04 October 2007

From Teenage Girl to Bride of Christ

Pastor Weedon has posted a very fine banquet address delivered by another friend, Pr. Todd Wilken (of Issues, Etc. fame). In this address Pr. Wilken first discusses how the LCMS has long been looking longingly (lustingly?) at American Evangelicalism, because folks there have supposedly had the coveted cutting edge methods in evangelism. Next Wilken explores the great folly of trying to distance ourselves from our "grandfather's church." He recalls the ad campaign of Oldsmobile that backfired when they tried to distance themselves from "your father's Oldsmobile." How does such distancing from our fathers and grandfathers in the Church pan out? Hmmm. Good food for thought.

Wilken's third main section, though, really grabbed my attention. Here Wilken compares the LCMS to a teenage girl who longs to sit at that other lunch table - you know, the one where all the hip, popular, attractive kids sit.

Pastor Wilken summed it up this way:
If the LC-MS is that teenaged girl, staring longingly at the evangelicals, then what? We see them. They’re hip, they’re attractive, and everyone wants into their circle. Are we going to let them tell us who we are supposed to be and forget who we are?

Such churches seldom end well. They end up desperate, sad, even promiscuous —with no idea of who they are or who they are supposed to be.
I only have one criticism of Pr. Wilken's address - and it's really not a criticism per se, just a wish that I could have imbibed more thoughtful insights. I wish he could have and would have filled in the sketch with more color and detail.

How like a teenage girl might the LCMS be? I think it's a wonderful comparison...and spot on! We in the LCMS sure do seem to live, act, work, and play under a certain "peer pressure" and with the base urge to be liked by the people around us. (And remember what happened in 1 Samuel 8, when Israel wanted a king for the express purpose of being "like all the nations" [verse 5]?)

I wonder what Pr. Wilken would say about the recent Lutheran Witness article that trumpets "Groups Ablaze!" and highlights a congregation's "commitment to outreach" that "extends naturally to social gatherings and recreational activities such as motorcycle-riding." Motorcycle outreach? (And what's with the picture of the wife apparently grasping her husband's belt buckle, which lies hidden by his T-shirt, as they stand behind their motorcycle?! See it online here, at the bottom of the page.) I don't have anything against motorcycle riding at all. But this is outreach?

Ah, how like a teenage girl, looking for approval by pushing the envelope.

And what's up with the ad for "Cafe Sola" on the opposite page in the print edition of the Witness? Is this some new kind of Reformation flavored coffee? (Okay, the ad says nothing about "Reformation flavored"; that's my phrase to express my incredulity. You can see what "Cafe Sola" is about here.)

I truly like the Luther quote that is used in the online information, but does this project really fit with what Luther says? The Luther quote reads: "Faith belongs to heaven above; works must be related to earth. Faith is directed to God, works to the neighbor." It would appear that we can now outdo the Reformer's wisdom. Not only can we direct our works to our neighbor, but we can also serve our neighbor while pleasing our tum-tums with a piping hot cup of java.

Ah, how like a teenage girl, willing to serve her neighbor, but only if she can benefit by it herself somehow.

(And, sorry, but I just can't resist this comment. Were the four Reformation "solas" - grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, and Christ alone - no longer enough? Now we must add "coffee alone"? Pretty soon that will rank right up there with the age-old debate about how many Sacraments Lutherans have. Is it two: Baptism and Lord's Supper, or is it three: Baptism, Lord's Supper, and coffee and donuts after church? Now we can debate how many "solas" we'll hold on to? Is it four or, now, five? Enquiring minds want to know! :-)

Have we lost who we are? Are we constantly struggling to "fit in" and "be accepted"? Perhaps we need to give serious thought and discussion to these questions. As one friend also said, after he looked at the motorcycle picture and saw the "Cafe Sola" ad: "Why can't we just be authentic? Why can't we just be the Church?"

If we seek to serve our neighbor, then let's just serve our neighbor, even if it might mean a little more inconvenience to us personally, a little more sacrifice to our personal comfort and pocketbook...and, yes, a little less coffee for our day. Why don't we just stop ourselves from buying that extra DVD for entertainment and instead donate the money directly to LCMS World Relief and Human Care, or some other charitable organization...and without the thought that says, "What can I get out of it"?

If we seek to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, then why don't we speak and print more about Jesus Himself and what He has done, and less about our human ingenuity at speaking of Jesus even as we enjoy riding motorcycles or whatever our hobby may be? (Although, I must now wonder if I can arrange a picture and a write up if I get the chance to speak about Jesus while I'm out walking my two beagles.)

If we seek to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and promote outreach, why don't we focus on folks like the two Philips from Holy Scripture. In John 1 the soon-to-be Apostle Philip met and heard Jesus, and then he went to tell Nathanael. All it took was a simple, "Come and see" (John 1:46), and Philip had reached out to Nathanael and invited him to come and see the Savior. In Acts 8, the recently-appointed Deacon Philip (different from the first Philip) was instructed to meet with an Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch happened to be reading the book of Isaiah, then Philip helped him understand it correctly by teaching him the good news about Jesus, and then the Ethiopian requested to baptized.

It would seem that outreach is really quite simple - a matter of an invitation from someone who is convinced that Jesus is worth meeting - and that it leads into the life of the Church - the real life, that is, of hearing the good news of Jesus and His forgiveness and of receiving His real gifts in the Sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord's Supper.

So, instead of acting so much like a teenage girl (and a most insecure one at that!), let's be who we are called to be: the Church, the Bride of Christ, with all of the proper dignity and healthy security that that means. As the hymn says, "Church of God, elect and glorious... Know the purpose of your calling, Show to all His mighty deeds; Tell of love that knows no limits, Grace that meets all human needs" (LSB 646:1).


  1. "Faith belongs to heaven above; works must be related to earth. Faith is directed to God, works to the neighbor."

    This strikes me as so odd!

    If I fast, or if I observe the holy feasts, is it for my neighbor? If I pray, is it not to be close to Christ? If I give alms, is it not to Him I am giving them, as in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats? Whatever work I do, is it not first and foremost for Him, from love of Him, to please Him? Whatever good I do, is it not His work?



  2. Hey, we also SANG that hymn as the opening hymn of the Divine Service!!!

  3. Hi, Anastasia,

    I think it's important to keep Luther's context in mind. He was constantly working against the clearly mistaken Roman notion that one could earn/merit God's grace by performing good works, especially works that look really, super-duper religious (think Medieval Western form of monasticism, for example). So, Luther wanted to be clear that a person does not earn/merit his way into God's good graces, that is, to become a Christian; rather, a person receives God's grace, mercy, and forgiveness by faith. Thus he routinely says, "Faith is directed to God." That is, we must rely completely on His mercy.

    And since Christians have God's mercy, they generally focus their works toward helping and serving their neighbor (as opposed to using them to buy God off, butter Him down, or somehow make Him favorably disposed toward you).

    So this quote becomes something of a shorthand way of saying: "Don't think you must turn God from wrath to mercy by your works. He's already merciful toward you. Therefore, use your works to benefit your neighbor." Remember, this is against the backdrop of the quite mistaken Medieval Roman notions of merit preceding conversion!

    On the examples you give - of fasting and praying - I think Luther would certainly approve. In the Small Catechism, for example, he does commend fasting as "certainly fine outward training." In the Large Catechism he certainly speaks of prayer as pleasing to God. I presume that you do such "good works" (fasting & praying) not to earn/merit God's favor in order to *become a Christian,* but rather because you are *already a Christian,* already a redeemed child of the heavenly Father.

    I also think that Luther would agree with your example of giving alms, a la the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. As Luther said when he preached on that text in, as I recall, 1543: "For Christ himself shows that he is speaking of the works of believing Christians" (Church Postils, vol. 5, p. 384).

    And then there's this little gem from Luther's pen. He comments on Jacob getting married to Rebekah, specifically on Genesis 29:12, and applies the Sheep and the Goats story to make his point. Speaking of marriage in particular, Luther says, "For it is a work of God created in man's nature, and it should not only not be despised or vilified but should even be honored." And then he says: "For God wants to be glorified in all works, both small and great. He does not want to be despised even in the smallest work. Thus Christ says (Matt. 25:40): “As you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” So we should not cast aside or trample underfoot even the smallest precepts and ordinances of God" (LW 5:282).

    So, I would sum it up this way: the Luther dictum cited speaks specifically of a person's conversion to life in Christ, whereas you are speaking of the good works that are done by one who is already a Christian. That's why it may strike you as "so odd." But I really think that Luther would echo your comments too.

  4. Remember, this is against the backdrop of the quite mistaken Medieval Roman notions of merit preceding conversion!

    With all due respect, Pastor, we Catholics don't look for "merit" preceding conversion. It is God who reaches out to us first and adopts us as his beloved children in Holy Baptism. Our life of faith is a living out of that journey begun in Baptism rooted in the salvific event of the Cross.

    I understand the corruption that Luther was protesting against in his day and there certainly were problems that needed to be addressed. But even in the midst of it there were still good and holy clergy who served God and their people, and monastic life has been a blessing to the church in many ways (some very holy Popes have come from the monasteries.

    Cardinal John Newman puts the matter of works very well:

    On the whole, then, salvation is both by faith and by works. St. James says, not dead faith, and St. Paul, not dead works. St. James, “not by faith only,” for that would be dead faith; St. Paul, “not works only,” for such would be dead works. Faith alone can make works living; works alone can make faith living. Take away either, and you take away both− he alone has faith who has works− he alone has works who has faith.

    We serve our neighbor for the love of Jesus Christ who in His Incarnation assumed our humanity.

  5. Christine,

    Thanks for your comments. I was not trying to paint with a broad brush and cover all Catholics today. I was simply trying to give Anastasia the specific context of the Luther quote, and thus I tried to specify by saying "Medieval Roman." So, I was merely trying to point out the context of the corruption that Luther was addressing, as you also concede.

    I certainly rejoice that you and your fellow Catholics "don't look for "merit" preceding conversion." Looks like we share that in common! Also, I have do doubt that many holy clergy have served God and their people. Again, thank God for that!

    I must say that I do like that quote from Newman. I applaud his "both/and" approach, and I think he is saying the same thing that the Lutheran Symbols say. When it comes to faith and works, a Christian cannot have one without the other. When a Christian has faith, works will follow like fruit from a tree. And when a Christian does his/her works, they will show that faith is living. So, thanks for the quote!

  6. Christine,

    I should have asked: what's the source of that quote by Newman?

  7. Pastor, the Newman quote is from his Parochial Sermons, Volume V I think it was. It also appears on the Catholic "Conservative Colloquium" (conservativecolloquium.wordpress) site.

    I will always have one foot in the Lutheran world because I have Lutheran family and rejoice in the many things we have in common.

    Catholics would certainly agree that Grace is primary and foremost in our life of faith. Where we would somewhat differ is that we believe that good works do actually produce sanctifying grace, not in the sense the Christ's sacrifice on the cross was not sufficient to merit our salvation, but that the more we "live" the life of Christ in us the more we "image" him although obviously we will not be perfectly conformed to him until the Eschaton.

    Grace and peace to you!

  8. Christine,

    Thanks much for the sources on the Newman quote. I'll have to check them out for more "goodies."

    Also, I have this eery feeling that we Catholics and Lutherans may be closer on such things than many of us may want to admit. Just my hunch, the more I simply try to listen and figure out what other brothers and sisters say and mean.


    Good to "see" you too in cyberspace!

    I like your comments about just how sola is sola coffee? I don't like mine too "sola," if you know what I mean. :-)

    As for moving from teenage girl to Bride of Christ, it's the least I could do. After all, I'm convinced that so much of the silliness we must endure stems from forgetting that the Church IS the Bride of Christ - and not some giddy teenage or some other kind of lady! :-)

  9. Might be worth a click over to Cyberbretheren for Claus Harms' 95 Theses.

    Written in 1817, 190 years ago -- or yesterday. Thesis 72 comes to mind re some of the above discussion, and it's a lot shorter than the worthless, faithless Joint Declaration.

  10. Also, I have this eery feeling that we Catholics and Lutherans may be closer on such things than many of us may want to admit.

    Oh absolutely, Pastor! Thanks be to God!

  11. Also, I have this eery feeling that we Catholics and Lutherans may be closer on such things than many of us may want to admit.

    I would like to think so. But then again, there are grave misunderstandings between Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Lutherans due to a complete misunderstanding of vocabulary. For example, to understand that Luther quote cited in your post and in some responses ("Faith belongs to heaven above; works must be related to earth. Faith is directed to God, works to the neighbor.") one must understand what Luther meant by faith. He did not mean intellectual belief nor did he mean love. Instead, by faith Luther meant trust. And so while it makes sense to trust God's promises even in the face of our sinfulness, it makes no sense at all (for Luther) to trust or direct your faith towards your neighbor. That is where love comes in: have faith (trust in God) and love (allow your trust to work itself out in your life) your neighbor.

    A book that has helped me understand the absolutely, contradictory structures of Lutheran and Roman Catholic thought has been Christian Contradictions by Daphne Hampson. An absolute must read.

  12. Philip,

    Thanks for the suggested read. Yes, I wonder what would happen if we Christians, especially Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox, actually sat down to discuss theology and tried to learn what the other says and means. It's certainly high time for us to set aside the caricatures and patiently try to work toward some salutary Christian concord.

    Having said that, let me point out that Luther did, in fact, know and teach the different aspect of faith that you mention. Take, for example, his explanation to the First Commandment in the Small Catechism: "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." It think it's fair to summarize those three verbs with one word: "faith."