What is Pietism?

Sometimes Lutherans will throw “pietist” around like it’s a four-letter word (most of the time it is).  Historically, it’s a movement to reverse what was seen as “dead orthodoxy” and a sort of doctrinal legalism that sucked the life out of true religion.  It emphasized conversion, private Bible study, and de-emphasized corporate worship, the Sacraments, and objective means of grace.  It favored the subjective experience of the believer.  We have that historical movement and its successors to thank for Confirmation as we know it, as well as pretty much the entire way we view Christianity in America today.  (Again, read D.G. Hart’s The Lost Soul of American Protestantism for a broader view of pietistic impulses in the United States.)

But lest this be simply an historical and academic irrelevancy, see the Hauge Lutheran Innermission Federation (C.P. Krauth is obviously correct when he says that not all who claim the Lutheran name are Lutheran–btw, that’s another must-own: The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology).

I was given their publication “Morning Glory” by a relative of a parishioner, and it seems like a nineteenth century relic of the revivalist frontier.  Let me first say that the inclinations of these Christians and others like them is completely understandable.  As a pastor, I see first-hand the complacency and a seeming nominal Christianity.  You wonder if the Word of God is having any effect, and you doubt whether you’re preaching strongly enough, and you’re tempted, above all, to preach solely the Law “to awaken souls.”  But the Law will never awaken souls, and that’s what separates the pietists from the Lutherans.  No amount of banging on people with commandments, requirements, and what God wants will convert sinners.

In the first article, from 1895, the author writes,

A follower of churchianity uses the Lord’s means of grace only to rest securely in his impenitence and sin, in a sleep that can never be blessed.

But the question is always begged, how can anyone determine whether someone is “resting securely in his impenitence and sin”?  I have no doubt that people do, but there’s no way for anyone else to know, unless the person says so.  And then this:

With God’s Word as light and law for discerning the spiritual condition, we must get all believing men and women to work to gether for the salvation of sinners. We must totally turn away from the old traditional ways of thinking, and (I am sorry that this needs to be said even
among God’s children) stop promoting the notion that it is enough when the pastor regularly preaches God’s Word during the congregation’s public worship services. For then sinners will not be converted, because there is no cry in it; then they will remain lost.

The problem is not necessarily with the preaching, but with the fact that the people in the congregation remain sinners.  The problem might be with the preaching, but the fact that there are “unconverted” people in the congregation (again, only God can know) may be in spite of the preaching (it always is), rather than because the preaching is weak.

But what I really wanted to get to was this: “Do the Baptized Need Conversion?”

There is a popular emphasis in much of Lutheranism (and some other church bodies as well) that if an infant or a young child has been brought to Christ in baptism, and never leaves that covenant established at their baptism, that they are Christians solely because of God’s Grace. If they confess their faith at their confirmation and are regular in church and at the Lord’s Supper, they are in fact faithful Christians and have no need for conversion. Is this, in fact, what the Bible teaches?

Besides the fact that the whole article could not be more distant from Luther’s Small Catechism on baptism, notice how close it is to a Baptist position.  Just because someone says he’s Lutheran doesn’t mean he is.  Notice how astounding that first sentence is: “There is a popular emphasis in much of Lutheranism…that if an infant or a young child has been brought to Christ in baptism, and never leaves that covenant established at their baptism, that they are Christians solely because of God’s Grace.” That is about as clear a statement of the anti-Lutheran doctrine of these pseudo-Lutherans (indeed, pseudo-Christians) as one could possibly find.  The pietist temptation is to move so hard against those who appear to be resting securely in their impenitence that they cannot handle the radicality of God’s grace in Jesus Christ: that it is completely free, completely apart from works or decision or your holy life.  Holiness contributes nothing to your salvation.  And if the pietists trust that “holiness of life” shows whether someone is not resting securely in impenitence, those good works and perceived holiness could be the very thing that contributes to the dreaded secure resting.

But it gets worse: doing violence to Paul’s letter to Titus, the author writes,

However, notice in the very same verse that it states that there must also be a “renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Thus, following the order stated in Titus 3:5, it is baptism first and then a renewing by the Holy Spirit. This is how God saves us. To have baptism alone, with out the renewing of the Holy Spirit, is not salvation.

