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Wiped Away: The Marks of the Church in

America

The Rev. Joseph Winston

March 31, 2008


Abstract

In every age, the church faces forces that wish to extinguish the light of Christ that
shines through the faithful. Our time is no different. Demonic powers are focused
on the same activity today. What has changed are the methods that they are using
against us. This paper will illuminate some of the forces that are trying to wipe
away the marks of the church.

1
Can You Find It?

All throughout the United States, the rallying cry of many different industries is,
“Beware of counterfeits.” Software companies continually ask us in advertise-
ments if we are using the genuine article. The music and movie industry continue
the same theme. They tell us to stay away from pirated products that you down-
load from the Internet. With all this rhetoric about forgeries, it might appear that
these manufactures are concerned about our well-being. Unfortunately, these in-
dustries are not concerned about protecting us from defective products produced
by phony businesses. Instead, these different manufacturers are simply looking
for ways to maximize their profitability.
Counterfeits cost companies. In the United States alone, it was estimated that
the software industry lost 9.2 billion dollars from piracy in 2003. The music
industry calculated that it lost 4.6 billion in the US during the same time frame.
Worldwide, the movie industry thinks it lost 3.3 billion dollars in 2003.
The software, music, and movie industries have attacked this rampant piracy
by education, identification, and lawsuits. These different businesses have been
reminding us that taking anything without the owner’s expressed permission is
simply theft. When one rips software, music, or movies illegally, people are hurt.
Some people will not get their royalties and others will not be paid for the efforts.
Not only do these industries have advertisements that tell consumers why they
should not make illegal copies but they also have now made it easier to distinguish
a copy from the original. Currently, CDs and DVDs have fancy artwork, which
is more difficult to copy. Microsoft has “certificates of authenticity.” These are
pieces of paper used to visually identify true versions of Microsoft products. If
these two approaches do not work, the industries will be happy to throw the law
at you.
The concern for finding counterfeits is not limited to the digital world of soft-
ware, music, and movies. People want to know what they are getting themselves
into whether it be a fashion handbag from a big name designer, a piece of fine

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art by a famous artist, or even a worshipping community that they would like to
join. For some things it is relatively easy to see if an item is genuine or not. A
true fashion handbag needs to look and feel like the real thing. This information
is fairly easy to obtain. All that you need to do is to find the manufacturer’s sig-
nature. However, discerning the authenticity of fine art is more problematic. You
will have to find someone who is an authority in the field who will vouchsafe that
the item is genuine. If you do not do this, then you run the risk of being disap-
pointed when the artwork is appraised by a dealer. Moreover, finding the location
of a true church is even harder still. What exactly distinguishes the real thing from
a fraud?
This concept of finding the church is a very recent idea. “No commentator in
the first 1,500 years of the church’s history ever called” the attributes one, holy,
catholic, and apostolic as a way to identify or locate the church.1 The first ref-
erence to signs of the church as a way to locate a true church occurred at the
Council of Basel in 1431 when Johannes de Ragusa refuted the views of John
Wycliffe (c.1320-1384) and Jan Hus (c.1369-1415).2 Here Ragusa asserted that
Augustine defined five signs of the church as: “sincere wisdom and integrity of
faith, the consent of the peoples and nations, the authority inaugurated by mira-
cles, the succession of priests in the Petrine see, and the name ‘catholic church’.”3
Throughout this case, Ragusa, a Dominican, argued that the most important sign
of the church was the “obedience to the papacy.”4
The writing of Luther almost ninety years later in 1521 to Ambrose Carthar-
inus (1484-1553) is the first development by Luther on identifying the church.5
In this letter, Luther selected Gospel, Baptism, and Eucharist as the three ways
of locating the church.6 In response to Luther’s position, Cartharinus argued that
the centrality of the promise of justification was fatally weakened by the Luther’s
ecclesiology because one could not specifically identify the church.7 Luther an-
swered Cartharinus that the church is in the world but not of the world.8
By locating the church where the spoken and visible Word reside, Luther had
1
Gordon W. Lathrop and Timothy J. Wengert, Christian Assembly: Marks of the Church in a
Pluralistic Age, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004), p. 17-18.
2
Ibid., p. 20.
3
Ibid.
4
Ibid.. A little later, John of Torquemada (1388-1468) made a similar point. ibid..
5
Ibid., p. 22.
6
Ibid.
7
Ibid., p. 23. In other words, if you cannot find the church, then you cannot hear the Word.
8
Ibid., p. 25. This ecclesiology is identical to Luther’s view of the incarnation. Christ is in the
world, in the flesh, in sin but “not of these things.” ibid..

3
to deal the with the accurate accusation that this definition of the church is Do-
natistic because it appears on first analysis that the Word is bound to the person
who is speaking the Word and presiding over the sacraments. Luther’s rather
unique solution to this problem is that when church leaders “run amok in bad
theology or practice, God protects the little ones” by allowing them to hear the
Gospel.9 By using this methodology, Luther once again lets God be God and
humans be humans.
It is not until ten years later that the first use of the phrase mark (notae) appears
in print as a way to identify the church. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession
(1531), Philipp Melanchthon writes that marks of the church are the Gospel and
the Sacraments.10 No one knows why Melanchthon adopted this vocabulary to
describe the church. Maybe Melanchthon used notae instead of signa since signa
could be used to indicate an “absent reality.”11 After this use in the Confession, the
phrase notae ecclesiae quickly became a technical term and the primary language
that Lutherans used to identify where the church can be found.12 Eight years
later in “On Councils and the Church” (1539), Martin Luther listed seven marks
of the church: God’s Word preached, the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist,
the confession of sin, the calling and installation of ministers, public prayer and
thanksgiving, and suffering.

Questions for Discussion


• A real problem with obsessing over the church’s identifying features is that
this makes both the church and Christianity into just another product that
can be “tested, sampled, and compared” against other offerings.13 This is
readily apparent when people go “church shopping.”14 They are looking
9
Lathrop and Wengert, Christian Assembly, p. 29.
10
Ibid., p. 71. Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article VII and VIII: The Church, 20;
Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, editors, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), p. 177.
11
Lathrop and Wengert, Christian Assembly, p. 21.
12
Ibid., p. 19.
13
Todd E. Johnson; Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, editors, Chap. Truth Decay: Rethink-
ing Evangelism in the New Century In ‘The Strange New Word of the Gospel: Re-Evangelizing
in the Postmodern World’, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002),
p. 125.
14
This is not helped when the movement is referred to a “religious marketplace.” Luis
Lugo et al., U.S.Religious Landscape Survey, (The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2008),

4
for just one more product that fills their needs rather than learning of their
shortcomings and what God has done to solve their problems. How do we
prevent this problem?

• In almost every situation, a consumer has a choice. They can buy a name
brand, they might purchase a generic, or they could even go organic. They
demand this sort of freedom in selecting a church and want something that
fills their needs. How do we teach others the benefits and the risks of this
approach?

• The argument of Cartharinus against Luther boils down to a question of


proclamation. If you do not know where the church is to be found, then how
do you hear about the God that justifies you? What do we say to Cartharinus
today?

• Luther’s ecclesiology that the church is in the world but not of the world
mirrors his view on Christ’s incarnation. How do we prevent the almost
natural movement of the church to be something that lives outside of the
world or the complete opposite that the church become focused only on
worldly issues?

