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


Thursday, September 16, 2010

For serious, these people totally exist...

Here are the three people I want to meet more than anybody else in the whole wide world:

1. The second gunman on the grassy knoll.

2. Sasquatch

3. The guy who really super duper so bad wants to come to church but just doesn't feel comfortable and/or welcome unless there are rockin' guitars around.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Offering Something For Everyone

Imagine that you get an invitation in the mail for a Christmas party that a friend of yours is throwing. Recognizing that people of differing palates will be in attendance, your friend has informed all his potential guests that he will provide two different types of food.  There will be, he advertises, stale fruit cake, plain, boring cookies and simple wassail punch.  This is, as he describes it, "the Traditional Christmas Food."  Then there will be huge, multi-colored five tier cakes that look like they've just been delivered by these guys, giant, mouthwatering cookies in all sorts of unique shapes and deliciously spiced and even more deliciously spiked egg nog. This, he tells you, will be the "Glorious Celebration Christmas Food."  

If this were to happen, two things would be rather clear about your friend.  Those two things are:

1. He thinks that the Glorious Celebration Christmas Food is better than the Traditional Christmas Food.
2. He is only offering Traditional Christmas Food to appease those people who have not yet figured out, as he has, that Glorious Celebration Christmas Food is the real way to eat at a Christmas party.

Then imagine that, sometime later on, your same friend is going to throw a movie party at his house.  But once again recognizing that people with differing genre preferences will be attending, he informs his potential guests that there will be two types of films shown.  In the home theater room, with the giant projection screen, the 7.1 digital surround sound system, the open bar, and the astoundingly comfortable recliner seats, the action movies will be playing.  Oh, also, Q'Doba will be catering.  Then, in the garage, with the 20 inch TV that his son didn't want to take to college and the VCR that he got as a white elephant gift at the Christmas party, the classic films will be playing.  Oh, and if you want something to eat or drink, he thinks there might be some promo packs of Sun Chips and a couple lukewarm  bottles of Evian in the shed outside.

If this were to happen, two things would be very clear about your friend.  Those two things are:

1. He thinks that action movies are better than classic films.
2. He hopes to help people get over their sentimental attachment to classic films by putting all of his resources into the presentation of the action movies.

Now, imagine that your friend is a pastor and he invites everyone he knows to come worship at his congregation.  Recognizing that people of different liturgical backgrounds will be attending, he informs his potential worshipers that there will be two types of services.  There will be a service with ancient hymns played on old fashioned instruments, a service with written prayers and a classic structure.  There will be nothing flashy-no bells or whistles in order to help the old people who woke up early in the morning feel like they're back in 1917.  This will be the Traditional Service.  Then there will be a service with rocking guitars, loud amplifiers, guys in bullet proof drum cages, awesome synthesizers that make really sweet ambiance sounds.  There will be light shows and big screens and smoke machines (but not smoke from incense...never, never, never, never incense) and people lifting up their hands and praying from the heart and doing whatever the Spirit moves them to do in really exuberant ways whenever He moves them to do it in really exuberant ways.  This will be the Praise Service.  

If this were to happen, three things would be abundantly clear about your friend.  Those three things are:

1. He thinks the Praise Service is better than the Traditional Service.
2. He is only offering a Traditional Service to placate those who have not yet figured out, as he has, that the Praise Service is better.
3. He is going to help those people get over their sentimental attachment to the Traditional Service by putting all of his congregation's resources into the presentation of the Praise Service.

2/3 of this post is fiction.  1/3 of it is a true story that happens all the time.  Pastors, your people aren't dumb.  They don't need to be condescended to and they don't need to be tricked into getting over their supposed ignorance or close mindedness.  So if you have to resort to loaded terms and loaded production values, if you have to tip the scales for people when they're not looking, if you can't make an honest, open case for the superiority of contemporary worship, then stop pushing it.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Face Punch Word of the Week #3

If the sun has not yet set in Jerusalem, I've managed to get this in before the end of the week...

