December 19, 2010

Slice of PIE: Maybe We Are NOT What We Believe…

(This is NOT a Slice...sorry...)

“‘But surely,’ said Virtue, ‘these things were not the less his own because he learned them from others.’

“‘He did not learn them. He learned only catchwords from them. He could talk like Epicurus of spare diet, but he was a glutton. He had from Montaigne the language of friendship, but no friend. He never read one ode of Horace seriously in his life. And for his Rabelais, he can quote, “Do what you will”. But he has no notion that Rabelais gave that liberty to his Thelamites on the condition that they be bound by Honor, and for this reason alone free from laws positive.’” from CS Lewis, THE PILGRIM’S REGRESS, Book Ten, Chapter 2

I bought this book twenty-four years ago and started reading it this past October. It’s been hard going – Lewis’ book is the story of his own journey from childhood faith to adult faith. It’s written in the style of 17th Century author, John Bunyan, who wrote PILGRIM’S PROGRESS.

Lewis’ book contains such convoluted phrases as: “He knew now that he was praying…In a sense he said, Spirit is not I, I am it, but I am not the whole of it. When I turn back from the part of it which is not I – that far greater part which my soul does not exhaust – surely that part is to me the Other.” (Book 8, Chapter 4) and impenetrable paragraphs as: “I cannot agree with notions about the other side of the canyon but just because he relegates his delusions to the other side, he is free to agree with me about this side and to be an implacable exposer (like myself) of all attempts to foist upon us any transcendental, romantical, optimistic trash…he canalizes all the mystical nonsense – the sehnsucht and Wanderlust and Nympholepsy…” (Book 6, Chapter 2)

I have a plan to write a book for today that does what these men did for the 17th and the early 20th Centuries called PILGRIM’S EXCESS and it will serve the same purpose as Bunyan’s and Lewis’ works did but take place in the City rather than a “land” and address issues we face today – and show how my own journey looks as allegory…

But that’s not my issue today – I take exception with the Church. I launch my arrows at the deflector shield protecting the Lutheran Church in particular as I have been a baptized member since shortly after my fifth birthday (…it’s a long story, don’t ask) and was confirmed, worked in and promoted the theology of Luther ever since.

The problem is that the vast majority of Lutherans know NOTHING of Luther’s theology. In fact, I have a notion that if we were to attach a drive shaft to Luther’s feet in his grave for ten minutes, the speed at which he is spinning would generate enough electrical power to light all of North America at Christmas for a year.

The vast majority of Lutherans don’t understand the Small Catechism nor the Large Catechism. In fact, my experience with several hundred standard Lutheran pastors is that most of them have no idea what Luther did, wrote or intended. They stand on an interpretation of Lutheranism that requires little thought and is easily adjusted to fit into the standard, American, plastic, pluralistic cultural relativism that masquerades as cultural sensitivity and relevance.

Let me point out an example from the Small Catechism, the best known of Luther’s works and the one that a few Lutheran Churches still have their confirmands read and memorize: “The Second Article of the Apostle’s Creed – [I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. Luther asks ‘What does this mean?’ It means that I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death; that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness; just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

In 1970 (Sept. 11 issue), Christianity Today published a survey that revealed that the virgin birth is denied by 60 percent of Methodists, 49 percent of Presbyterians, 44 percent of Episcopalians, 34 percent of American Baptists, and 19 percent of American Lutherans. A more recent, 1998 poll shows that these numbers not only reflect the congregation but the pastoral leadership as well.

If one in five Lutherans and their pastors don’t believe in the Virgin Birth of the Christ – and a Barna Research Group poll indicates that the Virgin Birth is the MOST believed story in the Bible – then what ELSE do they imply they believe in by being Lutherans…but don’t really think it’s necessary to believe in?

Convoluted? Hmmm, yes. To put it more succinctly: If a person doesn’t accept what Luther WROTE in the Small Catechism (intended for children) or the Large Catechism (intended for pastors and leaders), then leave and join a church that DOES proclaim what you believe!

I find it offensive when members of the Lutheran Church try to change, water down or ignore parts of Luther’s writing by saying, “Oh, that was then, what he would have written NOW is…” or “We need to bring the Lutheran Church into the 21st Century! We need to be more relevant!”

I think Luther had something to say about that, too: “How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.”

A larger question still that bothers me though is how many Christians conform to the Nicene Creed? How many Christians – especially Evangelicals – even know WHAT the Nicene Creed is? If you don’t know, why not? It IS a document that unified the Church’s theology starting in 325 AD. Yet the Wikipedia article states that it means nothing to the Evangelical Church; only the liturgical church! Does this mean that Evangelicals can believe whatever they want to believe? Most of them say, “We believe God’s Word!” Cool – but don’t they mean “We believe our interpretation of God’s Word!”? Otherwise we wouldn’t have the Baptist Church, the Evangelical Free Church, the Christian Missionary Alliance and a plethora of “independents”…Questions for a later blog, I guess.

Your thoughts?



mtnman said...

my, my, my, we're all pretty deficient christians!...good that we have some one like the author of this blog who knows it all and can "read" the rest of us out with his put downsky "sermon."
"One act of obedience is better than 100 sermons." (Bonhoeffer)

GuyStewart said...

Not what I'm saying. I'm pulling together statistics that came from other people. I've been a Lutheran all my life and traveled as a Lutheran missionary for a couple of those years. Met literally hundreds of pastors and Lutherans, know and have talked at length with lots of Lutheran pastors. Also read lots of Luther. What we do today would have been historically recognizable by Luther as practices he opposed in the Catholic Church -- though we don't have factual indulgences any more.

Also, as regards the Council of Nicea -- if that's not our definition of Christianity, what should be?

JanieUpchurch said...

I wonder if you think that the Lutheran church is the only one with the total truth. I have belonged to many denominations and gone to churches without denominations. I find that being dispensational and continually studying to gain more truth in the scriptures themselves, not in creeds or traditions of men, serves me better for finding the truth of scripture. I must not depend on a denomination, but on the word itself.

GuyStewart said...

I said nothing about the Lutheran Church but criticism -- I'm talking about Luther, the reformer. "churches without denominations" did not exist until Luther's criticism of the Catholic church freed everyone from the yoke the Church had provided for all of us. Luther was the FIRST to translate the Bible into a language other than Latin (which only priests and scientists could read) and gave Scriptures to the people. Your study wouldn't be possibly without his push to place the Scriptures in the hands of peasants. I also need to ask: if you study on your own with no input from others (that's what your statement implies to me when you say "not in creeds or traditions of men") plus the fact that you've belonged to many denominations and non-denominations, it seems a risky business. With whom do you "check" your interpretation of Scripture? What version of "the word itself" do you use (an Interlinear Greek-English IS wonderful, I'll admit) knowing of course, that ALL English translations carry denominational leanings depending on who did the translating...