Wordplay – AALC Colloquy Q9 BLOG

Greetings! This is question 9 of my colloquy process with the American Association of Lutheran Churches (taalc.org). I’ve been asked to define several terms: orthodox, evangelical, fundamentalism, charismatic, and piety vs. pietism. Let’s get going!


9a. ORTHODOX — The Missouri Synod Cyclopedia describes the term “orthodox” in this way: Orthodox — The term orthodox (antonym: heterodox; see Heterodoxy) implies conformity to a certain standard; used esp. in a religious sense; often used in E Christendom of those in communion with Constantinople. The broad definition of the term means to have correct or right doctrine. But what does that really mean anyway? Don’t all churches claim this?  Well, I’m not sure that any church is completely correct, but I do know that Orthodox, Confessional Lutherans strive to live and practice as closely to scripture as possible.  In fact, the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord says as much: 17] we reject and condemn all heresies and errors which were rejected and condemned in the primitive, ancient, orthodox Church, upon the true, firm ground of the holy divine Scriptures.18] 2. Secondly, we reject and condemn all sects and heresies which are rejected in the writings, just mentioned, of the comprehensive summary of the Confession of our churches.

Also, there are several “Orthodox” churches in the world — The Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc. Each has its own liturgy and rules.  The Greek Orthodox church is a part of the Eastern Church at large, and all of the Eastern Churches are based on a huge schism in 1054 with the Western Church.  This was based on many things, but one big doctrinal fallout was over the Filioque Controversy.  Basically, the Western Church believes that the Spirit of God is sent to us by both the Father and the Son; the Eastern Church believes that the Father exclusively sends us the Spirit.  However, the words of Jesus state that the Spirit proceeds both from Himself and from the Father: John 15:26 English Standard Version (ESV)26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.  However, the Orthodox Churches still believe Mary is sinless, and that Mary and the saints are mediators between Christians and the Lord. We will move on to what it means to be evangelical.  It is true that Lutherans were the first to use the word! I had no idea! 

                  9b. EVANGELICAL —- The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek “evangelion εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion), meaning good tidings:  Mat 4:23 (ESV) And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel (euangelion) of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. Since I come from a background that is very mixed when it comes to doctrine and denominations, my first thought is that someone who is evangelical is dedicated to sharing their faith and making disciples.  I know that Lutherans value education, theology, training and discipleship, which is one of the reasons why I am pursuing Confessional Lutheranism. The Missouri Synod describes evangelicals as such: 

                Term meaning loyal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Luth. Reformation was evangelical. Later the term described those who emphasized the doctrine of atonement for sin. Evangelicals are known for miss. work, personal piety, and opposition to ritualism and modernism. In the 20th c. a liberal ev. movement tried to combine the zeal of evangelicals with liberalism. In Eng. the term is applied to the Low* Ch. — So Evangelicals are Christians who try to adhere to scripture, and emphasize the doctrine of justification. It is true that evangelicals are zealous for missions, holiness, and several other things.  However, I believe many evangelicals today have embraced modernism and post-modernism.  But basically, an evangelical church should be gospel-centered.  And now we see that many churches are not as gospel-centered as they claim to be.  This can be seen in the way that some churches say things like we hold to the “full gospel,” and others hold to the “pure gospel.”  Is not the Gospel simply the Gospel? Who or what is at the core of the gospel? Christ Jesus.  So to me, an evangelical Christian is one who has Christ Jesus at the core of their beliefs, doctrine, practices, etc.  Again, many people claim this, and many Christians think they have Christ at the helm of their beliefs.  But I believe that the term “evangelical” often has a negative connotation in American Christianity.  It is a term that is so broad and that can cover so many topics.  The term “evangelical” is so common now that it’s almost cliqued. There are Christian bookstores, there are bumper stickers with various Christian themes.  Celebrities, athletes, musicians, many of them will state that they are Christians.  But what does this really mean? Is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ demonstrated in their lives? Are they serving their local parish and their neighbors through vocation? Do these celebrities and athletes (although several like Stephen Curry of the NBA and Tim Tebow have legitimate faith) actually evangelize? And so I believe that Christians who truly love the Lord, who are serving their neighbors, and who are truly making disciples are actually not out on stage, but rather are theologians of the cross. They are not theologians of glory. The evangelical Christian will go to remote northern Japan, where only 1 percent of the population is Christian.  The evangelical Christian will go to the unchurched states in America like Utah and Oregon, or the extremely liberal state of California.  The evangelical Christian will go to Sudan, or Iceland and everywhere in between.  In short, the evangelical wants to evangelize, that is, reach as many people with the message of Jesus Christ as possible, for the glory of God.  Now that we have explored what it means to be evangelical, we will discuss what it means to be fundamentalist. 

9c. FUNDAMENTALISM —- The LCMS Cyclopedia states:   Fundamentalism is a

                   Religious position opposed to liberalism* and Modernism* in 20th–c. Am. Protestantism. Adheres to the inspiration of the Bible and to its cardinal doctrines, but many of its protagonists have been assoc. with premillennialism (see Millennium, 7). Fundamentalism is polemic, attacking liberalism in sems. and chs. and causing sharp cleavages esp. among Baps. and Presbyterians. It is distinguished from Lutheranism in this, that the latter uses the Bible not as code but source of faith and emphasizes culture of spiritual life by the means of grace rather than by controversy. 

                On another site called Lutheran world, it describes five points of fundamentalism: The first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs traces to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, in 1910 which distilled these “five fundamentals”: • Biblical inspiration and the infallibility of scripture as a result of this • Virgin birth of Jesus • Belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin • Bodily resurrection of Jesus • Historical reality of the miracles of Jesus. These fundamentals were especially a reaction to the emergence of the historical critical method in Biblical interpretation. –  I personally look at fundamentalism as religious extremism.  Take radical Muslims like the Taliban, ISIS and Al-Qaeda for example. I believe fundamental churches like Westboro Baptist are no different from Muslims who try to impose sharia law on people.  Westboro Baptist is a church that fails to distinguish between Law and Gospel.  I believe that is the problem with fundamentalism at its core: Acts 15:7–11 [7] And after there had been much [p]debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear [r]the word of the gospel and believe. [8] And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, [9] and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. [10] Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? [11] But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” — Westboro believes that with bullying, scare tactics and guilt trips, they can translate the unconverted to the kingdom of God.  This is impossible! So when they hold up signs that say “God hates gays,” they forget the fact that Christ has died not only for their sins, but for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2). They forget that the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).  Fundamentalists try to change hearts by implying rules and regulations.   Only the Spirit of God, coming from heaven and entering human existence, can change hearts (John 16:8, Ezek. 36:25-27). In fact, I love the NET translation of Ezekiel 36:25-27: 25 I will sprinkle you with pure water, and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative, and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations.  This work of the Spirit is extra nos, outside of ourselves.  Yes, the Spirit takes residence inside us, but he is not from inside of us.  He does not originate or proceed from us, but from Heaven.  The Holy Spirit is alien to our existence, and the Spirit brings with Him an alien nature, and an alien righteousness, that is imputed to us. And since we are speaking so much of the Holy Spirit, this naturally brings us to our discussion on Charismatic Christianity. 

                  9d. CHARISMATIC —- According to Rev. Julius A. Kimpel’s article for the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod USA, The life and the faith of many of our Lutheran people have been significantly affected by a recent development among us, the “charismatic movement.” Often referred to as “neo-Pentecostalism,” it is the doctrine of the Pentecostal church bodies which has leaped over denominational lines during the last quarter of a century or so and permeated all of the mainline churches, ours included [ Editors Note: Pr. Kimpel is referring here to LC-MS]. The name “charismatic” reflects their distinctive and strong insistence that the charismata (gifts) of the Holy Spirit are intended for the church today, as they so often put it, “just the same as at the first Pentecost.” — Charismatic Christians are Christians who believe that the charismata, or gifts of the Holy Spirit, have continued until today with the same intensity and frequency in which they occurred during the first century.   The official position of the AALC on the Holy Spirit and the gifts he distributes to the church is as follows: Because Christ is the fullness of the Deity, those who belong to Christ have everything He gives to them, including the Holy Spirit. Any emphasis on the work of the Spirit that treats the saving work of Christ as only initiatory or partial must be rejected. Since the message of the Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ, (John 16:14,15), that is our message as well. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the Spirit did His convicting and convincing work. The Spirit has come to exalt Christ, not to draw attention to Himself, and, 2) The fullness of the Holy Spirit is experienced through the Word and the Sacraments received by faith in Christ (Ephesians 3:16-19; Augsburg Confession, Article V; Smalcald Articles, III, VIII 10).

    We must be careful, because the Apostle Paul exalted love over all the gifts (1 Cor. 13).  But even in the passages in 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul talks about the use of the gifts, he said he would rather that people speak in intelligible language than in ecstatic tongues where only you and God understand your mysterious dialogue! Lutherans leave a lot of room for mystery, but not for tongues in the public worship setting!  And also, in 2 Peter 1:3, he says that we already have all things concerning life and doctrine that we could ever possibly need.  Let us teach people about how mysterious the Word and Sacraments are, and they will receive all the encounters with Christ that they will ever need every Sunday at the Word & Table. And speaking of experiencing God, of course we want to experience his holiness.  Let’s see what the Lutheran take on pietism is. 

                  9e. PIETISM —– First, we will start with the Book of Concord on pietism: According to our Confessions it is the Gospel that creates faith in someone’s heart, brings him the Holy Spirit, and comforts him with the treasure of salvation (SA, III, iv; AC, V, 2; Ap, IV, 73; LC, 11, 38). It is the Gospel that offers and confers consolation and continual forgiveness (SA, III, iii, 8). It is the Gospel by which the church lives and flourishes (Ap, VII, 20; Tr, 25; LC, 11, 43, 56). It is the Gospel that incites true piety which is pleasing to God (Ap, IV, 122 ff.). And it is for the sake of the Gospel that God’s fallen creation still exists (LC, 11, 61 ff.).  

Then we will move on to the LCMS Cyclopedia on Pietism: 


                  17th–18th c. movement in Ger. Protestantism; it regarded prevailing orthodoxy as spiritually unproductive. Origin of the movement is gen. traced to P. J. Spener,* who urged pastors to become curates, theol. students educated, nobility true administrators, and the commonalty to avoid secular amusements. PJS From what I have seen, the pietist movement in Lutheranism was founded because there was too much of an emphasis on intellectualism and intellectual discourse in the church in the 17th century.  Apparently, sermons were not edifying the people, and pastors were teaching theology but were failing to teach the Word of God.   The pietist movement in Lutheranism was started by a gentleman named Philipp Jacob Spener.  Per an article by the LCMS which was written by Rev. Thomas V. Aadland, pietism started during the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy, ironically. This was after the Thirty Year’s War which was between Catholics and Protestant which killed 8 million people and 20 percent of the Germans at the time. Philip Jacob Spener wrote a treatise called Pia Desideria (Pious Wishes). Spener thought that the churches were dry and lacked spiritual vitality.  He also thought that the Lutherans were too easy on Jews, Catholics and others who taught false doctrine.  He stressed that more laity should read the scriptures, apply the scriptures, and look for the fruit of the Spirit in their individual lives.  The central theme of Pietism was that of exalting experience over doctrine.  This was exactly the opposite emphasis of Luther. Luther believed that orthopraxy should flow from orthodoxy, and I concur with that statement as well.  We must first understand who God is, what he wants and what he requires before we can worship Him.  Do we worship the Lord according to how we perceive him as individuals, as so many Christians do? Or do we invent a god of our own imagination, as so many people do who call themselves “spiritual but not religious?” No, God has shown us what type of worship he desires: John 4:21-24English Standard Version 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” — Our experiences cannot be the foundation and basis for our life with Christ.  Our experiences are highly subjective.  Paul tells us that all do not receive the same spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12, 14).  If the Spirit moves like the wind (John 3), which is unpredictable, how is that we expect consistency in Christ to come from our individual experiences, whether in private, or in public “revivals,” etc? No, we must place our hope in the sure promises that are found in the Word and Sacraments.  But Spener exalted regeneration, edification and sanctification over justification, which is a faulty view. Spener also introduced a “class system” of Christians, which sounds strikingly like what takes place in Pentecostal and Methodist churches, with their concepts of “Second Blessings” and entire sanctification, where they view the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as being something that takes place after regeneration during a second event. All of these things pull our attention away from the things God places his promise and seal on — His Word, Baptism, and Communion.  Now, there is a difference between pietism and piety.  Piety is good.  Piety in this article by Rev. Aadland is “faith and life in relation to the living God.” There is nothing wrong with striving to have a vibrant prayer life.  There is nothing wrong with fasting.  As long as we don’t assume these things garner merit with God.  Since I am an 80’s baby, I’ll give an illustration from gaming! Most online computer or console (Sony, Xbox, Nintendo) games today have something called an experience point (XP) system.  The more you play, the more XP you gain, and you get access higher ranks, different areas of the game, different gear and weapons, etc.  Let us not think that God gives us more “xp” the more we pray, read or fast! This is not Call of Duty; this is the kingdom! And anyway, the hunger for more prayer or more scripture comes from faith, and our faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit.  So finally, be a pious Christian.  Be a pious Lutheran. But let your piety be grounded in the Promises; just as your justification is grounded in the Promises. And interestingly enough, being grounded in the promises is what Lutheranism is all about.  Stay tuned! 

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