Pietism as the basis of “Lay Ministry”

Lay Ministry – especially that of the Licensed Lay Deacon program – is nothing more than an outbreak of Pietism in the LC—MS.

spenerNow that I’ve got your attention, hear me out: the most common form of Pietism in the various American Lutheran Churches is of the Scandinavian extraction. Oh, sure, we can blame Philipp Jakob Spener for his Pia Desideria, and Heinrich Müller for claiming that “the font, pulpit, confessional, and altar are the four dumb idols of the Lutheran Church.”[i] We can get disgusted with Johann Arndt’s mysticism in his True Christianity, and scoff at the built-in dismissal of the Church promoted by Ecclesiola in Ecclesia. We can shake our head at the remarkable amount of navel-gazing that goes on in the evangelical world around us, and trace a lot of it to the German Pietists, but we’ve been infected all the same, albeit with a different (yet no less virulent) strain.

The thinking among you will be asking “Okay Mike, how did our Synod which rejected German Pietism get infected with the Scandinavian strain?” I’m glad you asked. Besides being the most recent version to reach our shores, look at the Tappert translation of the Book of Concord, produced by the Scandinavian Lutherans and used for years in the pastoral formation of our pastors. The notes for AC V undermine the very office of Pastor itself and invent out of whole cloth doubt as to the meaning of the reformers. We had a close relationship with the American Lutheran Church and that closeness allowed the seeds of pietism to take root.

HaugeFrom our brothers in the old ALC[ii] we got that with which they had been infected from “patients zero” in the US, the Hauge and Eliesien Synods. This is Scandinavian Pietism. This is the Pietism of Hauge with all his anti-clericalism, maginalizing the Means of Grace, and undermining authority of Scripture. This strain is with us today in the LCMS, and is more dangerous than its German twin. Where the German Pietism calls Font, Pulpit, Confession, and Altar “dumb idols,” the Scandinavian strain retains them and even talks favorably of them – but as good “first steps” toward a personal revelation or feeling. The concrete assurance of our Salvation given to us in and by the Means of Grace is replaced with a personal experience and amendment of life[iii]. The solid means by which God mediates His gifts to us in replaced with feelings.

In this pietistic train of thought God no longer deals with mankind in concrete and physical means, means which can be recalled and held as a comfort – now He supposedly guides with “internal calls,” “promptings,” “feelings,” and being “led by the Spirit.” The concrete and comforting confession we make in the Fifth Article of the Augustana – which says that so that we may have this Faith[iv] God has instituted the Office of Holy Ministry (the pastorate) is now replaced with lay leaders who take on themselves an Office to which they are not called. The Scandinavian Pietism relied heavily on lay leaders unburdened with full theological training, with the responsibility of a Call, with Pastoral formation, and with the consciousness that one is acting “in persona Christi.” Lay leadership has its roots in Pietism and as such is not a path to a sure delivery of the Faith, but rather a path toward self-help, self-importance, and self-reliance. Our LLD program would rather ignore Scripture and the confessions with pleas of expediency and situational ethics to excuse the continuation of the pietistic lay ministry. One is now unable to question doctrine because in full pietism mode the concrete and verifiable means are replaced with unverifiable meanings. Our concrete confession of AC V and XIV is cast aside for the pietistic need for the internal call of Lay Ministry.

St Paul asks “How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?[v]” Since we know that words mean things – real, actual things; what does sent mean? It means “cause to go or be taken to a particular destination, arrange for the delivery of, to be transmitted.”[vi] A lay leader is not sent; he is self-appointed. He has the desire for the office, which is a good thing, but it is not his to merely reach out his hand and take. The Office and its duties of proclamation and administering the Sacraments are given to him though the concrete action of God mediated through physical means.

Therefore, the pietistic lay ministry with which we are burdened – this Licensed Lay Deaconate – is nothing more than a reimagining of Hauge’s anti-clericalism which undermines the Church as well as undermining the Means we confess in AC V by which God gives to us that Faith once delivered to the saints. It is my prayer that we will return to our Confessions and remove this aberration which illicitly plays at being pastor so that we hold true to that which God entrusted us. Let God do as He has promised and mediate His gifts through means instead of trying to invent “new and better ways” of delivering His gifts. Let us gladly take the vaccine of our confessions and be rid of this longstanding infection of pietism. Let us return to the safety of our Confessions to ensure that the Faith once delivered is proclaimed and shared as it should be.

[i] Jonathan Storm, Orthodoxy and Reform: The Clergy in Seventeenth Century Rostock, Volume 1 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1999), 243.

[ii] American Lutheran Church

[iii] Committee on Liturgy and Hymnody, Service Book and Hymnal of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publish House, 1958), Absolution.

[iv] The saving Faith in the Triune God, in our Original Sin, in the Person, Work, and Nature of Jesus, and in His Justification of us.

[v] Romans 10:14,15

[vi] Oxford Dictionary of English

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