Editorial Update

ramblings by John W. Berg 

First of all, my apologies for the delay in getting out Volume II, Number 1 to you (please note that the U.S. Postal Service takes anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks to deliver our non-profit mail). Two weeks away from the computer because of a bad back and an edifying week in the wretched winter weather in Fort Wayne at the Symposia sponsored by Concordia Theological Seminary were to blame. The fellowship there, however, is warm and gracious, yet sobering. I heard a tale from a pastor whose congregation, in an effort to oust him, cut his salary to $0. Disgust at such wretched behavior should not primarily be leveled at the congregation, but at the bishop who should allow this. Speaking of “bishops,” I also heard the tale of a Wisconsin Synod pastor, who, after a half hour phone conversation, was suspended from the ministerium via e-mail. You gotta love technology, don’t you? Where have all the bishops gone?


A Demon and a Samaritan


The mark of a true prophet is persecution, even if it is only name calling. Our Lord’s enemies, unable to answer him, accused him of having a demon and being a Samaritan. Our Lord’s answer is instructive, “I do not have a demon.” Indeed, no demon, but a Samaritan, for is not our Lord the Good Samaritan?  In other words, when you suffer the ad hominem you know you have made it. We’ve made it! “Lug nuts” is one of the more printable (and public) appellations (one assumes this was not a reference to minor league baseball’s “Lansing Lugnuts,” although they are now one of our favorite teams). Also, in response to our analysis (Vol. 1, No. 4) of the editorial written about us in CHARíS magazine, its editor, while barely touching on what we wrote, wrote to me and spoke of the “failed ministry” of this editor because my congregation has a mere 90 communicants. (I won’t print what the baptized here said when informed of their co-failure.) Can’t argue with that theology of glory.


Also we found our way onto the official WELS Q/A website. The responder to the query “What does the synod make of The Motley Magpie?” an anonymous seminary professor, ascertained that there is “widespread opposition” to this “paper,” an observation he supported by the number of letters we have allegedly received in “opposition.” In response to the news that only a couple letters actually took issue with what we wrote (which letters we confessionally answered), this anonymous professor noted that even two letters “would qualify as ‘widespread’ in respect to viewpoint.”  Huh? I would ask him to explain that, but I am afraid he would. The answer published on the website conveniently ignored the other half of the truth by noting there is widespread support for what we have written, as seen in the majority of letters we have received, but then again, a half truth better serves one’s aim.


Preaching to the Sacrament, a short step to Legalism?


Yeah, that’s what I said when I heard the above, “Whaaa…?!” It seems this “concern” was expressed in at the Wisconsin Synod’s seminary’s symposium by the former president of the school about the encouragement to “preach people to the Sacrament.” But it isn’t this is at odds with the Lutheran confession? As Dr. Luther wrote,


This, too, needs to be stressed, while keeping in mind that we should not compel anyone to believe or to receive the sacrament and should not fix any law or time or place for it. Instead, we should preach in such a way that the people compel us pastors to administer the sacrament to them. (SC Preface 21-22). 


As was noted in last issue’s “Sacramental Goldilocks,” the automatic, knee jerk, conventional WELS wisdom answer that is often given when the encouragement to catechize a congregation about the blessings of the Sacrament of the Altar, indeed, to celebrate the Sacrament every Sunday (that is, when there are communicants desiring the Supper) is “you don’t have to have the Sacrament.” That is, to charge “legalism” as if someone were making a law of it, a straw man easily knocked down. So I ask, how can someone say that evangelically preaching people to the Sacrament is a short step to legalism, unless one does not understand the Sacrament which is a summary of the entire Gospel? As Luther says, only two words are needed,


The two words “my” (body and blood) and “your” (sins) are indeed mighty words which should fairly impel you gladly to walk over a hundred thousand miles for this sacrament; for if you would consider who it is who speaks “my,” and who says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” you would discover that it is your dear Lord Christ Jesus, God’s Son, who shed his blood and died for you (“Admonition Concerning the Sacrament”, AE 38 p. 125).


Perhaps one of our readers can enlighten me as to how preaching people to the sacrament is a short step to legalism.  How else are they going to get there?




A reader reported to us (which was confirmed) that a pastor in our midst “forgot” the Words of Institution in a service. Yeah, that’s what I said, “Forgot!?”  How does one forget the Verba? It is right there in the Ordo (that is, if one uses one). The validity of the mass was defended because of the word spoken in the distribution. But no worries for those in the Wisconsin Synod as this writer has heard the argument made in the Wisconsin Synod that theoretically a celebration without any words spoken may be valid if everyone knows what is going on, for in the Wisconsin Synod the consecration has no effect on the elements. Our Lutheran Confessions speak to this issue, of course,


Indeed, in the administration of the Holy Supper the Words of Institution are to be clearly and plainly spoken or sung publicly in the congregation, and in no case are they to be omitted. This is done, first, so that Christ’s command, “Do this,” may be obeyed. Second, it is done so that Christ’s words will arouse, strengthen, and confirm the hearers’ faith in the nature and benefits of this sacrament (that is, the presence of Christ’s body and blood and the forgiveness of sins, and all the benefits that have been won for us by Christ’s death and the shedding of his blood, which are given to us in his testament). Third, it is done so that the elements of bread and wine are sanctified and consecrated in this holy practice, whereby Christ’s body and blood are offered to us to eat and to drink, as Paul says [1 Cor. 10:16), “This cup of blessing that we bless…” This of course takes place in no other way than through the repetition and recitation of the Words of Institution  (FC TD VII 79-82).


Like Luther in the Besserer case, we do not recommend imprisonment for this offense. (Which will not be our advice if the rumor of a celebration with apple wine is proved true.)


Of Dykes and Bikes


Lest you think I purposely insult lesbians with this term “dykes,” as one who lives near San Francisco let me assure you that the gay community there has embraced the terms “dykes” and “queers” as their own, I think giving us macho straight guys a good lesson on how to handle invective. Take it, make it your own and so disarm it. (So you know, there is a San Francisco “Dykes on Bikes Gay Pride Parade.” Yippee!)


Now, regular readers to this “rag” (an invective thrown at us which we have gratefully embraced) know that we have critiqued an article and an editorial that have appeared in the journal CHARíS (See Vol. I, No. 1 “The WELS is Dead” and Vol. 1, No. 4 “Of CHARíS’ Scholarship and other Tales”) and here I go again. But lest you think me intemperate and accuse of me “piling on,” let me ask this, how can you ignore this?


An editorial in their most recent offering (you can check it out on their website) entitled “Gays and Lesbians in the Church” offered encouragement in ministering to these individuals. Fine, even needed for the pulpit pounding “gay-bashers” out there. But the editorial included several disturbing statements. The editor writes,


Without entering into a debate about the pathology of homosexuality, it would seem fairly obvious that there are Christians who struggle with their homosexuality in the same way that there are those who struggle with controlling their heterosexuality. 


As you may know pathology is the study of the causes of disease. Now, I’m no pathologist - although I do like watching them on TV - but I do know the cause of the sinful condition called homosexuality as well as a number of those who struggle with this sinful condition. The cause is the taint of our flesh called concupiscence, or more commonly, original sin. Indeed, the editorialist need not debate at all the pathology of homosexuality any more than we need to debate the pathology of any of the perverse inclinations of our flesh as the taint


is not a slight corruption of human nature, but rather a corruption so deep that there is nothing sound or uncorrupted left in the human body or soul, in its internal or external powers (FC EP I 8).


One might excuse the editorial if the comment about pathology were no more that a pondering of the depth of this infection that “the damage is so indescribable that it cannot be recognized by our reason but only from God’s Word” (FD EP 1, 9), but then we read,


Of course, it is part of God’s natural creation that men should be attracted to women. Jesus said, however, that it is sinful to lust after a woman and that to do so is the equivalent of adultery. Sexual relations are good within the bounds of marriage; outside of marriage, the very same acts are considered fornication. Homosexual inclinations, while not natural, do occur in some men and women. When such attraction turns to lust it is sin, and obviously, acting on such lust is also sin (Emphasis added - as if it needed to be).


Couple “homosexual inclinations, while not natural” with the editor’s comments about not “entering into a debate about the pathology of homosexuality,” and serious questions are raised. Most troubling is the sentence, “When such attraction turns to lust it is sin, and obviously, acting on such lust is also sin.” If this were not the position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America perhaps we could chalk this up to a poorly written sentence.  Why state the obvious, that homosexual lust is sin? Of course! So this begs the question, is this “attraction” only sin when it turns to lust? Is the editor suggesting that homosexuality, while not natural, whose pathology is uncertain, yet kept under lust-free control, is not sin, or that that is debatable?  Let me remind the editor


For original sin is not a sin that a person commits; rather it is embedded in the human being’s nature, substance, and essence. That means that even if no evil thought ever arose in the heart of the corrupted human being, no idle word were uttered, no evil deed done, nonetheless our nature is corrupted by original sin, which is implanted in us at birth in the sinful seed and which is a source of all other, actual sins such as evil thoughts, words and deed (FC EP I 21).


Equivocating about the cause of homosexual orientation is no different than equivocating about any perverse or perverted inclination that may or may not break out in sins of thought, word and deed in any of us. Confirm what the homosexual needs to hear, this orientation is a sinful disease in the flesh, a disease with which we are all equally infected, with which all mankind is afflicted, which was taken into Christ as he became sin for us, and in the flesh, in his Baptism, in his death he became one with us.  Knowing what the flesh is will not stop what the flesh will do, but only by recognizing this and having contrition visited on us will the one with this or any other sinful inclinations find solace and strength in the Gospel. The Reverend Fr. David Petersen insightfully notes


The problem is not that we are basically decent people who make mistakes and sometimes do bad things. The problem is we are bad people who are pretty good at covering it up (Gottesdienst, Vol. II, No. 3 p. 7).


He continues to remind us that “a confused preaching of the law, or the preacher’s weakening of the law leads to an ambiguous Gospel of little or no comfort.” The real sanctuary, especially for such sins which control the flesh and bring shame, is the confessional, is the blessing of the Sacrament of the Altar, is preaching that does not treat this sin as worse than others, but truly a sinful and damning condition, and to preach in such a way that the person struggling with this pathological sinful condition knows that his shame was borne by the Lord in his shame on the cross, and is not found in squishy equivocation on the cause and nature of this sin.


Of Dykes and Bikes, continued…


It seems all of metro Milwaukee went gaga over Harley Davidson's recent grand 100th anniversary bash, the editor of CHARíS, a proud owner of a Harley, included. And so “Hog Heaven” was the title of another CHARíS editorial in which the “joys of the open road” on one’s “Hog” were lauded for it provides the editor of CHARíS time alone for “meditation and prayer.”  Being a biker myself I can relate, however, I prefer Lycra© to leather as my bike of choice is a titanium framed Lightspeed© mountain bike. Yes, getting away is good, even if one encounters the occasional hungry mountain lion or an inattentive meditating motorcyclist. One wishes the editor had stopped there, but you already know where this is headed. The editor still high from the euphoria of the open road and the thrill generated by “800 pounds of vibrating steel” opines


Jesus often escaped to the hills to pray. Where can we go for quiet, solitary time with God? I’d bet if Jesus lived today, he’d ride a Harley.”


First of all, perhaps some kind soul can inform the editor that our Lord Jesus indeed lives today and he rests, not on a Harley, but on our altars where his body and blood are to be distributed to the weary. He lives and covers us in Holy Baptism and speaks comfort and peace to us through his Word. If the insouciant editor meant to say that if the fullness of time were in our day, that his money would be on seeing our Lord hunkered down on for some “quiet” (!?) time on a Harley, I would disagree. If it were not so dangerously close to blasphemy I might suggest that the Lord would prefer my much more eco-friendly and healthy mode of transportation. (One does tire of this puerile “what Jesus would do” nonsense.) No, our Lord, who for our sakes became poor, who had no place to lay his head, would not have been able to purchase such an expensive midlife crisis toy as this status symbol motorcycle, nor, I suspect, borrow one. Indeed his only luxury was an anointing for his burial, the only mode of transportation I recall him employing was a borrowed, lowly donkey.  His prayer position on his knees as he fell to the ground.


But I suppose as long as we are on the subject of “what ifs” and engaging in pop theology why don’t we debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? 




Finally, as with Mark Twain, the reports of friend and fellow editor’s, Reverend James Frey, death, which were actually reported to his daughter, were greatly exaggerated, at least as of this writing. One suspects something was lost in translation, you know, a simple case of mistaking the rarely used optative for the indicative.  §



The Reverend John W. Berg is pastor of Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church and mountain bikes in the foothills around the Bay Area of California. This update appeared in the January 2004 issue.




Letters to the Editors 

The Reverend Benjamin Tomczak writes


Just wanted to write and say thanks for the commentary on the Octave of Mother's Day by Fr. Peter Berg [Found in the Volume I:4 online version of the Magpie.]  What a nice website addition to the issue!  I appreciated the reminder that every day in the Church Year focuses on Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus! 


While we're certainly free to honor mothers, and fathers, veterans, etc., holding them up as that great cloud of witnesses the author of Hebrews reminds us of, we need, especially in this materialistic and selfish world, to focus our eyes more and more on Him, not me!


I also hope it encourages some to stop writing their "Mother's Day Liturgies." 


Grace and peace.


8MM  Thank you for your kind comments. (PMB)





Helen Jensen, writes


I believe I read in your current issue that the Rev. Peter Berg is doing colloquy with the LCMS. Pardon, but isn't that like getting into a boat and rowing frantically to catch up with the Titanic? [Aboard already and concerned about the fog ahead…]


8MM  Dear Helen; Alas, but true.  However, as Yeoman Berg was leaning over the rail of the rudderless Carnival Cruise ship he was on, which seems to be going in circles as everyone is a captain (and so no one), due to sea sickness witnessing the silliness being brought on board from foreign ports, he listened with too rapt attention to the strains of "Nearer my God to Thee" wafting through the air from some distant (and presumably) unsinkable liner shrouded in fog and he was pushed overboard (with a life boat graciously provided by some of his former passengers)! When he arrives on board he only asks that you save the last dance for him.  Peace. (JWB)



Jonathan Bauer, among other things, wrote


I also had one question for you or whoever would like to answer it.  I know a common thing found in "high church" or "catholic" churches is a cross with Christ hanging from it, as opposed to just a cross, which I've seen more commonly in our synod.  I was just wondering what the significance is of a cross with Jesus hanging on it as opposed to just a cross.  Is one more Lutheran or Confessional than the other? 


8MM  You have observed correctly although the crucifix (a cross with a corpus) is more common in older churches (and newer ones with sacramentally orientated pastors and parishioners) than in newer ones (1950’s on). Historically in Lutheranism you would almost always find a crucifix on the altar or near the pulpit.  The reason for this is "we preach Christ crucified," we are "baptized into his death," and when we celebrate the sacrament we "proclaim his death till he comes" when we receive his body and blood, that which was sacrificed once and for all on the cross, and now given us as sacrament.  The crucifix thus reminds us of this sacrifice. 


