Great Stuff — Religion = doctrine or experience?

Another great post by Pastor Peters over on Pastoral Meanderings:

 

Again, First Things has a good piece on liturgical renewal and the return of one raised in the liturgy to that very liturgy that gave him life.  It is a good read and I urge you to take a look.  I appreciated his personal take on the journey back to his beginnings and Leroy Huizengais a good writer.  I stole a quote from his article:

In recent years, however, while continuing to play in worship bands, I began to become increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of “contemporary worship.” As Rich Mullins, to this day one of my heroes, once said, contemporary Christian music is great entertainment, but it doesn’t belong in worship. (Ironic, indeed, coming from the guy who gave us “Awesome God” and “Sometimes by Step.”) 

Rich Mullins is a big name in the contemporary Christian music scene and I had not heard him say that contemporary Christian music is good entertainment but terrible worship.  I concur and it gives me pause to think that one who has contributed so much to the standard literature of the CCM experience knows where is belongs and where it does not belong..

Leroy Huizenga suggests that among the reasons for the Lutheran (or other liturgical church’s) foray into contemporary worship and contemporary Christian music:

I suspect it involved a shift in the philosophy of religion (itself a subset of other cultural and intellectual currents) that came about in the 1960s and 1970s. Painting with a broad brush, before that time, religion concerned doctrine. After that shift, religion concerned experience. It’s easiest to see, I think, in evangelicalism, but the pattern holds for mainline Protestant and Catholic churches too. In any event, Christian worship became all too captive to culture and undergirded by a reflexive pragmatism. 

His point is well taken.  When I was confirmed as a Lutheran youth, it was all about memorizing doctrine and Scripture — namely the Small Catechism (1941 version) and the supporting passages of that Synodical edition of the Catechism. At some point along the way, we became suspicious of indoctrination and decided it was, on the whole, a bad word.  So we substituted experience and relationship for training in doctrine and righteousness.  We began to think that kids should feel more and think less about God.  Perhaps some of that was a needed corrective for a faith prone to intellect and weak on emotion.  But we did not stop with balance.  We turned the tables and raised up a generation (tail end of the boomers and those afterwards) who learned quickly doctrine=bad religion and relationship/experience=good religion.  It was a small step from the catechism classroom to the nave and chancel to bring about the same transformation.

It is still the claim among missionals that liturgy only works for high brow, intellectual, education, and emotional stunted folks and most of those are old so the Church has to move on.  To fill the fill we picked up our old Peter, Paul, and Mary style worship music of the 1960s and put it on steroids — complete with the sound systems and screens to make the whole experience complete.  It worked only because we had taught them doctrine was bad and left their catechetical training starved for truth and saturated with the fat of relational and experiential Christianity.

The big difference between the missional crowds and the confessional folks is less musical taste or sense of beauty than it is the centrality of doctrine in the catechetical ministry and worship life of the Church.  The missional crowds seek what works — they are very pragmatic in that regard.  They seek to fill the void of what is lacking in culture and society today.  They are seeking a relationship for people for whom being lost is sin but more than that, it is isolation and being disconnected from family and community.  The confessionals also care about community (koinonia, they would say) but they view this essentially through the lens of that which the Word and Sacraments create, nurture, and nourish.  What works is less important than what is true and what is true is the God works through the means of grace.  Period.

So, for example, those missionals and experiential Christians who practice CCM and CCW and who seek relationships with Jesus for the people they reach do not get the problem.  After all, they are bringing in people who would never darken the confessional door.  Why do the confessionals complain?  The confessionals wonder how you can have a relationship with Jesus apart from the Word and Sacraments and see these as much vehicles of truth as creators of koinonia.

The old battle continues under new names and in different venues but the issue boils down to the same conflict between truth/doctrine and relationship/experience.  We might well look to history to see how this pendulum swing has gone before and what fruits it has borne — but that would be too simple.  So we continue to plod down the same old tired ruts of pitting them against each other, making them compete, and choosing one over the other.

The one thing that gets lost in all of this is that there is no relationship and there is no experience of Jesus apart from the means of grace.  Larry Peters did not say it and neither did Luther or the Church before Him.  The rock on which Jesus builds His Church is really Himself, the means of grace which impart Christ and His gifts to us, and the faith created by the Spirit that responds with “Amen.”  I get the relationship/experience/missional crowd.  I just don’t think they get me… at all!

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.

Comments

Great Stuff — Religion = doctrine or experience? — 25 Comments

  1. A good article, but I would add the following, as causes for the religion = experience trend:

    1. A rebellion against authority (60’s) was a major factor in the de-emphasis on doctrine–not only suspicion of doctrine itself.

    2. The rise and popularity of “Christian Radio,” and later TV have had a huge impact on both our worship, and yes, our doctrine. Marshall McCluhan was right.

