December 4, 2020

How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (3)

Note: I was honored to see that Gene Edward Veith has linked to these posts. You can follow the responses and discussion at Cranach: The Blog of Veith.

• • •

This is now the third in a series of posts detailing some of the ways I have found that the Lutheran tradition provides solid teachings and practices which counter weaknesses in revivalistic evangelical Christianity. I’ve mentioned a few of those ways and explicated others more fully. Here’s what we’ve looked at so far:

  • The Lutheran tradition provides a solid historic tradition with roots.
  • The Lutheran tradition gives priority to Word and Table liturgical worship.
  • The Lutheran tradition places a strong emphasis on pastoral ministry.
  • The Lutheran tradition has a healthy emphasis on the vocational callings of all believers.
  • The Lutheran tradition is centered on Christ and the Gospel.
  • The Lutheran tradition keeps proper distinctions between Law and Gospel.

The next commitment of Lutheranism that addresses what I perceive as evangelicalism’s insufficiencies is that of sacramental theology and worship. When push comes to shove, this is probably the primary difference between revivalistic evangelicals and churches in the historic traditions. This perspective is the one thing evangelicals have the hardest time accepting, and yet what I have found is that the sacramental view magnifies God’s grace and promotes childlike faith much more than anything I experienced under non-sacramental teaching.

Jesus Christ is the living and abiding Word of God. By the power of the Spirit, this very Word of God, which is Jesus Christ, is read in the Scriptures , proclaimed in preaching, announced in the forgiveness of sins, eaten and drunk in the Holy Communion, and encountered in the bodily presence o f the Christian community. By the power of the Spirit active in Holy Baptism, this Word washes a people to be Christ’s own Body in the world. We have called this gift of Word and Sacrament by the name “the means of grace.” The living heart of all these means is the presence of Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit as the gift of the Father.

A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament, ELCA 1997

Lutherans accept two Sacraments as the means by which God penetrates the lives of people with his grace. Those who take a sacramental view of these practices believe they are God’s works toward people, not the works of people pointing to God.

  • In baptism, God makes us his people, by “the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
  • At the Lord’s Table, we experience the real presence of Jesus Christ, and his body and blood nourish us with God’s mercy and forgiveness in our union with him and one another. Our risen Lord is “made known to us” when we gather at his Table together (Luke 24:35).

The sacramental perspective takes God’s presence and action in the midst of his creation seriously. Some expressions of faith are essentially world-denying and more akin to forms of Platonism or gnosticism that make radical distinctions between the material and spiritual worlds. From this perspective, God works and we grow “spiritually,” and this world is one we are “passing through” on our way to an ethereal heaven. The Lutheran tradition, on the other hand, rejoices that God is present and working throughout his creation, and that he especially works in and through simple elements like water, bread, wine, paper and ink to communicate his truth and love to his people. He meets us here, and he is leading us to a renewed creation.

Sacramental theology takes the Incarnation seriously. Jesus the Eternal Word, “became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). Sharing fully in our humanity and the experiences of life in this world, God visited his creation personally, spoke, broke bread with us, wept, touched broken bodies, and even died himself to identify with and redeem all who are in bondage to sin, evil, and death. The Spirit he sent now works through the Word and the Sacraments in the midst of his gathered people to apply the benefits of his saving work.

There is much to learn about the Sacraments, but the primary shift for me, coming from the evangelical world, was simple. It involved coming to understand them as God’s works, not mine.

I no longer see baptism as something I do to profess my faith in Christ. I see it as something done to me through which God acts savingly. I no longer see Communion merely as something I do to remember Jesus. I see it as his Table, to which he invites me and at which he feeds me.

These practices are the means by which God’s grace in Christ is communicated to me, for in them his promises are made real in my life.


  1. The ELCA statement on the use of the means of Grace is astounding. I will meditating on this. thank you.

  2. A good comment I heard once (can’t remember where) was that all baptisms are infant baptisms. A Christian’s faith is to be like that of a child.

    What so many miss is that the sacraments force us to be passive in relation to God. Baptism is a rebirth, communion is God feeding us. Being born and being fed are acts that are passive. As is hearing the Word. That’s how we are to be in relation to God, only passive receivers of God’s gifts. We receive Christ’s body and blood to remember his forgiveness, thereby receiving faith:

    Christ commands us, Luke 22:19: This do in remembrance of Me; therefore the Mass was instituted that the faith of those who use the Sacrament should remember what benefits it receives through Christ, and cheer and comfort the anxious conscience. For to remember Christ is to remember His benefits, 31] and to realize that they are truly offered unto us.

    • wow. i do like the infant reference…

      for any parent of a newborn just back from the hospital, there is something sacred/sacramental in bathing that brand new little one, as well as feeding him/her…

      i remember the awe i felt as i awkwardly craddled my firstborn in the kitchen sink as i gave him a bath. and when it was my turn for feeding i was equally transfixed until the novelty wore off eventually. 🙂

      yes, there is something precious beyond words in the very things we do for our children. how much more our heavenly Father in the sacramental participation we are blessed to experience…

    • And now for some LCMS satirical jabs at those with less purified doctrines on the sacraments:

  3. Does anyone else find it a curiosity that those who embrace a literal and quite tangible account of creation (e.g., six 24hr days, historical Adam & Eve, actual talking snake) are quite often focused on the intangible and ethereal with regard to their religious formation?

    • Yes! It is curious. I am not sure what to make of it, except that it could be the result of a Protestant emphasis on the authority of the (textual) word and the (abstract, intellectual) practice of hearing and apprehending it, colliding with the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution. The physical universe was dy-mystified, and faith becomes a bit ‘intellectual’ or ‘spiritual,’ detached from ritual or ‘magic’. In such a universe, ordinary miracles are suspect but believing in miracles recorded in the Biblical record becomes imperative and makes the Biblical record something separate and away.

      Of course, most evangelicals do believe in such miracles as ‘God spoke to me today’ or ‘God intervened in that car crash.’ Or even, ‘God protected George Washington from bullets’(!). But this is again more detached from the ordinary universe—they are abrupt, violent interventions in nature , rather than nature-transformed or divine-incarnation.

      I am just guessing. But I can say that one of the big “turns” in my own thinking definitely occurred when I stopped seeing faith as faith in Bible-Truth and started thinking in terms of the incarnation and the ‘sacramental’ nature of reality. And as the Biblical record as less a manual of true facts than the record of people encountering God within the day-to-day, raw historical reality of their lives. This helped me tremendously with doubt, but faith become for me less an attempt to understand-assent than a belief that I ought to trust God to come to me.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Does anyone else find it a curiosity that those who embrace a literal and quite tangible account of creation (e.g., six 24hr days, historical Adam & Eve, actual talking snake) are quite often focused on the intangible and ethereal with regard to their religious formation?

      It’s one of those Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe, Paul.

      Like why Gun Control and Pro-Abortion — or Animal Rights and Pro-Abortion — always go together among Activists. Or why in Sex & Violence in Media, it’s usually pro-one and anti-the other.

      P.S. And how those who “embrace a literal and quite tangible account of Creation (e.g. Six-Day-Zap)” also “embrace a literal and quite tangible account of the Book of Revelation (i.e. Hal Lindsay and Left Behind)”.

  4. Great post Chaplain Mike, it is a clear and profound statement of Lutheran spirituality.

  5. Thank you for reminding me why I chose the Lutheran way…
    This being said, I don not think our tradition attracts only people coming from the shallowness of American suburban evangelicalism. In my own ministry I see people coming from evangelical, roman catholic or unchurched circles finding interest in the balanced way Lutheranism lives christianity.

  6. So I’m not completel negative, this is a great post beautifully describing sacramentle approach in church and life. I’m afraid that my years in the ELCA weren’t so rosy, but the ideal is one we should try for, no matter where we are. Even in my church (not Lutheran) the day-in-day-out approach to having Christ a tangible part of life is one of my most presious things.

    • Sorry if my previous post (which was removed) was too negative. But you joined the ELCA and what is the reaction of all the Lutherans over at that blog? Derision, scorn, mocking, and vitriol for not joining the TRUE Lutheran church – the LCMS.

      Maybe that blog is sunshine, rainbows, grace and wisdom the rest of the time, but from the comments on that post, they’re a bunch of nasty trolls.

      You don’t need to give yourself the aggrivation of dealing with people like that. Seriously, it’s better for everyone’s health (physicle and mentle) to just ignore people and places like that.

      • It’s really ok. There are Lutherans of all stripes, and I must learn to engage them all in conversation.

        • I guess that’s something I need to work on. My personality does not suffer (those I think are) *bleeps* very good. In my opinion, anyway, based on what I see in those posts, you are much better off in the ELCA than with people like that in the LCMS.

          But, grace to you in all you do, and if you feel the need to deal with people like that, then may you have grace pouring out your ears! 🙂

          And, many congratulations finding a church where you have found so much of Christ.

          • DanSanto, LCMS and ELCA tend to lack charity with each other, especially among laypersons, due ot the long history between them. LCMS had a huge internal controversy when it entered fellowship with one of the synods that eventually became the ELCA, because it ordained women. An LCMS seminary essentially left the LCMS when faculty beliefs about inerrancy of Scripture were questioned, and they formed a new synod, eventually becoming the driving force behind the creation of the ELCA. LCMS and ELCA often have little real understanding of what goes on in the others’ churches, and rely on the worst stereotypes of each other. Unfortunately, the internet tends to attract the people who most fit those stereotypes.

