Monthly Archives June 2014

Pelagianism – A falsis principiis proficisci (Part 1)

The question of human agency in salvation has been a continuous question within the Church from an early period.  Many of the early church fathers wrote that humans had a choice over good and evil and therefore could work with God toward their own salvation.  Pelagianism, the principle that original sin was had not completely ruined humanity and thus humans had some capacity for merit with out Divine support, became well defined in the late fourth century.  Although it bears the name of Pelagius, evidence has been gathered that indicates that Pelagius himself may not have held firm to the principle.  Nevertheless Pelagius became the bitter theological nemesis of St. Augustine.  As a result Pelagius was branded a heretic and the theological principle that bears his name was denounced.


However, Pelagianism and its softer spawn Semi-Pelagianism have continued to be part and parcel of the Christian Church.  The Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian teachings were denounced in two church councils in the fifth century, again by prominent theologians in the 14th and 15th centuries.  Perhaps the best renunciation of these teachings was by Martin Luther in his opus De Servo Arbitrio in late 1525.  Despite being continuously renounced Pelagianism in harder and softer forms continues to be present in the Church and in non-Trinitarian sects.

Therefore, historically Lutherans have agreed with Augustine’s theological anthropology and are sensitive to Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism.  This is evident from the writings in the Concordia; The Lutheran Confessions.*   Both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were labeled heresies within the Western Church.**    Publications and research have brought into question the role of Pelagius in the early church.***   The central question for this paper is the lack of a concise synopsis of the information that is needed to make decisions concerning the Pelagius’ accountability for the controversy that bears his name.   A concise synopsis is needed to clarify the teachings of the Lutheran Church that will enable Lutheran pastors and laymen to develop an appreciation for how the challenges for the early church remain challenges for today and the future.


*  Triglot Concordia 1584
**  James Breckenridge, “Pelagius: The Making of a Heretic,” Evangelical Quarterly 42.1 (1970): 30-34.
***   Rodger D. Haight SJ, “Notes on the Pelagian Controversy,” Philippian Studies, Vol. 22 (1974): 26-48.

A letter that needs writing….

This is a letter that many pastors need to write to their congregations as we slip down the slope……

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;

As you all are aware there is currently a push by some progressive members of the congregation to replace the liturgy used in our Sunday services. It appears that there are two views of how this replacing of the liturgy should happen. One approach is that the liturgy be entirely replaced with what is called a ‘contemporary praise and worship’ service. The second approach is that we continue to have two services keeping the liturgy in the early service and changing the second service to this ‘contemporary praise and worship’ style. I would like to point out that there is, in fact, another way to approach the question of how our services are ordered.

Mission San Juan, San Antonio, Texas

Recalling that the Church[1] is the bride of Christ. The primary function for the Church is for God’s people to worship Him. The fact that we can gather is a divine miracle. That is why in our Small Catechism we confess that it is the Holy Ghost that ‘… calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith…‘[2]

I view the Church as God’s garden. Through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, God creates his garden, the Church. Through care and nurturing the Church began to bloom and blossom in worship. Over the ages this mutual nurturing of God and organic response of the Church has resulted in the liturgy we use today.

In His mercy and through baptism in Jesus, God plants you and me in the Church. In the Church, Jesus promises that each of us will receive the nurturing of God’s holy Word and the Church responds in liturgy. Even as we worship, our bound wills seek to delude us into believing that we are pious, righteous and devout toward God. We turn our backs on God and begin to think that worship is our doing something for God.

With this pride, come our most precious religious, political, economic, and patriotic dreams. Myths we tell ourselves and one another; and to which we retreat so that we do not have to take care of our fellows and the good earth.[3] Once we are snared by these myths, we begin to see our personal wants, needs and desires as being the measure of all things. This leads us to think that praise and worship are things we do once a week in church for God.

This brings us to the day and the evil therein. There are three groups of stewards in the garden of the Church. In our congregation all three are present, that is not unusual. Each steward has a different idea of how to care for the garden and as such a dispute has arose as to which is the better steward.[4]

One group of stewards would like to have the liturgy be entirely replaced with what is called a ‘contemporary praise and worship’ service. They are the radical progressives. Radical in that they want to strike the root.[5] They would have the congregation tear out and burn out the existing garden, up root the young and the mature blooms and blossoms and start over with a fallow garden.

These radical progressives are not without seed for the fallow garden. They bring with them the seeds of ‘what everyone else is doing,’ ‘what is popular,’ and will ‘make the church grow.’ These seeds are ‘new’ in that they would introduce to our services songs that we hear on the radio, except with CINO[6] words in place of the original verses. They would bring in ‘new’ readings from the latest top sellers at the local CINO book store. They would replace the existing congregation with ‘new’ people from the un-churched and those that ‘do not have a personal relationship with Jesus.’

A second group of progressives would continue to have two services keeping the liturgy in the early service and changing the second service to this ‘contemporary praise and worship’ style. These liberal progressives want to keep the liturgy for themselves, but are willing to give liberty to another group who wish to have a ‘modern’ service. They wish to only fallow part of the garden in order to experiment with the seeds of ‘what everyone else is doing,’ ‘what is popular,’ and will ‘make the church grow.’

The liberal progressives do not have new seed for the garden. Rather they view the matter of worship as pure contingency. Through their view of Christian freedom, they are willing to let the radicals have a ‘go at it’ not realizing that the seeds of radicals will soon over grow the liberals part of the garden. They turn their backs on the other side and wish them good luck, only to be surprised with how the liturgy will change over time.

These ‘new’ seeds grow well in fallow ground and slowly expand to other parts of the garden until the entire garden has changed. The hymns will be replaced with ‘cover songs.’ The organ will grow dusty as guitars, tambourines, drums and other bar-band instruments become the standard. The symbols of the Church will be replaced with symbols of the people: butterflies and modern art wall hangings, blue jeans and flowered shirts, ‘come to Jesus’ expressions and Hallmark card sentimentality. The processionals will be replaced with ‘liturgical dance’ and children’s performances.

The great travesty of this move is that eventually even the sacraments of the Church will be changed to reflect the progressive vision. The divine gifts of baptism and the Lord’s Supper will become symbolic and reenactments of the life of Jesus. Baptism will be a ‘cleaning up’ of the people who have chosen to be better. The Lord’s Supper will become a drive-trough with the bread served as you pass by the pastor and the wine, now grape juice, will be served in plastic ‘Jesus jiggers.’

As you can tell by now, I count myself out of either of these two groups. However, before you discount me a some stick-in-the-mud old fogy, hear me out. As a fallen and sinful man, I recognize the need for the church to all ways be reforming. I stand by organic reformation rather than quick or slow revolution. Our existing fellowship hall has a stage for songs, ‘praise band’ music, a more relaxed setting for ‘wall art’ and ‘dressing down;’ and a perfect place for dancing and performing by young and old.

This is what we should do after services on Sunday morning. Enjoy each other and the gifts that God has given us. The ‘pot-luck’ meal where we share the life abundant with one another. Yes, we should let ourselves relax and bask in the glow of what our God has done for us each day, but especially on the Lord’s day.

As for the liturgy, it is constantly reforming with ever the eyes toward keeping it God-centered and Christ-centered. All changes to the liturgy are slow, deliberate and ordered as to not introduce chaos into the church or congregation. Concerning the sacraments, it would be a violation of my vows to allow changes in our ancient practices. There are certainly new hymns to be considered, new prayers to be written and new ways of preaching and teaching the Law and Gospel.

So it is, that, the historic and mature liturgy that has flourished in the Church for two-thousand years, will continue to be the standard for our church and congregation. In recognition that this may not be what some want to hear and that some will decide to leave our congregation, I realize this to be real possibility. To those for whom this continuation is uncomfortable, I remain open for conversation. To those for whom this continuation is unacceptable, it is more Christian that we part company than to become bitter attempting to abide one another. I will continue to pray for you and wish you well, should you decided to leave.

Yours in Christ,



[1] The capitalization of the word Church indicates the mystical body of the Communion of the Saints, both the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant. The lower case word ‘church’ indicates the bricks and mortar building in which we gather. Additionally, I use the word ‘congregation’ to mean the people who gather in a ‘church.’

[2] Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: German-Latin-English. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921). SC.

[3] after Gerhard O. Forde. Where God Meets Man: Luther’s Down-To-Earth Approach to the Gospel. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1972). p. 107.

[4] after Luke 22:24.

[5] The etymology of the word radical from Latin radix (genitive radicis) meaning “root.”

[6] Acronym for Christian In Name Only – CINO.

Weekly Q&A – 20140614

Choose one of the following theologies and explore how they are emphasized both in historic liturgical forms (i.e., the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours) and in the German Lutheran Messe: theologia cruces, sola fide, the Real Presence of Christ.

My interest in this question stems from the fact that we have only one theology, that of the Cross.  Particulars such as sola fide and the Real Presence of Christ are part and parcel of the Theology of the Cross (theologia cruces).  Critical to this is that in his writings, specifically the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther focuses three theses (19, 20 & 21) on defining who is and who is not a theologian.  Only later does Luther set forth the Cross as “our theology.”  Thus, it is that theologia cruces defines the theologian, but also the praxis of our theology in liturgy forms.Cross at Mission San Jose, San Antonio, Texas

The medieval Mass retained many elements of the theologia cruces, including the penitential Kyrie, the laudatory Gloria, the confessional Credo, the laudatory Sanctus and the penitential Agnus Dei.  Because these parts of the Mass remained focused on Christ’s work and our creaturely position, Luther kept them in the Messe.  As such these should remain as part of any modern liturgical forms.

All liturgical forms should remain focused upon ‘suffering and the Cross.’  Recently, two threats to the Lutheran liturgical form of proclamation have returned, these are the ‘decadent pietism’ identified by Forde and ‘functional Arminianism’ identified by Curtis.  These threats can be qualified as personal affirmation (of oneself and of others) and ‘making a decision for Christ.’  Each are a danger to true worship and are a degradation of the liturgy.

As theologians of the Cross and responsible liturgists, we should be on guard against these threats as we consider what is included and excluded from our services.  Over the years older hymns (chorales) and modern hymns that focus on God and His Christ as the actors and we as the passive recipients of His actions can and should continue to be included.  Modern and camp meeting (gospel music?) songs should be view critically before inclusion as they tend to affirm us and reinforce our own idolatry.

We must continue to teach and preach that all of us should be very cautious of what is brought into our congregations.  Very few, if any, resources found at the local ‘Christian’ bookstore have been seriously vetted as meeting the standard of ‘suffering and the Cross.’  All pastors and teachers should use the theological analysis that was discussed in class.  Although our class focus was on hymn analysis, these points seem to be a good starting point for what should or should not be included in the liturgy.  The points were: 1. Is the form about God’s grace and thanksgiving?; 2. Does the form include works righteousness?; and 3. Is the Cross central in the form?

Additionally, one could add that the forms should be true and beautiful.  Ultimately, those historical and modern liturgical forms that give all might, majesty, dominion, power, and all the glory of our salvation to God alone, have and will stand the test of time.  No other forms are more important and far-reaching than standing firm in the theologia cruce.

The Remnant

I should like to note that I believe that the true lost sheep are part of the elect[1] or remnant.[2] These are not potential converts or seekers or any of the other modern terms for the unbeliever. Rather, the elect are those who respond when the light of the Gospel is turned on. They know the master’s voice and they follow. The remnant are always present. They are listening for the Word.

Old Church at Mission San Juan, San Antonio, Texas

Pastors would do well to remember that the elect/remnant are the people of God and His Church. As Pastor Curtis explained, ‘we serve the one people of God, his elect from every nation. And what the elect want, what the Church wants, is the Word of God, and worship that flows ceaselessly from the Word of God and is immersed in the imagery of the Word of God and is connected to the people of God of all times and places.'[3] This is and remains most certainly true.


[1] Triglot Concordia. FC SD XI.

[2] Isaiah 10:21, 11:16; 2 Kings 19:31; Romans 9:27, 11:5 and elsewhere.

[3] H.R. Curtis. Freed From the Shopkeeper’s Prison Series. Presented General Pastors’ Conference of the North Region of the IN District, LCMS, May 9, 2011.


Critical to the return to a theocentric order of worship is the centrality of the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Supper.  Since we are to return to our Baptism daily, this sacrament should also define how we enter into worship.  Individual confession and corporate confession followed by absolution remind each of us of our Baptism into the Lord.  These forms of confession and absolution should continue to held prior to our worship in order to clear our minds and hearts for attending to God’s Word.

Font at Mission San Jose, San Antonio, Texas

Additionally, weekly receiving of the Lord’s Supper strengthens our faith after five or six days of being battered by the forces of evil.  In receiving the Holy Supper, we are gifted with the body and blood of our Savior and He then literally becomes us and we Him.  He has given us an earthly means to taste His Grace.  Nothing demonstrates our direct connection and need of Him more certainly than the gifts of His Supper.


Luther and Worship

Worship is where the Holy Ghost leads us to ask for the our sin to be forgiven.  The reformers wrote that: This worship is the highest worship of Christ. Nothing greater could be ascribe to Christ. To seek from Him the remission of sins was truly to acknowledge the Messiah. Now, thus to think of Christ, thus to worship Him, thus to embrace Him, is truly to believe.*   Luther made very few changes in the medieval Latin Mass which is confessed; we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.   He retained the use of the Latin language with which; … we mingle with it German hymns, in order that the people also may have something to learn, and by which faith and fear may be called forth. This custom has always existed in the churches. For although some more frequently, and others more rarely, introduced German hymns, nevertheless the people almost everywhere sang something in their own tongue. [Therefore, this is not such a new departure.]**

Cross at Mission San Jose, San Antonio, Texas

Unfortunately, most Sunday gatherings are more representative of overhaul of the Mass that was made by the radical progressives, Calvin, Zwingli and the enthusiasts.  These radicals ‘threw out all traditional services and substituted spiritualism for Word and Gospel.’***   This has lead to a cacophonous mixture that strains the definition of worship to its breaking point.  Completely lost is the basis for reforming the church.

Returning to the source of the reformation would be a start.  Again, not to necessarily reinstate Luther’s Mass directly, but to look to it as a guide for our current worship.  A return of order and discipline in worship would encourage the use of the what is good, beautiful and true.  This should include the use of elements of worship that have been developed in all times and in various places.  Here is a place for modern hymns and other forms that are theocentric and not simply rebellious.


* Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: German-Latin-English.  (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921).  AP IV II 33.

** Triglot Concordia. AP XXIV 1

*** Triglot Concordia. AP XXIV 3-5

Worship Defined

Marva J. Dawn in her book, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time, makes the point that there are several words in the New Testament that could signify worship.   Included are latreuo as paying homage to God and proskuneo as an attitude or gesture of allegiance to God.  She points out that these terms speak of esteem and proper behavior.  She goes on to say that other words indicate the bringing of offerings.  Offering no support for such a clam, Dawn’s analysis shifts immediately to the Old Testament usage of words indicating sacrifice.  However, it should be noted that Dawn originally is referencing the New Testament concerning the word worship, and again there is a difference of what can be understood as worship and the demeanor and activities of worshipers.*

Mission San Juan, San Antonio, Texas

Both Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible and Englishman’s Greek Concordance indicate that the term latreuo originally meant to ‘serve for hire.**   Both concordances demonstrate that latreuo as used in the New Testament means to render religious service or homage, so far so good.  As for proskuneo, both concordances indicate that the word describes a worshiper, a person who worships.  To put a fine point on both Dawn’s definitions and those of the concordances, they are all anthropocentric, that is they describe the actions and/or behaviors of the people involved in a religious service.  For those, like myself, who have been lead to the absolute sovereignty of God, we must look for a definition that attributes the actions to God alone.

The etymology of the word, worship, comes from the Anglo-Saxon weorðscipe and as a noun means …the condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown…  Here, from the Germanic language, one finds the more correct definition of one who is worship.  As a noun, worship is used to describe a person, place or thing.  It recalls an old salutation of ‘Your Worship’ which was used when addressing one’s class superiors, particularly aristocrats and clerics.  It is not until A.D. 1300 that the verb sense of reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being is first recorded.***   Therefore, from this one can determine that God is the only one who possesses the condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown, etc.  Accordingly, God is Worship.

This also harkens back to the words of the psalmist, who wrote: אֲ֭דֹנָי שְׂפָתַ֣י תִּפְתָּ֑ח וּ֝פִ֗י יַגִּ֥יד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ׃  Which we translate as; Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.   Here the psalmist confirms that God is the actor and we are the ones being acted upon.  Thus, worship in its true form is the creature suffering the workings of the sovereign God, which results in prayers, praises, hymns and thanksgiving returning from us to God.  This fulfills the scripture where God says; so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.


* Marva J. Dawn.  Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time.  (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K., 1995).  p. 81. Dawn refers to the Old Testament as the ‘First Testament,’ in an effort to be sensitive to the modern mind.  Sadly, this is an intentional distortion which can only be destructive to the building up of the Church.

** NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries.  (The Lockman Foundation, 1998).  accessed April 24, 2014.

*** Douglas Harper. The Online Etymology Dictionary.  accessed April 24, 2014.


I think it is important to state where I stand and to assert what baggage I bring to the subject. It is obvious that anyone holding forth on theological and sociological occurrences is motivated by a consistent philosophy. Given that I am a Lutheran, my philosophy is necessarily bound to the theology of the Cross – a bond which is best defined as ‘viewing all things through suffering and the Cross.’ Although my philosophy is predominately Confessional, I am also influenced by reactionary Augustinianism, and by discernments of Christian existential thought. All of which is, after years of the bitter fires of experience, driven by both a certain Schopenhauerian view of our existence and an understanding of the twentieth century informed by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Cross at Mission San Juan, San Antonio, Texas

The reader should not be put off by the high sounding rhetoric of the previous paragraph. Be assured that, while I am confirmed in my philosophy, all of the descriptors above may, with a certain amount of finesse, be made to fit in some ramshackle way; but I do not care for them very much because that seem to indicate something arcane, academic and complicated – in other words something that needs a great deal of explanation. My view is too common and simple for such.

It is then a philosophy of ‘horse-sense’ and I have no patience for solipsism, progressivism (i.e. the denial of truth and reality) and the dismissal of the simple laws of logic. One is reminded that, while he was a well trained academic who could hold his own against the best the opposition could mount, Martin Luther was a parish priest who preached, spoke and wrote to and for his sturdy Saxons. He touched the lives and souls of this humble, illiterate and ignorant people because he brought God’s Law and Gospel down to earth.