Four Branches November – 2019

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Exegetical Theology: Prominence Indicators – Tense-forms in Narratives

We continue to look at different ways speakers/writers indicate prominence, as in, relatively speaking, what are the main points and what are the supporting points. This time we see how that can be communicated by the choice of tense-forms within a narrative,[1] using examples from Matthew 3:1-12 (Gospel for Advent 2).

Historical Present: Historical presents in Greek usually mark transitions (in characters, location, or plot), and mark as more prominent not the action they depict but something that comes after them.[2] For instance, historical present παραγίνεται (verse 1) helps introduce John the Baptist’s arrival as the beginning of a new episode.  This verb also suspensefully hints that something prominent is going to happen now that John is in the wilderness.

Non-historical Present: Since narratives happen in the past, a non-historical present means the narrator is inserting an explanatory comment. The present ἐστιν[3] in (verse 3) shows that Matthew is explaining what he has already told you about what John was doing by identifying him as the fulfillment of prophecy, and not communicating any new or prominent event in the plot.

Imperfect: As imperfects refer to past events without referring to their being completed,[4] imperfects will often be used to give background information that sets the scene for the more prominent events of the plot. (Not a hard-and-fast rule, but it generally holds true.) The imperfects εἶχεν, ἦν, ἐξεπορεύετο, and ἐβαπτίζοντο (verses 4-6) describe John’s habitual dress and diet and an ongoing stream of people heading to the Jordan and being baptized—a striking scene in its own right, but one presented as the backdrop for the more prominent exchange that follows.

Aorist: Aorists are the default way to refer to past events happening to their completion, meaning the prominent events in the main plot-line, will usually be aorists. εἶπεν (verse 7) is the first and only aorist indicative of the pericope, helping signal as prominent John’s address to the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Where then do the tense-forms suggest the prominence of this text lies?

In verses 1-3, the historical present suggests something significant will happen now that John is in the wilderness.  The non-historical present clarifies that this is the guy who was prophesied would tell people to get ready the way for the Lord.  That means both verses 1 and 3 help highlight the one-sentence summary we’re given of John’s general preaching (verse 2): “Repent, for heaven’s reign is come near.”

For verses 4-12, the imperfects and single aorist suggest the emphasis here is not on John’s peculiar wardrobe and eating habits, or even on his off-the-charts baptism stats, but on his words of warning spoken to the religious leaders, words defining what true repentance looks like, and what the coming near of heaven’s King will mean for them if that repentance remains lacking.

Blessings, brothers, as this advent season you call God’s people to continued and renewed repentance (both contrition and faith) to prepare them for our coming King!

[1] Note that these patterns mentioned here only apply to narratives, that is, texts that are telling a story. Non-narrative texts, being non-sequential, do not show the same prominence patterns when it comes to tense-forms.

[2] This is noticeably different from how historical presents tend to work in contemporary English.

[3] Stative verbs such as εἰμί generally cannot be historical presents, so we can know that the sense of the present tense-form is present time.

[4] Perhaps because they were still in progress, never were completed, were happening an indefinite number of times, or had no inherent completion-point to begin with.

Rev. Aaron Jensen serves as associate pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Adrian, MI.

Systematic Theology: A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place:  The Roles of Man and Woman – Recognizing the Order of Creation

In the previous two articles we have examined the place of Scripture and Christ in the arrangement of Christian doctrine.  We have also seen how other churches have fallen into error by failing to recognize the proper place of each of these doctrines.  This month we want to consider the place of a doctrine that has at times been challenging for us in WELS—the roles of men and women.

Scripturally speaking, this doctrine’s proper place is in connection with God’s creation of this world.  While Scripture does not use the term “order of creation,” it clearly links the relationship of men and women to God’s creation of man and woman.  For instance, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul makes woman’s creation from man the lynchpin of his arguments about head coverings in worship.  Or when he writes “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” in 1 Timothy 2, he cites the order in which God created man and woman as his primary argument. (These two examples hint that Scripture’s concept of the order of creation is more than God’s creating Adam first and Eve second.)

Not only does Scripture appeal to the order in which God created men and women to discuss how the sexes relate to one another, Christians throughout history have often done the same.  Perhaps one of the more interesting examples of this comes from Augustine.  In explaining how the woman was a helper for man especially in the area of procreation, Augustine discussed the possibility of God creating another man as a companion for Adam.  In the course of that discussion Augustine remarked,

And if they had to make an arrangement in their common life for one to command and the other to obey in order to make sure that opposing wills would not disrupt the peace of the household, there would have been proper rank to assure this, since one would be created first and the other second, and this would be further reinforced if the second were made from the first, as was the case with the woman.[5]

While some might argue that since Augustine speaks of the household these roles are limited to marriage, such an argument misses two key points. First, the roles of men and women are part of how we show love to others.  Therefore, when Augustine applies them to married life he is not limiting their application, but making their application specific to the most common realm where Christians must live out these roles.[6]  Second, and more significant, Augustine’s arguments from the order of creation would still hold true in regard to relationships outside the home.

Though much more can and should be said about this topic, the roles of man and woman should be considered in the place Scripture places them—within the order of God’s creation.

[5] Augustine, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament: Volume I, p. 68-69.

[6] For a greater insight into Augustine’s views on this matter see City of God, Book XIX: Chapter 14.  Augustine’s discussion there makes it clear that while he makes primary application of ruling and obeying to marriage, it applies in other situations as well.  He also makes it clear that he discusses this ruling and obeying in the home more because it is the most common place where this occurs.

Rev. Joshua Becker serves at Christ Lutheran Church in Saginaw, MI.

Historical Theology: Lectionary History – Part 3

In 1963, Vatican II appointed a “Constitution on Sacred Liturgy”. A sub-committee, Coetus XI, met 14 times to rework the liturgical lectionary with the specific injunction to include more readings from Scripture and more variation in the selections which will be read over a set cycle of years.  The committee was especially concerned that the lectionary: 1.  included “essential” parts of Scripture (Christ as center of salvation history), 2. Is adapted to modern times (present pastoral care), 3. Takes in previous tradition (e.g., liturgical seasons are preserved).

The committee eventually decided on a 3 year cycle based on the synoptics which allowed for 529 different Scripture selections (160 OT, 369 NT), with John’s Gospel interspersed (in the end, 61% of John’s Gospel was included – a higher percent than the other three).  The selections fall into three categories: thematic groupings, correspondence and semicontinuous reading.  The first and second Sundays of Advent, in all three years, have a theme – the return of Christ. The First Sunday of Lent, Year A, is of the temptation of Adam and Eve and corresponds to the gospel of Matthew 4 – Christ’s temptation.  Semicontinuous readings in Ordinary Time are a remnant of the ancient lectio continua.  (There are many places in the original three-year cycle where the lessons were not chosen because of a connection to the Gospel for the Day, as most preachers have recognized.  Happy coincidences certainly occur because the Scripture is whole.)  41% of the New Testament was included (the only books excepted being 2 and 3 John and Jude).  It was introduced on the first Sunday in Advent AD 1971 and has been widely adopted in the Western Church.

“The 1970s was the decade of denominational lectionaries” (Fritz West). Recognizing some difficulties (e.g. apocryphal selections), through the ILCW (Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship), the Lutherans presented a draft of a three-year lectionary by 1973 with the Roman system as a starting point.  Guiding principles of selections included: 1. Selections chosen for congruity with the gospel (in the sense of the good news of salvation in Christ) and not simply a selection from one of the Gospels, 2. Preachability – is the selection clear and free of textual problems, 3. Balancing indicative statements and imperative demands (law and gospel), 4. A concern for presenting the whole counsel of the Word of God.  While not absolutely followed, there was also a concern that at least one lesson of the companion lessons (usually the OT) was chosen to reinforce the Gospel of the Day.  About ½ of the ILCW lectionary is identical to the 1969 Lectionary for Mass.

WELS pastor Victor Prange wrote in 1974 that the ILCW lectionary may provide the possibility of manifesting “a true spirit of ecumenicity with no sacrifice of the truth of God’s Word.”  He goes on, “This was a spirit which characterized Martin Luther: to be ready to accept from others what we find good and valuable and not contrary to our confession.” (Prange, 1974)

Subsequent years brought more review and revision and options for Lutherans: the Common Lectionary, the Revised Common Lectionary, the Lutheran Service Book lectionary, Christian Worship Lectionary, Christian Worship Supplement Lectionary, et al.  Currently, the WELS Hymnal Project’s Scripture Committee has spent five years reworking a Lutheran Lectionary under the rubric “broad review, minor revision” which focuses heavily on a thematic approach to Sundays and Festivals.

If you’re interested in more of the history and principles involved in the evolution of lectionaries in the Western Church, please email me at and I’ll send you a copy of an essay I wrote for the WELS Hymnal Project’s Lectionary work, which was the basis of these three articles for Four Branches.  The essay also references several works for further study.

Pastor Tyler Peil is associate pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, Utah,  a member of the Scripture Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project and Secretary of the WELS Nebraska District.

Practical Theology: Strengthening Volunteers

It’s Saturday night and you get that message.  A volunteer cannot make it tomorrow for Sunday morning worship.

What do you do?  

Our fellow believers are part of the universal priesthood.  As the body of Christ, they all have an integral role to play in the mission of the church.  As pastors we understand this.  We feel the body of Christ ache when a hand or a foot are missing from our church.  So how can God use us to continue to equip the saints for works of service?

Here are some considerations when it comes to strengthening volunteers:

Connect the dots from their work to the mission:  I have to admit I don’t have much motivation for cleaning toilets or making coffee.  These tasks are much like doing the laundry – they will always exist and need to be done.  But I do love welcoming new people to see their Savior, and I have a great deal of motivation around that work.  Our volunteers likely feel the same.  

Consider this volunteer reminder, “Hey Judy, don’t forget you’re up for making coffee and setting out the donuts this Sunday.” That’s not incredibly motivating.  

Whereas, consider this reminder, “Hey Judy, thank you so much for helping us to Reach the Lost with the Love of Christ this Sunday!  You are not just serving coffee and setting out donuts, you are setting the table so that lost people feel welcome in this church family.  You are making it possible for the best conversations to happen as we get to talk to our new visitors.  Thank you so much!”  

Highlight and celebrate the work of all volunteers:  Many volunteers feel alone in serving, or perhaps that they are the only ones serving.  You can combat this feeling by highlighting all who serve and celebrating them.  You may consider highlighting all the volunteers through a board or calendar that displays all those serving.  Look also for ways to celebrate your volunteers.  This can be done through regular communications and annual celebrations such as cards or dinners.

At Amazing Love, we gather all volunteers before the Sunday service.  We call it a “Holy Huddle.”  The service is at 9:30am and we gather at 8:50am for 10 minutes. We gather those in children’s ministry, greeters and ushers, musicians, tech team, and those setting up coffee and donuts.  I share a devotional thought and pray, highlight a certain volunteer, and we sing the Doxology.  Finally, we literally huddle bringing all hands in and on the count of three close with our mission statement, “To Reach the Lost.”

Get in front of their personal schedule and give good reminders:  We know our people are busy.  We know they have good intentions in serving the Lord.  But good intentions don’t lead to ministry activity if there are no openings on the calendar.

I’ve learned the more you can get ahead in your volunteer scheduling the better off you’ll be.  Consider a 6 month or annual calendar for areas of ministry.  What may happen if you schedule volunteers month to month or even quarterly is that you’ll be competing with what is already planned.  If you plan far enough ahead, people will be able to schedule around when they are serving at church.  

There are plenty of tools available to make scheduling and reminders easier.  Consider and to use for scheduling.  It also doesn’t take much to tape a quick video, upload it to YouTube, and give a video vignette to encourage people before they serve on Sunday.

Look beyond church programing to their personal mission:  As Lutherans we understand and believe in the doctrine of vocation.  Our people serve the Lord in their station of life just as much if not more than when they serve in church.  If our final destination for them spiritually is to get them serving at church, we are missing something.  We should keep in mind and encourage their personal mission based on the gifts we see in them.  

It means that we say to our teachers, “We know you do a great job here at church, but I’m even more excited that you do this for your kids at home.”  We say to our leaders, “I’m so thankful to have your wisdom on this team for our church, but I’m even more excited by how you are bringing Christ to your workplace and sharing the faith there.”  

You might still get that Saturday night message that leads to your Sunday morning scramble.  In that moment, may God give you strength to see all who did come to faithfully serve.

Rev. Dustin Blumer serves at Amazing Love Lutheran Church in Frankfort, IL.