November 20, 2017

How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (4)

This week I have been giving some examples to show how concerns I have had over the years about evangelicalism are answered by the traditional teachings of historic Lutheranism. We will finish this series up with two final posts.

In the first, I want to discuss an emphasis that Martin Luther and his heirs have stressed, which I think is one of their greatest contributions to Christian theology.

In the last post, I will talk a bit about Luther himself.

Today’s subject is introduced by an important quote from Luther, which came early in the Reformer’s career.

He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

The manifest and visible things of God are placed in opposition to the invisible, namely, his human nature, weakness, foolishness. The Apostle in 1 Cor. 1:25 calls them the weakness and folly of God. Because men misused the knowledge of God through works, God wished again to be recognized in suffering, and to condemn “wisdom concerning invisible things” by means of “wisdom concerning visible things”, so that those who did not honor God as manifested in his works should honor him as he is hidden in his suffering (absconditum in passionibus). As the Apostle says in 1 Cor. 1:21, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise, as Isa. 45:15 says, “Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself.”

So, also, in John 14:8, where Philip spoke according to the theology of glory: “Show us the Father.” Christ forthwith set aside his flighty thought about seeing God elsewhere and led him to himself, saying, “Philip, he who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). For this reason true theology and recognition of God are in the crucified Christ, as it is also stated in John 10 (John 14:6), “No one comes to the Father, but by me;” “I am the door” (John 10:9), and so forth.

• Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation (1518), Thesis 20

This is one of points Luther debated in a meeting of the Augustinian Order in 1518, the year after he had posted his 95 Theses. In the editor’s introduction to this disputation in the Book of Concord it is noted that these points represent an important development in Luther’s thought and show his “growing realization that the theology of late Medieval Roman Catholicism was fundamentally and essentially at odds with Biblical theology.”

At the heart of his argument was that the Church had been overtaken by a “Theology of Glory,” whereas God has revealed himself and brought us salvation through a “Theology of the Cross.”

Heidelberg Castle

I met with a Lutheran pastor recently, and we discussed some of the unique contributions the tradition has to offer to contemporary American Christianity. The one he felt was most important was the theology of the cross. He spoke eloquently about how much that passes for “faith” today is in reality little more than “positive thinking.” People are attracted to this upbeat message, but when things start going wrong, when the bottom drops out of their lives, suddenly they discover that clichés and platitudes are not enough to sustain them.

The theology of the cross, in contrast to teaching that continually promotes a “victorious Christian life,” proclaims that God hides himself in the most unlikely disguises.

Martin Luther loved the Christmas story for this reason. In a most unexpected manner, God took on human flesh and was born in an obscure village to an unwed mother, laid in a manger among farm animals, and acknowledged only by rough and simple shepherds.

Then there was Jesus’ life and ministry. Throughout its course, the words of the prophet Isaiah characterized him: “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.” (53:2-3)

Jesus did not live a “successful” life in worldly terms. Riches, power, luxury, wide influence — he knew none of these. He had nowhere to lay his head. He walked on dusty paths in forsaken regions of the empire, far from the halls of power. Even the parochial leaders in Palestine — the big fish in the small pond of Israel — dismissed Jesus as a small-time pretender from the sticks.

We know the ending of the story. Betrayed by one of his closest followers, convicted through a mockery of a trial, tortured, abused, and publicly shamed by his captors, he was executed as a criminal on a Roman gibbet.

And this is our God.

Those who follow Christ most faithfully know that the cross is also the key to the Jesus-shaped life for his people.

The Apostle Paul, for example, testified, “[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.'” (2Cor 12:9-10)

Through these words, Paul was trying to provide his Corinthian friends an antidote for the deadly triumphalistic teaching being promoted in their midst by certain “super-apostles” in Corinth. These leaders were always “boasting” about their spiritual credentials, experiences, and victories, promoting a “power religion” that despised weakness and humility. This was faith for winners, with no room for losers.

Paul, however, determined only to boast in those things that revealed his weakness (2Cor 11:30), for those were the experiences in which he believed God was present, though hidden.

Do I need to set forth evidence that a similar “power religion” which unabashedly calls people to a “faith” that seeks spiritual enthusiasm, spectacle, ecstatic experiences, “abundance,” “victory,” “prosperity,” and “deliverance” from sin and suffering, and which despises weakness, struggles, doubts, and helplessness characterizes much of what we see in American cultural Christianity today?

What happens when enthusiasm fades? When spectacle no longer titillates? When you “crash” and can’t find that spiritual “high” anymore? When prayers for deliverance aren’t answered? When poverty replaces abundance? When Christian “answers” no longer ring true? When healing doesn’t come? When your marriage falls apart or your children go astray? When all the principles and steps and methods and programs you were counting on to bring success turn out to be ineffectual? When your “faith” and your “confession” and your “decision” don’t seem to make a difference?

Where is God in all of that? Is he in any of that?

Yes, that is exactly where he is. This is the life in which God is present and active, for this is the God who hides himself. This is the God of the cross.

This is the One who meets us in our sorrow, our pain, our weakness, as well as in every experience of our ordinary, human lives. He may be hidden so that we cannot see him, but he is present and active. As Jesus said yes to the cross as the way God had for him, so must we. Baptized into Christ, we reject the way of glory — the way of human power, wisdom, technique, control, and manipulation — and we embrace the way of the cross — the way of trust, receptiveness, and the freedom to be human, weak, and vulnerable.

I have been crucified with the Messiah.
I am, however, alive — but it isn’t me any longer; it’s the Messiah who lives in me.
And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

• Galatians 2:20, The Kingdom NT

Comments

  1. Best short summary of the doctrine I’ve come across. All theology points to Christ; we receive everything through him, and any good we do is because of him. We claim no credit for anything. This is just what justification by grace through faith is. It’s what the Gospel is. All reformation churches claim this in some form, but it is the central doctrine of the church. Nothing else should cloud it.

    Maybe you should have started with this, as the Law and Gospel distinction, the sacraments, our vocation as Christians, the two kingdoms of churchly authority and wordly authority, etc. can only really be understood after one understands the theology of the cross, as they are applications of the theology of the cross.

    • I second that: Great summary. Of all areas of Lutheran doctrine, this is the one where I have the most to learn. Thank you for writing this, Chaplain Mike!

    • Boaz, the two klngdoms is not churchly authority vs worldly authority. Two kingdoms is just another way of teaching law and gospel. it is exactly and only that in fact.

      God rules everything to make fatherly goodness and mercy happen among men.
      he does this in two ways: with the Law he extorts goodness and mercy out of old adams. with the Gospel he creates new men from whom this Goodness and Mercy simply happens by faith alone in Christ alone.

      the earthly kingdom is all we can see and do. All we can see and do , our best good works, are all driven out of our old adam by the Law.

      within this earthy kingdom there are 3 god established governments to maintain the order of law. these are family church and society. so see boaz, church family and society are all 3 part of the kingdom of the law and function, visibly in an identical way.

      then there is the heavenly kingdom. this kingdom includes nothing at all we can see and do. how could it? those things are already ALL included in that other earthly kingdom. in this kingdom God daily and richly forgives the sins of all believer in Christ. This kingdom , called the Communiion of Saints, is in with and under alone the earthly government called the Holy Catholic Church.

      note God is also always in with and under that other earthly kingdom but with the Law. this looks exactly like the lawless judge in luke 18 driven by a conscienced widowed from love. but justice is still done.

      • “churchly authority vs worldly authority. Two kingdoms is just another way of teaching law and gospel. it is exactly and only that in fact”

        Right, I think we’ve discussed this before, and I don’t think I said anything that contradicts that. Churchly authority means the tasks of proclaiming the Gospel and administering the sacraments. The church as an institution necessarily has a worldly component to it. But I quibble in that we can see and hear the Word and Sacrament, and that is where the Church exists, and defines the limits of its authority.

  2. The gospel of health, prosperity, and name it and claim it blessings is certainly not unique to the US (and you didn’t say that it is). Africa is overrun with this. Recently, I heard a pastor, who is usually on target, preaching about the image of God. He said something to the effect of, “Because we are created in God’s image and God spoke the world into existence, then when we speak [things] come to happen (our children are godly, our businesses succeed, our poverty disappears, etc.).” Your post is an excellent counter to that kind of theology. God is present with us in our suffering, our humiliation, our poverty, our hurt, our pain, just as much as in those times in life that are defined as “good” by the world. Prosperity no more proves God’s blessing than poverty proves His displeasure.

    • “Prosperity no more prove’s God’s blessing than poverty proves His displeasure”.

      Awesome words of truth! Look at His life, the lives and deaths of the Twelve, and those of the Saints. Not very much bling and idle riches there, huh? Not suggesting that poverty=holiness, as there are bitter and ugly poor folks, too.

      Just think it is safe to say thay the Lord works in lives whereever we are, and it may be “harder for rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven that for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” Only those who know of their neediness can sense the Presence of God.

      • “Only those who know of their neediness can sense the Presence of God.”

        Best thing I’ve read all week. As the old hymn says, “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land. I am weak, but Thou art mighty; hold me with Thy powerful hand.”

        Thanks, Pattie.

      • ***reminded me of following prayer (compared to that of Jabez)***

        Sayings of Agur Proverbs 30

        1 The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance.
        This man’s utterance to Ithiel:

        7 “Two things I ask of you, LORD;
        do not refuse me before I die:
        8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
        give me neither poverty nor riches,
        but give me only my daily bread.
        9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
        and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
        Or I may become poor and steal,
        and so dishonor the name of my God.

  3. I admittedly don’t understand the mindset of Evangelicals very well. With that said, it seems to me that there is a deep seated impulse within it to not only be ‘sucessful’ but also for others to notice, admire, and be attracted to their success– to be attracted to them. I’ve wondered how connected it is to their deeply ingrained sense of the importance of proselytizing and engaging others in a conversion experience.

    Admitedly I don’t get Lutherans all that well either. In my experience they don’t seem at all that concerned with having an image of success. At the same they also don’t seem so driven by a compulsion to create/have conversions. In fact, Lutherans don’t seem all that concerned about what others think of them. The whole PR thing doesn’t seem to even be on the radar.

    Apologies in advance to any if I’ve been too careless in my characterizations (caricatures?).

    • I think a lot of lifelong Lutherans take their Christian freedom for granted (and many of them may not understand it)

      Billy Graham once said that (I’ll paraphrase) “of all the Christian denominations, or non-denominations, Lutherans have the best grasp of the gospel…but are the worst at conveying it to their own people.”

      There’s always exceptions, of course.

      But many of us converts to Lutheranism have a fire for letting others know of the great gift of freedom given to us in pure gospel, and to point out the big differences in Lutheranism and all the others.

      • This is so true. Too many in my branch are envious of the glamour of much more flashy and “successful” churches, desiring to be imitators of them. This is just frustrating. It means we got work do to. We have the tools. Of course, Billy Graham also said of the LCMS that they were “the sleeping giant.”

        • Evangelical icon Billy Graham’s (equivocal) opinion about Lutherans sure carries a lot of weight among Lutherans frustrated by other Lutherans’ envy of evangelical churches. 🙂

  4. Jack Heron says:

    My favourite epithet for Christ: Mighty in Sorrow.

    Because any old Zeus can be Mighty in Confidence and Strength.

  5. Thank you. Yes, this is one of the most significant parts of Luther’s theology.

    The 28th disputation states “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.” The love of God creates; the love of man consumes. We tend to reverse this, believing God’s love is based upon our performance. This shows up quite often in worship, where offering a sacrifice of praise which pleases God is prerequisite for God to show up.

  6. The relevance to Jeff’s previous article is obvious in terms of a suffering savior. But it also points out how attributing good or bad luck to God is an anthropomorphic view of God. If God creates what he loves, then it makes no sense that God would send earthquakes or other disasters to force us to modify our behavior. God’s will is not accomplished with carrots and sticks.

    • AMEN! The laws of nature ~ set into motion by our Creator~ govern natural disasters like earthquakes, wildfires, and tidal waves. They occur without regard to the humans in their path, and to me, merely prove that the Lord sends rain to the just and unjust. Not punishments, not warnings, not a carrot or stick, but the natural order here on planet Earth.

      Other evils, like violence, wars, and exploitation of the innocent all trae back to that confusing issue of free will and the Fall. But, apparently, God wanted us to freely choose Him and His path, rather than making robots who had no choice except to follow His will. And I do not for a minute pretend to understand.

      • “all TRACE back..” where is that “edit” button???

      • Yeah, let’s just get rid if the whole OT, and the book of Revelation, and the warning of mishandeling communion,and…

        I’m not arguing that ever disaster is a “stick” but there is plenty of biblical evidence to say God has and will use sticks and carrots.

        • Exactly right. But Scripture is also perfectly clear that we are not to guess at God’s hidden will. God has shown himself to us in Christ, and in Christ alone. All of the other ways in which he works are hidden. Like the tower of Siloam.

          This is very hard for Christians. We want to know why God’s Word instills faith in some, and others reject it, why some sinners prosper and good Christians suffer, why he told the old testament leaders to kill so many opposing tribes, etc. But we are not to question God’s hidden will. Those are questions that come from the old adam, outside of faith. With faith, we look only to Jesus and trust him.

        • But, if you’re going to take the position that weather events could be a message from a god or that the story of Jonah is actually a true story of a guy who spent time in the stomach of a fish, then how can you condemn someone else for stating that their cancer is due to demons?

          Basic science, which was unavailable to the scripture writers, is able to explain most weather phenomena and is getting more advanced all the time. I’m not saying folks shouldn’t believe that phenomena are from a god, but by the same token, don’t complain when the rest of the world decides it’s not credible.

        • Jack Heron says:

          The trouble with that is that natural events don’t tend to come with little labels saying “This earthquake was due to disregard for the poor” or “This flood was not a judgement from God, merely a result of heavy rainfall”. This makes them utterly useless as sticks – how are we to heed a warning if we don’t know what it was a warning about, or even if it was a warning at all?

          That’s not even getting into the issue of why the subjects of God’s wrath seem to have aligned themselves quite neatly along the edge of the Pacific Ocean for all recorded history while Ireland and central Finland are apparently bastions of virtue no matter who lives there.

          • Have you been to Finland? No bastion of virtue would be that cold and that dark for that long!

          • Jack, there were a good few during the Victorian Evangelical Revival who were sure that the Great Famine of 1845-1847 was God’s punishment on the Irish for being ungrateful wretches sunk in Romish superstiton and constant rebellion against the gracious British Empire 🙂

            Sir Charles Trevelyan allegedly held the following views:

            “In 1840 he became Assistant Secretary to the Treasury in London and held that office until 1859. This position put him in charge of the administration of Government relief to the victims of the Irish Famine in the 1840s. In the middle of that crisis Trevelyan published his views on the matter. He saw the Famine as a

            ‘mechanism for reducing surplus population’.

            But it was more:

            ‘The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated. …The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people’. “

          • Jack Heron says:

            Huh. That’s more than usually callous, even for Parliament. So famine is a punishment for selfishness, but we are told by Byzantine emperor Whatshisname that earthquakes are caused by homosexuality. Since Ireland has suffered heavily from the former but are oddly deficient in the latter (seriously, look at a seismic map of Europe – there’s an eerie Ireland-shaped hole), we can conclude that God seeks to warn the Irish about the one, but not the other. Conclusion: the Irish are rather selfish, but extraordinarily straight.

        • I don’t recall judgement ever resulting in repentence. I think our penal system confuses the issue with its emphasis on reform. Punishment is about justice. That is why law doesn’t justify but exacts justice. But if justice be thy plea, as Shakespeare wrote, in the course of justice none of us will see salvation.

    • God indeed sends carrots and sticks.

      it is important to distinguish what the Law Does: It always kills and accuses ALWAYS .

      from what it Produces: Goodness and Mercy.

      Unfortunately, out of each and every one of our Old Adams, Fatherly Goodness and Mercy can only be made to happen for one’s neighbor by extorting this out of him with the carrot and stick of the Law. We Christians call this “the mortification of the Flesh.” Unfortunately there is simply no other way.

      But at the same time our Dear Lord Jesus broke the Sabbath Law. And yes he DID break it, according to the letter of the Law. He raised the precident ot David eating the shobread precisely to make that point.

      But he kept the ‘spirit” or “intended efffect” of the Law. And what is that? it is that Love be done for neighbor.

      This is what Jesus aims at when he sends the Pharisees off to see what it means when God says “I want mercy, I dont want sacrifice”.

      Morification and sacrificial acts and lives that do not result in the God Desired fruits of Goodness and Mercy for others is idolatry. why? it is an attempt to be right with God with the obedience and sacrifice that alone Christ can offer.

  7. So powerful! It is so true that we have no wisdom in the flesh, the only way we could ever hope to see God or any of his attributes at work in our life, is to die to ourselves, to humble ourselves and take up our crosses. This is such an important concept for all Christians to realize and live out!

  8. I just want to say that not all LCMS Lutherans, not even all LCMS conservatives, are the kind of giant douchebag that seems to dominate the LCMS internet presence.

    • The LCMS has an Internet presence?!? First I’ve heard.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      That is my experience. My father was pastor in a dual LCA/LCMS congregation (this being before the ELCA). Such a thing is nearly unthinkable nowadays. It is in a small and rather isolated town. The LCA and LCMS churches were both struggling, so they did the sensible thing and joined efforts. It is technically two congregations. When you joined, you joined one or the other. Then everyone promptly forgot which you had joined, as it mattered not the least. Moving forward some years, as an adult I lived for several years in a town with just three Lutheran churches: two ELCA and one LCMS. Both ELCA congregations were very bad fits for me, so I joined the LCMS congregation. The pastor knew my background and was fine with it. He got a letter of transfer from my previous (ELCA) church, and a few years later when I moved across the country he sent a letter of transfer to my subsequent (ELCA) church. I never got the least big of flak over any of this, from either side. Just a few weeks ago I was at my (ELCA) church’s annual sauerbraten dinner (the highlight of the social calendar) and found myself seated next to a couple who had traveled some distance for the event, coming from an LCMS church. We have a perfectly lovely time enjoying the good food together. My experience on the ground is quite different from that on the internet.

      My personal opinion is that hierarchy is the least important fact about a church. The American Lutheran tradition is of fundamentally independent congregations gathering into regional and national bodies for pragmatic purposes such as cooperating on seminaries and publishing houses and helping congregations needing pastors and pastors needing congregations find one another. For all that the hierarchy has bloated and bloviated, the fundamental organizational principle remains. What is important is that in some churches the gospel is preached. In others it is not. Any correlation with the sign out front is weak.

      • Josh in FW says:

        This, “What is important is that in some churches the gospel is preached. In others it is not. Any correlation with the sign out front is weak.” summarizes very well the primary lesson that I have learned and am continueing to learn on this blog. Thank you for articulating it so clearly.

      • ……for those of us out of the loop, can you explain (A) what the acronyms are and (B) how the two differ with he Luthern expression? I cannot be the only clueless non-Luthern having trouble following the argument.

        • Brian the Dad says:

          LCMs is Lutheran church-Missouri synod. It is considered a conservative branch of the Lutheran tradition. Disclosure: my membership is in LCMS. There is a spectrum of conservative to much less so within the synod. Here in my town, there are three LCMs churches. They run the gamut of worship styles. We all seem to get along and fellowship together on reformation Sunday and octoberfest.

          ELCA is Evangelical Lutheran Church of (in?) America. They were formed by the merger of other lutheran bodies in the 60s-70s timeframe (I think?) They have been labeled as the liberal branch of Lutheranism in the US. There is an ELCA church here in town too. Some of their members have tranferred over to the other LCMS congregations, seeking to leave some of the controversy that has swirled nationally from the ELCA’s decisions. The people there don’t seem to be the raving heretics that many in our LCMS blogosphere have made them out to be.

          WELS is Wisconsin evangelical Lutheran synod. They are more conservative than LCMS. I don’t know much about them, but their dirty laundry must be kept in their own house. They haven’t seemed much to get into the on-going battle of words between ELCA and LCMS.

          One of the significant differences between the two is the ordination of women and recently, open homosexuals as pastors by ELCA. LCMS is officially young earth creationist and ELCA is not. There is no pulpit or altar fellowship between them, again officially. Individual practices depend on the congregation and the pastor. the blogosphere takes turns labeling the other side as heretics, while defending themselves as protectors of the one true faith.

          I’m sure there are others with more insight, but that’s just one guy’s view from the ground.

          • SKPeterson says:

            A little more on the alphabet soup of American Lutheranism. The ELCA formed in 1989 as the result of a merger between the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the American Evangelical Lutheran Church (AELC). The AELC was begun in the 1970’s after an internal row in the LCMS over biblical inerrancy typified by controversies over the historical-critical methodology being advocated by some seminary professors. These professors were forced out or resigned and formed the AELC, which became the very liberal wing of the new ELCA. Much of the leftward drift of the ELCA over the past 20 years is due largely to the influence of the old AELC folks.

            Some in the old ALC refused to join the ELCA and formed the TAALC – The Association of American Lutheran Churches. There is also the ELS, or Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which was essentially another group that refused to join in a previous merger back in the 40’s or 50’s involving the old Norwegian Evangelical Synod. Just as an FYI, most of the Lutherans in the U.S. have traditionally broken down by ethnicity – Swedes were in the Augustana Synod, later mostly in the LCA, Norwegians in the ALC and ELS, Danes and Finns split amongst them. The Wisconsin and Missouri Synods were largely German in origin. As a result of mergers, fallout, intermarriage, and now theological or ecclesiastical quibbles, the ethnic classifications have largely broken down. But much of the history (and rancor) lives on in stereotypes that exist between the denominations.

            To further add confusion, the WELS and ELS are in fellowship, LCMS is in fellowship with TAALC, and recent splits from the ELCA have resulted in the LCMC (Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ) and NALC (North American Lutheran Church). There is also the AFLC, the Association of Free Lutheran Churches ans some other smaller, micro-denominations.

  9. David Cornwell says:

    “He may be hidden so that we cannot see him, but he is present and active. ”

    This is a side of the gospel message that we miss so often (see Bob A above) in our power driven and competitive capitialist culture. We’d rather have a message that promises us all the same things any good hard working American (or others that seek to duplicate our way of life) might want, namely money, material wealth of other kinds, health, entertainement, and you fill in the blanks. Any message that promises all the above and more can fill up the churches.

    The simple message of Jesus will never be a winner in the Pew poll.

    I also think this is one of keys to the proper understanding of the lectonary passage that was discussed previously (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus remains hidden to those who will not see, and a surprise to those who will. It has more to do wth that, I think, than the sheep and goats.

  10. I too, think Luther did a great “work” in holding up the Theology of the Cross.
    But could there be a Theology of the Resurrection with out it becoming a Theology of Glory???

  11. Y’know, I’m going to bookmark this specific article and come back to it repeatedly for the next few months. It’s like a master-cleanse for my Pentecostal-turned-outsider soul.

  12. Never thought I’d be using a quote from Luther to develop a point, but it must be the insidious influence of my German Pope 😉

    “Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross.”

    This ties in with what we were discussing in the parable of the sheep and the goats. Because the goats did not see Christ in the poor, the sick and the needy, they did not recognise their duty to Him and to their neighbour. Contrariwise, the sheep were not seeking their own glorification (“See how wonderful I am, doing all this charity work!”) and so served the Lord without desire for reward.

    From Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”:

    “for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
    Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
    To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

  13. I’ve been reading along, Ch Mike, and I am really blessed that you are finding yourself in a place of rest after struggle. I have been on a similar journey, but unlike Martin Luther who was eventually rebuffed after making enquiries to Constantinople (the Patriarch there saw Lutheranism as just another form of Catholicism…and I understand why after a year of study), I have found myself embraced by the East. Startlingly so. As an iteration of the Truth that engages the whole person and of an ancient, stable theology that both comforts and challenges the more I work out my salvation in fear and trembling, Eastern Orthodoxy works for me.

    Here is why. It’s the difference between a “Love” point-of-view” and a “Justice/Justification” point-of-view:

    For in this way God loved the world: that He gave the unique Son, so that all the ones trusting in him would not perish, but have eternal life.

    As my Priest once illustrated (and this is simplified): in the East, we are diamonds, covered in the mud and muck of sin. Jesus comes to remove the mud and muck and to show us how to live a life of discipline to minimise the mud and muck, and the acquiring thereof. Martin Luther once said, We are snow-covered heaps of dung. But if we brush away the snow, we are still heaps of dung…nothing is removed, we are not changed. We’re merely covered over. My issue with this in Lutheranism (indeed, in all classical Protestantism) is that 1) what about the Image of God within us? and b) nowhere in Scripture does God renege on His pronouncement, after Creation, that we are less than “very good”.

    In the Greek understanding of “nature” and “person” (which differs from the West), our nature, that which we are by how we are created, we are “good” because we hold the image of God within us. But because of the Fall, and our inheritance of Death (not Sin…Augustine missed the boat on Romans 5:12), we Sin…ofttimes heinously so, corrupting our “persons” or personalities and turning our hearts (hardening our hearts) away from God, Who is both Life and Light. Even the most vile of persons is still, by nature, created by God in His image…as hard as that is to see and to understand…and, therefore, redeemable. We have all (not just some…) been elected by God to be redeemed; to be reconciled through the Cross (Jesus defeating Sin) and the Resurrection (Christ defeating Death: the two natures of Christ, Chalcedon, being so very important to our understanding here!), to the persons we were originally created to be: whole, in direct relationship with God, growing in grace and understanding…like our First Parents in the Garden.

    As most of the Reformers would have it, we are totally depraved. That which is good is imputed to us, but, it is not ours. The very heart of Man, is not good. We do no good; there is no good in us. Whilst I agree that Scripture does, in fact, tell us some of these things, what is the context? And can there be a context, such as is found in the writings and teachings of the Early Church Fathers, which teaches a different perspective? That teaches us that our “good works”, for example, are those things done in the Name of Christ, by the impetus of the Spirit, to the Glory of God and for the building of His Kingdom?

    But I digress…

    I have no illusions that Evangelical Christianity is, any longer, truly ?????????? (evangelion) in the original William Tyndale sense of the word. But focusing on the Cross of Christ as one’s raison d’etre in theological terms, as well as spiritual terms, is, for me, just another iteration of Anselm of Canterbury’s Cur Deus Homo and Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica:

    Man is not of sufficient rank to satisfy the affront given to God by Man’s Sinful Act. Satisfaction to God must be made by His Peer. And who is the Peer of God, but God’s Own Son?

    This is a medieval construct, based on medieval ideas and methods of governing (how vassals relate to a feudal lord). It is not present in ancient Jewish interpretations of Scripture, nor, flowing out of that understanding, in the Early Church Fathers. Of course, one’s personal grid will inevitably filter this idea in whatever one reads, but the whole tradition of interpretation of The Church in the East will not give support to this form of salvation theology.

    For what does Scripture actually say we inherited on that day our First Parents ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Sin? or Death?

    And what did Jesus Christ actually come to do? As we sing at Pascha/Easter: Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death; and to those in the tombs bestowing Life! We learn how to live submitted to the Father, conquering our propensity to sin by following the life and teachings of Jesus. It is the Christ who defeats Death and gives us Eternal Life…who reverses the inheritance of Adam, which is the inheritance of Death.

    At the end of the day, whilst I appreciate what Luther was trying to do in reforming a Church run rather amok, he is still a single person whose singular understanding and personal interpretation of Scripture began a denomination…a plethora of denominations. He broke from the accepted traditional as well as conciliar way of interpreting Scripture to form his own understanding. In all actuality, Luther was doing nothing different than any and all Evangelicals: dislike something in the Church, disagree with doctrine and/or dogma (even with valid grounds!) or the interpretation thereof, start your own movement. It grows, God must be blessing it…

    Same with Calvin, Zwingli, Menno Simons, Chelcicky, et alia. The history of the West is fraught with fragmentation; of individualism (which is the charge against us I most often hear from the East); of picking up our marbles and playing somewhere else. And Christ prayed for Unity…

    Yes, there are numerous problems in the East. I have no illusions over that. And the Orthodox Church here in America has some specific to America. I make full and honest confession that my Church has, at least, one known sinner who is so completely cuckoo she comes here to stir the pot every once in a while (that would be me…). We have Bishops who can’t (or won’t) rule. Ethnic ghettos. “But we’ve always done it this way” that reaches back 1000 years (!!!). Monastics who truly believe they are the only folk who are “truly saved”. Clericalism run amok. Pew-warmers par excellence! Yet we have one faith, one baptism, one liturgy (beaucoup languages) that truly binds us together so that I can go to Liturgy here or in Russia or in Greece or in Australia and find the same-same everywhere I go.

    Be blessed, Ch Mike. All Truth is God’s Truth for nothing True exists apart from Him. And I pray you will bring glory and honour to Him within your vocation…as you have done, so you will continue to do, as you decrease and He increases…

    Laura.

    • SKPeterson says:

      Laura,

      Thank your for your post. I have two brief comments.

      1) Luther didn’t start his own denomination. He was kicked out of the Roman church. The East may not distinguish this fact, but it is a fact. Lutherans remain within the One Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church. I also mentioned on another post, that several Lutheran scholars have noted that Luther’s Christology often has more in common with the East than with modern Roman expressions.

      2) As to your analogy of dung and diamonds. A Lutheran response would be that Christ sweeps away the snow by which we try to mask and hide our sins and sees the dung that we are, yet in His love and by His blood, declares, “Diamond!” And so it is.

    • David Llewellyn says:

      Yes I agree Laura,
      In my journey I have also left evangelicalism for Eastern Orthodoxy. On the way I had a moment to pause and consider Lutheranism.
      Unfortunately, as we know now, the doctrines of justification by faith “alone” and sola scriptura are unorthodox.
      Also as you mentioned the concept of original sin developed by Augustine in the west, and later expanded on by Calvin’s point of Total Depravity is also not accepted by Eastern Orthodoxy.
      However I must appreciate that those in Lutheranism are getting a lot more solid meat than the fluff they would have received in modern prosperity churches.
      Also going all the way to Eastern orthodoxy is a difficult and lonely journey i.e Greek language, lack of fellowship.
      I am glad those in Lutheranism feel thay are getting something out of it and still feel a link to the historic church – rather than stay home feeling negative about all churches.

  14. CM,

    Thank you for this series. It is a clear and concise introduction to the Lutheran point of view, and I think it will be helpful to a lot of your readers.

    Thanks again.

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    We know the ending of the story. Betrayed by one of his closest followers, convicted through a mockery of a trial, tortured, abused, and publicly shamed by his captors, he was executed as a criminal on a Roman gibbet.

    How many other religions can claim a God who got snuffed as a political prisoner?

    • He wasn’t a political prisoner. He was killed for claiming to be the Messiah, for blasphemy:

      The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        That was what ticked off the Sanhedrin. Pilate’s concern is summarized nicely with “INRI”

      • Jack Heron says:

        Blasphemy was not a crime under Roman law, and the Jerusalem authorities (operating under Jewish law) did not have the power to issue the death sentence. Claiming to lead a nation, however, was a political crime against Rome and punishable by death. Jesus was convicted of treason, a political prisoner. INRI, as Richard says.

        • Under the judicial rulings, Jesus may have been a political prisoner, but I’m objecting that in fact, Christ had nothing to say about politics. Calling Christ a political prisoner suggests he was political, but he was not political at all. Pilot knew he was innocent of a any political crime. The reason he was in front of Pilot was not politics, but the religious claims he made about himself.

          • John 19:12

            “From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

            Pilate didn’t care about internal religious politics, but the threat of yet more political upheaval, and the not-so-subtle hint about disloyalty, scared him – given the situation in Rome under Tiberius, with the recent spectacular downfall of Sejanus who had been acting as Emperor in all but name, and the spate of treason trials thereafter, no prudent official wanted even a breath of seeming treachery or disloyalty attached to his name for fear of an Imperial recall for trial or order to commit suicide.

          • Jack Heron says:

            Religion and politics were intensely bound up at the time. Remember that it had not been long since a man known only as The Egyptian claimed to be a new prophet and raised a rabble to march on Jerusalem (quickly and efficiently dealt with by the Romans). Jesus may not have said much on politics, but you don’t need to be a politician to be politically dangerous.

            Interesting fact about Pilate: during the time when Judea was run by procurators and prefects, the average tenure of the governor was three and a half years. Pilate lasted ten – I think we can assume he was an astute political operator. During the same period, the average tenure of a High Priest was three years, but Caiaphas lasted eighteen! There’s a ten-year overlap between their times in office and I imagine that key to their long-lasting tenures was a good working relationship and a recognition of mutual interests.

          • My only point is that Christ did not have a political message. That his message affected local politics is undisputed. His message affects every aspect of humanity.

