Friday, May 28, 2010

FW: On the Way Home

On pipe organs…


Feed: Pastoral Meanderings
Posted on: Friday, May 28, 2010 5:46 AM
Author: Pastor Peters
Subject: On the Way Home


While on our way to Nebraska, we stopped in West DesMoines, Iowa, in order to take a look at a used Moller pipe organ.  The instrument was built in 1978 by what was America's most prolific organ builder.  Moller had taken pipe organ construction from a hand built process to a mass production effort.  Literally hundreds and hundreds of Moller Artiste organs were built and still survive.  This was not an Artiste series but a unit organ that surely grew from the roots of this one size fits all idea of organ building.  The Artiste could be had from 3 to a dozen ranks of pipes, it was compact, reliable, and inexpensive.

To those who insist that real pipes are a luxury in churches today, I say take a gander at a good used Moller Artiste or one of its many derivations.  For a few thousand dollars they can be had.  A few thousand more in transportation and installation, and you have a reliable instrument that keeps it tuning and will serve well the congregation for many, many years to come.  Check out eBay or the Organ Trader or the ads in TAO magazine or the Diapason or you can look at the Organ Relocation Service.  Sometimes a phone call to organ service folks or regional organ builders will help you track down one of these little gems.

Less expensive than an electronic and yet very serviceable for most organ literature, you hear the sound of real music being made and not digitally sampled music being mimicked.  It is not that I am totally against electronic organs but that is not the only option open to most, make that all congregations.  In the end what we were looking for was an organ for our chapel to replace and slowly dying Rodgers electronic (non-digital) from the very early 1980s.  What we will end up with is a very serviceable instrument that will support the room, lead congregational song, and equip the chapel to serve its function for smaller services, weddings, and funerals (50-60 in attendance).

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FW: There is No Reason Why Lutherans Should Not be Lutherans

A timely quote…


Feed: Cyberbrethren Lutheran Blog Feed
Posted on: Friday, May 28, 2010 4:49 AM
Author: Paul T. McCain
Subject: There is No Reason Why Lutherans Should Not be Lutherans


"Because of the confessional position of the Lutheran Church, there is no reason why Lutherans should not still be Lutheran. Espousing the catholic and apostolic faith with Christ as center and Scripture as source, Lutherans are part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Therefore, they do not have to ask whether they should be part of a church body with a name other than Lutheran. They do, of course, need to be concerned about the barriers that divide Christians from each other and must listen to other Christians for what the Holy Spirit may have to say through them. But they do not need to be concerned, as some other Christians have insisted they should be concerned, that they are somehow not the true church of Christ."

— A. C. Piepkorn, The Sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, pp. 195, 196. HT: Weedon.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Closing QBR 4.2, Opening QBR 4.3

This post will mark the last entry in Eastertide, QBR 4.2, and the opening entry in QBR 4.3, Apostles' Tide.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Resources Received

Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004. 201 Pages. Paper. $18.00. (L)

Pulpit Review: Preaching Takes Work!

Anderson, Steven. My Last Sermon Was Better than the First: Preaching in the 21st Century. Sherrard, IL: Connemara Publishing, 2009. 143 Pages. Paper with Audio CD of sermon examples. $14.99. (P)

Every once in a while I run across a book good enough to read in one sitting. This insightful and focused book on Christian preaching is one of those books.

Largely intended for an audience of Lutheran pastors (but by no means limited to preachers of the Lutheran confession), Rev. Anderson summarizes decades of experience in the pulpit, bringing together seminary training, what he learned from other preachers willing to share (12), the fruit of his own failures and successes, good common sense, and solid biblical theology.

Humility is a good thing in the pulpit. I pray that Rev. Steven Anderson is far from preaching his very last sermon, yet the book title admits the truth every preacher should be humble enough to admit: My Last Sermon Was Better than the First" (cf. 9). We can, should, and should want to do better than before.

One of the problems with preaching is not preaching well. This can be because of a disconnect with either the text or the people (26), a simple failure to communicate, or apathy on the part of people or preacher. Preachers can fall into bad habits like neglecting to study theology in their study, thinking of it more as an office. Greek and Hebrew references may give the preacher permanent crutches, or the seminary study of the Biblical languages might be completely set aside for a time. Fads, news, pet causes or texts and other distractions can take the Word out of the mouth of the preacher and the ears of his congregation.

I appreciated the intentional return to "exegeting the text" rather than "interpreting the text," avoiding the misleading terminology of the day (20ff). One should not be afraid to re-learn Greek and Hebrew and fully exhaust the text (25, et al). I loved the advice to "tell a good story" (34ff), because Christians have the best story of all to tell. The Gospel shall predominate (30). And the new edition of Walther's Law and Gospel will be appearing just in time to help preachers everywhere (48ff).

The pastor is a teacher. Rhetoric is a great tool that classical educators and schools are rediscovering in a meaningful (and dare I say practical) ways. Particularly after youth Confirmation Sunday this week, I enjoyed Pr. Anderson's introduction to Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric in the context of catechesis (58ff, cf. 69ff). One can gain (or regain) control of a classroom. Dryden: "Beware the fury of a patient man" (64).

"The next time you write a sermon, put yourself in the place of the listener. Are you speaking in such a way that your listeners are able to follow what you are saying?" (97). I often say it this way: Are you writing and preaching in a way you would be willing to listen?

"Focus on the Gospel was established to encourage the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially from the pulpit and in the classroom. We combine ancient and timeless methodologies with modern media to offer a variety of resources that will help pastors and laymen to accomplish that mission.

"The founder of Focus on the Gospel, the Rev. Steven L. Anderson, is the Administrator at Christ Lutheran High School in Rock Island, IL. Rev. Anderson has a background in education and theology and is an accomplished and in-demand speaker and teacher.

"In 1981 Rev. Anderson graduated from Concordia Teachers College, River Forest, IL, (now Concordia University Chicago) with a B.A. in Education. He continued his education at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN, earning a Masters of Divinity degree in Exegetical Theology in 1985.

