A Strange Apology: The Lutheran Church Is a Mess

 

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Pastor William Weedon (he of Higher Things, which actually published me once or twice) gave an extremely entertaining and enlightening talk at Redeemer Conference 2014 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in which he confessed his attempt to leave the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (I just think that’s such a cool name), Missouri Synod division, for Eastern Orthodoxy.

Sure he wrestled with Orthodoxy’s Mariology (his bit about the Marian prayer being a letter with the wrong address is spot-on) and theory of atonement, but he was so sick of the LCMS’s flakiness and instability that he thought he had the perfect exit strategy, or rather excuse: a material error in the Augsburg Confession, article 3.

He came close to leaving his call (despite the protestations of his wife), and even considered becoming something too horrible to be named among good Christians: an editor.

But fear not: there’s a happy ending.

Keep an ear out: Pastor Weedon explains the orthodox Lutheran teaching on theosis and mystical union. Both are part of the Lutheran doctrinal patrimony: progress in sanctification! (Although if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard it preached in a pulpit, I’d owe you five bucks.)

One quick quote: “You know what’s screwed up in the Lutheran church? She does not order everything about her life toward the comfort of terrified consciences.”

Now, I’m about to enter into one of those semi-rhetorical discussions that I’m sure irritates the many and depresses the few, and is the cause of a classic Tina Fey eye roll among whoever is left. Like when I used to ask teachers where Cain got his wife. (If only I’d known the truth: Christian Mingle. Which reminds me of a funny story about the first time I was in RCIA. One class began like this: “Every family has a problem child. Anthony is our problem child.” Just gave me the warm and fuzzies it did. Needless to say, I dropped out. No one was exactly sad to see me go. I get that a lot.)

Why is it assumed that the average Lutheran congregation is comprised solely, or even primarily, of people crippled by terrified consciences? Are Lutherans really such horrendous, habitual sinners that they sit shivering Sunday after Sunday in horrific fear of God’s imminent judgment on their manifold and blatant awfulness?

I read this a lot, usually in combox battles over sanctification or exhortations to good works — but is it true? Is it so unreasonable to assume that any given congregation enjoys a good number of folk who are smug or complacent, who have no trouble believing that their puny sins are forgiven, or that, yes, maybe their sins are not so puny, but that’s what it means to be a sinner and to sin boldly, no? And won’t they always be sinners, hence the peccator in simul justus et peculator, but so long as they’ve got that justus, what’s the fuss about a bad conscience since we can’t help but sin in the first place?

Repeat.

Pastor Weedon does begin to address such cases about midway through video #2. But what does “You don’t go around preaching the doctrine of justification to a sinner who is secure in his sins [Walther]” really mean for Sunday morning? Is this a matter of preaching the Law? It would seem that breaking God’s holy Law is the quasi-antinomian’s thing, and knowing he or she is forgiven is the cherry on the cake. Is it something that’s left to personal counseling? And if so, who initiates it? Because it would seem to me that the complacent person doesn’t see a problem that needs addressing, by definition.

This is what troubles me about the Law-Gospel paradigm as an inflexible frame for all preaching all the time. People sit in church for a wide variety of reasons — and to have their terrified consciences salved may be low down on their list of priorities, if it makes the list at all. I think one of the reasons Lutherans are not as widely known for their preaching as are the Reformed and Arminians is that they’re constantly preaching conversion to the converted. As if it’s always back to step one. As if there is no step two. As is there is no discipleship — something more than just staying at one’s post, more than pursuing one’s vocation like a good citizen. In other words, that theosis.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: “Exactly! Christians need to hear the Gospel too! To add anything to it, or to speak of another step after it, is to confuse —” Yeah, yeah. I know. If by that you mean we need to see Jesus in all of Scripture, and see Jesus as the one and only way to the Father, to Truth, despite our habitual idol-making, that we need to see Jesus as vital to every aspect of our lives, then I’m with you a hundred percent. But, again, I do wonder what effect the “You’re a sinner, but fear not, you’re forgiven, go in peace” model has on expositional preaching, and on the felt needs of many Christians in the pew. (Watch it — you’re straying into Rick Warren territory there, boy!)

My concern is that you will read all of this as an apologia for confusing Law and Gospel. It is not. That is self-justification, and self-righteousness. What I’m trying to argue is that what is often denounced as the confusion of Law and Gospel may not necessarily be — and may have plenty of warrant from within the larger Lutheran tradition itself.

Let me give you an example, because I can see you’re beginning to give me that look. (Oh, you know what look I mean.)

Let’s take Dwight. Dwight usually sits in the second to the last row on the left. He always keeps his head down. He rarely stays for coffee hour. He’s pleasant enough when addressed but not all that outgoing. His church attendance is spotty. People do wonder what’s up with him.

See, Dwight truly believes that God is mad at him. Actually, more than just mad — that God hates him, or, on a good day, loves him least in all the kingdom. And this is not because of Dwight’s gross and misery-inducing sins. No. God must hate Dwight because Dwight’s life stinketh like a ripe diaper on a summer day.

Why does Dwight think this? Oh, there are a bunch of reasons. Dwight has had not one, not two, but three thorns in his side since pretty much childhood that God has seen fit to stick him with despite years of praying for some kind of relief. And the debilitating effects of those thorns have certainly taken their toll. Oh, and Dwight’s dreams, none of which were all that unreasonable given his talents and skill set, lie in a heap at his feet, tripping him up time and again as he runs for the bus so as not to be late to a tedious, soul-sucking job he dare not lose because he needs his crappy health insurance. Which pays for only part of his ulcer and type-2 diabetes meds and one kid’s orthodonture — and another’s intensive behavioral intervention to mitigate the worst symptoms of autism.

And Dwight’s only 40.

Or maybe 50 — and still unmarried, or recently abandoned by a spouse after 20 years, and so heart-wretchingly lonely and overwhelmed by the responsibilities of a newly single life that even prison is starting to sound good, because at least he’d have a roommate and free meals?

And if you caught Dwight on a really bad day (say, any Tuesday or Thursday), he’d admit quite frankly that he kinda hates God, and doesn’t believe that’s much of a sin so much as a perfectly reasonable response to the endless frustrations and utter stupidity of life.

So Dwight goes to church to find — well, he’s not even sure anymore. All he knows is that Sunday after Sunday after Sunday he’s offered free grace for the forgiveness of his sins.

Thanks. Got it.

Now — who’s going to forgive God?

Blasphemy! you say. Yep. But walk in Dwight’s, or Rebecca’s, or Sean’s, or Maria’s shoes a few days, then we’ll talk.

Now I’m sure this scenario is such a cartoon, so absurd, so utterly exaggerated, that only the fetid imagination of one such as I could conceive of such a thing. So feel free to jump to the videos now.

Still here? OK. Does it never occur to anyone that some people abandon church when even the Gospel becomes a Sisyphean task? “How can that be, except that you confuse Law and Gospel?” you say, way too loudly, so you might want to tone it down a bit. Here’s how: because the inevitable unmet expectations of the Law and the inevitable “But it’s really OK, believe and go in peace” keeps rolling back down on you, like those sins you’re supposed to feel so bad about but can’t because sin seems a necessary component of a package deal, which comes with free forgiveness and salvation. And none of it actually changes anything in your life anyway, like a nicotine patch that’s past its sell-by date. So,really, isn’t this a game just rigged against us in the first place? So what is it we’re supposed to be terrified about again? Damnation? Because we’re sinners? As opposed to what? Unicorns?

So, after a while, damn right Dwight’s going to sin, if that’s what it takes to feel something, and to keep from blowing his brains out. (Even though Dwight knows Lutherans are down on both, namely, feeling something and blowing one’s brains out.) And in the wake of such sin Dwight feels not so much “terror” before a righteous God but just more disappointment, the kind of disappointment he pretty much felt in his Christianity, which failed miserably in making sense of his life, taking him only in circles.

“You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself! Stop whining! Attend to your vocation as husband, father, assistant associate inventory distribution manager for the 33rd district! Stop thinking of yourself so much!”

“Thanks, Sarge. Now, what button do I push to get to there?”

Perhaps the problems may appear complicated but the solution, such that there is a solution to a really hard life, is simple. Regardless of the backstory, Dwight’s just a garden-variety sinner, even if he can’t make the connection between his sin and his life — or his attitude toward his life. Perhaps he just has to hear the Law-Gospel dynamic, Sunday after Sunday, even if it sound like a psychological Merry-go-round after a while. Perhaps he has to attend to the Sacrament, even if he feels nothing, experiences nothing. Perhaps the discipline, in and of itself, works its own kind of spiritual renewal, which will reinvigorate other parts of Dwight’s life in due course.

Perhaps.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps Christianity is just about dying a good death — and not about “life” at all. And if Dwight had only picked up on that when he was, oh, I dunno, 12, he’d have learned to die quietly by now, and seriously lower his expectations, and not bore his spiritual elders.

Which is just my typically longwinded way of saying that people are complicated, and needy, and irreducible to patterns and paradigms and frames, which may be why so many are restless and continually seek out ever new emphases — or gimmicks, if you like — in Christianity, hence all the Tiber crossing and Bosphorus swimming and trekking in the Evangelical wilderness, and all the denominations and sui generis ministries and churchlets.

And what twenty-somethings are needy about is not what fifty-somethings are needy about.

(Tim Keller once told me that cultures themselves have their own spiritual needs and emphases, which may be why South Koreans are, generally speaking, attracted to Reformed denominations, while ex-Catholics in Latin America are, generally speaking, going Pentecostal. Which is why Redeemer Presbyterian in New York is open to planting non-PCA churches. But that’s another story.)

Believe it or not, I can understand why most of what I just wrote makes little (or no) sense to adult converts to Lutheranism, especially those who grew up in or spent too much time around legalistic churches. They most probably did have terrified consciences, and most probably were burned out with all the supererogatory “God work” they thought they had to do to prove their election or true appreciation for all that Jesus did for them on the Cross. I got that. I understand why, say, Rod Rosenbladt’s “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church” is a literal God-send for them.

But, again, the pew is filled with all kinds of people. Including people who were never broken by the church.

Anyhoo, watch and listen to both videos. (And don’t forget to read the two postscripts that follow them.)

If you watch only one video, or part of only one, or one and part of only the other, or part of both of them, I will know. And

Never. Gets. Old.

P.S. The more I think about this, the more I wonder what role the Lectionary itself plays in the freedom of the pastor in his preaching. I have no doubt many pastors view the lectionary as liberating, because they don’t have to devise a “theme” on which to preach. The church has already given them the text, and they know they are in a certain rhythm observed by the church worldwide. But doesn’t it also hamstring a preacher from preaching through an entire book of the Bible in a systematic fashion? Or should that be left solely to Bible study, outside the liturgy itself?

P.P.S. (02/03/14): Please read Gene Veith’s most recent post on vocation. He is playing off my contention that Lutheranism is “boring,” detecting the locus of that tedium in the Lutheran concept of vocation, which is rarely sexy, often trying, and whose dividends are paid only over time — if you can persevere. I agree completely, but I also believe that the demands of vocation impinge on everyone. No one, Christian, pagan, or fruitarian, is off the hook when it comes to duty. The problem I have been seeking to highlight and address, starting with my review of Pastor Fisk’s book Broken, and through all my postings about discipleship and sanctification, and now about the freedom of the pastor to preach beyond certain prescribed models, is that Lutheranism can devolve into something that is experienced as little more than good citizenship and a responsible bourgeoise existence, when in fact many a Christian in the pew may begging for a new life. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Is it enough to simply say, “Remember your baptism?” And if so: what exactly does that mean?

I don’t want to be misunderstood here: I’m not trying to swap out Lutheran distinctives for something else. What I want to know is how we can drill down into those distinctives when our lives become so raw that more “enthusiastic” forms of Christianity come calling, when the desire to feel something becomes so great that any drug that promises a kick — even ecstatic religion, or for that matter even a religion with a new set of colorful demands, demands that perhaps offer new insights into how to get God’s attention — will do.

 

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30 thoughts on “A Strange Apology: The Lutheran Church Is a Mess

  1. On your extra comment on the lectionary. Good Pastor Weedon I think encourages “the historic one year” (full scare quotes intended), but the three year lectionary I’ve found gives lots of chances to preach through an entire epistle. They usually come in 4 – 6 week sections, so you can usually leave the gospel and the return and still pick up the gospel thread. You end up with a couple of threads running, a really long one over the course of the year through a gospel and 2-3 shorter ones with epistles.