However, in Protestant (I use this word theologically, not historically, meaning those who are not Lutheran or RC or Orthodox) circles there is an aversion to what they would call "graven images."  Thus you will not normally see crucifixes in Reformed and Arminian churches.  In fact the huge crucifix in the cathedral in Geneva was cast into a river at the orders of John Calvin.  Lutheran Pietism also had an aversion to such based on the same faulty understanding of the first commandment (or 2nd if you are Reformed). This pietistic and Reformed influence can be seen in WELS and other “conservative” Lutheran churches.  What often would happen (I know I have had experiences with this) is that people object to such things they deem “Roman” Catholic (which are really Lutheran) and would object to having a crucifix in their newer churches.  This is inevitable in our churches which are greatly influenced by American Protestantism.  Somewhere along the way the "explanation" of the empty cross was coined, that is, that the empty cross is a symbol of the resurrection.  As I wear a crucifix I will hear members of WELS and Methodist churches say, "but didn't Jesus rise from the dead, how come you still have Jesus on the cross?"  Depending on how they say that (or my mood) I will either respond "we preach Christ crucified" or "Hey, Jesus grew up and isn't a baby anymore, get him out of that manger."


However, the cross is ALWAYS a symbol of the crucifixion, indeed, every mention of a cross in Scripture refers to one with someone on it, either Christ or (gulp!) us.  Yes, even an "empty" cross is a symbol of the crucifixion.  Even though it certainly is not wrong to have an empty cross and can most certainly bring to mind the crucifixion, a crucifix is much clearer. And when people run around saying things like "Jesus didn't just die on the cross,” he rose again as a reason why we have an empty cross, our Lord’s “it is finished” is diminished. The crucifixion and the resurrection were two distinct events, complementary, but distinct and they need to remain so.  By the way, when the Wisconsin Synod sent out the style sheet for the use of the new WELS logo (an empty cross) they said what I just quoted "Jesus didn't just die on the cross."  Silly.


So I see two reasons why using a crucifix is far superior to using an empty cross (for one's altar, chancel or chest).  First, it better proclaims what happened. Second it is a confession in the face of those Protestants who erroneously claim it is wrong (a graven image). The empty cross also better serves this Protestant theology. For many a Protestant, Christ's death is a past event. An important event, but one in the past and now the focus is on the work of the Holy Spirit in your life now, i.e. "are you living like a Christian," "have you surrendered your life to Jesus", "Jesus is not just your Savior he is also your Lord (read: boss)" and all that WWJD nonsense.  As you probably learned in school both Christ's "it is finished" and Paul's "we preach Christ crucified" are in the perfect tense, that is, they happened in time but the effect continues to the present. For the Lutheran, Christ's sacrifice on the cross, which sacrifice was completed on the cross and accepted by the Father as he raised his Son, is always the center of our theology (or it should be). 


The crucifix is decidedly more historic, more Lutheran and more confessional. And by the way, perhaps you inadvertently answered your own question when you asked  "I was just wondering what the significance is of a cross with Jesus hanging on it as opposed to just a cross."  Yes, without Jesus on it, it is just a cross. (JWB)



Mrs. Rosalie Greenley among other things writes,


I just finished reading an issue of the Motley Magpie (Vol. 1, No. 4 of October 2003) and am so happy to know you are out there, "dedicated to the promotion of Lutheran ceremonia in the evangelical catholic tradition." I was given this issue by another WELS member whose church here in AppletonWI has already been through the Parish Assistance program. My church is now undergoing the same "assistance."


I am a lifelong Lutheran, first Missouri Synod and now WELS for many years. We hoped and prayed that the WELS would survive as the last bastion of conservative Lutheranism, and I must confess that this whole Parish Assistance thing took us by surprise. We've felt vaguely uneasy and disarmed by all the talk about "paradigm shift" and the need to reach out and attract those who have short attention spans, don't want to dress up, have no reverence for tradition, think our services are boring, and generally lead disorganized, messy lives. The thought of what our church would have to look like to attract such people makes my head spin. Rather, the thought of what we might be willing to do to attract such people is the truly scary thought, because there doesn't seem anywhere else to go, at least in the minds of the Parish Assistance people, but to get down and boogie like all the other Protestants.  The idea that our liturgical services might be attractive to the lost and confused out there looking for structure and meaning in their lives is not a viable option, apparently.


