Monday, November 22, 2010

Things I'm Not Serious About But Am Totally Serious About #2: The Rite of "We Don't Know What the Heck We're Doing."

Awhile ago, I heard of a congregation that called a pastor.  A congregation calling a pastor is a thing that frequently happens, so that's not why this stuck in my brain.  It stuck in my brain because this was a congregation that, just a few years ago, had two full time pastors, then couldn't afford two pastors, then couldn't afford one pastor who had been out in the field for a while.  So they called a seminarian to be their pastor.  Except they didn't call him to be their "pastor."  They called him to be their "administrative pastor."

Now, I intend no disrespect for the people of this congregation.  I am certain that they are fine Christians who hunger for the bread of life and desperately wanted a pastor to feed this to them  But calling a pastor to be an "administrative pastor" is a bad sign, regardless of the circumstances.  Whether he is one of five pastors on staff or whether he's the cheapest option of sole pastors around, when a congregation bestows the "administrative" title on her pastor, this reveals that her members are ultimately convinced that the chief and primary work of a pastor isn't really to forgive their sins but rather is to run a smooth congregational ship-streamlining programs, integrating activities, fostering an atmosphere of discipleship synergy and a bunch of other CEO type phrases that don't actually mean anything. Likewise, when a congregation that has recently lost both a boatload of members and her status as a mult-pastored staff calls an "administrative pastor," this is probably a clear indication that they think the way to build themselves back up is to play mega-church rather than to focus on repentance and trust in the Word.

So I know what all of you are wondering at this point.  You're wondering, "what made up rite should a congregation that does such a thing be required to go through even though they shouldn't actually have to go through it but maybe they actually probably should?"  The answer, of course, is the Rite of "We Don't Know What the Heck We're Doing."

The Rite of "We Don't Know What the Heck We're Doing" would be a simple service.  It would be a kind of modified confession and absolution, reading something along the lines of this:

C: Pastor, please hear our confession, even though it's really embarrassing.
P: Proceed.
C: What troubles us particularly is that we called you to be our administrative pastor.
P: Why did you do that?
C: Well, you see, we don't know what the heck we're doing.
P: That is obvious.  How do you plan on avoiding things like this in the future?
C: For starters, it would probably be a good idea not to borrow titles that never existed until two years ago from non-sacramental churches that have no understanding of the office of the ministry.
P: Yeah, that would probably be a good idea.  Go in peace.
C: Amen.

Of course, the Rite of "We Don't Know What the Heck We're Doing" would not just be limited to congregations that give their pastors silly titles.  Nor would it even be limited to congregations.  Pastors could also participate.  For example:

P: Why did you move the baptismal font out of the sanctuary in order to make room for the praise band?
C: We don't know what the heck we're doing.


C: Why did you do a sermon series on the seven different ways to sanctify your sex life?
P: I don't know what the heck I'm doing.

I'm totally serious about this.  Except I'm not.  Well, maybe just a little bit.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Liturgical Halloween Innovations

From my very first post on this blog, I have tried to avoid talking about my personal life.  That's what facebook is for.  And twitter.  And myspace, if that still exists.

But when my personal life yields a good theological illustration, I'm not averse to bringing it up.  So up I bring it.

I have three sons.  Currently my wife is out of town with the youngest son.  So I have the two older ones.  The two older ones love two things in life more than any other two things.  Those two things are: 

1. Making lots of noise when I'm on the phone.
2. Halloween candy.

A few minutes ago, my oldest asked for Halloween candy-or, as he calls it, "Trick or Treat candy."  And because I'm really awesome at giving my kids candy, I took out the giant bucket of sugary loot and began rifling through it to find something that I had no interest in poaching after  both boys have gone to bed but that they would gladly devour.  Whilst rifling, I discovered a small container of Play-Doh.  And this irritated me.  Here's why:

As a holiday, Halloween has a ritual aspect.  It has, for all intensive purposes, a liturgy.  On a set day (October 31), you put on a set garb (a costume of some kind; many options are available; you are free in the Gospel).  Then you embark on a set activity (knocking on doors).  When those doors are opened, you speak a set liturgical phrase ("trick or treat").  Then, those owning the doors offer the set liturgical response of giving you candy.

That's the Halloween liturgy.