"Upon matriculation from seminary, he served for sixteen years as a sole parish pastor at churches in Wisconsin, Missouri, and Kansas before moving to Colorado, where for two years he worked in a Lutheran high school. While at that school he served as Dean of Students, Director of Recruitment, Instructor, as well as Associate Pastor at the church that ran the school.

"In the fall of 2002 he began his work at Christ Lutheran High. He serves as Principal, as well as Administrator, and continues to spend a great deal of time in the classroom as a teacher. His work at the school leaves him free on weekends and during the summer to serve pastoral vacancies and do pulpit supply in local congregations.

"Rev. Anderson is the author of several periodical articles, as well as My Last Sermon was Better than My First - Preaching in the 21st Century... He and his wife of thirty-one years have three grown children and live in Sherrard, IL" (

"The goal every Sunday is to proclaim the Word in such a way that everybody, no matter what age or other consideration, gets it. Some weeks that happens more and better than other weeks. Some are always going to get more out of the sermon than others, and it may vary every week. Their body language will tell you, and sometimes their words. Sometimes I'm surprised both ways. From toddlers to elderly, and every age in between, everybody goes away with something" (43).
I pray this book will be a blessing to you to that end. Thank you, Pastor Anderson!

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

FW: High Culture vs Low Culture

A helpful perspective…


Feed: Pastoral Meanderings
Posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 8:21 AM
Author: Pastor Peters
Subject: High Culture vs Low Culture


Once I had someone say that Lutherans were a high brow people -- high culture -- in a low brow world -- low culture.  The person said that the culture of the local Baptist congregation or non-denominational church was more reflective of the neighborhood and community.  This fellow told me that the church next door to us had a Bubba culture and we had a Bach culture and that this was the reason we had trouble getting traction in a Southern city even though our congregation had been there 50 years.

I thought about this and will concede that there is something to what he says although I do not believe it has a great deal of impact on things.  We have had trouble getting traction in this community because this Lutheran congregation was begun as a refuge of Northerners who found themselves, for whatever reason, living in the South.  When they built their building on the busiest thoroughfare in town they did not put a door facing that busy street and thus they implied to the people passing by that this was a closed group.  And it was.  They spent most of their effort finding Lutherans and less effort trying to reach out to the folks around them.  I am not faulting them but even the folks who were there when it began admit that this was the focus -- unintended but still the mindset.

Second I think that while we have some "high brow" music and ceremonial  that is different from the native churches of this Southern town, we also have a host of other music that is not baroque or even classical.  For pete's sake, we sang "Holy Spirit the Dove Sent from Heaven" and "Greet the Rising Sun" on Pentecost and heard the account read in Arabic (among other languages).  We have people in cargo shorts and t-shirts and even a few in suits and ties.  We have a large concentration of young families and singles.  I would not say that a high percentage of our people listen to classical stations or even particularly like classical music.  What I think is different about us is that we are a confessional and liturgical church and this is what makes us different from 99% of all the congregations around us (especially the native ones).

I am weary of those who try to paint the distinction between Lutherans and others as a cultural one -- I believe it is primarily theological.  We stick out because we are Word and Sacrament people in a sea of folks who are into entertainment worship and immediate Spirit's blessing.  We stick out because we are confessional in a sea of people who believe the faith is only one person wide and deep (that belief is intensely personal and individual).  We stick out because we are a community gathered around the font, table, and pulpit in a sea of people gathered around video, the music style of the day, and a preacher/personality cult style church.

So I will admit that the pipe organ is not Bubba culture but it remains the most effective instrument to accompany and to lead congregational song.  Its sound can be lush and romantic or brash and jarring or inspirational and heralding... and it is every Sunday depending upon the hymn, service music, or liturgy being played.   What makes us stick out is a good thing -- theology written and confessed over time to bind us to our beliefs as a community of faith and many congregations.... music that speaks the Gospel and is not for music's sake.... preaching that flows from the means of grace and back to them through the lens of a church year... sacramental presence which draws us in to the table and the font where we meet Christ and all His gifts... no, not high brow or low brow but confessional, liturgical, evangelical, and catholic... that would make us, ah, Lutheran?!

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FW: Lutheran Mythbusting: The Empty Cross is Lutheran. The Crucifix is Roman Catholic.

Go mythbusters…


Feed: Cyberbrethren Lutheran Blog Feed
Posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 4:24 AM
Author: Paul T. McCain
Subject: Lutheran Mythbusting: The Empty Cross is Lutheran. The Crucifix is Roman Catholic.


I was reading some comments a person made about what represents Christ's love best in Lutheranism. He said: "Christ's love in Lutheranism is represented by the empty Cross…" Ah, no. There's nothing wrong with a plain cross symbol, but the plain or "empty" cross is not somehow a "Lutheran" symbol, as opposed to the crucifix. In fact, the crucifix enjoys a very long use in Lutheranism. Here's more information from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod's web site.

Q.  Question: Is the use of crucifixes a Roman Catholic practice? Doesn't the empty cross provide a better symbol for Lutherans? How does the LCMS feel about using a crucifix in church? [Note: A crucifix is a cross with a statue of the crucified Christ on it].

A.  A common misunderstanding among some some Lutherans is the opinion that a crucifix, or the use of a crucifix, is a "Roman Catholic" practice. The history of Lutheranism demonstrates that the crucifix was a regular and routine feature of Lutheran worship and devotional life during Luther's lifetime and during the period of Lutheran Orthdoxy. It was also the case among the founding fathers of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. If you were to visit most of the original congregations of the LCMS here in the United States you would find lovely crucifixes adorning their altars, and in addition, beautiful statues on the altar of Christ and the four evangelists, or other such scenes. There is nothing uniquely Roman Catholic about this.  Many Lutherans and Lutheran congregations use crucifixes. Crucifixes are used in the chapels of both of our seminaries.

Lutheranism has always considered the crucifix to be a powerful reminder of the sacrifice our Lord Jesus made for us and our salvation, on the cross. A crucifix vividly brings to mind the Apostle Paul's divinely inspired words, "We preach Christ and Him crucified"  (1 Cor. 1:23).

Interestingly enough, while there is certainly nothing "wrong" with an "empty" cross, the practice of using an "empty cross" on a Lutheran congregation's altar comes more from non-Lutheran sources. At the time of the Reformation there was conflict between Lutherans and Reformed Christians over the proper place of pictures, images, statues and the like in the church. Lutherans stood with historic Christendom in realizing that such art in the church was not wrong, and was a great aid for helping to focus devotional thoughts on the truths of the Word of God, no greater truth can be found that the death of Jesus Christ our Lord for the world's salvation.

The "empty cross" is not a symbol of Christ's resurrection, as some say, for the fact is that the cross would have been empty regardless of whether or not Christ had risen from the grave. The point to be kept clear here is that both an "empty cross" and a crucifix, symbolize the same thing: the death of Christ our Lord for the salvation of the world. Many feel that the crucifix symbolizes this truth more clearly and strikingly. That has been the traditional opinion of historic Lutheranism, until the last fifty years ago, due to the influence we will now mention.

Some Lutherans began to move away from crucifixes during the age of Lutheran Pietism, which rejected much of Lutheran doctrine and consequently many Lutheran worship practices. At the time, Lutheran Pietists, contrary to the clear postion of Luther and the earlier Lutherns, held that symbols such as the crucifix were wrong. This was never the view of historic Lutheranism.  Here in America, Lutherans have always felt a certain pressure to "fit in" with the Reformed Christianity that predominates much of the Protestant church here. Thus, for some Lutherans this meant doing away with things such as crucifixes, and vestments, and other traditional forms of Lutheran worship and piety. It is sad when some Lutherans are made to feel embarrassed about their Lutheranism by members of churches that teach the Word of God in error and who do not share Lutheanism's clear confession and practice of the full truth of the Word of God.

Lutheranism has always recognized that the use of any symbol (even the empty cross) can become an idolatrous practice, if in any way people are led to believe there is "power in the cross" or that a picture or representation of a cross has some sort of ability, in itself, to bring us into relationship with Christ and His Gospel. Any of God's good gifts can be turned against Him in this life and become an end in themselves.

Lutherans have never believed that banning or limiting proper artwork in the church is the way to prevent its improper use. Rather, we believe that proper teaching and right use is the best way, and the way that is in keeping with the gift of freedom we have in Christ to use all things to the glory and honor of God. Thus, many Lutherans use and enjoy the crucifix as a meaningful reminder of our Lord's suffering and death. It might interest you to know that our Synod's president has a beautiful crucifix adorning the wall of his office, constantly reminding him and visitors to his office of the great love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In short, and this is the most important point of all: there is nothing contrary to God's Holy Word, or our Lutheran Confessions, about the proper use of the crucifix, just as there is nothing wrong with the proper use of an empty cross, or any other church symbol by which we are reminded of the great things God has done for us. We need to guard against quickly dismissing out of hand practices that we believe are "too Roman Catholic" before we more adequately explore their use and history in our own church.

In Christian freedom, we use either the crucifix or an empty cross and should not judge or condemn one another for using either nor not using either symbol of our Lord's sacrifice for our sins.

Here are quotes from Martin Luther on crucifixes, images and making the sign of the cross:

The custom of holding a crucifix before a dying person has kept many in the Christian faith and has enabled them to die with a confident faith in the crucified Christ.

(Sermons on John, Chapters 1-4, 1539; LW, Vol. XXII, 147)

It was a good practice to hold a wooden crucifix before the eyes of the dying or to press it into their hands. This brought the suffering and death of Christ to mind and comforted the dying. But the others, who haughtily relied on their good works, entered a heaven that contained a sizzling fire. For they were drawn away from Christ and failed to impress His life-giving passion and death upon their hearts.

(Sermons on John, Chapters 6-8, 1532; LW, Vol. XXIII, 360)

[W]hen I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart, just as the reflection of my face naturally appears in the water when I look into it. If it is not a sin but good to have an image of Christ in my heart, why should it be a sin to have it in my eyes?

(Against the Heavenly Prophets, 1525; LW, Vol. 40, 99-100)


Now we do not request more than that one permit us to regard a crucifix or a saint's image as a witness, for remembrance, as a sign as that image of Caesar was. Should it not be as possible for us without sin to have a crucifix or an image of Mary, as it was for the Jews and Christ himself to have an image of Caesar who, pagan and now dead, belonged to the devil? Indeed the Caesar had coined his image to glorify himself. However, we seek neither to receive nor give honor in this matter, and are yet so strongly condemned, while Christ's possession of such an abominable and shameful image remains uncondemned.

(Against the Heavenly Prophets, 1525; LW, Vol. 40, 96)

And I say at the outset that according to the law of Moses no other images are forbidden than an image of God which one worships. A crucifix, on the other hand, or any other holy image is not forbidden.

(Ibid., 85-86)

Where however images or statues are made without idolatry, then such making of them is not forbidden.

[M]y image breakers must also let me keep, wear, and look at a crucifix or a Madonna . . . as long as I do not worship them, but only have them as memorials.

(Ibid., 86, 88)

But images for memorial and witness, such as crucifixes and images of saints, are to be tolerated . . . And they are not only to be tolerated, but for the sake of the memorial and the witness they are praiseworthy and honorable . . .

(Ibid., 91)


Morning Prayer

In the morning, when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen . . .

In the evening, when you go to bed, make the sign of the holy cross and say:

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

(Small Catechism, 1529, Section II: How the Head of the Family Should Teach His Household to Pray Morning and Evening, 22-23)

Thus has originated and continued among us the custom of saying grace and returning thanks at meals, and other prayers for both morning and evening. From the same source came the practice with children of crossing themselves in sight or hearing of terrifying occurrences . . . .