    The real problem in those regards is that people just don’t attend on a weekly basis. (Major 3rd Commandment issues.) I shouldn’t say that universally, 50% of your crowd is there every week. But the other 50% is so variable there is no way you can really develop a rhythm. Each sermon better be a Law & Order episode format for them. Which I think dovetails into your above. For that 50% there every week, they are there because they need to hear the gospel. For the other 50%, I’m not a great source, but I think life in America is just rather easy, at least in a spiritual way. It takes something big, and illness doesn’t do it anymore, to make an American actually turn spiritual. (Not “spiritual” as in spiritual but not religious, but spiritual as in “surely God is here and I didn’t know it.”)

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    1. ” But the other 50% is so variable there is no way you can really develop a rhythm.”

      Sure you can. Think of those TV shows nowadays that have individual episodes, each with its own plot, but with a common “story arc” covering the (now commonly much shorter) season. Oh sure, you may, like those shows, have to start out your sermon with “Previously on my sermon series…” and then hit a few highlights of sermons past, but if TV can do it you can too.

      Mind you, I realize that writing a sermon is not writing a TV series, and I don’t mean to trivialize what you do. I further realize that writing a good sermon, or series of sermons, is much more difficult that it looks to us in the pews. But on some level, writing is writing, and it is a mistake to say, “Thus and so cannot be done”, when it clearly can be done. You (and your pastoral colleagues) just have to decide that it SHOULD be done.

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      1. Kernerlaw, and that is usually what is done. When you are in of one of those Epistle arcs it sounds like (“Here is the argument the apostle has made to date…). When you are going back to the gospel, or just locating yourself in the narrative it sounds like (“This is what Jesus and the disciples/crowds/pharisees/priests have just completed…). Narrative or argument “You Are Here” signs.

        But that is really not the point of that comment, which Weedon gets to I think in the second part when he’s talking about what did the typical Lutheran Sabbath look like around the reformation and soon there after. He starts talking about Saturday evening vespers (if you wanted eucharist on Sunday), Sunday service and Sunday Vespers. And then he starts lamenting our facts on the ground, filling in with my words, the maybe 50 minutes before watches are being checked and for a good number that 50 minutes is once per month. No amount of “You are Here” can cover that. These are the same people that will binge watch House of Cards, but the Word of God, pshaw, 15 minutes a month is plenty. And don’t start questioning if I believe or actually understand the faith you Judgey McJudger pharisee. And even for the regular attenders, my 8th grade educated grand-father, who was only for a short time on the church council but never an elder, would stand out as a genius of biblical knowledge today. The type of wisdom that comes from daily personal reading and devotion. “You are here” wouldn’t be needed because he probably could have started quoting it from memory. And this is only amazing because he was nothing out of the ordinary.

        One of the best feelings as a preacher is when you hear yourself being quoted back by a parishoner without attribution. Something you’ve said has gone past “what pastor said” and become something they’ve internalized. For the 50% who you see on a rotating basis around once a month, unfortunately it feels more like throwing seed on hard ground. Nothing gets that deep. (Wait for it, any minute now, “but I know great Christians who never attend and awful people who are there every week”. Great, you should continue “being a great Christian” and get yourself to service on a regular basis as well (c/r Matt 23:23.))

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  2. “As if there is no step two. As is there is no discipleship.”

    Exactly… this is why every Sunday we drive 40 minutes to the other side of the city… we were blessed to find Lutheran church with a pastor who believes there is a Step 2, and we drink it up every week.

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  3. I am still listening/watching the second video, but one comment on “Dwight”: American Christians are under the delusion that God is obligated to make them happy and prosperous if they commit to him. Maybe we get this from Calvinism: God helps the man who helps himself (Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, brother. Don’t look for a handout from me.)

    I seriously doubt that the new Christians in the first three centuries expected happiness and prosperity upon converting. Many of them expected to be put to death…brutally.

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    1. I think that’s pretty spot on. That’s why I wonder if it all has a lot to do with our 21st century American culture (see my other comment).

