Liturgy is not just a Sunday order of rituals.

This essay in no way is meant to discredit or disagree with anything from the article, “Top Ten Reasons Why We Use The Liturgy.”  This essay operates with a different definition of liturgy, which is defined as the thesis of the essay, and the linked essay on why we use the liturgy defines its use of the word liturgy from the outset as well.

A recent Systematics quiz asked the question, “According to the Lutheran Confessions who is the Church?”  The leading answer by many students was “where the Gospel and the Sacraments are rightly preached.” The professor quickly blurted out, “That’s great.  That tells us how we can locate where the Church is, but what is the answer to who the church is?”  The “who” answer is all true believers.  That is who the Church is.  In response to Rome’s insistence that only the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church, the Book of Concord places repeated emphasis on how the Church is visibly recognized by the right proclamation of the Gospel and the right distribution of the Sacraments, in an effort to assert that the Lutheran churches were most certainly part of the una sancta, while drawing into question the validity of Rome’s claim to the Church catholic. This Reformation Movement emphasis has led to a predominant association of the Church with the gathered body of believers on Sunday – thus Church is viewed as a place that Christians go and not as individual people in missional movement in their daily vocations united as one through the same shared faith in Christ.

In many LC-MS congregations, Sunday services use one of the Divine Service orders in one of the LC-MS hymnals.  These orders are commonly referred to as the historical liturgy of the Church.  Orders of rituals and ceremonies used for Sunday services in Lutheran congregations that do not explicitly follow one of the Divine Service orders are typically referred to as being non-liturgical, or perhaps called contemporary.  This suggests that the historical liturgy (the Divine Service) has been jettisoned in such congregations, replaced by something new, and potentially entirely different or wholly disconnected from the Divine Service, which can imply a withdrawal from the Church.  Liturgy, in an etymological sense, refers to public service, which certainly does occur on Sundays.  The church’s public service, however, is not just limited to a particular place and time on Sunday morning.  The Church is, after all, all true believers, each a priest in the Kingdom of God, gifted by the Holy Spirit with a particular gift and role in the Church for the edification of all in the local Church community.

Much of these giftings of the Spirit and Spirit-given roles within the Church are not actively involved or provided the opportunity to serving the Body of Christ within the Divine Service orders.  This necessitates a broadening of the common usage of the word liturgy within Lutheran circles that would embrace both the “who” and the “where” of the Church from the Book of Concord. The following is my proposed use of liturgy for rectifying this disconnect between Sunday services (and in particular the concept that the Divine Service is the only liturgy of the Church) and the rest of the Christian’s life as the Church: liturgy in a Lutheran congregation should be understood as the performance of the Christian faith, both corporately at gathered services on Sunday mornings, as well as individually throughout the week, for the purpose of making and sustaining disciples within the Christian faith that is being performed.

Jim Marriot defines liturgy concisely as “the performance of faith.”[1]  The “performance” aspect of this definition of liturgy can be best understood by the formal sense of the definition of rituals. Mark Searle describes the aim of formal definitions for rituals as seeking to “differentiate ritual activity from other forms of behavior in terms of its distinctive features, usually identified as repetitive, prescribed, rigid, stereotyped, and so on.”[2]  As an example of a formal approach to rituals, Searle points to Roy Rappaport’s definition of ritual, which is “the performance of more or less invariant sequences of formal acts and utterances not encoded by the performers.”[3]  Rappaport’s definition implies that the Church’s rituals have been given to us and we perform them, but with his use of coding language, there is also the implication that these rituals are doing us.  The rituals of the Church are informing us and molding us into the people God wants us to be.  To this end, liturgy as a set of performed rituals of the Christian faith also function symbolically to provide meaning to our lives[4] by teaching us, or informing us, of the Christian faith that accounts for all things.  With that knowledge we can become the people God wants us to be as we live out the Christian liturgy.

The liturgy of the Church is not just relegated to Sunday morning.  There is an interplay between corporate and individual ritual performances of the Christian faith.  In the corporate sense of liturgy, James K. A. Smith describes the church as “the place where God invites us to renew our loves, reorient our desires, and restrain our appetites.”[5]  This work in our lives comes through the visible markers of the Church as identified in the Lutheran Confessions, the right proclamation of God’s Word and the right distribution of the Sacraments  It is the function of the Word and the Sacraments that lead Smith to refer to the Church as a “household […] where the Spirit feeds us what we need and where, by his grace, we become a people who desire him above all else.”[6]  But we are not to stay in that “household,” the Church forever, because the Church is not a place, or the gathering of Christians.  No, the Church is the people of God.  Smith explains that the liturgy of the corporately gathered Church functions, continuing with the food analogy, as “the feast where we acquire new hungers – for God and for what God desires – and are then sent into this creation to act accordingly.”[7]

As an example of how the corporate ritual performances of the Church form and shape our individual performances of the Christian faith in our day to day vocations, Smith points to the historic prayer of confession (that the LC-MS uses in some of its Divine Service orders):

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name.  Amen.

Smith says that this prayer was written poetically, so that when it is said as a whole congregation, verbally, week in and week out, it becomes like a song, and the poetry of this corporate ritual “makes it stick and enables it to seep down into the deep wells of our imagination – which means it is also latent there, ready to rise to our lips throughout the week.”[8]  When this confession is given corporately, the absolution of sins is immediately pronounced by the pastor.  This sticks with us too, and it forms us in the week to live in a state of daily repentance, contrition for sins and turning to Christ for the forgiveness of those sins.  The corporate ritual of confession/absolution should also drive us to be a people who forgive those who sin against us.  In our individual ritual performances, Monday thru Saturday, this corporate performance works to form us into people who have the Gospel upon our lips in proclamation to our neighbor, in the humble position of one beggar in need of God’s grace to another.

The purpose of this liturgy, the performance of the Christian faith, both corporately at gathered services on Sunday mornings, as well as individually throughout the week, is to both create and sustain the Christian faith that is being performed.  In short, faith in Christ is central to everything the Christian does in Christian liturgy.  Earlier it was stated that Rappaport’s definition of rituals implies that the Church’s rituals have been given to us and we perform them, but yet the rituals of the Church are not encoded by the one’s performing them.  This gives the implication that these rituals are doing us; we’re not doing them.  A similar interexchange can be spoken of with faith.  Faith is not something that Christians create, or encode in themselves.  Faith is given to Christians, but yet Christians in response to the gift of faith hardwired into them perform that faith when gathered together in worship on Sundays.  The faith is always present in the Christian and is not dormant the rest of the week either; faith is performed daily in the life of the Christian.  The Christian worships God every day in performances of faith, which are a demonstration of the faith within the believer.  Such performances are ever as much an act of worship as what occurs in a church service on Sunday.  Thomas Winger details this dual-role of liturgy to both create and sustain faith as the “rhythm of worship”:

“God generates and nurtures faith with his Word-and-Sacrament giving, enlivening      faith so that it rises up to meet the Giver with its thanks and praise, and overflows the gifts towards the neighbor.  Faith is worship because worship is reception. This means that true worship occurs whenever God’s gifts are received according to Christ’s mandate and institution.”[9]

Recognizing that all of the Christian life is one of faith being expressed through the performance of rituals, it is best for members of the LC-MS, in particular pastors in their positions of teaching office in the churches, to not refer to the order of Sunday services as being either liturgical or not-liturgical.  To make such a dichotomy is to not recognize that all of the Christian life is liturgy, a performance of the faith.  A church service that does not adhere to the order of the Divine Service is still a liturgy!  It is best for the LC-MS to discern better performances of the faith from worser performances of the faith, and to be humble enough to admit that in particular contexts an order of worship that does not contain any, or most of the specific words and order of the Divine Service, could be a better performance of the faith than a service that adheres to every single jot and tittle of the Divine Service order.  This is why better and worse performances of the faith need to take into account the context of the community of believers and the role of inculturation in the performance of the faith in each particular church setting.  This is a discussion that warrants more words than what fits into the limitations of this essay, and which might distract from the main goal of this paper’s thesis to create a harmony between “the who of the Church” (individual priests with liturgies throughout the week) and “the where of the Church” (corporate gatherings where the Gospel is rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly distributed).

In closing, to drive home the point of this essay, liturgy is not just a Sunday order of ritualistic repetition.  We don’t lock God up in his golden cage in the sanctuary of our church buildings to take him out and wind him up each Sunday morning.[10] We don’t leave our faith at the doorsteps of the church building when we exit on Sunday morning to race off to eat lunch and/or watch sports.  It is time that our use of the words, liturgy, worship, and rituals, accurately represent our performance of the faith the whole-week long.

[1] Jim Marriot, “Liturgy and Discipleship: How the World is Done,” Self-published (n.d.): 3.

[2] Mark Searle, “Ritual,” in The Study of Liturgy: Revised Edition, eds. Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, Edward Yarnold SJ, and Paul Bradshaw (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 54.

[3] Searle, “Ritual,” in The Study of Liturgy, 54.

[4] Searle, “Ritual,” in The Study of Liturgy, 55.

[5] James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016), 65.

[6] Smith, You Are What You Love, 65.

[7] Smith, You Are What You Love, 65.

[8] Smith, You Are What You Love, 109-110.

[9] Thomas Winger, “Theology of Worship” (unpublished essay for the Lutheran Service Book, Desk Edition), 3.

[10] Jethro Tull, “My God” and “Wind-up,” tracks 1 and 5 of side B on Aqualung, Reprise Records, 1971, vinyl.

All Things Shining is a Wicked Book Indeed

Dreyfus and Kelly (D&K) connect their book, All Things Shining, with Melville’s book, Moby Dick.  Right underneath the title on the cover is a little image of a whale and Moby Dick is referenced throughout the book and they devote a full chapter to Melville’s whale tale right before the concluding chapter.  In All Things Shining, D&K lament that today’s secular age is remise of sacredness – missing all the shining things of a sacred world.  Their claim is that the lives of Homer’s Greeks and the Christians of Dante’s time lived lives rife with meaning in a bright and shining world – unlike our world today, which is an abyss of dark nothingness (nihilism).  Melville has shown D&K the way back into the bright lights of yore through Moby Dick, the book that Melville recognized to be a “wicked book,” but one that left him feeling as spotless as a lamb after having written it.  (143)[1] The “evil art” of Melville is rather obscure in his writing, and he might not have even consciously known what the wickedness was that he had written, and even D&K who seem to know exactly what the hidden evil of Moby Dick is struggle to clearly name it as they sift the lives and motives of the characters on the “hunt for the mighty sperm whale.”[2]  The way forward as discovered by Ishmael in Moby Dick is to find your own polytheistic truths and live in them in joy and in sorrow. (188)  Though D&K try to hide their malevolence in lengthy, rambling, quote-filled chapters, they directly call for an all-embracing dive into an old-school life of polytheism within our modern, technologically driven age.  They give this invitation void of any moral compass besides one’s own passions and subjective standard of morality.  I sense that what D&K have written is far more wicked than what Melville wrote because they directly call us to surrender ourselves to the gods – to be carried away (whooshed up) by them to wherever they want to carry us before the drop that will inevitably come as the sacred wave crashes. (220)

Mastodon Leviathan Album 2
This image reveals more of the complete picture of Mastodon’s Leviathan album that is a concept-album based on Melville’s Moby Dick

 

This “whooshing up,” D&K say, is when “[t]he most important things, the most real things in Homer’s world, well up and take us over, hold us for a while, and then finally, let us go” (200).  The name for this in Homeric times was the word physis which “was the name for the way the most real things in the world present themselves to us” (200).  D&K consider this whooshing up to be the sacred breaking into our world and shining for all to see and they explain that “[w]hen something whooshes up it focuses and organizes everything around it…” so that “everyone understands who they are and what they are to do immediately in relation to the sacred event that is occurring” (201).  Of course, the best that they can come up with as an example in our modern age is sporting events, when some player does something unimaginable during play… I guess I’ve just never been whooshed up when watching others play sports.  I have had such wooshing experiences at live rock shows in small clubs (when a crowd wide mosh pit erupts in unison or everyone’s face melts at a guitar solo that must be from the rock gods on high – though I’ve never had this moment at an arena or large festival show though – only small, shoulder to shoulder club shows, so I can kind of get what D&K are talking about in terms of responding in a way without thought to the physis overtaking the bystanders).

D&K’s focus seems to be on the wooshing that takes over a group of people as one individual in their midst is wooshed up by the gods.  They do not entertain the individual being struck by the sacred in a moment of isolation in nature (maybe floating in the middle of lake under the star lit sky) or while reading a book or watching a movie alone or laying on the floor listening to an album start to finish with headphones on and eyes closed – these are the times that I am overcome the most by a force outside myself that I could recognize to be sacred.  I don’t quite understand why their focus is on all things shining in crowds – apart from sports giving people a communal meaning their main wooshing up example was Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech on the National Mall.

This group response is where their evil really lies… because they have no absolute and objective standard of morality in their polytheistic endeavor.  D&K admit that there can be madness in the crowds, but they say we must be courageous and leap in to experience this polytheistic path. (220)  They understand that things can get turnt[3] “in new and more shining and meaningful ways” or maybe… “Sometimes, by contrast, one dances with the devil” (220).  Because we’re just getting wooshed up (overtaken by a force of the gods) in their paradigm of finding meaning, they explain that it is “[o]nly by having been taken over by the fanatical leader’s totalizing rhetoric, and [after having] experienced the dangerous and devastating consequences it has, does one learn to discriminate between leaders worth following and those upon whom one must turn one’s back” (220).

That final statement is brutally wicked.  Was Germany whooshed up by Hitler?  Um… Yeah.  But what if Germany had won the war?  Would Hitler then have been “the devil” when we know that the victor writes the history books?  Were many whooshed up into a violent frenzy during the multi-day LA Race Riots?  Um… Yeah.  Was the violence, arson, and looting justified?  Who gets to decide and why?  Were many whooshed up when they followed Jim Jones into his Kool-Aid suicide massacre?  Um… Yeah, and many realized they danced with the devil, but the doors were blocked by gunmen and it was too late to find a different partner to woosh them up into a new and shining dance.  Was Ishmael and the others whooshed up by Captain Ahab’s fanaticism to kill the beast?  Um… Yeah, but only Ishmael survived the whoosh!

The people who got whooshed in the examples I just provided were people who, according to D&K, hadn’t yet “acquired the skill” to let themselves “be overwhelmed” by the gods yet possess the “discrimination” to keep themselves from getting “drawn in by the rhetoric of the fanatical and dangerous demagogue” (221).   But remember, there is no way to “acquire this skill” until one has already “been taken over by the fanatical leader’s totalizing rhetoric, and experienced the dangerous and devastating consequence’s it has” (220).  An “evil art” indeed.

What D&K are selling is still essentially nihilism, which is what they are trying avoid, since they recognize nihilism fails to provide meaning in life.  They don’t et that their pitch is still nihilism.

By what standard is one to know if he is dancing with the devil or with the gods?  These whooshing forces were never all good in the Greek pantheon of the gods.  And since D&K aren’t really asking us to accept the Greek gods as being real, again I’ll ask the question but in a slightly different way, by what standard are we to judge what is good and what is evil?  The standard is one’s own opinion.  We can pick and choose what we follow..  In the end, this is still nihilism, a nihilism that has each man be his own god… because it’s truly each individual person who gets to say what whoosh is right and what whoosh is wrong, or if there is even a whoosh to be had at all.

What happens when there are two whooshing parties who come into direct contradiction with one another in terms of who they are and what they are to do and they each consider the other party to be whooshed by the devil?  Well here, we just landed back at what D&K want to avoid, sitting in the contemporary world with “no ground for choosing one course of action over any other” (15).   They offer that there are many gods that can whoosh us up and let us see the shiny good things as they really are, but we’re the final judges of what is shining or not.  Since we’re still the judges of what is right and wrong and what is sacred and shining in the D&K model of finding meaning in life, they’re still dealing the Nietzsche pill of being free to do what we whilt, which I prefer to label as Anton LaVey chose to name it – Satanism.  And in this label, we get the grandest understanding of how evil D&K’s book is – All Things Shining – because as Christians we know that Satan dances among us as an angel of light.  (2 Corinthians 11:14)

Satan deceives through telling lies, but his lies are tricky to recognize, because they’re steeped in truth.  In other words, his lies come to us in partial truths.  It is in this sense that I do try to approach all things as shining.  Every worldview and every culture and every religion and every zeitgeist has some elements of truth within them – I’m rather certain of this.  Christians would do good to point these truths out from time to time.  Since Christ’s claim is true that he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), then all truth is God’s truth, no matter where it is found.  Where truth is found, declare it, use it, put it in its full context of which it is fully and directly revealed from God in the Bible.  The Apostle Paul did this when he quoted the philosophers of the Athenians (Acts 17).  We can do this too, but we must realize that when we seek the shiny things in life in this manner, we must always cling to the truth of Christ so that we are not deceived into the lie that all is one, and one is all, and that all that glitters is gold.[4]

