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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

31 December 2006

Christianity and New Year’s Day

Q: Is there any Christian religious significance to January 1, New Year’s Day?

A: There’s no special Biblical connection to this day. We inherited our date for beginning the new year from the Roman calendar. The Old Testament’s Hebrew calendar was based upon the lunar cycle, not the solar that we use while the early New Testament Church accommodated itself to whatever calendar was used in a particular area.

Jesus' CircumcisionHowever, once the Church decided that the birth of Christ would be remembered on 25 December, the date certainly took on religious significance. The eighth day of Christmas falls on 1 January. Since Hebrew children were to be circumcised on their eighth day, we commemorate the Circumcision and Name of Jesus (see Luke 2:21). The naming is important because He received the “Name that is above every name, (Philippians 2:9)” the name that was also His “job description,” since Jesus means “He saves.”

Jesus’ circumcision was likewise an essential part of His saving work. His birth in human flesh meant that our Lord was “born under the law (Galatians 4:4)” — that is, the general moral law to which all mankind was subject. His circumcision then placed Him in the Abrahamic Covenant, making Him also subject to the Mosaic Law. According to His conception and birth as man, He was a son of Adam. Jesus, the “new Adam,” perfectly kept the law that our first parent transgressed — the law that is written into every person’s heart (cf. Romans 5:12-21).

As the “perfect Israel,” He never departed from the fullness of the Law that was handed down through Moses to God’s chosen people at Sinai — the Law against which Israel continually sinned. We see from various events in His life that Jesus “reenacted” major parts of Israel’s history, showing Himself to be Israel’s true Redeemer. His flight to Egypt with His parents to flee Herod and subsequent return paralleled Jacob’s family moving to Egypt during the famine and then being brought out in the Exodus. His baptism echoed the Red Sea crossing while His forty days of testing in the Wilderness remind us of the forty years Israel spent in the Wilderness as punishment before entering the Promised Land.

So yes, this day is quite significant to the Christian. It praises the saving name of Jesus, celebrates His perfect obedience to the entirety of God’s holy Law, and remembers the first token of His blood sacrifice that would be completed years later on the cross. Several hymns sing of some or all of these blessings. These include Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love, O Blessed Day When First Was Poured, To the Name of Our Salvation, and The Ancient Law Departs. Consider how these words confess His name:

   Jesus! Name of wondrous love
   Name all other names above,
   Unto which must ev’ry knee
   Bow in deep humility.

Note then how He took the weight of the Law upon Himself and fulfilled the covenant that God established:

   The ancient Law departs,
   And all its fears remove,
   For Jesus makes with faithful hearts
   A covenant of love.

Ponder finally upon His first blood sacrifice:

   O blessèd day when first was poured
   The blood of our redeeming Lord!
   O blessèd day when Christ began
   His saving work for sinful man!

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

To Ask the Pastor, send me an email.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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30 December 2006

Prayers for the Mrs.

or, My Wife the Nurse Needs Nursing

CrutchesThe Fair Stephanie™ went downstairs this morning with a full laundry basket. Leaving the bottom step, she brought her foot down — not on the basement floor — but on a non-floor item. She rolled her ankle and went to ground.

After 3 hours in the emergency room, they determined that she had one fracture apiece in her left tibia and fibula. After four hours, she was equipped with a posterior splint, a prescription for Vicodin, and instructions to have the orthopod look at it next week. Sadly, this is also next year, which, unless our insurance allows rolling over continuing expenses from a single incident (highly doubtful), means that we get to start all over on the deductible.

Oh, well. At least today’s ER visit should be completely covered. Anyhow, she certainly welcomes the prayers of the saints on her behalf.

The story continues with the trip to the orthopod and Steph’s subsequent surgery.

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29 December 2006

Do not Neglect the Gift

Paul PreachingHurrying back from vacation, I rested at home, made a few hospital visits and sick calls, and prepared to run off again. This time, it would be “business” as well as “pleasure.” One of my oldest and dearest friends (I’ll call him “Ted,” since that’s his name) accepted the call of the Holy Ghost to become pastor of a congregation in Kansas. After wrapping up a few loose ends, I made my way to preach his installation sermon.

I like installations (and ordinations). Pomp and pageantry, ceremony and celebration — these fascinate me and raise my spirits. Harold Arlen’s song, I Love a Parade sometimes comes to mind as I process with brother clergy, marching to a common goal for a common purpose.

I like installations because they include reminders from Scripture and sermon of the nature of the Divine Call: It is from God, not man; it is to an Office, not a lifestyle; it exists as a divine means of forgiving and saving sinners, not as an avenue of sinfully glorifying the pastor. Likewise, the rite reminds the congregation both of the blessings and the obligations attendant to having a pastor. Scripture speaks of the “beautiful feet” (see Isaiah 52:7) of the messenger of good news, who proclaims God’s peace to receiving, believing saints.

However, the Word also warns and admonishes the congregation. It commands respect, honor, and obedience toward our pastors. It reminds the Church that Ted and his brother pastors not only are to speak gently to repentant, hurting believers but also firmly to rejecting, neglecting sinners. As we know from the Scriptures, each of us is both sinner and saint and each of us needs both the Law’s threatening commands and the Gospel’s comforting promises.