          • Also, I should say that the LCMS and the ELCA see each other as following false doctrine, and both kinds of Lutherans think false doctrine requires condemnation and repentence. The mistake both often make is that often times, they preach only law at each other when they know it will do no good, and fail to let the Gospel predominate.

            The WELS, ELS, and LCMS relationship is actually very good. And the ELCA probably is on better terms with Episcopalians and the liberal Presbyterian and Methodist branches than they are with other Lutherans. The fight is about who is more entitled to the label Lutheran.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            My experience, mostly coming from the ELCA side, is that in real world (i.e. offline) conditions the vast majority of ELCA members, both lay and clergy, can go for years at a time without giving the LCMS a moment’s thought. Online, the LCMS side has a louder voice. I”m not sure why this is, since the ELCA is a much larger body. The comments on that blog Chaplain Mike linked to are pretty typical. Much of the reaction to his becoming Lutheran is to lament that he joined the ELCA. See Is there a similar phenomenon from the ELCA side? I haven’t seen it, but perhaps my perspective is skewed. I have a hard time imagining an ELCA member reacting to a former Evangelical joining the LCMS with “He’s not quite Lutheran yet” or “ELCA? Now, I am sad.” Am I wrong about this?

          • For the LCMS, doctrine matters a great deal, and a lot of emphasis is put on doctrine. The official ELCA view doesn’t tend to view Lutheran tradition as much different than other protestant traditions, as it is in fellowship with all the liberal mainlines. That tends to filter down to the laypeople too. Lutheranism is more a heritage than a doctrine. In my experience, it simply doesn’t matter that much to most ELCA folks what you are.

            But ELCA does tend to look down on LCMS’s version of Lutheranism. ELCA views an overemphasis on doctrinal purity as unLutheran, disprespectful of individual consciences, or lacking Christian charity. Think of Garrison Keillor’s brand of Lutheranism; Lutheranism is being nice. The LCMS “doctrinal purity police” don’t fit that type of ELCA view of lutheranism at all, and more than a few ELCA folks will let you know that. For example, there have been several times that I’ve been treated rudely after very politely declining to commune when visiting an ELCA church.

            Of course, my own experience is anecdotal only.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            “For the LCMS, doctrine matters a great deal, and a lot of emphasis is put on doctrine. The official ELCA view doesn’t tend to view Lutheran tradition as much different than other protestant traditions, as it is in fellowship with all the liberal mainlines….”

            I think we may be approaching language we can agree upon. The ELCA regards Lutheranism as one among the various ways to understand Christianity. It is our contribution to the discussion, but this means that we have to be talking to other people. I’m not sure how to interpret the suggestion that we don’t regard it as “much different” from others. By way of analogy, the United States is a member of the United Nations, along with, say, Angola. Does this mean that the US doesn’t see itself as much different from Angola? In some sense, sure: both are sovereign nations. In other very obvious ways they are very different. Does the US consider these differences important? Obviously.

            “there have been several times that I’ve been treated rudely after very politely declining to commune when visiting an ELCA church. ”

            I am surprised. It is completely unremarkable for some persons to remain in the pews during Communion. I have never seen anyone ask why they didn’t take Communion. I can’t help but wonder if you didn’t, very politely, offer more explanation than was necessary.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            “Think of Garrison Keillor’s brand of Lutheranism; Lutheranism is being nice. ”

            I meant to add, this is more of a “Minnesota nice” thing than ELCA “Lutheran nice”. I come from a Pennsylvania German Lutheran background. When I listen to Keillor, some parts ring true to my background, while others do not. The “nice” schtick falls into the latter category. My heritage is truly scary little old German church ladies and old guys dragging out the congregational meeting by questioning each line item in the budget. Nice doesn’t really come into it. On the other hand, we get to eat sauerbraten and we don’t feel obligated to eat lutefisk, so I can’t really complain.

          • I don’t mean to sayt he ELCA doesn’t think there’s anything worthwhile or distinctively good about its tradition and doctrine, only that there isn’t anything about its doctrine that is important enough to insist upon, and teach that it is a sin to disagree. For example, regarding the sacraments, the ELCA could not be in fellowship with Methodists or presbyterians if they thought it was a sin to reject the real presence. They just have their own perspective and tradition, Lutherans have their own, and all the pastors and members can float from one liberal mainline church to the next without thinking too much about it. They would accept LCMS members and pastors, UNLESS they were judgmental about bad doctrine. Intolerance is not tolerated.

            As far as rudeness in the ELCA church, a few of the times were in my wife’s old ELCA church, and they knew she had switched to LCMS with me, and took serious offense that we wouldn’t commune with them, though her pastor was very nice and said he understood why we didn’t commune. Another time in another ELCA church, the folks behind us asked why we didn’t want communion, and I just said we were LCMS, and the woman made a snide comment about LCMS excluding good Christians and thinking itself better than everybody else.

            Again, ELCA, like LCMS, is not a uniform body, so its hard to paint with a broad brush. I am in MN though, so Lutherans are in close contact with each other, and lots of families go across Lutheran deonominations.

          • There’s a middle ground. Lutheranisn doesn’t have to jettison God’s Law, and be afraid to offend people with Jesus, and it doesn’t have to have a Southern Baptist doctrine of the Word (a literal text).

        • It’s a feature of American Lutheranism, but the synods, whatever the stripe, remain > 95% white. Draw from that what conclusions, if any, you will, but, in choosing a tradition, does the racial/ethnic consistency matter?

          • I am a confessionnal Lutheran (minister of a synod in altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS) and I would like to point out there are different stripes within our confessional movement.
            I am deeply bothered by the attitude of some of my brothers in the faith. I am even more bothered by some things that are going on within liberal Lutheranism…

          • Richard Hershberger says

            Mostly the conclusion is that American Lutheranism has traditionally been an ethnic church, where ethnic diversity means we have both Norwegians and Swedes. There is a long tradition of Lutheran churches having, depending on the location, a handful of black families, often from the middle class. But there hasn’t been any serious outreach until quite recently.

          • LCMS does have a college in Selma Alabama that is a historically black college.

          • That is too big a question to answer in a comment, but I promise I will address it.

          • Brian the Dad says

            Growing up in south alabama in the late 70’s as a Lutheran kid, I never knew another Lutheran outside my family in my small town, or county for that matter. There was a small congregation about 15 miles away, but it was a black congregation. Sigh… I know. It was the 70’s in south Alabama. Transplants from up north don’t buck the system. We drove 45 minutes to a congregation in a larger town near a navy base. imagine my surprise 20 yrs later to find small historically black congregations scattered here and there through rural central Alabama, the results of a concerted push, Im told, during the 60’s and 70’s to evangelize in the African American community. Made easier by the fact that the lone white pastor to stand with Martin luther king jr in Montgomery was a Lutheran pastor, Robert graetz. So, yes, we are a predominately white denomination, but there are efforts here, ironically enough, in the heart of the old south, to diversify.

      • I suppose I’m one of those heaping scorn and derision at Cranach. I suppose commenting “jumping from the frying pan into the fire” is just too gosh darn mean. As most things go between ELCA (where I was baptized and confirmed under the old LCA) and LCMS, what happens at Cranach is pretty irenic. All we are saying is that we’re not sure if the needs? (not the right word, sorry) of Chap. Mike and his concerns with the “errors” of modern Evangelicalism will be met and answered in the ELCA, especially long term. Which is not to say that they would be met in the LCMS. From what I have read from Chap. Mike (which is admittedly rather limited) I think that a smaller denomination like TAALC or AFLC or even ELS would be a good fit Chap. Mike.

        As to the infighting and backbiting in American Lutheranism – its been around a long time. The ELCA has, though, within the last 10 years or so, become very in-your-face about declaring that their positions are the “official” Lutheran positions all the while doing everything they can to jettison basic Lutheran theology while still keeping “Lutheran” in the name. Understandably, other Lutheran bodies are aghast. That gets reflected on occasion over at Cranach. Beyond that, no apologies for the cranach forum or for any posts over there. If you want to see true Lutheran vitriol wait until the Calvinists or Methobapticostals post over there on the Sacraments. Then, there will BOC bombs dropping all over the place.

        • That’s very nice spin on the nastines over there Peterson. Merely expressing concerns that the ELCA might not meet Chaplain Mike’s needs? Uh ho.

          “He’s not quite Lutheran yet”
          “Can someone please explain to me how this idea ISN’T just repackaged relativism?” (the idea being Mike’s decision)
          “How could any honest Christian be in fellowship with that HerChurch congregation of the ELCA?”
          “He joined the ELCA and wants to be a pastor there? Wow, that’s quite a short-circuit in thinking.”

          And if you’re right. and that is an example of what they consider restraint, and they are even kind of like what LCMS people are like, I don’t think anyone should be puzzeled why the LCMS is shrinking so fast. I’d hate to see them when they really get nasty, according to you.

          Maybe it’s just the internet that’s cranking up their nastiness. Maybe theri all nice in person. Your comment was restrained and gentlemanly compared to everything else over there.