And Play-Doh is not part of it.  Now, you may think it's a neat idea to change that set liturgical response to giving kids Play-Doh.  And you may have lots of reasons for thinking this. You may think that giving kids Play-Doh will make you stand apart from the rest of the crowd and make them remember your house above the rest.  You may think your smooshy-toy-for-candy-substitute is a healthier option and will serve them better than the teeth rotting stuff of Halloween's past.  But no matter what your reasons, when you autocratically depart from the established Halloween tradition without a single word of discussion with your fellow candy handerouters, it's really annoying.

And if that's a really annoying thing to do on All Hallow's Eve, it's even more annoying on Sunday morning.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Praise Song Fail

While I was driving around town today, I was listening to the radio.  Although, to be accurate, I wasn't so much listening to the radio as I was desperately trying to find something worth listening to on the radio.  You see, Denver is strange.  Despite being a big city, Denver has really bad radio stations.  It breaks down as such:

5 NPR stations.  I can't listen to these because, to my ears, the worst sound in the universe is that of overly sincere lady NPR commentator's voice.
2 Classic Rock stations.  I can't listen to these because I get violently angry every time a radio station assumes that, because I like the Beatles, I must also like John Mellencamp and that horrific Sign, Sign dirty hippy song. 
7 Modern Pop stations.  I can't listen to these because I die a little bit inside every time I hear a Katy Perry song.
3 Sports Radio stations.  Aside from ESPN radio, which is always at commercial break, my options are either to listen to local radio hosts calling for Josh McDaniel's fingers to be cut off or to listen to Jim Rome.  If you've never heard Jim Rome before, imagine the sound of fingernails scraping across a chalkboard.  Then imagine that those fingernails have a really huge ego.  That's Jim Rome.
147 Mariachi stations.  Mariachi stations, I'm convinced, are a big conspiracy financed by the global Mexican Restaurant Industry, intended to make me want chips and salsa every time I hear happy trumpets.

And finally...

4 Contemporary Christian Music stations.

Today, I stopped on one of these stations for a moment.  At the time, I did not know it was a CCM station.  I did not know this because it took at least seven seconds before I realized that the song playing was a CCM song and not a commercial jingle for a car or car dealership.  The reason it took at least seven seconds to realize this was because the CCM song sounded exactly like a commercial jingle for a car or car dealership.  It was not until the singers stated singing something about being in God's presence (and not Toyota Camrys) that I realized what was going on.

And, as far as Church music goes, that should be considered a big fail.  If you are singing a song of praise to God, that song should not be easily confused with Rattle, Rattle, Thunder, Clatter, Boom, Boom, Boom...

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 5, 2010

An Everybody Pastor

A few months before I began classes at Concordia Theological Seminary, I worked as a waiter at a restaurant in my hometown.  My hometown is a relatively small hometown and in relatively small hometowns every one knows each other, relatively speaking.  On account of this, I would frequently have the following conversation with familiar faces whilst grating fresh parmesan atop their fettuccine alfredo:

Them: So, Hans, what are you doing these days?
Me: Well, in September,  I'm moving up to Fort Wayne to start at the Lutheran seminary.
Them: Oh, so you're going to be a pastor?
Me: Yeah.
Them: a youth pastor?
Me: No, just a regular pastor.

Now don't get me wrong.  I like youth.  I think youth are awesome.  I enjoy talking theology with them.  I get along with them well.  And just as these things are true now, they were also true when I uttered this rather snarky response.  So the reason I uttered it wasn't because I didn't want to be a pastor to teenagers.  The reason I uttered it was because, without really knowing why at the time, I just had a sense that there was something wrong with the title youth pastor.

But at some point during my studies at the seminary, I learned why I had this sense.  Granted, there are no direct proof texts that deal with this title.  There is no Hezekiah 10:14 reading, "And it came to pass that on the sixteenth night of the moon of Naphish, the sons of Israel shaveth the goatees of Todd and Jamie and broketh their trendy horn rimmed glasses, for they had called themselves pastors of youth."  (I felt like Joseph Smith writing that.)  However, the Bible does teach the following syllogism:

1. Jesus has given His church pastors in order to forgive people's sins.
a.       John 20:19-23 "On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.'  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.’”
2. All members of a congregation are called to respect and obey their pastor in this work.
a.       1 Corinthians 16:10-11  “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am.  So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.”
b.      Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."


