Thursday, May 17, 2012

FW: Sasse on the Foundation and Source of Church Structure




Feed: Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison
Posted on: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 8:24 PM
Author: Rev. Matt Harrison
Subject: Sasse on the Foundation and Source of Church Structure


Before Sasse's famous Letters to Lutheran pastors began in 1948, he wrote five circular letters to Westphalian Pastors, opposed to the German Christians (the Nazified Christians of the Third Reich). Hitherto, the first two of these letters were lost. Rachel Mumme found them in a German archive and translated Letter number 1. We intend to include all five in the upcoming volumes from CPH. Pastor Matt Harrison

If we want to arise out of this distress, then we must first of all blame ourselves for the failure of the past years and not to the world. We are to blame for the failure to make our thoughts and wishes reality. It is absolutely necessary that we remind ourselves that up to this point every true renewal of the church has begun with a movement of repentance. This repentance includes our readiness to place all of our plans, and especially all of our pet ideas under the judgment of God's Word. Only that which remains in the fire of this judgment, that which is purified from all vanity, which has already inflicted so much damage in the church, can have merit in the church's new structure. One of our failures was that we, having given into our desires, acted on the assumption of utopia instead of on the reality of the church of God. Such utopias were not only the Peoples' Church and the National Church [Volks- und Nationalkirche] of the German Christians, but also the united "German Evangelical Church" [D.E.K], this vision of all national, liberal and idealistic Protestants of the 19th century. It was the "Lutheran Church of the German Nation" with her false identification of that which is Lutheran [Luthertum] and that which is German [Deutschtum] and the "young" or "young reformational" or "confessing" church of the Barthian Confessional Union [Bekenntnisunion] and the Barmen Declaration. In every one of these cases it was about an attempt to bring about a fantastically beautiful ideal, a Platonic city [civitas Platonica; Ap. 7/8.20]. We must, however, learn that all of the work on the external structures of the church must flow not from what we wish for ourselves in a church, but from that which through the grace of God is still present in the church, in the true evangelical church, and with the great soberness in which the church orders of the Reformation can be an example for us. What is in the true church, that means what is still present in the true spiritual Office [geistlichen Amt] and in the true evangelical congregation, that and nothing else can be the foundation and source for every new church structure. [kirchlichen Neubau] Letters to Westphalian Pastors, May 27, 1943, Translated by Rachel Mumme

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

FW: The Burden of the Pastor




Feed: Musings of a Country Preacher
Posted on: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 2:49 PM
Author: Country Preacher
Subject: The Burden of the Pastor


Among the many issues that I have heard our Synod President address, the lack of good preaching hits closest to home for many pastors. At least, it does for me.  Despite years of preaching, I find that I am only beginning to understand the challenges a preacher faces.  It will take many more lifetimes to find the solution to those challenges.

Pastor Harrison's comment, however, reveals a challenge and burden that goes an entirely different direction, but is worth examining.  His complaint is that too often, pastors preach a generic law.  A symptom of this, he says, is the constant talk of we:  "We sin," "We need forgiveness, etc." Instead, he says, the pastor is to speak the Word of God to the people.  That is: "You sin," "you need forgiveness," etc.  An excellent point, to be sure.  This brings me to the burden of the Holy Ministry.  Pastors speak the Word of God to their people.  When they are doing it right, they are bringing both the law and Gospel to them.  That is, "You are a sinner. God forgives you."

But even more than just saying, "God forgives you", the pastor stands in Christ's stead and says, ''I forgive you."  He does this in Holy Absolution to be sure, but he also does it in his preaching. He does it as he administers the sacrament.  It is what the pastor does.  But what is missing from this is the "For me."  The pastor can not continually give forgiveness, without at some point receiving it.  Or, put another way, the pastor has no pastor. Pastors are somewhat on their own.  In the average parish, the pastor serves alone at altar and pulpit.  Monthly pastor's conferences are not the same thing.  There is no "Here is my pastor" for the pastor.  It is the burden of the office.

This is not intended as a complaint.  Just as observation.  How do pastors deal with this? In this age of easily printed books and electronic gadgetry, there are any number of devotional works a pastor can use to help himself.  There are apps for that.  There are all sorts of things.  I read a great deal. I study and write.  I make sure the sermons apply to me too.  And yet…

If I were giving advice to a young pastor, fresh out of the seminary, it would be this: Find a Father Confessor.  We can debate endlessly about whether pastors should go to their circuit visitor or district president for confession, or whether they should find someone else.  But do whatever it takes to find someone to whom you can confess and from whom you can receive the absolution.  You need it.  You need to be told that your sins are damnable, and that you are forgiven those very sins.  And you need to hear it from a mouth not your own.  Not a rotation of pastors who serve as preacher at pastor's conferences.  You need to hear from A mouth.  Someone who knows your sin, and forgives you anyway, just as you do for your people.  (Do not pick your best friend. The relationship between pastor and penitent is different.  As a penitent, it will change your relationship to your friend.) Find someone and do it.

It is the best defense (next to the Lord's Prayer) against the attacks of Satan.

Oh, yes, and pray the Lord's Prayer, as well.  Pray it often.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012


From: LCMS e-News
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The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod May 15, 2012 • No. 54

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FW: New Book: Faith and Act – The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation


Coming Soon…


Feed: Cyberbrethren Lutheran Blog Feed
Posted on: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 11:48 AM
Author: Paul T. McCain
Subject: New Book: Faith and Act – The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation


I'm pleased to announce that Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation has arrived and you may place your order for it.

The Reformation did not happen overnight, not with the singular act of posting of the Ninety-Five Theses, or even the presentation of the Augsburg Confession.Prof. Dr. Zeeden's classic study of how medieval church practices continued and developed within Lutheran church orders offers readers a unique perspective on how faith influences the act of worship. Historians of liturgy and theology will discover insights and important continuity between the Lutheran churches of the sixteenth century and their forbearers of the late medieval period.

I do not use the phrase "raving about it" very often, but…this is one of those times when it is the best thing I can think to say about the endorsements we are receiving for a forthcoming book.

Coming in June, we will be publishing an outstanding English translation of Ernst Walter Zeeden's study of how Lutherans in German reformed the customs and traditions of the Medieval Roman Mass. This book will contain surprises for all concerned.Check out this line up of endorsements. I'll keep you posted when the book comes out. It's title is: Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation.

Here are the endorsements we have received, so far:

Ernst Walter Zeeden was one of the most important Reformation historians of the twentieth century. Years before scholars began to weigh up the vitality of late-medieval religion or trace the broad outlines of the confessionalization process, Zeeden was shedding light on a religious culture that transcended the traditional late-medieval and early modern divide while thinking of new ways to comprehend the period as a whole, an approach that eventually led to his influential idea of the "formation of confessions." Faith and Act was one of his earliest and most important works in this vein, a mix of exacting research and historiographical vision that may justly be viewed as one of the foundation texts of modern Reformation history.

—C. Scott Dixon, PhD
Queen's University, Belfast

For 50 years Zeeden's work has shaped historians' knowledge of the confessionalizing of religious life and practice in Reformation-era Europe. Faith and Act provides a masterful account of the ritual system of the churches in Protestant Germany by means of a close analysis of the documents through which the Reformers both preserved and adapted elements of the Catholic tradition. Historians of liturgy and church discipline will welcome the re-appearance of Zeeden's classic monograph, gracefully translated and with updated bibliographical references.

—Ralph Keen, PhD
Professor of History
Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation Chair in Catholic Studies
University of Illinois at Chicago

Kevin Walker's translation of Faith and Act represents a necessary addition to contemporary scholarship on how liturgical practices shaped the lived religion of the Reformation churches. Zeeden's original book was visionary in many ways; it anticipated both the scholarly discussion over confessionalization that has dominated the last generation of Reformation scholarship and the debate inspired by Gerald Strauss over the relative success or failure of the Reformation. Walker's translation brings Zeeden's original insights to light for an Anglophone audience, and his preface and notes update the scholarly apparatus to account for over fifty years of scholarship inspired by, and in dialogue with, Zeeden's original. Walker's additions never overshadow the text, however, and his explanation of ecclesiastical terminology in the preface provides a remarkably clear window into the diverse and potentially overwhelming world of organizational, disciplinary, and liturgical practices that characterized the nascent Lutheran churches. Taken as a whole, this new translation of Zeeden's Faith and Act reveals a fluid religious culture in which secular and ecclesiastical leaders strove to synthesize traditional forms of worship with novel theological insights; this depiction adds depth and specificity to our knowledge of that process of synthesis, and delightfully unsettles easy generalizations about the transition from medieval to early modern Christianity.

—Phillip Haberkern, PhD
Assistant Professor of History
Boston University

Ernst Walter Zeeden's Katholische Überlieferungen in den lutherischen Kirchenordnungen des 16.Jahrhunderts is one of the most important works of German research from the past half century concerning the history of the Reformation and its ramifications. For comparative historical research of confessions, which consequently became focused under the key concepts of "confessional formation" and "confessionalization," this book represented a decisive breakthrough in terms of methodology and substance. Zeeden was able to show that the separation of the confessions in the everyday religious life of people in the Holy Roman Empire was a slow process that stretched over several generations. In doing so, he qualified firmly ingrained views of history of Protestant and Catholic historians (and theologians), who had presumed an early separation of the confessions: Some saw the "introduction of the Reformation" at the earliest possible fixed date (with the first evangelical sermon and celebration of the Lord's Supper under both kinds), others in the successful defense of Catholicism and beginning of the Counter-Reformation, also preferably as early as the 1520s and 1530s (with territorial prohibition mandates). By way of contrast, Zeeden pointed to the numerous cases of interference and mixed forms in practice, in which the old Church and new faith coexisted in many German territories and cities. Closed confessional states among the territories of the Empire were for a considerable time more the exception than the rule. The dogmatic confessional definitions of doctrine (Augsburg Confession, Council of Trent, Heidelberg Catechism) were put into practice in worship, piety, and everyday life also very gradually at first and with numerous compromises. In conjunction with this, Zeeden also drew attention to the significance of cultural-historical phenomena (art, literature, popular customs). It is to be highly welcomed that now after half a century this groundbreaking study for research is being translated into English.

—Professor Dr. Anton Schindling
Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft
Seminar für Neuere Geschichte
Philosophische Fakultät
Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen

This book would be a helpful contribution to Lutheran theology and church life if it offered only an English translation of Zeeden's classic study, which made clear the dense catholicity of earliest Lutheran church practice. Translator Kevin G. Walker offers here much more. In a highly informative preface, as well as dozens of new footnotes, he breathes new life into the work, making it much more useful and relevant for today. For everyone who really cares how the Lutheran Reformation came to life in a rich but varied liturgical practice, this book, now more than ever, is essential reading.

—Mickey Mattox, PhD
Associate Professor of Theology
Director of Undergraduate Studies in Theology
Marquette University

Kevin Walker has done us a service through his translation of Ernst Zeeden's monumental study of the Lutheran church orders of the sixteenth century. These documents provide a unique insight into the Lutheran Reformation, both the successes it enjoyed as well as the perennial challenges and occasional failures. Anyone interested in the development of Lutheran liturgical practice, especially in light of medieval milieu from whence it came, will find Faith and Act to be an engaging resource.

—Paul Grime, PhD
Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions
Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN

A gripping read awaits those who attend to Zeeden's multi-faceted account of the nitty-gritty of classical Lutheran church life in its parish and public setting. As he shows how the first generations committed to the Augustana took care not to throw out the 'catholic' baby with the tainted 'medieval' water, a master historian of another confession poses searching questions to Lutherans of the present day. I commend Kevin Walker for toiling to make this significant study available to the reading public of the Anglosphere.

—John R Stephenson, PhD
Professor of Historical Theology
Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario


This meticulous historical study examines the complexities of liturgical practices in sixteenth century Lutheranism as reflected in the church orders. Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation is an invaluable handbook providing detailed and documented data giving contemporary readers a glimpse into the way that liturgical texts and ceremonies were retained, modified, or rejected in various territories. Liturgical scholars as well as pastors will find this volume to be a useful guide to understanding the evangelical reception and appropriation of the catholic legacy of liturgical forms and practices in light of the immediate background of the medieval church.

—John T. Pless, MDiv
Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions
Director of Field Education
Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN


What a service Kevin G. Walker has done for the Lutheran Church in English speaking lands by providing this fine translation of Ernst Zeeden's helpful monograph: Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation. Both the medieval practices and the details of the early Lutheran appropriation of them are not nearly as well known as they ought to be, and this volume goes a long way towards remedying that. I heartily recommend the book to any and all who love the Lutheran liturgy and seek to become better acquainted with its formative development in the time of the great Church Orders. It's the next best thing to having a full set of Sehling gracing your shelf!

