Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Wittenberg Today

A story from the Chicago Tribune on Wittenberg, birth-place of the Reformation

Apart from the insight into the state of the Christian faith in post-communist Wittenberg, particularly interesting here is the contrast in the approach of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to having a presence in the birth-place of the Reformation. The raison-d'etre of the former church body appears to be hospitality to American pilgrims, while the Missouri Synod has expressed a definite evangelistic intent among the local population.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The End of Tolerance in Finland?

Please read this report in conjunction with the quote from Krauth in the post below it. The picture above is of Turku cathedral.

"Discrimination against a female pastor in court for the first time"
(Translated from the Finnish: http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/kotimaa/oikea/id75184.html)

The Magistrates’ Court of Hyvinkää [Finland] is hearing a case against an associate pastor of Hyvinkää parish, a member of the Parochial Council and a visiting preacher, on a charge of discrimination against a female pastor.
The charges are related to events in the vestry of Hyvinkää church last March.
The male pastor who had come to the church as visiting preacher refused to work with the female pastor of Hyvinkää parish who was designated to serve in the service that Sunday. A heated conversation was held in the vestry only a quarter-of-an-hour before the start of the service.
The situation was resolved when the female pastor left. She was replaced as communion assistant by a member of the gathered congregation.
The male pastor facing charges of discrimination is employed by the Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland (LEAF), which does not accept the ordination of women. He had been invited to preach in Hyvinkää church by the chairwoman of the local branch of LEAF. The day in question marked a local LEAF celebration.
Also the chairwoman of the local branch, a member of the Parochial Council, has been charged with discrimination. According to the charge, she supported the male pastor and told the female pastor that she should not be at the service.
The associate pastor of Hyvinkää parish, who at the time was acting as the senior pastor, is charged with discrimination in the workplace and a breach of official responsibilities. According to the charges, the senior pastor should have intervened in the debate in the vestry and ensure that the female pastor on duty be able to carry out her duties.
The prosecutor is demanding the accused to receive fines. All the accused have pleaded not guilty. The opponents of the ordination of women appealed in court to the freedom of religion. The [acting] senior pastor did admit that he was unable in the rush of the moment, the fifteen minutes in the vestry, to take charge and resolve the matter.
The bishops’ conference recommended in September 2006 that male pastors no longer have a right to refuse to serve with female pastors. Hyvinkää Magistrates’ Court will now give the first secular verdict on the question of the equality of the sexes in the duty rotas of the church.

Two separate developments were made public yesterday [21 November] in Finland, creating a wonderful (sic!) irony that accurately describes the state of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland(1) Pastor Jari Rankinen, who has been under investigation by the cathedral chapter of the archdiocese of Turku for a good part of this year on account of his refusal to share an altar with ordained women has been suspended both from his position within his congregation and from the pastoral office for three months for that crime, pending any appeal he may launch. He is the second pastor, following Vesa Pöyhtäri of Oulu diocese last month, to face suspension for non-co-operation with female pastors. Pastor Rankinen's appeal to his Word-bound conscience was not considered a valid defence.(2) Pastor Leena Huovinen has been named Pastor of the Year by the Pastors' Union, the professional body for Lutheran pastors in Finland. Earlier this year, Ms. Huovinen came to nationwide prominence by openly admitting that she has blessed same-sex unions on her own initiative. For her, to act thus is a matter of conscience.Please pray for pastors Rankinen and Pöyhtäri, their congregations, and for the whole, sorry Church of Finland.
by Tapani Simojoki, Finnish Lutheran student of theology at Westfield House, Cambridge, UK.

Thanks to David Buck for this report.

Krauth on the Toleration of Error in the Church

When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages in its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few and weak; let us alone, we shall not disturb the faith of others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions.
Indulged in for this time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the Church. Truth and error are two coordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them.
From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their repudiation is that they repudiate that faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it.

Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation (Philadelphia, 1871) p.195ff.

Friday, 23 November 2007

They Really Saw Him

In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, English NT scholar Richard Bauckham has produced a masterful rebuttal of the claims of form criticism as applied to the Gospels. Dr Bauckham has been ably defending his research at the recent gathering of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego and gaining a measure of respect from the critics in the process - no easy feat. But this book is not merely an academic endeavour, it is a service to the church. If you are a preacher you may wish to consider placing this book on your wishlist.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Whither the Church of England?

*Dying Church of England Women Ordinations Now Outstrip Men*

“What is left in this nation is a spiritual vacuum" says critic.

By Hilary White LONDON, November 15, 2007 (LifeSiteNews. com) –

For the first time, the Church of England reports that more women than men were ordained in 2006. Last year 244 women and 234 men were ordained in the Church of England, but the majority of paid pastoral positions have gone to men with women taking mostly voluntary posts. The total number of ordained ministers in the Church of England is now estimated to be 20,354, including clergy, readers and Church Army officers.The Daily Telegraph reports Sunday attendance in the feminized, mostly ultra liberal Church dipped for the first time below one million out of a total population of almost 51 million. The slight drop in attendance follows two years in which numbers increased or remained steady. About 1.7 million people attend a Church of England church each month, while around 1.2 million attend services each week, and just under one million each Sunday.Acceptance of women into the priesthood, which The General Synod approved in 1992, has not halted the decline in Church membership and has likely accelerated the trend. The move has been identified by many as a break with the historic stream of Christianity as significant as the separation of the English Church from its Catholic origins.The General Synod is currently debating whether women clergy should now even be elevated to the episcopate as they are in other Anglican national branches. While the number of women applying for the ministry continues to grow, the number of men seeking ordination is decreasing. A recent report indicates that the number of men serving as ministers may drop in half by 2025.

American Baptist writer Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and board member of Focus on the Family, wrote that the “feminization of the church” is the equivalent of the liberalization of the church. He points to the fact that in the US Episcopal Church, the number of women enrolled in Master of Divinity programs now represents almost a third of total enrolment with the mainline Protestants groups following suit. “In many liberal seminaries, women students now vastly outnumber men.”

Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent at the London Times wrote, “The feminization of the ministry is one of the most significant trends of this generation. Acceptance of women in the pastoral role reverses centuries of Christian conviction and practice. It also leads to a redefinition of the church and its ministry. Once women begin to fill and represent roles of pastoral leadership men withdraw. This is true, not only in the pulpit, but in the pews. The evacuation of male worshippers from liberal churches is a noticeable phenomenon.”Some writers are pointing to the weakening of the Church of England as a warning sign for British sovereignty and independence. As the officially established church, the Church of England plays a significant role in Britain’s political and social make-up and has an impact on its distinctiveness from its European neighbours.

Joel Hilliker, writing in the Trumpet, says that the religious erosion of Britain has eroded British national identity. “Secularism has Britain by the throat,” he writes.“The percentage of practicing Christians there is in the single digits. The Church of England has lost moral authority, loosening its standards on issues such as the ordination of women as priests, premarital cohabitation and homosexuality.”With the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), an organisation with 400,000 members formally requesting “full, corporate and sacramental union” with the Roman Catholic Church, and many Anglicans seeking union with Rome individually, the Protestant Hilliker writes, “What is left in this nation is a spiritual vacuum — a vacuum that provides the Church of Rome the perfect opportunity to move in. For as Britain has become more liberal, Roman Catholicism has grown more conservative, increasingly presenting itself as a rock of stability in an uncertain world.”

Comment -- There is a sociological thesis that explains the decline of the Christian churches in the West by pointing to a growing "feminisation" in the churches. This feminisation alienates men from congregational life and results in fewer overall attendees as the wives of these men acquiesce to their husband's lack of participation and absent also themselves (and their children) from church. Some proponents trace this trend back as far as the late middle ages, while others view it as a distinctly modern phenomenon tied to industrialisation and its impact upon relations between the sexes (I'm inclined to favour the latter explanation).
The problem, of course, is not with women's participation in church life per se, I hasten to add, but rather with a perceived imbalance towards the feminine in church life which makes many men uncomfortable and inclined to withdraw their participation. I'm sure many pastors could testify that this phenomenon is indeed a "problem" in church life that requires addressing.
I regard the ordination of women as symptomatic of this problem (and also contrary to scriptural teaching). Contrary to conventional opinion, the ordination of women is therefore not a panacea for declining churches, but is likely to exascerbate that decline. In the same way, liberalisation of the church's view of homosexual relationships and ordination of openly homosexual clergy is also sending the completely wrong signals.
In short, the quandary the Church of England has gotten itself into by ordaining women could easily have been predicted years ago by those who subscribe to this thesis and the situation is only likely to get worse if the larger issue is not addressed, and short of a collapse of our present way of ordering life, I see little chance of that happening.
The moral of this cautionary tale is, I think, clear: churches which have not ordained women, beware!
Thanks to Peter Kriewaldt for this article.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Krauth quote

"In freely and heartily accepting the faith of our Church, as our own faith, and her Scriptural Confession of that faith, as our own Confession, we do not surrender for ourselves, any more than we take from others, the sacred and inalienable right of private judgment. It is not by giving up the right of private judgment, but by the prayerful exercise of it, not by relinquishing a just independent investigation, buy by thoroughly employing it, that we have reached that faith which we glory in confessing."

Thus wrote the American Lutheran theologian and churchman Charles Porterfield Krauth in The Conservative Reformation, c. 1871. My copy is dated 1913 - I picked it up at a bargain price from my old seminary library as it was surplus to their requirements.
I don't know if Krauth is read much anymore, but he certainly ought to be. He is one of the few English-speaking Lutherans in the modern period (i.e. post 1789) who have provided a lengthy defence of the Lutheran confessional position against misinformed criticisms levelled particularly by the Reformed.
This quote is particularly meaningful to me because I came to a "free and hearty" acceptance of the Lutheran faith in 1995 through the "prayerful exercise of private judgment".
Welcome to my blog, where quotes and reflections on old Lutherans like Krauth will be standard fare, along with notes on church life, meditations on pastoral ministry, and sundry diverse matters.

Clarification: the right of private judgment always bows before the clear words of scripture. Krauth is not advocating the rights of the individual over scripture, as in liberalism..