A Word from Our Chinese Brethren

Editor's Note: This letter was originally written for Luther Academy.

A Letter from our Chinese Brethren

—by Pastor Jason Li

We, Chinese Lutherans, need solid, genuine, and orthodox Lutheran teaching as much as possible. Luther rediscovered the Gospel, and that is the only reason why we were baptized and became Christians. We believe that Lutheran theology is the faithful interpretation of the Gospel. 

Lutheran writings in Chinese are extremely scarce, almost next to none in Chinese circles, compared to Reformed and Catholic books that are flooding the market. If Luther felt frustrated when he saw the deplorable conditions of the German churches and then wrote the Small Catechism, I believe Luther would be deeply depressed to see the even more deplorable conditions of the gospel among Chinese churches. We Lutheran pastors don't even have orthodox Lutheran books in Chinese to read, let alone the Christians in our churches.

As bad a situation as this is, Luther Academy supports us by donating many confessional books (see below). These books will be a huge blessing to our Chinese Lutheran pastors in over 30 Chinese Lutheran Churches in North America, including Canada.

As for one example, the theological teachings on the Lord's Supper is the distinguishable point between Reformed churches and Lutheran churches. Every Lutheran should pay more attention to this point and not allow the Devil to take away our dear Lord from the Lord's Supper.

Another example, I am reading the article "The Decline of Biblical Preaching in the Past Century" from the book The Word They Still Shall Let Remain. I realized that I need to pay more attention to preaching biblically. The article shows that "there is nothing that keeps people at church more than good preaching. The true adornment of the churches is godly, useful, and clear doctrine, the devout use of the Sacraments, fervent prayer, and the like" (Ap. XXIV.50-51). 

We pastors always want to know how to attract people to come and worship. The Apology already tells us that a good sermon is a must. After all, the most important reason that people come to church is to be fed by the Word and the body and blood of Christ. Just like the flower without water will wither, without good biblical preaching, the hungry faithful Christian will fade away sooner than we think. And the Apology already gives me the criteria for good sermons: godly, useful, and clear doctrine. When we pray, we pray fervently. When we receive the Sacrament, we receive devoutly.

We greatly appreciate Luther Academy's support of the Chinese Lutheran Ministry. May the Lord bless your ministry and bring to us more books with solid, genuine, and orthodox Lutheran doctrines. If these books could be in Chinese, that would be the best blessing for us all.


To support the work of Luther Academy, go here

To purchase your own copy of The Word They Still Shall Let Remain, go here

Book Review: Lutherans in America

Lutherans in America: A New History. By Mark Granquist. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015.

 At long last there is a successor to The Lutherans in North America, edited by E. Clifford Nelson and first published when Gerald Ford was our president. Comparison between the Nelson volume and Mark Granquist’s new history of the Lutheran churches in America is difficult because the former had a stable of authors, each contributing on his period of expertise. There was an unevenness going from Theodore Tappert to some of the lesser lights. Now Granquist tells the story himself, so the strengths and weaknesses are at least equal throughout. The comparison is not between apples and oranges but between different kinds of apples. They have much in common but finally are not meant to taste exactly the same.

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Granquist frames the story of American Lutheranism as a history of who came to America and when, who came into fellowship with whom and when, and how the faithful dealt with the innumerable changes America constantly brings. Granquist offers with the greatest possible precision tables and charts tracking Lutheran population, membership figures, and the various church foundations, mergers, and splits throughout all the years since Rasmus Jensen, the Danish pastor, was the first Lutheran minister to serve and to die in the New World. Anyone interested in telling this story will have to touch on common themes and figures. The derelict pastor Jacob Fabricius appears in colonial New York and then on the Delaware. Muhlenberg arrives in 1742 from Halle by way of London to set things in order and establish the first American Lutheran synod in 1748. In him the worlds of German Lutheran Pietism and British America meet: he is sent by the Halle Fathers with the urging and benediction of Michael Ziegenhagen, Lutheran chaplain to the Hanoverian English court. The Missouri Synod is established and grows extremely rapidly in the nineteenth century, even as Eastern Lutherans differ widely about what it means to be Lutheran. In the twentieth century Lutheran union eventually becomes almost everyone’s spoken or unspoken goal, and in a certain skepticism about the ultimate value of merger Granquist makes a very valuable contribution to Lutheran historiography.

This pessimism about merger is the child of the disappointing story of the ELCA. Readers learn that the Commission for a New Lutheran Church (CNLC), established in 1982 to bring the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, and the American Evangelical Lutheran Church together, bequeathed all of its own tensions to the ELCA, when the new church came into existence in 1988. Strife over the doctrine of the ministry, the nature of ecumenism, the role of quotas in church governance, and the nature of human sexuality were all present on the CNLC, and so have been with the ELCA from its founding. Since 1988 it has in some measure declined in membership each year, and as early as the mid-1990s a task force on human sexuality drew up a report commending the ordination of actively homosexual candidates for the ministry. This report was hastily withdrawn when prematurely leaked to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

To go deeper into the past, Granquist even observes that the bureaucratic difficulties of streamlining various groups into one and financially sustaining the one new church were present even in the ALC and LCA, although they had formed more than twenty-five years before the ELCA’s birth. He sees the difficulties experienced by the ELCA, the fruit of the hopes of so many Lutherans throughout American history, as endemic to any church body seeking to be nationwide and multiethnic in America. The General Synod, established in 1820, experienced theological dissension almost immediately, despite the relatively much greater homogeneity of the church body and the nation in the Era of Good Feelings. It even was the cause of a church split before its founding, when the Tennessee Synod formed as an exodus from the North Carolina Synod in opposition to a potentially nationwide church body. How much more, then, will there be dissension and variation in church bodies today that span across the United States and throughout the numerous social classes and ethnic groups America contains?

With a much appreciated lack of noticeable rancor toward the Missouri Synod and other Synodical Conference church bodies, Granquist points out the growing theological heterogeneity of the LCMS in the 1950s and 1960s, in part explaining it by the great demographic changes coming to the Synod with an influx of non-Lutheran, non-Germanic adult converts as the LCMS spread out into the growing suburbs of postwar America. At the very same time lifelong Missourians pursued theological degrees outside of the Synod in large numbers, so that in both church and academe Missouri was less separate than ever. Missouri then began to face the same challenges of integration and Americanization that the General Synod had debated back when the Ministerium of Pennsylvania withdrew to preserve its German heritage. All American Lutherans struggle with almost all the same social, political, and economic challenges, but their different histories lie in how they respond in their preaching and teaching.

It’s in that crisis of confession and theological discernment that one wishes Granquist presented a more theological view of theology. Words drawn from diplomacy crowd out theological words, so that a controversy over confessional subscription or the election of grace is often described in terms of “balance,” “moderates,” “the extreme,” as if everything is finally political. If the church’s history has anything to do with the calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying of the whole Christian church by the Holy Spirit, then a church historian has to make theological judgments. At any given time someone made a true confession and someone did not; if that is not the case, then church historians awash in relativism are of all theologians most to be pitied.

Granquist rightly notes that S.S. Schmucker was more Lutheran than his immediate predecessors in early America, but he is fuzzier on the exact differences between the General Synod and the General Council. It makes it hard for the student to see what all the fuss was about. The Missouri Synod is described in relation to seventeenth-century Lutheran orthodoxy, rather than particularly stringent adherence to the Lutheran confessions. This makes it hard to see why the LCMS objected to the General Council’s Akron-Galesburg Rule, since everyone claimed to be Lutheran. This lack of theological precision makes the old ULCA’s offer of fellowship to any church claiming to be Lutheran seem reasonable and even logical, whereas Missouri and much of Midwestern Lutheranism saw it as the acceptance of error.

Granquist points out succinctly and brilliantly that where nineteenth-century Lutherans presumed the Bible’s authority and clashed over the Confessions’ authority, twentieth-century Lutherans simply clashed over the Bible’s authority. Full-blown Protestant liberalism came late to American Lutheranism, and his suggestion that what he and Maria Erling have called the Lutheran Left, devoted to social and political progressivism as well as theological liberalism, rose to prominence only with the formation of the ELCA is fascinating but undeveloped. Even in the 1920s Charles M. Jacobs’ promotion of Erlangen theology at the Philadelphia seminary provided a way for American Lutherans to differentiate between the Word of God and Scripture. Much work remains to be done on both the Lutheran Left and the rise of biblical criticism in American Lutheranism, without which we have a lot of trouble explaining the events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in both the LCMS and the ELCA and her predecessor bodies.