The nuggets of truth that I am referring to that permeate all of the world are reflections of the Creator within his Creation.  In the Christian account of everything the world is now fallen from its very good original state at creation, but that does not mean that all is now evil within it… there is much that is good and much to be enjoyed and praised and thankful for within God’s world.  Through man’s natural knowledge that there is a God, known from what he has created, from God’s law written on the hearts of all men, and from God’s love for all of his creation in which he showers both the righteous and the wicked with good gifts in this temporal realm, the sacred things of beauty and truth bubble up all around us.  It is in this sense that I highly appreciate D&K’s call for us all to develop the “skills for responding to the manifold senses of the sacred that still linger unappreciated at the margins of our disenchanted world” (222).  It is here in the margins that I have seen people tend to embrace and enjoy the full freedom of being who they want to be, being their own god creating their own little kingdoms, and with their creative juices unstifled by the restrictions and conformity of society they really do shine and stand out among the herd, and people are drawn to such whooshed up individuals and they find their identity and meaning in such communities.   From my Christian perspective, they are letting the image of God that they bare (as broken as it may be) shine as they show off their creative abilities and flair, as they reflect their Creator that they may not personally know in the slightest.

In this way, all things are shining for a time.  Apart from God, however, there is no light – only darkness.  And God’s patience is running out.

 

[1] All parenthetical numbers are references to the page numbers within All Things Shining by Dreyfus and Kelly that was published in 2011 by Free Press.

[2] A line I stole from the epic song, “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain.

[3] Slang for “get really wasted and have a ton of fun” according to Urban Dictionary, but I’ve heard it used by many in Gen Z to refer to something very akin to getting whooshed up in a communal sense (and it sounds so much more lit to get turnt than to get whooshed).

[4] “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin lyric reference.

“God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways” – An Application to Preaching

Isaiah 55:8-9

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For application to preaching a few thoughts come to mind:

  1. Prayer – Before I can preach on a text of Scripture, I must understand the meaning of the text and the implications of that meaning for us. And too often I might have a different understanding of the text because my thoughts and my ways are not the Lord’s thoughts and ways.  I hope it is obvious that this prayer is not to say I don’t need to do any of the difficult work of exegetical study (an example of an exegetical study); it’s not because I pray God will download the meaning of the text right into my brain.  Instead, the prayer ultimately puts me in the right state of relationship towards God which should put me in the right mindset to appropriately approach the text.  It’s God’ Word I’m reading and it is God’s Word that I am going to preach – I can’t just be flippant about the process and I must make sure my reason and experiences are subject to God’s thoughts and ways.
  2. Quit apologizing for God or avoiding what God says all together.[1]We live in a very politically correct culture, where we don’t want to offend anyone or hurt anyone and we kind of just want to agree to disagree and we usually do that by simply not saying anything that we perceive would bring about disagreement.  It’s becoming more and more common to not mention sin and hell in our sermons – how much of that is us trying to appease people or tone down God’s words?  How much of it is us putting our ways and thoughts above God’s.  I need to not be afraid in my preaching to say God’s ways and God’s thoughts are what is right and what is wrong.
  3. Preach the stupid things of Scripture… and by that I mean preach the things that are revealed in Scripture that are antithetical to the thoughts and ways of the world that are antithetical to what I would reason to be true, right, and good. For example, Scripture teaches things like: “Living is dying and dying is living (Mark 8:35, John 12:24, 1 Corinthians 15:36,” “Save your life and you will lose it; lost your life and you will save it (Matthew 10:39),” “The best self-love is to not be self-centered (Matthew 6:33, Mark 12:29-31),” “The way up is down; exaltation requires humility (Ezekiel 21:26, Luke 14:8-9, 1 Peter 5:6),” “The way down is up; self-promotion leads to humiliation (Ezekiel 21:26, Matthew 23:12), “Please God and you will have pleasures forever more (Psalms 16:11, Matthew 6:33),” and “Please yourself and you will never be satisfied (Proverbs 27:20 and 30:15, Ecclesiastes 5:10).”[2] These statements of Scripture seem completely wrong to our thoughts and our ways, but because they are from God they are right… so in preaching such teachings from God, I really need to remember that even though it might sound stupid, it’s not, it’s the wisest thing there is in this world – the problem is that I’m just stupid.  So proclaim these revelations from God with boldness even if people might look at me and think I’m dumb.

[1] Much of this paragraph I drew from a Christian Post article that recounted Francis Chan’s application of these two Isaiah verses: https://www.christianpost.com/news/francis-chan-church-must-stop-apologizing-for-what-god-says-is-right-and-wrong-in-politically-correct-culture.html

[2] This is an abbreviated list of paradoxical tensions from Scripture that I pulled from Cris Putnam’s book, The Supernatural Worldview. 


Please visit my other site Contradict Movement to find other resources I’ve produced and to shop my online store that has stickers, shirts, books, and tracts to promote evangelistic conversations. 