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  4. I wrote a long preface, but instead I’ll just post my 4ish points I got from the videos and your article:
    1) Not everyone in your congregation has terrified consciences? Then you better be more convicting with the Law! Should not a sinner stand terrified of God’s wrath? So now that everyone is sufficiently terrified, you can get to the real WORK of Jesus, his cross, and his forgiveness! Of course this can be done in various ways. I’m no pastor and I don’t really know much.
    2) & 3) as per Wheedon’s observations: we need moar communion and private confession & absolution! The private confession is especially pertinent to “addressing individual needs.”
    4) You quite often mention this idea of “what now” “the next step” “I’m saved so what” etc. It catches me every time. I think I might be somewhat in that category. Basically, once sure in your salvation, how do you live in the world FREE in Christ. I am beginning to think that this question is NAGGING us so simply because of the culture we live in. Especially our American culture. We don’t know what WORK is. At least I don’t know. My life has been exceedingly comfortable. Nearly work-free so far. And that sure ain’t a thing to brag about. But there is a MASSIVE difference between working SO THAT we are forgiven and working UNDER forgiveness. Remember what Wheedon said, I think quoting someone: sanctification is God TAKING THINGS AWAY from us, forcing us to reckon with His own sufficiency. So maybe we have this existential post-conversion crisis because we are so comfortable in our American bloat.

    I don’t know. I could ramble on a little more but suffice it to say that I think you’re definitely on to something. However, ULTIMATELY, the only answer to uncertain nagging is the certain gospel. There is no such thing as too much Jesus.

    (HA, good thing I didn’t include that preface 😀 )

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  5. I haven’t had time to watch the videos yet. And I probably won’t till later. But I want to say now that I have had a similar Q&A with myself about some of those things. The typical pastoral response has, in fact, been “That’s what Bible class is for”. Which of course does nothing for those who for whatever reason don’t get to Bible class.

    I have to commend my own pastor (and his former co-pastor who has been called elsewhere) for using those gaps in the Church year, particularly the big one between Pentecost and Advent when not all that much is going on, to flesh things out a little as you suggest. During these times we have, in fact, had “Sermon Series” that resemble the kind I used to hear in non-Lutheran churches. You know, the kind of Church people went to visit once they had heard for the 1000th time that they were dead sinners, but received the Good (but no longer) News that Christ’s death, burial and Resurection had washed away their sins, because the sermon at these other churches weren’t the same thing every week. The tragedy there of course, was that the sermons at the “new and interesting” church were also based on errors that had not been exposed as errors by the Lutheran sermons that they had been previously hearing.

    I’m not sure we have the answer, but youhave certainly identified a real problem.

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  6. Anthony, the short answer really is mystical union. This is an area that modern Lutheranism has grown horridly weak on, but it is the final answer. Union with Christ isn’t the “next step” but it is the very content of salvation’s gift to us. His joy, our joy. His life, our life. And so on.

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    1. I wish more pastors spoke on this, preached on this, and didn’t treat it as almost alien or inimical to the Lutheran tradition. Perhaps then we — or, more properly, I — would have a better grasp of how that intimacy with Christ is nurtured during those days of quiet desperation and spiritual desolation.

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  7. I pondered what you have written, looked at the replies, talked your points over with my wife, and have come to some first blush conclusions. Let me put on my latex gloves…….. Here goes!

    First let us forget the Lutheran in this and substitute the Universal Christian Church on earth.

    “It isn’t hard if you try”

    Let us next forget all our doctrine, just for a moment!, don’t get your pants in a bunch!

    Now that the air is clear and you are in shock, let’s continue………

    THE LORD GOD and Our Lord is ALL about “the other”.

    Fortunately as all our posters have a good knowledge of Holy Scripture I do not have to give Book and verse.

    Refreshing!

    If Our Lord can from the Cross take in a repentant sinner and forgive his tormentors, the Christian can look beyond his suffering state to help others.

    In no particular order, separating the sheep from the goats, sermon on the mount, who is my neighbor, on and on and on……….

    The Church takes care of you! Yes Vocation is boring unless it is used to help the other.

    Get your nose out of your navel………

    It is a fact that individuals as well as Churches that are involved with the Other are happier and less prone to “trouble”.

    Pastor Weedon has pegged correctly some of the major problems plaguing the LCMS, not all mind you, we won’t talk about tearing down a thriving college Church!

    The main point is doctrine only goes so far. The Christian has to take the ball and run with it.

    As Luther says where works exist they &c……..

    Where the rubber hits the road, that is what counts.

    The Christian is equipped in Church.

    It is what one does with that equipping that counts.

    You can argue doctrine and practice, but that is secondary to what matters, a practicing Christian and Church Body.

    All the above assumes the Church lives by Scripture and in the case of the LCMS the 1580 BOC……..

    WISH ON, WISH ON!

    Well I know you’ll chew me up, but I have very thick skin!

    As iron sharpens iron, one man…………

    IXOYC

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  8. Luther wrote,_____________
    A Christian lives in Christ and his neighbor…………….

    “We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. ”

    Luther, who, however, had merely stated that faith is never alone, though it alone
    justifies. His axiom was:
    “Faith alone justifies, but it is not alone–
    _Fides sola iustificat, sed non est sola._”

    According to Luther good works, wherever they are found, are present in virtue of faith;
    where they are not present, they are absent because faith is lacking;
    nor can they preserve the faith by which alone they are produced.

    Introductions to the SymbolicalBooks of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, by Friedrich Bente

    Just making sure for the old folks.

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    1. Well that’s the question for me, too. And I mean that sincerely. I don’t think “Dwight” needs to be reminded that he’s a sinner and that his sins are forgiven. He’s got that: in fact, it has been so drilled into him that the language washes over him like water over a rock. What he needs is hope for this life and not merely the next. I don’t know necessarily how that is imparted to someone on the ragged edge of despair. It may be the reassurance, from the pulpit, that his God is a God who answers prayer in the here and now for the here and now. It may be reassurance of God’s providential care even in light of what appears to be a worsening situation. It may be a reaffirmation of the theology of the Cross, so that what appear to be the absurdities of life can be reinterpreted in light of God’s perfect, sometimes hidden, sometimes inscrutable, will. (Pastor Fisk has been teaching on the “idiocy” of the Cross recently.)

      But what I was playing off of in the post (which I intended to make a couple of grafs only, honest, but you know how I get) is this repeated emphasis on preaching to the grieving conscience as if that defines the psychology or spiritual state of every member of the congregation every Sunday. And again, I understand why adult converts who were crushed by legalistic churches find the Gospel-Law paradigm a blessing. But my character Dwight has another dilemma. And I don’t have an easy answer for his spiritual depression. And there are also some of us who wonder if merely equating vocation with discipleship reduces new life in Christ to an almost secular dutifulness.

      Again, it’s easy for some to just dismiss all these concerns out of hand as little more than catering to the Rick Warrening of Christianity, or a kind of appeal to the emotions and thus little more than mysticism, but I’m telling you, I’ve had enough laity and clergy communicate with me over the past year and a half, since I wrote Lutherans, Sanctification, and the Idiot Next Door, in both the comboxes and privately to know that I’m not the only one with these questions about the freedom of the pastor in the pulpit to stray from what appears to be a confessional script occasionally to address felt needs in in his congregation. I say “appears” deliberately because I think there is a lot more to the Lutheran tradition than a lot of Lutherans sitting in a contemporary LCMS church (for instance) are aware of. Pastor Weedon talks about this some. I mean, I read Koberle’s QUEST FOR HOLINESS upon advice of counsel — and BOY did he have a lot to say. Who would be comfortable offering some of his advice in a pulpit today? Now I’m not saying that Koberle is the answer to Dwight either. A lecture on sanctification may make things even worse! (Although, again, some pastors may disagree, and see in Dwight a kind of self-indulgent navel-gazing that can only be reoriented by looking after one’s troubled neighbor, although there’s only so much an exhausted person can do.)

      Now the really disconcerting thing is that I may have spent too much time in the evangelical world — both Wesleyan and Reformed — and am trying to wring from Lutheranism something it does not have to offer, or does not do well. Maybe it cannot stray too far from that script without falling into a modern evangelical chasm, losing its distinctives altogether.

      I have a feeling I may not have answered your question. But that’s my fault and not yours.

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      1. You didn’t, but I understand why and the conflict you are having here.

        What if the answer is that preaching the Gospel is actually enough for Dwight? Even though he thinks it isn’t. What if that is his flesh speaking to him? I keep coming back to this thought: the Gospel will do the work that it is supposed to do – that is, create, sustain and keep Dwight in the faith. The Law can’t do those things. If Dwight is despairing about his crappy life (a life many of us can relate to, I’m sure), how can the answer be, “Well, Dwight, we need to disciple you so that you understand these things better and can act the right way.” I’m not saying you’ve said that, but when Methodism and Wesleyanism are invoked, that’s where my mind goes. I don’t think the answer is discipleship, but belief. Keep preaching to Dwight the pure Gospel that creates faith and belief in him. The Gospel will do the work that it promises to do. We rest in that. That is what will sustain him in this life and the next. If we’re looking for change now as a measure of some kind, we’re skating on thin ice that can quickly become a theology of glory.

        Perhaps the answer isn’t that you are trying to wring from Lutheranism something it doesn’t do or offer, but that you are trying to wring from Scripture something the Methodists and Wesleyans added to it. And you aren’t finding it because it isn’t actually there. Scripture says, “Rest in Christ” but we want to work. Time to let go, maybe? 🙂

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      2. Again, I concede that this may be all there is to offer someone in the kind of despair I describe. Not only in Lutheranism but in any construal of the Christian faith. But I do wonder why the questions I have raised in a series of posts resonate with so many Lutherans. But again, that doesn’t mean you are wrong.

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      3. I just flipped through Koberle and came across this:

        “Because the distress of external circumstances, as well as the evils within, can obstruct the way to God, a faith that is prepared to help must address itself to the whole man in his actual condition and must offer to help with both hands; the Word with the right hand and love with the left. It must bring forgiveness and fellowship, the physician and the remedy, the bread of life and daily bread.”

        Community/fellowship should also not be overlooked…

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      4. so…
        Recognition/remembering of the “not yet” part of the Christian life, and also Christian fellowship is what Dwight “needs”. Of course, God could take away everyone Dwight has ever known, and Jesus would still be enough, but no one really lives in a human vacuum. At least *generally*, fellowship with other Christians is part of our daily bread.

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      5. I think they resonate with so many Lutherans because no one dares to utter them out loud. Pastors skirt them in confirmation, new member, and Bible classes because they destroy a nice neat and tidy 8 (or 10 or 12) week overview of the Christian faith. They go against our desire to look like we have all the answers. Lay people hesitate to raise the issues because of fear of condemnation or they don’t really want to invest the time in mucking around in areas where the spiritual going is slow. Perhaps the answer lies in what Rev. Weedon says about the work done between pastor and lay person in preparing for communion.

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      6. Mark 10 – Divorce and the Rich Young Man. Lutherans are dying to have someone ask them to make that unalterable commitment, to give it all away. But they don’t really want you to, or when you do they hold on to the world. Not when the ask is come and die. Stop fearing death and give yourself away. Pursue love, especially when it is uni-directional and unrequited. And that call might be as simple as working a dead-end job for enough money for your autistic kid and the child-support payments. “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful”.

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      7. Does this apply? Just wondering.

        Perhaps there will be men and women in your life who will forget a promise you made to them. God never forgets. Even on the Last Day, when heaven and earth shall pass away, He will ask you before His throne on high concerning the vow you made before His altar on earth.

        Do you remember that vow?

        “Do you as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

        “We do so intend, with the help of God.”

        “Do you intend faithfully to conform all your life to the rule of the divine Word, to walk as it becometh the Gospel of Christ, and in faith, word and deed to remain true to the Triune God, even unto death?”

        VII. THE BLOW ON THE CHEEK
        Even if he does expose himself to the Gospel in sermon and sacrament on every occasion, and conscientiously follows the guidance of Holy Mother Church and of the pastor, his reverend father in Christ, even then it is not going to be easy for the confir- mand to keep his Confirmation Vow.
        And that fact is dramatically portrayed in The Confirmation Service also. Just before he rises from his knees after his Confirmation, the confirmand receives from his pastor a light blow on the cheek.
        That is The Church’s way of telling him that he is going to be HURT as he jour- neys through life—in spite of his church membership; yes, sometimes because of it. That is The Church’s way of telling him that all Christians “must through much tribulation en- ter into The Kingdom Of God” (Acts 14:22), that they must take up their cross if they would follow Jesus (see Mt 10:38; 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:32; 14:27), that they must SUF- FER with Christ before they can hope to reign with Him (see II Tim 2:12), that the rule has always been and always will be: first the cross, and then the crown. That blow from a representative of Christ’s Church is a symbol of the Christian way of life: one blow after the other, until death mercifully puts an end to the conflict.
        Christianity is not a guarantee against the woes and blows of life. It is a cross to be carried until God declares it carried long enough.

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