Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Who is worse? Rome or Geneva?

I caught up on some blogs recently and came across this quote:

I understand it.  Most of our protestant friends have departed very far from the historical practice of the Christian faith.  They also deny the very means by which God delivers his grace.  It is easy to feel distant from them at times.  I understand that Catholic Mass often is much closer in style and even substance in many ways to what Lutherans have historically practiced.  
I understand that Rome has also been a very consistent voice in life issues and the like.  I understand that they have stood with us and we with them lately on the issue of religious freedom.  But what I do not understand is the affinity with Rome that I see among some Lutherans.  Read more here...

I must confess that I do not see the point here.  Outside of a few Lutheran clergy who have swum the Tiber and become Roman, I do not see many who feel this "affinity with Rome."  In fact, I find such anti-Roman fear among Lutherans that we will often abandon our own theological identity, liturgical practice, and faithful piety in order to avoid being labelled as Roman (see below the posts about crossing oneself and the WELS as but one example).  Maybe I am in my own little world here in Tennessee, but I do not see many pining away for Rome or attempting to incarnate Roman theology or practice in Lutheran congregations.  There may be some, but I do not know them or see them.

Lets put this whole thing into scale.  Everyday there are good, loving, Lutherans who abandon their faith and, in many cases the full Gospel, to embrace Evangelicalism or a generic Christianity which is rich in everything except the means of grace and the efficacious Word.  They trade in a baptism which does something for a water empty of power and reduced to a symbolic gesture of obedience to the command of the Lord.  They trade in a living Word powerful enough to speak forgiveness and cleanse the guilty conscience for another set of rules to follow to get what you want from God.  They trade in the bread that is body and the wine that is blood for a picture of an absent Christ who is confined to our remembrances and speaks to us in mere metaphors.  They trade in the Word that God sends forth and does not return empty for a textbook used to glean popular wisdom on child rearing, a better marriage, a happier disposition, or a better life now.

I do respect those who warn us against pining away for Rome and I suppose there are some... but I do not see them.  What I do see is a Lutheranism that is often uncomfortable in its own skin and so looks vainly and longingly for values and programs foreign to our very identity so that our church will grow fast enough for us (but perhaps too fast for God if it means sacrificing our very identity).  The thing that hits me most when people warn against a Lutheranism that secretly wants to be Roman is that we have a ton of Lutherans who are not so secretly in love with things very truly not Lutheran.  What do we do about them?  

For every parish or Pastor who might be accused of mimicking Rome on Sunday morning, there are fifty who openly borrow from Willow Creek or Saddleback or which ever place or program is in vogue this week.  The damage that this does is not limited only to the particular parish that trades in the sturdy Lutheranism for a flashy modern incarnation of a not so Christian Christianity.  It ripples throughout our church body stealing our unity, raising conflict between brothers in the ministry and parishes that claim the same confession.  It presents a muddled and muddied view of Lutheranism to the world -- one that wears so many masks it does not even know who it is anymore.

It is surely easier to point the finger at those few parishes and Pastors who are flirting with Rome than it is to acknowledge the parishes and Pastors who have parked their Lutheran vehicles in the garage and who drive around the District and Synod showcasing what is new, what "works," and what people want...   No, I think the real danger lies not in those leaning toward Rome... but those who lean away from Wittenberg toward Geneva or Lake Forest, California, or South Barrington, Illinois...


Norman Teigen said...

I would like to make a reading suggestion for you, Pastor. No I am not going after you for anything that you have recently written, I just wanted you to be aware of a good read. I am reading it on my iPad.

Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell "American Grace How Religion Divides and Unites Us." New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011 (I think it is 2011).

Ask one of your parishioners to buy this for you.

Paul said...

What communion does Wittenberg have with Geneva?

boaz said...

The problem can't just be judged by numbers. I can't name any significant theologian or writer that has left the lcms for the southern Baptists. I can name many that have left the lcms for Rome and the east. Neuhaus, pelikan, philosopher Robert koons, john fenton, mason beecraft, and a number of other pastors and bloggers. Everybody has there own reasons, but the warning signs are obvious. Often they start with overemphasis on liturgy, binding consciences to tradition, or adopting Romish practices that have been completely absent from lutheranism and are not necessary to teach the gospel. A lcms pastor who promotes a "lutheran rosary" it only decorated with eastern icons is no different than one who skips the ordinaries and plop a praise band next to the altar.

Parishioners are wise to be skeptical of a pastors innovations or strong affinities toward the culture and practices of other church bodies, either high church or low church.

Anonymous said...

Boaz wrote:

"The problem can't just be judged by numbers. I can't name any significant theologian or writer that has left the lcms for the southern Baptists."

The LCMS, as a denomination, is leaving the LCMS for the non-denominational church.

Daniel Baker said...

The problem is that Rome and Geneva are two fruits of the same poisonous plant . . . it's just that the latter fruit is shrivelled and devoid of beauty, so we KNOW it's bad for us. The danger of Rome is that she looks nice and pretty on the outside, but on the inside she is a brothel of demons and leads to the death of souls. It also doesn't help that her head is the very Antichrist.

Geneva is bad - VERY bad - and she is the most pressing problem in American culture. But on a global scale, Rome is still very much the larger problem (in my opinion). We also do well to note that Papism's influence on the Lutheran Church is great - we only need look at our innovative translations of the Liturgy and abandonment of the Lectionary to see that.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

In college in Oklahoma I developed a bit of religious calculus.

Rome - [Liturgy + Sacraments + Pope] = Baptist.

This is because, well, I was in Baptist territory. However, I think a lot of our Lutheran fears of Rome stem from the fact that we tend to fear the papacy (at least in the US) more than we respect the Liturgy and the Sacraments.

Dixie said...

Ha ha! Very similar to my math when I converted from Roman Catholicism to Lutheranism. I used to say all I had to give up was the Pope, Mary and the Saints. So my math looked like this:

Rome - [Pope + BVM + Saints] = Lutheran.

Honestly though, having had to move around the US a bit (starting in Missouri, then Iowa and then the South) I think Pastor Peters point is well made. The risk to Lutheranism isn't Rome...at all. The anti-Catholic sentiment in Lutheranism is so strong it practically reeks. But modern evangelicalism has had its way with Lutheranism. Seriously...do you know how many Lutheran churches offer bible studies written by non-Lutherans? Oh not studies by Roman Catholics but studies from Baptists and Presbyterians and non-denoms, Beth Moore, Max Lucado, Kay Arthur, John Maxwell, Bill Bybels. And NONE of these authors have a sacramental point of view. What value is someone's non-sacramental theology to a Lutheran?

Just my former view for the pews. (Yes...I have since jumped ship...not to Rome or Geneva...but Constantinople. I can't help but think all those years of Lutheran anti-Catholic sentiment played a role in where I ended up.)

Tony said...

Boaz, your comments mentioning Mason Beecroft's departure to Rome prompted me to re-read his article in the Issues Etc Journal (Winter, 2010). It's a great piece, and includes his consternation over LCMS, Inc's enchantment with American evangelical church-growth-ism. He uses the phrase "evangelical catholic" (following Veith, perhaps) to accurately describe the Lutheran faith. So I can't understand how one can abandon the evangel to embrace Rome. Their claim to be "truly catholic" is mere pretense. So JBFA is apparently no longer the chief article? LCMS, Inc is not the church. The church is where the Word is rightly preached & the Sacraments are rightly administered, where Christ is present by these means to convey forgiveness, life, and salvation. Christ is where His Gospel is, no? Wasn't Beecroft faithfully preaching Christ and administering the Sacraments, according to the faithful confession of the BoC? What is he running away from, then? I'm just baffled...

Unhappy Lutheran said...

Those who have left Lutheranism for Rome have left less because of the liturgy or ceremony but because they came to the conclusion Lutherans (at least LCMS in the case of most) are not comfortable being Lutheran and are more comfortable being evangelicals. It was not like drug addiction that began with a little weed and progressed to the hard stuff. It was like taking a drag and finding you were puffing on nothing at all. Lutherans greatest danger is Lutheranism that does not want to be Lutheran.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but think all those years of Lutheran anti-Catholic sentiment played a role in where I ended up.

Interesting, Dixie and I can appreciate what you are saying. Although I have a strong appreciation for Orthodoxy when I left the Lutheran fold there was no question but that I would go to Rome. I am a Western Christian top to bottom and that was very important to me.

My Lutheran background wasn't so much LCMS, I was only a member of one LCMS parish back in the 80's and that parish was decidedly evangelical and catholic. The pastor had a deep appreciation for the liturgy and its catholicity and it wasn't until my husband and I moved away from there that I ended up in an ELCA congregation which at that time was solidly Lutheran. I suppose that being the case and having one Lutheran and one Catholic parent has made me reflect on the strong anti-Catholicism that lingers in the LCMS and come to my own conclusions. As you note, the inroads that American evangelicalism has made into the LCMS is the far greater threat, and that culture is entirely alien to me.

Nevertheless, the reasons that people jump ship for Rome and Constantinople are as individual as the reasons for any conversions and are ultimately between them and God.


David Gray said...

I have occasionally encountered this oddity among LCMS brethren that basically all non-Lutheran Protestants (or all Protestants depending on your preference) are Reformed. So Methodists are Reformed. Anabaptists are Reformed. Aseemblies of God are Reformed. It is akin to a Presbyterian arguing that Benny Hinn is Lutheran because he doesn't adhere to the Westminster Confession. Almost nothing described above has anything to do with confessional Reformed thought and can pretty much entirely be ascribed to broad street evangelicalism which is a danger to both confessional Reformed and Lutherans.

And yes both LCMS and denominations like the PCA are being infiltrated and undermined by the general culture of evangelicalism and its pietistic tendencies.

Philip Hoppe said...

You write:

"It is surely easier to point the finger at those few parishes and Pastors who are flirting with Rome than it is to acknowledge the parishes and Pastors who have parked their Lutheran vehicles in the garage and who drive around the District and Synod showcasing what is new, what "works," and what people want... "

Is it? Is it easier on a confessional Lutheran Blog to write against Roman tendencies or Reformed ones? I guarantee if I would have written against Geneva, you would not have called me out on your blog. You might have even given me a pat on the back.

It is much harder to seek to sharpen my brothers within confessional Lutheranism than is it to throw daggers against the "them" that are not reading my blog anyway.

I write for those I figure read my blog and most of my readers (and yours) are not tempted towards Geneva. So I could just throw out red meat about Geneva as you have done or I can try to write in a way that make my closest peers think critically about our belief and practices. That is what I choose to do on my blog.

For I know that for every one of my blog posts which warns against us being dragged away from the Gospel by forgetting the grand error of the Roman Church, there will be 50 posts on other confessional blogs that speaks about the dangers of reformed theology and Evangelical practice.

I agree with you on most everything you write, but I refuse to believe that the only dangers to the Gospel are found in the things I do not do. I refuse to write that way as well.

Anonymous said...

I thought that the election of Matt Harrison and the restructuring efforts would have begun an era of LCMS congregations everywhere rediscovering the Lutheran confessions.

What has happened to the sleeping giant?

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Unhappy Lutheran.

Unfortunately, there is nowhere to go.

I just cannot bring myself to pray directly to dead humans (Mary and the saints). Rome has way too many pedophile church workers for my taste. I could never accept Rome's ban on priests, nuns, and monks marrying. Many homosexuals are drawn to church work in the Roman Catholic church because it is relatively easy to "hook up" with like-minded clergy -- in the spirit of celebacy, of course. Therefore, I would not join the Roman Catholic nor the Orthodox church.

Liberal denominations such as the ELCA, UCC, PCUSA, and the UMC are not an option. I cannot bring myself to agree with statements that the Bible is "too old fashioned" and that we need to update our interpretation of the Bible to match the values and lifestyles of our (increasingly pagan), modern society. This is known as employing Historical/Higher Criticism.

Sorry, the NALC and the LCMC use Historical/Higher Criticism (same reasoning as above) to justify non-biblical practices such as open communion and women's ordination. Therefore, doctrinal issues are not settled. I would not join an ELCA splinter group.

The WELS/ELS ban on joining the military and the boy scouts is too weird for me. I also cannot force myself to believe that praying with non-WELS and non-ELS Christians is a sin. The WELS also seems to struggle with Evangelicalism.

LCMS Lutherans don't care about the fine differences between the Evangelicals and the Reformed. From the Lutheran point of view, both groups refuse to baptize babies, they have a bland, watered-down, law pounding theology, and they also serve grape juice for communion. Joel Osteen or Robert Schuller......the messages promote law, law, law and doing good works to earn favor from God.

My former classmate from grade school was raised Dutch Reformed. She married a Catholic. Her Reformed pastor advised the couple that they should compromise and become LCMS Lutheran. They did. LCMS Lutherans also believe that the LCMS is a compromise between the Catholic and the Evangelical churches.

Sadly, there is nowhere to go. I might as well remain LCMS and earmark my offerings to avoid donating to non-Lutheran efforts with my congregation.

David Gray said...

>>LCMS Lutherans don't care about the fine differences between the Evangelicals and the Reformed. From the Lutheran point of view, both groups refuse to baptize babies, they have a bland, watered-down, law pounding theology, and they also serve grape juice for communion.

Reformed churches baptize infants. Many Reformed churches use wine in the Lord's Supper. Many LCMS churches use grape juice. Many Reformed churches offer the Gospel to their congregants each Sunday. One problem I've found is very few LCMS folks actually are famliar with Reformed theology and practice. Of course the reverse is true as well, and neither seems all that interested in learning.

Lutheran Pastor said...

The numbers of Reformed (real ones) declines every day while the numbers of evangelicals increases.

Anonymous said...

My only contact with the Reformed church is with the Dutch Reformed. "If you are not Dutch, you are not much." No drinking, no dancing, and absolutely no working on Sunday.

Former Lutherans have no interest in joining a Reformed church. The Evangelical churches are (sadly) a different story. What is the appeal?

Anonymous said...

Lot of anti "Roman" prejudice; do you have the same contempt for Greeks and Russians and Romanians? Or is this some sort of latent tribalism against Latins/"Dagoes"?

Anonymous said...

Jaroslav Pelikan spent the last 10 years or so of his life in the Orthodox Church in America: the "Muscovites", not the "Romans".
Or the 3rd, not the 1st, Rome.

Lyght said...

Geneva stinks... in comparison, Roma has a long and famous history!

cinq said...

Yeah, Geneva is shit. You can't compare those two cities. ^^