It's time for round three.  Use this word around me and you just might get punched in the face.  By me.

Face Punch Word of the Week #3:

WEJUSWANNA (pronounadverbverb)

As in: "Lord, wejuswanna thank you..."

When it comes to prayer, if you want to feign humility, one of the best ways to do it is to preface your prayer with wejuswanna.  So instead of being bold enough to thank God, you tell Him that you just want to thank Him.  Instead of being confident enough to ask God for His forgiveness (in the event that Wejuswanna Praisers actually think to ask of that) you tell Him that you want to ask Him for forgiveness.  Instead of just straight up singing of God's love forever, you tell Him that you could sing of his love forever.

Here's why this is annoying and deserving of a face punch...

When it comes to the Christian life, we are certainly called to a life of humility.  We should be humble when it comes to our good works because the good fruit we branches produce is not ours but is actually the fruit of the Vine Himself.  We should be humble when it comes to whatever talents and and blessings God has given us because we would have nothing apart from His free gifts.  We should be humble when it comes to dealing with our neighbor because God has called us to live our lives in service of him.  We should be humble when it comes to speaking about our faith because, like Peter on the water, our faith is overcome by sink-inducing doubt and fear and worry every day of our lives.

But when it comes to prayer, we really shouldn't be humble.  Certainly we should be humble in the sense that we don't come to God in prayer thinking that we deserve to get what we're asking for because we're incredibly, fantastically holy or really, really ridiculously good looking.  But because Christ's forgiveness has made us sons of God, because the death and resurrection of Jesus give us the right to call God "our Father," then, to use the language of Luther's Small Catechism, we ought to ask of Him as dear children ask their dear Father.  And because Jesus has told us to pray to our Father and His Father and because He has told us to pray for such a huge, enormous, monstrous thing as the coming of His entire kingdom to us, then we ought to get rid of the "aw shucks, golly gee, I was just gonna maybe sorta think about possibly asking you something if you're not busy" attitude that the wejuswanna prayers exude.

So when you pray, be bold.  Be confident.  Be brash.  Don't tell God that you just want to thank Him.  Thank Him without hesitation.  Jesus has given you the right to do so.  Don't tell God that you could sing His praises.  Sing them.  The blood of Christ gives you the right to belt that song out at the top of your lungs.  And, more than anything else, don't tell God youjuswanna ask Him for something.  Ask Him.  Ask Him loudly.  Ask Him aggressively.  And if you're asking for something that God has already promised to give (such as the aforementioned coming of His kingdom, the doing of His will, the forgiveness of your sins, your daily bread, deliverance from evil), don't just ask.  Demand.  Demand that He keep His promises.  Tell Him that you expect Him to be God.  The robe of righteousness that Jesus put on you in your baptism compels you to pray in such an absurdly overconfident fashion.

Also, if you pray in such a manner, I won't punch you.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Update: Making the Right Argument

The other day I called Duncan in order to obtain permission to make fun of him on my blog.  Duncan, being the awesome guy he is, gave me permission to mock him in any way I desired, without stipulation.  But, out of curiosity, he did want to know precisely how I was mocking him.

When I told him I was talking about our Barbarian vs. Destroyer debate, the debate began again.  Fittingly enough, without even having read the post, Duncan attempted to argue that Giant Genghis Wilt Chamberlain Khan is equal to James Earl Jones turning into a snake.  It was really kind of sad, actually.

Since I felt bad for Duncan, I decided to give him a leg up in the debate.  I informed him that the guy inside the big rubber monster suit at the end of the movie is Andre the Giant.  Duncan responded by saying this proved his case for Destroyer supremacy.  I argued that the presence of Andre the Giant at the end of the movie could not make up for the presence of Grace Jones throughout the entire film.

There is, I suppose, a theological application here in showing our need for Christ's atoning sacrifice.  If Andre the Giant represents good works and Grace Jones represents sin, this shows that no matter how many good works we present to God, they cannot compensate for or outweigh our sins.  No matter how many "pure" and "selfless" acts we perform out of "love," they can never erase the (far more numerous) defiled and prideful acts we perform out of self-worship.  Those sins can only be erased in the blood of Jesus Christ.  "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot," (1 Peter 1:18-19). 

So it doesn't matter how many Andre the Giants you put in Conan the Destroyer.  It is not until Grace Jones is entirely removed from the film that one can make a real argument that Destroyer deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Barbarian.

That's not a stretch, right?

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Making the Right Argument

Pop quiz:

Question 1: What do my friend Duncan's fingernails, the Pope having syphilis, and cheesy Contemporary Christian Music have in common:

Answer: They are all the easy argument.

Question 2: What do James Earl Jones turning into a giant snake, the Bible, and theological weakness have in common?

Answer: They are all the right argument.

When it comes to debating issues of controversy, theological and otherwise, there are easy arguments to make and there are right arguments to make. 

So, in debate, your job is (theoretically) to discredit an idea or philosophy, to show why its wrong.  But discrediting an idea is hard.  It is laborious.  It requires you to be familiar with the idea, to understand it, to know why others hold to it.  And coming to such an understanding requires you to do things like reading and study and research.  Furthermore, in order to bring those who have been led astray back to the truth, you need to make them understand the entire issue as well.  You need to teach them clearly what your argument is, why you hold to it, where the authority behind your views comes from, etc...  So it takes a lot of time and a lot of work to make the right argument.

But making the easy argument is...well, easy.  The easy argument is essentially an ad hominem, an attack on the person espousing the issue rather than the issue itself.  And attacking the character or the credibility of the other person never takes much work.  It doesn't require familiarity with the issue.  It doesn't ask you to learn about ideas or understand human experiences.  All it requires is that you find something wrong with the guy standing at the other podium.  Which usually takes about two seconds.

So the easy argument, the ad hominem, works.  Sort of.  It works in the short term.  It's a great way to win a quick battle.  But when it comes to actually winning the war, when it comes to getting to the heart of the issue, the easy argument will only last as long as it takes for the other side to present a debater who doesn't have the same faults as the previous guy.  And so, when it comes to the worship wars, when it comes to debating contemporary vs. traditional worship (or whatever other loaded terms you want to use) we defenders of the historic liturgy and hymnody of the Church will never make any real progress unless we commit ourselves to making the right argument instead of the easy one.

To flesh this out a bit, let's return to my pop quiz and analyze a few examples of the easy vs. the right argument.

1. Duncan's Fingernails

Back in college, my friend Duncan and I used to debate which movie was better: Conan the Barbarian or Conan the Destroyer.   

The Easy Argument: Duncan wears Lee Press on Nails.  (Technically, Duncan only wore clear nails on his right hand and did so because he was a classical guitar major, but that is beside the point.)  Therefore, Duncan is a girl, rendering him unable to judge which film exuded more awesome manliness.

Analysis: While it may have been an effective move to dismiss Duncan's opinion based upon his girl hand, I did not actually prove my case.  In fact, I could have made the same argument without ever having seen either film.  That is obviously not a good thing.  Furthermore, if there happened to be some non-fake-nail-wearing man in the universe who stepped up to the plate in Duncan's place, we would have been back to square one.  In conclusion, the easy argument did not resolve the issue to any degree.

The Right Argument: Conan the Barbarian has a scene where James Earl Jones turns into a giant snake.  Seriously, look:

Conan the Destroyer, however, has no such scene.  And swordy action movies where guys turn into giant snakes are better than swordy action movies where guys don't turn into giant snakes.  Therefore, Conan the Barbarian is better.

