Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Lutheran Liturgical Movement & Justification

"...where is [the Lutheran liturgical] movement moving? Does it acknowledge the centrality of justification? Or is it locating the forgiveness of sins more and more in the 3rd Article of the Creed and less and less in the 2nd? Consider what one hears these days of incarnational and sacramental theology. What is being said? These words certainly are appealing. But surely they must be more than a kind of mantra to be repeated again and again to mark one as being on the right side in the church wars! How can one speak of the incarnation without thereby speaking as well of the atonement? And how can there be any discussion of sacramental theology that neglects to emphasize that foreign righteousness reckoned to the sinner? There appears to be growing, not yet beyond its embryonic stage, a new pietism, a liturgical pietism if you will, that is really no different than its earlier incarnations in Germany and Scandinavia and, of course, northern Minnesota. It does not focus on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and the reckoning to the unworthy sinner of his righteousness that avails before God. No, it finds itself quite comfortable focusing instead upon a vague presence of Christ, a sacramental, incarnational presence that is to be had by partaking in liturgical rituals."

From 'The Doctrine of Justification in the Theology of Robert Preus' by Rolf Preus.

I've been reading this essay as part of research on an issue related to justification, and I thought this quote nicely sums up a valid concern with the direction of the Lutheran liturgical movement in the US at any rate. I mean the apparently increasing preoccupation, evident in some quarters at least, with liturgy for its own sake, as though 'rites and ceremonies invented by men' were themselves a means of grace. Preus hits the on the head here when he suggests that they are moving justification to the locus of the 3rd article of the creed, rather than the 2nd. He also warns against emphasising the sacraments without a corresponding emphasis on the imputation of Christ's righteousness and emphasising the incarnation without poitning to the atonement.

Such warnings make will make sense to anyone raised in the milieu of Anglicanism. This development in ostensibly conservative Lutheran circles mirrors the direction the Anglo-Catholic movement in Anglicanism took long ago (John Henry Newman's erroneous views on justification probably started that ball rolling), and Preus' mention of the increase in vaguely 'sacramental' and 'incarnational' themes in self-consciously 'Evangelical Catholic' Lutheran theology is not surprising.

As far as 'pan-sacramentalism' goes, one danger is that if everything is sacramental then the uniqueness of the sacraments is endangered. I think Sasse on at least one occasion said that there ought to be no such category as 'sacramentology' in our dogmatics, rather there is a 'theology of baptism', and a 'theology of the Lord's Supper', founded in each case on what God's word teaches and related to the central article. We might do well to heed his admonition today.

Click on the title to go to the essay.

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