Free Shipping on Concordia

I checked the shipping cost on our group order of *Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions.* We’ve bypassed a minimum order to qualify for free shipping. That means your copy will cost you *only* the $20 introductory price.

To be a part of this group order, you’ll have to get your name on the list by the end of church on February 4. Later that day, I’ll place one order for both congregations.

If you don’t get into the group order, you can still place an order of your own by contacting Concordia Publishing House or the Bethany College Bookstore.

The Value of the Catechism

In the Preface of the Large Catechism, which I’m currently reading in the 1-year schedule, Martin Luther is encouraging and cajoling pastors to study the catechism themselves by reading it daily. He laments the attitude so often found, where someone thinks the catechism is either not important enough or is too simple to receive so much attention. Martin Luther considered himself a life-long student of the catechism, always learning from it with every reading. If a doctor of theology like Martin Luther can keep learning from the catechism, certainly you and I would also benefit from using it daily. Here’s a good quote:

> Are we not the finest of all fellows to imagine that if we have once read or heard the catechism, we know it all and have no further need to read and learn? Can we finish learning in one hour what God Himself cannot finish teaching? He is engaged in teaching this from the beginning to the end of the world. All prophets, together with all saints, have been busy learning it, have ever remained students, and must continue to be students.

> It must be true that whoever knows the Ten Commandments perfectly must know all the Scriptures [Matthew 7:12]. So, in all matters and cases, he can advise, help, comfort, judge, and decide both spiritual and temporal matters. Such a person must be qualified to sit in judgment over all doctrines, estates, spirits, laws, and whatever else is in the world [1 Cor. 6:2-3]. And what, indeed, is the entire Book of Psalms but thoughts and exercises upon the First Commandment?

Altar Guild Schedules for 2007

These schedules include things like parament colors, when seasonal items might change, when attention should be given to the candles, and when communion will be offered. It’s a lot of information to predict so far in advance, so they are subject to change. But the schedule is still useful for anticipating what may need to be done. Our 2007 schedules are now available. If you prefer, you may get them online in PDF format. See the [Bethany][] and [Concordia][] sections of the main web site.

[Bethany]: [Concordia]:

New Edition of the Book of Concord

The *Christian Book of Concord* was originally published in 1580. It contained the brand-new *Formula of Concord*, along with important creeds and confessions that had been well-received before it. Those are:

– The three ecumenical creeds: the Apostles’ Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Nicene Creed. These date from the first few centuries after Christ. They were written to confess the true faith as taught by the apostles of Jesus Christ, over against several contrary beliefs that were being promoted.

– The *Augsburg Confession*, written and delivered to the Holy Roman Emperor in 1530 by Lutheran laymen at great risk to their lives, their families, and all those associated with them. This happened in the German city of Augsburg, hence the name of this confession. It’s a summary of what Lutherans believe, addressed to the Emperor in the hope that he would recognize them as Christians, and allow them to continue teaching. Every article is drawn from the Bible, and states the issue at stake directly.

– The *Apology of the Augsburg Confession*, written during the year after the 1530 Diet of Augsburg by a Lutheran teacher named Phillip Melanchthon. It is a defense (that’s what “apology” means) of the Lutheran interpretation of holy scripture, against many wild accusations that the Roman Catholic representatives circulated after the *Augsburg Confession* was delivered.

– The *Smalcald Articles*, written in 1536 and adopted by a variety of Lutherans in the hope that they would be able to use the articles to explain their position at a great big church council that was expected to meet soon. The council did not meet until ten years later (the Council of Trent), and it turned out that the Lutherans were not welcome anyway. Still, the *Smalcald Articles* became an important expression of faith for Lutherans in Germany.

– The *Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope*, attached to the *Smalcald Articles*, and sometimes thought to be a part of them. It is a thorough explanation, from holy scripture, about why the Roman papacy is contrary to the Gospel.

– The *Small Catechism* and the *Large Catechism* of Dr. Martin Luther, written in 1528 to help in the Christian education of the people in Saxony, including pastors, Christian teachers, parents, children, and anyone else who wishes to learn the teaching of the Bible.

– The *Formula of Concord*, published in 1577 and accepted by most Lutherans in Germany as a biblically-accurate solution to several controversies that had arisen in the last several decades. It restates much of the doctrine included in the earlier confessions, and also addresses a few other topics more directly.

These are the creeds and confessions of the Lutheran Church, published together in 1580 as *The Christian Book of Concord.* This book is not meant to be a parochial *Lutheran* work, though it arises from the circumstances of the Lutheran Reformation. Instead, it was published as a confession and explanation of biblical doctrine that should be acceptable to anyone who agrees that the Bible is the very Word of God, and the highest authority.

