Sunday, August 12, 2007

Paul Gerhardt Hymnody

This past May my family and I attended the Paul Gerhardt Symposium in St. Catharines, Ontario. It was excellent. The music (all Gerhardt, all the time) was played and sung well. The presentations for the most part were very informative. My one observation about the presenters is that those who indicated that they had been (as children) encouraged (forced) to memorize the Gerhardt hymns seemed to have the greatest insights into the richness of Gerhardt's theology and the depth of his faith.

A number of people commented that so few of Gerhardt's hymns had been translated into English. However, one presenter provided a reference to John Kelly's translation of Gerhardt's

I tried to find a copy of Kelly's work through the internet, but found nothing available for purchase. But through Google Books, I found a complete digital copy of Paul Gerhardt's Spiritual Songs (translated by J. Kelly) as well as Geistliche Lieder by Paul Gerhardt. Also available through Google Books is Paul Gerhardt as a Hymn Writer and His Influence on English Hymnody by Theodore Brown Hewitt. These can can be viewed online or downloaded as in PDF format. For those longing for more Gerhardt, these would be excellent resources.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Theosis: Achieving Your Potential in Christ (2)

Over a decade ago, a friend introduced me to the term 'Theosis.' Being thoroughly rooted in Missouri Synod Lutheranism, I had no idea what 'theosis' was. It sounded like a disease. But I was informed that this was a very old term and had great importance to the Eastern Orthodox Church's view of salvation. Now, after reading a few works on 'theosis,' I'm beginning to wonder if my first impression was not so far off the mark.

It is possible that some readers are now thoroughly offended by that previous comment. I will be simply dismissed as an unenlightened protestant heretic. (Yes, some EO writers clearly lump all protestants together as heretics and I am not in the least bothered by that judgment because they are wrong.) What I have discovered is that the word and concept of theosis carries with it all the baggage of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Some Lutherans (particularly the Finnish Lutherans) have tried to resurrect the word 'theosis' into the vocabulary of the modern Lutheran Church. They rationalize their position by stating that 'theosis' simply means 'deification.' And because Luther himself uses the term 'deification,' it is appropriate for Lutherans to use the word 'theosis.' Some might consider this an over-simplification of their argument, but it basic point which I gathered from some Finnish Lutheran presentations.

The concept of theosis in Anthony Coniaris's book Achieving Your Potential in Christ: Theosis is the fruit of all Eastern Orthodox doctrine. All EO doctrine serves and enlightens its understanding of theosis. What this means is that the errors of EO on original sin, justfication, work of the Spirit (eg, Pelagianism) corrupt any positive usage of the term 'theosis.'

It is possible that 'theosis' is a very good term, but its current usage among the EO make it very inappropriate for usage by Evangelical Lutherans.

Theosis: Achieving Your Potential in Christ (1)

In preparation for my presentation (directed discussion) for The Augustana Ministerium's Theological Conference (30-31 August 2007) in Burleson, Texas, one of the readings which I suggested was Achieving Your Potential in Christ: Theosis by Anthony M. Coniaris. Selected portions of his book can be found on the internet.

As John Fenton points out on his blog, "Orthodoxy has no central body of "confessional documents" because it does not have a central hierarchical authority." Thus I cannot attribute to Coniaris's book any authoritative status on the subject of theosis. However, numerous Orthodox parishes refer to his book as an excellent resource for those interested in discovering more about theosis. Coniaris may not necessarily be the final authority but his presentation is highly regarded among the Eastern Orthodox.

Coniaris's book is in its 2nd edition from Light and Life Publishing Company. Its slightly over 100 pages (1st edition) are in large type font. His presentation is not a theological treatise, but a treatise for Eastern Orthodox laity.

Monday, August 06, 2007

LCMS 2007 Convention: Male Restroom Etiquette

Restroom etiquette is rarely an issue for men, except at sporting events and LCMS conventions/pastors' conferences. The 2007 LCMS convention provided one of those unique experiences where there were actually lines for the men's restroom. This created one of those awkward experiences of too many men in a restroom. Women apparently appreciate a full restroom for the opportunity of meaningful discussion without the presence of men. This is not the case for men.

A specifically awkward moment for me was when -- as I was standing at the urinal --the man to my left put his right hand on my right shoulder. (For those who are in the know it was a certain former ecclesiastical supervisor.) After that awkward moment settled in, I remembered the following YouTube video:

At future conventions, this video should be part of the delegate orientation so that these awkward moments do not occur again and that there are no tragic fallouts. There are enough tense moments on the convention floor. There is no need to add to them in the men's restroom.

Friday, August 03, 2007

LCMS 2007 Convention: Church Politics and the Theology of Glory

In previous years, I had believed that as long as my side prepared well for the convention we could prevail. After several conventions where all our organizing was fruitless, I was distressed at our failure. I wondered if God had abandoned my synod and if I should leave this sinking ship.

So last year when my friends called upon me to join them in preparing for the district convention, I reluctantly agreed. But I found myself being un-enthusiastic about all the meetings and strategizing. Many people believed we were unprepared and that our side would not prevail. Then, lo and behold, the convention turned out much better than we had hoped.

So what happened? Rather than an organized assault, individual delegates addressed those resolutions which were most important to them. Bad resolutions were defeated or improved. With winsome and passionate (non-aggressive) arguments along with a little self-effacing humor, our concerns were addressed and in some cases answered.

Did we prevail? By no means. But we confessed the truth and let God's Word and sound reasoning do the convincing. Not by might or right, but by insight and God's light, the convention turned out much better than many people had thought possible. How much better you may ask? Well, one delegate was heartily thanked and encouraged by many who had voted to censure him six years previous.

I learned something important. Many people go into church conventions wanting to prevail. They believe that with the right strategy and organization they can advance their cause. Rather than desiring to confess and convince, they seek to coerce and reign.

This attitude is prevalent on both sides of the aisle (whether liberal or conservative, whether dogmatic or pragmatic, whether confessional or not). This attitude is clearly indicative of the theology of glory. Many believe that if they do not prevail on every issue, then all is lost. This is a theology of glory. They do not want to struggle and wrestle for the truth, but simply have the truth accepted without question or struggle. This is a theology of glory.

In contrast, under the theology of the cross we should expect the devil to be opposing us at every turn. He is not turned back by the best laid plans of mice and men, but by the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. We should expect continuously to contend for the true faith. And so under the cross of Christ, we confess and confess and confess. And in the end the Lord of the Church will determine what is best for His Church -- whether it will flourish under a 'David' or suffer under an 'Ahab.'

So what did we learn from the 2007 LCMS convention? We learned that we will have to continue to have to contend and struggle under the cross.

Abandon Ship

Another convention has come and gone. Some are calling 'abandon ship.' I used to find myself contemplating this call and determining whether or not the time is right. I eventually realized that 'abandoning ship' was not for me to determine.

Some (even me) have wondered if the LCMS is a sinking ship. If it is, then we should compare our current state of affairs to a 'sinking ship' (such as the Titanic). When the Titanic began to sink, the captain gave the order to man the lifeboats. During this chaotic time, each officer was given assigned duties. Some were placed in charge of a lifeboat. Others were assigned to assist the passengers in getting in the lifeboats. Others were responsible to search the ship and to lead passengers to the lifeboats. Others were to rescue trapped passengers. Others had to stay at their posts until the very end. Any ship officer/employee who sought to save himself over the passengers was considered a coward.

And so it is in the synod. Each pastor has his assigned duties. Some must stay and tend the ones who remain in harms way. Others are called to man the lifeboats and guide their people to safety. And some will stay at their posts and go down with the ship. Yet anyone who abandons his duties is to be considered a hireling.