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Doctrine AND Practice – Pr Todd Wilken

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment

HT: The Brothers of John the Steadfast site

First let’s define our terms.

Doctrine is simply teaching. Doctrine can be true or false. True doctrine is teaching that conforms to Holy Scripture. False doctrine is teaching that deviates from Holy Scripture. The only way to know whether a doctrine is true or false is to measure it against Scripture.

Contrary to conventional churchly wisdom, doctrine is good, true doctrine that is. True doctrine is what the Church is built upon (Ephesians 2:19-20). True doctrine edifies and unifies the Church (1 Timothy 4:6). True doctrine is saving doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16).

False Doctrine is not harmless (Galatians 5:9). False doctrine weakens and divides the Church (Romans 16:17-181 Timothy 3:6-5). False doctrine damns (2 Peter 2:1-33:16).

Practice is any conduct, custom, ritual, ceremony or observance. In this case we are focusing exclusively on practice within the Church.

Just as doctrine can be true or false, so also practice can be true or false.

It is popular in the Church today to isolate doctrine and practice from one another. Doctrine, it is said, is a matter of substance. But practice, it is said, is a matter of style. Practice is viewed as doctrinally neutral. But this is a serious error that ignores the relationship between doctrine and practice. And like all errors, this one has consequences.

Practice Does as Doctrine Is

If you want to understand the relationship between doctrine and practice think Source, Content and Goal.

Doctrine is the source of practice. Doctrine is the content of practice. Doctrine is the goal of practice. In short, when it comes to practice, doctrine runs the show. Practice grows out of, is shaped by, and serves the purpose of doctrine.

In simple terms, Christian doctrine is the What of Christian theology and Christian practice is the How of Christian theology. The What always determines the How.

So doctrine isn’t only something that Christians believe, doctrine is something that Christians also practice. Practice does as doctrine is.

Doctrine and practice are inextricably linked. They can be distinguished from one another but they cannot be separated from one another.

This is very important. It is not just that doctrine and practice should not be separated; theycannot be separated.

Every practice is connected to some doctrine, true or false. Doctrine is the source of practice. Doctrine is the content of practice. Doctrine is the goal of practice. If the doctrine is false, then the practice will also be false.

Ceremonies, Idolatry & Degeneration

The Old Testament ceremonial law is a case study in the inseparable relationship between doctrine and practice. It is commonly understood that God gave the ceremonial law to ancient Israel to set it apart from other nations. This is correct. The practices required by the ceremonial law distinguished ancient Israel from other nations. Israel stood out. Israel appeared peculiar.

But the ceremonial law was not an arbitrary set of rules. Contrary to popular belief, the source, content and goal of those laws were doctrinal. The doctrine?

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:4-6; see also Deuteronomy 14:226:18Psalm 135:4)

From the food they ate to the clothes they wore, from the way they dealt with sickness to the way they gathered their crops, every ceremonial law had as its source, content and goal this one doctrine. The practices required by the ceremonial law had their source in the doctrinal truth that Israel had been declared holy and set apart by God himself. The people were made to appear peculiar by the practices of the ceremonial law because the people were peculiar by virtue of God’s act of salvation.

Scripture also teaches the inseparability of doctrine and practice in God’s condemnation of Israel’s lapses into idolatrous practices. A critical passage is Amos 5:21-26.

I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. …Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? You also lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god—which you made for yourselves.

Notice that God rejected not just their idolatry as false. God also rejected their sacrifices and offerings to Him. The sacrifices and offerings to the true God were rendered false because Israel was also worshipping false gods at the same time.

In fact, this was Israel’s perennial problem in the Old Testament: the mixture of true and false doctrines and the subsequent mixture of true and false worship practices.

The New Testament also teaches the inseparability of doctrine and practice. The most dramatic example is in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 where Paul rebukes the Corinthian Christians for their false practice of the Lord’s Supper:

When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

Apparently, their practice had degenerated to the point that their behavior constituted a denial of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.

Scripture is quite clear: Doctrine and practice cannot be separated. Practice is not doctrinally neutral.

Unchurches, Those Crazy Episcopalians & Fill-In-the-Blank

For those who would still argue for the doctrinal neutrality of practice I cite a few contemporary examples.

Many evangelical and non-denominational churches, in a misguided effort to increase their appeal with the “unchurched” have marketed themselves as “Unchurches”. They have abandoned any and every practice (with the conspicuous exception of the gathering of the offering) that even hints at the historic Church or doctrinal distinctiveness. The result? Doctrinal chaos.

Nature abhors a vacuum. And so into the vacuum of practice of these Unchurches has rushed all sorts new practices, and with them, their attendant doctrines. Worship in many an Unchurch is now little more than a combination of sing-a-long and self-help seminar.

At the other end of the spectrum, but in the same predicament of doctrine and practice, stands the Episcopal Church. Historically the Episcopal Church has had the most entrenched practices in American Christendom. The Book of Common Prayer used to be harder to change than the transmission on your car. And yet the Episcopal Church was among the first of the main-line denominations to ordain women and homosexuals to the pastoral office. How did this happen? First the practice changed. Once it was accepted that such things could be practiced in the Church, a change in doctrine was quick to follow. Today, Episcopalian faithful find themselves considering same-sex union ceremonies for inclusion in their book of occasional services. To no one’s surprise, they are also debating the nature of marriage and the sinfulness of homosexuality.

Finally there is what I like to call “Fill-in-the-blank” practices. Every Church has a few of these. A fill-in-the-blank practice is any practice (true or false) for which no doctrinal reason has been presented. Be it candles on the altar or the raising of hands in prayer, any practice that is unexplained and disconnected from doctrine invites people to make up their own explanation and their own doctrine. Are there three candles on the altar to signify the Trinity? What if there are five of them? Are raised hands a gesture of passive reception or are they Holy-Spirit antennae?

Left unexplained, even the best practice can be misconstrued. Many Fill-in-the-blank practices are not false per se, but need careful explanation. This simply means that the doctrinal source, content and goal of said practice needs to be made clear.

Doctrine Is as Practice Does

As these Scriptural and contemporary examples clearly show, false doctrine can result in false practice. But false practice can also result in false doctrine. Remember, doctrine is not only thesource and content of practice. Doctrine is also the goal of practice. And make no mistake, the goal of false practice is false doctrine.

The old theologians put it this way, Lex orandi, lex credendi, “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” Conduct, customs, rituals, ceremonies or observances that have false doctrine as their source and content will also have as their goal a doctrine that is not true, but false.

True Adiaphora, True Christian Freedom

But aren’t some practices really neither here nor there? Aren’t some practices truly indifferent? Yes, we call those practices Adiaphora.

Yet even indifferent practices still have doctrine as their source, content and goal.

The fact that some practices are indifferent does not mean that they are doctrinally neutral. The fact that they are indifferent simply means that there is more than one true practice that one may follow in any given situation. But this does not rule out the possibility of false practices.

For example, whether or not a pastor wears vestments is a matter of indifference. But that doesn’t mean that the pastor can read the lessons in a cocktail dress, or preside at the altar in his underwear or preach the sermon buck-naked.

The issue regarding adiaphora is not whether or not such practices are doctrinally neutral. They are not. The issue regarding adiaphora is whether or not the same doctrine can be communicated by a variety of practices.

A true adiaphoron is not an adiaphoron because it is doctrinally neutral, a true adiaphoron is an adiaphoron because it is one among several practices that communicates the same doctrine.

What does this mean? It means that Christian freedom in practice is not carte blanc to do as you please because doctrine isn’t at issue. It means that Christian freedom in practice exists within the boundaries of true doctrine. It means that just because there may be more than oneright way to do something, doesn’t mean that there is no wrong way to do it.

What Is at Stake?

It is telling, isn’t it, that few who argue that practice is doctrinally neutral would apply their reasoning to the moral content of Christian doctrine? No, they say, when it comes to morality, what you believe determines what you do, and what you do shows what you really believe!

So, why doesn’t that same reasoning apply the theological content of Christian doctrine? The fact is, it does, they just fail to see or to believe that it does.

This failure raises an important question. What is at stake when it comes to the relationship between doctrine and practice?

Another way of asking that question is, What single doctrine ought to be the source, content and goal of all Christian practice? What doctrine is put in jeopardy when practice is viewed as doctrinally neutral and Christian practice is reduced to mere style?

The answer is simple. The Gospel is that single doctrine ought to be the source, content and goal of all Christian practice. When practice is viewed as doctrinally neutral and Christian practice is reduced to mere style, the very Gospel is put in jeopardy.

How can this be? The good news of Jesus’ perfect life lived for us sinners, his innocent death died for us sinners, and his victorious resurrection accomplished for us sinner is the heart and center of all Christian doctrine. This doctrine is the essence of Christian doctrine. This doctrine is the source, content and goal of all Christian doctrine.

To say that practice is doctrinally neutral is not only to deny the relationship between Christian practice and Christian doctrine, but also to deny the relationship between Christian practice and the Gospel.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

At the beginning of this essay I wrote that the only way to know whether a doctrine is true or false is to measure it against Scripture. So, how are we to know whether our practice is true or false? The answer is: measure it against true doctrine.

Why not measure our practice against Scripture? Because Scripture doesn’t speak to all of these issues. But does Scripture’s silence on a practice mean that we can’t say whether a practice is true or false? No. Scripture teaches that practice and doctrine are inseparably related. Scripture expects and requires that Christian practice conform to Christian doctrine. Scripture teaches that doctrine isn’t only something that Christians believe, doctrine is something that Christians also practice.

How can we avoid engaging in false practice; false practice that would communicate false doctrine? In carpentry they say, measure twice, cut once. Before we institute, change or keep any practice we ought to measure it —twice against true doctrine. If it does not measure up, if the source, content and goal of this practice cannot be shown to be true Christian doctrine, then that practice needs to be changed or abandoned. It’s that simple. Every practice must bow down before, and serve true doctrine without exception.

We ought to always ask: Why are we doing this? What is being taught by this practice? Does this practice conform to our doctrine? What does this change in practice mean? What of the Gospel is communicated by this practice? In short, it’s the old Lutheran question: What does this mean?

Finally, our practice in the Church cannot be determined by Utilitarianism or Pragmatism. Utilitarianism says that the end justifies the means. Pragmatism says that truth is to be found in what works. Utiliarianism and Pragmatism don’t ask, “What does this mean?” Utiliarianism and Pragmatism only ask, “What does this accomplish?” And again, the end justifies the means.  In the Church, nothing is ever merely a means to an end. In the Church, the Truth is not true because is works, it works because its true. Doctrinal Truth, True Doctrine runs the show.

True Doctrine is our first and final consideration when it comes to practice. Why? Remember, doctrine is good, true doctrine that is. True doctrine is what the Church is built upon. True doctrine edifies and unifies the Church. True doctrine is saving doctrine. True practice does as true doctrine is.

This essay was first published in the Issues, Etc. Journal (v. 1, n. 4)
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Categories: Right Worship

Prof. Pless on the ULC Debacle

October 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Prof. John Pless, who was pastor of University Lutheran Chapel, Minneapolis, has this to say about the sale of the property:

When a congregation’s church building in Arkansas is devastated by a tornado(,) a hurricane destroys a Lutheran school, you can count on coverage in the Reporter and ready response on the part of Lutheran Disaster Relief or World Relief and Human Care. It is a noble undertaking that Christian people band together to show mercy to the part of the body that suffers the loss of property due to trauma caused by fire, water, or wind.

But who will respond when elected leaders of a district set out to force a vibrant and virtually self-sustaining congregation from a building that they have called home for decades? When church buildings collapse in flames or are twisted beyond recognition by winds that rip across the prairie, the Synod through its district officials and relief agencies are there to comfort and help rebuilt.

When the Board of Directors of the Minnesota South District voted to sell University Lutheran Chapel, one of the flagship campus facilities of the Synod, the campus pastor was notified by an early morning e-mail from the district president. Even as there was no collaboration on the part of district leaders with the campus congregation, the communication of the decision was cold and cruel. One would have thought that the district president would have attended the Service the following Sunday offering some gesture of consolation, some word of hope for the future. His silence speaks volumes about the way we deal with one another in this Synod.

I’ve heard from many of the current members and alumni of ULC as I was pastor there once upon a time. They are suffering a pain more profound than that caused by an earthquake or storm; they are suffering from fellow Christians. It is not a wound to be easily healed. It only will fester with managerial efforts at damage control.

It may be too late to save a building strategically located at the University of Minnesota to serve the mission of the Gospel to students. The building has served well since it was dedicated to the glory of God by farsighted Minnesota Lutherans in 1950. Its loss will be a loss to the whole Synod and beyond. But it is not too late for Missouri Synod Lutherans to rally around this congregation even as we would when a congregation suffers the loss of property through a natural disaster. Its time to demonstrate that “witness, mercy, life together” is not a mere slogan but a living reality in our midst.

When the bulldozers come to level the house of God that stands on University Ave SE in Minneapolis, I hope the local newspapers and television stations are not the only ones there to document the pain of a family of God’s people so shamefully mistreated and abused in this sad and unnecessary episode.

Prof. John T. Pless
(Pastor of University Lutheran Chapel, Minneapolis, MN from 1983-2000).

Categories: Wrong Worship

Real Reformation Audio

October 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Categories: Right Worship

Preaching (5 parts) – Pr. David Petersen – Issues, Etc.

October 7, 2011 3 comments

Pr. David Petersen, Redeemer Lutheran, Ft. Wayne, Ind., discusses preaching with Pr. Todd Wilken.

Part 1: 

Disciplined Prayer (mp3, 26m58s, 12.4 MB, 2011-Oct-05)

Part 2:

Confession and Absolution (mp3, 24m47s, 10.0 MB, 2011-Oct-11)

Part 3:  

Pastoral Visitation (mp3, 35m59s, 14.4 MB, 2011-Oct-25)

Part 4:

Midweek Services (mp3, 26m47s, 10.8 MB, 2011-Nov-01)

Part 5:  

Bible Study Groups (mp3, 26m29s, 10.6 MB, 2011-Nov-08)

Categories: Right Worship

Walther: Methodist Hymns Are Spiritual Poison

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Dr. C.F.W. Walther, the first LCMS president, on Methodist hymns:

Honored Sir,

This morning I received your worthy letter, written on the 19th of the month. In your letter you ask for my opinion on whether it is advisable to introduce the singing of Methodist songs in a Lutheran Sunday School. May what follows serve as a helpful reply to your questions:

No, this is not advisable, rather very incorrect and pernicious.

Our church is so rich in hymns that you could justifiably state that if one were to introduce Methodist hymns in a Lutheran school this would be like carrying coals to Newcastle. The singing of such hymns would make the rich Lutheran Church into a beggar which is forced to beg from a miserable sect. Thirty or forty years ago a Lutheran preacher might well have been forgiven this. For at that time the Lutheran Church in our country was as poor as a beggar when it comes to song books for Lutheran children. A preacher scarcely knew where he might obtain such little hymn books. Now, however, since our church itself has everything it needs, it is unpardonable when a preacher of our church causes little ones to suffer the shame of eating a foreign bread.

A preacher of our church also has the holy duty to give souls entrusted to his care pure spiritual food, indeed, the very best which he can possibly obtain. In Methodist songs there is much which is false, and which contains spiritual poison for the soul. Therefore, it is soul-murder to set before children such poisonous food. If the preacher claims, that he allows only “correct” hymns to be sung, this does not excuse him. For, first of all, the true Lutheran spirit is found in none of them; second, our hymns are more powerful, more substantive, and more prosaic; third, those hymns which deal with the Holy Sacraments are completely in error; fourth, when these little sectarian hymnbooks come into the hands of our children, they openly read and sing false hymns.

A preacher who introduces Methodist hymns, let alone Methodist hymnals, raises the suspicion that he is no true Lutheran at heart, and that he believes one religion is as good as the other, and that he thus a unionistic-man, a mingler of religion and churches.

Through the introduction of Methodist hymn singing he also makes those children entrusted to his care of unionistic sentiment, and he himself leads them to leave the Lutheran Church and join the Methodists.

By the purchase of Methodist hymn books he subsidizes the false church and strengthens the Methodist fanatics in their horrible errors. For the Methodists will think, and quite correctly so, that if the Lutheran preachers did not regard our religion as good as, or indeed, even better than their own, they would not introduce Methodist hymn books in their Sunday schools, but rather would use Lutheran hymn books.

By introducing Methodist hymn books, the entire Lutheran congregation is given great offense, and the members of the same are lead to think that Methodists, the Albright people, and all such people have a better faith than we do.

This may be a sufficient answer regarding this dismal matter. May God keep you in the true and genuine Lutheran faith, and help you not to be misled from the same, either to the right or to the left.

Your unfamiliar, yet known friend, in the Lord Jesus Christ,

C. F. W. Walther
St. Louis, Missouri
January 23, 1883

HT: Dr Mark DeGarmeaux (pdf)

Categories: Wrong Worship

Liturgy as Beacon for God’s Elect

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Pastor Heath Curtis’ presentation:

Categories: Right Worship

Braying with Non-Lutherans – The Saga Continues

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

The Atlantic DiP continues in his unbelief by braying with Non-Lutherans at a Non-Evangelical Non-Lutheran Non-Church in America (NNNA) event on 9/11/11:

Commemoration at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Manhattan, hosted a “Prayer and Remembrance” organized by Lutheran Social Services of New York. Members of the ELCA, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the public gathered to remember lives lost, acknowledge survivors who are moving forward and celebrate the response efforts of both denominations in New York.
“I felt great warmth, especially in seeing the relationships of collaboration and shared service that the ELCA and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod displayed while responding to Sept. 11,” said the Rev. Kevin A. Massey, program director for Lutheran Disaster Response.
“We gathered at Holy Trinity to commemorate 10 years passing. The lost are remembered. The tears often flow anew. While time assuages some of the sting of the pain, the ache remains. We will always miss those whose absence leaves a space in our souls,” he said.
The commemoration included speakers and participants from the ELCA and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod including Hanson, the Rev. Stephen P. Bouman, executive director of ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission, and the Rev. David Benke, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Atlantic District.
The Rev. Robert A. Rimbo, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod, participated and noted that the service was patterned after a worship service that took place at Holy Trinity shortly after the attacks.
“The service was very moving,” said Rimbo. “It provided a time to remember and reflect what happened 10 years ago here.”
“The service propelled us to move into the future together. While we will never forget what happened, there is new life as God’s people move forward,” he said, adding that the anniversary is a turning-point and gateway to engage in new opportunities for service.

At least, as far as we know, he didn’t bray with pagans at St. Peter’s or 5th Ave Presbo.

Will he be suspended? Nah. Third times’ the charm.

Categories: Unbelief, Wrong Worship