Reaction to Neuhaus’ Catholic Matters

Catholic Matters

 

This blog post is a reaction to Richard John Neuhaus’ book, Catholic Matters.  Neuhaus was a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod pastor who received ordination through his studies at Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis.  He then left the LC-MS to join the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.  Finally, he went to Rome and became a Roman Catholic priest.  This post is not a review.  It’s just a reaction.

 

 

 

 

Church-Hopping

Neuhaus points out that church-hopping, even switching between denominations, is common place and expected among most American Protestants today.  This occurs because people are looking for their needs, more aptly their preferences to be met, and the desire for these preferences to be met are placed above what is true in accordance to God’s norming word.  I visited at least ten or more congregations of various stripes while in high school for mid-week services outside of Lent and Advent and I distinctively recognized teachings and rituals that were not just issues of preference; I heard things that if I thought were true, I’d have to leave my Lutheran congregation.  My church-visiting occurred in the late 90s, close to when Neuhaus wrote Catholic Matters, so I imagine I must have been more of an anomaly of a church-hopping visitor at that time.

Neuhaus also points out that such church-hopping preferential judgment is not just relegated to denominational affiliation, but that in each and every denomination, American individualism has made inroads into turning religious allegiance into spiritual preference.  Doctrine is treated as an ala carte cafeteria menu that allows each individual congregation or believer to pick and choose which teachings they’ll confess, teach, and live.  In my experience in the LC-MS, I have seen such treatment of doctrine.  One of the primary ways I’ve seen this is what we spoke about in class through the Sasse reading, in which congregations of the LC-MS are no longer reading and using the Book of Concord, and thus they are also not ensuring that our confessions are a true exposition of Scripture.  This jettison of the Book of Concord in congregational life is so common that many, if not most, LC-MS members are not even aware that the Book of Concord is our church body’s confessions, which also indicates that they are almost certainly unaware of what it is that our church body actually confesses and expects of our pastors and teachers.

My take away from these Neuhaus observations is that when I am a pastor, I should emphasize the “why does this matter” element to each “what does this mean” catechetical moment to ensure that there is no room for doctrinal truths to be thought of as simply a preference of opinion.  I also must ensure that all the teachings from our confessions are demonstrated to be from Scripture, which would also mean actually using the confessions to teach the flock and not just using snippets of the Small Catechism.

History of the term Evangelical in America

I loved the brief but extensive history lesson on the emergence of “evangelicalism” in America that Neuhaus provides in the first chapter.  I will likely reference this section again in the future, or better yet, outline the main points and save a file of it that I can quickly access.  I personally want to identify as an evangelical, because we truly are those who share good news.  Lutherans are by etymological standards the legitimate evangelicals.  I have also heard that Luther didn’t want his followers to be known as Lutherans but wanted his followers to be called evangelicals.  I never quite understood why LC-MS Lutherans avoid wanting to make the evangelical label their own today, or why we aren’t typically lumped into that group in some capacity by others, but knowing the history as presented by Neuhaus has helped me understand why we are not lumped into the evangelical squad and why we don’t want to mix-it up in that camp.

Shocked by the Charity

Neuhaus spent much time on stressing that all Christians are Roman Catholics.  He says we’re just not in full communion – yet.  I had never heard such charity extended to myself from someone who is in full communion with Rome.  I was always under the impression that I was outside of the Church by not being Roman Catholic.  This was charity that I was shocked to receive.  It’s also a level of charity that I do not so easily extend to others, and if I do extend it, it is probably prefaced with a few asterisk marks.

I struggle to recognize unity with Rome, even unity with other Protestants.  I do not consider everyone to be Lutheran who confesses “Jesus is Lord.”  Neuhaus said that in his youth, “the Protestant-Catholic difference was hardly experienced as a matter of life-or-death urgency.”  From my youth, these sorts of distinctions were life and death; I got the very real sense that my family left the Church by having left Rome, and I realized pretty early on that because I didn’t have a date in which I gave my life to Christ and because I was baptized as a baby, I was on the skids and about as bad off as a Roman Catholic among the many Baptist breeds inhabiting “good ole Rocky Top, TN.”

