Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The 'Tone' of polemics: Thoughts regarding vigorous public discourse

Polemics and Pedagogics
As I’m sure our readers have noticed, the position on which we publicly stand, and the nature of raising critical issues of doctrine and practice in a way that can’t help but warn of eroding integrity in our Synod’s claims of unity and in its confessional character, require us to be not only pedagogical – and even pedantic at times – it also requires us to wax polemical on occasion. Polemics is an art. It is a use of language that is intended to jar the reader, even upset the reader, for the purpose of pointing out the serious and critical nature of the issue being raised. It is the equivalent of grabbing one by the lapels and shouting at them, not out of anger but out of love and concern for the individual one is communicating with, and out of deep love for and dedication to the Truth. This concern for the Truth and the ultimate welfare of the individual far, far, overshadows any concern one may have for their immediate feelings, whether they may feel as if that one is doing the loving thing at the moment or not. In choosing to use polemic as we have, we are convinced that we are doing the loving thing, regardless of how others may feel about it (and for most of us, it was this same type of ‘jarring’ that woke us up to reality). We fully realize that the winds of popular opinion blow contrary the use of polemics. Nevertheless, we have decided that polemics – balanced by pedagogical presentation of the issues – is the proper, confessional use of language that we should make, given the situation(s) we are facing. We will continue to express ourselves in this way, until we are convinced that matters have improved, or that there is sufficient mutual concern across our Synod to suggest that further “shaking by the lapels” is not necessary. In this regard, we take our cue from our Lutheran predecessors in whom the spirit of confessionalism burned white-hot, from the likes of Walther, Pieper, Chemnitz, Luther, and even the soft-hearted Melanchthon – if one considers his polemic against the silly Roman "asses" who neither knew the etymology of the term ‘liturgy,’ nor knew any grammar (AP XXIV:78-88).

There are a couple things that the concerned reader should know about us, however. First, most, if not all of us, have been fighting these kinds of battles, or personally working through these issues, for well over a decade. As a former pop-church Evangelical, I myself know the errors of Church Growth from the inside out, having at one time been a fully committed Evangelical, having thought their thoughts, spoken their words, and believed their ‘doctrine’. Once I began to question Church Growth (along with many other Evangelicals who are very critical of it), and began to see that its foundation lies in anthropocentric institutionalism, I was led to contemplate the theology that permitted this ideology to have such a gripping authority in today’s pop-church. Deep consideration of these issues is what brought me to the only theological system which successfully avoids man’s participation in God’s work, which is founded on the teaching of the apostles, and which, through its catholic practice, demonstrates unity with true believers spanning all times and places: confessional Lutheranism. When I joined the WELS many years ago, my wife and I, with the encouragement of the orthodox and confessional Lutheran pastor who catechized us, and on the basis of pure scripture doctrine and the practice which proceeds from it, followed through on our new confession, visiting with our friends and our families, and confronting the ministries with which we had long associated, and where necessary (which, in most cases, it was), declaring separation from them.

In a sense, one can sympathize with the Reformed Evangelicals, whether of Calvinist or Arminian stripe, given that they have very little theological framework which would protect them from the allure of Church Growth theories. Confessional Lutherans, on the other hand, have no excuse whatsoever. The only way these ideas can be accommodated by Lutherans is if they discard or relax their commitment to some portion of their rigorous, full and orthodox theology, particularly that of the Means of Grace, the Marks of the Church, and of the Holy Ministry – not to mention Church Fellowship. That Church Growth has been accommodated by confessional Lutherans, and that propaganda continues to be issued in favor of it, is a matter of grave concern. We know it. We see the issues quite clearly. And given our experience with these false ideologies, there is little in terms of substantive argumentation Church Growth advocates can throw at us that we haven’t already fully considered and rehearsed, that we haven’t discussed personally and ad nauseum with fellow WELS Lutherans or with other Christians.

Second, Intrepid Lutherans is not ‘Church’. We don’t bear the Marks of the Church. We don’t commune one another, neither have we selected from among ourselves a ‘pastor’ or ‘overseer’. IL is strictly a Universal Priesthood endeavor – all five of us are equals. Nearly all of our posts are shared with one another for mutual approval, and in many cases blog articles are edited and/or enhanced by any number of us before they are published – even though a single author’s name may appear on them. Even some of our blog comments are shared among us for approval before posting. We stand together. And we’re prepared to fall together. Because of this, we regard any criticism of one of us to be criticism of all of us – which is fine if/when criticism is thought due. We don’t mind criticism (although we may grow weary of it from time to time...), nor would we discourage anyone from criticizing us. Specifically, we encourage those who are critical of us to have the courage to expose their criticisms to public review – to engage us publicly, even as we stand and speak publicly. If someone has a criticism of our public words and actions, then as Paul before Peter and the Elders, “withstand us to the face.” We’ll be happy to meet the challenge.

The other side of this is how we are wont to regard private criticism. It is a forgone conclusion that the loving, biblical and confessional response to ‘public error’ is ‘public rebuke’. We are on public record on this point, having developed a scriptural and confessional foundation for addressing public error in the blog post, The devil can quote Matthew 18, too – and we will have more to say on this point in the near future. Since our words and actions are public, we therefore expect to be engaged publicly if one considers them to be in error. Yet, some insist on privately contacting us to offer their criticism. Okay, fine. We’ll take that at face value and respond briefly to their concerns, encouraging them to express further concerns in the public forum provided for them. Usually this is enough. But we’ve been doing this awhile. Wolves have encircled us more than once. Singling out one or the other of us is a tactic used to ‘separate prey from the herd’, to make him vulnerable to attack. Either, one who is perceived as weak is singled out as easy prey in an effort to reduce our numbers, or, one who is perceived as leader is singled out as key to toppling IL altogether. This isn’t to imply that we suspect everyone who contacts us privately with concerns, or anyone for that matter, is intent upon doing this. Rather, it is to impress upon those who are intent upon shutting down Intrepid Lutherans, that we will not be separated or dealt with individually and privately for matters relating to words and actions we engage in together and in public. Critics, to be taken seriously, simply need to subject their concerns to the same public critique that we offer ours.

This has already gotten long, but there are a couple of points which come up frequently enough, that would benefit from some mild rebuttal. Those points concern the ‘tone’ of posts and commentary, and with identifying ‘motivations’ of those who express themselves publicly.

Obsession with ‘tone’ and ‘motivations’ is a characteristic of postmodernism
In the past several months, some have quite genuinely presented to us their concerns over ‘tone’ in some of the posts and commentary on our blog. Generally, our practice is to allow signed comments, which express complete thoughts in relation to the blog post or immediate commentary, even if one can find fault with the ‘tone.’ This practice is subject, of course, to our own sanctified judgment, as we clearly state in our “Rules of Engagement” guidelines. We realize that this automatically places this blog outside the comfort zone of those who prefer that public discourse among Christians be slathered with evangelical slobber. We don’t find that sort of expression to be at all necessary in this forum. Yet even within the guidelines we have published, our judgment is not always perfect, and some comments will be posted that we would normally hold back. Where this may have happened in the past, we trust that this has been the exception rather than the rule, and where individuals have expressed concern regarding ‘tone,’ be assured, we definitely take these concerns to heart, and strive to make changes where we think warranted.

In most cases, however, concerns of this sort are delivered to us in some form of analysis assigning ‘objective value’ to interpretations of ‘tone’, essentially identifying imperative statements as “unloving arrogance.” I’ll admit that grammatical analysis does make a critique of ‘tone’ sound objective, and while the grammar seems to be conclusive, any valuation of ‘tone’ – whether it be good or bad – is ultimately a matter of the reader’s subjective interpretation. It is not objective. Perceptions of ‘tone’, therefore, are often more of a ‘problem’ with the reader than with the author of such statements. To be sure, this is quite a serious problem. In fact, I would submit that readers or listeners who are so distracted by their own obsession with how they feel about another person’s expression, rather than with the content of that expression itself, are themselves displaying evidence of a self-centered disrespect for the author or speaker. It is sin. And this is not something I’m just making up, or some obscure point that few people have ever considered, but a basic tenet of objective critique that has been recognized for centuries.

Perhaps many readers of IL are too young to know what a real education is. Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. But I do know that if I have a real education, I received it entirely by accident. By the time I started college, postmodernism was already the dominant worldview among the younger faculty, and the methods of social constructivism had begun to replace the long established classical and even modernist pedagogies. Yet, as an undergraduate and graduate student, I deliberately chose the most difficult and disliked professors I could find – since I was paying for my education, I wanted to get my money’s worth. Most of these professors were the old guys, the one’s who were mid-career already during the tumult of the ‘60s. They had a real education, and were doing what they could to pass it along, while all around them real education was disintegrating. What they taught their students about critique was very simple: one must make every effort to remove himself from the expression of others, and regard that expression only in terms of what the vessel of language – vocabulary and grammar – provides. If someone goes to the effort to give expression to his/her thoughts by composing words within a definite grammatical structure, then the only basis for properly understanding that expression is to interpret it on the basis of that composition, on the basis of objective rules of expression to which both the reader and the author agree. And this is the only basis on which one’s expression can be given due respect and consideration.

Postmodernism, as I’m sure the reader well-knows, has turned this completely on its head. According to the postmodernists, language is insufficient to carry the full meaning of an author’s or speaker’s expression, is insufficient to communicate any matter of truth with certainty. In order to more fully understand the expression of another person then, postmodernists insist that it must be understood from within the context of that person’s narrative. Hence today’s overriding obsession with a person’s motivations, and the life experiences that lie behind them, which lead to his manner of expression. These are prerequisite to understanding the content of his expression. But how does the listener or reader understand the narrative of another person? Through language? No – language, again, is insufficient. Rather, language needs to be complemented with other devices of communication. A person’s narrative needs to be received aurally, visually, tactilely – that is, experientially. Above all, however, it must be received socially. That is, the narrative of one person must be delivered to another person in the form of experience, and in this way received and incorporated into the narrative of the second person. Thus the two individuals are socially connected by shared narrative. And this represents the epistemology of postmodernism: knowledge is a social construction that is built as narrative is normalized across a given people group. Because of this, again, according to postmodernism, all ‘truth’ is also tenuous: (a) because social experience changes over time, the knowledge construct, or schemata, of a people group will also change, (b) because knowledge construction differs from one people group to another, and (c) because the means through which knowledge is constructed (i.e., through experience) is ultimately inconclusive with respect to what one may call ‘true’ anyway. Thus, no one could possibly be certain enough about anything to be imperative about it, and naturally, to be imperative about anything is to be ‘arrogant,’ as it is to regard any position as anything but ‘opinion.’ This is what it means to “understand motivations” in our postmodern age, especially when words are regarded as insufficient to evaluate another person’s expression. But be warned, dear reader, this philosophy is completely incompatible with the principle of confessionalism, and it is something against which we must struggle if we are to hold on to the Truth.

Apprehension, doubt, and self-censorship: Living under Law
Finally, it must be stated that living out one’s life in abject fear of ‘offending’ another person (and by ‘offense’ in this case, let’s be clear – we don’t mean ‘offense’ in the biblical and confessional sense, of violating someone’s conscience or leading them into sin – all that is really meant is ‘hurt feelings’), of being forced by others to constantly predict how a person may subjectively react to one’s own expression, and to censor one’s expression according to these worthless predictions, is a life under the impossible expectations of the Law. Further, if the expectation is that the expression of one’s conscience be self-censored to avoid the ‘hurt feelings’ of others, this expectation is itself true ‘offense’ in the biblical and confessional sense, being a violation of one’s conscience which forces one into habitually fraudulent self-representation. One is forced under these circumstances, to cover up what they really think and obscure who they really are in order to please those wagging the billy club of the Law above their heads.