3. A congregation's pastor has been sent by Christ to forgive the sins of everyone in that congregation.

Granted, the many congregations in the LCMS that have called youth pastors would, I'm certain, not deny this.  By virtue of our proper understanding of the office of the holy ministry, I don't think you'll find any call documents in the Missouri Synod with language to the effect of, "you will be faithful in the Word and Sacraments when ministering to those ages 12 to 18 and you will have no interaction with anyone else."  However, like with so many other things, what we teach on paper tends to fall apart when what we teach in practice is something else altogether.  And when, instead of simply calling a man to be a pastor, a congregation gives him the title youth pastor, there are two very, very, very bad things that we end up teaching people, things that are contrary to what the Scriptures teach about how a pastor is to care for each and every sheep in his flock.  Those two things are:

1. If you are not a youth, this guy really isn't your pastor. 

When there is a pastor at your church who barely ever preaches, who never, ever preaches on any of the big days (Christmas, Easter, LWML Sunday), who rarely teaches the Adult Bible class on Sunday mornings, who is never deferred to at voter's meetings, who has maybe been in your home once, who officiates none of the weddings and none of the funerals, who doesn't baptize any kids but his own and whose interaction with you is pretty much limited to talking about youth retreats, it will be very easy for Satan to convince you that you shouldn't listen to this man.

So, if the youth pastor rebukes you for your sins, it's easy for Satan to convince you that the young guy with Rev. in front of his name has as much authority over you as a kindergarten teacher has over a masters student and that you don't have to obey his call to repentance because you're not a youth and therefore outside his jurisdiction.  Likewise, if the youth pastor gives you the Word of forgiveness, Satan has a very easy time convincing you that there is no peace to be found from his lips, that his words doesn't really count because this guy was really only called to give that word to the young people.  

And the other bad thing this teaches is:

2. If you are a youth, the real pastor has more important things to do than spend his time with you.

Youth are not stupid.  They pick up on things.  When they hear that the congregation is going to get another pastor because the original pastor can't do everything he needs to, and when that new pastor is the one who teaches them confirmation and goes on youth trips with them and leads Vacation Bible School, they know what this means.  When the old pastor doesn't spend much time with them anymore, the youth know this means that he think the board of elders is more important than they are.  When the new pastor who gets paid way less than the senior pastor and doesn't even have his name on the sign outside and who will be replaced by another guy in 4 years when he gets called to be a sole pastor of another congregation is the one who deals with them, they know this means that their guy is the junior varsity shepherd.  Which makes them the junior varsity sheep.  And not only does this make it easy for Satan to convince them that they are not really all that valuable in the eyes of God.  It also makes it easy for Satan to lay the groundwork for what he does in point one, eventually convincing them that they both can't and shouldn't listen to the pastor they've just outgrown.

I'm certainly not arguing against a congregation having more than one pastor.  If a congregation can't feasibly start a daughter congregation when she has gotten too big for one pastor, getting a second pastor is a good thing.  Rather, I'm simply saying that, whenever a congregation needs more than one pastor, even if one guy is great with the youth and the other one just kinda stinks, that congregation should do everything she can to ward off the devil in his attempts to prevent the sheep from hearing the voice of their shepherd.  For every sheep in the world, I pray that Satan never convinces him that his pastor's authority derives from his job title and not the Word of God.  And for every shepherd whom God has called into his service, when he is asked, "are you a youth pastor," I pray that that man can respond by saying, "no, I'm just a regular pastor."  Or better yet, "no.  I'm just an everybody pastor."

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

My Reason for Recent Blogtastic Silence


I'll be writing again soon.  I promise.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Bread of Life vs. Skittles

If you were watching Fox News a few weeks ago and lighting bolts and hail started flying out of your TV screen, don't worry.  This wasn't a sign of the Apocalypse.  Rather, it was just the perfect storm of pompous moronicism that took place when Bill O'Reilly interviewed Bill Maher on the Irishman's highly rated TV show.

If you would like to watch the clip, watch it.  If not, this is, if you suck all the hot air out of their conversation, essentially what each of them said:

Maher: Believing in the God of the Bible is bad.
O'Reilly: Believing in the God of the Bible is harmless.

At the conclusion of this less-than-productive debate between two less-than-productive debaters, I realized that Bill O'Reilly had just given a very good example of why Liberal Christianity is doomed to die a quiet death and have nobody come to its funeral.

(While O'Reilly may be a political conservative, he is by no means a theological conservative.  As someone who believes that the Bible is not the actual, real word of God, that the stuff described as having happened in the Bible didn't actually happen, and as someone who doesn't believe that salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, O'Reilly can't help but fall under the category of a theological liberal.)

And the great problem with theological liberalism, at least when it comes to Christianity, is that it can never give any compelling reason for its own existence.

You see, Bill Maher is on somewhat of the right track.  Christianity is either true or it's a big, heaping pile of lies.  The Apostle Paul says exactly that in 1 Corinthians 15.  Maher's problem is that he's drawn the wrong conclusion on the resurrection of Jesus.  But in O'Reilly's mind, when it comes to the Christian faith, it's not a matter of true vs. untrue.  It's really a matter of fine vs. not fine.  And Christianity is fine.  It's sweet.  It's quaint.  It's harmless.  It gives people a sense of meaning and teaches them to be good neighbors who love their children and walk their dogs and buy Bill O'Reilly's books.

But the problem with O'Reilly's view is that, instead of viewing Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life, it treats Him like Skittles.  So Skittles are fine.   As long as you're not a fanatic about eating them, they're harmless.  And honestly, how can a person ever be a jerk while tasting the rainbow?  But, in the end, you don't need skittles.  You'll be just fine without them.  And if you happen to find something else that makes you feel just as good and makes you act just as nice, then you're in just as good of shape.

And if that's what the Christian faith is like, then why bother with it?  If Christ is not the Bread of Life, then why partake of Him?  If Skittles aren't necessary for my soul, and I don't particularly like Skittles, why should I eat them?  Why should I go to a church if it can't give me anything better than what I'm offered in a billion other houses of worship or in the temple of my own heart (aka sleep)?  If Christianity's worth is only found in its utilitarianism, why should I believe its teachings when there are other utilitarian religions that won't require me to believe that I'm a sinner and won't ask me to pick up a cross and follow someone other than myself?

Or perhaps look at it this way: If a man and his family were dying, and the only cure was found in the Bread of Life behind enemy lines, that man will scale barbed wire fences and dodge bullets and stare down the barrels of bazookas to get his hands on the only thing that will give him and his family life.  He'll even give up his own life in order to make sure that his wife, his children can feast upon their only salvation, the Bread of Life.

But if a man and his family aren't dying, and the only thing found behind enemy lines is a pack of Skittles that neither he nor his family actually needs, he won't even think about entering the war zone.  Ever.  And so we see that the reason Liberal Christianity is doomed to die a quiet death is because a faith that isn't worthy dying for isn't worth living for either.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Things I'm Not Serious About But Am Totally Serious About #1: The Chanting License

Hi!  I've invented another blog series that will probably be canceled after two episodes, Viva Laughlin style.  It's called "Things I'm Not Serious About But Am Totally Serious About."  These are things/ideas/practices I've joked about instituting that I would never actually institute but would totally institute if I could.  Probably.  Here's the pilot episode:

The Chanting License:

Early on in my seminary education, I took a class called Lutheran WorshipLutheran Worship was a class intended to teach you how Lutherans have worshiped, how they do worship, how they should worship, etc...  It's a nice class.  I really, really, really enjoyed it.

Although, in fairness, if it hadn't been for one specific session of the class, I would have only really enjoyed it.  The two extra reallys come from the session where we practiced chanting.  You see, many of the men in my class were not what one might call chanters.  Nor would you call them singers.  Nor would you even call them people who have any business attempting to make a musical note come out of their mouths.  And so, when these men were required to stand in front of the class and chant solo-style a few lines from the order of Matins, it was horrible.  Like Carl Lewis National Anthem horrible.  And thus, it was really, really funny.

Like horrifically funny.  One of the funniest things I've ever witnessed in my life.  On a couple of occasions, I had to bury my face in my hands to muffle my laughter.  (I laugh at the embarrassment of others.  I'm sort of a jerk that way.)  And while spending the better part of that half hour smelling the wrinkles in my palms, I thought to myself, you really should need a license to chant.