When I first announced almost two decades ago that I was working towards ordination in the Lutheran Church, I was approached by someone in great seriousness to understand why “Lutheran.”  It wasn’t spoken, but it seemed to me as if the transgression of being outside of Rome had been excused of me as a child, but now that I was actually seeking to be a pastor in the LC-MS and was an adult, it was time for me to be held to task for not being in the true fold of God.  Our conversation led me to see that by the confession of the member of Rome that he had no certainty of salvation, that his salvation was not won for him by Christ alone, but that he was very much active in his right-standing before God through attendance of mass every week, through meeting the annual obligatory confessions, and by doing good the best he could.  I know of Roman Catholics who can only hope (with much uncertainty) that they are saved, who when facing death are assured through Last Rites and being reminded that they have met x, y, and z obligations.  After death, monetary collections for a mass for the departed will be collected (the mass in which the Roman Catholic Church will pray for their souls).  Doctrine matters.  Truth matters.  It’s all life or death.

I have many examples of friends, co-workers, and family members who are not Roman Catholic, but are of various Protestant stripes who have been robbed of the certainty and assurance of salvation that Christ has won for them through their churches’ weakening of the Law or their mingling of Law and Gospel.  Doctrine matters.  Truth matters.  It’s all life or death. As such, I cannot so easily extend the charity that Neuhaus did to me by saying that he’s Lutheran, just not in full communion yet.  Of course, he didn’t say what it means for my salvation because I am not in full communion with Rome, so maybe it wasn’t that much charity being extended to me.  He seemed to act as if it was just all hakuna matata and that everything was going to be OK because I was Roman Catholic (by his labeling of course).  Based on Romans 4:4-5, I can’t just simply say those who are in Rome and under the authority of the pope, who is in the office of the Antichrist by the way according to the Lutheran confessions, have no worries in their right-standing before God in which they are by the doctrine of Rome very much active and not righty passive in their justification.

I certainly saw the helpfulness of his language however on this subject in describing my relationship with other Christians who I am not in full-communion at this time.  I’d still have to work out how exactly to use such language, but it was most certainly helpful to think upon.

Big T Tradition vs. Little t tradition

I thought his use of tradition vs. Tradition to be a tad disingenuous, since he used both tradition and Tradition in the text with no clear distinction or explanation between the two. When he first introduced this concept, he was pointing out that Protestants rejected Catholicism’s “two source” theory of revealed truth – the Bible and tradition” (page 71).  I’m not sure why he calls it a theory, since it is clearly a doctrine of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and not just a theory, but we certainly do reject that teaching of Rome.  Here he used tradition and not Tradition.  I find that to be very misleading because he immediately refers to a 2002 statement made by Evangelicals and Catholics Together that says:

Together we affirm that Scripture is the divinely inspired and uniquely authoritative written revelation of God; as such it is normative for teaching and life of the Church.  We also affirm that tradition, rightly understood as the proper reflection of biblical teaching, is the faithful transmission of the truth of the gospel from generation to generation through the power of the Holy Spirit.  As Evangelicals and Catholics fully committed to our respective heritages, we affirm together the coinherence of Scripture and tradition: Tradition is not a second source of revelation alongside the Bible but must ever be corrected and informed by it, and Scripture itself is not understood in a vacuum apart from the historical existence and life of the community of faith.  (page 72)

In this quote, tradition must be normed by the Scriptures and it is not a source of revelation itself, so lower case tradition was being used (except he also capitalized it), but Rome’s “two-source theory of revelation” uses upper case Tradition.  Rome’s Sacred Tradition is part of God’s Word.  Rome teaches that Scripture and Tradition together make up a sum deposit of God’s Word.[1] Neuhaus very soon after the Evangelicals and Catholics Together quote says that when he became a Catholic priest he had to profess: “With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed” (page 75).  The fact that he seems to interchange between tradition and Tradition with no clear recognition of what he is doing for the reader, while also trying to make me think that I should be accepting of Rome because their tradition (little t) is normed by Scripture, while not admitting and making it clear that their Tradition (big T) must be held in equal sentiment and devotion to Scripture, while also not letting me know that large and important parts of their Tradition (big T) are not even mentioned in Scripture to in any way possibly be normed by Scripture, leads me to distrust Neuhaus.  I am left to think he’s just trying to trick me and suck me into all the “more” stuff that Rome has to offer (and the fact that many times a sentence would start with the word tradition so as I couldn’t even easily discern if he was speaking of tradition or Tradition made it all the more less likely that he was going to win me over into full communion with Rome).

We Got More; Don’t You Want More?

Neuhaus never clearly explained why he jumped ship from the LC-MS to the ELCA to Rome.  The best I got was that, “It seemed that, of all the good things we had, they had more.”  And since he knew the good things that we do have all came from Rome, he thought, “Why not just join Rome?”  It seems to me that Neuhaus has succumbed to the American individualism that he’s railing against by his full-communion with Rome.  He chose the spiritual preference of the Roman Catholic Church’s “more” over religious affiliation; it’s just that his preference had him bail out of Protestantism altogether into the open arms of mother Rome, instead of flopping around like a fish within Protestantism from Episcopalian to Pentecostalism, or what have you.  At least he didn’t go to the Hotel California with Anton LaVey, because there is no extension of charity to the Church of Satan that definitely lies outside of the one, holy, catholic Church.


[1]  Taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 2, Lines 80-82 emphasis added).  “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.” Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age.” “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” “And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.” As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”


Consider reading my book Contradict – They Can’t All Be True and writing a reaction or review to it. 

The Kings of Isaiah

Isaiah 1:1 places Isaiah within history: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.”  Uzziah reigned from 792-740 BC; Jotham reigned from 750-735 BC; Ahaz reigned from 735-715; Hezekiah reigned from 715-686.

King Uzziah

King Uzziah is also known as Azariah.  He reigned 52 Years, a very long time.  Isaiah 6:1 indicates that Isiah began his ministry in the year Uzziah died.  2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles 26 give an account of Uzziah’s reign.  Uzziah fortified Jerusalem (2 Chron. 26:9-10, 15) and he reorganized Judah’s army with 2,600 mighty men of valor who oversaw an army of 307,500 men (2 Chron. 26:12).  Uzziah experienced great prosperity during his long reign and was able to extend Judah, taking back land from the Philistines, while also extended Judah into the lands of the Arabians and the Meunites (2 Chron. 26:6-7).  He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 15:3 and 2 Chron. 26:4), but the high places remained and sacrifices were still offered at these locations dedicated to false gods.

Despite doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, Uzziah’s success led to pride that brought him great punishment from the Lord.  2 Chronicles 26:16-23 recounts that Uzziah took the place of the priests, burning incense in the House of the Lord.  And as a result, “The Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land” (2 Kings 15:5).

King Jotham

King Jotham reigned for 16 years.  2 Chronicles 27:2 summarizes his reign as follows: “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the Lord. But the people still followed corrupt practices.”  Two of his major accomplishments as king were fortifying the hillsides of Judah and beating the Ammonites, receiving a huge tribute from them.  (2 Chronicles 27:3-5) During his reign, northern Israel was taken by the Assyrians.

King Ahaz

2 Chronicles 28:1-2 tells us that King Ahaz “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel.” During his reign Aram led by King Rezin and Israel led by King Pekah partnered against Judah. (Isaiah 7:1-16) Isaiah told Ahaz to not be afraid of them.  Isaiah prophesied that their invasion would fail, that their lands would be taken down by the Assyrians. (Isaiah 7:3-9) Despite this prophesy of safety from his adversaries, Ahaz sought to partner with King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria for protection.  (2 Kings 16:7-9, Isaiah 7:13, 20) In an attempt to show his submission to Tiglath-Pileser, Ahaz instructed Uriah the priest set up an altar like the one he saw in Damascus.  He had the altar to the Lord brought out to sit alongside this altar pagan altar.  (2 Kings 16:10-18) During Ahaz’s reign, Assyria defeated Israel in 722 BC.

King Hezekiah

King Hezekiah was the last king of Isaiah’s time of prophetic ministry.  Hezekiah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done” (2 Kings 18:3).  During Hezekiah’s reign, King Sennacherib of Assyria threatened Jerusalem.  (Isaiah 36:1-22) Against this threat, Isiah Prophesies that Judah will be delivered.  (Isaiah 37:6-7) Even though this prophesy is given with the assurance of protection for Jerusalem, Hezekiah still prays in response for deliverance.  (Isaiah 37:14-20) The angel of the Lord fulfills Isaiah’s prophesy and answers Hezekiah’s prayers by utterly wrecking the Assyrians, striking dead 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians while the slept.  (Isiah 37:6) Sennacherib was later cut down by the sword by his sons while he was worshipping his god, Nisroch.  (Isiah 37:7-8)

As noted in the opening of this paper, many have noted that the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are predominantly law based, focusing on the wrath of God against a rebellious people, and that is the message of chapter 39.  Isaiah prophesies to Hezekiah that Judah will be taken by the Babylonians:

“Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (Isaiah 39:5-7)

Sticking to the concept that the last 27 chapters of Isaiah focus on God’s redemption of his rebellious people, chapter 40 opens up with the good news that God will restore Judah:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isiah 40:1-5)