(Large Catechism, 1529, The Second Commandment, section 31, p. 57)

If the devil puts it into your head that you lack the holiness, piety, and worthiness of David and for this reason cannot be sure that God will hear you, make the sign of the cross, and say to yourself: "Let those be pious and worthy who will! I know for a certainty that I am a creature of the same God who made David. And David, regardless of his holiness, has no better or greater God than I have."

(Psalm 118, LW, Vol. XIV, 61)

If you should have a poltergeist and tapping spirit in your house, do not go and discuss it here and there, but know that it is not a good spirit which has not come from God. Cross yourself quietly and trust in your faith.

(Sermon for the Festival of the Epiphany, LW, Vol. 52, 178-79)

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Large Catechism, 1529, translated by John Nicholas Lenker, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1935.

Luther's Works (LW), American edition, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (volumes 1-30) and Helmut T. Lehmann (volumes 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (volumes 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (volumes 31-55), 1955.

Small Catechism, 1529, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1943.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

FW: Lutheranism 101: Coming Next October

Add this to the "Books We Just Can't Wait to Hold in Our Hands" list…


Feed: Cyberbrethren Lutheran Blog Feed
Posted on: Monday, May 24, 2010 1:34 PM
Author: Paul T. McCain
Subject: Lutheranism 101: Coming Next October


I'm enjoying today reviewing the nearly final pages on Lutheranism 101, a new book coming from Concordia Publishing House in October 2010. It's a basic "primer" on Lutheranism that I think you are really going to enjoy. I'll share more details as the project moves along, but for now, let the cover suffice to give you a hint of what's in store. As always, click a couple times on the photo for a "mega" size version.

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Resources Received

Gilbert, Greg. Foreword by D. A. Carson. What Is the Gospel? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. 127 Pages. Cloth. $12.99. (LHP)

Dragons or Dinosaurs? Creation or Evolution? St. Catherines, ON, Canada: Cloud Ten Pictures, 2010. DVD Film. (LHPN)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

FW: Feast of Pentecost: Veni Creator Spiritus and Veni Sancte Spiritus

A Blessed Pentecost to QBR readers and some great Pentecost music courtesy of the blog below…


Feed: All for Hymn
Posted on: Sunday, May 23, 2010 8:00 AM
Author: IggyAntiochus
Subject: Feast of Pentecost: Veni Creator Spiritus and Veni Sancte Spiritus


The chant Veni Creator Spiritus, or "Come, Creator Spirit" is often sung on the Day of Pentecost, which marks the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church, as Jesus had promised.

Another classic chant is Veni Sancte Spiritu, or "Come, Holy Spirit."

You can hear both of them back-to-back below, in simple Gregorian chant.



Here is Maurice Duruflé's "Prelude, Adagio & Choral Varié" on Veni Creator Spiritus.



This Gregorian tune also inspired the German chorale, Komm, Gott Schöpfer. Here is a wonderfully simple arrangement for a small brass ensemble.



Here is an orchestral arrangement with the Berliner Philharmoniker.



Here is Bach's organ arrangement played on a beautiful Austrian instrument.



Veni Sancte Spiritus is the "Sequence" for Pentecost. It is a special liturgical text to highlight the festival day. It is usually sung before the Alleluias, which in turn precede the Gospel Reading. While the plainsong chant is simple, it seems Mozart had grander plans for the text.



With all that pomp, my favorite setting comes from the Taize Community. I have used this setting with as few as three parts and a solo. The verse here is sung in English, and is a good translation of the text. As Pentecost marks the nations hearing the disciples in their own languages, you will find other languages intertwined in this setting.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

FW: Icon of J.S. Bach



Feed: Cyberbrethren Lutheran Blog Feed
Posted on: Saturday, May 22, 2010 4:49 AM
Author: Paul T. McCain
Subject: Icon of J.S. Bach


I stumbled upon a web site with a large collection of icons, in a more modern style. One of them is, yup, of J.S. Bach. You can not only buy a copy of the icon in various formats, you can purchase it on a t-shirt and coffee mug. I'm not sure what to make of this, but…for what it is worth, if you have been looking for an icon of J.S. Bach to add to your collection, here you go.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

FW: Preaching Christ Alone

Consider the following…


Feed: Gnesio
Posted on: Friday, May 21, 2010 2:11 PM
Author: admin
Subject: Preaching Christ Alone


by Michael S. Horton

If our preaching does not center on Christ–from Genesis to Revelation–no matter how good or helpful, it is not a proclamation of God's Word.

"You search the Scriptures in vain, thinking that you have eternal life in them, not realizing that it is they which testify concerning me." With these words, our Lord confronted what has always been the temptation in our reading of Holy Scripture: to read it without Christ as the supreme focus of revelation.


Many people who come to embrace the specific tenets of the Protestant Reformation (grace alone, scripture alone, Christ alone, to God alone be glory, faith alone, etc.) are liberated by the good news of God's free grace in Christ. Pastors who used to preach a human-centered message suddenly become impassionate defenders of God's glory and particular doctrines which often characterized the messages and shaped the teaching ministry of the congregation are exchanged for more biblical truths. This is all very exciting, of course, and we should be grateful to God for awakening us (this writer included) to the doctrines of grace. Nevertheless, there are deeper issues involved.

Not infrequently, we run into a church that is very excited about having just discovered the Reformation faith, but the preaching remains what it always was: witty, perhaps anecdotal (plenty of stories and illustrations that often serve the purpose of entertainment rather than illumination of a point), and moralistic (Bible characters surveyed for their usefulness in teaching moral lessons for our daily life). This is because we have not yet integrated our systematic theology with our hermeneutics (i.e., way of interpreting Scripture). We say, "Christ alone!" in our doctrine of salvation, but in actual practice our devotional life is saturated with sappy and trivial "principles" and the preaching is often directed toward motivating us through practical tips.

What we intend to do in this issue is present an urgent call to recover the lost art of Reformational preaching. This isn't just a matter of concern for preachers themselves, for the ministry of the Word is something that is committed to every believer, since we are all witnesses to God's unfolding revelation in Christ. It is not only important for those who speak for God in the pulpit in public assemblies, but for the layperson who reads his or her Bible and wonders, "How can I make sense of it all?" Below, I want to point out why we think there has been a decline of evangelical preaching in this important area.


I have already referred to this threat and it will be the target of a good deal of criticism throughout this issue. Whenever the story of David and Goliath is used to motivate you to think about the "Goliaths" in your life and the "Seven Stones of Victory" used to defeat them, you have been the victim of moralistic preaching. The same is true whenever the primary intention of the sermon is to give you a Bible hero to emulate or a villain to teach a lesson, like "crime doesn't pay," or, "sin doesn't really make you happy." Reading or hearing the Bible in this way turns the Scriptures into a sort of Aesop's Fables or Grimm's Fairy Tales, where the story exists for the purpose of teaching a lesson to the wise and the story ends with, "and they lived happily ever after." In his Screwtape Letters, Lewis has Screwtape writing Wormwood in the attempt to persuade Wormwood to undermine the faith by turning Jesus into a great hero and moralist.

He has to be a 'great man' in the modern sense of the word–one standing at the terminus of some centrifugal and unbalanced line of thought–a crank vending a panacea. We thus distract men's minds from Who He is, and what He did. We first make Him solely a teacher, and then conceal the very substantial agreement between His teaching and those of other great moral teachers.

This is the greatest problem, from my own experience, with the preaching we hear today. There is such a demand to be practical–that is, to have clever principles for daily living. But the danger, of course, is that what one hears on Sunday morning is not the Word of God. To be sure, the Scriptures were read (maybe) and there was a sermon (perhaps), but the message had more in common with a talk at the Lion's Club, a pop-psychology seminar, prophecy conference or political convention than with proclamation of heavenly truth "from above."

Because we are already seated with Christ in the heavens (Eph.2:4) and are already participating in the new creation that dawned with Christ's resurrection, we are to be heavenly-minded. This, of course, does not mean that we are irrelevant mystics who have no use for this world; rather, it means that we are oriented in our outlook toward God rather than humanity (including ourselves), the eternal rather than this present age, holiness rather than happiness, glorifying God rather than demanding that God meet our "felt needs." Only with this kind of orientation can we be of use to this world as "salt" and "light," bearing a distinctive testimony to the transcendent in a world that is so bound to the present moment.

Finally, moralism commits a basic hermeneutical error, from the Reformation point of view. Both Lutherans and the Reformed have insisted, in the words of the Second Helvetic Confession, "The Gospel is, indeed, opposed to the law. For the law works wrath and announces a curse, whereas the Gospel preaches grace and blessing." Calvin and his successor, Beza, followed the common Lutheran understanding that while both the law and the Gospel were clearly taught in Scripture (in both Old and New Testaments), that the confusion of the two categories lay at the heart of all wayward preaching and teaching in the church. It is not that the Old Testament believers were under the law and we are under grace or the Gospel, but rather that believers in both Testaments are obligated to the moral law, to perfectly obey its precepts and conform to its purity not only in outward deed, but in the frame and fashion of heart and soul. And yet, in both Testaments, believers are offered the Gospel of Christ's righteousness placed over the naked, law-breaking sinner so that God can accept the wicked–yes, even the wicked for the sake of Christ.

Both Lutherans and the Reformed have also affirmed that the law still has a place after conversion in the life of the believer, as the only commands for works that are now done in faith. Nevertheless, preaching must observe clearly the distinction between these two things. As John Murray writes, "The law can never give the believer any spiritual power to obey its commands." And yet, so much of the moralistic preaching we get these days presupposes the error that somehow principles, steps for victory, rules, guidelines that the preacher has cleverly devised (i.e., the traditions of men?) promise spiritual success to those who will simply put them into daily practice. Those who are new in the faith regard this kind of preaching as useful and practical; those who have been around it for a while eventually burn out and grow cynical about the Christian life because they cannot "gain victory" even though they have tried everything in the book.

It must be said that not even the commands of God himself can give us life or the power to grow as Christians. The statutes are right and good, but I am not, Paul said in Romans 7. Even the believer cannot gain any strength from the law. The law can only tell him what is right; the Gospel alone can make him right by giving him what he cannot gain by law-keeping. If the law itself is rendered powerless by human sinfulness, how on earth could we possibly believe that humanly devised schemes and principles for victory and spiritual power could achieve success? We look to the law for the standard, realizing that even as Christians we fall far short of reaching it. Just then, the Gospel steps in and tells us that someone has attained that standard, that victory, for us, in our place, and now the law can be preached again without tormenting our conscience. It cannot provoke us to fear or anxiety, since its demands are fulfilled by someone else's obedience.

Therefore, it is our duty to preach "the whole counsel of God," which includes everything in the category of law (the divine commandments and threats of punishment; the call to repentance and conversion, sanctification and service to God and our neighbor) and in the category of Gospel (God's promise of rest, from Genesis to Revelation; its fulfillment in Christ's death, burial and resurrection, ascension, intercession, second coming; the gift of faith, through which the believer is justified and entered into a vital union with Christ; the gift of persevering faith, which enables us to pursue godliness in spite of suffering). But any type of preaching that fails to underscore the role of the law in condemning the sinner and the role of the Gospel in justifying the sinner or confuses these two is a serious violation of the distinction which Paul himself makes in Galatians 3:15-25.

Much of the evangelical preaching with which I am familiar neither inspires a terror of God's righteousness nor praise for the depths of God's grace in his gift of righteousness. Rather, it is often a confusion of these two, so that the bad news isn't quite that bad and the good news isn't all that good. We actually can do something to get closer to God; we aren't so far from God that we cannot make use of the examples of the biblical characters and attain righteousness by following the "Seven Steps to the Spirit-Filled Life." But in the biblical view, the biblical characters are not examples of their victory, but of God's! The life of David is not a testimony to David's faithfulness, surely, but to God's and for us to read any part of that story as though we could attain the Gospel (righteousness) by the law (obedience) is the age-old error of Cain, the Pharisees, the Galatian Judaizers, the Pelagians, Semi-Pelagians, Arminians, and Higher Life proponents.

