Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Message to Lutherans: Stop Being So Reactionary

"I don't believe in progressive sanctification"

"There is no experience of the Holy Spirit"

"There is no such thing as 'living the gospel'"

"Prayer doesn't change God, but only changes the Christian"

These are some phrases I have heard from Lutheran Christians, and have heard with some regularity. The problem with such phrases (I could address each of these statements individually of course) is that they are purely reactionary.

Lutherans have a tendency to identify themselves in opposition to other Christian traditions. Yes, Lutheranism does have a unique approach to the Christian faith, one which I think is correct and Biblical. But there are problems when one's theology is formulated precisely as not being something.

For example, many of the generation who were heavily involved with the LCMS in the 1950s through the 1970s have a very clear reactive attitude toward Roman Catholicism. It is common for older LCMS members, for example, to oppose having a corpus on a crucifix because it is too "Roman Catholic." This is also claimed about such practices as private confession and absolution, and wearing chasubles.

The Lutheran tradition historically has used crucifixes, and has never opposed such things as vestments, and private confession. Yet a fear of Romanism has guided our people rather than Biblical, Confessional teaching.

In some contemporary Lutheran circles I have often seen the same kind of overreaction, not to Romanism, but to Pietism. Because of the unfortunate subjective "sanctification" focus to the neglect of the objectivity of the cross and God's declarative word of justification, some Lutherans have labelled any desire for holiness, and any preaching of the third use of the Law, as Pietistic.

I have been labeled by some Lutherans as a "Pietist" simply because I don't drink alcohol (with the obvious exception of consecrated communion wine). Somehow attempting to refrain from something which I fear could be a vice is "not Lutheran" and makes someone a legalist. It's as if we've decided that the fundamentalists don't drink, and Lutherans do. Therefore, if you don't you must be a fundamentalist.

I have heard some faithful Lutheran pastors preach the third use of the Law, only to be accused of being legalistic, and missing the gospel. That can't be Lutheran because the Presbyterian church down the street also preaches the third use of the Law!

As Lutherans, we are defined by our Confessions. It is unfortunate that oftentimes we define ourselves as "not being baptists" or "not being Calvinists" or "not being Romanists", rather than defining ourselves by our Confessional heritage. When this is done, we usually miss the rich theology of our Confessions, and consequently, the clear teachings of Scripture.

This is an encouragement to Lutherans to define ourselves by the Reformation tradition, not by whatever bad experiences we have had with some other Christian tradition.


Thoughts said...


Anonymous said...

so the Reformers didn't define themselves in reaction? why should it be different for us?

Peter Slayton said...

I'd be interested in your thoughts on a website that I and some friends launched a couple weeks ago. We are attempting to speak "Lutheran" with an American accent, something which requires us to not be reactionary, but to talk more thoughtfully and respectfully about what we are against. I think so far we're doing a good job of saying what we are "for", but I'd welcome your input on that. check us out:

brianbechtel said...

I read this, and I hear what you are saying, but I still feel like there's something between the lines that leaves me a little uncomfortable.

For instance; to drink or not to drink isn't the question, I get that. I am so not bothered by someone NOT drinking that it never even crosses my mind, and I drink . It just seems to me that offering the fear of the possibility that something could become a vice as the reason for abstaining from it is tricky business.

Jordan Cooper said...

Theology, in some sense, is always done in reaction to false teaching. The Nicene Creed in reaction to the Arians, Chalcedon in reaction to all the Christological heresies, the Augsburg in reaction to Romanism, etc. But I think that there is a difference between looking at the Biblical understanding of a doctrine in reaction to false teaching and being reactionary.

Antinomianism, for example, is reactionary. They see a real false problem with legalism and rather than making a positive construction from Scripture, go to the opposite extreme. The same could be said about Calvinism and the Protestant Church in general.

Or, to give a Lutheran example, Flacius taught an unBiblical view of man because he was reactionary against the semi-Pelagian of some Philippists.

Jordan Cooper said...

Peter, I will be sure to check out the site. Thanks.

Jordan Cooper said...

Brian- In Christian freedom, I have the option not to drink/smoke as much as other Christians have the freedom to do so. I'm not saying that everyone has to make the same decision I did, simply that I have freedom to make that choice.

brianbechtel said...

I agree entirely. I want to be clear about that. The idea that someone needs to drink or smoke to display their Christian liberty is anything but freedom.

J. Dean said...

Well said, Jordan.

I would think that a Lutheran, understanding his faith well, would articulate positions in both positive and negative terms. And one ought to state opposition to a wrong view (such as pietism) without making a blanket reactionary comment (any reference to good works/sanctification is automatically legalism/pietism)

WM Cwirla said...

Any man who says, "I don't drink" has not met the right tequila.