Over beers with a good friend, I was told an interesting tale. Apparently, a synodically important person asked my friend whether he knew if there were a secret liturgical movement lurking about the synod, which synod being the “self consciously low church” Wisconsin Synod. It seems some shocking reports were relayed to him about a special service in California in which there were acolytes, crucifer, eucharistically vested ministers, processions, bowing, and chanting(!), not merely of the Psalm, but also of the Gospel, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and in which - of all things - the Sacrament was celebrated! The list of WELS suspects, my liturgically astute friend knew, was short. Guilty as charged! The service in question was presided over by me, a Divine Service commemorating the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ on the occasion of the Reformation of the Church. As remarkable as this service was to the person who reported this (which report flew to Wisconsin), is that it was hardly remarkable to the faithful in this parish.
What intrigued and humored us was the thought of a secret liturgical society - in the WELS! Fueled by the intoxicating pleasures of malt, hops and water, properly combined, all sorts of fun ensued. I don’t recall everything, but a secret handshake was created. Time passed, but the thought of a secret liturgical society stayed with me and names for it whirled through my head. Among those long forgotten were the “National Association for the Acceptance of Collared People” and the more esoteric “The New Saint James Society,” but, ah, why stir up old ashes. After knocking this idea about with friends, the secret society morphed into a journal for this society. Whether this idea was similarly fueled will be left for conjecture. The secret society evaporated but the idea for a journal remained. It was decided to go ahead, if not for our own pleasure, but for the increasing number of people who have encouraged our efforts. The original name for the journal was to be “Ceremonia,” but considering the talents of the editors that Latin title was deemed a bit pretentious and, if misunderstood, would lead to a misunderstanding of our purpose (see the dedicatory article for that).
Our title, as our masthead says, is taken from the mockery of a 17th century Calvinist in Anhalt against the Lutherans who wore traditional vestments, specifically, the surplice and cassock. It was said that the Lutheran pastor so dressed would, “march around as motley as a magpie.” We thought this calumny a fitting title and tribute. This gem of a quote comes from a gem of a graduate study by the Reverend Dr. Arthur Carl Piepkorn (“The Survival of the Historic Vestments in the Lutheran Church After 1555” CTS, 1958). These pastors, incidentally, were hardly chancel-prancing, “beribboned dandies,” but men who were battling the Reformed Anschluss of Lutheranism - some of whom were imprisoned for their confessional stance of wearing traditional vestments in the face of edicts to don the academic gown (which in time has earned the unofficial, yet appropriate moniker, “Geneva.”) The title also has a bit of whimsy in it and, as you, the editors of this journal do not take themselves too seriously. However, the topics that we wish to bring to your attention demand to be taken seriously by Lutherans. It is no secret that the editors of this journal, as others, feel that the Wisconsin Synod is impoverished in the area of Lutheran ceremonia, which means being Sacramentally impoverished. In the next issue, we will explore what is meant by that word, but suffice it to say, it doesn’t mean what you may think when you hear the English word, “ceremony.” It means much more. Lutheran theology is Christological, and if it is Christological, it is incarnational, and if it is incarnational, it is sacramental, and if it is sacramental, it is liturgical. All of that is wrapped up in the Mass. The dedicatory article in this issue says it far better than I can. All that we hope to write in the future should be read in the light of that excellent article.
We hope to publish articles that are devotional, instructional, polemical and - as has happened to us - confrontational to your way of thinking. We will not hesitate to critique that which appears in the public forum. We will not judge the motives of any, and if we do so unintentionally, we will correct ourselves, as we will any incorrect or unclear statement brought to our attention. If a work is reviewed critically in our journal, a copy of The Motley Magpie will be sent to the author. We will not address the financial issues of the church. There are those far more capable than us who are properly commissioned to handle those. This is not about money. This will not be a clandestine society or forum hoping to change the church, to which only a certain elite are invited to listen. What is said in this journal will, of course be subject to the whims of the editors - corrections and e-mails (letters) to the editor aside. As Forward in Christ is the official voice of the Wisconsin Synod, and Charís, the journal of Wisconsin Lutheran College, it seems, is a voice for a particular viewpoint, so The Motley Magpie will give voice to a viewpoint we feel is not often heard in the Wisconsin Synod. You will judge whether it is worth your hearing. The editors have pledged themselves to publish quarterly for three years and then to decide what they will do after that.
You are receiving a copy of Magpie because, either we thought you would appreciate it, be intrigued by it, someone thought you might wish to receive it, or you were mentioned in it. The cost of the journal (at least the first issue) is being borne by a small gift to us. If gifts were larger, we would give this journal as wide a distribution as possible, to every pastor in the Wisconsin Synod - of course, now you’re talking “ice cream” money. If you know of someone, lay or clergy, who would appreciate getting at least the first copy, notify us by e-mail. If you do not want it, please be so kind as to inform us. The presidium of the Wisconsin Synod, regardless of their welcomed and generous gifts, will always be sent a copy.
The editors owe their awakening to the Christological, incarnational, sacramental and liturgical treasure of Lutheranism to many spiritual fathers, with special thanks to the writers and editors of Gottesdienst, The Bride of Christ and Logia. Those journals far surpass this small effort in scholarship. To paraphrase Churchill, we are a modest journal with much to be modest about. Subscriptions to these other journals will benefit you greatly. We wish to especially thank the Reverend Dr. Burnell Eckardt of Gottesdienst, whose journal’s format we have shamelessly borrowed (Gottesdienst-Lite was a “suggested” title for ours), and whose encouragement we appreciate. We also would like to acknowledge the guidance and wisdom of the Reverend Father John Fenton, editor of the Bride of Christ, whose grasp of the Gospel and its singular role in the life of the church and her liturgy has opened grand vistas for the editors. Those who have ventured outside of our little corner of Lutheranism will note that some of these scholars are pastors in the Missouri Synod, in which there has been a great Confessional, and thus liturgical, awakening at which these men have been at the forefront. For some of you, that is a red flag, so be it. However, listen, judge, but don’t just ignore, as recently Wisconsin’s leadership has been “largely” advised to do in regards to voices critical of it.
The contributing editors of this journal are ordained Lutheran pastors of member churches of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (Please see footnote!) We speak, however, for ourselves and not for our church. Your editor-in-chief was ordained into the Holy Ministry in 1979 and serves the baptized as pastor of Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Fremont, California (in the San Francisco Bay area). The contributing editors are the Reverend Peter Berg, ordained in 1974, who serves the baptized as senior pastor of Saint Peter Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Plymouth, Michigan and the Reverend James Frey, ordained in 1979, who serves the baptized as pastor of Saint Paul Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Belleville, Michigan. The associate editor is Michelle Saavedra, who is working towards a degree in environmental science at the University of California at Berkeley and the copy editor is Ann Lind, a graduate of Dr. Martin Luther College, who most recently taught at Apostle’s Lutheran School in San Jose. Both are members at Hope in Fremont.
Oh, one final thing, our thanks to the inquisitive brother in Wisconsin whose concerned query inspired all this, and, in keeping with our inauspicious beginnings, Prosit! §
The Reverend John Berg is the current editor-in-chief of the MM.
Footnote. That is, these men were members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod at the time of the writing of this - this journal hastening their departure from said synod, which was prophetically noted in Rev. Fr. John Berg’s article and by several letter writers. Since that time Reverend Father Peter Berg colloquized into the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and now serves as Pastor of Our Savior in Chicago. Reverend Father John Berg, was ushered out of the Wisconsin Synod for editing this journal and for his sin of critiquing WELS theology and its leadership. He is, at this time, independent. His congregation left the Wisconsin Synod with him. Reverend Father Frey, as of this writing, is still rostered Wisconsin Synod.
Here are a couple of the letters our journal’s first issue generated and our responses. When introduced by the words “among other things” the letter has been edited to the relevant sections. (Note especially the prophetic final letter!)
The Reverend Father Bruce W. Adams writes,
I wish to congratulate the “Collared Pastors” within WELS who have produced such an excellent first issue of The Motley Magpie.
It never ceases to amaze this pastor emeritus in far-off Australia, how Lutherans can recite loyalty to the Lutheran confessions, almost in mantra style, yet ignore the evangelical and Catholic teachings integral to the Book of Concord.
Within WELS there has emerged a group of pastors who have boldly unearthed doctrines and practices central of Confessional Lutheranism. They have succeeded in framing their articles in a style which is both scholarly, yet marked by a true Lutheran spirituality. Living in an age dominated by postmodernism on the secular front, and by a hallow church growth movement within our Lutheran churches, bound to dismantle the evangelical and catholic Lutheran Faith, this first issue of The Motley Magpie comes as a clarion call to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).
I commend this quarterly for pastors and lay people to learn, study and mark. It leads the reader back to the basics of Lutheran worship, belief, and practice, which must never be squandered.
8MM Our thanks to Reverend Father Adams for his kind words here and for the friendship and encouragement he has previously offered, unsolicited, to the editor. Rev. Adams is a retired pastor of the Lutheran Church of Australia. He is a scholar well versed in patristics and in the English Lutheran reformers, notably the martyr, Robert Barnes. His scholarship can be found, among other places, in The Bride of Christ. We would well heed Rev. Adams words of caution; they come from personal battles, as well as his example in the study of patristics. His and our mentor, Dr. Herman Sasse, said it well, “a church that forgets her patristics becomes a sect.” (JWB)
Reverend Burgess Huehn, among other things, asks
What is behind the title “Father” for our Lutheran pastors, which I have never heard before until recently?
8MM The title "Father" for Lutheran pastors is not one often heard in American Lutheranism, certainly not in the WELS, although it is no stranger to Lutheranism. There are many parishes in the US where it is and has been used for many years. The use of it is, of course, justified by Paul's use of it in 1 Cor. 4:15 and by Luther's use of it in the Large Catechism. (I fathered three children last month in Holy Baptism!) It is being used more and more in confessional Lutheran circles, especially among the confessionals in the LC-MS. Although I cannot speak for them, it seems to be an identifying mark for those who have an evangelical and Christological understanding of the ministry and not a functional or CEO view of it. Also, because the term "pastor" was reportedly one of the titles favored by Pietists (it’s “warmer”), “Father” is preferred by the cognoscenti. It is being used, it seems, as a confession that Lutherans can rightly claim their Catholic (not “papal” mind you) past and so, it is a bit of a poke in the eye to those who (like Carlstadt) view anything in the church which is not thoroughly Protestantized, as Roman Catholic. Do not fear that any so called Lutheran Fathers are ready to “pope” (alá Richard John Neuhaus), any more than those who like to be called Bob or Pastor Bob are ready to take a “walk in the garden” of Protestantism (the communion to which, unlike the Roman, the WELS has lost not a few!)(JWB)
The Reverend Father Edward Wolfe writes,
What a gas! I am thoroughly enjoying the premiere issue of The Motley Magpie! Very well written, and so apropos to the situation throughout what calls itself "Lutheran" these days! Blessings in Christ!
8MM Thank you, and we do think it will create a gas of a different sort. (JWB)
Where do you guys stand on typology, by the way? In twenty-five words or less, mind.
8MM Typology? A subject about which volumes are written which rarely exhaust the subject? In 25 words or less? Only a fool would attempt such a task! Ok, here goes:
It's all about Christ. (JWB)
The Reverend Father Todd Peperkorn writes,
Te Deum Laudamus! I received a photocopied edition of TMM this morning after the Mass from a fellow pastor. One finds theological friends in the strangest of places (even the WELS). Please place me on your mailing list, and I pray you much success in your worthy effort.
8MM Thanks! But don’t think your compliments are going to get you off the hook for that photocopying thing.
(Rev. Peperkorn is the editor of an excellent Lutheran magazine for teens entitled “Higher Things.” which we highly recommend.)(JWB)
The Reverend George Ferch writes
Ok, who gave you guys the crayons? Just saw the first issue of The Motley Magpie. I'm hurt that I didn't receive one. What, I'm not Lutheran enough? Please send Volume 1, Number 1 and I’ll contribute $.50.
8MM Good to hear from an old friend. Yeah, they gave us crayons, but no sharp objects. And we’re not hearing the little voices anymore (well, most of the time). You, a Lutheran? Methinks that's a thing one only approximates this side of the heavenly Elbe. But heck, we're easy. So for you only, George, since we know each other so well, send us your check for 50 cents, no, wait, knowing you as we do, send cash.
(Editor’s Note: Father Ferch has received Vol I, Number 1. We are still waiting for our money.)
The Reverend Father John M. Berg writes,
Wow! The Pony Express just came and you are going to be in BIG trouble. Didn't you think there were enough martyr days in [Christian Worship]?
8MM Now that you mention it, “the Martyrdom of Peter, James and John” has a ring to it (as does your name). (JWB) §