—William C. Weedon, STM
Director of Worship
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod

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FW: Those Were The Days…


Food for thought…


Feed: Musings of a Country Preacher
Posted on: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 11:41 AM
Author: Country Preacher
Subject: Those Were The Days…


In seminary I was told repeatedly by professors that funerals were easier to do than weddings.  Why?  Because at a wedding you had a bride who had been planning this event since the age of three, with definite ideas about what she wanted, and who was influenced by every bad wedding she had ever been to.  Add in a wedding planner, photographer, videographer and assorted drunk groomsmen, and you were in for a rough time of it.

Meanwhile, funerals involved life-long church members who wanted only to hear the word of God from their trusted pastor in their time of grief.

Now, I suppose that may have been true in about 1970.  Maybe even into the 1980's and early 1990's.  But by the time I was ordained in 1998, the two were equally difficult.  Today there is no question.  The average pastor would much rather deal with a bride and her princess wedding fantasies than with a grieving family.  Why? (WARNING: MANY GLARING GENERALITIES AHEAD.  ADD THE WORDS "GENERALLY", "USUALLY", OR "OFTEN" AS NEEDED)

Because in the case of a bride, she will only even bother with a church wedding if she is part of the church.  Most conversations with brides never get beyond the "do you have any roommates" phase, if you know what I mean.  Those who make it past that are interested, not in a fairy tale wedding, but in a marriage; as evidenced by their not moving in before the blessed event.  So, while pastors encounter angry would-be brides, if he sticks to his guns about the "move out or get married immediately" thing, then the Bridezillas just find somewhere else to get married, and weddings are a snap.

For funerals, however, you now have families that have not been a part of the church since the Carter Administration coming to you to bury their dearly departed, who was a faithful member of the congregation for lo, these many years.  The sons and daughters have no interest in the church.  They want what they want for their loved one.  The phrase "Mom wanted this for her funeral" really means, "I want this for mom's funeral, because I don't care what the church teaches.  And if you don't like it, you won't be doing the funeral.  The Methobapticostal guy down the street with do it for us."  The family will hold the body of the deceased hostage over whatever bad ideas they have for a funeral.  And you should hear some of the things that pastors must now contend with.

Click here, if your stomach is strong enough.  I couldn't finish the article.  It details how the "funeral industry" (The term itself gives me the willies) is dealing with the new predilection for what can only be termed agnostic remembrance rites.

Pastors are finding these things coming into their churches with alarming frequency.  I had a funeral director once tell me that if I wanted to do the service a certain way, I would need the approval of the family.  I told him that I was happy to discuss it with the family, but it wasn't optional.  Since it was only minutes before the funeral, there would be no time to get a more compliant minister.  The family agreed, not because of an ultimatum on my part, but because, in the words of the funeral director, "Oh, you want a church funeral at the funeral home!"  Fortunately, they knew that mom was a church-going member, and that she wanted a funeral in keeping with that.  They were far more reasonable than the funeral director.  Such is not always the case. Pastors have had the body snatched away from them.  No funeral for this faithful member because the pastor wanted to do a funeral that the dearly departed would have wanted to have.

The problem is (as the article points out) that the funeral director is seen as the spiritual guide on this journey of grief.  The pastor is merely the hired actor who performs the pageant.  If you don't like his style of acting, or if he won't do the pageant you want, you simply hire a new actor.  They are, after all, a dime a dozen.

I think the time is quickly coming when pastors need to take a stand and say, "This is what we do for your loved one, and you know in your heart of hearts it is what she wanted us to do.  But if that's not what you want, you can take the body away for your pagan rituals.  We expect the church to suffer, even as we try to respect the memory of the saints who have gone before. We will have a service in the church, to which you are absolutely invited.  We will have a luncheon afterwards to remember the life of service they had in the church, and to celebrate the life they have now, a life that is better than we can imagine, and you are also invited to that.  But know this, each of these events will be done according to our rite.  And even if you snatch the body away, I will go to the cemetery at some point, and I will commit the body of this saint to God's care, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.  And all of this is true because the church is not transformed by the world.  We who are a part of the church are transformed by Christ. So, hold hostage the body of this saint if you will.  But do not ask us to be less than what   she was, or to offer her less than she deserves."

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FW: Liturgical Boot Camp




Feed: Steadfast Lutherans
Posted on: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 7:01 AM
Author: Pastor Karl Weber
Subject: Liturgical Boot Camp


When is the last time you saw the word "liturgical," in the same sentence with "boot camp"? Initially they don't seem to have anything in common but upon further investigation this belief might change.

Yes, the increase of physical endurance and strength is a goal of boot camp. But there is more, much more of even far greater significance. One of the primary purposes of this famed US Military rite of passage is to break down the individual so that a new identification is constructed. These soldiers in training become fellow comrades who are your new family, life, and your very survival in a hostile environment. A new culture and identity form who you are and replaces former loyalties. This is directed by the drill sergeant and other authorities.

In the steamy hot sauna of Fort Lenard Wood, Missouri the usual complaints were being heard from the recruits. "This is hard, it is new, and certainly it is useless—can't we do something a little more enjoyable?" In time the greatest dismissive ever to be spoken by a member of the young generation came to be heard; "this is boring—it's the same ole' stuff, never anything new."

It wasn't too long before the drill sergeant was in their face giving these recruits a piece of his mind. "You are right this is boring, and it certainly is repetitive." The sergeant went on to exclaim: "When lead is flying at two thousand feet a second you won't have time to think or decide anything. I want you to instinctively react and do what you are learning so you live another day!"

Certainly all human analogies to the Gospel fall short—but there are some parallels. Sunday after Sunday the Divine Service has but one purpose: to deliver the victory of Good Friday to the hearer. And yet how often do we in the West hear and even say the Divine Service is, well, boring, … there, I said it! It is repetitive and without a whole lot of variance and change even among the seasons of the Church Calendar.

Like the young recruit who is the center of his world there are times when the baptized — pastors as well as priests — believe they are masters of their own destiny. But in this transitory life things more dangerous than pieces of airborne lead are seeking our demise. Try: the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

How often and suddenly is the "normalcy" of life interrupted by a life-endangering car accident, the dread of diagnosed cancer, a faithless spouse or a wayward child? As terrible as these certainly are there is an even more pernicious enemy seeking to devour us and he comes swiftly and ferociously in the guise of false doctrine. In these instances and more you don't have time to think or decide anything. We flee and cling to what we learned in the liturgical boot camp of the liturgy.

When the doctor announces in somber tones the dreaded news of cancer your spirit falls back on what you learned in boot camp and you confess the gospel saving beauty of the Kyrie:

"Lord, have mercy upon us,
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us" (LSB, Kyrie, p. 186).

And He certainly does as He distributes Himself to us in His life-giving gifts. And so as you thank your earthly medical doctors for their sincere help your heart is looking and trusting in Him who truly saves; the Physician of our souls.

In the college dorm or the neighborhood summer block party you are be pressured by the spirit of ecumenism which says there are many paths to heaven and all are available to you. But you are saved from this deadly pestilence and your faith is strengthened from what you learned in liturgical boot camp when Holy Spirit draws to mind what you confess the Gloria in Excelsis;

O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Thou that takes away the sin of the world, receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.
For Thou only art holy; Thou only art the Lord (LSB, Gloria in Excelsis, p. 187-189).

There is only one God; and He is true and Triune, and He, motivated by unspeakable love took away our sins on Calvary, in our Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Blessed Sacrament and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed. The only true God is the one who came in the flesh, born of Mary, "Thou only art the Lord" and your faith is saved, and what is more, strengthened.

With guile worthy of venom "friends" tell you that you eat only bread in communion so you may remember Christ, and drink, well, … these days grape juice, so you can remember what Jesus has done for you. The arrows and flaming darts of filthy spirits fly far faster than any man-made propellant. But the Scriptures memorized in liturgical boot camp come quickly to your aid.

O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world,
have mercy on us.
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world,
have mercy upon us.
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the World,
grant us Thy peace. Amen (LSB, Agnus Dei, p. 198).

In the Agnus Dei the three-fold Confession confesses the Thrice Holy God. After John the Baptist baptized Jesus he pointed Jesus out to his disciples by saying these words. We do not sing these words to the Lamb of God who is in heaven, or who at one time walked on the earth. We sing these words specifically towards Christ who is on the Altar; in the bread and wine teaching us rightly and steering us away from law-oriented symbolic language to soul-saving gift language.

These gifts and more are found throughout the Ordinaries of the Divine Service. The historic liturgy proclaims Christ as giver of gifts to rescue our souls from fear, doubt, and false teaching as the misfortunes of life and flaming arrows of the evil one fly towards us. Cherish what you continue to learn in liturgical boot camp for in the Divine Service you are being strengthened and equipped to leave a piece of Eden and re-enter the world in your vocation of service. And oh, one more thing. Thank Jesus for faithful drill sergeants who put you through liturgical boot camp. Thank your pastor.

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FW: The Mighty Movement of God...


God at work…


Feed: Pastoral Meanderings
Posted on: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 5:00 AM
Author: (Pastor Peters)
Subject: The Mighty Movement of God...


We have become fascinated by the idea of bigness, and we are quite convinced that if we can only 'stage' something really big before the world, we will shake it, and produce a mighty religious awakening. – D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

I don't often quote D. Martin Lloyd-Jones.  In fact I hardly have read him at all.  But I came across this little gem of a quote from another blog.  It is a great quote because it speaks an unpopular truth that must be spoken today.

Living in the age of mega churches where everything is a mega event and they are served by mega preachers, we often get the idea that the quantity or size of something is a pretty good indicator of its success.  Even though we have few mega churches in the LCMS, we bow to the altar of numbers and statistics all the time.  (I just got another notice to send in the data so the District Office for this quarter -- what they do with them, I do not know, but I am assured this is most important to do...)

One of the big attractions of the mission trip is the chance to see God corral up a few hundred or, better, a few thousand to dip into the waters of baptism.  We see this so very differently from the one or two occasionally baptized in the ordinary Lutheran congregation.  We have become so enamored with size that we shrug our shoulders at the child brought to the waters of baptism by the faithful parents last week and we get all excited about the long line of folks on some tropical shore waiting for their dip into the waters of baptism there.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I am neither jealous nor intimidated by the numbers on some of those mission fields.  I rejoice at the numbers of those who hear the voice of the Gospel, in whom the Spirit works, and who ask with the Ethiopian eunuch, "What is there to prevent me from being baptized?"  It is wonderful that God is working there.  But... He is also at work among us.  The results tell nothing of God's presence.  "Where two or three are gathered, there am I"... says the Lord.  "Where two or three thousand are gathered, there am I," says the Lord.  Whether it is a mega work according to human standards or the small work of one we see more often, it is the same Lord and the same work. There is not more Spirit in the big result than there is in the small.  The Spirit is the Spirit.  He is attached to the means of grace.  We take the Lord at His Word.  Where the Word will be proclaimed and the Sacraments administered, there is the Church.  Even better, there is Christ.  There is God at work in the Spirit.

Bigness or smallness are human categories of success and failure that do not apply to God.  The grace of God is not bigger where the numbers are greater nor is it smaller where the numbers are fewer.  But we have embraced the worldly notions of success to such a point that we shrug our shoulders at what happens at St. Ole in the country and we get all excited by the stadium size crowd of a US mega congregation in the US or the crowd on the mission field waiting to be baptized.  We dare not disparage either.  God is at work, doing the same work, in both -- as long as the Gospel is proclaimed in its truth and purity and the Sacraments administered faithfully according to Christ's institution and command.

The history of Christendom has always been found in big crowds and small groups.  The key here is not the people but the God who is present and at work in the Word and Sacraments.  My experience is that we tend to be blinded to the greatness of God's work on Sunday morning in our local parish and mesmerized by the seeming greatness of the big crowd somewhere else.  It is the same when we glory in the Easter crowd and lament the numbers of the faithful who are there the Sunday after Easter.  The problem lies not with God and His working but with us and our perception of those pictures.

Sadly, there are Christians who have no confidence in the means of grace and so they use numbers to bolster their convictions and shore up their fears that God is truly there.  Because they deal with a real absence instead of a real presence, they have nothing to point to except statistics.  Perhaps we have grown less confident in the means of grace and the promise of God to be there and to do what He has said He will do.  Perhaps we are not as convinced of our confession as we driven by our jealousy or envy of those super size churches or super size events.  It is time for us to grow up.  A childlike fascination with size betrays not our faith but our lack thereof.

Let us rejoice that God is at work -- among the crowd on the mission field just as He is present and working amid the dozens spread out among the pews in a congregation whose "glory days" of big stats have come and gone.  It is the same God.  It is the same work.  Let us not disparage what happens in the big event to make us feel better about our small parish.  Neither let us disparage what happens in the small parish because we want it a super size version.  No congregation will grow if it disparages the work of God through Word and Sacrament among them.  If it is to grow, it will grow not because of a good evangelism committee or outreach strategy but because they are faithful in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments and they are confident in the work of God among them through these means of grace.  Period. 

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