Lutheran Reflections on The Benedict Option

Lutheran Reflections on The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

Rev. John A. Frahm III

Rod Dreher is senior editor of The American Conservative magazine.   He was an adult convert to Roman Catholicism but then became Eastern Orthodox in mid-life.   He has authored other books, including Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and its Return to Roots, and leans more toward Agrarian paleo-conservatism rather than more interventionist Fox News neo-conservatism, like the journal he edits which was co-founded by Patrick Buchanan.   Dreher is a layman in the Eastern Orthodox Church and is married with children.   He is stepping out on a limb, to a certain extent, to attempt to learn from the past and make suggestions for the present and future out of concern for traditional Christianity in the western world.

Dreher’s book, along with a recent publication by Anthony Esolen, have attracted attention from conservative Christian thinkers and theologians from across denominational lines.   Some have noted that these men and others are trying to build upon the thinking of The Naked Public Square by the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things magazine (a former Lutheran who became Roman Catholic).   These men and others are attempting to come to grips with the cultural and civil implications of the new era that the Church is entering, at least in the western world.   While the matters of homosexuality, gender, and marriage are current areas of attack, they are by no means the only areas of concern.

It is generally recognized that we are entering what has been variously described as a “Post-Christian” or  “Post-Constantinian” era for Christianity in the western countries of the globe.   What we mean by “Post-Christian” is not the absence of the church or Christians, but basically that the church has gone into minority status and experiences varying degrees of antagonism and no longer has cultural and other civil supports.  In terms of being “Post-Constantinian,” the protections, support, and public regard for Christianity that emerged with the Edict of Milan in 313 and what grew from that over centuries are now evaporating or are being forcibly removed in culture, government, and in the moral-intellectual fabric of western culture.  For many of the older folks among us, this fact may simply be inconceivable or put one into denial.

While many have been listening for the other shoe to drop to signal the arrival of massive persecution on a grand scale, it is more likely to emerge as “death by a thousand cuts” or something more piecemeal.   The inroads abortion, euthanasia, support for homosexuality, transgenderism, rejection of religious freedom, and attacks on the tax status of religious entities are all indicators of some larger changes emerging below the surface.   Dreher also provides some very helpful critique and suggestions in regard to the dangers and damage that modern technology poses for Christians and churches.

Dreher’s book is an attempt to help Christians cope, prepare, and pass on a parallel Christian context for life and church based upon the history of St. Benedict of Nursia in a time when barbarian heretics overtook Rome.   Dreher is not suggesting we all go off to start a monastery or enter into cult-like compound, but to engage in some practical and purposeful strategies to be a parallel culture within a hostile society.

Now as a Lutheran reading Dreher’s book there are some things that might stand out as a little rough.  More than once Dreher refers to the Lutheran Reformation as a “revolution” of Luther.   Luther critiqued those who tried to make the Reformation into a revolution (see his critiques of Karlstadt, Zwingli, Anabaptists and others).  Dreher doesn’t make any real distinctions amongst the various Reformers.   He doesn’t seem to understand that Luther was a conservative, catholic reformer as opposed to the radical reformation of the Anabaptists, and others.

He isn’t really familiar with Luther but only a common caricature.  This isn’t surprising as Dreher is of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox background primarily.   Dreher does mention Dietrich Bonhoeffer positively.   Early on in the book Dreher also makes a critique of Occamist Nominalism, which is an entire discussion in and of itself.   While I’m no expert in Nominalism, it would seem Dreher still has a foot in Roman Catholicism rather than Eastern Orthodoxy and the thinking of the Cappodocian Fathers.

Dreher does, however, mention more than once in the book, that he is not suggesting that his plan is a substitute for the theology of one’s confession of faith.  Dreher is not writing to do our theology for us.  We know where to go to recover our evangelical and catholic orthopraxis, but need to re-engage in recovery more deliberately and broadly through intensive parish catechesis and a pastoral economy of stewarding the mysteries.

As other reviewers have pointed out, Dreher does some good cultural and moral analysis in his book, but presents an idealized or even Romanticized picture of Benedictine Monasticism.   Of course, in the evangelical and catholic confession of the Book of Concord, Lutherans have some concerns with monasticism on various grounds.   As the Confessions see monastic life, what was originally a voluntary association became a burden upon conscience beyond the confines of the Word of God.

Those who did not have the personal gift of being single often suffered damage to their faith through the obligations of monastic life, as was also the case in regard to mandatorily single clergy.   Dreher is not making that kind of a suggestion, thankfully.   No doubt, this is something he understands having moved from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy.   Now undoubtedly many good things came from monastic life in terms of scholarship, resources for the prayer life of the church, artistic works, and so forth, but notably, the Augsburg Confession observes:

They taught that vows were equal to Baptism; they taught that by this kind of life they merited forgiveness of sins and justification before God. 12] Yea, they added that the monastic life not only merited righteousness before God but even greater things, because it kept not only the precepts, but also the so-called “evangelical counsels.” 13] Thus they made men believe that the profession of monasticism was far better than Baptism, and that the monastic life was more meritorious than that of magistrates, than the life of pastors, and such like, who serve their calling in accordance with God’s commands, without any man-made services. 14] None of these things can be denied; for they appear in their own books.

