Doctrine and Practice: Resisting the Influence of Evangelicalism, Part I, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(These posts are adapted from a presentation Pastor Preus made in Sweden for the North European Luther Academy in 2006 and which was republished in the recent edition of Logia, A Journal of Lutheran Theology. We recommend both groups to the Brothers of John the Steadfast.)

 

I have been a pastor for thirty years and have had countless discussions, even arguments, with the members of my congregations over many topics of controversy. Upon reflection I can say with certain confidence that most of these conversations have centered, not strictly speaking in the articles of the faith. I do not regularly argue with my own church members about what we believe. Rather my church members tend to argue with me over matters of church practice.

 

We do not dispute the question of infant faith. We discuss the practice of infant baptism. Such discussions may lead to the topic of infant faith but they typically begin with the issue of the practice of infant baptism.

 

We do not argue over the question of the headship of the man over the woman at some theoretical level or over the nuances of the orders of creation. We talk about the propriety of the practice of women preachers and women’s ordination.

 

I do not discuss with my parishioners the subtleties of the genus majestaticum and the implications of the communication of attributes to our understanding of the bodily presence in the sacrament. Rather, I explain why we treat the elements with respect in the sacrament by such practices as kneeling when we commune, disposing of the reliquae in a dignified manner, celebrating the sacrament frequently and insisting on the Lutheran practice that those who commune be “examined and absolved.” [1]    

 

I have attempted to teach the doctrine of the mystery of the Trinity for 30 years and still do. But I have also drawn the conclusion that my people are taught the Trinity more fully by the practices the church such as starting the Divine Service with a Trinitarian invocation, speaking the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday, and standing during doxological hymns stanzas which praise the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

I do not constantly harp at my people about how important it is to have an orthodox doctrine of the ministry. Rather I model what it means to be a pastor. I preach and teach. I study the Word and theology. I wear my collar. I vest for the service. I pray with them in their homes, read the scriptures to them at their hospital beds and I commune them when they are sick or infirm. I practice my craft of being a pastor much as a doctor practices medicine and a lawyer practices law. It is in the practice of our religion that we are most fully known.

 

In short, my people seem to understand the Christian religion far more in terms of the practices of the church than in terms of the doctrine. And I do not think that this understanding is such a bad thing.

 

(In the next post we hear of two significant principles that help us understand the relationship of doctrine and practice.)

 


[1] AC XXIV, 6 The Book of Concord Edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress) 69.

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