A couple years ago, Concordia Publishing House released a volume called *Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions*, which was considered to be “A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.” Many of us were excited to see this. It was well done. I would have thought it worth $40 for the volume, based upon the quality and significance of the book. It was not a new translation from the original Latin and German from 1580, but an update of a reliable English translation from the early 20th Century. It also included valuable historical notes and explanations. I recommended it highly. However, it was not without flaws.

After some consideration, the Missouri Synod, which operates Concordia Publishing House, withdrew its approval of the book. A number of serious challenges were raised against many things, from the doctrinal accuracy of the editorial notes and explanations to the clarity of its formatting. Fortunately, this turned into great blessing. The Missouri Synod devoted much more attention to a revision of the book, improving many aspects and adding about 50 pages to it. (Some of the complaints were found to be valid, others were not.) The new edition is now shipping, and may be ordered from Concordia Publishing House and other sources. There were several thousand copies pre-ordered, and Concordia Publishing House is reportedly sending those out now.

This edition is meant to be useful especially to laymen who would like to see how Lutherans explain our position, based on the teachings of holy scripture. If you feel poorly equipped sometimes to explain the biblical teaching of such things as the Lord’s Supper, the Church, Good Works, or the Two Natures in Christ; or if you find yourself wishing for help as you respond to issues like the role of tradition in the church, or free will, or the worship of saints, or the liturgy, then you need this book. Also, if you would like to become better educated as a Christian in the articles of our faith, you can’t go wrong by reading this book. It not only explains the doctrine, both good and bad, but provides the scriptural reasons *why* it’s either good or bad.

The price of the new edition is the same as the old one: retail $30. However, Concordia has reinstated an introductory price for the new release: $20 for as many as you want to buy. I would have paid up to $40 for the previous edition, but this one is a higher quality book both in content and execution. Needless to say, the introductory price is a real bargain. Rev. Paul MacKain, who works for Concordia Publishing House, recommends that you buy as many now as you think you will ever need. He also notes that there will be two other variations coming out of the same book, with fancy leather-type covers and thumb indexes. I looked at the CPH web site, and those variations will be *pricy*!

Unless you want to pay a premium for a premium version, I recommend that you order the regular one, and also order some as gifts for other people. Unfortunately, I already gave the first edition as gifts to several people and won’t shell out the dough for another round, but you can, and this time it’s for real! Note: CPH is also supposed to be sending “correction booklets” [my term] for everyone who had ordered the first edition. If that’s you, you may want to check their web site for availability.

Members and associates of Bethany and Concordia may add their names to our list for a group order. That way we should also save some money on shipping. There’s already a list on the narthex table at Bethany, and should be another one soon at Concordia. Of course, anyone is also free to order their own copies independently.

The “best” Christian music and hymns

It’s always a matter of opinion to say a certain hymn is better than the next one, so it might be dangerous for me to write this. But if you’ll consider it to be only my opinion, then you can see if what I say seems to be true. You can leave a comment below the post.

There are two ways that Christian music appeals to me. One of them is appeal to sentiment (that’s a tough guy way to say “feelings”). The other is when the message speaks to my basic human need for a loving, merciful God and Savior.

One of my favorite hymns is “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart”. It illustrates these two appeals pretty well. As you can tell from the title, The hymn is a prayer. But despite what you might think from the title, very little of the hymn is focused upon *me,* the one praying. Rather, the focus is on Lord Jesus as my merciful Savior. Yet throughout the hymn, Jesus is closely connected to me, showing that He is completely relevant to my life. More than relevant, this hymn says that He is *essential* to my life. This is a pretty sentimental message, so the hymn wins both ways. I find it particularly comforting in a heart-wrenching way when I consider that the gracious blessings I’m praying for in the hymn are already bought for me by Jesus’ death, and promised in His Word.

What else might Christian hymns or music be like? Some hymns are not so sentimentally appealing. Maybe they don’t seem very well connected to us, or maybe we don’t really like to hear the message. That’s not always a bad thing, because some good messages are like that, for example, God’s law. The Law always condemns us for not keeping it at God’s standard, which is perfection. It’s not a message we enjoy hearing, so any song expressing God’s moral Law would be hard to like for its sentimental qualities.

Sometimes a message like the Law can be offset by a catchy tune. You probably know of several songs that are memorable not because of the message, but the tune alone. You may not even know what the words really say, but the more you hear the song, the closer you get to learning them. It’s a good way to teach the Bible’s doctrine on subjects that don’t have much sentimental appeal.

A catchy tune is also sometimes joined with a message that’s not so good. You may actually like some songs in spite of a message that’s spiritually harmful. I’ve enjoyed and *played* quite a few songs like that. So every Christian needs to be aware of the messages we receive, and how they can affect our faith. Even music that refers favorably to God or Jesus doesn’t necessarily teach a message that builds our faith. Listening to harmful songs is the spiritual equivalent of playing with matches.

The best Christian hymns and songs not only have a sentimental appeal, but they also *edify* us with their message. I’ve heard people talk about how they like uplifting music, but that’s not what I mean. I see a difference between *edifying* and *uplifting*. Edifying music shows me, or at least reminds me of my Savior, and has me place my trust completely in Him and His gracious Word. Uplifting music simply makes me feel better about something. I like uplifting music, too, but that alone doesn’t make a religious song great in my book.

So that we’re not only thinking about hymns, consider a couple songs from a band I’ve recently been listening to quite a bit, called Lost and Found. All their lyrics are on their web site. Some of their songs are more for pure entertainment value than religious messages, but here’s a good example of their “Christian” songs. The message is basically a paraphrase of what the Bible says. Other songs are like this comforting song or this one, which is similar, but spoken from the standpoint of Jesus himself. For something quite different, have a look at this sarcastic song. I like it because I understand and sympathize with the sarcasm. It’s a sentiment of a different kind, but closely tied to the Gospel.

If you have an example of good Christian music, feel free to respond to this post with a comment. Include a link or a quote from the lyrics, and explain what about the song leads you to call it “good.”

Observations on present-day Fundamentalism

Be Strong in the Grace contains some timely observations about the present state of Fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism, as we were taught at the seminary, boils down all the various things that the Bible teaches into a handful of “fundamental” truths. You can be ever so wrong about the other things, but if you are right on the “fundamentals,” then you are A-OK with God, according to fundamentalism, because He doesn’t sweat the small stuff. It’s a movement that says something like, “Get back to the basics, and only the basics.” The big question is then, who decides what qualifies as being “fundamental?” According to fundamentalists, most of Luther’s Small Catechism does not qualify.

Note that the major media has a different idea when it uses words like “fundamentalist.” To them, a person who strives for doctrinal purity by any standard is a fundamentalist. Also, Wikipedia’s article on fundamentalism would include confessional Lutherans:

> [Fundamentalism is] a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming.

We would agree that all of those teachings are essential to the Christian faith, but we would not leave out things like the biblical teachings concerning Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the distiction between Law and Gospel. Most, if not all, Fundamentalists don’t consider such things to be “fundamental” teachings.

Do you consider your fellow church members to be friends?

I would guess that most of us would like to have friends at our church, and that most of us do.  Yet churches like ours are composed of many different kinds of people.  You might think that we make friends most naturally with those who are like ourselves, so you will only be able to make friends with those few who are most like you. It’s a reasonable assumption.

There are some people who are uncomfortable participating in a group when it seems to them that they have few friends. In every church, there are some who seem content to avoid social situations, where they have to interact with other people. I remember feeling uncomfortable as a kid at church, because I didn’t know the other kids very well at all.  They mostly lived far away from us, and I only saw them on Sundays, usually in a setting where I couldn’t really get to know them. I eventually associated church with that awkward, uncomfortable feeling of having to socialize with near-strangers. As you can tell, I’ve always been sort of a shy person. But I’m not the only one. My guess is that a fair number of adults will stay away from a group setting, like church activities, if they do not think they have many friends there. That goes for our own church members, and also for potential visitors.

Something I just read in a book called The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell applies to this issue. He wrote:

Another study, done on students at the University of Utah, found that if you ask someone why he is friendly with someone else, he’ll say it is because he and his friend share similar attitudes. But if you actually quiz the two of them on their attitudes, you’ll find out that what they actually share is similar activities. We’re friends with the people we do things with, as much as we are with the people we resemble. We don’t seek out friends, in other words. We associate with the people who occupy the same small, physical spaces that we do.

The quote shows why it can be challenging to bring a wide variety of people together in a church, and get them to enjoy being together. We’re not all accustomed to doing things together, except at church. But it seems to me that the answer is in the emphasized sentence. “We’re friends with the people we do things with, as much as we are with the people we resemble.” So it’s possible to build real friendship in a church by doing things together. The more we do together, the closer the participants will be bound in friendship. But if someone remains on the sidelines, or is absent from many of the activities, it will be harder to build mutual friendship with that person.

What can we do about this? We’ll have to draw our own conclusions, I suppose. However, it’s safe to say that we should each do our best to be a part of social activities and cooperative efforts at church. The more our two congregations, Bethany and Concordia, can do together, the better the friendship between them will be. If you notice that someone is not participating much in group activities, it may be that he or she is simply shy, and doesn’t feel “among friends” at church. It make take personal invitations, or more to overcome the shyness.

The greatest goal of building friendship with each other is so that we may help one another to remain with our most important Friend, Jesus, who forgives all our sins and heals all our wounds. Friendships built in Him will last forever.