Life Together Under The Cross - Part 1
One of the strongest elements in the evangelicalism of my youth has a place in Lutheranism that might be surprising to many. This is what our confessions call “The Mutual Conversation and Consolation of the Brethren” (Smalcald Articles, III, 4). The Smalcald Articles list it among the means of grace. I think this is something that needs to be promoted more in our circles. It is part of our heritage. In some Lutheran circles it is still very alive. But I think we need to be aware of it. This is the first in a series of posts on this topic, which will discuss examples of the practice from my own life (both before and after becoming Lutheran) and from history.
One of my favorite experiences of this happened in my Calvary Chapel days. I had been reading my way into Calvinism, and was even considering theonomy. I had been blazing my way through R.J. Rushdooney’s Institutes of Biblical Law. While the book did not espouse a Sabbatarian position, the whole status of the Law of Moses was something I was wrestling with. In a new job, should I say I can’t work Sunday? What if they say I have to? And I knew whichever direction I went could involve uncomfortable changes. I was anxious. I went to a midweek meeting and started talking to one of the brighter women. She got wind of my Sabbath questions and reached for her Bible. She opened to Galatians chapter three and started to read it to me like I was the foolish Galatian:
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-5 NASB)
She saw an obvious parallel between Sabbath-keeping and circumcision. The warning from chapter five about being “severed from Christ” (Galatians 5:4) sounded especially scary. Severed? Me? That was not what I wanted, especially as the result of what would be great sacrifice on my part. Doing a sort of Pascal’s wager in my head, I would rather be a law-breaker with other Christians (and hope to be forgiven by grace) than be severed from Christ.
I think this exchange happened at just the right time for me. I could have gone on weighing and re-weighing evidence for some time, all the while falling into deeper despair. Instead, one of the laity knew her Bible and how to apply it. This happened during a period of heavy reading, and it would have been easy for me to have allowed a kind of scholarly conscience to become a harsh taskmaster that wouldn’t have allowed any rest until I had an elusive final certainty. But it is the nature of academic questions to spawn more questions. As helpful as much of the reading turned out to be, the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren filled a greater need.
I hope this kind of conversation is common in Lutheran circles. Not perhaps with the Sabbatarian subject matter, unless one of the parties is coming from outside Lutheran circles. But this use of Scripture for correction and comfort. This is a practice we put a name to. I’m happy to know that it has a life outside our congregations. But I would like us to be famous for it being alive and well in our parishes.