There are varieties of moralism. Some moralists are sentimental in their preaching. In other words, the goal is to be helpful and a loving nurturer who aims each Sunday at affirming his congregation with the wise sayings of a Jesus who sounds a lot like a talk-show therapist. Other moralists are harsh in their preaching. Their Gospel is, "Do this and you shall live." In other words, unless you can measure a growth in holiness by any number of indicators or barometers, you should not conclude that you are entitled to the promises. The Gospel, for these preachers, is law and the law is Gospel. One can attain God's forgiveness and acceptance only through constant self-assessment. Doubt rather than assurance marks mature Christian reflection, these preachers insist, in sharp distinction to the tenderness of the Savior who excluded only those who thought they had jumped through all the right hoops. The sinners were welcome at Christ's table, the "righteous" were clearly not.

Therefore, even the Christian needs to be constantly reminded that his sanctification is so slow and imperfect in this life that not one single spiritual blessing can be pried from God's hand by obedience; it is all there in the Father's open, outstretched hand. This, of course, is the death-knell to moralism of every stripe. The bad news is very bad indeed; the good news is greater than any earthly moral wisdom. That's why Paul said, paraphrased, "You Greek Christians in Corinth want moral wisdom? OK, I'll give you wisdom: Christ is made our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Aha! God in his foolishness is wiser than all the world's self-help gurus!" (1 Cor. 1:18-31).

Moralism might answer the "felt needs" of those who demand practical and inspirational pep talks on Sunday morning, but it cannot really be considered preaching.

Verse-By-Verse Exposition

Having been raised in churches which painstakingly exegeted a particular passage verse-by-verse, I have profited from the insights this method sometimes offers. Nevertheless, it too falls short of an adequate way of preaching, reading, or interpreting the sacred text.

First, an explanation of how this is done. I remember the pastor going through even rather brief books like Jude over a period of several months and there we would be, pen and paper in hand as though we were in a classroom, following his outline–either printed in the bulletin or on an overhead projector. Words would be taken apart like an auto mechanic taking apart an engine, conducting an extensive study on the root of that word in the Greek language. This is inadvisable, first, because word studies often focus on etymology (i.e., what is the root of the work in the original language?) rather than on the use of the word in ancient literature, for very often the use of a particular word in ancient literature had nothing at all to do with the root meaning of the word itself. It is dangerous to think of biblical words as magical or different somehow from the same words in the secular works of their day.

This approach is also dangerous because it "misses the forest for the trees." In other words, revelation is one long, unfolding drama of redemption and to get wrapped up in a technical analysis of bits and pieces fails to do justice to the larger context of the text. What God intended as one continuous story that is proclaimed each week to remind the faithful of God's promise and our calling is often turned into an arduous and irrelevant search for words. The same tendency is present in Bible study methods or study Bibles that outline, take apart, and put back together the pieces of the Bible in such a way as to get in the way of the Scripture's inherent power and authority.

Another fault of this verse-by-verse method is that it often fails to appreciate the variety of genre in the biblical text and imposes a woodenly literalistic grid on passages that are meant to be preached, read, or interpreted in a different way. The Bible is not a textbook of geometry that can be reductionistically dissected for simple conclusions, but a book in which God himself speaks to us, disclosing his nature, his purpose, and his unfolding plan of redemption through history.

A final danger of this method is that it tends to remove the congregation from the text of Scripture. Even though the hearers may be very involved taking notes, it only serves to reinforce in their experience that they could not simply sit down and read their English Bibles for themselves and discover the deeper meaning of the text apart from those who have the method down and know the original languages.


Unfortunately, too much of the preaching we come across these days does not even have the merit of attempting a faithful exposition of the Scriptures, as these preceding methods do.

When John Calvin was asked to respond to Cardinal Sadoleto as to why Geneva was irretrievably Protestant, the Reformer included this indictment of the state of preaching before the Reformation:

Nay, what one sermon was there from which old wives might not carry off more whimsies than they could devise at their own fireside in a month? For as sermons were usually then divided, the first half was devoted to those misty questions of the schools which might astonish the rude populace, while the second contained sweet stories and amusing speculations by which the hearers might be kept awake. Only a few expressions were thrown in from the Word of God, that by their majesty they might procure credit for these frivolities.

Calvin then contrasts this former way of preaching with the Reformation approach to Scripture:

First, we bid a man to begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to cite his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced on all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by His obedience, He has wiped off our transgressions; by His sacrifice, appeased the divine anger.

The Genevan Reformer goes on to ask the Cardinal what problem he has with that. It is probably, says Calvin, that the Reformation way of preaching is not "practical" enough; that it doesn't give people clear directions for daily living and motivate them to a higher life. Nevertheless, the Reformers all believed that the preacher is required to preach the text, not to decide on a topic and look for a text that can be pressed into its service. And the text, said they, was aimed not at offering heroes to emulate (even Jesus), but at proclamation of God's redemptive act in the person and work of the God-Man.

Who couldn't find in Calvin's description of medieval preaching something of the contemporary situation? In many of the church growth contexts, once more the sermon is not given the central place liturgically and the sermon itself often reveals that the speaker is more widely read in marketing surveys, trend analyses, biographies of the rich and famous, "One Hundred & One Sermon Illustrations," and Leadership journal than in the Greek New Testament, hermeneutical aids, and the riches of centuries of theological scholarship. One can often tell when a pastor has just read a powerful book of pop-psychology, Christian personality theories, end-times speculations, moral or political calls to action, or entrepreneurial successes. He has been blown away by some of the insights and has scouted about for a text that can, if read very quickly, lend some divine credibility to something he did not actually get from that text, but from the Christian or secular best-seller's list. "I'm a pastor, not a theologian," they say, in contrast to the classical evangelical notion, inherited from the Reformation, that a pastor was a scholar as well as a preacher.

Good communicators can get away with the lack of content by their witty, anecdotal style, but they are still unfaithful as ministers of the Word, even if they help people and keep folks coming back for more.

