The Scalia Sermon was not as good as you thought.

frscalia-jesusofnazarethMany Lutherans have been praising Father Scalia’s Sermon at the Mass said for his Father on the occasion of his death.    But I would suggest that those Lutherans let one or two lines shield their eyes from the great error throughout this sermon.  Let me prove this point as I comment on each part of the sermon.

Your Eminence Cardinal Wuerl, Your Excellencies, Archbishop Viganò, Bishop Loverde, Bishop Higgins, my brother priests, deacons, distinguished guests, dear friends and faithful gathered:

I will not overstep early, but the deference show here is to the hierarchy of the church, extending all the way up to Pope, who demands absolute obedience for salvation.

On behalf of our mother and the entire Scalia family, I want to thank you for your presence here, for your many words of consolation, and even more for the many prayers and Masses you have offered at the death of our father, Antonin Scalia.

He thanks them for the prayers and masses they have offered.  These masses are offered as works of man to move God to release his father from purgatory into heaven.  Jesus’ death is not sufficient. Prayers and masses must be offered.

In particular I thank Cardinal Wuerl, first for reaching out so quickly and so graciously to console our mother. It was a consolation to her and therefore to us as well. Thank you also for allowing us to have this parish funeral Mass here in this basilica dedicated to Our Lady. What a great privilege and consolation that we were able to bring our father through the holy doors and for him gain the indulgence promised to those who enter in faith.

First, he finds particular comfort is having this Mass at the Basilica dedicated to Mary. Secondly, having this mass in this location he believes will grant his father a special indulgence.  Again, he suggests that this pilgrimage of sorts has eternal merit before the Father in heaven.

I thank Bishop Loverde, the bishop of our diocese of Arlington, a bishop our father liked and respected a great deal. Thank you, Bishop Loverde, for your prompt visit to our mother, for your words of consolation, for your prayers.

This sounds just fine, but again prayers offered by the bishop are assumed to move his father closer to eternal glory.

The family will depart for the private burial immediately after Mass and will not have time to visit, so I want to express our thanks at this time so that you all know our profound appreciation and thanks. You will notice in the program mention of a memorial that will be held on March 1st. We hope to see many of you there. We hope the Lord will repay your great goodness to us.

The Lord is asked to reward the people for their works.  Not only will their prayers help in his father’s salvation, but in the salvation of those praying also.

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.

It is He whom we proclaim. Jesus Christ, son of the father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of him. because of his life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.

These are the lines that have received such rave reviews.  The rhetoric is awesome, since many supposed the funeral would be all about his dad.  It no doubt hooked the hearers. And out of context, the things said are laudable in many respects.  But the very last line is telling.  Even with all the talk of Jesus, we still need to simply commend Antonin to the mercy of God.  There is still more to be done, more to perfect (more to come later).  It fails to realize that Jesus is the mercy of God in all its fullness.  He is not just the start of the mercy but the finish as well.

Scripture says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever. And that sets a good course for our thoughts and our prayers here today. In effect, we look in three directions. To yesterday, in thanksgiving. To today, in petition. And into eternity, with hope.

We look to Jesus Christ yesterday, that is, to the past, in thanksgiving for the blessings God bestowed upon Dad. In the past week, many have recounted what Dad did for them. But here today, we recount what God did for Dad, how he blessed him.

Again, the Lutheran wishes to rejoice at this last line.  Yes, we are going to talk about God’s activity rather than eulogizing the dead.  But again, listen to the three fold suggestion.  God has done things in the past, and so there is thanksgiving.  But in the present there is needed prayer, not for the mourners but for Antonin himself.  He is still not free  of need.  The people must pray him into heaven.  They must pray to part the doors of purgatory.  And so the future remains only hopeful and not certain.

We give thanks first of all for the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our Lord died and rose not only for all of us, but also for each of us. And at this time we look to that yesterday of his death and resurrection, and we give thanks that he died and rose for Dad.

Further, we give thanks that Jesus brought him to new life in baptism, nourished him with the Eucharist, and healed him in the confessional.

Awesome stuff if read by one with a Lutheran understanding of salvation.  But notice the talk is mostly about new life and not forgiveness.  Why?  Because because this is the Roman view of salvation.  God begins that work in people through Jesus, but then it must be perfected through man’s works.

We give thanks that Jesus bestowed upon him 55 years of marriage to the woman he loved, a woman who could match him at every step, and even hold him accountable.

Nice shoot out to Mom.

God blessed Dad with a deep Catholic faith: The conviction that Christ’s presence and power continue in the world today through His body, the Church. He loved the clarity and coherence of the church’s teachings. He treasured the church’s ceremonies, especially the beauty of her ancient worship. He trusted the power of her sacraments as the means of salvation as Christ working within him for his salvation.

The keys words here are working “within him.”  Again this is the Roman teaching of infused grace.  God puts His grace in you and then you must use it properly to earn salvation.

Although one time, one Saturday afternoon, he did scold me for having heard confessions that afternoon, that same day. And I hope that it’s some source of consolation, if there are any lawyers present, that the Roman collar was not a shield against his criticism.

The issue that evening was not that I had been hearing confessions, but that he had found himself in my confessional line, and he quickly departed it. As he put it later, “Like heck if I’m confessing to you!”

The feeling was mutual.

Cute story.

God blessed Dad, as is well known, with a love for his country. He knew well what a close-run thing the founding of our nation was. And he saw in that founding, as did the founders themselves, a blessing, a blessing quickly lost when faith is banned form the public square, or when we refuse to bring it there. So he understood that there is no conflict between loving God and loving one’s country, between one’s faith and one’s public service. Dad understood that the deeper he went in his Catholic faith, the better a citizen and public servant he became. God blessed him with the desire to be the country’s good servant because he was God’s first.

To comment on these thoughts would be to distract from the point of this post.  It would be worthy of more type strokes sometime though.

We Scalias, however, give thanks for a particular blessing God bestowed. God blessed Dad with a love for his family. We have been thrilled to read and hear the many words of praise and admiration for him, for his intellect, his writings, his speeches, his influence and so on.

But more important to us — and to him — is that he was Dad. He was the father that God gave us for the great adventure of family life. Sure he forgot our names at times, or mixed them up, but there are nine of us.

He loved us, and sought to show that love. And sought to share the blessing of the faith he treasured. And he gave us one another, to have each other for support. That’s the greatest wealth parents can bestow, and right now we are particularly grateful for it.

Beautiful talk about family and the blessings of it.  Such eloquence about the blessing of families is always welcome to my ears. My only sadness here is that the words seem to suggest to me that Scalia was not particularly present for his family. But maybe I am reading more into it than is there.

So we look to the past, to Jesus Christ yesterday. We call to mind all of these blessings, and we give our Lord the honor and glory for them, for they are His work. We look to Jesus today, in petition, to the present moment, here and now, as we mourn the one we love and admire, the one whose absence pains us. Today we pray for him. We pray for the repose of his soul. We thank God for his goodness to Dad as is right and just. But we also know that although dad believed, he did so imperfectly, like the rest of us. He tried to love God and neighbor, but like the rest of us did so imperfectly.

He was a practicing Catholic, “practicing” in the sense that he hadn’t perfected it yet. Or rather, Christ was not yet perfected in him. And only those in whom Christ is brought to perfection can enter heaven. We are here, then, to lend our prayers to that perfecting, to that final work of God’s grace, in freeing Dad from every encumbrance of sin.

Here we get to what I talked about before.  The present is a time to pray that Scalia’s soul might finally rest.  It is not at rest yet.  Prayers and masses must be said in order that it might someday rest.  He cannot rest because he did not in his life perfect the grace given to him through Jesus.  Jesus did not free him from every encumbrance of sin.  Such freedom was not deliver to him in baptism once and for all.

But don’t take my word for it. Dad himself, not surprisingly, had something to say on the matter. Writing years ago to a Presbyterian minister whose funeral service he admired, he summarized quite nicely the pitfalls of funerals and why he didn’t like eulogies.

He wrote: “Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for and giving thanks for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.”

Now he would not have exempted himself from that. We are here then, as he would want, to pray for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner. To this sinner, Antonin Scalia. Let us not show him a false love and allow our admiration to deprive him of our prayers. We continue to show affection for him and do good for him by praying for him: That all stain of sin be washed away, that all wounds be healed, that he be purified of all that is not Christ. That he rest in peace.

Again we hear phrases here that cheer the Lutheran heart.  But it is not biblical doctrine.  The basic point is this.  Don’t just praise dad.  He needs you prayers.  His perfection must be completed by your prayers in order that he can rest.  Jesus did not provide that rest, despite His promises to do so.  This is pure purgatory talk.

Finally we look to Jesus forever, into eternity. Or better, we consider our own place in eternity and whether it will be with the Lord. Even as we pray for Dad to enter swiftly into eternal glory, we should be mindful of ourselves. Every funeral reminds us of just how thin the veil is between this world and the next, between time and eternity, between the opportunity for conversion and the moment of judgment.

So we cannot depart here unchanged. It makes no sense to celebrate God’s goodness and mercy to Dad if we are not attentive and responsive to those realities in our own lives. We must allow this encounter with eternity to change us, to turn us from sin and towards the Lord.

The English Dominican, Father Bede Jarrett, put it beautifully when he prayed, “O strong son of God, while you prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that we may be with you and with those we love for all eternity.”

Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

Again this seems just almost right.  And yet, Roman Catholic doctrine suggest that this turning is one of works and not faith primarily.

My dear friends, this is also the structure of the Mass, the greatest prayer we can offer for Dad, because it’s not our prayer, but the Lord’s. The Mass looks to Jesus yesterday. It reaches into the past — reaches to the Last Supper, to the crucifixion, to the resurrection — and it makes those mysteries and their power present here on this altar.

Jesus himself becomes present here today under the form of bread and wine so that we can unite all our prayers of thanksgiving, sorrow and petition with Christ himself as an offering to the father. And all of this with a view to eternity, stretching towards heaven, where we hope one day to enjoy that perfect union with God himself and to see Dad again and, with him, rejoice in the communion of saints.

Here the Lord’s Supper is taught as an ongoing sacrifice to the Father.  We offer Jesus  to the Father in order that He might have mercy.  The Scriptures teach us that in the supper Jesus offers Himself to us in mercy.  Big difference.

I understand why Lutherans thought they loved this sermon.  It was the basic idea that the funeral sermon was to be about Jesus and not the one in the casket.  But the Jesus proclaimed is not the one we worship.  We do not worship the Jesus who is just the author of our faith but the perfecter.  We do not worship one who simple infuses grace into us in order that we must strive then towards perfection.  We do not worship a Jesus who needs to be offered time and time again to God weekly in the mass but a Jesus who offers himself to us weekly because He was offered once and for all to God on the Cross.  We do not worship a Jesus who sits and waits for prayer and masses to be offered before giving him people rest.  Those who died in Him rest with Him right away and will be raised up on the last day.

This sermon was a pure exposition of the very Roman Catholic doctrines Luther rallied against: infused grace, salvation by works, the sacrifice of the mass, indulgences, and purgatory.  They still take glory away from Jesus just like they did 500 years ago.  Let not the beauty of the ritual and one point about not eulogizing the dead close our eyes to the serious errors throughout this sermon.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 22nd, 2016 under Theology and Practice • 2 Comments

Turning Acts 6 Upside Down

pmwActs 6:1–4 (ESV) — 1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.

In Acts 6, we are told that the Apostles recognized that as the Church was growing that they were being stretched too thin.  There was much holy work to be done, but they could not do it all.  It caused them to stop and ask what the primary work they had been called to do by Jesus.  In such reflection, they were reminded that the Lord had given them first the work of prayer and the Ministry of the Word.  They found others to take up the other God-pleasing work that needed to be done.

In today’s Church, I keep reading things that seem to suggest just the opposite.  They say things like “Pastor must stop being chaplains.” or  “Pastors must not be the primary caregiver.”    They suggest a Pastor must give up much of the Ministry of the Word and prayer to others in order to truly lead the people.  In fact at times, they suggest the pastor must go out and essentially wait tables instead, doing the very work the Apostles said they had to leave behind to others in order to be faithful to their calling.

We have forgotten what the true work of the Pastor is.  It is not to lead, unless of course you mean the leadership that flows from the proper work of the Ministry.  It is not to wait on tables in the local coffee shop unless of course you meet there to pray with others.  The work has been and remains the work of the Ministry of the Word and prayer.

People suggest that congregations will not grow if the pastor focuses on these things.  I say all growth that occurs because the pastor leaves behind his true work is not the true growth of the Church.  The true growth of the church, whether it be numerical or simply in faithfulness, occurs precisely because of the work the Lord does through pastors as they devote themselves to the Ministry of the Word and prayer.

Let us not turn Acts 6 upside down because some sociologist suggests that it will produce better results. Let us model Acts 6, trusting the Spirit to bring about the results He desires.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 16th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • No Comments

DON’T Follow your Passion

fypDo what you love! Find your passion! Find a job you adore and you’ll never work a day in your life. This is the kind of stuff that is being served up and devoured by the people comprising the younger generations in our world. Maybe you have found yourself motivated by such inspirational dictums. But here is the problem. You might notice the common root word in all of these phrases is “you.”

Every generation loves to fantasize about their own importance to the world. However, most generations very early on have that kind of narcissism corrected. Whether by words, actions, or situations, the young have been reminded that the world is not all about them.

But it seems the members of our younger generations are being told the exact opposite. Do to overwhelming concerns about the lack of self-esteem is previous generations, many of our young people have been assured of their overwhelming specialness all their lives.

While older generations might have dreamed of greatness, many individuals in these younger generations assume greatness to be their God-given right. The “spiritual” leaders of these generations feed this belief at every turn. The inspirational leaders of the day are telling people that fulfillment in life is found by doing what you love, by following your passion. It is the sure path to manifest your unquestioned importance in the world.

The Godly life though is not about doing what you love. It is about doing what the others around you need. You may well in the end get to do things that you love to do but that should never be your motivation. You should be motivated by those around you. You should form your life not around your passions but around their needs.

It is a clever deception that is being spread no doubt. Our younger generations actually believe that by doing what they love and following their passion is the secret to helping those around them. That is why every video that talks about finding your passion ends up suggesting that somebody out there is going to be affected in a positive way by you doing what you love. People are becoming convinced that navel gazing is somehow also altruism.

But that’s all backwards. It assumes that focusing on yourself and what you love is the best way to help others. It is not. This is not to suggest that sometimes when people follow what they love that they do not end up helping people. It can happen but most often the needs fulfilled are mostly those of the person following their passion. The Scriptures speak about being very cautious when following one’s inner passions for this very reason.

The Scriptures do speak about God giving specific gifts to specific people. But it always talks about that in the context of using those gifts then for the betterment of others. It is not about fulfilling some purpose for yourself but for meeting the needs of those around you.

Some days in life you will get to do things you love. Others days you will do things you hate. Everybody’s life is that way. Even the people who act like is not. But if you meet others needs each day, you have lived well.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 9th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • No Comments

Word Vs. Sacrament?

wasIt is a personal pet peeve of mine: the tendency of people to demean one thing in order elevate the thing they want to laud when there is nothing wrong with the thing they demean.  All of us do it at times, but all of us also should be called on it when we do it.

I have had many real conversations recently that have revealed one area where this seems to be going on, particularly among the younger members of the confessional Lutheranism.  And lest anyone in honor of the Superbowl wants to throw the straw-man flag at me, I will provide actual comments.

What is being demeaned in this case is the preaching of the Word.  It is being demeaned in order that the Sacrament of the Altar might be elevated.  Three examples will follow.

First, there was discussion on a Facebook group about what was appropriate for Vicars (those apprenticing at a church during typically their third year of seminary instruction) to be doing during worship.  The question was why everyone seems to be livid when they see a Vicar consecrate the elements during worship and yet sits comfortably while they preached.  All of this while the article of our confession (AC XIV) that would not allow administration of the Sacraments to one without a regular call also forbids preaching to the same. I ended up having this exchange with one Vicar from our Fort Wayne Seminary after asking him why he felt so comfortable preaching and so uncomfortable consecrating the elements:

Vicar: I feel comfortable preaching because I am being trained to preach. It is like a med student learning to diagnose a patient. They have the tools but they are still learning. Once they are done learning they give them the license to be A Doctor. To me it is the same, preaching is diagnosing the issue, but I am not ready to give them the medicine till I have my training done.

Philip Hoppe: If you do not think you are delivering medicine in the sermon, you need to rethink preaching.

Vicar: Well it is medicine, but not the strong stuff, the body and blood of our Lord.

Someone else thought his distinction brilliant.  I say it demeans preaching in an effort to laud the Supper.  And demeaning the preaching of the Word stands against both the Scriptures and our Confessions.

A similar understanding must underlie this overture.  It contains this whereas:

Whereas, our Lutheran Confessions state: “nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call (rite vocatus).” (Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), Augsburg Confession, Article XIV, page 36);

And yet, there is no resolved that deals with publicly teaching or preaching.

Thirdly, the following comment was posted on a thread about long sermons being a bad practice:

A long sermon is Satan filibustering the Eucharist.

This was received with high fives all around.  This despite that it suggests that the preaching of the Word unless kept brief is tool of the devil.  Again, we see in this the idea expressed and applauded that the sermon should be brief in order that we can get to the real thing, the Eucharist.

I could add also that  I have seen posted several times in discussions about having the Lord’s Supper weekly a statement that suggests many feel that if they go to a worship service where the Supper is not present, they are not sure what the point is or why they are there.  Again, I agree that weekly communion is the Scriptural precedent and a blessing to those who have it, but why act as if a service where the Word is preached and Absolution is delivered is nothing?  It may not be the fullness of the Divine Service, but it is something I rejoice to receive.  Where the Word of God is preached and forgiveness is received, there is Jesus.

Brothers, laud the Sacrament.  Long and Loud.  I will join with you on every occasion. . But but do not demean the preaching of the Word.  Through it comes faith.  Yes, even the faith which receives the gifts of the Supper.


Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 6th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • 5 Comments

A Little Easter – For You!

ressWhen Lent comes (and it is coming soon), you will be reminded that Lent is the season of forty days that precedes Easter. But if you went and counted the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, you might wonder if the Church is using some sort of new math in laying out the Church Year.  But if you ask your pastor, he will tell you the reason.  Every Sunday, even in Lent is considered a “Little Easter.”  So Sundays are not technically “of Lent” but are “in Lent.”  You don’t count the Sundays.

Most often when confessing this truth, we think of this concept quite narrowly. We think it is a “Little Easter” only in the sense that every Sunday is a Celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection.  We meet on Sundays because He left the tomb on a Sunday.  The eighth day is the day of His Resurrection and therefore, every eighth day is a “Little Easter.”

But there is more to be said.  Each Sunday is also a little Easter for you.  For ever since your baptism, Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection in His grace.  All too often, we seem to think forgiveness is the present gift of God and that resurrection is a future gift he will give on the Last Day.  And so we leave every little Easter thinking only of ourselves as forgiven sinners.  We forget that the Scriptures are clear that when the Word of God meets our ears, His absolution rests upon us, and His Body and Blood are placed inside of us we are not only forgiven, but are raised to new life.  We are resurrected.  Your old self is killed, yes.  But that is not all.  A new creation comes forward.  A new self that rejoices in the things of God and brings forth good fruit is reborn each Sunday.

And so you are to reckon yourself each Little Easter.  Be comforted that your sins are forgiven.  But also be encouraged that you are made new.  Truly reckon yourself alive to Christ.    Know that you leave Church each Sunday a new person, recreated in the image of God, free to serve Him.

Every Sunday is a Little Easter.  And that does not just relate to the Church Year.  It relates to the work God does each Sunday as He brings both Christ’s death and His resurrection to bear on you in words, water, bread and wine.  You are alive!

Posted by Philip Hoppe on January 25th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • 1 Comment

Steve Harvey Gets It Wrong Again – Don’t Jump

harveyMaybe some of you have seen the video below.  If has been going around on the internet in a viral fashion (almost 50 millions views). No, not the one where Harvey mistakenly crowns the wrong gal the beauty pageant queen, but the one where he “preaches” at the Family Feud audience.  This is the one is which the audience becomes his congregation after the main cameras are turned off.  You can watch the whole clip embedded below if you want to see what I am talking about.

You Gotta Jump To Be SuccessfulAfter I tape an episode at Family Feud I spend a few more minutes with the audience. I talk about jumping.

Posted by Steve Harvey on Wednesday, January 13, 2016

But the basic idea is this:  If you want to be successful, you have to jump.  Basically if you want to want money, fame, or lots of stuff, you have to take chances.  God has given you a gift to use that will gain that life for if you just take chances.

This speech is a prepackaged meal of gospel prosperity with a side of the American Dream.  For those not familiar with the term, the Prosperity Gospel is a plague that seems to be contagious in two seemingly very different communities in our day, the poor black community and the middle to upper class white community.  It is the idea that God wants you to be successful in terms of wealth, health, and lifestyle.  If you follow God closely enough and “jump” at the right times, you will be rich, fit, and happy.  In one community, the preacher is playing off the people’s desperation and in  the other the people’s aspirations.  In either case they are selling the prospect of a better life wrapped up in a loosely tied bow of religious jargon.  The problem is that it simply  what they are selling is not what God is offering to humanity.    He offers eternal salvation through His Son rather than fifteen minutes of fame.

My advice to you is the same I would give you if I saw you standing on the  edge of a tall cliff.  “Don’t jump.”  Well, at least don’t jump if you believe that jumping is the key to happiness and purpose in life.  I am not against taking an occasion risk personally and certainly, we at times must suspend the constraints of our reason to follow Christ.  But in general, purpose in life is found living right where you are standing.  Discontentment is not the sign that you are supposed to be doing something more manifestly amazing but instead is the result of not recognizing the value of what you have been given to do already.


Most Americans my age have been filled with delusions of grandeur from the time we were young.  We all think that if we do our best, we will be famous at least in one sphere or another. Every kid is little league is taught to dream of the World Series.  Every writer wants to see their name on the NYT Best Seller list.  Every cook with a few knife skills thinks they deserve their own show.  And all of this assumes that somehow fame and success will mean fulfillment in life.  Ask Solomon about that assumption.

I write this post to suggest that to really find purpose in life, look where you are standing before jumping somewhere else.  Be a loving Father.  Be an obedient daughter.  Be a great boss at work.  Be a concerned citizen.  Be a treasured employee.  Pastor your congregation. Raise your children.  Do your job with integrity.  In these simple and, yes, someday mundane activities is our real purpose in life.  There first and foremost do we love God and our neighbors.  These are the vocations God has given to us unquestionably.   If God desires a bigger stage for any of us, He will carry us there also.  But we should not grow weary of doing good right where we stand.

Inspirational speeches are being confused for prophetic speech in our day.   Most people would rather watch a Ted Talk than listen to a faithfully crafted sermon.  Steve Harvey in the video shows he has learned the skills so many preachers use to manipulate a crowd into a glorious frenzy.  But just because you mention God does not mean you have really spoken for Him.  Don’t jump.  Bloom where you have been planted.  For God has planted you there with purpose.


Posted by Philip Hoppe on January 20th, 2016 under News Clippings, Theology and PracticeTags: , , , , ,  • 1 Comment

Well Worn Seats – A Defense of Having “Your Seat” at Church

pewIt is something that will get a chuckle out of most regular church goers. To what do I refer?  I speak of the the idea that many church regulars have “their spot” or “their seat” in the pew each Sunday.  Cartoons and drawn (like the one to the left)  and anecdotes are told about the times when a guest happened to sit in someone’s seat before the “rightful owner” could get there.  It is suggested that such an occurrence has the power to disrupt everything going on that day.

Some will even suggest that such a tendency is a sure sign that a church is just not all that friendly.  They will suggest that churches that truly want to grow will try to change this tendency in their church.  Truly hospitable churches will make sure every seat is open to whoever wants it.   

But I would like to make the case of why having your own seat in the church is a great thing.  Just this last Advent,  a women who was busy with all sorts of things she was helping with in the community came into the building just before our midweek service began.  This is what she said, “I wasn’t going to come tonight because I had so much to do, but then I was driving by church, knew it was just about time for service, and thought, ‘I am going to go in, sit down in my place, listen and rest.'”

Each person in their own home has their favorite place to sit or recline.  They often are not truly at rest at their home until their derriere finds its way to that hallowed place.  There can the concerns of the rest of the life be left behind for a time.

Why should church be any different?  In one feels at home at church, that is an awesome thing.  If they have come to understand that true rest occurs there, that is Spirit-wrought wisdom.  And if they have a place at Church that makes them recognize that they are right where they belong, that should be lauded and not maligned.  If they are at home where Jesus makes His home, let us rejoice.

Oh, of course if someone demands someone move in order that they can have their seat back, that would be poor hospitality to strangers and worthy of a brotherly rebuke, but really how often does that happen? Far more often, a person claims their seat because it is just where they belong, just where they can find the rest they need, just where Jesus comes and meets them.  And that is a good thing without question.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on January 18th, 2016 under Theology and PracticeTags: , , ,  • No Comments

Islam vs. Radical Islam –The Bigger Picture

riThere is a constant effort to build a rhetorical chasm between Islam and Radical Islam in our world.  Many would have you believe that there is no connection between the terror toting Muslims and their holy texts or religious heritage.  Such a claim is spurious as best.  Without making a extensive case here, let’s leave it at this: You can certainly find verses in the Koran and anecdotes from the history of Mohammed’s life to support such an approach to Islam.  It is at the very least one reasonable interpretation of their sacred text and the historical record of their faith.

By why do those seeking to make the gap between Islam and Radical Islam so large care so much?  What stake do they have in protecting Islam since most of them are not Muslims?  It could be argued that they simply seek to protect peace-loving Muslims from false accusations or persecution.  And no doubt, there is something to be said for this.  But I think there is something more here.

Our world wants to divide all those who practice religion into two camps, radical and moderate.   In their eyes, the distinction between the two may have many facets but none more important than the ones brought forth by these questions: Does the believer feel compelled to share their beliefs with others? Do they believe their beliefs to be universally true for all people?  Moderate believers keep their beliefs to themselves and practice their faith privately.  Radical believers are compelled to share their beliefs even publicly.

Our modern world is quite fine with people holding any personal belief so long as they do not believe it must be held as true by anyone else. Postmodernism loves plurality of belief.

Many Christians are actively participating in building the rhetorical chasm between moderate and radical elements of the Islamic faith.  And no doubt there is a great difference between the two that must be recognized, especially in some public debates. 

But we need to take a step back to see the wider narrative that is being sold.  It is this:  radical believers (defined by the world) are bad and need to be destroyed.  Moderate believers should be allowed to go on their way as long as their way never crosses someone else’s way.

We may rejoice when this logic is applied to Muslims, feeling ourselves both hounds of justice against the radicals and peacefully tolerant doves towards the moderates.

But we must know this.  Many in our world feel the same way about us Christians.  Moderate Christians willing to put aside the practices the current culture has deemed outdated or uncivilized are welcomed.  Radical Christians who insist that we must hold true to the faith once confessed by the apostles and handed down to us by the Church are looked at as extreme.  And ultimately they will insist that such Christians be silenced.  They will say that such extreme beliefs can only lead to violence pointing back to Islam to make their case.

True religion is not moderate.  It is in one sense radical by its very nature.  A religious person who lets go of tenets of their faith easily is not true adherent of that religion.  And so, the real question is this:  What does the religion we are talking about truly confess?  Are the most radically committed followers of a religion bringing forth good or evil?

So be careful today when you try to make the case that the radical Muslims are not to be viewed as valid representatives of their religion. For next, the same measure will be placed upon you.  You will be dismissed as not a true Christian.  The only adherents of religion allowed to speak will be those who have departed from the heritage of their historic faiths.  And that will be to the world’s detriment.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on December 8th, 2015 under Theology and PracticeTags: , , ,  • No Comments

A World Without Homes

bh2All of the scary movies have been put away.  The ghoulish costumes will soon be up for sale on eBay. The buildings recently haunted have returned to their normal states.  But that does not mean that everything scary has gone away.  As we know, reality is often much more frightening than the fantasies we revel in each October.  Listen to these words preached in 1937,

“Where is the Christian to be found who is not interested in the welfare of his home and family?  For the home and the family is of divine origin, a divine institution, and the Christian home is one of the most important institutions on earth. It’s existence, it’s welfare, it’s problems are matters of vital concern to the church, to human society, to us as individuals, to our country and to the world at large. Just imagine a world without homes."

Those last words are haunting to me.  Imagine a world without homes.  That is not an exercise that I would want to engage in for very long.  A world without homes is indeed a terrifying idea.  And yet it not something that requires much of a leap from reality for all too many people.  For many people the idea of home is not one that brings relief, but stress, anxiety, and sometimes fear.  Many people already within their own personal world know nothing of the comfort the word home has generally delivered throughout the ages.  And it continues to get worse.

As Christian people, we should well know that there is but one way to restore something good and holy that has become broken and unclean.  And that is to let the Holy One, Jesus, touch it.  We read in 1 Timothy 4:4-5, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”  Each of us must admit that to one extent or another our homes are not what the should be.  And that means each of us needs to allow God to make holy our homes by bathing them in the Word of God and prayer. 

To this end, my friend Pastor Dan Galchutt and I have started up a website called  It offers free resources aimed at helping you live out the Christian life at home.  I hope you might check it out and share it with others.  Also, you can connect to our effort by liking our facebook page.

I know this might sound odd.  But I am more concerned these days with with our members are doing in their homes than I am about what we do at Church.  That is not because Church is unimportant.  Our gathering to Jesus on Sunday is the key event of each week for us as God’s people.  But I feel like we have longstanding habits for our time at Church that are good and pleasing to the Lord.  I am worried that the same can not be said always for our homes. 

I do not want to imagine a world without homes.  I do not want to live is a world where Christian homes are not the place of refuge God intends them to be.  I do not want to live in a world where prayer and the Word cannot find a place in the homes of God’s people.  Let me leave you with another portion of that sermon preached so many years ago,

“Let your…church mean more to you than a mere place for you worship a short hour during divine service.  Permit its teachings to reflect in your homes and in your family life and you will never regret it for then you have the assurance of God’s blessing resting upon your home."

Posted by Philip Hoppe on November 2nd, 2015 under Theology and PracticeTags: , , , ,  • 1 Comment

Forever at Concordia Seminary

cslThe Gottesdienst blog today has a post in which it seeks to expose the worship practices occurring at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  Those that know me who tell you that I am one who uses the liturgy and hymnody of the Church each week with joy.  I am one who understands quite clearly the concern about churches of our confession leaving behind those treasures for something very shallow and at times toxic to pure theology.

But on the whole all of the outrage over the video that Concordia Seminary posted seems quite overdone, at least from the small amount of information offered on the Gottesdienst post.  It is nothing more than red meat thrown out to the confessional lions.  No doubt the hit count will be high.  But will anything else be accomplished?

Although it is not specifically mentioned in the post referenced, the real outrage on Facebook about this video is that it is an example of contemporary worship occurring at one of our seminaries.  For many, this is enough to explode.  Pulling a guitar out of the case will set them off. They react to the instrumentation and the presentation right away.  It must be wrong because it must be wrong.  Some have not ever progressed beyond, “Organ good.  Guitar Bad” in their thinking about corporate worship. 

Another complaint is that this is simply copycatting evangelicals who do not share our confession.  That may well be.  But we must apply that consistently.  We should ask in every case if our similarity to these other confessions shows forth an underlying lack of understanding of our own confession, but we cannot just say that because something looks like what is being done in a heterodox church, it is necessarily heterodox.

The next critique is of Chris Tomlin himself.  And no doubt, he holds to a  heterodox confession of faith.  But does that mean that we cannot use anything he or others of a heterodox confession might produce?  If so, we will need to start tearing pages out of our hymnals.  We have hymns from many who held to heterodox confession in their lifetime (and I am not just talking about Twila Paris).

The next critique is the song itself.  There is more than a bit of irony in critiquing this song which was inspired by Psalm 136 about having too much repetition.  If that is the charge, Psalm 136 must go as well.  Look it up.  While I will agree that the song is fairly shallow in theology, I do not see anything that is heterodox especially when used in a liturgical context.  For those who insist every song must explicitly reference Jesus, we must then say that the Psalter is no longer suitable for Christian worship either.  This song also is very God-centered which is rare for CCM songs.  It speaks much more about God than the worshiper, laudably so.

Others have questioned the musical skill of those performing.  I am not trained enough to make a definitive statement about this other than to say that many of our churches use the liturgy and hymnody and yet do not have musicians of the highest quality.  To my untrained ear, the talent was not superb but it was not distractingly bad either.

Listen if Concordia, my alma mater is regularly throwing away the liturgy for some order of service meant solely to entertain, I am outraged also.  If the hymnody of the church is being throw away for the latest CCM iTunes playlist, I am outraged also.  But I do not know this to be the case and have seen no real evidence that it is.

If a song of praise is included once and a while and it is performed using instrumentation other than the organ, I am not outraged.  So long as the song is not teaching something false, I am not outraged.  Songs that foster meditation on one or two characteristics of God are not evil.  If that is all we get in worship as is the case in some churches. including our own, there is an issue. But if such songs are included in the context of liturgy and hymnody that is more didactic in nature, it is not inherently bad and may well be good.

I like red meat on my plate.  But not on my Facebook feed.  It only serves to make it harder to foster deep conversation, scriptural reflection, and confessional discussion about the true nature of Christian worship. When something like this video is put forth as an atrocious occurrence, we will have no chance to speak about things that are truly atrocious going on in the Church.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on October 20th, 2015 under Theology and PracticeTags: , , , , ,  • 5 Comments