Monthly Archives: November 2011

Bishop and Christian*, December 2011

Advent, which means “coming,” is a time of patient waiting and watching. These are not things at which we are very good. We do not like to wait, so we put it on credit. We do not like to wait until tomorrow (or on December 25) to do what we can do today. We have no sense of the slow building of momentum and expectation that the Church has given us with the season of Advent. We will not wait: we turn up the volume to 11 on the carols as soon as Thanksgiving is over (if we can wait even that long). I know that many people do not see the point of Advent, or its putting-off of Christmas until the actual Mass of Christ and its Twelve Days. We have trouble doing things differently than the world around us does them. We all have our Christmas parties in December, and as soon as December 26 comes, we are more than ready to be done with anything green and red. We get ourselves “into the Christmas spirit” as soon as the advertisements and stores instruct us to do so.

But there are some things we cannot force. We cannot force ourselves to be happy and “Christmasy” if we find ourselves in any of the myriad disasters or difficulties living in a world of sin can bring about. Death and sickness, all the consequences of sin in our lives and the lives of others, do not lend themselves to the superficial “joy” plastered over every inch of our consumer and commercial culture. Unmet expectations are the order of the day, and unless we realize that it will always be that way in a world of sin, we will continue to be disappointed. Advent gives us hope—actual, real-live hope—in the midst of this world the way that it is, rather than the way we wish it were. Advent gives us hope when we celebrate the first Christmas after a death in the family. Advent gives us hope when we celebrate the first Christmas after a divorce. Advent gives us hope when nothing goes according to plan, and our facade of control—especially over our own lives—is torn from its hastily constructed frame. Advent gives us this hope because it gives us the One for whom it is named: the Coming One. It gives us, as every season of the Church Year does, Jesus Himself. Without Advent, Christmas is reduced to a single day of feasting and family and some generic “spirit of giving.” It is Advent that makes sure we know and expect the Christ in the Christ-mass.

Christians keep observing Advent, even if the world has absolutely no conception of waiting or watching or hoping or longing. Christians keep observing Advent because we know that the Christ whose birth we will celebrate is the same Christ who will come again, no longer humble and hidden, but glorious and majestic. The same angels who proclaimed His birth will proclaim Him as Judge of the living and the dead. Advent is the season that teaches us to wait in confident hope for that second coming, even as we celebrate His first coming to accomplish our salvation by suffering and death.

So don’t hurry through this season. Stand a moment with the crowds as your King enters Jerusalem on a donkey. Stay a while in the wilderness with John. Hear the angel Gabriel speak to a Virgin about the One who would save His people from their sins. And learn from all of these what it means to wait and watch and live in this world: a world which, because it does not know Advent, does not know Christmas. This is as C.S. Lewis described Narnia before the coming of the King: “always Winter, and never Christmas.”

Pr. Winterstein


*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”


The First Sunday in Advent

Download or listen to the First Sunday in Advent: “What Are You Waiting For?” (Mark 11:1-10)

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Day of National Thanksgiving

Download or listen to the Day of National Thanksgiving: “Thanks for What?” (Deuteronomy 26:1-11)

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The Last Sunday of the Church Year

Download or listen to the Last Sunday of the Church Year: “Last Things” (Matthew 25:31-46, et al.)

The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Download or listen to the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost: “Guide Us Waking and Guard Us Sleeping” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

The Wedding of Frederick Wentzel and Kristina Schmitt

Download or listen to the Wedding of Frederick Wentzel and Kristina Schmitt: “The Good Things of Marriage” (Matthew 19:4-6)

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Bishop and Christian*, November 2011

Are Lutherans Catholic? Depending on what you mean by “catholic” the answer might vary. Many, maybe most, people in the United States and around the world hear “catholic” and automatically think of the Roman Catholic Church. And that means that the Roman Church has done an excellent job of defining themselves theologically. The word itself comes from two Greek words meaning “according to the whole.” We might say “universal.” When the Roman Church calls itself the “Catholic” church, it is confessing that it is the universal Church, visible in the structure under the pope. They are making a claim which we must answer, primarily because the majority of Christians around the world align themselves with the papacy. The claim is this: we (the Roman Church) are the Catholic Church of Christ on earth, and if you do not join us, you may still be saved, but you are outside the Church. Your “church” (Lutheran or otherwise) is not really Church, but a breakaway sect.

This is a serious charge for Christians who want to claim a connection with the whole Church throughout the world going back to the Apostles, and so to Jesus. Shall we concede the name and the theological claim of catholic to the Roman Church? I suggest that if we do, we are bound either to join them or admit that we are a sect (which means that we have left the true Church of Christ and have formed our own little enclave—a dangerous position if Christ has promised to be with His Church.) We have only those two options: accept the Roman claim, and join that church; or make the claim that we are the true catholic Church. This is the claim that our Lutheran fathers made in the Augsburg Confession and in the other documents in the Book of Concord. They essentially made the case that it was Rome who had departed from the catholic Faith, and that the “Evangelicals” (Lutherans) had kept it. True, our ancestors in the Faith removed the things in the liturgy and the calendar which had obscured the free Gospel of Jesus (such as prayers to saints and, especially, the Mass as the priest offering Jesus back to the Father for the sins of the people), but we claimed (and still claim) to be the heirs of all that the catholic Church had and was. The only condition was that it could not be opposed to the Scriptures and the Gospel; in other words, whatever ritual or symbol was used, if it was not commanded or forbidden in the Scriptures, it could not be made into a law for salvati0n.

Which brings us to things to which Lutherans claim the right, but which “look” Roman. I will let our first president, C.F.W. Walther (whose 200th birthday we just celebrated!) speak to that:

It is true that of all the church bodies which have left the papacy, it is precisely the Lutheran Church which is accused of retaining many papal abuses and of having been the least successful in cleansing itself. It is pointed out, for example, that in our church priestly clothing, church ornamentation, pictures, altar, crucifixes, candles, confession, the sign of the cross, and the like are still apparent. But, my friends, whoever regards these innocent things as vestiges of the papacy knows neither what the papacy is, nor what the Bible teaches. The very fact that the Lutheran Reformation was not aimed at indifferent adiaphora, but retained those things which were in harmony with God’s Word, shows that it was not a disorderly revolution, but a Biblical reformation; for whatever did not agree with God’s Word was unrelentingly cleansed from the church by the Lutheran Reformation even though it seemed to glow with angelic holiness.”

In other words, there are differences between Rome and the Evangelical Catholic Church, but the above “indifferent” things are not the differences. Our theological claim is and has always been that we are indeed the catholic Church, teaching and confessing the truth that the Church has always confessed. That is why we keep the traditions which have been handed down to us through the centuries: not because we are Roman, but because we are catholic, just as those earlier Christians were. As we observe All Saints’ Day (November 1) on November 6, rejoice in the fact that you are joined to all the saints of all times and places by the one Christ, whose one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church we are.

Pr. Winterstein


*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”