Not only did monasticism often lead to seeing justification by human works, it also grossly led to a distortion of a Christian’s various daily vocations in life, where God has put them to serve in relation to their neighbor in the world.    It would be well to review what the Augustana and Apology as well as the Smalcald Articles say about the problematic aspects of monasticism.

But herein is where Dreher can be helpful in our day to keep us in the tension between being “in the world but not of it.”   “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training,” is something we subscribe to.   Dreher points the reader toward asceticism as “askesis” or “training” in self-denial to focus on the things of God.   So long as such is not done for self-justification then we might regard such as “fine outward training” when interpreted in an evangelical way.   And here is where a Lutheran is going to say, “I wish he was familiar with a Lutheran understanding of vocation.”  I think this is where we can read Dreher and find some easy substitutes to plug into the overall benefits of his thought.

In terms of practical considerations, Dreher strongly commends Christians mutually supporting one another without attempting to dilute one’s theological confession or engage in unionism.  He’s suggesting cooperation in the context of social interaction, shared gardening and food production, mutual business support, homeschooling, and other educational enterprises where proper.

Dreher also points to the need to be shrewd in regard to matters of government, religious liberty, and free exercise of religion in the public square.   He means for Christians to be prepared legally, financially, and in terms of options for education and work for income.   The LCMS has wisely sought expertise from outside organizations like The Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom for our post-Roe vs. Wade and post-Obergefell society.   Dreher is not advocating complete abandonment of political activity.

Various other pro-marriage, pro-life and civil liberties groups are also active in defending religious liberty and the rest of the Bill of Rights, which are important for Christian and non-Christian citizen alike.  These are important issues where Christians seek to live faithfully to what Scripture says about government authority while also noting where civil resistance is appropriate where civil authority oversteps what Romans 13 intends.  While honoring proper authority we are not obliged to trust princes.   Original sin infects both individual citizens and those in authority.   These realistic observations and very plausible cultural forecasts in The Benedict Option are important for us all to consider to be “wise as serpents but innocent as doves” as we seek to be good stewards of what is entrusted to us.

The subject of education takes up a goodly amount of space in The Benedict Option.   Dreher commends the renewal of classical Christian education.   Many confessional Lutherans have already been taking up this cause for some time.   The Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education has been hard at work on this, and the online venture of Wittenberg Academy provides a virtually global resource for the church.

Dreher likewise strongly urges that where classical Christian education cannot be had reasonably or where there are families who cannot afford it, that homeschooling should be done wherever possible, or in some combination with what is feasible.   Dreher, along with others, has come to the conclusion that in most places the public schools are for the time being a lost cause to protect our children from the new morality (as others have pointed out, a Gnostic morality) but also to properly catechize children in a way that is not compartmentalized.

In terms of higher education, Dreher observes that Christians will need to reclaim their higher education institutions for theological orthodoxy and serious piety (not just seminaries).   Among our own institutions, we have a mixed bag in terms of worship, fellowship, theology, ethics, evolution, gospel reductionism, and accommodation of the sexual ethic du jour.

In other places, he suggests a theologically rigorous while personally supportive campus ministry program (though he doesn’t use the term “campus ministry”).   Dreher is quick to observe that just because a person goes to a Christian school, or even a school within one’s own denomination, this does not guarantee any more theological orthodoxy amongst the faculty (not just the theology department or dean of chapel), or a more holy and edifying lifestyle on campus amongst the student population.

Oversight visitation of church college campuses in these various moral and theological matters is overdue.   The examination of the theological faculties and chapel services are not the only aspects of campus that are matters of confession – science, sociology, education, history, student clubs, and other areas also are critical.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

As Dreher points out, when we are moved to start new faithful schools at various levels, Christians need to be prepared to bear crosses and not to make as much money yet also consider the needs of those Christians who are unable to pay as much.   Dreher also emphasizes also that Christians need to give sacrificially so that those with expertise, training, and good professionalism are honored respectably.   With these changes on the horizon, this also means that we need to find ways to bolster caring for church workers and other Christians who need help in retirement or disability as a diaconal manifestation of mercy.

Throughout the book, Dreher commends strong catechesis in churches that is not compartmentalized to simply just be a “class” with minimalized expectations and detached from the larger liturgical life of the church.   While from a confessional Lutheran point of view there are issues with how Dreher speaks of sacramentalism and his theology of liturgy, his general call for returning to historic liturgical practices with solid theology behind it is very laudable, all within the context of a solid life of prayer, and notably, also, church discipline upholding up Christian truth.

