Monday, February 07, 2005

What attracted you to Confessional Lutheranism?

A friend alerted me to this interesting post on Phoenix Preacher blog. Phoenix Preacher seems to be identifying problems with Calvary Chapel. I am not familiar with that movement, but I know of a couple who was involved. Phoenix Preacher has posted an interesting question: he has asked for input from former evangelicals who have turned to confessional Lutheran churches:
Pastor Michael Newnham: Questions For Our Lutheran Friend

Check out this link and comment, if you have something to say. I'd love it if you copy your comment and leave it here, too. Or I could compile comments and forward them to the pastor. As of today, there is one lengthy and interesting comment by a former evangelical turned Lutheran. That commenter is a friend of mine! He writes:

"My path from Calvary Chapel to Lutheranism occurred about 3 years ago. We were involved in a start-up Calvary for about 3-4 years before that. My wife was raised Lutheran but like many, became involved in a parachurch group, InterVarsity, during college. Most of our last 25-30 years were spent in various evangelical churches, including CC. I first realized Lutheranism had something to offer after ordering tapes from a Lutheran theological radio show called “Issues, Etc.” from St. Louis ( They interviewed a Christian apologist who came out of the extreme charismatic movement, which we also did. After that, I started listening to the archived radio shows. The stuff about baptism and the sacraments turned me off. But as I kept reading, I realized the riches of Lutheranism..." keep reading


David said...

It's funny how much I can relate to these stories from people who left American evangelicalism, even though I've been in the LCMS all my life. It seems most of the people most passionate about Lutheranism are those who've come from elsewhere, and understand the difference. With me, I always sort of envied the big evangelical churches for their enthusiasm and growth, until I came to understand what sets Lutheranism apart.

The modern Lutheran tendency to desire to "blend in" with generic Protestantism is troubling for doctrinal reasons; but also for reasons that have nothing to do with doctrine. It's almost a neurotic need to be liked! I look at some of the people leading Lutheran church bodies and I'm reminded of the little yippy cartoon dog who followed around the big bulldog named Spike. "Whatarewegonnadonow,Spike? Wannabemyfriend? Wannadosomethingtogether,Spike? I'mgladwe'refriendssowecandothingstogether,Spike!"

Some Lutherans are like the little yippy dog, and modern evangelicalism is Spike.

TKls2myhrt said...

Here is the entire text of my friend's comments to Pastor Newhnam:

Hello, Pastor Newhnam. I’m happy to share my journey with you. Thank you for asking.

My path from Calvary Chapel to Lutheranism occurred about 3 years ago. We were involved in a start-up Calvary for about 3-4 years before that.

My wife was raised Lutheran but like many, became involved in a parachurch group, InterVarsity, during college. Most of our last 25-30 years were spent in various evangelical churches, including CC.

I first realized Lutheranism had something to offer after ordering tapes from a Lutheran theological radio show called “Issues, Etc.” from St. Louis ( They interviewed a Christian apologist who came out of the extreme charismatic movement, which we also did. After that, I started listening to the archived radio shows. The stuff about baptism and the sacraments turned me off.

But as I kept reading, I realized the riches of Lutheranism. For example, the doctrine of vocation teaches that God is at work “behind the scenes” in all life’s areas – family (husband/wife, son/daughter, etc.), work, citizenship and church. In CC, there was always this sense that “the Lord’s work” received top priority and everything else was second-class and had little value in and of itself.

Not so with Lutheranism. I can’t do better than recommend a full-length book treatment by Gene Veith, called “God At Work,” that gives the Scripture and develops this much further.

It was very important to me to find a spiritual tradition where the Bible is believed and taken seriously but also has a connection to the Church throughout history. I found that. The denomination I belong to, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), today has a membership of 2.5 million, but had a split in the early 1970’s over the inerrancy of Holy Scripture. Luther had a very high view of the Bible. The Lutheran worship service is saturated with it from start to finish. In Lutheranism, especially the conservative wing, you'll find a very strong biblical emphasis that's been worked over nearly 500 years. The Book of Concord is where it's fleshed out.

Then there’s the Lutheran focus on Law and Gospel – something that I never once heard in a quarter century. How I wish I had. Again, to quote Veith, “For Lutherans, God’s Law has many ‘uses’ – to restrain evil in society and serve as a guide for the Christian life…but its ‘spiritual use’ is to cut through our layers of self-deception so that we realize just how lost we really are…the Law is the prelude to the Gospel. Those broken by the Law are convinced of their need and of their inability to save themselves. Then the message that God does it all comes as an astounding relief, as good news.” It’s the approach C.S. Lewis takes in “Mere Christianity.”

Too often in CC and other churches, I heard law and gospel mixed, with a lot of moralizing messages and too much “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” theology. Lutheranism takes sin very seriously, saying that we’re dead in our sins. The only way a dead person can come to life is by someone doing something from the outside. Lutheranism puts the focus on the gospel – what God has done for us, not what we have to continually do for God. If the contrast between Law and Gospel isn’t preached, it winds up as a muddied mixture. In a solid Lutheran sermon, you’ll hear the Law and then you’ll hear more emphasis on the Gospel.

Along with the Gospel emphasis, I've found "the Gospel for Christians." As Christians, we need to be forgiven constantly. It's not a "one-time" trip. The Word and the Sacraments constantly feed us. Here's an article about it.

Then there’s the Lutheran emphasis on paradox. The Christian is "simul justus et peccator" -- at the same time righteous and a sinner. Lutherans are conscious of sin but don’t fall into moralism. Again, Veith: “…the central place of paradox of Christianity, the Incarnation, is echoed in the ‘both/ands’ that resonate throughout Lutheranism, from its sacramental theology to the role of the Christian in the secular world.”

The Lutheran emphasis on the "theology of the cross" -- that God hides Himself in weakness, defeat and failure, was a huge breath of fresh air, believe it or not. It feels really good to be able to just act normal, not bragging about my spiritual experiences and how 'together' my Christian walk is. That's called a "theology of glory."

I could go on, but I won’t. Two books I’d recommend are Gene Veith’s “Spirituality of the Cross” – he’s the culture editor at World Magazine. You'll find that Lutheranism has some big differences with Calvin and later Calvinism.

The other book is Craig Parton’s “The Defense Never Rests.” Craig is a California attorney and world-class Christian apologist. About 1/3 of his book details his journey from evangelicalism to Lutheranism, while the last two-thirds is about apologetics.

Also, you asked what I missed most about CC. Mostly it’s the horizontal fellowship. It was very good and the people were extremely kind and sincere. But there are friendships and 'good folks' in every church.

One more thought here: most Lutheran churches don't actively recruit. But at least to me, they're a treasure. If you check one out, don't expect perfection. The largest of the most conservative denominations are LCMS, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS).

TKls2myhrt said...

Here are my comments:
I never attended Calvary Chapel, but I attended churches like it. After 20 years, I was to a point where I knew I would never be a good enough Christian to please myself or God and was left with very little faith in a real God. I do believe that God, in his grace, used various people and circumstances to lead me to a confessional Lutheran Church (in the ELS synod).

For myself, the confessional Lutheran church taught me that God is so much more than a one-on-one Savior who lives in my heart; He is the creator of the universe. I have experienced a God who moves among us with such power and is totally unhindered by my emotions or feelings. He exists whether I "feel" Him or not and he's not my boyfriend or buddy. He worked long ago to save me and actively works through His Holy Spirit and His Word drawing everyone to Himself.

At first, Sunday mornings without praise and clapping and shouting seemed so quiet and empty. But, I stayed with the liturgy service because I knew it had much more to offer me if I would be quiet and listen. My pastors announce each Sunday, after the confession and absolution, with God's Word in hand and a big smiles: "We have approached God in worship; Now God's Word approaches you." What power in God's Word! The liturgical service is so NOT centered on me and yet it meets my needs more deeply than any praise service ever did. I leave church feeling so totally forgiven and so totally in debt for that undeserved grace. It fills my heart with love and gratitude for God each time.

I have learned through the confessional Lutheran church that God doesn't need to me to dance, wave, clap and shout to find me; He already knows me, already saved me and is my only hope from this life of sin.

TKls2myhrt said...

David Brazeal's comments made me remember a friend from college. I think her name was Sandy. She was a lifelong Lutheran (I don't know which synod) and she was friends with a group of us who were about 2/3 evangelicals (we considered ourselves born-again during high school or college, despite the actual truth of the matter that we had been baptized and raised in our families' churches). Anyway, this group of girls often had prayer groups, bible studies, etc.

One time, as one of us was relating our "testimony" of shame to glory, Sandy commented that she was jealous that she had no testimony like that. She had been raised in faith and followed God her whole life. The part of me that still had some common sense realized how ironic that sounded. Why should she be embarrassed that she hadn't fallen deeply into sin? Wouldn't that be the desire and goal of Christian parents?

I remember thinking that when I got married, I would raise my kids as Christians and, hopefully, they would have no story of deep sin, shame and regret to give as their testimony. I think, at that point, I was buying into the idea that once I was saved, my life going forward would be "Christian" and IF I followed God, no one would fall into deep sin.

In hindsight, the better message would have been that even though Sandy had no story of deep sin and regret to share, she was a sinner in need of salvation like the rest of us. We are all guilty before God.

One strange fear I've confronted since becoming a confessional Lutheran is facing the fact that my kids might not live perfect lives as teenagers. My one desire used to be that my kids would stay pure for marriage (not a bad goal). Since becoming a confessional Lutheran, I have been able to ask myself..."Now, seriously...were they ever pure in the first place?" When did they first lust? Of course, I teach them that "keep the marriage bed pure", but I also prepare them and myself that they will be tempted and may fail. In fact, they are now living in that time of deep temptations. The current world of middle and high schoolers is filled with lack of respect for sex and for each other...and my kids are at Christian ironic is that?

Getting back to my little group in college, it is my recollection that we were obsessed with having the perfect Christian relationships, not being distracted by physical desires. I knew one couple who never hugged or kissed before they got married because they wanted to remain pure. Another extremely "holy" couple went on to fall into drugs and affairs shortly after they were married. That's when I first started noticing there was a problem with my chosen "religion" (not a problem with God, but with the way we were practicing our faith).

Dan Edelen said...

Came here after you kindly referenced my article on my blog, Cerulean Sanctum, and discovered this post about going back to Lutheranism.

My story is the reverse of others here. I grew up in an ALC Lutheran Church and am deeply indebted to that particular church because it was due to some very godly people in that church that I am even a Christian today. The man who led me to Christ was a charismatic Lutheran and one of the most astonishing people I have ever met in my life. He managed the Lutheran camp we regularly used for retreats.

You could say that he was also part of the reason I left the Lutheran Church. He was able to grow where he was planted. But while he was able to find a place of ministry and belief in his church out of town, things changed in my own church and I was not as fortunate. I kept asking questions no one could answer and found that other streams of Christian thought could answer those questions. My involvement with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship also showed me that I was thinking too small.

The rupture finally came for me when the congregation voted on what they felt were the twenty most important issues facing our church. My #1 was reaching the lost in the neighborhood around the church, but the congregation concluded that fixing the church parking lot and the ventilation system were most important. In fact, the twenty things I thought were most important finished dead last in the poll. In many cases, I think I was the only one who voted for those issues. (Ironically enough, my old church is now realizing almost twenty years after the fact that they blew an opportunity to reach that neighborhood and it has hurt the church in the long run.)

That was a wake up call for me. I was obviously no longer on the same page as the people I fellowshipped with. So in my very early twenties I finally decided to leave.

Leaving has taken me to various denominations and made me a stronger Christian as I have been exposed to the different emphases of each. This has also allowed me to see the weaknesses of each, too. I don't believe I would have gotten any of that by staying in the Lutheran Church.

There were a few things that irked me about the way that Lutheran theology played out, too. I still hold fast to "The Priesthood of All Believers" that was drilled into me during catechism, but my experience in the Lutheran Church was similar to what the pigs said in Orwell's Animal Farm, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." After being busted several times for baptizing folks who had become new believers after I had shared the Gospel with them, I realized that the Lutheran clergy did not like anyone encroaching on their turf, so to speak. And don't even get me started on the torturous discussion I had with an LCMS vicar about the sin I committed by taking communion at a friend's Presbyterian church.

But despite some of the problems I ran into, I strongly support the Lutheran Church. I thank God I grew up in that Church. I can only admire those Lutherans who hold fast to Truth in an age when truth is hard to come by. I support Reformation theology in most of the doctrines that were carved out, but I also realize that the Reformation was not the be all and end all of what God is speaking to His Church.

God bless all of you who have left Evangelicalism. I can absolutely understand why. Even today I am loathe to entirely paint myself with that brush, being too much of a mongrel in the Faith to ever be a "purebred."