What about all these churches?

Reformation Day is nothing to celebrate, according to some Christians.  It marks the day Christianity was shattered into countless little sects.  We need to find unity rather than revel in things that divide us.  Luther’s breaking away from what was then one Church was a tragedy.

First of all, Luther didn’t break away from the Church.  He was excommunicated!  There is a big difference.  Secondly, the Church did need reforming.  Even the Church of Rome came to admit that, finally coming to grips with the financial and moral corruption that had become rife in late medieval Christianity.  If there were no Reformation, there would have been no Counter-Reformation.

As for all of the subsequent church bodies, Paul McCain, in a Reformation Day meditation, offers a useful taxonomy:

Another point that confuses many people is the fact that there are so many different churches to choose from. It is an awful mess, so it seems. Yes, it can be confusing, but it really is not as complicated as some would think, or want to maintain. Up until the year 1054 there was basically one unified Christian church, distinct from a number of non-Christian or anti-Christian heretical groups. In 1054 the church divided into Eastern and Western Christianity. By the time of the late Middle Ages the Western Church, which had come to be known as the Roman Catholic Church, had reached a point of deep corruption, most importantly in what it believed, but also in the morals and life of the clergy and church leadership. In 1517 there began what we know today as the Reformation, when Martin Luther, a professor and monk in Wittenberg, Germany posted a series of “talking points” on the practice of selling “indulgences” by which people were led to believe they could buy forgiveness of sins, for their dead relatives in purgatory. A person has to decide is the Lutheran view of Christianity is correct, or the Roman Catholic view is correct.

After the Reformation, many groups developed from the teachings of persons other than Martin Luther, most notably, two men: Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, who did much of his work in Geneva. These two men and their writings gave rise to many churches that can be traced back to and grouped under the general category of “Reformed” churches. In America in the 19th and 20th century there arose many splinter groups from Reformed churches, these would include “Charismatic” and “Pentecostal” groups, along with groups that rejected all denominations and became, in effect, a denomination of their own, the so-called “non-denominational” churches. And so the question then becomes, “Is Lutheran theology correct, or Reformed theology correct?” So, is it Rome or Wittenberg. If Wittenberg, then is it Geneva or Wittenberg?” Once those decisions are made, the myriad of denominations today makes a lot more sense.

But there is an additional challenge unique to our century and more so the past half-century. Today, despite all their denominational differences and historic confessions, the vast majority of Christian churches in Protestantism have been nearly overwhelmed by the rise of liberal Christianity. This unites them more so than any other feature of their confession of faith. Historic differences are no longer regarded as divisive since these divisions were based on one group’s understanding of the Biblical text as opposed to another group’s understanding of the Bible. For example, the difference between Lutheran and Reformed views of the Lord’s Supper are very important and based on very serious and clear differences in how the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper are understood. Liberalism however regards the words of Jesus in the Bible as unreliable. It teaches that we can not be sure that what is recorded in the Bible is true and accurate, therefore, there is no point in being “dogmatic” about much of anything having to do with the Bible. Modern liberalism has swept through all Christian denominations, Lutheran Reformed, Protestant and Roman Catholic.

via The Festival of the Reformation: October 31 – Does Being Lutheran Still Matter? | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

So one must decide if Rome was right, or if Wittenberg was right?  (Or, before that, I suppose, if Constantinople was right.)  If Luther was right to post those theses, the next decision is whether Wittenberg or Geneva was right.  And then, I suppose, a choice between a number of other places (Canterbury?  New Bedford?  Plymouth, Massachusetts?  Upstate New York?  Chicago?  Azusa Street?)

But now EVERYBODY also must decide between conservative theology and the new (and unifying) liberal theology.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://infanttheology.wordpress.com Nathan
  • http://infanttheology.wordpress.com Nathan
  • Helen K.

    Yesterday I just attended the first of our pastor’s classes for new members and/or inquirer at our local LCMS church I’ve been attending. The session was even better than I thought it might be. Having been involved in non-denominational type churches (some baptist types) all my life, I was delighted to see how the Gospel is proclaimed. And pastor gave some insights on a few verses I’d never heard explained that way before. There just isn’t enough time as the classes are between worship services and only one hour. I could have listened all day. One fun note and not boasting….I was the only person (out of around 18 people ) that I noticed who could turn to a book in the Bible without consulting the index. I guess all that carrying a bible to church and using it throughout the service during the baptist type messages wasn’t for nothing. (: I can’t wait for the next session in a week!

  • Helen K.

    Yesterday I just attended the first of our pastor’s classes for new members and/or inquirer at our local LCMS church I’ve been attending. The session was even better than I thought it might be. Having been involved in non-denominational type churches (some baptist types) all my life, I was delighted to see how the Gospel is proclaimed. And pastor gave some insights on a few verses I’d never heard explained that way before. There just isn’t enough time as the classes are between worship services and only one hour. I could have listened all day. One fun note and not boasting….I was the only person (out of around 18 people ) that I noticed who could turn to a book in the Bible without consulting the index. I guess all that carrying a bible to church and using it throughout the service during the baptist type messages wasn’t for nothing. (: I can’t wait for the next session in a week!

  • http://www.allenthemelancholy.com/ Allen

    “But now EVERYBODY also must decide between conservative theology and the new (and unifying) liberal theology.”

    How about rephrasing

    “But now EVERYBODY also must decide between orthodox creedal theology and abundant life theology.”

    By abundant life I mean not only prosperity gospel but “How to be a better xxx in xxx easy steps”

  • http://www.allenthemelancholy.com/ Allen

    “But now EVERYBODY also must decide between conservative theology and the new (and unifying) liberal theology.”

    How about rephrasing

    “But now EVERYBODY also must decide between orthodox creedal theology and abundant life theology.”

    By abundant life I mean not only prosperity gospel but “How to be a better xxx in xxx easy steps”

  • LAJ

    Helen

    Would that all new members enjoyed it as much as you!

  • LAJ

    Helen

    Would that all new members enjoyed it as much as you!

  • Helen K.

    Thank you LAJ!

    Pastor used the NIV at this session. I was slightly surprised after reading so much about the The new Lutheran Study Bible. It was the older version of the NIV, not the recent one that was rejected by the SBC.

    Pastor gave a neat little explanation of how the various synods came to be. I feel like I had an advantage having read so many of the comments in the discussions here and also in some other Lutheran blogs. Many of the attendees were actually already Lutherans and came to the class for review. I enjoy church and religious history so this is a real treat.

  • Helen K.

    Thank you LAJ!

    Pastor used the NIV at this session. I was slightly surprised after reading so much about the The new Lutheran Study Bible. It was the older version of the NIV, not the recent one that was rejected by the SBC.

    Pastor gave a neat little explanation of how the various synods came to be. I feel like I had an advantage having read so many of the comments in the discussions here and also in some other Lutheran blogs. Many of the attendees were actually already Lutherans and came to the class for review. I enjoy church and religious history so this is a real treat.

  • larry

    Luther comments a number of times about what to make of all the heresies and sects that arise and have risen, basically answering some form of the question why God allows such. Among the answers he gives are, not exhaustive:
    1. To know who is a truly approved. It shows forth a clear difference that can be discerned.
    2. So the sheep will hear the Shepherd’s voice and not another. Hear the sheep will hear their true Shepherd through the voices of true shepherds and amidst the noise of numerous false shepherds and confessions in sheep’s cloth. An appeal to the “godliness” of a man be it Calvin or the Pope, and not their doctrine, is a diversion of the eyes to the sheep’s cloth overlaying them.
    3. To give faith something to exercise against. The flesh can often become rather indolent and faith wanes, heresies give rise for faith to have the opportunity to exercise its muscle against and also this gives rise for confession. Otherwise the Gospel might fade away and that simply cannot happen.
    4. As a judgment for rejecting His word. This is the most frightening, because here God gives strong delusion so that folks will believe the lies and not the truth. The weight of this should not be underestimated, because when God gives strong delusion, mind you it is God doing it and one will not step outside of one’s self and “see” one’s self being deluded. One is rather submersed within it not able to see. Keep in mind this is due to rejecting His Gospel/Word.
    5. Scripture predicts this. Many would say proof that the bible is false is due to the massive disagreement amidst the denominations/confessions. Yet if there were none then that would be a sign that Scripture was false for Scripture itself predicts the arising so many false teachers/confessions and pictures them as wolves in sheep’s clothing and plagues of locust out of hell who look disarming with fine hair and human features, yet are wolves and have lines teeth. Similarly the dragon who speaks like a lamb.
    6. On the devil’s side many are led astray because of it. Luther points out that many are led away from the true orthodox faith for this very reason. It’s not the fault of orthodoxy which heterodoxy often lays the charge at their feet (e.g. “see how you doctrinal wonks lead many away from the faith with your church dividing insistence on pure doctrine”). But from an enemy general’s strategic perspective the entire act of mass heterodoxies itself drives many away from the truth.

    In fact two of the greatest signs nearing the end we find in Paul’s letters and alluded to in Revelation is (1) the proliferation of mass heresies (which we increasingly see today as this article even points out), and (2) when at last it is said, “peace, peace….” Sudden destruction descends upon the world like a thief in the night. This is not a worldly peace as in “no war” or some such, though it could include that, but in reality that dreamy ecumenical unification where at last orthodoxy is dispatched and heterodoxy finds its much desired “brotherly” (not doctrinal) unity. That’s when people say, “peace, peace…” and would not expect a thief in the night to come and mess up such a “brotherly” unification. They would expect “reward” not final judgment, hence “thief in the night unexpected”.

  • larry

    Luther comments a number of times about what to make of all the heresies and sects that arise and have risen, basically answering some form of the question why God allows such. Among the answers he gives are, not exhaustive:
    1. To know who is a truly approved. It shows forth a clear difference that can be discerned.
    2. So the sheep will hear the Shepherd’s voice and not another. Hear the sheep will hear their true Shepherd through the voices of true shepherds and amidst the noise of numerous false shepherds and confessions in sheep’s cloth. An appeal to the “godliness” of a man be it Calvin or the Pope, and not their doctrine, is a diversion of the eyes to the sheep’s cloth overlaying them.
    3. To give faith something to exercise against. The flesh can often become rather indolent and faith wanes, heresies give rise for faith to have the opportunity to exercise its muscle against and also this gives rise for confession. Otherwise the Gospel might fade away and that simply cannot happen.
    4. As a judgment for rejecting His word. This is the most frightening, because here God gives strong delusion so that folks will believe the lies and not the truth. The weight of this should not be underestimated, because when God gives strong delusion, mind you it is God doing it and one will not step outside of one’s self and “see” one’s self being deluded. One is rather submersed within it not able to see. Keep in mind this is due to rejecting His Gospel/Word.
    5. Scripture predicts this. Many would say proof that the bible is false is due to the massive disagreement amidst the denominations/confessions. Yet if there were none then that would be a sign that Scripture was false for Scripture itself predicts the arising so many false teachers/confessions and pictures them as wolves in sheep’s clothing and plagues of locust out of hell who look disarming with fine hair and human features, yet are wolves and have lines teeth. Similarly the dragon who speaks like a lamb.
    6. On the devil’s side many are led astray because of it. Luther points out that many are led away from the true orthodox faith for this very reason. It’s not the fault of orthodoxy which heterodoxy often lays the charge at their feet (e.g. “see how you doctrinal wonks lead many away from the faith with your church dividing insistence on pure doctrine”). But from an enemy general’s strategic perspective the entire act of mass heterodoxies itself drives many away from the truth.

    In fact two of the greatest signs nearing the end we find in Paul’s letters and alluded to in Revelation is (1) the proliferation of mass heresies (which we increasingly see today as this article even points out), and (2) when at last it is said, “peace, peace….” Sudden destruction descends upon the world like a thief in the night. This is not a worldly peace as in “no war” or some such, though it could include that, but in reality that dreamy ecumenical unification where at last orthodoxy is dispatched and heterodoxy finds its much desired “brotherly” (not doctrinal) unity. That’s when people say, “peace, peace…” and would not expect a thief in the night to come and mess up such a “brotherly” unification. They would expect “reward” not final judgment, hence “thief in the night unexpected”.

  • #4 Kitty

    “But now EVERYBODY also must decide between conservative theology and the new (and unifying) liberal theology.”

    Is this the new “Decision Theology”?

  • #4 Kitty

    “But now EVERYBODY also must decide between conservative theology and the new (and unifying) liberal theology.”

    Is this the new “Decision Theology”?

  • http://infanttheology.wordpress.com Nathan

    My own efforts to heal the divorce : ) :

    http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/round-2-with-rc-apologist-dave-armstrong-the-unattractive-body-of-christ/

    (round 2 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong – lengthy, not for the faint of heart).

  • http://infanttheology.wordpress.com Nathan

    My own efforts to heal the divorce : ) :

    http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/round-2-with-rc-apologist-dave-armstrong-the-unattractive-body-of-christ/

    (round 2 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong – lengthy, not for the faint of heart).


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X