Archive for April, 2009

This week the LCC Central District Convention is taking place in Regina, Saskatchewan. Whereas my classes are over for the semester, and whereas I don’t begin my summer job until May 4, be it resolved that I take advantage of my spare time to volunteer at the convention.

Er… perhaps you should ignore the “whereas” and “be it resolved” statements in that last sentence – apparently I’ve got Convention Resolution lingo stuck in my head.

The event began, for myself anyway, Monday April 27 at 7:30 p.m. That night, about 250 people packed Grace Lutheran Church to passionately praise God in song, hear the Word proclaimed in faithfulness, and receive strengthening of their faith through the sacrament of Holy Communion. LCC national President Robert Bugbee brought a powerful sermon based on Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” To put it mildly, the message was incredible and inspiring. It’s only unfortunate that LCC’s national website hasn’t (at least at the time of this writing) posted a video of said sermon. In everything, whether in times of sorrow or in joy, we must in both word and deed act in the name of Jesus Christ.

President Bugbee’s words transitioned well the next day (Tuesday) into guest-speaker Dr. Gene Edward Veith’s first lecture (of three) on the theology of vocation. He first challenged the audience to reconsider what “vocation” means. Too often we misinterpret “vocation” to mean our “jobs” – but the truth of the matter is far different. Our vocations instead include every aspect of our lives – our callings as members of the state, our callings as members in our families, and our callings as members of the Church. All of our roles, whether as citizens, congregants, sons or daughters, mothers or fathers, employee or employer, and so forth are part of our vocations. In each of these circumstances, God has called us to serve others. And in each of these circumstances, it is not we ourselves who fulfill our vocation. Rather, it is God “hidden” in us who actively works through us to serve others. This idea, that vocation is God at work in us rather than us at work for God, is certainly thought-provoking. Veith’s book on the subject (God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life) was given free to many (all?) the voting lay-members at the conference. It sounds like a fascinating work, and I’m certainly considering purchasing a copy myself. [For more information on Veith, see the mini-bio here.] You can watch Veith’s lectures at the Conference here.

Of course, there were more business-oriented aspects to the Tuesday sessions. Votes for executive positions were taken, a report by (newly re-elected) District President Prachar was given, and resolutions were considered. But I thought I’d just share some of the highlights as I see ’em thus far.

My friend Jennifer Jade Kerr (JJK) has just received the Saskatchewan Country Music Award (SCMA) for Country Gospel Album of the year (see the SCMA website for details). Moreover, she was further nominated for overall Album of the year. For those of you outside Saskatchewan, you might remember Jen as one of the members of the CREW Ministries team Saltwater. For those nearer the Queen City (Regina), you may recall her placing twice in the CKRM Big Country Talent Show, as well as taking the regional prize for the Radiostar National Songwriting Competition which subsequently brought her to Toronto to play during Canadian Music Week. While born and raised in Saskatchewan, Jennifer is currently living in Kelowna, BC where she is serving in youth ministry at an LCC church.

Her debut album “Somehow it Always Does” was released in September 2008. To check out her music a little more fully, to read her bio, or to order an album stop by her website. JJK will be playing a show at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Centre in Regina Tuesday night (April 28, 2009) from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Admission is by donation.

Bishop of Rochester Nazir-Ali’s announced upcoming resignation has – surprise, surprise – made him the target of Liberal defamation. In the introduction of the annual report for Southwark Cathedral, the Very Rev. Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark, accuses Nazir-Ali of attempting to create a rival church, reports the Telegraph (see article here). “Whatever he may say,” writes Slee, “it is clearly a move towards a sectarian alternative church intentionally designed to create turbulence in the Anglican Communion.” On top of everything else, he takes the opportunity to further insult the Evangelical branch of the Anglican Communion by calling them a “Puritan fringe”, seemingly blaming them for the all the divisions currently raging in world Anglicanism. One would almost think Slee actually believes that it’s the Evangelicals who are breaking from traditional Anglicanism, and not the Liberals.

One thing’s for sure. If Nazir-Ali’s departure wasn’t going to foster further division in the Anglican Communion, Slee’s derogatory treatment of Evangelicals certainly will.

In a comment on Ken Maher’s article Chew on this…, I began discussing the concern of lessening teen involvement in the Lutheran Church – Canada. There I suggested that while “we’ve got a strong, unshakable foundation in Jesus Christ,” it may well “be time to do some repairs on the ground floor.” In other words, while theologically our faith is strong, the practical application thereof has faced significant difficulties for many years. Ken then asked me what kind of repairs I thought might be in order. This is my response.

Before launching directly into the discussion, it is, I think, important to recognize that the problem of teen dropout is not merely a “teen” problem. This is in actuality merely symptomatic of a much graver issue in our denomination (and many others for that matter). In particular, I am thinking of the lack of spiritual fervour and discipline far too common among our congregants. When teens are raised by parents for whom faith is a Sunday-only concept rather than a life-encompassing reality, it is exceptionally hard for the teens to see the importance of Christianity itself to their daily lives, let alone the usefulness of church attendance. And these Sunday-Christian parents are taking significantly less of a role than previous generations in the spiritual upbringing of their children. They assume, no doubt, that this void will be filled with Sunday School and Confirmation.

No surprise, therefore, that teens are failing to connect with the Church.

In the Lutheran church, we pride ourselves on our strong theological heritage, and rightly so. And so we stress in our Confirmation classes the necessity of knowing the Bible, and texts like Luther’s Small Catechism (because they are faithful expositions of Holy Scripture). But we forget, and inexcusably so, the necessity of teaching devotional practice. We make our confirmants read the Bible in order to complete Confirmation homework, but we do not teach them how to read for daily devotional purposes. We make them memorize the Lord’s Prayer, and Luther’s explanation thereof in the Small Catechism, but we do not have small prayer groups with them, nor make it clear what it is to talk daily with God. We make sure they know all the right answers to all the right theological questions, but we do not give them the tools to face life-problems outside the Catechism. Nor do we stress the necessity of Christian service in the congregation or mission outreach to the world at large.

The problem is clear: our youth have no spiritual grounding. They do not know how to read the Bible devotionally. They do not know how to pray individually or corporately. They are ill-equipped to recognize their own spiritual gifts, and as a result do not know where they should serve. More striking, they do not personally and fully understand the good news of Jesus Christ for themselves and, as such, feel no concern for evangelism.

Should we be surprised then that Lutheran youth are leaving the Church? We focus so strongly on the their intellectual assent to theological statements, but provide no practical guidance as to how this theology should impact their daily lives. As such, Confirmation becomes nothing more than a graduation exercise: “If I know the right answers, I’ll pass.” But where is the testing of their devotional lives? How many youth have we set before the Church and confirmed, all the while knowing that in their personal lives no evidence of faith is visible? “Faith without works is dead,” as James reminds us. And yet, for fear of being misunderstood as preaching works-righteousness, we do not stress the necessity of the evidence of faith in the lives of believers.

Forgive me if I sound blunt or go to far in my rhetoric. As I have said, the issue is close to my heart, as a young person myself, and it grieves my very soul to see such things in the Church.

My practical advice is as follows. Please note that it is by no means intended to be considered a “complete” response.

  1. Confirmation (and pre-Confirmation) should be expanded to include a continual focus on devotional maturing throughout the classes. Teachers and pastors should not be content to merely have students give the right answers; there should be evidence of spiritual growth in the lives of the confirmands.
  2. Confirmation should be delayed until youth are older. I know many would suggest that we have to “confirm them while they’re young and while their parents can still make them come to church” (I’ve had pastors tell me as much), but I believe this to be an error, however well-meant. Confirming young people merely because they’re still young enough to be forced to attend classes at the behest of their parents makes a mockery of the rite of Confirmation. After all, they stand before the congregation and make a profession of faith. If it is made merely to placate parents, then the pastor and congregation are, to put it frankly, guilty of bearing false witness before God. I suggest, therefore, that confirmation be delayed until about Grade 10 or 11. Youth at that age who desire to put in the work required for confirmation are far less likely to be doing it merely because their parents want them to.
  3. Finally, new emphasis should be placed on getting adults to attend Bible Studies and other small-groups. As I have said, the setting of teens’ religious foundations are intrinsically connected with the faith-lives of their parents and elders (see the article “The Truth about Men and the Church”). Older congregants are just as in need of devotional training as are the young.

How then should all this be implemented? To be honest, I really don’t know. And to be honest, I’m sure you’ll all agree that I’ve already ranted enough for today.

What do you think? How should we be approaching the issue of teen-dropout (or, for that matter, spiritual stuntedness in the Church at large)? Leave your comments.

I recently submitted my Honours Thesis proposal to the English department here at the University of Regina. My paper is somewhat interdisciplinary in nature, looking at the literary, historical, and theological implications of the 1547 edition of Certayne Sermons, or Homilies (what would become the first volume of what is now frequently referred to as the Anglican Book of Homilies). This book, along with the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles (there were originally 42), would become foundational texts of the Church of England (COE). But unlike the latter two works, the Book of Homilies is seldom spoken about these days – a pity, if you ask me. Perhaps if the COE had continued to stress the book’s importance as official doctrine, world Anglicanism might be in a bit better state these days.

Currently, there is a major split between liberal and orthodox Anglicans across the globe. In North America, orthodox congregations continue to separate from their liberal national churches and align themselves with more conservative church bodies in Africa and South America in an attempt to preserve their biblical Anglican beliefs. Talks are well underway for the creation of a new North American Anglican province, a province that will affirm orthodox Anglican theology. On a global scale, we see the same sentiments expressed by the 2008 GAFCON in Jerusalem (seen by many as an alternative to the Lambeth Conference). And just a few days ago, Bishop of Rochester the Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali announced he is stepping down from his post – one of the most prominent positions in the Church of England – to encourage and aid persecuted Christians elsewhere. Bishop Nazir-Ali, the only bishop from England to boycott the Lambeth Conference last year (he was joined by many bishops from other nations), has been severely critical of the liberalism growing within Anglicanism. His departure is being seen as an affront to the prevailing COE hierarchy.

Anglicanism, it appears, is in the midst of a new Reformation.

It seems inevitable that these orthodox Anglican groups will eventually make a final break from the Anglican Communion. Like many more before them, they are finding out just how to difficult it is to “re-form” a church that has lost its way. And like those before them, they are finding out that “cutting off the hand that causes you to sin” is perhaps the best (though by no means easiest) approach when confronting doctrinal error and unrepentance in church hierarchy.

Let’s grant our prayers to their efforts.