Here is another excellent post by Paul McCain.  Very informative.

“Since the time when the church entered the stream of history, it has appeared to the world as a complicated enigma, a riddle without a solution. Here are some of the questions. What is the distinct character of the church of Jesus Christ? What place does it occupy in history? How can the church’s claims be rationalized and what are proper responses to them? At what point can the question of what the church is be broached? Government officials in every country and state where the church is found have to face the question of what the church is. We are not the first ones to ask these questions. Since the time of Justin [ca. 100-ca.165] and Clement [ca. 100], of Celsus[1] [d. ca. 200] and Porphyrus[2] [ca. 232-ca. 303], philosophers have had to face them. Various modern scholarly disciplines, including historical research, psychology, sociology and the scientific study of religion [Religionswissenschaft], have examined the phenomena associated with the church in an attempt to provide a definition. So far no government has found an answer to the question of what the church is and it seems unlikely that any scientific discipline will have more success. “Their conclusions in defining the church conflict with each other.” What is the reason for their failure to come up with an answer? The answer obviously lies in the simple fact that there are no real analogous organizations which can serve as a standard or norm to which the church can be compared. Since comparisons are necessary in making definitions, it is impossible to define the church. The discipline of comparative religions, as the name indicates, compares the church with other religions. Its claims for revelation can be placed along side the beliefs and teachings of the other great world religions. The methods used in the history of religions and sociology can be used in placing the earliest forms of Christianity along side of Hellenistic Gnostic cults. This can be expanded to make other comparisons. A Catholic Church in its development can be compared with the “people” of Islam. The same comparison can be made between the social forms which have appeared in Christian history and the corresponding Asiatic world religions which appeared at that time. Recognizable parallels are easy to come by. It takes a bit of daring to take standards of the school of the history of religions, which are so obviously human conceptions, and then to use them in examining the phenomena associated with the church. At first glance such a scholarly approach holds out the promise of providing a definition of the church and what its essence is. This approach promises to deliver more than it actually does and soon proves to be deceptive. While for some phenomena connected with Christianity, some parallels can be found, for others there is neither an explanation nor a comparison. In what is beyond explanation, where there are no parallels in the history of religion (comparative religions) or in how religious associations are structured, the mystery of the church’s essence is hidden. One way out of the dilemma of explaining why the unique phenomena of the church are beyond explanation is to take refuge in the Latin axiom: “Individuum est ineffabile [What is distinctive or unique is beyond definition].” Unique individuality is not uncommon to history. This still leaves the problem of finding an answer for an historical definition, since the unique individuality of something living – like the church – cannot be so easily explained. Florenski[3] once said that the inability to come to a definition of what the church is demonstrates its living character. Looking for the answer of what makes the church the church simply goes beyond the limits of the scientific study of the history of religions and examining the structure of other human organizations. It must be conceded from the start that if the church is constituted by what its members believe, its rituals and its organizational structure, then the church should be studied along with other religious organizations which also have statements of what they believe and which have rituals. This approach leads to only one conclusion: the church’s essence is then not really distinctive. In this case the Christian church is only a peculiar or idiosyncratic historical phenomenon, as defined by the history of religions. But another such phenomenon resembling the church simply does not exist. The church has no parallels. There are no Jewish, Parsee (followers of Zoroaster), Manichean, Mohammedan or Buddhist churches. There is no church of Mithra. For the church is the body of Christ. She is not only called, but really is the body of Christ. She is the people of God in the same way that she is temple of the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as the body of Mohammed or of Buddha, or a body of Serpis or Mithra. Only under the presupposition that Jesus Christ is really the Son of God, who for the sake of us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was really made man,[4] can the church be the church. The church is church only because what the ancient creed says about the person of Jesus Christ, his birth, his death, his resurrection and his ascension, is really true. If all these things were not true, to drag up an old saying, these things are no more or less significant than any other good story. In this case the church, as we understand it, simply does not exist. The church has no other response for explaining the reason for the world’s failure to understand what she really is than by pointing out that the world does not believe in Christ. What the church believes about herself is dependent on what she believes about Jesus. If non-Christians know nothing of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, how could they possibly recognize his actual and personal presence in the world through the church? Does the church have a way of proclaiming the mystery of her existence in the world other than by proclaiming the presence of her exalted Lord? What the church is can only be shown by confessing Christ. Woe to the church, which seeks a way other than confessing Christ to gain the world’s attention. Ecumenical Council for Practical Christianity.”

Law and Gospel (December 1936). Hermann Sasse, Erlangen. Translated by David P. Scaer

[1] Celsus was a second century pagan philosopher. His attack on Christianity is the oldest of which portions survive. It is known to us from “Contra Celsum” by Origen which is a third century work which preserves 90% of Celsus’ original work, “Alaqh~ Logo~” or “True Word.” ODCC p. 311. MH

[2] Neoplatonist philosopher, perhaps once a Christian by definitely no longer so by the persecution of Decius in 250. Studied philosophy at Athens and was convinced of Neoplatonism by Plotinus, whom he met in Rome in 262. Studied popular religion and took a particularly negative attitude toward Christianity. He pointed out alleged inconsistencies in the Gospels and attacked the O.T. Refutations were presented by St. Methodius of Olympus, Eusebius of Ceasarea, Apollinarius of Laodicia, and others. ODCC p. 1309. MH

[3] George Florovsky 1893-1979, Russian theologian. From 1926 professor of Patristics at the Orthodox Theological Institute of St. Sergius in Paris and later Professor of Dogmatics. Came to the U.S. in 1948, professor and dean at St. Vladimier’s Seminary (1948-1955) and Professor of Eastern Church History at Harvard Divinity School (1956-1964), and Visiting Professor at Princeton from 1964. Played a leading part in the ecumenical movement from 1937 serving regularly as a delegate at assemblies of the Faith and Order movement and of the World Council of Churches. ODCC p. 620. MH

[4] Reference to the second article of the Nicene Creed. MH

“Gesetz und Evangelium.” Oekumenischen Rat Fuer Praktisches Christentum. Forschungsabteilung. Vertraulich Kirch, Dezember 1936. Unpublished paper. Feuerhahn Bibliography no. 36-02. This paper was written in preparation for the upcoming Faith and Order Conference at Edinburgh (1937). Sasse was at this time under prohibition of travel, as he had been when he attended a Faith and Order committee meeting in London at Archbishop Temple’s residence earlier in the year. He was also deeply involved into the open schism in the Confessing Church. The pressures he was facing at the time of this publication were enormous. The entire article will appear soon in “The Lonely Way” vol. 3, from C.P.H. MH


Here is a post from pastor Paul McCain.  Very interesting.  Well worth the read.

I get a lot of interesting communications from across the Missouri Synod here at Concordia Publishing House, on a wide variety of topics and issues. Just when I think I’ve seen or heard it all, I see something that I’ve never seen before. That happened again recently. A pastor gave us a lot of feeback and input on a wide variety of resources. He told us he has been in the ministry for twenty-five years. He commented on Lutheran Service Book and declared that only 40% of the hymns in it are “singable.” Ok. But it got more interesting. He said he likes some of the liturgies in it, but not others. Then he said, and this is a direct quote: “Some of it is not so good, DS II.  I told my secretary to tear it out of the hymnals.”

Hmmmmm….a pastor directing his secretary to “tear it out of the hymnals.” Really?

The older I get, and that seems to be happening more quickly than before, I am struck, over and over and over again, but how far removed we are from the spirit of our fathers when it comes to respecting the collective will of the Church when it comes to matters of adiaphora. The principle that what has neither been commanded, nor forbidden, is therefore free has been horribly abused among us to mean now, “Whatever is adiaphora doesn’t matter and you can do whatever you want with it.”

At the time of the Reformation the idea was that although we have freedom, we also have obligations to one another, therefore, I’m not free to thumb my nose at the church’s collective will in matters such as this. And so, here we have a pastor directing a parish secretary to deface the church’s hymnal because he, the pastor, in his vast and infinite wisdom, decides he doesn’t like Divine Service II, therefore, he, the pastor, has the right to take his congregation’s hymnals and tear a chunk out of them.

Am I wrong in my thinking here? Or does this perfectly illustrate a problem that is pandemic among us?


“Here I Stand”

A great video clip from the recent  “Luther” movie.  This piece is titled, “Here I stand.”

Luther My Homeboy

Clergy Stress

A thoughtful post from Pastor Mark Henderson: “Logging thousands of kilometres a year in the car, the e-mails, phone calls, on duty 24/7, 365 days a year, 60-70 hours a week, dwindling membership, pressure to “grow” the church, feeling guilty about taking time off…maybe not taking time off at all. This insight into the lives of American clergy, courtesy of a very good TV report from a public television program Religion and Ethics Weekly, all sounds familiar to clergy “down under”, I’m sure (perhaps what is not so familiar to us is the number of female clergy in the church, but to comment on that would take us off topic).
Watch it here:

“Curiously, one thing that isn’t mentioned in the report is intra-denominational conflict (very curious, given that The Episcopal Church in the US (Anglicans) is imploding as I write), which is known from surveys to be a major factor in clergy burnout (forget inter-denominational conflict; most pastors are likely to have closer friends among the clergy of other denominations than their own, which surely says something!). I also believe, after watching the report, that US denominations are much better at looking after their clergy than is the case here in Australia; we’re a long, long way from the kind of clergy retreats that are shown in the clip – synodical leaders, take note!

“I have seen fellow pastors fall by the wayside – it is a tragedy for them, their families and the church. I’m reluctant to offer unbidden counsel on this topic, since what works for one pastor may not work for another, and I don’t wish to portray myself as some kind of expert in this area, but here are some common sense things I do to avoid burnout: I take a day off per week…religiously (Mondays); I have a hobby (or two, if you include blogging!); I dedicate (and jealously guard) time in my diary for what I am most passionate about in the ministry, i.e. the study of the Word and preaching – I find this then becomes a source of spiritual and mental energy that sustains me through the week (so, devote most time to what is most central to the ministry); and I try to follow the old pastoral rule: mornings in the study, afternoons visiting, evenings with my family or meetings…of course, there are exceptions, so it’s more a guide than a rule – we Lutherans aren’t big on rules ;0). Oh, and I work to keep meetings to a minimum – generally one evening per week in both my previous and present parishes; I suspect there are so many meetings in the church because everyone (especially the clergy?) is anxious to be seen “doing something”. If a minister is spending more time in meetings than he does with his Greek New Testament, it’s a sure warning sign that his priorities in ministry are skewed. Trust me, parish life will continue perfectly fine with a minimum of meetings, and your sermons will improve – praise the Lord!

“Lastly, I think some ministers “burn out” or lose a sense of vocation because, in a misguided attempt to compensate for the hidden, unnoticed nature of pastoral work, they come to devote so much of their time and/or energy to what is at best tangential to the ministry – office administration, denominational and inter-denominational commitments, public relations and various political and/or social involvements, and thus end up short-changing what is essential – Word and Sacrament ministry to the particular people of God whom we are called to serve, caring for their souls and not least our own.”

(Cartoon courtesy The Church Times, churchtimes.co.uk)


From Cyberbrethren.com.  I wonder how well we have done teaching people that using in-vitro fertilization to become pregnant is wrong because of the fact that the process necessarily results in “extra fertilized eggs” [read: human beings!], which ultimately are usually either frozen or destroyed. But, even if the process would not involve this result, it would still be wrong because it separates pregnancy from the act of the one man, one woman, one-flesh union. This story from ENI is interesting to read in light of this:

Catholic condemnation of Nobel Prize stirs Italian press reaction

By Luigi Sandri
Rome, 5 October (ENI)–Vatican authorities have strongly criticised the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Medicine to Briton Robert Edwards, stating that the scientist’s work on in-vitro fertilisation does not help in the defence of life.

At the same time, a number of editorials in the Italian press attacked the Roman Catholic position.

Vatican Radio carried an interview with Lucio Romano, president of the Science and Life Association, on 4 October in which he said, “The award was for a technique which reduces humanity to a product. The assignation of the Nobel Prize to Edwards ignores all ethical issues linked with IVF.”

Romano argued that Edwards did make a big impact on modern science because he extrapolated techniques used in the breeding of livestock and applied them to human beings.

“This absolutely does not represent progress for the human person,” said Romano, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Frederick II University in Naples, Italy.

The president of the Vatican-based International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, José María Simón Castellvi, said, “Although IVF has brought happiness to the many couples who have conceived through this process, it has done so at an enormous cost. That cost is the undermining of the dignity of the human person.”

Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, admitted there were some merits in Edwards’ discoveries but underlined that with artificial insemination from a person who is not a woman’s mate, motherhood and fatherhood are “trivialised”.

“There are scientists more worthy than Edwards of the Nobel Prize,” Carrasco told the Rome-based La Repubblica newspaper.

Still the same newspaper ran a comment saying that the Holy See is unable to accept “a scientist who dares investigate what for millenniums was an inscrutable mystery, the mystery of procreation”.

The editorial recalled that in October 1964, during the Second Vatican Council discussion on birth control, the Belgian Cardinal Leo Suenens, told more than 2000 bishops, “I pray, fathers: let us avoid a new process against Galileo.”

The Italian scientist Galileo Galilei, the “father” of the modern astronomy in the 17th century was condemned by the papacy because he stated that the sun, and not heaven, was the centre of the universe.

“The Vatican condemns the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Edwards,” declared the Milan-based Corriere della Sera newspaper, noting, “It was the time to award a Nobel Prize for Medicine to Edwards. It’s a prize richly deserved. Those who contest this choice are not taking into account that Edwards has made a fundamental contribution to the promotion of life.”

In giving the prize to Edwards, Sweden’s Nobel assembly in Stockholm said: “His contributions represent a milestone in the development of modern medicine.” It said, “His achievements have made it possible to treat infertility, a medical condition afflicting a large proportion of humanity, including more than 10 percent of all couples worldwide.” [492 words]

© Ecumenical News International