Four Branches – March 2023

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Exegetical Theology:  Head & Helper: A Mixed Metaphor

Part 3: So What?

The Bible doesn’t use the terms “head and helper” together. They are a mixed metaphor (with “head and body” and “namer and helper”). Okay, so what? Does it make a difference to keep the metaphors separate?

Personally, I’ve found it remarkably helpful. For lots of reasons. Here are just a few.

We can give caveats till we are blue in the face to demonstrate the good purposes God has for designating woman as helper, but calling woman “helper” and man “head” still usually smacks of female inferiority for the listener, doesn’t it? (Again, the Bible doesn’t present the terms side-by-side, nor does it teach female inferiority.) However, when thinking about and teaching the roles of men and women in terms of “namer and helper,” it tends to highlight dignity, value, and empowerment for both men and women as each is given divine activity. “Helper” is just as much an extension of God’s work as “namer” is. Both are different, but equally awesome.

Likewise, there’s something vital about the scriptural “head and body” metaphor that can slip away with the mixed metaphor of “head and helper.” It’s the concept of essential connection. The head and body need to be connected to each other (and communicating with genuine concern) in order to survive. Likewise, it is vital that men and women have constant connection, communication, understanding, and concern for each other. In the church, in marriage, and in life together as siblings in Christ—it’s imperative for men and women to listen to each other. Neither men nor women see the whole picture. Both have unique wisdom and insights into life. We will never have the whole picture unless men and women are sharing with each other and working together. When we are planning, learning, growing, and serving together as men and women, it’s the full version of humanity. It’s the church of God—brothers and sisters—maturing together as God desires.

These “namer and helper/head and body” metaphors also reinforce a critical truth for Christian men and women: In Christ, there is no power struggle between men and women! We are different, but our differences bring a beautiful diversity we proudly celebrate. We need men to bravely assume the accountability that also comes with authoritative naming. But it doesn’t take long to realize we are woefully insufficient, and to do it alone is just not good. Enter helpers. We can’t live without active, watchful, wise, compassionate helpers. These women don’t wait on the sidelines to be asked (because God as our Helper doesn’t do that). They jump in with can’t-survive-without-you help. Neither of us is the full version of humanity on our own. We need and belong to each other, which leads us to love, value, cherish, and appreciate each other.

Thank God that Jesus is the head of his church, the one who gave himself for us. He’s beautifully leading us—men and women, to love, value, cherish, and appreciate each other.

Rev. Kurtis Wetzel serves as pastor at Cross of Christ in Boise and Nampa, ID.

Systematic Theology:  Gospel-Predominant Self-Examination

How do you teach your people to prepare themselves to receive the Lord’s Supper? Without a doubt, you highlight the pattern outlined by Martin Luther in his Christian Questions (pp.295-296 in Christian Worship).  This means we begin our self-examination with a recognition and confession of our sins.

Recently as I prepared to teach both youth and adult confirmands about the Lord’s Supper, I read John Schaller’s article in the Wauwatosa Theology entitled “Self-Examination, according to 1 Corinthians 11:28” (Vol. II, pp.363-370). In light of the value we place upon Luther’s Christian Questions, my first reading of some of Schaller’s statements caused me to pause and reflect. For instance, he wrote: “In the entire context (of 1 Corinthians 11), (Paul) doesn’t speak a single word about all sorts of things that in the course of the centuries were stressed so heavily as being necessary for preparation for the Lord’s Supper.  For example, Paul says nothing of the confession of sins” (p.367). And a little later on he writes, “In short, Luther wants to teach as little as Paul that a certain measure of consciousness of sin and a certain depth of contrition are necessary for worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper” (p.369).

Schaller isn’t trying to devalue the necessity of contrition for proper reception of the Lord’s Supper.  Rather, the fuller context of the previous quotations demonstrates Schaller means to address dangerous misunderstandings about what worthy reception of the sacrament entails. Worthy reception is not determined by feeling we have achieved a sufficient depth of contrition. Against that possible misunderstanding Schaller writes, “As soon as I say to a person, ‘You are coming unworthily if you do not have a proper understanding of your sins,’ then I am instructing him to seek his worthiness for reception in himself, in his soul’s condition…Does a person ever have contrition that corresponds to the measure of his guilt?  Proper consciousness of sin, that is, one that actually is as it should be—who has it?” (p.368). What a sad irony it would be if a person avoided the sacrament because he felt he was sinning by his perceived shortcomings in his self-examination!  Schaller draws this conclusion: “There could be no greater misuse of (the Apostle Paul’s) words (in 1 Corinthians 11) than to use them in order to burden and embitter Christians toward attending the Lord’s Supper” (p.369).

In sum, Schaller’s encouragement for us is this: the forgiveness and salvation offered in our Lord’s true body and blood is pure gospel.  Let’s make sure it remains exactly that by the way we prepare to receive this precious gift and by the way we teach our people to receive this precious gift. Self-examination includes application of both law and gospel. But the gospel must always predominate! Schaller writes in his conclusion, “If the Christian approaches the Sacrament with the thought, the trust, Here I receive everything the Lord has won for me through his death—then he comes ‘in a worthy manner,’ according to Paul’s exposition” (p.370).

