Some Lutherans really think it’s not Lutheran to come to church more than once a week–except for Lent. I’m not sure why this is exactly. What I know is that when as a young round-collar-wearing puppy I came hurtling out of obedience school and wanted to teach the older dogs some new tricks like prayer offices during the week and midweek festival services like Epiphany and Ascension–some of the older dogs weren’t thrilled.
Not a very new story–in fact, completely un-unique. Which is why the professors tell you to teach, teach, teach, and why one older pastor told me, “Well, you’ll just have to learn the same way all the rest of us did.” They were right. Nonetheless, if I could do it over again, I would still try to introduce prayer offices and midweek festival services. I think the main difference would be that I would explain why they’re important and instead of getting frustrated and demoralized after telling people why about 10 or 100 times I would just keep on explaining it. Why does it matter whether we have services during the week? Prayer offices like matins, vespers, etc. are a topic for another day. But as for festivals that don’t fall on a Sunday: Epiphany, Ascension…and even some of the more obscure ones (at least for many Lutherans they are obscure) like St. Michael and All Angels, or the Annunciation (March 25), or Candlemas (the Purification of Mary, this year falling on a Sunday)? Why is it worth the effort? Isn’t it roman catholic to observe man-made holy days like this, especially ones commemorating the Virgin Mary? Well, it can be, if we observe them just because the ancient church did. Or if we act as though we get more points with God if we go to church more frequently. But the reasons I would still struggle to introduce them are entirely Lutheran. That means they are worth bringing back not because they have to be, or because you’re a lousy Christian if you don’t, but because they can be very, very helpful to teach “people what they need to know about Christ”, as the Augsburg Confession puts it.
Of Usages in the Church [our churches] teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquility and good order in the Church, as particular holy-days, festivals and the like. Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation.Augsburg Confession Article XV
What holy-days are “profitable unto tranquility and good order in the Church”? We’d have to answer that question differently today than in 1530. The Lutheran Reformers didn’t want to abolish holidays that were already observed in such a way that they would offend the Church at large, and it was common practice to observe festival days during the week quite frequently. Today in Lutheran churches the situation is quite different; you’re likely to disturb “tranquility” in the Church as much by starting to observe a midweek Epiphany service as you are by having a guitar and drums in worship–maybe even more. Yet there are at least two good reasons why it’s worth having a service on Epiphany and trying to get people to go, for Lutherans. 1. It’s a good thing to hear God’s Word preached, receive the sacrament, hear the Scriptures read and sing hymns more than once a week, even though it doesn’t merit you anything or contribute to your salvation. Everyone would agree, I think, that church attendance among Lutherans is not where we would like it to be. I think everyone would agree that the average Lutheran’s knowledge of Scripture is not where we would like it to be. In addition, the families in our churches are not strong. Morality is weak. Giving is weak. Commitment is weak. You know why? Because faith in Christ is weak–or not there. Why do kids wait years now before they get their kids baptized, and then fail to bring them to Sunday School or Divine Service on a regular basis before they are confirmed? Because faith in Christ is weak or non-existent. Fruits of faith follow faith itself. And where does faith in Christ come from? As the Small Catechism says: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts…” And where does the Holy Spirit call me by the Gospel and enlighten me with His gifts? Again the Augsburg Confession:
That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. Augsburg Confession 5 Of the use of the Sacraments they teach that the Sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but rather to be signs and testimonies of the will of God toward us, instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them.Augsburg Confession 13
The Holy Spirit works faith through the office of preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments. So if the fruits of faith are missing or weak, we want first of all to pray that God strengthen faith in the faithful, but we also know that the instruments through which He has promised to do this is the Gospel and sacraments. Now you can get the first one of those at home if you read the Bible there. But most Lutherans who do read the Bible tell me that it’s not so easy always to understand the Scripture on their own. And most people I know in spiritual difficulty always find it easier to hear the Gospel proclaimed to them from someone else. Anyway, the point is: If we have weak faith in our churches, what we want to do is not tell people, “Yeah, you don’t really need to go to church on Sunday AND during the week. That’s too much. You risk being a holy roller.” We know very well that most people don’t want to go to church more than once a week. We know very well that most members of our churches don’t even want to go once a week. But if you do go more than once a week, is that a bad thing? Are you sucking up? Are you wasting time? Not at all. It’s never a waste of time to hear the Word preached–unless it’s false preaching! What we have instead is the promise that through the Gospel and Sacraments the Holy Spirit works faith, when and where it pleases God. There’s another reason why the midweek festivals are worth reclaiming: 2. Besides the benefit of hearing the Gospel preached in general, the festivals each have gifts of Christ to give us that are unique. The catechism says that the Holy Spirit “enlightens us with His gifts.” How? He shows us the treasures of the mystery of Christ, as Paul puts it in Colossians 1 and Ephesians 3. The Holy Spirit is always showing us what is ours in Christ. And He shows us different things in the different events of the life of Christ, which are commemorated on different festivals. For instance–Ascension. What’s so great about the fact that Christ ascended into heaven? Because in the Ascension He exalted our flesh and blood to reign at the right hand of God; now our flesh and blood rules the universe on behalf of us, the members of His body, so that we come where He is. And our Lord intercedes for us even now at the Father’s right hand. That’s something different from “Jesus died for our sins.” It’s a different gift that the Holy Spirit unfolds for us in the preaching of the ascension. So why can’t you just preach that on the following Sunday? Well, we can, of course. But then something else gets bumped. You could ask the same thing about Christmas. Why can’t we just bump the Sunday before or after Christmas? Well, for all practical purposes we do. A lot of people show up Christmas Eve who don’t show up the Sunday before or the Sunday after. Of course, that doesn’t make them any less saved, so long as they remain in faith in Christ. What it does make them is self-impoverished. The gifts the Holy Spirit would have enlightened them with the Sunday before and the Sunday after–well, they missed them. And Epiphany? Epiphany is one of the most “Lutheran” of non-Sunday festivals. Even though the wise men knelt and gave Jesus incense, which seems way too Catholic, they have a lot to teach Lutherans about “faith alone” that most Lutherans don’t know. At least according to Luther. For that, see the following post.
These days it is quite common for conservative protestants to claim to speak with the dead. At least in my experience. You often hear people speak as though their deceased loved one was in the room on a certain occasion, speaking with them, flipping the lights off and on, etc. On the other hand, conservative protestants generally think of it as a law that you don’t pray for the dead. Luther teaches exactly the reverse: you may pray for those who have died (although not repeatedly, because God hears you in Christ the first time.) But you never, ever, under any circumstances, talk to a dead person who claims to be your loved one, or believe that your loved one communicates with you in any way from the other side of the grave. Read on…
Martin Luther, Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity (on Luke 16:19-31) http://www.lutherdansk.dk/1%20Web-AM%20-%20Trinity%201-12/index.htm
“28. The fourth question is: Shall we pray for the dead; since here in the Gospel there is no intermediate state between Abraham’s bosom and hell, and those in Abraham’s bosom do not need it, and it does not help those in perdition. We have no command from God to pray for the dead; therefore no one sins by not praying for them; for what God does not bid or forbid us to do, in that no one can sin. Yet, on the other hand, since God has not permitted us to know, how it is with the souls of the departed and we must continue uninformed, as to how he deals with them, we will not and cannot restrain them, nor count it as sin, if they pray for the dead. For we are ever certain from the Gospel, that many have been raised from the dead, who, we must confess, did not receive nor did they have their final sentence; and likewise we are not assured of any other, that he has his final sentence.
29. Now since it is uncertain and no one knows, whether final judgment has been passed upon these souls, it is not sin if you pray for them; but in this way, that you let it rest in uncertainty and speak thus: Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they may yet be helped, then I pray that thou wouldst be gracious. And when you have thus prayed once or twice, then let it be sufficient and commend them unto God. For God has promised that when we pray to him for anything he would hear us. Therefore when you have prayed once or twice, you should believe that your prayer is answered, and there let it rest, lest you tempt God and mistrust him.
30. But that we should institute masses, vigils and prayers to be repeated forever for the dead every year, as if God had not heard us the year before, is the work of Satan and is death itself, where God is mocked by unbelief, and such prayers are nothing but blasphemy of God. Therefore take warning and turn from these practices. God is not moved by these anniversary ceremonies, but by the prayer of the heart, of devotion and of faith; that will help the departed souls if anything will. Vigils, masses, indeed help the bellies of the priests, monks and nuns, but departed souls are not helped by them and God is thus mocked.
31. However, if you have in your house a spook or ghost, who pretends that the departed can be helped by saying masses, You should be fully persuaded that it is the work of Satan. No soul has yet since the beginning of the world reappeared on the earth, and it is not God’s will that it should be so. For here in this Gospel you see that Abraham declares that no one can be sent from the dead to teach the living; but he points them to the Word of God in the Scriptures, Deut. 31: ”They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” By these words Abraham turns to the command of God in Deut. 18:11, where God says: ”Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit.” Is. 8:19. Therefore it is surely nothing but the contrivance of Satan that any spirits should let themselves be entreated and that they should require so and so many masses, such and such pilgrimages or other works, and appear afterwards in the clear light and pretend that certain persons are saved. In this way Satan has introduced error so that the people have fallen from faith into works, and think their deeds may accomplish such great things. And thus is fulfilled what St. Paul declared in 2 Thess. 2:10-11, that God would send upon them powerful error, and temptation to unrighteousness, because they have not received the love of the truth that they might be saved.
32. Therefore be prudent and know that God will not let us know how it is with the dead, so that faith may retain its place in the Word of God, which believes that God will save the believers after this life and condemn the unbelievers. If now a familiar spirit present itself before you, take no notice of it; but be assured that it is the devil, and conquer him with this Saying of Abraham, ”They have Moses and the prophets,” and likewise with the command in Moses, ”Thou shalt not be a consulter with a familiar spirit;” then he will soon be gone. If he leave you not, then let him make a noise until he is tired, and in firm faith suffer his wantonness.
33. And if it were possible that it were indeed a departed soul or a good spirit even, then you should neither learn nor inquire anything of him, since God has forbidden you to do so; because he has sent his Son himself to teach us all that is necessary for us to know. What he has not taught us, that we should gladly not wish to know, and be satisfied with the teachings of the holy Apostles, in which he is preached to us. However, I have further written on this subject in the Postils on the Gospel for Epiphany and in my booklet on the Misuse of the Mass; where you may read more along this line.
34. Likewise, to give an example, we read in the Historia Tripartita (A History in Three Parts) of a bishop, who came to Corinth where he had come to attend a Council, and as he could not find a suitable lodging for himself and his attendants, he saw a house unoccupied and condemned as uninhabitable, and he asked if he might not be allowed to occupy it. Then they told him in reply that it was infested with nightly ghosts, that no one could live in it, and often people were found dead in it in the morning. Then the bishop said but little and immediately entered and lodged there the same night, for he very well saw that the devil was the author of all these ghost stories, and as he had firm faith that Christ was Lord over Satan, therefore he was not moved by his stratagems and he entered to lodge with him. And thus that house was made free by the prayers and presence of a holy man from infesting ghosts and horrifying spectres. Behold, you see that the ghosts are Satan, and there is little use to dispute with them; but one should despise them with a cheerful spirit as nothing.
35. A similar story we read about Gregory, the Bishop of Cappadocia, that he crossed the Alps and lodged with a heathen sexton or clerk of the church, who had an idol, that answered him the questions he asked; and he made his living by telling the people secret things. Now the bishop knew nothing of this, and proceeded the next day as soon as it was morning on his journey. But Satan or the evil spirit could not endure the prayers and presence of the holy man, and at once he betook himself out of the house, so that the heathen sexton could no longer receive answers as before. As soon as he felt his great loss, he set up a great howl to call back his idol, which appeared to him while he was asleep, and said, it was his own fault because he had lodged the bishop, with whom he (the evil spirit) could not remain. The sexton hastened to overtake the bishop and complained to him that he had taken his god and livelihood, and returned evil for the kindness extended to him. Then the bishop took paper out of his pocket and wrote these few words: ”Gregory sendeth greetings to Apollinius. Be thou at liberty, O, Apollinius, to do as thou hast done before. Farewell.” The sexton took the letter and laid it by the side of his idol; then the devil came again, and did as before. Finally the sexton began to think, what a poor god is he, who allows himself to be driven away and lead by my guest who was only a man. And at once he started to the bishop, was instructed and baptized, and grew in his faith, so that he became the eminent bishop of Caesarea, a city in Cappadocia, upon the death of the bishop that baptized him. Behold, how simply faith proceeds, and acts joyfully, securely and effectively. Treat all your troublesome evil spirits in the same way.
At my house, Christmas music begins to play sometime in the middle or early part of November. If you’ve ever listened to Christmas radio stations, you know that they play the same songs over and over and over and over and over again.
And then they play them a few more times.
It isn’t yet Thanksgiving, but I’ve already heard Wham!’s “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” at least five times. This is perhaps the only song of Wham’s oeuvre which still emerges from the mists of the early 80’s to remind us of those, by comparison to today, almost Victorian times when George Michael was still into women and when pop stars didn’t come out of the closet.
I think that’s probably a big part of the reason why people who like holiday music like holiday music, just as it’s probably part of the reason why people who have never lived in the country like the formulaic Chevy-truck-ad jingles that comprise most of what’s played on country-music (so-called) radio stations. People like it, at least in part, because it makes them feel safe.
Christmas begins about the same time in my house that it does in much of the United States—following hard upon Halloween. Both holidays were once Christian holy days, to whatever degree they may have been reappropriated from pagans.
In America they are pagan holidays again, although I think Samhain (isn’t that what the Wiccans call it?), Yule, and Saturnalia would be more enjoyable. What offends me about American subversions of Christian holidays—American re-paganization—is the awful aesthetics. Some of my aversion to “Christmas” in America arises from the way that the mystery and the miracle of the incarnation of God is obscured.
But mostly it’s just elitism.
I’ve hated American consumerism since I was a kid. It blights the mind, soul, and imagination by constantly making available (for a price) whatever is convenient and easily digestible. In its wake it leaves mind-numbingly ugly and boring places to live. It destroys all sense of the sacred. It creates soft minds and shrunken souls.
But my elitism really is an impediment when it comes to being a pastor. I don’t want to be superior or right; I want to teach Christians how the Church’s preparation for the birth of Jesus ought to be very different from the cheap consolation provided by American “Christmas.”
Cheap consolation is really the enemy in almost every case when liturgical pastors and pastors wanting to teach the doctrine of Evangelical Lutheran Church run into resistance from popular piety. American pop Christianity sells because people want to feel good and safe and because it’s easy to understand. Sometimes people turn to it because they are suffering and they need answers immediately. Other times people turn to it because it permits them to indulge themselves with the illusion that the solution to the suffering we endure as a result of living in a collapsing world is to go back to the simple answers about God we really always knew and from which we were never far.
American “Christmas”and its associated rituals—holiday music beginning in November, flagrant overspending, Christmas carol singing in Advent and parties in school, church, work all through December, overeating and overdrinking–all the Christmasy things that enable us to avoid honest appraisal of our selves, our lives, the way our society is going, and numb ourselves into a syrupy, sentimental glow—is almost exactly like American Christianity.
But here is where pastors and hearers who know something of the value of the pure teaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments and the liturgy and hymnody of the Church fail. American “Christianity” and American “Christmas” is democratic, and we are too often elitists. American “Christmas” isn’t supercilious toward people who just want to feel safe and good. It embraces them.
A lot of people believe that if they really like a song by Elvis, nobody can tell them that Bach’s music is simply better. So if they hear Joel Osteen preach and understand him, they also think that no one can tell them that a sermon by Chrysostom or Luther is simply better either.
American “Christmas” and American “Christianity” accept this reality in people and cater to it. But not only do I not cater to it—I despise it and have almost zero patience when people expect me to do the same thing. Lacking patience and love toward people who don’t immediately respond to real Christianity and real Christmas is not a Christian virtue. Harboring anger and resentment toward Lutherans who are stubborn in adhering to bad teaching and traditions flowing from that teaching–whether out of snobbery or out of anger–is grave sin. With this anger we make the Gospel noxious because we smear it with the scent of our own pride. Particularly pastors. When I get mad because I’m trying to teach God’s Word purely and you’re not listening, I’m really mad because you’re not respecting me or listening to me. And that is to use the ministry of the Gospel which Christ instituted for the salvation of sinners as a means of exalting myself.
Jesus preached and taught to the masses; He didn’t tickle ears, but taught the Word of God in a way that was accessible to normal people–not only the great. He was patient and continued to teach even when He met with opposition and mistreatment. Luther preached to and taught the masses. He sought to elevate them—that’s why the Reformation went hand in hand with a renewal of education. But he also taught; patiently, bearing with the people, serving them and caring enough to be understood by them.
I’ve failed consistently in this way. It’s not that I didn’t teach, but that I became angry and afraid when people didn’t get it or didn’t appear to want to get it. On the one hand there is fear because you want to be a good pastor, be faithful to Christ, serve the people. On the other hand there is simply sin and profanation of God’s Name and Word. There was my desire to be honored that trumped any other desire–whether to love and serve the congregation or to love and serve Christ. I was unwilling to bear with unjust criticism without snapping at my critics. At other times I’ve reacted to criticism that I thought was unjust with anger or defensiveness, later realizing that I was wrong, that I was failing to properly divide law and gospel, and I needed to be opposed.
Lutherans also have to be democratic in the sense that we are willing to teach God’s Word—slowly, patiently, consistently—and bear with people. That is the way that Jesus was democratic. He loved the people. So He was willing to teach them–the eternal Son–even when they wouldn’t hear Him and when they dishonored Him. Love means patiently teaching and listening to criticism and learning slowly, over time, where you are not being understood. So often people embrace false teaching, or bad traditions, because they are scared or because they feel stupid and the false teaching relieves the feelings of stupidity by addressing people where they are.
Then a guy like me comes in, teaches for awhile, receives flak, and very quickly begins responding in anger to the people. And is it any surprise if people then run to preachers (or to religious practices) that make them feel safe, that feel familiar? Is it surprising if people go to a pastor who is nice and acts like he loves them [even though he is a wolf], instead of to the one who comes to change everything and says, “You are doing it wrong”, and reacts with harshness and arrogance when they don’t immediately listen? In trying to roll back American Christmas in Lutheran churches so that we can once again observe Advent, there will be the inevitable conflict. People will say it’s “too catholic.” Probably one of the best ways we can observe Advent is to try to fast and repent of haughty and angry defensiveness, and show kindness, patience, and love to people who haven’t yet experienced the blessing of preparing for the mystery of Christ’s birth through Advent. Really, it’s not something to get angry about, but to have pity about, that lots of people would prefer to sing Christmas Carols for a month and haven’t developed a taste for the rich gospel we have in so many Lutheran Advent hymns.
I’m grateful for my beautiful wife and son and for the opportunity they give me to practice not being a jerk about American Christmas in Advent. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn to lead our family, graciously, into the gift of observing Advent with its call to repentance, faith, and willing obedience to Christ.
In long gone times there were outward, physical disciplines associated with repentance, faith, and renewal. Self-examination and confession and fasting went with repentance. Attending Advent services midweek meant giving one’s attention to Christ’s Word, which works in contrite hearts the faith that our sins, from which we cannot free ourselves, have been blotted out by the suffering and death of the baby of Mary. And where this faith is, there is joyful giving from a new and glad and confident heart. So Christians practiced almsgiving. Instead of buying family huge, extravagant gifts, they gave to the poor. This is the way I want to learn to spend Advent with my family. But that is a lot harder than simply trashing American consumerist “Christmas” and its associated rites, such as having to listen to “Feliz Navidad” for a month and a half. As annoying as that is. It takes doing it myself, and then walking with them into it. Not just giving orders.
I wrote an article for the church newsletter trying to explain the importance of Advent and why we don’t immediately start singing Christmas hymns in church in December. And I also tried to point out why it would be better if during Advent the Church behaved differently from the world, and instead of the church calendar filling up in December with Christmas parties (during Advent), we should consciously reject the way the world tries to greet the miracle of Jesus’ birth not by “making straight the way of the Lord” but by bombarding ourselves with things designed to arouse “the proper Christmas spirit”. I don’t know whether the article will succeed as a gracious attempt to teach the gifts of Advent or whether it will be one more instance of making people feel dumb and then wondering why they reject what you say. I’ll post it on here shortly.
Our society really need this witness from the Church in Advent. But it will never happen if those who understand the gift of Advent don’t love people enough to teach patiently and bear with people when they don’t get it or reject it. So I hope that God will teach me and sinners like me to love and serve our brothers and show the value of pure doctrine and the church’s liturgy by demonstrating the love and patience that come from the Gospel. Then maybe they could hear that we are truly safe in Him—not in the false comfort that comes from avoiding penitence, but in the true comfort given by Him who was placed in a manger to deliver us from our sins.
Once a man has killed his conscience in even a single point, natural reason brings forth nothing but error.
This is an article about contraception from a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod theological journal published in 1917. It’s interesting to see the certainty that the Missouri Synod possessed about contraception, even though now we “don’t have an official position.” I guess at that time, less than 100 years ago, all Christian Churches had an “official position” on contraception, whether they were Baptist or Episcopal or Lutheran, or Roman or Eastern. The position was, “it’s a sin.”
The quote above is also instructive. Why do we consistently fail to convince anyone that Christian opposition to homosexual “marriage” is something other than bigotry? Over time it’s easy to start to recognize that nature puts sexuality, conception, and marriage/fidelity together. But try to explain this very simple moral point in a college setting, and you’ll be blacklisted, laughed out of the room, ostracized. Why are otherwise very intelligent people so unable to follow a very simple train of thought with regard to moral issues? Because once you’ve martyred your conscience in regard to one thing, you lose the ability to reason. I suppose this is connected to Paul’s argument, that God gave people over to a “reprobate mind” that is no longer able to perceive basic things like, “An image made to look like a snake or a dragon” can’t be the true God.
It explains very well why otherwise intelligent people show themselves so incapable of making correct judgments about facts like the one above. Natural reason tells you that the true God can’t be a reptile or a bird, since He is omnipotent and eternal. But once we reject the light of simple moral truths which even the pagans understand, we get to where we are unable to reason morally. That’ s where we are now.
Lehre und Wehre (1917), p. 138
More dangerous still than the shameless “birth control” movement is the slogan preached for years in so many American newspapers: “Fewer children and better ones.” The Congregationalist Advance shows in a recent lead article the deception on which this hypocritical proposition of the eugenicists is based.
“The families where there are fewer children have on them the burden of proof. Are there better children in those homes where there are fewer? The contrary is the experience of many homes. The one child is a petted and spoiled child. The men and women who make their mark in the world have largely come out of large families. The reasons are partly apparent. The child who has grown up in a large family has already met a considerable number of life’s social problems and adjusted himself to them. In the large family there must be give and take. There must be adjustment and division and compromise. There must be the constant measuring of one’s own desire against another’s right. A child so reared has met the world, and settled some of its essential problems before he leaves the home.”
Not only is restricting the number of children according to the principle “fewer children, but better” immoral and godless; it is untenable even when judged according to reason alone. How unreasonably the case is made in favor of child-impoverished families is evident from a statement in the Brooklyn Union Standard from 1908, which recently came into our hands again. It was argued at the time that, since the era of protracted warfare is behind us, homeland defense is no longer a contemporary problem. For that reason we can safely limit the number of children! We let the words follow:
“It is now recognized in this day of universal education that it is better to raise three children, so their minds shall be reasonably equipped for the battle of life, and their bodies strong, so as to withstand the hardships of adversity, than to bring five children to the age of maturity in a condition which foretells their filling the ranks of the lower strata of society. With frequent and protracted wars a thing of the past, with the questions of national defense less pressing than ever before, with the conquering of plagues, which in other centuries claimed their thousands yearly, the common welfare does not demand families with eight or ten children, particularly if their parents are poor.”
Is it necessary to repeat more of this today? [At the time this was written the US had recently entered the first world war, by far the most bloody conflict the world had ever seen up until that point.] Even the first sentence with its reference to the sinking down of children into the lower strata of society when their number in the family rises above five is complete nonsense and goes against daily experience.
Once a man has killed his conscience in even a single point, natural reason brings forth nothing but error. G.
- Why Paleo-Evangelicals are leery of Republicans (geneveith.com)
- Yahnke Tapes: Families Are Innocent Victims of Gay Children Who “Come Out” (lcamyopinion.wordpress.com)
- The Yahnke Tapes: Homosexuals and Execution. (lcamyopinion.wordpress.com)
- Violation of Conscience and Freedom of Faith (ezerwoman.wordpress.com)
I can’t tell you how many times people in my congregation have said to me that I was doing something that was “too catholic.” 9 times out of 10 whatever it was that was “too catholic” was a very small departure from the baptist/methodist liturgical ethos and piety that is familiar to so many Lutherans. IE, “You made us stop singing happy birthday in the sanctuary (after 5 years.) That’s too Catholic!”
So after awhile, I tried using “that’s too catholic” as a way of preventing changes that people asked for that I didn’t want, or in order to puncture people’s certainty that everything they like and were familiar with was not catholic, and eveything they didn’t like was catholic.
I decided to start adding this regular feature to the blog called, “That’s too catholic.” I will either be describing things that Lutherans will frequently say is “catholic”, and how they’re not. Or I will point out how a lot of things that Lutherans love and would complain about if you took them away are really originally from the Roman Catholic church.
Now, for our first example. When I grew a long beard several months back, all I ever heard was about how I should shave because I looked like I lived in a cardboard box. Back then my best response was, “I’m trying to reach the young people, because beards are cool now.”
Little did I know that when I was told to shave by someone shaking my hand outside of church and was told that my beard was like that of a bum, I should have made a deeply disgusted face and said, “Shaving? That’s too catholic!” [I have really tried this response in a couple of cases, but I’ve found it didn’t work any better than the “trying to reach the young people” thing does.]
See the post below.
Monday, September 10, 2012
The Lutheran Beard
[Luther is the guy on the top. He grew the beard when he was in hiding after he became an outlaw and was fair game to be killed by order of the German Empire. The second guy is Martin Chemnitz. He helped write “The Formula of Concord”, the final document in the Book of Concord, the confessions of the Lutheran church. He is considered the second greatest Lutheran theologian in history after Luther.]
Apparently Lutherans grew beards in reaction to the canon law of the Pope’s church, which made it mandatory for clergy to shave.
So far as concerns England in particular it was certainly regarded throughout the Middle Ages as uncanonical to allow the beard to grow. A cleric was known as a shorn man (bescoren man, Laws of Wihtred, A.D. 96), and if it should seem that this might refer to the tonsure, we have a law of King Alfred: “If a man shave off another’s beard let him make amends with twenty shillings. If he bind him first and then shave him like a priest (hine to preoste bescire) let him make amends with sixty shillings.” And under Edgar we find the canon: “Let no man in holy orders conceal his tonsure, nor let himself be misshaven nor keep his beard for any time, if he will have God’sblessing and St. Peter’s and ours.” A similar practice obtained generally throughout the West and it was one of the great subjects of reproach on the part of the Greek Church, from the time of Photius onwards, that the Romanclergy systematically cut off their beards. But as Ratramnus of Corbie protested, it was foolish to make an outcry about a matter which concerned salvation so little as this barbæ detonsio aut conservatio.
The legislation requiring the beard to be shaved seems to have remained in force throughout the Middle Ages. Thus an ordinance of the Council of Toulouse, in 1119, threatened with excommunicationthe clerics who “like a layman allowed hair and beard to grow”, and Pope Alexander IIIordained that clerics who nourished their hair and beard were to be shorn by their archdeacon, by force if necessary. This last decree was incorporated in the text of the canon law (Decretals of Gregory IX, III, tit. i, cap. vii). Durandus, finding mystical reasons for everything, according to his wont, tells us that “length of hair is symbolical of the multitude of sins. Hence clerics are directed to shave their beards; for the cutting of the hair of the beard, which is said to be nourished by the superfluous humours of the stomach, denotes that we ought to cut away the vices and sins which are a superfluous growth in us. Hence we shave our beards that we may seem purified by innocence and humility and that we may be like the angels who remain always in the bloom of youth.” (Rationale, II, lib. XXXII.)
The kind of effeminate thinking in the last quote is the very reason that we should recognize the spirit of antichrist at work in Rome. By extension, Durandus is arguing that men are more sinful than women. But Scripture teaches that it is the office of men to lead spiritually, and that it was the neglect of this office that led to the fall into sin. So why should clergy, of all people, want to look less manly and more feminine? So they can be more like the woman who was deceived by the serpent?
Femininity and Christianity should not be synonymous.
The Catholic Encyclopedia goes on:
In spite of this, the phrase barbam nutrire which was classical in the matter, and was still used by the Fifth Council of Lateran (1512), always remained somewhat ambiguous. Consequently usage in the sixteenth century began to interpret the prohibition as not inconsistent with a short beard. There are still many ordinances of episcopalsynods which deal with the subject, but the point upon which stress is laid is that the clergy “should not seem to be aping the fashions of military folk” or wearing flowing beards like goats (hircorum et caprarum more), or allowing the hair on their upper lip to impede their drinking of the chalice. This last has always been accounted a solid reason in favour of the practice of shaving. To judge by the portraits of the popes, it was with Clement VII (1523) that a distinct beard began to be worn, and many among his successors, for example Paul III, allowed the beard to grow to considerable length. St. Charles Borromeo attempted to check the spread of the new fashion, and in 1576 he addressed to his clergy a pastoral “De barbâ radendâ” exhorting them to observe the canons. Still, though the length of clericalbeards decreased during the seventeenth century, it was not until its close that the example of the French court and the influence of CardinalOrsini, Archbishop of Beneventum, contributed to bring about a return to the earlier usage. For the last 200 years there has been no change, and an attempt made by some of the clergy of Bavaria in 1865 to introduce the wearing of beards was rebuked by the Holy See.
As already noted, in Eastern lands a smooth face carries with it the suggestion of effeminacy. For this reason the clergy, whether Catholic or Schismatic, of the Orientalchurches have always worn their beards. The same consideration, together with a regard for practical difficulties, has influenced the Romanauthorities in according a similar privilege to missionaries, not only in the East but in other barbarous countries where the conveniences of civilization cannot be found. In the case of religious orders like the Capuchins and the CamaldoleseHermits the wearing of a beard is prescribed in their constitutions as a mark of austerity and penance. Individualpriests who for medical or other reasons desire to exempt themselves from the law require the permission of their bishop.
So as a good Lutheran, I can’t allow any bishop to tell me how long my beard can be. I’m almost required to grow a long beard. And am I going to let the women around me tell me how long my beard can be? No, no, no. We must stand firm in the freedom with which Christ has made us free men. Thus, I’m going to grow a sweet beard not only for Reformation but maybe all the way to Easter. No razor shall touch my face, except maybe a little bit on the sides so that it grows down instead of out, because my beard got kind of round last time.
It’s funny that in Eastern lands a smooth face carries with it the suggestion of effeminacy. You know, if we weren’t used to men trimming or shaving off their beards all the time, it would look effeminate to us too. Kind of like it would look masculine to us for women to wear pants all the time if we had lived a few decades ago when you could still see women wearing dresses. I’m afraid dresses are going to become extinct.
At this point the deeply moving writing of Clement of Alexandria on this matter needs to be heard:
To such an extent, then, has luxury advanced, that not only are the female sex deranged about this frivolous pursuit, but men also are infected with the disease. For not being free of the love of finery, they are not in health; but inclining to voluptuousness, they become effeminate, cutting their hair in an ungentlemanlike and meretricious way, clothed in find and transparent garments, chewing mastich, smelling of perfume. What can one say on seeing them? Like one who judges people by their foreheads, he will divine them to be adulterers and effeminate, addicted to both kinds of venery, haters of hair, destitute of hair, detesting the bloom of manliness, and adorning their locks like women….For their service the towns are full of those who take out hair by pitch plasters, shave, and pluck out hairs from these womanish creatures. And shops are erected and opened everywhere; and adepts at this meretricious fornication make a deal of money openly by those who plaster themselves, and give their hair to be pulled out in all ways by those who make it their trade, feeling no shame before the onlookers or those who approach, nor before themselves, being men.
In other words, the classical world was full of what we now call metrosexuals.
But for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, to arrange his hair at the looking-glass, to shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them, how womanly! And in truth, unless you saw them naked, you would suppose them to be women. For although not allowed to wear gold, yet out of effeminate desire they enwreathe their latches and fringes with leaves of gold; or, getting certain spherical figures of the same metal made, they fasten them to their ankles, and hang them from their necks. This is a device of enervated men, who are dragged to the women’s apartments, amphibious and lecherous beasts. For this is a meretricious and impious form of snare. For God wished women to be smooth, and rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane; but has adorned man, like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him, as an attribute of manhood, with shaggy breasts, –a sign this of strength and rule. So also cocks, which fight in defence of the hens, he has decked with combs, as it were helmets; and so high a value does God set on these locks, that he orders them to make their appearance on men simultaneously with discretion, and delighted with a venerable look, has honored gravity of countenance with grey hairs. But wisdom, and discriminating judgments that are hoary with wisdom, attain maturity with time, and by the vigour of long experience give strength to old age, producing grey hairs, the admirable flower of venerable wisdom, conciliating confidence.
This, then, the mark of the man, the beard, by which he is seen to be a man, is older than Eve, and is the token of the superior nature. In this God deemed it right that he should excel and dispersed hair over man’s whole body. Whatever smoothness and softness was in him He abstracted from his side when He formed the woman Eve, physically receptive, his partner in parentage, his help in household management, while he (for he had parted with all smoothness) remained a man, and shows himself man. And to him has been assigned action, as to her suffering; for what is shaggy is drier and warmer than what is smooth. Wherefore males have both more hair and more heat than females, animals that are entire than the emasculated, perfect than imperfect. It is therefore impious to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness. But the embellishment of smoothing (for I am warned by the Word,) if it is to attract men, is the act of effeminate person,–if to attract women, is the act of an adulterer; and both must be driven as far as possible from our society….
….Rather we ought not to call such as these men, but lewd wretches, and effeminate, whose voices are feeble, and whose clothes are womanish both in feel and dye. And such creatures are manifestly shown to be what they are from their external appearance, their clothes, shoes, form, walk, cut of their hair, look. “For from his looks hall a man be known,” says the Scripture, “and from meeting a man, the man is known: the dress of a man, the step of his foot, the laugh of his teeth, tell tales of him. ”
…Of the nations, the Celts and Scythians wear their hair long, but do not deck themselves. The bushy hair of the barbarian has something fearful in it; and its auburn colour threatens war, the hue being somewhat akin to blood. Both these barbarian races hate luxury…I approve the simplicity of the barbarians: loving an unencumbered life, the barbarians have abandoned luxury. Such the Lord calls us to be—naked of finery, naked of vanity, wrenched from our sins, bearing only the wood of life, aiming only at salvation.
Clement of Alexandria, “The Instructor,” Book 3, Chapter 3 (p. 275 f. in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2)
I guess here is where I have to give the caveat that you are free in Christ to shave and dye your hair or whatever. However, I do think Clement has some points here that we shouldn’t brush off so easily–about the sin of vanity, for instance. About the order of creation and the wickedness of trying to invert it. But I’ll save it for another post.
Just be a real Lutheran and grow a beard.
- Lutheran “Austerity” v. “Catholic” Profligacy? (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Judge to Fort Hood suspect: Shave or be shaved (cbsnews.com)
- Roman Catholic Church Continues to Support Bishop Convicted of Covering Up for Pedophile Priest (theintelhub.com)
- Why we won’t get a bearded pope (telegraph.co.uk)