How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (1)

Last week I wrote about how I have come to peace with my place in the tradition of the Church. My new personal statement of identity is:

“I am a Christian, and I practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition.”

I am the first to admit that I have a long way to go in understanding all that this means, but in a few posts over the next couple of days I want to highlight distinctive Lutheran teachings that, in my view, answer many concerns about the revivalistic evangelicalism I have left behind.

Before I do, let me first reiterate in this first post what I mean when I say I’m a “post-evangelical,” and that I no longer see myself as being within the church system known broadly as “American evangelicalism.” We speak a lot around here about being in the “post-evangelical wilderness,” but perhaps some of you are new and are wondering what we mean by that.

The Cane Ridge Revival, 1801

When I speak of “American evangelicalism,” I am describing those churches, many of which are non-denominational, whose theology and practice has its roots in the revivalist awakenings of the 1800’s. Many pinpoint Charles Finney (1792-1875) as the “Father of Modern Revivalism.” Finney, a Presbyterian, introduced “new measures” into church meetings, emphasized conversion and spiritual enthusiasm, as well as social and missional activism. His emphasis on revival paved the way for the later mass revival preaching of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.

At this same period of time, in frontier areas like Kentucky and Tennessee, the Second Great Awakening was spreading like wildfire through “camp meetings” characterized by passionate evangelistic preaching and emotional calls for public acceptance of salvation. One significant new practice in these revivals was the “altar call,” during which sinners came forward to receive salvation (Finney had adopted a Methodist practice called “the anxious bench”).

The churches that were formed out of these awakenings developed a revivalistic style of “worship.” When they gathered, services were no longer patterned after the traditional liturgy of Word and Table, but instead followed a Preparation/Preaching/Invitation model. The “song service” was designed to warm the hearts of the people. The preaching was emotionally charged and intended to bring people to a crisis of decision. The invitation gave them the chance to make whatever spiritual decision the Lord was convicting them to make.

The Southern Baptist church tradition to which Michael Spencer belonged and in which I had a spiritual awakening as a teenager has been famously devoted to practicing church this way.

John MacArthur

When I went to Bible college, I was introduced to a variation of the revivalist tradition that emphasized doctrine and teaching rather than evangelism (Robert Webber writes about this as well.) This part of the tradition developed through the doctrinal battles between fundamentalists and modernists in the 19th and early 20th centuries, leading many conservatives to separate from mainline Protestantism into independent churches and splinter denominations. At the same time, the development of dispensational theology and the popular appeal of tools like the Scofield Study Bible led to an emphasis on Bible study. For a time, there was a significant split between “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism,” as the latter sought to be less separatistic and more involved in mainline churches, academies of higher learning, and secular culture. The difference remains, but further developments we’ll address in a moment have lessened the distinctions. 

In the “Bible teaching” churches, the same revivalistic patterns characterized the “worship” service, but the emphasis was different. The churches held up before us as examples in those days were not the ones that had emotionally persuasive evangelists in the pulpit, but Bible teachers who could “rightly divide the Word of Truth.” Expository preaching and teaching was the job of the pastor and the purpose for gathering as a church was for the edification of the saints, not primarily the conversion of sinners. The latter was to be done through personal evangelism and special evangelistic meetings and programs. I recall when some of us used overhead projectors and put detailed inserts in the bulletin on which people could take notes and learn their Bibles through the teaching. John MacArthur has been a consistent example of this “pastor-teacher” approach.

Then, in the 1970’s, a movement that began to combine various revivalistic traditional emphases morphed into a powerful new force in American Christian culture — the church growth movement. Donald McGavran’s book Understanding Church Growth and the founding of The Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Mission are commonly viewed as foundational to this movement.

As I experienced and observed the development of the church growth philosophy, it combined (1) an emphasis on the Great Commission as the raison d’etre for the church’s existence in the world, (2) an emphasis on teaching — however, it was teaching that moved away from doctrine and toward practical emphases such as “equipping the saints” for service by helping them find and use their spiritual gifts, (3) a cultural emphasis on “relevance” that depended on sociological research to understand and reach one’s “target audience,” (4) a corporate model taken from the American entrepreneurial tradition of charismatic leadership, pragmatic decision-making, and a programmatic approach to reaching people and building churches that would grow numerically.

At the same time the church growth movement was gaining ground, parachurch organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ were going strong, the “charismatic movement” was growing and infiltrating a broad range of Christian groups, breaking down distinctions and leading to a more experiential and less doctrinaire approach to faith, and an American evangelical subculture was expanding exponentially through contemporary Christian music (CCM) and the Christian book and media market. In addition, Christians were becoming more involved in the public sphere and politics through the “Christian Right” and the “culture wars.”

The 1970’s proved to be pivotal. “Evangelicalism” came of age and became a vocal, visible force in American culture. What we have seen in the years since — the seeker movement, megachurches, the purpose-driven church movement, etc., as well as, I might add, various post-evangelical movements — has been primarily further development of and response to the many developments that brought evangelicalism new public visibility during that decade.

In broad terms, this is the American evangelicalism that I have known. This is also the evangelicalism that Michael Spencer wrote about in his famous articles, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.”

In May 2010, after Michael’s sad passing, I wrote a series of posts called, “My Issues with Evangelicalism.” In those pieces, I identified three main areas of disillusionment with the culture of American evangelicalism: (1) Worship, (2) Pastoral Ministry, (3) Missional living.

Let me say, by way of concluding this overview, that I have been thrilled with what I have learned and experienced in the Lutheran tradition with regard to these three areas.

  • The Word and Table liturgy of the Lutheran church, rooted in the historic tradition of the church rather than the revivalist movement, restores the priority of worship in the local congregation.
  • Pastors are not CEO’s or program directors in the Lutheran church as they have become in much of evangelicalism. Rather, they represent Christ in distributing the means of grace through Word and Sacrament. Preaching is embedded in the liturgy so that worship does not revolve around the charisma of the preacher, but the Word Himself who meets us in the gathering of his people. Pastoral care and catechizing the congregation are essential components of his or her work.
  • The doctrine of vocation is one of the gifts the Lutheran tradition has given to the larger Church. Luther, himself a monk, came to appreciate the priesthood of all believers and the integrity of every calling, “sacred” or “secular,” as a means of showing Christ’s love to the world.

This is just a start in showing how the Lutheran tradition has answered some of my concerns with the system of evangelicalism dominant in America today.

More to come.

97 thoughts on “How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (1)

  1. Probably too much of a gap. The original IMonk came out of a Southern Baptist/Evangelical tradition, and it’s hard to get more “Un-Catholic” than that.


  2. Blake,

    As Boaz said, you are greatly misinterpreting Luther’s words. He never argued for the abolition of the pastoral office or clergy per se, but was affirming the NT teaching that all believers have direct access to the Father through Christ apart from any other human mediator. He strongly upheld the office of pastor as did the other Reformers that followed later.


  3. Batman,

    No problem man. I didn’t catch the South Park reference, but I got you were being hyperbolic. In any event, no worries at all and we’ll continue in future conversations here!


  4. Devin,

    Thanks for answering me. I misunderstood what you meant when you said that “the fullness of truth is found in the Catholic Church.” It still rubs me the wrong way, but not as much now that I know you don’t mean only those who are saved in the Catholic church are truly saved. That would truly be arrogantly false.

    I agree that the sex scandals do not disprove Catholicism or Christianity. Honestly, I just got tired of reading (and the misunderstand was my mistake) your “fullness of the truth” comments. My sarcastic comments were from South Park, and I thought they were hilarious when I first heard them. I knew the comments were provocative and a pretty unfair. I used them because I disliked my take on your statements. It was a jerk move on my part. Sorry for my quick judgments, Devin. You were right about the comment being unhelpful, Daniel.


  5. Batman,

    God be with you.

    Regarding this particular thread of the comments, Steve directly mentioned bishops and popes in his comment, as well implying some kind of works based salvation that other Christians (allegedly) believe. So he brought Catholicism into this thread with his statements. Thus, I responded and directed my comment specifically to the topic he was talking about (justification). I don’t care to have a debate with him on this subject, but if he or others mischaracterize the Catholic Church’s teachings, I hope to correct those misunderstandings in a spirit of charity.

    Regarding the priest sexual abuse scandal, clearly that is way off the topic of this post, so I will not debate you on it here. In any event, your accusation of the pope being one of the guys who covered up abuse is false. Put blame where it is due, and there are many bishops and priests to blame. But Pope Benedict has been one of the good guys in rooting out this evil.

    I became Catholic during the abuse scandal. I learned in my Evangelical days some great lessons, one of which is that all people will fail you, will sin, and that only in Christ can you put your total faith and trust. So these egregious evils didn’t surprise me. They exist elsewhere, as we are sadly realizing, and they do not disprove Catholicism or Christianity or anything. They only prove that man is fallen and can do gravely evil things.

    I have not and would not say that Catholicism is the “one true tradition.” There is tremendous truth found in many other Christian traditions. Tremendous. I do make the claim that the fullness of the truth is found in the Catholic Church, but then the Orthodox make that same claim, so it is not unique to Catholics. And even some Lutheran and Reformed (and Evangelical) churches make similar claims.

    God bless,

    P.S. Daniel, thanks again for stepping up for fairness and respect and challenging Batman on his comments.


  6. I would love to hear from Quakers. I know Rachel Evans had a “ask a quaker” post on her blog.

    I find the quakers have great understanding of the sacredness of life. They are also a very positive people who have seen the resurrection & teaching of Jesus as a call to reform prisons, feed the refugees of war, fight slavery, & promote peace.

    I consider myself a ‘Word & Table’ Mennonite w/ Quaker leanings.
    also, you won’t find better Spiritual writers than the Quakers.


  7. I believe I was the first to call out the more “Lutheranism” leanings on this blog a year or so ago.

    I am happy you have found a Church Tradition you feel at home in & I wish you well. The Lutheran Church has some wounderful people & teachings in it.
    But with you finding a new home & a new tradition to explore, I feel this will continue to push the “Lutheranism” answer instead of truely looking for a “Post-Evangelical” answer.
    Just my opinion – I still love your posts.


  8. I like what you have written, Heather. Keep on looking out. It’s possible you may see a few monsters, but stick with Jesus and you need not fear those monsters.


  9. I love CS Lewis. His writing and life have been very inspiring to me, but every time I have read the Hall/Room part of “Mere Christianity” I find it interesting to recall that his stepson tells of how Lewis himself always sat behind a particular pillar at their Anglican services so the Pastor wouldn’t catch his facial expressions of disagreement or frustration. He seems to have just been a “happy enough Anglican” himself.

    Right now I am part of a Anglican church, but reading through the 39 Articles realize that with out some major changes in my understanding, will never be one. I would really like to find a “room” where my disagreements are not so foundational to the “room’s” identidy, but dispite much searching have not been able to.

    The thing I find though, is that all the best fellowship, learning, and sevice collaborations really happens for me when we get together with the other folks in the “hall” and pay no real mind to what “room” we spend our Sunday mornings in.


  10. Kenny, My current church experiance is similar, and to Miguel’s point yes there are evangelical churches out there that are not like the “typical evangelical church.” They will not typically be the churches getting all the press and hype, so you don’t hear much about them…


  11. I tend to see the “Evangelical room” as a side hall off the main hall, and a side hall with a number of rooms of its own. I know the evangelical experiance Chaplan Mike speaks of reflects what is happing in a pretty wide swath of the evangelical side hall. That said my own church experiance as an evangelical has been in a church that has avoided much of the froth and hype, I also distingush between pop culture evangelicalism and theological evangleicalism. One of the problems I see in the evangelical movement at large is much of it has departed from its evangelical theological and historical roots; and when I speak of thelological roots I’m not talking about dispensatinalism which is only one room among a number of others in our side hall.


  12. Sarcasm can be a useful rhetorical tool sometimes, but this struck me more as a crude insult than actual sarcasm, especially since it did not interact with the main point Devin had been arguing (about justification).

    If you are wondering about how Devin maintains his belief, just ask him.


  13. I get your point, Aaron. My point is that churches themselves did not change much until the days of Finney and the Second Great Awakenings. Neither Wesley nor Whitefield ever gave an altar call, for example. Church organization, liturgy, and “programming” remained consistent with what came before. Evangelicalism does indeed have connections back to the Reformation, but the 1800’s led to such dramatic changes with regard to worship and social activism, in particular, that I think it can be seen as the beginning of a new way in many regards.


  14. Although not a Lutheran, I too have a strong attraction to the Lutheran tradition and what it has to offer.

    However, Mike, I wonder if you have painted evangelicalism in its worst light here. Historians do not trace the roots of evangelicalism to Finney and the new measures, although they certainly influenced evangelicalism very strongly. Typically, the rise of evangelicalism is traced back to the 1730’s in the revival movements of Wesley and Whitefield, and a number of historians would argue that the history of evangelicalism goes back even farther, to the Reformation itself.

    Maybe this is merely a matter of semantics (the word is notoriously difficult to define), but I wouldn’t be so quick to identify Finney as the fountainhead of evangelicalism. There is much more to this very rich tradition than all of the aberrations that he introduced.


  15. Steve Martin said, “Being raised a Catholic and then experiencing Evangelicalism, I have now found the true freedom that comes from a Christ alone understanding of the gospel.”

    Sorry to gang up on you, Steve, but you’re using a number of superlatives to describe something that I don’t think exists here on earth. It sounds like you’re talking about the New Jerusalem, the City of God, the New Heaven and New Earth, or that Garden that Joni Mitchell wants us to get ourselves back to (her birthday this week, btw).

    Additional examples of your praises:
    “…the true freedom that comes from a Christ alone understanding of the gospel.”
    “No decisions to accept anyone or anything (God has done that, for me).”
    “Just the freedom and peace that comes by knowing that Christ has done everything…”
    “free to live my life and be the human that God made me to be.”
    “truly liberating”
    “no going back”

    Steve, all of these descriptions would fit the conversion experience itself, a born-again experience into Christ’s kingdom; but I think it’s a stretch to attach them to any denomination exclusively. I don’t think that denomination exists. All denominations have people in them who share in Christ’s kingdom and in the descriptions you’ve listed. Even Catholics, if you can believe Devin, and I do.


  16. “every christian tradition (and likely every Christian) wavers back and forth between these two “theologies”, or at least contains elements of both.”

    I would agree. Although like Chaplain Mike I have chosen the Lutheran tradition, other traditions have those who understand and practice it.


  17. Thank you, Tim. What I’m after is not “Here’s where you are wrong and here’s what is right,” but more like, “Here’s how we tend to see this.” For the most part, this is how most of the identifiable Orthodox posts that I have seen here come across. I know there is more than one person of that persuasion here. The Eastern tradition has a much different way of looking at things and I find it much closer to what I believe Jesus taught than the Western, especially after Augustine and Jerome and Constantine. My guess is that most Easterners when faced with the overwhelming weight of the West think, “Ah, what’s the use.”


  18. Father Ernesto is one of the Liturgical Gangstas, and when asked he represents well his Church. However, I believe he has been rather busy as of late.


  19. I disagree. I think sarcasm can be a helpful tool. In this particular instance, it brings up legitimate issues that I (and many others) have with the Catholic church. Devin consistently mentions his belief that the Catholic church is the one true Church who Christ has specifically guided through history. I’m wondering how Devin can maintain this belief in the face of the rampant problem of molestation in the Catholic church. Who will stand up for the children who have been sexually abused by the leaders of the Catholic church while the bishop of Rome defends the pedophiliac priests?

    At the same time, I have friends in the Catholic church and am drawn to some of its deep and rich and beautiful traditions. It just always rubs me the wrong way when people (whether Orthodox or Catholic or Baptist, etc.) defend their tradition as the one true tradition.


  20. Several comments back I spoke of why I love Lutheranism for the freedom that is there for the Christian.

    This one class (audio mp3) goes a long to expounding on that assertion:

    I think all would greatly benefit from it no matter what denominational or non-denominational background one has. The goal is not to make people Lutherans, but to help folks realize the tremendous freedom they have in Christ Jesus.



  21. Devin,

    I wasn’t really addressing anything in this post about Catholicism. But more to the point I was speaking about Lutheranism and the freedom of the Christian that is found there, much stronger than any other Christian tradition that I know of, and I have studied a great many of them at length and have experiences in some of them, as well.

    To be fair, there are Lutheran traditions (also) that are bound by add-on’s to the Christian faith.

    But you have to generalize now and then or you won’t be able to discuss anything.

    And, as far as the Bible goes, I do believe the Word of Scripture is infallible, while I do not believe that every jot and tittle (the words) are, or have to be.

    Thanks, Devin.


  22. no, I haven’t, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Anytime you set someone up in spiritual authority they can easily become tinhorn dictators. It’s a strong argument for a system of rotating teacher where the cleric is randomly selected each service! Either that or demand that the professional clergy be a saint or that s/he be closely supervised by a broad cross-section of the congregation with the teeth to fire him/her. Or that humans simply get over their inborn desire for clericalism and take the attitude that if the cleric says “God loves you”, then check it out and verify it.


  23. From what I was taught (this was a public university mind you, so I may be wrong on the details) the key difference for Luther was that he believed that a person could confess their sins to Christ directly (and, of course, receive their forgiveness directly from Christ). Unless I’ve been misinformed, Catholics are still required to confess their sins to a priest and perform the penance assigned by that priest.


  24. Chaplain, I applaud your growing openness of mind and heart. I attended an ELCA congregation for several years over twenty years ago and it spoiled me for finding another room I could tolerate ever since. Mostly I just hang out in the Great Hall. I do not remember any doctrinal emphasis in that church. Folks loved each other and after you communed you felt like you were carrying away another little piece of Jesus that you hadn’t walked in with.

    With considerable hindsight and further education, I understand now that if Luther had been in that pulpit, I might not have been so enamored. He answered the call for his day and did a bangup job such as perhaps the church hadn’t seen since Paul, but his task was meant for a world 500 years ago and we have a much different world to deal with today.

    I am encouraged by the ecumenical spirit that lives here, even with the occasional sectarian bickering. I suppose we all have our prejudices but that doesn’t make it right. Where I find a lack of balance in all this is the rare appearance of the Eastern view. I know that the Orthodox tradition is welcome here but it keeps a low profile. I greatly appreciate every time someone from that room(s) nudges us to realize that they not only exist but go back to the beginning. I believe it is only when the Western wing becomes conscious that an Eastern wing is needed in order to fly that the Great Hall will rock.


  25. One finds tin-horn dictators among the Anabaptists as well. Have you been reading about the Argentinean Mennonite rape case?


  26. I wonder whether any of this contradicts Catholic belief. Protestants speak of vocations, don’t they? And nobody thinks that Christ is impotent without the middle-man.

    To me the key thing is that for Catholics, mass involves transsubstantiation, which can only be performed (okay, prayed for) by an ordained priest. Ordination is a sacrament.


  27. That’s the theory (except among Protestant groups which do recognize priests, and even the Episcopalians only recognize two sacraments, not seven). The funny thing is how little difference this makes–a Protestant pastor is in no way just “a member of the congregation.”


  28. But rather than importing Quakers onto this site (a la Martha), I’d rather see the writers who are already here think about their religion in light of Quakerism, which would challenge them (a la all the Thomas Merton stuff).


  29. Might be. You have to understand a few things, though, just so you know what you’d be getting into:

    (1) There are conservative as well as liberal Quakers. More often than not these respectively correspond to “programmatic” and “unprogrammatic” Quakers. “Programmatic” Quakers have church services, “unprogrammatic” ones have traditional Quaker meetings in which people just sit around until the Spirit moves them to say something.

    (2) It’s part of Quaker tradition to speak truth (insofar as this can be discerned) to power (not only other Quakers), which may not be entirely receptive. A real Quaker would do that here as well, though politely. Everything you hate about the Unitarians, you’ll find in steroids among the Quakers. Everybody remembers their opposition to slavery, but these days the chatter from the Holy Spirit is more about capital punishment and economic inequality.

    (3) Theologically, there is tradition but no creeds, and indeed a number of Quakers do not consider themselves to be exclusively Christian.


  30. I’m not saying that Romish Popery is a BAD thing, mind you!

    Actually Spencer seemed unusually allergic to it–he was all like, “Why God, why did Denise have to become a Catholic?” as if she had joined Scientology or something.


  31. “…a plain, literal meaning, unless the text itself is clear it is intended as metaphor or parable. ”

    My, what loaded language! You include female pastors in your list. There is a scriptural passage with an obvious meaning that there ought not be females in leadership roles. There are other scriptural passages speaking favorably of females in leadership roles. Looking for a “plain, literal meaning” here seems unlikely to be a fruitful approach.

    To pick a different example, it is perfectly obvious to me that the first two chapters of Genesis fall into the genre of “creation myth”, sharing many elements with other Near Eastern creation myths, as well as echoing those of more distant cultures. I accordingly read these chapters in light of the conventions of the genre. I suspect that you read them quite differently, and would include my reading as being “less tied to Scripture”. I, on the other hand, consider the literal reading as counterproductive understanding the truths revealed in the text.

    The point being that it is entirely possible to be “tied to Scripture or confessional documents” and yet disagree on interpretation.


  32. Does Devin want to make this a Lutheran/Catholic debate? Is the pope catholic…and making the world a safer place for pedophiles?

    Is the Council of Trent super complex? Does a bear crap in the woods…and does the pope crap on the broken lives and dreams of 200 deaf boys?


  33. You should also discuss two kingdoms. When so much of evangelicalism seems like an arm of the Republican party, it’s nice that Lutherans teach against bringing politics into the church. I say this as an extremely republican lutheran. By tieing the church to politics, the Gospel is compromised. People view the church as moralistic and legalistic, in great part, because so many churches are seeking to pass laws and elect candidates. The church should have very little to say about what laws should be passed or who is elected, especially in a society with many non-christians. The church should pray for its leaders, teach Law and Gospel to Christians, and strive to be known to outsiders for the Gospel, Christ’s forgiveness, and works of mercy.


  34. But, Devin, Trent says a lot more than that. It’s a complex system that involves grace being received as a result of human cooperation by exercise of its free will, and an ontological change in the person who then can earn merit with works, which makes grace come through operation of free will + works.

    These kinds of disputes can’t be summarized very well in blogs and necessarily require shorthand statements, that can’t ever be entirely accurate, but refer to a points made in the greater debate thats been going on for 500 years. But the clearest way is to simply compare the documents.

    Read Augsburg. Read Trent. They speak for themselves.

    That’s the beauty of Lutheranism; I can point people to Augsburg to read without having to gloss over it all with unintuitive definitions, explanations of Aristotelian philosophy, or massive amounts of additional reading.


  35. When I say tied to scripture, I mean conservatives accept a plain, literal meaning, unless the text itself is clear it is intended as metaphor or parable. In the ELCA, you can find a variety of opinions on the virgin birth, the resurrection, whether gender means anything, whether any sex outside marriage is acceptable, female pastors, etc. These are simply not on the radar in the LCMS, in which the main controversies are how much praise band is ok, how open communion should be, and theextent to which any worship duties can be assigned to women or laypersons, if at all.


  36. boaz,

    To be clear, Trent declared that 1) one’s initial justification was by grace through faith with NO works involved whatsoever. In other words, you cannot merit the grace of justification. It also declared that 2) faith must be informed by agape (love), as Galatians 5:6 says, so we cannot say “faith alone” is by that you mean faith-divorced-from-agape. For without love it is impossible to please God.


  37. I’ll answer in more detail as we go along, but you might want to read last week’s “Wilderness Update” for a start. Lutheran tradition is like any other — there is a spectrum of belief and practice — but the core distinctives are still distinguishable.


  38. “Liberals emphasize doctrine less and are less tied to Scripture or confessional documents.”

    Coming from the liberal ELCA side, I disagree with this characterization. I would say that a typical ELCA church is tied to the confessional documents of the Book of Concord in a different way than is a typical LCMS church. These documents are part of the air we breath, and therefore tend not to be explicitly noticed. or mentioned My experience with more conservative Lutheran bodies is that the Augsburg Confession is expressed more overtly. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. A typical bad ELCA sermon is fifteen minutes of empty blather: time which I resent having lost. A more explicit reference to the Lutheran confessions would help pull those pastors back from that void. On the other hand conservative Lutherans tend to use the Book of Concord as a tribal identity badge: hence the vaguely insulting self-designation of “confessional Lutherans”.

    Then there is the crowd that gets off on the polemics. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good piece of polemical writing as much as the next guy, and boy were they good at it back in the 16th century! But it isn’t the 16th century any more, and we aren’t dealing with the 16th century Roman church. Yes, some Catholics like to imagine that the Roman church never changes, but of course it does. The people that consider the polemical elements of the Lutheran confessions to be normative are making the rookie mistake of stripping a text out of its cultural context, thus imposing on themselves the inability to distinguish between universal truths and truths about some specific time and place.


  39. I believe there are some Anabaptists who also don’t call professional clergy.

    It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can have a person be a specialist in religious knowledge, so that when he preaches, he does so with an understanding of the history and literary tradition of the piece in question. He or She can also be expected to be available to counsel members who are experiencing difficulties, to visit the sick and dying etc.

    The other side of that is that you can also find someone who expects obedience and morphs into little better than a tin-horned dictator.


  40. Blake I agree.

    We do seem to have been stuck in an “All things Roman” mode around here. Maybe it was just b/c Chaplain Mike was gone, but it has been drifting that way for a while. Honestly since the IMonk’s passing. The site is now often more about navel gazing and lamentations than it is the raucaus tongue-in-cheeck style that we were used to.

    I still love the site, but I miss what it was in some ways. And I’m not saying the new guys are not working hard and doing a good job. Just observing.


  41. I would love to read something of the Quakers. They have a fascinating tradition. I recently helped proof a Memoir by the English author, Amelia Opie, who converted to become a Quaker. Also, many of the anti-Slavery works I’ve proofed (I’m a volunteer) were written by Quakers who were instrumental in that movement.


  42. Ray

    Thanks for this reminder. I first heard the distinction between a “theology of the cross” and a “theology of glory” at my evangelical seminary many years ago, and have never forgotten it. A theology of glory is also a form of triumphalism and fails to remember the “now-not yet” aspect of the kingdom. It is concerned with outward show, and it’s daughter is spiritual pride.

    As such, it seems that almost every christian tradition (and likely every Christian) wavers back and forth between these two “theologies”, or at least contains elements of both.


  43. Your church is definitely NOT like the average evangelical church. With more like that, less of us would have left. 80% of the church in service is unusually thriving, from my experience. It’s usually the reverse. Keep setting a good example!


  44. The site has recently had about twenty articles highlighting Roman Catholicism.

    That’s because “Romish Popery” WAS the original Western-Rite Christian tradition, and most all the others in America derive from it in some way — even if that way was to deliberately become as UN-Catholic as possible. It was the original rootstock of modern Western Christianity.


  45. Devin, part of the problem is that there seems to be an official Catholicism in the books, and one represented by bloggers and apologists. I have many good Catholic friends, but I couldn’t reconcile what thye told me with history and the official documents. On the books, Trent clearly anathemizes salvation through faith alone. That’s why I gave up on Catholicism. I have no problem agreeing with everything in the Augsburg confession and much of Luther’s writings.


  46. I think the point is that theologically, every denomination does have a liberal and a conservative side, which manifests itself in different ways, depending on which denomination it grew from. Liberals emphasize doctrine less and are less tied to Scripture or confessional documents. There are liberal and conservative catholics, lutherans, presbyterians, anglicans, etc., most of which have divided themselves from each other. The charismatic and non-denominational churches are now doing the same. Rob Bell for example is liberal within the non-denominational context.

    So, what happens is even if you find a tradition, you then have to choose whether you are part of the liberal side of that tradition or the conservative side.

    Veith’s books do not focus on this distinction though.


  47. You misunderstand the doctrine. Everybody is a priest in that they do not need a mediator between them and Christ. He administers his grace directly to believers directly. All Christians have vocations that are equally good works before Christ, and all Christians should tell others about the Gospel.

    But. grace is given through means. THe Word must be preached by a person, the sacrament must be administerd by a person. Not everybody has time or ability to become equally learned, or learn Greek and Hebrew, or become accomplished at these tasks. Therefore, Christians, joined as a congregatoin, call a person with special traiing to teach and preach the Gospel. Luther never suggested everybody should appoint themselves as a preacher and say whatever they want in church. He rejected enthusiasm, the Holy Spirit does not give new revelation beyond what Christ taught, as recorded in Scripture.


  48. Sean,

    Certainly someone could critique their experience of Catholicism. But Steve does not say that is what he is doing. He instead implies that the Catholic Church teaches X when the Church really teaches Y. So a fair critique could be “my experience of Catholicism was that you earn your salvation by climbing the ‘ladder of works’. Of course, it should be said that this is exactly opposite as to what the Catholic Church actually teaches, which is that we are saved by grace.”

    But he hasn’t ever done that from what I have read. Hence, my complaint.


  49. Chaplain Mike,

    When you speak of the “Lutheran Tradition” what exactly are you speaking of?

    There’s been a lot of flux within world wide Lutheranism over the last several hundred years and strong confessional, liberal, and pietistic movements that persist until this day separately as well as in often strange mixtures.


  50. Blake,

    You make a good point. The Quakers (or at least some branches of them) take the priesthood of all believers to its consistent conclusion: no pastors, no priests. My good friend went to a Friends meeting for a long time and they all just sat in silence until someone was led by the Spirit to share something with the others. Then they would sit back down.

    What the Reformers really rejected was that through the sacrament of Holy Orders the ordained man was ontologically changed, receiving an indelible spiritual character configuring him to Christ the High Priest. Instead, the Protestant pastor is no different than a member of the congregation, except insofar as he gets up and teaches them, counsels them, and may have deeper learning than them.


  51. In the last church where I was pastor (UMC) I moved gradually toward a service of Word and Table. It was a relatively easy transition in that particular church. I had the assistance of a Lay Leader who had one foot on the Episcopal Church (now both). He had grown up in that local UMC church, and we made a strong team. It was a joy.

    I’ve always appreciated a strong Christ centered pulpit ministry. So I attempted to incorporate this into the service, normally using a passage from that Sunday’s lectonary.

    So much of what Chaplain Mike says above deeply resonates with me.


  52. Bob, I appreciate the warning. Actually this has been a long time coming — several years. And I would also stress that my commitment is to a TRADITION (as explained in last week’s “Wilderness Update” post). In my mind, that approach adds perspective to any shallow enthusiasm that might be felt from being “wowed” by a new experience.


  53. Many pinpoint Charles Finney (1792-1875) as the “Father of Modern Revivalism.” Finney, a Presbyterian, introduced “new measures” into church meetings, emphasized conversion and spiritual enthusiasm…

    At this same period of time, in frontier areas like Kentucky and Tennessee, the Second Great Awakening was spreading like wildfire through “camp meetings” characterized by passionate evangelistic preaching and emotional calls for public acceptance of salvation. One significant new practice in these revivals was the “altar call,” during which sinners came forward to receive salvation…

    Split the difference in Finney’s lifespan and the midpoint comes out as roughly 1840. Contemporary with John Nelson Darby’s “Secret Rapture” Dispensationalism and Joseph Smith’s founding the Mormons. Seems like all these things were churning to the surface around the same time.

    …but instead followed a Preparation/Preaching/Invitation model. The “song service” was designed to warm the hearts of the people. The preaching was emotionally charged and intended to bring people to a crisis of decision. The invitation gave them the chance to make whatever spiritual decision the Lord was convicting them to make.

    I keep thinking how easy it is for that to slip into a Nuremberg Rally — use the emotionally-charged preaching to whip the audience into a frenzy, then give them their marching orders and turn them loose.


  54. Devin,

    I think in other threads Chaplain Mike explained how many different iterations of Catholicism there are in the world, even if they aren’t all “official.” So isn’t fair that Steve (or myself or anyone else) would critique their own experiences an understandings?


  55. ” I am so tired of labels, and am sick and tired of being labeled a “Liberal” because of the path I have taken.”

    Exactly right. These terms are defined very subjectively by today’s standards. And there is such a mix thrown into the accusations. Just how is one liberal? Today one can be branded liberal if he/she fails to fall entirely into a certain spectrum of opinion. One becomes afraid to even mention certain political views or churches in public– especially in my part of Indiana. Not that I’m exactly afraid of rows– but the older I get the more weary they make me.


  56. When I read the headline to this article, I laughed out loud — not at you, Chaplain Mike, but with you. I blog a bit, too (though my audience can comfortably be counted on my fingers), and here’s something I wrote a couple of weeks ago:

    [Referring to Allen Krell’s IM post on June 29] … in his post, he talked about the Lutheran concept of the “theology of the cross” (having Jesus and His work as the focus of the Christian life) versus the “theology of glory” (focusing on what we do, and on God making our life on earth better). I knew the basic concepts (though not with that nomenclature), but Krell’s presentation of it sunk my battleship. I realized that the theology of the cross is the antidote for almost every problem in American Pentecostalism today — so much of which is legalistic, or racked by the “prosperity” false gospel, or just plain self-centered instead of Jesus-centered.

    There is a Lutheran (LCMS) congregation that meets about a mile from my house, one I’m familiar with in passing because they run a pre-school where my wife used to work. I’m praying about it …


  57. In some ways, I don’t know if I’m in the wilderness or not. I go to an Evangelical church. But, our church is not like many Evangelical churches I’ve been to in the past. I feel more comfortable there than I’ve felt in any other church. I’ve never been a young earther, but I’ve had my struggles with evolution (and still do). I’m sure I read Genesis a lot differently than a lot of my Evangelical friends. I’m politically liberal — and have leaned to the left politically for many years before I even became a Christian. I’m pretty sure my non-Christian friends wouldn’t call me anti-intellectual (probably anything but). But yet, I’ve found a church within Evangelicalism that I love. And when I say church, I’m speaking of the people and the practices.

    Our church is not liturgical. It’s Songs, Preaching, Songs like most Evangelical churches. However, our worship is never a rock show. We have different people lead worship and they all have their own styles they bring. We regularly include hymns in our worship music, but its mostly contemporary stuff.

    Our pastor is definitely more of a pastor-teacher. But it’s not about knowing what the original Greek meant. It’s about the Gospel. And our pastor often quotes the Christian saints and always ends with a benediction. He’s not a CEO. Our church is elder-run.

    Our church very much respects the laity. We’re a small church (about 120 or so?) and probably 80% or more of our church serves in some capacity — many in “leadership” positions (i.e. leading ministries or small groups). The lay-leaders meet together with the pastor and elders regularly (every couple months or so).

    I’m glad Mike found a home in he Lutheran church and has come to appreciate the liturgy. I’m not there yet. I like the way we do church.


  58. Another “amen” Steve. I also want to add an encouragement to all readers here to check out Steve’s site “The Old Adam Lives”, is that acceptable that I do that here? You can delete that part CM, if it isn’t. I have learned so much in my desire to understand Lutheranism at this site.


  59. Growing up in an evangelical “room” I didn’t even know there was a great hall out there. I have two feet up against the wall to help leverage the door open and I’m lookin out. I haven’t seen any monsters yet!
    Appreciating all the comments.


  60. Steve and Chaplain Mike,

    I won’t turn this into a Lutheran-Catholic debate, as in fact I agree with what I understand Mike’s intention to be in this post, even if I think Lutheranism isn’t the fullness of the truth.

    But the reason I have taken issue with Steve’s comments is that they seem to always include an accusation (or at least implication) that Catholicism (and anything, seemingly, non-Lutheran) teaches a works-based salvation. And this is utterly false. It’s so false that it pains me every time I read it, so I call him out on it. But Steve, you keep saying it.

    One other point: Steve, your knowledge comes from the Bible, including your “Christ alone understanding of the gospel.” So in fact you have to accept several decisions (made by other people) of which books belong in the Bible and whether they are true, uncorrupted accounts. Yet you explicitly reject the inerrancy of the Bible. So the passages or even books you base your understanding of justification on could be corrupted or inaccurate or wrong.

    As I said, I will not comment further about Steve’s remarks, but his characterizations of Catholicism are inaccurate and misleading, and people need to realize that. It’s fine to reject the Catholic Church, but at least reject it for what it truly is, and not a caricature.


  61. For myself, I enjoy reading what others here have to say about their own church traditions and beliefs. I came on board just as Chaplain Mike was filling in at the end of Michael Spencers life. I recall what he wrote about his searching in the wilderness… So, for him to share where the journey has led him and why, I see to be a gift for all of us. The more we can come to understand and know each other as individual christians, as well as members of a particular tradition, and learn about each others churches place in the Global Body of Christ, the more we can see just how much should and can unite us even amongst the various differences in thought and practice. I would enjoy seeing more of what chaplain Mike is doing, sharing his journey to what he now calls home.

    Regardless of what Christian denomination individual i-monks are part of, we are all called to be transformed into the image of Christ Jesus, to have that image of God within us become more and more of who we are = to become images of the God who is LOVE. To become one(both individually and globally) in Him, as he and the Father are one, to become one within this God of Love = to abide in Him so deeply and intimately that They will come to take Their abode within us, Love through us and show us what True Love is. We can become living witnesses of that Living True Love which is the God we believe in and worship.

    All in the above paragraph is what I have so long believed is what truly matters. Long ago I became so tired and weary of the verbal and intellectual battling over what is right and what isn’t regarding things that are lower on the totem pole of what truly matters= which in the end is what will eternally endure – Love = God ; our love for Him and our love or others. Jesus gave us a NEW commandment that is all about LOVE. The specialized tactic of our common enemy is to incite and create disunity and what a wonderful job he has done through the ages. The more I believe we can come to understand, know and respect each other as members of the same Body, the more I believe we can come to truly be teachable to what the Love of God is and open to be transformed into that very Love.


  62. Mike, as a life-long evangelical, I can certainly understand why any sane believer would want to find another alternative! I hope that your journey into the Lutheran church will bring you closer to knowing Christ, which certainly seems to be the desire of your heart.

    I have made the difficult decision to stay in the evangelical “room”, but I hope to come out into the “Great Hall” often, and I find this a safe place to do so. I thank everyone here for expressing their faith with charity and humility.

    There are some glimmers of hope in the evangelical “room”. There are some churches where Christ (who He is, what He said, and what He has done) is truly in the center of their words and deeds. There are churches that have rejected the invitation, that have pastors who care for their people and who are not proud dictators and CEOs. It is difficult for these pastors, because they go against a strong trend within their own “room”. Pray for them! I imagine that all of the “rooms” have their dirty corners . . .


  63. I have a whole lot of empathy for this kind of a journey. I just started college, and seriously considered attending a Lutheran church (they’re hard to find down here). I was able to find an evangelical church while not as liturgical in the historic sense, is able to blend historical liturgy from a lot of traditions and is centered around Christ and his Gospel. Perfect? No. But I am content, and just wanted to throw this out there because (despite my immense frustration) I do not see evangelicalism as entirely without hope and want to work within the tradition to see it gain back some of the history and tradition.


  64. People involved in the early days of the Charismatic Movement used to say that after a person was “baptized in the Spirit (with the evidence of speaking in tongues)” he or she should be locked up in a cage for about six months (because of the hyper-enthusiasm and lack of wisdom toward others that usually followed). In some way I can’t quite explain I get that feeling this post and your recent discovery of and exposure to the Lutherans, Chaplain Mike.

    Give it a year or two, or three, then tell us how great they are.

    Full disclosure: I was Methodist until I was 20, then left them for the Baptists/Non-denominationals/Pentecostals/post-evangelical wilderness over the next 50 years, and am not without an appreciation of Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox communities. A little over a year ago, I returned to the Methodists of my youth. They aren’t perfect, but then, who is? I do enjoy the more structured approach to worship and the singing of the old hymns (mixed with some newer songs) and the sweet fellowship and the covered-dish meals, but the fire (which is definitely found among them) is a rarer commodity that usually is too deep for words so is expressed in helping others. A warm coat is better than a tract any day of the week.


  65. Thanks for sharing, Chaplain Mike (and all).

    I happened upon Lutheranism by chance (God is laughing), and I have never looked back.

    Being raised a Catholic and then experiencing Evangelicalism, I have now found the true freedom that comes from a Christ alone understanding of the gospel. Absolutely nothing else required. No bishops or Popes. No decisions to accept anyone or anything (God has done that, for me). No inerrant Bibles, or using the Law. Just the freedom and peace that comes by knowing that Christ has done everything…and that now I am free to live my life and be the human that God made me to be.

    It’s truly liberating, and when you finally taste that freedom, there is no going back under any yoke of slavery (whatever that might be).


  66. My family and I discovered confessional Lutheranism a little over a year ago… indirectly through this site. I listened to Dr. Rosebladt’s lecture on The Gospel for Those Broken By the Church that I discovered through iMonk, and I discovered Pr. Cwirla and the God Whisperers. Starting diving into Lutheranism it showed me exactly what I was hating about the ‘church’ I had been apart of for so long. American evangelicalism had brought me into a mix of despair and bitterness.

    We had stopped going to church altogether. I would read iMonk, listen to various podcasts, etc. Confessional Lutheranism is the only place I have found that properly distinguishes between Law and Gospel.

    I totally agree with your point regarding the point of pastors. My pastor is not a CEO. He is truly a pastor. After going through catechism with him and my family, he continues to meet with me only a weekly basis to discuss theology, baseball (we are both Cards fans and loving life right now), etc. This is truly the first pastor in my life that is not concerned with numbers at all, but taking care of those God has entrusted to him. He has truly been a godsend.

    I’m not sure where I’d be if I hadn’t discovered confessional Lutheranism. I can totally identify with this post. Thank you for sharing!


  67. Yes, Pastor Cwirla has long been one of our liturgical gangstas, and Pirate Christian Radio a long-time sponsor of IM, along with Reformation Press, and other Lutheran ministries.


  68. Michael Spencer often gave credit to his Lutheran cohorts for their scholarship when it came to the Gospel. Michael was a life-long Southern Baptist, but was also a supply pastor at a Methodist (or was it Presbyterian? I should hit the archives…) church, and as many of us know, his wife Denise is Roman Catholic. So Mike Spencer was the embodiment of the “post-evangelical wilderness”, and this blog remains true to that viewpoint. If it didn’t, many of us long time iMonks would have left.


  69. One thing I love about your path is you never mention “Conservative” or “Liberal” . I am so tired of labels, and am sick and tired of being labeled a “Liberal” because of the path I have taken.

    Adrienne mentions Gene Veith, and I too follow his writings, but I am tired of him and others saying there are only two camps, conservative and liberal. The real post-evangelical world is much more complex.


  70. Thank you Chaplain Mike for explaining this in detail. I have chosen a Lutheran church having left my beloved Evangelical Free Church after almost 25 years. It is a scarey, lonely step. Many precious friends do not understand and I don’t blame them at all. But I have found much of what I have been craving. I just started attending a Bible Study at the church and I love it. There is a deep humility and deep faith that was not at all characteristic at my mega-church. One of the factors that bothered me was the arrogance and sense of entitlement of many of the people at my E Free church. So, to put it bluntly, I need all the help I can get in understanding myself! The book, “The Spirituality of the Cross” by Gene Veith was the turning point and I am so grateful to have found it. I look forward to learning more from you.


  71. I am thrilled that you found the “room” Christ was calling YOU to! As a cradle Catholic, your comments about the Word and the Table, service, and learning remind me to appreciate these gifts in my own Church! I was never remotely interested in the Evangelical type of church, as the overly emotional appeals to the altar and hostility to science were too much off a turn off. BUT….I have a couple of devout Luthern friends, and find very little that divides us when we talk theology and personal beliefs. There is the little trouble with Rome, but not too much else…at least not that we friends can find.

    I will die Catholic, but my friends joke that I should come on over to the Luthern expression…..Catholic-lite; all the same ideas, but with 53% less guilt!”

    [THEIR joke, not mine….and meant in a light-hearted spirit of love.]


  72. The site has recently had about twenty articles highlighting Roman Catholicism. Presumably other traditions will be featured later. I would be interested to see the authors here discuss Quakerism.


  73. Luther famously taught (and Protestants by and large accept in theory) the “priesthood of all believers”; i.e. that no spiritual distinction between clergy and laity ought to be recognized. Yet except for the Quakers and their ilk, nearly every Protestant denomination has retained a professional priesthood (or ministry, etc.). Apart from spiritual distinctions about the nature of ordination, and sub-issues like married clergy, there seems to be little practical difference between clerical roles in the Catholic and Protestant churches. This is especially odd, considering that the structure seems not to have existed in the early church as reflected in Acts and the epistles. (A presbyter or elder is hardly the same as a priest as now understood.) I suppose this has been from some combination of political reasons (hierarchical groups being easier to control), cultural reasons (since this was what early Protestants were used to), and practical reasons (it being often difficult to persuade the rank-and-file to take initiative.) Still, it seems noteworthy.


  74. If this were all we were writing on Internet Monk, I’d have the same fear. This won’t become a “Lutheran” site. I do, however, want to share my journey with you.

    My vision for Internet Monk continues to mirror C.S. Lewis’ illustration of the Great Hall and the rooms. The Great Hall is the “great tradition” of the Church, whereas the rooms represent our own traditions and ecclesiastical commitments.

    IM will not be kidnapped and taken into my “room.” However, when we come out of our rooms and fellowship with one another in the Great Hall we talk about what’s happening in our respective rooms. That’s all I’m trying to do here.

    Hope that makes sense.


  75. I don’t see this as a plug for Chaplain Mike’s tradition. He is after all fairly new to it. Rather I see it as an explanation as to why he has chosen to go the route he has chosen to go. And I know it hasn’t been easy to make this decision. I support him in this move as it is one that works for him. The thing about a wilderness, is it is a wilderness. It is not a satisfying place to be. I applaud any decisions that help to move one beyond that wilderness. While the Lutheran church would not work for me in SO many ways, I am glad that Chaplain Mike has found a place that he can call his new home.


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