By and large, I like chanting.  It's an auditory way of highlighting words, of drawing attention to them and enhancing their importance.  But that only happens if the chanting is done well.  If it's done poorly, people don't listen to the words at all.  Instead, they just wonder if the pastor realizes how bad he is and then worry that no one else is going to have the guts to tell the guy that he needs to stop immediately because he's making even the unborn children cry.

So here's my solution to that problem that I'm not serious about but am totally serious about.  Before graduating from the seminary, you are given a chanting test.  You either pass or you fail.  If you pass, then you get your chanting license and you may chant in your congregation.  Chant boldly.  Go on with your bad self.  But if you fail the test, you get no such license and you may not chant.  Ever.  It doesn't matter if you're called to First Nosebleed High Lutheran Church of the Immaculate Chasuble.  It doesn't matter if your chanting will broker peace in the middle east or hasten the Second Coming.  No chanting under any circumstances ever, ever, ever for as long as you live and then two weeks after you're dead.  

I'm thinking of sending a formal request to the academic deans of our seminaries.  Just kidding.  But not really.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Breakfast Cereal and Diddly-Poo

When people apply radically different standards to things that are essentially the same, that's usually a good indication that  those people have gone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.  For example:

You need a prescription for the birth control pill.  But you can buy the morning after pill (which is just a stronger dose of the birth control pill) over the counter.  You can't, however, get any other drugs over the counter that are stronger doses of prescription drugs.  Since the medical standards for prescription strength and dosage for every other drug in the world don't apply to the morning after pill, I think it's reasonably fair to assert that people are full of diddly-poo if they claim that this exception was based on the principle of "do no harm."

Likewise, I think it's also fair to point out that theologians are full of diddly-poo when they argue in ways that they'd never argue in any other subject, but still claim to be interested in the pursuit of truth.  For example, if Bill were interested in the pursuit of mathematical truth, he would never have the following  conversation with Bob:

Bill: I had ten dollars.  Then I spent three dollars.  After that, I had nine dollars.
Bob: No, Bill.  You had seven dollars.  Ten minus three is seven.
Bill: Well, I think this is really a matter of semantics.  Besides, the most important thing is that I love people when I engage in commerce with them, regardless of how many dollars I have.

If we were Bob, we would never buy it if Bill said he was legitimately interested in pursuing mathematical truth.  But, for some reason, when people make the same argument when it comes to theology, we don't always call them on their diddly-poo.  We don't always tell Bill he's gone cuckoo for  Cocoa Puffs when he engages in the following conversation:

Bill: I think sin is just a kind of weakness and doesn't really separate us from God.
Bob: No, sin is murderous and enslaving.  It places us into the hands of the devil.  That's what God says in Genesis 2.  And John 8.  And Romans 6.  And Ephesians 2.  And 1 John 3.  Should I keep going?
Bill:  Well, I think this is really a matter of semantics.  Besides, the most important thing is that I love people when I preach to them, regardless of what I preach.

Bill, you are not interested in theological truth.  You are interested in you.  You have gone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and you are full of diddly-poo.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hiding In Your Office

Most pastors, I have argued elsewhere, are nerds. While this is mostly a good thing, one of the dangers of having a nerd pastor is that many nerds don't want to believe that they are nerds.  And if they can get their sheep to stare at them in awe, oft they reason, this will be proof of their non-nerdery.  So in an attempt to gain the doe eyed admiration of their sheep, insecure nerd pastors will generally go one of two ways.

The first way is the route that low church pastors take.  On this route, you find a pastor wearing Hawaiian shirts on Sunday mornings and occasionally stopping in the middle of the service to play the song he wrote about his buddy Jesus earlier that week.  Here the pastor has tried to gain people's awe by making his personality the focal point of the service.  In other words, he has covered the Office in himself.

The second way is the route that high church pastors take.  On this route, you find a pastor guilt tripping his elders when they don't want to spend $5,000 for a new set of paraments and telling people that, unless they have a doctor's note saying otherwise, he won't believe that they are allergic to incense.  Here the pastor has made his performance of the Church's ritual the focal point of the service.  In other words, he has covered himself in the Office.

I've picked on route number one enough over the course of the last few weeks.  So, in this post, I'd like to focus on route number two.

Fearing that people won't like him, that they'll find him boring and uninteresting, this high church pastor hides in his Office. He convinces himself that, because these people love Jesus, they'll have to love him as long as he is Jesus to them, as long as he's doing his pastoral duties.  

So when he visits people in their homes, he's not comfortable talking with them about football or asking  what their kids are studying at college.  He has to be Jesus.  He has to catechize them.  He has to bless their homes or teach them about the liturgy or do something to prevent them from having an actual human interaction with him.  And while catechizing people and blessing their homes and talking to them about the liturgy are all really good things, those good things never take much root whenever people get the impression that their pastor is more interested in teaching them to be right than in loving them.

Likewise, when Vacation Bible School comes around, this pastor worries that these kids won't like him because they don't understand that he's supposed to be Jesus to them.  So he decides to fix that.  He resolves that, by Friday's closing program, he will have turned these kids into perfect confessional Lutherans.  He informs the sweet little old ladies teaching music that the preschoolers will be required to learn all five verses of "From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee" and that, if anyone would teach the kids "If I Were a Butterfly," let him be anathema.  Also, this year's VBS theme is going to be the five kinds of fasting.  And, after the program is over, the kids who really loved learning about Jesus all take their art projects and go home, wondering why that guy in the funny shirt never smiled.

And when every Sunday morning comes around, he hides in his Office even more.  When he leads the congregation in prayer, he goes to extra lengths to remind everyone that he is there to be Jesus to them.  He adopts a weird, painfully over sincere tone because, you know, praying like a normal person is for the laity.  When he messes up the liturgy, he doesn't laugh, but looks like he wants to flog himself because flawless execution of the Proper Preface was going to make people respect him.  And when a three year old girl is being really ridiculously cute at the communion rail while her parents are taking the Sacrament, he doesn't smile.  Because smiling might show people that he's human, that he's just some dude.  And while they can't ever not like Jesus, they can always not like just some dude.  Especially if he's a nerd.  And despite all the times this pastor reminds people that he's there to give them the gifts of life and salvation, those people will often have a hard time coming to a deeper understanding of that when they're pretty sure that their pastor's worst possible nightmare is being caught at church without his clerical collar on. 

It is true that pastors are called to stand in the stead of Jesus Christ and to give the Lord's gifts to people.   They are called, as Paul says, to be "stewards of the mysteries of God," (1 Cor. 4:1). And Christ's under-shepherd's ought to treat that calling with reverence and awe (i.e. no freaking Hawaiian shirts on Sunday morning).  But the pastor who won't be respectful with God's word is really no worse than the pastor who won't be human with God's people.  The former gives people the impression that there's no room for the Lord on Sunday morning.  The latter gives the impression that there's no room for them.  So in the end, I don't think Christ's sheep are served any better by pastors who won't ever put on their robes than they are by those who won't ever take them off.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Biblical Revisionism Reenactment #1

Today I am introducing a new feature that I will forget all about after I run out of ideas in two or three weeks.  This feature is called "Biblical Revisionism Reenactment."  Here's why I'm doing it and how it works:

Pure doctrine comes from the Bible.  The way we learn things about God is by looking at what He has said and done in Biblical texts, Biblical words, Biblical events.  So, for example, we can make the doctrinal assertion that Jesus has conquered death because His physical resurrection, proclaimed in the Bible, tells us this.  Quite simply, when we have the right conclusions (pure doctrine), it's because we have the right source (the Bible).

And so, whenever you have the wrong conclusions, it's because you have the wrong source.  Whenever you hold to false doctrine, this happens because you're not properly connected to the Bible.  And whenever you believe things about God that are contrary to His Word, you're ultimately trying to revise the Scriptures, whether you realize it or not.  Generally speaking, the more you have to mangle what the Bible says to make it fit with what you believe, the worse the situation is.  BRR, therefore, is an attempt to show how false and dangerous various teachings are by showing how much they require you to change the original Biblical foundations.  It is also an attempt to be funny.  And it is an attempt to do both of these things in dramatic fashion.  Hence the "reenactment" part.

So let's begin.  Oh, but before we begin:

Note 1: BRR is, by nature, satirical.  The goal of satire is to show the foolishness of an idea by making fun of it.  Because I'm satirizing theological teachings in dramatic fashion, this means that each reenactment will have a Biblical setting and feature Biblical characters.  It is important to remember in all of this that I am not mocking the Bible.  I am mocking a denial of what actually happened in the Bible.  It's not much different than when Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal by suggesting that their false god has failed to answer their prayers because he's going potty.  So if you think I'm being irreverent, please make sure you've mastered the concept of nuance before getting mad at me.

Note 2:  Each edition of BRR will be presented in screenplay formatting so that it may be easily adapted into a film series.  My first choice for director is Jonathan Fisk.  If he's not available, I will settle for the universe's greatest Lutheran filmmaker: John Woo.

So, here we go.  For real this time.

Biblical Revisionism Reenactment #1: Pontius Pilate and the Chief Priests
Silly Teaching: Jesus was put to death for teaching people to be nice to each other.



PONTIUS PILATE approaches the door of his palace. CHIEF
PRIEST 1 and CHIEF PRIEST 2 run up to him, stopping him just
before he can open the door.

Hey Pilate, we’d like a word with

Yeah, we don’t like what you wrote
above Jesus’ cross there.

Oh, come on, guys. What I’ve
written I’ve written.  Alright, I
know you wanted it to say, "He said
I am King of the Jews," but you’re
just gonna have to get over it.

What? King of the...No, what idiot
would want you to write that? No,
it should read, "This man told us
to be nice to each other."

Uh...I’m sorry, what?

Yeah, I know! Can you believe he
said that?

No, I mean why would you want it to
say "he told us to be nice to each

Cause he totally said that!

Well, yeah, I know. But what does
that have to do with his

What do you mean? That’s exactly
why we wanted him crucified!

For saying "be nice?"

Uh, yeah.

Are you sure? Because I thought
you wanted him killed for saying he
was the Son of God. I thought that
was against your religion.

Nah, that stuff was cool. It’s all
that nice talk that’s against our

Being nice is against your

Yeah. Seriously, you can check out
our books. It’s handed down from
Abraham. Dry shave the poor. Drop
kick the hungry. And kill anyone
who tells you to be nice.

So when Jesus preached in his
hometown and people wanted to throw
him off a cliff, that wasn’t
because he said the Spirit of the
Lord was upon him. That was

He told them to hold the door open
for old ladies.

And when you picked up stones to
throw at him, that wasn’t because
he claimed to be God. That was

He said you shouldn’t stab a guy if
he owes you money. We like
stabbing guys.

And so that whole thing about how
you’d rat me out to Caesar if I
didn’t put him to death for
claiming to be your king?

Yeah, we were just messing with
you. We just wanted him dead
before he told us to say "please"
and "thank you."

OK, well, uh...You know, again,
I’ve written what I’ve
written. So, sorry.

Oh, dude. Don’t apologize.

Why not?

Apologizing is nice.

Yeah. And we don’t like nice.

Chief Priest 1 and Chief Priest 2 stare at Pilate,
intimidation oozing out of their eyes. Pilate
cautiously opens the door.

OK, well, I’m just gonna...I’m
gonna go ahead and...

Pilate slips inside the door.

You guys are weird.

Pilate slams the door shut.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Who Are You?

As you may have noticed, I have one of those little counter things on the side of my blog that tells me how many people have viewed my page and from what countries these people's internet connections reside.  As of my tickey typing of these words, I've had visitors from 20 countries.

So, I'm curious, especially with regard to my overseas friends, who are you people?  Where do you come from?  What brought you to my page?  What do you think about all this stuff?  Do you like gum?  Please leave a comment.  I'd love to learn more about you!

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  What's yours?

Creativity in the Local Congregation

That Which Jesus First Cannot Accept:

An effort to stymie the creativity and versatility of congregations in worship

We do understand that there are appropriate expectations of what will take place in a service of Lutheran worship. As congregations understand and honor those expectations, congregations can and should use the variety of gifts that are available to them without undue criticism or judgment from others.

I stumbled across this quote the other day.  It is a quote from Jesus First, a group of theological liberals in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod who, among other things, are very much in favor of contemporary worship.  It is also a silly quote.  The reason it is a silly quote is because it presupposes that if a Christian is creative, his or her creative stuff ought to be used in the Divine Service.

Now obviously there is much creativity that takes place in the Divine Service.  For example, creativity takes place every time we sing a hymn that a musically creative mind wrote.  And having such creative treasures at our disposal is a wonderful thing.  But the reason this is such a wonderful thing is because it comes to us from the Church Universal.  It may well be that you have the greatest living hymn writer in your congregation.  I have a pretty phenomenal one in my family.  But in the offhand chance that you're not blessed with such a presence in your pews each Sunday morning, the Church Universal can say to you, "If you don't have the greatest creative hymn-writing minds in the world, that's OK.  Because here are the best hymns ever.  They were once written and are now written by simple Christians in simple congregations.  But because they were and are so beneficial to God's people through their proclamation of the Gospel, we have taken the greatest creative endeavors of those separated from you by space and time and we have given them to you."

However, I don't think this is what the Jesus First quote is talking about.  Rather, I think the quote is essentially saying that a congregation should be free to take whatever talents and creative abilities her members have and implement them into the worship service in any way the congregation sees fit.  A big problem with that idea, though, is that, out of sentimentality or the desire to make people feel appreciated and welcome, a congregation's members and/or her pastor will often times muck up a clear proclamation of the Gospel by putting ill fitting or less than quality talents and gifts on display smack dab in the middle of the service.  A few hypothetical examples:

1. Duncan, mentioned earlier and earlierer, is a fantastic guitarist.  In particular, Duncan is really good at playing the guitar really, really fast.  Like faster than this guy.  (So far this is not hypothetical.)  So his pastor suggests that Duncan use his lightning fast guitar playing for the glory of the Lord the next Sunday, thinking that this might get more young people interested in coming to church.  But while everyone in attendance that morning is very impressed by his shredding, Duncan's guitar does not talk about the Gospel.  It doesn't speak of Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world. And it's not exactly like people can pray with a clear mind while he's playing the thing.  So, without a clear reason for being there, without serving the proclamation of the Gospel, Duncan's awesome guitaricizing only succeeds in giving people the impression that Sunday morning worship is essentially a talent show with occasional God stuff thrown in.

2. Mrs. Schmidt likes to write songs about Jesus.  These songs are terrible and sound like rejected laundry detergent commercial jingles.  But she is an incredibly sweet woman who has served her congregation faithfully for fifty years and her pastor wants her to feel appreciated, so he asks her to play a few of her songs during the service every fifth Sunday.  But when she does this, the people in church that morning highly consider stabbing themselves in the ears with the pew pencils.  They think mean thoughts about Mrs. Schmidt while she's belting away at the piano with the boom mic half an inch from her lips.  Then, during the pastor's sermon, they repent of hating Mrs. Schmidt, but they still wonder if they're allowed to hate her terrible, terrible songs.  Then they just decide that they'll avoid the problem altogether by going out to the Waffle House on 5th Sundays from now on.  Then the pastor finishes his sermon and they realize they haven't actually heard anything about Jesus that day.

3. Pastor Dave is a nerd who was never popular in high school and thus has a raging need for people to validate him in his creative endeavors.  So, knowing that everyone has to pay attention to him on Sunday morning, he decides he's going to write his own liturgy.  He replaces the traditional Gloria with this Gloria because U2 is awesome and he's pretty sure that song is about Jesus.  He replaces the Sanctus with Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Lord God Almighty by Michael W. Smith because he thinks people might like a change of pace.  And he also plugs in his own version of the Nunc Dimittis that he wrote on his sweet 12 string Ovation electric/acoustic on Friday night because he's always been kind of creative that way.  Many of his people are bothered by this.  They find it strange and unnecessary.  And then, when he asks them how they liked his creative liturgy after the service, he does something no pastor should ever do.  He makes Christians choose between being loyal to their liturgy and being loyal to their pastor.  He pits the Word against the Office.  And in doing so, he has prevented his sheep from clearly hearing the voice of their Shepherd.

So if you want to use the gifts of those in your local congregation during your congregation's worship service, here's my suggestion: Take it to the Church Universal.  Ask another congregation half way across the world if Duncan's superguitarfantasticalexpolision would help their people hear the Gospel.  If it won't, it won't help yours either.  Send Mrs. Schmidt's songs to a congregation that has no idea how sweet and kind she is and ask them what they think.  If their response is, "we'd never let these songs anywhere near our sanctuary," don't let them near yours either.  If Pastor Dave wants to write his own liturgy, let him hop in the DeLorean, travel back three hundred years when the same Jesus Christ was equally Lord of the same Church confessing the same Doctrine and ask a congregation back then if his liturgy makes any sense to them.  If it doesn't, it's not going to make any sense to Christ's sheep today either, no matter how creative it may be.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading