Of CHARíS’ Scholarship and Other Tales

 

an apologia1 by John W. Berg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charís, for those of you new to the world of “unofficial” journals breaking out like a bad rash in American Lutheranism, well, like this one, is the name of the journal of the institute of the same name sponsored by Wisconsin Lutheran College of Milwaukee, a school affiliated with the Wisconsin Synod, for their separated brothers in Missouri, in this respect, like Valparaiso (who handed the Warriors its lunch on the gridiron this fall).

 

Charís’ self described purpose is to “provide a platform for the study and discussion of issues facing the Church.”  Its goals, intended for “scholars” (well, this writer need not apply), all center on promoting scholarly research and offering this expertise to churches, and beyond, in journals (well, Magpies need not apply) and other forums, to become a veritable ecclesial think tank. Its “Cores Values,” on which it maintains its “credibility” rests, dictate its work be grounded in sound scholarship, “thoughtfully, deliberately structured, intelligently executed,” done without “hubris.”  Thus, it will enhance “the academic reputation of [WLC].” And lest it perish without one, its vision is that it

 

shall strive to be recognized nationally as one of the best sources of Christian scholarship and education related to the problems and issues confronting the Christian Church. 

 

No hubris there.

 

But it seems a certain avian journal has pooped on the parade, rather, on the monument to its scholarship being erected at the Institute. The “rag” in question,  as it was “welcomed,” is none other than The Motley Magpie, which, according to a scathing editorial in its journal, it seems, possesses, in the language of academia, “D. None of the above,” with a dash of hubris to boot.

 

Oddly, rather than dispatching this foul fowl with the precision of one clean, scholarly shot or at least a running through with rapier wit (which we would have enjoyed), it seems, the editor of this august journal needed to level this bird with a shot gun blast for its “content and tone.”  Now what would compel a self-labeled scholarly journal striving for “national recognition,” backed by the resources of an “Institute” and a college funded by the generous gifts garnered from Midwesterners’ penchant for Schwan’s ice cream and this author’s own money (as the bumper sticker goes “My daughter and money went to WLC” – Oh, what cruel irony!) give a PC-produced, church-copier-run-off “rag” like ours this roisterous broadside?

 

Well, why would the weight of the Holy Roman Empire and the Imperious Roman Papacy be hurled at a lone Augustinian from Wittenberg? We, like the monk, tacked something to the door the boys in the bright red robes couldn’t ignore. Yes, we went for the jugular; we had the temerity to challenge the scholarship of the Institute, that is, we critiqued an article that appeared in its journal, and, in its editor’s mind, if not in fact, we manhandled our critics. I also suspect this wildly violent reaction is due to the fact that we implied that a related advisory group, “Church and Change” might have better been better served by hearing Kurt than Kent on the issue of Church Growth (that is, Marquart than Hunter).

 

Now, lest you think this noisome bird has delusions of Lutherhood, the analogy is not ours, but CHARíS’, and the analogy, to be sure, ends there. In Volume 2, number 1 of CHARíS (question, why, when publishing once a year, is there a need to number them? Hey, hey, take it easy, just kidding), it was they who likened their journal to the door of the Castle Church along with a plea for a tolerance for debate the medieval church presumably allowed, which we averred was a “generous” appraisal of that day’s magisterium, a tolerance, it seems, they would rather plead than grant. (C’mon, guys, you can’t hog the role of Luther all for yourselves.)

 

Now, please, don’t misunderstand, the editors of this rag have neither the grasp of Scripture, the intellect, nor the taste for martyrdom that Dr. Luther had. Like Luther, though, we do have a taste for Wittenberg beer (and an occasional spicy word - ever read the 95 Theses?) And while we drank, CHARíS raged, well, its editor editorialized, as editors are wont to do. But you know magpies, you just can’t shut them up, caw, caw, caw, and just when you think it is safe to go outside, splaaat! So hoping to go from rag to respectable, we offer this to see if we correctly understood how an editorial is written in a scholarly fashion, without hubris, upon which credibility rests. We will examine the whole Anschauung (CHARíS’ hubrisless title for their editorials, German for “opinion”) entitled “Of Magpies and other Birds” for, as I understand, in the realm of honest scholarship, context is vital. (I will reproduce each paragraph and then comment on the same).  So, on to the warm Wisconsin welcome,

 

We welcome to the publishing scene a new rag entitled, The Motley Magpie, so named because of the calumny uttered by a 17th century Calvinist in Anhalt against Lutherans who wore traditional vestments, specifically, the surplice and cassock. Although this quarterly journal is “dedicated to the promotion of Lutheran ceremonia in the evangelical catholic tradition as confessed in the Book of Concord AD 1580/ 1584,” its inaugural issue devoted much of its space to a critique of Bruce Eberle’s article on pastoral leadership. Strange connection, that – pastoral leadership and the smells and bells of high church.

 

Rag Time

 

(Quick note for the good English scholars and jurists at the Institute. Aren’t quotes to be framed in quotes, specifically, the words, which follow the kind welcome, describing the historical background for the name of our rag, which were taken verbatim from our rag’s cover page? We wouldn’t want this bit of folderol to be falsely attributed to the editor of CHARíS, you know, reverse plagiarism.)

 

“Rag,” well, that pretty much says it. We know what rags do. They twist the truth, slander, taint by implication, and hurl a few invectives to boot. As the old saying goes, if you throw enough [of it], some will stick. (So, duck! Incoming!)

 

Well, “smells and bells of high church” are what CHARíS’ editor equates with ceremonia and certainly what he wishes his readers to believe is our concern. Now, is it fair to infer that a Lutheran editor of a Lutheran journal of a Lutheran Institute of a Lutheran college has subscribed to the Lutheran Confessions, and so ought to know what Lutherans confess about their, i.e., Lutheran ceremonia?  If so, Milwaukee, you might have a problem.

 

Now, as the scholars at the Institute surely know, Latin words will sometimes be used in theological writing as a tip that the apparent English equivalent may not be accurate and their use indicates a more nuanced understanding of the substantia in question (or wesen for the editor of this Anschauung). So, in Volume 1, Number 1, (so numbered because there actually is a 2, and a 3 and a 4, wink) rather than writing “ceremony” we purposely wrote “ceremonia.” But, assuming (correctly. we learned) some may miss the nuance of this, we explained,

 

It is no secret that the editors of this journal, as others, feel that the [WELS] 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 (“Why the Motley Magpie” Vol. 1:1, p. 6).

 

No smells and bells there. Now, if the editor of CHARíS were aware of what the Lutheran Confessions say, let alone what we wrote, why would he characterize our concern as one for “smells and bells,” which are not mentioned at all in our first three, now four, issues? The conclusion is disturbing for it suggests deliberate dishonesty to mislead readers by tainting us with this insinuation about “smells and bells of high church.” Is this scholar unaware that this “smells and bells” cliché is quite a pejorative, one that might even be called, an invective? But isn’t that the stuff of rags?

 

Charity demands, therefore, that we must assume that an oath to teach in accord with our Confessions was not required of the editor of CHARíS and so he was innocently unaware. The question of dishonesty can thus be put aside, but we are still not out of the woods. For wouldn’t such a scholar, even if ignorant of the Lutheran Confessions’ view of this, do a little scholarly research in this “Book of Concord” to which we referred and of which he took notice, and certainly, as unpleasant as it might be, in our silly little rag - of which he took editorial notice? The first two articles of our journal were on the Mass and evangelical preaching. Granting that even respected scholars can’t catch everything, like the quote above, one still wonders how in his research (and are not editorials subject to the same discipline of research and facts?) he missed an article by this writer, not so cryptically titled, “Lutheran Ceremonia” in which we wrote,

 

Of prime importance are the ceremonies instituted by Christ. In [AP] XIII we confess, “that in matters and ceremonies instituted in the Scriptures (ceremoniae in Scripturis institutae) whatever the number, be not neglected.” It is “easy to determine which have the promise of “grace added:” “Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution” (I:2 p. 8).

 

Oath or not (and we cannot imagine a quia vow was left wanting, although one wonders nowadays) we are left with the uncomfortable question, is this just unseemly, unscholarly invective? The matter is compounded if a subscription were made to the Confessions and a scholarly investigation undertaken, then the whole matter take a slanderous and perjurious turn.  

 

Now, if the editor does know what the Confessions say and did read what we wrote, then why would there be a “strange connection” between pastoral “leadership” (his word, we prefer “pastoral care”) and ceremonia? Which is to say there is a strange connection between pastoral care and the most blessed acts of the church stained with Christ’s blood. There is a strange connection between pastoral care and baptism into Christ and the catechesis and preaching that accompanies it? There is a strange connection between pastoral care and offering private confession and absolution for the stricken? There is a strange connection between pastoral care and offering that which was sacrificed on the cross, once and for all, in the Holy Communion? There is a strange connection between the Ministry of pastors and the Ministry by which faith is obtained? Strange indeed, but not Lutheran.

 

Another explanation might be that the editor of CHARíS does know what the Lutheran Confessions call ceremonia of prime importance and heard our clear confession, but considers such Augustana V care no different than that offered by “smells and bells.” Of course, that is the judgment of Calvinists and Arminians of all stripes and times about the “minutia” of the liturgy, that is, the Sacraments have no more value than smells and bells, symbolic only. Of course there is a final “explanation,” the editors of this rag, despite their oaths, despite what they actually wrote, do not believe their own words and have committed perjury.

 

Now, I must fess up. We may, in time, speak about smells, and maybe even bells (so then the editor can give us his best “gotcha!”). I recall hearing of a rather spectacular vision of an eternal mass in which incense plays quite a role. I also understand it makes a great Christmas gift. We may speak about the use of anointing oil used in some Baptism rites. In fact, if you do not hear about anointing you have not heard the Gospel (see Matthew 26:13 on that). There is a bit more here than meets the nose. We may talk about the use of Sanctus bells, rung, not as the common misperception goes, to denote a “moment of presence” but to signal to the faithful, this is important. But, aware of our environment, we realize that a lengthy catechization is needed before some see, if ever, the value of such Christological practices. First things first.

 

Anyway, I love the smell of being tainted with high and hazy Anglicanism in the morning. Silly smells indeed, besides, I read somewhere that is a big waste of money (See FC EP X, Affirmative 5). The Anschauung continues,

 

The magpie allusion is more amusing. My Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines a magpie as “any of a genus of birds related to jays, having black and white plumage and a long tail,” The second definition is more telling “a chatterbox, a garrulous gossip.” Indeed the content and tone of the first two issues seem to capture the essence of both definitions nicely.

 

Indubitably!

 

To play Luther’s bull to CHARíS’ editor’s Emser’s goat, “first he intends to show what kind of a bird I am (AE 39 p. 121).”  Finally, scholarly investigation, a trip to the dictionary - and the glee of the “gotcha!”

 

Now, perhaps in his eagerness to dive into our rag the editor of CHARíS missed the picture on our cover, and being a scholar bored by such pedestrian things, skipped the cartoon on the back (included for us sophomoric, non-scholarly types). Now, first, I have to read this:

 

Any resemblance to any magpie living, dead or celluloid is merely coincidental, The magpie portrayed is a composite, fictional magpie. Any resemblance to any magpie living, dead or celluloid is only a vestige of repressed childhood memories spent in front of our black and white family Philco. 

 

Now while absolutions are not granted for the humorless, they are for all those under age 50 who didn’t get it, the editor of CHARíS must be a young man! Because if he were over 50, and I don’t mean to heckle anyone who is (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), then my response would be, in the words of the kids, “Duh.”

 

By the way, my dictionary of choice, The New Oxford American, gives as part of this secondary definition “a person who chatters idly.” If the editor of CHARíS were to join the Magpies three for a night on the town, and he is welcome to, he would find that to be true in spades. But, that’s ok, the editor is a college guy. “Garrulous gossip”? My dictionary defines “gossip” as a tale that “typically involves details that are not confirmed as being true.” Not true? Fine. Maybe the research assistants at the Institute can help us with that one, you know, actually substantiating the claim so that we know what we must retract, which, of course, was not done in this treatise, presumably “grounded in sound scholarship,” “deliberately structured and intelligently executed.”  I’d hate to think that “Liar, liar, chasuble on fire” passes for scholarship these days.

 

Well, with insinuations firmly in place, the Anschauung revs up.

 

Now I don’t begrudge these pastors the Christian freedom to lead their members in historic forms of worship. But there are several troubling aspects about the tone and content of their journal.  Among them are the use of traditionally Roman Catholic terms such as “mass,” “catholic,” and “father.” This last, according to the editor, is used as “an identifying mark for those who have an evangelical and Christological understanding of the ministry and not a functional or CEO view of it.” It’s nice to know those are the only two choices!? Worse, however, is the demeaning manner in which the editor treats those who write to express differences of opinion. Such critics, although members of the same ministerial and confessional fellowship, are not referred to as “the Reverend Father” (emphasis, mine). No, they are just called, “Reverend.” Is this intended as a left-handed insult to fellow colleagues in the ministry? Is this a judgment on their un-Christological understanding of the ministry?  I hope not.

 

Father, Forgive me, I’m Confused

 

Troubling indeed! Who are these cyrpto-Romanists spouting “traditionally Roman Catholic” terms, “Mass, Catholic, Father!?” “Fie on them with their smells and bells! Lord Inquisitor, the evidence!” “Are these your writings!?”

 

As can be seen, there is nothing here that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church, or from the Roman church, insofar as we can tell from its writers (AC Conclusion, part 1, 1).

 

At the outset it is again necessary, by way of preface, to point out that we do not abolish the Mass but religiously retain and defend it. Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord’s day and on other festivals, when the sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved. We also keep the traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments and other similar things.  (AP XXIV 1)

 

Nothing has been accepted among us, in teaching and ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or the catholic church… (AC Conc. 5) This is the Catholic faith, a person cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully. (Athanasian Creed)

 

The name spiritual father belongs only to those who govern and guide us by the Word of God. (LC 1 158)

 

Emphases added for those unaware of the Lutheran tradition.

 

Troubling indeed. Troubling, if the editor of CHARíS was not aware that these words are a part of the Lutheran Confession and tradition, more so, if he did know and did not let his Wisconsin Synod readers know, most of whom do not know this is confessional language - the purposeful use of which our rag has already explained. Why this Cromwellian contempt? The forfeiture of these terms, as well as evangelical and Catholic ceremonia, is a tacit concession to Rome that, indeed, it was the Evangelical camp (i.e. Lutheran) which broke with and shattered the peace of the church. Indeed, how many intelligent Papists have gleefully ambushed uncatechized Lutherans with the “Catholic” in the creed “gotcha”? As the Motley Magpie has said, we need to acquaint our folk with these terms so that when they encounter them they do not become as apoplectic as the editor of CHARíS and taint those accustomed to speak in the language of the Confessions as closet Papists. Of course this is hardly helpful in our ecumenical witness, an enterprise we would hope would be a concern of CHARíS. When these conservative Lutherans do not act and speak like Catholics why do they wonder why they are considered sectarian? We wrongly, it seems, assumed (whoops) that when reading a Lutheran journal, even a rag like ours, those interested will come with a certain awareness, although we have learned that is not a given. Frankly, this again suggests an unfamiliarly with our Confessions, otherwise this insinuation might suggest dishonesty. So, we are again left with the charitable conclusion of attributing poor scholarship to the editor of CHARíS. Perhaps more should be said on this, as one would hate to see a further spread in this already Carlstadt influenced sect of more of this unthinking rabid Anti-Catholicism on its college campuses, which ignorant fear of all things “Catholic” Dr. Kurt Marquart dubbed ecclesial “Ku Klux Klanism.”  What’s next, smashing statuary? (Hey, that might not be a bad name for a CCM Rock Band.)

 

And the tar and feathering continues. The CHARíS editorial quotes from an answer we gave to a Wisconsin Synod pastor who in a kind letter asked “What is behind the title ‘Father’ for our Lutheran pastors, which I have never heard before until recently?” Do you think the information we offered, that although not used in the WELS, the title seems to be an identifying mark, and thus the preferred title, which we are happy to accord, for those confessionals in the Missouri Synod, might be helpful, vital, in understanding this? (Did the editor fail to note that we thusly self-flagellated ourselves on our cover?)

 

Now, I don’t know the editor of CHARíS, I can only assume he is quite new to the Wisconsin Synod. Good luck. I hope someone gives him a heads up because It is best not to honor the “rugged individualist” Wisconsin Synod pastor with the title “father.” Trust me on this one, I know. Better yet, if ordained, wear a collar like I did while in the sect (Eek! I wear the style called “Pontiff 3!” – oh, well, out of the closet, again) to a WELS winkel and count how many times you are not so kindly called “Father.” (Yuk, yuk, I never tired of that one.) I know that if I were to have labeled Wisconsin Synod pastors “Reverend Father” I would have had far more accusatory words spoken about me than this piece of scholarship. Pace good Doctor, we address people by their preferred title.

 

But as long as the editor of CHARíS brought it up, as for his suspicions concerning the designation of “Christological and evangelical” and “functional” or “CEO” he can be forgiven if he has not followed the debate on the issue - by the way, that’s three of many more views out there, I only count one “view” in AC V - for if he had he would not have found these boogie men spooking about and insulting poor WELS pastors with the invective “just reverend.” For those outside of Wisconsin, you should know that the Wisconsin Synod defines the ministry in terms of function; amt, not considered an office - the specter of Hoefling, which it can’t seem to exorcise, will see to that. By the way, Mr. Editor, it was Mr. Eberle who painted the pastorate in business terms. I am not sure how to characterize Wisconsin Lutheran College’s view, which view is pure Wisconsin Synod,

 

“[WLC], under the auspices of the Southeastern Wisconsin District praesidium [WELS}, is seeking faculty candidates for divine calls in the following disciplines: anthropology, art, biology, business, chemistry, communication, computer science, early childhood education, economics, education, English, finance, German, history, mathematics, music (instrumental), philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, sociology, Spanish, theatre (sic).” 2

 

A “divine call to…theatre?”

 

I would dare say few, if any, Wisconsin Synod Wauwatosa theologians would define the ministry as an extension of the office of the apostles, not by “infection of hand contact,” not the extraordinary office, but the ordinary office of AC V and would derive the ministry from a Christological understanding and institution of it as the New Testament and Confessions define it.

 

Regardless, this is the scholarly evidence that we treat letter writers in a “demeaning” manner, calling them, just “Reverend”? I’ve “just” been called worse.

 

The Anschauung chugs on,

 

Now I realize that I run the risk of being labeled a “pot calling the kettle black.” But rather than discussing on intellectual terms the merits of restoring certain “catholic” rites to the Lutheran church, these few men seem intent on acting like magpies, that is, noisy chatterboxes more intent on hearing themselves quote Latin than on edifying others, more intent on proper genuflection than on passionate interpersonal ministry to real people. Instead, as the Reverend Father (my title of affection for him) Rolf Westendorf astutely observed, the tone was unloving. “Such love was nowhere apparent in (the) critique of Mr. Eberle’s constructive criticism in CHARíS. Even the respect was minimal. If we can’t disagree with love and respect, we should be quiet.”

 

ILLVD ITERVM DICERE POTES!3

 

We thank the editor for earlier not begrudging us for leading our members “in historic forms of worship.” However, we don’t. In the context of the ceremonia of the Church, the word “historic” can be quite misleading, those who are well versed in this area know this well. We will chalk this up to a slip of the editorial pen. Every form of worship is historic, some as old as “the night he was betrayed,” some as old as last night’s turn at the computer. History plays an important, but not a decisive role here. There are many historic forms we are confessionally bound to reject (cf. the fractio panis). We seek to catechize and then lead our people, not in “historic” forms, but in Christological ones as we wrote but which this scholarly analysis apparently missed,

 

The restoration of the Supper to the weekly life of the Church, and the appropriate ceremonia which support it, will not be accomplished by legalistic dictates, or appeals to historic Apostolic and Lutheran practice, or to matters pertaining to liturgical aesthetics, but rather to what the Lord Himself has said about His Supper and… His people.  (“The Mass is the Heart and Life of the Church,”  Rev. Peter Berg I:1 p. 5)

 

We are not advocating a careless reintroduction of such ceremonies in our churches, so thoroughly influenced by American Protestantism. That requires a long and slow catechetical process, but one that should be undertaken.  That in our church today, the use of words such as “mass,” and the use of Catholic ceremony causes alarm among the laity (and pastors!) is expected, but that it does, speaks poorly of their teachers. That people are not instructed that the use of Catholic ceremonies is allowed (preferable), leaves them not only ignorant, but often judgmental of those who employ such ceremonies, and set for a fall when they learn our Confessions enjoin their use. This is not a call to repristinate some golden liturgical age, but to recognize that the ceremonia of the Lutheran church have grown out of her Christology and her particular understanding of the Sacraments, far more than by an accumulation of völkisch traditions and cultural accretions. (“Lutheran Ceremonia”, Rev. John Berg, I:2 p. 9)

 

Perhaps these prophetic snippets are evidence of the editor of CHARíS’ evaluation that “rather than discussing on intellectual terms the merits of restoring certain ‘catholic’ rites to the Lutheran church” we prefer to engage in gratuitous macaronics and liturgical calisthenics. Now, this rag will not be so immodest as to make magisterial claims of scholarship for itself (we think that honor is better bestowed than claimed) for we sit at the feet of many far more scholarly than we can ever hope to be, although we are happy to note that not a small number of fairly respected theologians have given us two thumbs up (or was that a pat on the head?) Ok, to be fair some folk have otherwise digitally deferred. However, if I may be so bold, might I suggest that perhaps just a little scholarly analysis might have been useful to support the assertion? May I be so immodest as to suggest that it is the editor of CHARíS who has exhibited an amazing lack of scholarly acumen, which edict we, unlike he, have not simply issued but have shown. Maybe he would like to debate, er, uh, school these editors on the matters on which we have written. We’d be happy to accept “a fabulous all expense paid trip to the Institute, guests stay at the fabulous Rex” (that is, if we are granted safe passage, you know, that crack about the football team. Gulp, get ‘em next year, lads?)

 

But, if, perchance, the readers of CHARíS would like to make their own judgments, they are invited to read what we actually wrote, rather than taking as true CHARíS’ editorial ipse dixit. Oh, no! Denuone Latine loquebar?4 Doggoneit, there I go again. Me ineptum. Interdum modo elabitur.4  (For the readers of this rag, ipse dixit is a useful Latin phrase that literally means, “he himself said [it].” It means that some people expect acceptance of what they say simply because they said it. So even though many disciplines use foreign words or phrases to convey a technical concept which otherwise would take many words, it seems we use such gratuitously because we care more about sounding real smart than about real people. Of course, that’s just one man’s hubrisless Anschauung.)

 

Now I need some help.  I counted up the different Latin words and phrases used in the first three issues of our rag. Yikes, we pontificated with about XL or so (that’s 40 for those who are not cold hearted). Microsoft Word tells me that we have blathered on unintelligently for about 53,900 words in the 19 articles covering 56 pages in the three issues so far. Got a math scholar up at the Institute who could figure the ratio here? But the insinuation is clear about the motivation of those uncaring gossips, gratuitously spouting Latin. What are some of these gratuitously used Latin words? Gloria in Excelsis, Sanctus, Kyrie, mea culpa, opinio legis, ceremonia and one that seems particularly relevant at this time, quatenus.

 

Now, surely, we will be shown from our writings where we exhibit this lack of “passionate interpersonal ministry to real people.” Surely we will be shown by the theoreticians at the Institute how our encouragement

 

- to proclaim the Gospel without the admixture of law,

- to offer the Sacrament to the hurting, the grieving, the humble when they ask for it, yea, every Sunday,

- to reestablish private confession and absolution for the comfort of burdened souls,

- to provide the best of the treasury of music the Christian church has to offer so that the baptized’s doxology may be orthodox,

- to teach and encourage the practice of bowing before the Lord God as did the Canaanite woman, the Samaritan leper, Mary of Bethany, and countless angels and others, or as our Lord himself did before Peter (I vaguely recall seeing a statue of that somewhere, probably at some, sneer, Catholic school, oh, wait, that was at Wisconsin Lutheran College), yes, to teach this act of humility, as the blessed apostle Paul says, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,” and

- to reject the thoroughly Arminian techniques of Church Growth Methodology

 

is being more interested in Latin, than this real care we give to the real people we are under a real oath to serve.

 

Pot.

 

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

 

The Anschauung crescendos

 

I argued in the last issue of CHARíS that we need a place (or two or three) to discuss doctrine and practice. I’m publishing 19 pages of such dialogue and debate in this issue and am committed to providing a place through this publication and other CHARíS events to openly and freely discuss those things about which we are passionate. But passion doesn't justify invective. The editors of the Magpie need to honor the right of others to disagree, and to treat ideas with respect.

 

Et Tu, CHARíS?

 

Absolutely, passion does not justify invective, nor making insinuations, ignoring context, and such, you know, the bane of scholarship that seeks to avoid hubris and desires credibility. So, disagreeing is not honoring the “right” to disagree? Curiouser and curiouser. Does the fact that we have printed every critical letter sent us, including this diatribe, in any way vitiate this allegation that we do not “honor the right of others to disagree?” Was it a rush to judgment that missed these words in our critique of Mr. Eberle’s CHARíS article?

 

One can hardly disagree with much of what Mr. Eberle writes, or even that much of it should be written (Vol. 1:1 p. 8).

 

So, if we pastors are such lugubrious lurdanes devoid of common sense, so cavalierly unconcerned about the lost that this (Mr. Eberle’s article) had to be said, then, in a word, amen (Vol. 1:1 p. 8).

 

Mr. Eberle is correct, we pastors are the problem to what ails us (Vol. 1:1 p. 12).

 

Only by incorporating people into this death and resurrection, by drowning in the tomb and womb of the font, by offering the blessing of absolution in sermon and in the confessional, by faithfully offering the body and the blood of Christ, will this life be sustained. With this, I have no doubts, Mr. Eberle would agree. To the extent that he argues that this Gospel be proclaimed faithfully, his concerns ought not to be dismissed – bruised egos aside(Vol. 1:1 p. 12).

 

I wonder is this what Father Westendorf meant by noting that the respect was “nowhere apparent?” Hard to tell, he didn’t offer any proof, nor would he despite two subsequent requests from us, astutely. (Uh, just so you know our dear friend Father “Rolf” spells his name “Rolfe.” Gotcha.) But maybe these are the kinds of words Father Westendorf would indict as being without “love and respect”

 

Truly, I laughed out loud when I read that. Can you really say that out loud with a straight face?

 

Oh, wait, those were Mr. Eberle’s insouciant words to us. But, of course no offense was taken, Mr. Eberle expressed honest and amiable disagreement and offered us the respect of a reasoned, while unconvincing, reply.

 

Now, surely the editor of CHARíS is not serious when he says that “ideas should be treated with respect,” is he? There were some Anschauungen being jackbooted around this past century that would test that facile statement, Herr Doktor. The “respect,” if you will, that an idea gets is examination, and in the area of theology, any inherent weaknesses must be shown, any faulty conclusions must be drawn, any errors exposed and, yes, if needs be, any folly parodied by its own logic (and not by unproven insinuations or invective). That, as painful as it can be, is showing respect to the one offering it. We wish the editor of CHARíS had shown us this analytical respect. Also, one should not innocently act as if this were the first time these “ideas” - the ones we critiqued - have been floated in the Wisconsin Synod or by their author. (Often our young readers do not understand why we “cut to the chase.”) Regardless, if the editor of CHARíS and Fr. Westendorf did not understand this, Mr. Eberle did. To quote his response to us,

 

I truly enjoyed reading your article, “The WELS is Dead.”  It is well-written and forthright, even if you and I may disagree on a number of issues.

 

Finally, which of the ideas of Mr. Eberle (whom we treated with respect as we did all who wrote us, by the way, is it our fault that some writers self immolated?), which we critiqued, would the editor of CHARíS have us “treat with respect?” Was it the idea that the Lord expects results, numerical growth of the church, in addition to faithfulness in using the means of grace?  Was it the view that non Sacramental churches which deny the power of the means of grace should be models for growth?  Was it the erroneous use of Scripture and resultant faulty conclusions?  Was it the view that the church will NOT grow unless the pastor has an “exhilarating vision”? No, Mr. Editor, it was Mr. Eberle’s editorial and theological fact checkers, you sir, who disrespected him by not correcting his faulty understanding of Scripture and the Lutheran Confession. (And although you may not understand it at this time, this is our showing of respect to you.)

 

Breviarium

 

So, class, what did we learn from this Anschauung? If you make insinuations, taint by implication, eschew honest, scholarly research and hurl a few invectives to boot, you just might be a rag.

 

Finally, I’m a bit baffled (yes, a familiar state of mind for me), this CHARíS’ Anschauung was entitled “Of Magpies and Other Birds.” I like that, but shouldn’t a title reflect content, which are these “other birds”? I don’t get it. Anyway, this editorial was entitled “Of CHARíS’ Scholarship and other Tales,” get it? So we have told a tale of scholarship, as well as tales of honest research, of fairness, of reasoned arguments offered without hubris and invective, and perhaps the biggest tale of them all, which CHARíS says, depends on all of the former, a tale of credibility.  §

 

 

 

The Reverend John Berg is the pastor of Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Fremont, California. On special occasions the incense of choice for this catechized congregation is sweet myrrh - heavenly! (Oh, we’ve got those bells too!)

________________________________________________________

 

1 A defense.

2 WLC Today Fall/Winter 1997 p. 15.

3 “You can say that again!” Gratuitous Latin quotes courtesy of Latin for All Occasions, Henry Beard. Villard Books, NY, AD MCMXCI.

 4 “Was I speaking Latin again? Silly me, sometimes it just slips out.” Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

Letters to the Editor

 

 

 

 

 

Christian Becker, among other things, wrote,

 

I've had a chance to read a few selections from your journal, The Motley Magpie, and found it quite enjoyable. I love the tone - wonderfully sarcastic without being bitter. One of my advisors at UWM continually encourages me to criticize others in such a way as to "take the skin off without drawing blood," as he puts it. What I've read seems to do just that. I would guess not everyone appreciates the criticism though. Thanks for your continued advice.

 

8MM Nice observation, and from a graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran College no less! You’re right, the flayed are quite sensitive once the skin of faulty arguments and misuse of Scripture is stripped off. I know, I have been on both ends of the knife. (I guess they have missed our skinning of ourselves.) Of course, to attack the “tone” is the only defense offered by those sensitive souls whose strange theologies and practices we have critiqued. Dr. Luther spoke about this, ironically, in a letter with a conciliatory spirit addressed to Pope Leo X, our last papal bishop, as he speaks about the necessity of sharp words (JWB).

 

If you will allow people with sensitive feelings to judge, they would consider no person more stinging and unrestrained in his denunciations than Paul. Who is more stinging than the prophets? Nowadays, it is true, we are made so sensitive by the raving crowd of flatterers that we cry out that we are stung as soon as we meet with disapproval. When we cannot ward off the truth with any other pretext, we flee from it by ascribing to it a fierce temper, impatience and immodesty. What is the good of salt if it does not bite? (“The Freedom of a Christian,” AE 31, p. 335)

 

 

Helen Jensen, our dear, and sharp eyed, friend, has again brought several things to our attention in a brief note:

 

Read with amusement your comments to Charís (must read that "rag" sometime ;). Am I assuming incorrectly that the editor of that publication is an undergraduate, or at least not too ripe in his profession? If so, was it sporting of you to take him apart in such detail, even if they do aspire to the heights (and have a long way to go)?

 

Minute detail concerning your critique, all the information I have spells Marquart (as in Kurt) without the “d” you inserted.

 

We have his latest paper on the woes of Missouri on Concord-the-list.  It should shortly appear on Concord, the web site, for public use, if you are interested in crying in a beer with us!  Actually, he has some good ideas.  I will offer you a beer to cry in, *if they are not adopted, **if he is not elected our next Synodical President.   Coke Classic, for me.  ;(    GOD bless the work!

 

8MM Dear Helen, thanks for the correction and our apologies to Professor Marquart.  Thank you also for your lead on his article. As the oldest of the Magpies often says, “the Missouri Synod is six times larger than the WELS, six times better and six times worse.”

 

By the way, I can assure you, though, that the author of the Charís editorial is indeed a PHD!  But you are right, it wasn’t very sporting of us, like shooting fish in a barrel, but the pomposity (an attribute with which we are not unfamiliar) and the misrepresentations of that piece of scholarship pushed me over the edge, my bad (wink).

 

And if there is any doubt at all in your mind, if we ever make it to Texas, we will take you up on the offer of the beer!  No, really, we will, really, I’m not kidding…  (JWB)

 

 

Reverend Geoffrey Kieta among other things writes

 

Attached is a paper that I will be giving on Monday to the Southwestern Conference of the Michigan District (Wisconsin Synod).  Since it makes passing references to both of your periodicals, I thought it to be in keeping with the 8th Commandment to share a copy of the text with you.  If you have any comments, you are welcome to reply to this address or to my office address.  Of course, you may also call if you wish to discuss this further.

 

(Editor’s note: This is the “passing reference” from this paper,

 

What I read in Charis or The Motley Magpie usually leaves me crushed, not uplifted… Both forget to offer me the gospel for my failures. Both forget to direct me to the power of God and the promise in his Word and Sacrament to strengthen my new man and to defeat my old man in today’s struggle. 

 

Those interested most certainly can contact this young pastor for a copy of his whole essay which I am sure he will be pleased to send you.)

 

8MM   Hmm, us and CHARIS? The strangest places, as they say. OK with us, we like the lads at CHARIS.

 

You note that "in keeping with the 8th commandment" you send us this essay in which you take a shot at The Motley Magpie and CHARIS. That certainly is strange.  If I recall correctly the 8th commandment reads "You are not to bear false witness against your neighbor."  In the Large Catechism we confess

 

Every report, then, that cannot be adequately proved is false witness. Therefore, no one should publicly assert as truth what is not publicly substantiated.

 

(I guess you can compare your own evaluation of your words about The Motley Magpie and CHARIS - "passing references" - with that obligation.)

 

Now, how are concerns about bearing false witness allayed by simply letting someone know in advance that you are going to be saying something without substantiation that needs, as you say, "8th commandment" fencing? Does something said without substantiation become "not-false-witness" simply because one gives prior notification? My, that’s a novel interpretation! If you believe that "prior notification" absolves one from saying something without substantiation, then you do not understand the 8th commandment, which requires it. If you consider this a matter of "the 8th commandment," have you not broken it? You have not substantiated your charge, you just took the shot. But perhaps all of your hearers have already heard your substantiations, agree with your views and that is why you provide none in this paper. I don't know. But, to be sure, "prior notification" non absolvit.  So you stand self condemned.

  

Now, I'm not as rash and judgmental as you. I must assume you are not lying when you write that our journal "crushes" you. (Apparently the law we preach about sloppy theology and practice has hit you hard. That's good, right?) I must believe that in your thorough study of The Motley Magpie you believe that it

 

"[forgets] to direct [you] to the power of God and the promise in his Word and Sacrament (sic) to strengthen [your] new man and to defeat [your] old man in today's struggle. 

 

Now, of course, to prove a negative ("they forget") is a difficult and lengthy task, perhaps that is why you haven't undertaken it, or, if you have, shown the results in this paper.  So those who have not read The Motley Magpie, or CHARIS for that matter, in your audience are simply to take as gospel your evaluation of the foul nature of this "bird" (and CHARIS), that it should be so lacking the Gospel, I mean, after all, you assert it. The sycophants, especially those who read neither journal, will be pleased.

 

No, unlike you, I see this not as an issue of the eighth commandment but one of the second. So here I can absolve you. Although your logic and novel understanding of the 8th commandment argues that you are breaking it by relaying your unsubstantiated feelings and opinions to your conference mates, I do not believe that you are. In my opinion, you are simply guilty of poor scholarship and of offering an ill informed and gratuitous comment. If we are indeed guilty of what you allege, then this is a matter for adjudication by the second commandment which, too, requires more than a “passing” reference to ascertain guilt and then the stake for us miscreants (or the 21st century equivalent, “marginalization.”)

 

Heck, The Motley Magpie is a public journal, one need not give us "prior notification" about one's opinions and evaluations, even unsubstantiated ones, but perhaps not to look the fool, one ought to have the facts. As regards The Motley Magpie, the opposite sentiment is held by many who have read the Gospel filled sermons and are wise enough to understand that articles written concerning specific doctrinal points have a different purpose than does a sermon, although these articles, too, speak the Gospel. They, indeed, as your smitten conscience testifies, refer to the consequence for souls of bad theology and practice and the benefits of sound Lutheran theology and practice, articles written primarily for men who ought to know better, or for those like me who should know better and want to know better.  I guess here we differ in opinion. My only suggestion is that you reread the journals, especially the sermons and devotional articles, to find and be comforted by the Gospel you say is lacking but which we contend is plainly there. Perhaps CHARIS is owed the same courtesy. If you still find us lacking, you need not worry at all about our name, but our Lord’s. (Do I sense an ill wind blowing here that one of us may be preaching another Gospel?)

 

Finally, even if it were my opinion that your essay, though it includes many a felicitously turned phrase, clarifies little, shows a lack of and wrong understanding of this issue of the so called 3rd use of the law which is especially shown in the problem you seem to find with the grouped quotes from C. F. W. Walther, August Pieper and Peter Berg (not bad company on the issue, well, for the most part), to simply make that assertion in The Motley Magpie without substantiation wouldn't be worth much, well, like your comments.

 

But, hey, thanks anyway (JWB).§