Friday, January 21, 2011

The Confessions of Saint Peter -- A Chapel Sermon on Mark 8:27-35

An audio link to the chapel service may be found here:

Mark 8:27-35                                                                       Lawrence R. Rast, Jr.
Kramer Chapel                                                                     2011-01-18

The Confessions of Saint Peter. 

The New Testament, in particular the gospels, are full of not just THE confession of Saint Peter, but of multiple confessionS of Peter of a variety of sorts.  Some are rather “cute,” if you will.  Peter’s understandable confusion at the Transfiguration, where he wants to hold on to the mountaintop moment by erecting permanent structures, even as he seems to miss Jesus’s words that he will and must suffer. 


I suspect that Peter’s mistaken expectations of who the Christ is and what he does is at the heart of his confused confession of Christ, which we recall today.

In a way, it is a remarkable moment; in other ways it’s rather mundane.  It’s something like a confirmation class; the pastor asks a question and the kids shout out a bunch of answers.  Watch it happen in the text: “[27] And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” [28] And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” – You know how some kids always get it wrong.  But not Peter; Peter is the good student.   [29] And Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.””

Right!  “You are the CHRIST!”  But then Jesus anticipates the Lutheran question: what does this mean?, by immediately explaining what it means for him to be the Christ.  “And [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. [32] And he said this plainly. “


And at this moment Peter blows it completely—as we all do. 

“And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “  Peter “rebukes” Jesus—Peter rebukes Jesus! Who would dare to do such a thing.  You only rebuke someone if you are utterly convinced they are wrong.  Indeed, doesn’t Peter’s rebuke of Jesus at the very least imply some kind of superiority on the part of Peter over against Christ?  If Peter really understands what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, would he rebuke him?  Of course not.  So one wonders whether Peter gets it at all.  Indeed, Jesus’ rebuke in turn of Peter is stinging: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Yes, Peter gets it right—and  then immediately gets it wrong.  And the center of of his sin is rebuke of Jesus—a rebuke in wich we all share in our own ways.  Jesus, I’ll tell you how to be the Christ.  Not that cross, Jesus, but this one.  This is what I’ll have you be and do. 


At the root of Peter’s failed confession and ours is denial of who Christ is and what he does.  And this is part of Peter’s person—and ours, as well.  We all live it out just as he does.

“ [66] And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, [67] and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” [68] But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. [69] And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” [70] But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” [71] But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” [72] And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Jesus condemns Peter and us for setting our minds on the things of man.  Put differently, the heart of the problem is that Peter is setting his mind on the things of man and not setting his mind on THE GOD/MAN, Christ. 

“I do not know THE MAN.”  Here is the twist: Peter was absolutely truthful as he lied about knowing Jesus.   He knew Jesus, but he did not know THE MAN Jesus—and as such he did not know God incarnate whose end was the cross.

All of this was transformed for Peter in the moment of humiliating denial, as Christ’s humiliation and death became his own.  And the result was that the resurrection of Christ became Peter’s own resurrection—a new life centered in Christ and, in fact, shaped and formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ himself.   What we see in Peter is the transformation of one who had false expectations, made outrageous demands, and denied the Christ, into a faithful confessor.  And now his faithful confession shapes our own witness, acts of mercy, and life together here today and into the future.

Confessing with Saint Peter

So let us learn to know the GOD/MAN from Saint Peter and to confess along with him (Acts 4): Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, [9] if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, [10] let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. [11] This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [12] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
 (Acts 4:8-12 ESV)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Opening Remarks at the 34th Annual Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions

Introduction: Walther’s Importance for Lutheranism Today
Lawrence R. Rast, Jr.

As the planning began for the 34th Annual Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions, the choice of the topic was, in some ways, a non issue.  2011 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of a man who is unquestionably one of the most important figures in the history of American Lutheranism, Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther.  Not since the Walther anniversary year of 1987 has choosing a topic been such a straightforward matter. 

Yet, as was the case in on the 100th anniversary of Walther’s death, the question for the symposium organizers was somewhat more subtle.  Walther is the topic, of course, but how to approach Walther demands some careful thought and consideration.  That has been our challenge.  For at the heart of this symposium is a consideration of the historical circumstances, the theological convictions, and the ongoing impact of a man who, had he been born in different circumstances, might never have set foot on American soil.

Moving is the one of the most traumatic and difficult matters that we experience either as individuals or families.  It is unusual to hear of someone pulling up stakes and moving on without giving the whole process some very careful thought. Just take a moment to consider the disruption and stress of simply going on vacation for a few weeks.  At least you know that you will be able to return home at the end.  But the founders of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod who left Germany for the United States did so knowing full well—in the words of Tom Wolfe—that they could never go home again.

Our Lutheran parents in Prussia, Franconia, and Saxony, Germany, faced difficult times in the early 1800s—conditions totally different from the freedom we enjoy today.  The various area governments established what was allowable in terms of both doctrine and practice, belief and worship.  Confessional Lutherans were not free to believe and practice the truth as they had learned it in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.  Rather the state defined the limits of their religious expression.  

Theologically, the dominance of Pietism and Rationalism made life very difficult for Confessional Lutherans in the early nineteenth century.  Pietists and Rationalists were not willing simply to allow the Lutherans to worship in peace according to their theological convictions.  They demanded compromise and conformity. As early as 1798 Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia began to move toward a union of Lutherans and Reformed. On September 27, 1817 he pronounced that there would be only one evangelical Christian congregation at his court—Lutherans and Reformed would no longer be allowed to have separate gatherings.  Not yet satisfied, though, in 1830 he issued the ultimatum that the name “evangelical” replace the specific names “Lutheran” and “Reformed.”  Finally, Friedrich Wilhelm mandated the use of a common worship service for all of Prussia in 1834.  And the confessional Lutherans resisted—not just in Prussia, but throughout Germany. 

Did the Lutherans resist because they were a bunch of obstinate Germans?  Of course!  But not only because of that!  Rather at the heart of their resistance to unionism was the integrity of their confession!

In Saxony a group (which included C.F.W. Walther) gathered around the evangelical preacher, Martin Stephan.  Stephan later led the emigration to Perry County and St. Louis in 1838-1839.  By the late 1830s and early 1840s Friedrich Wyneken was making a Macedonian Call from Northeastern Indiana to Germany for help with in taking the Gospel to the American frontier.  In 1845, August Friedrich Craemer guided a group of colonists from Franconia to the Saginaw valley of Michigan where they could use their freedom to proclaim the Gospel to Geman immigrants and Native Americans.  They initially founded the community of Frankenmuth, and later added Franketrost, Frankenlust, and Frankenhilf. 

But the story of the struggles of the Germans who later founded the Missouri Synod is a story with a point for us because it shows in vivid pictures the life and death struggle of Christ’s church to overcome the temptations of the “Old Evil Foe.” At the center of this story is C. F. W. Walther, along with his colleagues.  As the theological heirs of these faithful confessors of Jesus Christ, Satan still means us deadly woe.  We can learn a profound lesson from our predecessors in how to proceed.  For contemporary circumstances resemble in striking ways the setting in which the emigrants found themselves.  They were tempted to compromise their confession so that they would “fit in”—as we are!  Yet, as we see the way God remained true to them and strengthened them in their confession, we can expect Him to bless us in the same way. 

There are two easy paths that we can follow as we begin this symposium.  [2-1] One is simply to uncritically glorify Walther.  As Norman Nagel put it some years ago, there is a sense in which Walther carries the burden of his own infallibility, which makes a critical (though not necessarily negative) assessment of his work difficult. To explore more fully Walther’s conclusions, the manner in which he reached them, and the way in which circumstances sometimes drove them can lead some to conclude that Walther is being rejected.  [2-2]Of course, this leads us to the second problem, which is an equally simplistic uncritical rejection of all things Walther.

Before this symposium even occurred, there have been commentators who have prophesied what its results will be.  One recent internet post summarily dismissed the entire endeavor as “anti-Walther.”  In another case an unsolicited newsletter told me that “All participants [at the symposium] will be [Walther’s] apologists rather than be personally objective. “  Since neither of the people who uttered these prophecies will be present these next days, we’ll have to postpone any stonings should their divinations prove to be inaccurate.  Just remember—Walther will be watching.

More to the point, what the next two days will offer us is the opportunity to consider Walther, his times, his theology, and his impact.  This afternoon we’ll hear about the confessional revival and several leading figures in it who interacted with Walther in significant ways, namely Kliefoth, Grabau, and Loehe.  Tomorrow we’ll place Walther in the larger American Lutheran context of the Missouri’s other founders, the Wisconsin Synod and other American Confessional movements, even as we examine his early relationship to Martin Stephan.  Finally on Friday, we turn to Walther’s interaction and use of Luther, before completing the symposium with a consideration of one of the great disappointments of Walther’s life, the defection of Eduard Preuss to the Roman Catholic church.

In the past year this seminary achieved a significant milestone in its history—for the first time it received ten-year accreditation from its two overseeing agencies, the Higher Learning Commission and the Association of Theological Schools.  The actions of these two agencies in granting this recognition underscore the recognized excellence of this faculty, its board, administration, staff, and, especially, its students.  It shows that Concordia Theological Seminary is a dynamically engaged institution that is fulfilling its mission with excellence. 

One way we do that is to sponsor these symposia.  This particular symposium offers us, I believe, an opportunity for the future—to let the real Walther stand up, as we’ll discuss tomorrow afternoon in panel.  But beyond that, perhaps it can drive us toward realizing Walther’s promise for Lutheranism today. 

As we now prepare to hear our first lecture, perhaps some words penned by a Fort Wayne pastor some twelve years ago can help frame our consideration and discussion. 

Perusing Walther’s enormous bibliography demonstrates that he still has much to say to 20th [and 21st!] century Lutheranism.  He wrote eloquently and at length regarding Lutheran-Reformed Union, the necessity of remaining a liturgical church, the dangers of the “new measures,” and on many other very contemporary topics, along with of course, Church and Office.  We need Walther.  We need the real Walther.  And we need to read Walther critically, according to his own excellent criteria.

The Fort Wayne pastor who wrote those words in the January 1999 Concordia Theological Quarterly now happens to be President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.  Let us take President Harrison’s words to heart as we consider C. F. W. Walther, His Times, His Theology, and His Impact.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Welcome to the 34th Annual Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Denominational Colleges Losing Grip on Denominational Students

When I started at Concordia (then River Forest, now Chicago) in 1982, I was welcomed  upon my arrival on campus to a rather pronounced controversy over the "Lutheran" character of the institution.  Some students (many of whom, as I recall, were pre-seminary), put together a paper that raised issues about what they believed was the increasingly tenuous confessional character of the college (now university).  Later James Tunstead Burtchaell's The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches (Eerdmans, 1998) appeared.  The subtitle said it all, even as Burtchaell drew on my alma mater for one of his case studies.  

The conversation continues.  I'm shamelessly poaching the following from Incarnatus Est, Greg Alms' blog


Denominational colleges losing grip on denominational students.

Generic Christian U. by Bobby Ross Jr. ( From CT ... click here.)

Faith-based universities with historically strong denominational ties—Nazarene, Mennonite, and Southern Baptist schools among them—are enrolling fewer students from within their own ranks.

Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), said the trend, seen even in institutions with "very strong, close connections" to denominations, is bound to shape future denominational leadership.

For example, at 18 schools associated with the Churches of Christ (non-instrumental), members of associated churches composed 70 percent of first-year students a decade ago. By fall 2009, that figure had dropped to 53 percent, according to a study by the Harding University Center for Church Growth.

The perceived high cost of a Christian education alongside drops in denominational loyalty have contributed to the changing demographics, said Corts and others.
"So many people now think that everything is just a different flavor," said Mike O'Neal, president of Oklahoma Christian University, a Church of Christ school. "If I'm a Methodist, generally I don't care that a university is Nazarene or Calvinist or whatever. The perception is, we're all alike."

At Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Mennonites represent 45 percent of undergraduates, a decline from previous decades, said president Loren Swartzendruber.

"We know from surveys that a Mennonite student who attends a Mennonite college will be far more likely to be active in a Mennonite congregation as an adult," he said. "Consequently, this trend not only impacts potential leaders but general membership."
Over the past decade, the proportion of Nazarene students at Point Loma Nazarene University has dropped from 30 percent to about 20 percent, said Scott N. Shoemaker, the San Diego school's associate vice president for enrollment.

"The loyal adherence to attending a denominational institution has certainly been diluted through the weakening of historic ties to the church and its clergy," he said.

Union University, a Southern Baptist school in Jackson, Tennessee, has bucked the trend "with intentional outreach to Baptist students," said Rich Grimm, senior vice president for enrollment services. Its entering class is about 65 percent Baptist.
However, Grimm said that by design or not, "There are a number of schools enrolling significantly fewer Baptist students."

Amid heightened competition for students, some universities acknowledge marketing more aggressively outside their denomination. Phil Schubert, president of Abilene Christian University in Texas, said that his school is no less determined to reach out to its Churches of Christ base, "but we're also making a direct appeal to students who [value] our brand of Christian education."

Much of the evidence of the trend remains anecdotal, Corts acknowledged. "I don't know that anyone has done a detailed study on why it's the case," he said. The CCCU might conduct just such a review.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

2011 Symposia

Registrations for the 2011 Symposia have topped 400 already.  If you've not gotten your registration in, now is the time to do so.  You may register online at the following link:

The schedule is excellent (as always).  The exegetical symposium's topic is Israel and the New Israel: Learning about the Church from the Scriptures.  

The Confessions symposium will recognize the central role of C.F.W. Walther in 19th-century Lutheranism and his ongoing impact today.  C.F.W. Walther: His Times, His Theology, and His Impact promises to be an multifaceted consideration of one of the most important figures in the history of Lutheranism in North America.

The full schedule may be viewed at the following link: