Lutheran Anglicans

I met an Anglican priest the other day who, it turns out, was a big fan of Spirituality of the Cross and my other “Lutheran” books.  As I talked with him, I was astonished at how much he was into Lutheranism.  He explained that there is currently a strain in Anglicanism that is seeking to recover its Lutheran roots.

He said Anglicanism generally has had four theological strains:  (1) The mainline Protestantism of the Episcopal Church in America; (2) Anglo-Catholicism; (3) low church evangelicalism, which is often distinctly Reformed; (4) the charismatic movement.

But now, he says, a number of  Anglicans, especially young theologians, are rediscovering Luther, who was a major influence on the founders of Anglicanism, especially Thomas Cranmer.   They are finding that it is possible to be both sacramental and evangelical, liturgical and Biblical.  Above all, they are discovering that the Gospel as Luther understood it–radical, liberating–speaks powerfully to our own times and to the specific struggles of both Christians and non-Christians today.

The main force in this movement of Lutheran Anglicans or Anglican Lutherans is the Mockingbird Ministry, run by David Zahl and friends, whose main presence is the blog known as Mockingbird.  (Read the FAQ for why it’s called that.)  I have been reading and linking to it without realizing its role in a movement.  It’s a brilliant website, in both design and content.  Much of it is taken up with commentary on music, film, literature, and the culture as a whole.  But it’s also full of discussions of the distinction between Law & Gospel and the Theology of the Cross vs. the Theology of Glory.

It draws on ELCA theologians who are still Lutheran, such as Stephen Paulson and Gerhard Forde (who inspires a regular feature called “Forde Friday”), but also Missouri Synod stalwarts such as C. F. W. Walther and Rod Rosenbladt (who is called “our hero” and a formative influence).

And the design and tone are very cool and cutting-edged, not stodgy but young, sophisticated, even avant garde.

I’m not saying it’s all completely on target or could in every instance pass Missouri Synod doctrinal review–a recent post quotes Rudolph Bultmann, though one in which the liberal theologian sounds Lutheran–but it’s a good site to visit.

And it’s a challenge to us Lutheran Lutherans to remind us that, even as some of our own churches play it down, outsiders are finding our theology compelling.

 

Should churches push contraceptives to their singles?

An evangelical conclave has recommended that churches encourage their single members to take contraceptives as a way to cut down on Christians getting abortions:

Two weeks ago, younger evangelical leaders gathered in Washington D.C. to reflect about the shape Christianity should take in the world. Q, the conference hosted by Gabe Lyons, is one of the more interesting spots in the evangelical landscape. Self-conscious in its cultural (which is to say, not political) orientation, conference attendees are an interesting cross-section of the evangelical world. Some might be emergent, others might be Reformed, but no one talks much about all that. It’s concern about social issues, rather than distinctive theological ones, that attendees seem to gather around.

In a breathtaking moment of unity, however, conference attendees affirmed that churches should advocate for contraceptives for the single people in their midst. After a panel discussion on the best ways to reduce abortions in the church (tacit answer: contraception), an instant poll put the question to attendees: “Do you believe churches should advocate contraception for their single twentysomethings?” The question is ambiguously worded (Advocate how? From the pulpit? Which twentysomethings? All of them?). But even so, 70 percent of respondents understood enough to say “yes.”

via Why Churches Shouldn’t Push Contraceptives to Their Singles | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

So if churches can’t influence their members enough to teach them to not have sex or, failing that, to not have abortions, why do they think they can influence them to use contraceptives?  That is for starters.  How else is this problematic?

The three stages of error

Charles Porterfield Krauth was an American Lutheran theologian of the 19th century.  His book The Conservative Reformation is a classic of theology and church history.  You may perhaps have heard what he said about the three stages of error–from the request for toleration to a demand for equality to the imposition of superiority over truth–but thanks to Pastor Mark Schroeder for posting the actual quotation:

“When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of the others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and then only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate the faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it.”

via Steadfast Lutherans » Charles Porterfield Krauth’s Three Steps to Doctrinal and Ecclesial “Nihilism”.

Can you think of some examples of this?

He opens their mind to understand the Scriptures

More from Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon last Sunday, on the connection between Scripture and Jesus:

Luke tells us: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Like the parent who after embracing her child opens the closet to show him that there are no monsters, or who kneels and shows her that there is nothing under the bed, so Jesus next opens the Scriptures to show His children the truth – the truth of His Word. That what happened the past few days was no accident, no series of unfortunate events, and not things spinning out of control – but what had been prophesied and spoken of from the beginning and all through the Scriptures. Everything that had been written, spoke of and pointed to Him and His Easter work.

And so Jesus opened the Scriptures to them and filled their minds with the truth. He told them about the cross and Isaac’s burden of wood in Genesis. He told them about His Supper and the flesh and blood of the passover lamb in Exodus. He told them about His atonement for sin and the sacrifices in Leviticus. He told them about His death for the life of the world, like it was with Joseph. He told them how He was the real strong man, like Samson, who came to crash the gates of his enemy. He told them about the hatred and villainy He and a former King of Israel – David – received, even from their own people. He told them about the being pierced from Zechariah as He showed them His hands and side. He told them how He was Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. He told them about dry bones and resurrection. And with each teaching, each story, each shadow revealed, their fears were taken away and their faith increased. The monsters of uncertainty and the ghosts of sin were taken away, and replaced with the Spirit and Word of God.

Oh, they were still children! They would always be children, just as we will always be. But they were learning as they drank the pure spiritual milk of the Word, and growing up to and into their salvation – which is not a what, but a who. Growing up and into Christ – the one who was speaking to them and not only informing, but forming, them.

And that distinction is important. That the Word of God not only informs us, but also forms us. For being a child of God is not simply a matter of the head, but of the heart. Of life that is not just known, but lived. Perhaps we have too often put asunder these two things that God has joined together. The Word of God became flesh, and He still does, as He now comes and lives in and through us. That we live who we are; who we have been made in our baptism.

That is what John means when he goes on to talk about the “practice of sinning” and the “practice of righteousness.” That is not simply of matter of knowing what is right and wrong, or of will power and determination to follow the Law. It is a matter of being, of abiding in Christ. That born anew as children of God, we no longer follow the false promises and lies of the devil, but instead, follow the true and sure promises of God, and find our life in Him. Practicing righteousness by repenting of our sin and abiding in His forgiveness and love, and thus growing into Him.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Easter 3 Sermon.

A critique of youth ministry

Why does so much youth ministry do so little to keep young people in the Christian faith?  Because the emphasis is on law, not gospel.  So says some evangelical analysts:

Ministry leaders are seeing a major problem among youth groups – an emphasis on behavior modification over the Gospel.

In a series featured on The Gospel Coalition website, several ministers discussed their concerns with how youths were being taught in the church, namely with messages aimed more at keeping them out of trouble.

“Many youth pastors preach moralism over the gospel in order to protect students from self-destruction,” said Cameron Cole, director of youth ministries at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Ala. “Unfortunately, law-driven ministry often yields the opposite of its intention; law and pressure often inflame rebellion.”

Cole doesn’t see a lack of Gospel teaching in youth ministries when it comes to salvation and justification. He believes youth pastors may even be “more faithful” than senior pastors in “helping their flock understand Christianity as saving relationship rather than cultural religion.”

But when it comes to sanctification, or the process of being set apart for holy use, youth ministries are getting it wrong, Cole believes.

“Youth ministry often focuses on emotional exhortation and moral performance,” he observed. “A legalistic tone frequently characterizes the theology of sanctification in youth ministry.”

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According to Brian H. Cosby, associate pastor of youth and families at Carriage Lane Presbyterian Church in Peachtree City, Ga., such teaching has led to widespread belief in “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” where “we are supposed to be ‘good people’” and where God is more like a “cosmic therapist” or “divine butler.”

But Cole understands why youth ministry tends to focus on legalism and behavior.

Simply put, “youth pastors want to see changed lives,” he noted.

“Wanting validation for their tireless labor, youth ministers occasionally focus on behavior modification as a means of providing tangible proof of the efficacy of their ministry. A kid carrying his or her Bible to school, signing a chastity pledge, or sporting a WWJD bracelet may appear like signs of spiritual progress – the fruit of ministry labor for a youth pastor.”

Cole cautioned, however, that “if these actions come out of a student misunderstanding Christianity as a code of behavior rather than heart transformation through the Holy Spirit, then they do not necessarily reflect lasting life change.”

via Youth Ministries Teaching Behavior Modification, Not Gospel?.

Easter is for children

We had yet another good Easter sermon from Pastor Douthwaite, with the texts Luke 24:36-49 (1 John 3:1-7; Acts 3:11-21).  (Remember that it is still Easter.  The lectionary focuses on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, the season ending with Ascension and then Pentecost, which ushers in a new season.)

The thinking of the world and the thinking of the church don’t often agree, and it seems as if they are agreeing less and less these days, about all kinds of issues. But one thing we agree on is that Easter is for children. Yes, for children . . . we just disagree about who the children are! In the thinking of the world, Easter is for children because it’s about candy and bunnies and egg hunts and things like that. But for the church, Easter is for children because Easter is about baptism, and baptism – no matter what age you are – is where we are born anew as children of God. St. Paul tells us in Romans (chapter 6) that baptism unites us to Jesus’ death and resurrection – to Good Friday and to Easter – so that dying with Him, dying to sin, we rise with Him, to a new life of grace. A new life as children of God. And so as we heard from St. John today: “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” And so we are. Children of God, loved by God.

But good parents don’t just have children, they raise children. And so it is with our Father in heaven. And so these weeks following our celebration of Easter are about what our baptism means for us; how we live and grow as children of God. Last Sunday in the Introit, we sang: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation.” Being a child of God is not the end of the story, but the beginning, of growing up to salvation; of growing in faith and love and righteousness; of not growing away from God – in independence, in freedom, in self-sufficiency – but rather into Him. To be like Him. Like Father, like son.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Easter 3 Sermon.

Pastor Douthwaite then goes on to explain how that happens.


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