The work of the Concordia Catechetical Academy and recent resources published by Concordia Publishing House can help in this regard.   (But perhaps, as Dreher might point out, there will come a time when publishing and literature distribution may need to be done underground.) The challenge of the Church Growth Movement and its related spawn have urged confessional Lutherans to go back and study their own liturgical theology and hymnody.

But there are many quarters of our synod where that theological and liturgical renewal is still unknown and barely tolerated.  There are some quarters where catechesis is only a shadow of what it once was.  May we remain faithful to those treasures and not seeking to import what is not of our heritage from either direction.   There would also be some wisdom in congregations building up quality parish libraries with some serious depth and theological orthodoxy, not just pop religion or fiction.

Additionally, opportunities and facilities for retreats to help sustain not only church workers or age-segregated groups, but families and Christian singles in the faith amid the cultural onslaught could be something given a more deliberate and liturgical consideration among us.   Perhaps congregations in more peaceful or restful places, Lutheran camps, campuses, campus ministries, or cottages or even urban apartment complexes could be organized not as “camps” for 1960s style age-segregated religious recreation, but as serious spiritual retreats and places of continuing catechesis and training in the faith but with a Lutheran understanding of vocation and justification by grace alone under-girding it all.

They could also serve as inexpensive hostels for faithful Lutherans traveling and so become something like a modern version of that mutual support and hospitality the early church knew in Acts 2.   These services can’t cost individuals thousands of dollars to use of these things or to go on retreat.  Chaplains, deaconesses, and theological faculties could be engaged to help enrich, oversee, and strength such places and be a clearing house for materials to take home back into the battle.  These, then, in turn can become mission outposts for the times of nihilistic darkness.   We will need retreats for restoration, as the world we live in is surpassing the vision of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, a beastly technocratic Tower of Babel 2.0 police state.

Part of what Dreher is attempting to do with The Benedict Option is to learn from the experience of Christians past chapters of Christian history where there has been oppression and alienation from the culture or government.   Dreher suggests cultivating “parallel structures” to that of the Post-Christian culture.   Dreher points out how some attempted to do this under Communism in Poland and elsewhere.

Dreher wants to limit the exposure of Christians and especially children to the corrosive effects of the hostile culture as well as provide practical resources for even ordinary aspects of life that may be taken away because of edicts of political correctness or outright hostility (Christians providing baked goods or arranging flowers without being forced to compromise their confession of the faith).    In some instances, Christians already have some “parallel structures” to offer alternatives to organizations that have either watered down their Lutheran commitments or abandoned it altogether.

Parallel structures or ending old weakened institutions in favor of newly constituted Gnesio-Lutheran institutions may be needed for education at various levels:  finances, legal, insurance and retirement benefits, hospitals, retirement investing, alternatives to compromised monetary systems, church resources, construction, resources for changing tax situations for our institutions and clergy, Fourth Amendment protections, private property rights for religious institutions, multimedia for education, vacation spots, safer technology, etc.

And getting rid of as many strings attached to us as possible may be wise.  As radio talk show host, Dave Ramsey, is apt to remind us, “Debt is slavery.”  Maybe there is room here to strategize on providing alternatives for probable scenarios where Christians may lose their businesses or where our confession of faith could be compromised by continuing to use a traditional public service or business.   At the same time, we don’t want to lose sight of vocation from a Lutheran point of view.

Dreher covers a lot of territory throughout The Benedict Option.   One thing that I find notably absent from Dreher, at least in a direct reference, is a clear sense of or articulation of Christian eschatology.   It may be there, but it isn’t evident to me.  Perhaps pop American Christian views on eschatology have soured some on speaking in these terms.   Perhaps some would take speaking of the End Times and bearing the cross in that context as defeatist or counterproductive.   “Why fight or do all this since it’s all going to burn?” someone could cynically conclude, however wrongly.

Perhaps good old Millennialism or the red herring of Dispensationalism gave us a bad taste in our mouths to speak of eschatology but given the global movements in these religious and cultural/moral matters, one is reminded of the saying of our Lord, “as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be when the Son of Man returns.”   In the days of Noah, the thoughts of man’s heart were only evil all the time.

Perhaps it is in politically correct utopianism or while trusting in political princes that people will say “peace, safety” when the winnowing fork will be applied at the last.   To be sure, we are not to be in the business of predicting the day or the hour but we are to note the change of seasons.   Also absent from mention in The Benedict Option is the fact that we are not on a level playing field with Lucifer and his demons when it comes to mounting an attack — it would seem wolves rarely feel the need to don sheep’s clothing anymore.  The epistles are rife with eschatology and encouragement to be watchful and ready.

In Dreher’s The Benedict Option (or BenOp, as its popularly abbreviated) the author primarily calls out to conservative Christian laymen to be strategic, thoughtful, and involved in preparing for the coming storm against the Church in the western world.    Pastors too should be thinking of these things along with the laity.  “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Proverbs 27:12).

We should not put our trust in princes and where authority steps outside its bounds, obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  We would be wise in our various individual stations in life, and collectively as congregations, educational institutions, church organizations, and synods to anticipate the coming changes and prepare wisely but in faith with practical game plans enacted.

There will be times where we need to stand firm and confess and suffer even martyrdom, and there will be times to flee to the hills.   And the Lord has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.  That is, hell will not be able to withstand its advance.

At the same time, there is no promise that a denomination, a synod, or a particular congregation will abide unto the end.   As the canticle, Kyrie, God Father, says, “Guard our faith, the gift we need the most.”  We are not the saviors of the church, only the Lord is the Savior and foundation of the Church.  The church is founded upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Himself as the cornerstone but we are charged with stewardship, sacrificial giving in thanks, and taking up our crosses, each according to vocation, in repentance and faith.

Our call is to remain steadfast and wise in our God-given vocations, give an answer for the hope within us, and to be wise stewards of what is entrusted to us, discerning the seasons.    We are to guard that which makes us Christians and which makes the Church, being stewards of the mysteries of God.

The marks of the Church, the rightly preached Word and the rightly administered sacraments are the life of the church.   To support those marks we might consider Dreher’s analysis and suggestions and benefit from them.    For the discerning and catechized confessional Lutheran, Dreher gives us some practical direction, but our theology must ultimately drive what is done.

Will the culture come back around and the rain shower of the Gospel come back through the western world on a similar scale as before or will this be the situation we persevere in until the Last Day?   That we do not know.   We confess the truth along a lonely way in this world but it is also a well-worn path ahead of us.   It is the lonely way… together, following in the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

But either way, it is wise to prayerfully consider these things and speak of these things with each other, richly engrossed in Scripture and Confessions, receiving the gifts of God in the Divine Service.   However, one thing is clear, we cannot wait around with things on cruise control with the way we’ve approached mission and ministry collectively since the 1980s, blithely picking up the cast off methods from the generic protestants down the street or wallowing in Pietism.  We cannot rest in the nostalgia of a “Garrison Keillor-style church basement Lutheranism” or wait around for the next Barna Research book or and then uncritically implement whatever suggestions Barna offers to pander to the cultural trends.

We cannot go on imitating the Neo-Evangelicals seeker-senstive model or the ELCA’s gospel reductionism.   We cannot be ostriches and avoid talking theology.  Worship practices and catechesis that is watered down or importing doctrine, practices, and piety from other confessions is ultimately inoculating our people against confessional Lutheranism not introducing them to it.   It is time we examine our parish life and institutional life in this regard.  If our people can be raised “in the LCMS system” and still not recognize Gnesio-Lutheranism as their own heritage, then something is and has been seriously wrong.  It is a lie of a bifurcated mind for some to say we are united in doctrine but have disagreements in merely in practice.  It is time to repent of looking for a magic button or a personality driven solution for our challenges.  It isn’t just a matter of putting the right people in the right positions.

As Dreher would admit, the book is not an exhaustive plan. Nevertheless, the BenOp is certainly not a magic button in new packaging.  These are important matters to hash out with some purposeful diligence in the present moment.  The tornado sirens are sounding.  As we prepare for the approaching storms we don’t want to just jump on the latest thing, but ponder a strategy reflectively.  Some have written thoughtful critiques of the weaknesses or limitations in Dreher’s plan.   Read those as well. 

It is time, as the storm clouds approach, to be learning from the saints who have gone before us, preparing in practical ways as well.  We prepare with our heads lifted up watchfully looking for the return of Christ while bearing our crosses through tribulation, surrounded by various forces in spiritual war, and worshiping before the throne of the Lamb who was slain and yet lives.

I’m grateful to Rod Dreher for getting us thinking about these things.  These are needful things for laity and clergy to consider regarding our life together in this arrival of what Frederic Baue called a “Therian Age” (see Frederic Baue, The Spiritual Society: What Lurks Beyond Postmodernism).

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…   1 Peter 4:7-10


About Pastor John Frahm III

Rev. John A. Frahm is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Boulder Junction, WI. He has previously served parishes in Colorado and the Midwest. He is a 1998 graduate of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada and was ordained by Dr. Ray Hartwig in 1998. He was editor of the former website Reformation Today, and has published articles in The Bride of Christ, Logia, and The Lutheran Witness magazines and was a charter member of The Augustana Ministerium and helped write study materials for the ACELC. He has also served as a circuit visitor in the LCMS and has taken an interest in civil liberties He has also been a guest on Issues Etc. In college years, he was active in Lutheran campus ministry activities and was the first president of Region 4 of Lutheran Student Fellowship, helping to organize the first LSF national gathering for college students. Pastor Frahm was born in Arlington Heights, Illinois and was raised in southern Minnesota. He is married to Jennifer, a Michigan native. Jennifer currently works as an instructional designer. Pastor Frahm believes our biblical, confessional, and liturgical heritage is an asset to be boldly and forthrightly applied and used for the mission of the church.


Lutheran Reflections on The Benedict Option — 26 Comments

  1. Interesting sounding book. I too think quite a bit at what the church is going to look like in 10-20 years. I think we are going to find that the church is going to have much closer parallels to the churches we see in the NT surrounded by pagan societies, and the church of the third century undergoing various bouts of persecution.

    One of the things that is probably going to have to happen is that we are going to have to find a way to merge back into the catholic church (small c) without losing our grip on our doctrine in order to survive. We are going to have to find a way to get rid of the sectarianism that has plagued the church since the great schism. Honestly, I don’t know how it can be done. Rome will likely never renounce the doctrines of papal infallibility or infallibility of sacred tradition, nor will it likely renounce the Marian dogmas passed since 1546, the synergistic view of justification, etc. Likewise, the Reformed tradition likely will stick with doctrines such as double predestination, the memorial view of the sacraments, etc. I think it’s a hurdle we need to start facing now before the bottom drops out.

    Monasticism is not the way to survive. It wasn’t the monasteries that perpetuated the faith of the common man. However, the author sounds like he did make a very relevant reference to Bonhoeffer. Maybe we need to put more effort into studying what the Confessing Church did during the Nazi regime.

  2. Having read the book myself, this is a fine review. I would add that, lest we become fear-filled functional Arminians, we need to remember as monergistic Lutherans that the suggestions Dreher makes fall under the doctrine of vocation.

    Dreher’s Methodist, Roman Catholic, and now Eastern Orthodox history makes his perspective in this book a little scary, and needs this correction.

    We should not do these vocations out of a mistaken belief that our actions will save souls. God can, and will, do that with or without our help. We can neither save nor damn anyone. We have very important vocations in this world to live as and raise our children as Christians. It is important that we do them diligently, yet in the confidence that God will protect and save His beloved despite our failings.

    “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

    “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.”

    For anyone who does not understand what I mean here, read “The Liturgy, a Beacon for God’s Elect” by Rev. Heath Curtis.

  3. An alternative Lutheran theory of resistance can be found in Tyranny and Resistance: The Magdeburg Confession and the Lutheran Tradition
    by David M. Whitford, Concordia Publishing House. The Magdeburg Confession of 1550 is published separately and reviewed by mainly non-Lutherans on amazon, who interestingly see its continued relevance from the original Gnesio-Lutherans, to Beza and the Swiss reformers, to the founding of the United States, to today.

    In light of these works, President Harrison’s attempts to broaden the national political efforts of the LCMS should be seen as commendable, following in a Gnesio-Lutheran tradition of exhorting “lesser magistrates” to resist unGodly actions of the government.

    As an admittedly self-indulgent aside from a Reformation history “enthusiast” (no pun intended), I find the current Gnesio-confessional crowd’s enthusiasm for restoring all things historically catholic (originally the provenance of their arch-enemies the unionist ecumenicals of the mid-20th Century, who understood its symbolism) as a means of “improving” the Lutheran Church today to be profoundly ahistorical and anti-confessional.

    The original Gnesio-Lutherans such as Nicolas Amsdorf, Matthias Flacius and Nicolas Gallus, wrote pamphlet after pamphlet (during the Interim’s efforts to forcibly “reacquaint” Lutherans with their catholic heritage!) with titles such as “Answer of Magister Nicolas Gallus and Matthias Flacius Illy. to the Letter of Some Preachers in Meissen regarding the Question whether One should Abandon His Parish rather than Don the Cassock” (linea vestis, Chorrock). They realized, as did Chemnitz in the BOC, that ritually and visually aligning oneself with Rome was as much an abandonment of confessional Lutheranism as accepting a modified doctrine of justification (Augsburg Interim of 1548, Leipzig Interim of 1549, Joint Declaration of 1999). F. Bente’s unsurpassed summary of this fascinating period can be found at

  4. @Steve #3

    As Walther was apt to point out in many places, it is doctrine, not ceremonies that are the chief difference between Rome and confessional Lutheranism. Augsburg and Apology XXIV, unlike other private writings, have confessional status among us and commend liturgical continuity where possible without compromising doctrine. Certainly, as Walther points out, we do not want to give the impression of unity with Rome where it does not exist, but neither do we want to give the impression of unity with the sects or other radical protestants or schwaermer.

    Wearing a cassock or a chasuble does not imply agreement with Rome on justifiction. Let’s beware of anachronisms between the Interims and our day. We ought point out and critique the errors of Rome and other confessions which are at odds with Scripture. But we should not forfeit the name of “catholic” nor “evangelical” to those who claim to have a monopoly on their right application.

    The catholicity of the Book of Concord is quite evident as they desire to maintain continuity with the church before wherever possible. Sasse, Krauth, Walther, Loescher, and many others make this clear as well. While there were some specific issues in the interims that made certain ceremonial aspects a point of contention, in the long run those were not the chief markers of theological disagreement. If were were talking about the Canon of the Mass, the fractio panis, Latin Mass, the cult of the saints, monastic vows, the percicious Roman understanding of concupiscence, and such things, then you might have a leg to stand on. But what is being proposed today in terms of weekly celebrations of the Supper (Apology XXIV), chant, chasubles, cassock and surplice, the sign of the cross, and such things are well within the Confessions and Lutheran hertiage. To despise such things, as Walther says, is a misunderstanding of Christian freedom and is to ignore the continuity of the church which the Lutheran confessions so valued. Modern attitudes about such things spring more from Pietism, the influence of generic American Protestantism, and the degradations which followed in the aftermath of the Thirty Years War. It was a pernicious thing to remove the reference to the sign of the cross in the 1943 catechism of the LCMS.

    Valentin Ernst Loescher is quite descriptive of the machinations of the Pietists of his day and how they let Calvinist influence erode Lutheran liturgical practice. Bodo Nischan has also documented the historic conflicts in Brandenburg and elsewhere. Calvinists got into great battles with Lutherans over the fractio panis, the baptismal exorcism, vestments, and such things.

    I do agree with you regarding some application of the Magdeburg Confession and the efforts of President Harrison in that regard. I think also, to refer back to the BenOp, Dreher also sees the importance of such efforts from his own point of view.

  5. @Erich Heidenreich #2

    Great points, Erich. I agree. Vocation isn’t a means of salvation, but of living in one’s baptism into Christ. I think strategically thinking about preserving the marks of the church among us is a worthwhile thing to ponder. Also the protection of the family, providing serious retreats (events and locations), maintaining solid Christian education at all levels, and planning ahead for the cultural and civil changes that can be forecast from trends are important things to consider as well.

  6. Thanks Pastor, for indulging my side comments. Your points are well informed, valid, and, further, I consider anyone who still uses the term “schwaermer” in the 21st Century to be a true brother in Christ!

    While you state that we do not want to be confused by the world with the errors of Rome, this is exactly what our present liturgical reforms in fact do. Mimicking Rome implies agreement with Rome. Elevation implies the adoration of the host. Altars imply the resacrifice of Christ weekly in the Mass. Vestments imply a continuation of the Levitical/Roman priesthood, who employ special authority to mediate ex opere operato between the people and God. We may wish to argue internally that these things can be reinterpreted in a postmodern context to acquire new meanings in a historicist attempt to reconnect with a past catholicism (which in truth exists already and always only in an invisible sense), but the world still interprets them as signifying their original intent.

    The impetus for this confessional (Solid Declaration, Article X) viewpoint is derived neither from Pietism nor Rationalism, but from the writings of the magesterial Gnesio-Lutherans themselves. We are free to use or not use any adiaphora as the local congregation sees fit. However, when well-intentioned liturgical resurrections imply false doctrine, they must be opposed.

    @Pastor John Frahm III #5

  7. @Steve #8

    While you state that we do not want to be confused by the world with the errors of Rome, this is exactly what our present liturgical reforms in fact do. Mimicking Rome implies agreement with Rome. Elevation implies …. Altars imply …. Vestments imply ….

    My, what a lot of “implications” you have found! And in liturgical practices that I have observed, not just recently, but as long as I can remember! [84 and counting] And I was born into the Lutheran church.

    [I do remember when the vestment in a country church was a black Geneva gown…whose name indicates the “borrowing” that was going on then. But that changed, there, 75 years ago, and not because the church was “going Catholic”.]

    Polo shirts and khakis “imply” something, too… imitation of the “schwaermer”. ;

  8. @Pastor John Frahm III #5

    It was a pernicious thing to remove the reference to the sign of the cross in the 1943 catechism of the LCMS.

    Indeed. If you use it in the several appropriate places in the liturgy, a lot of Lutherans, confirmed since, look at you rather oddly. [They’d know better if they paid attention to their hymnal.] 😉

  9. @Steve #8
    You might want to reread AC XXI: “This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers.”

    Ditto for Apol XV: “… without a reasonable cause nothing in customary rites be changed, but that, in order to cherish harmony, such old customs be observed as can be observed without sin or without great inconvenience.”

    Finally, SD X para. 9’s “congregation of God of every place and every time” was not applied by the actual confessors (aka: magesterial Gnesio-Lutherans) to individual local congregations, but to their Lutheran territorial churches (synods) all of which imposed liturgical orders on their congregations at the time of the SD, and enforced them w/ visitations. The “congregation of God in our place and time” is the LC-MS, and they have published hymnals and agendae that set our position on adiaphora in worship. That’s not left to the local congregations.

