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:

 

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.

Life Convocation: Created, Redeemed Call

At present, Owen’s Mission has only placed a set of the baby model in 10-20% of our Lutheran schools—and Rev. Salemink (left) was delighted to make CTSFW one of those schools, presenting a model to Ian Kinney (right) who serves as student president of the CTSFW Life Team.

At today’s convocation, Executive Director of Lutherans for Life (LFL) Rev. Michael Salemink spoke on being a Gospel-motivated voice for life, as well as about Owen’s Mission. The goal of Owen’s Mission is to place a set of life-like models of babies in the womb into every Lutheran school (from elementary on up).

Owen was the grandson of former LFL Executive Director Dr. Lamb. While still in his mother’s womb, Owen passed away at 22 weeks old, his heart stopping when the doctors surgically removed a tumor at the base of his spine. In his development, too many nutrients, oxygen, and blood had already gone to the fast-growing tumor. “They wrapped him in a blanket and brought his body out so that his father and grandfather could say hello—and goodbye,” Rev. Salemink said. Dr. Lamb was struck by the obvious personhood of his grandson, and together the family started Owen’s Mission to help others see this reality. The models are made out of a biosynthetic gel to give them the weight and feel of a real baby.

Life issues “from womb to tomb,” as our own CTSFW Life Team would say, are not political issues. As Rev. Salemink explained, life issues show up “anywhere the culture urges us to use death as a solution.” He went on to point out the most promising aspect of the intensity of the discussions surrounding life issues: “People are ready to ask spiritual questions and receive theological answers…They desperately need the Gospel that brings hope and healing.”

There are three things that make human beings special. From Isaiah 43:1:

But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.”

We are created, redeemed, and called. “Lutherans have something very special to bring to the conversation,” he went on. “We are saved by grace, not by works.” Our voices are Gospel-motivated because the conversation is always about what God does (and has done) for us. Not what we do.


CREATED

Rev. Salemink pointed out that the language and imagery of our creation, beginning in Genesis when God formed man from the dust of the ground, is one of God’s hands performing the work. Over nine months, we are knit together in the womb. God can speak reality into being, but with people it delighted Him to take his time.

We are first formed in our mother’s womb as a zygote—a single celled human being, genetically distinct from Mom and Dad, whose cells self-direct the growth process. “My body, my choice” is a lie—though on the surface an attractive one. But Rev. Salemink pointed out the ugly meaning couched in the words. “’My body, my choice’ means you are on your own,” he said. “It’s your fault, your responsibility.” This is Satan in the garden, getting the woman by herself in order to slyly ask, “Did God really say…?”

He next went through some of the major highlights of gestation, with a model from Owen’s Mission in his hand for each stage:

  • 17 days: Cardiac cells begin to beat. A few days later, it has a distinct rhythm.
  • 4 weeks (about the time mom is discovering she’s pregnant): All organs are present, differentiated and in position.
  • 7 weeks: the baby has a complete skeleton; 4,000 anatomical parts exist. They have brain activity, pain receptors, and reflexes.
  • 12 weeks: they have two ears, two legs, two feet; arms, hands, fingers, fingernails, nostrils, eyelids, eyelashes, even permanent teeth.
  • At 16 weeks, only four weeks later: Grown to three times their size at 12 weeks. Eyes open for the first time (babies begin to move at 14 weeks) and they suck their thumb—even developing a preference for one thumb over the other. It’s probably the same hand she or he will write with someday.

He highlighted other developments (swallowing at 22 weeks, not for need but for practice, somersaults at 26), but the main point is that, from 12 to 26 weeks, the only that is really changing is size. The baby is growing and practicing. In fact, it is the baby that decides when to be born—not the mother. The placenta (“the suitcase the baby comes in” Rev. Salemink explained) signals and initiates the chain reaction that begins labor—and the baby’s body grows the placenta in the first place. “Babies are polite house guests,” he added, noting that they don’t demand that mom provide everything.


REDEEMED

“These models are perfect,” Rev. Salemink said, holding up the model of a baby at one of the later gestational ages. “But of course not every baby is perfect.” Some only live for a few minutes in the womb, others are stillborn, still others are deformed, with genetic errors incompatible with life. “We are God’s children, and we fail at it,” he went on. “Sin is manifested in our flesh.”

But that doesn’t matter—our size, the span of our life, whether we’re born health and grow up into criminals—because, again, the story is one of a God who does the work for us. “God redeems rather than discards,” Rev. Salemink said. “John 1: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’” (verse 14).

