Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

These Lutheran Liturgists Put Many of Today's Evangelicals to Shame

I'm in Houston this week, and I was privileged to attend church with a business associate. Lutheranism was the faith of my youth, but I never saw a Lutheran church as big or as orthodox as Trinity Lutheran Church in Klein, TX. It brought back memories to see the altar rails, the acolytes, the robed ministers and the gigantic pipe organ. My father often tells the story about the pastor of the Lutheran church we used to attend holding up a Bible. "You can't believe half of what's written here," he said, "it's full of mistakes. You have to pick and choose." Trinity Lutheran Church is evidently not of that persuasion. For me, this is a shockingly different kind of Lutheranism.

The first shock came when Zephaniah 1:7-18 was posted on the video projection screen and read aloud by the pastor. The passage includes these words:

Verses 14-18 The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

How many of today's Evangelical churches would unflinchingly present this to their "emergent" or "seeker" congregations? My shock deepened as I listened to the pastor preach a solid 30-minute message in which the righteous judgment and wrath of God against sinners was expounded clearly. The Gospel was explained as the remedy for this, and Christ's work on the cross was preached without compromise. I kept waiting for it to be watered down, but all I heard was straightforward truth from God's Word.
Here's an excerpt from the bulletin: "Today's Old Testament reading presents us with one of the most frightening passages of Scripture dealing with the wrath of the Lord on Judgment Day. God will not long tolerate the unbelief, immorality, false religions and selfishness of any society. History is replete with examples of the fall of powerful and advanced empires and cultures. And, ultimately even our world will be destroyed with fire. . . . But what is to be the fate of the believer? Need we live in fear? NO! For we are Sons and Daughters of the Day. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . . (I Thessalonians 5:10-11)"

During the service, three extended passages of Scripture were read. The prayer time included a responsive reading with these words said by the entire congregation: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.

Imagine a room full of well-dressed and respectable people uttering these words. All in all, I was impressed an edified by what I experienced at Trinity Lutheran Church. What amazed me the most was the boldness and clarity of the message - something many of today's Evangelical churches have left in the dust. Oh, and did I mention the Hymn of the Day? "The Clouds of Judgment Gather." I don't think that one's on the latest WOW Worship CD.

What a joy to find Lutherans who have not strayed from the spirit of the great reformer!


  1. Derek,

    Happy trails to you...

    God has indeed left for Himself 7,000 in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal, nor kissed him.

    It's always amazing how powerful and fruitful the Word is, when preached with conviction by a man full of the Spirit of God - and when heard by someone in whom the same Spirit is making a home.



  2. There's scarcely even one hymn in the 1991 Baptist Hymnal on judgment. The strength of systematic, expository preaching is that you don't get to skip texts like that.

    Our pastor's sermon yesterday, from his ongoing series on Isaiah, was on chapters 13-23 -- all judgment. It was a good, humbling, sobering message.

  3. Tony, thanks for that apt reminder. It's easy to forget that God is working behind the scenes, but He is sovereignly accomplishing His purposes. Occasionally we get a glimpse of it and it's cause for rejoicing!

    Barry, my family has been reading through Isaiah together, and we just finished the section you mentioned. With two small children, it's been a challenge, yet I think it's good that they are getting a view of God's just and righteous demands. They were affected by the part where God rolled someone up into a ball, and the part where people went swimming in a pile of manure. We've talked a lot about the dramatic measures God takes to turn us back to Himself, and the trouble we get into when we refuse.

  4. This church was probably not of the branch of Lutheranism that I attend, yet we had the same scriptures and confession. We always have confession and forgiveness. Our sins are wiped away; we can start fresh. How can one repent if you don't know what to repent of?

    I've seen some web writings about how to improve the emergent churches and the suggestions were many. Several people wrote to say, hey, we Lutherans haven't strayed from that path in the first place.

    Church isn't about feeling good, because our feelings fail us.

  5. ProclaimingSoftly,

    Thank you for these insightful comments. The church I visited belongs to the Missouri Synod. Is your church ELCA, or Wisconsin Synod, or another? I grew up in ELCA. As Barry mentioned above, systematic expository preaching helps to guard against picking and choosing the texts and topics we like best, and I see great value in the liturgy because it forces one to go through the Scriptures in this way. Of course, there is always the danger of a "cold" liturgical style, but every approach has its own set of dangers. Evangelicals have been arrogantly critical of "main line" and "liturgical" denominations, but we have fallen into our own set of snares. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and He doesn't check to see what denomination we're from first. Thanks for participating in THEOparadox - feel free to comment anytime.

  6. I go to an ELCA church. As I understand it, Lutheran pastors aren't required to preach on the lectionary, but most choose to do so because of the discipline it establishes, the grace it encompasses, and the way those verses go through most of the Bible. Often, the pastors will incorporate all three lessons into the sermon; just depends. And some pastors will choose to have those verses read, even if they are preaching a series on some other topic.

    The pastor who married us grew up Lutheran, but had strayed from the faith. While in the Navy, he attended a church with more "enthusiasm" and shouting, etc. and came back to faith. I asked him why he chose to become a Lutheran pastor after that experience; wasn't the liturgy boring in comparison? He said that in the supposedly free-form church, the same people so often got up and said the same thing, a testimony, an expression (AMEN!) that he thought it was so similar to liturgy in an unorganized sense anyway, that becoming a Lutheran pastor was just a better choice, probably a more defined theology, etc.


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