Four Competing Theologies
By my reckoning there are four competing theologies in America today. There is Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Lutheranism. Some would dispute that Lutheranism merits its own category, even many Lutherans. But I disagree and I hope that upon reading this essay you will too.
The Lutheran faith, in its classic and historic form, embraces all the best of Western Christianity while rejecting what is wrong with it.
First there is our theology regarding the grace of God. This is the foundation of all Christian theology. If this is pure then all is pure. If it is not, all is likewise tainted.
We believe, teach and confess that God's grace is the confidence and joy of all sinners. By grace God sought sinful and dying Adam, and provided sacrificial covering for his sins, even as he and the woman ran off to die by themselves. By grace God gave the world a savior, when no savior was sought. By grace God calls and redeems sinners who have no interest in the things of God, solely on the basis of his love for us in Christ. No person merits salvation and eternal life, not by good works, sacrifice, suffering or any other currency, but only by God's mercy and grace received by faith. There is no other gospel that gives sinners peace and confidence than this one. "By grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) This is St. Paul's message to the newly baptized in Ephesus, and to Christians still today.
Anyone who imagines he has some currency by which to obtain God's favor thinks too highly of himself and his abilities; too little of his sins; and far too little of the sufferings and death of Christ. Because of this, confused Christians suffer from either despair, or self-righteousness, two terminal sins.
Lutheranism upholds all the vital doctrines of the church of the ages such as the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the two natures of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture and the Sacraments. Lutherans recognize three: baptism, absolution and the Eucharist.
Because Lutherans comprehend the holy, unadulterated gospel of salvation they also know, and are empowered to live, the baptismal life. The life of burning love for God, and for one another; and to look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Anyone who says that Lutherans don't believe in the necessity of good works (as I have heard some Romanists assert) is guilty of fake news.
Moreover the classical Lutheran faith comprehends that the Mass / Divine Service / Divine Liturgy is the sum and substance of Christian worship, and the source from which all blessings flow. They believe in the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion and, again, anyone who says differently is guilty of mis-information.
But for all this wonder, the typical manifestation of Lutheranism seen today is still missing some important items.
First, Lutherans would do well to stop wagging the finger about evangelism. They neither know what it is, nor how to do it. The proof is in the fact that for all their evangelism efforts to "grow the church" in the last 50 years the Lutheran church is steadily disappearing.
May all Lutherans likewise learn that to celebrate the Eucharist is the life and salvation of the church and the world. That when the baptized engage in Eucharistic worship they are Salt for the earth and Light for the world. Satan is crushed, evil is hemmed in, and the dazzling Light of Christ emanates, and shines into the world, through us.
Further, may all Lutherans learn to cease their institutional prejudice against the Eucharistic Prayer (canon, anaphora). Yes, of course it must be a pure Prayer, but such already exists and must not be ignored if we wish to call ourselves one holy catholic and apostolic.
These are the chief benefits, and shortcomings of Lutheranism today.
But the competing theologies have less to offer, and more fault. Consider only the point with which we began – the grace of God.
The Roman church teaches God's grace, but not clearly or correctly. For Rome God's grace doesn’t save sinners, but makes it possible for sinners to save themselves. But that is not the true teaching of Scripture wherein God, in love and mercy, both “seeks and saves the lost.” (Luke 19:10) This is further complicated by reliance on the Blessed Virgin Mary as co-redemptrix, as if Christ our dear Lord is reluctant to save us, hear us, answer us, deliver us from evil, or be our Divine Intercessor, whose ears are always open to the prayer of his Bride.
Much the same can be said of Eastern Orthodoxy. Their pleadings for salvation addressed to the Theotokos are mis-addressed to say the least. They would be beautiful prayers if prayed to our good, gracious and loving Lord.
Lastly, Protestantism is, in this writer's opinion, of little benefit at all. It comes in three varieties today. There is liberal Protestantism which seeks to bring about the Kingdom of God by politics. But Holy Scripture says, "Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation." (Psalm 146:3)
There is the Protestantism of self-affirmation and successful living championed by Joel Osteen and most mega churches. It is immensely popular. But to quote St. Paul, "If it is for this life only that we have hope in Christ then we are to be more pitied than all men." (1 Corinthians 15:19) Or again, "What does it benefit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his own soul." (Matthew 16:26)
Lastly there is Fundamentalist Protestantism whose gospel is the End Times. While there is a form of godliness to be found therein, the power of the pure gospel of the remission of sins, and of the sacraments (and more) is missing.
In such a religious landscape the classical and historic Lutheran faith answers all needs. It's foundation is God's mercy, and not man's flailing efforts at redeeming himself. It has the pure gospel, and sacraments, which are the power that fuel the baptismal life; and promise us life everlasting.
But, alas, many Lutherans have lost complete sight of these things and have constructed a theology that combines the Fundamentalist and self-affirming varieties of Protestantism. Such are no longer Lutheran, except in name. Oh that they would be honest and disavow the family name. Some have, for example the former Trinity Lutheran Church in Cleveland which changed its name and is now Trinity Ohio City. I praise their integrity.
But to me it is clear, and I hope it is to you, that classical, historical Lutheranism is the most blessed and beneficial manifestation of the holy, Christian faith there is. May Lutherans take the time to learn this, for their own benefit and for the benefit of all who are lost either because they are without Christ; (Ephesians 2:12) or in the thrall of "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4).
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