I'm hoping that you are still publishing the Magpie, and would like to subscribe.  I see that there's plenty of good reading on the church growth movement, and I have just begun to read some of it.  [Name deleted] was one of the main Parish Assistance people sent to our church, St. Matthew, in Appleton. We could spot attempts to sway a trusting and unsophisticated audience with derision for those who "want to keep doing things the same old way."  For us, the difference between our WELS church leaders, and our government's leaders is that we still trust our WELS people to be honest and (however misguided) to have the best interests of the Synod at heart.  Let us pray that is the case. God bless your efforts.


8MM Dear Mrs. Greenley, a Trojan horse has just been rolled into your beloved parish. As they say, beware of Greeks bearing gifts. WELS Parish Services will “assist” your parish in becoming a poor clone of the Evangelical fellowship with the big parking lot on the outskirts of your town. One could commend PS for being upfront and honest, that is, if the fine but unsuspecting folks of your church knew the code words (which they don’t). Indeed, there will be a “paradigm shift”, but nothing good will come of it. Big changes are in the offing for old St. Matt’s, and neither St. Matt’s nor anyone in the WELS is capable of doing anything about it, including discerning people like you.


After a “professional” analysis of your situation it will be recommended that a contemporary worship service be added to the schedule, while keeping your traditional (read “outmoded”) service. It will be billed as a win-win situation for everybody. However, this will be the start of the cancer. Anyone who has studied the Church Growth movement will know the source of the disease.


You were right when you described the WELS as conservative. The WELS certainly is conservative, but not always confessional, and there is a difference. Conservatives conserve things, both the good and the not-so-good, but they don’t know the difference. Conservatives sense that to “get down and boogie like all the Protestants” (as you aptly put it) isn’t wise, but they can’t make their case against this paradigm shift. After all, both conservatives and the PS folks are in agreement on one thing: All this worship stuff is an adiaphoron. While conservatives look with suspicion at the shallow shenanigans of Church Growth types, they are unable to deal with their own impoverished sacramentality, among other things, because they’re incapable of a penetrating critique of their own ingrained habits.


Confessional Lutherans subject their theology and practice to the scriptures and the confessions, no matter how dangerous that might be to their comfort zone. I’ve seen them do it and it looks painful.  The only reason that this horse was shoved through your church doors is that Lutheran pastors are pitifully ignorant of the theology and appropriate understanding and practice of the Holy Liturgy. That “assisting” preacher, along with the rest of us, got nothing at the seminary when it came to proper training in the Mass. Add to this the fact that his actual parish experience spans a handful of years and you can see that there will not be a lot of “parish” in his “assistance,” not to mention any real informed instruction when it comes to worship.


As long as I can remember the WELS has had the amusing habit of jumping on bandwagons newly abandoned by others. If utilitarianism, rather than confessionalism, is going to be the new paradigm for the WELS movers and shakers, then why not look at the traditions which are more attuned to historic Lutheranism. Churches of the Eastern Orthodox (EO) tradition, Anglo Catholic churches, and Roman parishes permitted the Latin Mass are growing. While the editors of the MM say “No” to EO, there are things to be gleaned by looking to the East, not to mention a glance at the rubrical books of the Tridentine Mass. If “it works” is the new paradigm (which it shouldn’t be), then why not take a look at a high approach to worship which is attracting thoughtful people. To aim any lower is to disrespect the intelligence of those with whom we desire to share the Gospel, not to mention showing disrespect for our Mother the Church.


Until recently I assisted at the Holy Liturgy of a Lutheran church in the midst of the inner city of a large metro area. This church is made up of African Americans, whites, and a few Hispanics.  Its largely blue collar membership has only recently been altered by the influx of young professionals from the ‘burbs. If WELS Parish Services would make its pitch to the people of this eclectically mixed parish, Parish Services would be asked to leave the building and ride its Trojan horse out of the neighborhood, although it might find its ride up on blocks with the wheels gone.


Dear Mrs. Greenley, keep the faith. And remember that Trojan horses are made of wood. Got a match?  (PMB) §