Yesterday’s convocation hour featured Dr. Peter Scaer, Professor of Exegetical Theology, in honor of his advancement in rank from associate to full professor. He is known in the Fort Wayne community for his work in life issues as well as online for His witness on social media, particularly as he tackles current issues. For this convocation, he presented the paper, “Lutheran Identity: At Home in the Body.”
As Christians we are members of His family through baptism, with many brothers and sisters in Christ; as His Church we are also the bride of Christ. But what of the earthly family, particularly in light of the sexual revolution, the dissolution of marriage, the rise of gay marriage, and the transgender movement? There is an identity crisis within both the secular world and in the American church.
Lutherans are a peculiar people. We go to the Bible, the hymnal, and the catechism, which testify to our identity. These resources provide a firm foundation. But will these old hymns and confessions keep us steadfast?
In the present age, talks of tolerance have changed to conformity. The culture war, our foes proclaim, has been lost: live with it. But who are our foes? Why are they so vindictive? In a rational world, Christians would be called odd, not evil. But we have entered into an age of modern paganism. We find god in nature, say god is the universe, claim that we have found god within ourselves. There is no transcendental truth: it’s a matter of individual choice. It’s conscience without religion; faith without God. Personal opinions may be allowed, but a God that judges all things cannot be tolerated.
Though Christians are politically weak in the public arena, we are still seen as a threat to the modern age. Likely because we adamantly echo Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.” If marriage has been established by God as a union between one man and one woman, we cannot redefine marriage; if all life is valuable, we cannot tolerate abortion; if God created them, male and female, we cannot redefine biology in the name of tolerance.
Whether our culture is secular or pagan makes for a good academic debate, but our enemies fight with a religious fervor. The lie cannot abide the truth any more than darkness can tolerate the light. When the time comes, will we be up to the challenge with our Lutheran identity intact? Will we say with the reformer: here I stand?
Our Lutheran identity must be understood in, with, and under our Christian identity. We gather around the martyrs of both a past age as well as in this age. Our lives are not yet on the line, but are livelihoods are or soon might be. When Paul encouraged the Thessalonians by sending Timothy “to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions” (1 Thess. 3:2-3), he was not necessarily referring to anything as dramatic as being pulled before the magistrate. They were likely suffering the social pangs of the age–the verbal abuses and scorn from their family, friends, neighbors, and community.
Christians must be willing to be hated and scorned. And those who believe that social abuse is easy have not experienced it. In the last decade alone, there has been a 10% decline in those who identify as Christians. We do not need a pew research poll to let us know that many pews are empty. This should come as no surprise: the culture’s propaganda is powerful and pervasive. But our Christian identity must be understood in, with, and under our identity as those created by God in His image.
The ideology of the sexual revolution separated sex from child bearing, sex and child bearing from marriage, and the biological separation of men from women. The movement’s success heralded in a freedom which has turned sour. What looked like chains were the ties that bound us together: a man to his wife, and parents to their children. Marriage now lasts as long as you both shall love. We have undermined the only institution proven to raise children well.
In the previous age, children knew their place in the world as son, daughter, sibling, cousin, niece or nephew, and grandchild. For our own pleasure, we now rob our children of their identities and their childhoods. Identities are given and taken away; your mother’s boyfriend is your honorary Uncle one day, and no one the next. Your father is a “sperm donor” and you do not speak of him.
The result is loneliness, isolation, and lack of identity. Now these have manifested in matters of gender. Increasingly, young people don’t feel at home in their own body. One’s self-perception does not match reality. Androgyny is a survival strategy.
As Christians, what can we do about this overwhelming perversity and brokenness? It’s easy to retreat: the earthly family is temporary, the heavenly family eternal. But of course the earthly family does matter. We are clothed, fed, and brought to the font by our earthly parents. God identifies families and brings them together. In the 4th commandment, all members of the family are protected: father, mother, and children.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus affirmed these truths. He became God Incarnate first in the womb, affirming life; in Matthew 19:4-5 he affirms both the reality of two genders and the sanctity of marriage. In Acts, significant portions of the early, earthly church were built on the household conversions of a handful of families. Faith and family are more easily distinguished than divided. Is it possible for the church to prosper as the family collapses? I have seen divorce ravage the flock.
Secularism has taken a toll. We know the demographic challenge. We have also seen how a congregation revives even when a few families are fruitful and multiply. Children remind us of tomorrow, as well as the eternal tomorrow. They are a catalyst for attendance. Those who live in a family are more likely to go to church.
Does our body play any role in our identity? The pro-life movement points to bodily DNA, to the beating heart, and to pictures on an ultrasound. Biology is on our side. Whereas the pro-abortion movement teaches that the body is not enough to claim personhood. Instead, we are defined by whether our body is wanted, or if it’s useful or autonomous. Even sex is seen as merely a mechanical process. In the transgender movement, the body is trumped by the self-identifying mind. Not at home in their house or in their body, is it any wonder our children are confused? We are a generation of isolated, alienated adults.
Secularism is both a religion and an excuse. Gnosticism (an ancient but still persistent system of unbelief that is an “existential” approach to religion and salvation) offers a get out of jail free card. Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food. Sex is merely an appetite to be satisfied. We take our place at the rich fool’s table where we eat, drink, and be merry with no thought to anything beyond our body’s desires. Eternity is a terrifying thought, annihilation the world’s greatest hope. If the body is gone, then the things that I do are gloriously inconsequential.
Yet we must be about the business of seeking and saving the lost. The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; the desecration of the body is a big deal. The truth offers hope: we are at home in the body. We have something to live for AND to die for. The Church has much to offer abandoned children, lonely adults, and those who have self-mutilated themselves in a tragic attempt to cure themselves of their hopelessness: a message of affirmation. They have a home in their physical body and in the body of Christ.
It’s not a message of escape but of cleansing and recovery. The truth is natural and holistic and makes sense of the world we live in. We speak of fallen nature meant for better things. Our bodies were made in God’s image and redeemed by Christ’s blood. Our hope is anchored in Christ’s resurrection. We fear no one but God.
When a baker or florist is driven out of business, even these men and women are not as isolated as those who aim to alienate them into compliance. They are fellow members of the Body of Christ. If one member suffers, all suffer together. Their burdens are ours. We teach the resurrection but also Christ crucified, where we behold the wounds that have been sanctified.
There is no spiritual worship apart from bodily worship. We live in reality; we were baptized in reality and we eat and drink Christ’s body and blood in reality. We feel at home in a body that serves as a temple of the Holy Spirit and at home in Christ and the Church, which fill the gaps of our body and soul. You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. In an age of radical autonomy, that may seem off-putting, but in the age of the great scattering of those without family or identity, that is a cure. We offer a homecoming, a seat at the table, a place of belonging where we matter to others and to God.
Today’s convocation summary is largely quoted straight from Dr. Scaer’s presentation of his paper, but with lots of subtractions to keep it relatively short and some additions to smooth the transitions created by the pieces that were removed. The full paper will be published in Concordia Theological Quarterly in a future issue, but you can also watch the presentation in full here:
Good Shepherd Institute (GSI) drew to a close yesterday, though a few of the attendees stayed behind for a hymn writing workshop that took place in the afternoon following the official end of the conference. If you’ve been keeping an eye on the CTSFW Facebook page for the past couple of days, you’ll have noted the extra choral services as well as the special music featured in daily chapel on Monday and Tuesday. GSI is a learning conference with very strong ties to music; participants include pastors, church musicians, worship planners, and laypeople with a love for the hymnody of the Church.
This year’s conference was focused on the music of the Church as both a living tradition and something new, with the first main presentation on Monday morning focused on Heinrich Schütz, as this year is the 400th anniversary of his Psalms of David. Dr. Daniel Zager of the Eastman School of Music presented on Schütz’s psalm settings, with the Concordia Lutheran High School Chamber Choir singing samples of his setting for Psalm 98 to demonstrate the techniques used to capture the text-rich psalm.
Schütz lived from 1585-1672, and wrote music for multiple choirs to sing (you’ll notice in this presentation there are essentially two choirs singing back and forth, interweaving and echoing one another) as well as smaller pieces of sacred music, written when the church was struggling and he had only a few musicians at hand to sing or play. His settings were intended to help listeners understand the text, without the music sounding either perfunctory or overly long. For example, you can hear in parts where the voices themselves are used to indicate sounds, like the trumpets referred to in the text and the sound of rushing water with notes cascading down.
In this clip, Dr. Zager is explaining some of the musical techniques at work in verse 4 of Psalm 98. It’s hard to hear exactly what he’s saying, but essentially he’s explaining how Schütz used two full-part choirs to go back and forth, essentially imitating the text repetition as well as to capture the feeling of shouting for joy referred to in the text. You’ll notice that about half of the Concordia Chamber Choir is sitting in the audience, as they were unable to all fit on stage, with some singing along and others taking a break. The full choir sang the entire Psalm 98 setting in chapel less than an hour later, which you can watch here:
“Never have I presented a paper with singers present,” Dr. Zager said at the end of his presentation, as the choir filed out to prepare for chapel. “This is extraordinary.” He also answered a few questions at the end, one of which was from a church musician wondering if it would be possible to adapt the music as needed to different settings; for example, she wondered if she could have a small choir sing one of the choir parts and replace another with a brass part. Dr. Zager’s response: absolutely. This music was designed to be flexible, able to be tailored to any church setting. It’s one of the great blessings of Schütz’s work.
After chapel, Dr. Samuel Eatherton, a minister of music at Zion Lutheran Church and School in Dallas, Texas, where he teaches music to 3rd–8th graders, spoke on “Church Music for Children”; specifically, how hymns and liturgy form children spiritually. Music helps people connect emotionally with the truth of God’s Word and a child’s faith often develops through music. In fact, neuroscience has found that music binds movement, thoughts, emotions, and memory together in the brain. Regular patterns of bodily rituals ingrain neural pathways.
Children will be formed, whether you will it or not. So we ask ourselves: how are they formed? Liturgy is an excellent tool in the church. Children sing before they learn how to read, and music itself assists with memory (think of the many knowledge songs you learned and still know from elementary school). Liturgy’s predictable elements and repetition help children to internalize information. Though they may not understand all the words they sing, singing helps them carry these concepts in their mind until they are old enough to understand. This is the power of tacit knowledge: knowledge experienced by a child becomes a part of that child.
