Thursday, February 28, 2013

Culture news: Drug resistant gonorrhea may be global health risk

The Sixth Commandment works because it reflects God's ordering of creation.  When you go your own way, you run into all kinds of problems.

Thanks to Robert Smith for finding this.

Mark's thoughts: Use Treasury of Daily Prayer, using Treasury of Daily Prayer

Without exaggeration it can be said that Concordia Publishing House is currently in a golden age of its publication history.  For at least a decade now they have consistently been publishing a whole range of excellent resources that in a renewed way are committed to teaching the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  The 2006 publication of Lutheran Service Book and its accompanying resources has been a blessing to our synod.  Pastors have seen a whole array of excellent Lutheran theological works being published.

In midst of all those good things, for me, one item has stood out above all the others.  That item is Treasury of Daily Prayer ( which was published in 2008.  I am writing about it for two reasons.  First, I believe that Treasury of Daily Prayer is the single best resource for enriching the devotional lives of Lutheran congregation members.  It is my hope that I will be able to encourage more people to make Treasury of Daily Prayer a part of their daily life in the faith.  Second, I have had a number of members who do use Treasury of Daily Prayer ask me if at some time I would provide additional guidance in how to use the book.  These members have seen all of the resources in the book and have felt that they are not getting everything out of the use of the book that is possible. I am sure that this is true for members in other congregations as well.

I. What’s in it?
A. Propers for Daily Prayer
At the heart of Treasury of Daily Prayer are devotional resources for each day (the Propers).  The book provides seven items for each day: 1) Psalmody 2) Old Testament Reading 3) New Testament Reading 4)Writing 5) Hymnody 6) Prayer of the Day 7) Suggested Reading from the Book of Concord

The Psalmody is a short psalm or a portion of psalm (usually around ten verses in length).  The Old Testament and New Testament reading provides the biblical text to be read each day. This is usually about 40 verses.  It is the same daily lectionary printed at the bottom of the bulletin insert each week. This will take the reader through the entire New Testament and about a third of the Old Testament in a year.  The Writing is the text of a brief excerpt from the Book of Concord, Martin Luther or some writer from the catholic (universal) Church during the last two thousand years.  The Prayer of the Day provides the text of a prayer for that specific day.  The Suggested Reading from the Book of Concord provides only a citation of the recommended passage.

B. Orders of Daily Prayer
In the center of the book are the Orders of Daily Prayer: 1) Matins 2) Vespers 3) Compline 4) Morning Prayer 5) Evening Prayer 6) Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families 7) Responsive Prayer 1 8) Responsive Prayer 2 9) The Litany.  Apart from the Daily Prayer for Families, these are the services that are found in Lutheran Service Book. The Daily Prayer for Individuals and  Families provides brief devotional services that can be used by individuals and groups at Morning, Noon, Early Evening, and Close of the Day.

C. Seasonal Invitatories, Anitphon and Responsories
The Orders of Matins and Vespers originated in the setting of the monastery.  Although the same order of service was used at the same time of day there were numerous portions of the service that varied depending on the day and season of the Church year.  The Invitatory is the statement that introduces and concludes the singing of the Venite (Psalm 95:1-7) and the other psalms used in Matins.  The antiphons are used at the beginning and ending of the additional psalm/s and frame the psalm in way that highlights the day or season of the Church year.  The Responsories are used after the Scripture readings.

D. The Psalter
Treasury of Daily Prayers contains all of the Pslams printed in the same fashion as they are found in Lutheran Service Book.  Each one ends with the Gloria Patri: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”  The Gloria Patri is a brief but clear confession of the Trinity and its addition to the end of the psalm connects the psalm from the Old Testament with the way God has revealed Himself through the incarnation of the Son of God.

E. Selected Canticles
Canticles are biblical texts that have been used as songs in worship.  The are provided for use with the different Orders of Daily Prayer

F. Luther’s Small Catechism
Treasury of Daily Prayer includes the text of the Small Catechism.

II. How is it arranged?
A great strength of Treasury of Daily Prayer is that it is arranged on the basis of the Church year.  It begins with Ash Wednesday and takes the reader through Holy Trinity in the Time of Easter. This orders personal devotions to the rhythms of the Church’s life as each year we again observe our Lord’s saving work.  This journey is also punctuated by the Feasts, Festivals and Commemorations of the saints who have gone before us and provided notable service in Christ’s Church.  Treasury of Daily Prayer notes these days and provides the Collect as well as a brief description of the individual. Because the date of Easter varies from year to year the next part of the Daily Propers which covers the Time of the Church and the Time of Christmas are marked according to the specific date (May 18 through March 9).  The reader begins the Time of the Church section on the specific date that is the first Monday after Trinity Sunday.   This is used until the Ash Wednesday when the user returns to the front of the book.

III. Why does this book exist?
Treasury of Daily Prayer stands in the tradition of the breviary.  This type of work became common in the thirteenth century.  It brought within one book all of the things needed to pray the Daily Prayer Offices of the Church such as Matins and Vespers. Like the breviary, Treasury of Daily Prayer places between two covers all of the resources that a person needs in order to have a rich, Scriptural devotion and prayer life that follows the rhythm of the Church year.