There is a disappointingly large number of typos in the book. Tulpehocken, the site of an early congregation in frontier Pennsylvania, is sometimes spelled correctly but most often spelled “Tuplehocken.” If that seems obtuse, words like “programming” and the last name of The Lutheran Hour’s founder, Walter A. Maier, are both misspelled, along with a host of other names. At one point the Formula of Concord appears to have been written in 1580, but three years are the difference between that single confessional document and the entire Book of Concord. More effort on its own history would be appreciated from Fortress. The very brief “excurses” between chapters, taken from columns appearing in the Metro Lutheran, repeat things said better elsewhere, except the pieces on Thea Ronning, a Norwegian-American missionary to China, and on Hispanic Lutheranism, the book’s final excursus touching on the Lutheran churches in Puerto Rico and Mexico. Granquist admirably seeks to cover the entirety of his subject’s breadth, although this will leave the author and the reader at times breathless. Based on his knowledge of the Augustana Synod, the reader will learn more about it than, say, the Wauwatosa gospel or the doctrinal differences on the ministry between the LCMS and the WELS. But space and time are limited, and Granquist covers all the main events and characters with as much thoroughness as 300-odd pages allow. His coverage of American history at the opening of each chapter sets the church’s history within the world’s history, where it belongs, since we are “in the world.”

If the world is impossible to escape, then every Lutheran church will face the challenges and opportunities it offers. Nothing will ever stay exactly the same, for better or worse. We all became or are even now still becoming Americans. The question at the end of reading this very valuable book is how an American can be a confessional Lutheran. All sorts of answers have been offered to that question, but one should pay particular attention to the Synodical Conference, which alone of any large church body did not pursue an organic union of its various constituent parts. While requiring a stringent confessional standard and actual teaching and practice in accord with that standard, the Synodical Conference contained the Midwestern and partly Eastern Germans of the LCMS (eventually with its annexed English District and the Finns of the old Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), the Midwestern Germans of what became the Wisconsin Synod, the Norwegians of the old Norwegian Synod and then the ELS, the Slovaks of the SELC, and in the LCMS what was by far American Lutheranism’s largest contingent of African-Americans. This is greater geographic and ethnic diversity than almost any other nationwide Lutheran confessional group, with perhaps greater doctrinal and practical unity than anything preceding or succeeding it. It could be that the organic merger and bureaucratic efficiency so long sought missed the point; that one hymnal, one seminary, or one church body cannot contain the linguistic, ethnic, and regional variety of American Lutherans. Yet unity might be found again as it has been found in the past: in a clear and unanimous confession.

Rev. Adam Koontz
Lititz, Pennsylvania

We’re Already Home: A Response to Joshua Genig

—by Christopher Neuendorf

It’s happened again: a Missouri Synod pastor has jumped ship, defecting to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Joshua Genig, formerly a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia, left his Lutheran parish and in December of last year received the sacrament (in Orthodox belief) of chrismation, together with his household. Of course, as is standard practice in these sorts of situations, Genig has gone public with an article explaining his decision. This one was published in First Things and is movingly entitled “My Journey into the Orthodox Church: We Travel Together Still.” What’s different this time is Genig’s characterization of the Lutheran Church. He argues that to be Lutheran is to be putative Orthodox, that his reception into the Orthodox Church is the culmination of the natural process of life as a Lutheran.

I beg to differ. What I see is a radical discontinuity. Genig’s transition to Eastern Orthodoxy is not the culmination of a process but the renunciation of a confession.

Several considerations compelled Genig to leave the Lutheran Church for Eastern Orthodoxy. Discontent with the liturgical state of things in the Missouri Synod, which many of us would agree is a serious problem, and a desire for his children (including infants, I presume) to be able to receive the Lord’s Supper were a couple of those considerations. Both topics have been and will continue to be hashed out elsewhere. If Genig, right or wrong, found his conscience unable to bear Missouri’s liturgical disarray and our refusal to commune those who cannot examine themselves (1 Cor 11:28), then it is certainly understandable that he would go his own way. Better to live according to the conscience than serve as a pastor in a confession in which one no longer believes.

In my view, however, the chief reason for Genig’s departure for Orthodoxy, or at least its chief result, seems ultimately to have been a change in doctrine. “In Orthodoxy,” he writes, “God is mercy. God is not an angry judge, nor is he wrathful. . . . No need for belated commentary on various theories of the atonement, for no single theory accurately conveys the reality.” The implication is that in Lutheranism, God is wrath, or at least wrathful, and any theory of the atonement seeking to reconcile God’s justice and wrath with His mercy and love, such as that espoused by St. Paul in Romans 3:21–26 and 5:6–21, is a sad doctrinal construct that lacks the vitality and vigor of Orthodoxy, which, as we are told, is not a system of doctrine but a way of life. Though not phrased as boldly, this is the same leap as John Fenton, who explained his departure for Orthodoxy in terms of a doctrinal change: “I am convinced that the Book of Concord contains defective or deficient doctrines not in accord with the faith of the apostles. In simple terms, these deficiencies include . . . the notion that Jesus died to appease His Father’s wrath.” In these statements we learn from two different converts to Orthodoxy that Lutheranism’s problem is not merely deficient practice, but fundamental doctrinal error.

But that “error” defines us as Lutherans: the belief that in Christ God is both just and merciful, just by punishing the sin of the world through the death of His innocent Son and merciful by freely bestowing His Son’s innocence upon a world that had merited death and hell. Take this away and you’ve taken away Lutheranism, at least in any sort of confessional sense. Genig has not ceased to be Lutheran by severing his connection with a fellowship struggling to live up to its own ideals; he has ceased to be Lutheran by ceasing to believe what Lutherans by definition believe.

Patriarch Jeremiah II
Patriarch Jeremiah II

It is this more than anything else that gives the lie to Genig’s contention that Eastern Orthodoxy is the natural culmination of Lutheranism, the true “home” for those of us who claim theological descent from Luther’s Reformation. As Genig writes, “Not only do I believe that the fullness of life is found in Holy Orthodoxy, but I also believe that, in a unique way, this is, in part, the life the Lutheran reformers were after.” In other words, Luther and his colleagues were not struggling to cleanse the Roman church of her errors or to unearth the apostolic faith that had become encrusted with centuries of superstition and false doctrine. They were, in fact, struggling to become Eastern Orthodox whether they knew it or not! Genig finds this reflected in the fact that second-generation Lutheran theologians wrote to the Patriarch of Constantinople seeking a rapprochement. “From the earliest days of the Reformation,” he writes, “the Lutherans sought theological affirmation from the Orthodox Church (and not vice versa), in no small part because they viewed the Orthodox Church as holding unswervingly to the faith of the apostles. The Orthodox were, very simply, the Church.”

One wonders, then, why there is still a Lutheran Church. Surely if the first Lutherans had intended to find shelter under the wings of the Orthodox Church, if they had viewed the Orthodox as “very simply, the Church,” then they would have asked Patriarch Jeremiah II what was necessary for them to do and believe in order to become Orthodox, then changed their teaching and practice accordingly. The Lutheran Church would have been absorbed into the Orthodox Church, her confession renounced.

But that is very different from what in fact happened. Yes, from the beginning the Lutherans acknowledged and respected the Orthodox. Philipp Melancththon in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession appealed to the practice of the Greek Church in his argument for both kinds in the Sacrament (XXII.4), against private masses (XXIV.6), and against a sacrificial understanding of the Lord’s Supper (XXIV.93). Martin Luther in the Smalcald Articles pointed to the Greek Christians as evidence that the Christian Church can exist without a pope (II.IV.4). But this hardly constitutes a recognition of the Orthodox Church as being “very simply, the Church.” Furthermore, when communication was struck up between the Lutheran West and the Greek East, the first move was made by Patriarch Joasaph II, who out of curiosity sent an emissary in 1558–60 to investigate the Lutherans. Melanchthon, having developed a friendship with this emissary, prepared a Greek translation of the Augsburg Confession and attempted to send it to Constantinople, but a correspondence never materialized. It was not until the next generation that communication with Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople was successfully spearheaded by Jacob Andreae, a major contributor to the Formula of Concord.1 The correspondence was cordial, but when both sides realized that they had fundamental disagreements, they politely declined to continue discussion.

So why didn’t the Lutherans just become Orthodox? According to Genig, the Reformers wrote to Constantinople seeking the affirmation of Patriarch Jeremiah II. In fact, however, they wrote to him in hopes that he would prove to be a Lutheran! They were looking for the Orthodox to accept and subscribe the Augsburg Confession. This is hardly the posture of a fellowship seeking affirmation from those who are “very simply, the Church.”

The Lutherans insisted upon Scripture as the sole judge in disagreements, and subjected the Orthodox to the same rule: “There is, indeed, no more sure, nor truer, nor better standard rule for judging all dogmas, all institutes, and usages of faith and human traditions and works, than the Word of the Almighty God of All; the Word, which has been revealed to the human race by the Prophets and Christ and the Apostles and written in the Old and New Testaments for the benefit and the salvation of the entire Church.”2 The Lutheran insistence upon judging all teachers by Scripture led Jeremiah to end the correspondence, writing to the Lutherans, “We request that from henceforth you do not cause us more grief, nor write to us on the same subject if you should wish to treat these luminaries and theologians of the Church in a different manner. You honor and exalt them in words, but you reject them in deeds. For you try to prove our weapons which are their holy and divine discourses as unsuitable.”3 For agreement between Lutherans and Orthodox to take place, either the Lutherans will have to forfeit Scripture as sole rule and norm for Christian teaching, or the Orthodox will have to acknowledge the authority of Scripture over and above the other authorities of their Sacred Tradition. Until that happens, the Lutheran Church is perfectly content to continue submitting to the Word of God, whether the Orthodox join them in that submission or not. We would welcome the Orthodox “home” to the Scriptures, but we do not feel compelled to seek out a home that depends on any authority outside the written Word of God.

What, then, of Genig’s claim that he has “done what the earliest Lutherans had hoped to do”? The earliest Lutherans did not hope to become Orthodox. They were confident in their own orthodoxy, ready to give an account of their teaching before the dread judgment seat of Christ. If anything, they hoped the Orthodox would become Lutheran, that is to say, recognize the Lutheran Confession as right and true, in agreement with Holy Scripture.

Rev. Christopher Neuendorf
Rev. Christopher Neuendorf

Has Genig fulfilled that hope? Certainly not. Instead, he changed his confession to match the Orthodox Church, irrespective of that confession’s agreement or disagreement with Scripture. Whatever Genig may claim, whatever his conscience has compelled him to do, he may not claim solidarity with “the earliest Lutherans.” They did not “come home” to the Orthodox Church because, by virtue of their total submission to the Holy Scriptures, they were already home in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. And we who share in their confession are home in Christ’s Church as well.

I bear no personal animosity toward Joshua Genig. I believe he has followed his conscience, and for that he ought not be condemned. I too followed my conscience years ago, leaving the fellowship of the Orthodox Church and joining myself to a communion that is deeply flawed, constantly struggling, often faithless, but bound together by the one confession that Holy Scripture compels me to claim as my own. I am thankful to be home in the Church of the apostles, the Church that Christ is building upon the rock of the good confession that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, that for our sake He was made sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. And if you’re a Lutheran, you can be glad of that too.

 

Rev. Christopher Neuendorf serves Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa.

 

As an extension of LOGIA, BLOGIA understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed on BLOGIA are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA’s editorial board or the Luther Academy.


  1. George Mastrontonis, Augsburg and Constantinople: The Correspondence between the Tübingen Theologians and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople on the Augsburg Confession (Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982), 8–10, 13–15.
  2. Augsburg and Constantinople, 110.
  3. Augsburg and Constantinople, 306.

Cultural and Theological Readjustments and the Survival of Lutheranism

PROPTER CHRISTUM: The Survival of Lutheranism

Recent years have seen a re-alignment of church bodies, Lutheran and otherwise, as fallout from decisions made regarding sexuality. Some new church bodies, Rev. David Scaer argues, are putting themselves in an untenable position. Their views on scripture and the ordination of women will lead to the same problems which they are currently fleeing. Scaer addresses this question in his contribution to Propter Christum: Christ at the Center, Luther Academy's forthcoming book. Below you will find some of Scaer's thoughts on the issue.

In order to reserve your copy of the rest of this essay, visit LOGIA's website and take advantage of the pre-order price of $24.99 (a savings of 30%) for Propter Christum: Christ at the Center. This offer will expire at the end of August, so order now!

The book, in honor of the retired director of Luther Academy, Daniel Preus, provides a confessional Lutheran perspective on today's world. Essays address women's ordination, church relations, global challenges to Lutheranism, and other contemporary issues. As such, the book is a great resource for understanding and interacting with the world we live in.

 

Cultural and Theological Readjustments and the Survival of Lutheranism

— David P. Scaer

Culture inevitably influences what people believe, even to the extent that a church may come to believe that its faith is indistinguishable from its culture. Some have recognized this cultural invasion and have left such churches to form new ones. At its August 2009 convention, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), swept along by prevailing cultural winds, accepted the ordination of practicing homosexuals as well as the blessing of same-sex alliances and marriages in states where these practices are allowed by law. This cultural accommodation has resulted in some leaving the ELCA to form the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) and the less ecclesiastically structured Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). Similar exoduses have taken place from mainline Episcopal, Reformed, and Presbyterian denominations.

These newly formed churches have a common interest in maintaining traditionally held beliefs. Other issues are reasons for separation, but the blessing of same-sex marriages and the ordination of practicing homosexuals are the most prominent. While these new churches are not debating the legitimacy of women's ordination, this is the real issue-and if it is not addressed, these churches will be little different from the ones they left. For Lutherans in America, the step towards ordaining practicing homosexuals came when the churches forming the ELCA adopted the ordination of women in the 1970s. Women's ordination long has been accepted in the mainline denominations and likely will continue in the new churches. Here is the dilemma for the newly formed churches: They want to establish themselves on a more solidly biblical basis in tune with ancient church practice, but ordaining women as ministers does not belong to the catholic tradition. Commitment to biblical inerrancy does not assure a positive outcome, since Evangelicals who hold to this commitment are divided on women's ordination and the baptism of infants. A prominent argument for Roman Catholics is that the ordination of women deviates from tradition. Paul uses the catholic argument in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 when he says that in all the churches women are forbidden to preach. For those not up to sifting through the biblical objections to the practice, the catholic argument may be the most convincing. A church is not allowed to go off on its own or make its own rules for the ministry. With a keen ELCA interest in keeping relations with Rome intact (for example, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification), its dissidents now in the NALC have good reason to reevaluate retaining women clergy. Supporters of women's ordination in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) who favor closer alliances with Rome should also reconsider their position. . . .

A church's challenge is preaching the gospel in terms that can be understood by the people of that time, but it dare not allow it to be swallowed up by its culture. Bible translations are cultural adjustments that allow speaking in terms people can understand. Sermons take the task further in addressing the word of God to issues Christians face in their time, but the church dare not be overcome by the culture. The Old Testament contains the accounts of how Israel was often shaped by its surrounding polytheistic culture and engaged in pagan worship; succumbing to the worship of the neighborhood gods could be a subtitle for the Old Testament. Christians in Corinth did not entirely divest themselves of Greek philosophy, so some denied the resurrection of the dead. No church is immune from being overtaken by its surrounding the culture-not even professedly confessional churches. Recent events are nothing new. As mentioned, ELCA decisions on homosexuality mirrored first culture and then state laws recognizing same-sex marriages, but this was already happening in discussions about ordaining women. At the time this practice was adopted by Lutheran churches, the eventually failed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was making its way through state legislatures. . . .