Monday afternoon then gave participants eight sectionals to choose from, with time for each person to attend three. Sectionals tend to fall on two lines: informational and practical. The library offered tours of the new art exhibit on display (“With Angels and Archangels”) and later participants had the opportunity to attend a class with Dr. Charles Gieschen leading a biblical study of the angels. Rev. Stephen Starke of St. John Lutheran Church Amelith in Bay City, Michigan, presented on another musician’s anniversary (Jaroslav Vajda, a fellow pastor and hymn writer born 100 years ago). Professor Robert Rhein of Bethel University, Mishawaka, Indiana, spoke on faithful hymn translation while his wife, Sandra Rhein, a hymnal consultant for LCMS international missions, held a class directly above him in the second floor of Wyneken Hall on the three new Lutheran hymnals recently published in Kenya, China, and Ethiopia.
Though not a hymn translator, Prof. Rhein translates opera pieces from Italian into English, and has experience preserving a text’s original meaning while making sure it still fits rhyme and meter. In music translation, you rarely (if ever) can use formal equivalence translation, which means word-for-word translation, and instead generally operate on dynamic equivalence, meaning translation that captures the original meaning and feel, though the words may not be an exact translation.
In the Missouri Synod, we prioritize the stricter formal equivalence for biblical translation. Hymns, however, are an appropriate place for the dynamic style, as it is necessary to retain the poetic nature of the form. Words don’t necessarily exist across languages, or sometimes they do but they don’t fit the rhyme or meter scheme. Take, for example, the solas: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Gratia. Grace is easy to rhyme, but what about “Scripture” or even “faith”? Thus “Word” is a popular replacement. You can also try inverting the word order. There are also opposing strengths and weaknesses in different language. English uses powerful and simple monosyllabic phrases, which is rare in most European languages. On the other hand, English also has highly variable stress patterns, which is difficult for poetry since a good rhyme rhymes on the stressed syllable. Italian and Spanish don’t have many monosyllables, but everything rhymes easily within the language; we pray, we eat, we sing all rhyme in Italian and Spanish.
Up the stairs from her husband, Mrs. Rhein was speaking on the international hymnal projects. These countries desire a stronger Lutheran identity, and when they see the treasures that hymnals hold, they desire it for themselves. In Africa, Pentecostalism has swept into the country bringing with it its soloist-style, damaging both doctrine and congregational singing. Interestingly, the grass roots movement demanding stronger hymnals comes from their young people. “They were tired of the overpowering volume of Pentecostal style singing,” she explained.
When the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM) commits to a hymnal project, they appoint a committee; Mrs. Rhein serves that committee as an advisor and a liaison between them and the OIM. She has found that generally most of the work from these committees ends up with one or two people—those who have the most passion, skill, and vision. Usually pastors but sometimes church musicians. These projects are driven by the people in their home countries.
The other four sectionals were more practical in nature. Mark Knickelbein is an editor of Music/Worship at CPH (as well as composer and church musician), so he led a class on the Lutheran Service Builder and how to use this internet-based software as a tool to encourage hymnal use in congregations. Associate Kantor of CTSFW, Matt Machemer, led a class in the balcony of Kramer Chapel, sight-reading several Lent and Easter choral pieces with the church musicians and worship planners in attendance. This was the first class that primarily featured singing, but not the only one in which the audience broke out into song: the audience sang at least one hymn stanza in nearly every presentation. GSI participants tend to be musically trained, either through profession or simply through church attendance, and more than eager to accommodate a request from any presenter who asks for a congregational demonstration of a piece.
CTSFW Kantor Kevin Hildebrand also presented a sectional on singing, though his was focused in a more general sense on characteristics of good hymn tunes—essentially, what makes a tune easy for a congregation to pick up. Finally, Katie Schuermann, the soprano soloist featured at the choral vespers service the night before, who studied vocal pedagogy and earned a graduate degree in Choral Conducting, held a class on vocal health for amateur singers. She taught her class from the perspective of a conductor, stressing the importance of not only the voice but the whole body as a tool for singing. Dancers practice in front of mirrors, she pointed out, but who is the mirror for the singer? “The conductor,” she answered. “They’re likely going to use you as a model. Model the posture and expressions you want.” Conducting is a role that demands patience; successful conducting is communication between conductor and singers. “We discipline ourselves and teach our singers,” she explained.
Some basic tips included teaching singers where tension belongs—not in the shoulders, arms, or hands where they naturally want to hold it (singing is a very vulnerable act, so the tension is an act of protection), but in the abdomen and stomach. She doesn’t worry about the diaphragm, but focuses rather on the intercostal muscles around the ribs. Warmups are about making sure the body is active and ready, for singing is the act of breathing, supporting, and projecting and takes the whole body’s participation. She had the whole class go through practice exercises and stretches. It’s very hard to sing incorrectly when you have correct posture.
She also took a few minutes to talk about the aging voice. “As we age, something called presbyphonia happens,” she said. “What happens is collagen sets in the vocal folds. You can imagine what that does. You want those vocal folds to be moist and loose and agile, right? When collagen sets in the vocal folds it stiffens them. And that’s part of what you’re experiencing when that tone just is not as vibrant as it used to be, you’re not able to make as smooth of a sound. It’s not your fault, it’s just part of aging, okay? Another thing that happens with presbyphonia, the surrounding elastin fibers, you know that are around your vocal folds, those atrophy. They decay. Isn’t that terrible? I’m sorry. But our life in Christ is eternal; there are songs for us to sing in heaven.”
“It’s all normal but frustrating, I know,” she added. “You are just going to reach times where your voice just doesn’t do what it used to, but that doesn’t mean you stop singing. There is beauty in that change and sound as well.”
Two final main presentations finished up GSI the next day: Dr. Paul Grime, CTSFW Dean of the Chapel, on “An Embarrassment of Riches: Choosing What to Sing,” and Prof. Joseph Herl of Concordia University, Nebraska, and Peter Reske, Senior Editor of Music/Worship at CPH, spoke jointly on the LSB Companion to the Hymns, set to be released this December 5.
“We should know nothing to sing or say, save Jesus Christ our Savior,” Martin Luther wrote in a preface to the Wittenberg Hymnal in 1524. Dr. Grime pointed out that, while some of the later reformers like Calvin limited church music to that provided by the Bible (meaning the psalm hymns), Luther translated Latin hymns into German, improved medieval German hymns, and wrote his own. Though he only wrote about three dozen hymns, by not limiting church music to the psalms, he opened up the church to new music by hymn writers for centuries.
The breadth and depth of our hymnal reflects that. We have hymns from many continents and ages, from Europe to Africa and from the past age to the present. We don’t stop writing hymns or books of theology just because excellent hymns and books have already been written. “The Spirit continues to give gifts to the Church,” Dr. Grime said.
He went on to explain the gift of a wide variety of hymns: like the love languages (that each of us has a specific way in which we show and receive love), Dr. Grime suggests that people also have different faith languages. The analogy isn’t perfect and shouldn’t be taken too far, he added, but you can see this play out in our different dispositions and tastes. Matter-of-fact vs. poetic; complex vs. simple; cerebral vs. emotive. For example, LSB 655 “Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” is a textually dense hymn written by Martin Luther whereas LSB 543 “What Wondrous Love Is This” is a far more modern and repetitious piece: yet both are theologically sound, centered on what Christ has done for us. You need not pit these against each other, but instead recognize that they will appeal to different people, perhaps even in the same congregation.
The most important consideration when choosing hymns: the people who are doing the singing. And by drawing hymns from across countries, ages, and eras, you serve your whole congregation. “And,” he added, “you may learn something not natural to your faith language.”
As to the less theologically-meaty or even sound hymns, Dr. Grime suggests that you slowly introduce stronger hymns as substitutes. This is not a fast process; it can take five, ten, fifty years. When you serve a congregation, you take every member’s past and experiences into consideration. You are also not called to be pressured by other churches or congregations and what they do. “You serve your people,” he said. In every case, we trust God to bless the proclamation of the Gospel through the church’s singing.
Finally, Professor Herl opened the last presentation with the almost-published LSB Companion to the Hymns. It’s a 2,000+ page scholarly piece written with the assistance of 150 authors (about 10 of whom were in the audience), in which CPH went back to the primary sources for every hymn to better track who wrote the text, tune, and setting, and to track biographical information, historical contexts, and the Scripture upon which each hymn was originally based. Because of the work done for the Companion, CPH made over 500 changes to the attributions in the LSB.
“My favorite part is the index,” Prof. Herl said, then, to laughter: “Actually, I’m serious.” They indexed each hymn according to an enormous number of attributes; i.e. which of the European Lutheran hymns were written by pietists? Was this Anglican hymn writer an Anglo-Catholic or only slightly Anglican? What was going on the world politically and theologically at the time this hymn was created?
Why do this? Because it tells you the original intention of the author. For example, LSB 663 (“Rise, My Soul, to Watch and Pray”) is about watching lest you fall into sin; lo and behold: written by a pietist, a religious movement in which adherents strive for a sinless life as proof of their faith. The emphasis of the hymn is on Christian obedience. Christian obedience is not a bad subject for a hymn, but its pietistic origin is a reminder that you must remember the Christian in the congregation struggling and failing to live a sinless life. There is no Gospel promise here to comfort him. So what do you do? Sing the hymn, and then follow it up later in the service with another: LSB 594 “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It.” Here is comfort: it points the struggling Christian to his baptism. “Both hymns are useful in pastoral care,” Prof Herl said, “but in differing circumstances.”
Mr. Reske then took a turn to talk about what wasn’t in the LSB Companion. While their research was thorough, there is still much lost to time. He told stories of the information they could find, the circuitous routes through which they could find some information but never found others, and explained that of the 104 still-living hymn writers who have attributions in the LSB, CPH heard back from 95 of them to confirm the facts presented in their biographies. By researching each hymns origins, you can find original sources and stories.
The 95th still-living hymn writer contacted CPH this summer. Bernard Kyamanywa was born in 1938 and wrote the Tanzanian hymn “Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia” (LSB 466) in the 1960s. Currently in the LSB, the music is simply attributed as “Tanzanian.” They can now update that: his son took a video of Rev. Kyamanywa singing the hymn he wrote, and he was able to confirm that he was not only the author of the text but the composer of the tune as well. It was one of many stories told that day.
GSI closed with the Litany for Travelers: ending with a service of prayer for safe travels, God’s blessings on the participants, and, of course, with singing.
We had nearly 40 visitors with us this week for Luther Hostel, featuring lectures on Creation and the New Creation. Attendees also had the opportunity to join the campus community, worshipping in Kramer Chapel, drinking coffee and eating meals with the students and faculty, and even attending regular classes at intervals throughout their three-day visit. Special sessions on the theme are set aside in Luther Hall, taught by such faculty as Dr. Gifford Grobien, Dr. David Scaer, Dr. Ryan Tietz, Dr. Benjamin Mayes, Dr. Charles Gieschen, Rev. John Dreyer, Dr. William Weinrich, and Dr. Jeffrey Pulse.
