The Purdue Christmas Program, O’Reilly, The War on Christmas and President Harrison, by Pr. Rossow

When it comes to the two kingdoms, I tend to be an old fashioned, quietest Lutheran. It’s getting tougher in this country to remain quiet. Here’s a collection of miscellany on this topic.

First, President Harrison makes it tough to be a cultural quietist when he goes off to Capital Hill to protest government interference in the affairs of the church and makes such a splash, with clear and probing words of Luther and a hint of civil disobedience.

Those of you who watch The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News probably get as frustrated with his often discombobulated logic as I do but there is also the occasional nugget that like the big drive on the golf course, brings you back for more. Tonight he hit the big drive with his analysis of the cultural war going on in this country, the same war that Harrison is fighting, albeit on a different front.

O’Reilly has been fighting against the secular-progressive’s war on Christmas and this month Newsweek Magazine proclaimed that he had won based on the fact that retailers are now allowing their clerks to wish people “Merry Christmas” and other small signs.

One of O’Reilly’s tactics is to distinguish the philosophy of Christian religion from the religion of Christianity. His point is that the deist founding fathers practiced the philosophy of Christianity and built this country around the moralism of this philosophy – the ten commandments. Thus he argues, the secular progressivist’s should not be upset at the creche in the public square. According to the religion of Christianity that is the Son of God laying in the manger, but according to the American Christian philosophy of religion, it is just a baby boy who inspires us to good moral behavior. That’s a pretty clever distinction and maybe even useful.

The old quietist Lutheran in me rejects O’Reilly’s distinction because it cannot accept, on principal, that there can be any Jesus but the religious one. But O’Reilly may have a good point and he may have found a way to argue for the allowance of Christian culture in the civil culture. He is right on concerning the “Christianity” of our deists forefathers.

Just when I had become comfortable making my way into the culture with O’Reilly’s philosophical Christianity argument, along comes my annual viewing of the Purdue University Christmas program which messes everything up.

I tend to leave the TV on in the background when I am studying and working and do some serious channel surfing during the numerous breaks that I take. I am a sucker for musical variety shows which are particularly prevalent during the Christmas season. Since Chicagoland borders on Indiana, our cable system includes a PBS station from the Hoosier state. A couple years ago the annual Purdue University Christmas show caught my attention on that channel. It caught my attention because it was just that – a Christmas show. Purdue is a public land grant university. What is a public university doing having a Christmas show? Even in the heartland of Iowa, where I come from, they would never dream of having a Christmas program at a public university.

The Purdue University Christmas program is genuinely Christmas. They sing hymns, a bit of the Messiah and all surrounded by actual Christmas trees (like the ones that are now banned from the Rhode Island statehouse) and a fully stocked manger scene. I am also drawn to this show each year because of some weirdness. Each year they usually include a medley of contemporary worship Christmas music. It is odd enough to see hymns sung at a public university, but Cowo? That is a freaky, but in some odd way, encouraging, I think, at least from the standpoint of the war on Christmas.

Can I just draft dodge the culture war? As a traditional, Lutheran quietest I thought I could but I have to say, President Harrison was like a general leading the troops into war when he testified in D.C. It was very inspiring. I am willing to follow, albeit still a little confused by it all. Oh well, if we ever need back-up as we wage this war, I know of an eager, Christmas hymn-singing mass choir in West Lafayette that in naivete or full awareness, can cover one of the flanks.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


The Purdue Christmas Program, O’Reilly, The War on Christmas and President Harrison, by Pr. Rossow — 23 Comments

  1. My son is a freshman at Iowa State and sings in the Iowa Statesmen, a 130-voice men’s chorus. There is also a women’s chorus and two mixed choruses. We recently attended the university’s 57th annual Christmas concert and I was blown away because it was just that–a full-fledged Christmas concert. In this case all beautiful, classical pieces. To give you an idea it began with what was actually listed in the program as an “Organ Prelude.” While they changed choirs the organ would lead the congregation–oops, I mean “audience”–in singing Christmas carols, all very tradtional with no updated language. In “Lutheran Worship” we sang “Let earth receive its King” (LW 53) and “peace to all the earth” (LW 60), but at Iowa State it’s still “Let earth receive her King” and “peace to men on earth.” Imagine 5,000 people in a state university auditorium gustily singing “Jesus, Lord at Thy birth . . . Christ, the Savior is born” to the strains of the mighty organ. Not one single secular song. There was one requisite Hanukkah song but I’ll give ’em that because even Jesus celebrated Hanukkah (John 10:22-39). They ended with all four choruses, a mass choir of over 500 singers, performing John Rutter’s “Gloria” accompanied by an orchestra, largely made up of music faculty, and the organ, in Latin but with the translation in the bulletin–oops, I mean “program.” Again imagine over 500 kids at a secular university bellowing out, “O Lord, the only-begotten Son, O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.” I was amazed. I served at Concordia, Mequon, and this could have been the Christmas concert at one of our Concordias.

  2. One of the stupidest statements I’ve ever heard for the sake of political correctness:

    A recent radio ad for AT&T Wireless said something to the effect of, “By this time, you’ve usually asked your children a million times, ‘What do you want for the holidays?'”

