A Very Special Tribute

Flower 1This edition of Perspectives concludes the fourth year of these weekly articles. Frankly, sometimes it’s a challenge to decide what topic to address and to do so with a reasonable degree of quality prior to the all too quickly arriving deadline of 5:00 a.m. each Thursday.

From time to time I think perhaps I should give this endeavor a temporary or permanent rest. Occasionally a few readers will complain and criticize. (By the way, if you don’t like what I write, feel free to delete or unsubscribe.) But then a bunch of readers will reply to an article they particularly appreciate and I get flooded with requests to keep on writing.

Since that’s happened often in recent weeks, I’ve decided to proceed with the fifth year of weekly articles. I have a fun one in mind for next week, so stay tuned. Invite your friends to subscribe or send them to jerrykieschnick.wordpress.com. Also feel free to suggest topics about which you’d like to hear my perspective. While I can’t promise to get to all of them, I’d appreciate your suggestions.

Much more significant than the end of Volume IV of these articles, today marks the 48th anniversary of the day I asked for Terry’s hand and heart in marriage. I remember that moment like it was yesterday, which is why it’s so hard to imagine it was almost a half century ago! When I tell people we’ve been married over 47 years, Terry quickly adds, “We married when I was just a child!” Actually, she is a few years younger than I, and always will be! Funny how that works!

It’s impossible to express how sincerely I thank God for Terry and how deeply indebted I am to this very special lady. She has been incredibly loving, forgiving, supportive and encouraging to me and the rest of our family. She has also tolerated, sometimes patiently and sometimes not, the interruptions, headaches and heartaches that have accompanied the variety of callings in which we have been involved together during the 43 years of our ministry in the LCMS.

There have been many such challenges, especially during our nine years in St. Louis. In lots of ways those were very meaningful and fulfilling years. In other ways they were quite difficult. I could say much more about the tough times, but I’ll save that for another time and place.

Even in times of trial and tribulation, Terry’s love for Christ, firmly established early in her life and lovingly nurtured during childhood, especially by her maternal grandmother, Blanche Gruesen, is as strong as it ever was. That love motivates her to encourage and pray regularly and fervently for family and friends. Her encouragement is frequently expressed in the form of hand written notes and cards, which she often writes early in the morning or late at night, endearing her to many.

So, my dear Terry, this is a very special tribute to you! You are loved and respected by many, especially all of us who are blessed to be part of your family! May our gracious Lord continue to hold you in the palm of his hand!

With all my love,
Jerry Kieschnick with Blog Background

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Some Things Haven’t Changed

Sale of Indulgences

The sale of indulgences, as depicted in a woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder, c. 1530
Credit: Wikipedia

News that caught my attention last week was in Time magazine (August 5, 2013) in the section titled The Culture. It read: “Tech-savvy Catholics will spend less time in purgatory—or so says Pope Francis. The Pontiff has decreed that people who follow the events of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro via the Vatican’s Twitter feed can get indulgences, which Catholics believe reduce time spent atoning for sins in the afterlife.”

Bummer! And just when it seemed the largest Christian Church in the world was beginning to move in the right direction. Pope Francis has done things in the early days of his papacy that provide hope to many, both in and beyond the church he leads. But, alas! One very important matter is still in need of papal rectification—the doctrine of justification by grace through faith.

In our Lutheran understanding, that doctrine on which the church stands or falls is described with the words sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura. We believe the Bible teaches that a sinner is justified—forgiven and declared right with God by God’s grace alone, through God’s gift of faith alone, communicated in God’s Word alone.

That’s the central teaching of the Christian faith, expressed by Holy Spirit-inspired St. Paul:  
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works (and not a product purchased by tech-savvy Twittering—my words, not Paul’s), so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

The primary focus of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses was this doctrine. He wrote directly against indulgences, especially in Thesis # 27: “They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.”

Why was this necessary? Because Johann Tetzel, a Reformation era penance peddler, chanted in his sales pitch: “As soon as the coin in the coffer clings, the soul from purgatory springs!”

With due respect and love for the 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church and their papal leader, it appears the primary issue that catalyzed the Reformation is still an issue. Apparently some things, including that thing, haven’t changed in 500 years!

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!

A Clergy Dominated Church?

Clergy 1Monday’s Austin American Statesman provided coverage of Pope Francis’ speech to some three million attendees at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. He is reported to have addressed a gathering of the region’s bishops, telling them to “look out for their flocks and put an end to the ‘clerical’ culture that places priests on pedestals – often with what Francis called the ‘sinful complicity’ of lay Catholics who hold the clergy in such high esteem.”

That’s very interesting and, frankly, not surprising. It sounds a lot like the direction the LCMS seems to be heading these days with respect to clergy/lay relationships. Clergy dominance was particularly evident at last week’s Synod convention, even more so than in the past. In worship services, on the podium and at microphones, black shirts and white collars were abundant.

That in itself is not at all problematic. I often wore clerical attire for official church business, and still do, especially when robed for preaching and leadership in other worship roles.

But the trend toward a clergy dominated culture in the church is also currently manifested in the exclusion of laity from consideration for positions of significant leadership in our church body. That includes, for example, university presidents, significant missionary supervisors, and other leadership positions at the national level.

Furthermore, there’s a discernible aloofness and even pharisaical demeanor exhibited by some pastors, obvious during worship services and in pastoral ministry functions as well. Intentionally or unintentionally, this telegraphs a “holier than thou” attitude in both work and worship.

While this could simply be an unintended byproduct of deep and sincere piety, I don’t believe it enhances the pastoral office or represents its true nature. Pastors are called to serve, not to be served. Pastors are called to lead evangelically and collaboratively, not to dominate or domineer.

So the clergy culture referenced by Pope Francis is not the sole possession of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. We have some of that stuff in our own Lutheran midst.

What’s the bottom line? Some seem intent on moving us toward a clergy dominated church. I believe that’s not helpful and tends to dishonor the priesthood of all believers.

All of us, lay and clergy alike, do well to remember that not all who build up the body of Christ are ordained clergy: “He (Christ) gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-12)

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!