Convocation: At Home in the Body

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 Instituted 2019

 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.


To learn more about GSI (or to register for next year if you already know you’d like to come), go to www.ctsfw.edu/GSI. Email [email protected] for any questions.

Luther Hostel: Creation, Science, and God’s Omnipotence

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.]

      1. We reject science when it conflicts with Scripture.
      2. 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).
      3. 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:

      1. 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.”
      2. Science is trustworthy and Scripture was written to accommodate the prejudices of the Bible’s original audience. (The distinctly heretical extension of model 3.)
      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.
      4. Reason interprets Scripture and nothing is above reason/nature; we reject Scripture when it conflicts with science.
      5. Reason attacks the reliability of Scripture, undermining its credibility. Therefore, we reject Scripture.
      6. 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):

      1. 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.”
      2. 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…”
      3. 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.”
      4. 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.


Dr. Mayes presentation was based on his paper, “Creation, Science, and God’s Omnipotence,” published in Concordia Theological Quarterly Vol.82, No. 3 in 2018. You can read the full article here: http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/MayesCreationScienceandGodsOmnipotence.pdf.

Convocation: Pro-Life v. Pro-Pill

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:

      1. Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates the development of an egg in a cyst located in the fallopian tube. As it develops, it produces estrogen.
      2. 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.
      3. 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.
      4. 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:

      1. 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.
      2. 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.
      3. 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.