    3. The growth of pentecostalism (RIM, for instance), with its “my experience trumps your doctrine” philosphy.

    4. The fascination with Church Growth, with its emphasis on sociology and pragmatism over doctrine.

  2. Our current American culture has many Christians who
    have rejected organized religion and the church. Yet
    they feel it is important for them to have a relationship
    with Christ based on their personal experience.

    The importance of Christian doctrine and the Lutheran
    confessions took a hit when our secular culture declared
    that all truth is relative and there are no moral absolutes.
    Oprah Winfrey was on TV for 25 years telling women that
    all religions are the same. Joel Osteen is on TV telling men
    and women that God wants you to be wealthy and healthy.
    Christ has been omitted from the discussion and so the
    Lutheran Church has the challenge to preach Christ crucified.

  3. I blame Luther. He should have never translated the Bible into the language of common people. The result is that now anyone having mastered a 3rd grade reading level imagines he can open God’s word and understand what it means. Well, that’s simply wrong. One does not, with a nimble galliard, approach an air plane and begin to fly. So, why should one hope to understand Holy Scripture without years of dedicated training and indoctrination at one of our two Lutheran Seminaries?
    And since the time of Luther’s blunder the Bible has done nothing but splinter and confuse the body of Christ. How many Protestant denominations do you suppose have spawned from this wicked act? Hundreds? Thousands? Each going to Hell in their own unique way. (Except ours).
    And then ask, how many denominations have resulted from the Small Catechism?
    I think you get the idea. It’s time the Church puts away the Word of God and comes back to the Lutheran Confessions.

  4. @#4 Kitty #3

    Do I detect just a subtle hint of sarcasm?

    First, the emphasis on experience over doctrine has been with the church since Pentecost, if not before. Simon Magus wanted the Holy Spirit so he could demonstrate his own experiental power (Acts 8:9-24). The gnostics wanted to experience secret knowledge–the scriptures and the apostles’ doctrine weren’t good enough for them. The split between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) Churches far predates Luther’s translations. History is simply the same things happening to different people, languages and translations notwithstanding.

    Second, maybe you haven’t gone far enough. Why rely on the confessions–they should be kept in their orignal languages, Latin and German. Why translate the creeds when the Latin is good enough? Who needs English–the German and Latin versions are what really count.

    It’s time the Church put away both the Word of God and the Confessions, and just try to establish personal relationships–after all, it’s just about Jesus and me, anyways.

  5. Why oh why, has this not been decided, the line was drawn by those who welcomed it in, the door must be shut, by those in high positions, by WELS, ELS, LCMS, etc.? Pew sitters leave, far too often, for this. Only when from behind the pulpit, does it strike & gather attention.

    Why is that? What good is a pulpit, without anyone in a pew? What good is a shepherd, under shepherd, w/o sheep?

    Yet many a humble sweet foot, walks away, before they are deemed “divisive”. Scott Diekmann wrote on this, Issues Etc. has spoken volumes, as has Fighting for the Faith w/Chris Rosenbrough, as has BJS, as has Intrepid Lutherans…why? The Solas & Confessions, are worth standing fast & firm, knowing full well, the consequences & what will insue. Yet, little members, do it still. Why?

    And Synods, refuse to stand fast but expect it, from those who’s life in Christ, depend upon their Congregations & their called undershepherds.

    Why?

  6. @Win #4

    First, the emphasis on experience over doctrine has been with the church since Pentecost, if not before.

    True, but the “experience” crowd was always a minority; a sort of aberration. Since (or because of) Luther’s folly they have become the status quo. Case in point, my small town has three Lutheran churches (two are LCMS). Currently I’m aware of a handful of local (LCMS) bible studies. The largest one is studying LifeWay’s James: Mercy Triumphs by Beth Moore. They meet every Friday morning at the Lutheran school. This sort of thing is the norm; the Confessions are now the aberration.

    Second, maybe you haven’t gone far enough. Why rely on the confessions–they should be kept in their orignal languages, Latin and German. Why translate the creeds when the Latin is good enough? Who needs English–the German and Latin versions are what really count.

    Why not? For centuries the Catholic Church conducted their mass in Latin to a mostly illiterate congregation. They didn’t start to run into problems until Vatican II when they revised the liturgy into the vernacular.

  7. Kitty,
    Do you know who Hus, Tyndale are?
    Our Confessions are much, but to call them “Luther’s folly”?! The current Pope, a Bayrische, said such, & those who subscribe to Luther’s Confessions, are condemned.

    Ha, Lifeway?! Scott Diekmann & Jim Pierce, have written much on those. As have many a post here, at BJS. We should know a bit o’ Latin. As we should know a bit of Hebrew, Greek, or German.

    Know your history. I learned mine the hard way here, at, BJS. How far are you willing to go, how much are you, willing to risk?

