Protecting Our Lutheran Heritage, part 2

This is a continuation of a yesterday’s post, written by my husband, about the importance of clinging to and teaching correct Lutheran doctrine.

If we seek to be a Biblical and confessional church, error must not be allowed to get even a foothold.  This is especially true in a congregational polity such as we have in the AFLC where these battles will be fought, not in synods or districts, but in local congregations.  That means that pastors and other church leaders must have a firm grounding in Scripture and in why the Lutheran church has the purest expression of the Gospel as found especially in the Augsburg Confession and the Large and Small Catechisms.

Krauth fought vigorously against the concerted attempts to water down Lutheranism in America by focusing attention on catechesis in the church.  In other words, teaching what Luther and the generations following have always taught about such things as baptism, the Lord’s supper, and salvation.  We should vigorously teach correct doctrine, not just because it is Lutheran, but because Lutheran doctrine is Biblical doctrine.

I’ll close with another Krauth quotation, one which sums this up better than I can.  “No particular church has on its own showing, a right to existence, except as it believes itself to be the most perfect form of Christianity, the form, which of right should and will be universal.  No church has a right to a part, which does not claim that it should belong to the whole.”

For more about Lutheran doctrine see these posts:

Charles Porterfield Krauth on the Importance of Doctrine

Lutherans Explain the Trinity

A Reformation Reading List

Part 4–Our Theology

We have come to the last thing Pastor Huglen would have us consider — theology. I’m sure many people think theology isn’t about them and their faith lives. If this is what you believe, I want to say you are wrong. As the late R. C. Sproul noted some years ago, everyone is a theologian–even non-believers. Because what is theology if it is not the study of God and His ways and will. Even if you want to exclude atheists from theology, you can’t exclude yourself for you do indeed study God every time you open a Bible, listen to a sermon, sing a hymn, or even idly think about your Maker, Redeemer and Comforter.

Theology in American Christian circles is in crisis right at this moment. Poor reasoning, doubting the faithfulness of Scriptures, a desire to make the world “like” us, the terrible teaching in our seminaries–all of these things and much more are shredding the theology that is taught and preached in our churches. The Word of God is treated as a suggestion rather than a commandment. The atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross is referred to as divine child abuse. Catechesis, the teaching of doctrine, is often replaced by whatever a particular pastor thinks would be fun and engaging. There are Lutheran seminaries where the students are told not to preach the Law, but only the Gospel, thereby stripping the Gospel of what it is — good news for sinners. One writer referred to what is going on in many evangelical churches as moralistic, therapeutic deism. And I could go on for a long time in this way.

But the founders of the AFLC dedicated themselves to the pure preaching of the Gospel and the proper teaching of Lutheran theology. And it has held up now for almost sixty years.

There is something else that should be a warning to our Association and our congregation as well. Studies have shown that after about fifty years there is a tendency to forget or water down things that motivated the founders of a Church body, including a congregation. Every generation has to have their faith and their focus on the important things that were the roots from which the church grew. There are all sorts of things that are habit or tradition which should be evaluated and possibly changed, but we must not lose focus on those things which are from God and are meant to be permanent.

One of the verses used frequently in our AFLC is from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth and to us:

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

If we grieve the Spirit by ignoring or trying the change the way of Christ from what has been handed down once for all, we will not longer be free, free as God wants His people to be.

For the rest of this series which is part of a sermon given by my husband at our church, St. Paul’s Free Lutheran Church of Leitersburg see:]

Part 1 — History of the AFLC(Association of Free Lutheran Churches)

Part 2–Our Polity

Part 3–Our Piety

Part 4–Our Theology

What is Pietism?

My husband, our Pastor, wrote this article for our most recent newsletter.  I think it is helpful in explaining this movement within the Lutheran Church which is often misunderstood.  Of course, he is writing from the perspective of our particular Lutheran denomination, the Association of Free Lutheran Churches (AFLC).  Some of our authors are from other Lutheran bodies and I am hoping will give us some historical perspectives on how they evolved.

The AFLC traces its beginnings in this country to a revival movement among Lutherans in the 1890’s.  But the beginnings of our theological basis are found in a Lutheran movement know as Pietism that began in the 17th century in Germany and spread through Scandinavia.

Pietism is first of all Lutheran, with a special emphasis on the work of Martin Luther.  It seeks to encourage all believers to be able to say with St. Paul that they have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer they who live, but Christ who lives in them (Gal. 2:20).

Pietism advanced among people who sought for their lives more than simple church attendance and agreement with a set of doctrines.  It is at its heart a desire to live in a way which reflects a deep felt desire to grow daily in sanctification.

One of the disciplines many pietists embraced in their desire for a more Christian life was participation in what were then called conventicles.  A conventicle was a meeting of Christians outside of the regular church services where they would study and pray together.  We no longer refer to these meetings as conventicles but, in American parlance, as small group ministries.

Those who opposed Pietism tried to charge these conventicles with luring people away from the church and leading them into the possibility of theological error.  Some oppose such groups today for similar reasons.

However, it has been shown over and over again that a congregation with an active conventicle/small group ministry will have a deeper spiritual life than one which focuses all its work on Sunday morning.

 

The Laity– Free and Living

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

I’ve spent my adult years in Lutheran denominations with a congregational polity – first the Missouri Synod, now the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Churches).  What does this mean?  Well, it means that the congregation, and therefore, the laity have a crucial role to play.  They own their church building; they call their pastor; higher church officials cannot dictate how they must organize or conduct the congregation’s business.

According to the AFLC:

“Each local congregation should be free and living, subject only to the Word and Spirit of God.”

The Association is not a Synod and does not have the authority to bind the conscience of the local congregation to particular positions. They do not assess local congregations in order to obtain funding. The purpose of the Association is to do the tasks together that cannot be done by one congregation alone:  send missionaries, publish Lutheran materials, support mission congregations, educate pastors, and so on.  For each purpose, separate corporations have been formed, and every corporation must have more lay members than pastors.

To be a member of the AFLC, the congregation simply agrees that they accept the Augsburg Confession, The Small Catechism and the inerrancy of Scripture.  When our congregation voted to join the Association, we had a visit from Pastor Bob Lee, who was then the President.  Many questions were raised, such as:

Can women be Elders?

Can we hire a youth leader who is not a Lutheran?

Can lay people take communion to shut-ins?

The answer to virtually every question was, “It’s up to you.”  This was a surprise to many.

Of course, with this freedom comes responsibility.  The laity must be well grounded in Scripture in order to make appropriate decisions.  They must prayerfully consider issues facing their congregation and be willing to make personal sacrifices when necessary.  A congregational mindset fosters the understanding that the congregation is not just something we join like a club; it is who we are as the people of God.

Sometimes we don’t question the way we’re organized or do things, but we should.  The framework we use affects our view of ourselves, the Church, and what it means to be a Christian.  It comes back to the question I raised in an earlier post.  Do you want to be an adult Christian, taking personal responsibility for growing in your knowledge of Christ and in service to others?  Are you part of the “priesthood of all believers” or just a consumer of Christian services?

I’m not saying other ways of organizing are wrong.  God can use all sorts of tools to grow His church; but being part of a congregational church body has worked for me.  It’s my framework and within it, I’ve learned to thrive.  Readers and authors, do you have a different experience/opinion?  I’d like to hear more.