A TERRIBLE ANNIVERSARY

 

We will not let the terrible anniversary of January 22, 1973 pass by unnoticed. We are a people of unclean lips, a people of violence. For the past 48 years our country has not merely turned a blind eye to the murder of babies in their mothers’ wombs, but has claimed it was some sort of right, using its power, influence, and financial ability to aid the crime.

 

The women themselves are victims as much as the babies. Certainly not all, but most of them are young. They are afraid. They are hormonal. Add pressure from a world that calls an evil thing “good,” and it is not difficult to understand how and why so many choose this tragic path. However they ended up in that situation, it hardly matters: they want out of it. They have been sold a bill of goods that sex does not have consequences, and that they should not have to suffer for their actions or for the actions that are taken against them.

 

The medical community sterilizes abortion. It pretends like it is a surgery without consequence or effect, like having a mole removed. But there are consequences: increased risk of cancer, damage to other organs, threats to future pregnancies. But most significantly, the brokenness and emptiness, the aching heart that no doctor even pretends to address or fix. The medical community struggles valiantly to cure disease, to deal with all sorts of problems of the body, to overcome death and pain, to save lives. That is difficult but good and necessary work. However, the medical community has no trouble or difficulty when it comes to killing babies. That is actually quite easy. And you do not need a doctor to do it. There is no real knowledge or skill required. The only thing a doctor brings is a false sense of legitimacy. The doctor brings the lie that abortion is not the murder of a baby.

 

The legalization of abortion has misled and deceived these poor women. It has stolen their babies and their youth. And this is to our great shame, for we are a country unable to recognize and protect women and children. We would have women ruined and babies murdered under the guise of mercy or right, and in the vain hope of convenience, or saving money, or personal growth, or even, reducing the number of “those types of people.”

 

Lord, have mercy.

 

We who are alive on this side of glory are part of the Church Militant. But our fight is not against flesh and blood. It is not against the abortionist or the women seeking abortion or those who advocate for “reproductive rights.” Our fight is against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the Heavenly places.” Our implements of war are the Word of God, prayer, faith, truth, righteousness (see Ephesians 6:10–20). At the same time, we are citizens of earthly kingdoms, called to serve our neighbors, and so we must not remain silent. We can never call an evil thing “good.” While we pray and believe and meditate upon the Word of God, we also vote, volunteer, donate, and speak on behalf of babies and their mothers, and the most vulnerable in our midst.

 

In the end the only real hope we have is the Gospel itself. Only the death of Jesus Christ is good enough and big enough to atone for us, to reconcile us to the women and children and their families whom we have wronged, and only the resurrection can reunite us. May God in His mercy intervene and change this vile law. May He bring comfort and hope to those who have been and are hurting from it and victimized by it. May He give us the courage and love to be a place and a people that not only accepts and loves victims and criminals alike, without fear of consequence, but also to be a people who will speak the truth even when it is costly.

 

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Proctor 

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

December 2020

PSALM 110

(excerpted from Reading the Psalms with Luther)

 

1  The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. 4 The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” 5 The Lord is at your right hand; He will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. 7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.

 

The 110th psalm is a prophecy of Christ, that He shall be an eternal king and priest, indeed true God, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and that He would be glorified and recognized. In the entire Scripture there is nothing like this psalm. It would be right to acknowledge it as the chief confirmation of the Christian faith. For nowhere else is Christ prophesied with such clear, plain words as a priest and an eternal priest. It is prophesied as well that the priesthood of Aaron would be abolished. This psalm is yet again and more splendidly extolled in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is indeed a shame that such a psalm is not more richly extolled by Christians.

 

Praise and honor belong to You, everlasting Word, because You were made flesh and sacrificed Yourself upon the cross as the offering for sin. Govern us according to Your wisdom; defend us against our enemies; speak for us with Your Father, and let us live under You in Your Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

August 2020

I love this photo. So does my wife. She once remarked how she wished she could buy a poster of it so we could put it up in our house. I filed that one away. For her birthday three years ago, I had a giclée print made of this photo. It now hangs in our living room.

 

The scene in the photo is moving, even without any movement. It’s poignant. The Mass is being celebrated in a bombed out church. Even though the building is badly damaged, walls crumbling in places, stone blocks strewn about outside, that’s not true of what’s taking place inside. The clergy (celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon) are beautifully vested and conduct themselves in a manner fitting of the high altar. The same is true of the acolytes. The fair linen lays atop the altar. The missal stand is in place. The candles are lit.

 

Let the ruin and disorder and war being waged remain outside. Let the service within be conducted with beauty and order and reverence. Jesus is here. This is where God comes to man. This is where Heaven touches earth in Word AND Sacrament.

 

I’ve been thinking about this photo a lot lately. If we are to be the church, the ekklesia, the assembly of those called out of chaos/darkness and into God’s marvelous order/light, then this is what we need to be about ALL THE TIME. This is not only true when London and Dresden are bombed, and New Orleans is devastated by Hurricane Katrina. It is especially true when a virus, a “deadly pestilence” ravages the whole world.

 

We may miss a Sunday or two do to travel or illness, but prolonged absence from the solemn assembly of the saints does more damage to the soul than we realize. Home church doesn’t cut it. Living room worship never lives up. We need to gather, really gather, assemble . . . in person.

 

At the start of all this COVID-19 stuff, selections from Martin Luther’s “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” were quoted all across social media. The bubonic plague wreaked havoc on Wittenberg a few times during Luther’s life. When it came in 1527, a fellow pastor urged Luther to tackle the question of whether it was permissible for a person to run away from a deadly plague. Interestingly, Luther’s own prince, Elector John, had required the university, students and faculty, along with John Bugenhagen, the pastor of the city church, to relocate to Jena until the plague abated and things settled down. Against the prince’s orders, Luther, Bugenhagen, and a few other clergy remained in Wittenberg.

 

The part from Luther’s pamphlet that I saw quoted most is the following: “I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.”

 

It appears as if Luther was the proto-social distancer. He states very openly that he will avoid places and people that don’t require his presence so as not to be guilty of their death should he perchance infect them. So there you go.

 

But wait just a minute. What I didn’t see quoted too much on social media was the conclusion of Luther’s pamphlet. Luther had put his pen down for a time after dealing with his initial topic. (By the way, the short answer to whether one may flee a deadly plague or not is . . . yes, as long as you aren’t abandoning your neighbor in need.) When Luther took to write again, he added the following:

 

“Because this letter will go out in print for people to read, I regard it useful to add some brief instructions on how one should care and provide for the soul in time of death. We have done this orally from the pulpit, and still do so every day in fulfilment of the ministry to which we have been called as pastors. First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s Word how to live and how to die . . . Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight . . . Third, if someone wants the chaplain or pastor to come, let the sick person send word in time to call him and let him do so early enough while he is still in his right mind before the illness overwhelms the patient.”

 

Luther is clear. Even in the midst of a plague, people should be admonished to attend church so they can hear the sermon and receive the sacrament every week. EVERY WEEK. If every week isn’t doable, then AT LEAST every other week.

 

Some of you have been away from the Divine Service for nearly 4 months! Some of you even longer. I can only imagine the effect that’s had on you. It’s time to come back to church. It’s time to rejoin the solemn assembly of the saints. Come and hear the Word of God. Come and receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus, given and shed for you. Come and learn not only how to live, but also how to die. Come and confess your sins. Come and confess with your brothers and sisters the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

 

Here is your medicine of immortality. Here is your hope for tomorrow.

 

Come.

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

June 2020

ROE V. WADE OVERTURNED!

A Statement from Lutherans for Life

 

Lutherans For Life rejoices that an egregious injustice has been rectified. Thanks be to God for the Supreme Court’s reversal of the erroneous Roe v. Wade decision! Our nation and culture owe a great debt of gratitude to fifty years of Gospel-motivated voices For Life. Their faithful witness of courage and compassion has influenced successive generations to acknowledge the reality that God creates, redeems, and calls every human life to be His own precious treasure from fertilization to forever. And we delight to receive each one as a gift and a privilege.

 

Nevertheless, we recognize that significant labor remains. Attention turns from one court and one congress to fifty of them. Neighbors will continue experiencing “surprise” pregnancies. The devil will keep deceiving the public into viewing death as a solution to suffering. Millions among us still need relief from the guilt and healing from the grief over their part in abortion. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health verdict does not mandate the sanctity of unborn life but merely makes the federal government neutral. Even if federal policy did protect the endangered ones, it still falls to us as citizens to ensure that our communities reflect it in actual practice. Laws and leaders can foster good and forbid evil, but only the truth of God’s Word and the love of the Body of Christ can change hearts and save lives.

 

So, we rededicate ourselves all the more intently to speaking truth and showing love to the one right in front of us. Our nationwide network of life-minded servants remains committed to embodying and encouraging gentle relentlessness in an inevitably volatile environment. We pledge ourselves not to allow our fellowship to become apathetic following this positive development. And we are already undertaking to improve and expand our equipping of Gospel-motivated voices to declare and demonstrate the grace of God in Jesus Christ to all members of our race, no matter what age, appearance, or ability. May He bless our land, our authorities, and our people to have life and share it abundantly! 

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor
June 2022

Moving Liturgically Through Lent

Lent begins properly on Ash Wednesday. Congregations using the one-year lectionary will have had three Sundays of “pre-Lent,” also known as Gesimatide, in which a certain Lenten character is introduced. There are no Alleluias. The Gloria in Excelsis is not sung. By Ash Wednesday, Lent is in full effect. No flowers adorn the chancel. The devil and his demons feature prominently in the Gospels appointed for the first three Sundays in Lent. On Lent I, Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness. On Lent II, a demon is oppressing a Canaanite woman’s daughter. And on Lent III, Jesus casts out a mute demon from a man, and then is accused by His enemies of being in league with the devil.

 

Then at Lent IV we pause to remember that the entire exercise is ultimately an exercise of joy, for the end of Lent is always Easter. So at Lent IV, we find ourselves anticipating Easter. This is called Laetare, “O rejoice.” Roses are allowed on this day. Some of our churches even lighten the Lenten violet on this day by replacing it with rose-colored paraments and vestments.

 

But then we move on toward the darker side of Lent. Beginning on Lent V we enter into Passiontide. The images and crosses are veiled, and from here to Easter we even stop singing the Gloria Patri at the end of psalms, the Introit, and the Nunc Dimittis.

 

On Palm Sunday we enter Holy Week, and we hear not only the Gospel of the Triumphal Entry, which is said before the opening of the procession, but we begin to hear the Passion accounts. On this day, we hear the Passion according to St. Matthew.

 

Then we enter the Triduum Sacrum, the Holy Three Days. First, we commemorate the Institution of the Blessed Sacrament on Maundy Thursday. Here we also find a few anticipations of Easter: the parament color is white, and the congregation sings the Gloria in Excelsis. The Gloria Patri is still absent, however. Then after the service, with the congregation still in attendance, we strip the altar by removing the vessels, torches, missal stand, and paraments from the chancel.

 

On Good Friday, if paraments are used, the color is black. If the “Chief Service” is celebrated, then the fair linen and corporal are brought out as what is minimally needed for Holy Communion. If the service is Tenebrae Vespers, which is evening prayer concluding in darkness, then there is no celebration of Holy Communion. In some churches the organ remains silent on Good Friday.

 

Then on Holy Saturday, for the Great Vigil, the veils are gone, the paraments are white, and lilies are in place, but they can’t be seen very well because the service begins in minimal light. The first part of the Vigil is the service of light, when the new paschal candle is lit from a fire outside, and all worshippers process into the church. The second part of the Vigil is the service of readings. The third part is the service of Baptism (or remembrance of baptism, or perhaps even confirmation). Then at the beginning of the fourth part of the service we observe the concluding of Lent and the beginning of Easter. The lights are turned up. The Alleluias return with the Easter acclamation: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” The Gloria in Excelsis is sung. The service continues with the reading of the Easter Gospel from St. Matthew, a sermon, and Holy Communion. Some churches delay this fourth part altogether until Easter Sunday.

 

The Great Vigil on Holy Saturday is having something of a renaissance in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. More congregations are implementing the full Triduum Sacrum as part of their Holy Week observance. We have not taken the opportunity to celebrate it a St. Paul yet. The last several years St. Paul Lutheran Church and Atonement Lutheran Church have celebrated a joint Great Vigil at Atonement. If you haven’t been to a Great Vigil in the past, I would encourage you to plan on coming this year to Atonement Lutheran Church on Holy Saturday. It is among the holiest of celebrations in the church, and it is a very moving service.

 

This is how we move liturgically through the days and weeks leading up to the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. Although the descent into the depths of Lent is done by steps, the ascent to Easter is immediate, and if done well, can contribute mightily to the joy of the day.

 

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

February 2022

COVID-19, Conscience, and the Word of God

 

What is the vaccination status of those new people shuffling into unfamiliar pews?

 

What about those people who are back for the first time in months? Have they received their boosters?

 

           Have you ever asked questions like these before? Do they seem silly to you? They aren’t silly to many people, including governments in Europe and Canada, not even to our own federal government, which speaks to the unvaccinated as if they’re a class of demons destined to torture and be tortured, while the vaccinated shall persevere through every trial. Such questions already shape policy in German Lutheran congregations now requiring one’s Covid-19 status to determine entry into the house of God (a policy commonly called 3G, abbreviating the German words for “recovered,” “vaccinated,” and “tested”). That policy is recommended by the government and required by some congregations. Easily and swiftly what’s said in media broadcasts becomes required in churches. There’s no time to ask whether Romans 13 (“Be subject to the governing authorities . . .”) means that everything someone in government says or proposes is constitutional. There’s no time to ask whether the church must regulate its worship according to governmental dictate. (Should Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have rendered worship to Nebuchadnezzar by bowing before his golden statue? After all, it was a government mandate.) There’s no time to distinguish between what’s legal (i.e. abortion) and what’s godly (not murdering). Conscience has no time to ponder or to compare governmental dictates with Holy Scripture. Compliance is mandatory. You must act now.

       The invasion of everyone’s conscience by governmental and media pronouncements isn’t a matter for the church’s silence. If I remain silent on something that affects how people understand the function of daily life, what will I choose to talk about instead? Luther’s protest against indulgences wasn’t important because it dealt with the hottest topic of medieval academic theology. It mattered because the sale of indulgences impinged on what Christians did with their lives. The church can’t sit by and let lives and hearts be determined by everything except God’s Word.

          We’ve perhaps been silent on practically all matters of everyday life (except abortion), because to speak about mandatory HR diversity training that requires tacit assent to transsexual ideology, or about the constant consumption of social media and news that sets teeth and tempers on edge, would be “too political.” But our consciences have all been informed, therefore, largely by educational history and media consumption, largely by Fox News or CNN or MSNBC, largely by Apple News or Breitbart. The Word of God didn’t change in the past 2 years. Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are still divine institutions. We’re still exhorted to meet together. We’re warned of the danger in neglecting to do so, as is the habit of some (cf. Hebrews 10:24–25). God’s Word didn’t change between January 2020 and January 2022. The thing that changed was what the people on our phones and TVs told us, so we changed.

          In the past 2 years, the divides that have opened in our churches were predictable. We often broke sharply along the lines of media consumption with vastly differing perceptions of what was true, what was worthwhile, what was good. This has created clean breaks in what were once small fissures in the body of Christ. These divisions have deepened with the media portrayal of dissent from official Covid-19 policies as “selfish,” and even “murderous.” Some Christians have even suggested that a person not following CDC and WHO guidelines is guilty of breaking the 5th commandment—You shall not murder—all while admitting the messages of those agencies have changed drastically over the last 2 years. The WHO originally recommended that a person need wear a mask only if they had Covid-19 or were caring for someone who was sick. Then it all changed. You need to be masked, then double-masked. You need to get the vaccine, then get double-vaccinated. You need to be boosted, double-boosted, triple-boosted!

         It’s time for us to decide what governs our consciences. When the people of God don’t know the Word of God and fail to prize the Lord’s Supper as their highest good on earth, then they will first neglect the Lord’s Supper because they were told that it’s dangerous to their health. Then, sadly, will find that they have no taste for this feast of love. They love many things, including eating out at restaurants and traveling, about which they see lots of advertising, but since their conscience isn’t bound to God’s Word, the Lord’s Supper is something they can do without. Church now seems very dangerous to some, when in December 2019 or January 2020, it posed no danger to one’s health whatsoever.

      The past 2 years in our churches haven’t been a series of unexpected, one-off events. They’re an ongoing trial in expected consequences. We, who didn’t heed the Word of God that would unite us, have heeded everything that will and does divide us. We didn’t know God’s Word, so our consciences were bound to the latest constitutionally debatable executive order or court ruling. We didn’t know God’s Word, so the possibility of excluding people from the Divine Service because they didn’t share politically acceptable understandings of distancing, masks, vaccines, or the evils of gathering in large groups has become normal to some of us. We didn’t know God’s Word, so slavery to media buzz seems normal to us. We ask each other, “Did you see on the news that . . . [fill in the blank with whatever is the latest cause for concern or outrage]?” We may be teaching the doctrines of men, but since we’ve been so well catechized in them, they sound to us like the commandments of God. The accumulation of new doctrines is exactly what our forefathers protested in the church:

If bishops have the right to burden churches with infinite traditions, and to ensnare consciences, why does Scripture so often prohibit to make, and to listen to, traditions? Why does it call them “doctrines of devils”? 1 Tim. 4:1. Did the Holy Ghost in vain forewarn of these things? (Augsburg Confession XXVIII:49)

       Now is the time to repent. Before vaccination is required for entry into God’s House, now is the time. Before our debates are about how many vaccinations and boosters we’ve received so that we can receive God’s gifts, now is the time. Before we go back to shuttering our own churches for fear, now is the time. We’ve for too long let the media and everything else except God’s Word control our sense of right and wrong, our sense of guilt and shame, our sense of good and evil. Now is the time for change. God is giving us opportunity to repent. We must turn back to His Word before opportunity passes.

        We can have churches where some people are vaccinated, and some aren’t. We can have churches where some people wear masks, and some don’t. We can have churches in which Christians do not all have the same idea about matters the Word of God does not determine: How much daily life should be changed by a widespread respiratory illness? How long should children wear masks in public schools? We must have churches where only the Word of God determines what’s right and what’s wrong, and what should be left to one’s free decision and desire for caution.

      Your conscience must be ruled by God’s Word regardless of how many vaccines you’ve received or masks you wear. If we were facing a future in which the government required people to be unvaccinated and never to wear a medical mask in public, then I would say the same thing. If we were facing a future in which churches were requiring people to leave if they had been vaccinated or were wearing a medical mask, I would say the same thing. That’s not a likely future, so I say this instead: the unvaccinated and unmasked, too, can be saved. They are welcome in the church of God. They are welcome to hear the Word of God and receive the Supper of Christ. Our churches are open to the vaccinated and to the unvaccinated.

       We can’t have churches where all must be vaccinated or unvaccinated, all masked or unmasked, because we can’t have churches where whatever we heard this week or whatever we see coming down the pike rules our churches. If we’re subject to decrees, pronouncements, scare tactics, and mandates promulgated without constitutional justification, and then subject one another forcibly to them, we’ve forfeited the rule of God’s Word and handed over the church to men. We will then have become the world’s plaything, subject not to every wind of doctrine, but to every wind of push notifications on our phones.

      The people entering sanctuaries—vaccinated or not, masked or not, believing the news they just saw or not—won’t answer on the Last Day to Fox News or MSNBC, nor will they give account for the deeds they’ve carried out in this life to the talking heads they spent so much time watching. They will answer to Christ, the One who touched lepers with His hands and who overcame the greatest fear of so many—death. If, then, on the Last Day, we must meet such a mighty King, how can we heed anything more than His Word now? All other kings and nations with their plotting and futile grasping at power will be put down from their thrones, abased and ashamed in their lies and futility. And then, “all flesh shall see the token that His Word is never broken,” just as we sing (cf. LSB 347). The Savior shall take the power and glory that was always His, and only His Word shall be the last word.

 

This is a gently edited version of “Whether the Unvaccinated, Too, Can Be Saved,” by Rev. Dr. Adam Koontz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. Visit https://www.gottesdienst.org/gottesblog/2021/12/23/whether-the-unvaccinated-too-can-be-saved to read the original. In addition to his seminary responsibilities, Dr. Koontz writes articles for numerous publications, including Gottesdienst: The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy, and is a much sought-after speaker and presenter. He will be speaking on Luther’s “Three Estates” at the next Atonement Lutheran Church Regional Conference in February 2022.

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

December 2021

What is Christian Charity?

             The Church does well when it understands the full scope of the word charity, its Latin and Greek antecedents, and puts the emphasis on the primary meanings of the term. The Church must continuously teach and preach the whole meaning of charity, all its implications, and must clearly set forth all dangers connected with a one-sided understanding. For while it is true that the idea of charity has been debased by non-Christians, we must at the same time readily admit that our own people, even within the Lutheran Church, who are giving so generously to alleviate the needs of their fellow man, have adopted certain connotations (i.e. reward, good conscience) that are not Biblical at all if used as motivating forces for their charity.

           What is Christian charity? Our English word is derived from the French charité, which in turn comes from Latin caritas, meaning “dearness, fondness, affection.” This Latin word caritas is the most common translation in St. Jerome’s Vulgate of the Greek word agape. Agape is also translated dilectio, from which we derive our English word delight. The early versions of our English Bible translated caritas sometimes love, sometimes charity. In the King James Version agape was translated charity.

             The primary meaning of charity is not “almsgiving,” but as noted above, “dearness, fondness, affection.” It is used to denote (1) God’s love to man; (2) man’s love to God; (3) man’s love to his neighbor. In the New Testament, certain obligations were imposed upon those who were objects of God’s agape and wanted to practice agape to their fellow man. By the Middle Ages, when Latin was the recognized language of the Church and Holy Scripture, the word caritas (charity) was identified—almost exclusively—with “almsgiving.” Christians from St. Paul to Martin Luther tried to keep agape and caritas (i.e., Christian charity) clean from all corruption. However, popular preachers, the great mass of believers, and, above all, money-raising church leaders placed an ever-greater emphasis on “almsgiving” and corrupted beautiful Christian charity, rooted in agape, and abused it as a means to gain their own ends: money for the Church and a “reward” in Heaven for the believer.

            What is our obligation as faithful Christians? First, in a negative sense, we will do nothing that may hurt or harm our neighbor in body or soul. Luther fought valiantly against the Roman misconception of almsgiving and emphasized again and again that the practice was not charitable, but dangerous. He emphasized that charity that does not seek the rehabilitation of the recipient is not charity. Indiscriminate almsgiving debases the recipient. It robs him of his feeling of responsibility, contributes towards his indifference, and may result in his ultimate downfall.

            In a positive sense, charity will try to rehabilitate the recipient both spiritually and physically. The Church does well when it establishes homes and services for the elderly, the sick, the poor, the orphans, etc., wherein everyone is taught the fundamentals of Christianity and exhorted to work. But it is important that congregations and individual Lutherans, too, see to it that their charity is channeled in the right direction.

          Given the need for charity is real, we dare not make a distinction between friend and enemy. In 1540, Luther preached on Jesus’ words about giving to those who beg (cf. Matthew 5:42):

“Thou shalt give to everybody. This does not mean that I must give to all people or to all those in need. He [Christ] knows that this is impossible. But He is arguing against the Jewish idea that . . . thou shalt love thy neighbor but hate thy enemy. . .. Over against this idea Christ says: thou shalt give to everybody, not only to thy friend, but also to thy enemy. Thou shalt not exclude anybody.”

              We must give in the right spirit. The left hand must not know what the right hand does. We do not give to be seen by others. God sees into our hearts. God will reward you, but you must not expect His reward. In his Tischreden, Luther rebuked his colleague, Dr. Justus Jonas. One day Luther and his table companions had gone downtown, and Luther had given alms to the poor. Dr. Jonas had followed his example, saying, “Who knows where God will give it back to me.” Luther replied: “You act as if God had not given it to you in the first place. You must give freely, for pure charity’s sake, willingly.”

            Thus we return to our point of departure with regard to agape/caritas/charity: God loves us and gives to us freely. We, in response, love our fellow man and give to him freely. Charity divorced from God’s agape is not charity. God does not only command us to do good works, He also allows us to do them. This permission enables us to exercise and strengthen our faith. Thus we arrive at the all-inclusive interpretation which Luther took directly from the New Testament. Our whole life is charity, either passive or active. We are surrounded by it. We must radiate it.

             Until the Last Day, at the second appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, this interpretation of agape/caritas/charity, will be watered down or challenged, sometimes for selfish reasons, sometimes simply because “the flesh is weak” and cannot adhere to the things that are acceptable in the sight of God. But the Church must not give in. The Church can do much in these dark days to help preserve the true meaning of Christian charity. Only if we are faithful in our teaching and preaching shall we be able to meet the challenge of our adversaries. Only then shall we prevail against them.

 

The above is an adaptation of “AGAPE, Caritas, Charity,” Walter G. Tillmanns, Concordia Theological Monthly, vol. 20, Nov. 1949, no. 11, pp. 862-865.)

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

August 2021

ON THE USE OF CRUCIFIXES

Isn’t the use of crucifixes a Roman Catholic practice?

 

Isn’t the “empty cross” a better symbol of the resurrection of Jesus?

 

How does The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod feel about the use of crucifixes in church?

 

A crucifix is a cross with a statue of the crucified Christ on it. Many Protestants, and some Lutherans, are of the opinion that the use of a crucifix, personally or liturgically, is a Roman Catholic practice. However, the history of Lutheranism demonstrates that the use of crucifixes was an ordinary feature of Lutheran worship and devotional life during Luther’s lifetime and during the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy (ca. 1580–1730 A.D.). This was also the case among the founders of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. If you were to visit most of the original congregations of the LCMS, you would find beautiful crucifixes and statuary adorning their altars and pulpits.

 

There is nothing uniquely Roman Catholic about this. Many Lutherans and Lutheran congregations use crucifixes. Crucifixes are used in the chapels of both of our seminaries and at the synodical headquarters in St. Louis. Lutheranism has always considered the crucifix to be a powerful reminder of the sacrifice our Lord Jesus made for us and our salvation . . . on the cross. A crucifix brings to mind quite vividly St. Paul’s inspired words: “We preach Christ crucified(1 Corinthians 1:23).

 

Interestingly enough, while there is certainly nothing wrong with an “empty cross,” the practice of having one on the altar in a Lutheran congregation comes from non–Lutheran sources. At the time of the Reformation there was conflict between Lutheran and Reformed Christians over the proper place of pictures, images, statues, stained glass, and the like. Lutherans stood with historic Christendom in acknowledging the fact that such artwork in the church was not idolatrous, but rather that it aided the faithful in focusing devotional thoughts on the atonement. No greater truth can be found or contemplated than the death of our Lord Jesus Christ for the world’s salvation.

   

Some people think that the “empty cross” is a symbol of our Lord’s resurrection. But that simply is not so. The fact is that the cross would have been empty whether or not Christ had risen from the grave. The point to be kept clear here is that both an “empty cross” and a crucifix symbolize the same thing—the death of our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. Many think the crucifix symbolizes this truth most clearly and strikingly. That thinking has been the traditional position of historic Lutheranism until fairly recently.

 

Some Lutherans began to move away from using crucifixes during the age of Lutheran Pietism, which rejected a considerable amount of Lutheran doctrine, and consequently, many Lutheran worship practices. At the time, Lutheran Pietists, against the clear position of Luther and the early Lutherans, taught that the use of certain ceremonies and symbols—the sign of the cross, statuary, incense, crucifixes in the home and sanctuary—was inappropriate for Lutherans. At best, such things were Roman Catholic residuals; at worst, they were idolatrous. This was never the view of historic Lutheranism.

 

In America, Lutherans have always felt a certain pressure to “fit in” with the Reformed Christianity that predominates much of the Protestant church. Thus, for some Lutherans, this meant doing away with things like crucifixes, vestments, and traditional forms of Lutheran worship and piety. It is sad when some Lutherans are made to feel embarrassed about their Lutheranism by members of churches that teach the Word of God in error and who do not share Lutheranism’s clear confession and practice of the full truth of the Word of God.

 

Lutheranism has always recognized the potential for any symbol (even an “empty cross”) to be used in an idolatrous manner. Any of God’s good gifts can be turned against Him in this life and become an end in themselves. But Lutherans have never believed that banning or limiting artwork in the church is the way to prevent its improper use. Rather, we believe proper teaching and right use is the best way, and also the way that is in keeping with the freedom we have in Christ to use all things to the glory and honor of God.

 

In short, and this is the most important point of all, there is nothing contrary to God’s Holy Word or our Lutheran Confessions about the personal and liturgical use of crucifixes, just as there is nothing wrong with any ceremony or symbol by which we are taught and reminded of the great things God has done for us. We need to guard against abandoning things that we feel are “too Catholic” before we have adequately explored their use and history in our own church. In Christian freedom, we employ a variety of ceremonies and symbols that aid our devotion and remembrance of God’s great love for us in the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

June 2021

PASCHAL HOMILY

St. John Chrysostom (c. 400 AD)

 

If any be a devout lover of God, let him partake with gladness from this fair and radiant feast. If any be a faithful servant, let him enter rejoicing into the joy of his Lord. If any have wearied himself with fasting, let him now enjoy his reward. If any have labored from the first hour, let him receive today his rightful due. If any have come after the third, let him celebrate the feast with thankfulness. If any have come after the sixth, let him not be in doubt, for he will suffer no loss. If any have delayed until the ninth, let him not hesitate but draw near. If any have arrived only at the eleventh, let him not be afraid because he comes so late.

 

For the Master is generous and accepts the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes at the eleventh hour in the same way as him who has labored from the first. He accepts the deed, and commends the intention.

 

Enter then, all of you, into the joy of our Lord. First and last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor, dance together. You who fasted and you who have not fasted, rejoice together. The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it. The calf is fatted: let none go away hungry.

 

Let none lament his poverty; for the universal Kingdom is revealed. Let none bewail his transgressions; for the light of forgiveness has risen from the tomb. Let none fear death; for death of the Savior has set us free.

 

He has destroyed death by undergoing death. He has despoiled hell by descending into hell. He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaiah foretold this when he cried: Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face below; filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing; filled with bitterness, for it was mocked; filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown; filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains. Hell received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted Heaven.

 

O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory?

 

Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!

Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!

Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen! And life is liberated!

Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

 

To Him be glory and power, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen!

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

February 2021

A TERRIBLE ANNIVERSARY

 

We will not let the terrible anniversary of January 22, 1973 pass by unnoticed. We are a people of unclean lips, a people of violence. For the past 48 years our country has not merely turned a blind eye to the murder of babies in their mothers’ wombs, but has claimed it was some sort of right, using its power, influence, and financial ability to aid the crime.

 

The women themselves are victims as much as the babies. Certainly not all, but most of them are young. They are afraid. They are hormonal. Add pressure from a world that calls an evil thing “good,” and it is not difficult to understand how and why so many choose this tragic path. However they ended up in that situation, it hardly matters: they want out of it. They have been sold a bill of goods that sex does not have consequences, and that they should not have to suffer for their actions or for the actions that are taken against them.

 

The medical community sterilizes abortion. It pretends like it is a surgery without consequence or effect, like having a mole removed. But there are consequences: increased risk of cancer, damage to other organs, threats to future pregnancies. But most significantly, the brokenness and emptiness, the aching heart that no doctor even pretends to address or fix. The medical community struggles valiantly to cure disease, to deal with all sorts of problems of the body, to overcome death and pain, to save lives. That is difficult but good and necessary work. However, the medical community has no trouble or difficulty when it comes to killing babies. That is actually quite easy. And you do not need a doctor to do it. There is no real knowledge or skill required. The only thing a doctor brings is a false sense of legitimacy. The doctor brings the lie that abortion is not the murder of a baby.

 

The legalization of abortion has misled and deceived these poor women. It has stolen their babies and their youth. And this is to our great shame, for we are a country unable to recognize and protect women and children. We would have women ruined and babies murdered under the guise of mercy or right, and in the vain hope of convenience, or saving money, or personal growth, or even, reducing the number of “those types of people.”

 

Lord, have mercy.

 

We who are alive on this side of glory are part of the Church Militant. But our fight is not against flesh and blood. It is not against the abortionist or the women seeking abortion or those who advocate for “reproductive rights.” Our fight is against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the Heavenly places.” Our implements of war are the Word of God, prayer, faith, truth, righteousness (see Ephesians 6:10–20). At the same time, we are citizens of earthly kingdoms, called to serve our neighbors, and so we must not remain silent. We can never call an evil thing “good.” While we pray and believe and meditate upon the Word of God, we also vote, volunteer, donate, and speak on behalf of babies and their mothers, and the most vulnerable in our midst.

 

In the end the only real hope we have is the Gospel itself. Only the death of Jesus Christ is good enough and big enough to atone for us, to reconcile us to the women and children and their families whom we have wronged, and only the resurrection can reunite us. May God in His mercy intervene and change this vile law. May He bring comfort and hope to those who have been and are hurting from it and victimized by it. May He give us the courage and love to be a place and a people that not only accepts and loves victims and criminals alike, without fear of consequence, but also to be a people who will speak the truth even when it is costly.

 

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Proctor 

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

December 2020

PSALM 72

(excerpted from Reading the Psalms with Luther)

 

1 Give the king Your justice, O God, and Your righteousness to the Royal Son! May He judge Your people with righteousness, and Your poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! May He defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! May they fear You while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! May He be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In His days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! May He have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before Him, and His enemies lick the dust! 10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render Him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before Him, all nations serve Him! 12 For He delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. 13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14 From oppression and violence He redeems their life, and precious is their blood in His sight. 15 Long may He live; may gold of Sheba be given to Him! May prayer be made for Him continually, and blessings invoked for Him all the day! 16 May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field! 17 May His Name endure forever, His fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in Him, all nations call Him blessed! 18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. 19 Blessed be His Glorious Name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory! Amen and Amen! 20 The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.

 

The 72nd psalm is an exceedingly magnificent and beautiful prophecy of Christ and His rule in the whole world. In this Kingdom, neither sin nor the evil conscience shall flower and reign (as under the Law) but only righteousness, freedom, and joy of conscience. However, this is not without the cross. On account of the cross, their blood shall be shed and counted as very precious to God. And the psalm also announces the new worship, which is to call on God and to thank Him. He tells us to pray to God daily and daily to praise Him. This is our daily offering among all the Gentiles. At this time we hear nothing of circumcision, nor that the kings and Gentiles should receive the Law of Moses, but rather that they remain kings and Gentiles and receive this King as truly God by nature, call on Him, and glorify Him. For to call on God in distress and to thank Him for His help is the worship that alone pleases Him, who is alone our helper in need and our Savior. Without Him, all else is no help at all.

 

To You, our Heavenly Father, we lift up our hearts with joyous thanks, because You have granted us the knowledge of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in whom we have everlasting life. Preserve in us this saving knowledge, that we may hear His voice with joy, and may go with Him into His eternal kingdom. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

October 2020

PSALM 110

(excerpted from Reading the Psalms with Luther)

 

1  The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. 4 The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” 5 The Lord is at your right hand; He will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. 7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.

 

The 110th psalm is a prophecy of Christ, that He shall be an eternal king and priest, indeed true God, sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and that He would be glorified and recognized. In the entire Scripture there is nothing like this psalm. It would be right to acknowledge it as the chief confirmation of the Christian faith. For nowhere else is Christ prophesied with such clear, plain words as a priest and an eternal priest. It is prophesied as well that the priesthood of Aaron would be abolished. This psalm is yet again and more splendidly extolled in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is indeed a shame that such a psalm is not more richly extolled by Christians.

 

Praise and honor belong to You, everlasting Word, because You were made flesh and sacrificed Yourself upon the cross as the offering for sin. Govern us according to Your wisdom; defend us against our enemies; speak for us with Your Father, and let us live under You in Your Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

August 2020

I love this photo. So does my wife. She once remarked how she wished she could buy a poster of it so we could put it up in our house. I filed that one away. For her birthday three years ago, I had a giclée print made of this photo. It now hangs in our living room.

 

The scene in the photo is moving, even without any movement. It’s poignant. The Mass is being celebrated in a bombed out church. Even though the building is badly damaged, walls crumbling in places, stone blocks strewn about outside, that’s not true of what’s taking place inside. The clergy (celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon) are beautifully vested and conduct themselves in a manner fitting of the high altar. The same is true of the acolytes. The fair linen lays atop the altar. The missal stand is in place. The candles are lit.

 

Let the ruin and disorder and war being waged remain outside. Let the service within be conducted with beauty and order and reverence. Jesus is here. This is where God comes to man. This is where Heaven touches earth in Word AND Sacrament.

 

I’ve been thinking about this photo a lot lately. If we are to be the church, the ekklesia, the assembly of those called out of chaos/darkness and into God’s marvelous order/light, then this is what we need to be about ALL THE TIME. This is not only true when London and Dresden are bombed, and New Orleans is devastated by Hurricane Katrina. It is especially true when a virus, a “deadly pestilence” ravages the whole world.

 

We may miss a Sunday or two do to travel or illness, but prolonged absence from the solemn assembly of the saints does more damage to the soul than we realize. Home church doesn’t cut it. Living room worship never lives up. We need to gather, really gather, assemble . . . in person.

 

At the start of all this COVID-19 stuff, selections from Martin Luther’s “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” were quoted all across social media. The bubonic plague wreaked havoc on Wittenberg a few times during Luther’s life. When it came in 1527, a fellow pastor urged Luther to tackle the question of whether it was permissible for a person to run away from a deadly plague. Interestingly, Luther’s own prince, Elector John, had required the university, students and faculty, along with John Bugenhagen, the pastor of the city church, to relocate to Jena until the plague abated and things settled down. Against the prince’s orders, Luther, Bugenhagen, and a few other clergy remained in Wittenberg.

 

The part from Luther’s pamphlet that I saw quoted most is the following: “I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.”

 

It appears as if Luther was the proto-social distancer. He states very openly that he will avoid places and people that don’t require his presence so as not to be guilty of their death should he perchance infect them. So there you go.

 

But wait just a minute. What I didn’t see quoted too much on social media was the conclusion of Luther’s pamphlet. Luther had put his pen down for a time after dealing with his initial topic. (By the way, the short answer to whether one may flee a deadly plague or not is . . . yes, as long as you aren’t abandoning your neighbor in need.) When Luther took to write again, he added the following:

 

“Because this letter will go out in print for people to read, I regard it useful to add some brief instructions on how one should care and provide for the soul in time of death. We have done this orally from the pulpit, and still do so every day in fulfilment of the ministry to which we have been called as pastors. First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s Word how to live and how to die . . . Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight . . . Third, if someone wants the chaplain or pastor to come, let the sick person send word in time to call him and let him do so early enough while he is still in his right mind before the illness overwhelms the patient.”

 

Luther is clear. Even in the midst of a plague, people should be admonished to attend church so they can hear the sermon and receive the sacrament every week. EVERY WEEK. If every week isn’t doable, then AT LEAST every other week.

 

Some of you have been away from the Divine Service for nearly 4 months! Some of you even longer. I can only imagine the effect that’s had on you. It’s time to come back to church. It’s time to rejoin the solemn assembly of the saints. Come and hear the Word of God. Come and receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus, given and shed for you. Come and learn not only how to live, but also how to die. Come and confess your sins. Come and confess with your brothers and sisters the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

 

Here is your medicine of immortality. Here is your hope for tomorrow.

 

Come.

Rev. Jeffrey Proctor

June 2020