A dermatologist told me I should start wearing sunscreen when hunting. I tried it on several hunts and hated it. Why? It’s a mixed message. The distinct odor of sunscreen is evocative of beaches and salt spray, not vegetation and guns. Cordite is the smell for these. And if you smell those at the beach, hit the ground. Somebody is shooting something.
Such discordance I felt when I attended the 2020 Palm Sunday contemporary service virtually at Bethel Lutheran, Bryan, Texas. It was neither fully contemporary nor liturgical. It followed the Lutheran Service Book sometimes, but the worship was a country music song. An aw shucks sort of sadness of not being all I should be and the comfort that God loves a loser like me.
The mixed messaging went on in dress and song. They were robed in black cassocks and red stoles. They sung “How Great Thou Art” in an up-tempo, toe-tapping way retaining the words while losing the majesty and awe. While both the DCE’s children’s message and the pastor’s sermon did direct you to Baptism, the contemporary song “Open Our Eyes, Lord” wants “to reach out and touch him.” The song also sings of wishing to hear Jesus “and help us to listen.” In neither case were the seeing or hearing of Jesus rooted in Word or Sacrament. Where do you suppose the lyricist, an Assembly of God Pentecostal, looks for Jesus?
Right where the next contemporary song, “Good, Good Father” directed you. “I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like/ But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night/ And you tell me that you’re pleased/ And that I’m never alone.” This is the same source of revelation Eliphaz, “friend” of Job, used against him (Job 4:12-13). This is what Confessional Lutherans denounce as being from the devil. Read for yourself: “Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments” (Smalcald Articles, III, VIII, 10-11).
So am I overreacting when I hear the senior pastor say now that there wouldn’t be communion on Maundy Thursday, “How do you preach on the Lord’s Supper when there is none? I don’t know maybe the Holy Spirit will speak good words to us that day.” The bio on his website says he is a 1987 graduate of Oral Roberts University.
The sermon was on Philippians 2: 5-11. The “Law” was that we’re not very good at having the mind of Christ. This is Roman Catholic preaching. We’re not completely lost, fallen; we’re just not as good as we should be, can be. Then the pastor asks: how can we do what Jesus did this week? This is what every good Evangelical or Non-denom wants to know. The pastor answered in Bronze Age Missouri Synod fashioned. We can do it because Jesus did it to the utmost.
Whether you mix Law and Gospel, contemporary and liturgical, Evangelical and Lutheran, it’s always the first of the pair that corrupts the latter.
Though this wasn’t a Communion Sunday below in italics is their Communion statement:
Bethel Lutheran practices “Close” communion, that is, we wish for those taking communion to be “close” in what our church believes and practices. We ask that those who wish to commune agree to the following statement: I believe that God sent His Son, Jesus as my Savior from sin, Satan, and death, and that He is Lord of my life. I repent of my sins and ask God’s forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. I believe the Risen Christ is really present in the Sacrament and that with the bread and wine all communicants receive His true Body and Blood. I resolve to dedicate myself anew to my Lord through His Church, by regular worship, study of His Word, faithful witness, and loving service. (https://www.blcbcs.org/attend/ accessed 4/19/20)
This is open Communion. (The 2017 book, Closed Communion, published by this pastor’s own denomination, has an extensive treatment of where the term “close” Communion came from and what is wrong with it.) “Close” rather than the Biblical, historical “Closed” Communion says doctrine is a matter of degrees. Close means there is closer and farther away.
No, doctrine is either right or wrong. Close doesn’t count. Except at Bethel, Bryan. They just “wish for those taking communion to be ‘close’ to what our church believes and practices.”
Would an ELCA Lutheran think he is “close enough”? The decision is left to the individual not the steward of the Mysteries of God, the pastor. So, his home congregation is in fellowship with the Reformed who don’t believe in the Real Presence and with Liberal Lutherans who don’t believe the Bible is God’s inerrant word but are woke to every social issue there is, except life in the womb. If he thinks he’s close enough to Bethel, Bryan, he communes with everyone at that altar.
Would such a person receive the Body and Blood of Jesus to his judgment? What about everyone communing with him? O I see. He would be judged but not them.
One more mixed message.