Where are the Lutherans, revisited

Reformed baptist Kevin DeYoung raise a question on his blog asking where are the  Lutherans in the contemporary evangelical scene.  It provoked quite a conversation, both on his blog and here.  As a follow-up, Kevin interviewed Paul McCain of Concordia Publishing House.  Paul did a superb job of communication.  You’ve got to read his the entire interview:   Those Dern Lutherans: An Interview with Paul T. McCain – Kevin DeYoung.  I especially liked his concluding remarks:

9. Anything else you think the world needs to know about Lutherans?

I would say this: I think Evangelicals often find themselves searching for something they feel might be a bit “missing” in their Christian walk, and think that Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy may fit the bill, while all the while Lutheranism is there, right around the corner. Often when they find a traditional Lutheran Church they are surprised to find a robust, rich worship life, rooted in the Scripture (which is what the liturgy is, in its entirety). They find a rich focus on Christ and the Gospel–Lutherans are adamant that Christ is the heart and center of everything, and they also find a tangible experience with God, not based simply on feelings or emotions, but on a concrete and objective experience with God’s grace through the sacraments. And all this is wrapped up in such a vibrant passionate love for Jesus. We Lutherans combine the best of what is Evangelical, with the best of what is truly catholic about the Church, with the rich heritage of the Lutheran Reformation. I think it is a winning combination, but of course, I’m kind of biased.

Which raises another issue:   Many evangelicals yearn for sacraments and liturgy and historic Christianity.  They seem to first become Anglicans and then migrate to Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy.   To be sure, some find Lutheranism, where sacramentalism and liturgical worship go hand in hand with a theologically rigorous commitment to the Bible and to the Gospel.  And yet many ex-evangelicals do not even consider Lutheranism but go right to other traditions even at the expense of giving up  the Gospel of justification by Christ alone (in favor of Rome’s  justification by faith plus works, or Constantinople’s theosis).  I mean, I can understand someone ceasing to believe in the evangelical view of justification–and many “evangelicals” are now disbelieving in it, which is a major reason to leave their churches–but I don’t see the Lutheran alternative even being considered by many of these folks.

Why is that?  Is it that they don’t know about it, or that if they go to a Lutheran church they find one trying to be like the one they want to leave?  In which case, this is the fault of Lutherans, and our lack of contact with other Christians, which is what DeYoung first complained about, has to be a factor.  Or are these ex-evangelicals running towards elements of Catholicism or Orthodoxy that are already inherent in their own theologies, namely, a preference for moralism (as opposed to the Lutheran freedom in the Gospel) and absolute authority (the pope or tradition as a more certain authority than how they formerly used the Bible, as opposed to the Lutheran view that sees the Bible as an authority that gives us mysteries, not rationalistic clarity, and that functions primarily as a means of grace in which God’s Word addresses us personally)?

The Antichrist, revisited

You have GOT to read Mollie Hemingway’s column in the Wall Street Journal, which should definitively put to rest the media’s shocked discovery that Lutherans believe that the papacy is the antichrist.   The piece has the best lede (journalese for opening paragraph) that I’ve read in a long time:

American political reporters aren’t known for their vocal support of Roman Catholic teachings. But when they discovered recently that Minnesota Congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was once a Lutheran, they began defending the papacy as if they were the Vatican’s own Swiss Guard. They asked with concern, could Catholics even vote for a former Lutheran?

The media as the Swiss Guard!  After patiently explaining the Lutheran position and its historical and theological context, she also includes an interesting detail about the current antichrist’s–I mean, pope’s–interest in Lutheranism!

And yet the current pope, Benedict XVI, is particularly close to the Lutherans. As his biographer John Allen has written, the Lutherans are to Pope Benedict what the Orthodox were to his predecessor John Paul: “the separated brethren he knows best, and for whom he has the greatest natural affinity.” Indeed, far from the sectarian battles that reporters may envision, the fact is that confessional Lutherans and Pope Benedict are partners in the battle against what he has called the “dictatorship of relativism.”

via Mollie Ziegler Hemingway: Michele Bachmann and the Pope – WSJ.com.

A prominent evangelical discovers Bo Giertz

Remember our recent discussion about “Where are the Lutherans?”, responding to another blog complaining that Lutherans are invisible in the evangelical world?  Well, here is a post from Tullian Tchividjian.  He is a Reformed pastor, the grandson of Billy Graham and the successor to the late D. James Kennedy as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian church.  He describes reading The Hammer of God  by the Swedish Lutheran bishop and novelist Bo Giertz.  The result?  A  “Copernican revolution” in his ministry:

After sitting on my shelf uncracked for the better part of last year, I finally decided to read Bo Giertz’s classic novel The Hammer of God (first published in 1941). I first heard about this book from my friends Elyse Fitzpatrick and Mike Horton. I’m a third of the way through it and it is simply breathtaking. Giertz was a master storyteller and theologian. Both of these gifts shine brightly on every page of this book. It is the story of three pastors who learn the necessity of relying on God’s grace. It is law/gospel theology in the most captivating narrative form. But, you’ll have to read it for yourself. I just want to share one part. I need to first give some context, though.

Set in Sweden in the early 1800′s, Henrik is a young, remarkably gifted and fiery preacher who very much looks up to Justus Johan Linder, a preacher ten years his senior. Henrik is having a crisis of faith. Bothered by the worldliness all around him, he has become widely known for his passionate pleas and exhortations for people to stop sinning. He’s meticulous in his examination of sinful behavior both in and out of the pulpit. And it is bearing fruit. The church is packed every Sunday and bad behavior is declining in the village. But, much to his surprise, pride and self-righteousness are popping up everywhere. He’s noticed that while drinking and debauchery may be at an all time low, a cold and legalistic hardness of heart has emerged in their place. While on the one hand Henrik is encouraged to see external worldliness dissipating, he’s remarkably discouraged to see a cold, loveless culture developing. Not only that, but now he’s beginning to realize the depth of his own sin. He feels like a hypocrite for preaching so strongly against the external manifestation of sin while ignoring the deeper problem, sin’s root. In despair over his own inability to be as good as he tells other people to be, he breaks down and confesses to Linder that he’s not even sure he’s saved. Linder’s response is pure gold:

Henrik, we must start again from the beginning. We have thundered like the storm [speaking of the way he and Henrik have preached God's Law], we have bombarded with the heaviest mortars of God’s Law in an attempt to break down the walls of sin. And that was surely right. I still load my gun with the best powder when I aim at unrepentance. But we had almost forgotten to let the sunshine of the gospel shine through the clouds. Our method has been to destroy all carnal security by our volley’s, but we have left it to the soul’s to build something new with their own resolutions and their own honest attempts at amending their lives. In that way, Henrik, it is never finished. We have not become finished  ourselves. Now I have instead begun to preach about that which is finished, about that which is built on Calvary and which is a safe fortress to come to when the thunder rolls over our sinful heads. And now I always apportion the Word of God in three directions, not only to the self-satisfied [the bad people] as I did formerly, but also to the awakened [the "good" people] and to the anxious, the heavy laden and to the  poor in spirit. And I find strength each day for my own poor heart at the fount of redemption.

Henrik is captivated by the “new” way in which Linder is preaching and he asks about the results. “Do you note any difference?”

Linder answers:

In the first place, I myself see light where formerly I saw only darkness. There is light in my heart and light over the congregation. Before, I was in despair over my people, at their impenitence. I see now that this was because I kept thinking that everything depended on what we should do, for when I saw so little of true repentance and victory over sin, helplessness crept into my heart. I counted and summed up all that they did  [to clean up their act], and not the smallest percentage of debt was paid. But now I see that which is done, and  I see that the whole debt is paid. Now therefore I go about my duties as might a prison warden who carries in his pocket a letter of pardon for all  his criminals. Do you wonder why I am so happy? Now I see everything in the sun’s light. If God has done so much already, surely there is hope for what remains.

The way Linder describes the transformation that took place in his preaching is almost identical to the transformation that has taken place in mine (and Chuck’s–click here). I  have a long way to go (bad habits die slowly, for sure). But a Copernican revolution of sorts has taken place in my own heart regarding the need to preach the law then the gospel without going back to the law as a means of keeping God’s favor.

via The Whole Debt Is Paid – Tullian Tchividjian.

I would add that I have just reviewed a manuscript by Rev. Tchividjian entitled Jesus + Nothing = Everything, in which he describes his growing understanding of the  Gospel, with the help of writers including Gerhard Forde, C. F. W. Walther, and Harold Senkbeil.  So there are the Lutherans for contemporary evangelicals.

HT:  Larry Wilson

When government embraces religion

A speaker at the National Press Club called for making religion central to our foreign policy. He made a lot of sense at first, but then fell off the deep end:

The best way to address Jihadist terrorism is to make religion a central component of American foreign policy, according to Douglas Johnston, an expert on foreign policy and religion, who spoke at the National Press Club on June 23.

“We’re dealing with symptoms and not the real cause,” Johnston said in a critique of current U.S. policy. “And that’s the problem.”

The International Correspondents Committee hosted the event to coincide with the launch of Johnston’s new book, “Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement.”

The book argues that what is required today is a longer-term strategy of cultural and religious interaction, backed by a deeper understanding of how others, especially the Muslims, view the world and what is important to them.

As a first step, the State Department must immediately appoint religion officers at its embassies overseas, just like the military attaches, according to Johnston. They must be given a prominent role with clear-cut policy directives based on the fundamental American principle of tolerance and accommodation with other religions.

In this context, he suggested the experiment should begin at home with American Muslims. He lamented the fact that they feel alienated and shunned.

“It’s a shame that we’ve failed to embrace them wholeheartedly,” Johnston said.

As a first step, he said efforts should be made to arrange for Imams of mosques in America to deliver sermons at churches, and pastors should go to mosques to talk about their religion.

Johnston, who runs the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, added that the whole approach should demonstrate the essence of what he called “organic suasion,” meaning “change and healing from within.”

He also advocated spreading Madrassa education with emphasis on critical thinking.

“We’ve got very positive results through our projects in Pakistan and how it can change the attitude of Madrassa students,” said Johnston, a former Naval officer and veteran of the intelligence community who holds a Ph.D. in political Science from Harvard.

Most of the panelists essentially agreed with Johnston’s premise, saying religion should take center stage, rather than a back seat, in the formulation of American foreign policy.

Arrange for Muslims to preach in Christian churches, and vice versa?  The government would arrange that, as a “first step”?  Surely it would be better for the government to keep religion in the back seat–or even persecute it–than to give it “center stage” in an inevitably syncretistic civil religion.

via Johnston: To counter Jihadists, put religion at center of foreign policy | The National Press Club.

HT:  Aaron Lewis

Those edgy, dangerous Lutherans

You’ve got to read Mollie Hemingway on the Lutheran/anti-Christ controversy, in which she notes the irony of the media becoming indignant over the “anti-Catholic bias” of the Lutheran confessions, while they themselves savage Roman Catholic beliefs at every opportunity.  An excerpt:

Also, you’re kidding me that Lutheran views on the papacy are controversial. Again, there is no doubt that they were controversial back when Pope Leo X was in power. Where’s the controversy now? Except in the pages of papers that are normally working overtime against Catholicism and its views on abortion, euthanasia, the priesthood, marriage and social norms? And traditional Christian views on homosexuality are now “controversial,” too. How come that never works the other way? You know what word wasn’t used once in that 5500-word hagiography of Dan Savage and his support for consensual adultery that the New York Times Sunday magazine frontpaged two weeks ago? “Controversial.” . . .

But the WELS is controversial. Got that? I want everyone to remember that confessional Lutherans are the new dangerous, edgy people. I have so wanted this reputation for so long and I don’t want this opportunity to be missed. We’ve been tarnished as the people of casseroles and you-betcha for too long.

But who thinks that we’re so edgy? Hard to tell. Here’s how the Post puts it:

It has been criticized in part because it holds that the Catholic pope is the Antichrist.

By whom? By noted theologianreporter Joshua Green? By 16th Century Catholics? The passive voice is really inappropriate considering how much this article is built around the claim of a controversy that presumably extends beyond the Washington Post newsroom or liberal blogs that never would have supported Bachmann in any case. I mean, I doubt that lapsed or collapsed Catholics give much of a hoot about it and I’m pretty sure that all of the more regular Mass-going Catholics I know would pick the media over the Lutherans when deciding who’s involved in a coordinated, if not vicious, campaign against their church.

Lutheranism & the Antichrist

The teaching that got Michele Bachmann into trouble–that the papacy is the antichrist– and made her leave Lutheranism in order to be a creditable presidential candidate (see the other post for today) is not limited to the Wisconsin Synod.  It is a tenet of the Lutheran Confessions, serving as the climax of Melanchthon’s Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (41-42) and affirmed throughout the Smalcald Articles.  This, however, is not in the sense of the premillennialist understanding of the Antichrist, as in the Left Behind series or in the various historical figures from Napoleon to Henry Kissinger who have been given this label.  Rather, it is in this sense, as explained in another one of those confessions, referring to the notion that humanly devised ritual, rather than the Gospel, confer saving power:

If the adversaries defend these human services as meriting justification, grace, and the remission of sins, they simply establish the kingdom of Antichrist. For the kingdom of Antichrist is a new service of God, devised by human authority rejecting Christ, just as the kingdom of Mahomet has services and works through which it wishes to be justified before God; nor does it hold that men are gratuitously justified before God by faith, for Christ’s sake. Thus the Papacy also will be a part of the kingdom of Antichrist if it thus defends human services as justifying.  Apology of the Augsburg Confession XV. 18.

Now Lutherans are not alone in this.  Reformed confessions say the same thing in the Westminster Confession, Chap. 25, Art. 6, though conservative Calvinists in the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have apparently repudiated that section. (Perhaps someone from one of those traditions could explain how it is  possible to be a confessional body, as these groups claim to be, while rejecting part of the confession.)  The Reformed Baptists also associate the pope with anti-christ in their statement of faith.  (See this Catholic site, which keeps track of such things.)

Perhaps a better question could be asked by reporters to ferret out “anti-Catholicism” with an even broader application:  “Do you consider Roman Catholics to be Christians?”   Many, if not most, evangelicals will say, “no.”  Lutherans, on the other hand, including those who believe the pope to be antichrist will say, “yes.”   The Church of Rome is still part of the church, since it retains the Word and Sacraments, which are the marks of the Church, and the Gospel is still present in its liturgy and in the teachings of many of its pastors and theologians.  A major argument that Roman Catholics are part of the true church is precisely that, according to 2 Thessalonians 2, the antichrist will arise in the true church!  Lutherans, unlike many other conservative Protestants, do affirm that Roman Catholics may well and often do have saving faith in Christ.

These theological subtleties, of course, will go over the head of most reporters and other outside observers.  Does that mean it would be impossible for a confessional Lutheran–or a Calvinist who confesses the whole Westminster Confession or an Evangelical open about his or her beliefs about who is a true Christian–to win the Catholic vote and thus win national office?


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