IV. How do I use it? 
The first thing to realize is that there is no one “right” way to use it, and instead the rich content allows a Christian to draw upon those parts that are helpful and fit into the schedule of his or her life.    The more parts you can use, the better, and so as you get familiar with Treasury of Daily Prayer you can make it a goal to include more of it in your devotions.  A great place to start is by using some of the orders of service included in the Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families.  Simply reading the text of the service and following the rubrics (the directions printed in red) will help you to begin using the many resources in Treasury of Daily Prayer.  This is a good way to begin using the seasonal antiphons.  A person can read the antiphon (such as right now one of the three for Lent found on page O-64) at the beginning of a psalm and then after the Gloria Patri.  The same thing can later be done with the orders of service such as Matins and Vespers.  You can become familiar with singing these by using “Evening & Morning: The Music of Lutheran Daily Prayer” (  This recording of the Daily Prayer Offices was ade by The Seminary Kantorei of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.
V. What about all those ribbons?
Users are often intimidated by the six colored ribbons that come with the book and the directions describing how to use them in the first pages.  Don’t be.  The ribbons serve a very simple purpose. They are meant to mark the parts of the book you use so that you can quickly turn to the needed material in the course of your devotions. You may not need to use all the ribbons when you first start using Treasury of Daily Prayer.  In addition, remember: there is no “correct” way to use the ribbons.  You simply need to find a pattern that allows you to remember that a certain color marks a specific kind of material in the book.  So for example, in my office at church right now I use Matins in the morning when I arrive and the Noon section of Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families before lunch.  In my system the yellow ribbon marks the proper for that day.  The blue ribbon marks Matins and the green ribbon marks the Noon service so that I can find them easily.  The red ribbon marks the Invitatories, Antiphons and Responsories so that I can use them.  The purple ribbon marks the Psalms since I use the whole psalm indicated in the propers. And the green ribbon marks the Small Catechism.  Decide on what works best for you and do that – it’s all about marking the parts you want to use.

VI. But what about Portals of Prayer?
As a parish pastor I have learned that you don’t mess with Portals of Prayer.  You had better make sure that the new ones are out long before the current one is finished. And you should probably assume that people will still want to use it.  Portals of Prayer is a great resource.  We should note however that it exposes the reader to a very small amount of Scripture.  As a pastor, I want to encourage people to be reading more of the Bible each day than ten verses or so and a psalm. One way to use both Treasury of Daily Prayer and Portals of Prayer is to use Portals of Prayer for a devotional reading at a different time than you use Treasury of Daily Prayer.  Another way would be to use the Portals of Prayer devotional reading as a “Writing” at one of the times when you use Treasury of Daily Prayer.

VII. Take, read and pray
I highly recommend Treasury of Daily Prayer because it encourages a regular devotional life that is built around praying the Psalms, reading of Scripture and praying in the rhythm of the Church year.  We are blessed to have such a devotional resource available.  If you are interested in Treasury of Daily Prayer, I am sure that your pastor will be more than happy to show you a copy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mark's thoughts: Catechumenate at a Lutheran parish

The means used to bring individuals into the Evangelical Lutheran Church at Good Shepherd, Marion, IL is the catechumenate.  The following is the explanation that was provided to the congregation before it was implemented.

The Catechumenate – Forming Individuals and the Church in Faith

As a congregation, Good Shepherd faces some significant challenges as she seeks to catechize individuals and bring them into the fellowship of the Sacrament of the Altar.  The greatest of these challenges is the fact that we now live in a world that can be described as post-Christian.  There was a time when the core values and assumptions of the Church and our culture overlapped to a large degree.  As the Church worked to bring new members into the fellowship, she could assume that interested individuals shared a common morality and had a basic knowledge of the biblical narratives.  However, that is no longer the case.  Instead individuals are now often quite open to attitudes and behaviors that Scripture says are contrary to God’s will.  They frequently have little knowledge of the basic narratives contained in Scripture.  Their values and assumptions are often not those of the Church.

And even when a person is coming from a Christian background, there are still significant challenges.  Located in southern Illinois, we live in an area where both the Lutheran Church and her sacramental and catholic (universal) piety are rare.  The majority of people joining Good Shepherd through catechesis come from various Reformed churches that deny the Sacraments and whose worship life and piety have included very few of the catholic practices that have been the common heritage of the Church – things like liturgy, creeds, Church year, lectionary, vestments, etc.

Both of these situations underscore the need to bring people out of one culture and worldview and to bring them into an evangelical catholic culture and worldview.  This is not an easy assignment.  But it is also not the first time the Church has faced it.  In the course of the fourth century, the Church went from facing empire-wide persecution to being the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Suddenly there was a large group of people who wanted to come into the Church.  However, they came from a pagan world.  They needed to be shaped and formed in the Church’s culture and worldview.

The Church’s response was the catechumenate – a formal process by which individuals were gradually led deeper into the Christian faith and life.  This was aimed not simply at education, but rather at forming people to live as Christ’s Church.  A series of rites helped to mark the stages as a person continued on in this process and grew in their commitment. 

The goal and foundation of this process was Holy Baptism that occurred at the Vigil of Easter.  The season of Lent was a time of preparation and an individual experienced entrance into the Church within the setting of Holy Week.  After remembering the death of Christ on Good Friday, the celebration of Easter began on Saturday night at the Vigil of Easter. St. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).  Baptism at the Vigil of Easter highlighted the fact that Holy Baptism gives us a share in Christ’s saving death and resurrection.  The week after Easter was then a time of ongoing reflection upon the Means of Grace and the liturgy of the Church in which they take place.

The catechumenate has been taken up again by sacramental and liturgical churches in order to meet the renewed challenge of bringing people out of the culture that surrounds us and into the culture of the Church.  This fall, Good Shepherd will begin using the catechumenate to bring individuals who are not Lutheran into the congregation.  At Good Shepherd, the catechumenate will take the following form:

Catechumenate at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

I. Time of Inquiry
A time to answer questions that inquirers may have about what the Lutheran Church believes.

May – Friendship Sunday

September – Enrollment of Sponsors

II. Catechumenate
Catechesis focused on Lectionary and Catechism

September – Admission to the Catechumenate

III. Preparation for Baptism and Affirmation of Baptism; Confirmation and Reception in to Membership
Catechesis focused on worship and living the Christian life

First Sunday in Lent – Enrollment of Candidates for Baptism and Enrollment of Candidates for Affirmation of Baptism, Confirmation and Reception into Membership

Third Sunday in Lent – Blessing of Candidates – Renunciation of Evil

Fourth Sunday in Lent – Blessing of Candidates – Presentation of the Creed

Fifth Sunday in Lent  – Blessing of Candidates – Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer

Vigil of Easter – Rite of Holy Baptism and, Confirmation and Reception into Membership

IV. Mystagogy
Teaching about and reflection upon the Vigil of Easter.

Wednesday in Easter Week

The catchumenate begins with a Time of Inquiry.  During this period, congregation members are encouraged to invite people to attend the Divine Service. A Friendship Sunday in May will be a time particularly aimed at this.  Visitors who are interested in the Lutheran Church are encouraged to continue attending the Divine Service because it is through the liturgy of Word and Sacrament that a person begins to learn about the Christian faith and to be formed by the Church’s sacramental and catholic culture.  They are provided a copy of the Small Catechism to read and invited to meet with pastor in an informal setting in order to ask questions and receive an overview of what the Lutheran Church believes.

As the group who will be entering the catechumenate begins to form, they are matched with sponsors from the congregation who are enrolled in September.  Sponsors pray for a catechumen, take part in catechesis with them, and serve as support and encouragement during this process.

The events that take place during the Time of Inquiry illustrate that the catechumenate is the congregation’s outreach tool.  Congregation members do not simply invite people to come and visit Good Shepherd. They invite them to a process that is ready to bring those who are interested into the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Members are also part of this process as they serve as sponsors who assist individuals in becoming part of the congregation.

Inquirers who decide that they want to become part of the Lutheran Church and members at Good Shepherd are admitted into the catechumenate .  This takes place at the beginning of the Divine Service on the first Sunday in October.  The fact that the Admission to the Catechumenate takes place in the Divine Service highlights an important point.  The catechumenate is a public process in which the congregation encourages and supports those who are entering into the fellowship.

After entering the catechumate, the individuals begin catechesis, meeting once a week with their sponsors and the pastor.  Catechesis is about formation in the faith.  It is not simply education.  For this reason catechesis occurs in the setting of worship using the Service of Prayer and Preaching in Lutheran Service Book (pg. 260).  The catechesis focuses on the Scripture readings from the previous Sunday and on the Catechism (Ten Commandments; Apostles’ Creed; Lord’s Prayer; Matthew 28:19 [Holy Baptism]; John 20:22-23 [Holy Absolution]; Words of Institution [Sacrament of the Altar]) as explained in Luther’s Small Catechism.

Catechesis continues in this way until Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  The Church year teaches the faith and unfolds before us the saving work of Christ.  The timing of catechesis allows the catechumen to experience Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter. These seasons of the Church year become part of their formation in the faith and are integrated by the pastor into catechesis.

The beginning of Lent marks the final stage of catechesis as the catechumens prepare for Baptism or the Affirmation of Baptism; and for Confirmation and Reception in to Membership.  They have completed catechesis that focuses on the content of the Catechism and are invited to express publicly their intention to be baptized or to affirm their baptism at the Vigil of Easter,and to be confirmed and received into membership.  At the same time, this is a moment when the Church exercises discernment.  The pastor and the sponsors prayerfully consider whether a catechumen is ready for this next step as they reflect upon their presence at the Divine Service and catechesis, and the manner in which their lives display progress in the Christian life.

The Enrollment of Candidates takes place in the Divine Service on the First Sunday in Lent.  Like the Admission into the Catechumenate this portion of the service marks and helps to reinforce the deepening commitment.  The candidates enter into Lent, which is a time of catechesis and growth in the faith that leads to baptism.  The congregation affirms that it will support the candidates during Lent as they make this journey.  In turn, the presence of the candidates reminds the congregation that Lent is a return to baptism for all of us, a point that becomes clear in the Affirmation of Baptism at the Vigil of Easter.

During Lent, catechesis focuses on worship and living the Christian life.   Candidates learn about how the liturgy is the setting for the jewels of the Sacraments and about how the liturgy continues to teach the faith we confess.  Through reflection upon the Scriptures, they also learn about what the Christian faith means for daily life in the world.  The Lenten journey is punctuated by the Blessing of the Candidates on the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays in Lent.  As they learn about the  Christian life, the candidates renounce evil. They are also publicly presented the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  This summarizes the catechesis in faith and prayer that they have received and emphasizes the importance of confessing the faith and praying as they enter into the fellowship.

During Holy Week candidates attend the Triduum – the one service that runs through the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Holy Saturday.  At the Vigil candidates receive Holy Baptism or approach the font in order to affirm their baptism.  All candidates are confirmed, received into membership and then receive the Lord’s Supper for the first time as they share in the sacrament of unity.

The individuals now share in the fellowship at Good Shepherd. However, this does not mean they are finished growing in faith.  The Christian life is an ongoing process and this is exemplified by the fact that they meet on the Wednesday of Easter Week for mystagogy.  Mystagogy is the process of explaining the mysteries of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  It is reflection upon the service and the experiences of the Vigil of Easter as we think about what they mean for our ongoing life in the faith.

Good Shepherd will begin using the catechumenate in order to transform people by taking them out of the culture of the world and bringing them into the sacramental and catholic culture of the Church.  However, the catechumenate will also help in the continuing process of renewal and growth in faith of the congregation’s life. It will make outreach and evangelism part of the rhythm of the congregation.  It will make Lent a time for renewed commitment to the baptismal life.  The presence of the catechumens and candidates will remind us that just as they are making a journey of faith, we are called to return to that journey and what it means for us.

Sermon for second mid-week Lent service

Mid-Lent 2
                                                                                                Gen 7:1-5, 11-18;
8:6-18; 9:8-13

            It took place so quickly – so unexpectedly – that it was really hard to believe that it actually had happened.  When I was about seven years old my family visited Chattanooga, TN.  It will probably not surprise you to hear that we stayed at the Chattanooga Choo Choo – the Terminal Station in Chattanooga that had been converted into a hotel.
            There was a restaurant in the station and passenger cars on the platform tracks that had been converted into hotel rooms.  There was also a new hotel complex that had been built on the grounds complete with an indoor swimming pool and café dining area next to the pool.
            One day during the stay, my mom was at the pool with my brother and me.  Matthew was about three years old at the time.  He didn’t know how to swim and really was rather afraid of the water.  He would sit down on the steps at the shallow end of the pool and just splash.
            Needless to say we went to the swimming pool several times during our visit.  And then one day – with absolutely no warning – Matthew got up ran around to the deep end of the pool and jumped in.  The boy who couldn’t swim; the boy who was basically afraid of the water at that point in his young life, suddenly ran around to the deep end of the pool, jumped in – and sank.  I was shocked. My mom was shocked.  It all happened so fast, I don’t remember whether she actually began to get up to rescue him.  The one thing I remember is that suddenly off to my left I saw a man who had been eating in the café area bolt out of the restaurant and fully clothed he dove head first into the deep end of the pool to rescue my brother.
            It was a traumatic experience – probably most of all for my mom.  At that impressionable age I remember thinking that my brother could have died – that he could have drowned.  I think it was the first time that it really dawned on me that water could be dangerous – that it could be deadly.
            The deadly character of water is of course the focus of our text tonight as God sends a flood to destroy the world – to wipe out every living thing.  In the flood we see the extent to which the holy God is offended and grieved by sin.  Yet we also see how he loves and cares for those who are faithful to him. And in the flood we see how God works through water to put sin to death and to give new life.
            Genesis chapter three narrates the Fall as Adam and Eve disobey God and sin initially enters into the world.  And then as we read on we see sin rippling out into life.  The very next thing we read about is the first murder as Cain kills Abel in chapter four.  Cain is banished and then Adam and Eve have another son – Seth.
Now when Adam was created we are told that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Yet with the birth of Seth we learn things have changed dramatically.  In chapter five we are told that Adam fathered a son “in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”  Created for perfect fellowship with God, humanity had lost the image of God. And the results were disastrous.  In the chapter before our text we hear, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” 
God saw this, and we learn that the “LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  If you want to get some insight into how profoundly sin has changed things, consider these words.  When God finishes his creation he looks upon it and sees that it is “very good.” Yet now that sin has entered into his creation, we are told that God regrets that he made man in the first place. 
And so because of this the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  Now in one sense, there really isn’t anything surprising about this outcome since God had said to Adam and Eve that because of their sin they would die. 
            Yet in God’s intention to wipe out all sinners we begin to gain insight into how profoundly the holy God is offended by sin – including ours.  We often hear it said that “God hates sin but loves the sinner.”  However, this is not true.  Instead, God hates sins … and he hates the sinner.  The psalmist writes, “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers, you destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
            This knowledge needs to frame the way we view our own sin, especially during this season of Lent. Every Sunday we confess, “We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment.”  With these words we confess that we are sinners who sin and therefore we deserve nothing but God’s hatred – God’s wrath.
            God is holy and just in destroying sinners who sin. But he is also gracious and merciful.  We learn in Genesis chapter six that Noah found favor in God’s eyes.  He is described as “a righteous man, blameless in his generation” and we are told that “Noah walked with God.”  This is not the claim that Noah was perfect.  Instead it is the Old Testament talking about faith.
            God saw that Noah was righteous before him – that he alone walked by faith as he recognized God as the Creator and sought to live according to his will.  And in his grace and mercy God acted to save Noah and the animals of his creation.  He told Noah to build an ark and to gather into it two of each animal.  This means of deliverance was itself was itself a demonstration of Noah’s faith.  As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
            And then God sent the water.  God sent water that brought death. St. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death.  The sinfulness of humanity received God’s wrath in the flood and all except Noah and his family in the ark were killed by it.  The animals of creation suffered as well because of humanity’s sin, just as they have since the first sin of Adam and Eve.  Yet through Noah’s faithful act of building the ark they were not wiped out. There remained animals to continue life on the earth.
            In tonight’s text we see God using the flood to kill all human beings and animals, and yet we also see that in the midst of the flood he acts to save.  God is wrathful against sin, and yet God is also loving and merciful.  This tension that we see in the flood is the same one that we are preparing to observe during Holy Week.  Jesus goes to the cross in order to receive God’s wrath against sin – our sin.  Sin does bring death as Jesus takes our place as a sinner and dies for us. Yet in that very event God shows himself to be loving and merciful because the death of Jesus becomes the means by which we are forgiven so that we will not die eternally.
            During the season of Lent, we are making our way towards the first celebration of the resurrection – the Vigil of Easter. This service focuses upon how through Holy Baptism we have shared in the saving death of Jesus Christ; and also on how through baptism we have received the life of the risen One.
            Tonight’s Scripture reading that deals with the Flood is read in that service because the New Testament explicitly links the flood and baptism.  The apostle Peter writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”
            Peter tells us that the water of the flood which brought death to sinners, also carried Noah and his family to safety in the ark as they were spared.  The flood became an event that killed sin and yet brought salvation to Noah. And then Peter adds, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
            The water of Holy Baptism has not has not merely cleansed you of dirt.  Instead, like the flood it has killed your sin in the death of Jesus Christ.  Like the flood, baptism has brought you death, for Jesus’ saving death has become yours.  However the water of the flood was not only about death. It also was the means that carried Noah, his family and the animals in the ark to safety.  And so because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your baptism has brought you to safety – to knowledge that your sins are forgiven and you will share in Jesus Christ’s resurrection on the Last Day.
            Lent is a season that confront us in our sin.  Like the text about the flood, it forces us to grapple with the way our sin sets God against us in his wrath. But Lent is also a season that in its movement towards the Vigil of Easter returns us to our baptism.  It brings us back to the fact that baptism now saves us because it gives us a share in the saving benefits of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

Mark's thoughts: Why do they believe the sacraments are only symbols?: Presuppositions in reading Scripture

A. Nagging questions               
            During the summer after my first year at the seminary, I was preparing to preach a sermon at my home congregation.  I was looking forward to preaching at the congregation that had supported me during my pre-seminary and now seminary studies.   However, I was even more excited because the text I would be preaching on included Colossians 2:11-12 where Paul said, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
            I was excited because the exegesis for this sermon would give me a chance to dig into the biblical texts about Holy Baptism.  I was very interested in New Testament exegesis and had developed good Greek skills.  In my naiveté I thought that I would be able to use those skills to produce an overwhelming argument in support of what the Small Catechism says about baptism – an argument that I would be able to use in bringing people to accept the biblical and Lutheran understanding.
            I began to work carefully through high quality commentaries as I looked at the different baptismal passages. Many of these had been written by excellent scholars who came from traditions that hold a symbolic view about baptism.  As I looked at their treatment of texts like Colossians 2:11-12, Romans 6:1-5 and Titus 3:4-6, I was in for a surprise.  On the one hand, it was apparent that they had to work hard to in order make the text mean the opposite of what it seemed to be saying.  When Paul says that we were buried with Christ through baptism into death in Romans 6:4, it takes some doing to argue that nothing really happens in baptism.  Yet on the other hand, their arguments weren’t irrational.  They might be harder to make, but they were coherent and plausible.   I realized that I shouldn’t be surprised by this.  After all, these were very bright scholars.
            This realization raised two very nagging questions.  The first was about their method:  Why were they committed to explaining the text in a more difficult way – a way that turned baptism into a mere symbol?  The second question was more troubling:  How could one be confident that they weren’t right?  Certainly the greater effort involved in their interpretation spoke against it.  But that didn’t change the fact that taken on its own, it remained a rational and plausible reading of the text.  Intellectual honesty did not permit my own Lutheran beliefs to ignore this fact altogether. After all, the fact that it was rational and plausible allowed people to believe it and reject what the Small Catechism says.  It was the reason that there has been a division in Christianity about this since the sixteenth century.
            As I wrestled with these questions there was finally a moment when I had an epiphany.  I realized that I was looking in the wrong place.  Clearly, the answer was not to be found in the details of the text.  Instead I needed to look at the presuppositions of the interpreters – the hermeneutical framework that determined how they read the text.  They were setting forth interpretations that required far more moves and explanation in order to arrive at a symbolical meaning of the verses because their worldview had already determined that the meaning had to be symbolical.
B. The biblical worldview
In an article entitled Good Stuff!:The Material World and the Christian Faith I have maintained that as we think about the material creation and the Christian faith we can summarize the content of our faith under four headings: Creational, Incarnational, Sacramental and Eschatological.  In these headings, and in the progressive relationship between them, we gain greater insight into the manner in which God works.  
          The biblical worldview operates on the presuppositions that the material creation is very good (Genesis 1:31) and that a human being is composed of a body and a soul joined together in a unity (Genesis 2:7; Matthew 10:28).  The Bible’s starting point is the goodness of the material creation and we find that God operates on this basis from beginning to end; from Genesis to Revelation; from creation to restored creation.  It is very important that we understand this starting point – this presupposition of Biblical thought - if we are to understand correctly all that follows in Scripture.  God’s attitude toward His material creation is that it is very good and He continues to be concerned about it and make use of it.  In one sense this should not be surprising – after all, He made the stuff. [1]   Yet all too often this basic starting point and its implications have been hidden from view by a way of looking at the world that comes from a source other than Scripture.
C. The dualistic worldview
The biblical is not the only worldview and set of presuppositions available for reading Scripture.  In western thought another worldview has exerted a tremendous influence and has had a great impact on the Christian faith. 
Diogenes Allen observes regarding Plato, “Fundamental to Plato’s ontology and epistemology is the division between what is sensible and what can be grasped by the intellect only, between the world of senses and the world of Forms.”[2]  According to Plato, the realm of Being (what really is, namely, the Forms) is unchanging and is the realm of intelligibility.  On the other hand the realm of Becoming (the physical world) is changing and is the realm of the senses.  Within this framework the physical world is the realm of appearances and the knowledge gained from it is described as opinion (doxa).  In fact, the physical world does not truly exist in the ultimate sense.  It is the realm of Becoming and not true Being. These presuppositions of Plato’s thought are illustrated by Timaeus 27d-28a: “What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is?  That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason, is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is.”[3]  For Plato, the visible world is vastly inferior to the ideal world of the Forms of which it is an imperfect copy.
            In Plato’s view the soul is immortal and existed before the body.[4]  Indeed, the “soul has fallen into a sensible world, and it must return to the supersensible world if it is to attain its proper destiny.”[5]  It is not surprising therefore that Plato sharply contrasts the body and the soul.  The soul has been bound to the body (Phaedo 81e; 82e) against its will (Phaedo 80e) and the body is a harsh prison (Phaedo 82e).[6]  For this reason, “death is not something to regret, but something to be welcomed.  It is the moment when, and the means by which the immortal soul is set free from the prison-house of the physical body.”[7] 
            Plato’s thought is complex, and we should be cautious that we don’t turn Plato himself into a true Gnostic who rejected the material world as evil.[8]  Yet even in this brief description we grasp the general outlines of a trajectory in Western thought that has been extremely influential in various forms.  We encounter a dualistic worldview in which the spiritual or intelligible world is “above” and the physical or material world is “below.”  In this perspective, the material world is less important than the spiritual, or is in fact evil.  There is a great divide between the spiritual and material, and the two do not mix.  The spiritual component – the soul – is what is important and the body receives little emphasis or is in fact something to be escaped.

Dualistic worldview

Spiritual (good)
Material (lesser or bad)
        I will call this general perspective the “dualistic worldview.”  It is found in an extreme form in Gnosticism where the material world is evil and in fact “the Fall” took place when the material world was made and the spiritual elements were trapped in the material world.  However, modified by Plotinus in Neo-Platonism and transmitted by Christian writers such as Origen, Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius it has had a profound impact on Christianity.[9]  One need only think of the Reformed principle, “the finite is not capable of the infinite” (finitum non est capax infiniti) in order to perceive its influence.
            As the names listed above indicate, the influence of the dualistic worldview has been present in the Church since her early years.  However in spite of its presence and the way that this influenced the Church, it never prompted her to abandon the confession that God actually uses water to give spiritual rebirth in Holy Baptism and that the Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of  Christ.  As Hermann Sasse observes about Augustine, “There are two levels in his sacramental doctrine – one, as presented in the liturgy, catholic realistic, the other spiritualizing.  This split is the tribute he pays to Neoplatonic philosophy and is a burden the churches in the West bear to this day.”[10]
            Etienne Gilson is reported to have said of the first part of the Middle Ages that “Platonism was everywhere, although Plato was not to be found.”  The west only possessed the text of the first half of the Timaeus and had virtually none of Plotinus’ Enneads.  Nevertheless the influences coming out of late antiquity meant that during the medieval period up to the recovery of Aristotle in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the development of Scholasticism, Plato and neo-Platonic thought dominated.[11]
A radical dualism did eventually lead Christian groups in Europe into heretical views including the denial of Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  The Bogomils did so in the Balkans in the tenth through thirteenth centuries, and in turn they influenced the Cathari in France during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. 
The arrival of translations of Aristotle in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the development of universities in Europe helped to produce Scholasticism.  David Knowles observes that in the realm of philosophy “the principal transforming agent was the system of Aristotle, which was revealed piece by piece until all was visible, and its author had become, in place of Plato, ‘the Philosopher’ to all the schools.”[12] The general eclipse of Platonic thought continued until the beginning of the fifteenth century and the start of the Renaissance. Lewis Spitz notes that, “Partly because of its contrast to the Aristotelianism of the thirteenth century, so central to Thomistic scholastic philosophy, Neoplatonism seems to be the most prominent and the most characteristic form of Renaissance philosophy.”[13]  He goes on to add, “From the time of Petrarch until the end of the Renaissance, Platonism won an ever larger place in Western thought.”[14]
The resurgence of Platonism in the new context of Renaissance humanism is crucial for our topic because theologians such as Zwingli, some of the prominent Anabaptist leaders and John Calvin who led the Protestant church into symbolic forms of interpretation came out of this background in their training.[15] They bore the imprint of Platonic dualism and this dualistic worldview provided the hermeneutical framework within which they read Scripture.  It should be recognized that while not as radical in their dualism, the orientation and results with regard to the sacraments were the same as that of the Bogomils and Cathari.  They rejected that God actually uses materials means in order to work spiritual results.
When a person begins reading Scripture with the wrong worldview – the wrong set of presuppositions – he will arrive at a false understanding of the text.  This is what happens when Scriptures is read from the perspective of the dualistic worldview.  It yields a false reading at each point along the way as it fails to integrate the goodness of God’s material creation into every area of Christian theology.  It generates a false understanding of creation as it fails to grasp the fundamental goodness of the material creation and our bodies.  It produces an incorrect Christology that cannot truly confess the One who is true God and true man – the Word become flesh.  It yields a sacramental theology that denies that water, and bread and wine can be used by God for spiritual benefits.  And finally, it produces an eschatology that has no real place for the resurrection of the body and the restoration of creation – an eschatology that looks forward to some kind of disembodied heavenly and spiritual existence.
D. What does this mean?: The sacraments
This description of  the dualistic worldview and its implications helps to highlight the significance of the biblical worldview by means of a stark contrast.  These are two very different starting points and they yield very different readings of the biblical texts.  The recognition of these different starting points proves extremely helpful in a number of areas.  I would like to focus on two of them.
            First, many a pastor knows the frustration of discussing Holy Baptism or the Lord’s Supper with someone who has been raised in the Protestant tradition.  Our discussions can swirl around texts such as Romans 6 and 1 Corinthians 11 and get us nowhere.  However, it is helpful to take a step back and realize that real issue does not pertain to details in the text itself.  Instead the true difference relates to the presuppositions with which the text is being read – the hermeneutical framework of the reader.  If we read these texts in light of the biblical presuppositions we will arrive at a catholic reading of the text – the Lutheran one.  However, if we read the text with the presuppositions of the dualistic worldview we will arrive at a non-biblical, non-catholic reading of the text – the Protestant one.[16] 
The Protestant reads Scripture with the assumption that the spiritual and the material do not interact.  Having already decided this, when they come to statements in Scripture that deal with Holy Baptism or the Sacrament of  the Altar, they conclude that God does not work any spiritual outcome using the material elements of water, and bread and wine.  They detemine that Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper cannot be miracles in which God uses these physical means, but that instead they must only be symbols. 
            The task, therefore, is to encourage people to step back and see the big picture.[17]  The battle cannot be won in Romans 6 or 1 Corinthians 11.  It must be fought and won in Genesis 1-2.  Only by beginning there and encouraging people to trace the implications of the biblical worldview through the incarnation and into the sacraments will we have a real chance to move people toward the truth about Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.[18]  In addition, by tracing the broad sweep of how the biblical worldview of Genesis 1-2 relates to the incarnation, the sacraments and eschatology, we will further confirm the correctness of our position to those who are already Lutheran.  The coherence of this broad perspective – the interlocking fit between the larger parts – will help to confirm that we are confessing a correct reading of the individual passages and their details. 
As we look at Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar, this can be summarized as four basic points that support the biblical and catholic position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church:
1. The position fits with the creational, incarnational, sacramental and eschatological nature of God’s activity that we find throughout the Bible.  That is to say, it is based on the biblical worldview instead of the dualistic worldview that comes from Greek philosophy.
2. The position provides the easiest reading of the biblical texts that deal with Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar – “they just say it.”  In Romans 6 Paul says that through Holy Baptism we are buried with Christ into His death.  In the Words of Institution Jesus says that He is giving us His body and blood.  The catholic position does not have to try and explain away what these texts are saying quite clearly.  
3. The position provides the least variety in interpretation.  Because the texts “just say it,” the interpretation is very easy and straightforward, and has been so for the catholic tradition for 2000 years.  By contrast, when the Protestant tradition attempts to explain away the biblical statements, they are unable to agree about what the texts mean.  Often they are only able to agree that the biblical texts don’t mean what they seem to be saying.
4. The position is the same one that the catholic (universal) Church has held for 2000 years and has held since the beginning of the Church.  For example, writing in the second century A.D. the church father Irenaeus said of Holy Baptism: “As dry flour cannot be united into a lump of dough, or a loaf, but needs moisture; so we who are many cannot be made one in Christ Jesus without the water which comes from heaven … For our bodies have received the unity which brings us to immortality, by means of the washing; our souls receive it by means of the Spirit” (Adversus Haereses, 4.26.2).  Writing at the beginning of the second century Ignatius the bishop of Antioch wrote about heretics in his area: “They stay away from the Eucharist and prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, which the Father raised up by His goodness” (To the Smyrnaeans 7.1).  It is a historical fact that prior to the sixteenth century, the Church had always confessed that God works a miracle as He produces a spiritual result through the waters of Holy Baptism and as Christ uses bread and wine to give us His very body and blood.
E. What does this mean?: Eschatology
The recognition of these competing worldviews – the biblical and the dualistic – enables us to better assess how biblical our own eschatology is. The influence of the dualistic worldview in the Christian tradition must not be underestimated.[19]  On occasion, we ourselves hold positions regarding eschatology that have more to do with Plato, Plotinus and Pseudo-Dionysus than Paul.  In our preaching and teaching do we point the hearers to “dying and going to heaven” or do we hold up the biblical hope of the return of Christ, the resurrection of the flesh and the renewal of creation?[20]  After we have recognized these two competing worldviews, we are in a better position to examine our own eschatological views and consider where we may need to modify them in order to bring them into a closer alignment with the presuppositions of Scripture itself.

[1] I have described this in more detail in Mark P. Surburg, “Good Stuff!:  The Material Creation and the Christian Faith,” Concordia Journal 36:3 (2010): 245-262), 246-247).
[2] Diogenes Allen, Philosophy for Understanding Theology (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985), 47.
[3] Translation cited from: The Dialogues of Plato, vol. 2 [trans. B. Jowett; New York: Random House, 1937], 12).
[4] Phaedo 80-82; Phaedrus 245c-247c.
[5] Allen, Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 19.
[6] Phaedrus 250c says that the soul is bound in the body like an oyster in its shell.
[7] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of  God, vol. 3 of Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 48.  In his excellent survey of Greco-Roman beliefs about death and the after-life (32-84), Wright describes this as the “standard philosophers’ view of death” (55).
[8] See Timaeus 29-30 for positive statements about the world.
[9] See the survey in S. Lilla, “Platonism and the Fathers,” vol. 2 of Encyclopedia of the Early Church (ed. Angelo Di Berardino; trans. Adrian Walford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 689-698.
[10] Hermann Sasse, “Word and Sacrament: Preaching and the Lord’s Supper” in We  Confess The Sacraments (trans. Norman Nagel; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1985), 11-35, 16.
[11] Paul Vincent Spade, A Survey of Medieval Philosophy, 1985 (materials produced by Dr. Spade for graduate Survey of Medieval Philosophy course at Indiana University).
[12] David Knowles, The Evolution of Medieval Thought (2d ed.; ed, D.E. Luscombe and C.N.L. Brooke; London;  Longman, 1988), 167.
[13] Lewis W. Spitz, The Renaissance and Reformation Movements: Volume I The Renaissance (rev. ed.; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 173.
[14] Spitz, Volume I The Renaissance, 174.
[15] See the discussion in Lewis W. Spitz, The Renaissance and Reformation Movements: Volume II The Reformation (rev. ed.; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 382-428.
[16] Sasse describes how the Reformed churches in the 16th century produced a revolution, not a reformation (Hermann Sasse, Here We Stand: Nature and Character of the Lutheran Faith [trans. Theodore G. Tappert; Adelaide: Lutheran Publishing House, 1966], 109-110).  A confession that denied Holy Baptism as a means through which God works regeneration or that denied the true body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper was something that had not existed in 1500 years of Christianity.
[17] I have described this “big picture” as creational, incarnational, sacramental and eschatological in the article, “Good Stuff! The Material Creation and the Christian Faith.”
[18] Naturally this includes the sacramental manner in which God used located means in the Old Testament such as the tabernacle/temple and the sacrifices (see Surburg, “Good Stuff!”, 249).
[19] For example, Christians often speak of how Christ and his Church seek “to save souls.”  Now it is true that the Scriptures speak of saving souls such as in 1 Peter 1:9, “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  Here we need to recognize the unique character of the world “soul.”  As BDAG cautions, “It is oft. impossible to draw hard and fast lines in the use of this multivalent word” (W. Bauer, F.W. Danker, W.F. Arndt, and F.W. Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [3d ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999], 1098).  Often there is a Semitic understanding of the word at work. So for example the Septuagint translation of Gen. 2:7 says that man became a “living soul” where the passage is describing bodily existence.  The biblical meaning of the word “soul” in 1 Peter 1:9 is very different from the way that the Christian tradition, influenced by the dualistic worldview, has come to use this word. So for example, Calvin writes: “And Christ commending his spirit to the Father, and Stephen his to Christ, intend no other than that, when the soul is liberated from the prison of the flesh, God is its perpetual keeper” [Institutes of the Christian Religion [1559], I, XV, 2; text cited from: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion [trans. John Allen; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press 1936]).  In our setting, talk about “saving souls” is very likely to be misunderstood and therefore we should use it with great caution.  The Scriptures teach us that Christ does not seek to save souls.  He seeks to save people, who are a unity of body and soul.  
[20] See: Jeffrey A. Gibbs, “Regaining Biblical Hope: Restoring the Prominence of the Parousia,” Concordia Journal 27 (2001):310-322; Jeffrey A. Gibbs, “Five Things you Should Not Say at Funerals,” Concordia Journal 29 (2003): 363-366; James Ware, “Paul’s Hope and Ours: Recovering Paul’s Hope of the Renewed Creation” Concordia Journal 35 (2009): 129-139; Surburg, “Good Stuff!”, 245-62.