Editorial Update

ramblings by John W. Berg




This “update” was originally published in October of 2004.


Christian Worship is the hymnal with which I operate and was the second (third, if you include LBW) entrant in the “Replace The Lutheran Hymnal Contest,” won handily, and, ironically, by our laconic Norwegian brothers in the ELS with their excellent Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (how can you beat a hymnal that includes the Augustana and the Catechism). Browsing through CW the other day I noticed that it includes 8 hymns in the “Baptism” section and 28 in the “Commitment” section. Did I say the name of the hymnal was Christian Worship?


To Seek Out And Explore Strange New Worlds


My good friend Reverend Gregory Gibbons reminded me of a Star Trek (original series, please) episode entitled “The Changeling.”  (By the way, Double G’s Star Trek credentials? He has been court ordered to stay 500 feet away from William Shatner.) In this episode an alien probe, Tan Ru, melds with an earth satellite and becomes the world destroyer “Nomad” which because of crossed circuitry thinks that Captain James Tiberius Kirk is its creator.  As it is bent on “sterilizing” the universe, most specifically biological units (humans) who unlike it are “imperfect” and so must be sterilized (zapped into nothingness) Kirk must stop this menace and does so with Spock-like logic and a Lutheran understanding of original sin. If he, its creator, is imperfect, then his creation must be imperfect and so it must sterilize itself. As Nomad is overloading over this Gordian knot of logic it is transported into deep space and (Ka-boom!) explodes. Universe saved, as if we get-a-life Trekkies had any doubt.


A similar futuristic episode was presented to me not long ago where just such a dilemma is presented. A WELS female ministerette visits an elderly woman in the hospital to consecrate and give her communion (a practice that the WELS has said passes AC V and AC XIV muster). Grandma’s WELS’ grown grandson comes to visit granny and asks for communion as well. As it is an exercise of authority the female minister cannot commune the man, therefore she must refuse him the Supper, but since that is an exercise of authority - she cannot excommunicate him - she must give him the Holy Supper, but since she a woman…. (Ka-boom!)


All I can say is, “Beam me up, Scotty.”


To Boldly Go…


There’s good news and, well, good news. The contributing editors of this “rag” (thanks CHARIS) are going to stick to their original intention and subsequent promise of publishing for three years and be done with it.  We said in our first issue that we would commit for three years, then think about it. It didn’t take us long to realize - this is a whole lot of work (and we’re not that smart)!  We will have said what we hoped to say in this forum, and to let you have your say. Our apologies, and thanks, to all who have encouraged us to continue. Perhaps some day, this majestic bird will rise like a Phoenix…. oh, shut up.


Perhaps you noticed that we have sent you this issue first class and not via non profit mail.  As we were extremely late in getting this issue out we felt obligated to do so, the expense borne by two faithful friends and subscribers who live in Las Vegas. We asked no questions about the source of this gift, but they muttered something about “a system.” You will note that this issue has a number of articles by Fr. Peter Berg. He recently had a little extra time, as for a while he was in between jobs, er, uh, synods. You will also notice that the Reverend James Frey has no article contribution in this edition, not that he does not contribute. His answer to two representative letters questioning his article “Infant Communion” is article length (editor note, these letters and answer were appended to Fr. Frey’s article published in our e-Volume 2:3).  That particular article received the most comment of any so far (although it has not caused the most trouble, Fr. Peter Berg’s “That Jesus Christ was Born a Man” in Volume II: 1, has, but that’s another story). As a reader of the notes received, I couldn’t help but noticing, especially among a number of college and seminary student writers, a profound misunderstanding about faith. It seems to be understood by many as intellectual knowledge and assent and not as fiducia. 


Finally, don’t believe everything you read on Luther Quest.  Live long and prosper.  §



Reverend John W. Berg is pastor of Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church. This “update” was originally published in October of 2004. (And since that time the LCMS’ Lutheran Service Book has hit the stands and is the best of the crop.)





Letters to the Editors




Reverend Aaron Moldenhauer writes


Greetings in Christ!


I have greatly enjoyed your journal.  I am saddened to hear that I have only one more year to look forward to.  Is there some way to perpetuate (at the very least) the Rubric’ Cube?


I particularly enjoyed the potential futuristic episode of the dilemma faced by the female minister communing the nursing home grandmother.


However, I am surprised that this question is not easily answered by theologians in the Wisconsin Synod.  A Mequon professor impressed upon us students in his class that every WELS member has the right to administer the means of grace.  The reason that the pastor usually does this is simply to avoid complications in scheduling and arguing over who baptizes the next infant (to cite one example).


With that in mind, the situation is easily resolved: the faithful grandson ought to step up to his role of male headship and commune the female minister as well as his grandmother.  And, since it is improper for him to commune himself, the grandson will grab Wally the janitor (who happens to be a WELS member as well) from the hall to administer the elements to the impromptu celebrant.


While I presume that this would be the orthodox WELS response to the dilemma, I also presume that Luther and the Confessors would recoil in as much horror from the scenario I have outlined as they would from the female minister, and from her administering the sacrament.  The assertion that every member has the right to administer the means of grace is in conflict with AC XIV and a proper interpretation of AC V. (And no, I am not convinced that some distinction regarding the public versus the private use of the means of grace can be used to justify such scenarios.)  Viewing these articles in the context of their writing reveals that they hold forth a high view of the office while disavowing the need for bishops.  The Lutheran Church could live without bishops, but they could not live without the preaching office and ordination.  God’s blessings!


8MM   Thanks for the kind words about the impending death of the Magpie. (Ed. We had announced that we would commit to our original promise of at least three years and reconsider. We did, this is too much work!) But as I noted in that proleptic obituary you never know whether this bird might rise like a Phoenix from the ashes (which ashes may be our own.) Since that issue, there have been some discussions with some “others” resulting in some yet to be announced plans for a continuation of the contributions of the Magpie editors in another forum. As the negotiations were conducted over a pint or two of Ireland’s finest, the details are still a bit hazy. Stay tuned).


And hey, thanks for the help unraveling this Gordian knot created by the novel practice of women communing women and the resultant potential problems. Yes, novel, as even admitted to by the WELS Conference of Presidents! In their recent January meeting they discussed this very issue and noted:


While we recognize that Scripture would not specifically prohibit women from administering communion to women, we believe that it would not be wise for the WELS to make this a common practice among us for the following reasons…


(The fifth was) Historically this has not been a practice within the Evangelical Lutheran Church (January 2005 meeting minutes.)




However, to your solution. Did you consider the possibility that the janitor on duty may not be a WELS janitor? You didn’t think of that, now did you? Fortunately that problem can be alleviated if the nursing home in question were a WELS nursing home and so not only concerns about the authority issue can be resolved but even your concerns about Augustana XIV could be alleviated because a custodian in a WELS institution is also in the Office of the Holy Ministry. I jest, you say? Too much Guinness, you say? Well, how about this from the official organ of WELS theology, the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, in which a current Martin Luther College professor compares the “public ministry” of Saint Mary’s in Wittenberg with that of the congregation (St. Lucas, Milwaukee) that he served at the time of the writing of this essay,


What is most interesting is simply to notice the sizable and well organized public ministry which existed in Wittenberg, and the variety of different offices. It reminds me a little of the congregation I presently serve which has three pastors and twelve Christian day school teachers, plus secretaries and janitors, who are all ministering in some sense. (Vol.  91:4, page 251).


I will have to pass for a time on the question as to whether we can call non WELS custodians to the office of the Holy Ministry. (I suspect we might have some fellowship problems out there.)


Although the Pandoran box of women communing women has been opened in the WELS and is unlikely to be shut, despite the best efforts of the horrified conservatives in the WELS, it is happening now and will continue and grow. Unfortunately for those who follow the fortunes of the WELS, the WELS Conference of Presidents, in their discussion of this novel practice, in an effort to ward off the giant problem looming in this regard held onto the sling a bit too long and whacked themselves in the head. In their caution about this practice of women presiding over the Sacrament, ostensibly and for the time being, only to women (although women have assisted in the WELS in the distribution of the host to women and men), the WELS COP gives this additional caution:


Concern for misunderstanding within our own synod and our sister synods here and abroad.


Can one infer from this that the WELS COP is suggesting that these “brothers’ at home (read: the ELS) and abroad aren’t too sharp if they can’t figure out their clearly delineated doctrine? Ouch. Additionally, they undercut the entire staff ministry program (Note, “staff ministers” in the WELS are those who are not pastors, teachers or churchacrats yet are called to a variety of tasks in the church. They are given college training very similar to our teacher’s) as they wrote in another of their “concerns” about women communing women


Concern about whether a staff minister has sufficient theological training to preside at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.


Of course this begs the question, if these ministers are incompetent to preside at the Table, to what ministry are they called and for what ministry are they competent? In fact ELS pastor David Jay Webber approvingly quotes Thomas Nass of the WELS on this staff ministry program “[Staff Ministers] are not trained to do a pastor's work. ("What Is 'Divinely Instituted' and What Is 'Necessary' in regard to the Public Ministry?" WLS Essay File, 2003).


I assume that since most WELS women are physically capable of distributing the Sacrament (although elevating 6 trays of individual cups may prove a challenge for the fairer sex) that is not the issue, but the theological requirements to attain the office of the Holy Ministry (I presume 1 Timothy 3:1-11 and Titus 1:5-9 are in mind here). If I recall correctly, the office of the Holy Ministry to which I have been called requires competency in this. 


And finally to allay the fears of all conservative WELS’ers, the COP writes


Concern that such action could cause confusion about the role of women, especially in regard to the pastoral ministry, since it may appear to some that women would then be functioning as pastors.


(Ya think?) Now, I suppose you will say that this is a distinction without a difference, that is, what is the difference between functioning as a pastor, presumably preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, under a different title, and doing so and being called a pastor. (My guess is, although functioning as pastors, the WELS is a tad bit too conservative to call women that.) Or, of course, one could fairly assume from this that the WELS COP doesn’t want you to draw the inference that offering the blessed body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins to the faithful is a pastoral function because, as they say, it might appear that by offering the Sacrament they are acting as pastors which, they say, they aren’t - while they are offering the Sacrament. I’m sure there is a good answer somewhere to that, this is not a COP out, but I’m just too busy right now to ‘splain it to you.


As regards your observations about the WELS practice being in conflict with AC XIV let me reassure you that they boldly confess it. Now, the following should serve as a WELS interpretation of it for you. This is taken from the official WELS website’s Q/A in which the questioner told the theological expert (usually a Mequon Seminary professor, maybe the one to whom you referred) that her husband baptized their children in the hospital and noted there was no emergency. In his answer the WELS theologian, after affirming the validity of this baptism, proceeded to address the AC XIV issue


Yet for the sake of good order and brotherly love, it is also true that we typically have entrusted the task of the “public” administering of the sacraments to our called pastors. Certainly, this isn’t a matter of “right” and “wrong” so much as what may be wiser and more beneficial for our families individually and the church family as a whole. (Search: Sacrament of Holy Baptism: Application: Baptism of Baby by Parent)


Now, that sounds like…


Concerning church order [our churches] teach that no one should teach publicly in the church or administer the sacraments unless properly called (AC XIV, Latin)


… doesn’t it?


Anyway, I’m sure we will get it all unraveled some day, in fact, it seems to be unraveling all by itself.   (JWB)