Rev. Shane Krause serves as pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran in Onalaska, WI.

Historical Theology:  Treasured Lutheran Prayer Books, Part 3

In January’s installment, we looked at the book of prayers compiled by Andreas Musculus, which gained popularity among Lutheran scholars. In February’s installment, we looked at the most popular Lutheran prayer book overall, composed by Johann Habermann. But the prayer book that German Lutheran emigrants most commonly brought with them to America was that of Johann Friedrich Starck (1680–1756).

Born in Hildesheim to a baker’s family, Starck preferred the pursuit of an advanced education over learning a trade. From 1703 to 1706 he studied at the University of Giessen. The Pietistic professors Johann Heinrich May (1653–1719) and Johann Christian Lange (1669–1756) exerted considerable influence there with their controversial private devotional gatherings (Erbauungsstunden or collegia pietatis), which Starck also attended.

After working as a private tutor and passing his exams in Frankfurt am Main, and preaching in the poorhouse and orphanage there, he accepted a call in 1709 to serve as a deacon at the newly founded Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Geneva, where he also learned French. But he left two years later after disagreements with the pastor over his Pietistic leanings.He spent some time in Paris before returning to Frankfurt and resuming his post in the poorhouse and orphanage.

In 1715 Starck accepted a call as a pastor in Sachsenhausen. From 1723 to 1742 he served as a weekday preacher at the Frankfurt Franciscan Church (an Evangelical Lutheran church, eventually rebuilt as St. Paul’s Church), and from 1729 to 1735 as a chaplain at the Frankfurt Hospital. He also zealously worked with criminals condemned to execution. Every year a gift of 500 gulden arrived at the Frankfurt poorhouse, signed, “From a God-loving soul.” Only after his death was it discovered that Starck was the donor.

Starck’s education and experience planted his feet in two different streams—Lutheran orthodoxy and Lutheran Pietism. He authored some polemical writings against radical Pietists, defending the means of grace, among other things. But his preaching, teaching, and writing followed Pietistic trends in occasionally blurring the lines between justification and sanctification.

In addition to composing nearly a thousand hymns and other devotional literature, in 1728 Starck also published his Tägliches Handbuch in guten wie in bösen Tagen (Daily Manual, for Both Good Days and Bad; also simply called Starck’s Prayer Book). The unpretentious, memorable language of its comprehensive devotions, prayers, and verses for the healthy, troubled, sick, and dying made it immediately popular. It has been published more than 160 times since then. In 1900, Dr. Franz Pieper of the Missouri Synod oversaw the publication of a revised edition that corrected Starck’s Pietistic flaws and weaknesses and, to borrow a phrase from W. H. T. Dau, “helped Starck to speak his full Christian mind everywhere.” Dau published an English translation of this revised edition in 1921, which went through many reprintings.

1755 Frankfurt and Leipzig Edition

1900 Revised Pieper Edition

1921 Dau Translation (English)

Rev. Nathaniel Biebert serves as pastor at Trinity Lutheran in Winner, SD.

Practical Theology:  Jesus Loves You, So Preach To Yourself

I remember a pastor saying once, “I love mowing my lawn. It’s one of my favorite things to do during the week because I can complete it. I can control it. It’s satisfying.” I didn’t really understand that until I entered into the ministry and noticed that a lot of things which seem to be done, aren’t really done. 

Take for example your sermon. You prepare for it all week with text study, manuscript, editing, and memorizing. You preach it on Sunday. Then on Monday or Tuesday morning, or in some instances Sunday afternoon, you are right back at the text study for next Sunday! Then during the week, you are chatting with a member who is still struggling with the very same thing you used God’s Word to try and correct the precious Sunday. Is anything happening with these messages you crank out week after week?

There are many aspects to ministry that are like that.  We serve in a vocation where the results are hard to always see and where the main worker, God the Holy Spirit, works in hearts into which we can’t see! Sometimes it can make you wonder or doubt why you’re doing what you’re doing, and perhaps mow your lawn more often.

When ministry becomes a bore, a drudgery, or something worse in your mind, remember a hymn verse you might have learned as a little child, or perhaps later in life, the second verse of “With the Lord Begin Your Task.” 

Let each day begin with prayer, praise, and adoration.  On the Lord cast every care; he is your salvation. Morning, evening, and at night Jesus will be near you, save you from the tempter’s might, with his presence cheer you. (CW 776 v.2)

When’s the last time you woke up and began with praise and adoration of your Savior God? When’s the last time you preached to yourself? Your Savior Jesus loves you and has given you an awesome task: preaching the gospel.

That’s the same gospel that barged its way into your heart through the Spirit’s power, the same gospel that your heart still needs. Preach to yourself the glorious, good news of a Savior who lived, died, and rose for you. Cast your cares and frustrations on the one whom this world rejected, including you. Trust in the one who promises to never leave your side because he adopted you into his family at baptism. 

When ministry and life gets your down, remember, Jesus loves you! Preach that to yourself, often.

        Rev. Jeremy Belter serves as pastor at Shepherd of the Valley, a mission church in Arvada, CO.