    Lenten Blessings+,
    -Matt Mills

  10. @helen #9

    Martin Luther wore a black robe to lead worship long before there were Calvinists, Pietists, or Rationalists. See Lucas Cranach’s Wittenberg altarpiece (1547) depicting Luther preaching in a black robe. For 300 years in America, Lutheran ministers wore black robes to honor Luther and preach the Lutheran faith.

    In his book, Matthias Flacius and the Survival of Luther’s Reform, Oliver Olson points out that the forcible reintroduction of Roman vestments into the Lutheran church (with Melanchthon’s approval) was accomplished after the defeat of the Lutheran Schmalkaldic League in 1547, as part of the capitulation of the Lutheran Reformation to Rome. The Gnesio-Lutheran leaders, including Amsdorf and Flacius, refused and continued to wear the “Luther robe” in protest and allegiance to Lutheranism.

    It is the height of irony that Lutheran pastors are now encouraged to wear clergy collars (a 19th-century Presbyterian invention) and Roman vestments to confess their historic Lutheran confessionalism.

  11. I subscribe to this (from Apology XXIV):

    Article XXIV (XII): Of the Mass.

    At the outset we must again make the preliminary statement that we 1] do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.

    David Jay Webber also has compiled some pertinent information here.

    There are also helpful descriptions of early Lutheran liturgical practice here:

    While it is common in Germany to find white wine used in Lutheran churches in response to the Prussian Union and related issues, it is not universally binding that white wine be used.

    Lutherans did not previously use the Easter Vigil service but I and many others have found it to be a very useful service for teaching the faith.

    from C.F.W. Walther:

    “We know and firmly hold that the character, the soul of Lutheranism, is not found in outward observances but in the pure doctrine. If a congregation had the most beautiful ceremonies in the very best order, but did not have the pure doctrine, it would be anything but Lutheran. We have from the beginning spoken earnestly of good ceremonies, not as though the important thing were outward forms, but rather to make use of our liberty in these things. For true Lutherans know that although one does not have to have these things (because there is no divine command to have them), one may nevertheless have them because good ceremonies are lovely and beautiful and are not forbidden in the Word of God. Therefore the Lutheran church has not abolished “outward ornaments, candles, altar cloths, statues and similar ornaments,” [AP XXIV] but has left them free. The sects proceeded differently because they did not know how to distinguish between what is commanded, forbidden, and left free in the Word of God. We remind only of the mad actions of Carlstadt and of his adherents and followers in Germany and in Switzerland. We on our part have retained the ceremonies and church ornaments in order to prove by our actions that we have a correct understanding of Christian liberty, and know how to conduct ourselves in things which are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.

    We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. The Roman antichristendom enslaves poor consciences by imposing human ordinances on them with the command: “You must keep such and such a thing!”; the sects enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as sin what God has left free. Unfortunately, also many of our Lutheran Christians are still without a true understanding of their liberty. This is demonstrated by their aversion to ceremonies.

    It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?

    It is too bad that such entirely different ceremonies prevail in our Synod, and that no liturgy at all has yet been introduced in many congregations. The prejudice especially against the responsive chanting of pastor and congregations is of course still very great with many people — this does not, however, alter the fact that it is very foolish. The pious church father Augustine said, “Qui cantat, bis orat–he who sings prays twice.”

    This finds its application also in the matter of the liturgy. Why should congregations or individuals in the congregation want to retain their prejudices? How foolish that would be! For first of all it is clear from the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:16 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] ) that the congregations of his time had a similar custom. It has been the custom in the Lutheran Church for 250 years. It creates a solemn impression on the Christian mind when one is reminded by the solemnity of the divine service that one is in the house of God, in childlike love to their heavenly Father, also give expression to their joy in such a lovely manner.

    We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.

    Uniformity of ceremonies (perhaps according to the Saxon Church order published by the Synod, which is the simplest among the many Lutheran church orders) would be highly desirable because of its usefulness. A poor slave of the pope finds one and same form of service, no matter where he goes, by which he at once recognizes his church.

    With us it is different. Whoever comes from Germany without a true understanding of the doctrine often has to look for his church for a long time, and many have already been lost to our church because of this search. How different it would be if the entire Lutheran church had a uniform form of worship! This would, of course, first of all yield only an external advantage, however, one which is by no means unimportant. Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafters?

    The objection: “What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?” was answered with the counter question, “What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: “It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments”

    (C.F.W. Walther, Explanation of Thesis XVIII, D, Adiaphora, of the book The True Visible Church, delivered at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, Beginning August 9, 1871, at the 16th Central District Convention, translated by Fred Kramer, printed in Essays for the Church [CPH: 1992], I:193-194).

  12. Thank you Pastor Frahm for a great review and especially for inserting your own comments and advice (based on God’s Word).

    Ginny Valleau

  13. @Steve #12

    Martin Luther wore a black robe to lead worship long before there were Calvinists, Pietists, or Rationalists. See Lucas Cranach’s Wittenberg altarpiece (1547) depicting Luther preaching in a black robe. For 300 years in America, Lutheran ministers wore black robes to honor Luther and preach the Lutheran faith.

    (Black robes were also the cheapest thing and showed dirt less?)
    Luther was a PhD educator in Wittenberg U. and dressed as a professor did (and does, for processions, but not much else).

    You seemed to me to be ascribing the change in clerical dress to “post-Vatican II” (which did introduce a certain amount of foolishness in the Roman church, some imitated by us, but not in the direction of formality!).

    I suggested that the changes began long before the ’60’s’ (blame the immigrating Scandinavians?) and more formal clerical dress did not inhibit or change the preaching of the pure Word and doctrine of the Lutheran church.
    (Polo shirts and khakis, and movie screens in the chancel are far more degrading. There’s another rabbit trail for you!) 😉

    As far as the clerical collar goes, it is a useful distinguishing identifier in many situations, as pastors have told me, especially in hospitals and the like. (If it’s a “presbyterian invention”, why do people invariably address a wearer as “Father”? That’s not usual for a Presbyterian.)

    If my pastor would prefer not to look like a Methodist while ‘on duty’, I heartily approve.
    I don’t think Walther would have a complaint about that either.
    [Luther, if you’ll remember, never intended to leave the Catholic church, and in fact we (and they) are all still members of the catholic church.] 🙂

    Wonder how anti-Catholics deal with that fact?

  14. Uh, back to the topic of the BenOp. Lately, Mr. Dreher’s been advocating very strongly for one specific practice: Christian parents and school teachers keeping their underage children away from smart phones. His argument is that the evil of obscenity and addiction always outwieghs the benefit. I think he’d also say, no TV, please, since it just bathes you in a degraded popular culture. To me these rules seem eminently sensible. Any thoughts?

  15. Chris,

    I wholeheartedly agree with you and Mr. Dreher regarding both smart phones and tv. If a phone is needed for emergency purposes, get one without internet access. “Bathes you in a degraded popular culture” is a good way to put it. Not to mention all the anti-social behavior it breeds. Too many kids (and adults) have their heads in their smart phones; not much person-to-person interaction.

    I would say no tv (and maybe smart phones?) for adults also. We can’t even get the unbiased news anymore.

    Ginny Valleau

  16. @Ginny Valleau #18

    I have been presented with a “smart phone” and use it more for texting, and gmail [internet] than for calling people. [They are only accidentally arranged for calling, IMO.]

    I wouldn’t know where to look for all the “degraded popular culture”, and no, I’m not asking to be told. I am aware that it has numerous “apps” which I do not use.

  17. Helen,

    Remember the old days when we listened to baseball on the radio? And used our imagination? That was exciting! [Sorry to get somewhat off the subject of the Benedict Option, but there IS life without TV and the internet.]

    Ginny Valleau

  18. @Ginny Valleau #22

    I still do listen to college baseball on the radio when the game I want to watch isn’t on network TV. And I sometimes listen to the radio commentary in preference to the TV people; in that case, I mute the TV. 🙂

  19. I wondered how Lutherans would react to the BenOp, and the comments here pretty much sum up what I would have thought: they didn’t get it, and don’t care. I was taught in adult confirmation that Lutherans run alongside the world, supporting public institutions. So we find them here — not surprisingly — arguing about doctrine and cassocks and where to watch baseball instead of understanding and discussing what the book announces, considers and suggests. This lack of interest in anything outside of themselves is why I left the Missouri Synod and the ELCA. Given the disinterest in Dreher’s pleading for the preservation of the faith, Lutherans, for sure, won’t exist in 100. years.

  20. @GN #24

    You are right in that the topic led to side issues… not an unusual thing here!

    Whether the LCMS will disappear in a 100 years will not depend on following or not following Dreher’s prescription.

    We Lutherans do need to do more to give our children a solid grounding which will keep them in the faith, which is probably to say that parents need to consider their own knowledge. If confirmation was the last time they went to a Bible class… high time to get to Adult instruction!
    What you don’t know and use, you can’t teach.

  21. as far as I can understand the case of Eastern Orthodox monasticism, the tonsure – even if its religious service resembles the one of the Baptism – is more of a spiritual second baptism; in no way (I have never met something like) the tonsure is “better than Baptism”!! what it is considered to be: the wedding of the monk’s/nun’s soul with Christ and of course the body must behave accordingly. It is also customary for monastics to have their sins/death always in their mind and never forget that they must repent until the last of their breath thus a true monk/nun will never believe that for his/her deeds will be saved. on another side, it is often said that even confession (when done properly) is a baptism, the baptism of tears, for the sins are forgiven and if not repeated one lives in the purity of the unsinful….but this does not mean that the first Baptism (received when an infant) is canceled or whatever other exotic meaning.

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