Friday, September 11, 2015

Mark's thoughts: Lutherans aren't supposed to talk this way

Lutheran preaching since World War II – modern Lutheran preaching – is so formulaic; so predictable.  It doesn’t matter what the text says. The text is really just a pretext to say what modern Lutheranism says: “You can’t do the Law.  You are a sinner. You are forgiven because of Jesus.”  And that’s it.  As I have described recently in What is softantinomianism? and An example of soft antinomianism, this is what passes for “Lutheran” preaching today.

It is therefore helpful to listen to the way Luther speaks in sermons, because he speaks in ways that no Lutheran is “supposed” to speak.  Luther speaks this way, because Scripture speaks this way.  We need to reclaim this dynamic understanding of what the Gospel does and means for Christian life.

From Martin Luther’s Church Postil for Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, Mt 6:24-34.

But the Gospel is doctrine that is to be a living power and put into practice; it should strengthen and comfort the people and make us courageous and aggressive. Therefore they who only hear the Gospel thus, so that they know and can speak about it, are not to be classed among Christians; but those who believe and do as the Gospel teaches are righteous.

It requires an effort to hear the Gospel and to live according to it. God be praised, we have the Gospel; that no one can deny, but what do we do with it? We are concerned only about learning and knowing it, and nothing more; we think it is enough to know it, and do not care whether we ever live according to it.

Here you see how’ we are nevertheless to be anxious. Answer: Our life and a Christian character consist of two parts, of faith and of love. The first points us to God, the other to our neighbor. The first, namely faith, is not visible, God alone sees that; the other is visible, and is love, that we are to manifest to our neighbor. Now the anxiety that springs from love is commanded, but that which accompanies faith is forbidden. If I believe that I have a God, then I cannot be anxious about my welfare; for if I know that God cares for me as a father for his child, why should I fear? Why need I to be anxious, I simply say: Art thou my Father, then I know that no evil will befall me, as Psalm 16:8 says: “I have set Jehovah always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” Thus he has all things in his hand; therefore I shall want nothing, he will care for me. If I rush ahead and try to care for myself, that is always contrary to faith; therefore God forbids this kind of anxiety. But it is his pleasure to maintain the anxious care of love, that we may help others, and share our possessions and gifts with them. Am I a ruler, I am to care for my subjects; am I a housefather, I must take care of the members of my family, and so forth, according as each one has received his gifts from God. God cares for all, and his is the care that pertains to faith. We are also to be interested in one another and this is the care of love, namely, when something is given to me, that I be diligent so that others may also receive it.


  1. True sanctification is the result of your justification before God earned by the atonement of Christ, by grace through faith. Holy living means for the believer to live your faith into which you were chosen by the Holy Spirit through Holy Baptism. "Modern Lutherans" tend to set aside the "holy living" part, or, at least suffer from a weak faith. Unfortunately, many "Lutherans" in modern times see sanctification only in terms of being baptized, confirmed, married, and buried by the church, with many empty spaces between each one of these.

  2. Lutheran preaching is hardly formulaic and predictable, not since WW II, nor at any other time in history. There are antinomians, pietists, and a fair number of good, solid, confessional preachers who work hard to properly distinguish law and gospel as Walther tried to teach us. There are some who preach like an antinomian one week, like a pietist on the next, and once in a while actually get it right. There are those who, in an attempt to combat one kind of bad preaching, over emphasize the opposing view to the point of falling off the horse on the other side. But overgeneralizations like the one above are not the solution, they are part of the problem. The more you speak against "soft-antinomianism", the more you sound like a "soft-pietist." And by naming names and putting people into camps, you are acting in the place of the law, making distinctions, causing divisions, and playing right into the devil's hands. He rejoices when those who love the Gospel hurl stones at each other for not preaching it correctly. There may have been a right way to approach this subject, but if there was, I have yet to see you do it. Drop the overgeneralizations and name calling and try adopting the tactic of the Formula of Concord. Address both extremes, refuse to name names, site examples of things said that went too far, and show the golden median of true Gospel preaching.

    1. I submit that the division already exists. Calling attention to it did not create it. Sadly, as the first comment indicates, there are others who fully recognize what I have described. It is in fact a rather accurate description of much of what Lutherans today consider to be the way the preaching task is to be approached.