  16. This is an absolutely wonderful series of posts on antidotes to Evangelicalism. I too have been struggling inside the movement for the past 30 years and due to career goals (I was a pastor in a EFC) and family reasons, I have stayed and suffered. I’m at “home” now in an Evangelical Covenant Church (too bad its not a Lutheran Evangelical Covenant Church) – not perfect, but better.

    Now that we’ve been exposed to these incredible thoughts, can anyone provided a short reading list for deeper reflection during the upcoming Lent and Epiphany seasons. Thank you. And bless you all on the way.

  17. I admit I don’t know much about Lutheran teaching/theology. The Lutherans I know are lovely (normal) people who are devoted to Jesus. In my Ev. Wilderness days I would spend holy week among different groups of Christians: Presbyterians for Holy Thurs. communion, Lutherans for Tenaebre, Episcopalians for Good Friday service with the Passion of St John, and Eastern Catholic monks for Holy Friday vespers. It was all good.

    CM, I understand how this aspect of Lutheran theology would appeal to you. (It is something that every aware Orthodox person I know would affirm, and is everywhere our Holy Week services.) It is a Very Deep Truth that is so often overlooked by Christians. It is the overlooking of this very thing (among other theological problems) which was brought home to me in such a way that it led me to leave Evangelicalism in 2000 after 25 years there.

    The view of some commenters seems to be that Lutheran theology says that “preaching the gospel” means that people have to get clobbered over the head with their sinfulness and ability to do nothing good at all -not only in terms of “salvation” but also in any other aspect of life – so that we are all seen to be deserving objects of God’s righteous wrath, before we get the announcement of the great comfort that Christ on the cross has averted that wrath. That doesn’t sound much different than what is preached in a lot of Protestant pulpits, esp Evangelical. I can sympathize with Luther, in that in my Roman Catholic experience I did not find assurance that God had accepted me in Christ through the Cross. But the stuff sketched out here I find to be extremely dependent on Luther’s 15th century European context (two kingdoms, vocation, dialectic without apparent resolution) and what we can surmise about his own psychology (Law vs Gospel). Those don’t negate his teaching, but rather help make sense of it. At the same time, I don’t see how that kind of preaching is “good news”. In Lutheranism, is this the same sort of thing as Calvin’s later followers being more “calvinistic” than Calvin himself? From what has been quoted of Luther, I don’t get that same sense, but that’s probably my ignorance. And is the meaning of the Resurrection restricted to the Father’s acceptance of the Son’s sacrifice? And is there any kind of view of reality as a Whole? Please help me understand.

    Years before I “swam the Bosporus” I moved away from the belief that the reformers suddenly (re)discovered what Paul really meant after 1400 years of the Holy Spirit’s supposed impotence. (And what value did the Gospels have other than the history of what Jesus did?) I wasn’t committed to any particular tradition; I just sat for nine years and waited for God to open up something. I thought it was going to be something associated with “emerging church”, perhaps with a mainline church. Evan as an adult examining the nuances of Catholic teaching which I could not apprehend as a young person, it still seemed to me that God’s default “stance” toward people required him to punish, which I see as no different than in all the Protestant theologies. A large part of what has been satisfied for you in Lutheranism was the same sort of stuff – and more – that was satisfied for me in EO. So many EO prayers conclude: “for You are *good* and *the lover of mankind*, and to You we send up glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages”.

    I’m glad we both found a home. May the Lord continue to help you.

    Dana

  18. CM, almost thou persuadest me to become a Lutheran!

    What a great post. I wish that the whole country could hear this gospel rather than the one we are currently receiving.

    • Demand that your pastors preach it! It’s a congregations job to demand that their pastor preach the Gospel, ie, justification by grace through faith; ie, the theology of the cross. If a pastor does not preach this, he should be removed, or the congregants should leave the church.

      • Our pastor does preach it, but our church struggles. As an evangelical, he doesn’t quite fit into the mold, but he loves Jesus and he loves the gospel. All of his sermons lift up Christ and he is not tied up with gay marriage, the next election, or whatever else on the front page that clamors for attention. He loves Jesus, and the words he preaches demonstrate his heart. He is one of the few religious leaders I have ever met that gives you permission to fail.

        If all the pastors that did not preach a Christ-centered / gospel-centered message were removed, there would be few pastors left (maybe that would be a good thing). If all the congregants who demanded such a message suddenly left, would anybody notice? I hope I’m wrong . . .

        • That is very good. Keep in mind that faithful preaching does not equal increasing numbers. Your pastor probably would like to hear that sometimes, as the Law and measures of worldly success often hit them the hardest.

  19. Our mundane sufferings don’t seem to count as official suffering so we fail to glory in them (discover Christ present) as Paul did. We must accept our simple station and see our hidden God in the ordinary.