Can Born-Again, Repentant, Freedom-Loving Lutherans Be Regarded As Companions On a Baptist Way To Jesus?
Lutherans tend to have innate suspicions of Baptists, second only to our historic hang-ups with Pentecostals. Of course this is a function of Luther’s bad experience with Anabaptists, and perhaps that makes his critique irrelevant to Lutheran-Baptist relations today. Alas, many modern Lutherans have this stereotype that Baptists are legalists, creeping Pelagians. But all my Lutheran brothers and sisters would need to do is read the work of Dave Gushee and the historical faith statements of The London Confessions (6,10.11), The New Hampshire Confession (III-VI), the SBC Baptist Faith and Message (III-V), or the National Baptist Convention Articles of Faith (III-V) to rid ourselves of those false stereotypes. There is obviously a strong grace orientation and appreciation of our sinful condition in all of these options, the sort of commitments which are right in line with Lutheran thinking (Apology of The Augsburg Confession, II.24-215; IV.2). Given these convictions, I ask Dr. Gushee if there are reasons why he is unhappy with the Reformed influence on SBC and the Baptist heritage, except for the Fundamentalist leanings that some Baptists with a Reformed theology have brought to these churches. For is not the Reformed grace orientation faithful to Baptist roots?
Regarding the essence of the Baptist walk that Dave describes, I want to know if the Lutheran version of these themes could be deemed appropriate in Baptist circles. He speaks of being born again, the need to repent, a commitment to avoiding guilt mongering in discipleship, and a sense of God’s mission to the work in the socio-ethical, political realms. Lutherans believe that they are born again! It happened for me July 24, 1949 when baptized as an infant (Romans 6: The Small Catechism, III.14). Can Baptists recognize and even celebrate the authenticity of this spiritual reality with me? If not, why not? As for repentance, how about doing it daily like Martin Luther urged in the first of his Ninety-Five Theses? Is there room for that sort of thinking in Baptist circles?
Dave wants to avoid guilt-mongering in Christian discipleship. Lutherans want that too! It’s why Lutherans stress freedom from the Law, try not to teach or exhort Christians specifically how to live (Luther’s Works, Vol.31, 333-377). (Lutherans and the Reformed Christians call such instruction the Third Use of the Law [Formula of Concord, SD VI.1].) We fear that that once you spell out specific behaviors in Christian living the faithful start measuring themselves, and Christian life becomes a long guilt-trip. Besides, born-again Christians intuitively know what God wants and the “saint side” of them will want to act that way (Ephesians 2:10). When you preach the Law, do it to aid repentance, not to give people a yardstick to measure the quality of their faith. Dr. Gushee, do these concerns at least put the Lutheran stress on freedom in a little better “Baptist light”?
As for engagement with socio-political realities Lutherans tend to be suspicious of claiming that public policy can ever be unambiguously Christian. At their best, they seek coalitions in the socio-political realm, with those outside the Church. They prefer to take the advice of another Baptist brother, Martin Luther King, Jr. who pointed to the universally accessible common-sense natural law as the norm for making socio-political judgments (Letter From a Birmingham Jail; Apology of The Augsburg Confession, XVI). And so is not the Lutheran Two-Kingdom Ethic a legitimate Baptist alternative?
Of course, Dave, I am not trying to propose these Lutheran conceptions as normative for Baptists. My point is simply to learn whether the Lutheran version of Baptist commitments could be deemed valid and authentically Christian views and practices from a Baptist point of view.
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