Harvest Day 2014: Oh Sing to the Lord an Old Song?

The Society for the Archaeology of Ancient Music

The Society for the Archaeology of Ancient Music

We have probably all heard about ancient music but the 79 members of the Seminary Guild and community actually had a chance to hear—and even try singing—some at the annual Harvest Day, held Saturday, 18 October. Guest presenters were Daniel Lantz and members of The Society for the Archaeology of Ancient Music, a student club at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON.

Guild Executive: Judy Zastrow, Nancy Bryans, Bonnie Stephenson

Guild Executive: Judy Zastrow, Nancy Bryans, Bonnie Stephenson

Other activities that morning included a student-led worship service with Concordia Seminary Student Association president, Paul Schulz, as the preacher. A brief business meeting resolved to continue refurbishing the seminary’s wooden chairs in the library and seminar room. And a delicious catered lunch provided Guild members the opportunity to greet, meet, and eat with their adopted students. (For more information on this programme, please contact Dr Wm Mundt, Dean of Students.)

The day began with students unloading donations of groceries for the seminary food bank. All this care and support, one new student remarked, was a great surprise and a little overwhelming.

Students and families introduce themselves

Students and families introduce themselves

More photos can be seen here.

A video of the musical presentation can be watched on our YouTube channel here.

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Culture Clash: A One Day Conference on “Militant Secularism”

"Militant Secularism" Conference

More than 50 guests attended the conference

What is a believer to do when surrounded by a host of –ism’s seeking to silence and to undermine historic Christian faith and teachings? What should churches do when they find themselves on a collision course with sweeping cultural changes affecting mindset, morals and the meaning of life? Should believers and their churches try to coexist peacefully? Withdraw from the world? Change the world?

These were some of the issues considered at a one-day conference at Concordia on

LCC President Robert Bugbee welcomes guests

LCC President Robert Bugbee welcomes guests

Thursday, 16 October. Representatives of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) reflected on “Militant Secularism: Its Cause, Cost and Cure.” Special thanks to Terry Bodnar of FI Capital for sponsoring the event.

The presenters were Dr John Stephenson from Concordia, retired Anglican Bishop Donald Harvey from Newfoundland, Dr Joel Lehenbauer from the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and Dr Jonathan Riches from the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.

"Militant Secularism" Conference

Panel Discussion (l to r): Jonathan Riches, Joel Lehenbauer, +Donald Harvey, John Stephenson

During the presentations and panel discussion it became clear that the 1960s were the pivotal years. This was a time when secularists seemed to be making progress, perhaps, as Bishop Harvey noted, because they encountered too little resistance from Christians. Dr Stephenson noted that those growing up during this era might rightly be considered victims as well as products since they were often deprived of insights and experiences common in former generations. Nevertheless, Dr Lehenbauer pointed out, there is still hope. Perhaps at no other time has North American culture so closely approximated the days of the early church. Then, and we pray now, the indifference and increasing hostility directed at the Christians provides a stimulus for Christian witness and renewal. Dr Riches further underscored the importance of churches and Christians not becoming too complacent or too quietistic, but daring to continue confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.

The full programme can be see here. Video recordings are available on our YouTube channel. The lectures are also available to download in audio format:

More photos can be seen here.

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Fasting and Feasting – New Wineskins for New Wine

The following sermon was preached by Revd Dr Thomas Winger for the opening Matins at the “Militant Secularism” Conference, held at CLTS on Thursday, 16 October 2014.

Thursday of 18 Pentecost 2014 – Mk 2:18-22

Dear fellow members of the Body of Christ: If I were inventing a sacramental meal for the fledgling Christian community, I would do it somewhat differently than our Lord did. I would have fresh, crusty bread with copious amounts of sweet butter. I would serve Niagara VQA wine in delicate, but generous goblets. The wine would flow till hearts were lightened and tongues were loosed and the cares of our lives were momentarily forgotten. It is, after all, a wedding feast—and who would dare serve a single bite of flatbread and a brief sip of sweet wine from a single shared cup in celebration of such a joyous event? I suspect the Stephenson family have something better in mind for next Friday—and this time it’s not even a royal wedding! Surely when our Lord transformed the old Passover meal into a feast celebrating His marriage to the Church He could have improved upon it, not diminished it. Why does He choose the least festive parts of the Passover—not the bitter herbs, thankfully, but the unleavened bread that was meant to remind Israel of their hasty departure from Egypt? He keeps the wine, but reduces it from three or four cups to just one. The Mishna specified a minimum amount of wine that everyone was supposed to imbibe—enough to bring that moment of joy—but our Sacrament gives us only a sip. Luther once wrote that if our Lord wished to create a memorial meal as Zwingli would have it, He would have kept the roast lamb—which is a much more fitting symbol of His body than a piece of unleavened bread. Surely it would have also been more festive. But instead He chose to take up that simple bread, that NT manna, and say, “Take eat, this is My Body.

If I were to create a sacramental meal, … we’d probably end up in Corinth. The rich would arrive early to get the best seats. They’d bring their own food and wine and dig in before everyone else arrived. By the time of the sermon they’d be drunk and abusive. The poor would be left lonely and hungry, excluded by the meal that was meant to unite. The festive meal, the wedding banquet, would become a family feud. And Paul would say, “when you come together in the same place it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat” (I Cor. 11:20). What Paul means is that it’s not up to us to decide what makes a true feast. If the Sacrament were a festive meal in the way of this present age, this is where we’d end up: in division and strife and self-destruction. What was meant to draw us close to God would pull us back into the ways of the world. The ancient Greeks coined a verb to describe the way the pagan Corinthians celebrated in their temples: κορινθιάζομαι “to corinthianise”, meaning to carouse and get drunk and cavort with sacred prostitutes, of which Corinth was said to have a thousand (Strabo, Geographica, 8:6.20). Perhaps if Jesus were still visibly with us, as He once walked with His disciples, we might have festive meals with a little more feasting and drinking—that is, after all, the kind of behaviour that sparked the people’s question in today’s second reading. He was reclining at table with tax collectors and sinners (Mk 2:15-16), eating and drinking and carrying on in a way that seemed quite un-messianic. “Why don’t you and your disciples fast like the disciples of John and the Pharisees?” (Mk 2:18), the crowds ask. And Jesus counters, “The wedding guests can’t fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? For as much time as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast” (Mk 2:19). But, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (Mk 2:20).

We live in that day, in that in-between time when the age that was past and the age that is to come overlap. The Bridegroom has come; His people rejoiced to feast with Him; and now He has hidden Himself for a time. He has gone away to prepare a place for His Bride, and He will soon come to bring her home amid cries of rejoicing (Mt. 25:1-13). He will soon draw her into the wedding feast of His kingdom that has no end (Mt. 22:1-14). But in the meantime we fast. Fasting and feasting go together as this age and the next. Just as fasting without feasting is mere starvation, feasting without fasting loses its meaning. Holding back from the meal makes its coming all the more joyful. But there’s more to this age of fasting than just such a psychological truth. Fasting is a confession that we don’t belong to the age that’s fading away. The Latin word for “age” is, of course, saeculum. “Secularism” is an unhealthy attachment to the present age. “Militant secularism” is a fight to the death to cling to this age, a steadfast refusal to accept that it’s fading away, a violent opposition to the coming of God’s eternal age.

The modest feast of the Lord’s Supper is a perpetual reminder that we live in the overlapping of two ages, between the First Coming of Christ and His Second. Its spare table of unleavened bread and modest wine teaches us that the things of this world cannot help. It’s not a feast in the way of this world. The bread and the wine aren’t the big thing. To take the old Passover and just make it bigger—more bread, more wine—would have been, in the words of Jesus, to “sew a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment,” to “put new wine into an old wineskin” (Mk 2:22). The new thing that has come, the living God come to earth in human flesh, is filled with such life that, like new wine still fermenting, it will explode any old vessel it’s put into. The only thing to do is to begin afresh, to take just a little foretaste of the feast to come, to receive in bread and wine the precious Body and Blood of Christ that we might be ever kept focussed forward on His return. Like pilgrims leaving Egypt, we eat the unleavened bread of haste that reminds us of our departure from the present age. And like pilgrims marching towards the promised land, we take a brief refreshing drink from the wine that will overflow in the age to come. The wine reminds us that our Lord is coming to redeem us. The Lord’s Supper is a defiant shaking of the fist in the face of “Militant Secularism”, that “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). It draws us away from our sinfulness, our dying, our addiction to the ways of this world. Each time we come to the altar we fast and feast at the same time. We set aside our fleshly desires for food that satisfies only in this age, we “lift up our hearts” and set our minds on heavenly things (Col 3:1-2), and we open our mouths to food that feeds us eternally. “Wide open stand the gates,” sings Löhe. “This sacrament God gives us / Binds us in unity, / Joins earth with heav’n beyond us, / Time with eternity!” (LSB 639:3). Amen.

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Meet Me at the Fair!

On Tuesday, 7 October, Dr Mundt and the Evangelism in the Parish class spent the day at the Norfolk County Fair.

Norfolk Fair Evangelism 1We were not there for the pie judging, the carnival rides, or even the intense rivalry played out in various competitions between area high schools. It was “youth day” and that meant lots of children and youth wandering through the exhibit halls. Many could be coaxed into spinning a wheel and answering a Bible trivia question in hopes of winning an apple or one of the other prizes available in the Lutheran Churches of Haldimand booth. Lutheran Hour Ministries provided the materials, including free DVDs for daily draws.

Such in-the-field practice is always part of the Evangelism class and varies from year to year. The goal is to assist a District congregation with its own ongoing outreach efforts. This year we are working with Rev. Dan Abraham and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Simcoe. Pictured are class members Sue Knowles, Andrew Cottrill, Roland Starke, and Paul Schulz, along with Dr Mundt in front of the fair booth.Norfolk Fair Evangelism 4

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Faculty Call Process Begins

22.4.2010: Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, RavennaIn view of an impending retirement in June 2015, CLTS announces the beginning of the call process.

Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, will be calling a Professor of Theology to take up office in July 2015. The candidate must be an ordained pastor of Lutheran Church­–Canada or a church in fellowship with her. The preferred candidate will have:

  • a strong commitment to sound, confessional Lutheran theology;
  • significant parish and/or mission experience;
  • an earned doctorate;
  • a specialty in Dogmatics or Old Testament;
  • experience and/or understanding of the Canadian context;
  • interdisciplinary teaching capability;
  • research and writing competence; and
  • a collegial personality and attitude.

Interested candidates are asked to submit their curriculum vitae by 31 December 2014 via e-mail (twinger@brocku.ca) or post to:

President Thomas Winger
Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary
470 Glenridge Ave
St. Catharines, ON L2T 4C3
Canada

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Sermon: Clothes Make the Man (Mt. 22:1-14)

The following sermon was preached in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel by Pastor Alan Bauch on Wednesday, 8 October 2014. As this is the Gospel text for next Sunday in the three-year series, this may be both devotionally helpful and inspiring for preachers.

Back in my career in the paper industry a group of us were on a business trip. We had spent a long day working at the paper mill in Luke, MD, a very small town in western Maryland. We were hungry, but it was late, and where were we going to find a restaurant open at eight or nine o’clock in Luke, MD? One of the engineers from the paper mill said, “No problem—I belong to a private club. I’ll take you there and you’ll be able to get something to eat.”

So we cleaned up enough to be presentable and drove across the border to Keyser, WV. We were surprised to find anything at all in this small town, but we followed him to the club and walked in ready to eat. As we came in we were met at the door, where we pointed to our guide. But the doorman who met us had a response we never expected. He said, “You can’t eat here dressed like that. You’ll need jackets to eat here.” Oh, no, we thought. We’ve been told we aren’t classy enough for a hole in the wall club in a non-descript town in West Virginia!

At first we thought we were being told to leave, but then the man continued, “So come with me to select your jackets.” Our host chuckled as we discovered this was a formality we hadn’t expected to encounter. The club attendant then opened a closet that displayed the most hideous collection of clothing you’ve ever seen. Some of us went for the plaids and the stripes, but I chose an olive green special that probably wouldn’t match with anything I’ve ever worn before or since. We got plenty of laughs over dining in this club with an exclusive dress code, but the fact was we were made ready for the supper that was to come.

We were there that night because we had been invited. But our admittance was by reception of a very special gift—the right clothes for the evening.

In Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast—continuing the stories He told after entering the Temple during Holy Week—the message was again clear to those who heard it. The Jews had been invited to God’s heavenly banquet, but had refused to attend. They were busy with what they perceived to be the important things in life. They were no more interested in this Galilean rabbi than my colleagues and I would have been interested in this supper club, if we thought we had other options.

But Jesus warned them that the king was going to host this feast with or without them. If they would not believe in the prophets who invited them to turn to the Lord and repent; if they were going to mistreat and kill the servants who were calling them to eat of it now—then God would send His servants to find new people to take their place, even if these new guests were not from the chosen people of Israel.

This wedding banquet in Jesus’ story was the ultimate “Come as you are” party: the guests were found on the highways and there was no discrimination between good guests and bad guests—all were invited. The focus wasn’t on the honour of the guests—the focus was on the honour to the king’s son, and therefore, the honour of the king himself.

The man in the parable who is stunned when the king declares him unworthy of his son’s wedding banquet was right to come there because he was invited. But he didn’t belong there because he had refused to wear the robes he was handed at the door. “Hideous,” he must have thought. “I’d much prefer to wear my own clothes, rather than sit here in these robes that don’t match the wardrobe of my life.”

Fact is, none of the guests had time to bring fine clothes with them. They had been found on the highways. But they fit in well with the king’s crowd when they were covered with the robes that honoured his son.

Of course, Jesus was talking about Himself. This was the Son of the King they were talking to. They had been waiting 2000 years as the chosen people of God, the descendants of Abraham, but they were about to forfeit their invitations because they would not believe.

That’s how faith works. We are all invited. The Word of God calls us to come to the house of God, to be filled with heavenly food, and to rub elbows with the King and His Son. In this feast of faith, God does it all: plans the banquet, makes the preparations, sends the invitations, gathers the guests, even provides the clothes—all we do is come and enjoy the abundance that the king sets before us.

We are called to God’s kingdom because God has invited us through His Word. But we receive the blessings of His rich food and refined wine because God has clothed us in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. And He never fails us. “For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).

And in His kingdom there is a feast going on that has the taste of Word and Sacrament. In faith we come to God’s Divine Service because we know we’ve been invited to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest our salvation proclaimed. In faith we come because the baptismal water of God’s grace has covered us, so we come in exercise of the daily power of our own baptisms—the new Adam rising each day as the old is left in the font of God’s cleansing.

Lest we ever fear we’ve either forgotten or soiled our wedding clothes, the pastor speaks words of absolution as Jesus breathes forgiveness on us and even those secret sins of our inmost hearts are blown away.

In faith we come to the earthly banquet, where Christ’s own body and blood is served for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. We come in the appropriate dress for the banquet because God provides it, and He invites by grace without any merit or worthiness in us.

And so, together we proclaim our thanksgiving that we—the bad and the good who were gathered on the road—have been clothed in the robes of Christ’s own righteousness, so that we do belong here.

The invitation bearers—those who have known the taste of God’s grace—are out combing the highways, looking to invite the good and the bad, making testimony to the quality of the food and to the hospitality of the host. But not all the invitees are in attendance. Many have found other things to do. “Not interested in Your party,” they say to God. It’s pretty clear that in Jerusalem, days before His crucifixion, many are refusing to come to the banquet in Jesus’ honour. “You don’t impress us as royal,” they replied. But it wasn’t wise for the people of Jesus’ parable to refuse the invitation of the king. The book of Hebrews warns, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Sadly, many of those invitation-decliners today are people around us whom we love and cherish.

But some will take the invitation and come to eat the finest meal they’ve ever had—maybe even thanking us for finding them on the road. Some will come in, only to withhold their full participation, instead of taking the clothes of celebration, stubbornly protesting with clothes of bitterness or self-trust. Hear the Word of God: we don’t own clothes good enough for this feast. We are called to come and put on the fine garments of grace and salvation—these are robes supplied by God and received in faith.

Be you among the good or the bad along the road, hear that there is a royal feast of everlasting life as Christ and His Church rejoice. The King greatly desires your presence inside. When you get to the door, He will issue you a lovely jacket that says “You belong here!”

Coming to the feast prepared by our Lord makes no sense without wearing the clothes of grace that He provides. Praise and thanksgiving make no sense without the gratitude of receiving God’s grace. Remember the promises God makes to us in our baptism: perpetual cleansing, eternal righteousness, the power of faith to trust in Him, the strength to endure in this life, and the hope of the life to come. Don’t ever take off those robes of Christ’s righteousness. Remind others of the gift they, too, have in the call to the wedding feast of the lamb, whose kingdom has no end. You have been invited by the Word and you have been chosen in faith. Now enjoy the party. Amen.

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“I Wanna Be an Angel” – Sermon for St Michael and All Angels 2014

St Michael and All AngelsThe following sermon was preached by Rev. Kurt Lantz in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the divine service in celebration of St Michael and All Angels, 29 September 2014. The text is Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3.

Dear messengers of the Gospel,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Belief in angels is alive and well in our society. Despite the efforts of rationalists and evolutionists and atheists, who have been able to successfully combat belief in a bodily resurrection, a six-day creation, and a divine moral absolute, those who eat up what spews from their mouths inexplicably digest a belief in supernatural beings at work beyond the realm perceived by our five senses. It seems that it is okay to believe in the supernatural, as long as you don’t believe in a god.

What happens to angels in a belief system where there is no god? First of all, you have to explain how they came to be, and people have been taught that everything comes to be by evolution. And so it is that the existence of angels is explained by an evolution that continues beyond the grave. The dead die and become angels. Children die and transform into cherubs. Parents and older siblings pass away from this life and yet live on to watch over us who are still trapped on this earthly plain—our guardian angels assigned to keep an eye on us. And so we progress in our false Angelology to define what it is that angels do.

What do angels do in a belief system where there is no god? They do whatever we want them to do. It is no longer the LORD’s bidding they answer, but ours. They are only around when we want them to be here. They only see what we want them to see. They only interfere when it supports our idea of what should happen—to avert a car accident in order to save our lives, or direct the fall of a tree so that it narrowly misses our home. Otherwise the angels stay out of it. They do not transgress the bounds of our will or the limits of our experience.

But what if there is a god, an Almighty God, who created not only heaven and earth, but the angels and us? Then we would have to submit to what God has revealed about these created spiritual beings, regarding where they came from, what they do, and whose bidding they answer. We don’t want to submit like that. It is one thing to be submissive in moral behaviour (we struggle with that enough on its own), but to submit in areas of theology and belief, is asking too much for anyone, isn’t it?

After all, don’t we all want to be angels, and angels free from submission to a higher authority? Don’t we want to be the ones to engage the demons in battle, to be in control of the front lines of the war that is not against flesh and blood? Don’t we want to be the ones to deliver that one-time Gospel message that will change everything, that insight into eternal truth that has never quite been expressed this way before? Don’t we want to be a Michael, a Gabriel, a Raphael, an Uriel?

And we want it all without submission to the LORD of hosts. We don’t want to risk being assigned some menial task, aggravating the junior tempter Wormwood when we could be the one to bring about the downfall of his exalted uncle Screwtape (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters). Why risk being sent as an errand boy to some obscure young girl in the north country, or a few winy women in a cemetery, when we could choose where and when to appear, perhaps above the altar at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne or atop the steeple at Ulm Minster in Germany. We could deliver that divine annunciation that would re-Christianize, no, re-Lutheranise Germany, instead of twittering about on the internet or preaching to only a few dozen people from a plywood pulpit.

Ah, but then we would be acting against the very thing which we prayed in the Collect of the Day. The Collects of the Church help us to keep on track. The everlasting God has “ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order.” By submitting to the Collect, formulated on the teaching of Scripture, we are submitting as the Bride to her Bridegroom, in order to keep that wonderful order ordained by an Almighty and Omniscient God who does in fact exist, who created the angels and directs their service so that everything does not devolve into chaos.

It is a well co-ordinated battle being waged by the heavenly host—one that serves the furtherance of the Gospel and has throughout the ages. As Michael was dispatched so that the heavenly messenger could bring his news of consolation to Daniel, so the unseen warriors continue to battle back the demons that would derail the coming of the good news to those in need, to such an extent that it is a grave matter to interfere with the evangel being delivered to even the littlest in the kingdom (Matthew 18:10).

Fashioned by Almighty God at the creation of all things as immortal heavenly creatures, these messengers bring the Word of the Lord to His people, announcing forgiveness and deliverance through the incarnation, resurrection, and return in glory of the One who accomplished even what they are unable to do. They are the LORD’s soldiers, fighting for the kingdom of heaven, fighting for us, protecting the people of God and escorting the message of salvation to young and old. These angels lead in the symphony of praise sounded forth by all of God’s creation. With us they laud and magnify His glorious name forever.

Without these obedient servants to the Almighty where would we be? We would not ascend to the heights of spiritual grandeur that we imagine for ourselves. We would not be able to take their place or to do the job that they have been assigned. Without angels in the wonderful economy of God’s created order the Gloria in Excelsis would never sound forth, for it would not have been announced to the shepherds on that night when now all Christians sing. Without angels the women would have left the tomb in despair and the apostles would have been wondering who stole the body of Jesus, for which they were being framed. Without the angels they would have been left staring up into heaven at His ascension and paralyzed by the thought they might never see Him again. Without angels the little children of the kingdom would be constantly assaulted on every side with every demonic device within imagination and beyond.

That is how it would be if there were no angels, or no God to order their mission. That is how it would be if we became angels and were left to decide for ourselves how we would go about our skirmishes against the old evil foe. But that is not how it is. There are angels and they work in a wonderful order orchestrated by the Creator of heaven and earth and all they contain.

And as a result the good news of salvation has come to us. In our time of despair and in answer to our prayers the angels have ridden shotgun to the Good News of forgiveness and salvation being dispatched to us. They have penetrated every ambush that the evil one has put in the way to prevent the annunciation of the forgiveness of your sins. They will continue to get the Gospel through until the day of our climactic deliverance when the earth gives up her dead and the faithful shine with the brightness of the sky, not as angels, but as the redeemed of the Lord, risen to everlasting life, and shining like the stars for ever and ever.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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One Day Conference on “Militant Secularism”

ACNA Conference posterWe invite you to attend a one day conference on a topic of profound relevance to the church’s ministry in the modern world:

“Militant Secularism: Its Cause, Cost, & Cure”

Featuring two speakers from the Lutheran Church and two representing the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the open conference is a prelude to a regular meeting of the ecumenical dialogue between ACNA, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and Lutheran Church–Canada.

The conference takes place on Thursday, 16 October 2014, at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, who are hosting the subsequent ecumenical meeting. There is no charge for admission, though a free will offering will be taken to cover the cost of lunch. Please pre-register by contacting the seminary by  e-mail (concordia@brocku.ca) or phone (905-688-2362) .

Please advertise this event in your congregation or institution with this poster.

Agenda

9.30am      Matins

10.15am    Greying Canadians & Americans Today: Products & Victims of the 1960s (John Stephenson)

11.15am    Break

11.30am    She’s Gone, Boy … She’s Gone (Donald Harvey)

12.30pm Lunch

1.30pm Jesus as Culture Warrior? A Cross-shaped Strategy for Being Church in a Hostile Culture (Joel Lehenbauer)

2.30pm Culture of Want, Culture of Ruin? (Jonathan Riches)

3.30pm Break

4.00pm Panel Discussion, Q&A

4.45pm Evening Prayer

 

 

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Seminaries Sunday 2014

TimothyTrain yourself for godliness;
for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come”
(I Timothy 4:7b-8; 2014 seminaries theme).

Lutheran Church–Canada no longer designates a specific day “Seminaries Sunday”, but encourages her congregations to remember the two seminaries with prayers and offerings. You may wish to observe it in conjunction with an Education Sunday in September, remembering the opening of our academic year. We encourage you to use the propers appointed for the day, but you may also choose to make use of the seminaries’ joint theme verse (above). Liturgical resources and a bulletin cover / insert are available for your use here. You may encourage offerings towards the seminaries’ operating budgets through your congregational offerings, or request special envelopes by contacting the seminaries directly.

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“Train Yourself for Godliness” (Sermon for the CLTS Opening Service 2014)

The following sermon was preached by CLTS President, Revd Dr Thomas Winger, at the seminary’s Opening Service on 7 September 2014. The text was the theme verse shared by LCC’s two seminaries this year:

Train yourself for godliness;
for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (I Tim. 4:7b-8).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

The two letters of Paul to Timothy and his one letter to Titus—collectively labelled the “pastoral epistles”—are “pastoral” in more than one sense. On the one hand, while most of Paul’s letters were written explicitly to whole churches, these were addressed to pastors, colleagues of Paul in the ministry and subordinates under his episcopal direction. He was giving them their “marching orders”. But they are also “pastoral” in the sense that they express the deepest heart-felt longings of St Paul for the dear flock in the places where they served. St Paul had left Ephesus in a hurry, his lengthy three-year ministry there cut short by a riot amongst the townspeople (Acts 19:23–20:1). Vienna Ephesus Museum: Lead Idol of Artemis EphesiaThe silversmiths who made their living forging miniature images of the great goddess Artemis were feeling pain in their posterior pocketbooks as St Paul’s Christian proclamation stole ever more territory from the goddess. They stirred up a great crowd that pressed down the streets until it surged into the 25 000-seat Great Theatre—and perhaps they thought Paul could simply be done in by mob justice. But the city magistrate intervened, saving Paul’s neck, but sending him prematurely packing.

Ephesus: Great TheatrePaul’s pastoral anxiety for the church left behind by his hasty and unwanted departure is evident from the opening paragraph of the letter he delivered to Timothy, whom he also left in Ephesus. Timothy’s mission was to deal with certain mischievous troublemakers within a church that had only narrowly escaped the wrath of her pagan neighbours. For certain men were teaching a “different doctrine”, devoting themselves to “myths and endless genealogies” (I Tim. 1:3-4)—the first reference to the kind of speculative nonsense and “old wives’ tales” that crop up again in our text from chapter four. These men thought of themselves as “teachers of the law” (I Tim. 1:7)—perhaps they came from a Jewish background and persuaded the Ephesians that they knew the Hebrew Scriptures better than Paul. But they didn’t know how to use that Law, and laid upon the Ephesian laypeople a burdensome set of rules by which they suggested they could draw themselves closer to God. Paul had dealt with two of them previously—Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom he “handed over to Satan” (I Tim. 1:20)—, but their followers seized the opportunity of Paul’s absence to infiltrate the church again. Unlike the passionate pastoral heart of Paul, their consciences had been “seared”, cauterised and scarred so that they felt neither remorse nor compassion for the flock they were leading astray. As if on the stage Vienna Ephesus Museumof that Great Theatre, they put on an hypocritical mask of piety, feigning concern for the people’s souls and making pompous display of their moral perfection. They preached against marriage, and dictated what kinds of food they could and couldn’t eat, suggesting that their bodies were their enemies and that true godliness could be achieved by beating them into submission.

Paul’s response in our text is on first blush quite straightforward. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (I Tim. 4:4). Timothy is to teach the Ephesians that such things as wife and family, house and home, food and drink, are the good gifts of God, and that we ought to acknowledge this by accepting them with thanks to our heavenly Father. But then he adds a word of instruction that hints at something more sinister going on: “for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer” (I Tim. 4:5). If these were just “things” that were good in and of themselves, then there would be no reason to bless them, to invoke the holy Word of God over them, to pray for God to make them holy. No, these words strike our ears as somewhat alien, calling to mind Old Testament rituals that took profane or unclean things and made them holy; they evoke exotic images of exorcism and defence against dark arts that seem so foreign to our modern world. But this is precisely what’s going on. For these Ephesian false teachers weren’t simply teaching a different lifestyle, an ancient version of veganism or the joys of the single life. In fact, Paul admits that “bodily training is of some value” (I Tim. 4:8)—and in view of my daily cycle up the escarpment and Dr Stephenson’s regular trots over to the Brock weight room, our faculty are hardly going to disagree. The Telegraph diet, “Eat less, move more”, is darn good advice. No, the problem is that these false teachers were witting or unwitting agents of dark forces in a much more sinister plan. For “the Spirit expressly states that in the latter times some will fall away from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons” (I Tim. 4:1).

Now, while I’m sceptical of fad diets I would hardly call quinoa salads the spawn of Satan. You see, it’s not really about the food. Paul is opening Timothy’s eyes to what’s really driving these false teachers. The evil spirits are cunning. They know that it’s possible, yes relatively easy, to turn weak Christians away from God by curving them in on themselves. Paul had written to Timothy that the Law is indeed good, if it is used lawfully (I Tim. 1:8); but these false teachers were teaching their own laws, not God’s, and were teaching them not as a means to repentance for sinners but as a means to elevate themselves higher than others, to draw themselves closer to God by making themselves cleaner and more perfect. And that’s the cunning plan of the deceptive spirit called Satan: to draw us away from our total reliance on the grace of God towards a seemingly pious process of self-improvement.

What seems so innocent on the outside turns out to be the visible evidence of a far more dangerous spiritual war. As Paul would later write to the same Ephesian congregation: “For our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of evil in the heavenly [places]” (Eph 6:12). Such a dark, spiritual battle cannot be won by picking one food over another. It calls for intense spiritual exercise, training the spirit as an athlete hones his body and equipping the soul as soldiers arm for war. Paul writes, “Train yourself for godliness.” The verb “train”, as our students learnt at our retreat last week, is Γύμναζε—from which we get the word “gymnasium”, which appears in the very next verse as “bodily training” (I Tim. 4:8). It’s an image that would have been familiar and striking to his Ephesian audience, as to any citizen of an ancient Greek city. Ephesus was home to three grand “gymnasiums”—training grounds for athletes and gladiators who performed γύμνος “naked” for crowds of spectators in the Ephesian stadium. These weren’t your typical office boys going to the gym to work off their beer bellies; these were professionals for whom their upcoming competition could very well be a matter of life and death. We might think more of the year-long physical training that precedes an assault on Mt Everest, where dozens die every year because their bodies still aren’t fit enough. And yet Paul says, such “bodily training is [only] of some value”, while “godliness is of value in every way” (I Tim. 4:8).

Avoiding silly myths and endless genealogies, sifting through words to determine what is of God and what is of men, is serious work. Being equipped for this spiritual battle takes knowledge. The training that leads to godliness—the right reverence for a holy God—is Vienna Ephesus Museum: Temple of Artemis Modelhard work. Our world is as much the domain of demonic warfare as Ephesus of Asia was, even though her grand temples no longer grace our skylines. If we were to continue Paul’s line of thought, we might say that this seminary is a kind of spiritual gymnasium, a place where we drill our students over and over in the skills they need to be prepared for the deadly game they’re entering. Our students don’t always understand the need for this or that skill—what’s with Greek and Hebrew verb conjugations and the four alpha-privative adverbs of the Chalcedonian Christological definition? As we know from experience, our students’ appreciation for the spiritual discipline of daily chapel attendance seems inversely proportional to the length of the year—in other words, the busier they get, the more often they play truant. This is the devil’s plan. When we’re under the greatest spiritual testing, when our souls and bodies are weary, he draws us away from the very place where we can find help. He closes our ears to God’s Word and our mouths to sacramental nourishment.

Paul’s admonition to Timothy runs completely counter to this tragic human tendency: “If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, being continually nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed so closely” (I Tim. 4:6). You can put nothing before the people of God unless you yourself continue to be fed by the Word of God and your bodies and souls nourished by the living Body and Blood of Christ. For it’s in maintaining this connection to Him, the spiritual Champion, that you find your triumph in the spiritual battle. You see, if I were to say that your knowledge of Greek and Hebrew itself could defeat the devil, you’d not only be in serious trouble … but I would be as guilty of conjuring dangerous and ungodly spiritual pride as those ancient false teachers of Ephesus. The spiritual training of devotion to God’s Word and sacraments, fasting and prayer, self-examination and confession, thanksgiving and hymn singing has nothing to do with making yourself into spiritual warriors who can stand up to the devil alone. It’s about putting yourself into Christ. It’s not so much about wearing the uniform of His team, but of wearing Him. When TMW140731-071-4x6Paul rejoices to the Ephesians in the armour of God, calling upon them to take up the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of the faith (Eph. 6), he’s simply telling them that Christ’s own weapons will protect them. We who have been baptised into Christ share in His victory because we go with Him. He didn’t look much like a champion. When He hung naked on the cross, the crowds didn’t marvel at the ripple of His muscles, but scoffed at His seemingly helpless and shameful state. But bodily strength was of no value in that fight. By His submission to death He defeated it. Striding forth from the grave, He tramped upon death like a war horse crushing puny foot soldiers beneath its mighty hooves. And God the Father declared His victory by lifting Him up far above Everest’s lofty peak, far above the heavens, far above the demons duking it out behind the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). And through our Baptism into Him, we are there with Him, together with Mel Murray and all the saints worshipping with the heavenly host, safe from harm, ready and waiting for the salvation ready to be revealed at the last time, prepared with a discipline that has promise not only for this life but also for the life to come (I Tim. 4:8). Amen

Photos: (c) 2014 Thomas M. Winger
(Ephesus, Turkey; and the Ephesus Museum in Vienna)

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