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Friday, August 03, 2007 

Bold Confession, Fear Of Syncretism, Or Sin Of Pride

I was asked recently by a dear friend why I wouldn’t visit a Calvinistic reformed variety church. I explained that I could visit, if I had to, a reformed congregation if the people that I was with understood perfectly that my confession on what the catholic faith has always been differed from theirs. As long as everybody involved was on the same page that I don’t confess making decisions for Jesus, I don’t believe Baptism is only an outward sign, and that I confess that the Eucharist isn’t a mere remembrance but is the same body and blood that was nailed to the cross even if “hidden” in, with, and under bread and wine, it would be possible to attend a worship service with friends and family who are standard American evangelical types. But that’s a pretty tall order.

But therein lies the problem. The friends and family that would invite me to a Sunday service either can’t understand or flat out reject my confession of faith as being too old school with ties going back too far in the historical church. Because, the thinking goes, there were problems in the Roman church we should all start over again every time we don’t like what is rubbing us the wrong way.

But I was hit with something that I’d never heard of before on a recently. I was accused of the sin of pride because I refused to attend any service with an individual who believes all churches are paths up the same mountain. “Why can’t you meet people where they are? Didn’t you just say that you believe God works His will where ever His Gospel is preached or read? What are you afraid of? Are you afraid that you will lose a part of yourself?” were the questions thrown at me by someone very well intentioned.

I don’t believe pride is the issue but rather syncretism. The more I read the more I find American style evangelicals calling anyone willing to stand and confess a core truth, prideful. By saying let’s just set aside our differences (confessions) as if they don’t matter, those who would do this are creating an entire new confession, unwittingly or not.

If we look at scripture we find that Christ all through the gospels is eating with Pharisees. But at no time does our Lord ever say, “Well, maybe you guys have a point, I’ll concede that we could all use a lot more law around here. So let’s just agree to agree and sit down and eat these tasty looking ham on rye sandwiches that one of the girls cooked up. I mean after all, I’m all about making peace.” On the contrary, He calls them on their misguided and self righteous doctrine of law and in turn they plot to kill Him.

If we look at Saint Paul’s epistle to the congregation at Corinth he tells them that their confession must be one and unified:

1 Corinthians 1:10 (NKJV)
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

So am I being prideful or not? I just can’t see how, after explaining (confessing) what the Church has always confessed and being told that that same confession (even the most basic confession like the Apostles, Nicene, or Athanasian Creeds) is (are) rejected for whatever reason, my sin is pride. In other words “In casu confessionis nihil est adiaphora”


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Prideful? No. No more than usual, at least... ;^) By which I merely mean that we are all prideful sinners. In the context of the accusation made against you, however, no it is not pride that dictates your confession.

We should endeavor to live within earnest faith, not within the felicitous inconsistencies that God so graciously provides us.

IOW, just because true Christians can be found within heterodox confessions, it doesn't mean that such heterodox confessions should be aided, abetted, tolerated, or made.

You done good. Keep it up!

Actually, I do agree that you aren't necessarily guilty of the sin of pride in this instance. In fact it could be speculated that others are guilty of bearing false witness by accusing you of a sin which they have no way of knowing that you've committed (as if they can look into your heart and/or mind and know for certain your true motivation).

All that being said. I don't think you have to be so concerned with visiting a parish of another denomination. Certainly you needn't make your confession of faith a secret - in fact it would be wrong to do so. However, your attendance at a particular congregation doesn't necessarily convey an acceptance of their doctrine.

For instance, when visitors come to my parish I never assume that they are there because they share in our confession. Nor do I expect them to. I also don't expect them to be comfortable with everything they experience if they are in fact from a non-Lutheran denomination. I certainly won't commune them, but neither will I force a confession on them.

In your case I'd encourage you to take your friends up on their offer and visit their congregations. A visit in and of itself is not syncretistic. Certainly refrain from the things that ARE syncretistic (communion, etc. . .) and don't feel obliged to add your "Amen" to any prayers which conflict with your confession. However, by going to these places now and then, especially where your family and friends attend can be a good thing in terms of generating conversation and developing credibility.

Being there first hand and seeing and experiencing what they've seen and experienced will give you at least two advantages when you are conversing and/or debating about the differences in your confessions of faith: 1) Attending their church shows you respect and care enough about them to see what they're all about. 2) Having yourself first hand experience with their version of worship will allow you to point to specific experiences that you now SHARE with them as examples of why you hold to YOUR confession as opposed to theirs.

I am a member of a local "ministerial alliance in my area." I take part in their monthly meetings because it helps me keep my finger on the pulse of the community, and because they have an excellent program for assisting people in need. But I do not take part in any of their joint worship services or their national day of prayer event because that would cross the line between simple "left hand kingdom" stuff and a place where I would be indicating agreement in doctrine.
My presence among them and my participating in meetings has generated conversation enough for them to see that my refraining from leading joint worship with them has nothing to do with elitism or pride, but instead a dedication to a deeply held confession of faith.

I might go and attend a baptist or methodist worship service as an oberver, but never would I participate as a pastor. As a lay person I might attend and even participate in part. But, as I said, my Amen would be withheld from anything that didn't agree with my confession and I wouldn't actively participate in anything like communion (or an altar call, etc).

Heck, you could just tell people, "I'm Lutheran, but I just wanted to come and observe how you all worship." That makes it pretty clear what you're all about without causing offense.

That's my 2 cents worth.


Rev. Ries,
“Being there first hand and seeing and experiencing what they've seen and experienced will give you at least two advantages when you are conversing and/or debating about the differences in your confessions of faith: 1) Attending their church shows you respect and care enough about them to see what they're all about. 2) Having yourself first hand experience with their version of worship will allow you to point to specific experiences that you now SHARE with them as examples of why you hold to YOUR confession as opposed to theirs.” Were really the points that friends were making to me. of course they went further and said it was pride that stopped me from my visit. But should I visit a congregation where the historic confession (Word and Sacrament as the means of grace) of what the faith has always been has been rejected? If that same confession is no longer to be discussed because of an anti liturgical or means of grace as emotional event bias, why go?

The main point I was attempting to make was that visiting one of those congregations is not in and of itself an act of syncretism.
Intending it as secondary to my main point, I did encourage you to go, and for the two reasons I gave. I was just thinking that if they are interested in conversation about that which divides you from them, it might contribute to such an endeavor. I would hope that they might be willing to reciprocate for the same purpose.

That is a tough position to be put into. Just what is involved in visiting varies by church. I was only beginning to adopt a Lutheran belief in the Real Presence while I was in seminary. (Gordon-Conwell, not one of the Concordias.) My first way of taking a stand on that meant not partaking of communion in chapel. The trays were passed, and I did not take bread or grape juice. Nobody bothered me over it, but it was very difficult, nevertheless, as I had never "rocked the boat" in such a public gathering. If people had been pushy, it might have gotten really ugly.

It sounds like you're making these choices carefully. I think the Rev. Ries's suggestions make some sense, but apply to some such gatherings better than others. If such a church is something like the Episcopal Morning Prayer service, it could be easy to attend. If it is praise choruses for worship and communion every Sunday and who-knows-what challenge from the pulpit to do or say this or that to the person in the pew in front of you, that would be another thing altogether.

Would you hold everyone else to the same standard? Namely, would you expect that no one would visit an LCMS service unless everyone in the congregation understood perfectly well what he thought about everything having to do with religion and where that might differ from LCMS teaching? For example, suppose you're a pastor of an LCMS church. You invariably will have a couple in your church of whom only one is LCMS, say the wife. Would you insist to the husband that he not attend services until everyone in the congregation is fully informed of his beliefs and understands the differences between his and theirs, and that his attendance in no way implies endorsement of LCMS doctrine and practice? If not, why the double standard?

And judging by the fact that you incorrectly labeled Calvinist, Reformed churches as promoting "decision theology," not only do they not understand your beliefs, but you don't understand theirs, either. It's a tall order to expect people to know more about you than you know about them.

I wonder if Luther did the same thing during the Saxon Visitation years. Did he make sure everyone in the congregations fully understood how his beliefs differed from those being promoted by Rome prior to even setting foot in the chapels?

Hi Josh, that should have been Calvinist or reformed variety as opposed to one/other. I’ll leave that in there as a testament to my lack of communication skills.

I don’t expect everyone to know what Lutherans preach teach and confess. But when those who wish me to visit just flat out reject that which the Church has always held to be true… I’m just reluctant to go. I cant see Luther sitting quietly while attending Mass with those that rejected Christ’s Gospel.

I cant see Luther sitting quietly while attending Mass with those that rejected Christ’s Gospel.

Although we lack much in the way of first-hand accounts of the Saxon Visitation, it does not appear that Luther stood up and began shouting when he attended Mass during the Visitation. I do agree that if you're unable to be polite and at least be quiet, you shouldn't set foot in another person's church. You'll just reflect badly on us.

You never answered my question: Do you expect non-Lutherans and non-Christians to have the same view of other churches as you do?

I wasn’t saying I even so much as thought that Luther would have stood up and created a ruckus. Nor would I. Luther kept up with trying to dialogue for many years with Rome. That, I’m in favor of. It’s not my place to walk into another person’s church and tell them why I think they are wrong in the middle of their service. Who in their right mind would? It wouldn’t just reflect badly on Lutherans, it would reflect poorly on all Christians.

I’m clearly not expressing myself properly here. Those who wish me to attend their service say I’m going to hell for the following reasons; 1) we confess the Trinity, that’s something that “catholics” do and they’re all going to hell. 2) I wont rebaptize myself with a believer’s baptism. 3) I go to the Eucharist and drink wine as the blood of Christ, Christ didn’t drink wine, that’s sinful, he drank grape juice. 4) I refuse to say that my decision to accept Jesus gets me into heaven.

These points have been discussed and I have been told that anyone who takes the Scriptural view (and expressed by the confessions) is going to hell. My original question was (and is) how is refusing to go to a service where these views are expressed prideful?

Let me answer your question, no absolutely not! I’ve no problem visiting first second or third nondenominational church down the street as a means to start a dialogue. But I just don’t think that applies here. Am I wrong?

Well, that changes the terms quite a bit. You said you were refusing to visit a Reformed church, not some fringe anti-Trinitarian Baptist church full of people who believe Lutherans are going to hell. Reformed churches are quite different.

Josh, I very often speak and write in shorthand, my apologies. To them they are just another protestant nondenominational congregation. The funny thing is, that in the eyes of the person whose congregation I wouldn’t visit, all good people can go to heaven as long as they believe in the Bible as long as they have no ties to the historic church, But I guess the same question is still out there, at what point do I not visit?

For the record, I told the person that was calling me prideful that I would visit their mega congregation precisely because they understood the differences in our very different theologies. They said I was guilty of the sin of pride because wouldn’t visit ANY congregation. If I’m able to visit one reformed congregation but not a congregation where the basics of Christianity have been rejected, I just don’t think I’m guilty of the sin of pride, at least not in this case.

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