Why Lutheran?

This seems to be the question on everyone’s mind lately…one we find ourselves striving to adequately answer in a way that honestly captures our reasons for moving to the LCMS. Anyway, I don’t think I have found a better, more succinct answer anywhere than these words by Dr. Gene Edward Veith:

Imagine a church that is both evangelical — proclaiming the free forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ — and sacramental, centering its spiritual life in the regenerating waters of baptism and the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion. Imagine further a church that is strongly grounded on Scripture, but yet avoids the solipsism of individual interpretation in favor of a comprehensive, intellectually rigorous and imminently orthodox theological system. Imagine a worship service that features both strong preaching and the historic liturgy. Imagine that this is a historical church with a rich spiritual tradition, but without legalism, Imagine, in short, a church that has some of the best parts of Protestantism and the best parts of Catholicism. Finally, imagine that this church body is not some little made — up sect, but one of the largest bodies of Christians in the world.

Such a church might seem like what many Christians, disaffected by both the vacuity of liberal theology and the shallowness of American evangelicalism — are dreaming of. Such a church exists. It goes by the admittedly inadequate name “Lutheran.”

Read his whole article here…

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Theology…Knowing God

Yesterday at Glory to God for All Things, Fr. Stephen posted marvelous words about placing emphasis in our lives on those things that are important to God.  In his post, he discussed both the necessity and the aim of theology…to know God:

And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.

Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.

Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He is person. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.

It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

These words ring especially true coming from a Reformed background and having attended a staunchly Calvinistic seminary.  Especially among the students in seminary, all too often our theological ‘studies’ tended to become little more than cataloging of facts about God rather than an effort to truly know him.  Whether formal students of theology or not, we are all guilty at times of the same offense.  We forget that God is not an object of study to be observed and researched–the depth of his will is not a divine ‘problem’ to be solved, the wonder of the incarnation not a mundane occurrence that is easily explained, the mystery of grace and sacraments not ‘parlor tricks’ to be explained away.

As analytical and logic-driven as our minds might be, and as Westerners we deceive ourselves if we claim not to be bound tenaciously by reason and logic, we must focus not on our speculations about theology but on truly knowing our Triune God through his gracious revelation to us–centering, of course, on the incarnation and revelation in Christ Jesus. We must be reminded of Jesus’ words, as Fr. Stephen as done beautifully, that to know God is life eternal.

Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for you timely yet gentle words.

A Daily Prayer for Wednesday

For the past couple of months, I have been using Concordia’s most recent edition of the Lutheran Book of Prayer as part of my morning devotions and prayer. There is a section of daily prayers that covers the span of one month, and while they are all excellent, from time to time a prayer will especially resonate with me. This morning was one of those prayers:

Lord God, You have given me another day, a day to live in Your service and for the good of my fellowmen, I am indeed a poor tool in Your hand and deserving to be cast aside. Forgive me all my sins for Jesus’ sake, and by Your Spirit grant me the fitness to work for You this day. I beseech You to make me mindful, dear Lord, that I am but a stranger and a pilgrim in this present world. Let me not devote my efforts today to purposes unworthy of You; let me not gather treasures merely for this world; let me not serve mammon. This life is but a vain show; let me not search for an abiding city here. But, Lord, fasten my heart and hope on the life that is in You, and let my strivings and desires be directed to the treasures of Your love. As long as I am in the land of my pilgrimage, hold my hand, Lord; keep me from every straying path. If I should stumble in sinful weakness, grant me repentance and faith; for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

No surprises here…

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Martin Luther

The daddy of the Reformation. You are opposed to any Catholic ideas of works-salvation and see the scriptures as being primarily authoritative.

Martin Luther

100%

Karl Barth

100%

Anselm

87%

John Calvin

87%

Jonathan Edwards

73%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

67%

Augustine

40%

Jürgen Moltmann

20%

Charles Finney

13%

Paul Tillich

7%

One of the Most Profound Things I Heard Today

“I grew old too quickly and wise too slowly…”

These words were said by our pastor, Ralph Hobratschk, during Sunday School this morning at Hope Lutheran Church. On the lighter side, these words almost sound like the tongue-in-cheek lyrics of a Jimmy Buffett song. More seriously, isn’t this, unfortunately, more than likely the testimony of us all? The first step to ‘fixing’ the problem, I suppose, is the realization that this statement pertains to us!

(sigh)

Thoughts on the War in Iraq…

I have deliberately kept this blog apolitical in the past, and I’m not intending to make this a political arena now, but there is something I noticed in the debates last week that all the presidential candidates on both sides of the fence fail to understand:

The war in Iraq is political…in fact, all war is politics.

In the early nineteenth century, Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote, “War is an extension of politics by other means.” In other words, the continuum of political action that contains such things as diplomatic negotiations, treaties, embargoes, sanctions, trade, and other day-to-day things also contains, on its outer fringes, war. War is politics–bloodier, louder, and more costly (in terms of human life) than other areas of politics. But at the end of the day, war is always political…and that is neither good nor bad, it just is.

Specifically with regards to the war in Iraq, the political ideology behind the war (from the beginning) was to replace a heinous, murderous dictator with a democracy. Whether one agrees with the premise or not, this is why the was began.

As a military officer and armchair military historian and tactician, it seems evident that this ideology requires several long-term political goals, including:

  • Development of an internal police force / military capable of protecting the citizens of Iraq against internal and external threats
  • Creation of the ability to repair and extend the national infrastructure
  • Development of the ability to create / foster international relationships with the goal of increasing domestic security and providing the opportunity for foreign and domestic economic growth
  • Establishment of a viable democratic government able to maintain control of the nation in order to a) make democracy a more alluring form of government than other alternatives (willing change) and b) make democratic government ‘worth fighting for’ against those who would subvert it (unwilling change)

In order to achieve the long-term goals, this ideology immediately requires tactical and strategic military victories in order to establish an environment conducive to the growth, nurture, and development of the long-term objectives.

So how are we doing?

  1. We are relatively successful with our immediately necessary goal of tactical military victories
  2. We do not seem to be seeing any significant progress toward achieving our long-term political goals
  3. We appear to be losing military advantage and political / national will

Unless there are significant improvement in areas two and three, above, we run the risk of losing the war in a manner not all that different from what we experienced in Vietnam, where we were tactically successful (militarily) but failed strategically and politically. Am I making hasty and emotional comparisons to the Vietnam War? No! However, as time progresses, the risk of losing the war increases and the likelihood of victory decreases, similar to what we saw in another decade in another theater.

Our military power is weakening over time due to troop burnout, aging equipment, troop retention issues, a loss of battle-experienced soldiers/officers, and lack of timely tactical adaptation from convention to low intensity (i.e., guerrilla warfare) tactics. To argue to the contrary is nonsensical. Simultaneously, our political power and national will are weakening due to the length of the war and the questionable legitimacy (in the eyes of many) of the original ideology. Two hundred years ago, Clausewitz cited the need for overwhelming military strength and national will as essential for victory in war. Based on his wisdom and our current situation, are we currently in a situation where the war is unwinnable? I don’t think so…not yet, anyway.

Despite what we may see and hear in the media, there is no reason why the US should not be able to achieve victory in Iraq:

  • We are familiar with the terrain and physical environment
  • We are equipped with the proper equipment (though we need to continue upgrading, maintaining, and replacing that equipment as it ages)
  • We are prepared at some level to train for, fight, and win in low-intensity conflicts (though I think we have forgotten some of the tactical lessons from Vietnam)
  • As a nation we largely (?) believe in the legitimacy of fighting for causes of right and wrong

Given these reasons, it is reasonable to expect that victory is possible even without the benefit of a powerful multinational coalition. As in Vietnam, we must be acutely aware at all levels that tactical victory does not necessarily translate into strategic victory (militarily) or overall political victory (achieving our political ends). Additionally, we must also be aware of the reality that war is an extension of politics–our ultimate aim here is political, not merely (or even primarily) military. Consequently, we cannot expend all our attention or resources trying to achieve military victory while letting political ends languish. In short:

  • If we are militarily superior but fail to realize our political goals, we can never reach the point of military withdrawal without admitting defeat because…
  • Failure to achieve our political ends is defeat

Maybe later I’ll put on my chaplain hat and write some thoughts on what our course of action as a nation must be morally if we reach the point where the war becomes unwinnable…but those are different thoughts for a different day.