Churches, sects, denominations, and non-denominations

Sociologist of religion Peter Berger (an ELCA Lutheran) discusses the phenomenon of the Sunday Assembly, which we blogged about yesterday.  He said the fact that atheists too are gathering together following the pattern of religious activities demonstrates the almost universal human need to worship (or the equivalent) and to join together with others who hold common religious or philosophical convictions.

In the course of his discussion, he draws on older sociologists who distinguish between different kinds of religious institutions:  a church (which a person is born into) and a sect (which a person chooses to join).  Such a distinction, it seems to me, grows out of the European state church.  American religion, according to Dr. Berger, has added the concept of the denomination, which a person may be born into or choose freely to join.  Dr. Berger further says that denominations of one sort or another–in the sense of “a community of value, religious or otherwise,” have become inevitable in America, extending even to atheists.

After the jump, read his argument and some questions I have about “non-denominational” churches.  [Read more...]

Charismatic sacrament, charismatic liturgy

Charismatic Christians consider “praise and worship songs” to be, in effect, sacramental, bringing worshippers into the presence of God.  So observes Matthew Sigler, who supports this tradition.  Furthermore, he says, the music and other features of contemporary worship, as the Charismatics devised it, unfolds in a specific sequence according to a theological model.  That is (in my words), it is liturgical.  Problems come, he says, when non-Charismatic Christians lift this music and these worship practices outside of their original context, borrowing them while leaving behind the theology and “pneumatology” that goes with them.

So worship implies a theology, and theology is embodied in worship.  And you can’t just mix and match.  It’s illuminating to hear this from a Charismatic perspective.  And it is both illuminating and ironic to hear an advocate of  contemporary worship (because of his Charismatic theology) agree with us advocates of traditional liturgy (because of our Lutheran theology).  The link and an excerpt after the jump. [Read more...]

And now LINOS

In the political world, you will hear talk of RINOs, Republican In Name Only.  LCMS President Matt Harrison, an accomplished translator, posts his rendition of a letter by the Nazi-battling German theologian Hermann Sasse, who, in praising the Missouri Synod, gives us a useful concept:  Lutherans In Name Only (LINOS). [Read more...]

Conservative Lutherans start dialogue with Catholics

Roman Catholics and the Lutheran World Federation made a splash a few years ago when they came to some agreements about Justification by Faith.  But the much-hyped talk of the two parties getting together has floundered, since many of the liberal Lutherans of the LWF have jumped off the deep end, as far as Catholics are concerned, when it comes to issues of sexuality. Another limiting factor is women’s ordination, practiced by most LWF church bodies, but ruled out by Roman Catholics.

But now, the world organization of conservative Lutherans, the International Lutheran Council (ILC)–whose churches do not ordain women and continue to uphold traditional teachings about sexual morality–is starting talks with Rome.  The goal is surely not union, nor papered-over agreements on justification and other important doctrines, but we’ll see what comes of it.  (Any ideas of what might be some legitimate areas of agreement and co-operation?)

Mathew Block (yes, one “t” is correct), the communications director of the Lutheran Church-Canada, tells about it, including who is involved (including someone from the LCMS)  after the jump. [Read more...]

My take on the Lutheran/Calvinist discussion

Some thoughts on the discussion about Lutherans and Calvinists that was provoked by thoughts from Peter Leithhart and D. G. Hart.  (To get up to date with the latest contributions, see also what Anthony Sacramone had to say about it, as well as Dr. Hart’s rejoinder.)

I am one Lutheran who is not a Calvinist basher.  Having grown up in mainline liberal Protestantism and then hanging out in grad school with collegiate evangelicals, I heard about God’s grace for the first time from a friend who was a Calvinist.  It had never occurred to me and I had never been taught that God accomplishes everything for my salvation.  I found that very liberating.  I read Calvin’s Institutes and was greatly instructed.  I credit Calvin for leading me to Luther, whose theology seemed to me to have everything I appreciated in Calvinism while avoiding some of its problems.   In Lutheranism, I would find  dimensions of grace that I never dreamed of before.  But, frankly, if there had been a Calvinist church in the small Oklahoma town where I got my first teaching job, I might have gone in that direction.  Instead, there was a congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which opened up to me dimensions of grace that I had never dreamed of before, including a deeply sacramental kind of spirituality.  Which brings up my first point:  [Read more...]

Why is Calvinism so influential and not Lutheranism?

There are lots more Lutherans than Calvinists.  And Calvinism has all of those scary doctrines like double predestination and the limited atonement, whereas Lutheranism is, well, happier, with its emphasis on the certainty of grace, Christian freedom, and its affirmation of the secular realm as God’s hidden kingdom.  And yet it’s Calvinism that has been so influential in English and American Christianity and the culture as a whole.  So marvels D. G. Hart, himself a confessional Calvinist and a perceptive scholar of American Christianity.  Read his ruminations after the jump, and then offer your own theories about why this is.

UPDATE:  Anthony Sacramone, former Calvinist who is now a Lutheran, has a very helpful response.

[Read more...]


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