Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Behind a frowning providence....

Meditating much upon this poem last day or so...

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

William Cowper (1731-1800)


Southern Cross said...

Beautiful poem that shows all the main dimensions of faith, and nicely phrased at that.

I wished to ask you a question if I may; do Lutherans pray the rosary as Catholics do or is it an exclusively Catholic thing?

Also, I am currently reading Prussian history, and crucifixes are mentioned in Lutheran decorum. I thought Protestants as a whole preferred to display empty crosses as they emphasise Jesus' resurrection instead of representing him at the height of suffering (which Catholics say is a reminder he died on the Cross for our sakes). Do Lutherans also wear/display crucifixes or only empty crosses? Not only is this interesting in strictly theological terms, but I would like to know more as someone attracted to Lutheranism (especially the dogmas). Would you mind enlightening me?

Thank you, anyway.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi SC,

Some Lutherans pray a version of the rosary, although it is very much a minority practice. I believe Luther continued to pray the rosary after his evangelical awakening, however he recommended omitting from "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.." onwards, as Mary is not a mediator (go-between), that role belongs only to Christ.
Most Lutheran churches continue to utilise crucifixes, and many Lutherans would wear a crucifix. There is certainly no theological objection to displaying the corpus (body of Christ) on the cross from the Lutheran point of view - it is a reminder of what our Lord suffered for us.
Most Protestants, though, especially of the Reformed churches, prefer an empty cross out of fear that displaying the body of Christ breaks the commandment against making and worshipping graven images. Lutherans would respond that we do not worship the crucifix, and the prohibition of graven images is not absolute, as even the instructions for the Temple in the OT included the sculpting of relief images. That's the short answer! Blessings.

Southern Cross said...

Thank you for this enlightening reply. So, the idea is that wearing a crucifix is not in itself an act of worship (i.e. we do not worship the graven image itself, I was precisely thinking of God's commandments to Moses, you anticipated this, but I have always believed the Reformed argument against crucifixes was quite feeble), but rather a reminder of Christ's suffering for the sake of mankind. Of course, I thought there had to be some alternative version for the rosary as the standard Roman Catholic prayers would not fit in the broader Lutheran dogmas (I was already aware of the Lutheran rejection of Mary as a go-between). This prompts another question from me (if you do not mind answering it): even though Lutherans do not believe in Mary's intercession, does it imply you also reject the notion of immaculate conception (a central tenet of Roman Catholicism) altogether? Again, thank you for your reply to my previous questions.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

If you mean the immaculate conception of Mary, it is not a dogma of the Lutheran Church, as there is no scriptural basis for it. It is, at best, human speculation.

That's not to say that Mary isn't highly respected by Lutherans - but she too needed to be saved from the curse of original sin.

Southern Cross said...

This is exactly the reply I expected, and to be fair, I am of the same opinion (i.e. it can only be speculation). I have been drifting to Protestantism for a year, although I was baptised a Roman Catholic. However, I cannot bring myself to support many of the central tenets of Roman Catholicism, including immaculate conception, purgatory (no scriptural basis, again) and Papacy. On the other hand, the doctrine of sola Scriptura has always been highly attractive for me, and I broadly agree with the Augsburg Confession. And yet I have still some attachment to religious orthodoxy and traditional ceremonies. I remain too woefully ignorant of many aspects of Protestantism and Lutheranism, but I hope to remedy this. I could contemplate conversion within a few years (not before I am more familiar with the architecture of this denomination). Can you think of a book as an introduction to Lutheranism, laying out the main themes and doctrines? I am not daunted by difficulty, so please do not spare me!

Pr Mark Henderson said...


Sorry for the dealy in getting back to you; I've been away from my computer for a couple of days.

Re books on Lutheranism, it's alays difficult to recommend without knowing someone...I'll post something general in the near future, but for now...(bear in mind that most Lutheran books in English are produced in the US; after all there are c. 10 million Lutherans there.)

Lutheranism 101 (Concordia) - an intro level, reader-friendly book in the style of the 'Dummies' series (don't let that put you off it, though ;0) - it's really very well done). ****

The Spirituality of the Cross by G. Veith - aimed at Amrican evangelicals exploring the Lutheran faith but still helpful. Veith is a convert from Evangelicalism. ***

Why I Am A Lutheran by Daniel Preus - excellent, can't recommend it highly enough. ****

Grace Upon Grace - Spirituality for Today by John Kleinig (Australian) - Lutheranism from the inside, i.e. the life of the soul - most highly recommended, especially for Catholics - it will revolutionise your understanding of the Christian faith. Kleinig was a teacher of mine at seminary in Adelaide. *****

Book of Concord: A Reader's Edition - the official confessions or doctrinal documents of the Lutheran Church in a nicely put-together,, illustrated reader's edition with intro notes. *****

These books are all published by Concordia Publishing House in the US and should be available through or Book

A review of the worldwide Lutheran Church from a historical angle is provided by Eric Gritsch in A History of Lutheranism (2nd edition) (Fortress Press). Gritsch is somewhat liberal, but a good historian ***

Further down the track you may wish to consider the Lutheran Study Bible (Concordia). ****

SC, one thing you should understand at the outset about the Lutheran Church is that it is variegated, just like the Catholic Church we have our liberals and our conservatives. The main difference here is that in the Catholic Church liberals and conservatives exist under the same ecclesiastical umbrella, so you get some quite widely differing points of view in the one church. The Lutheran Church, however, is not monolithically organised, and so liberals and conservatives tend to divide into different church bodies. The church body I belong to, the Lutheran Church of Australia, would best be described as moderately conservative.

Coming from a Catholic background, getting your head around the varied ecclesiastical version of Lutheranism may be the most difficult thing.
The church body in the UK I would recommend is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, which is part of a world-wide fellowship of Lutheran churches which includes the LCA and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod which owns Concordia Publishing House.

SC,please continue to keep in touch via the blog or by private e-mail - available through the 'profile' page. Considering changing one's church membership is a big question; my best counsel is to follow your conscience, but also inform your conscience by wide reading and thinking, as you are doing.
Blessings upon your journey!

Southern Cross said...

Thank you very much for this readings which will indoubtedly turn out useful when I lay hold of them (I am presently in the process of re-reading the Bible and various theological material, but every day brings more determination and deliberation to my intention of leaving the Roman Catholic Church). All of the books you recommended are available through I will soon do these readings, I will probably start with Grace Upon Grace. As you said, any serious conversion must be preceded by careful reading and thinking, this is not something I will do lightly, levity was never a habit of mine, and it could even take years.

I understand there is a wide range of opinion among Lutherans. As far as I am concerned, I am definitely a conservative, which is one of the reasons for my intended defection, although it could be argued the Roman Catholic Church has remained relatively conservative as compared to, say, the Church of England (women to be made bishops or Rowan Williams' actions more generally). I am currently studying at the University of Saint Andrews (Scotland), and unfortunately there does not appear to be any local implantation of Lutheranism. However, I will be able to get in touch with other Lutherans next year as I go back home (Strasbourg, France). Lutherans are especially well represented in Alsace.

I will definitely keep in touch, I regularly read this blog and check out for new articles, anyway. I would be happy to have an in-depth discussion about these matters with you, but perhaps later. I should get more familiar with the bulk of literature and doctrines, first. Again, thank you for your help, it comes in handy as I did not know where to begin exactly.

Pr Mark Henderson said...


See my response under 'Sola Scriptura'.

When you do get back to Strasbourg, I believe John Warwick Montgomery, a well-known conservative Lutheran theologian (actually something of a polymath too), still conducts summer schools there. If ever you had the opportunity to attend I'm sure it would be well worth it. I have links to some of his older essays in my right-hand column. There is also a link to a book by George Salmon, a 19th century English divine who dealt with Roman Catholic claims in depth.