Friday, December 21, 2012

FW: I just knew you Lutherans were formalists. . .



Feed: Pastoral Meanderings
Posted on: Friday, December 21, 2012 5:00 AM
Author: (Pastor Peters)
Subject: I just knew you Lutherans were formalists. . .


While a Lutheran Pastor serving in, say, Nebraska might not be accused of the sin of formalism, it is a pretty common complaint labelled upon Lutherans in the South (known variously as either a Mormon-like sect that worships its founder or Catholic lite -- without half the odor or calories).  I cannot tell you how many times I have addressed this in my 20 years in the South.  I cannot tell you how many times a mixed religion marriage has left the Baptist to inquire about whom we worship.  My favorite is when the non-Lutheran spouse of a Lutheran soldier watched the accoutrements of liturgical worship being cleaned up after the benediction.  It was finally the opportune moment and so she put it to work and accused like a Baptist tract.  "I always knew Lutherans were formalist!"

"And indeed we are!  We worship the forms as God" I said.  "But for us Lutherans, the forms are God."  I proceeded to explain the means of grace and that while for the Baptist Christ is one place and His Word another, Christ is the Word, His its voice speaking, and His power at work in it and through it.  While as a Baptist you might have baptism here and Christ there, for us Lutherans Christ is in baptism -- the arms of Christ embracing us, the death and resurrection of Christ enveloping us, and the gifts of Christ bestowed upon us.  While as a Baptist you have bread and wine (grape juice) here and Christ there, for us Lutherans Christ is in the bread so that it is His body eaten and in the wine so that it is His blood we drink.  "Where is the Christ you worship? I asked.  She was speechless so I answered her.  "Christ is in the heart and feelings or out there somewhere in the air we breathe or up there somewhere in heaven.  You Baptists have never had Christmas because Christmas is Christ the Emmanuel, the God with us, in Word, water, bread and wine.  You Baptists worship an absent Christ who is present only in nebulous ways in feelings and thoughts while we Lutherans worship the Christ is located where He has placed Himself -- in the Word and Sacraments, the means of grace.  The only problem you have is that Scripture agrees with us and it does not agree with you!"

You are darn right we Lutherans are formalists -- we worship the form as if it were God because it is God -- God with us, God for us, and God among us!  That is the genius of the Lutheran confession -- the means of grace are all over what we believe and all over what we confess and all over what we teach.  Instead of apologizing for this or running from the accusation, we should claim and turn it back on the evangelicals and Protestants who have merely an absent Christ or one who is but generically present as in the air and all things.  Rome may have a similar understanding but the Christ who is with us has become for Rome the Christ whom we must still appease with our own repentance and works in the sacrament of penance or the Christ whom we offer to the Father anew as our "get out of jail free" card.  Rome has lost the benefit of Christ's presence in the means of grace by focusing more attention upon Christ's Vicar of the Vatican or the infallible Tradition (capital T) or the Mass more sacrifice than sacrament.  I say this not out of pride but out of regret for the Reformation still incomplete among our Roman cousins.

Our problem as Lutherans is not that we are too Lutheran.  Our problem is that we are not Lutheran enough!  We are so fearful of accusation that we have become embarrassed of our confession and apologetic of our faith in the means of grace to do what they promise.  We are not Catholic light but evangelical and catholic full strength!  It is this vibrant sense of Christ's presence and our confidence in what that presence brings to us that gives us our identity and makes the Reformation worth while.  Instead of disowning this we need to flaunt it for in flaunting it we confess Christ faithfully. (As often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes...")

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