Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Sweetest Fruit on the Tree of Lies: The Pious Lie

With the discussion generated by the last post on 'The Roman Way' still fresh, I now want to combine the theme of that post with that of the preceding post on the ethics of speech, with a nod to the sub-theme of the development of doctrine which was inevitably raised in the comments. I can think of no better way to do so than by presenting here a reflection on "the sweetest fruit on...the tree of lies: the pious lie", from the pen of the redoubtable German-Australian Lutheran theologian, Hermann Sasse (1895-1976), who here and in many other places in his writings seems to assume a prophetic mantle. The picture of Sasse is, according to my best estimate, from about the time he joined the stellar theology faculty of the Erlangen University in 1933 - three years before the following words were written:
“…there is in the church one particularly sweet piece of fruit on the broad canopy of the tree of lies… the greatest ethicist of our church (August Vilmar –MH) once spoke, warning the theologians of his and our time about the most grievous sin, the lie to God. The most fearful thing about the pious lie is that it will lie not only to men, but also to God in prayer, in confession, in the Holy Supper, in the sermon and in theology. The pious lie always has the propensity to become the edifying lie. It was once expelled from the church when it existed in the form of legends of the saints and the fraud of relics. Then in the full view of pious eyes, it returned in a new form, such as in the Luther legends, or in pietistic times in the form of almanacs and tracts containing the accounts of miraculous responses to prayer and equally miraculous conversions, which either never happened, or in which the kernel of historical truth was no longer discernible. This "edifying" lie even forces its way into the sphere of the church, which teaches revealed truths of revelation. After sufficient preparation it can obtain the status of "doctrinal maturity". Thus it becomes the dogmatic lie.
We ask our Roman Catholic fellow Christians to believe that it is very difficult for us to use the word "lie" here, and we do not do so to offend them. We know that they affirm a dogma such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary out of deep conviction of faith, and they will accept the yet-awaited extension of Marian dogma from the hand of the ecclesiastical teaching office with the same sincerity. But this changes nothing of the fact that in these dogmas false doctrines are established, and that the Roman Church thus finds itself in a guilt-laden error...
When we speak of the dogmatic lie, we do not, however, have in mind only the celebrated dogmas pronounced by the Catholic Church, through which theories are elevated to the level of ecclesiastical dogma, and have no basis in Holy Scripture, and are not true. We include here also precisely the dogmas with which modern Protestantism has been at pains to correct, to complete, or to replace the doctrine of the evangelical church, such as the false doctrine of Pietism concerning the church, or of rationalism concerning the person of Jesus Christ. What a fearful thing it is indeed that things are taught in the church which are not true, under the guise of the eternal truth entrusted to her. No atheism, no Bolshevism can do as much damage and destruction as the pious lie, the lie in the church. In this lie the power of one is made evident whom Christ Himself calls a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44)."
Extracted from Sasse's essay 'Union and Confession' (written in Germany in 1936), trans. by Matthew C. Harrison, published by the Office of the President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1997.


Sasse reminds us of something that must never be forgotten if we are to remain true Evangelical Christians. As much as we are in conscience bound to protest the pious lies behind the false dogmas promulgated by the papacy, we must remain aware that no church body is above succumbing to a 'pious lie' and thus falling into the most grievous sin of lying to God in prayer and worship. Today, among the churches descended from the magisterial Reformation, we witness church body after church body succumbing to the great pious lie of our time: the 'Gospel of radical inclusion', which in practice calls evil 'good' and good 'evil', and does so with an air of superior piety that must sicken God's heart, if not raise his ire. See previous posts on the 'Church of Scotland' and the 'Evangelical Lutheran Church in America'. May God preserve us and our churches from such a sin and may he safely guide the faithful remnant in such church bodies to green pastures and still waters.


Terry Maher said...

An excellent follow-up. Sasse is indeed prophetic here, as that is exactly what has happened, as the RCC, the EO and mainline Protestantism (including denominations and, uh, world federations with "Lutheran" in their names) all adhere to their respective pious lies, whose seemingly pious nature masks their real nature as lies, about which they all "dialogue" as discover their commonality, which is indeed there but it is a commonality of being various versions of the pious lie, in which they will at length achieve the goal of ut unum sint but the oneness is in the lie, not Christ.

Stephen K said...

Omigosh! Another compelling issue! I think I understand Sasse, but let me see if I have understood you, Pastor Mark, correctly. In condemning as today’s pious lie the notion of radical inclusion, I am guessing you are referring to the Jesus-and-kingdom-with-no-barriers notion articulated in various ways by modern non-traditional biblical scholars and theoreticians, like John Dominic Crossan etc. I am guessing also that its opposite would be the Gospel-of-the-goats-and-sheep/rich man-vs-Lazarus? The “saved” and the “non-saved”?

Pastor Mark, I am in no position to say what is the lie or what is the truth, and I listen to the traditional language at least once a month from the lips of an Evangelical Anglican minister (as well in the broader religious blog-land), so I am sensitive to the difference. I wonder whether though they cannot be in some way genuinely reconciled? Maybe they can’t. But I keep thinking of a radical like Francis of Assisi, and the “kingdom-of-heaven-in-the-heart-and-common-table” seems more capable of being truly radical than the traditional “us-and-them” framework, which at times seems indistinguishable from what in political philosophy might be called a secular bourgeois classism. I think at times that if Jesus wasn’t proposing something as counter-intuitive as the former, then what’s so different or special about his Gospel?

If I am on the wrong track here, please don’t hesitate to clarify and correct. Perhaps there is not a single religious act or belief that is not capable of being - in the hands of some - a pious lie

Pr Mark Henderson said...

You are sooo right!
Give me the manly Manning over the mincing Newman anyday. He's my kind of Papist ;0)

Yes, I need to expand on 'radical inclusion' a bit (maybe tomorrow). Put it this way, it seeks to bless, rather than forgive, what God calls sin - there's world of difference; hat ethe sin, love the sinner and all that. As for Francis, I look forward to meeting him in heaven!

Stephen K said...

THanks for clarifying. You get no argument from me then: I agree that there is a difference between forgiving sin and blessing it; in washing sin away and whitewashing it. We are equal because we are all sinners, but that doesn't mean we embrace sin.

David Cochrane said...

Thank you for this article. I shared it on Facebook for my papist relatives, friends and others caught by pious lies.

God' peace. †

Lvka said...


...didn't they kill that guy a few weeks back?...