Thursday
Aug092018

April 2018

To some people it might appear strange or even wrong to have children younger than 11 or 12 going through confirmation instruction. Most of us were confirmed around eighth grade, and that practice probably has a roughly 200-year history. In times when family and society helped to provide strong, external religious support for children as they went through adolescence, that may have been a salutary practice.

But the evidence is everywhere around us: by the time that children reach middle school, they are either firmly grounded in the Christian faith or essentially already gone. The number of things that pull them away from both the Divine Service and Christian education has steadily grown and we reached the tipping point more than a few years ago. The simplest way to see this reality is to think of how people you personally know who have rarely, if ever, been seen in the church building since they were confirmed.

The possible solutions to this have occupied countless hours in the work of statisticians and those who study church demographics. I certainly have no comprehensive solutions or certain answers on how to reverse this long-standing trend. But I do believe that waiting until children are 11 or 12 to essentially begin Christian education is, by that time, a lost cause. Since the Scriptures do not command the Rite of Confirmation, let alone give us an age for it, we should consider carefully what we are doing.

Part of that consideration is to think about the purpose of confirmation instruction itself. Clearly, it's meant to be a continuation of what they've already learned from the Scriptures of Jesus and their life in Him. (Often, however, there is no “continuation,” since it has hardly begun. I am currently teaching one year of the Old Testament story, because the names and trajectory of the Old Testament is largely unknown by children when they get to me for confirmation instruction.)

Second, it's been connected among us with the first reception of Holy Communion. Both of those are proper aims. Children—along with every other Christian, of course—need to have their faith fed and strengthened for living in this world. But what about the formal period of instruction that we call “confirmation”? Here is Martin Luther in his Large Catechism, with a great summary of what I want to continue aiming at as I instruct the children of the congregation:

Let this serve as an exhortation, then, not only for us who are old and advanced in years, but also for the young people who must be brought up in Christian teaching and in a right understanding of it. With such training we may more easily instill the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer into the young so that they will receive them with joy and earnestness, practice them from their youth, and become accustomed to them. For it is completely useless to try to change old people [here Luther is not pointing a finger, but thinking of himself]. We cannot perpetuate these and other teachings unless we train the people who come after us and succeed us in our office and work, so that they in turn may bring up their children successfully. In this way God's Word and a Christian community will be preserved. Therefore let all heads of a household remember that it is their duty, by God's injunction and command, to teach their children or have them taught the things they ought to know. Because they have been baptized and received into the people of Christ, they should also enjoy this fellowship of the sacrament [of the Altar] so that they may serve us and be useful. For they must all help us to believe, to love, to pray, and to fight against the devil. [Large Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, 85-87]

This is the true purpose of this instruction, whether we call it catechesis or confirmation instruction: that children might be taught the things they ought to know, because they, too, as baptized members of Christ should also enjoy the fellowship of Christ's Altar, and then help and work with us in faith, love, prayer, and warfare against the devil. The only requirements is that they know “what [the Sacrament] is and why they come,” namely, to be fed and strengthened by Christ in faith toward Him and love toward one another. Let us, together, aim at this for all our children.

Pastor Winterstein

 

Thursday
Aug092018

March 2018

Dr. Carl Fickenscher, in an essay that was presented to the 2001 Convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, wrote,

A few years ago, in one of the more famous case studies in marketing research, an ad agency for Curtis Mathis Televisions made an interesting discovery. Curtis Mathis was at that time offering a full line of TVs, from small black-and-white portables to huge color consoles. Their researchers found that their market share and profitability were very strong with the big, jazzy models while all their other products were mediocre or worse. So even though it would cost them total sales, they recommended dropping everything else and pushing one kind of TV. Their advertising slogan became (maybe you remember) “Curtis Mathis: the most expensive name in television and darn well worth it.” Their profits soared.

Now, we in the Missouri Synod are not going for snob appeal, and we're certainly not expensive. But we do have something on which we are very strong, and we should be aware of it and feature it. It's our doctrine. In order to do evangelism with full commitment and enthusiasm, our own members need to know that they, we, have something very unique to share with the world, something that saves souls for eternity: pure doctrine. Not everything else we've got is so good—at least not uniquely so. Even if we did admit everybody to our altars, we might or might not be the friendliest church in town. Even if our pastor is visible at every community worship event, he might not out-hustle the nonedenominational minister down the street. But we have what we believe, teach, and confess only the true Evangelical Lutheran Church has: “all things Christ commanded.” If our folks think their job is to market “friendly,” “great programs,” “inspiring worship,” then their motivation is purely human. If they realize that they are sharing the pure Word of God, a Word which alone can save souls, a Word the friendly church around the corner doesn't have purely, then their motivation is from God Himself. (“Church Fellowship and Telling the Good News,” Closed Communion?[St. Louis: Concordia, 2017], 254)

I pray that this Lent is for you a time of renewal and a reminder of the great treasure we have been given in order to share with the world, and that this might lead us to a renewed and energetic witness both to those who do not believe Christ, as well as to Christians of other traditions.

And I pray that that renewal will lead us to an ever more joyous celebration of our Lord's Resurrection, as we look forward in renewed hope to the fulfillment of all His promises in our own resurrection and the restoration of all creation.

Pr. Winterstein

 

Wednesday
Feb212018

February 2018

For very many people in our current society, joining something—anything—is a foreign concept. People simply do not join groups, clubs, or organizations as often as they used to. If they are going to join, they want to know what sorts of benefits they will get in return. And they want to know if they will be forced to take on burdens and responsibilities, and whether those will be worth the cost of joining.

What is true for organizations in general is also true for churches, and perhaps even more so. Whereas the benefits of joining this or that club or group may be obvious, the benefits of joining churches are not as apparent. And when people do not see the point of actual membership, they are, of course, unlikely to become a member.

This lack of interest in joining churches is what makes Peter Speckhard's little book called Connected to Christ: Why Membership Matters so important. In just over 100 (5x7) pages, Pr. Speckhard (a nephew of our own Mim Schwich!) makes the case for, as the title states, why membership matters. It is a very succinct book, but I was surprised at how in-depth it is for its length.

Pr. Speckhard lays out why membership in a local congregation is required: because the Body of Christ is physical and located in time and space, as well as throughout history and eternity. But he also points out the benefits and responsibilities of members of the Christian Church, which are carried out in the local congregation.

Connected to Christ is not only the best explanation and defense of membership in a local congregation, it's the only one written by a Lutheran of which I know. If you've ever wondered why membership matters, or struggled with the question of why you are a member here (or anywhere else), I would encourage you to pick up and read this short book. You can find it at cph.org or amazon.com.

Pastor Winterstein

 

 

Wednesday
Feb212018

December 2017

Advent, which means “coming,” is a time of patient waiting and watching. These are not things at which we are very good. We do not like to wait, so we put it on credit. We do not like to wait until tomorrow (or on December 25) to do what we can do today. We have no sense of the slow building of momentum and expectation that the Church has given us with the season of Advent. We will not wait: we turn up the volume to 11 on the carols as soon as Thanksgiving is over (if we can wait even that long). I know that many people do not see the point of Advent, or its putting-off of Christmas until the actual Mass of Christ and its Twelve Days. We have trouble doing things differently than the world around us does them. We all have our Christmas parties in December, and as soon as December 26 comes, we are more than ready to be done with anything green and red. We get ourselves “into the Christmas spirit” as soon as the advertisements and stores instruct us to do so.

But there are some things we cannot force. We cannot force ourselves to be happy and “Christmasy” if we find ourselves in any of the myriad disasters or difficulties living in a world of sin can bring about. Death and sickness, all the consequences of sin in our lives and the lives of others, do not lend themselves to the superficial “joy” plastered over every inch of our consumer and commercial culture. Unmet expectations are the order of the day, and unless we realize that it will always be that way in a world of sin, we will continue to be disappointed. Advent gives us hope—actual, real-live hope—in the midst of this world the way that it is, rather than the way we wish it were. Advent gives us hope when we celebrate the first Christmas after a death in the family. Advent gives us hope when we celebrate the first Christmas after a divorce. Advent gives us hope when nothing goes according to plan, and our facade of control—especially over our own lives—is torn from its hastily constructed frame. Advent gives us this hope because it gives us the One for whom it is named: the Coming One. It gives us, as every season of the Church Year does, Jesus Himself. Without Advent, Christmas is reduced to a single day of feasting and family and some generic “spirit of giving.” It is Advent that makes sure we know and expect the Christ in the Christ-mass.

Christians keep observing Advent, even if the world has absolutely no conception of waiting or watching or hoping or longing. Christians keep observing Advent because we know that the Christ whose birth we will celebrate is the same Christ who will come again, no longer humble and hidden, but glorious and majestic. The same angels who proclaimed His birth will proclaim Him as Judge of the living and the dead. Advent is the season that teaches us to wait in confident hope for that second coming, even as we celebrate His first coming to accomplish our salvation by suffering and death.

So don’t hurry through this season. Stand a moment with the crowds as your King enters Jerusalem on a donkey. Stay a while in the wilderness with John. Hear the angel Gabriel speak to a Virgin about the One who would save His people from their sins. And learn from all of these what it means to wait and watch and live in this world: a world which, because it does not know Advent, does not know Christmas. This is as C.S. Lewis described Narnia before the coming of the King: “always Winter, and never Christmas.” Jesus has indeed come and the Mass of Christ goes on!

Pr. Winterstein

 

Wednesday
Nov222017

November 2017

There are a lot of things that make effective communication difficult. But one major part of communicating with each other, whether in regular conversation or in times of conflict, is called the “suppressed binary opposite.” In simple words, this means that each of us has a second (“binary”) person or thing in mind to whom or which we are responding (“opposite”), but we often do not make that clear in a given conversation (“suppressed”).

We all do this, because we all have past experiences, conversations, arguments, and conflicts. We hear things and we respond (too) quickly, because what we hear sounds like something we heard once before. What is in our minds is the thing we heard before, which may or may not be what the other person is saying now. And, yet, we respond to the person before us now as if they were that other person or saying that other thing.

This is the moment in a conversation to take a breath, slow down, and ask clarifying questions. It may be that the other person is saying something to which your response is appropriate. On the other hand, maybe my assumption about what the other person is saying has gotten in the way of genuine understanding, which might lead to a genuine pursuit of reconciliation and resolution.

This is something that we need to understand and examine about ourselves. But it also is something that we can realize about others. What is their “suppressed binary opposite”? What do they think you're saying? If you're both using the same words, are you using them in the same ways with the same meaning?

I've found it helpful to think about my past experiences and conflicts and to take a moment to question whether or not I've unfairly assumed that other people are taking particular positions. Maybe they are. Or maybe they're not. But the only way I can find out is to ask. It's simply another expression of the love that I have for that person, regardless of whether the conversation is in the midst of conflict or not. It's just one more way to practice the humility by which I acknowledge I am not always right. Neither am I God, who can see hearts. I have to ask, and then I have to take that person at his or her word. The heart is open to God, who sees and judges all things. It is not open to me or to you, which requires a humble and slow response, rather than an arrogant and quick one. May God grant us the humility of Jesus Christ so that we can live together in love with one another. By such love, others will know that we belong to the One who humbled Himself all the way for each one of us.

As a post-script, I'd be happy to talk at any time and explore some of those “suppressed binary opposites” that make us think and act the way we do. Please don't hesitate to give the office or me a call and set a time, if you'd like to talk over questions or concerns.

Pr. Winterstein