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

About Mike Borg

Mike Borg is a poor miserable sinner who rejoices in the grace of God through Jesus Christ. He serves as Kantor and is Fifth and Sixth grade instructor at Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Cheyenne, WY. Mike and his wonderful wife Michelle have three children and enjoy country living in Wyoming with their goats, turkeys, grapes, and hops.


Pietism as the basis of “Lay Ministry” — 31 Comments

  1. Trusting in the objective, outside of me, outside of my doubts, internal conflicts or feeling, is true, Biblical trust in Christ for me. Everything else is shifting sand. Ultimately my inner experience, even as a believer, are like filthy menstral rags. Without Abba,(Daddy) saying to you, ” son, I love. You trust in me now not yourself”, there is no confidence of salvation. Pietism is baseless. Even as healthy as it is to strive to live according to the Maker’s instructions for our life. But we will fail to live that life and “think or feel” that we are not His. Then what?

  2. You throw out a lot of accusations, you support none of them.

    ” (the pastorate) is now replaced with lay leaders who take on themselves an Office to which they are not called.”

    Where does this come from? No one, especially not a deacon “takes on themselves” any office.

  3. I grew up in the “old” ALC. It was German, root and branch. In the 50’s there was a merger with the Norwegian ELC, which they called TALC (The American Lutheran Church) but later dropped the ‘T’. My old uncles would have preferred merger with Missouri, but there was no vote that I remember.

    A great deal went on over the heads and behind the backs of those mostly rural “old” ALC congregations. I don’t know what they were teaching at Wartburg Seminary. Missouri had a relationship with TALC, (I presume from the dates) but was Hauge Synod involved? The Norwegians I knew considered Hauge to be stand offish and separate.
    We moved to a town with an LCMS church in 1964, (one Lutheran church per town in NJ) but I wasn’t paying attention to church politics then.

  4. @David Hartung #2

    Where does this come from? No one, especially not a deacon “takes on themselves” any office.

    “Accepts duties for which he is not qualified” sound better to you, David?

  5. @David Hartung #2

    David, are LLDs called?
    I find it interesting that I was told not to pronounce the Absolution, being neither called nor ordained; use the Declaration of Grace instead. Apparently the LSB is more “binding” than the Augsburg Confession.

  6. @helen #3

    Helen, I too was raised ALC. Norwegian root and stem, with Norwegians as Bishops and Minneapolis as headquarters. My church had originally been Haugean.
    My understanding of the history came from my confirmation classes and the history as given by the ELCA.

  7. @Mike Borg #6

    Born after 1950, Mike?
    Quite possible, then, that you were a member of the merger I mentioned. And Hauge Synod was included. Thanks!

  8. No offence, but this looks like it was written like a person who has never read Pia Desideria or True Christianity for themselves.

    You could just as easily blame Luther for this as you could anyone else. He often overstated the case for the priesthood of all believers. One could cherry pick his works to prove he believed in everything from lay leadership to the ordination of women. And we know this because it’s happened! Spener quotes Luther quite a bit. Food for thought?

    And it’s Eielsen not “Eliesien”.

    Blaming Tappert’s translation? Are LCMS pastors that dumb that they don’t refer to other translations as well? I think not. Seriously.

    Rather than blame historical figures or nebulous interpretations of past events, why not just blame those teaching the laity in your own Synod? Seems like that’s the real problem. People, clergy and laity alike, always look to change the truth to suit their personal thoughts, feelings and revelations. If your Synod is infected beyond repair with that, leave.

  9. Your argument would be better if you had included the notes for AC V from the Tappert edition.

  10. @Rev TLH #9

    Rev. TLH, (by the way, how fortuitous to have such a spectacular name! I’m sure you’re not hiding behind anonymity, right?) Spener makes some absolutely valid points: yes, Christians ought to read their Bible, and pastors ought to be regenerate men. I have read both, and while salutary points are made the “solutions” offered do nothing but degrade the fact that God mediates His gifts through means.

    I thank you for pointing out the spelling error, my norsk fingers sometimes betray me, I’ll fix that posthaste.

    Tappert is not blamed (I’ll admit he’s my “go-to” English version of the BoC) but rather is an example of how the “virus” of pietism was transmitted in a subtle way.

    Finally, the LCMS is not beyond repair. A body with a virus is treated, not put down like infected livestock. The Confessions are clear, and I believe the LLD aberration is not a fatal blow but rather one that can be corrected.

  11. @Matthew #10

    For AC V Tappert says:

    “This title would be misleading if it were not observed (as the text of the article makes clear) the the Reformers thought of “The Office of the Ministry” in other than clerical terms.”

  12. @Mike Borg #12

    No worries, and thanks for your clarification. I think it’s important to qualify things unless it is a waste of time, which I don’t think is the case.

    I don’t know much about what *really* goes on in the LCMS, living abroad at present, but I do wish the best for them. I’ve never met an LCMS pastor I didn’t like.