HandsI preached on 1 Timothy 4:11-16. Ted and his new congregation heard the apostle: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. (v. 14)” The Holy Spirit gives this gift of interpreting, teaching, and proclaiming Scripture to Christ’s pastors. This gift of forgiveness and new life they, in turn, give to Christ’s Church. As I prepared to preach, I also pondered and puzzled: How have I used the gift? Have I made it freely available to all who need it? Have I preached the full council of God, confronting sin and comforting sinners?

Paul closed this section by saying, “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (v. 16)” He didn’t mean that by doing the deed the pastor is automatically allowed into heaven any more than a person is saved by sitting in the pew on Sunday morning. However, when the pastor is in the Word, striving for pure doctrine and loving practice, he preaches not only to the flock, but to himself. He is saved by the same grace he speaks to others, for the same Savior died for him and for the flock entrusted to his care.

Now you can see a bit more why I like installations. They’re one more place to go for the forgiveness of sins and for guidance on the way to heaven. They remind me of the sacred origins of my vocation and of the strength to fulfill this office that comes from Christ and not from self. When done according to Scripture and the rites of the Church, they serve to bring pastor and congregation together in a common bond of mutual support and service, of grace given and grace received.

Hands graphic taken from a greeting card at Art from the Soul, a showcase of the excellent work of Julie Rodriguez Jones.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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28 December 2006

Passing the Carnival Torch

As much fun as I’ve had hosting Lutheran Carnival XXXIX, I hope that Dan, Dan, and Elle similarly enjoy hosting LC XL at the mother blog. Please remember to have your entries (including your own blog and 3rd party nominations — see the explanatory post) in by 7 p.m. Central Standard Time, Friday 29 December 2006.

NB: The deadline has been extended to Saturday due to lack of submissions. Please take a few moments from your busy end-of-year schedule to submit your own work or to nominate worthy material from others.

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25 December 2006

Glad Tidings of Great Joy

GiftsContrary to popular reports, the Grinch has not stolen Christmas. Its Eve already takes flight; the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ begins in earnest. Presents can be torn open, toys played with until broken, complaints registered about the gifts, the food, the relatives.

Oh, of course not in your home! You wouldn’t do that, would you?

Even for devout Christians, the temptations and troubles besetting us are enough to take our eyes off of the Real Meaning of Christmas. Not love, joy, peace, or any such greeting card definition. Rather: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)” The great apostle to the Gentiles, Paul of God, realized that he’d have been Saul of Satan were it not for Jesus’ coming. The same likewise would be our fate without Christ.

My Christmas gift for you is as old as that first night in Bethlehem, when Mary had a boy-child. Older, really, since it goes back into the eternity of God’s love and His plan for our salvation. From the second chapter of Luke, the ESV translation, I offer:

Holy FamilyIn those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Heavenly HostAnd in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

ShepherdsWhen the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Christmas is God caught in the act of keeping His promises. Much of the world anticipates Santa “breaking in” to their homes. The believer realizes that this day instead celebrates God “breaking in” to His own Creation, beginning its long awaited restoration.

Jesus CrucifiedAlready in Eden, immediately after the Fall, the Lord promised to send a Savior. He constantly renewed that promise throughout the Old Testament. Finally, that Savior came, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, the home of the House of David.

Prophecies concerning the Savior were kept as Jesus grew to manhood, earning the respect of family and neighbors. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and preached Good News to the poor. After living a perfect life, He died a horrible death, carrying our sins to Calvary, washing them away in the flow of His own blood. He rose again to life and promises to raise us up on the last day to live with Him forever.

A final thought as you and yours rip into your Christmas presents: Jesus’ own human package was ripped apart — torn open to release the ultimate gift of forgiveness of sins, restoration of the Father’s love, and eternal life in heaven. Treasure up these things and keep pondering them in your heart. And have a very merry and Christ-centered Christmas.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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19 December 2006

Putting the “X” Back in Xmas

Christmas TreeThose of us whose vocations involve writing or speaking about religion often see in the major holy days a two-edged sword. On one hand, most of the pastors I know could roll out of bed at three o’clock in the morning and preach decent, Christ-centered Christmas or Easter sermons.

However, familiarity of the subject means the risk of falling into annual ruts, operating on mental cruise control: “There are so many things to get done; I’m sure this sermon will prepare itself and all I need to do is preach.”

The tonic isn’t novelty for novelty’s sake. We dare not invent new theology in an attempt to keep the message “fresh” or “relevant.” Even if we find a new approach to the age-old story, we must take care lest we descend into cuteness that undercuts the awesome majesty and humble mystery of the Word made Flesh who “dwelt among us ... full of grace and truth (John 1:14).”

During Christmastide, another pitfall oft befalling Christian pastors, teachers, and writers is a straw man mentality. We can latch on to convenient targets outside the group we’re addressing, setting the mentality of “us (good Christians) against them (everyone who doesn’t do Christmas like we do).”

Pastor and SantaEach year, well-meaning Christians condemn commercialism, consumerism, and the mixing of the sacred and the secular. Pastors, especially, may rail at “Santa Christian,” who, like the other Santa, only visits us (or our churches) once each year. Other believers circulate petitions or organize boycotts against companies whose employees greet us with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Of course, focusing on the sins and shortcomings of others means that we can overlook our own sins. Sinners rarely mind the preaching of the Law — as long as it isn’t directed at them. And when God’s harsh Law is misapplied to our sinful selves, the His sweet, saving Gospel may likewise have diminished impact.

Bottom line: I can almost guarantee that everywhere in the free world where Christians gather, someone’s going to be demanding that they — whomever “they” might be — “put the ‘Christ’ back in Christmas.” And yes, this is important, but not today’s central theme.

Christ Mass“Christ” is the first of two words in the compound word “Christmas.” However, “Mass,” the often neglected second fiddle, remains important, whether we acknowledge it or not. Therefore, I’ll join others in arguing that we also need to keep Christ’s Mass (His holy Supper) as an integral part of our Christmas celebration. After all, does the physicality of the Incarnation find any clearer earthly expression than when we actually eat the holy body and drink the precious blood of the Babe of Bethlehem?

But we’re not going to talk about that, either. Instead, we’re taking a look at another believers’ bugaboo, the (mis-) use of the letter X. Among many well intentioned Christians, X has fallen into ill repute. This is too bad, because he sports a noble pedigree and once enjoyed a distinguished career and great honor among his fellow letters. After all, where would algebra be without X? And try to imagine all of those pirate stories devoid of maps reminding the treasure hunter that “X marks the spot.”

Nevertheless, some devout Christians strongly object to using this one letter — X — to replace (or “X out”) six letters — C-H-R-I-S-T — in the word “Christmas.” They don’t want to be numbered among the secularists who try to avoid the whole religious, Christian thingie by using the Xmas shorthand for Jesus’ birthday. However, what most unbelievers don’t realize (and what far too many Christians have forgotten or else never knew) is that X has been “standing in” for Christ for centuries.

XPThe word Christ begins with the Greek letter Chi. Chi looks like this: X. Because X also reminds many Christians of a cross, the symbolism becomes even stronger. Chi doesn’t always work alone. Sometimes he partners with Rho. This gets a bit tricky, because the Rho has the sound of our English letter R but looks like this: P. In Christian art and symbolism, you may see the two letters superimposed. Some people mistakenly read and pronounce this symbol as PX (Pee Ex). Actually, it’s the Chi Rho (ΧΡ) — the first two letters of ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, the Greek word for Christ.

It doesn’t matter to the unbeliever if we use Christmas or Xmas. The pagan cares little how Christians write the name of a holiday because he doesn’t acknowledge it as a holy day. We, however, know that in this instance, “X marks the spot ... of Christ!” It remains the Feast of His Nativity even if the world only knows the earthly feasting and, perhaps, some time off from work.

Most Christians celebrate God’s gift-giving by giving or receiving Christmas gifts. We try to keep somewhere in mind the great Gift of Christmas, the birth of our Savior. Meanwhile, the unbeliever gets involved in gift “exchanges” — and if you trade for it, it ain’t a gift. Sadly, even we Christians often forget that true gifts are only given, never traded ... unless....

“Unless what?” you ask.

“Unless,” I reply, “X helps solve the math in a bit of ‘divine algebra.’”

Let’s see how many ways we could plug X into our Xmas equation. We may talk about X-ing something out. We know that X may mean Christ. X also signifies cross and crucifixion. (The X-shaped Cross Saltire is actually the symbol of St. Andrew in ecclesiastical art.) X marks the spot of the treasure. X also replaces or stands in for something else in an algebraic equation. Amazingly, all of these fit.

CrucifixionAs we do our Xmas math, we discover a true gift eXchange. It goes like this: X [Christ] X [stood in for] sinners both in perfectly keeping the Law and then by innocently bearing God’s punishment for our sins on the X [cross]. When we look in faith to “Jesus X [Christ] and Him Xified [crucified], (1 Corinthians 2:2)” we see that X marks the spot where we receive the great treasure — the three-fold gift of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We don’t offer something in eXchange; the Gift of X [Christ] is the eXchange.

X [Christ] X-ed out our sins, our guilt, and our shame. Since X [Christ] X [replaced] us under God’s judgment, X [Christ] also freely eXchanges His worth for our worthlessness, His holiness for our vileness, His wealth for our poverty, and X [replaces] the Law’s condemnation with God’s favor. X [Christ] who was “poured out like water (Psalm 22:14)” on the X [cross] eXchanges our emptiness for the fullness of God’s love, pouring Himself into overflowing cups of joy (Psalm 23:5).

The Xmas hymn Let Us All with Gladsome Voice celebrates the completely one-sided nature of this great eXchange. Its third stanza invites all Xians to join in singing, “We are rich, for he was poor; Is not this a wonder? Therefore praise God evermore Here on earth and yonder.”

Merry Xmas and Happy Holy Days!

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Katie Luther Hymn Stanza

Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Congregation completes its midweek Advent services tomorrow evening by observing the life of Katharina von Bora Luther, whom Martin named his “Rib.” I once again offer a commemorative hymn stanza for those who would like to use it now or in the future.

The meter, 7 6 7 6 D, is the same as the previous two stanzas. Given its content and flow, you might want to use it as an insert for the hymn For All the Faithful Women. If using it with By All Your Saints in Warfare, as suggested for the St. Nicholas and Ste. Lucy stanzas, a less driving tune, such as Aurelia (cf. The Church’s One Foundation) is a possible alternative.

   A world that disregarded
   The gift of married life
   Saw God call saintly Katie
   As Martin’s faithful wife.
   Her self she gave completely
   To him, who loved his Rib;
   Submission, strength, and courage,
   Her testaments, still live.

Hymn text © 2006 by Walter P. Snyder. As with previous lyrics posted here, I grant permission to copy, save, reproduce, and otherwise use in unaltered form and with notice of copyright attached.

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18 December 2006

Lutheran Carnival XXXIX

I’ve made my list and checked it twice. That still doesn’t mean that there aren’t errors in this latest incarnation of the Lutheran Carnival of Blogs. Be that as it may, I think you’ll enjoy the diverse content and writing styles exhibited in Lutheran Carnival XXXIX. As a bonus, I’ve discovered a new blogger to swell my reading list. You’ll see in a moment that I’ve divided the carnival into three sections. The first is dedicated to Advent and Christmas posts, the second covers other matters theological, and the third is for matters vocational, practical, and artistic.

Before that, I’ll take time to make the carnival’s customary introduction of a Lutheran personage. While she’s hardly unknown, I thought that since this coming Wednesday marks the commemoration of her heavenly birthday, we could spend a moment remembering Katharina von Bora Luther.

Katie LutherHer parents placed Katharina von Bora (b.1499) in a convent when she was still a child. In 1515, she became a nun. Later, she and some of her associates heard the Gospel message being proclaimed in the Lutheran Reformation’s early years.

In April 1523 she and eight other nuns who desired to renounce Roman Catholicism were rescued from the convent and smuggled away to Wittenberg in empty herring barrels. Probably after airing them out for a while, Martin Luther and his associates helped some of these women return to their former homes while placing others with good families.

Luther and friends found that dealing with “Katy” was no easy task. She refused undesirable potential husbands, finally declaring that she’d either marry Martin or Nikolaus von Amsdorf, and nobody else. While concerned that a violent death would soon part him from any bride, Martin gave in to the stubborn young woman and they were married on 13 June 1525. Their marriage was happy and blessed with six children. Katy skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of his generous hospitality.

Martin and Katie certainly butted heads at times. Perhaps that’s why Luther sometimes called her kette (chain). However, the reformer truly adored his bride, also naming her “my rib” and “my lord Katie.” The freedom and joy that Martin Luther experienced in his marriage also received testimony from his 1535 Commentary on Galatians, which he lovingly called, “My Katie von Bora.”

After Martin’s death in 1546, Katharina remained in Wittenberg. Sadly, she lived most of her remaining years in poverty. She died on 20 December 1552 in an accident while traveling with her children to Torgau in order to escape the plague. She remains a model of the godly wife, a beautiful expression of the “excellent wife” celebrated in Proverbs 31:10-31.

And now, on with the show.

Advent and Christmas

Death of John the BaptistI just discovered the Northwoods Seelsorger, who also happens to be a man I’ve known for a number of years. Now that he’s blogging, more people can experience Don Engebretson’s theological acumen and pastoral heart. Consider, for example, John the Baptizer and the Christ He Was Looking For, wherein Pastor Engebretson entertains the idea that not long before John’s death, he may have been harboring doubts about the One whom he’d already declared to be the Lamb of God.

On Jordan’s Bank, an Advent sermon from the Chaplain to the World shows how the hymns of the church relate the Gospel to us today, just as John the Baptist called people to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ time.

Dan takes a look at A Couple of Spanish Christmas Carols that are part of a Christmas DVD published by the Wiggles. He says that while the song dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe doesn’t seem appropriate for Christmas, Noche de Paz fits right in.

While planning a Youth lock-in during Advent, Kelly ruminates on Good Old St. Nick and talks about ways to approach the Santa Claus issue with children.

Clementine OrangePastor Klages, everyone’s favorite Beggar At The Table, waxes eloquent On Oranges. He first talks about the fruit given out and eaten so often at Christmas, then moves on to the theological council of the same name. Well, at least it’s sort of Christmas related.

Higher Things assembled a number of their member bloggers’ posts for Advent. While I encourage you to venture forth and sample for yourself the varied offerings, I’ll first offer a teaser here in the Carnival. Rev. Cwirla’s Blogosphere provides a succinct overview of Advent. Meanwhile, in I’ll Have a Blue Advent, Madre looks at the significance of the colors for paraments, vestments, and wreaths. Also, one of the most mature young Lutheran writers going, Rachel Engebretson of Here I Stand, offers the thoughtful contemplation “Because He Will Save His People from Their Sin” — God with Us in Advent.

Several sermons are also linked from HT. Among these, Pastor Brent Kuhlman offers his manuscript for the First Sunday in Advent, based upon the day’s epistle in Year C of the Three Year Lectionary, reminding us that we are Getting Ready for a King’s Visit. Bloghardt’s Reflector takes the traditional route with a sermon from the One Year Lectionary’s assigned Gospel, the Palm Sunday account from Saint Matthew. He continually reminds us that Jesus Is Certainly Coming. Again, I recommend HT’s entire Advent compilation.

