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My sincere thanks to reader John J Flanagan, who has kindly taken the time to discuss his experiences in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).

His guest post follows. Please feel free to comment or ask him questions to which he can respond directly.

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What are the differences between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS)?

I freely admit I am not an expert and certainly not a theologian, but I would refer interested parties to read for themselves the websites and Q&A sections on this topic posted at both the OPC and the LCMS websites.

I was a member of an OPC church for a few years, and eventually returned to the LCMS. Prior to that I was on a spiritual journey after 40 years as a Catholic, looking for the truth of God and His word first in the Bible, than checking out various denominations, like Baptists, non-denominational, Reformed, and OPC and PCA. I had been a member of an LCMS congregation as well, but I felt so confused by the varying interpretations each denomination had that I could not be sure in which church I belonged.

The OPC is a solid and faithful church, in my view, but I do not agree with all of the doctrines taught. First, the positives: Sola Scriptura, noting as the Bible declares that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and by Christ alone, apart from any works. The OPC believes in infant Baptism, as do Lutherans. End times: Lutherans are amillennial, however, while most OPC ministers are amillennial, some are Post Millennial. The OPC tends to regard communion as a memorial or symbol but Christ is present by His spirit, while Lutherans believe Christ is bodily present at the sacrament. The OPC and LCMS also views Baptism differently, in the sense that Lutherans believe one is regenerated or born again, while God does not necessarily regenerate a person being Baptized, although it is within His sovereignty to do so.
The OPC views Law and Grace differently than Lutherans. The Reformed view is that the Law is designed to suppress wickedness and promote righteousness, whereas, the Lutheran view is that the Law leads us to Christ and repentance.

This is a thumbnail sketch. I have often been struggling with varying interpretations that sincere and God loving Christians apply to the same scriptural verses. It can be confusing, but I have found that Lutheranism explains scripture better, in my view, and the OPC and Reformed lean heavily on the Westminster Confessions. In any case, I suppose Our Lord will determine which church reflects the most accurate interpretation of these things.

Those of you interested in understanding the various denominational teachings should read further materials, but the first and primary way to do that is to keep your hand on the Bible as you read, and pray for wisdom.

I must add that the OPC is, of course, Calvinistic. It follows the five points of Calvinism, also believing in double predestination, which Luther rejected. Other differences, like the Presbyterian form of government, the simplicity of the worship service, rejection of icons, set it apart from Lutheran traditions. The OPC has about 300 churches and about 30,000 members. On the plus side, they rejected post modernism long ago, and split from the very liberal Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), as later did the group which formed the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). But having looked at this as closely as I am able, in my humble opinion, the LCMS is where I shall remain, and I pray that we remain faithful in the years to come.

In response to a Lutheran reader, I have been running a brief series on Christ’s divinity and His miracles.

The first post addresses Christ’s man-God nature and the second explores human difficulty with faith.

Today’s excerpts from Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod beliefs. Part IV – Holy Scripture is an excellent exposition of belief about the Bible. Each section has ‘what we reject’ statements, often drawn from ancient heresies which persist to this day. Those who are searching for Lutheran apologetics will find this useful. Emphases mine below (other than the titles).

IV. Holy Scripture

The Inspiration of Scripture
We believe, teach and confess that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit and that God is therefore the true Author of every word of Scripture. We acknowledge that there is a qualitative difference between the inspired witness of Holy Scripture in all its parts and words and the witness of every other form of human expression, making the Bible a unique book.

We therefore reject the following views:

1. That the Holy Scriptures are inspired only in the sense that all Christians are “inspired” to confess the lordship of Jesus Christ.

2. That the Holy Spirit did not inspire the actual words of the Biblical authors but merely provided these men with special guidance.

3. That only those matters in Holy Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit which directly pertain to Jesus Christ and man’s salvation.

4. That noncanonical writings in the Christian tradition can be regarded as “inspired” in the same sense as Holy Scripture.

5. That portions of the New Testament witness to Jesus Christ contain imaginative additions, which had their origin in the early Christian community and do not present actual facts.

The Purpose of Scripture
We believe that all Scripture bears witness to Jesus Christ and that its primary purpose is to make men wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. We therefore affirm that the Scriptures are rightly used only when they are read from the perspective of justification by faith and the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

Since the saving work of Jesus Christ was accomplished through His personal entrance into our history and His genuinely historical life, death and resurrection, we acknowledge that the recognition of the soteriological purpose of Scripture in no sense permits us to call into question or deny the historicity or factuality of matters recorded in the Bible.

We therefore reject the following views:

1. That knowing the facts and data presented in the Scripture,without relating them to Jesus Christ and His work of salvation, represents an adequate approach to Holy Scripture.

2. That the Old Testament, read on its own terms, does not bear witness to Jesus Christ.

3. That it is permissible to reject the historicity of events or the occurrence of miracles recorded in the Scriptures so long as there is no confusion of Law and Gospel.

4. That recognition of the primary purpose of Scripture makes it irrelevant whether such questions of fact as the following are answered in the affirmative: Were Adam and Eve real historical individuals?   Did Israel cross the Red Sea on dry land?  Did the brazen serpent miracle actually take place?  Was Jesus really born of a virgin?   Did Jesus perform all the miracles attributed to Him?   Did Jesus’ resurrection actually involve the return to life of His dead body?

There is much more at the link about Scripture.

The Church of Gaia just ramped up tenfold with the controversial 10:10 campaign.

I had intended on ignoring the whole doggone thing until I read ‘The True Colors of Fascism’ by the Lutheran pastor, Father Hollywood (LCMS).  (He explains the origin of his moniker on the blog, by the way.)

Reluctantly, I watched the video.   Now I’m glad I did.  He’s right — it’s not for children or those of a sensitive disposition. Contrary to what Richard (Love, Actually) Curtis says, there is nothing remotely funny about it. I hadn’t realised that the whole production was British.  It does put us in a very poor light.  Please don’t think that all British people are this way.  It’s just the Fabian intelligentsia at work. And, yes, there is a vogue for schoolboys here to tie their ties very short.  They think it makes them look ‘cool’.  In reality, they only look like dorks.

However, first back to Father Hollywood, who correctly and succinctly points out (emphases mine throughout):

And when you’ve had enough of this godless fascism, a manifestation of what St. Augustine called “the lust for domination,” you might want to consider Christianity and its corollary philosophy that human beings are made in God’s image and are endowed by their Creator with freedom.

Sadly, not even our own governments understand the master-servant relationship. Fascism is alive and well. Is this how you want to live your life?

In the comments, he reflected further:

They obviously can’t compel people and blow them up – even if they wish they could.

But the state can. And that’s where life imitates art.

There is also an underlying message of conformity. Get on board because everyone else is – whether the premise is true or false, whether you agree or disagree, none of that matters. “No pressure” – really means “peer pressure.”

And the state has the power to enforce ideologies such as this. It has the means to confiscate and redistribute, to tax and destroy, to imprison and even to splatter the blood of nonconformists and make examples of those who disagree.

If the 20th century has taught us anything, it has confirmed George Washington’s dictum: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

What he wrote reminded me of President Obama’s new assassination programme.  Never would I have imagined such a thing taking place in the United States of America.  Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald had the best summary and analysis.  If you are unfamiliar with the story and its implications — in line with Father Hollywood’s observations — please take the time to read it in full.  Here are a few excerpts:

At this point, I didn’t believe it was possible, but the Obama administration has just reached an all-new low in its abysmal civil liberties record.  In response to the lawsuit filed by Anwar Awlaki’s father asking a court to enjoin the President from assassinating his son, a U.S. citizen, without any due process, the administration late last night, according to The Washington Post, filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims …

The same Post article quotes a DOJ spokesman as saying that Awlaki “should surrender to American authorities and return to the United States, where he will be held accountable for his actions.”  But he’s not been charged with any crimes, let alone indicted for any.  The President has been trying to kill him for the entire year without any of that due process.  And now the President refuses even to account to an American court for those efforts to kill this American citizen on the ground that the President’s unilateral imposition of the death penalty is a “state secret.” …

UPDATE:  As a reminder:  Obama supporters who are dutifully insisting that the President not only has the right to order American citizens killed without due process, but to do so in total secrecy, on the ground that Awlaki is a Terrorist and Traitor, are embracing those accusations without having the slightest idea whether they’re actually true.  All they know is that Obama has issued these accusations, which is good enough for them.  That’s the authoritarian mind, by definition:  if the Leader accuses a fellow citizen of something, then it’s true — no trial or any due process at all is needed and there is no need even for judicial review before the decreed sentence is meted out, even when the sentence is death.

For those reciting the “Awlaki-is-a-traitor” mantra, there’s also the apparently irrelevant matter that Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution (the document which these same Obama supporters pretended to care about during the Bush years) provides that “No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”

As Americans say, I have no dog in this hunt.  It’s the principle of the thing.

Meanwhile, the UK, in line with most EU countries, has transformed itself from the land of the village eccentric into one of conformists.  People do watch each other’s behaviour.  Admittedly, not everyone, but you do have to fall in line much more: dress relatively normally, look industrious at the weekend (very American) and adopt the socio-political outlook of your manager at work or local cleric.  One must ‘fit’ and fit well.  Anyone who has gone for a job interview has to be adjudged to ‘fit’ before being hired.  This is called ‘cultural cloning’. Samir Shah, chairman of the Runnymede Trust, wrote about the phenomenon for The Spectator in 2009:

The real problem is what I call ‘cultural cloning’ — the human tendency to recruit in one’s own image. Recruitment, instead of being about picking the best people, becomes a process of finding people like the ones already there. The overwhelming need for a kind of cultural comfort blanket takes precedence over every other consideration — and rules out those whose backgrounds don’t quite fit. This is what a 21st-century Equalities Commission should have in its sights. Cultural cloning is, in my opinion, the main source of discrimination in Britain today.

Style, background, accent, dress sense and cultural (as opposed to ethnic) background andmost of all — your manner count just as much as your ethnicity in trying to land that job. This, of course, brings a whole set of problems that we need to overcome …

We’re not talking about an ‘old boys-club’, either.  It is a postmodern, post-Second World War social phenomenon.  The people in the 10:10 film — teacher, manager and sound technician — exemplify it perfectly. Awfully nice people on the surface: ‘no pressure’, unless you don’t conform. This is why many classically British individuals look askance at David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.  Will there be a gauleiter in every street?  Who knows?

I remember a few years ago that the police service in one county in England announced that residents notifying them of suspected crime would receive a sum of money if  the person was convicted.  I mentioned it in passing at work.  To my astonishment, one of the guys piped up, ‘I wish they’d do that in my county.  The money I could make!’  I asked if he didn’t see a moral issue with it.  ‘What ‘moral issue’?  Who cares about morals? I need the money.’  And that sums up a sadly-increasing number of my fellow Britons today.

And should — heaven forbid — a majority of people ever assume an attitude of conformity, are short of cash and become card-carrying members of the Church of Gaia, we have had it as a society.  You’ll find out more tomorrow.

Then again, something similar could happen anywhere.  Have a look at the second video in Father Hollywood’s post: the State of Pennsylvania’s 30-second advert to catch tax cheats.

Think it couldn’t happen?  Think again.

Tomorrow: More Church of Gaia and the British reaction to 10:10

Couldn’t resist sharing with you more of the Revd Larry Peters’s thoughts, this time on music in LCMS worship.

In his Pastoral Meanderings (see Blogroll) Pastor Peters has several posts on the role of music in worship.  His reflections are perfect antidotes to the praise-band trend we so often read about these days.

First, if your congregation would like to own a real organ but has little space and even less money, Pastor Peters suggests the Moller Artiste model from the late 1970s.  In ‘On the Way Home’, he explains:

To those who insist that real pipes are a luxury in churches today, I say take a gander at a good used Moller Artiste or one of its many derivations.  For a few thousand dollars they can be had.  A few thousand more in transportation and installation, and you have a reliable instrument that keeps it tuning and will serve well the congregation for many, many years to come.  Check out eBay or the Organ Trader or the ads in TAO magazine or the Diapason or you can look at the Organ Relocation Service.  Sometimes a phone call to organ service folks or regional organ builders will help you track down one of these little gems.

Less expensive than an electronic and yet very serviceable for most organ literature, you hear the sound of real music being made and not digitally sampled music being mimicked.  It is not that I am totally against electronic organs but that is not the only option open to most, make that all congregations … What we will end up with is a very serviceable instrument that will support the room, lead congregational song, and equip the chapel to serve its function for smaller services, weddings, and funerals (50-60 in attendance). 

His ‘A Different Approach to the Role of Music in the Service’ discusses why his church selects certain hymns and styles of music:

We pick music (hymns, song, and service music) that express the mood of the service (joyful, somber, encouraging, reflective, etc.) and in this way music is primarily evocative.  And then there is the understanding of music as mood maker where the role of music is to bring together the assembly and bring them to one place.  Music is used to make the mood (often here the songs are both performed and sung repeatedly and the singing goes on continuously over some period of time as opposed to hymns or songs that are sung one at a time and in alternation with other parts of the service … )

Music is not merely some sounds around the text but, with the text, is woven in such way that text and tune become one fabric, one message.  The primary purpose of music is to communicate THE message of Jesus Christ.  If you page through Lutheran Service Book or Lutheran Worship or The Lutheran Hymnal, it is easy to see what I mean.  There are hymns there that tell a story over many stanzas, both summarizing and saying in the actual words of Scripture the message of the Gospel (and not only Gospel but also Law).  They are theological as well as doxological — in fact we might say that in order to be doxological they must be theological, conveying and confessing the truth of God’s own self-disclosure and revelation …

George Weigel, noted Roman Catholic theological and social commentator, has noticed this as well.  Read what he has written:  I love hymns. I love singing them and I love listening to them …

For classic Lutheran theology, hymns are a theological “source:” not up there with Scripture, of course, but ranking not-so-far below Luther’s “Small Catechism.” Hymns, in this tradition, are not liturgical filler. Hymns are distinct forms of confessing the Church’s faith. Old school Lutherans take their hymns very seriously.

Most Catholics don’t. Instead, we settle for hymns musically indistinguishable from “Les Mis” and hymns of saccharine textual sentimentality. Moreover, some hymn texts in today’s Catholic “worship resources” are, to put it bluntly, heretical …

 He gets what some Lutherans have forgotten or chosen to ignore. What we sing is either what we believe, teach and confess or it is simply what we think or feel.  While there is nothing wrong with feelings and passion in worship, what we sing is not an aesthetic experience, not an artistic experience, not a musical experience, but the place where the Word speaks and music assists the speaking of that Word

Yes, and that is what so many of us grew up with and what we miss today.  A number of people have correctly noted that the praise band thing really relates to how we feel, not how best we can give praise and glory to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  When we reads the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms, we grasp the importance of worship — prayer, praise and song which glorify God. God’s Chosen worshipped Him with reverence and thanksgiving.  (I’m omitting the times when they made imperfect sacrifices and flawed acts of worship.)  Is that because they had a closer relationship to Him than we do?  How do we change that?  How do we get to the heart of the matter that He is sovereign over us, fallen men in a fallen world? 

Those of us of a certain age remember a Friday night television programme in the US called In Concert, which featured the top bands from the early 1970s in 15-minute sets. That, to me, is what some present-day services resemble: son-et-lumière, loud music and an atmosphere designed to appeal to our earthly senses.  Do we imagine that God is pleased with this?  Many would say yes, but do we say that to justify ourselves?  If you’re shaking your head along to music in the pew or in a comfy theatre-style chair, is that giving praise to the Almighty?  Let’s think that one through.

My final feature of Pastor Peters’s is on liturgical language, another personal favourite (or is that bugbear?) of mine.  In ‘The Language that Soars’, he writes:

The language of the liturgy is not primarily to communicate clearly but to elevate this communication to the highest level of poetry, to the sublime and elegant …

Sadly, there is too little language that moves us upward and too much that is eminently forgettable when it comes to the worship of the Lord’s House.  I am not speaking of something contrived (unless we deliberately seek to confuse and confound) but the ability to turn a phrase into a moment of grandeur that stays with you.  We all recall the phrasing of the classic collects (O God from whom all good things come…, for example).  This noble and elegant prose seems almost poetic in the way the phrases lift our attention and move us — not in competition with what they say but saying what is said with the best of our gifts …

I lament the loss of language’s gift with respect to Bible translations, much of contemporary hymnody and church song, nearly all of the home grown liturgy, and the prayers of the Church.  It is pedestrian language — boring to the speaker and to the hearer.  Devoid of the elegance deserved by the words that speak of the Word made flesh, we are left with a flat tongue that says what it means but empty and mundane in the way it says it.

When I pray the Te Deum from TLH I am reminded of the power of language and of the great loss when we fail to use its gift well in service to the Lord and His House.  With each succeeding hymnal we lose more and more of the power of this language.

Just so.   

Church services really need to return to the notion of being centred around God not man.  We have been bombarded for decades now about the so-called importance of changing to meet the culture.  No!  Worship is our cherished opportunity to meet God in a sublime way.  So many people I talk to miss the mysterium tremendum of the traditional church service.  Whilst I can appreciate that not everyone reading this will have grown up in a strictly traditional or liturgical environment, those of us who have would do well to consider the legacy which we are so rapidly losing to popular culture.  Don’t forget, in time, that, too, will change — and, once again, we’ll need a whole new hymnal and liturgy to ‘meet’ it on its even more miserable terms. 

 

The LCMS — Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod — is evolving.  Disgruntled ELCA members are looking for a more orthodox Lutheranism.  Similarly, Episcopalians with young families are disillusioned with the state of their church and are seeking membership in the LCMS.  Add to that the more fluid mix of American Protestants looking for reverent, confessional worship in their area.  The LCMS attracts a variety of members, perhaps moreso than when I was growing up 40 years ago. 

In ‘A Lutheran Tea Party Movement’, Pastoral Meanderings‘s blogger, the Revd Larry Peters, an LCMS pastor in Tennessee, examined not only the membership demographics but the current trends and undercurrent of tension in his church.  Where has it been going and where will it be trending this decade?  He writes:

It is not a personal battle here between an incumbent confessing evangelical style Lutheran and an evangelical catholic style Lutheran but the clash of two souls within the body of Missouri.

On one hand we have a combination of folks who have embraced the evangelical identity (some on the more fundamentalist end and others on the more non-denominational ideal).  Some are like liturgical Baptists who speak the language of inerrancy as conservative Baptists do but act like people of the book on Sunday morning because they like the order and that is what Lutherans do.  They are not sold on their liturgical identity as much as they hold to their conservative identity.  Some are like Rick Warren or Bill Hybels or even Joel Osteen in Lutheran dress.  They are willing to do whatever to fill the pews and they borrow from whomever has what they think will make that happen.  They shape their mission and identity to fit the culture (both in music/style and in substance) and they preach a message less about law and Gospel than about personal happiness, success, and purpose.

On the other hand we have a combination of folks who have embraced the confessional identity — some as catholic in both creed and worship.  These folks believe that Lutheranism is not some fruit of a radical reformation but the conservative and careful reform of catholics who love their past and are willing to sort through the error to preserve as much as can be faithfully kept.  Other confessionals are not so liturgical or catholic but they do want to be confessional to the core.  They  fence the altar, the pass their neighbors through the sieve of their rigid conservatism and they re-argue past theological controversies as if they were sill going on and as if they were the real causes for Lutheran problems today.

On the other hand, we have folks on the fringes and people in the middle.

The LCMS will meet in Houston in July to elect a new President.  This was the thrust of Pastor Peters’s post, of which he has more in the run-up to this conference.  However, the reason I posted his excerpt was for the evangelical and confessional Christian practice in LCMS congregations.  It’s not always easy for an outsider to become an LCMS member (many churches require a good understanding of and adherence to the Book of Concord, for a start), but Pastor Peters’s Pastoral Meanderings and Pastor McCain’s Cyberbrethren contain excellent observations of the LCMS in action.

EarthAs a follow-up to my post of September, 21, 2009, on evolution and the LCMS position, Cyberbrethren‘s Pastor McCain has added another post, entitled ‘How Old Is the Earth? The LCMS Does Not Answer That Question‘.  Whilst this is unrelated to my own, as it is dated September 18, 2009, I shall reproduce parts of the post and the comments it received.

Getting to the heart of the matter, Pastor McCain clarifies the LCMS position neatly in a comment to reader Michael Mapus here (emphasis mine):

Let’s not compare belief in a 6,000 year old earth with belief in the Resurrection. The Scriptures testify explicitly to the Resurrection, but they nowhere tell us the earth is 6,000 years old. This is precisely one of the point of this post. Many, even LCMS Lutherans, assume we have embraced some of the popular tenets of American Fundamentalism, at least as it is popularly understood. In fact, we do not.

Now, back to the post itself.  Here are the main points, although it is worth reading both it and the comments in their entirety:

– The LCMS has no doctrinal position on the age of the Earth.

– The LCMS is not a fundamentalist church.

– The reason it does not take a position on the age of the Earth is that the Bible does not state how old our planet is. 

– The LCMS does not believe in a total literal interpretation of the Bible, however, the Bible — not man — determines at what points it should be read literally, e.g. Adam and Eve.

– The LCMS Synod believes there can be ‘no actual contradiction between genuine scientific truth and the Bible’.

– It is possible to harmonise Biblical teaching with scientific knowledge, ‘e.g. God created the world in an already ‘mature’ state, so that scientific ‘data’ lead one to the conclusion that it is older than it actually is’.  

The LCMS Synod affirms that:

‘God by the almighty power of His Word created all things in six days by a series of creative acts,’ that ‘Adam and Eve were real, historical human beings, the first two people in the world,’ and that ‘we must confess what St. Paul says in Romans 5:12‘ about the origin of sin through Adam as described in Genesis 3 (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31). The Synod has also, therefore, stated that it rejects ‘all those world views, philosophical theories, exegetical interpretations and other hypotheses which pervert these biblical teachings and thus obscure the Gospel’ (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31).

Pastor McCain gives reasons for the LCMS’s hesitancy to give the age of the earth and evolution a simple yes or no answer here:

What does a person wanting to nail down a specific age of the earth have to say about a six day creation of the world, a real, historical and factual Adam and Eve as the first human beings created by a direct act of God, as recorded in Genesis, and a real, factual, historic fall into sin, etc. In other words, I’d want to explore fully what is animating any assertion about an age of the earth and what else comes along with it, either as cause, or result, of a conviction about the age of the earth.

That makes sense and sounds better than the Synod’s statement, which, hmm, seems to support my original post. As one of the commenters said there, there’s a ‘culture war battlefield’ between the ELCA and LCMS on interpretation. Back to Pastor McCain: He’s not saying a pastor would tell you not to believe in evolution but he would wish to explore your logic and reasons for wanting to believe it in light of other episodes that Genesis 1 contains: Adam and Eve, their fall and Original Sin.

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