          • LCMS isn’t shrinking half as fast as the ELCA, but that’s beside the point. We’re big in Cameroon.

            I missed the “relativism” remark. I’ll have to check that one out – was that in Larry’s post? Hang around Cranach – it’s a good group, even the Calvary Chapel types. We bash each other fairly regularly in both the theological and political realms (it’s that Lutheran two kingdoms thing cropping up :)). Maybe I’m somewhat inured to the vitriol, so it doesn’t seem as jarring to me. The basic premise though on Cranach is to open everything up, which appears to be the format here at IM.

            I have HUGE concerns about herchurch. It isn’t so much that it’s even unLutheran – it’s downright unChristian. Yet, not one single ELCA bishop has dared as to so much vocally challenge what herchurch is doing – even worse they get tacit endorsement from the main ELCA office in Chicago. When you slap “Lutheran” on to the apostasy and downright heresy espoused by herchurch, other Lutherans get slightly apoplectic. So, when we see that Chap. Mike is going to a Lutheranism (which we like) we are concerned about his fellowshipping with people that don’t just accommodate herchurch but give it tacit encouragement (red flags, danger, danger). So, some look askance. Some go get another beer.

          • Dansanto, there’s not much charity in what you’ve posted here. You’ve taken three or four comments and generalized it into an attack on a church body of milliions of people.

          • You know what is really nasty? Calling yourself a church and then teaching people’s kids that the Bible isn’t true. That is why I left the nasty ELCA.

          • Sorry boaz, maybe I shouldn’t have posted it. I thought I was just restating what Peterson was saying.

        • One more Mike says

          “Methobapticostals”. Man, that’s priceless!!!

  7. Great post, CM. I love the statement, “The Lutheran tradition, on the other hand, rejoices that God is present and working throughout his creation, and that he especially works in and through simple elements like water, bread, wine, paper and ink to communicate his truth and love to his people.”

    This embodies sacramental theology in the simplest of terms. I’m involved in an ongoing discussion with a friend about the Eucharist, which he views as an ordinance. He misses the symbolism of using real wine, and the mystery of God’s presence in the bread and wine (…and He is present…whether you believe He is physically present, or present in Spirit…He is there…). He is very snarky and contentious toward any idea other than seeing the table as an ordinance.

    My problem with his view is that it robs the table of mystery, and without mystery, what is faith? If we can only have faith in a God we can fully comprehend and explain, then isn’t that the purest definition of idolatry in itself? “I created God in an image I am comfortable with…” is what it feels like to me, like Cal Naughton in that ethereal classic, “Talledega Nights”….”I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-shirt. ‘Cause it says like, I wanna be formal but I’m here to party too. I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party.”

    To put that in context, to hold an ordinal view is to say, “I don’t like the idea that the bread and wine and baptism and stuff have a deep meaning that we can’t fully grasp, so I’m just gonna make’em into a ceremony, and try to remember to do communion at least twice a year, and treat baptism like a shower…Dirty? Get baptized…again and again.”

    • David Cornwell says

      “If we can only have faith in a God we can fully comprehend and explain, then isn’t that the purest definition of idolatry in itself?”

      And this is what I dislike about so much propositional theology also. We fall in love with our understanding of the bible and God and the Christian life rather than with God himself. Otherwise why offer such an ardent defense of this or that position? Although I see the value of some approaches to theology, I’ll never fall in love with it. Jesus, thankfully, didn’t come to us with propositional statements or a set of new legal imperatives. That’s why the Story as related by Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John are so powerful. The shed blood and broken body are part of that story– a story that grows in mystery rather than understanding.

      • “And this is what I dislike about so much propositional theology also. We fall in love with our understanding of the bible and God and the Christian life rather than with God himself.”

        And with what we can do with our knowledge… Obtain confidence, power of others. That which I can name I can also control. Or so I might be tempted to believe.

      • LIKE!

    • I watched ‘Talledega Nights’ on Comedy Central again recently – It seemed a prophetic account of America’s unsustainable life style & culture. By the time they finished the “baby Jesus prayer” I saw crying in sad-ironic laughter.

    • “To put that in context, to hold an ordinal view is to say, “I don’t like the idea that the bread and wine and baptism and stuff have a deep meaning that we can’t fully grasp, so I’m just gonna make’em into a ceremony, and try to remember to do communion at least twice a year, and treat baptism like a shower…Dirty? Get baptized…again and again.””

      Gee, with such a balanced and nuanced view, I can’t imagine why your not making headway with your friend…

      • I wish I could +1 that.

      • My responses to him have been much gentler than they way I presented it here, and frankly, much milder than how he has voiced his opinions, referring to the sacramental view as “medieval hocus-pocus”, and telling me that “If I believe sacramental theology, then I don’t believe in the Bible and what it teaches.” I haven’t been a jerk about it, and don’t intend to be. I spent ten years in ministry in Baptist and non-denominational settings, and frankly, do find the sacramental view to have a depth that is sorely lacking in most evangelical circles.

        So, if it seems my opinions are voiced more strongly here, it’s because it’s a forum where I can feel free to fully express my conviction, without a filter….not in my friend’s face.

        So, Daniel and DanSanto, what are the balanced and nuanced views you guys hold? I’m assuming you’re open to both a sacramental and an ordinal view, given your responses? I guess for me, the two are different birds altogether.

        • I do hold a Sacramental view, though I don’t think that interpetation of scripture is so solid that I would argue over it winth anyone. I have others in my church who don’t follow the sacramental view, and we’ve talked it over a few times. I grew up with a non-sacremental view, but all the churches I attended took the LS and Baptism very seriously, and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I began shifting toward a sac view.

          The view that I typically find online is that the sac people treat the non-sac view as if it were tantmount to denying Christ.

          Like I said, I hold the sac view, but I hold it sort of like most other non-explicitly stated doctrines. I don’t try to claim that everyone who disagrees with me is flippant with Christ and the Bible, ignoring God’s Word, rejecting God’s grace, practicing idolatry, or treating Baptism like a shower, and I don’t go around impuning Christians who disagree with me as being scared of “a deep meaning that we can’t fully grasp, so I’m just gonna make’em into a ceremony”.

          • Good points, Dan.

            I think it is sad when we have to assign some sort of character defect to everone who disagrees with us. I happen to have different beliefs about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper than Lutherans, but I don’t think it is fair to assume that anything other than a different understanding of scripture is the cause.

  8. I’m not a lutheran, I find practicing the tangible prensence of Christ really precious, and pray that I become more conscious of him in everything… I love the picture you paint of the communion… of being fed by Christ…its amazing how our christian world views can separate us from, or bring us closer to the consciousness of God’s presence.

  9. Keep in mind that there is a drastic difference in the approach to sacramental spirituality in Lutheranism vs. all the other sacramental traditions. In Catholic theology, the eucharist is a sacrifice that we offer up to God, and in Anglicanism (at least on paper, FWIW) it is a intellectual offering, or exercise. Lutheranism is the only tradition I am aware of where the Lord’s Supper is purely a receiving act, where God comes down to us and gives us his blessings. Lutheran theology specifically presents the gospel in the Lord’s Supper as purely a gift.

    • Thanks, Miguel

    • Migeul, I am glad that you are finding your church home, but I gotta tell you that your statements about Catholic practice and theology could use some research and reworking. If you are not called to be RC, no problem, but if you are going to comment on the RC Church, please direct yourself to the truth of Catholic teaching, not your misinterpretation thereof.

      • Pattie,

        He seems pretty spot on about the RC Mass being a sacrifice.

        • It is sometimes described as a sacrifice (a re-presentation of Calvary), but it is also described as the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, or as participation in heavenly worship (the veil between heaven and earth is torn–earth is raised to the heavens and heaven to the earth). When we sing the Sanctus and receive communion we stand in the company of the angels and saints not just other corporeal believers–heaven touches earth. We receive the crucified and the resurrected body of Christ. The Catholic conception of Eucharist is very complex and cannot be reduced to just one or two simple ideas.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          For that matter, Mass (or any Eastern or Western-Rite Liturgy) also fits the definition of Ritual Magic.

          • The first Ritual Magic from Matt ch.26:

            26While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

      • Sorry for the brutalization. I didn’t really give Anglicans a fair shake there either. All I meant was that not all sacramental spirituality is the same thing. Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and even Orthodox all mean radically different things when they talk about sacramental spirituality. I think that a church’s theology of the eucharist is intrinsically tied to their understanding of the Gospel itself, as well as their approach to worship. The Lutheran approach in the divine service focuses on God’s giving of His gifts, which I think is a different emphasis than other traditions, and, especially for former evangelicals, a liberating one. I’ll learn the RC view better, eventually. Once I grow out of my new-convert “cage phase” I suppose 😛

        • I mean, it is a sacrifice that the priest and the congregants offer up to God. But the sacrifice being offered up is the sacrifice of Christ. Christ is not being resacrificed, but the once for all sacrifice on Calvary is mysteriously made present on the altar, and that is what we offer up to God. We are also encouraged to put our own lives and hearts on the altar as well. So yes, it is a sacrifice that is being offered up to God. But the sacrifice IS God. What we offer to God is simply His own love and grace.

          Anyhoo, that’s enough of me trying to be a Catholic apologist for now. I feel like the last couple of days I’ve been making a lot of very Catholic comments, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t want to turn into the Catholic equivalent of a typical Reformed discern-o-blogger who does nothing but argue on the Internet with people who don’t see things exactly the same way and use all the proper terminology. 😛

        • David Cornwell says

          I don’t think you are using “brutalization” but the way any of us characterize the practices of another group are not always accurate. An explanation of a term like “sacrifice” usually bears the weight of our own experience. What I think I know about the LCMS, for instance, is might be very one sided and prejudicial. I’m probably better off not making strong comments about something I know very little about.

          Sometimes I cringe at the attacks I hear (not by you) on Methodists, Episcopalians, and others. Some of the attacks are based on little real knowledge or are a generalization. If we are going to hang out dirty laundry, we need to start with our own.

  10. Chaplain Mike,

    Just out of curriosity and not as a way to start a disagreement. Did you consider Anglicanism? What if anything did you find in Lutheranism that you felt deficient in Anglicanism?

    What a shame that the Contintental Reformers and Anglicans could not come to an agreement regarding the Eucharist.


    • I have considered Anglicanism and find it attractive too. Bob Webber, who opened my eyes to worship matters many years ago, settled in Anglicanism, and my brother-in-law (who I hope to interview soon) is choirmaster in a fine Episcopal congregation. I guess I have found Lutheran theology to be more substantial and bracing. Perhaps I’m guilty of following a man, but i have always found Luther fascinating and his words and perspectives personally nourishing. It doesn’t hurt that Bach’s on the team either. At any rate, I have more respect now for all the historic traditions now than ever before, and with people like John Stott and N.T. Wright on your team, I am certainly a fan of Anglicanism as well.

      • “i have always found Luther fascinating and his words and perspectives personally nourishing.”

        Interesting. I found Luther’s Three Treatises overly Political, mean-spirited, & sometimes dishonest (his letter to the Pope). His view of the Jews left alot to be desired (to say the least). Everyone falls short & I can find quotes I like from him but The Three Treatises left a bad tastle in my mouth.

        All the Luthrens I have met have been wonderful people. But some on the internet seem overly rigid…..but that’s what the internet does to us, I guess.

      • Well,hum, Stott and NT Wright certainly disagree on many fundamental issues, and NT Wright is clearly anti-Lutheran in his understanding of justification and the Law-Gospel antithesis…

        • NT Wright doesn’t get Lutheranism. When he writes about it, I wonder how much he’s actually read Luther or the confessions.

        • Wright is anything but anti-Lutheran. I maintain that is a simplistic and distorted caricature

          • I respect your point of view, but I would tend to say that in terms of simplistic and distorted caricature, NT Wirght’s treatment of Luther is a prime example…
            I agree with Boaz: Wright just does not get Lutheranism. This comes, IMO, from a lack of deep knowledge of Church history.

          • I’m with you Chap. Mike – Tom…really????

          • I think you are both right. Wright is very close to Lutheranism, but when he talks about Lutheranism, he misunderstands and misrepresents what Lutherans believe. If he read more Lutheran theology, and went past a surface understanding, I think he’d like what he found.

            A quick Lutheran take on NT Wright is here:

          • Glenn A Bolas says

            My impression is that Wright doesn’t so much disagree with Luther’s theology as with his interpretation of Paul and how Luther makes Paul fit his theology. Those don’t have to be the same thing.

    • I, for one, would like to learn more about the Anglican perspective on sacraments, though I fear it isn’t truly possible to nail one down with all their diversity. I know that table fellowship with them is highly discouraged in my group, but I can’t find anywhere in the BCP Holy Eucharist services where a memorialistic approach is implied. I think the Anglican belief varies on whether the individual is more evangelical, anglo-catholic, or liberal, with all positions given equal status. Do Anglicans explicitly reject the Lutheran understanding “real presence?”

  11. I have 2 questions for you CM.

    1. Are there any issues that Luthernaism can’t solve for you?
    2. What will you do when you find issues in Luthernaism? How will you respect to those issues as they grow in time?

    If I am wrong…then my apologies!!

  12. I’ve never attended a Lutheran church — I don’t think we even have one in my one-horse, southern Bible Belt town — so I’m a little curious.
    I’ve heard a lot said about the content of formal services, but I’m wondering about the life of the church and the interaction of its members outside the context of formal services — things like discipleship, outreach, functioning as a body, meeting each others needs, simple fellowship, strengthening Christ-centered relationships, and building bonds of love in an active and practical sense.
    I really would like to hear more about this dimension of the Lutheran Church.

    • Lutheran churches are governed by their members, so there is no top down programming on these issues.

      Every Lutheran church is different. Some are very mired in old family relationships and can be very difficult for outsiders to break into. Some are very good about having lots of opportunities for members to build fellowship and reach out to the community. But it’s also taught that living in one’s vocation at work, in family, in the community, and in play (hobby groups or sports), are all important activities, and that these are places where we as individuals tell others about Christ. There tends to be less focus on programming and more on living in the roles in which you have been placed.

    • Hard to generalize in this, but in my experience, outside worship, Lutheran congregations are involved in a variety of activities, both explicitly as the congregation, and implicitly through their various vocations. So, you will see Men’s groups, Women’s groups, youth groups, adult groups, multiple adult Sunday School classes, Confirmation classes, choirs, prayer chains, councils, committees, and that amorphous but crucial group of “people who do things around the church.” There is often a variety of informal networking between individuals, people who work with local sports leagues, Scouts, high school bands, civic organizations, food banks, play houses, and even the occasional get together at a local sports bar to watch football. Pretty basic stuff. I can’t remember the exact quote or who made it, but it has been said of Lutherans that we are remarkably unremarkable. This is probably due to the Lutheran Theology of the Cross as opposed to the more remarkable Theology of Glory.

  13. This was very clear and engaging. Thanks for giving me something to ponder, CM!

  14. Chaplain Mike,
    The number of sacraments in the Lutheran tradition has long been disputed, specifically, the emphasis Luther put on auricular confession to a pastor as yet another means of grace for the forgiveness of sins. The LCMS has been trying to revive the practice. Is there any movement in the ELCA to do the same?

    • That is one thing I’m interested in finding out too.

    • Same here. I am curious how and when it is used by Lutherans and Anglicans. (I know the Anglo-Catholics hold confession, but I am not certain about the rest…)

      • Any Lutheran pastor will give ample time to hear a confession. They are very very good at it. But they tend to be very careful not to make it a requirement or burden consciences of those who don’t regularly give confession. I think more and more are talking about its benefits and scheduling regular times to hear confession. The bigger problem is that they are not preaching the Law in its full strerness; too many Lutherans are comfortable in their sins and see no need for confession.

  15. David Llewellyn says

    Dear Chaplain Mike,

    I enjoyed your article and resonated with many points since I left Evangelicalism for Eastern Orthodoxy.
    One thing I noticed was how many times you used the phrase the Lutheran “tradition”.
    I am a bit confused, as I understood that the Lutheran church was based on the principle of “Sola Scriptura” (among others) which taken to its logical conclusion can reject all church “tradition”.
    This is what Ulrich Zwingli did, taking “sola scriptura” a step further and throwing more “tradition” out the window.
    Maybe you could share an article about views of “tradition” in Protestant churches such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli etc.
    Of course the interesting thing is that protestant churches that claim to reject “tradition” end up inventing new traditions of their own.

    • Luther kept all traditions that did not contradict scripture, to the extent they could be kept, and generally embraced the church fathers. It was a conservative reformation.

      Calvin, Zwingli, etc. started with Scripture and abandoned traditions unless required by Scripture. Their’s was a progressive reformation.

    • In most respects, Lutheranism can be viewed as a conservative Reformation as opposed to the radical Reformation of Zwingli and, to some extent, Calvin. Lutherans generally view themselves as being part of the Western Church Catholic, yet much of Lutheran Christology draws heavily on many of the Eastern fathers (Xrysostom, the Cappadocians) where Rome varied. So, in many respects Lutherans are solidly Western, but have definite affinity for some of the Christological views of the Eastern Church. In fact, at Trent, the Romans had to acknowledge that Lutheranism held to an orthodox strain of Catholic theology that had been an accepted part of core Roman theology for a millenium and more, coming directly out of Ambrose and Augustine along with Bernard of Clairvoux. The Romans decided to ignore this to the continual detriment of Western Christianity and to the establishment of closer ties to the East. If you’ve got the time, and to forestall and RC criticism of my remarks, I’m drawing from Martin Chemnitz’s “Examination of the Council of Trent” and some of the work of Herman Sasse who was a Lutheran (LCMS) representative in ecumenical talks with Rome during the 1950’s and 60’s, which eventually culminated in the disaster that is/was JDDJ.

  16. A good read on how “confessional” Lutherans view themselves with a little emphasis on LCMS. An article by Gene Veith from a few years ago. Hope it helps with understanding the nuances of Lutherans in the discussion.

  17. FWIW, I have recently asked some Lutheran (LCMS) clergy about the work of the Holy Spirit relative to the moment of baptism. Some say that an infant is faithless until the Holy Spirit does His initial work at the very moment of baptism. Others say the Holy Spirit may bring about faith before then, even in the womb. As a lifelong LCMS Lutheran, I was surprised to find both of these views being sustained today.