The Word became flesh not on Christmas, but at the annunciation. “Mary is the only woman in the world to become pregnant through her ear,” he pointed out. In His mother’s womb, “God was the size of the head of a pin, and yet He holds all the world in His hands…He grew arms and hands and fingers and stretched them out on a cross.”


CALLED

“The same God who creates in the womb and redeems in the womb, declares in the womb: ‘I have safely encased him and in water.’” There are obvious connections to be made to Baptism. As babies in the womb, our lungs were filled with water. After we are born, God desires that we be brought to water once again—to be called into his family—that he can claim, “This one is mine. This is my son. This is my daughter. This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”

“It is our privilege, delight, and solemn responsibility where Satan is shouting lies to speak the truth in love and gentleness,” Rev. Salemink concluded. Dr. Gieschen, Academic Dean, then asked for recommendations from LFL on getting plugged into life issues out in the parish.

He suggested locating the institutions in a community involved in life/death situations—hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, pregnancy resource centers, etc.—and asking how you can help. In fact, he originally got involved in Life ministries because he and his wife attended a fundraising dinner. “Pastor’s family have no money, so on the pledge card I wrote on the back: ‘I can offer pastoral services.’” They absolutely took him up on the offer.

LFL is also a great resource. “Lutherans for Life is a three-armed freak,” Rev. Salemink explained. “We have literature—a large catalog of materials that connects the Word of God to these issues—and education, and most of all volunteer communities.” LFL has 200 chapters, called Life Teams (CTSFW among them), and he recommended reaching out.

Ultimately: “Motivate and inspire the congregations you serve at,” he said. But at the same time he urges new pastors to work as slowly as they need to. “You have to invest the time. There’s an education and growth process the congregation needs to go through.” You cannot drop new information on a church right away and expect them to get it. A pastor has to help his congregation understand how life issues connect to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope we have in His death and resurrection.

“We are Gospel-motivated,” he repeated. LFL focuses on life issues through the lens of how God gives value to life through His deeds and actions, rather than focusing on the evil of abortion, euthanasia, etc. “There is a time and place to expose how awful those things are,” he conceded, “but ultimately we focus on the hope and life we have in Christ.”

Convocation: Contraceptives

Dr. Christopher Stroud

Yesterday’s convocation was once again hosted and organized by the CTSFW Life Team, who invited Dr. Christopher Stroud, a board certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist, to speak on the topic of contraception in view of pro-life values. Dr. Stroud and his wife, a certified nurse midwife, began the Fertility & Midwifery Care Center here in Fort Wayne so that they could uphold their values in a pro-life practice, utilizing Creighton Fertility Model/NaProTEHCNOLOGY (TM), which means they do not prescribe artificial contraceptives, place IUD’s, perform sterilization procedures, refer for IVF, or refer or participate in abortions. Since the pro-life goal is to protect the unborn and both recognize and respect human life from conception to natural death, his intention was to explore whether contraception is linked with abortion, specifically from a scientific viewpoint.

In his talk, he spoke on the science behind menstruation and the way that artificial contraceptives and IUD’s work. “This is not a Catholic talk,” Dr. Stroud began, who is himself a Catholic. “I’m not going to talk theology. I’m going to talk biology and maybe a little bit of sociology.” His intention was to equip our future pastors and deaconesses (and their spouses, many of whom were in attendance) to talk about it with the people they will someday serve.

To understand artificial contraceptives, you must understand the science behind the menstrual cycle. In as short a summary as possible:

The follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) signals follicle development in a woman, preparing the egg for ovulation (when the egg drops into the fallopian tube where sperm may be waiting). As the follicle containing the egg develops it produces estrogen, which in turns signals the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for possible implantation of an embryo. It also spurs on fertile cervical mucus, which allows the sperm to travel far enough up into the fallopian tube to reach the egg when it is released.

When enough estrogen has been produced, a surge of luteinizing hormone signals ovulation; the ruptured follicle left behind when the egg drops is now known as the corpus luteum and produces progesterone to stabilize the lining of the uterus for the next 14 days in preparation for a possible pregnancy, should sperm reach the egg. Fertilization happens in the distal part of the fallopian tube; the embryo is a genetically distinct human being before it travels the full length of the tube and implants in the hormonally-prepped and waiting uterine wall.

Artificial contraception works through a three-branched method:

1. A negative feedback loop. The contraceptive floods the woman’s system with estrogen in order to trick the body into thinking she’s already pregnant and thus shouldn’t release FSH to begin the process of ovulation; the egg never drops.

2. It dries up the cervical mucus, so that sperm can’t travel up the fallopian tube; fertilization can’t happen if sperm and egg never meet.

3. It makes the lining of the uterus so thin and atrophied that the embryo can’t implant. The life already created in the fallopian tube has nowhere to go; the pregnancy is terminated.

Different brands may claim or even intend to do one of these over the other, but they ultimately employ all three. The functions can’t be separated. For example, pulled from the artificial contraceptive, Lo Loestrin Fe, website:

“COCs lower the risk of becoming pregnant primarily by suppressing ovulation. Other possible mechanisms may include cervical mucus changes that inhibit sperm penetration and endometrial changes that reduce the likelihood of implantation.”

Meaning: if it fails to stop ovulation, it might stop sperm from reaching the egg or it might make it impossible for an embryo to implant.

It was a packed house in L-7 for the convocation, students and their spouses intent on learning more about the issues, knowing they will someday face these questions in their own ministries and in the course of their service.

IUDs (a t-shaped device inserted into the uterus) work a little differently but also similarly. Some brands release a low dose of hormone to thicken the mucus to prevent sperm passage, but then also thins the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation in case the sperm make it anyways. Others release copper, intended to prevent sperm from reaching/fertilizing the egg but which also prevent implantation.

As to “Emergency” contraception like Plan B, the morning after pill, it claims to prevent 7 out of 8 pregnancies (put another way, it’s 88% effective) if taken within 72 hours. What does this tell us? It’s cycle independent. In other words, Dr. Stroud explained, there’s no way it’s just stopping the release of an egg from the ovary: it has to be preventing implantation as well, killing life already created, in order to be 88% effective at any time in the woman’s cycle.

These companies get away with the language because of a declaration by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in September of 1965 (of which, Dr. Stroud admitted, he was once a member; he did not always take the stance he does now):

“Government agencies and American medical organizations agree that the scientific definition of pregnancy and the legal definition of pregnancy are the same: pregnancy begins upon the implantation of a fertilized egg into the lining of a woman’s uterus.”

“It flies in the face of mammalian biology,” Dr. Stroud said. Fertilization is defined as separate from pregnancy only in human beings. For every other mammal, it is recognized that fertilization=pregnancy. “Follow the money,” he added. There’s a lot of incentive to preserve the status quo and the cover-up of scientific fact, considering that it’s estimated by 2022 that artificial contraception will by a $31 billion business.

“There are much better, ethical ways to prevent pregnancy,” he ultimately concluded.

Dr. Stroud also spoke on sociological trends (abortion, divorce, etc., as well as rising health incidences like ectopic pregnancies and premature labor) from the 50s to now, cited several studies on the link between contraceptive use and the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions (which find, opposite of the claim that contraception reduces both, instead rise alongside each other). He also pointed out some of the perhaps unintended lessons being taught: that unborn children are objects, only valuable if desired; that a baby is a negative side effect of sexual intercourse; that a baby thus should (and can) be eliminated if not intended.

An avidly listening audience member.

At the end of the session there was time for questions. One student asked about the off-label use of hormonal contraceptives for those women with heavy flow, terrible pain, irregular periods, and so on. Dr. Stroud answered with his goal as a doctor: instead of covering up the pain, get a diagnosis first and find out what’s causing the irregularities or heavy flow and pain. He compared it to a runner going to a doctor after pulling something in his leg, and rather than diagnosing if it’s a problem with the muscle, ligament, or bone, the doctor instead prescribes two Vicodin and tells the runner to go ahead and get back on the treadmill. The great danger in ignoring the root of the problem is that you allow it to progress, unchecked, for years.

May God grant us the wisdom and strength to bring to light that which is covered; and to forgive us when we ourselves hide in darkness. Thanks be to God for His grace, and the unsearchable depths of the forgiveness He grants us in Christ. And thank you to Dr. Stroud and the CTSFW Life Team for another learning opportunity, equipping us to face the issues in our culture today and those that our future pastors and deaconesses will encounter more and more as they go out into the field.

Allen County Life March

The CTSFW processional cross rises above the crowd at the march.
Seminarians, deaconess students, faculty, and others with the seminary community (from spouses to families to staff) march with the crowd.

On Saturday, the CTSFW Life Team marched alongside many in our community into downtown Fort Wayne for the 45th annual March for Life. According to local news coverage, about 2,000 attended the Allen County March for Life, despite the bitterly cold temperature, marching from the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center (where a rally was held ahead of time) to the Federal Office.

Dr. Peter Scaer, President of the Board for Allen County Right to Life, prayed at the rally. His prayers are always long at these, meant to be instructive as he tends to teach about Christ as he prays (not knowing who is in the crowd or what they believe).

Dr. Peter Scaer, who serves as the Board of Directors President of the Allen County Right to Life, opened the rally with a prayer, using the opportunity to speak of the hope we have in Christ. Our seminarians, deaconess students, and anyone else who knew the words by heart (or had planned ahead and brought their hymnal with them) sang hymns as we marched behind the processional cross, including “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” “Salvation unto Us Has Come,” and LSB 666: “O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe.”

It was difficult to capture a shot of all the Lutherans in attendance at the march, as there were a heartening number from many of our Fort Wayne churches and schools, including CTSFW. Click on the large photo (the panorama of all the Lutherans in attendance) to get a closer look at both participants and their signs, letting you know where these Lutherans hail from.

Life Devotion

Text: Psalm 54

Focus Text: “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.” (Verse 4)

“I can do it myself!” These words from the mouth of a toddler bring joy to parents as their child acquires new skills and a sense of accomplishment. We marvel at how this same child, who required the safety and nourishment of a mother’s womb, has grown to the point of announcing their independence. After all, the goal of parenting is to raise a child to self-sufficiency.

Or is it?

Are we ever truly self-sufficient? When things are good it may seem that we are. But adversity, sickness, and aging change our perspective. Life forces us to say, “I can’t do it!” In desperation, we create our own solutions; medicine and technology. We end the life of the “inconvenient,” preborn child, or when suffering seems too great and death is certain, we say, “I will choose my time to die.”

Yet, we are not sufficient and must confess, “I cannot do it myself.” In our weakness, we turn to the strong one, “O God save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might” (Ps. 54:1). For “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life” (vs. 4). I could not, cannot, and will never have to do it myself. “For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies” (vs. 7). Instead, we say, “It is finished, for me by Christ.”

Let us pray: Lord of our life, we give You thanks that You continually help us and uphold our lives! We ask Your forgiveness for those times when we, like stubborn children, demand that we do it on our own, and we thank you that You do forgive us and that Your, “It is finished,” rings in our ears all of our lives. This we pray in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.

(Deaconess Amy Rast, Associate Director of the Deaconess Program)

Ethics as Gifts

Tomorrow is the final day of our Devotions for Life (Fearfully and Wonderfully Made) series, in honor of the Allen County March for Life. The CTSFW Life Team will be in attendance at the march, alongside other churches, organizations, individuals, and anyone else in the community who would care to join us. Information can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2270899919808018/.

A week ago, members of the CTSFW Life Team were also at the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions, the Rev. Prof. John T. Pless, also spoke that weekend at the LCMS Life Conference in the capital, on the topic of “Mercy at Life’s End,” guiding participants with his booklet under the same title. The presentation focused on how Christians might best respond to the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in many states, and how “Ethics as Gifts” informs the way a Christian receives life and death from the hand of the Lord.

Photo courtesy Erik Lunsford/LCMS Communications

He drew the phrase from the Lutheran theologian, Oswald Bayer, who says that ethics begins not with the question, “What must I do?” but “What have I been given?” In Professor Pless’s words:

“When it comes to end of life and the way we care for those who are irretrievably dying, we begin with the realization that the dying person is a human being and has been given life by our Creator. That life, even though it may be now diminished by age, accident, or disease remains worthy of care even if there is no cure. We do not take life; we are given life.

“To use the words of another Lutheran ethicist, Gilbert Meilaender, our motto is ‘always care, never kill.’ Because life is a gift entrusted to us by our Heavenly Father, redeemed by the blood of His Son, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we may not selfishly hold on to life when it is evident that death is eminent and unavoidable. Then we may commend our dying loved one into the hands of a Faithful Creator trusting in His promises for the resurrection of the body to life eternal.”

His booklet, “Mercy at Life’s End,” provides practical guidance for navigating between two extremes: (1) Aiming for death-assisted suicide and euthanasia; or (2) Acting as though continued biological life is the only and highest good, thus seeking to preserve it at all costs. These are the basic items that he covered in his presentation.

You can find a copy online here: https://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=2514. You can also purchase a physical copy through CPH.

Life Devotion

Text: Psalm 147

According to a study by the Guttenmacher Institute in 2016, about 75% of abortion patients in 2014 were living in poverty. Being poor in this country already makes you an outcast. Even in our own churches it is easy for anyone living in poverty to feel out of place. What if you add to this difficult situation the fact that you have had an abortion? There are women out there who are going through this right now. How could they feel like anything BUT an outcast? They are outcasts and whether they fully realize it yet or not, they are brokenhearted and deeply wounded.

The child that God blessed within them has been destroyed by a system that celebrates the taking of a life as an expression of true freedom. Those who support this destruction tell the woman that there’s nothing to feel guilty about and nothing has been lost. Those who rightly speak against the evil of abortion sometimes forget that the person they are speaking to is a person purchased by the blood of Jesus standing before them, even after the abortion has taken place. God numbers all stars and gives each one their name, even this woman who had a “doctor” end her child’s life. God knows her. That woman needs healing. That woman needs to be lifted up by the One who lifts up the humble and casts the wicked to the ground. God does not delight in us because we aren’t like this woman since we’ve never had an abortion. Rather, He takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love. Jesus died for her. Jesus died for her child. Jesus died for you. His death blesses the children within her. His death has made peace for her and for you. She needs to hear that. We need to hear that. God grant it.

Let us pray: O God, builder of the heavenly Jerusalem, who numbers the stars and calls them all by their names; heal, we pray You, the brokenhearted, gather together the outcasts, and enrich us with Your infinite wisdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

(Stanley Lacey, Sem II)

Life Devotion

Text: Psalm 141

Focus verse: “Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds.” (Verse 4)

We seek after advice from loved ones and friends. These words can encourage you to do what is right and just, especially when the true Word of God is their foundation. At times, the words of others reach your ears and persuade you to say and do things against God’s guidance. You must be cautious that your heart does not pull you to immoral and unethical actions, as this psalm says in verse 4: “Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds.”

These words are a prayer that God would guide your heart and mind to His righteousness and justice. The Lord knew we all would be tempted to turn from God and His good and gracious will. So when Jesus taught us how to pray, He gave to us these words: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” In this portion of the Lord’s Prayer, God comes quickly to your aid so that you will find refuge in Him. In God’s love, even without our prayers, the Lord defends us from the words and temptation of evil people. Jesus, your Savior, has given you this knowledge, that by His passion on the cross He has conquered sin, death, and the devil. Have faith that if the Son can save you from death and the devil, He can save you from the temptation to sin. Abide in the words of God so that you might “pass by safely.”

Let us pray: Almighty God, You have victory through the Son and His death on the cross, over all the sins that plague me. With Your strong and mighty Word lead me away from the temptation to do the evil deeds of worldly men. Put in my heart Your words that I may be able to speak them and do what is right and just. And forgive me when I sin and do not do what God has instructed. I pray this in the Savior’s name, Jesus Christ. Amen.

(Adam McDowell, Sem IV)

Life Devotion

Text: Psalm 139: 19-24

Who are the enemies of God? The answer seems easy: abortionists and doctors who facilitate euthanasia or assist in suicide! They are men of blood; they rebel against God’s command to not murder; they take God’s name in vain by lying about His gift of life. They are God’s enemies. We fight against them in all levels of our lives, from participating in the civic realm to praying for the protection of life from the womb to the tomb.

But if those individuals are God’s enemies, why do we squirm when we read: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Ps. 139:23)? We are afraid of what God will see: we also take His name in vain by not calling upon Him in our every need (Ps. 50:15); we rebel against God’s command to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44); we murder others by our hate (1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21-22). If we are honest, we realize that we are also God’s enemies.

As God’s enemies, we are promised destruction (Rom. 6:23). But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still His enemies, He sent His Son to die for us (Rom. 5:6-11; John 3:16)! For the sake of Christ, you are forgiven all of your sins of murder, hate, and rebellion. You are no longer God’s enemy! He has washed away all of your sins and purifies you with His blood (Acts 2:38; 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 John 1:7). And He will lead you into the way everlasting.

Let us pray: O Lord, You did not want us to be Your enemies and so You sent Your only begotten Son to die for our sins and reconcile us to You. Thank You for the wonderful gift of Your Son, and grant us a firm faith that trusts in Him alone as the source of our forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.

(Mika Patron, 2nd-Year Deaconess Student)