Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Today on Issues, Etc.: Piety Matters

This is a post from May 27, 2010. I've moved it up here because I'm scheduled to talk about the same topic today on Issues, Etc. - +HRC

Can a religion be only cerebral? Is religion only a way of thinking and not a way of doing?

I don't believe so. I think that religion is a matter of soul, mind, and body. It is a way of thinking, doing, and living. In other words, it is a matter of piety. The old saw about “Lutheran substance and [American] Evangelical style” is all wrong – in fact, the catch phrase intentionally plays down the importance of a lived religion: it's merely “style.” And we all know that style is unimportant. Once men wore fluffy collars, now they wear ties. Just a manner of style.

But it's the wrong word. What the advocates of such a plan mean to say is: Lutheran substance, American Evangelical piety. The piety of a Christian is how he lives the faith he professes. Piety is what a Christian does and the words that rattle around in his head without him consciously thinking about them: the words and actions of his Sunday morning worship, how he prays in his daily life, the pattern of sound words that pop into his head throughout the week, the songs he sings, the proof texts he knows by heart and repeats to himself, how he explains the faith to his children, the way he dresses for worship, the popular activities he avoids because of his faith, and the like.

So is there a distinctively Lutheran piety? Or is being Lutheran simply a cerebral matter: Here is a list of doctrines: if you assent to these, then you are a Lutheran and your piety is up to you, as an individual or community, to devise on your own from whatever source you like. Is that how it is?

I certainly don't think so. And I think the history of the Reformation and even a cursory reading of the Lutheran Symbols give the lie to such a notion. Indeed: the Reformation was about piety, about actions, about a faith lived in a particular way.

So what is the distinctively Lutheran piety? It is not hard to define. It is spelled out in the Symbols and the history of our fellowship, it is written on millions of hearts – it is so well known that it is easily caricatured on the radio by Garrison Keillor.

Lutheran piety begins at the Divine Service. The Mass is celebrated among us as the thing of most importance(AC XXIV). Lutheran piety is reverent (think of Luther sucking up the Precious Blood off the altar rail in 1543). Lutheran piety dresses up for church. Lutheran piety dwells within the traditional prayers, lessons, vestments, and ceremonies of the Western tradition (Ap. XXIV.1). This is a rich tradition, therefore, Lutheran piety recognizes that there is room for one parish to have more ceremonies than another: so long as the ceremonies in use comport with the pious tradition within which we live, for we are not frivolous, jocular, or offensive in the house of God (FC SD X). Lutheran piety bows or kneels at the altar. Lutheran piety adores Christ present in the Sacrament. Lutheran piety stands for the Gospel Lesson. Lutheran piety chants and sings. Lutheran piety considers one day more holy than another, unto the Lord, and thus offers the Sacrament on every Lord's Day and the other high feasts. Luther piety has pastors, celebrants, and ministers. Lutheran piety is one of Word and Sacrament, tilted slightly toward Sacrament: thus the Sacrament has pride of place over the sermon.

After the benediction, Lutheran piety goes into the home. Lutheran piety, while standing or kneeling, makes the sign of the cross, morning and evening, and recites the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. Lutheran piety goes to confession and says, Dear pastor please hear my confession and pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God's will. Lutheran piety reads Luther's sermons, Portals of Prayer, and the Fathers. Lutheran piety thanks God for clothing and shoes, house and home, eyes, ears, and all my members. Lutheran piety teaches his children to say, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Lutheran piety expects crosses. Luther piety expects that it will daily sin much and need forgiveness.

Lutheran piety is, as you can see, molded and formed by two things: the liturgy as described in Ap. XXIV.1 and the Small Catechism. These tell us the how of the Faith. Through these the Lutheran Faith is lived. The Catechism is not a doctrinal treatise, a merely cerebral book: it is an instruction manual for personal piety. It gives words and actions. Just as Anglican piety is formed by the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer and Roman piety by the canon of the Mass and the rosary, Lutheran piety is shaped by the liturgy and the Catechism.

The words of the liturgy and the Catechism constantly rattle around a head shaped by Lutheran piety. They are the lens through which daily life is filtered.

The mind and heart shaped by Lutheran piety can complete all of these ellipses:

  • Isaiah mighty seer....

  • I believe that I cannot by my own....

  • What is the world to me....

  • ...that we are by by nature....

  • Lord now lettest...

  • A mighty fortress...

  • The Lord be with you. . .

  • Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us...

  • O Lord, open Thou my lips...

  • This is most certainly. . .

  • Yes, yes it shall...

  • We should fear and. . .

  • Glory be to God on high. . .

  • . . . therefore with angels. . .

  • Lord, let at last thine angels. . .

There are other pieties that have different catch phrases, different actions, different ways of worship. The American Evangelical piety uses the 19th century camp meeting liturgy: warm up songs, call to worship, prayer of confession/humility, songs, scripture reading, sermon, songs. American Evangelical piety does not wear vestments or regard one day as more holy than another (except for Sunday, Christmas, and Easter). American Evangelical piety does not make the sign of the cross or go to confession. American Evangelical piety, when it celebrates the Sacrament, does so in a simple manner without ceremonies that would indicate worship or adoration toward the Sacrament. American Evangelical piety is upbeat, casual, and jocular. American Evangelical piety expects daily improvement and victorious living. American Evangelical piety reads Guideposts, My Utmost for His Highest, and the Purpose Driven Life. American Evangelical piety knows what AWANA stands for. American Evangelical piety has worship leaders, song leaders, praise bands, and preachers. American Evangelical piety is one of Word and Sacrament, tilted strongly toward Word: thus the sermon has pride of place over the Sacrament.

The mind and heart shaped by American Evangelical piety cannot complete many ellipses besides the lyrics of currently popular church songs. The words that rattle around the head formed by this piety are generally phrases of their favorite preacher, song, Bible verse, or currently popular book.

Now – what would happen to a Baptist church who wanted Baptist doctrine but took up Lutheran piety via the Common Service on Sunday morning and replacing Guideposts and free form prayer with Portals of Prayer and the Creed throughout the week? What would happen to an E-Free church that swapped out their current list of songs for those in LSB and had their pastor wear an alb and stole? If they did this for a generation at the late service, what would the next generation of Baptist and E-Free preachers be like?

The generation that brought American Evangelical piety into the Lutheran Church is now in late middle age. Their confirmation classes are now graduating from seminary and Synodical schools. For the first time in history, we have Lutheran pastors who cannot complete all the ellipses listed above because they always went to the late service that was formed not by Lutheran piety but by American Evangelical piety. For the first time in our English-speaking history, we are ordaining pastors who do not know the Common Service (or any setting of the Western liturgy) by heart. For the first time in history, we have school teachers who cannot say Matins from memory – but know all the lyrics to the top five selling worship songs as listed each month by CCLI.

Will a church body really be the same church body if a number of its parishes are formed by Lutheran piety and a number of others by American Evangelical piety?

We are not just minds – we are minds, souls, and bodies. Piety matters. That's why the Confessions say so much about it. A sea change has occurred in the piety of the Missouri Synod – a change away from Lutheran piety and toward American Evangelical piety. We are only beginning to feel the repercussions.



  1. Amen, amen, amen. That was very well stated. Piety does matter!

  2. Excellent post. "Style", er, piety, indicates substance, whether some will admit it or not.

    Any guess on how this reality will affect our "walking together"?

  3. Sorry, but I just can't resist: WHAT DOES (wait a minute while I scroll up....)'AWANA' mean?

  4. Great post, Pr Curtis, thank you!

  5. Well said, Padre.

    I believe you've got your lex in my credendi...

  6. As a guy who was a Baptist for 40 years (my wilderness) these words ring true in a way I cannot convey. The truth of Word and Sacrament(or Sacrament and Word) goes to the core and makes a universe of difference.

    Steve Foxx

  7. Brad--Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed, from 2 Tim. 2:15. It's where all the kids from [Locality] Bible Church are on Wednesday nights, along with their friend who happens to be the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. She confusedly goes up for every altar call to hedge her bets, and wonders what the big box with "In Remembrance Of Me" carved into it is for.

  8. I thank God that my son, now a LCMS pastor survived the years he attended AWANA as a kid... One of our poorer parening decisions...

  9. There can never be a Lutheran piety in the way you've discussed it that doesn't become pietism in the bad sense of the word. You took all the things you like about confessional Lutheran culture and practice and called them good and took all the things you don't like about non-confessional-Lutheran culture and called them bad. Those good things are now a Lutheran "rule" that define whether one is a good Lutheran.

