Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
As We Pray, So We Believe - How Practice Changes Doctrine
“As we pray, so we believe” is one way of expressing the understanding that what we do informs and instructs how we believe so that when we change how we pray, we are changing what we believe. Another way of saying this more distinctly is that our doctrine, that is what we believe, teach and confess, should determine our practice, that is how we do what we do, whether what we are doing has to do with the way we evangelize, the way we teach, the way we live, and especially the way we act out our faith in Divine Service, or worship. Indeed, we practice our faith in worship in a way that flows out of what we believe, so that in worship we are instructed in what we believe. So these two things, doctrine and practice, or as sometimes stated and equated, style (practice) and substance (doctrine) cannot be separated but go together hand in hand. This understanding of doctrine and practice being inseparable can be seen in what has been happening in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod over the past thirty-five years as there was an attempt to separate these two entities with the belief that to change how one acts does not affect what one believes. The following is an example of how these two, doctrine and practice do go hand in hand.
The so called “Church Growth” movement of the early 1980s brought many ideas to the table concerning how to “grow” a church. All of the ideas however were ideas from a social or cultural understanding of how people act and respond to, shall we say, “persuasion.” In other words, as a famous movie says, “Build it and they will come,” the church growth strategy was “do this or change that and they will come.” Now, from a strictly social point of view of attracting people, many of the ideas were valid and true. Certainly people are prone to only fill 80% of a space before they feel uncomfortable, except we might suggest being at a concert or ball game of sorts. Certainly it is true that in order to fill a church building that ample parking is necessary. So, we concede that there are obvious (or not so obvious) secular, social, cultural norms that need to be acknowledged and provided.
But what about the very heart of the Church? What about what we believe, teach and confess? Are these things that we believe important, just as important, more important or less important than luring people into our facility? How is it that a person is brought to faith? How is it that a person is strengthened and kept in faith? Where is the power of the giving of faith? What is the means through which one comes into the church, is given faith, and made a member of the Holy Christian Church?
The Lutheran Church has always believed in the “solas”; Sola Fida (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Scritpura (Scripture alone) and these three “alones” have guide our faith lives, at least up until recent history. We believe, teach and confess, or at least according to our confessional documents and history, that we are conceived and born in sin, that our will is no longer free but has been tainted by sin, that we cannot come to Jesus nor claim faith in Him but that He must come to us, that He is the one who gives us faith, forgiveness and life, and that He does His work through means, namely the means of grace, that is through His Holy Word, through Holy Baptism, through Confession and Absolution and through His Holy Supper. Thus we believe that we are saved by grace through faith given to us through Scripture as the Holy Spirit works through these means to give us the gifts God has to give.
What we hear today are statements such as, “We have to get out of the way of God’s Word.” “We have to be conscious of the culture in which we are working.” “We have to make God’s Word fitting for the culture we are trying to reach.” These statements not only infer but outright state that we no longer believe that the Word of God is efficacious, but that it is ineffective, and so there is something we must do in order to help God out. Here again, we are not only implying but outright stating that the Holy Spirit is ineffective as well because even He cannot work through God’s Word. So we see that as we have changed something we believe as innocuous as our practice of how we present the Word of God, we have changed our belief concerning the power and effectiveness of that same Word.
So, today the three solas of the church have become the solas of “Sola Cultura,” “Sola Societas,” “Sola Civilis,” that is, culture alone, society alone, and civil alone. It would seem that today we believe, teach and confess that God gives His gifts through how we relate to the culture and society especially in a civil manner. It would seem that today we believe it is our efforts and how we exercise those efforts that are what are effective in giving faith to people.
So, in an attempt to grow the church, we have analyzed the culture, interviewed the society, and have civilized what we do so that we might attract people to be a part of our group. In the process we have given up the true identity of our group and that thing that makes us who we are, or who we were, so that we are no longer that to which we were attempting to draw others to in the first place. Now we are a different body of beliefs and believers practicing a different set of practices which conform to our new beliefs and which teach those beliefs, even if they are not what we profess them to be.
Perhaps it is time to get back to God’s Word and let His Word dictate, guide and instruct us in how we are to be His people and His church. Perhaps it is time to renew our faith in the Good News of Christ alone for our salvation and God’s promise that the Holy Spirit will work when and where He pleases through His Word to give, strengthen and keep in faith. And then realize that means practicing being His people in the way He has given us to be His people, i.e., vocationally with His authority and promise to be with us giving us the words, His Word to speak as we have opportunity and as we are asked, in gentleness with respect and let God be God.