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What Luther Says

Martin Luther, Vocation, And 'Churchyard Piety'

The more I read and study, the more I'm discovering an apparent connection between Piety and Vocation ("good" things) as well as a relationship between Pietism and Self-Righteousness/Works-Righteousness ("bad" things).

Keep in mind, I could be completely wrong in my assessment, especially since I'm a newbie Confessional Lutheran and a layman at that.

Still, this piece titled "Luther On Vocatio: Ordinary Life For Ordinary Saints" by Steven A. Hein is worth reading in light of our previous post (and the last few podcasts even).

Here's how Mr. Hein concluded his article in a section appropriately called "The Perils of Pietism":

What might the evangelical Church today make of Luther’s view of Christian vocation? Perhaps, if we go beyond a world-focused piety that rests in the Cross of Christ as Luther enunciated it, the Church faces the danger of assuming a false godliness born of the many theologies of glory that Church history has strewn about. Here Christian piety has often lapsed into pietism, legalism and pharisaism. Pietism creeps into the Church's thinking when it begins to develop a negative attitude about participation in the worldly interests and concerns of this life, when the works of God are tied to a higher calling in this life that demands that we ignore or separate from the affairs of secular life in family, neighborhood and state. When the piety of the Christian is measured by a certain outward code of demonstrably holy acts, even if they are drawn from the Bible, Luther believed that we have launched into a theology of glory. Historically, Pietism was Luther’s theology stood on its head. Luther embraced the notion of an objective presentation of Christ and his gifts as they are mediated by a Spirit-connected external Word and Sacraments. Flowing from these gifts of righteousness and holiness, a subjective personal piety is expressed in a faith that is active in works of loving service to the neighbor. Pietism argued for a subjective mediation of Christ and the Spirit within the heart of the Christian, while expressions of Christian piety are to be objectively delineated and divorced from the tasks of worldly concern.

Luther depicted a piety of outward works that are devised by the religious opinions of men as Churchyard piety. Monasticism was the contemporary expression of Churchyard piety that Luther condemned as a false and empty piety that burdened consciences and took Christians away from the real tasks in the world that God would have them be about. This was cloistered monasticism. Today, Luther might well counsel the saints to beware of Church body or congregational Churchyard piety, a modern ecclesiastical monasticism that seeks to inundate the church membership with a veritable plethora of programs, activities and organizational events that lack the context of true Christian vocation of sacrificial service in the old world communities of life. Piety as program involvement is pressed on the congregation as the real higher calling of the Christian who is really interested in serving Christ. In some churches, if you are not scheduling life and the use of your gifts according to all of the week's calendar of events, something is seen as terribly wrong. You have not been assimilated into the regimen of real Christian living. Some congregations are even calling a special pastor in charge of assimilating the membership into all of these super-spiritual events and activities - the Pastor or Director of Assimilation! The thinly veiled message seems to be; "blessed are the involved and assimilated, for they shall inherit the Kingdom of God." Activism in works that do not flow from one's vocational call is present in every age as a temptation to leave the ordinary duties of Christian piety for the extraordinary. This is Churchyard piety.

Luther had a warning about one more variety of false piety; what he called Nave piety. This is where the obedience of faith that lives in the righteousness of Christ is replaced with an obedience of the Law. Tragically, some within some evangelical Christian circles today are seeking to replace the obedience of faith with a faith that must then become obedient. This we are told is the real goal of the Gospel. The Gospel has the central objective, according to this view, to turn us all into obedient people under God's legal system. Life with God is said to terminate not evangelically on the Gospel -- its not the Good News of death to life -- rather the Gospel just provides the ticket of admission to a legal life of obedience to the precepts of the Law. Gospel is to Law as means are to end. The Lordship of Christ is no longer seen as the dominion of grace, but the rule of Christ the lawgiver. This is the legalistic notion of the Gospel in the service of the Law -- the idea that God has saved us for obedience.

Luther would lead us away from these things. His reformation thought directs us from the Churchyard and from the Nave into the Sanctuary where Life with God, the true godly and pious life, begins and ends with the righteousness of Christ which is the obedience of faith. When this life of faith goes to work in the world, it may seem rather ordinary, yes even dead, when not looked upon through the eyes of faith. But here in the old world tasks of everyday life is the Christian’s vocatio and true expression of the righteousness of faith.

I personally loved every bit of that! But if you think that excerpt was good, then do check out the rest of the article since it expands upon this subject so nicely and succinctly.

Piety and Pietism (when it expresses itself as Legalism and looking down one’s nose at others) are two very different things. We will continue to beat the drum and sound the alarm until more and more people become aware of why it's important for them to know and understand the differences.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, grown men and women should have no need to engage in "Churchyard piety" as they mature in the faith by loving and serving their neighbors via their vocations in life.

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!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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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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