• The role of service for the ordained minister is to preach the Word of God
and to administer the sacraments.15 The speaking of God’s Word can take
many different forms to proclaim “God’s saving Gospel of justification by
grace for Christ’s sake through faith alone.”16 What responsibility do pas-
tors that follow this model have to others when they find a Luther pastor
that does not follow our “Visions and Expectations,” our Constitution, and
our Confession?

• How does any pastor tell the congregation that they are truly replaceable
by any other pastor who will speak the Word correctly and administer the
sacraments rightly when they have bills that need to be paid?
p. 7.
15
Constitutions, By–Laws, And Continuing Resolutions, M INISTRY, 7.21; Constitutions, By–
Laws, And Continuing Resolutions, S TANDARDS FOR O RDAINED M INISTERS, 7.31.12; Consti-
tutions, By–Laws, And Continuing Resolutions, S TATEMENT OF P URPOSE, 4.02.od.
16
ELCA, editor, Vision And Expectations: Ordained Ministers In Evangelical Lutheran Church
In America, (Evangelical Lutheran Church In America, November 1997), p. 14; Constitutions,
By–Laws, And Continuing Resolutions, S TATEMENT OF P URPOSE, 4.02.a.

5
• When is it acceptable to close a Lutheran church? Is it any easier if another
group preaches the Gospel?

• The confessions of the Lutheran church indicate that the authentic procla-
mation of the Gospel along with the visible aspects of this Word are enough
to define the true church. If this is the case and there are others who do what
is required, then why does the Lutheran movement still exist?

• Where are we seeing God protecting the little ones from bad theology and
practice?

6
Possessing the Word

The first mark in Luther’s On Councils and the Church is the so called “posses-
sion” of God’s Word.17 In this section, Luther reminds us that the Word of God is
the “holiest of holy possessions” and it is the Holy Spirit who gives us this Word.18
This Word of God is both the Law and the Gospel. Not only does God’s Word
condemn our unacceptable behavior and drive us to God but this Word also has
already announced acceptance to all who believe in the Son of God. From this
extremely brief exposition on the two primary functions of the Word in the world,
it is easy to see that we do not possess the Word. In fact, the Word has us firmly
in its grasp because it diagnosis our situation.
This action by the Word of separating right from wrong or comforting the
inconsolable makes one want to control the Word so that they can let the Word
loose on specific subjects. Go and condemn that person’s behavior or tell this
other group that they are fine are the thoughts that we often have. The reality is
that we do not control God, we cannot send the Word to do its work, nor can we
direct the Spirit’s actions. All that we can do is faithfully tell the stories that we
have been given.
For the church here on earth, God’s Word comes to us through the ordinary
means of preacher, water, bread, and wine. The problem with using these run of
the mill items, is that preachers often think that they have to add just a little spice
to make their presentations more relevant. This is done by hiding the Word behind
other words that have a bit more flash or by leaving out parts that seem to distract
from the preacher’s message. It might be as simple as using PowerPoint to deliver
the message or as complex as leaving out the Eucharist because it takes time away
from the sermon.
The situation is not improved with the all to correct observation that God fre-
17
Martin Luther; Timothy F. Lull, editor, Chap. On the Councils and the Church In ‘Martin
Luther’s Basic Theological Writings’, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1976), p. 545.
18
Ibid., p. 546.

7
quently makes poor choices in the person delivering the Word. God often selects
cracked pots and old wine skins to bring a new Word to the dead and the dying.
That is our calling. It is an offense to others that we, the obviously imperfect, have
been given the precious task of delivering the Word that brings life. Our charge in
all these cases is to get out of the way and let the Word do its work.
God’s choice of using plain old items, makes the reception of the Word an act
of faith because we never have the ability in time to look directly at God. We can
only see dimly into the Word (1 Corinthians 13:12). We cannot see its full glory
because we cannot get past the pastor, the water, the wafer, or the wine.

Questions for Discussion


• The “possession” of God’s Word, the first mark of the Church, includes the
proclamation of the Law and the Gospel. What is our regard of this Word in
the present day given the way we introduce the spoken Word in our worship
using the indirect article rather than our former use of the direct article along
with a description of the day? 19 Does “any old” word that we speak bring
19
One way that this point can be illustrated is through the examination of the language that is
used to introduce the lessons in the Holy Communion Service, specifically the verbiage, which
precedes the Epistle. For example, in the Common Service Book, published in 1918, the Epistle is
introduced as follows:
The Epistle for (here he shall name the Festival or Day) is written in the – Chapter
of –, beginning at the – Verse. Common Service Book of the Lutheran Church, (The
Board of Publication of the United Lutheran Church in America, 1918), p. 15.
The exact same form was used forty years later in SBH. However, in the LBW published in 1978,
the name of the Festival or day was dropped and the verse was also no longer included. The
introduction spoken to the congregation now reads “The Second Lesson is from the – chapter
of –.” Lutheran Book of Worship, (Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN, 1978), p. 62.
These two changes are significant since the congregation is no longer informed of the importance
of the day nor are they told the specific location of the reading inside of the chapter. It might seem
that the verse is not important but this information places the lesson in context. Changes continue
in the WOV where the introduction to the second lesson is “A reading from –.” With One Voice:
A Lutheran Resource for Worship, (Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN, 1995), p. 17. The two
changes that occur in this revision are the changing of the definite article for the indefinite article
and the chapter where the reading is taken from is no longer included. The replacement of the
definite article for the indefinite article changes the meaning of the announcement from being the
lesson from the Epistles, which was selected for this specific day, to being just another reading.
The omission of the chapter’s name increases the reading’s ambiguity. Dropping the definite article
coupled with the ambiguity could cause the congregation to ask if the reading is the Word of God
or just another word of many words, which can never bring eternal life.

8
the Good News?

• Can the Word of God, which existed before time itself, be projected using
PowerPoint that disappears in a flash of light or printed in bulletins, which
are thrown away at the end of worship? If so, how then do we teach respect
for this live giving gift if we treat it this way?

• What practical techniques are useful to get out of the Word’s way?

• How do we teach that the messenger that God uses is fatally flawed just like
all other humans?

9
Washed in the Water

In On the Councils and the Church, the sacrament of baptism is the church’s
second mark.20 In this gift from God, we both “washed of sin and death by the
Holy Spirit” and are called into a “life-long growth into Christ.”21
Listen to the prayer that Martin Luther wrote for baptism:

Almighty, eternal God, who according to your strict judgment con-


demned the unbelieving world through the flood and according to
your great mercy preserved believing Noah and the seven members
of his family, and who drowned Pharaoh with his army in the Red
Sea and led your people Israel through the same sea on dry ground,
thereby prefiguring this bath of your Holy Baptism, and who through
the baptism of your dear child, our LORD Jesus Christ, hallowed
and set apart the Jordan and all water to be a blessed flood and a rich
washing away of sins: we ask for the sake of this very same bound-
less mercy of yours that you would look graciously upon N. and bless
him/her with true faith in the Holy Spirit so that through this same
saving flood all that has been born in him/her from Adam and what-
ever he/she has added thereto may be drowned in him/her and sink,
and that he/she, separated from the number of the unbelieving, may
be preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of the Christian church
and may at all times fervent in spirit and joyful in hope serve your
name, so that with all believers in your promise he/she may become
worthy to attain eternal life through Jesus Christ our LORD. Amen.22

Now hear the edited version in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship:


20
Luther, ‘On the Councils and the Church’, p. 548.
21
Ibid.; William H. Lazareth and Nikos Nissiotis, editors, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry:
Faith and Order Paper No. 111, (World Council of Churches, 1982), p. 4.
22
The Baptism Booklet, Kolb and Wengert, The Book of Concord, p. 374-375.

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We give you thanks, O God, for in the beginning your Spirit moved
over the waters and by your Word you created the world, calling forth
life in which you took delight. Through the water of the flood you de-
livered Noah and his family, and through the sea you led your people
Israel from slavery into freedom. At the river your Son was baptized
by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit. By the baptism of Jesus’
death and resurrection you set us free from the power of sin and death
and raise us up to live in you.23

Today, we seem to think that baptism is nothing more than a bath, which might
remove a few spots. Maybe we came to this incorrect conclusion because of the
ritual that now surrounds the sacrament. The strong words that in the past associ-
ated baptism with death by drowning are no longer heard in many congregations.
We no longer read that in baptism we are joined into Christ’s death (Romans 6:3).
Instead, we hear of how water is a sign of Christ’s kingdom, of cleaning, and of
birth. In today’s world, water’s force no longer drowns the wicked of every time
and place but rather water is a sign of life. By agreeing with this interpretation,
we forget that the verb baptÐzw not only means to wash but also can mean to sink
or to drown.24
Why are we so afraid of dying in baptism? Is it that we do not want to think
about the death of little children? That would be hard to believe since we do
not agonize over those children who die daily due to the lack of potable water.
Alternatively, perhaps is our fear associated with our lack of trust? Do we think
that God does not raise anyone from the dead? If this is true, then we are to be
pitied since we teach one thing and actually believe another (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Questions for Discussion


• Why are we so afraid of dying in baptism? What needs to change?

• How does the church recapture the image of death and drowning in the
waters of baptism?

• What materials should be used for the baptism liturgy?

23
Evangelism Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), p. 230.
24
To sink – Polybius Histories 1.51.6 and 16.6.2. To drown – Epictetus Gnomologium 47.

11
Fed by the Meal

1
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside
the still waters.
3
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort
me.
5
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (KJV)
It is easy to see why many people would name the twenty-third psalm as their
favorite. The pastoral scene with its images of green grass and calm waters invoke
in us a sense of calmness. The Shepherd, who only desires for His flock the best
that He can provide, models for us a form of government that we can only hope
to experience. The day where no one has to want for anything is only a dream for
humanity.
This psalm’s writer appeals to every one of our senses. We can almost see the
green grass, the water, our Shepherd, and the other sheep that make up His flock.
We can practically smell the rich food that He has placed on the table. It seems
that if we just reach out our hands, we then would be able to touch all of this. Our
mouths cannot wait to taste the meal that our Shepard has prepared for us.
The beautiful images found in this psalm have often been compared to the
meal that we share together. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, brings us to His table. He
has provided us with what we will eat at this Meal: the bread and the wine.
Just because we know what goes into the Sacrament of Holy Communion does
not mean that we can fully understand the Meal. No one, not even Martin Luther,

12
can ever completely explain what occurs during the Lord’s Supper. What Luther
did instead was to teach us that Holy Communion was an event that we should
love.25
To reinforce this basic teaching of the church, Luther, like the early church
fathers, never provides us with an exhaustive description of what exactly occurs
during this Sacrament. Instead, Luther provides us with what could be described
as a recipe for Holy Communion.
The first ingredient in the Meal is Jesus Christ. Jesus is truly here during the
Lord’s Supper since this is His meal that we serve at His command. His presence
at Holy Communion is just the same as when He lived His life here on earth. He
comes to us as true God and true man. If we forget one or the other idea, then
trouble occurs. On the one hand, if we fail to remember that Jesus is God then we
are only remembering a man. On the other hand, if we leave behind the truth that
Christ is a man, not only do we deny the Scriptures and the Confessions but we
also deny God’s physical presence with us.
The first direction for this recipe and the most important one of all is to re-
member Jesus’ order to “do this.” Because of this command, we do exactly what
He tells us to do. We neither add anything to His Meal nor do we take anything
away. When we follow His command and “do this,” Jesus promises us that we
will remember Him and that He will do the same and remember us.
The next ingredients are the bread and the wine. In Holy Communion, the
gathering that worships the risen Lord is given the unexceptional gifts of bread and
wine. These presents from God for those gathered around the table are exceptional
because the bread and the wine become Jesus. When this happens, we can say that
the bread and the wine are the “Visible Word” of God.26 This Word of God, found
in the form of the bread and wine, is completely identical to the spoken Word of
God except for one vital difference. This Word is received through the mouth and
25
The idea that we should adore the sacrament and not explain it is found in Luther’s Works
Volume 38. Another good resource on the respect that should be found during the Lord’s Meal is
Luther and Melanchthon on Consecrated Communion Wine. At one service in 1544 when the chal-
ice spilled the wine onto a rich woman’s jacket and the floor, Luther (“with tears in his eyes”), John
Bugenhagen, and a deacon “proceeded to lick up the spilled wine.” Timothy J. Wengert, ‘Luther
and Melanchthon on Consecrated Communion Wine (Eisleben 1542-43)’, Lutheran Quarterly,
XV (2001), p. 31. After the service, the wine stains were cut out of the jacket, the wood on the
floor was planed and both the fabric and the shavings were burned. ibid..
26
For Lutherans, the sacraments are the “visible Word”. Apology of the Augsburg Confession,
Article XIII, 5; Theodore G. Tappert et al., editors, The Book of Concord, (Fortress Press, 1959),
p. 21; Eric W. Gritsch and Robert W. Jenson, Lutheranism The Theologic Movement and Its Con-
fessional Writings, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1976), p. 82.

13
not through the ears.
The community that consumes the Meal is the final ingredient. This group
who has received the Visible Word is also changed and expanded because when
we eat this Meal, we join with every other community that has ever or will ever
receive the Lord’s Supper.
This brings us to the next step in the process. In the Lord’s Supper, time and
space collapse. The past becomes the present. Jesus, true God and true man, is
here with us just like He was with the disciples. Nothing has changed. The future
is now. Not only do we look forward to the great feast to come where we will join
with all the believers at Christ’s Table but we are also celebrating that future reality
here and now. In this meal, these two times are continually mixed together. When
we receive the Lord’s Supper, we are thanking Jesus for His victory at Calvary
over death and the devil. As we recall Jesus’ suffering on the cross, we celebrate
the fact that God has already accepted us before the final judgment. At this Table,
distance no longer matters. We join in the Lord’s Supper with all the saints: those
in the Church here on earth, those already in Heaven, and those believers who are
yet to come.
Finally, the outcome of a recipe is an item that we eat. The same is true here.
The Lord’s Supper is our meal for the journey. Christ has given us this meal to
strengthen and sustain us as we do His will. When we leave this place, we will
go into the world. There we will teach others about Christ, we will train others to
take our place, and we will offer Baptism for the forgiveness of sin.
Given all the things that this Meal does for us, it is no surprise that the third
way of recognizing the church is though the public administration of the Lord’s
Supper.27
Unfortunately, the astonishing fact is how poorly we treat this meal in our
churches. We can see this in the frequency that we dine with Jesus. The ratio-
nalization often presented is that weekly Communion is not Lutheran. What this
really says is that in the Lutheran Church we have the ability to ignore the com-
mand of God to take and to eat.28 If we are Christian then we are to take Holy
Communion. The argument against frequent Communion is also attempting to
state that the Church can exist without The Lord’s Meal. This is not possible for
Lutherans since the Lutheran definition of the Church is where the “Gospel is
taught purely and the sacraments administered rightly.”29
27
Luther, ‘On the Councils and the Church’, p. 549.
28
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII, 4; Tappert et al., The Book of Concord,
p. 211.
29
Augsburg Confession, VII, 2, Ibid., p. 32.

14
The definition of correct then brings up the question, “How often Holy Com-
munion should be taken?” The confessions answer that Holy Communion should
be taken as often as possible.30 For example, in the Large Catechism, the Lord’s
Supper is compared to a daily meal.31
Contrast our confessions with the statement that we tell the world. Out of all
the congregations in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, sixty-six have web
pages that are up to date. Almost half of these churches (thirty-one) have no
information about either the Word or the Meal. Instead, one can find many pretty
photographs, interesting thoughts, or even the weather. Twenty churches only list
the times of the worship service.32 Fifteen churches tell us on the first web page
that they have Communion. Out of this number, only eight tell us that they have
Eucharist every week.33

Questions for Discussion


• What does it say about us when our Meal that we share is almost inedible
and tastes nothing like the foretaste of the feast to come? How is authentic
richness added to the Eucharist?

• Luther identifies three different groups for pastoral care that might object to
taking the Lord’s Supper on a frequent bases in the Large Catechism. The
first group, which is indifferent to taking Holy Communion at all, Luther
identifies himself with them and urges them to “examine” themselves and
become right with God through the sacrament of Holy Communion.34 The
second group, according to Luther, feels that they are unworthy to receive
Holy Communion. Luther reminds himself and us the words “for you” re-
30
“If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are at every moment aimed at you,
you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as possible.” Large Catechism, Fifth Part,
82; Tappert et al., The Book of Concord, p. 456.
31
“The Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh and
strengthen itself and not weaken in the struggle but continually grow stronger.” Large Catechism,
Fifth Part, 24; Ibid., p. 449.
32
While it would be nice to think that everyone of these churches has the Lord’s Meal, statistics
would prove otherwise.
33
Data gathered on the evening of January 14, 2008.
34
Large Catechism, Fifth Part, 53; Ibid., p. 453; Timothy J. Wengert, ‘The Lutheran Confes-
sions: a Handbook for Sharing the Faith’, Lutheran Partners, January/February (2001), p. 26.

15
ally mean everyone.35 For the final group, which thinks that they do not
need Holy Communion, Luther uses both scripture and his own experience
to urge them to attend Holy Communion.36 How can this advice be used
today?

• If the Eucharist is but a foretaste of the feast to come, why then do we think
that the church is complete now?37

35
Large Catechism, Fifth Part, 64-65; Tappert et al., The Book of Concord,
p. 453;cite[26]bib:Wengert.
36
Large Catechism, Fifth Part, 75-84; Ibid.;Wengert, ‘The Lutheran Confessions’, p. 26.
37
John H. Erickson; Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, editors, Chap. Baptism and the
Church’s Faith In ‘Marks of the Body of Christ’, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub-
lishing Company, 1999), p. 57.

16
Sinners All

In our current situation, we do not like to hear that one of the marks of the church
is discipline of the unchanged sinner.38 We do not want the pastor to exercise
either the public or the private office of the keys. We feel that no one has the right
to tell us how we are to live our life. In other words, we truly believe the popular
phrase, “It’s all good.”
Our current fascination with the “experience” of life was explained by Willard
Van Orman Quine. In Quine’s twenty-three page article published in 1951 the
Two Dogmas of Empiricism, he describes what many philosophers believe to be
an accurate undestanding of the postmodern age. Here Quine writes at every ex-
perience can be valid. This can be my experience, your experience, the current
group’s experience, the previous group’s experience, or a future group’s experi-
ence. Participation is not the only way to understand life. Technical reason, which
can be quantified, and other experiences such as feelings and emotions are all per-
fectly correct ways of describing the world.39 In other words, all observations, no
matter if they are scientific facts or theories, sociological facts or theories, experi-
ences, or beliefs, are equally good ways to understand the world.
Everything is interconnected in Quine’s proposed model: truth to experience,
truths to other truths, and experiences to other experiences.40 The interconnected-
ness of all of the items in Quine’s model allows the user of the web to move from
one item in the model to another. That is, one can move from truth to truth, truth
to experience, or experience to experience. In fact, there is no preferred method
from moving from one observation to another.41 In spite of the modeled inter-
38
David S. Yeago; Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, editors, Chap. The Office of the
Keys: On the Disappearance of Discipline in Protestant Modernity In ‘Marks of the Body of
Christ’, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), p. 97.
39
Willard Van Orman Quine, Two Dogmas of Empiricism, (http://www.ditext.com/
quine/quine.html, 1953), p. 17.
40
Ibid., p. 18.
41
Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern

17
dependencies, if chosen, these interdependencies can be ignored.42 In short, in
Quine’s world, “Everything goes.”
The judgment of the way that anyone looks at the world can only occur after
the model is constructed. The testing is as follows. First, the proposed model
must be based on experience. We hear this today in phrases like, “You cannot tell
me how to live because you are not me.” Next, the mental model must be flexible
in adapting to changes in experiences, truths, and interconnections between as
many things as possible is to be preferred to a rigid model, which by definition
has problems adapting to changes. This aspect of the model is seen in many
of the attacks against the clergy and the church. “How can you know what I
am experiencing since you are a pastor?” Or, “The church is so out of touch
with reality.” Finally, the constructed model must not be ludicrous. But please
remember, the definition of absurdity only means that my idea of the world does
not work for me.
The goal of the field is to have every truth confirmed through some sort of
experience. Advertisers tell us, “Just do it.” So, if an experience proves that a truth
is not valid, the field is readjusted until all experiences match the experiences at
the edges of the field.43 We see this in statements like, “That didn’t work out for
me.” Only then are any truths that do not match the experiences or any truths that
are ludicrous removed from the field.
The utilities of having this model are that once a field is constructed one can
see how one moves from experiences to truths, from truth to truth, and even more
importantly, one can propose an experience and see what truth or truths will be
found and the inverse is also possible, one can propose a truth and see what experi-
ence or experiences would be needed. The resulting structure is multidimensional
for the structure of the field itself changes with time, experience, and observation.
What this means for the clergy and the church is that hierarchy of reason is
completely discarded. The interpretation of the Scriptures by the church fathers,
the apostles, or even Jesus Himself is not any better or worse than any other expla-
nation. All that matters in reading the Bible is, “Does it work for me?” Likewise,
the confessions and the creeds are seen to be completely useless because they are
two rigid clarifications that are attempting to address a specific situation through
the use of reason. They never ask one simple question, “How does it feel for you?”
Our worship services do not fare any better. The shape of the liturgy minimizes
Philosophy Set The Theological Agenda, (Trinity Press International, 1996), p. 94.
42
Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism, p. 106.
43
Quine, ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’, p. 18.

18
the manipulation of the congregation and in doing so largely eliminates any range
of feelings. For the most part, sermons are sequences of logical arguments. It
goes against our training to use only experiences as ways to illustrate the Word
or to appeal to emotions as a form a logic. The sacraments as practiced by many
churches continue the same theme of logic and reason while excluding emotions
and experiences. The sacrament of Baptism often only uses a few drops of water
from a small font rather than a vast amount of water used on a tiny human. The
experience for most people is that the fast food, which they pruchase, tastes much
better than the free Meal they receive at the table.
Quine’s proposal can be used to interpret our current situation. For example,
one of the key attributes of the postmodern age is the incessant search. This search
normally involves trying to find meaning, but it is also the search for the past and
the search for belonging. These actions of searching can be explained by Quine’s
model because each search for meaning is nothing more than a reevaluation of the
model. Accordingly, when an individual is performing the action of searching for
meaning, they are trying to find at least one field where one’s experiences match
with the truth that one finds in the world. When an acceptable location in the
field is found, the individual has the option of accepting that field as the answer or
more likely, in an age where there are no absolutes, that individual will continue
to search and try to find a better fit.
Even though Quine’s proposal can be successfully used to explain many of
our actions and feelings in today’s world, the model holds many problems for
the faith since Quine’s model does not allow an external critique of experience.
This is exactly our problem today. We do not want to the Scripture, the preacher,
or anyone else to tell us that we are sinners and that we need to change. We
cannot ever see the church doing what we are commanded to do when someone
is unrepentant, which is binding a sinner in their sin and casting them out of the
church.44
However, we have been charged by Jesus to discipline those who refuse to see
the error of their ways (Matthew 18:15-20). This is the fourth mark of the church.
We do correct others, not out hate for the other, but out of love since the Gospel
“unlocks” the chains that have been placed upon us due to our sins.45
44
Luther, ‘On the Councils and the Church’, p. 550.
45
Gritsch and Jenson, Lutheranism, p. 117.

19
Questions for Discussion
• Members of the church chafe at the idea that the church disciplines the
unchanged sinner. Leaders know that asking for obedience often causes
that member to leave. How can the pastor exercise either the public or the
private office of the keys without dividing the congregation?

• If Quine’s model is correct, this means that other forms of communication


must be used by the church. Specifically, we must learn how to proclaim the
Gospel using emotions and experiences. Perhaps, this explains why camps
are such a good way to keep young people involved in the life of the church.
Quine’s ideas about the use of feelings and involvement seem to be found in
many of the non-denominational churches. How do we learn to say, “Taste
and see that the Lord is good?” (Psalms 34:9)

20
Economic Downturn

In 1992, Douglas Coupland first applied the title “Generation X” to the racially
diverse group of individuals, of about 80 million, that were born during the 1960s
and 1970s in his book Generation X : Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Where
the idea came from for the name itself is unknown. “Generation X” might refer to
the 1960’s slang for British adolescents or to the name of Billy Idol’s punk rock
band in the 1970s. It really does not matter where the name came from, it only
matters that the name stuck and it is now used to describe this group of people.
The parents of Generation X, known as the “Baby Boomers,” are from the
post World War II generation and they introduced America to the two income
household, latch-key children, and the radical breakdown of the family due to
divorce.
The increased number of separations plagued the Boomer Generation and their
children. If you did not live in a divorced family, you knew someone that did. Sit-
coms, movies, and lawyers all noticed this trend and profited from it. Deliberate
alienation dramtically reshaped the family structure and introduced new words
into our vocabularies. We now had step-children, step-aunts, step-uncles, and
step-grandparents. Phrases like half-brother or half-sister attempted to tell oth-
ers about what had happened to the family. Divorce also told Generation X that
nothing in this world, not even your own parents, could be trusted.
In addition to the stresses cause by divorce, community did not exist for Gen-
eration X while they were growing up. Education, the lure of money, and changes
in society allowed the Baby Boomers to progress onwards to new things. They
left their family’s traditional location and their time honored careers to move into
new locations and new lines of business.
After growing up in this brave new world that lacked family and community,
most of Generation X went to college since they were told by their parents and
society that college degrees insured good paying, fulfilling careers. Generation X
listened to this advice. They are well educated; over 54 percent have completed

21
or enrolled in more than one year of college. But the reality today is that a college
degree has not translated into money or careers for a large portion of Generation
X. Despite this level of education, real income is declining for them. More and
more technical jobs, along with their high wages, are being moved offshore. Long
work hours are expected if you want to keep your job, more mindless tasks are
being introduced, and almost half of this generation still lives with their parents
due to the poor economy.
Generation X is the first generation in America that will make less, on average,
than their parents earned. America’s great dream of prosperity for one’s children
has quickly faded from view. And from what we know of Generation X’s chil-
dren, their story is even worse. The disappointment in the workplace has changed
Generation X’s views on work. Unlike their parents who worked for a company
for life, Generation Xers work so that they can have a life. For a Generation X
individual, their family and friendships are more important than work.
Given all the issues that Generation X has experienced, is it any surprise that
they have problems with the concept that the Holy Spirit gives many different gifts
that are to be used for the service of the community and the world? Where is this
work of the Spirit seen in their own lives? What is their call? And even more im-
portantly for this specific discussion, why should the pastor be any different than
the rest of the world? Why does the Holy Spirit give them the gifts of preaching
the Word, administering the sacraments, and exercising the office of the keys?
In addition to the angst over the call that has been placed on our lives, our
churches are being shaped by the issues that are affecting our culture. It seems
that no one wants the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives.46 Kenneth W. Inskeep of
the ELCA Research and Evaluation writes in Life in the ELCA: The Brutal Facts
of several disturbing trends in the ELCA. Congregations are shrinking, Sunday
Church Schools are dwindling, and when we compare these upsetting trends with
the general growth in the population that surrounds us, all of these downward
slides are even more pronounced.47
The same bad news can be found among our clergy. On the average, we are
older than our congregations. Age is not the problem. This is a gift from God. The
issue is that people are not listening to God’s call to come and serve. Enrollment
in M.Div programs does not reflect the need in the congregations nor does it track
46
The Pew Report tells us that twenty-eight percent of Americans have left their faith tradition
for something else that often includes no faith at all. Lugo et al., Pew Report, p. 5. This means that
one in six adults (16.1%) are not associated with any tradition. ibid., p. 20.
47
Kenneth W. Inskeep, Life in the ELCA: The Brutal Facts, (Luther Seminary Board Address,
October 2006).

22
the growth of the US population.

Questions for Discussion


• According the Luther, the church can be seen since it calls ministers who
publicly preach the Word, administer the sacraments, and exercise the office
of the keys. With the number of empty pulpits in America, what is God
saying about our church?

• Our society no longer has stations48 but instead we have jobs that move
from place to place.49 The positive side of “mobile jobs” is that a person is
exposed to multiple demands and this increases a person’s flexibility.50 The
downside of mobile jobs is much more apparent today than when Moltmann
wrote Theology Of Hope in 1967. Our derogatory name for mobile jobs is
“offshoring,” which is the practice of moving jobs from a place of high
wages to a location with dramatically lower wages. How do we bring the
Word of hope to the people when their jobs are leaving the country while
ours do not?

• What does the church need to do to “provide” faithful preachers?

• Reversing the trend that our pastors are older than our congregations will
take an enormous amount of effort on everyone’s part. How should local
congregations prepare for what is happening?

48
Station (German Stand) describes the position that a person occupies such as: prince, mothers,
citizen.
49
Jürgen Moltmann, Theology Of Hope, (Fortress Press, 1993), p. 333.
50
Ibid.

23
Prayer and Thanksgiving

During her life, Flannery O’Connor noticed North America’s tenuous association
between wealth and God’s blessings. She wrote that she began

to wonder at this point if there could not be some ugly correlation be-
tween our unparalleled prosperity and the stridency of these demands
for a literature that shows us the joy of life.51

She of course rejected the involvement between prosperity and forgiveness be-
cause she called sin for what it is, “rot.”52 And she told those who only wanted to
look at pretty photographs to read advertisements.53
Not only are the writers of fiction noticing this peculiar state but the theolo-
gians are also seeing this problem. One of these theologians who has written on
this issue is Rolf Jacobson who asserts that the primary self identification in our
current situation is the myth of the self made person who alone is responsible for
everything.54 Douglas John Hall is another one of those theologians who have
been warning the North Americans about their religion, which is based on hu-
manity and its progress rather than God’s message of accepting the unacceptable.
Hall notes that before the ascendancy of the officially optimistic society, Chris-
tianity always viewed God as the One who acted in history to save the slave but
now North Americans assume that we can master the entire universe without God
at all.55 Unfortunately for God, this type of God that works mighty deeds in time
must to be removed from the cosmos’ stage since in our context we believe that
51
Flannery O’Connor, Chap. The Fiction Writer and His Country In ‘Flannery O’Connor -
Collected Works’, (Penguin Putnam Inc., 1988), p. 803.
52
Ibid., pp. 804, 806.
53
Ibid.
54
Rolf Jacobson, ‘The Costly Loss of Praise’, Theology Today, October (2000), p. 380.
55
Douglas John Hall, Lighten Our Darkness: Towards an Indigenous Theology of the Cross,
Revised edition. (Academic Press, 2001), p. 85.

24
humans are the master of the universe and we have no room in our play for a sec-
ond bit actor.56 Hall goes on to say that we have in fact completely lost touch of
the meta-narrative found in the Scriptures.57
This sin of viewing humanity as the L ORD God Almighty plays out not only
in our congregations but also in our country’s government. Either indirectly or
directly, we have made this deceptively sanguine Christianity the official religion
of North American.58 Hall writes “that every public figure” must implicitly agree
with this version of the “American Dream” in order to remain in power.59 This
version of Christianity practiced by most Protestants in North American is empty
of facts, rituals, and symbols.60
One concrete way that Protestant Christianity in the North American context
has acquiesced to the demands of the society is in the loss of liturgy because
we practice in the liturgy what we believe.61 In some locations, the loss of the
liturgy has been partial. These changes might have occurred quickly or slowly
over time. There are congregations that drop portions of the liturgy because they
feel that it does not apply to them or that they take too much time. In this situation,
any portion of the liturgy may be removed.62 The congregation here are more
concerned about pleasing the gods of efficiency, sports, and television rather than
the God who created and rules the universe. This concern for time also tells us
that they are not serious about their situation. They do not need God’s Word. In
other locations, the loss of the liturgy has been permanent. The traditional liturgy
is replaced by something else, which has normally been constructed by the local
congregation.63 When we replace the liturgy with something of our own creations,
56
Hall, Lighten Our Darkness, p. 15.
57
Idem, Bound and Free: A Theologian’s Journey, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress,
2005), p. 56.
58
Idem, Lighten Our Darkness, p. 46.
59
Idem, Bound and Free, p. 57.
60
Idem, Lighten Our Darkness, p. 58.
61
lex orandi, lex credendi
62
At my internship site, the congregation normally left out the creeds, the psalm, and the con-
fession because these items “took too much time.” This shortening of the worship service was
especially ironical since the congregation had a habit of reading everything in the bulletin to the
assembled group before the service started, which often took longer than the omitted items. This
proclamation of what we were up to in the congregation was obviously more important than God’s
critical Word and God’s Word of acceptance.
63
During internship, I was exposed to a congregation that created its own liturgies based on the
following template: three songs of praise, the readings from the Bible, with commentary provided
by Sunday’s and Seasons but without the psalm, a sermon, a prayer, another praise song, offering,
benediction, another praise song, and then a dismissal. This model is very typical of the “praise

25
we tell the congregation that they are the most important people in the world.64
By doing this we say that God has not worked in any other congregation. We also
tell them that we are not concerned about those who might have the audacity to
either arrive from or move to another situation because our way is the only way to
worship.

Questions for Discussion


• The sixth mark of the Church is prayer and praise of God. On the one hand,
the traditional worship service has been widely characterized as stodgy and
having no relevance for today. On the other hand, according to one of its
critics, praise worship is full of trite sounds and trivial thoughts. What bal-
ance, if any, should be found in the liturgy so that we are faithful to what
was given to us by the past while preserving the faith for the future?

• In Christ And Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr outlines five different ways to


view Christ’s interaction with the world’s cultures: Christ of culture, Christ
against culture, Christ above culture, Christ the transformer of culture, and
Christ and culture in paradox. How could these ways of describing Christ’s
relationship with the world be used for worship?

and worship” form of the liturgy found in the Southern context. These congregations do not want
to deal with the “depressing” thoughts that are associated with sin, confessions, or the psalms.
64
For more information on the Lutheran confessional views on changing the liturgy see the
section that starts on page 37.

26
Christ’s Cross

Paul Tillich wrote in The Shaking of the Foundations:

When we look at the misery of our world, its evil and its sin, espe-
cially in these days which seem to mark the end of a world period, we
long for divine interference, so that the world and its demonic rulers
might be overcome. We long for a king of peace within history, or
for a king of glory above history. Yet if He were to come and trans-
form us and our world, we should have to pay the one price which we
could not pay; we would have to lose our freedom, our humanity, our
spiritual dignity. . . . Those who dream of a better life and try to avoid
the Cross as the way, and those who hope for a Christ and attempt to
exclude the Crucified, have no knowledge of the mystery of God and
of Man.65

In the sixty years that have passed since this sermon was preached, these words
sound prophetic because theologian after theologian has warned us that we are
in danger of loosing the cross as a way of life. For example, in 1974 Arthur
C. McGill gave a lecture at St. Olaf College. There he discussed the fact that
many people were leading a life that tried to remove all traces of weakness and
every mark of mortality.66 According to him, this action is seen daily in the small
talk found on the streets and in the workplace halls. We greet each other with
the cheery question “How are you?” and no matter how we feel, we respond
with “Fine . . . fine . . . fine.”67 These little exchanges show that we never let our
conversations stray into a discussion of our shortcomings much less our future
65
Paul Tillich, Chap. 17: He Who Is Christ In ‘The Shaking of the Foundations’, (Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1948), p. 148.
66
Arthur C. McGill; Charles A. Wilson and Per M. Anderson, editors, Death and Life: An
American Theology, (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1987), p. 26-27.
67
Ibid., p. 14.

27
demise.68 Already in 1974, this “gospel of having” abundant life had worked its
way into our churches.69 One way that McGill saw this was the removal of the
Stoning of Stephen and the Holy Innocents from our Christmass celebrations.70
Almost seven years later, Jürgen Moltmann echoed many of the themes raised
by Tillich and McGill. In The Crucified God, he reminded us that the cross “can-
not be loved” but only the “crucified Christ” can give us freedom.71 And just a
few pages later in the same book, Moltmann stated that Christian identity is found
in the the crucified Christ.72
This observation by Moltmann shows the true risk that the church faces. Either
we acknowledge that we no longer are Christians or we restore the centrality of
the cross and the crucified One to our lives.
By fiat, it seems that many of us have already made up our mind because if
discipleship is simply defined as taking up our cross and following Jesus, then we
rarely see this acted out in most Protestant congregations.73 For example, listen to
a description of Lakewood found on one of their web pages:

There is a new generation rising at Lakewood Church a generation


who doesn’t believe in limits, and who believes all things are possible.
Pastor Joel Osteen and his wife Victoria are leading this generation
with a practical message that is transforming lives.74

Contrast Joel Osteen’s vision for the future where everyone has exactly what they
want with the works of love that poured out of the church during the first three
centuries of its existence.

By the year 251 the resources of the church in Rome had grown
so much that it was supported from its common purse not only the
bishop, 46 presbyters, 7 deacons, 7 subdeacons, 42 acolytes, and 52
exorcists, readers and doorkeepers, but also more than 1500 widows
68
McGill, Death and Life, p. 15.
69
Ibid., p. 16.
70
Ibid., p. 22.
71
Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, (Fortress Press, 1993), p. 1.
72
Ibid., p. 19.
73
William J. Abraham; Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, editors, Chap. On Making Dis-
ciples of the Lord Jesus Christ In ‘Marks of the Body of Christ’, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), p. 151.
74
Reaching a New Generation with a Message of Hope, http://www.lakewood.cc/
site/PageServer?pagename=LCH_ourhistory.

28
and needy persons, all of whom were “fed by the grace and kindness
of the Lord.”75

This level of support became such a part of the community that by the fourth
century, society expected the Bishops to care for both the religious and secular
needs of the church members.76 In fact, seventy-five percent of all church revenues
in the fifth century went to the support of all clergy, except the bishops, and the
official list of the sick and poor.77
While the mega-churches, nondenominationals, and even our own tradition
run away from the hardships that the cross entails, people today are looking to
use suffering as a way of finding meaning in their lives. One individual at Rice
University who participated in self mutilation reported that she ripped her skin in
order to “feel alive” because she felt so “dead inside.”78 If I was bleeding, she
said, I was alive.79 What is the Church going to say to this girl and to her many
tattooed and pierced bothers and sisters who are looking for authentic suffering
but cannot find it in the church?
This is the challenge for the church. We need to once again focus on the
centrality of the cross along with its call to suffer for the unworthy.

Questions for Discussion


• If discipleship is simply defined as taking up our cross and following Jesus,
then we rarely see this acted out in most of our congregations. What does
authentic suffering look like in a litigious society?

• Moltmann writes:

The Orthodox church in the Soviet Union presents yet another


model of contact with the non-Christian world. Never, to the best
of my knowledge, did that church engage in dialogue with repre-
sentatives of Marxism-Leninism. In 1967, in fact, the Orthodox
church even refused an invitation to a Christian Marxist colloquy
75
Henry Chadwick, The Early Christian Church, Revised edition. (Penguin Books, 1993),
p. 57-58.
76
Ibid., p. 174.
77
Ibid., p. 57.
78
A painful secret, (The Rice Thresher, November 12 1999).
79
Ibid.

29
in Czechoslovakia. Yet Russian Orthodoxy has remained an ef-
fective witness by the very fact of continuing to exist and by the
silent witness that radiated out from her. The Christian church in
China, that is, the new Protestant church, has also grown not be-
cause of dialogue but, at least partially, because of the martyrdom
that occurred during the Cultural Revolution. It also flourished
by surviving in “house churches.”80

How could this observation provide a way to recover the theology of the
cross in our church?

• There is a real problem with devoting our limited resource to the cause of
following the cross. The teaching of Christ of laying down our life for others
is very impractical.81 Jesus is very clear on this point. Not only does this
sacrifice repulse some individuals but it also has the very real possibility of
bringing out the worst in people.82 How do we move forward knowing this
information?

80
Jürgen Moltmann; Gavin D’Costa, editor, Chap. Is ”Pluralistic Theology” Useful for the
Dialogue of World Religions? In ‘Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered: The Myth of a Pluralistic
Theology of Religions’, (Orbis Books, 1990), Faith Meets Faith Series, p. 151.
81
Arthur C. McGill; Lindell Sawyers and Ray T. Woods, editors, Suffering: A Test of Theologi-
cal Method, (Philadelphia, PA: The Geneva Press, 1968), p. 49.
82
Ibid., p. 49-50.

30
Other Attributes of the Church

While it may not be immediately obvious, each of these marks have three other
defining attributes. All the marks of the church must be seen in public, every one
of the identifying characteristics of the church is only seen in the past tense, all
the marks also have a part that cannot be seen.

In Public
Every one of these marks has a public aspect that if ignored distorts Christian-
ity into a cult, which worships idols. Luther reminds us that a publicly preached
and believed Word must be lived for all to see.83 The speaking of God’s Word
is not under attack from the government since citizens of the United States have
the freedom to gather and hear the Word. Instead, the assault on the proclamation
comes from the gods of wealth, convenience, and leisure. Not only are we more
concerned about our financial statements than God’s Word but also we have for-
gotten God’s commandment to set aside time to worship God. Our self-conceived
need to have everything at our fingertips has given individuals yet another excuse
for staying away from worship. Leisure activities such as sports have provided in-
dividuals and families with a reason to remain disconnected from the Word. None
of these gods are the true god. In order to be God’s people we must be with the
God’s Word. Even though people are devoting their time and talents to these false
gods, the larger problem in our current situation is our belief that we can clearly
divide our world into two groups: private and public. We place God in the private
world and God must remain in this area until the next time we feel like it. We
want to limit God’s access to the rest of our lives. Because we hide God from
the public, we do not want others to know that God is responsible for our actions.
These actions make our worship of God into a demonic ritual since they irrespon-
83
Luther, ‘On the Councils and the Church’, pp. 546, 547.

31
sibly attempt to restrict God’s knowledge of our total life and they hide God from
others.84

Questions for Discussion


• Every one of these marks of the church has a public aspect. Luther himself
reminds us that a publicly preached and believed Word must be lived for all
to see. In our day and age, we like to keep all matters of faith out of the
public sphere. What does this do to our credibility?

• How can we be church if we live in this manner?

The Correct Tense


For Lutherans, the church is neither a person nor a place but instead the church is
found where the Word was correctly spoken. This definition, originally developed
by Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, has three key implications. First by
separating the church from an individual, the reformers were able to say that the
church was not found in bishop’s presence. The important aspect of this assertion
is that the church is no longer defined by an individual’s role. Next by decoupling
the definition of the church from distinct location, Luther and Melanchthon allow
the church to appear wherever it is needed. The church is no longer a destination
but instead the true church is distributed in the world. The third conclusion, the
gift of the Word can only be seen in the past because until the Word is specifically
stated as being for you the Word exists for us in time only as an unspoken promise.

Questions for Discussion


• Because we live in a world that is focused on the current experience, how
can the leaders of the church tell people to wait before deciding if the Jesus
showed up for worship?

• We teach that the only way we can see the church is through the power of
the Holy Spirit. What nonverbal symbols can be used to drive this point
home?
84
Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1995),
pp. 2, 3.

32
Hidden
For Lutherans, the hiddenness of the church is firmly founded on the concept that
the church can only be seen in the past. Before the proclamation of the Word
in a given assembly, Lutherans do not know if the group is a mere collection of
people or instead a church. The decision if the company is a church can only
be made after the Word is properly proclaimed and the sacraments are correctly
given. When this judgment is made by the power of the Holy Spirit, the group’s
nature can then be known. This movement from hiddenness to visibility is the
way that the church is seen in the world. Once those who have been given the
gift of sight have realized the assembly is the church, one cannot say that every
member of the church is a Christian nor can one say that everyone can see the
church. Both of these states exist at the same time because of some combination
of the following three explanations. First, God, for God’s own reasons, does not
give this vision to everyone. Secondly, some people refuse the view that God
gives them. Next, the church’s membership is hidden because not everyone is
in attendance. Additionally, the church also moves from being seen to being out
of sight. This can happen when the church goes into the world or when some
arrangement of the previous three explanations happens.
Jacques Derrida reminds us that there are three different ways to hide some-
thing. The first way that something can be kept out of our sight is by placing the
object right in front of us.85 Salvation has come to us but people cannot see it
unless someone points it out to them. Paul explains this in Romans 10:14-17.86
Someone must bring the faith with all the richness or all you will see is a dim
reflection of it in the world (Acts 10:22-23).87 The second possibility according
to Derrida is that the object can be moved out of our vision.88 The L ORD God
reminds us that people who make us the church are often hidden from us (1 Kings
85
Derrida, The Gift of Death, p. 89.
86
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe
in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim
him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are
the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says,
“Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard
comes through the word of Christ. (NRSV)
87
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely
religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects
of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ’To an unknown god.’ What
therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (NRSV)
88
Ibid., p. 90.

33
19:18).89 Finally, when something is hidden it could be outside of the range of
the senses.90 This is was is discussed in Matthew 28because Jesus is here but we
cannot see Him.
The quality of hiddenness makes the church an “article of faith.”91 One out-
come is that we cannot grasp God.92 This is a blessing. When we hold on to
something, we think that we own it. By staying outside of our reach, God reminds
us who is really in control of the cosmos. God also knows we are fascinated by
the mystery and we might try to throw ourselves into the darkness shrouds God,
but without knowing where God is we cannot throw ourselves into the abyss.

Questions for Discussion


• The hiddenness of the body of Christ has an “eschatological” reality since
the Word that it proclaimed is not yet here and it is only to be believed.93
How do we proclaim this?

• How do we distinguish between an item that is hidden from us and one that
is lost?

• In what ways can we teach that, “Authentic mystery must remain mysteri-
ous, and we should approach it only be letting it be what is in truth – veiled,
withdrawn, dissimulated.”94

Negative Marks
Just like there are marks that indicate the church’s location, there are also marks
that show the church’s absence. The worst marks are: the misuses God’s name,
the leader who despises the true church and does not preach or administer the
89
Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every
mouth that has not kissed him. (NRSV)
90
Derrida, The Gift of Death, p. 90.
91
Lathrop and Wengert, Christian Assembly, p. 90-91.
92
Gerhard O. Forde; Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, editors, Chap. The Word That Kills
and Makes Alive In ‘Marks of the Body of Christ’, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, 1999), p. 2.
93
Ibid., p. 1-2.
94
Derrida, The Gift of Death, p. 37.

34
sacraments, all who enjoy the pleasures of this life, and one who has contempt for
God’s promises.95

Questions for Discussion


• How do we work to minimize the impact of these negative marks?

95
Lathrop and Wengert, Christian Assembly, p. 96.

35
So What?

Until this point in the paper, we have looked at identifying the issues surrounding
the disappearance of the church’s marks and understanding why these changes
have been happening. Seeing what is happening along with looking at the causes
are important for two reasons. Identification is recognizing that this problem exists
for each of us. Every one of the seven explicit marks of the church along with
each of the implicit characterises are being eroded by the world that we live in.
Understanding is looking at a situation from every side. This action familiarizes
us with the circumstances and makes us aware of what needs to be done.
If we were to stop here after the problem has been identified and understood,
then we would be like a physician who diagnosis a disease but do nothing to cure
it. What needs to happen next is to formulate a specific plan on how you in your
context will work with the Holy Spirit to slow down the erasure of the marks of
the church.
It is my hope and prayer that you take what you have learned here and start
on the difficult task of restoring the church so that she may continue to serve her
Lord until the end of time.

36
Changing the Liturgy

For Lutherans, any modifications to the liturgy must be done with utmost care be-
cause our changes should indicate respect for the Holy Spirit’s actions in history
and the desire to pass a faithful representation of God’s great deeds in the past to
the future. These desires are clearly seen in the confessions. Philipp Melanchthon
went to great lengths in the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg
Confession to show that the Reformers kept what was desirable in the liturgy and
changed only what needed to be changed. Melanchthon reiterated over and over
again that the liturgy was being observed, the sacraments were being given, and
that nothing novel had been introduced into the liturgy.96 In fact, Melanchthon
even states that the retained tradition included the “order of the lessons, prayers,
vestments, etc.”97 In regards to confession and absolution, Melanchthon specifi-
cally notes that this element of the liturgy has not been removed.98
The Reformers in general and Melanchthon in specific did allow for changes
when he wrote that different rites do not harm the Church.99 However, there are
limits in the Lutheran confessions as to what can be changed and Melanchthon
spells these out in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession when he states that
all changes must be moderate and hold to the ancient rituals.100 Additionally,
96
Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, n. 9 (German); Tappert et al., The Book of Concord,
p. 57; Augsburg Confession, Article XXVI, n. 40 (German); ibid., p. 69; Augsburg Confession,
Article XXVIII, C ONCLUSION, n. 5; ibid., p. 95; Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, n. 34-35
(German); ibid., p. 60; Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, n. 40 (Latin); ibid., p. 61; Apology
of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII, n. 33-34; ibid., p. 174-175; Apology of the
Augsburg Confession, Article XV, n. 40; ibid., p. 218; Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article
XXIV, n. 1; ibid., p. 249.
97
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, n. 1; Ibid..
98
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XV, n. 40; Ibid., p. 218; Apology of the Augsburg
Confession, Article XXIV, n. 1; ibid., p. 249.
99
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII, n. 33; Ibid., p. 174; Augsburg
Confession, E PILOGUE TO XXI, n. 4-5 (Latin); ibid., p. 49.
100
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XV, n. 50-51; Ibid., p. 222.

37
any changes to the liturgy must maintain the “dignity” of the liturgy.101 This
line of thought, which limits the range of change, is continued by the authors of
the Formula of Concord when they write that while every community can change,
change is limited by good order, discipline, and the teaching of those in the church.
102

101
Apology of the Augsburg Confession Article XXIV, n. 99; Tappert et al., The Book of Concord,
p. 268.
102
Formula of Concord, S OLID D ECLARATION, Article X, Church Usages, n. 9; Ibid., p. 612.

38
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