  13. The haughty spirits, Lord, restrain
    Who o’er Thy Church with might would reign
    And always set forth something new,
    Devised to change Thy doctrine true.

    TLH 1941
    Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide
    p. 292 v. 6

  14. When I became a Stephen Minister (lay counselor), I was most certainly not “self-appointed.” Stephen Ministers must be carefully screened, trained and supervised. After I was commissioned, I provided ongoing emotional support for a developmentally disabled man who was dying, a father who was agonizing over a wayward teenage child, and a brother in the Lord who was dealing with a very difficult combination of employment and family issues. My work was helpful not only to them, but also to my pastor and to the congregation at large. Personally, I count myself blessed to have been given the opportunity to serve in that capacity.

    As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. 1 Peter 4:10

    Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. Romans 12:3

  15. A good article, Mr. Borg. After I linked to it, a fellow veteran asked these questions, and with his permission, I am asking them here:

    How should congregations handle not having a called minister, specifically those too small to pay a full-time pastor?
    In the case of widespread persecution, what do we do when the called pastor is removed through martyrdom or imprisonment?
    How did the Church deal with these issues in the past?

  16. @Carl H #17
    When I became a Stephen Minister (lay counselor), I was most certainly not “self-appointed.” Stephen Ministers must be carefully screened, trained and supervised. After I was commissioned, I provided ongoing emotional support ….

    1. I don’t think you instituted/distributed the Sacrament, or preached?

    You were no doubt saving the pastor’s time by doing his counseling, but for what? If for additional time to study and write better sermons, good. Sometimes it’s to run the business side of the congregation, which laymen could do.

  17. @Bill #18

    How should congregations handle not having a called minister, specifically those too small to pay a full-time pastor?

    How small is too small? I read once that a dozen contributors, tithing off the top, could pay a pastor the average of their own incomes. [Somebody want to check that math? It might take another dozen for the Concordia Plan.] 🙁

    An odd thing happens when a “too small” group steps out in faith. Others “come and see”. And next thing you know, they are renovating the church and building Sunday School classrooms for the future needs of their baptized babies.

    Missions often start even smaller than a dozen if a sponsoring congregation helps a bit. One of my friends started with a storefront 5-6 years ago and the congregation has recently dedicated a multipurpose building. The mission still needs help but confessional groups are providing it.

    [There is a thing called “District subsidy” but that’s for “entertainment” places which avoid putting Lutheran in their names.]

  18. Wow I wonder how one makes such jumps of reasoning and comes to such a conclusion. The LLD’s origins seem to me to be a fix to a problem we made had tried to fix like SMP or something else. Laity vrs Clergy where did we hear this again. O yes in Walther’s day. People are trying to fix our practice to be in line with our theology. It may not be that they are pietist sent to destroy what you think the LCMS should be. If you want to have a discussion in the priesthood of all believers in the LCMS I wrote a MA thesis on that and how Waltherianism fixed the conflict of laity and clergy. Their is a question of where does the ministry come from that has caused strands of Lutheranism in America. From the office of ministry apart from the congregation or in the congregation apart form the clergy?

  19. Hasn’t the LCMS bonded itself with fidelity to the Confessions that bear unequivocal witness to the marks of the Church? Is this not settled theology? It shouldn’t be that we all apply our own views and opinions to morph our doctrine in a continuous process as though it can always be improved and expanded. What is the Scriptural standard? Is it a moving target? Is it so indefinite? Is the Bible God’s word or a collection of homologoumena and antilegomena texts subject to the latest revelations and revisions the Greek alphabet can offer? Do we yet struggle with a quia subscription to the BOC? Do we still not agree on what defines the Office of the Public Ministry and who is considered rightly called? Was the lead up to 1580 just so we could reinvent ourselves and contend for liberality where strict construction is required? Haven’t we seen enough in the American experience of the relaxation of institutional standards and established truths that cause inevitable corruption if not collapse of the institution? If the Lutheran Reformers can’t be trusted with the whole Reformation then we should replace the name Lutheran on our letterhead because it is rendered obsolete.

  20. @Mike Borg #5

    It depends on how you define “called”. If you mean does the congregation send out the same call document that they would send to call an ordained pastor, then no he does not. However if you define a call to be a request (however transmitted) for a given man to serve them in Word and Sacrament ministry, then yes deacons are called.

    In my case the District President suggested me to the congregation, and after discussion and a vote, they approved that suggestion.

  21. they are properly called as “deacons” not a “lay ministers.” The confessions recognize the biblical and confessional position of deacon as a class of minister, in both AC and TPPP. The context of TPPP is that individual churches, not church hierarchy, has the power to call its own ministers, one type of which is deacon: “62] The deacons, moreover, may elect from among themselves one whom they know to be active, and name him archdeacon. 65] …. it is manifest that ordination administered by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine law [if a pastor in his own church ordains certain suitable persons to the ministry, such ordination is, according to divine law, undoubtedly effective and right]… 67] For wherever the Church is, there is the authority [command] to administer the Gospel. Therefore it is necessary for the Church to retain the authority to call, elect, and ordain ministers.”

  22. One needs to be careful about making assumptions as to motives of why we had the LLB. I recall being a vicar and preaching and teaching and baptizing. The pastor took a call three weeks before I got there. I was supervised by the neighboring pastor and I did all that the church ministry wanted. Also Sem. Prof. and their calls brings an interesting discussion. From the BoC the congregation. Is always local but Sem prof. Have calls to the church at large. In days past they had a call to a local congregation. Do we say this is a result of pietism? I think not. Walther spoke against licensed pastors as trVeling around and seeking a call in the improper way. I think LLB are really pastors who have not received the right title – my friend Steve who served as a LLB was always a pastor to me. I hope this change is seen as a title change to fit our theology. It should not be a club to beat people up. As the original writer of this post has done.

  23. Without trying to discern or debate where the errors came from (which I think is highly subjective and speculative) I think the OP rightly discerns the problem of the LCMS as Pietsm– though Enthusiasm might also be an appropriate diagnosis.

    The abrogation of AC V and XIV are but one of several examples. Rampant Enthusiast worship (violating AC declaration that we do not abolish the mass, but keep nearly all the rites and ceremonies of antiquity) is yet another. Toleration of Enthusiast and Pietist catechetical materials for both youth and adults is yet another. The bizarre use of “elders” apart from anything the Scriptures (such as the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul) or Confessions ever envisioned them to be, while taking the Scriptural office of deacon and turning it into either a male lay minister or female only position is again another. Conventions seeing fit to vote on doctrine and practice, particulalry when attempts are used to sway the lay voters to cast their votes for emotional and sentimental objectives (against clear Scripture and the Confessions to which our theologians are bound) is yet another.

    The list goes on. LLD is not the LCMS’ problem– rank Pietism and Enthusiasm are the LCMS’ problem. And that problem is far worse and widespread than I think many begin to imagine.

  24. Highly subjective and specutive. Wow I would say the author to this post said it was Swedish pietism. He was very exact on the reason. For you to broad paint the LCMS is also highly subjective and speculative. From my view. One can only think of what you mean about the Mass from ancient times. And pietistic confirmation material?

  25. @Pastor Scott schaller #28

    Pr. Schaller,

    Establishing cause and effect is a dicey business even in small scale experimentation, let alone large organizational structures over long periods of time. The OP’s suggestion that Swedish Pietism is what has driven the LCMS to its current state, I find to be possible but not well established by the argumentation above. The LCMS could just as likely have been influenced by various forms of modern Charismatic and Pentecostal movements, older or newer forms of Methodism, Calvinism, and others. Trying to establish a primary linkage would demand a great deal of sociological research, which this article did not provide. Since I haven’t, either, I refrain from making such subjective and speculative conclusions on the subject.

    As for my observation (which concurs with the OP in subject if not in scope) that Pietism is major problem for the LCMS, my knowledge and experience is annecdotal, though born of a great deal of broad travel and exposure to the LCMS. While Pietist/Enthusiast errors I noted briefly above are not equally spread throughout the Synod, they are commonly observed throughout the Synod. It is my opinion and observation (which is, I admit, subjective) that the Synod’s primary problems are related to Pietism and Enthusiasm, based on the broadly tolerated errors I listed above. Others might interpret the data differently, and I’d be happy to hear their perspectives.

    Peace to you.

  26. I don’t think there is any question at all that Scandinavian pietism has influenced the LCMS. I served LCMS congregations in Minnesota. Most Lutherans in Minnesota come out of the ELC (that merged with the ALC to become the new ALC that then merged with the LCA and the AELC to become the present day ELCA). This tradition has influenced Missouri’s practice in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, and elsewhere. Rev. Borg is right on target. The critical issue is the ministry. The ALC / ELCA pastors I have met over the years have a fundamentally different view of the pastoral office than what I was taught at the seminary. By including men who are not qualified for the office among those who carry out the duties of the office the duties are subtly altered to meet the different qualifications. Thus, the practice of having Licensed Lay Deacons preaching and administering the sacraments changes the nature of the office itself in the minds of the people. Doctrinal integrity suffers.

    What most Missourians don’t understand about the ELCA is that their primary problem is not their liberalism, feminism, and politically correct left-wing orthodoxy. It is their pietism. That’s the source of it all. Relationships trump doctrine in every single facet of church life. Our twelve years of fellowship with the ALC (1969-1981) infected us with a pietistic, unionistic, gospel-reductionist spirit that remains to this day.

  27. Relationships trump doctrine in every single facet of church life.

    ELCA doctrine by consensus.

    The Scripture principle is denied by making the Church, the doctrinal decrees of the Church (councils, synods), the Pope, etc., the arbiters of truth.
    Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol I, CPH, St. Louis, 1950, p. 202

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