Mark's thoughts: Lutheran beliefs in the years to come?
A 2018 survey of evangelicals by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay research found that 97% of respondents indicated
agreement with this statement: “There is one true God in three persons: God the
Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” However, it found that 78% indicated they agreed with this statement as well: “Jesus is the first and greatest
being created by God.” In addition,
59% agreed with the statement: “The Holy Spirit is a force but not a personal
being” (16% were unsure, and only 25% disagreed).
Survey results always invite questions about
methodology, and the results can only be seen as one indicator of the
situation. Yet once this caveat has been expressed, it is shocking to see evidence
for commonly held opinions that directly contradict the orthodox Christian
faith as confessed in the Nicene Creed.
Faith in Jesus Christ saves, but there are very serious problems if the
Jesus of that faith is in fact an Arian one.
It fair to say that non-denominational evangelical
churches place a relatively low emphasis on the doctrinal content of the faith,
and a high emphasis on the personal meaning and value for the individual. The description
provided by one very popular evangelical church in my area summarizes well what
most are attempting to provide: “Our
worship services are truly energetic and are primarily made up of engaging
worship music and dynamic teaching. God’s Word is presented in a way that
applies directly to your life.” This is
a “lowest common denominator” Christianity that seeks to be “practical.” Catechesis that teaches the individual about
the confession of the church in order to join the congregation is not part of
this model. The true engine of
evangelical churches, the small group ministry, does not emphasize doctrinal
content because it too seeks be practical for life and is led most often by
laity who have little theological training.
Evangelical churches of this kind are living
off of the theological capital of earlier Christians. The intent of their leaders is to be orthodox
Christians. Yet their very character as
non-denominational churches works against the preservation of this
orthodoxy. By rejecting creeds and
liturgy they have cast the worship of their people into a vacuum that is filled
only with emotionally charged “worship experiences” and practical teaching.
There is little to guide and form belief about the Trinity and the person of
Christ, and at the same time this is not a focus in other areas of church life.
The contrast is marked when one considers
just two pieces found in the liturgy. The
Introit contains the Gloria Patri: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and
to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Amen.” Explicitly anti-Arian in
phrasing, through weekly repetition it drives home the point: God has always
been this way. There can be no consideration
of “there was when He was not.”
Likewise the Nicene Creed confesses in
unmistakable terms the orthodox faith. A
Christian who says every Sunday that he or she believes in one Lord Jesus
Christ who was “begotten, not made” is going to find it very hard to agree with
the statement that, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.”
I make these observations not in relation to
evangelicalism. After all, they are
being what they claim to be (even if it is perilous for the long term spiritual
health of their congregations). Instead,
I direct them at Lutheran churches who are seeking to imitate them. The trend
is very clear. Lutheran churches seek to
minimize catechesis because this seems like a barrier to people joining the
congregation. Catechesis in little more
than a Saturday is not unheard of today.
Worship is the evangelical model: an energetic experience of “engaging
worship music and dynamic teaching.”
Creeds may not be eliminated, but in the bulletins that members bring
back I have noticed a trend toward the use of the Apostles’ Creed. I suspect that this is because it is shorter
and seems more accessible to outsiders. Yet the language of the Apostles’ Creed
was unable to fend off Arianism, and the Nicene Creed was created because it
was necessary for the Church in order to do so.
If you want to know what a church really believes, don’t look at their
confessions and doctrinal books. Instead,
look at how they worship. This is what will be forming the belief of the
people who gather week in and week out.
The trends that affect the spiritual health of a church cannot be
evaluated in years or decades. Instead
they must be considered over centuries. Yet our moment in time is not
unimportant in this evaluation. The
biblical understanding of tradition is that each generation passes on to the
next what they have received (1 Corinthians 15:3). Each generation has a responsibility to see
that the same faith is passed on to the next.
The creeds and liturgy have always been the key tool in doing this for
the laity of the Church. Decisions made
to abandon these or adjust their use will ripple on in unexpected ways. Trends in some Lutheran churches today offer the
potential that one hundred years from now members may in an unreflective way
agree with this statement: “Jesus is the first and greatest being created
Post a Comment