Dr. Benjamin Mayes, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology, taught two sessions, one on studying the Bible (with tips from Lutheran Orthodoxy; specifically, how Johann Gerhard and C.F.W.Walther taught pastoral preaching and teaching according to Scripture), and the other on God’s omnipotence in the light of creation and science.
First, it must be understood that, while the specific issue of creation vs. evolution is a relatively new one, people have had problems with the Bible’s claims since the beginning of time (those hissed words in Genesis 3:1: “Did God actually say…?”). In St. Augustine’s day, pagans scoffed at the impossibility of miracles as the basis for their unbelief; following the Reformation, Zwingli and Calvin could not accept Jesus Christ at His word—the Lord’s Supper as stated in Scripture is impossible by any reasonable observation, so they came up with their own rational explanations.
Dr. Mayes explained the centuries-old arguments between rationality and faith, breaking down the coordination Scripture and Science into nine models:
[Please note: “Science” here refers broadly to empirical observation; i.e. what you see in the world around you.]
We reject science when it conflicts with Scripture.
Scripture is true and science is subject to it; we don’t reject observations/data, but we don’t allow science to interpret Scripture. We live with the mystery; the “Classic Lutheran Approach,” as Dr. Mayes put it (though models 1–3 have all been traditionally taught in the LCMS).
Science is trustworthy and Scripture accommodates it; i.e. Scripture was written to be understood from the perspective of the hearer. For example, when “the sun stood still” in Joshua 10, this was not a scientific statement about the movement of the solar system. God may have stopped the turning of the earth rather than the sun for this miracle, and Scripture reflects visually what the witnesses that day saw: the sun standing still.
[Note of caution: this distinction can be used in a bad way; see model 5.]
Models 4-9 prioritize knowledge gained through reason and observation over God’s Word. Subscribers of the following models put their confidence in their own experiences:
Double truth: something can be true according to reason and simultaneously false according to theology. Postmodernism, essentially; the idea that you and I can have different “truths,” but in this case that I, personally, can hold several conflicting “truths.”
Science is trustworthy and Scripture was written to accommodate the prejudices of the Bible’s original audience. (The distinctly heretical extension of model 3.)
Reason (which includes empirical observation) interprets Scripture, but some things are above reason/nature. For example, in the 17th century, heretics argued that the Trinity doesn’t make rational sense and so cannot be true, but that miracles were possible because they were above nature.
Reason interprets Scripture and nothing is above reason/nature; we reject Scripture when it conflicts with science.
Reason attacks the reliability of Scripture, undermining its credibility. Therefore, we reject Scripture.
God works by progressive divine revelation outside of Scripture, revealing Himself through scientific discoveries even when those contradict Scripture. Believe these new revelations, reject the old.
For hundreds of years, the Lutheran Church used a work by Matthias Flacius (1520-1575), “Key to Holy Scripture,” as a tool and basis for the classical understanding of Scripture as the inerrant Word of God with science, reason, and rationality subject to it. He laid out several principles (partially quoted here, from the translation provided by Dr. Mayes):
Don’t make judgments about God’s nature on the basis of human reason, “just as if someone were to see clay pots and conclude that the potter himself was made of clay.”
God is free; He does not always act in the same way, nor is He bound by the physical laws of nature that He created. He is omnipotent, “so he will perhaps change some things either now or at its own time, such as at the end of the world…”
God is all-wise, as evidenced by the infinite of variety in His created works. “Therefore, any would-be scholars or natural scientists or others who want to reason from the present nature of natural things—that ‘Nothing is made out of nothing,’ and…’No individual thing is perpetual, therefore the soul is not immortal, nor is there a resurrection’—such wise people, I say, act just as if someone, with mediocre diligence, were to look at all the works now effected in the workshop of an excellent artificer and would deny that [the artificer] knows how to do works of another kind, or had ever made them, or would ever make them.”
Since God is omnipotent, “nothing God wills is impossible for him. For since he is the author of nature and [its] creator, and he created it in the way he chose, it is certain that also by his choice he can change it…”
In short: our reason and experience of His world does not give us the right or ability to claim what God can and cannot do. “Lutherans are particularly well-equipped because of our adherence to the mystery of the Lord’s Supper,” Dr. Mayes noted. “Empirical data tells us that’s not the Body of Christ. God’s Word does, and we believe it.” Our approach to the Lord’s Supper should be our approach to creation. We accept it as truth because God is omnipotent and His Word is truth.
We are called to be both bold and cautious: there has to be a clear rejection of dogma that weakens scriptural doctrine. We reject theistic evolution and Old World Creationism because these theories present a cascading number of theological problems: death before the fall; God declaring death “very good” (if it occurred during creation) rather than as the wages of sin; a skewed definition of humanity (at what point do created creatures evolve into the likeness of God? Did Christ come to redeem humanity or just a stage of evolutionary development?); where does the soul enter the picture; and it makes Jesus a liar: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female…?” (Matt. 19:4).
At the same time, we must remember not to go beyond Scripture. Creation is a mystery, partially told in the Book of Genesis and partially told by the evidence of the world around us. We can make some excellent guesses, but we also remember God’s admonishment to Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). There are excellent resources out there, like Answers in Genesis, which offer theories on how creation and a young earth is supported by observation and science; but we value them for the possibilities they present (especially as an apologetics tool) without stating that these theories are as inerrant as the Word on which they are based.
And finally, a word of compassion: speak in love and with respect in correction and teaching. The issue of creation vs. evolution is often one of great theological concern to the scientists in the pews. While evolution does undermine Scripture, even this can and should be taught gently. We don’t destroy our neighbors for the sake of being right, nor do we devastate our brothers and sisters in Christ, but seek their good.
Last Wednesday, Dr. Christopher Stroud, an OB/GYN here in Fort Wayne where he and his wife run the Fertility and Midwifery Care Center, spoke at convocation hour on “Pro-Life v. Pro-Pill.” This video is a recording of that lecture. We have included a brief summary of his points here for those who prefer reading or like to have a guide to follow while listening. Please note that this is the second time he has spoken on this topic at CTSFW; you can find the summary of his original presentation at http://blog.ctsfw.edu/2019/03/14/convocation-contraceptives/.
Dr. Stroud is a Catholic, but made it clear at the beginning of his lecture that he was not here on campus to talk theology or even morality; he was here to present the facts of menstruation, ovulation, fertilization, how the pill works, and through that scientific lens answer the question of whether chemical birth control is compatible with the pro-life view. His job, he explained, was to give these future pastors and deaconesses the tools to not only make informed decisions for themselves, but to be able to serve the people God will place in their care who ask for guidance on the topics of fertility and contraception. “I’m no ethicist,” he said, “but you are.”
We live in a very pro-contraceptive culture. Our society is biased in its favor. For example, insurance pays to stop fertility (contraception) but balks at fixing fertility issues and diseases, while the CDC counts contraception as one of the top 10 health achievements of the 20th century (alongside penicillin, organ transplant, and other life-saving discoveries and medical developments). Since the late 50s, one of the gods of our contraceptive culture is personal autonomy as the supreme ethical principle. My independence—my self—trumps all other considerations. My body, my choice.
So is artificial contraception linked to abortion? To answer this question, Dr. Stroud began by explaining how the menstrual cycle works (“Be not afraid,” he said to the men in the crowd, to laughter). In short, the cycle works as follows:
Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates the development of an egg in a cyst located in the fallopian tube. As it develops, it produces estrogen.
When the follicle reaches 2 cm it explodes, releasing the egg; ovulation is essentially a ruptured ovarian cyst. Some women can actually tell when they are ovulating by the pain of the rupture.
The remains of the cyst become known as the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone. This hormone preps the cervical mucus needed for sperm to travel up the fallopian tube and stabilizes/thickens the lining of the uterus in preparation for implantation of an embryo.
If fertilization—when sperm and egg meet—does not occur and thus no embryo travels the length of the tube for implantation in the prepped uterus, after 14 days the body sheds the lining and the menstrual cycle starts over.
“This is not theology but biology,” Dr. Stroud stated. “Fertilization occurs before implantation. That’s biology.” In one instance there are two genetically distinct entities, sperm and egg; in the next, only one. The sperm and egg are gone and a newly created human being remains. It then takes 10 days for the baby to travel down the fallopian tube for implantation in the uterus, which is why it’s imperative that the lining be stabilized.
The most common causes of infertility involve either endometriosis (which causes mechanical issues, as sperm and egg are unable to meet) or ovulation issues; i.e. hormonal signals aren’t sent. Pill contraception, then, is about inducing infertility through three different mechanisms:
Flood the system with estrogen, which tricks the body into thinking it’s already pregnant; FSH isn’t released, the follicle doesn’t develop, and thus ovulation never occurs.
Dries up the cervical mucus, making it difficult/impossible for sperm to travel up the fallopian tube to a dropped egg; no meet-up, no fertilization.
Creates a hostile uterine environment by thinning the lining to a point where implantation is impossible. If an embryo was created despite mechanisms 1 and 2, it has nowhere to go; the child is lost.
IUDs (or intrauterine devices) work in similar ways to the pill. They mechanically block sperm from traveling up the fallopian tube and/or release hormones or copper to prevent sperm passage, but cannot stop the release of an egg; in case sperm does make it, IUDs also thin the walls of the uterus to prevent implantation. On the other hand, emergency contraception pills, like Plan B, can only work by the third mechanism. Because it comes in after the fact, it cannot stop the sperm or egg from meeting. It can only make implantation of a fertilized egg impossible. “It has to be an abortifacient or it doesn’t work,” Dr. Stroud explained. “That’s just biology. That’s not politics.”
If you read the packaging of any of these contraceptives, one of the similarities across the board is the vagueness with which they speak about how they work, particularly by mechanism 3. While they say they prevent or stop implantation, they never clearly answer the question: the implantation of what?
There is a 54-year-old reason that these companies are allowed to mask the possible and heavy consequences of these contraceptives: in 1965, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists redefined pregnancy in humans by separating fertilization and implantation. In all other mammalian biology courses, scientists teach that pregnancy begins with fertilization; implantation is a step, not a starting point. Only in humans do we say that pregnancy begins at implantation.
Though there’s no question about how Plan B “prevents” pregnancy by terminating it, it is possible with other pills and IUDs that pregnancy truly has been prevented by keeping sperm and egg separated. Even without artificial contraception, most of the time intimacy doesn’t result in pregnancy. The window of fertilization each cycle is a very small one.
The question, then: if you are pro-life, what percentage of a chance of loss of life are you comfortable with?
Dr. Stroud said that increasingly he finds that, as he teaches his patients about menstruation, fertility, and artificial contraception, the response is often, “I never knew. I’m sorry. I’ll stop.” And there’s a reason that many people don’t know: contraception is an $11 billion market. By 2022, it’s predicted that it will be a $31 billion market. There is an incredible amount of money tied up in keeping people uninformed about the full weight of the decision that they are unknowingly making.