    Far too many, far better than we, did & won for the loosing.

  8. @#4 Kitty #6

    I still think your tongue is firmly in your cheek, but I’ll continue the dialogue. The study of Beth Moore, whether in English or Lower Slobbovian, is not due to translations, but of pastors who have a laissez-faire attitude attitude toward their parishoners’ faith. The experience crowd was always a miniority? The Israelites’ fascination with experience-centered Ba-al worship led Elijah to despair–God told him that He had preserved a “remnant” of 7,000–a whopping minority if there ever was one.

    The Catholic Church had toyed with, even encouraged mysticism long before Vatican II. Theresa of Avalon and Bernadette of Lourdes were not products of the vernacular mass. God’s prohibition of the forbidden fruit was not issued in unintelligible language, yet Eve had to “experience” eating it so she could “experience” knowing good and evil.

    The “experience” crowd has always been a presence in the Church, its numbers and influence fluctuating over time. I blame it partly on poor preaching and teaching by pastors, poor administration (visitation) by DP’s and circuit counselors, and the things I mentioned above (#1), among others. But use of the vernacular in worship, and in translations of scripture? Hardly.

  9. What is the reason that the Beth Moore Bible studies are
    so popular in LCMS parishes?

    One reason is that our pastors do not make available
    in-depth Bible studies for our men and women during
    the week. Adult Christian Education is a low priority for
    many pastors, and so the women find the Beth Moore
    video series better than nothing. Our pastors need to
    offer Bible classes during the week for our laity.

  10. Dave Likeness :
    What is the reason that the Beth Moore Bible studies are
    so popular in LCMS parishes?
    One reason is that our pastors do not make available
    in-depth Bible studies for our men and women during
    the week. Adult Christian Education is a low priority for
    many pastors, and so the women find the Beth Moore
    video series better than nothing. Our pastors need to
    offer Bible classes during the week for our laity.

    Amen, yea verily, and forsooth!

  11. @Dave Likeness #9
    One reason is that our pastors do not make available
    in-depth Bible studies for our men and women during
    the week

    Has yours been asked?
    We have mid-week Evening Prayer, followed by Bible study.
    Choir and confirmation are scheduled for that evening, afterward, to give people two reasons to come, if they need two.

    We also have, by lay request, BOC study twice a month and the pericope on the alternate evenings.

    [Beth Moore is something I’ve never felt the need for, along with some of the “book club” selections that some of our people are in thrall to.]

  12. I really don’t think Beth Moore is “better than nothing”.

    “Better” would be to review the Small Catechism with the kids
    with the side benefit of learning more yourself!

    There are also more good Lutheran books to read than anyone can, in one lifetime!

  13. At our church there are Bible Classes led by the Pastor or Vicar using only the Bible on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning, Wednesday evening, and Thursday morning.

    Divine Services are held Thursday evening and two times on Sunday morning.

    During the summer months an early Friday morning Matins and a Saturday evening Divine Service are added. Frequently we hear that if anyone cannot make a scheduled Divine Service or a Bible Class, the pastor is willing to hold one anytime which will meet the need, just let him know. Yes, we are blessed!

  14. Pastor Peters writes:

    “The missional crowds seek what works — they are very pragmatic in that regard. They seek to fill the void of what is lacking in culture and society today. They are seeking a relationship for people for whom being lost is sin but more than that, it is isolation and being disconnected from family and community. The confessionals also care about community (koinonia, they would say) but they view this essentially through the lens of that which the Word and Sacraments create, nurture, and nourish. What works is less important than what is true and what is true is the God works through the means of grace. Period.”

    Do missional folks, presumably Lutherans, not care about what Word and Sacraments create, nurture, and nourish? Do confessional folks eschew pragmatic concerns?

    Further, is it possible, say, for a confessional Lutheran pastor to “attend to the pragmatics” such as installing a crucifix, chanting, bowing and genuflecting, etc., and advertising these to the public, so as to attract as many other confessional Lutherans to his congregation? Could such “attending” include denigrating, either publicly or privately, other Lutheran pastors or congregations for the sole reason they they do not subscribe to his liturgical piety?

    Still further, is it possible that such “attending” would include need to reinforce through personal comments, quips in sermons, and blog posts “morale” among the troops, so that they are constantly reminded about the evils of non-liturgical churches and the blessings of those that are liturgical?

    Pastor Peters also writes: “The old battle continues under new names and in different venues but the issue boils down to the same conflict between truth/doctrine and relationship/experience.”

    Let’s now leave Lutheran out of it. Are conservative Baptist, Presbyterian, or non-dom churches using contemporary music truly indifferent about truth or doctrine? Now let’s bring Lutheran back in. So when we examine the teachings of the Erlangen School, and much of German Lutheran doctrine since the early 1800’s, we should dismiss it because Erlangen sought to combine Scripture, Confessions, and experience, the latter through which all theology is understood, thus highlighting the need for liturgical perfection, so that the believer experiences something and is ethically formed by that experience?

  15. “It is true, brethren, as you well know, that in our day it is common for people to say, ‘Emphasizing doctrine so much only harms and hinders the kingdom of God, yes, even destroys it. Many say, ‘Instead of disputing over doctrine so much, we should much rather be concerned with souls and with leading them to Christ. But all who speak in this way do not really know what they are saying or what they are doing. As foolish as it would be to scold a farmer for being concerned about sowing good seed and to demand of him simply to be concerned about a good harvest, so foolish it is to scold those who are concerned first and foremost with the doctrine, and to demand of them that they should rather seek to rescue souls. For just as the farmer who wants a good crop must first of all be concerned about good seed, so the church must above all be concerned about right doctrine if it would save souls.” (C.F.W. Walther, Our Common Task-The Saving of Souls, 1872)

  16. @#4 Kitty #3

    I blame Luther. He should have never translated the Bible into the language of common people.

    Did he?

    A biography of him that I read says that vernacular German, like Helenistic Greek, could not carry the thought of the Gospel, so he first had to innovate what would become High German, and then translate the Bible into it.

  17. In reading this article, I thought of another great irony in this whole debate. One thing CCW people highly value is unity, of a superficial kind of course, but unity nonetheless. At the same time CCW is highly experiential and they are quick to affirm that everyone has different but valid “worship experiences”. But these two things are exclusive!! How can you have unity when everyone has different experiences? The irony is that unity is possible when we gather around the Word and Sacraments and together receive the gifts God has to offer and when our worship entirely focuses on that. This is where we find true unity, as AC VII is so helpful in pointing out. We cannot have unity if the “experience” is the thing, but we can have unity if receiving God’s gifts is the thing.

    Then the question becomes, how do we rightly receive these wonderful gifts? But I don’t see many CoWo people asking that question, which should be the first and defining question of this entire debate, in my opinion. And of course, the answer to that question will be a doctrinal one, and this article has pointed out quite well how that has fallen to the wayside.

  18. In 1872, C.F.W. Walther was fighting generic Lutheranism.
    Today, in the 21st century the LCMS is fighting a generic
    protestantism. Some laity see no difference between a
    mega-church of Joel Osteen, a non-dedominational parish
    like Willow Creek in Barrington, Illinois, or a downtown
    Methodist congregation in New York City.

    Generic protestantism covers up all doctrinal differences with the
    words, “We are all Christians.” However, the sacraments of Baptism
    and Holy Communion are devalued and the law and gospel are
    intermingled. As LCMS parishes we need to proclaim Christ
    crucified as the object of our faith and the Sacraments and the
    Word as the source of our strength.

  19. @Dave Likeness #19
    Some laity see no difference between a
    mega-church of Joel Osteen, a non-dedominational parish
    like Willow Creek in Barrington, Illinois, or a downtown
    Methodist congregation in New York City.

    Why lay all of this on the backs of the laity?

    It’s obvious in Minnesota and 30 other places, including Texas where “no traditional liturgical Lutheran missions will be started by District” that this comes from the “leadership”.
    If our PLI/CG trained DPs weren’t immersed in Willowcreek methods, we could get back to being Lutheran, instead of “voluntarily retiring” our Lutheran Pastors in favor of unqualified “licensed lay ministers”.

    But DP’s achieve their rank and influence by being elected. Only half of the eligible voters are laity and no doubt those are as knowledgable/ignorant as their Pastors make them, in too many cases.

  20. Helen, my reference is not only to Lutheran laity, but
    the laity who are church shopping when moving to a
    new community. As a Lutheran pastor I can attest to
    the fact that non-Lutheran laity can be attracted to a
    LCMS parish with traditional liturgy and law/gospel
    preaching.

    In our suburban parish we had more adult confirmands
    than youth confirmands for my first 20 years there.
    Why? The laity are searching for the truth of Scripture
    and want to know Christ’s will for their lives.

  21. @helen #11
    At our church Bible Studies are available and the people do not come. We have 4 a week (different ones) and maybe 4 – 12 people show up and some of those people show up to 2 different ones. Our pastor ask people to stay in the word and offers them ideas on how and gives them weekly readings in our bulletin. So a lot of the times it is not the pastor it is the people not studying God’s word.

  22. @Dave Likeness #21
    We have only be at our congregation for about 5 years and we have seen the same thing, we have worship helpers that sit with the new people to help them and have now started printing our service on paper because it is easier for the new people. Our Adult classes are bigger than our children’s to become new LCMS members .

  23. Are we not to be told and led that all answers to our spiritual church problems are found in the study and training given in Bible classes and ongoing study?

  24. So who then in the LCMS structure oversees doctrine and practice? Please clarify!

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