I spend too much time on blogs. They are addictive. I don’t have a café to go to where I can discuss theology with friends. I get my theological conversation fix from blogs. I do though think this helps my preaching and Bible study preparation. So today I listened to imonk’s podcast 112, an evangelical’s view of Lutheranism.
He takes us to task for having conversations in which we present an all or nothing case. Join the Lutheran church, rather than presenting our view as something that can enhance their theology. He cites Eugene Peterson and Michael Horton as those who have gleaned from Lutheranism without abandoning their theological roots. On the one hand us Lutherans are happy to have contributed to proclamation of the Gospel. Michael Spencer (imonk) commends us for being strong on the gospel, something he says evangelicals are typically weak in. Yet he chastises us for turning the conversation to the sacraments, and pitting it as if the evangelicals don’t believe the Bible because they don’t share our view of them.
I want to comment on all this. Often times us Lutherans look out at the evangelical world and see people hurting, and burned out, their souls have been starved on a diet of law. Too often this happens in our own churches, especially where the pastor has a pietistic bent. Yet we confessional Lutherans know that we have the pure gospel and want to share it with them. We want to share all of it, and for us the sacraments are central to the Gospel. The sacraments are the means by which God applies the Gospel to us. They are central to our lives as Christians. Our devotional lives are centered in them. Weekly communion is a source of comfort and strength for us, because we know that here Jesus gives us his body and blood to eat and drink as our Passover lamb for the forgiveness of our sins. We can’t separate these from the Gospel, to do so would be un-Lutheran.
Though I think he is right in this, we can choose a better starting point for our conversations. We don’t have to start with the sacraments, and we don’t have to rush to them in our conversations. We don’t have to dodge the topic either, nor should we be embarrassed by our position. If it comes up it comes up, talk about them.
The problem is that even when we recognize a Lutheran position in an evangelical writer’s work, we see it as only half the truth. It hits shallow.
Lutherans take theology seriously. We see false doctrine and the teaching of it as sin, a breaking of the second commandment. Too teach falsely about God, is to slander His most holy name. It is a sin that calls for repentance as all sin does. The same evangelical who would chastise us, and call us Pharisees for believing our position to be right and theirs wrong, and calling them on it, would probably see nothing wrong with us calling for repentance for other sins. From our perspective though, this sin is just as serious, if not more serious than adultery, fornication, theft, murder and the like. So where one is wrong concerning the things of God we have an obligation to correct. We agree with most evangelicals on the inerrancy of scripture, but what good is inerrancy if we don’t give a hoot what it says? Should we not take God’s word seriously enough to have honest debate about what it actually says? We believe that theological sins can be forgiven, and the grace of God even covers misunderstanding, but that does not mean we should ignore it. Luther writes in the small catechism commenting on the petition lead us not into temptation that “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.” I am often in awe of this insight. Luther links false belief and despair with other great shames and vices, such as fornication, drunkenness, theft and murder, those sins that are commonly conjured up with the words great shame and vice. Isn’t it true? How often have we seen false belief lead to despair, and even suicide, among people tortured by the law? How often have we seen false belief lead to those other great shames and vices. Where the word of God speaks we can not afford to be lukewarm. “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16 (ESV) We can’t afford to ignore our differences, but we can resolve to have honest and candid, yet charitable debate. If as is so often heard “doctrine doesn’t matter” then we have no reason not to return to the papist tyranny, for the sake of unity.
Too often we look at the debates in the evangelical world, and see both sides as being equally wrong. We see people hopping from one position to another like a ping pong ball. We see them leaving one church for another, jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Debates rage between Calvinists and Arminians, yet the Lutheran position is ignored, silent or written off as wrong before it is even looked at. One or the other but the Lutherans have to be wrong. All we ask is that when you can no longer abide in your own position, your own church, give the Lutheran position and the Lutheran Church an honest look, before going back to the drawing board. It just could be that we have what you are in fact looking for. We believe we do and would love to share it with you, the Gospel in all its purity, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution.