Monday, May 7, 2012

A Warning to Lutherans to Avoid Evangelical Errors

I have noticed in certain strains of Evangelical Catholicism some tendencies which tend toward some of the same errors as American Evangelicalism. I don't mean that we have suddenly started singing 7-11 choruses or having our Pastors preach on the latest popular movie in his "Jesus is my homeboy" t-shirt. However, I have noticed a certain strain of emotionalism and obsession with aesthetics which mimics that of mega church culture. Let me explain.

I have, for example, heard some Lutherans say that they "feel more worshipful" when the Pastor is wearing a chausable, or when incense is used during the service. This is then the justification for those practices. Or, I have heard of some who claim to be Lutherans simply because they appreciate the aesthetics of liturgy over dull evangelical worship styles. I have heard faithful Lutheran churches denigrated simply because they don't have enough chanting during the service, or the Pastor chooses an alb and stole over a chausable. Is this not simply buying into the same emotionalism which drives evangelicalism? Stating that you feel God's presence through the beauty of the liturgy, vestments, and church architecture, is not all that different from the concept of feeling God's presence through the emotionally manipulating music. Sure, its a heck of a lot more classy than the contemporary version of it. I'm emotionally moved far more by Bach or Handel than Chris Tomlin or Michael W. Smith. However, the same error can be mimicked.

I'm not saying that emotion shouldn't be part of worship. The beauty of the liturgy is certainly one of the great benefits of being a Lutheran. Beautiful music does and should move us emotionally. Vestments and architecture do convey a sense of the presence of the Holy that isn't present in many modern churches. However, there is a danger when this becomes the overriding concern. That which drives a Lutheran should be the gospel as presented in the Lutheran Confessions, and the administration of the sacraments. The beauty of the worship is a secondary concern. God is present just as much in the small country church with 20 congregants, a Pastor who can't carry a tune, an organist who can't play in an ugly sanctuary, as He is in a beautiful Cathedral full of candles, icons, and incense.

I love high church services with all of the smells and bells. However, I think we have to be careful where our priorities lie. If I were to worship solely according to the beauty and emotion conveyed in worship, I'd be Eastern Orthodox, not Lutheran. But the central concern of ours should be the gospel, which is proclaimed more clearly in the Lutheran church than any other. That is what makes us Lutheran and should keep us Lutheran.


Daniel Casey said...

I left a strict expositional-only teaching ( they called it preaching ) PCA church where I could listen to sermons for 45 minutes and barely hear the gospel or even Jesus name. But I could learn how to parse greek and hebrew.

They were "solid" by reformed standards, but I was starving to hear the Gospel.

Now attending a mildly liturgical LCMS church and I am guaranteed to hear the gospel every Sunday morning.

I would prefer a little higher church, a little more this, a little less that. But I'm glad me and my family hear Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.

I find some of the rants going around the LCMS and on many blogs a bit tiring. Focusing so much on how worship is done versus is the Gospel being proclaimed? Are the sacraments being performed?

It's possible for worship to be done to the letter, but have a flock who don't know their Shepherd.

Martin Yee said...

Hi Justin,

I would like to add that the liturgy and vestments are adiaphoras. Dr Charles Arand of Concordia Seminary St Louis, has written and presented a paper previously on this. Dr Arand asserted that not all adiaphora are equal in importance. Some are more important than others. So how do we decide? He likened it to a kid's trainer bike. The front wheel guiding the bike is the Gospel. The adiaphora should promote a proper understanding of the Gospel and not hinder it. The two trainer wheels which helps to balance the bike are the continuity with church tradition and contextual relevance. Both are important to consider. The back wheel is the consensus of the congregation. Without the congregation's support behind the pastor cannot move forward.

Also liturgy and vestments are not just aesthetics or emotion evoking. They are powerful symbols. Symbols besides pointing to a reality also involve participation of those involved. Just like when you raise up the star and the stripes it is not just a piece of cloth you are raising up. Imagine if someone puts a lighter to it, what is the reaction? Is it just a piece of colored cloth, why get emotional about it?

Just a thought,

Martin yee

Jordan Cooper said...

Martin, I couldn't agree more. The bike analogy is helpful.
I agree that liturgy and vestments aren't simply aesthetic and emotion invoking. However, I have unfortunately seen some who take them that way. I love the historic liturgy and its symbolism which is there to strengthen and point toward gospel proclamation.

Jordan Cooper said...

Daniel, you point to an essential difference between the two strands of the Reformation. For the Reformed, preaching is often not distinguished from Bible study, whereas for us it is primarily about the proclamation of Law and Gospel.

David Gray said...

There are some Reformed pulpits where preaching and teaching get somewhat confused.

Pedro Rodriguez said...

I was baptized, catechized, confirmed, and mentored in the Christian Faith within the Lutheran Church by Rev.Dr.David H. Benke, current President/Bishop of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He has been a Spiritual Mentor and a spiritual support in my life journey, and in my family as well. I am extremely grateful, thankful, and blessed to have been influenced and impacted by this graceful-humble compassionate Godly man of God.

For the past 15 plus years I have been greatly influenced in my theological understanding through the lens of Calvinistic Theology. I can longer accept the five-point of Calvinism as understood by Classical Reformed Theology.

I am slowly returning back to my theological roots of Historical Confessional Lutheranism. As an "independent" Evangelical minister, I have struggled for many years with the Lutheran understanding the Holy Sacraments - Infant Baptism and The Real Presence in Holy Communion, and the Doctrine of "Eternal Security", and the Doctrine of Election and Predestination.

I am currently reading, studying, reflecting on Lutheran Theology on these Doctrines that I have mentioned, and also reading the Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions, and other books such as, " Why I am a Lutheran: Jesus at the Center" by Daniel Preus; "Law and Gospel"by C.F.W. Walther.

I would like to network with liked-minded individuals that are Christ-centered, Cross-focused, Gospel-driven in their doctrines and practices. Individuals that are exploring or embracing the Biblical Theology of Lutheranism. I already joined the Online Community of the Wittenberg Trail.

Nick Lehner said...

Hi Jeph,

I find your insight into the history of Martin Luther and Lutheranism interesting.

My comment and question relate to your 1st answer in the list of questions.

You point to the Thief on the Cross as being a clear example where he could not have the opportunity to accept baptism. How do you know this? Is this only because he is explicitly identified and mentioned as being sentenced to die?

Would you agree being a man, he was alive in the time of John's Baptism?

John's Baptism was prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3, referenced and confirmed in Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, and John 1:23 etc.). In Matthew 3:5 we learn that Jerusalem went to him and the entire region of Judea and the district around the Jordan river went out to be baptized.

Roman Prefects were not allowed to bring to trial as well as render a death sentence outside of their jurisdiction (district so-to-speak). Given that Christ and the thieves (both were thieves, one was found guilty of murder also) died at Calvary (also referred to as Golgotha), this means they were under the jurisdiction effective of Pontius Pilate. This would make that the thieves were of Judea. With the understanding that the entire region of Judea was baptized under John's baptism, the thief

Pilate sent Christ to Herod (Luke 23) since Christ was a Nazarene, of Galilee, in which He could not be tried in the correct jurisdiction according to Roman Law. Herod and his soldiers mocked Christ and couldn't extract a confession worthy of a death sentence so it was deemed ok (from the purpose of human thinking and action and to fulfill prophesy) to send our Lord, Jesus Christ back to Pilate for trial. Herod and Pilate became friendly to one another making this possible.

In John 4 we learn that the Lord had been baptizing more (His disciples were actually) than John was in Judea. Once the Lord found out he left back to Galilee. There is a higher probability that Christ's disciples came in contact with the thieves.

So we have more evidence than to the contrary (historical reference as opposed to a popular assumption) that the thief could have been baptized, but there is more to consider. Regardless of whether the thief was baptized, Christ's commandment to baptize came after His death on the cross. If the understanding is that the thief wasn't baptized, then the commandment could not apply to him. If the understanding is that he was baptized before the commandment, then the application thereof is trivial because it already occurred.

Consider also how 1 Corinthians 15 would apply then. The thief could not believe in the resurrection since it did not occur yet and would occur after the thief died. The thief could have believed it would happen, only if he came in contact with Christ prior and was baptized and understood (i.e. the Lord told him) what was happening then and about to happen in the future.

Would you agree the requirements for faith in God are different under the NT than the OT? The thief died under the old covenant because the new covenant had not come into full effect yet. Colossians 2 explains how the Jews were still subjected to the Law until Christ died. Christ's assurance to the thief at the very least meant God determines salvation. Hebrews 9:16-17 as well as 10:9-10 solidify when the New Covenant comes into effect.

Christ forgave as He willed (which was the Father's will also) in the Old Testament. We find examples in Mark 2, Luke 7 and John 8. At the least this is a case of as He so willed and not a case of faith over baptism. Faith is dead by itself (James 2) but can one have baptism without faith? It's not the Lord's baptism then!

I hope this is not too jumbled alas I believe it is hard enough to draw conclusions in this area. Food for thought brother.