Theology is for Proclamation

We live in a post-Christian society where people are uncertain of what is and is not true. Lutheran Christians have historically had a bold confession of faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is one that is filled with hope and truth for people living in a postmodern, dying world. Thus as Gerhard Forde put it, “Theology is for proclamation.”

However, there has become an ever increasing trend among Lutherans to seemingly abandon their clear historic confession of faith in the face of pressures to be relevant to today’s society. Regardless of the specific Lutheran denomination from which one comes, trends are common (though they certainly may vary in degrees of abandonment), which demonstrate affinities for popular movements and claims of relevancy, rather than the classic Lutheran practice of the means of grace (Word and sacrament). Even more unfortunate, is the highly politicized and demonizing practices of the various factions and divisions within each respective body. To be sure, we must confess the truth and be willing to say, “This we confess”, but this blog aims to move past partisanship and demonizing of those who disagree, and endeavors to thoughtfully, honestly, and collegially, foster the true mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century.

In my own denomination (The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod–LCMS) there has been, at least by some accounts, a half century trend to abandon what it means, and what it is, to be Lutheran. Sure, worship wars are a part of this, but even more is the confession of faith which norms the practices of our congregations and shapes the understanding of the mission of the Holy Christian Church.

Already in 1951, German Lutheran theologian, Herman Sasse, wrote this about the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: “These facts raise what constitutes the real question of the life and death for Missouri as it has for every other Lutheran Church. It is not the question concerning the strength of the eternal organization, the constitution, the growth of the congregation, or the school system. Nor is it the question with respect to the position of the Confession as the basis for the message and work of the church. Rather it is the question concerning the strength of the Lutheran faith in the sense of ย the genuine deep faith of the heart in the saving Gospel, which the Holy Spirit alone can give. It is the question whether, and to what extent this strongest confessional church of Lutheranism is a truly confessing church, a church in which the Lutheran Confession is not merely held in honor as the confession of the fathers and therefore in force and untouchable, it is the question whether the Confession is the confession of a living faith of the congregation, and therefore the formative life-principle of the church. It is the question which Missouri, even as every other church, must ask herself in humility and must answer before the face of God: Are we still Lutheran?” (Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 20)

So according to Sasse, are we still Lutheran today? I look for constructive comments from those willing to enter the fray. In any case, I think the time is ripe for a resurgence of boldly confessing the faith. As Forde put it, “It is time to risk going over to the offense, to recapture the present tense of the gospel, to speak the unconditional promise and see what happens. To do that it will be necessary to construct a theology that is for proclamation, for going over to the offensive, not for defense.” (Theology is for Proclamation, 8).

Thus this blog aims to rejoice not only in Lutheran theology, but more aptly, theology that is meant for proclamation and subsequently, the salvation of sinners! As such, I would invite all who are interested to take part in the discussion, for the betterment of the church, for the sake of the Gospel, and for the growth of Christ’s kingdom.

Yours,

Rev. Woodford

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7 responses to “Theology is for Proclamation

  1. Harold L Senkbeil

    God grant that this new blog may meet its intended purpose: to move beyond partisanship to explore matters foundational to the mission (that is, ministry) of our church: what it means to be and remain Lutheran in these gray and latter days. For several decades I have explored the inroads of foreign (primarily Arminian) theology into our life and mission. Perhaps in this generation the traffic can begin to flow in the opposite direction….that is, younger and more creative minds can engage all of Christendom with the radical implications of what it means that God has abolished sin and brought life and immortality to light in the person of His Incarnate Son – and commissioned His church to proclaim the astonishing news that He still enters our time and space with the tools and instruments of His Spirit – His Word preached and His Sacraments administered – to create and sustain faith.

    Let the conversation be congenial, candid, and collegial – but let the conversation begin!

    Rev. Harold L Senkbeil

  2. Pastor Kevin Jennings

    Hi, Pastor Senkbeil! I’ll be the first, I guess. Forgive my shotgun approach. Your post was so well laid out and polished, I fear that I’m giving you sandpaper in return for your silk!

    As one who has dabbled in different techniques of outreach, church growth and stuff, and who later repented, I believe there is a strong need to confess clearly what we believe as Lutherans. When we’ve done that, we need to go back to that confession, learn it again, and then confess it even more clearly.

    The Augustana labels the marks of the true Church as the preaching of the Gospel in its purity and administration of the sacraments in accordance with the Gospel. As Lutherans, we must hold before the world the truth that the church which does this is Lutherans. I’m not meaning to say that true Christians cannot be found in other churches; I cannot judge faith. But, I can and must judge doctrine. This is something that we as Lutherans must do in order to be clear in our confession.

    I’ve had a number of discussions with different relatives over the years and discovered that I’m cut from a different cloth. Whenever I bring up what I wrote in the last paragraph, I’m greeted with challenges of arrogance, pride, and a party spirit, even from fellow Lutherans. But, i ask them if what their church teaches is the truth. Hack through all of the programs, all of the polish and glitter, and get to the guts of the church, what it teaches. Is what this church teaches really the truth? We have got to get back to the point where we proclaim the Gospel, not because it’s helpful, but because it’s true.

    God bless!
    Pastor Kevin Jennings

  3. Pastor Senkbeil, I think many in our beloved LCMS would take your words to heart if they could but see them. In my estimation and from what I have seen in many congreagtions, it, the mission, is what they yearn for, in the context of the faith they adhere to. Truly the vision has been veiled for a generation. It is time to see clearly again. God grant this to all.

  4. Harold L Senkbeil

    @ Kevin – I too began my exploration with different convictions than where I ended up. Yet God is gracious; we know He accepts prodigal sons – the same goes for prodigal churches. Somewhere Sasse writes that churches, too, can repent. You’re right, first we need to learn our confession before we can begin to use it again.

    As to the criticism you’ve gotten from Lutheran friends and relatives, that’s not surprising. Our culture inoculates us with a fear of having solid convictions lest we commit the unpardonable sin of postmodernism: intolerance. Far from vitriolic or antagonistic, our Lutheran confessions are both ecumenical and catholic in the best possible sense: “the ancient consensus which the universal and orthodox church of Christ has believed, fought for against many heresies and errors, and repeatedly affirmed.”

    It is for the sake of the true unity of the church universal, then, that we confess this Lutheran doctrine. It’s simply too good to keep for ourselves; we profess these things not merely among ourselves, but to all comers of whatever stripe, be they Roman Catholic, Protestant, or pagan.

    @ Craig – you’re absolutely right; we’ve got a long way to go to actually practice concretely what we preach abstractly. Sadly, evidence is that the vision of this mission has been veiled for more than one generation, I’m afraid. But there’s hope: Israel didn’t get out of the wilderness overnight, but she did eventually. Our illness was several generations in the making; our recovery will likely take as long. What’s vital is that we begin the journey by recovering our sight, as you said. It begins humbly, with repentant prayer and study.

  5. Marcus Williams, Missoula MT

    Rev. Woodford, This is the kind of conversation that needs to be taking place, not just online, but in every congregation of the LCMS. Thanks for your thoughts and a kick off to a great thing. I have recently (3 years in the making) entered the LCMS and I have to say that going from a non church goer to non denominational to Lutheran I am appalled at the night and day difference between our confession and the rest of Christianities conception of God’s Word. We are living in a time, like Harold said, where the last thing anyone wants to do is offend or judge someone else. I experience this daily when having conversations with other Christians who are not of the Lutheran Confession. As soon as I suggest an area of their theology that doesn’t fit with Scripture or point out that some of their Church practices are distracting from the Cross I instantly get marked as judgmental. But we can’t succumb to the ever popular indifferent attitude. Everything to everyone is aidaphora. Its become apparent to me that I can’t settle for indifference, I can’t handle it when people suggest that if we disagree on, Communion for example, that its not a big deal because we still both believe in Jesus Christ. That very attitude is suggesting God is okay with false doctrine which is obviously not the case. We must move past this indifferent attitude, not that we should run around condemning people of different denominations but we should feel fully capable to defend our confession. And not only capable but willing to speak up and say something when given the opportunity but unfortunately the infection of indifference runs deep and the over powering voice of tolerance is constantly screaming in our ears.

    I have come to realize in the past few years that we as Lutherans stand very far apart from the rest of Christianity in almost every respect aside from sharing Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Our confession is so important because it offers greater peace and grace, it leaves all the work out of man’s hands and allows God to preserve us apart from our effort in the true Christian faith which in turn humbles us and allows us to be a better light in this dark age. God Bless.

    -Marcus Williams

  6. Marcus- I am glad to see that our backward approach made an impact on your life. ๐Ÿ˜‰ There is nothing greater than what we, the LCMS, offer. It is so simple, yet profound and when people finally truly get it, and understand the confesssions, well, it is as a refreshing as a drop of dew to the weary traveler. If our great body as a whole would just go back to it in it’s fullness instead of trying to mimic those others around us, making themselves look like the world instead of the church, well, I believe we would grow in purity and truth. Because that kernel we hold is just that, truth, in the Word and sacraments. I too, am so glad the Lord led me to the LCMS so long ago. God bless you as you stand firm in Him. Now a question; how do we get this blog out to everybody? ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Marcus Williams

    @Craig:Thanks for what you said Craig. The theology and confession of the LCMS is truly the most refreshing thing to experience. To answer your question I suppose we would have to figure out what every congregation, well most, receive. I would turn to the Lutheran Witness. I don’t want to say advertise through them but would it be impossible for this blog site to be seen in a small portion of that magazine. After all we are all Lutherans and the Lutheran Witness is for us. Also pass it on. How many people exist in your congregation? Tell them about it, chances are they know someone else in another LCMS Church that they can pass it on to. I also have a blog site of my own where I post about Lutheran Confessions of faith, if you’re interested it is: missoulalutheran.blogspot.com I have a few articles on there. For the most part I address specific theological issues and contemporary issues. God bless.

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