The Evangelical Lutheran Church- Doctrine and Practice (Part 1)

One of the first district pastors’ conferences that I ever attended, and certainly one that I will always remember, was in the late 80s in Omaha, Nebraska. There was much buzz about this specific conference because of the main presenter, Rev. David S. Luecke, and his recent book, Evangelical Style and Lutheran Substance (CPH 1988).  Lutheran Church Extension Fund had purchased and provided the book for everyone in attendance (along with George Barna’s Marketing the Church) and we were encouraged to read it before the conference.

I must admit, at the time I didn’t fully grasp what all the fuss was about.  The presentations were made, the questions and answers were pointed and the discussions were very heated.  Many, including myself, firmly believed that mission and outreach were the most important thing and everything else was negotiable. What did it matter what the style was, as long as the substance was solid and pure and Lutheran.  I just didn’t get it.

For many years much of Lutheranism has suffered from a disconnect with regard to doctrine and practice and their relationship.  Through the years I could see in the congregation I served that what I taught and preached didn’t always fit with the practice I was teaching or promoting.  In my attempt to be relevant and contextual and missional, I was simply sending a mixed message and confusing the faithful.  Slowly I began to see that throughout the history of the church, doctrine and practice have always gone hand in hand, and every attempt to separate the two has ended in the slippery slope to heresy.

Several years ago a doctrinal controversy in my circuit helped connect the dots for me with regard to doctrine and practice.  A brother LCMS pastor began preaching and teaching “once saved, always saved” and a storm of controversy ensued regarding predestination, election, and apostasy.  I went to visit this pastor out of care and concern, and he assured me that he truly believed what Scripture and Confessions say regarding the possibility of a Christian falling from faith.  He also told me that he would never say that from the pulpit or in Bible Study.  When I asked him why, he said that election/predestination was a minor and confusing doctrine, and had absolutely no bearing on his pastoral practice.  In the months and years that followed, I could see first hand how various pastoral practices taught and encouraged the false teaching of “once saved, always saved.”  Practice corresponds to doctrine, no matter what our intentions may be.

Since that time the Rev. Klemet Preus has authored an amazing book that shows again and again the connection between doctrine and practice and practice and doctrine. The Fire and the Staff, CPH 2004, is an instant classic in my humble opinion and a must read for all who truly desire to be Lutheran, both clergy and laity. I have many favorite sections including “Trick or Treat” (p. 71) and “Gin and Tonic in North Dakota” (p. 121) and “The Village, the Well and the Water” (p.80), but the best thing about this book is the way that it shows again and again how practice teaches doctrine and how practice necessarily corresponds to doctrine.

I still encounter many who are not convinced of the connection between doctrine and practice and wish to separate and compartmentalize the two. To them I ask these simple questions:

How would your spouse react to you saying, “I believe in the doctrine of monogamy, but I think we need to be flexible on the practice.”?  or

How would the police officer respond to you saying, “I believe in the doctrine of a speed limit, but my practice varies a bit.”?

Most often, these two questions help connect the dots for them, as they needed to be connected for me.

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