This is the same terrible exegesis that leads to saying that repentance must precede baptism, because that’s how Peter says it.  But Matthew 28 is conveniently ignored by these same people because it puts baptism first, and then teaching.  The only way that this quote makes sense is if one has a priori separated renewal from baptism.  If, on the other hand, one believes that baptism is renewal (as Luther clearly does in the Small Catechism), then the argument literally makes no sense.  In fact, the Small and Large Catechisms provide the very antidote against carnal security: a return to baptism!  I.e., repentance.

We speak of this renewing after baptism as conversion, which means turning. When the baptized person becomes old enough to understand the issues of sin, condemnation, and the wrath of God under the Law, and then forgiveness of sins through Jesus under the Gospel, then the person must make a conscious choice by an act of their will on two things: 1) What will I do with my Sin?, and 2) What will I do with Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit will bring each soul to this point of decision, like a fork in the road.  After baptism, the soul must repent of their sins before God by an act of their will. This did not take place in baptism. After baptism, the soul must come to personal faith in Jesus by an act of their will. This also did not take place at baptism.

Any Lutheran should have alarm bells ringing at words like “choice,” “decision,” and “act of their [sic] will.”  Yes, everyone must repent, but this repentance is not something that the will can accomplish, nor can “the soul…come to personal faith in Jesus by an act of their [sic] will.”  They either make baptism into some sort of prevenient grace (in fact, it’s prevenient, postvenient, and everything in between) or they make it of no account whatsoever.  Personal faith in Jesus and repentance come solely from God, by God, and not apart from God’s working by His Holy Spirit.  Pietists rob Christians of their comfort because they make salvation depend upon something the Christian does.  And if it depends on something the Christian does, then there can never be certainty that the Christian has done all that is required.

Everyone claims “by grace, by grace,” but how a person views baptism will show what they really believe.  If they say that baptism is not enough, they either do not understand what Lutherans really teach (that it is the Holy Spirit converting a sinful creature by bringing it to the cross and grave of Jesus and raising it in the resurrection of Jesus) or they do not believe in grace alone.  If someone denies infant baptism because infants can’t “believe,” they deny grace alone.  If someone puts any requirement on a person for salvation, conversion, repentance, etc., they deny the work of God by His Law and His Gospel.  It’s as simple as that.

More robbing consciences:

Even if a young person has never gone off into open and coarse sin, he is still in need of conversion. This conversion will involve a real conviction of sin. This means that they will
realize that they have sinned against the Lord and the fact that they were once baptized will no longer cover that sin. They will also realize they need to come to Jesus in a personal, living way. It will no longer be enough that they believe in Jesus, but they will have to make a definite act of appropriating Christ for themselves.

If baptism no longer covers sin, then Christ’s death and resurrection no longer covers sin–because baptism is nothing more than the personal appropriation of Christ’s death and resurrection.  If baptism were something else, then it would also be something other than by grace through faith.  True belief in Jesus saves because it is simple trust that Christ died for me.  Anything else is not faith in the Biblical sense.

But enough.  Not Christian (see Sir Cuthbert’s remarks below) and, hence, not Lutheran.

Timotheos

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New (Still Leaky) Abortion Plank

So the Democrats have a new abortion plank in their party platform.  Here’s the old one:

Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman’s right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

Here’s the new one:

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.

Other than having more words and including typical Democratic, nanny-style programming, what’s the difference?  In spite of the apparent happiness among left-leaning political Christians and some pro-life Democrats (I know they call themselves that, but they’re still on the outside looking in), I think the new one’s worse.  Now, they don’t just oppose “Republican efforts to undermine” a woman’s “right” to “choose,” now they oppose “any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”  The Democrats, beholden to NARAAL, Planned [Fewer Parents], et al., will not brook any compromise.  No weakening of the full 9 month abortion license will be allowed.

The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives.

This simply translates as “The Democratic Party also strongly supports [Planned (Childlessness)].”

What is different?  Simply this sentence:

The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.

Well, isn’t that special?  The Democratic Party now supports childbearing.  Well, great, because we were all waiting on pins and needles for the Democratic Party’s approval of childbirth–not to mention hospitals, clinics, parenting classes, welfare, and caring adoption programs (as opposed to the uncaring ones).  Now we can get on with doing all those things…that are already being done.

The people who are opposed to abortion and smiling about this new plank are simply trying to convince themselves that the Democrats don’t support the murder of unborn children completely.  Except they do; and pro-life Democrats are still fooling themselves.

Timotheos

Charisma Magazine on Todd Bentley

This is not an occasion to covertly rejoice over the impending breakup of Bentley’s marriage. No one should take joy in that, nor is it relevant to the fact that Bentley’s “faith” “healing” is the sort of Enthusiasm our fathers warned us about. What it is is Pentecostalism taking a hard look at itself and its “gullibility” (J. Lee Grady’s word, not mine). Here’s Grady’s editorial.

Why did so many people flock to Lakeland from around the world to rally behind an evangelist who had serious credibility issues from the beginning?
To put it bluntly, we’re just plain gullible.
From the first week of the Lakeland revival, many discerning Christians raised questions about Bentley’s beliefs and practices. They felt uneasy when he said he talked to an angel in his hotel room. They sensed something amiss when he wore a T-shirt with a skeleton on it. They wondered why a man of God would cover himself with tattoos. They were horrified when they heard him describe how he tackled a man and knocked his tooth out during prayer.
But among those who jumped on the Lakeland bandwagon, discernment was discouraged. They were expected to swallow and follow. The message was clear: “This is God. Don’t question.” So before we could all say, “Sheeka Boomba” (as Bentley often prayed from his pulpit), many people went home, prayed for people and shoved them to the floor with reckless abandon, Bentley-style.
I blame this lack of discernment, partly, on raw zeal for God. We’re spiritually hungry—which can be a good thing. But sometimes, hungry people will eat anything.
Many of us would rather watch a noisy demonstration of miracles, signs and wonders than have a quiet Bible study. Yet we are faced today with the sad reality that our untempered zeal is a sign of immaturity. Our adolescent craving for the wild and crazy makes us do stupid things. It’s way past time for us to grow up.
Is Grady’s complaint about Pentecostals inevitable in light of the constant searching for a “new” manifestation of the Spirit? (It’s not quite a rhetorical question…)

Dumb Liturgical Americans

Imagine, if you will, the Ultimate Dumb American. You know, the big, loud guy in a Hawaiian shirt and plaid shorts, with black socks and sandals. Now imagine the UDA in a foreign, non-western country such as Japan, where he does not know the language or the culture, and he doesn’t care to learn them either. He travels to Japan and the trouble begins as soon as he’s off the plane (or before, if it’s a Japanese airline). He expects everyone to speak English, to have burgers and fries or pizza at every restaurant, and to have gigantic, American-size everything: hotel rooms, Big Gulps, etc.

Now imagine that the Japanese oblige the UDA. They learn English, they take on Western/American “customs,” they give him everything he wants in the way he wants it and on his schedule. If you can imagine this (admittedly crazy) scenario, you can imagine the state of (formerly) liturgical congregations in the United States.

The culture of the Church is a culture unto itself. Of course, like every culture, it is not static or unchanged by outside influences. But it does not take unreflectingly (or shouldn’t–why do I have to qualify every assertion in light of the American situation?) from the surrounding cultures, nor does it automatically morph into a clone of the surrounding culture. The culture of the Church is not a gecko.

The culture of the Church has its own language, customs, appropriate behaviors, expectations, and base of knowledge–all of which can be difficult to understand for someone unfamiliar with the culture. Some of these who are unfamiliar with the culture will politely observe, attempting to gain a handle on the often foreign culture into which they have entered. But many, many others–and often those who should be familiar with the culture of the Church are the worst offenders–are the equivalent of the stereotypical dumb American: they are Dumb Liturgical Americans (DLAs). These DLAs come into the foreign culture of the Church (and let’s admit that the culture of the Church is nearly as foreign to most people as Japan would be to me) and they expect it to mirror the culture to which they are already accustomed. They want everything as it would be “back home.” They want the Church to cater to them as individuals. They want the Church to speak their idiom and common language, rather than them learning the language of the Church. They want the Church to put up with their customs (shorts and Hawaiian shirts in the presence of the Almighty?). They want to be served the Food of the Church when and how they want, or they’ll get upset. If you are a professor of the culture of the Church and you do not serve DLAs at the Lord’s Table, even if they have no idea what it’s for or why they come, you will experience their loud wrath and snide comments.

Where is the politeness in a foreign culture and an unwillingness to assume that one’s own ways are better than the long- and battle-tested ways of the culture one enters? The arrogance of DLAs is everywhere, and it infects not only visitors and members; often it is exhibited by the very ones entrusted with the care and propagation of the culture. Ignorant pastors are worse than ignorant visitors. Where is the humility that takes for granted that an individual cannot just go anywhere he wants and demand to be accommodated in the exact manner to which he is accustomed? How juvenile to demand to be given the holy Food, no matter what the individual believes, as if it were hot dogs and apple pie!

The fact that the Church has a culture at all is unknown to our modern DLAs, and the concept is as foreign as learning Japanese to the UDA. So congregations adopt cultural idioms foreign to their essence and theology and expect their essence and theology to remain unchanged. But that is impossible. Would Japan be Japan if they spoke perfect English and served American food and did everything the way that Americans do things?

The solution to this clash of cultures is not to change the language and culture of the Church to make foreigners feel comfortable. That would be as absurd as the Japanese accommodating the UDA. Rather, it is necessary for those foreign to the culture of the Church to learn humbly and patiently those things that make the Church what it is. And it is up to those versed in the culture not to assume that everyone will know what is going on and to arrogantly refuse to help the uninitiated. Rather, those who are at home in the culture should humbly and patiently bring the foreigners in, to answer their questions, and to help them when they need it.

This process of cultural immersion will be sometimes uncomfortable and even shocking. It will take time and it will be challenging to those who are culturally illiterate–just as challenging as getting off a plane by yourself in a foreign country, not knowing anyone else and not knowing the language. But such a thought is perhaps beyond most people who are at home in a culture of instant gratification. Our ADD society may be unwilling to do what it takes to be assimilated into a new culture. That is why you see churches adopting every custom and idiom of surrounding cultures, however base they may be. That is why you see churches looking like K-Marts, like restaurants, like shopping malls. They have taken the worst consumerism of the American cultural milieu and made it their own. But they should not expect that the foundational culture of the Church, which is meant to support and uphold the essence and theology of the Church, to be unaffected and unchanged.

Churches are allowed to do whatever they want. But let them do it fully aware that they are changing the essence of the distinctly Christian culture. Let there be no tolerance for DLAs.

Timotheos

Thrivent and Syncretism K-I-S-S-I-N-G…

I am shocked by very little anymore. (That’s not necessarily a good thing.) If you are a Thrivent member, you probably get the Thrivent magazine called, creatively, Thrivent Magazine. In the most recent one, they give “A Portrait of Community” and highlight Peace Lutheran Church in Danville, California.

According to the Thrivent feature,

“We wanted something that would both capture a sense of the history of our congregation—its priorities and values over the years—and something that would convey the spirit we’re being led to in the future,” says the Rev. Steve Harms, Peace Lutheran’s senior pastor.

That “something that would convey the spirit we’re being led to in the future” (a nearly nonsensical sentence, logically and grammatically) would seem to be a nicely universal “faith community.” No wonder they have multiple Buddhist symbols. It’s a “spirit” the Buddhists could love. (Muslims, I’m not so sure. Can they handle their symbol being in a single mosaic with so many infidels?) Beyond the idiotic interchangeable “Mandalas” of each faith in the faith community, this mosaic loves its contradictions. A symbol of the Trinity peacefully coexisting with unitarian and non-theistic religious symbols, anyone? Gotta love it when Christians “lead the way” in ecumenical endeavors.

If this were Old Testament Israel, I would suggest that this high place of idolatry be burned to the ground and replaced with an altar to the true God.

You can read more about the “Peace Journey” (I mean “peacejourney”) here. Don’t throw up in your mouth.

Timotheos