Welcome back! This is part two of a two part series on why I’m not longer a Lutheran. You can find part 1 here.
In part 1, I explored my reasons for disliking Lutheran doctrine. I showed how the church adds to the authority of the Bible by saying that Luther’s writings and the historical creeds are “true expositions” of God’s word. I also detailed why I think that they have an unhealthy emphasis on baptism and communion. I finished off by saying that this alone was not enough to push me out. I could live with the failures in theology. No system of thought is totally correct; that’s the downside of our sinful nature. What really made me leave was the attitude of many members toward each other, toward outsiders, toward the world, and most of all, toward God.
Growing up, I never noticed how other Lutherans behaved. I was taught that, as a Christian, I was supposed to be nice and happy and tolerant, but also to do the right thing. I never got a told why I was supposed to be nice. I never learned the theological reason why Christians were supposed to be happy and joyful; I just knew that I was supposed to be like this. And that brings me to my first beef:
Before I got married, I really looked forward to going to church and hearing my pastor speak. When I was younger we had two pastors who were supposed to be really great teachers. They were personable, loving and clever, worked well together, and spoke exceedingly well. J was the senior pastor, T his associate pastor. Their sermons were everything a talk should be: interesting and engaging enough to make us pay attention while they were speaking, and shallow enough to make us forget about them as soon as we finished the service.
Yes, you read that right.
You see, these sermons were not at all challenging. They were encouraging, sure. They talked all about God’s love and his grace and his desire to see us all saved – but never, ever did they remind us of why we needed salvation in the first place. We went away from the sermons feeling really good about ourselves and the world but we never thought about them after they were finished, aside from saying an obligatory “Good sermon, Pastor ____”. J’s sermons were particularly like this. In fact, soon after I started questioning whether I wanted to keep going to my parents church J preached a sermon about love that had more quotes from secular philosophers than it did from the Bible. And when he did talk about the Bible he skimmed over the tough verses about God’s wrath and judgement in favour of the safe and comfortable bits about his mercy and love. There was no application but to “love one another” and no exhortation to read and learn more about God. And afterwards, the congregation members talked about the sermon – really amazingly – only to say how amazing it was, and how good it was, without even thinking about the content.
You may be wondering why this is important. Well, while it is good to think about God’s love and his grace and mercy, to focus solely on that and ignoring his other attributes is like exclaiming over a lion’s beautiful mane and ignoring it’s teeth and claws. And to focus on the fact we are saved without thinking about why we need to be saved is just as bad. As sinful human beings we don’t like to be told that we’re bad; we often deceive ourselves into thinking that we deserve God’s forgiveness because we’re such great people. We need to be reminded, week after week (or if you’re like me, day after day) that God didn’t need to save us. He could have rightly let us burn in Hell, which is what we deserved. But because of his mercy and love, he suffered the death that we deserved in order to bring us back into righteous relationship with him.
It’s because of this poor teaching that I think the next point is able to be a thing:
In the LCA statement of beliefs is the following:
We believe …
that Christians, though still subject to sin and failure, will show love to God in a life of loving service to other people, practising forgiveness, kindness, patience, humility and unselfish service of others for Christ’s sake.
We believe …
that Christians are called into the church to praise and worship God, to receive the Spirit’s renewal for their faith, to strengthen their fellow believers, and to carry out God’s mission of taking the good news of his saving love to all people.
This is great. Of course Christian should act differently – will act differently to non-Christians. Of course we’ll treat each other nicely. Of course we’ll want to tell others about the glory and sufficiency of Christ. And if we understand the Gospel we will do it to glorify God and to make him happy, not because of a misguided notion that it will save us, or will keep us saved. And of course we will go to church, hear about God’s glory, and want to live it out in the rest of the week. Right?
Unfortunately, my experience has been of hypocrisy. I struggle to remember a sermon in which godly living was encouraged; from what I can remember it was left entirely up to parents. Which I totally support, but leaders and preachers also have a duty to ensure that adults understand Scripture enough to be able to teach kids. And this is just restricting it to the family unit! Paul says that leaders are to teach their congregation members sound doctrine which accords with godly living (Titus 2). However, many members actively opposed teaching Christian living from the pulpit, as they believed it sullied the doctrine of grace-based salvation. They didn’t understand that Christian living is not a requirement for salvation but an outflow of salvation, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10.
As a result of this, congregation members were unrepentant in their sinful actions (e.g. gossiping, judgemental and quick to hold a grudge), which is what Jesus came to set us free from. In fact, some members went so far as to say that because Jesus has saved us by grace we could act however we like, as God would just forgive us. Paul directly discusses this issue in Romans 6, saying that because we died to sin in Jesus it is not possible to then continue living life like a non-Christian. Romans 2:1-5 says that to persist in unrepentant sin is to store up wrath for oneself. God’s grace is supposed to lead us to repent of our wrongdoing, not persist in it.
In summary, while the doctrine is ok, it isn’t taught by the leaders for individual application. This leads to members taking Jesus’s sacrifice for granted and not realising the implications grace has on their lives. This, in turn, leads to behaviour that shames the Gospel and alienates outsiders as well as insiders. Jesus’s words to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22 are highly applicable to the Lutheran church:
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
Thanks for reading. Once again, I’d love to hear what you think. Just make sure you check out my comment policy before you comment. God bless you and keep you.
Soli Deo gloria.