There is also validation in the pro-life views. When a woman miscarries even in early days (ectopic pregnancies, for example, which briefly came up in the QA portion of the convocation), she is in mourning. She—and her husband—have lost a child. Their child. It hurts, and it will likely continue to hurt for a long time.
As pro-life people, we remember and care for all life, from the moment life is created to our last breaths. From “That They May Have Life,” a statement of the LCMS:
Human life is not an achievement. It is an endowment. It has measureless value, because every individual, at every stage of development and every state of consciousness, is known and loved by God. This is the source of human dignity and the basis for human equality. It must therefore be asserted without exception or qualification: No one is worthless whom God has created and for whom Christ died.
The Rev. Dr. Walter A. Maier II, eldest son of Lutheran Hour founder Dr. Walter A. Maier, entered hospice care early in October, knowing that when he returned home it would not be to his earthly address. While visiting him in hospice on October 8, 2019, President of the Indiana District, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Brege, presented Dr. Maier II with a plaque honoring his 70th anniversary in pastoral ministry. He had originally planned to present it to him at the Indiana District Pastors’ Conference taking place this past week. Instead, at 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, October 24, Dr. Maier II entered through the gates of heaven, called home into the arms of his Savior.
Born on June 24, 1925, Dr. Maier II attended Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, where his father served as a professor, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Exegesis and Systematics in 1948. A year later, he received a Master of Arts in Classical Languages from Washington University in St. Louis. On September 11, 1949, his father ordained and installed him at Faith Lutheran Church, a rural congregation in Elma, New York, where he met his future bride, Leah M. Gach. They were married in 1951 and had two sons, Walter III and David.
Dr. Maier II later served a suburban congregation in Levittown, Pennsylvania (Hope Lutheran Church, 1954-1960), then an urban church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Hope Lutheran Church, 1961-1965), where he could teach religion and Greek classes at nearby Concordia College. He then accepted a call to Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS), which was located in Springfield, Illinois, at the time. While teaching at the seminary in Springfield, he completed two degrees from the seminary in St. Louis, a Master of Sacred Theology in 1967 and a Doctor of Theology in 1970. Both degrees were earned in Exegetical and Systematic Theology.
Having joined the CTS faculty in 1965 (which would move to Fort Wayne 10 years later, becoming known as CTSFW), he taught New Testament Exegetical Theology full time at the Seminary for the next 35 years, until 2000. For the next 13 years, he taught Greek readings part time, until formally retiring in August of 2013. After his retirement, the Rev. Dr. Charles A. Gieschen, Academic Dean at CTSFW, wrote of his former professor and colleague: “His rapid-fire lecture style, his faithfulness to the biblical text and his attacks on the Historical Critical Method contributed to his popularity as a speaker in the LCMS and his advancement in rank to associate professor (1968) and professor (1973)” (“Dr. Walter A. Maier: A True Servant of God.” For the Life of the World 17, no. 4, December 2013).
Besides his many “spiritual sons” from his 48 years of teaching at CTSFW, Dr. Maier II and Leah’s two sons also followed in their father’s footsteps, studying at the Seminary where their father taught. The Rev. Dr. Walter A. Maier III now serves as Professor of Exegetical Theology at CTSFW and the Rev. Dr. David P.E. Maier is President of the Michigan District. “My father has been a wonderful teacher and example for me all my life,” Dr. Maier III explained to Dr. Gieschen for the 2013 article. “He has shown me what it means to be a father, pastor, professor, scholar and churchman, that is, a true servant of God, one motivated and empowered by Christ.”
Alongside his years in the parish and as a seminary professor, Dr. Maier II served in various positions in the Eastern and South Wisconsin Districts; as Chairman of the Department of Exegetical Theology, Academic Dean, Vice-President, and Director of the Distance Education Program Leading to Ordination(DELTO) at CTSFW; as a vice-president of the LCMS from 1973-1995; and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Concordia College, Bronxville, New York, in 1999.
In 1996, while chairing the Seminary’s 150th anniversary committee, Dr. Maier II wrote the following in the January–April Issue of Concordia Theological Quarterly: “From the time the first classes were taught in the parsonage of St. Paul’s Lutheran church in Fort Wayne, in October of 1846, until the present, when the seminary occupies a beautiful campus of two hundred acres near the St. Joseph River, this ‘school of the prophets’ has served as God’s instrument in preparing over four thousand men for the ministerium of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. It has also, through its graduate and extension programs, assisted in the advanced theological education of many pastors through the years. These are great blessings from, and grounds of profound gratitude to, the Lord of the church. These are many reasons for the seminary and the church to rejoice during the current celebratory period.”
So, too, we give thanks to God for the great blessings we have received even as we mourn the passing of His servant, Dr. Maier II, while also rejoicing that he has been called home to his eternal rest. “This week, CTSFW and our Synod lost a faithful pastor and vigorous theologian,” said CTSFW President, the Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast, Jr., another former student and colleague of Dr. Maier II. “For seven decades Dr. Maier dedicated himself to the study, teaching, and proclamation of God’s Word. Few are blessed with the length and breadth of service to our Lord demonstrated by Dr. Maier. But even more importantly, the Maier family mourns the loss of a faithful and loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and brother. With Advent just around the corner, the entire CTSFW community prays with the Maier family as we all anxiously await our Lord’s coming and that day when we will be reunited with all the saints in heaven.”
Dr. Maier’s funeral will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 31st, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne (1126 S. Barr St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802). The viewing will be held both the day before at Hockemeyer and Miller Funeral Home from 2:00–4:00 p.m. and 6:00–8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 30th, as well as an hour before the service at St. Paul’s on Thursday, October 31st, at 10 a.m.
A couple of weeks ago, Rev. Richard Rudowske, chief operating officer of Lutheran Bible Translators as well as Doctor of Philosophy—Missiology student here at CTSFW, led a convocation on “The Curse of Knowledge.” The mission of Lutheran Bible Translators is to translate the Bible into every tongue, that all people and nations may read and hear God’s Word in their heart language. Why, then, would he lecture on knowledge as a “curse”?
First, what is this curse? It’s this: when people know information, they don’t know what it’s like not to know it. For example (a particularly poignant one for this convocation audience), a professor who knows his subject inside and out can easily forget what it was like before he learned it, accidentally leaving behind his students when he assumes a base of knowledge they don’t have. “Ignorance can be a virtue in education.” (“Tell your professors that,” Rev. Rudowske added as an aside, as he read this quote from an educational study.) “To teach effectively, you need to see things from the naive perspective of your pupil—and the more knowledge you have acquired, the harder it gets.”
It’s a problem across fields. Rev. Rudowske quoted economists, psychologists, educational experts, and an article written by a plumber: “I was an expert in my knowledge base, but not a professional in my field. The curse of knowledge must be battled daily. Know your foe: arrogance.”
This curse can be traced back to Genesis 3:4-7. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
The first thing Adam and Eve noticed was their nakedness. They immediately turned their eyes to themselves. Or, to use a Latin theological phrase: incurvatus in se. “Curved inward on oneself.” “That’s really mankind ever since,” Rev. Rudowske said. “You care more about and think about what you know and less about what someone else knows. That’s the depth of the effect of sin.”
Though he began the convocation as a typical presentation, Rev. Rudowske soon opened up the floor to comments and questions from the students, leading it more as a regular class. Theological knowledge is going to serve foundationally towards their future as teachers (an intrinsic part of both pastoral and diaconal vocations), but overwhelming knowledge can unintentionally intimidate or lose listeners, such as when they use unfamiliar jargon or allude to the Bible without attribution or context. “We’re not called to dumb down the message of the Gospel or the Law,” Rev. Rudowske said. “But be aware of your audience. That’s a key part when you’re assigned to a vocation: be intimately involved in that community.” The Word of redemption is universal, but we have relationships with people so that we can also speak personally and directly to their individual needs.
Dr. Detlev Schulz, Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions here at CTSFW, chimed in, speaking of how this ties into emotional intelligence, the “self-awareness—or awareness—of how you view your actions as they affect other people,” he explained. It’s also an important tool for future pastors and deaconesses. For example, your language may be theologically correct and academically impressive, but can you recognize how it may be heard or understood? Will it help and serve your neighbor, or overwhelm and lose him?
Speak to your hearers, not to your own ears. Or as 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 puts it: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
And thanks be to God, we also have the promise that the Word works despite our fallen nature. We are tasked with speaking it, but we need not be driven to despair over our unworthiness. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Christ Jesus works both because and despite us. We are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10).
Last Monday through Friday was the DMin (Doctor of Ministry) Residential Week. The DMin Program is a practical degree designed for working pastors, which is why much of the coursework and study is accomplished on their own with the support of online resources and faculty mentorship. A handful of intensive weeks are held throughout where the students gather on campus for five days at a time in order to attend classes with one another.
There is a distinctly different feel to the DMin Program, especially when these men gather on campus with their brothers in ministry. While there is a definite camaraderie among the MDiv students who are learning to become pastors (sharing inside jokes and commiseration over classes, professors, and fieldwork) they are still looking beyond Seminary; the DMin students have both that shared background as former seminarians and are also living in the “beyond Seminary.” They have an immediate connection as fellow laborers in the Lord’s harvest fields. There’s a depth to the laughter that these men share as they navigate their classes and their experiences as sinner-saints called to serve as Christ’s undershepherds to other sinner-saints.
Pastors in the DMin Program choose their concentration from the first day of their entry, either on 1.) Pastoral Care and Leadership; 2.) Teaching and Preaching; or 3.) Mission and Culture. Each pastor develops a project that is the focus of his degree, tied to their parish or other ongoing ministry at home. Thus the practical aspect of the program: they don’t first earn a degree and then apply their learning, but rather apply their learning as they serve their congregation/ministry, eventually earning the degree.
Last Friday, one such student, Rev. William Keller II, defended his dissertation project. A dissertation is a couple of hundred pages long, written on the research done throughout a student’s years in the program. His faculty mentor/reader offers suggestions before the dissertation is presented to the committee. At the defense, the DMin candidate introduces his topic, explaining his research, methodology, and conclusions, after which several faculty members and occasionally ordained guests ask follow-up questions. The committee then has all but themselves withdraw so that they can discuss the dissertation (which they have read ahead of time) and decide whether the student has successfully defended his topic.
As Rev. Keller’s defense took place during DMin Residential Week, his fellow DMin students were invited to his dissertation defense on “Evaluation of the Accountable Leadership Model of the Governance at Concordia Lutheran Church.” When called to Concordia Lutheran, Rev. Keller inherited a governance model as it was about to be implemented in his new congregation, inspiring the project. However, though the topic is narrow (specifically involving his parishioners), it’s also broad: he used his findings to take a wider view of the topic of church governance.
Ultimately, the study brought up a number of practical questions tied to deeper theological questions on authority and role of the pastor in governing a church. Should the pastor strictly serve as a shepherd? Is he also called to run his church? What are the impacts to his pastoral duties when he is called to counsel and guide his members but may also be tasked with firing them as church staff? Did this new governance model promote a healthy relationship between a pastor and his congregation? And even: what is scriptural and what is adiaphora (neither mandated nor forbidden by Scripture)?
In very short: he concluded that any governance model is a tool that cannot solve underlying problems in a congregation, but can be used to either help or exacerbate issues. The study highlighted the importance of understanding your congregation before making changes, from the church’s culture to the gifts of members and the challenges and history at the heart of any issues the congregation may be dealing with. It was also an examination of the role of the pastor and the Office of Holy Ministry.
Dr. Gifford Grobien, Director of the DMin Program and member of the Dissertation Committee, asked Rev. Keller to expound on the theological understanding he applied to the situation. Rev. Keller explained that he looked back at how the Church and past theologians handled it, starting with Luther. Summarized here:
Martin Luther argued that Scripture is where the authority of a pastor lies. He wasn’t focused on structure, save for that applied through preaching. For example, the key interpretive principles that Rev. Keller found useful were the teaching of the two kingdoms and the theology of the cross.
Martin Chemnitz defined the Office of Holy Ministry through its functions; as a practice of the ways and means.
Johann Gerhard taught that you should take three things into consideration: necessity, usefulness, and dignity. How will a proposal impact the Office of Holy Ministry as it fits in that paradigm?
F.W. Walther was the first Lutheran theologian on American soil who had to grapple with the separation of Church and state. As such, he is the first on this list to speak specifically on church administration. He suggested a board of directors to support the pastor and to govern the church. He was also the first to suggest the adoption of church constitutions (preferably short ones). Walther’s suggestions on church administration essentially provided a dynamic in which the governing duties came out of the congregation and allowed the pastor to stay focused on the duties of the Office.
It was also important to read contemporary authors, because they better understand our times, such as the impact of sentimentalism on the Church (that moral sense is based on feelings over reason). These and other “isms” popular in our times will affect even how (and why) a church does business. “A congregation has to identity these idols and repent of them,” Rev. Keller explained. These types of idols are difficult because they grow in the heart, versus the idols set up in a temple that can be physically thrown down.
In very, very short: his dissertation was about pastoral care. In studying governance models, Rev. Keller found that often congregations want a single solution to fix what they see as a single problem, hoping that a new governance model is that fix—when in fact it is the age old problem of sin, compounded over years and generations. And no matter what else a pastor is called to do (whether he has much governing authority or little, whether the congregation tasks their pastor with intimate involvement in its administration or prefers a separate governing board), that pastor is called by Christ to serve his people, calling them to repentance and comforting them with Word and Sacrament.
After the presentation, the Dissertation Committee—Dr. Grobien, Dr. Detlev Schulz, and Dr. Charles Gieschen—asked all to withdraw from the room so that they could confer. Their conclusion was unanimous: a successful defense. Congratulations, Rev. Keller!
To learn more about the DMin Program (tuition is still locked in until March 15, 2020, after which it will increase), go to www.ctsfw.edu/DMin. You can also contact the Graduate Studies Department with specific questions at [email protected] or (260) 452-2203.
The Prayerfully Consider Visit (PCV) is a biannual event at CTSFW; you’ve likely heard us talk about it before. We hold this three-day visit for prospective students in both the fall and the spring, to give these men and women the time and tools they need during the discernment process as they consider whether a vocation as pastor or deaconess is in their future. About 30 PCV participants were with us from October 10-12, most of them pastoral program prospects with a few deaconess program prospects plus a handful of spouses. Spouses are always encouraged to come. They are absolutely a part of any future vocation—not just vital to the success of it, but truly a part of it.
PCV began on Thursday with prayer in Kramer Chapel, then a welcome and orientation breakfast. Rev. Matt Wietfeldt, head of Admissions here at CTSFW, explained the purpose of these three days. “Take the name seriously,” he said. These men and women have taken time out of their busy lives to come to campus to consider these questions: will you become a pastor? A deaconess? Or is it better to remain in your current vocation?
By coming to campus, attendees share in the blessing of the CTSFW community. “We gather together first and foremost in worship,” Rev. Wietfeldt explained, describing the identity of the people who live, work, and study here. “We’re a community that is always in prayer. It is there [at Kramer Chapel] that we are formed and refreshed in the blood of the Lamb.”
He went on. “We are a community that is in study—but learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom.” Much of the formation process happens between classes, in the student commons or in the dining hall as classmates talk and debate and pull their professors into the discussion. There is no faculty lounge at CTSFW, so the professors are always with the students and available to them. “We are community about fellowship,” Rev. Wietfedlt finished. “It’s about being together as brothers and sisters, in worship and study but also as we lift each other up in good and bad.”
After his welcome, Rev. Wietfeldt had the participants stand and introduce themselves. Participants came from as close as the Fort Wayne area but also from Virginia, Albuquerque, NM, and Seattle. A handful were seniors at university (there aren’t usually as many college students at PCV during the fall as most of them attend Christ Academy: College at the end of the month) and plenty were second career from a variety of backgrounds. Some of these men and women are lifelong Lutherans, but others have come to us by much longer journeys, like the former charismatic who loves the scriptural doctrine of Lutheranism.
“I’m here to see if this is a fit for my life,” one participant explained. “It’s been in the back of my head for a long time.” Another participant knew he wanted to work for the Kingdom but hadn’t decided whether that would mean as a pastor; he’s here to find that out.
Still others know they’ll be starting in the fall. “I was 15 or 16 when my grandma told me: you should be pastor,” one prospect admitted. “I laughed but haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.”
One deaconess prospect explained that she was a teacher and felt that diaconal work seems very similar to what she was already doing. She simply wants to get stronger in theology. An undergraduate still in college said she had attended the high school program for Christ Academy and wanted to become a deaconess.
One of the attendees who has been thinking about becoming a pastor for the past thirty years recognized his thoughts in the words coming out of his fellow brothers’ and sisters’ mouths. “I wondered: gosh, am I the only one who grapples with these things?” He looked around the group, grinned, and answered it for himself: “Nope.”
They would hear much of their thoughts echoed back to them later that evening, during the student panel discussion. The Admission Department had five current students (plus two spouses) answer questions about what their own journey was like. One couple, for example, attended 3 or 4 PCVs before they officially joined the CTSFW community. “We took our time,” he explained. “There was no doubt we were going to come, it was just a matter of when.” It took them about four years to work first through the discernment process and then prepare for the move. They had to uproot their family, and the couples’ own parents were worried. “They thought we’d be on food stamps.” Instead, that Christmas they came home with an abundance—fresh produce, given to them by the Food Co-op that they didn’t want to waste. “In the absence of truth, the imagination takes over,” his wife explained.
The transition was far faster for another couple. A Lutheran school teacher for ten years, the thought of becoming a pastor had always been with seminarian Aaron Schultz. “I felt a restlessness,” he explained, which grew alongside those long-held thoughts of becoming a pastor. He told his wife he finally wanted to go for it in October, and he was attending classes by the next September. She was on board from the first. “It was a quick process for us,” she explained.
Another student was a former Specific Ministry Pastoral program graduate, whose District President encouraged him to go back to Seminary to earn an MDiv so that he could serve full time. “I made a decision and went for it…God finds you and steers you,” he explained. “I had a lot of people praying for me. I’m not a lifelong Lutheran, and this doctrine is important to me.”
Second-year deaconess student, Anna Barger, is the daughter of a deaconess. So naturally: “No way, I thought. Not me.” However, she has long been interested in sign-language and, during a weeklong intensive course about the incredibly specialized vocabulary of signed liturgy, learned that 85-90% of the deaf community had no faith. “No one speaks their language,” she explained. “That didn’t sit well with me. I realized how much I took it for granted that I can go anywhere in the country—even the world—that I can sit in a pew and know what’s going on.” She gave in: she would become a deaconess, continuing to hone her skills in sign language alongside the specialized niche of theological language.
Another second-year seminarian came to us immediately out of college. Ethan Stoppenhagen has known his course for years. In high school, he explained to a teacher that he too wanted to become a teacher. “Why not a pastor?” she asked. His immediate response: “Well I can’t do that!” It stuck with him, though. He attended Christ Academy High School and by the time he was in college he knew exactly where he was going to go.
Rev. Wietfeldt summed it up well: “The discernment process is specific and unique because they’re all specific and unique,” he pointed out. Their ages are different, the length of discernment is different, and the transition process too is shaped by the individuals going through it.
Earlier in the day, Dean of the Chapel, Dr. Grime, had introduced himself to the participants of PCV as they began the three-days of discernment, speaking briefly on bringing Christ to a fallen world. “Into that hopelessness, you have interest in taking a sliver of that hope into a corner of the world. And it is a corner. Thank goodness we haven’t been asked to save the world.” And why are some called to these unique vocations? Or, in the words of the late Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel, “Why would you want to do it? Because it was given us to be done.”
Today was Donation Day, which is a tradition nearly as old as the Seminary itself. Donation Day started as a way to feed the student while they were studying for full-time church work. The CTSFW Seminary Guild cares for our students through Donation Day, taking on additional student projects through donations and their membership dues, as well as using their baking and crafting skills throughout the year for birthdays, snacks during final weeks, and gifts for newly born babies.
Phyllis Thieme, the President of the Guild, opened donation day immediately after chapel with a welcome to the visitors. Eighty-one years ago, in 1938 (the year before the Guild came into being), 1,0008 registrants arrived at the Springfield Campus for Donation Day. “Since the founding of CTS in 1846, the ladies of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod have always supported CTS, the students, and their families,” Mrs. Thieme said. “Let’s fast forward now to today. We may not have 1,008 registrants bringing their donations as they did back in 1938; however, the donations by the Lutheran Women Missionary League represent thousands of women who have given their donation, their support of the students here at CTS. A lot has changed since 1939, but one thing has not: the faithful giving of the many Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod women to help our future pastors and deaconesses and their families.”
Jonah Domenichelli, 4th-year and president of the Student Government Association, introduced the five LWML District Presidents who were able to make it to Donation Day. He and his wife moved to Fort Wayne with three children and now have five; they know the tension between family needs and the rigors of education very well. “Moving here, like most students and families experience, can be very stressful because you’re trying to figure out where the money’s coming from; how are you going to pay for school? How are you going to take care of your family? How are you going to take care of yourself if you’re a student by yourself?” he said. “However, we were reassured that the Lord would provide for us when we moved here. And indeed he has. We have been supported through countless student adoptions and donors like yourselves, and God is faithful. And we appreciate everything He has provided through you.”
The five LWML District Presidents in attendance were Susan Gruber (Michigan District); Barbara Kaun (Wisconsin South District); Janice Gerzevske (Northern Illinois District); Jeanne Schimmelmann (Ohio District); and Marge Gruber (Indiana District). All five brought greetings from their districts and asked that the students from their districts stand, that they might recognize them. After chapel they met with these seminarians and deaconess students in the student commons for coffee, and later each gave a short report during the afternoon meeting on their work with the Food & Clothing Co-op (generally large grants to help fund the Co-op as well as student aid and scholarships).
“This morning is the very best way to start the day,” Mrs. Schimmelmann said in her greetings to the Seminary, “worshiping our Lord in this beautiful chapel with our brothers and sisters in Christ. As it has been said, ‘It doesn’t get better than this.’”
Deaconess Katherine Rittner, Director of the Food & Clothing Co-op, began her speech with another historical comparison between now and then. In 1949, ten years after the Seminary Guild started, donation day visitors donated 221 dozen eggs, 97 chickens, 5,000 quarts of home-canned goods, and $1,500 in cash donations. “But what a difference 70 years makes!” she exclaimed, before reading another set of numbers. Last year, through the support of donors, the Food Co-op provided over 2,000 dozen eggs, 4,000 pounds of Brakebush Chicken (not to mention over 2,500 pounds of cow plus 12,000 pounds of pork), over 36,000 pounds of produce, and $12,225.06 was spent at local grocery stores. “In this ever-changing world, the focus of the Guild remains the same: to care for their students and families,” she said. “As mentioned, the LWML is a large supporter of us; we can’t do this without you.”
She then had all the students stand, starting with those who hadn’t stood yet and finally asking that all students rise to their feet. “This,” she said of the standing students, “this is who you are caring for. From the students, from the faculty, from the staff—as a former student, former student wife, current staff member—from the bottom of my heart I thank you for what it is that you do for our students and their families. Thank you.”
During lunch, as a treat for the ladies Deaconess Rittner had student wives (and at least one student wife who is also a seminary student herself, studying to become a deaconess) and their children held a fashion show. They wore clothes they found at the Co-op. Most of the little girls—when they weren’t feeling shy—were thrilled; the boys less so. You can view photos from the show in the pictures provided here.
Lance Hoffman, Advancement Officer since 2016 and newly appointed Assistant Vice President of Operations, also spoke at the afternoon meeting. He taught at Concordia Lutheran High School in Fort Wayne for 26 years before joining CTSFW. The high school is his alma mater; when he graduated from college with a teaching degree and was called back to his old school, his father was a colleague and his little brother was one of his students.
As a former history teacher and now an advancement officer serving the financial needs of CTSFW, Mr. Hoffman’s presentation married both: to effectively raise money for CTSFW, the Advancement Department has to understand both where society came from and where it’s going. “Changes in our society require changes in our strategy,” he explained.
He largely bypassed the first 100 years of CTSFW’s history (“Things are so different before that it’s almost useless to consider strategies,” he explained), and focused on the past 80 years. The post-war era from 1945-1975 was the golden age of the middle class in America. Television began replacing radio and print and everyone answered their phone and read their mail. “We’ll get to today when virtually none of this is true,” Mr. Hoffman said briefly, before returning to the post-war period. Planes and cars had replaced trains as interstate highways and airports sprung up everywhere. Synodical support was high.
Because of this, the Seminary operated on a “big net, small fish” strategy; what we would now call the Annual Fund approach. With a robust middle class (and in conjunction with modest educational costs), it worked well. With many small gifts meeting their needs, little attention was given to major gift cultivation or long term planning. “But if there’s one thing you can be sure of,” Mr. Hoffman said, “is things will always change.
“Both seminaries were blindsided by undergraduate debt. No one predicted that we would have pastoral and diaconal students coming in with $100,000 in debt,” he explained. In the 1960s a part-time job could pay for most education costs. In the 70s, the wealth gap between rich and middle class began to expand while educational costs rose almost incomprehensibly fast. “Minimum wage has not gone up 2,000% like education costs,” he said. “Times have changed and the math doesn’t add up anymore.”
“Big net, small fish” no longer works on its own. The top 10% of the nation holds 67% of the wealth and the bottom 90% the remaining 33%. Nor have communication changes been conducive to philanthropy efforts. Land lines and snail mail are fading. There are a dozen new ways to contact people (email, cell phones, social media) but in a sea of noise, that’s made it harder to be heard. There have been no major changes in transportation from 1976-2019, save for access: with private planes and 24/7 travel, people now live seasonally and the wealthy own multiple homes. National trends have affected the LCMS at all levels, especially in the difficult years in the 80s and 90s. Synod still supports her seminaries, but not in the same way financially. Both seminaries have had to become financially independent.
Many middle class donors still continue to give to their seminaries. They provide millions a year—but today that’s millions short. We have thousands of donors who give generously of their means, but we’d need thousands more to make up the difference.
This is where major gift cultivation—particularly through endowments—come into play. An endowment is a gift that can never be spent. Rather, the gift is invested and CTSFW spends a percentage of the earnings. The great advantage is that these gifts last as long as the Seminary does. Since the post-war era, CTSFW has gone from 0 in endowments to millions. “Not bad for a school our size,” Mr. Hoffman said. But: “Bad for a school our age.” Harvard, for example, has endowments in the billions. The difference is that Harvard, established in 1656, has been cultivating major gifts for hundreds of years. CTSFW didn’t start until 100 years into her history.
Chairs are another type of endowment, set up to pay for a specific professorship, as the earnings from the investment pay for that position’s salary and benefits no matter who holds it. CTSFW has five at this point, all still currently held by their original faculty recipients: Dr. James Bushur in The Carl and Erna Weinrich Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Church Studies chair; Dr. Cameron MacKenzie in The Forrest E. and Frances H. Ellis Professor of German Reformation Studies chair; Prof. Robert Roethemeyer in The Wakefield-Kroemer Director of Library and Information Services chair; Dr. David Scaer in The David P. Scaer Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology chair; and Dr. Roland Ziegler in The Robert D. Preus Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Confessional Lutheran Studies chair. These will be passed on as these men retire and new faculty take their place.
The Advancement strategy, according to Mr. Hoffman, is clear: “Blending the tried and true with the new.” We need both those who give major gifts and those who give according to their more modest means. And that doesn’t yet take into account the generosity that comes to our students in the form of home congregation gifts, student adoptions, and the Co-ops. There’s also the additional projects, like the recent renovations to W8 and L7 (the campus was only 20 years old when CTS first moved onto the grounds but now the infrastructure is 65 years old and starting to show it), the capital campaign for the library expansion project, and, in 2018, the introduction of the 100% tuition grant for full-time residential pastoral and diaconal students.
“You’ll note,” Mr. Hoffman said. “I didn’t say ‘free.’” A seminarian may no longer be responsible for his tuition (though he’s certainly expected—and is required to promise—that he will help by applying for scholarships and aid), but someone’s certainly paying for it: the Body of Christ. The Church cares for her future pastors and deaconesses.
This is important, not only because it meets the modern challenge of the educational debt crisis, but because we need church workers. Enrollment is down at both seminaries, as is church worker enrollment in the Concordia University System. Take into account that 50% of pastors in the LCMS are over the age of 55, and in the next 10 years we’ll lose 3,000 pastors to retirement. (Though perhaps slightly later, Mr. Hoffman conceded: “Pastors are a weird breed,” he said to laughter, “They don’t often retire at normal retirement age.”). Our two seminaries are currently producing only about 100 new pastors a year; or, 1,000 new pastors over the 10 years.
Mr. Hoffman’s solution: “Give us the students. We’ll figure out the money.”
And we remember this too: the need is urgent, but not desperate. With the Lord of all—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—on our side, we can never be desperate. But we can ask ourselves what we can do where He has placed us. Some of us give financially, some of us choose to go into church work, still others serve as the voice that asks her grandson, or his neighbor, or our friend if he has ever thought of becoming a pastor.
“The seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how,” (Mark 4:27). The Lord of the harvest grows His kingdom and commands that we pray to Him for laborers. May we do so cheerfully and boldly, knowing we can trust His promises.
Dr. Gieschen opens his presentation with a word of prayer.
In order to take a look at the entire Book of Revelation over just two days, Dr. Gieschen hit only the highlights during the Fall Retreat, focusing specifically on Christ and the angels. In fact, you see much more of Christ and the Trinity (especially the Holy Spirit) in Revelation than you do of random angels. The first few words of Revelation are absolutely vital for the understanding of Revelation: “The revelation [or unveiling] of Jesus Christ.”
“A lot of the problems in interpreting Revelation would be resolved by keeping these few words in mind,” Dr. Gieschen said. “Keep that focus and you’ll stay on track for what this book is all about.”
There are seven points to keep in focus when interpreting the Book of Revelation:
Always remember the first verse: the person and work of Jesus Christ is the primary focus of Revelation.
The language of Ezekiel, Daniel 7-12, Zechariah, and Isaiah are invaluable for interpreting the imagery found in the book. The number one reason why people struggle with Revelation is because we’re not immersed in the visionary prophesies of the Old Testament like the first-century Church (many of whom were Jews) would have been.
Revelation was meant to be read/heard start to finish without interruption. It plays like a movie. Though there are some truly rough chapters, these do not exist by themselves as the entirety of the book puts all terrifying visions in perspective: Christ is victorious and already reigning.
It is not written in chronological order. Some scenes flash forward, others back. The whole Old Testament is summarized in 12:1-4 and then the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is summarized in verse 5. “It’s a big flashback to show you the whole sweep of history, that Israel is waiting for this child to be born,” Dr. Gieschen explained of the image of the woman crying out in birth pains. “It’s distilling down a very complex picture of history.” In the latter half of chapter 7, time jumps forward to the end times. But that’s only a portion of the book. “There’s also a lot of present reality,” he added.
The heavenly throne room in Revelation 4-5 is the most important scene in the entire book, as it sets the whole tone of the book. It depicts present reality in heaven as a result of the victory won by Christ’s life, atoning death, and resurrection on earth.
The two portraits of Christ as the Glorious Man and the Slaughtered Lamb work together to present the full picture of Christ: His eternal nature (who He is, linked with the Old Testament) and the incarnate, flesh-and-blood Jesus (what He’s done, as recorded in the New Testament).
Revelation contains symbolic imagery and numbers that must be interpreted for their meaning rather than literally. “I take the meaning literally, not the words literally. Just because Jesus is a lamb doesn’t mean he has wool, seven horns, and hoofs. He’s the sacrifice. That’s what it means.” More of this symbolic imagery will be explained throughout the summary.
An important part of teaching Revelation is to inoculate hearers against pre-millennialism, the belief that Christ will reign a literal thousand years (and many additional beliefs when all the prophetic imagery from Revelation is taken literally). Instead, we’re amillennialists: “We believe that Christ is already reigning and the thousand years is a symbolic length,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “When He comes again it’s not to reign on earth but to bring about the new heaven and the new earth, and the resurrection.”
[Please note: he went over more of the specific beliefs and why they are heretical (and dangerous), but to keep this already long summary shorter, CLICK HERE to read an article on millennialism (with one correction scribbled in by Dr. Gieschen), plus notes on certain mysteries like 666 and the mark of the beast.]
The “movie” of Revelation plays out in this way: the prologue puts it all in perspective (“The Revelation of Jesus Christ”), which is then followed by the letters written specifically to each of the seven churches in Asia. Chapters 4 and 5 present the key vision of the throne room (our present reality). The bulk of Revelation (chapters 6-16) cycles three times through seven woes, with breaks to remind us that, though the world is in agony, we are saved and being saved by Christ who is already reigning. Chapters 17-22 present the future of two women: a prostitute (Babylon) and the bride of Christ (New Jerusalem). The epilogue closes on the best of news: Jesus is coming.
First, it must be pointed out that we are not certain who John is. While he is possibly the apostle, what we do know for certain is that his name is John and he was important to the churches in Asia. A bishop, he oversaw the seven pastors of the seven churches in Asia, which would have each been a collection of houses churches. He was, essentially, a circuit visitor.
The loud voice that speaks to John to write down all he sees is a guiding angel. In the Book of Revelation it often says “John was in the Spirit,” so this angel is very closely linked with the Holy Spirit, who is either using a created angel to guide John or may Himself be manifesting as an angelic messenger to guide him. That he appears to be divine is made clear that he is the only angel that John attempts to worship. Though the angel tells John that he must not, this is not necessarily a sign that the angel is not the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit always points to Jesus and wants no worship apart from Him. “But don’t push it too far” Dr. Gieschen said.
The only other angel you see in these first chapters is the person of Christ, who appeared as the pre-incarnate Son even in the Old Testament. CLICK HERE to read more details about the Old Testament references that show who He is, from His face to His clothes, hair, eyes, feet, voice, and the two-edged sword coming out of His mouth. From the document’s summary: “Christ is depicted as…the visible manifestation of YHWH who showed himself at times to the prophets in the likeness of a man/son of man….this shows that he is fully identified with YHWH in this vision and in the understanding of John, the author of Revelation.”
The vision is also a message of comfort, specifically to the seven congregations, for Jesus is in their very midst with their pastors in His hand: “And on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man…in his right hand he held seven stars” (1:12-13, 16).
It is also a much broader message of comfort. “Like a son of man” is right out of Daniel. “The very one that Daniel saw, that Ezekiel saw, that’s the same God that is now become Jesus, died, risen, standing before John right there,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “Jesus is the eternal God seen by the prophets of old. For someone versed in the Old Testament, they’ll see the connection immediately. Not ascended and gone; ascended to be with His whole Church.”
The “Fear not” in verse 17 can also be translated to “Stop your fearing” from the original Greek. “And He gives him a reason not to be afraid. Crucifixion is central to His identity. The Book of Revelation wants you to never forget that the God who saved you is the God who died for you,” Dr. Gieschen said. We don’t judge God on our experiences (i.e. “I’m healthy, He loves me; I have cancer, He doesn’t” or even “My church is facing no challenges, He loves us; my church is fracturing over false doctrine, He doesn’t”). “We’re part of a reality where sin causes sorrow and death,” he acknowledged, “but we’re also part of a reality where sin has been overcome in Jesus and the future is going to be unfolded—not to a conclusion of all destruction, but to a restoration and resurrection.”
Though we were born spiritually dead, our first resurrection—a spiritual resurrection—occurred at baptism. We need not fear the second death in the lake of fire, for we are saved by Christ who is already reigning, as the entire Book of Revelation will show again and again. The second resurrection, at the last, will be a physical one.
The rest of the chapters in this section are the specific messages written to the seven chapters. They’re still instructive to the whole Church: each letter begins with a callback to the first chapter, bringing to mind the image of the risen Christ, and each letter ends with the Gospel—with a promise.
The vision of the throne room in chapters 4 and 5 sets the tone for the entire Book of Revelation. It is also the second most Trinitarian passage in the Bible (second to Matthew 28:19 “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). All three persons of the Triune God are clearly present. The Father is seated on the throne (“he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian…who was and is and is to come,” emphasizing His eternity), the Holy Spirit is before Him (“before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God”; seven is a reference to the fullness of the Spirit, also referenced in Isaiah, and torches bring to mind Pentecost), and the Son (“among the elders I saw a Lamb standing”).
This is not the first prophetic vision of a throne room in the Bible. Daniel 7 and Ezekiel 1 also speak of God enthroned. “The picture speaks 10,000 words,” Dr. Gieschen said of the importance of imagery in these books. “Chapter 4 begins with ‘Come’ and John immediately goes through an open door.” Here is an instant visual of our access to the heavenly reality. John immediately steps from Patmos to heaven. “It’s an accessible and present reality. Not just: this is what it’s going to be like. It’s true right now. Through the Word of God you also have access. Through this vision, we too see it. We not only see it, we also participate in it when we attend Church. We are united with the Lord and angels. It’s a reality we participate in now.”
The Father, you’ll note, is never seen in the form of a man. On the throne His appearance that of stones (jasper and carnelian). The rainbow around His throne gives you a sense of the size and scale. Some have postulated that the 24 elders before the throne are from the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles, but Dr. Gieschen thinks there’s a better answer from 1 Chronicles: there were 24 classes of priests in the earthly temple. The heavenly temple is a reflection of that, representing those who have spoken for Christ and are serving Christ. The white garments and golden crowns indicate how we both serve Christ and reign with him. We are given a garment in baptism (the righteousness of Christ, depicted as a robe). “Someday will be given a permanent robe which can never be soiled,” Dr. Gieschen said. “Now we continue to wash it in blood.”
The four living creatures mark out a throne, and though each creature would later by symbolic of each of the Gospel writers, at the time they would have been simply reflective of creation (because God is Creator and the creation praises Him as such). And you’ll recognize this refrain the angels are singing: “Holy, holy, holy.” Angels also sang it in Isaiah 6 and we too still sing it thousands of years later. “We’re using the very words that are sung in heaven because we’re participating in that reality,” Dr. Gieschen said. “Yes we have both feet on earth, but we’re also participating in God’s presence with His angels in front of the throne.”
The most important scene comes in Chapter 5: “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” But rather than the glorious man we saw in chapter 1, we see the same Son in the midst of the throne, this time as the slain Lamb. Slain but standing in victory over death. The contrast is purposeful: we must understand that the God who is enthroned and ruling is the one who became true flesh and was sacrificed for us.
“Lamb” is used 28 times in Revelation, many more times than any other names of Christ. The crucifixion is central to His identity and how we should understand God. Each detail of the Lamb is a whole volume of Christology on who Jesus is and what He’s done. In Daniel, one horn is a symbol of power; the seven horns here show that He is all powerful. Trinitarian unity is also depicted: the Lamb has seven eyes (the fullness of the Spirit is present with the Son) and He is in the midst of the throne where the Father sits.
The slain Lamb also joins two important festivals: Passover and the Day of Atonement. Jesus died on Passover and accomplished atonement through His death. All the theology of the Day of Atonement is brought into the Passover feast.
“Don’t ever leave chapters 4 and 5 behind when you read the rest of Revelation,” Dr. Gieschen said. “This is a present, ongoing, and eternal reality. The Book of Revelation wants you to have this in mind as you go into the cycle of sevens. This is still true: the Lamb is reigning. You are part of that reality, you are participating in this, even as you experience disasters, war, death, etc. That’s what it’s like now, not just when you get to heaven. You are participating in this, you are citizens of this; heaven isn’t just up there after we die. Heaven is accessible. We followed John into the open door, opened by Christ.”
[Please note: it is exceptionally difficult to find an artistic depiction of the throne room that does not bring some theological problems into the interpretation, most obvious of which is that God the Father is always shown in the figure of a man when He is never depicted as such in the Bible. Christ is always the visible image of God. “They can’t seem to help themselves,” Dr. Gieschen noted during the presentation as he showed art examples from across history. Even this altar piece didn’t entirely get a pass; the Lamb isn’t bloody enough. “The Lamb was slain,” Dr. Gieschen emphasized. Angel wings are another thing artists add when they shouldn’t. They’re only an occasional feature of angels and, more unfortunately, are misleading when they’re used to depict a passage that is actually about Christ.]
Where the throne room shows the present reality in heaven, the three cycles of seven woes in chapters 6-16 (seals, trumpets, and bowls) show the reality of this present age on earth. These disasters are a reminder to us that we need the deliverance that God has won. They function as Law. The Book of Revelation does not sweep the disasters of this age (from eschatological disasters to blood, famine, and war) under the rug or try to wrap it up in clean linen.
The first cycle showcase the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who, outside of the actual Book of Revelation, get more press than Jesus. “But who is opening the seals that release the horsemen?” Dr. Gieschen asked. “The Lamb. He’s always in the picture, in control.”
Also, joyful and comforting passages consistently show up between the cycles of sevens. Chapter 7 is such a break, with the sealing of the 144,000. We also see angels mentioned once again. The four angels in verses 1-3 would have been created beings, but “then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun” is a messianic figure. Jesus comes from the East (Ezekiel 43:102) with deliverance.
The 144,000 is a symbolic number of the finite number of Christians on earth at any given time, with the 12,000 from each tribe of Israel showing that the Church is the New Israel. It’s a comforting message: God can number all the true believers at any time in any age. And the best image of the sealing of the 144,000 would be a baptismal font. In baptism we are sealed with God’s name (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) on our foreheads, marked as one redeemed. Your baptismal identity is foundational. You are a child of God for all eternity. All other identities change and fade, but the name of God on your forehead is the root of your identity. “So right in the middle of all this disaster,” Dr. Gieschen said of chapter 7 in the midst of the cycles of woe, “you’re claimed. It’s great reassurance that no matter what is going on, you are Christ’s.”
Verses 9-17 then jump forward to the end of time, helping any readers/listeners of the text living in the here and now to be comforted by the future. “Your life isn’t just what’s happening now or next week or next year; it is your reality for eternity.” God promises both here and in Isaiah to wipe the tears from every face. We do not have to wait until the end of Revelation to be assured that there will in the future be no more death, sin, or tears of sorrow. You are given a foretaste in the vision to help sustain you through the cycle of sevens. And there is another distinctive parallel and contrast: the curse on man in the garden in Genesis 3:9 (“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread”) and now a promise in Revelation 7:16 (“They shall hunger no more…the sun shall not strike them”).
At least one if not two persons of the Trinity are present in chapter 8. The seven angels standing before God who are given seven trumpets may be the Holy Spirit (one of the seven angels is later proven to be John’s guide in chapter 17), and “another angel” then comes in verse 3 to stand before God where He begins serving as the heavenly high priest, mediating for us and giving us access to the Father. Sound familiar? “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession….Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16).
The mighty angel in Revelation 10 is an even more prominent example of an angel whose true identity is Christ. Though the word “angel” makes interpreters nervous (as Dr. Gieschen put it), the details are all there: “from heaven”; “wrapped in a cloud” (characteristic of God on Mt. Sinai and in the tabernacle); “rainbow over his head” and “face like the sun” (callbacks to chapter 1), and the scroll in his hand (the scroll here appears smaller than it did in chapter 5, likely because it was first opened while He appeared as a Lamb and now He is a much mightier figure). He also raises his right hand and swears, an image that parallels both Deuteronomy 32 and Daniel 10; God swears in the first and the divine man (the pre-incarnate Son) swears in the second. John is told to eat the scroll just as Ezekiel was in Ezekiel 3.
“Christ is an angel in terms of office, not ontology,” Dr. Gieschen explained. “He functions as a messenger but is not a created being.” As to the eating: “This is what I seek to do to my students,” he said. He feeds them the Word of God and what comes out: “The Word they have ingested.” You proclaim what you eat. “You are not speaking your own words, but the Word of God.”
Once the second woe passes but before the third woe comes, there is another callback to the throne room in chapters 4 and 5 in Revelation 11:15: the twenty-four elders fall on their faces before God and worship. For all that the three cycles of the seven woes are still ongoing, the Book of Revelation speaks most commonly about the victory of Christ. “It presents reality (Satan, death, destruction), but in perspective: it is an encouraging book,” Dr. Gieschen said.
Chapter 12—the chapter that features Michael and the angels in the war in heaven—begins with a chronological retelling of history. Verse 1-4 reviews Old Testament history. The pregnant woman is not the Virgin Mary, as is popularly argue, but Israel. The language matches that of Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37, of the nation as the sun, moon, and stars. She is longing for the birth of the Messiah while Satan is a dragon that swept down a third of the stars—a reference to the angelic rebellion. “This is his propaganda,” Dr. Gieschen said of the awful description of the dragon. “He wants us to think he’s a divine being. But peel away the propaganda and he’s a created angel.”
The dragon tries to thwart God’s plan of salvation by waiting to swallow the Messiah, but he fails: verse 5 is a very quick distillation of Christ’s birth, earthly ministry, and ascension (“caught up to God”). In verse 6 the woman—faithful Israel/the Church—flees from the dragon and is protected by God for 1,260 days. Those symbolic 42 months (three and a half years) is the same length of time of the famine in ancient Israel during the days of Elijah. It also seemingly contradicts the thousand year reign of Christ promised later in chapter 20. So is the time of the great tribulation between Christ’s first coming and His second coming a short time or a long time?
“Yes!” Dr. Gieschen declared. “From God’s perspective it’s a short time, from our perspective it’s a long time.” The contrast is purposeful. “One emphasizes that it is a limited time and the other emphasizes that it is a larger time, but both work together to emphasize the fact that God isn’t going to let this go on forever and ever. The time is short and yet we don’t know how long.”
Revelation 12:7-11 (the war in heaven featuring Michael and all angels) immediately follows this quick history lesson. “This is describing what is going to happen in heaven because Jesus won the victory on earth,” Dr. Gieschen explained of the passage. “Michael and the angels won the victory by the blood of the Lamb. We don’t go after Satan with heat-seeking missiles; Christ has already defeated him. We use what Christ has done against Satan.
“One of the most powerful activities against the action of Satan in the world is to worship,” Dr. Gieschen went on. Why? “Because you are saying: this is the true God and I’m receiving His victory.” In worship, God serves us with His victory and life. “Worship foils everything. There is where we receive the victory of the Lamb. There we are empowered to be faithful witnesses out in the world.”
Michael and the angels enforce Christ’s victory over the devil and his followers, for “there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” Throughout the Old Testament you can find examples of Satan in God’s presence (like in the Book of Job), where he brings accusations against God’s people. But now “the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” This activity has come to an end. In his place we have a high priest who pleads on our behalf before His Father night and day. “And they [the whole Church] have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb” (verse 11).
God could and did forgive sins before this moment in history, but it was on the basis of a future sacrifice. The devil could still say sins have not yet been paid. But all that is over. We need not even be haunted by the guilt of our past sins. Satan cannot accuse you before God; he cannot accuse you to your face. We can rightly say: “Go to hell where you belong.”
Michael, the leader of God’s armies, wields the sword of God’s Word. Michael is not Christ, evidenced by the fact that he bears a distinct name. Michael is not conquering Satan—he’s enforcing the victory that Christ has won through the blood of the Lamb.
The two beasts rising out of the sea and earth in chapter 13 are a parody enacted by Satan to imitate the Holy Trinity. The dragon is his attempt at the Father, the first beast performs signs and wonders like the Son, and the second makes people worship the first—a mockery of the Holy Spirit who always directs worship to the Son. The dragon and the two beasts are also not one-and-done deals. They are symbolic of the devil’s activity during every age, representing all the false gods, false christs, and false worship that throws itself against the Church in every generation.
In addition, the mark of the beast is Satan’s imitation of the name we bear as baptized children of God; it isn’t visible any more than the sign of our baptism is. “You know whether a person is a believer or unbeliever based upon whose name they bear or confess,” Dr. Gieschen explained in one of his handouts. To learn more about the mysteries of interpretation in Revelation 13, 16, and 20, CLICK HERE.
In chapter 14 we are once more presented with the 144,000, baptized with the name of God on their foreheads. This is the final rest stop before the last cycle of seven. It is another refreshing moment in the midst of the doom and gloom, an image of the saints who know the true God and sing his praise along with the host in heaven, though these saints are still on earth—but with the Lamb in their midst. “The Gospel will continue to be proclaimed even in the midst of all these challenges,” Dr. Gieschen said. “God uses faithful pastors to make this happen. We will have faithful pastors to the end of time.”
We are also presented with Christ, who is the reaper—“Not the grim reaper,” Dr. Gieschen added. “He’s bearing the harvest. There’s a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.” And finally, in Revelation 15 and 16, the seven angels closely connected with the Holy Spirit in the inner sanctuary, pour out the wrath of God, finishing up the last cycle of seven woes.
The guiding angel—who is revealed to be one of the seven trumpet angels with the bowls of wrath—carries away John “in the Spirit” for this final section of Revelation. The angel’s behavior (and likely divine appearance) is the reason Dr. Gieschen suspects John sought to worship him. His guide is clearly closely connected with the Holy Spirit, either as His servant or a manifestation—though of course the angel redirects John’s focus: worship God on the throne, not me. His refusal teaches us something: that worship is always to be directed to the Trinity, especially the Son as the visible God.
The vision presents two women: the prostitute (Babylon) and the bride of Christ (New Jerusalem). Those that worship a false god are part of this prostitute. That she is a human figure shows that this is a very personal problem; that she is also a city shows that this is a group problem. The prostitute is wealthy and arrayed in outward glory, but her idolatry and self-indulgence leads to destruction and death.
The marriage supper of the Lamb follows the destruction of Babylon. On this side of heaven, the bride of Christ is often humiliated, but now her restoration is at hand as the wife of the Lamb. The two women are a warning and comfort: to those believers who suffer greatly on earth, they will be restored when God brings His judgment—both wrathful against the prostitute, drunk with the blood of the saints, but also gracious. He gives the bride a future she doesn’t deserve, and the gracious gift of the new heaven and new earth.
“There’s a lot of gates into the New Jerusalem,” Dr. Gieschen said of the 12 gates in the high walls. “It’s symbolic of the access we have to this eternal reality of the new heavens and the new earth.” Together the 12 gates (inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel) and the 12 foundations (with the names of the 12 apostles) show that both the faithful of the Old Testament and the New Testament are a part of this New Jerusalem.
Chapter 20 presents another example of the angel as Christ, whose identity is in the details. He has authority, since He holds the key (“I have the keys of Death and Hades” from 1:18). This is also not the first time Christ speaks of binding Satan (here presented with all of his titles—the dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil and Satan). In Matthew 12, Jesus asked how He could be casting out demons unless He first enters the strong man’s house and binds him.
Chapter 20 is prone to misinterpretation. “The number one problem is reading 20:1-6 as chronologically following 19. View it as a flashback, in light of what Christ did in his earthly ministry to limit Satan’s power.” It answers the question of how Satan came to be thrown into the lake of fire. “First he was bound [through Jesus’ death and resurrection], then Christ reigned, then He brought about Satan’s end.”
Since we are still in the time of great tribulation following Christ’s first coming (who is already reigning for the symbolic thousand years), Satan is yet only bound. “The chain doesn’t mean he can’t move or do anything,” Dr. Gieschen warned. “He has a realm and in that realm he’s very powerful. But outside of that, when we are in the Kingdom of God, he has no authority over us. We deny Christ and enter his realm and he’s very powerful.” As to the devil’s release from prison just before he’s thrown into the lake of fire, this is an indication that there will be an escalation against the Church right before the end.
Revelation 21 is then a beautiful picture—the climactic picture, as Dr. Gieschen put it—of the Book of Revelation. We began in heaven and now the book ends in heaven. “This is a restoration of what God created this world to be.” God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. He will dwell with His people once more. “He won’t annihilate this world; it was corrupted by sin. He will restore it. The end time will look a lot like the first time.” And once more we have this promise: he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. “Behold, I am making all things new.”
In Revelation 22, we are told that we will still have the name given to us in baptism. “He has given us His name, His own righteousness.” Dr. Gieschen said. “We don’t have to worry that we’ll die in His presence. The name of God is an outward mark of that. It’s very important imagery in Revelation.” The final chapter of Revelation also offers us a promise, repeated by Jesus three times, in verses 7, 12, and 20:
“I am coming soon.”
The Church’s response follows: “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!”
“It is one of the most ancient Christian prayers,” Dr. Gieschen said. “The prayer for the return, the coming of Christ. Answered in a preliminary way because, when we pray that, He comes to us. But we also pray that He will come in the ultimate way, on the last day, to bring restoration.”
Full List of Dr. Gieschen’s handouts for his Fall Retreat presentations can be found here: