Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 59 - Lutheranism in the Midst of Many Denominations (Video)

No. 59. >> Professor, this has been a remarkable course. Very practical. Very helpful. Although the number of denominations still makes my head spin, at least I have a little better grip on things now. The distinction between the formal and material principles as well as identifying them for these various groups at least gives me a way of making sense out of all of the variety. But now a basic question: Given all of these denominations, is Lutheranism just one more in the bunch? What are your thoughts? >>DR. LAWRENCE R. RAST, JR.: Well, David, first of all, thanks for your kind words. And I cannot express my appreciation enough for them, as well as for the opportunity to spend a little time with you thinking about this whole question of denominations in America. The American religious scene. And I'm glad to hear you're beginning to get a grip on things. I'm still working on it, too. It continues to be something I have to stay on top of every day and keep after it at every point. So I'm glad to hear that you're beginning to get a bit of a grip on it. And I like your question very much. It's an excellent one. This question of Lutheranism. Where do we fit in? You know, I think that's one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves as we face the missional opportunities for the future. Afterall, let me put your question a little bit differently. If there are already all of these churches, why not let them do the work and work together and help them in this respect? That is why have a separate Lutheran Church if we're all already doing the same things? Well, my conviction is that Lutheranism has a special vocation, a special opportunity here in the American setting. And it stems out of some of these conversations we've had over the last few days as we've considered these things. Namely, look at the larger picture of American Christianity. The dominance of Calvinism in the earlier period. The eclipse of it in the early national period and the emergence of Arminianism. In both of those cases we saw how there was a definite effort on the part of these traditions to uphold the Scriptures. To seek in them doctrine and teaching. And the idea of the formal principle being very clearly the Scriptures and the Scriptures alone. However, them coming to radically different ideas about what those Scriptures taught, different material principles in the end. Sovereignty in Calvinism. Religious experience, the decision of the individual in Arminianism. I think one of the great opportunities we have as Lutherans and the key vocation of our church here and in the future for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel is to make the distinction between law and Gospel clear. To keep and uphold that wonderful tradition that we have as Lutherans that's been handed onto us. The clarity of that distinction between the law and the Gospel. So they are not confused. That the law is, indeed, continued to be preached in its firmness. Showing us that we are, indeed, sinners, reflecting for ourselves the descent we've made into sin and the manner in which God is entirely just in condemning us. But then opening that beautiful Gospel that shows despite our sinfulness in his manifest love and grace toward us, God has sent a Savior. Jesus Christ. And keeping that distinction clear in all facets of our teaching, you know, it's one thing to make a clear distinction between law and Gospel like the Calvinists did and say: Man is totally depraved. Can only be saved by God. But then going too far and say: But on the other hand, that must mean that God is the cause of those who end up in sin, reprobation. It's too far. I'm not surprised the Arminians responded. And as a vigorously as they did. That in fact, Calvinism had portrayed a God who was a tyrant. Who was the cause of sin. And what kind of a picture of God is that? But the replacement picture of a God passively waiting for us to do something, who has accomplished all he can and now waits upon us, doesn't do justice to the biblical witness, either. For our God doesn't sit back and wait. He enters our experience. He takes on human flesh himself and comes into this world actively breaking down the barriers between us and him through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ. And having redeemed us as his own people, he then opens to us the way of everlasting life. Applied freely to us in his life giving Word and sacraments. In the other traditions there's always conditions it seemed applied to that. A confusion, once again, law, Gospel, law, seems to be the last word so often. What we as Lutherans have is the beauty of the Gospel in its fullness and in its clarity that says: These things are all accomplished for you. In Christ all is fulfilled. And through Christ, living in his Word, receiving his sacraments, being strengthened in our faith daily, we are empowered then to make the good confession and live the life he's called us to of the. Not in some legalistic sense. But purely in the Gospel as the people of God. Not you must do this. But you are in Christ. A radically different message than what often is heard. And I think that gets us to the heart of the Lutheran witness here on the American religious scene. I believe that people are desperate for the Gospel. Again, my own experience as a pastor in Tennessee has been formative for me in this respect. I mentioned earlier in this course that down in Tennessee there were not a whole lot of unchurched people. But there sure were a lot of dechurched people. People who had been beaten by the law their whole life. Who had heard law, Gospel, law once more. Yes, Jesus died for your sins. Now you must. Your sins will be forgiven, if you. There is hope for your salvation, but. And we have this wonderful opportunity to share the Gospel without conditions in all of its clarity as the people of God. To confess the scriptural truth that Christ crucified and risen again, foolishness to Greeks, stumbling blocks to Jews is, in fact, the very wisdom of God revealed to us through his Word and made real in the lives of people as the Spirit works through the Word and sacraments. So do we need a Lutheran tradition? Not Lutheran as Lutheran denomination. We've done nothing. I mean, we're just one other name among many in that case. But the Lutheran confession of the Gospel is what people need to hear. Because it's not about Lutheran any longer. It's about what the Scriptures teach. And what the Scriptures teach is Christ.