Too “religious”

“Well, you guys are all into those religious rituals and stuff.”

Baptism and Holy Communion and liturgy and a church that looks Catholic.

” We aren’t into all that “religious ritual.”

OK…  here we go again.

Looks can be deceiving.

There can be a certain amount of ritual as the church goes about worshipping the Lord in Word and Sacrament. Things ought be done rightly and in good order.

But the focus is not on ritual.  The focus is on Jesus Christ and His promises.

The focus is on the non-religious. It is on what Jesus has done for us.  What  He is doing… for us.  And what He will yet do…for us. That is not being “religious” in the right understanding of the word. That is trusting in faith.

Religion comes from our end. It is what we do to try to attain holiness. It is our efforts to become more acceptable to God.  That is “religion” in it’s most bald sense.

The irony here is that many churches that pride themselves on not being “religious”, because they reject a more formal liturgical worship and an understanding of the true presence of Christ in the Sacraments, are actually MORE religious, even though in appearance they might look less religious.

They may worship in a warehouse with no altar and folding chairs set up, and the pastor may have shorts and a Hawaiian shirt on, and traditional Christian hymns are traded out for contemporary Christian rock music…but they are actually being more religious.

Not because of those things specifically, but because the Word is being internalized.

The external nature of the Word (God coming to us from outside of ourselves) is turned upside down, and now the whole enterprise revolves around ‘us’ and what we are doing to try and make this Word real, and meaningful in our own lives. Worship then, becomes a project of the self. Our emotions, our experience, our comittment and seriousness.  That IS RELIGION.

The external Word.    God comes TO US.       The direction is all important.

Many churches that have a more formal litugical worship can get it wrong also and confuse the direction of the promises.  Roman Catholicism is a good example of this misdirection. The direction in their Sacrament of the Altar is from us to God. (backwards)

This is why a right understanding of the Word and the Sacraments is so important. This is why a right understanding of the true nature of man’s will (bound to sin) is so important.

When we take over and place ourselves at the center, place the emphasis on our decision, our seriousness, our striving…things get turned upside down in a hurry and the gospel can just disappear. 

And what you can end up with then…is “religion”… no matter how high, or low your worship style is.

40 Responses

  1. Indeed! The ‘high’/’low’ arguments are fuller of Self than focued on Christ.

    Appreciate the comments about the ‘external’ nature of the Word. Simply put, it isn’t our word but comes from Another.

    Interesting how our focusing on ‘mere’ externals (everything but Christ) leaves us hollow.


  2. Thanks, Matthew.

    We do need to be kept off that “religious” ladder.

    I think that is one of the prime reasons that the Lord instituted the Sacraments.

    We tend to think that we can take on every problem ourselves.

    The salvation project is one best left to the One who specializes in giving life to people.

    Take care, my friend.

    – Steve

  3. Great point, Steve. Many non-liturgical churches’ approach to the sacraments seems to cross the line into superstition. I think it’s because they avoid sacramental theology at all costs, but still have to find a way to practice Communion and Baptism; it seems more mystical than a sacramental approach, only with a weird, unnatural twist.

    Either that, or they rob the sacraments of all meaning, turning them into mere metaphors. Interesting thought: many who are in other ways literalists practice a very metaphorical Christianity. I’ll have to think about that some more…

  4. True Christians do not question the definition of “is”.

  5. Alden,

    I was in a conversation with a Christian friend who’s constantly criticizing the bad things that Christian people think , say and do.

    So I was attempting (with this post) to show how shifting the focus to the external Word, and away from us, can be a tremendous benefit and put things into proper perspective.

    I think your comments on how their handling of the Sacraments is an “unnatural twist” is very apropos.

  6. James,

    “This IS my body” “This IS my blood.”

    Yes, indeed.

    IS means…IS !

  7. Steve,

    Something else to point out, it’s not just coming to us and for us, which is the apex of external Word coming TO and FOR us, but realizing God uses means. A couple of examples might help, because we, my wife and I both have come from varied SB backgrounds through Reformed and now entering into LCMS. So we have a very experiential reality to the various doctrines and not just confess “what they say”.

    E.g. #1 A couple of misnomers involving confession and absolution as seen from a set of denominational eyes that sees this as too Roman Catholic or Luther didn’t go far enough. Confession & Absolution are not as Rome taught, but per 1 John “if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us”. In fact that’s the opening just before confession. After confession, corporate, the pastor gives forgiveness. My wife and even I wrestled with this a bit, but our pastor really helped here. He helped especially my wife because she wrestled with that sounding too RC. First, it is due to the authority of the office and not a legal thing as if “man” forgives, but the pastor in his office as Christ’s representative says either or both, “Christ/God forgives you” or “as an ordained minister as Christ servant I forgive you all your sins…”. It’s God forgiving not man, its sacramental, God uses the pastor to give His word. I told my wife it’s like baptism, as a Baptist you never had a problem, did you, hearing, “I baptize you in the name of…” did you? Yet, you know that it is not the pastor baptizing but God, even though the pastor says, “I…” In all cases the pastor is simply that instrument (sacramental nature of receiving from God) that delivers the Word. Also, there’s not a Christian alive as a Christian who does not feel that need to confess and hear he/she in particular is forgiven. Even in our old SB men’s groups we’d attempt to gather around and confess our sins and struggles just dying to hear a very personal, “John, you are forgiven for Christ’s sake.” And actually believe it was so being spoke to us. The personalized nature of confession is necessary and this particular kind of “to you” giving of the Gospel (confession/absolution) is a particularly precious treasure and comfort to the troubled conscience. And we should never fundamentally forget what true absolution itself IS, and that IS in fact the Good News, you are forgiven/absolved – ESPECIALLY because it’s in the particular to/for you. It is the hub of the Gospel which you yourself HEAR.

    RC Sproul once alluded to this himself lamenting that we really as protestants (other than Lutheran protestant mostly) have so over thrown any hint of authority in the pastor that we no longer view that authority as authority in a very bad way – we no longer really view it as God speaking to us. Now in any given vocation the office holder can sin against his vocation, and the pastor is not immune to this. Like a bad cop, one can sin against the appointed office. But you don’t get rid of the police force nor it’s authority due to the bad cop here and there, you oust the bad cop and restore the right protective authority. The same was Luther’s approach to Rome and the church’s practices, it needed reforming, not whole hog ousting. So a very sad reality reveals itself, especially in my former Baptist circles of which I’m familiar. One so doubts the authority that no personal “I forgive you” is there because it “sounds RC” and we “must oust that” that we’ve thrown away the good part (the Gospel) with the bad (the sin against the office). This was what RC Sproul once pointed out a few years ago and was really lamenting it. He said, “We’ve really lost something in this…”.

    Which leads to a quote from Luther that is the more frightening reality: Luther said, “On the last day God will say to me: Have you preached that (the pure Word and the Sacraments as instituted by Christ)? And I will answer, yes, exactly. Then God will turn to you and say, Have you also heard that? And you will answer, Yes. Then He will say further, Why, then didn’t you believe it? And you will say, O, I regarded it merely as the word of a man, since a poor chaplain or town pastor spoke it. Thus shall the same word which sticks to your heart accuse you and be your judge on the last day. For it is God’s Word, it is God Himself whom you have heard, as Christ says, ‘He that heareth you heareth Me.’ I have sufficiently done my office before the tribunal and presence of God, for I have exposed your sins and offences and reprimanded you for them, and I pure of your blood. Now see how you stand.” That struck me suddenly! Because elsewhere you hear Luther say of absolution and the sacraments and the other forms of the Gospel coming to you that it requires that you believe it. Not a legal ‘if/then’ requirement but a Gospel trust over distrust. Thus, there’s a very real and ever present danger in not believing the Word when it is given for you in whatever form it takes (absolution, baptism, LS). For example, when the pastor gives you the absolution, “I in Christ’s place forgive you all your sins…”,. If you say, “It’s just a man’s words…” and thus one doesn’t believe it, then one is rejecting actually God’s Word and God’s grace. It comes dangerously close if not, the unforgiveable sin, that is to reject grace which by its nature is not forgivable because it rejects the forgiveness itself. Luther makes the same point with the words of institution in the LS where He says “…given for you…” requires all hearts to believe it, this is His body and blood…given…for you…for forgiveness of sins. That’s why it cannot be memorial, a recollection, but the living Word actually given and it is to be believed because forgiveness is being issued that moment to the man. It gets back to what Luther just said above, “Then He will say further, Why, then didn’t you believe it? And you will say, O, I regarded it merely as the word of a man, since a poor chaplain or town pastor spoke it.”

    It’s a similar issue in baptism as it is in absolution, one carries to the other.

    E.g. #2 One, moving into Lutheran worship if its doing what its suppose to, begins to pick up the fact that in Luther/Lutheran worship they take very real and seriously that the Word is not just historical but living and active in the very present and very individual, and they don’t just ‘say that’. Many would agree with that in principle, “Sure God’s Word is living”. But really do not believe that by the preaching and doctrines backing up certain items. Contrawise Lutheran churches actually DO their worship in such away that it reflects that confession of it being true living and not historic. Most don’t really do that, they just say, “Yea” to the principle then go on and do church as if its not so. This is most apparent in the memorial meal concept concerning the LS. It’s painfully obvious in that by its very doctrinal nature, memorial meal only, that it is by it’s own definition “historic”. Such that what is attached to the bread and wine is nothing but a word of history to be remembered. As my wife put it, “As a 25+ year Baptist I was always taught that we sit here and eat the crackers and the grape juice and some how remember that Jesus died for us. When she told me that it crystallized for me the soul destroying error of that doctrine. The “word” they put to the “crackers and juice”, even bread and wine in the old days, is nothing but a historical word and thus it cannot produce or strengthen anything more than it’s counter part an historical faith which is not the same as saving/living faith. Contrast that with a Living Word that is put with the bread and the wine that is actually IN THE PRESENT alive and given to the specific person, like absolution (the Gospel), which produces and strengthens ITS parallel a living faith. In short the memorial meal of the so called Lord’s Supper is pretty much what it confesses itself to be, a history lesson with food and drink supplied. Kind of like Thanksgiving Day meals or a MEMORIAL Day bar-b-que. Contrast that with a living Word given in the present to/for you that is truly eaten and drank.

    That’s why a liturgy if it is truly Christian is a living in the present to/for you Word in all that it gives. The Word of God is alive and ACTAULLY being spoken and done sacramentally through the earthly instrument of the pastor but they are IN PRESENT LIVING FACT not history fact God’s Word (Luther’s point in the quote); the Word of God is alive and actually being spoken and done in the two sacraments, not a recollection of historic words.

    The difference between a historical word and a living word is that the former is dead and recollecting, the living word is actually in the present causing and doing things into being. And the liturgy which gathers up these two fundamental forms of the living word (service of the Word and service of the Sacraments) should constantly and continuously and orderly dispense this living Word as the GIFT, not law, not ordinance, not act of obedience, but GIFT as the treasure that is beyond all creaturely wealth to buy. A liturgy that does not do this, high or low, Roman or Baptist or Reformed or even false Lutheran is shear pure religiosity – fouled bread to eat and wormwood to drink.


  8. Larry,

    Excellent points.

    The Word is living and active. it is a two edged sword dividing a ‘man’ right down to the marrow.

    And all of this is accessed by faith.

    Otherwise…it is just bread and wine (grape juice) and we are back to our ‘feelings’ and actions.

    No thanks. I know where that will take me.

  9. If the ‘focus’ not on the rituals, why have them?

  10. Bino,

    Well, firstly, Christ commanded that we do them.

    So we baptize, and partake of His body and blood.

    And then, in so doing, He works His good and gracious will into our lives.

    Since these are things that Christ is doing, we don’t have to spiritualize these things and ramp up our side of the equation and get all “religious” and start climbing the ladder of what we think, say, or do, or feel.

  11. Right. And here is a good place to make a distinction between a ritual that is “climbing the ladder” to heaven, versus a sacrament in which God is speaking and giving to us. The former under whatever name it goes is pagan.

    All men, though via fallen reason, have a natural hunger to be back with God – though it manifests itself in all the fallen theologies of glory. Be they charismatics who seek out other signs and wonders, the ill taught and legally preached at Christian that seeks inward and his works to “see if the Spirit (God) has operated some how favorably in his/her life, the Muslim who like Pat Robertson and others ‘wet their spiritual fingers and stick it up in the air of time and space to detect God’s favor/displeasure based on what they or others do, even the “scientific” secular atheist like Carl Sagan who asks the question about the universe “are we alone” (its linked to a underlying desire to be united relationally with deity and higher power), and so it goes.

    But as in the carnation we have a God that comes ALL the way down to the ground and is made man and still in a living way is in the sacraments, water, bread/body and wine/blood. Where is God and more importantly FOR YOU, well He is HERE in the bread and wine, His very body and very blood. Like all articles of faith it must and only is apprehended by faith based on the Word spoken and not reason that reasons its way to it. The words of institution for example do not state how, they simple state fact and truth…this is and demand faith believe them EVEN and ESPECIALLY in offense to fallen human reason.

    We see this with Peter for example in John 6 when everyone says, “This is a hard saying (HIS WORD offends their reason) who can receive it”, and they follow Him no more. He looks at the rest and says, “Will you leave too”. Jesus offers no reasoning for what He Spoke. Peter answers for all, “To Whom shall we go…for you alone have the WORDS of eternal life”. Note that faith answers the Word here, and reason remains silent.

    So it is as Luther said it is one thing to know God is here and there, but different to know He is there FOR YOU. This is the hunger and thirst of all fallen sinners fundamentally.

    The rituals that really count are the ones God, Jesus, put Himself and promised Himself to be there for us merely by the spoken Word and even against reason. These are the true treasures of the church, the gifts and dawning realities of the true, very and real Kingdom of God. But they are hidden under opposites and seem to be nothing. Nothing to the eyes of fallen human reason and religion and glory, clearly revealed to the “eyes” of faith that HEARS the WORD. Faith hears the Word and thus “sees” the Word in the sacramental union.

    And here is the difference between Luther/Scripture on one side and Zwingli/Calvin, et. al. on the other: For the later the sign of the sacrament or ordinance (baptist) is a philosophical sign, man’s religion, and as Luther distinguished a philosophical sign denotes the ABSENCE of a thing to which it points. A theological sign, Luther and scripture on the sacraments, denotes the PRESENCE of a thing in the midst. And that is a HUGE distinction.

    The difference is nothing there and no God present for you, especially not savingly, and God present in Christ and FOR YOU.

    The sacraments ultimately are linked back to the affirmation of the incarnation itself, and the infinite weightiness of the fact of God coming ALL THE WAY DOWN TO US FOR US TO GIVE US, and climbing the ladder, as Steve well puts it to fill the absence void.


  12. “…and climbing the ladder, as Steve well puts it to fill the absence void.”

    should have been “…versus climbing the ladder, as Steve well puts it to fill the absence void.”

    That makes it clearer, sorry about that!


  13. Nice going, Larry.

    What seems to be nothing is something, and what seems to be something is nothing.

    My poor friends (some of them) look upon me as being in a “religious” tradition where nothing is really happening…just human ritual.

    They couldn’t be more wrong. In fact it is they that are mired in religion, climbing the ladder of Christian progression because it is the only proof that they are Christians.

  14. If one may speak rightly of the subjective side of this to show why spiritualizing the objective earthiness of the sacraments to show the danger from the subjective side; it might be like this (our pastor showed me this):

    Why we need sacraments AS sacraments in the Lutheran sense and not the Reformed sense or the ordinance sense or the memorial meal sense, etc…(and this applies to the FOR YOU of absolution too, because we are not disembodied spirits or souls rather we have created earthy bodies. His example, very simple, “If you go to the ER with chest pains you don’t say, ‘This body is having chest pains’, rather you say, “I AM having chest pains”.

    I thought that was knocking it out of the park!


  15. The radical protestant objections to ritual reflect ignorance, stupidity or both. A ritual is the habitual performance of an action. Therefore, every worship service – no matter it’s form – is a ritual and contains any number of rituals within itself.

  16. I tend to see religious as a negative term but more of an attitude of the pharisees. I also see religion as a de-emphasis of the Cross into more “stuff” of the Bible. Nothing to do with wearing white robes or not or baptism or communion.

  17. Colossians 2:20-23 NASB (20) If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, (21) “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (22) (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)–in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? (23) These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

    James 1:26-27 NASB If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. (27) Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

  18. “…(27) Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”


    Yeah, that surely does seem religious to me.

    Are you religious?

  19. I pray for the strength to be more every day.

    I have a long way to go…

  20. When it comes to acting with love for our neighbor, and keeping ourselves out of trouble…I guess we all have a long way to go.

    But when I find myself questioning if I am doing enough, I look to the cross of Christ and remind myself that He has taken that long, hard journey for me…and that I am fully forgiven and justified for His sake.

    Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the discussion, JOV.
    I’m looking forward to checking out your site soon.

    – Steve M.

  21. But remember, you are justified by works and faith, not faith alone. And religion is the works that proves your faith. By the works we do, our faith is proved; by helping the poor, the meek, the needy, by teaching the love of the gospel to all.

    James 2:17-18 ESV So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (18) But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

    James 2:26 ESV For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

    The greatest joy in life for a Christian is sharing the love of Jesus and helping others ( works ). Works does NOT SAVE YOU, but without the works, the faith is dead.

    Salvation is a free gift, but with that free gift of salvation come responsibility to live righteously before God our father in heaven.

    Steve thank you again for your articles. I recently found this site and really enjoy reading it.

    You have a lot of great insight…

  22. “But remember, you are justified by works and faith, not faith alone.”

    I think you’d get quite an argument from St. Paul (and a lot of others) on that one.

    That would mean that the cross did not accomplish everything.

    “It is finished” Jesus said.

    I think He meant it.

    Anyway, well talk some later. I’m off to my cousin’s 50th BD party.


  23. Maybe the way I used the word justified was incorrect. What I mean to say is that without works you have no faith.

    The gift of salvation is free, and the believing that Jesus died for your sins and that God His father raised Him from the dead is faith.

    What I am saying is that if we only believe and DO NOTHING to show love and compassion to others, then I ask are we really saved? When you are saved you die to the world and pick up the cross everyday living for Christ, and it is those acts of kindness ( works ) that we do that separate us from the world by showing the love we have for Jesus by the kindness we extend to others through the love we have in Christ.

    I hope you have a wonderful day at your cousins BD party…

  24. It can be hard to reconcile James with Paul; it’s all in how you understand “works.” We don’t know for sure what James had in mind, but according to Paul, any works done out of human effort are of no avail with regard to either salvation or righteousness. The works that do matter – and which offer evidence of faith – are the works empowered by the Holy Spirit.

    Many good works are done by non-Christians, and are evidence of nothing. The works that are evidence of faith are those works which are just that: they point back to faith, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. (This is my analysis, anyway.)

  25. Paul and James are not hard to reconcile, theologies of glory simply cannot see the theology of the cross, and therefore find it hard to “reconcile” that which needs no reconciling.

    James speaks indicatively, not imperatively. What James is not saying, “if you don’t have good works and therefore false faith…then get busy doing good works to prove true faith”. That would be false doctrine and James’ letter would be deemed unapostolic and in direct conflict with all the rest of Scripture. If a man has no good works and no living faith he doesn’t “get to working”, which would be to damn his soul most certainly, but to hear the Law in all its force then the Gospel in all its sweetness. No matter how hard piestist attempt to do so, faith cannot in any way, shape or form be created, sustained or strengthened by any works, not even the greatest and best and most of good works outwardly. Faith, that is living faith, comes by hearing and at that of Christ and Him crucified for you and His righteousness given to you such that NOTHING is left to do. Under that nothing left to do is true living faith and all that THAT faith does, great or small, eating, sleeping, drinking, vocation, standing still all these ARE good works. It is the GOOD TREE, created from the GOOD WORD that does NOTHING BUT GOOD WORKS. Thus like Christ, every breath He breathed, every blink of the eye, every sleep He took, every bite of food He ate, as well as all the healings He did, and the death on the Cross He did for us were ALL good works…including His very incarnate BEING.

    This is what it means that the good tree can ONLY produce good works and the bad tree, by nature, even if it saves a billion lives and gives its life for the billion, does nothing but evil works or bad fruit.

    As Luther rightly observes that Scripture plentiously testifies too, including James, “whenever the scriptures tell you to do good works, it forbids you to do them by yourself”. The Law INTRINSICALLY forbids this, in fact it itself condemns it.


  26. I don’t see Paul and James to be hard to reconcile…. but let me use different words from Larry. I see Pauls statement of saved by faith and not works to be a profound statement centered on how we need to approach God– that all Glory and righteoussness comes from Christ. It discusses our Vertical relationship with God and how we go about it.

    Where Paul is profound. James is practical application in how a Christian should live on Earth. Profound vs practical! Maybe nobody else interprets it this way.

    Maybe I am rambling! Which way is up!

  27. Ritual isn’t the problem. Jesus liked ritual and participated in ritual all the time. It was his parents custom to go to jerusalem for the Passover. It was his custom to go to the Synagogue on the Sabbath. The passover and synagogue had a lot of ritual.

  28. Good points here about ‘ritual’.

    We all go through ritual.

    The radical Protestants of our time have thrown overboard everything that smacks of Rome (except their semi-Pelagian theology) in favor of their own rituals that are devoid of anything that resembles traditional church.

    “Church for people who don’t want to go church”, a keen observer has remarked.

  29. in terms of Liturgy, up till 2000 I was in an LCMS liturgical Church with a PHD Lutheran purist Pastor (which was a good thing). He understood Luther and WHY he was Lutheran. He had a good influence on me.

    When we moved to the Twin Cities we chose a non-Lutheran, non liturgical Church. The bad part of the liturgy for me was that the liturgy became stuff that was so repetetive it did not mean much anymore.

    However, having been away from it I can see how it keeps the Church also focused on “the right stuff’ because its tough for a Pastor without that structure to not stray.

    Having sad that liturgical churches are not my interpretation of ‘religious’ churches still. Religious church belongs to the attitude of the pharisees. When Jesus came he was the non-religion of the day. He established his bride the Church, not religion.

  30. I ritually kiss my wife every morning, and before I go anywhere in the car. I sure hope that kissing her over and over again never becomes so repetitive that it no longer means anything to me.
    Peter, according to Acts 2, celebrated Holy communion everyday. I don’t think the repetitiveness ever took away from the meaning for him. Prayer ought to be a daily activity if not more often. I have found that since I have made that a priority it has taken on more meaning. Repetitiveness does not necessarily make boring. It is the perspective you take.
    Hopefully, as you see that your nonliturgical church is missing the focus on the gospel, you will learn to appreciate the Liturgy more, Centrality of the Gospel. As for me the Liturgy is chock full of memories. It isn’t church without it. I have grown up my whole life worshiping in one liturgical church or another. I worshiped with my grandparents in those settings. Now my son and his grandparents experience that same continuity of handing down the faith, and the heritage. I can’t imagine my grandfather joyfully worshiping in a contemporary service. That is one great strength of the liturgy, it is as cross generational, as it is cross cultural. and the repetitiveness drums the gospel into your mind so that you can thoughtlessly mouth it in a coma. That is a blessing! Not that you shouldn’t give it thought, but it is nice to have it so familiar. It becomes so familiar that kids raised up in it have the creed and the Lord’s Prayer memorized by the first grade!

    • Bror,

      That’s EXACTLY the experience, if one may speak rightly of “experience”, we have been having under our catechism and attending to join our present LCMS (we come from SB, Calvinism, and finally PCA most recently).

      I explained it to one of my best friends of baptist pastor like this: The ritual if you will from the liturgy to the church year calendar gives us and is the dawning taste of the real reality that we only hear and receive by faith. The world and all in it from day to day to death, disease, sickness, money, depression, wars, etc…is spoken to us in all sort of forms, comes at us, through life at work, home, nightly news, entertainment, etc…and preaches that “fallen reality”. But the advantage of the church year and the “rituals” in the liturgy FORMS that Gospel kingdom reality for the people of God. It becomes more and more, “I’m and my family REALLY are not a part of this world but the world to come”. It counteracts and puts the believer in another reality. The kingdom reality, the Gospel. Heterdox churches do this unwittingly because EVERYONE realizes the superior worship time during Christmas and Easter, and even in my SB we longed for those holiday worship times, because it set us in the Kingdom’s season or calendar, that there is a reality that is the REAL reality proclaimed to us and we receive by faith and IS coming. The church year, Sunday and liturgy puts the mind, soul, body, heart INTO that kingdom reality that is otherwise 24/7 preached against. And so with for example the church year, which is linked to the liturgies, there’s a constant, “why do we do this or what does this mean”, and then you have the opportunity to hear it yourself or explain it to other (e.g. children and friends).

      It connects one in all time and space with the church historical and in heaven. And this is a lively connection not just an historical recollection. As our pastor told us once, “We are use to saying ‘church begins at 1000’, but in reality we should be thinking and saying, ‘we are joining in with the worship of all the Saints in heaven, the continual worship spoken of in Rev. at 1000′”. THATS the reality and not just a nice sounding idea, and like all articles of faith only received BY FAITH, one has to believe it.

      Which is another reason the worship cannot be heterdox or mingled, because in truly joining in, praise bands and other pagan heterdoxy worship forms are not in heaven. Scripture actually gives us a very clear picture of worship even in heaven and it does very much in the real present have ritual. Orthodoxy means not just right teaching but right or straight praise.


  31. “But the focus is not on ritual. The focus is on Jesus Christ and His promises.”

    Good Morning Steve,

    Every time I visit this site, you are reminding the world where the focus is to be and what Jesus did for us. Blessing to you and yours…

  32. Magdalene,

    It’s always such a joy to hear from you!

    Thanks for the nice compliment, my friend!

    May the Lord continue to bless you and keep you and your family.

    – Steve

  33. Thank you, Steve, for always welcoming me.

    You wrote, “The external nature of the Word (God coming to us from outside of ourselves) is turned upside down, and now the whole enterprise revolves around ‘us’ and what we are doing to try and make this Word real, and meaningful in our own lives. Worship then, becomes a project of the self. Our emotions, our experience, our comittment and seriousness. That IS RELIGION.”

    Steve, perfectly stated.

  34. Thank you, Magdalene.

  35. The problem with people observing Lutherans is that they hear the same words we speak and think we mean the same things as the RCs.


    We sound and look the same as the RC but we do not mean the same things when we use the same words. We just look the same, but we are not the same.

    We are not the same because we do not mean the same things when we use the words found in our liturgy. The words strike the Lutheran differently when they hit the Lutheran’s ears.

    So to the non-Lutherans here, my advise is you go through our Small Catechism and you will understand why those words are different in meaning from the RC.

    • LP,

      Here’s a couple of real life eye openers I’ve experienced in that light:

      True story 1: A good friend of mine who is Baptist pastor observed very astutely I might add that though Lutherans “look” Roman Catholic the preach, teach and confess in all that they do the very opposite (namely the Gospel), yet (we, he was speaking of baptist of who he is) “look” the very opposite of RC, but actually preach, teach and confess the same as Roman Catholics.

      True story 2: Same person, 2 years ago. He’s still Baptist but gets the Gospel very right. Long story short: He was with a co-worker on a trip and the co-worker was raised and reared RC his ENTIRE life. He knew that my friend was a Baptist. The discussion got around to moral issues. My friend eventually got around to Jesus both dying for our sins and being our righteousness for us. This guys reaction, you’d have to know him to appreciate a certain nuance to it I cannot capture in writing, “That’s the most stunning thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life. I’ve been a RC my entire life and I’ve never heard that”. For the next 3 hours home this stunning news is all he kept repeating, he kept repeating that line. This is an upper 40s year old person to. Same guy goes home that night, my friend tells me the rest of the story, and is talking to his mother (a life long RC) and tells her this news (by the way: see how the Gospel propels it’s own stunning news) and his mother’s reaction? Here’s the “punch line” of this true story (he never told his mother what kind of person she’d been talking to): She replies to him, “Sounds like you’ve been talking to a Lutheran”. Her gut reaction upon hearing the Gospel was not, “you’ve been speaking to a Baptist”, but a Lutheran. Now if it had been something about not drinking a beer, wine or other alcohol she might have said, “Sounds like you’ve been talking to a SB (or Mormon, or JW, or Muslim)”. Moral of the true story: What we REALLY preach, teach and confess ultimately bears witness to itself in moments of non-agenda non-denominational moorings honesty – and as such she honestly called it like she’d heard it before and from what confession.

      I could multiply these stories.



      • Larry,

        Right on. Non-Lutheran Prots do not look similar to RCs yet their semi-pelagianism if not their pelagianism is absolute RC. Also they just replace the sacraments by their altar calls etc.

        So true bro.


  36. James and Paul cannot be reconciled. James simply compromises the gospel.

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