    Lutheranism is not a rule, it set out to reform the church to wipe out any rule that doesn't come from Scripture. Lutheranism is a synonym for True Christianity. If you can't say true Christian piety makes the sign of the cross, knows matins, and goes to a church with a pastor wearing vestments, then you can't say a Lutheran does. Many true Christians do none of those things

    As you say, the piety of a Christian is how he lives the faith he professes. So in describing how a Christian ought to live, when you start including things that aren't matters of faith, you risk destroying that faith by pointing faith to things of no intrinsic value. You can't say a Christian lives any certain way except by reference to true doctrine, which depends on, and is defined by, Scripture.

    A True Christian/Lutheran is born again in baptism and meditates on that, not wise decisionmaking; looks to the Word and Sacrament for faith and not to works or emotions; desires frequent communion; does good works to please God who saved him, not to earn favor; seeks to stamp out sin because it displeases God and repents of it when it resurfaces; etc.

    A true christian won't read Rick Warren because he doesn't profess the true faith. But avoiding false doctrine isn't a rule on equal level to reading Portals of Prayer, making the sign of the cross, standing at certain times in ceremonies, having ceremonies on certain days, eating certain foods, or wearing certain clothes.

    That is a very bad pietism, and I don't know how you can miss the frequent calls in the Confessions to avoid making such rules into matters of faith.

  10. Rom 14:5-6a One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, ... for he gives thanks to God; ...

    Why does "regard[ing] one day as more holy than another" even play into this?

  11. Boaz,

    Me thinks thou dost protest too much. Our Confessions describe the piety under which the Lutherans lived. History tells us that they continued to live this way. This includes going to be examined and make confession before receiving the Sacrament, utilizing the traditional rites and ceremonies of the Western Mass, and being reverent instead of jocular in the Lord's House. As for reading Portals of Prayer. . . you yourself correctly explain why that's listed: not as a specific item you must read or go to hell, but rather as an example of something orthodox over against reading the devotional material of Baptist sects.

    If that's pietism, sign me up. Plenty of people outside Lutheranism are, by God's grace, true Christians: they have saving faith in Christ. Bully for them. They are also not Lutheran, which is too bad, because Jesus wants us to keep to all he has commanded up. Now, why would I want to follow after the piety of those sects which put souls in danger rather than our own piety which is built to support and encourage true doctrine and has sustained so many generations?


  12. X -

    Because part of Lutheran piety is observing the traditional Western calendar which honors one day over another by observing the days of saints, the Ember Days (today!), etc.

    American Evangelical piety is very much against this sort of thing.

    Just another example of what sets the two pieties apart.


  13. I'm thinking that the section in Romans tells us to not set THESE two pieties apart.

    As for what Boaz is saying, I think he's under the impression that you are saying that all of the above is the example of Christian peity and that those outside of it are not Christians. It wasn't clear to me upon first reading that you are defining Lutheran piety only.

  14. X,

    Paul is saying that you can be a Christian and hold no special days as more holy than others. That is absolutely true. But it is also true that the Church has never lived that way (See Acts 20:7 - a special day to the week). And it is certainly true that it is not Lutheran piety to do so. One Lutheran parish will observe more days than others - and that's quite fine, as I explained above. There is room within our tradition for variance - but it's another thing altogether to toss out our traditional piety in favor of a foreign piety.

    As for being clear: I don't know how I could have been more clear than starting every sentence with: Lutheran piety. . .

    The point is this: many Lutherans in our fellowship have been hankering after, imitating, and living American Evangelical piety rather than Lutheran piety. That has had, is having, and will have great effects.


  15. I agree with Boaz more than with Fr Curtis.

    Because everything that Fr Curtis says after the benediction is over is indeed what my piety is all about. My kids sing CoWo, but they also know Luther's Morning & Evening Prayers.

    The piety that I want to bring is one that brings the listener to encounter Christ just as we see in the New Testaments.

    The problem is, Heath, that you can't see any difference between Lutheran CoWo and non-denom CoWo. All the same.

    But this is just as saying that I don't see any difference between your Lutheran piety and Roman Catholic piety. All the same.

    Both are caricatures that are simply not true. And so they have just about as much impact as such.

    So, as long as you are not Roman Catholic, I'm not Baptist. The moment either one of us changes, we'll let the other know. Deal?

  16. Fr. Louderback,

    "everything after the benediction. . . "

    Right - but what about before? And what of your parishioners who have grown up with just American Evangelical piety in your late service? Is the Small Catechism really important for them in their daily life - or do they know CoWo songs much better than they know the six chief parts? Have you encouraged them to read more Lutheran books or more American Evangelical books? And what of the sons of your congregation's late service who go off to seminary - does it really mean nothing that they don't know by memory a Lutheran Divine Service?

    I wish you would come to the seminary and take the seminarians who hang out at Crave to lunch. Talk with them and see if you recognize confessional Lutheranism in their personal piety and conversation. I really don't think you understand what a generation of American Evangelical piety has done to these young men.

    You value the traditional Lutheran piety you grew up with and you see room for improvement in some aspects of it that can be supplied by American Evangelical piety. Thus you see both as style, not substance, and folks can learn from each and move smoothly from one to the other.

    But the times have passed you by. There are men now who simply have no exposure to the traditional Lutheran piety that you take for granted. None. I can send you names of individuals, if you wish, via private correspondence and you can take them to lunch and see for yourself. Piety matters; these men are the proof.

    Oh, and you didn't answer the questions posed in the original post: what would a Baptist church that worshiped according to LSB's orders and hymns be like after a generation? A little more Lutheran than it once was?


  17. Saith Boaz
    >> Lutheranism is not a rule, it set out to reform the church to wipe out any rule that doesn't come from Scripture.

    I disagree. Say rather, "any rule contrary to Scripture".

  18. This post makes a very good point. When I was in college at Calvin College I attended an LCMS church just a few blocks from the college (and do again actually). This is a liturgical, confessional church. There were not many Lutherans at Calvin. But there were some. I know of a few who went to church at the nearby LCMS church a couple of times but couldn't stomach it because it was "medieval" and "too Catholic" (it's actually not as high church as you might think on the basis of those statements - just liturgical). The problem was they were used to "contemporary" services. So as a result, they just started going to the mega-churches with the other evangelicals on campus because it felt more "comfortable." As a result, the couple people I'm thinking of never darkened the door of a Lutheran church again while in college. Another more recent example: I'm now teaching as a professor at a Catholic college in the same city as Calvin College. I became aware of an LCMS student at my current school who had recently transferred from Calvin and was having a very hard time. She really missed Calvin. I talked with her for a while and asked where she was going to church. She said that (despite being very insistent she was an LCMS Lutheran) while at Calvin she had gone to the local evangelical non-denom mega-church with her friends every week. Now she had no one to drive her and so she hadn't been to church since she had transferred schools (several weeks). I said that this was very unfortunate and offered to drive her to my LCMS church every Sunday. She asked what it was like and I said it was a great church, very Biblical, and we used the liturgy out of LSB. At this she said that she was used to praise worship growing up and didn't want to attend a Lutheran church that used the liturgy. She politely declined the offer and said she'd rather not go to church at all. At this I attempted to encourage her to consider the offer and explain how important it was to be in church to receive God's gifts in the Word and in Holy Communion. When I said Holy Communion her eyes just glazed over and that was it. Then I realized that despite having been raised as an LCMS Lutheran and being very committed to the title, we have nothing theological in common. We functionally belong to two different church organizations. If someone raised on contemporary LCMS church would choose no church over the Lutheran liturgy, then I think that says something profound about the way evangelical piety has transformed the LCMS into two different theological substances in one denomination. Just my two-cents.
    Bethany Kilcrease

  19. I appreciate your thesis, Fr. Curtis. well sated.

    However, I must take issue with a couple of the particular examples you provide of Lutheran piety. 1. that we are by nature, etc. and 2. portals of prayer.

    1. "That we are by nature" could only be part of a man's liturgical piety if he were exposed to orders of Confession that use it, beginning with The Morning Service Without Communion in The Lutheran Hymnal. If, however, a pastor never burdens his people with "non-communion Sundays" and only uses the liturgy of the Common Service tradition, then the Lutheran piety of that place would not include tyhis phrase, if I am not mistaken. (though I could be missing something.)

    2. Portals of Prayer? Why must you hurt me like this?

  20. Bethany,

    Thanks for sharing that. It does say something profound, indeed!

    Deacon Gaba,

    ". . . that we are by nature . . ." comes from LSB, Settings One and Two (first introduced in LW) - "Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean . . ."

    My Lutheran piety recognized it right away. :)

  21. While the phrase in question is in LSB and LW, it is less accurate to say it is "from" these books. As I say, it goes at least as far back as TLH's Morning Service without Communion. My point is not to condemn the phrase per se, but to point out that it is not part of the Common Service tradition, of which there are indeed still some Lutherans. The makers of LSB tampered with, but did preserve this tradition in "setting" III.

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  23. Dcn. Gaba:

    While the phrase is from TLH's Morning Service, it actually is found in the text of the Common Service from 1888. Very similar wording is also found in Loehe's Liturgy for the North American congregations.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, what the TLH placed in its Morning Service without Communion (p. 5) is the Common Service text, but the confession in the Order of Holy Communion is not from the Common Service text. So in a strange twist in the matter of the confessional formula, the LSB is in line with the Common Service Tradition, while the TLH p. 15 service is not.

    (For reference, the confessional formula is found on p. 2 of "The Common Service with Music" from 1888.)

  24. That is interesting. Of course, I hate to be bothersome here, but the reason anyone today has this phrase as part of his piety is not because his church follows a 19th century version of the Common Service, but more likely because his church uses an order of mass which itself is not part of the Common Service tradition. Yes, the liturgy of LSB I & II, like LW II, gets many things from many places, and I don't condemn it in its parts per se. Likewise, TLH put things together in some funny ways. Nevertheless, if one today (ie., from at least 1941 onwards) were to have Communion each Sunday, ie., p. 15 of TLH, and with the newer books use only DSI of LW or LSB III, then this phrase would not be in his piety.

    Let me add, just to throw another twist in the conversation, that I don't say any of this because I am a die hard believer in the Common Service tradition at all costs. The ideal form of Confession before the Mass, in my view, is in fact something else entirely. It is what we use at St. Stephen's, namely, a form of the confiteor. I won't here and now reproduce it. (At some point I might do so at my blog.) But it is closer, let us say, to the confession in Compline.

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  26. Pastor Curtis,

    Very, very well said

  27. Rev. Fr. Curtis,

    Thanks so much for the superbly soaring defense of the Lutheran life, which while certainly in the world as to the matter of the gulping of oxygen, must not be part of it. To demonstrate this to the world, as a confession, the orthodox individual surely must live his faith with his whole person.

    That whole person, reminds St. Paul, is equipped with body, mind and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). We pray not only with our spirits (together with the housed Spirit), not only with our minds, and not only for that matter with our lips ... but with our bodies crafted to take on stance and posture. If Jesus is Lord ... if the Body and Blood are truly present in real time and place, and not just in a symbol our synapses formulate ... then we behave a certain way for the King of kings and Lord of lords is present. Lutherans are taught to love God, as He expects such and deserves such; but we are also taught ... from the very noble little Catechism, of which the Rev. Father makes untiring reference ... to fear God. He is our Savior-Redeemer, He is Holy. We bow and genuflect, because the King of our flesh, our only King, deserves such respect from His saved people. People of God know this. The Seer of Patmos did. The folks in Revelation fall on their faces, in the presence of the lamb; leave it to the protestant defilers, to pump their fists. "We should fear and love God..." That ordering speaks to the Lutheran way, a way which calls Christianity to its senses, and to its faith.

    The conflict between Lutheran and American Evangelical pieties is best summed from the very slip of a fellow who doesn't appear to grasp the vitality of the distinction: "My kids sing CoWo, but they also know Luther's Morning & Evening Prayers."

    Aye, and so the kids behave the one ... with spirit, mind and body. They cerebrally embrace the other, or so we are assured, but do they live it? And why should they? They will love and serve one, and not the other. Beth's tale, above, cannot be ignored ... and the Lutherans will see more chapters of the same, if we don't urge the mixing mesmerized to STOP.

  28. To lighten things up a bit. Have you guys seen this:

    It is titled 10 things not to do at church. The guy has a whole series of these. Sorry, I could not find this one with English subtitles.

    Seriously, Pastor Curtis, this is a great post, and timely since the church I attend is considering adding a cowo service.

    Hmmm Boaz, Pastor Curtis did say that doing these things: making the sign of the cross, holding one day in higher esteem than another, reading portals of prayer, etc justify us or keeps us in God good graces. He simply said that these are what Lutherans, who have/are been/being raised in "our grandfather's church" did/do. IOW, it's descriptive of certain people not prescriptive. I want my kids to do these things (Well, I don't care if they read portals of prayer.) because of what they confess.


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