Recently, I came across the following statement, “We in the LCMS, frankly, were always taught it’s ‘all about theology,’ and theology is one of the bases which hold us together, for sure. But most of us know our theology inside/out. We are ‘experts’ in that area! But what can often be improved in the LCMS is ‘relationships.’”
The writer of such words was commenting about a past LFL National Conference held in Dallas earlier this year. Though it is certainly true that we in the LCMS can always seek to improve with concern to ‘relationships’ (Love towards neighbor, 2nd table of the Law, Commandments 4-10), I would beg to differ with the belief that “most of us know our theology inside/out.” (Love towards God, 1st Table of the Law, Commandments 1-3)
If knowing means simply to use certain words and say that one understands the theology (generally), I would partially agree. Many in the LCMS are indeed able to use LCMS theological words and phrases. Some have even coined the phrase, “Christianese.” You might even be able to speak of “Lutheranese” as well.
We can talk the talk. Even nominal Lutherans “know” their theology. I was recently told of a “Lutheran” who knew her catechism “inside and out,” with the ability to recite the various parts, yet rarely attended church, has not had her out of wedlock baby baptized, and has not repented of her sins. If this is “knowing” our theology inside/out, then this is not knowing.
Nor is it “knowing” the theology when pastors confuse Law and Gospel in their preaching; when laypeople fail to hear the Word preached by the pastor because they do not like how he preaches or because of how he says. It is not knowing theology when we hear the bitterness of the Law and seek to avoid and excuse ourselves from confessing our sins and seeking the Good News of the sweet Gospel; when we give lip service to the Christian faith and judge others, yet fail to see the plank in our own eye (Matthew 7:1-5); when we put our own desires and opinions, feelings and experiences, above God and His Word. When we seek, not what God says, but what would make us feel better about ourselves, our church, our whatever, this is not truly knowing our theology.
If we in the LCMS truly knew our theology, there would be unceasing repentance, bold confession of Jesus Christ, unwavering confidence of God’s mercy, and fixation on only the true doctrine for faith and life. The life would then truly follow.
Where there is the assumption that we know our theology “inside/out,” there is nothing but danger of losing that which is true, even losing Christ.
In the past, and even today (i.e. Rick Warren), there is the declaration, “Deeds, not Creeds,” as if deeds (what we do, our action) supersede creeds (the faith). Such emphasis endangers the true doctrine, for it places the foundation on man, not on God and His Word (upon which the Christian faith is founded and based).
Such presumption that “We in the LCMS know our theology inside/out” and “are ‘experts’ in that area” implies that now we can move on to “other things,” (like relationships), as if we have mastered the teachings of our faith.
However much we “know” of our theology, we will never outgrow the need for doctrine to continually be at the forefront of all that we do, for the doctrine of which we speak is not man’s, but God’s. Of this we must be vigilant, otherwise, the temptation to complacency will soon overtake us, as it has already for so many in our beloved church body, for many call themselves members of LCMS and LCMS congregations (even pastors), even using the theological words, but grievously are not. They honor God with their lips, but their hearts (and their theology) are far from the Lord (Matthew 15:8).
From the preface of Luther’s Large Catechism
5 Besides, a shameful and insidious plague of security and boredom has overtaken us. Many regard the Catechism as a simple, silly teaching which they can absorb and master at one reading. After reading it once they toss the book into a corner as if they are ashamed to read it again. 6 Indeed, even among the nobility there are some louts and skinflints who declare that we can do without pastors and preachers from now on because they have everything in books and can learn it all by ourselves. So they blithely let parishes fall into decay, and brazenly allow both pastors and preachers to suffer distress and hunger. This is what one can expect of crazy Germans. We Germans have such disgraceful people among us and must put up with them.
7 As for myself, let me say that I, too, am a doctor and a preacher — yes, and as learned and experienced as any of those who act so high and mighty. Yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism. Every morning, and whenever else I have time, I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. 8 I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly. These dainty, fastidious fellows would like quickly, with one reading, to become doctors above all doctors, to know all there is to be known. Well, this, too, is a sure sign that they despise both their office and the people’s souls, yes, even God and his Word. They need not fear a fall, for they have already fallen all too horribly. What they need is to become children and begin learning their ABC’s, which they think they have outgrown long ago.
9 Therefore, I beg these lazy-bellies and presumptuous saints, for God’s sake, to get it into their heads that they are not really and truly such learned and great doctors as they think. I implore them not to imagine that they have learned these parts of the Catechism perfectly, or at least sufficiently, even though they think they know them ever so well. Even if their knowledge of Catechism were perfect (though that is impossible in this life), yet it is highly profitable and fruitful daily to read it and make it the subject of meditation and conversation. In such reading, conversation, and meditation the Holy Spirit is present and bestows ever new and greater light and fervor, so that day by day we relish and appreciate the Catechism more greatly. This is according to Christ’s promise in Matt. 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
10 Nothing is so effectual against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy oneself with the Word of God, talk about it, and meditate on it. Psalm 1 calls those blessed who “meditate on God’s law day and night.”6 You will never offer up any incense or other savor more potent against the devil than to occupy yourself with God’s commandments and words and to speak, sing, and meditate on them. This, indeed, is the true holy water, the sign which routs the devil and puts him to flight.7
11 For this reason alone you should eagerly read, recite, ponder, and practice the Catechism, even if the only blessing and benefit you obtain from it is to rout the devil and evil thoughts. For he cannot bear to hear God’s Word. God’s Word is not like some empty tale, such as the one about Dietrich of Bern,8 but as St. Paul says in Rom. 1:16, it is “the power of God,” indeed, the power of God which burns the devil and gives us immeasurable strength, comfort, and help.
12 Why should I waste words? Time and paper would fail me if I were to recount all the blessings that flow from God’s Word. The devil is called the master of a thousand arts. What, then, shall we call God’s Word, which routs and destroys this master of a thousand arts with all his wiles and might? It must, indeed, be master of more than a hundred thousand arts. 13 Shall we frivolously despise this might, blessing, power, and fruit — especially we who would be pastors and preachers? If so, we deserve not only to be refused food but also to be chased out by dogs and pelted with dung. Not only do we need God’s Word daily as we need our daily bread; we also must use it daily against the daily, incessant attacks and ambushes of the devil with his thousand arts.