A Crisis Of…?

Dr. Gene Veith, my old professor at CUW, has hit the nail on the head that London’s riots are just the latest example of a western society that has gone bonkers in its disrespect for authority.  Witness the ongoing debacle playing out in the Badger state as another good example.

I recall last October, as we were readying ourselves for November’s elections, that I wrote in my former blog for Zion, Clyman that we were misdiagnosing our societal disease.  This misdiagnosis keeps popping up with every election cycle.  The misdiagnosis is this:  We think we need the perfect leader (the Messiah).  Some leaders (The 2008 Barack Obama comes to mind) actually encourage this political messianism.  One problem remains, however.

Whatever happened to citizenship?

It’s probably no coincidence that, as entitlements grew in the U.S., honorable citizenship died.  Citizenship used to be defined by one’s active participation in the political process, servitude to fellow citizens, and honor and support of their elected leaders despite political differences.  In other words, being a good citizen was not just about casting a vote, which is pretty much the only way it is viewed today.  Why do we admire “the greatest generation?”  They were able to do what we today seemingly cannot.  How did they do it?  They were good citizens, supportive of their country and one another in difficult times.

Now that every one’s a “consumer,” they are no longer “citizens” but “dependents.”  It’s hard for Americans to process that the very entitlements they are depending on, either now or in the future, are the cause of their greatest worries for our nation.  They understand the whole “debt clock”-reality, but cannot imagine any other way out of this malaise.

Americans then project their inability to solve this conundrum by placing it on their leaders, who are equally as unlikely to have a real solution (or at least a painless solution).  We desperately beg them to lead, but when they do we reserve the right to scream about their leadership.  All this points out one simple truth to the point of absolute pain:  We have no idea what good citizenship is anymore and no appreciation of our own role in righting the ship.

In other words, America’s greatest crisis is not a crisis of leadership.  It is a crisis of citizenship.  Today’s leaders don’t know how to lead because the people they lead won’t respect them anyway.

So, despite my obvious political differences with a man like Pres. Obama, I still have a measure of sympathy for him.  His is not an easy position to be in.  It never was.  But this may be the worst of all periods in American history to hold his position as well.  Why?  Because it’s hard to lead a nation whose people will not be good citizens.  It seems they don’t even know how.

Perhaps we can begin to right the ship again by heeding the words of Paul.  1 Tim. 2  1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (1 Ti 2:1–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Following Paul’s encouragement would be far a better solution than screaming at our leaders and one another in ungodly and undignified ways.  Don’t you think?

Sincerely in Christ,

Pastor T.

The Importance Of Being Authentic

For me the best part of the Doxology experience is, far and away, our many opportunities for worship.  Structured around the daily orders of Matins, Vespers, and Compline, the opportunity to come together in worship not only as colleagues, but as brothers, brings home not only the vertical aspect (God to us) of our new life in Christ, but the horizontal aspect as well.

Mr. Phillip Magness is a man whom I am very glad I have gotten to know through the program.  Phillip is the Kantor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL (a congregation of which I am now very envious).  🙂  Phillip’s musical leadership, or perhaps musical servitude is the better term, enriched every aspect of our time together in the Word and prayer.  I thank God for his talents.

It seems to me that Kantor Magness has found the “sweet spot” on the bat that is the role of music in worship.  I find that Bethany’s website says it best (quoted below).  (If you wish to read the whole page on music there, go here).

(i.e. How do we answer the “worship war” question of “Traditional” vs. “Contemporary”?)

Worship at Bethany is both contemporary and traditional – and yet neither. Rather than divide the congregation according to what sounds they prefer, Bethany seeks to unite God’s family in worship that rises above stylistic preferences. We remember that worship should never be confused with the music that accompanies it. With worship, not music, at the center, we find it easier to avoid conflict and embrace the concord that is ours in Christ Jesus.

What is worship?
Christian worship begins with the crucified Christ, who comes to us in Word and Sacrament. He brings to the people of God forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through His Word and in the Sacraments, which are His means of grace. We in turn extol these gifts with joyful thanksgiving and praise, proclaiming the story of God’s love through His Word. This celebration is done in concert with the Church throughout the world, and finds its expression in the liturgy. Authentic Lutheran worship is therefore traditional in that it is part of the timeless culture of the Church, and contemporary in that it communicates the Gospel in ways that are appropriate to a given
place and time.

Why is this important for everyone – not just the musicians?
Worship is the vocation of all baptized Christians. An excellent voice is not required, just a heart for worship. And the good news is that God “has put a new song” in our mouths, “a song of praise to our God.” (Psalm 40:3a) Lutheran liturgy therefore invovles the whole assembly, and calls on all individuals to do their parts, that faith may be increased among all who worship, and that Christ may be most strongly confessed before the world. “Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:3b)

Providing worship that achieves these noble ends is the responsibility of any Christian congregation. Continuing in the tradition of the evangelical Lutheran communion, the Divine Service at Bethany seeks therefore to involve all who gather in the name of the Lord in the proclaiming, confessing,
singing, and praying of God’s Word.

Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord!

The term “authentic” is perfectly chosen here.  I have heard Phillip play English hymnody on the pipe organ as if you were at Westminster Abbey.  I have also heard him use piano with jazz chords on the traditional Kyrie of Matins/Vespers and take you to the intersection of Canal and Bourbon in New Orleans.  His new melody to the classic “May God Embrace Us With His Grace” is on perpetual spin on my cloud player right now.  From organ to piano to brass to bells to voice, what Bethany, Naperville is doing is what churches with competent musicians should be doing…transcending the old argument about traditional vs. contemporary by utilizing it all…in the same service.  It beats allowing a division in the congregation over something as superficial as style by having three differently styled services.

Still, one thing comes first:  THE MESSAGE.  Mr. Magness is not simply employing contemporary Christian songs like so many churches.  He’s transforming the hymns, songs, and psalms into settings and sounds which sing in a 21st century context.  In so doing, the Church doesn’t compromise on its message.  Surely, if good theologians were writing songs in contemporary styles, this would be a good thing.  But if that’s not happening, (and I would argue it’s not), then what Mr. Magness is doing is absolutely good, right, and salutary.  I believe Bach himself–a confessional Lutheran at that–would agree.

I truly have no desire to glorify one man.  I am grateful to God for the gifts he has given Phillip.  I also am keen to bring St. John’s into this new world of “authentic” worship.  Worship centered on the Gospel, but dressed in 21st c. clothes.  I think our musician, Vicar H.C., probably has the ability to try some of these things.  It will definitely be an experiment worth trying in our context here in Waukesha County.

By the way, the link above also takes you to a place where you can download a podcast of Bethany’s services.  Prepare to be transformed in the renewing of your mind through God’s gift of music.


Dr. John Kleinig, our plenary presenter at Doxology, is one of Lutheran theology’s gems.  He is a brilliant theologian, a strong presenter, and above all, a pastor’s pastor.  I was so appreciative that he was willing to fly here again from Australia to speak to us.  It was a privilege sitting at his feet.

So imagine my surprise at this “pastor’s pastor’s” invocation of the term “heresy” in one of his presentations on positive presentation of the 10 Commandments.  He didn’t shout the term like some Middle Ages inquisitor.  He used it rather matter-of-factly.  It was what he was describing as heresy that really caught my attention.

In the context of talking about the Third Commandment and God’s gift of a Sabbath rest, he identified the very popular notion among Christians today that we always have to busy as…heresy.

Now, understand, the same man who identified this notion as heresy was also mildly critical of Lutherans for not being concerned enough about good works.  (He’s very, very right, by the way).

It’s a delicate balance, especially in Lutheran theology and in the face of this popular heresy of “every Christian a busybody,” to maintain both the values of God’s gift of rest and the values of good works.  (Another well known LCMS Lutheran recently chastised us pastors for not preaching good works enough in his blog.  He was right, if not a little more direct than a mild-mannered man like Kleinig.  Sometimes taking your medicine isn’t fun).

I think many Lutheran pastors today sense that Kleinig is right to call “Christian busybody-ness” a heresy.  Ergo, we overcompensate and ignore good works so as not to contribute to the heresy, even though there is a Scriptural/Lutheran approach to preaching the Christian life and, yes, “good works.”

So how did Kleinig reconcile this problem?  With the Scripture, of course.  The Gospel of Matthew states 12 different times that people “brought [someone] to Jesus.”  12, aside from being symbolic, is a fairly large number for any Gospel.  It’s enough to establish a consistent theme.  People were bringing others to Jesus.  Perhaps we need to more carefully define a “good work” this way.  A good work “brings others to Jesus.”  Any old person can do humanitarian acts, but are they “bringing others to Jesus” when they do them?  Or is it for some other rationale?

This notion of “bringing others to Jesus” demonstrates why “Christian busybody-ness” is a heresy.  One of the chief ways in which we can bring someone to Jesus, (especially when they are unwilling to let us bring them), is by prayer.  While we still talk very piously about prayer, it is interesting to note that this modern heresy often deemphasizes prayer by suggesting that “being busy” with a person is far more important than praying for them.  A heresy contradicts a Biblical teaching.  That is the word’s definition.  Both the teachings of a Sabbath rest and prayer are often trampled by the modern heresy of “Christian busybody-ness.”

Prayer is a good work.  The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.  It is not “doing nothing,” unless you imagine the God to whom we pray as lacking the power to do anything for the person for whom we pray…(yet another heresy).

One more Biblical teaching which this heresy tromps on is the doctrine of Christian vocation.  God, in His goodness, has placed us into vocations in life where we can practice good works.  While we should be willing to engage in good works for all, our modern setting often overlooks and dismisses the work of people in their vocations.  Husbands and wives who love and honor each other are engaging in good works.  Fathers who seek to bring their children up in the knowledge and love of the Lord are doing a good work.  Good, Biblical citizenship (America’s biggest problem?) is a good work when done to demonstrate the love of Christ.  Listening to your pastor and hearing the Word–a good work.

The truth is, we Lutherans, leaning on Scripture, have a vastly rich understanding of what a good work really is.  It isn’t about “looking busy” or “being a busybody.”  It’s about living the life that is hidden away in Christ…so that the person who receives the fruits of our labor sees only Christ.  Good works bring people to Jesus.  He does the healing.  Our busy-ness does not.  To Him be the glory.  This is a truth we can preach.

Eph. 2  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Eph 2:8–10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. 


I love discovering something new.

At Doxology we sang a hymn from Lutheran Service Book which I had seen, but had not heard before:  LSB 432 “In Silent Pain The Eternal Son,” a Lenten hymn.  This hymn is yet another great marriage of text and tune, (one of LSB’s most redeeming traits).

1.  In silent pain the Eternal Son hangs derelict and still;
In darkened day His work is done, Fulfilled, His Father’s will.
Uplifted for the world to see He hangs in strangest victory,
For in His body on the tree He carries all our ill.
 2.  He died that we might die to sin And live for righteousness;
The earth is stained to make us clean And bring us into peace.
For peace He came and met its cost; He gave Himself to save the lost.
He loved us to the uttermost And paid for our release.
3.  For strife He came to bring a sword, The truth to end all lies;
To rule in us, our patient Lord, until all evil dies:
For in His hand He holds the stars, His voice shall speak to end our wars,
And those who love Him see His scars And look into His eyes.

Text:  Christopher M. Idle, b.1938
©1992 Jubilate Hymns Ltd.: admin: Hope Publishing Co.

There is a whole theology of the scars (stigmata-Greek) of Jesus.  These scars heal us from our deepest wound of sin itself.  In the strangely incarnational teaching of the baptized life, it is said that those who are baptized into Christ bear His scars.  Beginning with Cain’s mark, extending to circumcision, and then to Baptism itself, the precious wounds of Jesus heal and their benefits are given to us.  To be scarred is to be forgiven, to have the scars of Jesus as our health and salvation.  Paul writes very powerfully and freely to the Galatians when he writes his last words to them:  Let no one cause me trouble, for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus (Gal. 6:17).  Those marks meant freedom to Paul.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, upon Him was the chastisement which brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Stanza 3 is one of the deepest in all the hymnal.  These scarred hands are the hands which gripped his mother’s finger as a baby.  These same scarred hands now “hold the stars.”  These same scarred hands are raised to forgive the repentant.  These same scarred hands are lifted up in blessing on His forgiven believers.  Those scars point to the fact that only one man’s scars can save the world.

To quote another favorite hymn from LSB:  With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars!  (LSB 336, “Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending” st. 3).

The wounds of Jesus bring you healing, joy, and peace.

Pastor Torkelson
1 Tim. 1:15-17

Science And The Public Imagination

Recently, someone showed me an article (over 20 years old) written by someone suggesting he was a Christian defending cryonics (sometimes referred to as cryogenics), the practice of deep freezing a person in the hopes of thawing them out at a later time (after a cure for their disease has been developed, etc.).  The scientist, as I have come to expect in articles like these, wants there to be no issue between cryonics and the Church and he even went far enough to suggest that a church which raises doubts about it theologically is really no church at all.

In defending his thesis, the man turned to all the “good uses” of cryonics, uses which no church should disagree with.  His argument was, ostensibly, a pro-life argument.  He argued that the church has always been supportive of “extending life” (one of the good uses).  To some extent this is true.  But the question needs raising, do we endorse extending life to the point of cheating or avoiding death?

I have noticed that scientists regularly make this mistake.  They posit a positive use in their own minds which should lead all, including the Church, to endorse whatever it is they are endorsing.  The problem is that the public imagination doesn’t always see it the same way the scientists do.  Ordinary people come to much different conclusions and it’s often these conclusions which concern the Church more.  Do people look into cryonics to “extend life” or to “cheat death?”  Additionally, where is the line between “Thy will be done” and “My will be done” in such thinking?

We see a similar problem in abortion circles.  Abortion doctors rationalize their work away under the language of providing choice for women.  But few women in a crisis pregnancy who consider abortion do so because they want to exercise a real choice.  The fact is they think they have no choice.  To a woman in a crisis pregnancy, abortion is not a choice; it is a necessity.  Something they are forced to exercise.  This is why they ask the questions they ask when they enter the room where the death will take place.  (Can/will God ever forgive me)?  I’m sure people who work in such clinics can tell quite the tales about the screams, the wailing, the sadness, the shame, the panic of the women who the doctors say are exercising a choice.  If that’s all it was to them, I’m sure the screams would never have happened.

Science proposes to help mankind in all it does, but in many matters it does more harm than good.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ in the forgiveness of sins is the only message I know of which can clean up the messed up lives of women who have been through an abortion.  (Christianity cleans up more messes in society than anyone cares to notice).  In the case of cryonics, the noble aim of “extending life” is often paired with eugenics, the not so noble aim of creating a superior race or form of human life.  (Ted Williams is a tragic case in point.  Will Ted’s frozen head ever produce another super hitter?  Such questions have a strangely Hitlerian flair to them).  Will cryonics ever really be understood as a medical procedure for the extending of life or will it always be man’s playtoy in avoiding what Christians know is inevitable: death itself?

Darwin himself opened the door to eugenics under the excuse that it would be good for humanity.  Between Hitler, Stalin, and Chairman Mao, the science of eugenics lies behind the extermination of possibly over 100 million people in the 20th century alone.  If cryogenics becomes a toy for people to thumb their nose at God by denying death, then it will never be the force for good I’m sure many scientists want it to be.  Ted Williams’ family squabbles after his death demonstrate that cryogenics is already understood this way; as a cheat code on death itself, as a tool for unethical reduplication, as a force, ultimately, for evil.

What science ordains as good often is not.  What God ordains, on the other hand, is always good.  In life, in death, in sickness, in health, in poverty, in riches only one message gives real life and extends it for eternity.