Tag Archives: charismatic

HOW THE REFORMATION NEGLECTED THE HOLY SPIRIT

The following are excerpts from a chapter on pneumatology from Timothy C. Tennent’s excellent book, Theology in the Context of World Christianity:

“The Reformation’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture, ecclesiology, and Christology are clearly reflected in the post-Reformation attempt to systematize the theological deposit of the Reformers. However, this meant that, as was the case during the patristic period, a full development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was delayed and several vital aspects of his person and work were neglected in post-Reformation Protestant theology in the West. Over time, several major theological traditions developed that either denied completely or extremely limited the active role of the Holy Spirit in performing miracles, divine healing, demonic deliverance, prophecy, tongue-speaking, and other elements that later became central features of the Pentecostal doctrine of the Holy Spirit. For example, this tendency is evident in many expressions of Reformed theology as well as in the later nineteenth-century emergence of dispensationalism …” (Tennent 2007, 171).

“Traditional Western theologies were written by scholars who received their education in respected universities that were deeply influenced by Enlightenment assumptions. The Enlightenment worldview creates a high wall separating the experiential world of the senses – governed by reason and subject to scientific inquiry – from the unseen world beyond the wall; such a world either does not exist (naturalism) or, if it does, we can know little about it (deism). The result has been essentially a two-tiered universe that separates the world of science from the world of religion.

Biblical evangelicalism has challenged this worldview by insisting that God has supernaturally broken through this wall in the incarnation and that knowledge of the unseen world has been provided by the certainty of divine revelation. Evangelicals argued that through prayer we can have sustained communication and fellowship with God. The problem with this approach is that the basic two-tiered universe of the Enlightenment worldview remains intact. It has merely been modified so that Christians punch a few holes in the wall to provide a framework whereby God can come into the empirical world through the incarnation and revelation and we, in turn, can have access to the unseen world through prayer. The basic separation is left unchallenged …” (Tennent, 178).

“The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring the “not yet” of the kingdom into the “already” of our fallen world. All the future realities of the kingdom are now fully available to all believers through the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Doctrines of cessationism or partial cessationism are, in the final analysis, detrimental concessions to an Enlightenment worldview that has unduly influenced the church with its naturalistic presuppositions…” (Tennent, 179).

LEANING LUTHERAN… OR NOT

luthersrose

I have become increasingly interested in Lutheranism over the past year. It started when I read ‘Hammer of God’ by Bo Giertz and developed when I read ‘Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy’ by Eric Metaxas and Bonhoeffer’s own ‘Life Together.’ Soon after I ordered a copy of ‘Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions’ and my Amazon wishlist includes ‘The Lutheran Study Bible,’ ‘The Lutheran Service Book,’ Giertz’s ‘The Knights of Rhodes’ and Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship.’

My normal is non-denominational Christian churches. It is what I grew up with. It is what I know. My early perception of Lutheranism, if I thought about it at all, was that it was obsolete and a little strange. I had encountered a co-worker who identified her family as “We’re Lutheran,” in a cultural sense, and it struck me that she did not identify herself as a “Christian.” Also, the fact that I piously / pridefully perceived no fruit one would expect from a Christ-devoted life.

The problem with non-denominational churches is that there is absolutely no uniformity – by default. I had deep respect for the church I was raised in, but when I visited other non-denominational churches, their quality ran the gamut. There were large, multi-campus and multi-service productions catering to all ages with generic, conservative Christianity. There was a medium-sized one that advertised their “authentic” relational connections, using buzzy language like “community of faith” instead of church. There was an awesome charismatic church that met on a university campus, full of life and energy. The only way to find out the theology of these churches was to attend for several weeks; the website blurbs gave you little to go on.

Enter Lutheranism. Factious synods aside, I sense the potential for temporal and geographical connectedness in the Lutheran tradition. It is a historically rooted apostolic church. I feel that I could walk into a Lutheran church in Finland and say, “Hey! These guys accept the same confessional documents!” Presbyterians are tied together in part by their subordinate standards found in the ‘Westminster Confession of Faith’ and Catechisms. Anglicans and Episcopalians share their ‘Book of Common Prayer.’ Well, Lutherans have their own “symbolic books” that have been deemed authoritative interpretations of the faith since 1580 – the Book of Concord or Concordia. This counterbalances many non-denominational churches where the theology is “a mild wide and an inch deep” or other denominations, which shall remain nameless, which are perceived as being anti-intellectual and pastored by twangy country bumpkins.

With my increased interest in theology, the idea of having an entire, international church body versed in a unified and deeper explanation of their faith appeals to me. This is, of course, on paper. I do not have widespread knowledge of how this plays out in real Lutheran congregations. Even the idea of confirmation, which was foreign to me, is appealing in theory. I like the piety of kneeling during certain portions of the service, and of saying “The word of the Lord” after a passage of scripture is read. I like the cultural acceptance of real wine during communion, as opposed to the tee-totaling human tradition of Southern Baptists.

Another plus, I particularly enjoy how the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) has published position statements on a variety of modern issues. I have always believed that things such as acupuncture and masonic lodges are incompatible with Christianity, but often feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. The LCMS actually has semi-official positions on these matters! Read them here and here, respectively. You can’t be a member of the Lutheran Church if you are a mason!

Alas…

There are several reasons that I do not want to be a Lutheran, despite my growing interest and appreciation. For starters, I hesitate to label myself as a particular denomination as that will inevitably create barriers between myself and others. The Apostle Paul said that he sought to become “all things to all men” so that he might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Also, labeling myself as a follower of Luther, a single human being, is like saying “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos,” behavior condemned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3. The New Testament pretty universally denounces factions and divisions, and yet in our world today we find new splinter groups on every corner. I can recall a Catholic friend of mine sarcastically saying, “A church dispute? Time to go hang up a new shingle! Everybody does what is right in their own eyes.”

Another reason is that I have not embraced every aspect of Lutheran doctrine and practice. Infant baptism? Not for me. Amillennialism? Nope. Sacramentalism? I could take it or leave it. Funny looking robes? Hmmm… An acquaintance who had attended a Lutheran church for many years with his wife told me of a new pastor who was Spirit-filled and led small group studies, encouraging people to be born again. My acquaintance loved it. It didn’t take long before older, more traditional congregants of German heritage had him sacked. Hearing that story took a lot of wind out of my Lutheran-leaning sails.

I think that I will not become a Lutheran. Not now. Maybe not ever. In all likelihood I will continue to draw inspiration from the history and resources of the Lutheran tradition, and may even attend a few services. Who knows? I might even pursue a doctorate from a Lutheran seminary at some point in the far off future. But, for now, I will simply remain a “Christian.”

FULL DISCLOSURE

elephantperception“None of us can ever approach a theological question or a biblical text from a sanitized, neutral position. We all have personal histories and locations within our traditions that we cannot simply wish away. Whoever she is and wherever she stands, the interpreter necessarily brings her whole self (both good and bad) into the equation” (Walls and Dongell 2004, 40).

“… the less aware we are of our philosophical assumptions, the more they control our thinking” (Ibid., 19).

If I want to approach my task as objectively as possible I need to recognize my own context, history, inclinations, and biases that may color my perceptions.

I am a white male who was raised in a politically conservative middle-class family in Los Angeles, California, USA. I am the youngest by five years of a number of biological and adopted children. My father was a non-denominational preacher, writer, counselor, and church-planter. My mother was a labor and delivery nurse. The churches that I attended growing up were usually part of a loose association of modest non-denominational churches, sometimes house churches.

In hindsight I would say that the churches were charismatic (although far more reserved than the stereotypical ‘flag waving’ Pentecostal church) with a focus on discipleship and spiritual warfare, and Arminian-leaning in theology. Missionary work and counseling for various international faith groups and individuals was regularly supported. Concepts such as choirs, hymnals, liturgy, creeds, incense, robes, and Episcopal or Presbyterian polity (church government structures) were quite foreign to me. Even though I was not saved until age 19, I viewed with zealous cynicism certain other churches that appeared to be spiritually dead, going through the motions of human traditions and compromising with the culture without any outward evidence of a vital, living faith.

Although I once proudly boasted of my non-denominational credentials, I now prefer to simply label myself as a Christian without any other adjectives or qualifiers. I increasingly appreciate Christian diversity and believe in the ideal of true Christian unity, although I do not think it will be achieved before the return of Christ. However, I certainly do believe there are certain non-negotiables of the faith – the things that make Christianity Christianity.

Similarly, I used to be a hardcore, politically active Republican. Now I more or less abstain from all politics as a personal choice. I am not registered as a member of any political party. I did not vote in the last election. I felt increasingly convicted about wanting to have as few barriers between myself and others as possible, for the sake of the Gospel. Like the Apostle Paul, I seek to “become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). I in no way try to discourage others from voting, but I am choosing to focus more on the Kingdom of God than on the kingdoms of men. I understand that this may open me up to the charge of being “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good,” but so be it.

I currently reside in the Southeastern United States with my wife and young child. I have a B.A. in Psychology and a M.A. in Pastoral Counseling. I am considering pursuing a PhD in Theology at some undetermined point in the future, perhaps many years from now. I have worked in the mental health field since 2006 and have counseled over 1,000 people in that relatively short time.