Reaching way back into his childhood and returning with a “Cute Factor” of at least 9.5, Sean of Hot Lutheran on Lutheran Action shows us The Story of the Baby Jesus, his copiously illustrated Christmas book from 1989.


Protestant or Lutheran? Der Bettler of Hoc est verum says, “I used to be a Protestant,” and then describes the differences between Protestant and Lutheran thought.

Dan uses no more than the Necessary Roughness in responding to a Scouting post by Father Hollywood with a discussion of his own Scouting experiences and the potential for unionism in Religion and the Boy Scouts.

GiftsHouse, M.Div is certainly one busy new blogger. In This Medicine is Not Px Approved, he makes the outrageous suggestion that Lutherans may still be right about the papacy and that the Bishop of Rome recently might have proved it. In Gift, Schmift, House offers some mild criticism of the way a few modern Lutherans misuse the language of Gospel as gift. Along with the two he submitted, House gets an extra listing because two of his readers suggested the inclusion of Becoming Alive. Here, the pseudonymous blogger reminds us not to worry about obtaining a personal relationship with Jesus since Christ has already established it for us.

Do we put God in a Box, or does God do this to Himself? Pastor Chryst of Preachrblog suggests that while sinful humanity may attempt to enclose and limit the Almighty, He already enclosed Himself in the Incarnation.

St AmbroseAardvark Alley continues the hagiographies with solid information (plus notable pious myths and fables) surrounding several characters from Scripture and the Christian Church. While all of these biographies have their merits, he opted to submit the only recently published candidate who is numbered among the Eight Doctors of the Undivided Church, Saint Ambrose of Milan. However, some preferred the biographies of Saint Nicholas of Myra or Saint Lucy of Syracuse ... so they’re here, too.

After a visit to a museum, Frank over at Putting Out The Fire gives us his thoughts on the similarities between French Impressionism and the way we look at and plant churches in Monet and Missions. Frank certainly has a knack for titling his writing. The two-part preceding posts, both pertaining to hymnody, are Asparagus and Jelly Donuts and (naturally) Asparagus and Jelly Donuts, Part 2.

Dan at Random Intolerance sort of shows how to blog without really blogging. Beginning by saying, I Have Three Posts, he then describes his three works in progress. He fills the gaps with a copy of an email asking for donations to file another lawsuit against the Synodical President of the LCMS and adds his own brief comments to the end.

The recently married Cantor descends from his Padded Balcony to carefully examine the works and responsibilities of called ministers, the laity, and the Holy Spirit in making disciples as he answers his Fan Mail.

Here’s my own contribution for this category: Christian (dis-)Unity, examines fragmentation within Christendom and among the sectarians and cults at its fringes and beyond in light of Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17 and God’s demands for doctrinal fidelity elsewhere in the Scriptures.

Angel and ZachariasWho Is Zacharias? Father Eckhardt is more than happy to hazard an educated guess. Using the Protoevangelium of James, Christ’s words in Matthew 23:35, and what is known of the other men of Scripture named Zacharias, he concludes that it’s quite possible this ancient text is correct in naming John’s father as the one whom Herod’s men murdered between the porch and the altar in the temple.

Someone tell the Aardvark that the Old School Confessional has moved. However, he’s still doing a good job of thinking and writing, as evidenced by Contemporary Worship, a brief, insightful examination of the nature of prayer that was triggered by “a footnote in a contemporary order of service.”

Vocational, Practical, and Artistic

No, not nachos! As part of CLEAR’s on-going mission to examine various traditional liturgical artworks for church and home, Some Beautiful Nichos talks about this Mexican craft and links to a page with some beautiful examples. She notes that these shadowboxes or “shrines” are used in both secular and sacred contexts.

Greek LettersPastor Peterson briefly discusses instructing living American youth in the ways of a dead Mediterranean language in Teaching Greek to Homeschooled Children. The comments help flesh out the post and provide additional resources for others interested in doing the same.

While this post has a strong theological component, the core question I answer in Christians in Society: Consumerism and Confessing Christ also fits nicely under vocation. Here I talk about overt expressions of Christianity when advertising secular businesses. I follow up by examining how and when to reach out with the Gospel to others in the public square.

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16 December 2006

Feeding My Holiday Greed

Or Something Like That

I want more!

I know that I gave folks an extra couple days to submit entries for the next Lutheran Carnival of Blogs. During these grey and latter days of Advent, I figured that fellow bloggers and those who don’t blog but who read our posts are probably all busy as we get ready for a rosy Sunday and subsequent six days. And if we need another sign that the Feast of the Nativity fast approaches, we remember that the seventeenth also kicks off seven days of O Antiphons.

So if you have completed your sermons and service planning, left the office until Monday, or otherwise carved out 10 or 15 minutes to choose among so many possible offerings, I stand (o.k., sit) ready to receive a few more submissions in my pre-Christmas stocking. If you’ve delayed choosing your own post(s) or nominating one or two by someone else, there’s still time. I have started assembling the carnival but still plan to accept any (qualifying) entries until noonish Central Standard Time (accent on the “ish”) on Sunday. If you are’t sure what qualifies or how to submit, take a peek at my original “call for papers” and send something along.

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14 December 2006

Christians in Society

Consumerism and Confessing Christ

Q: I have problems with people who advertise “Christian-owned” businesses primarily to encourage buyers to trust them. They appear be calling upon Jesus to endorse services or products. At the same time, I think that we should, as Peter said, be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us. Is there is ever a time when it is appropriate to witness in the marketplace. If so, when and how?

In a somewhat related situation, a person recently accosted me in a grocery store checkout line, asking if I had accepted Christ as my Savior and wanting to give me a tract. I tried to explain that I am dead in my sin and completely unable to accept Christ, so I am thankful that Christ already did everything necessary for us and comes to us in the Sacraments. At the same time, I felt uncomfortable having that discussion in the grocery store.

Fish and CrossA: All else being equal, I patronize believers (especially Lutheran Christians!) over unbelievers. As Paul wrote, “Let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)”

However, fish decals on service vans, crosses in storefronts, or other ads for “Christian” businesses mean little unless the owners’ attitudes and actions back their advertising. And even if a committed Christian owns a company, these outward trappings don’t go very far in meaningfully confessing Christ.

Words and deeds — intentional, caring human interactions — far outweigh signs and slogans. As God did for you in the grocery line, so He regularly gives Christians in business opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations on faith and forgiveness. And while I don’t advocate the “bait and switch” approach of hiding evidence of one’s faith, I wonder how often these ads designed to attract Christians might not instead be puting unbelievers on guard, actually hindering dialog with those who need the Good News.

There’s also the matter of knowing who provides the best service or sells the highest quality goods for the most favorable price. We hope that Christians, of all people, would do with all their might their tasks at hand (see Ecclesiastes 9:10). However, many of us hold sad memories of instances where this wasn’t the case. Some who claim Christ also practice slipshod craftsmanship or sell substandard goods. While the Lord forgives such sins when they are confessed, that doesn’t help me if I patronize such people and find my clothes falling apart, my driveway cracking, or my pipes leaking. Therefore, I’m thankful that I’ve discovered many devout believers whose business dealings do mirror their professions of faith.

NeurosurgeryStill, I’m careful to not use religion as the only reason for choosing to purchase goods and services — especially when selecting someone whose actions directly affect my life. For example, if a neurosurgeon will be mucking around in my skull, I want him first of all to be the best neurosurgeon available. As in other cases, if the skills and training are similar, I would certainly settle on a Christian over any unchristian options.

Making such decisions includes being what Christ called “wise as serpents. (Matthew 10:16)” We shouldn’t ignore others’ confessions of faith. Instead, if we intend to patronize Christian businesses, we should seek evidence that their actions (including goods, services, prices, and warranties) match those we expect in all our fellow believers. For not only will a Christian feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick (Matthew 25:44), he’ll also strive in his business activities to show his faith by his works (James 2:18).

As for the second portion of your questions, God keeps us in the world, in part, to spread the Good News of Christ. You certainly seem to have been “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)” When this man challenged your belief, you showed clearly that you relied only upon Christ’s merits and the Holy Spirit’s gracious call through the Gospel, not on your own decision or actions. Yet your encounter also shows that you are, like other Christians, at the same time sinner and saint.

Checkout LineWe Christians know that no person, circumstance, or environment should cause us to hesitate or be embarrassed by our profession of faith. Yet believers often find themselves in life’s checkout lines, airplanes, sports stadiums, and elsewhere with opportunities to show “the reason for [their] hope” — then shamefully allow these chances disappear!

Now I’m not talking about “cramming the Lord down their throats.” Rather, I’m firmly convinced that if we’re prepared, everyday conversations often lead to points where others become curious about our faith or our responses to life’s troubles. As we talk, these people’s comments on their hurts, their doubts, or the crazy world in which they live often provide openings for us to respond with Jesus.

If folks invite us into their troubles, we receive their permission to commiserate and offer hope. So why would we not offer the full hope that belongs only to believers? Saying things like, “I feel so sorry for you,” or, “that must really hurt,” may demonstrate personal concern — but isn’t it better to introduce the One whose concern eclipses anything we have to offer? Yet Satan, our own feelings, or fear of the world too often lead to embarrassment or fright and subsequent failure to “make a defense.”

We cannot coax or coerce ourselves into godly attitudes and actions. An old hymn (one I’ve been learning to dislike), Jesus! And Shall It Ever Be, makes it seem so easy to boldly enter the marketplace and hold Christ’s banner high. It continually asks the rhetorical question, “Ashamed of Jesus?” — then it keeps replying that this is impossible. For the saint, this may be true. However, Christians remain sinners as well as saints and there’s no way our weak, fearful selves always hold and demonstrate perfect love for Christ or our neighbor.

Peter's DenialAlso, the song’s unending theme of boasting in the Lord no matter the consequences sounds remarkably like Peter and each of the other the disciples telling Jesus, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you! (Matthew 26:35)”

Of course, only a few verses later we read that “all the disciples left him and fled, (v. 56)” while shortly thereafter, Peter three times disavowed knowing Him (vv. 69-75). Even if we don’t face “a great crowd with swords and clubs, (v. 47)” we often shamefully shut our mouths at precisely the wrong moment.

Don’t be concerned about appropriate times and places or fret about whether or not you should be looking for more chances to confess Christ in the public arena. The Lord consistently provides more opportunities to witness than most of us ever realize. The Holy Spirit constantly places unbelievers and confused, hurting, or doubting Christians in our presence, inviting us to see their pains and problems through Christ’s eyes while also guiding us to know what to say and how to act.

Along with the Spirit’s discernment, we also need God-given courage to confess Christ and to testify of His mercy. And for all those times when we feel embarrassed or frightened — whether it hinders our testimony or not, and especially when fear keeps us from being faithful witnesses — we know that we can go to Him in humility, asking to be forgiven of our shame and filled with the strength to do His will.

Added: Thanks to Ruach for initially asking, What Do You Think?; she really set me on an enjoyable quest.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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13 December 2006

A Matter of Submission

... to the Lutheran Carnival

Carnival MaskI always complain about the acceleration of time’s passage during Advent. So I wasn’t really surprised by being surprised when I received the first email from Carnival Central. Yes, like a hungry polar bear to an unarmed Eskimo or a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, so comes the reminder that I am scheduled to take the reins from Living Sermons and must prepare myself to host the 39th edition of the Lutheran Carnival of Blogs.

This next fortnight carries us out of Advent, through the Feast of the Nativity, and up to the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, so any seasonally themed submissions are welcome. Of course, any other posts (religious, vocational, or whatever else) by confessional Lutherans will receive a similar set of arms wide open.

If this sounds like ... well ... like I’m begging and pleading, then your perception is reasonably accurate. The past few carnivals have had a relative paucity of posts. This being a special season of giving gifts and sharing the Faith, I strongly encourage my fellow bloggers to please submit something that speaks of faith and life, of celebration or sadness, yea, verily concerning any situations and circumstances involving the human condition (or the Divine Reconditioning of humanity) as seen through your Lutheran eyes.

Curious about our past, I checked the carnival’s history to see what last Christmas in the Lutheran Blogosphere was like. Look back at the Aardvark’s Merry Carnival and Happy Blogidays to see how many people with so many varied topics made it into the mix.

I’ll also gladly accept third party submissions. Therefore, non-bloggers and owners of other sites may suggest appropriate posts written by someone else over the previous two or three weeks. I am also willing, pending an o.k. from the bosses, to extend the deadline to Sunday noon CST (1800 GMT), since church and family obligations won’t allow me to do much editing and preparation until then.

I ask that submitters pay attention to the general guidelines at the mother blog and to please send your nominations with Lutheran Carnival” in the subject field through the regular edress, lutherancarnival @t gmail d0t com. This will keep my junk mail filters from throwing your submission in the trash.

If you’re unsure about the pool from which you may choose, perhaps reading Confessional and Orthodox Lutheranism will provide a partial example of those whose profession of faith matches the expectations of the carnival. You might also pay close attention to those people listed in the first section of my blogroll.

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12 December 2006

Saint Lucy Hymn Stanza

As I noted last week, I’ve designed this year’s midweek Advent services here at Holy Cross around the commemorations of Nicholas of Myra, Lucia of Syracuse, and Katie Luther. I said that if I was able to write a passable hymn or hymn stanza for Lucy or Katie, I would post it. I think this one passes, so I offer a verse for St. Lucy. Should I produce something for Katharine of Wittenberg, I’ll likewise publish it here.

As with the previous stanza for Saint Nicholas Day, I intend it to be sung with the hymn “By All Your Saints in Warfare,” a public domain text which uses the copyright arrangement of King’s Lynn by Ralph Vaughn Williams. A suggested Lection and Collect are provided with the previous post.

   For holy martyr Lucy,
   Who faced the tyrant’s sword
   And through her death gave witness,
   We praise Your name, O Lord.
   Your light she showed in darkness;
   May we thus also shine
   Until, our struggles ended,
   We see Your face divine.

Hymn text © 2006 by Walter P. Snyder. As with previous lyrics posted here, I grant permission to copy, save, reproduce, and otherwise use in unaltered form and with notice of copyright attached.

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06 December 2006

Christian (dis-)Unity

Q: While I believe in Christ and His forgiveness, I wonder why, when He prayed for our unity in John 17, are we Christians are so fragmented? How do we determine who believes and teaches correctly?

DisagreementA: Sadly, disunity is the norm for Christendom, as well among the cults and sects that call themselves Christian but are not. The confusion among various groups claiming to be Christ’s Church seems almost as great as was the confusion God created at Babel tower.

We shouldn’t be surprised that there are problems, for Scripture warns of false teachings and false teachers who grow like cancer in the Body of Christ (e.g., Matthew 24:23-24; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 2 Peter 2:1-3). Not only church bodies, cults, and sects are affected — individual congregations may also become fractured and contentious. Against such attitudes Paul scolded the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).

Some, especially participants in the Ecumenical Movement, consider disunity to be the greatest scandal of Christianity. Yet, immediately after calling for unity in Corinth, Paul confessed and commended the single most divisive aspect of Christianity. While other divisions may be sin-related and scandalous within and without, the apostle identified the great “stumbling block” (Greek: skandalon) that divides. Nothing less than “Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23)” is the ultimate barrier to a united Christendom. God in human flesh, God who dies — especially such an ignoble death — this simple truth insults all who don’t believe and who face eternal condemnation. How Christians accept, interpret, and apply the fact of “Christ crucified” determines how we evaluate and associate with each other and with the unbelieving world.

Cranach - Weimar AltarpieceUltimately, of course, there is only one truth, as Jesus so named Himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)” Some who appear to be disunited Christians completely deny this truth. They are actually non-Christians wearing the cloak of Christianity.

Some churches deny Christ’s deity. Others say that Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Ghost are three different gods. Still others claim that there is one God, but a Trinity in name only, so what He reveals as three persons in Scripture is actually one god wearing three “masks” or personalities. To separate ourselves from the false teachers, Christians examine what they say about Jesus Christ. When you do so, you’ll see that some of these churches — even some having “Jesus Christ” or “Christian” in their official name — stand outside the Christian Faith.

After hearing what others say about Him, ask them, “How do you proclaim Christ’s work?” Do they confess Him as “the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14)”? Do they include any other name, any other way, by which people are saved (Acts 4:12)? If they teach that anything or anyone but Jesus paid the full price for our sins, these teachers stand outside the Christian Church. Do they mix faith and works (Ephesians 2:8-9) or neglect works entirely in the life of the Christian (2:10)? Do they proclaim multiple paths to eternal life? True Christianity teaches what Jesus taught: There is one Way, one Truth, one Life — one Way to the Father — and Jesus Christ is It. These divisions must remain until error is rejected and truth embraced.

BabelOther divisions came about through geography, language, or politics. While a result of sin, especially as judged at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), these linguistic and geopolitical differences are not, of themselves, sinful. Yet even though this disunity comes because of non-doctrinal barriers, we may still have difficulty overcoming them. Sometimes we can only go so far in working and worshiping together, no matter how much belief we hold in common. For example, many different branches of the Orthodox (Eastern) Church are in full communion with each other, agreeing totally on doctrine and practice. However, they don’t regularly meet or worship together because of ethnic, linguistic, or geographic differences. The same is true among many Lutherans, Anglicans (Episcopalians), and others.

The greatest fragmentation occurs in “mainline” Protestantism and its branches. It seems worst among those bodies who emphasize individual relationships with God above the unity of the Church and the oneness of the Body of Christ. Among these, style often divides more than substance. If you don’t care for the worship style, start your own church. If you dislike the minister, start your own church. Doctrine among these assemblies often is less important than feelings.

Finally, how do we (and others) define and teach Christian doctrine? What “essential” doctrines do we refuse to surrender? Are there teachings about which we may disagree? The Bible speaks clearly of baptismal regeneration, yet many deny that Baptism washes sin away and makes people into Christians through the power of God’s holy Word. Christ calls pastors to forgive sinners in His name, yet many refuse to accept this absolution. He tells us that in Holy Communion He gives us His very body and blood to eat and to drink, yet many claim that the Lord’s Supper is only a symbolic action involving only bread and wine.

Not all wrong assumptions about Christ or Scripture condemn people to hell. Even among blatant errorists, whose false and confusing teachings divide them from full Scriptural truth, these errors don’t always stand in the way of eternal life. Folks may get a lot wrong, but if they get Jesus right, they are saved. However, false teachings cause many problems in this life and may bring weaker Christians to stumble in their faith. They can weaken belief, lead people to trust at least partially in their own works for salvation, or remove the confidence that the Spirit builds through Word and Sacraments.

Because of this, true Christians continue to contend for Christ’s truth. A “small” error, left unchecked, won’t remain small and certainly will not go away. It grows larger, sending sinful branches in many directions. While we struggle for earthly unity, Christians should never do so at the expense of unity with God and his pure Word. As much as Satan must enjoy our current fragmentation, a united “church” believing little of God’s truth might please him even more.

PentecostWhile difficult, the struggle isn’t our own. Christ prayed for the Church’s unity in John 17, particularly verses 20-23. He continues to this day to mediate on our behalf, sending the Holy Ghost that we might be one as He and His Father are one. God began the reversal of Babel’s confusion with the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12). The Spirit continues the process of unifying all the sheep under one Shepherd. The completion of this task will not come in Time; we await its fullness in Eternity. Until then, true believers will continue to “test the spirits” to see if they are truly “from God. (1 John 4:1)”

We must remember that in John 17, Jesus also prayed that the believers would be “sanctified in truth (v. 19)” and kept safe “from the evil one (v. 15)” He wants all who believe in Him to be with Him forever, gazing upon the glory His Father gave Him “before the foundation of the world (v. 24)” Since we still live in a sin-filled world, our embrace of the truth may prevent full unity. It can even create greater division, for Jesus warned that His Gospel would divide even families: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. (Mark 13:12-13)”

Still, however, the Holy Spirit continues to be our Guide as we search and compare the Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:10-11). He will apply the true words of Scripture through faithful pastors and teachers for our great benefit, even if not all listen to them (1 Timothy 4:1-4). For those who embrace the fullness of Christ’s truth, we will, even in Time, experience a good measure of the unity that will be fully ours in Eternity.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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