Analysis: This argument proves effective in the long run because, even if a dude without fake nails comes to the podium, he can't argue that a snake transforming scene takes place in Destroyer.  His best shot is to argue that Giant Genghis Wilt Chamberlain Kahn is better than snake transmorphing.  Which it is obviously not.  While making the right argument requires me to watch both movies and to analyze the awesomeness of Snake Earl Jones, the right argument ultimately wins in the long run.

2. The Pope has syphilis.

Back in the days of the Reformation, Martin Luther and his fellow Lutherans found themselves immersed in debate with the Roman Catholic Church over how a man was justified, or declared right, before God.  The Lutherans taught that it was by grace through faith alone.  The Roman Catholics taught that it was through faith and love working in the individual (i.e. faith + works).

The Easy Argument: It is believed that Pope Leo X, the guy who excommunicated Luther, had syphilis.  Same with his predecessor, Julius II.  Also, the guy a few popes before him had syphilis as well and had at least seven illegitimate children (these are among the tamer accusations leveled at Alex).  Since these men were such scoundrels, the doctrine they confess must be untrue.  Therefore the Lutherans are right.

Analysis: Had the Lutherans made the easy argument, it most likely would have produced some pretty quick results.  By and large, people will get angrier if their religious leaders are having (or condoning) illicit sex than if they are teaching false doctrine.  But such an approach would not have lasted long.  In all reality, the Pope's sexual desires had no bearing on whether Rome's doctrine was true or not.  And without having nailed down that issue, as soon as Rome elected a non-degenerate Pope, you'd be back at square one.  Likewise, the minute a sexual deviant arrived in a Lutheran pulpit, you'd be in no better shape than you were at the beginning.

The Right Argument: The Bible teaches that a man is justified by grace through faith apart from works of the law.  It teaches that our salvation is won for us and delivered to us solely through the work of Jesus Christ.  

Analysis: Granted, making such an argument requires work.  It requires you to familiarize yourself with Scripture.  It requires you to wrestle with the passages here that seem to contradict the passages here.  It requires you to listen to the opposition, to hear what they're saying in order to point out the holes in their arguments.  And it requires you to teach everything you've learned to everyone else involved in the debate.  It's hard work.  But in the end, it's worth it.  Because when you can show that you have the Word of God on your side, you can show that your confession of faith is right and theirs is wrong, even if you're the worst guy who's ever lived and he's the nicest.

3. Contemporary Christian Music is cheesy.

The easy argument: Musically speaking, CCM is schlocky and not as good as historic hymns.  Therefore churches shouldn't use it.

Analysis: While it may not seem like this is an ad hominem attack, it essentially is.  By saying that CCM is cheesy, you're essentially leveling the accusation that those who make it aren't the greatest of musicians, that they aren't as talented and/or creative as those working in other fields.  Granted, I think that accusation is, by and large, true.  But when you make your argument based on the inferior quality of the music, you've made no progress in the debate as soon as a ridiculously talented musician comes around.  If a guy or girl appears on the scene who writes really utterly fantastic pop style songs that are real and honest and have good theology, then, just like with a non-fake-nail-wearing dude and a non-syphilitic Bishop of Rome, you're back to square one.

The Right Argument: CCM is theologically weak, whether in lyrical content or in musical presentation.

Analysis: Last week, I made the argument that, regardless of lyrical content, CCM isn't fitting for divine worship because its musical style emulates genres that have no component of fear.  In other words, even if you sing the right words about God, you still teach something wrong when you sing them in the same way that you'd sing to your boyfriend.  And that must be true whether that song to your boyfriend is a really bad one or a really good one

Granted, arguing this way isn't an easy thing to do.  It requires a tremendous amount of Scriptural study.  You have to come to a very firm understanding of what the Bible teaches about worship, how it's to be done, what it means for the Church to be united in their song of praise.  Likewise it also requires a very solid background in the history of music, the theological heritage found in various genres and styles, etc...  It's very tough work.  And it's always easier to walk up to the microphone, roll your eyes and say, "come on, guys, this stuff is lame."  But, in the end, we'll make much more progress if we can convince people that CCM isn't the way to go, even when that particular piece of CCM is really, really, really good.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Face Punch Word of the Week #2

Here we go with Round 2 of everyone's favorite game.  Except it's not a game.  It's just sort of a thing.  So, Round 2 of everyone's favorite thing where I post a word/phrase that, if used by you around me, just might get you punched in the face.

Face Punch Word of the Week #2:

PLAN (noun)

As in: "The Lord has a plan for your life."

By and large, orthodox Lutherans don't use the word "plan" in this way (and thus don't get punched by me) because we have a proper understanding of free will.

What do I mean by that?  It's really quite simple.

When it comes to free will, we Lutherans believe that man is not free in spiritual matters.  On account of his sinful nature, he is not able to choose God.  The man who is "dead in trespasses" (Ephesians 2:1) cannot come to believe in God until God gives him the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:8-9).  To put it quite simply, and to paraphrase John 1:12-13, you don't become a child of God through your will.  You become a child of God through His will.

Likewise, we Lutherans also believe that man does have free will when it comes to temporal stuff, what he eats and drinks, whether he gets married or not, whether he works one job or another (Augsburg Confession Article 18.5). 

So, in a nutshell, when it comes to your eternal soul, you do not have free will.  But when it comes to marriage, for example, you do have free will.  You can marry this girl or this girl.  Or, speaking more realistically, since the only girl who will actually agree to marry you is probably more along the lines of this girl, then forget about it.  Don't get married.  Either way you're free and either way God is pleased.

But when it comes to your average Armenian, Decision-Theology, Free Will Espousing American Evangelical, they see things exactly the inverse way that we Lutherans do.  (And, I would obviously argue, the inverse of what the Scriptures teach.) When it comes to spiritual things, your will is the only one that matters.  But when it comes to temporal things, God's will is all that counts. 

Getting these things reversed is bad.  And it's not just bad because it eats away at people's souls when they think that their salvation is entirely subject to their sinful, corrupted hearts while also believing that they very well may be living contrary to God's will if they eat Cap'n Crunch instead of Lucky Charms for breakfast.  It's also bad because they end up losing sight of what the will of God is really all about in the first place.

"Thy will be done," are pretty important words for Christians.  And when Christians are misled into believing that God's will is more dominant in temporal matters than in spiritual ones, it becomes very easy to believe that said temporal stuff is therefore what the Christian faith is really all about. If God has the most say when it comes to your job or your spouse or your kids or your whatever, then God's "plan" for your life will inevitably center around those things and not your salvation.

So instead of God's plan being that you are crushed and restored by His Word, His plan is all about you getting the promotion He selected for you from before the foundation of the world.  Instead of God's plan hinging on you being brought to the waters of Holy Baptism, His plan hinges on you not marrying the wrong girl, because, after all, there's only one lady out of three billion on the planet that God wants you to make your bride.  (Is it any wonder that evangelicals have higher divorce rates than the heathens?)  Instead of God's plan being that you feast upon His body and blood, that you are covered in His eternal forgiveness and that you are preserved by the Holy Spirit in the truth faith unto life everlasting, His plan really has much more to do with the selections you make in the grocery store.

In the end, I'd much rather cling to what the Bible actually teaches and what we Lutherans believe.  And I can't imagine that the Osteens or Warrens of this world, that all of McChurch's methods and programs could every offer me anything of greater use and comfort than this:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).

This is God's plan for my life.  God's plan for my life was to redeem me through the blood of His Son, to make me His child in Holy Baptism, and to feed and nourish me with Christ's body and blood.  God's plan is that I have faith in His Triune Nature.  His plan will be for me to remain in that faith until His return in glory.  And this was, is and ever shall be His plan for my life, regardless of whether I chose to attend to Indiana University instead of Valparaiso, whether Katie and I watch a movie or a sitcom tonight and whether I feast upon Cap'n Crunch of Lucky Charms tomorrow morning.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.