such slaves at any meeting-house or houses, &c., in the night; or at any SCHOOL OR SCHOOLS for teaching them READING OR WRITING, either in the day or night, under whatsoever pretext, shall be deemed and considered an UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY; and any justice of a county, &c., wherein such assemblage shall be, either from his own knowledge or the information of others, of such unlawful assemblage, &c., may issue his warrant, directed to any sworn officer or officers, authorizing him or them to enter the house or houses where such unlawful assemblages, &c., may be, for the purpose of apprehending or dispersing such slaves, and to inflict corporal punishment on the offender or offenders, at the discretion of any justice of the peace, not exceeding twenty lashes.


“I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider thrown into the sea…”

Instead, God became known to the slaves and to their descendants by His emotional impact upon those who heard the stories of God’s intervention in the lives of another group of slaves, the Israelites who escaped from Egypt. In the story of the Exodus, the American slaves heard the prophecy of their own liberation from chattel tyranny and its heir, Jim Crow institutional racist subordination and economic subjugation. While the primary form of subjugation ended at Appomattox Courthouse, VA in 1865 with the defeat of the Confederacy, it didn’t die, but simply morphed  into other, less self-evident forms for the next 100 years.

There was, however, an interesting segment of Lutheran history that provided an alternative to this stereotype, the story of Rosa Young. An Alabama schoolteacher, Young desired to erect schools for those who had been recently freed from slavery but were still shackled by their lack of education. After planting a school, finding herself lacking resources, she contacted educator and founder of the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington, asking for his assistance. “Washington replied that he was unable to help, but advised her to contact the Board of Colored Missions of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).  According to Washington, Lutherans were doing more for African-Americans than any other denomination.

The LCMS sent pastor Nils Bakke to investigate. When he found she was telling the truth, he arranged for help. Young joined the Lutheran church and with its aid founded thirty rural schools, a high school, and a teacher training college, on whose faculty she served. She also planted Lutheran churches. Although derided for leaving the Methodists, she defended herself: “I was born and reared in gross darkness, wholly ignorant of the true meaning of the saving Gospel contained in the Holy Bible…I did not know that I could not read the Bible and pray enough to win heaven.”[3]


This historical connection between the LCMS and the spiritual and educational enrichment of the American Descendants of Slaves often goes unknown and uncelebrated, even within the communities where it had the biggest impact. The Divine Service is viewed as a manifestation of white culture, the songs and sermonic style fail to reflect the cultural sensitivities of many in the black communities, and fears of being labeled an “enthusiast” lead some to keep the enthusiastic preaching that is the hallmark of black Gospel preaching under wraps.

Lectures are not sermons, although you can learn a lot about Jesus from a sermon. While God can speak in a “still small voice,” I find that it is still good to

Psalm 47:1 ESV

Clap your hands, all peoples!

Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

If for no other reason, it’s good to “preach it like you feel it!” Even the Lord Himself will return to us one day, not with a whisper, but with a shout:

1 Thessalonians 4:16 (ESV)

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

To paraphrase a Christian songwriter, “why should the organ have all the good music?” Worship is not a dry reception of dry promises into a dry life. It is the response of our joyful hearts, having been washed from our guilty stains in living water by the Word, tasting the fragrant bread of God’s exceeding great and precious promises refreshed by the fountain of the Holy Spirit to bring forth “streams in the desert” of our lives that are drained daily by the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Knowing these things, I remain “glad when they said unto me, let us go into the House of the Lord.” I hope that wherever you are, you will also, as you “think about the goodness of Jesus and all He has done for me,” be encouraged to “cry out, “Hallelujah – I thank God for saving me!”

“To the Glory of God alone.”




[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 669.

[2] Byron Cage, Live at New Birth Cathedral,” composed by Kurt Carr, GospoCentric Records, 2003

[3] Dan Graves, “It Happened on June 1 – Rosa Young Spread Learning & Lutheranism in Alabama.” accessed Feb 22, 2019.



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Posted by on March 21, 2019 in Uncategorized