Law and Gospel

This summer, besides reading through the book of Concord, I am also reading two other rather heavy books. The BoC reading, as I’ve mentioned before is just something I try to do every other year, and is a part of my daily devotions. The other two books are just the next two in my reading stack. Let me explain. I have a stack of books in my study at church that I intend to read. I add books to the bottom of the stack and read them when they get to the top. I have two books going at one time, one at home and the other at church. This disciplines me to not read books as soon as I get them, to read books that I really need to read but may not be my favorite, and to not read ten books at one time and never finish any of them.

Right now I am reading some fiction for a change, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The other book is C.F.W. Walther’s Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. Students who are training to become pastors are often told that they should read Walther every year. [I would be interested to know who first suggested that—because it seems to be universal advice.] I haven’t read it every year, but this is my fourth time through. I first read it one summer while in college. I was working out at Bush Lake Park and remember reading the book on my breaks. Time #2 was sometime while at Seminary. #3 was one of my first years in the ministry.

I remember struggling through the book the first time through, but simply being more and more delighted and refreshed with each subsequent reading. What I also realize now is that the struggle to apply the law and the gospel appropriately in the life and work of a pastor is indeed something that can only be learned in the “school of experience,” and that experience only teaches just how difficult this art truly is.

This month, Concordia Publishing House has released a new translation and edition of this classic work. They have updated the language and apparently provided a more authentic translation. I will miss all my highlighting and underlining from these previous reads, but I heartily welcome a new translation. I am sure that the translation contributed to my difficulty in reading the book the first time. I am still noticing that this time, especially now knowing that a new translation has been produced. In addition, the amount of additional material in this volume will make this book even more valuable. It is full of historical notes, maps, timelines, etc. I will continue plowing through the old edition (probably) one last time, and sometime, when I have the money to do so, I’ll pick up a copy of the new version and use that for reading #5. I guess I’ll just put it at the bottom of the pile, and I’ll get to it in about a year.

Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible [CPH]

The New, Fresh, Powerful Edition of Walther’s Law and Gospel is Available Now [Cyberbrethren]

When I Told My Pastor [Weedon’s Blog]

As a Helper

On June 26, 1998, I was spending some time—as I often did—out at the farm with my Grandpa. We spent our time either working or talking. I knew that those conversations would not last forever, and so I occasionally brought along a little tape recorder and captured those stories that Grandpa told.

The conversations went all over the place, but on this particular day Grandpa had a few words about marriage. The tape recorder captured this little piece of advice, from an 89-year-old grandfather to his 19-year-old grandson.

You have to be careful who you marry. Your girl is going to New Ulm school. If she stays there, and you get married together, I probably will help you. Somebody that goes with you. It can be nice, if you can stay together. You don’t know where you will be sent; God will have to lead you. She goes with you as a helper.

Just three years later, on June 23, 2001, I married this girl after we both graduated from this school in New Ulm (Martin Luther College). Grandpa had told me that he would come to our wedding, and that he would help us. He never got that opportunity. But I have treasured these few words of wisdom that he shared with me that day. My grandparents’ marriage spanned 47 years—till death parted them. I assume that he knew what he was talking about. He knew that if husband and wife stick together, it can be nice—even if life isn’t always so nice and easy. He understood, I suppose, what it means to have a wife as “a helper suitable for him” (Gen 1:18).

I can’t say that I understood all that then. But as I reflect on those words today, and as I reflect on the nine years Sara and I have been married, I think to myself, “I do now.” She has gone with me as a helper, as I completed my training at the Seminary, as we packed up and moved to California and then to Texas. As a helper, she has become the mother of our five children and continues to nurture and care for them with diligence and patience. As a helper, she runs this household in such a way that allows me to serve as a pastor and spiritual father to the members of our congregation.

And so I realize that Grandpa was right. It can be nice. When we stay together. When we live within God’s design for marriage, as a head with his helpmate. When we serve each other. It can be nice. It has. That does not mean it has always been easy. It does not mean that it ever will be perfect. But God has given me a treasure, a gift, in my bride. And I look forward to every day that God has in store for us.

Concordia Observation #1: Churches and Schools

The Preface to the Christian Book of Concord records the intent and agreement of those who signed their names to the Formula of Concord and the other confessional documents of the Lutheran Church, which are contained in the Book of Concord. It provides a glimpse into just some of the issues present at the time and the reasons for their confession.

One of the things that jumped out at me during my reading of it was how often the phrase “churches and schools” is used. 18 times in these 9 pages Chemnitz and Andreae use this phrase. Only seldom do they mention their churches apart from their schools.

At first, it made me wonder what kind of schools they were talking about. Could they be referring to schools like the University of Wittenberg, which became a central source of teaching in Lutheranism? It was the teachers in these schools (like Philip Melanchthon, for example, who penned the Augsburg Confession and its Apology) who were among the first to stand up as confessors of the faith.

But after reading it, I am inclined to think that these schools were more than just their institutions of higher learning. These were schools which were attached to their churches. The churches and schools confessed the faith together. They were attacked by false teaching together. Ministers served in both churches and schools.

I still don’t know much about the form of these schools. It’s something I would like to investigate if I had the time. I would be interested to know how these schools relate to the kinds of Lutheran schools we have today.  But what I notice here is simply the fact that the earliest Lutherans identified themselves as “churches and schools.”

The Lutheran Church has a long history of operating schools in connection to their congregations. And when Lutherans came to America, confessional Lutheran synods were also quick to start schools. Lutheran schools, especially at the elementary and middle school level, have been a stronghold in church bodies like the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods. Of course, not every congregation had a school. But the confessors recognized a crucial role for our schools. The schools were a vital part of confessing the true Christian faith. And confessing the faith was the most vital part of their schools.

Today it seems that schools are viewed more as a liability than an asset. Schools cost money. Lots of money. And therefore, they are viewed as an optional luxury for congregations that can afford it. I’m not suggesting that every congregation must or should operate a school. I’m simply observing a different way of viewing our schools.

In addition, I think sometimes there is a thought that because our schools are viewed as an “outreach tool” (not a bad thing, necessarily), the confession in the Lutheran school must be somewhat muted, so as not to turn off non-member parents. Often parents aren’t looking for a specifically Lutheran education. Anything generically Christian will do, or at least a school that teaches “Christian values.” So we won’t make such a big deal about being Lutheran in the school, or at least we ‘ll just save that for the pastor’s catechism class for the older students.

I don’t recognize either of these attitude in our Lutheran confessions. Their schools were a part of their identity, and the confession of Lutheran doctrine was their school’s identity.

We regularly hear news that our schools are not in the best of shape. Schools are closing. Others are shrinking. There are all kinds of reasons for these things, from the economy and the cost of tuition, to the parents’ priorities or the congregation’s level of support. Our congregations don’t have as many children as they used to, in part because parents don’t have as many children as they used to. In short, there are all kinds of things that ail our Lutheran schools.

But I believe the ultimate answer—if we want to keep Lutheran schools—is to keep our schools Lutheran. This means that our teachers ought to be well trained in Christian doctrine, including these Lutheran Confessions.We ask our school teachers to conform all of their teaching according to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. It means that the mission (even vision or objectives) ought to flow from this same confessional standard. It means that our main objectives are those things that allow church and school to confess the faith together. It means that our curriculum is going to have Lutheran catechesis as a central element rather than an awkward appendage.

I think about these things quite frequently, as I have always been (since kindergarten) involved in some sort of Lutheran school, and now also serve as acting principal of our school. And we are currently working through the accreditation process for our school, which has us documenting and articulating the purposes and plans for our school. So when I came across this constant repetition in the Preface to the Book of Concord, these words struck me as a most excellent model for own churches and schools:

We conclude that nothing more agreeable could happen or should be sought more eagerly and prayerfully from almighty God than the following: (a) both our churches and our schools should persevere in the pure doctrine of God’s Word and that longed-for and godly oneness of mind, and (b) as was the case while Luther was still alive, they should be regulated by the divine Word, which was handed down to posterity in a godly and excellent way.

Related post: Our Schools

Reading

I am encouraged by the response to my last post about reading the Book of Concord this summer. There were more than a dozen people who commented on the blog or emailed me to say that they were going to be giving it a try. About 40 people have logged into Google Wave to follow the discussion there. Perhaps what I’m most encouraged by is variety of people who are excited to be reading the Book of Concord, especially the number of lay people who are reading it for the first time. So many have said, “I’ve always wanted to read the whole thing.” I would expect Lutheran pastors to do it. It should have a regular place in their reading and study schedules. But as the section I quoted in the previous post notes, the Lutheran Confessions were never meant to be for clergy only. And it always encourages me to know that lay people are interested in really learning what it means to be a confessional Lutheran.

When I was in college I received a bunch of books from the family of my great-uncle, who had just passed away. I visited him just days before he died, and sang some German hymns to him in his final days. He wasn’t a pastor. He was a farmer. But he was also a student of the Scriptures. Among the books I received were a bunch of music books, a book of Walther sermons, Stöckhardt’s Bible History Commentaries, and a German-Latin edition of the Book of Concord. Uncle George wasn’t a pastor, but he wasn’t a stranger to theology either.

I hope that the discussion is helpful in keeping everyone on schedule this summer. I’m still not convinced that Google Wave is the best tool for this kind of discussion. It’s pretty new, and most people are just getting used to it. But it seems to be working. If you aren’t interested in digging into Google Wave, you can try to start a discussion on the Book of Concord Facebook page, or leave me a comment on this page. I’m looking forward to hearing people’s questions or observations as they read. It’s already been quite interesting to see the thoughts that people have been having. I will be occasionally posting some of my more general observations from this summer’s reading here on The Shepherd’s Story.

If you’re still interested in starting, it’s not too late. We’re just starting the Augsburg Confession. If you still need/want to pick up a copy of the book, right now the best price is at Amazon.com. I’m sure they’ll go on sale a CPH again.

Happy reading!