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Christian Piety (Why Piety Matters)

We've spent a lot of time during the past 2 weeks looking at the negative aspects of Piety and Pietism. However, should we instinctively view both P-words as being inherently "bad" so-to-speak?

In other words, show we Christians reflexively avoid anything and everything that hints of Piety or Pietism in our lives?

Today, I wanted to spend some time attempting to answer those questions, because they're just as important as properly defining both terms and analyzing their impact and role upon Christ's Church historically and currently.

Up until this point in this series, we've only really hinted that Piety can actually be a good and noble thing in the Christian life, but Pietism (or when we change Piety into an -ism) is the complete opposite and, therefore, should be avoided at all costs.

Ok, but what do we mean by that exactly? It all sounds pretty nuanced, doesn't it? Yet, can it really be black-and-white though? I think you'll find the answers to all of these questions as surprising as I did.

First, here's a 45-minute interview I found between Pastor Todd Wilken of Issues, Etc. and Pastor Heath Curtis of Trinity Lutheran in Worden, IL on the subject of "Christian Piety" -- what it is, what it isn't, and what we should think about when we hear or use those terms together ourselves.





AUDIO: Christian Piety


I found it fascinating how they pointed out how the language we use gives away what "brand" of Piety we currently subscribe to regardless of the type of church we belong to, which naturally led to a conversation about the importance of differentiating between style and substance.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christian Piety is not all about one's personal preference (it's not "just a matter of style" or adiaphora either).

To put it another way, you cannot use American Evangelicalism's approach and style and think that it's possible to still maintain a "Lutheran core" if you will. Speaking of a "core" in the Lutheran Church, Gene White, Acting Director of Education with the Confessional Lutherans For Christ’s Commission (CLCC), just wrote an article on importance of "rebuilding the laity core" as he put it.

Now that we have the proper Biblical foundation and historical framework, let's continue by digging a little deeper. Below is an article that Pastor Heath published back in March 2011 (originally written in May 2010) that is still paying dividends today due the fact that it has helped me sort through this topic to arrive at a much better understanding. It's also the article that Pastor Heath references in the interview.

I won't include the full article here, but want to simply highlight the contrast between American Evangelical Piety and Lutheran Piety, which is ultimately what we've been discussing in this series all along given my background.


Piety Matters

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. Lutheran 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. Lutheran 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.

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.


Do you see the critical differences in both doctrine and practice let alone how doctrine influences practice (and vice versa) like we've said?

Yes, of course, we want to always be very careful whenever we come up with lists like the two presented above, but I think you'd agree that it's a good thing to put them side-by-side like this since it forces us to see what's right in front of us or maybe within our our lives at the moment.

These differences between Lutheran Piety and American Evangelical Piety could not be more obvious to me now, and I pray that they are quickly becoming obvious to you also. I mean, my gosh, I was definitely the American Evangelical Pietist for sure!

I can distinctly remember going to church for over a year probably and kind of looking down my nose at anything that even remotely recalled the Lutheran faith and thinking to myself, "Silly Lutherans! These people have no idea what true Christianity is all about!"

What sheer arrogance! What pride! What American Evangelical Piety! What sin! I thank the Lord that He finally opened my eyes and ears, my heart and mind, to the truth about myself, about Him, and about Christ's Church and His means of grace given to me there.

Please be sure to go back and read the entire "Piety Matters" article. It's really one of the best I've read on this entire subject so far.

Bottom line, everyone has a Piety whether they want to admit it or not. The question we need to ask ourselves is: "What am I allowing to define my Christian Piety?"

As Confessional Lutherans, it should be God's Word and our Confessions that point us back to that Word of God, and so we need to ask ourselves: "What Piety fits our doctrine?"

As Christians, it's also not about coming up with our own subjective form of Piety and then letting it coexist with our doctrinal beliefs even though they may be clearly at odds with each other.

Piety we need to regain. Pietism we need to exterminate!

In a Lutheran layman's terms, Christian Piety is nothing more than the substance of the things we believe, teach, and confess, and this is why Piety matters.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a Lutheran-In-Name-Only at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that perhaps wouldn't be too big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in interpreting a specific portion of Scripture exegetically, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

2 comments

  1. Thanks so much for providing this post which I have now shared on Facebook and Twitter. Loved every sentence - there is comfort through Christ found here.
    This is relevant to ongoing controversies in our area.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Flo,

    Thank you so much for reading and for commenting -- you're far too kind! I'm glad that you were edified by this study as much as I was when I first did it.

    Grace And Peace,
    JKR

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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