The "Christ And…" Syndrome

In C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, the devil's strategy is not to remove Christ altogether from the scene, but to propagate a "Christ And…" religion:

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of "Christianity And." You know–Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychic Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing (Letter XXV).

Today, we see this in terms of Christ and America; Christ and Self-Esteem; Christ and Prosperity; Christ and the Republican or Democratic Party; Christ and End-Time Predictions; Christ and Healing; Christ and Marketing and Church Growth; Christ and Traditional Values, and on we could go, until Christ himself becomes little more than an appendage to a religion that can, after all, get on quite well without him. That is not, of course, to say that the evangelical enterprise could do this without some difficulty. After all, every movement needs a mascot. We say we are Christ-centered, but what was the sermon about last Sunday?

In fact, it is not even enough to preach the centrality of Christ. It is particularly Christ as he is our sacrifice for sin and guarantor of new life because of his resurrection that the Bible makes central in its revelation. After a tragic car accident, Fr. James Feehan, a seasoned Roman Catholic priest in New Zealand, realized afresh the significance of Paul's command to preach Christ and him crucified:

If the pulpit is not committed to this utter centrality of the Cross, then our preaching, however, brilliant, is doomed to sterility and failure. We preach the Christ of the Mount; we preach the Christ of the healing ministry; we preach the Christ of the sublime example; we preach the Christ of the Social Gospel; we preach the Christ of the Resurrection but rarely, if ever, do we preach the Christ of the Cross. We have evaded the very heart of the Christian message. In our preaching we tend to decry the human predicament, the turmoil of our lives, the evil in the world, and we wonder if there is a way out. The Way Out is staring us in the face. It is the Way of Christ, the Way of the Cross (Preaching Christ Crucified: Our Guilty Silence [Dublin: The Mercier Press, 1991], p.19).

In other words, to guard the centrality of Christ in our preaching, it is necessary to guard the centrality of Christ's ministry as prophet, priest and king. Otherwise, we will even use "Christ" as a means of preaching something other than Christ. We will insist that we are preaching Christ even though we are really only using his name in vain as a buttress for some fashionable tangent we happen to be on this week.

What then is the proper method for reading, preaching, and interpreting God's Word? Many resist the idea that there is a proper method at all, dismissing it as naive. The content is normative and unchanging, they say, but the method is relative and depends on what works best for each pastor. It is often treated as a matter of style, like whether one wears robes or has the choir in the front or the back of the church. But not only does the Bible give us the content of what we are to believe; it gives us a method for properly determining that message.

Via, ©1993, 1999 Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

FW: A Different Approach to the Role of Music in the Service...

Helpful considerations…


Feed: Pastoral Meanderings
Posted on: Thursday, May 20, 2010 6:15 AM
Author: Pastor Peters
Subject: A Different Approach to the Role of Music in the Service...


It seems that in any conversation among Lutherans about the role of music in the Divine Service, there is lip service paid to the famous Luther dictum of music being the servant of the Word but that is often where unanimity ends.  The next step is seeing music as our gift to God, the expression of our praise and thanksgiving in response to what He has done.  In this way, music is a medium not for God's story but for ours -- to tell the Lord what we feel, what we think, and how we have been moved by what He has done.  From that flows another understanding of music as that which sets the mood or tone for the Divine Service.  We pick music (hymns, song, and service music) that express the mood of the service (joyful, somber, encouraging, reflective, etc.) and in this way music is primarily evocative.  And then there is the understanding of music as mood maker where the role of music is to bring together the assembly and bring them to one place.  Music is used to make the mood (often here the songs are both performed and sung repeatedly and the singing goes on continuously over some period of time as opposed to hymns or songs that are sung one at a time and in alternation with other parts of the service.  You might have other roles to add, I am just offering these for now.

It is my experience that you do not have to be into contemporary Christian music to see music and its role(s) in this way.  In fact, I know some organists and choir directors in liturgical churches who routinely speak of the role of music as expression of our feeling, who use music to set the tone for the service, and who plan music to achieve a certain outcome or goal on the part of the hearer and singer.  Though we who believe in the liturgy often accuse those who practice CCM of this, it is more prevalent than we might think.

In contrast to this, when Lutherans speaks of music as being the handmaid or servant of the Word, we are speaking of the role of music in communicating that Word of God.  Music is not merely some sounds around the text but, with the text, is woven in such way that text and tune become one fabric, one message.  The primary purpose of music is to communicate THE message of Jesus Christ.  If you page through Lutheran Service Book or Lutheran Worship or The Lutheran Hymnal, it is easy to see what I mean.  There are hymns there that tell a story over many stanzas, both summarizing and saying in the actual words of Scripture the message of the Gospel (and not only Gospel but also Law).  They are theological as well as doxological -- in fact we might say that in order to be doxological they must be theological, conveying and confessing the truth of God's own self-disclosure and revelation.

It is not that these hymns are devoid of our response to that Word, or empty of the praise and thanksgiving it engenders in us and from us, but that this is always secondary to their role as speakers of the Divine Word.  It is not that there is no difference in mood or tone between a Good Friday hymn or an Easter hymn but that this mood or tone is reflective of what the hymn says and not a value separate from its role as servant of the Word.  It is not that we do not "program" festive hymns for festive occasions but not as a manipulator of the mind and heart of people.  Rather, the choice of hymns or songs flows from the occasion, from the lessons for that occasion, and from the place of this service within the Church Year or the sanctoral calendar.  It is not that these hymns do not utilize repetitive elements (refrains, for example) but that this repetition flows from the form of the text and its message and not as a means to change or shape the mood of the singer or hearer by the use of a specific musical form or set of words.  So, for example, the repeated "Alleluias" of a hymn such as "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing" flow from the message of Ascension and the response of the Church to Jesus' place of glory at the right hand of the Father, a place earned by His suffering and death, which He takes as a reflection of the completion of these mighty acts by which we have been saved.  Different from that are the repeated "Alleluia" of the folk hymn by that name which has no other words than "Alleluia" and where the repetition of that one word becomes the medium, the message and a means of creating a specific mood in the assembly.

Luther's gift and, indeed, the gift of Lutheran hymnody, is its ability to bring together musical form and the message of the Word to faithfully mirror Scripture's own speaking in the voice of an assembly whose many voices are united not only in this speaking or singing but in the Word which they speak and sing.

George Weigel, noted Roman Catholic theological and social commentator, has noticed this as well.  Read what he has written:  I love hymns. I love singing them and I love listening to them. Hearing the robust Cardiff Festival Choir belt out the stirring hymns of Ralph Vaughan Williams at what my wife regards as an intolerable volume is, for me, a terrific audio experience. It was only when I got to know certain Lutherans, though, that I began to think about hymns theologically. 

For classic Lutheran theology, hymns are a theological "source:" not up there with Scripture, of course, but ranking not-so-far below Luther's "Small Catechism." Hymns, in this tradition, are not liturgical filler. Hymns are distinct forms of confessing the Church's faith. Old school Lutherans take their hymns very seriously.

Most Catholics don't. Instead, we settle for hymns musically indistinguishable from "Les Mis" and hymns of saccharine textual sentimentality. Moreover, some hymn texts in today's Catholic "worship resources" are, to put it bluntly, heretical. Yet Catholics once knew how to write great hymns; and there are great hymns to be borrowed, with gratitude, from Anglican, Lutheran, and other Christian sources. There being a finite amount of material that can fit into a hymnal, however, the first thing to do is clean the stables of today's hymnals.

Hymns are important. Catholics should start treating them seriously.

He gets what some Lutherans have forgotten or chosen to ignore. What we sing is either what we believe, teach and confess or it is simply what we think or feel.  While there is nothing wrong with feelings and passion in worship, what we sing is not an aesthetic experience, not an artistic experience, not a musical experience, but the place where the Word speaks and music assists the speaking of that Word.  We have all known hymns where the melody and the words become the inseparable and unified medium -- the melody is not simply some interchangeable set of notes but is so reflective of the message it becomes itself part of the message.  Certainly this is the goal of the music of the liturgy, the hymns and songs of the Church, and the anthems and service music of the choir, organist, and other parish musicians.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

FW: CS Lewis on the Cross

QBR readers, were you aware of this sci-fi series by Lewis? Good reading…


Feed: Evangel
Posted on: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 12:40 PM
Author: Adam Omelianchuk
Subject: CS Lewis on the Cross



I have been reading the final book in CS Lewis's space trilogy That Hideous Strength, and I came across an excerpt worth sharing. For those unfamiliar with the book a man named Mark (who is an unbeliever) is being programmed under the threat of violence to think "objectively," meaning without influence of the "chemical reactions" that produce our moral (read emotive) judgments. The scientist in charge of his progress commands him to trample a crucifix. Mark hesitates… and puts his life in danger.

Mark was well aware of the rising danger. Obviously, if he disobeyed, his last chance getting out Belbury alive might be gone. The smothering sensation once again attacked him. He was himself, he felt, as helpless as the wooden Christ. As he thought this, he found himself looking at the crucifix in a new way—neither as a piece of wood nor a monument of superstition but as a bit of history. Christianity was nonsense, but one did not doubt that the man had lived and had been executed thus by the Belbury of those days. And that, as he suddenly saw, explained why this image, though not itself an image of the Straight and Normal, was yet in opposition to crooked Belbury. It was a picture of what happened when the Straight met the Crooked, a picture of what the Crooked did to the Straight—what it would do to him if he remained straight. It was, in a more emphatic sense than he had yet understood, a cross.

Here Lewis shows through his character that it is impossible to see the Cross from "objective" neutrality. Further along he explains why:

He [Mark] was thinking, and thinking hard, because he knew that if he stopped even for a moment, mere terror of death would take the decision out of his hands. Christianity was a fable. It would be ridiculous to die for a religion one did not believe. This man himself, on that very cross, had discovered it to be a fable, and he died complaining that the God in whom he trusted had forsaken him—had, in fact, found the universe a cheat. But this raised the question that Mark had never thought before. Was that the moment to turn against the Man? If the universe was a cheat, was that a good reason for joining its side? Supposing the Straight was utterly powerless, always and everywhere certain to be mocked, tortured, and finally killed by the Crooked, what then? Why not go down with the ship?

The cross shows that there is no middle ground between choosing to do wrong or to suffer wrong. All the secular mind can do in the face of this choice is to obtain some kind of "objectivity" that denies right and wrong altogether. And that, of course, is madness.

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Resources Received

Webber, Robert E. Foreword by John D. Witvliet. Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God's Narrative. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008. 191 Pages. Paper. $14.99. (L)

Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism fro a Postmodern World. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999. 240 Pages. Paper. $22.00. (LHP)

Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003. 219 Pages. Paper. $14.99. (LHP)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

FW: Liturgy and Freedom to Order Ceremonies

Good guidance…


Feed: What Sasse Said
Posted on: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 3:04 PM
Author: M.A. Henderson
Subject: Liturgy and Freedom to Order Ceremonies


"We Lutherans know nothing of liturgy that is prescribed by God's Word. We know that the church has freedom to order its ceremonies and that it can therefore preserve the liturgical heritage of Christendom, as long as it is consistent with the Gospel. Indeed, our church in the Reformation placed the greatest value on preserving as much as possible this heritage that binds us with the fathers. But these ceremonies do not belong to the essence of the church or to the true unity of the church, as Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession and Article 10 of the Formula of Concord teach. Löhe knew this when in his Drei Bücher von der Kirche [Three Books on the Church], right where he speaks of the beauty and greatness of the Lutheran liturgy, he protests against overestimating it: 'The church remains what she is even without liturgy. She remains a queen even when she is dressed as a beggar' (Book 3, chap. 9 [p. 178])."

The Lutheran Understanding of the Consecration
Letters to Lutheran Pastors Number 26, July 1952
Trans. by Norman Nagel, published in We Confess the Sacraments, Concordia, 1986, p.117.

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