The rise and fall of the Berlin Wall

Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall, which divided the city–and by extension Germany and Europe itself–between Communism and freedom.  You have simply got to read this account by the Lutheran journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto, who not only saw the wall built and torn down, but was himself with his family personally caught up in the division between East and West.  Most notable in his account is the role Christianity and specifically Lutheranism played in the tearing down of the wall and the fall of Communism.  Alas, though, he says, the Christian revival under Communist persecution has faded, as the former East Germany, now that it is free, has become godless to the core.  But read what he has to say:  Uwe Siemon-Netto’s Blog: And the wall fell down flat.

HT:  Jordan J. Ballor

Schism in Lutheran charities

The Associated Press has a good and remarkably objective story on how the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) is stopping its co-operation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in military chaplaincy and charity work.  From journalist Rachel Zoll:

The latest casualty of the long-running Protestant conflicts over the Bible and homosexuality is a massive network of social service agencies that work in areas ranging from adoption to disaster relief.

The theologically conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod announced this week that direct work with its larger and more liberal counterpart, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has become “difficult if not impossible,” because of doctrinal differences, including the 2009 decision by liberal Lutherans to lift barriers for ordaining gays and lesbians.

Neither denomination would discuss the potential financial impact Wednesday. Many Lutheran-affiliated agencies receive substantial state and federal money through contracts and grants that would not be directly affected by any split. However, similar to Catholic Charities, Lutheran agencies are some of the biggest service providers in their communities and have been struggling to meet increased demand for help during the recession.

Just one of the joint Lutheran agencies, Lutheran Services in America, said on its website that it encompasses more than 300 health and human services organizations with a combined annual budget of more than $16 billion.

“We recognize that this is a difficult issue. It’s complicated,” said the Rev. Herb Mueller, first vice president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, based in St. Louis. “We’re trying to take a nuanced and caring approach to all of these situations that’s also faithful to what the Bible teaches on these issues.”

The Rev. Donald McCoid, an ecumenical officer for the Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said, “we are deeply concerned about the ministries of care that may be challenged by the recent action of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.”

The Lutherans are among several church groups facing fallout over recent steps toward accepting same-sex relationships. The Episcopal Church caused an uproar among fellow Anglicans worldwide in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Just this month, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) formally lifted the celibacy requirement for unmarried clergy, striking down an obstacle to gay and lesbian ordination.

The situation for Lutherans differed in that decades of splits and mergers had already largely divided the religious community along theological lines. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with about 4.5 million members, was formed from church bodies with Danish, Finnish, German and Swedish backgrounds. The merger that led to its latest incarnation occurred in 1988.

Yet, even with separate denominations, Lutherans continued to work together in a wide range of joint ministries such as Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Lutheran World Relief. Among the cooperative agencies are organizations that offer health care to senior citizens, support for the disabled, job training, tutoring and housing, along with finding homes for foster children. Mueller said in an interview that 81 of the 120 recognized service organizations of the Missouri Synod cooperate in some way with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Twenty-two of the agencies offer adoption services or foster care, he said.

The 2.3 million-member Missouri Synod has been studying the issue for more than a year through its Committee on Theology and Church Relations. This week, the panel issued a 15-page document of guidelines for churches, congregants and ministries on how they should decide whether to continue direct joint work with the Chicago-based Lutherans.

The only immediate announced break was for the Missouri Synod to stop its practice of training military chaplains with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The president of the Missouri Synod, the Rev. Matthew Harrison, said in a statement that the decision, effective next year, was based on the ELCA decision on gay ordination, and on the military’s plan to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy. The two denominations had trained military chaplains together for decades, but

However, the guidelines for evaluating the joint relationships made it clear that cooperative work in many of the agencies is likely to end.

via Gay split causes upheaval for Lutheran charities – Faith and Values – TheState.com.

Why can’t the two denominations work together to deliver relief for earthquake victims and the like, just because they differ about homosexuality?  Explain.

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

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.


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