    I don’t know of ANY parent; Christian, Jew, Muslim, or atheist; who would ever ask such a question.

  3. @Pastor Ted Crandall #2
    Maybe way back then (in the “Golden Age of Missouri”!) but would CUS allow it today?

    Seward might; they were still finding no lack of organ students a couple of years ago, which bodes well for the rest of the music school, I hope!

    I asked around about that, because CTX disposed of two excellent music profs in succession. The first was attempting to build a respectable choir program. The second was finishing his doctorate in organ studies and CTX’ excuse was, “Nobody wants to study organ anymore.” [Anyone who is serious about music now goes somewhere else, according to a recent graduate of one of the other Concordias.]

    Luther isn’t very Lutheran any more but, (if only to satisfy the alumni/donors),
    they still have a Christmas program and the choir, like St Olaf’s, is awesome.

  4. There is a point where participation in the culture war, with some moderation, is just a part of being a good citizen. But the “war on Christmas” really grinds my gears. Nobody takes Christ out of Christmas like evangelicals who tolerate Christmas sermons on how to beat the post-holiday blues. And then they go make songs like this:

  5. When I was at Mequon at one congregation where I preached I met an LCMS young man who was majoring in pipe organ studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, which he had decided to attend rather than Concordia, because it is a very prestigious institution and they gave him a full scholarship. Turns out the reason Lawrence wanted him so badly was that he was their ONLY pipe organ student. He said it was hard being the only student in the program, and I could understand because the organ students at Mequon had a club, would go to recitals together, etc. Monday morning I checked with the registrar and found we had 49 undergraduate pipe organ students. I did some further checking and discovered that year we had the largest undergraduate pipe organ program in the US. Even the biggest, most noted schools had just a handful compared to CUW. My old professor (at St. John’s, Winfield) Dr. John Behnke had a lot to do with that success. I think their program is still going pretty strong.

    I remember that in a meeting once there were statistics distributed breaking down the cost per student by program, student credit hours per faculty, etc. The two most expense courses of study for the university to offer by far are Biblical languages and pipe organ, the languages because the classes are relatively small, and pipe organ because it is all private instruction and requires a compliment of very expense instruments that are also expense to house and maintain. One faculty member in another field commented unfavorably about the apparent inefficiency of these programs as compared to his department. The conversation went on for some time around the big board room table. Finally, Dr. Ferry at the head of the table commented quietly, “Those programs are what we’re here for,” and that ended the conversation.

    By the way as far as the future of pipe organ instruction, my daughter is studying bassoon at the Interlochen Academy for the Arts, a boarding high school in Interlochen, Michigan. They have a HUGE pipe organ program of all high school kids, mostly boys, which I thought was interesting. Their web site notes, “While some conservatories and music schools have struggled to find new students or closed their organ departments altogether, Interlochen has continued to cultivate a new generation of organ musicians. Inspired to play and teach, they represent a bright future for a time-honored instrument.” We were visting our daughter during their summer camp last year and I attended one of the organ department’s student recitals. There were dozens of junior high and high school pipe organ students from all over the country. That’s how these kids decided to spend their summer vacation–and many thousands of their parent’s dollars! 🙂 There were short bios in the program and a lot of them while still in high school or even junior high were already very active as church organists–and they were already very GOOD too! Interlochen has a dedicated organ studies building filled with organs and in their chapel a really great Reuter that they just spent a half-million dollars renovating:

    So I wouldn’t count out the pipe organ just yet! Of course I’m biased, since my congregation just installed a glorious pipe organ that is greatly enriching our worship:

  6. Kevin,

    I am not totally surprised to hear of this in Ames but the pagan secularists in Iowa City would certainly not allow it. (I try not to think of the secularism in Iowa City. When I do, I find it hard to cheer for my beloved Hawkeyes. And yes, I know, many parishoners have reminded me that ISU is in a bolw game and the black and gold are not.) 🙂

  7. >>pagan secularists in Iowa City

    Just yesterday some of us were discussing the huge difference that is apparent in this regard between Iowa State and Iowa. I’m under no illusions that Iowa State is run by orthodox Lutherans, but they seem less focused on social engineering and more focused on . . . well, engineering, which what my son is majoring in. In contrast, this morning’s paper announced that Iowa will be the first public university in the nation to have a “sexual orientation” question on their application starting next year. This past week there have been a slew of articles referencing all the raging controversies at Iowa . . . provost demanded that unfavorable survey results by a faculty committee be destroyed, entire committee protested this lack of transparency by resigning . . . faculty vote of no confidence for education dean, who eventually resigned . . . lawsuit by instructor not given a law school position because she is pro-life . . . astrophysicist denied tenure because he believes in intelligent design . . . state board of regents declined to extend president’s contract, governor expressed concern about her leadership . . . last Wednesday she had to hold a “rare press conference to broadly defend her five-year tenure” and said she was “moved to tears” when the faculty, staff, and student government presidents expressed their support.

    There were also terrible incidents of violence by drunken Iowa students against Iowa State students and fans at this year’s Iowa-Iowa State game — which by the way Iowa State won 9-6 — including an Iowa State cheeleader being hit in the head with a full can of beer.

    So instead of your “beloved Hawkeyes,” howse ’bout switching your allegiance to dem beloved Cyclones! 🙂

  8. Helen @#$
    I hate to inform you but the situation is not great at Seward. My son graduated from Seward in May and it is sad to say that CoWo is alive and well and most hardily being promoted. There is a small enclave of traditional worshipproponents and organ students but by and large CoWo rules. Needless to say that I was most disappointed to see the state of things at Seward. What also struck me as being really sad is that the number of pre-sem students is so tiny, only about a dozen if memory serves.

  9. @GaiusKurios #10
    I hate to inform you but the situation is not great at Seward.

    If the intent of supporting colleges is to supply LCMS church workers (or even LCMS laity), we could just as well sell them all off. 🙁

  10. Helen,
    I think we should sell all of them but one or two and make them true colleges to supply church workers. We need a college or two that is 100% Lutheran in theology and practice. The college(s) should have high acedemic standards and be geared toward church work. For example, the pre-sem degress should/could offer majors in classical languages or semetic languages or german or history (with emphasis on church history and the history of theology). The college(s) should offer degrees in music with empahsis on organ and choral directing. Those going into church work, teachers or pre-sem, should be given healthy scholarships so the graduates are not burdened with a ton of debt.

    That is my 2 cents, take it for what it is worth.

  11. @GaiusKurios #12
    We need a college or two that is 100% Lutheran in theology and practice.

    If we had such a thing, we might have interested students who intend to be good Lutheran laity, too. As things are now, most of them don’t see why they should spend the extra money for an education in evolution and such that they can get at a public university… cheaper. The generic protestantism in the chapel is also available at public schools…. 🙁

  12. I became disheartened with CUW (my alma mater) when upon returning for a visit there were banners hanging over all the entrances saying, “CUW, Mequon’s Business of the Year!” I thought, “That’s what we boast about on our campus?! That’s the first thing we want people to see? That we’re a great ‘business’?” Since I have graduated, the “Peace Center”, a housing unit solely for men preparing for the ministry has been demolished in order to make way for a new Nature Center. When I attended I received a full tuition scholarship since I was entering church-work (These students were the priority back then). Student enrollment for the Pre-Sem program shrunk this year. Tuition has more than tripled since I attended, in part to pay for more professors for none-church work programs. And CoWo is still being promoted on campus, despite the many faithful faculty who resist it. I love CUW, but unfortunately I do not recognize her anymore.

  13. You may have a point about O’Reilly’s approach to combat “the secular-progressive’s war on Christmas” but I draw the line when this R.C. blathers on about, “Jesus as a philosopher”! Where did he come up with that?!

  14. wineon…

    Agreed. O’Reilly is the worst (or best) form of Roman Catholic. When he speaks at greater length about the faith, it is nothing but pure works-righteousness.

  15. “According to the religion of Christianity that is the Son of God laying in the manger, but according to the American Christian philosophy of religion, it is just a baby boy who inspires us to good moral behavior. That’s a pretty clever distinction and maybe even useful.” I think so as well. I think it was in an excellent junior high history class we learned the reason churches and synagogues are tax exempt is for the simple reason they can do something that the government can not do: inculcate good moral behavior. It was known that this is “useful”. Constitutional government knew it did not have the vocation to so teach and catechize the Decalogue but the Church can. The problem in the “war on Christmas” and the culture wars in general is the demise of what use to be the “mainline” Protestant church bodies and their descent into a moral morass of good is evil and evil is good, except for a questionable ‘social justice’. The Bible is no longer authoritative in a post-modern mistrust of texts. The bulk of Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, despite their small numbers, acted in their vocation as Church as salt. No longer. There is no fear of God in our culture. I have seen colonial era Anglican churches in the South with the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Decalogue on walls behind the Altar. I maintain the real problem is not primarily the posting of the Decalogue in the court house, but in the Lord’s House. In our culture, I do not think we can return to what has been destroyed except we can soldier on with allies like Mr. O’Reilly. We must in a culture curved in upon itself.

  16. Here is a perspective from an ignorant person, my son. He was watching Fisk and saw some clips of O’Reilly in the video and asked me if O’Reilly was an atheist. When I say my son is ignorant, I just mean he doesn’t know too much about Stewart or O’Reilly, so he is just looking at the surface level of the dialogue and missing the point/joke. But it goes to show you how confused young people can get with all the noise out there.

  17. I recall in one of his first books that he said that he believed in Jesus as a good man, a “philosopher” but did not believe in his divinity, so…

  18. Mrs. Hume,

    It is funny you bring that up. The big wigs from BJS and WE got together the other day for a big conference (that means I walked 15 feet down the hall to the not so spacious WE studio) and talked about the fact that BJS’ers and WE’ers might get confused since we both posted contrasting views of O’Reilly within an hour of each other. So, maybe your son was not so far off.

    Actually, I am not as great of a fan of O’Reilly as my post belies and Fisk is not so great a critic as his belies.

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