Saturday, May 3, 2008

Anonymous Comments on Anonymous Answers to Anonymous Questions

The question and answer portion of the WELS website is something of an enigma. Questions sent in are usually posted on the public forum anonymously, though to the best of our knowledge, they are sent in signed or at least with an email address. The answers are written, again to the best of our knowledge coming from a reliable source, by professors from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, though these answers are published anonymously.

Why is this important? These questions and answers can serve as a barometer of WELS’ current teachings. The men who provide these answers are charged with teaching the next generation of WELS pastors. Reasonably, you can expect these teachings to be coming soon to a WELS church near you.

Some of the answers are well done like the first example below, even if the seminary professor forgot to spell check (which seems to happen regularly; could those of you who have some clout over at 2929 look into that? Thank you.):

Q:I often wonder why our synod prefers to call ourselves Lutherans. While I agree that Martin Luther did many good things, I feel our synod places too much emphasis on him. Why do we spend so much time memorizing his words during confirmation? Instead we should focus our energy on God's Word and memorizing that. When people begin calling themselves, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Calvinists, etc. I really feel this is dividing the church. Did Paul not warn the Corinthians that we should avoid quarreling and divisions in the church? The Corinthian church had people saying they follow Apollo, while others followed Paul, but Paul correctly rebuked them and said we are all one in Christ. Is not saying, we follow Luther, or we follow Wesley, etc, very similar to the Corinthians. I know the WELS is caught up in fellowship issues, but we need to start uniting in Christ. As Paul says, "No more boasting about men!" (1 Corinthians 3:21)

A:First of all, I do not think the Lutherans, Calvininst (sic), Baptists, or Methodists named themselves that. These names began as the accusations of others, as did the name Christians or Nazarenes.

Luther did not want a church named Lutheran, but the name Lutheran came to stand for something--the the (sic) church that believes by grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone; the church that gives full value to the sacraments. Why would you not want to be known for that?

What divides Lutherans from the other churches you mention is not a name but such differences of doctrine as rejection of infant baptism, rejection of the real presence of Christ body and blood, predestination to damnation, etc, etc.. If you want a church which will not baptize your children, you can easily find one. It will be labeled Baptist. If you want a church that rejects the real presence and believes in predestination to damnation, you can find one. It will be labeled Calvinist. If you want a church that teaches that salvation is by faith and works, you can find one. It is labeled Catholic. These are not just names. They identify the teachings of that church.

It does not matter whether these labels have a person's name in them (Lutheran, Calvinist) or if they do not (Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian). These labels identify a position.

People are beginning to adopt a position that ignores the meaning of those labels, but this has not led to a clearer, biblical position but to just the opposite, to a muddle that treats doctrine with indifference.

Not bad. Not bad at all. But then there are also many answers that cause us to become, well,… Angry. Here’s one we like to call:

"So, Nadab and Abihu were Roman Catholics?"

Q:Does the WELS believe worship practices such as kneeling, the Sign of the Cross, the use of incense, anointing of oil, and blessing oneself with holy water before entering and leaving the sanctuary are acceptable? I know Lutherans may think of these practices as "Catholic," but if done for the right reasons, I think these practices should be encouraged.

A:Many WELS congregations have the custom of kneeling during the Confession of Sins. A growing number of WELS members, many of the young people, have become comfortable making the sign of the cross as they hear the words of the Baptismal formula, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," thus recalling both the words and sign of Baptism. The use of incense together with the Vesper canticle, "Let My Prayer Rise Before You as Incense," is not common in WELS, but has been done at special events.

You're correct that many Lutherans would consider these customs to be "Catholic." One might be able to debate with them that these customs had wide usage already in Bible times and in the New Testament Church before the formation of the Roman Church; one could even demonstrate that some of these customs were accepted and used in the
Lutheran Church after the Reformation. On the other hand, one can hardly blame Lutherans for being wary of practices long associated with Catholicism, a theological system that has perverted the the clear teachings of the Scriptures for centuries and endangered the faith of billions of people. The introduction of time-honored traditions and customs, especially those closely attached in people's minds to false theologies, goes slowly and carefully.

To dip one's hand into the water of a baptismal font as one passes it on the way into worship and to make the sign of the cross could be a wonderful reminder of baptism and is certainly a worthy custom. The use of oil as a symbol for joy and purity is another fine tradition. I know of no
WELS congregations that use these symbols, nor have I seen them in use at any WELS event. I doubt there is much interest in either symbol.

“One might be able to debate”? Yeah, ONE who read the Bible and had a passing familiarity with church history or had ever cracked open a copy of the Book of Concord “might be able to debate” “that these customs had wide usage already in Bible times and in the New Testament Church” and in the Lutheran Church.

So, it’s ok to be suspicious of customs that appear Roman but there’s no need to question praise bands, testimonials, and reading of lightly edited Reformed sermons from WELS pulpits? In fact, we’ll link to them from the official WELS website? (Maybe it has to do with the number of people who have had their faith endangered. After you get into the “billions and billions served” range, then we’ll raise a red flag.) This is not only a theological problem, it’s a credibility problem. The inconsistencies are getting more and more difficult to defend. Perhaps, this is another reason, in addition to the official ones given, why the WELS is shrinking. Instead of carefully studying WELS doctrine and admitting that possibly, just possibly the Wauwautosa theologians were more influenced by their own time than by Lutheranism, and that maybe, just maybe the WELS has gone astray, some of the anonymous seminary professors on the Q&A continue to talk themselves farther and farther back into a corner, from which, they may end up just dissolving into the whitewashed wall of American Protestantism, regardless of whether they retain the name Lutheran or not.

1 comment:

rlschultz said...

It is very telling and compelling to make the juxtaposition between the Rome and Geneva influence. Being concerned about some practice "being Catholic" is very common among those in the Reformed camp. But, if a Confessional Lutheran layperson expresses concern or disgust about the use of an Amy Grant song, he is often looked upon as a neandrathal by other so-called Lutherans in his congregation.