No, it is best to allow and encourage people to honestly express themselves at all times, not to force them to constantly second-guess or question everything they might say for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings, or worse, out of fear that what they are convinced is true may really be error. This is neither the confidence nor the ardor of a confessor. The fact is, if a fellow Christian is guilty of error, it will be immediately evident in his expression and will be far more easily and directly dealt with, if he is expressing himself consistently with his character and convictions, than if he is coerced into hiding them through continually dishonest self-expression. At the same time, people ought to be encouraged to live a life of meditation on the Scriptures, and of self-reflection, so that if, after the fact, one can confess that a better course of action could have been taken, or that his thinking ought to be corrected, then that adjustment can be made voluntarily and permanently on his own.

Dealing with subjective concerns regarding 'tone': a sugggestion and advice for the 'offended'
One may complain that they are, nevertheless, subjectively concerned about ‘tone’. It may not sound like it, but I can appreciate that. My suggestion is this: instead of trying to change people to one’s own liking, one ought to endeavor to train oneself to objectively critique the expression of others, and to respond to that expression objectively, rather than become emotionally vested in his own subjective evaluations of ‘true intent or meaning’ which are based on his perceptions of ‘tone.’ As stated above, the practice we at Intrepid Lutherans have adopted is to exercise our own collective judgment in those posts we allow to be posted, but to generally allow folks to express their thoughts, even if one can find fault with the ‘tone’ – understanding that as we deal with the content of their expression, the tone will likely change anyway.

In closing, and for what it is worth, I’ll offer some advice in addition to my suggestion, by sharing a practice I try to follow as I take up issues in a public forum. First, remove yourself from your own commentary – that is remove, as much as possible, use of the terms “I” or “me”. While this does not prevent your commentary from being critiqued by others, it does help to keep yourself from becoming a part of their critique. Since you have not made yourself part of the subject of your own commentary, it will be difficult for others to legitimately make you the subject of their response. Second, remove reference to other people from your commentary – that is, remove names of people, as much as possible, and when responding directly to what someone has written on these pages, try to eliminate personal terms like “you” as you address the content of their expression. With these simple guidelines, I have found that, apart from cordial salutations, all that remains is discussion over the ideas at issue, and that it is sufficiently abstracted from myself and from the individuals engaged in the discussion that a direct and spirited exchange regarding the issues can be fruitfully had. One can rail up and down against the positions that others take, and it doesn’t become personal – nor does it need to become personal for the words to be persuasive. Thoughtful and genuine conversants will voluntarily apply the words of such dialogue to themselves as those words seem apt. Of course, it goes without saying, I am imperfect, and fail to take my own advice all too often (as those who know me personally will be quick to point out, I’m afraid!) – but I find that this practice tends, more than anything else, to contribute to civilized debate and is a standard worth pursuing.


WELS church lady said...

Hello Douglas. You forgot one thing in your eloquent post. In the last twenty-four hours, it has been announced that the organization known as "Church And Change" is no longer! Please refer to Pastor Aderman's explanation on the homepage. I would say more; however, I am speechless. A few questions: What about the smaller tent partners of the C&C? What about organizations such as Grace In Action?

In Christ,
Rebecca Quam

Joe Krohn said...

There used to be a day when public debate was devoid of all this drivel about 'feelings'. Have we become so lacking these days in self esteem? It is about objective discussion of issues in light of scripture, period. The sooner all men thicken their skin and shed the namby pamby attitudes of feminism that have been running rampant for the last 50 years and put our trust in the Lord and His Word, will we finally prevail and achieve success.


Brian Cooper said...

As I myself am often guilty of arrogance in my writing I think I may be able to provide some objective insights as to why these posts come off as "arrogant & unloving."

1. You are defending it. The second you respond to a critique and ignore the validity of their perspective you communicate an assumed correctness - this is often referred to as self-righteous behavior. As you acknowledge imperfection it may help to explore why this blog comes off as snarky first (especially if this is common feedback). Hopefully these next few points help.

2. As a first time reader I assume a bit of pomp from the bloggers as the chosen physical representation and embodiment of what they stand for is a knight. This is the image you wish to project publicly and that image is heroic, brave, and chivalrous. It is one thing to be called this, and another to call yourselves this.

3. Lots of Lawyer Speak (Litigious Language) is like an NBA player dribbling between his legs unnecessarily. Your blog would benefit from a more direct approach (if objectivity is important). If a little style is important use pretentious words like "pretentious."

4. You attack Evangelical churches with an assumed knowledge of them. I am a former Evangelical church member myself, and your descriptors of them are inaccurate. I have been WELS for 8 years now, and still have yet to find a major difference in messages (aside from a little more love and action at the Evangelical church). It is also presumptuous to tell people that you know what they believe when no actual proof of that belief is presented. Also, check out Ephesians 2:8 (don't stop there) through 10 and Matthew 7:17-23 (the people Christ turns his back on are those who did works with no love as I recall... just a point to consider with Evangelicals as I believe they have a better grasp on this than we do).

5. Name calling has no place among Christians (reference: "evangelical slobber"). You may want to read Romans 14 on that one. I agree that we can't worry about hurting peoples feelings with the Truth, but we should be concerned about hurting them with pointed tongues - remember they can both build up, and destroy.

6. Italicizing "I" and pointing out individual efforts by yourself to procure superior education also comes across as arrogant. Yes, you do mention that your "real education" happened by accident, but then your proceeding story points out that your "real education" was actually a great deal of effort (and financial cost) to you.

I hope these points were helpful in empathizing with some of the constructive criticism you have received. I look forward to reading more.

In Christ,

Brian Cooper

Hometown: Germantown, WI
Home Church: Bethlehem Ev. Lutheran (WELS) Menomonee Falls, WI

Anonymous said...

Brian said: "I am a former Evangelical church member myself...I have been WELS for 8 years now, and still have yet to find a major difference in messages"

Which is exactly why the Intrepid Lutherans must speak out so bluntly and forcefully. If you've been going to a WELS church for 8 years and haven't found a major difference in message compared to your former Evangelical church, the WELS is in serious, serious trouble.

Mr. Adam Peeler

PCXIAN said...


Where have you been for the last year? Your comments in numbered paragraphs 1-6 above are very germane (or at least should be) concerning the IL gang's modus operandi.

P. C. Christian

Brian Cooper said...

At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. - Matthew 11:25

Unknown said...

Dear Doug,

Thank you for your clear and timely observations! In our circles and beyond, it is common for critics who dislike the content of any given position to attack the tone of the position. I know of this "tone-content" confusion from first-hand experience.

What was so helpful about your essay was the connection made to the big picture. The connection between post-modernism and the dynamic between tone and content was exposed. Our culture (and the church culture that sadly apes it) has led to conversations that become analyses of tone, instead of content.

(Indeed just now I have considered changing the word ape because some may be hurt by the use of the word "ape" instead of "imitate," for example. But I digress.)

To Lutherans who consider modern Evangelicalism to be worthy of imitating, I would suggest giving yourself and your Evangelical friends a copy of "The Theology of the Cross" from Northwestern Publishing House. It will generate much worthwhile discussion about its content (and you'll enjoy the tone as well.)

May Christ use the theology of the cross to open modern Lutheran and modern Evangelical eyes to what the early Christian church and the Reformation were all about: the cross that alone saves us and the crosses that the faithful joyfully carry!

Pastor Luke Boehringer
Gethsemane Lutheran Church
Davenport, Iowa

Anonymous said...

Brian, I'd like to respond to a few more of your statements. I hope you won't consider me arrogant for disagreeing with you directly and openly.

You said: " respond to a critique and ignore the validity of their perspective..."

I'm not quite sure whose perspective you're referring to, but I'm assuming you're talking Evangelicals. In that case, why in the world should Lutherans affirm the validity of the perspective of false teachers? There's nothing valid about it. False doctrine is not valid. It is not to be affirmed or considered.

You complained about: "Lots of Lawyer Speak".

With this complaint you seem to demonstrate the anti-intellectualism of much of modern day Evangelicalism. Mr. Lindee's article was precise and articulate--good qualities when talking about theology. We should never shy away from giving God what is excellent--that includes our words and sentence structure.

You said: "You attack Evangelical churches with an assumed knowledge of them."

Did you even read Mr. Lindee's article? Did you miss the part in which he talked about being a former Evangelical himself? If not, go back and reread.

You said: "Name calling has no place among Christians"

Uh oh. You'd better tell that to John the Baptist. I seem to recall something about a "brood of vipers". Come to think of it, didn't Christ our Lord himself say something about "white-washed tombs"? Apparently you believe that Christ himself wasn't worthy of being a Christian. Interesting.

And finally: "Italicizing..."

Are we really criticizing the use of italics? Really?

Mr. Adam Peeler

Daniel Baker said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but Brian said:

"You attack Evangelical churches with an assumed knowledge of them. [. . .] It is also presumptuous to tell people that you know what they believe when no actual proof of that belief is presented."

Well now that's interesting. Did you forget to attach your "proof" that Mr. Lindee's assertions are wrong? How exactly did he misrepresent the Evangelical position? The fact is that he didn't, because the "Evangelical" position is neither historic, apostolic, or catholic (or, for that matter, truly evangelical).

"the people Christ turns his back on are those who did works with no love as I recall... just a point to consider with Evangelicals as I believe they have a better grasp on this than we do)."

Impossible. There can be no "love" where there is works-righteousness, because the motivation is not the love that flows from the Gospel of Christ, but rather a faux-love that flows from anthropocentric "I HAVE to do good work" theology. That is the Evangelical theological position. Granting that there are exceptions to every rule, the orthodox Christians within sectarian circles do not define the norm.

"5. Name calling has no place among Christians (reference: "evangelical slobber"). You may want to read Romans 14 on that one. I agree that we can't worry about hurting peoples feelings with the Truth, but we should be concerned about hurting them with pointed tongues - remember they can both build up, and destroy."

You must not be very well-versed in the official teaching of the WELS. To put it bluntly, the adherents of false doctrine don't fall into the category of "brothers."

Those who deny the sovereign and holy body and blood of my Savior shed for my sins are frankly no brothers of mine. Those who reject the forgiveness He offers me through my pastor, His chosen vessel, are no brothers of mine. Those who scoff at the efficacious power of the Word, which created and sustains the faith given to me in my baptism, are no brothers of mine. These are facts. I have no pleasantries for those who deny and reject my Savior and the work that He has done.

Brian Cooper said...

Adam - I find nothing arrogant with an open disagreement.
- Thank you for addressing this quotation of the first point in my suggestions; this needs to be clarified. The "validity" has nothing to do with denominational beliefs. The "validity" I refer to is specifically this blogs "tone" that is alluded to in comments (not my own - my use was intended as nothing more than a reference to the above blog post) throughout this website. I consider taking this point of tone to be quite valid as I am unaware of any writers (post-modernist or otherwise) who would consider the craft of writing to ever be atonal (lacking in tone). It is almost like saying that specific chords in music do not elicit a specific emotion. The same applies to writing: specific word choice, sentence structure, and other literary qualities do affect the message. Take for instance if I were to write something completely objectively true: 2 + 2 = 4, but I wrote it this way to-plus-to-equals-for. I am correct in what I say, but how I say it comes off as unintelligent. Maybe this is to extreme an example and we should try something rooted in a bit more reality. In the state of Wisconsin we are looking at many budgetary reforms that have created a great divide among people. When I read about it in the news and see this line: “…a move that would crush Union rights” a few implications are made. First is that state paid employees have a “right” to unionize - from a legal perspective this is false, from the perspective that any working employee in the United States should be able to protect themselves from being taken advantage of it is correct. So, this sentence immediately infers that something truly American is in danger of being destroyed. Secondly the word crush has an implication of violence behind it; this furthers the initial response and tells the reader that not only are rights being taken away, but they are done so violently. The other consideration here is that any type of reform that would lessen the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) of state employees is technically crushing (or simply reducing). So, the use of stronger adjectives creates greater concern on an issue than is actually factual. I am not saying that this blog is as extreme as either of these examples, but there is a tone to the blog, and if multiple people feel that it is “arrogant & unloving” it is worth taking into consideration why.
-I think I will address two points at once here (the anti-intellectualism and name calling). Again I will point to the quote from Matthew 11:25 and strongly assert that nobody’s intellect has any bearing on their faith in what Christ did at Calvary (wipe away sin for all with the perfect sacrifice Jesus Christ).  The name calling you refer to (specifically brood of vipers) is an attack on the false intellectualism of Pharisees. Pharisees were quite knowledgeable when it pertained to the letter of God’s law. The Pharisees often discredited Christ’s acts of love through many reasonable arguments. The Pharisees enjoyed lording over everyone through demonstrations of knowledge in doctrine and intellectual debate – often used to justify the persecution of those viewed as lower. The actions of the Pharisees strangely sound like this blog reads; it is steeped in the mentality of, “You did not define grace correctly, and now I’ve got you!”

clarification continued in next post

Brian Cooper said...

-No I did not miss the part where Mr. Lindee accounts for his past as an Evangelical. I also have a past in the Evangelical church. I do feel that their doctrine is misrepresented and here is why:   1) They do not believe, state, or refer to any form of salvation by works. Salvation comes from Christ alone.  I will attest to this as long as I live because this is what I was taught at Evangelical churches (I attended four throughout my life). 2) All good works done are by God’s grace, and for His Glory – See Matthew 7:17-23, James 2:26, and Ephesians 2: 8-10 for a quick refresher on why Christian’s do good deeds, and why good deeds are a sign (note for the reader – sign does not mean the same thing as definitive answer, it refers to something that indicates, only God can validate and many will come to him saying “Lord! Lord!” and he will turn his back on them) of true faith. Throughout the gospels you see that Christ’s “works (done) in his Father’s name testify about him” – John 10:25. Also, when Christ separates his flock he does so by pointing to their deeds (you fed me when I was hungry, etc.) as an acknowledgment of faith. This is because faith is taking action, not reciting words. When we believe God is who He says, then we, as followers, are moved to do His will; according to Him that means “doing for the least among you.” This is the Evangelical take on work and deeds that I was taught. These works do not take the place of Christ’s death, they are not teaching people to sneak over the wall of the gate kept by Christ. Only through Christ is anyone able to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Works are not a prerequisite of faith for the Evangelical church, but quite the opposite faith is a prerequisite for works to be done. If this is false in the eyes of the Lutheran church, then I will forsake Lutheranism to follow Christ! No Christian should fear persecution from a fellow Christian because they are moved to act in the name of Christ; the time this happened in the Bible Christ himself rebuked his own disciples (Mark 9:38-41).
Daniel, I feel that the above is enough for a response to the matters you bring up. My only concern with your comment is this: You point out that the “’Evangelical’ position is not historic, apostolic, or catholic (or, for that matter evangelical).” Your statement implies that these three formulas are more important to the Gospel Truth than a Biblical position. If this is not so please clarify, I do not want to put words in your mouth but can only work with what is posted, as both responses to my points did.
In Christ,
Brian Cooper

Brian Cooper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Baker said...


Addressing first your closing question to me: The one, true, historic, apostolic, evangelical, and catholic faith is synonymous with the biblical Christian faith. They are one in the same. To assert otherwise is to go against Scripture itself. As Lutheran Christians, we believe this faith is properly exposed in the Lutheran Confessions. Anything in contrast with this is false doctrine, and needs to be carefully avoided at all costs (lest we fall into a situation, well, like we are in now . . .).

Moving on to another point, you assert that "Evangelicalism" is not based in works-righteousness. If this is the case, please address my closing point. Of what use and purpose are Holy Communion and Holy Baptism in Evangelical circles?

Pr. Benjamin Tomczak said...

Brian ~

You say, rightly, that most Evangelicals are not crassly Roman Catholic, that is, asserting that faith + works equals heaven.

That doesn't mean that they aren't works-righteous in their theology. And if they are, than they are papists via another route. Perhaps more slowly. Perhaps more subtly.

The works righteousness of the Evangelical, as I understand it from their writings and critiques of their writings that I have studied, is three-fold:

1) When did YOU ask Jesus into your heart? At the end of his book, "Facing your Giants," Max Lucado writes, [Jesus] won't disown you. He simply awaits your invitation. One word from you, and God will do again what he did with David and millions like him: he'll claim you, save you, and use you" (p180-181).

This is directly counter to 1 Cor. 12:3, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." Not to mention Romans 8, "The sinful mind is hostile to God." Cf. also the first five articles of the Augsburg Confession, and Luther's explanation of the Third Article, "I can not, by my own thinking or choosing..."

It leads to the second part of their works righteousness:

2) How are you proving that you are born again? If you were so born again, your life would look a whole lot better.

Here's an extreme example from life. I worked with a member of an Assembly of God Church in Michigan who confessed to me that she never knew for sure that she was saved until she spoke in tongues. Not the objective promises of the Gospel -- Christ for me -- but a work, a work of her own, finally convinced her of God's love.

This leaves the Evangelical in much the same place as the Mormon. "I didn't keep Heavenly Father's rules and laws, I'll have to try harder."

3) As Daniel hinted at in his last question, a third area of Evangelical works righteousness is found in their theology concerning Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Almost universally, what I read from Evangelical sources about Baptism and the Lord's Supper denies the arrow down aspect of the sacraments, that is, God gifting us with forgiveness, life, and salvation. Instead, Baptism is something that is done to show how committed you are to God. And the Lord's Supper is done out of the obligation to remember Christ's sacrifice.

There's a reason that Evangelical sources often refuse, avoid, or criticize the word "sacramental" and choose to call these two gifts of God ordinances. Are they? Yes, Luther boldly points (in the Large Catechism) to the command of God when it comes to Baptism and Communion (and prayer for that matter), but it only begins there. He then points past the command to the promised grace: "Baptism now saves you...", "...for the forgiveness of sins" (1 Peter 3, Matthew 26).

Where there are only ordinances, there is only law, commands to be kept, followed either by arrogance or despair. And the Gospel can so swiftly and easily be lost.

Is this all Evangelicals everywhere? Certainly not. Do Evangelicals proclaim Christ's sacrifice for sins? Certainly. Do Evangelicals encourage love and good deeds flowing from faith? Absolutely?

(Conversely, do some Lutherans have a more Evangelical view of faith and the sacraments and the sanctified life, sure thing! "The elements are on the altar, I guess I have to go to communion today," is not a thought foreign to Lutheran minds.)

But Evangelicals commit the Pope's error along the way. What they give with one hand -- forgiveness -- they take away with the other -- decision theology, ordinances, and an inordinate focus on What Would Jesus Do (and you too) instead of What Did Jesus Do?

That's been my experience. And it has been confirmed in book after book that I've read from Evangelical authors.

Grace and peace,

Pr. Benjamin Tomczak
St. Mark Lutheran Church
Duncanville, TX

Daniel Baker said...

Thank you, Pastor Tomczak, for elaborating on my crass argument. Your analysis of what is stereotypically referred to as "Evangelicalism" is spot-on.

Intrepid Lutherans said...

I too thank you, Pastor Tomczak.

You say, very correctly -

"Almost universally, what I read from Evangelical sources about Baptism and the Lord's Supper denies the arrow down aspect of the sacraments, that is, God gifting us with forgiveness, life, and salvation."

Having come out of the First Christian church, I can affirm your analysis.

Now, those who know me are going to accuse me of beating a dead horse, but this is another good reason for any church professing to be confessional Lutheran to celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is yet another vehicle to receive God's forgiveness. Just as we wouldn't think of leaving out the absolution, Creed, or sermon from a worship service, this manner of God's mercy and love should be a part of the service on every Lord's Day.

We all need to stop dithering about it and just do it!

Pastor Spencer

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