Bringing the Reformation to Protestantism

The original Reformation, whose anniversary we mark on October 31, began in 1517 as an attempt to bring medieval Catholicism back to the Gospel, the Bible, and Vocation. It has occurred to me that today the various Protestant churches need that same Reformation.

THE GOSPEL. Luther nailed his theses on the church door to challenge the practice of selling indulgences. In effect, people were told to give their money to the church, whereupon they would get to go straight to eternal happiness in Heaven. Today, in many Protestant churches, people are being told to give their money to the church, whereupon they are told that they will get health, wealth, and temporal happiness in this world. But the Prosperity Gospel is not the Gospel!

Neither is the Social Gospel of the liberal mainline Protestants, which construe the Kingdom of Heaven as an earthly utopia. Neither is the Social Gospel of many conservative churches, which construe the Kingdom of Heaven as an American civil religion.

In sophisticated theological circles, both of mainline Protestants and among a surprising number of evangelicals, the Gospel has to do with inclusion, of being accepted into the church community. The “New Perspective on Paul” says that the Apostle did not teach justification by grace through faith apart from the Law, as Protestants used to all agree. Rather, by “Law,” he just meant the setting aside of the Judaic ceremonial law. He was concerned with inclusiveness, of allowing Gentiles to become full members of the church alongside of Jews. Not salvation from the guilt and sin that comes from violating the moral law. Similarly, the business of the church today should be including everybody, not proclaiming a supernatural salvation grounded in redemption from sin.

The actual Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has, through His life, death, and resurrection, atoned for the sins of the world. The Protestantism that has drifted away from this Gospel is in need of Reformation.

THE BIBLE. Medieval Catholicism did believe in the Bible. They just didn’t use it much. Today’s mainline Protestants don’t believe in it at all. Many conservative Protestants believe in it–acknowledging its authority, inerrancy and all–but they have stopped reading it in their services and their sermons sometimes have not a shred of Scripture in them. Instead, the preaching is about self-help, pop psychology, politics, or generic inspiration. Sometimes the message is “believe in yourself” or even “have faith in yourself.”

The Reformers taught that the Word of God is not only authoritative, but a means of Grace. They preached the Law, to bring their listeners to repentance, and then they proclaimed the Gospel of free forgiveness in Christ. In the words of Walther, they preached faith into their listeners’ hearts.

The Protestantism that has drifted away from the Word of God is in need of Reformation.

VOCATION. Medieval Catholicism believed that the highest holiness required rejecting marriage, economic labor, and participation in the state. Instead, they required their clergy to take vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience to church authorities (to whose laws they were subject instead of the laws of the land). The Reformation taught that God calls all Christians to love and serve their neighbors in the vocations of the family, the workplace, the state, and the church. God Himself is present in vocations. Vocation was the Reformation doctrine of the Christian life.

Today, many Protestants are torn between a hyperspirituality that denies the significance of earthly life and a hypermaterialism. They do not know how to express their faith in their vocation as citizens. In their work, they either try to formulate a distinctly Christian way of exercising their professions, or they consider their work to be nothing more than a way to keep themselves alive and prosperous until they can go to church and engage in “church work” through the week. Meanwhile, the Christian family is at risk, as the divorce rate is as bad or even somewhat worse than that for unbelievers, a clear sign that Protestants have forgotten the vocation of the family.

The doctrine of Vocation solves the Christian’s problems of cultural engagement, political involvement, and being “in, but not of” the world. It does so by affirming the spiritual significance of the “secular” order while preventing the Church from being secularized.

The Protestantism that has drifted away from Vocation is in need of Reformation.

Lutheranism 101

I finally got my copy of Lutheranism 101, and I recommend it highly.  And not just because I wrote the last chapter, “Putting It All Together.”  It’s not exactly “Lutheranism for Dummies,” since it goes into some real depth, but it is in that family of books that explain things concisely, clearly, visually, and with a light touch.   Here is the publisher’s description:

Lutheranism 101 examines Lutheran beliefs and heritage in a fresh way. If you are a lifelong Lutheran searching for more information or new to Lutheranism looking to understand what we believe, this book will be your guide. It is written in an easy-to-read conversational style with short articles, side-bar features, and some humor. Lutheranism 101 helps create a solid foundation of reference upon which a lifetime of sound teaching can be built.

Explore the basics of Lutheran theology by digging into the history of Lutheranism and making connections between what Lutherans believe and what Lutherans do.

In addition to treating the big issues regarding sin, Christ, and salvation, and the basics of Lutheranism (why they worship the way they do, how Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are part of justification by faith, etc.), the book has priceless little boxed essays (such as one by John Pless on vocation and the Christian life), interesting tidbits (a list of church bodies in world Lutheranism), and useful factoids (how to make the sign of the Cross).

This book is really striking a chord with people. Paul McCain, the publisher at Concordia Publishing House, reports that they sold out the print run after only two and a half weeks and have had to print more already. Clearly, contrary to what some say, laypeople are hungry to learn about theology.

And CPH has it on sale. If you buy it between now and Reformation Day (October 31, as the book will teach you), you can get it for a mere $14.99, a savings of ten bucks! You can take advantage of that offer
here.

Lutheranism 101

Those of you who have read it, please report.

Happy belated Cranach day!

Saturday, October 16, was the day the patron of this blog, Lucas Cranach, the artist of the Reformation, died in 1553, at the age of 81.  (His formal day of commemoration is April 6, set aside to honor him along with other Reformation-era artists, Albrecht Durer and Michelangelo.)  Read about him and contemplate his self-portrait in the sidebar to the right.  He embodies what we keep talking about when it comes to vocation. How should his day be celebrated?

See Commemorating and Remembering Lucas Cranach Today | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

Reformation Week on “Issues, Etc.”

The web-based radio program Issues, Etc. is planning a special series of programs for an early Reformation week, October 18-22, at 5:00 p.m. Central Time. The structure is following the chapters of my book Spirituality of the Cross.  Here are the topics and the guests:

October 18 – The Doctrine of Justification with Dr. Carl Fickenscher
October 19 – The Means of Grace with Pastor Paul McCain
October 20 – The Theology of the Cross with Dr. Scott Murray
October 21 – Vocation & Two-Kingdom Theology with Dr. Steven Hein
October 22 – Worship with Pastor Will Weedon

Cranach’s Law & Grace

I saw a reproduction of this print a long time ago in a church basement, and I was happy to stumble upon it in the Wikipedia Commons. (It’s in the public domain, so you could make big posters of this.) It’s Lucas Cranach’s “Law & Grace”:

Look closely at the details. (Go here for a larger version.) What is Cranach showing artistically about both the Law and the Gospel?

Conference on Lutheranism & the Classics

I’ll be heading out to the seminary at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, for the conference on Lutheranism & the Classics October 1-2.  I’ll be giving a paper on Luther and the Liberal Arts.  If you are in the neighborhood or can come to the neighborhood, ome out for it!  For more information, go here: Concordia Theological Seminary – Lutheranism & the Classics.


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