top of page

What's Missing?

A question about my previous post was received from a reader via Facebook.

"Could you perhaps elaborate on the ways in which the Lutheran toolbox for pastoral care is lacking? That has not been my experience, and I would like to hear in what respects it was yours."

My answer to this is relationship. Lutheranism inherited and never really developed beyond a juridical view of things. The Western model of forensic justification (which is the primary model in Lutheranism) leaves no room for healing broken relationships. Faith has been turned into a judicial system instead of being a mercifully just relationship.

There is no room for friendship in the court of law. You can say comforting things to someone who is undergoing a trial, but you can’t really do anything to make the situation better. They’re in the midst of a system, a set of rules, that can’t simply be rewritten. A relationship is a totally different situation. In a relationship we have much greater power to offer real, tangible and beneficial solutions.

Here are some examples of how this theology plays out practically, how some tools in the pastoral toolbox are completely lost and how some are blunted to the point of being much less useful.

Some of these things are done by individual Lutherans and pastors, but that is in spite of Lutheranism, not because of it.

Furthermore, these points are not exhaustive on the topics. Each one could have much more said about it, but my goal here is not to do in-depth theology.

Finally, describing the areas where the formal theology of Lutheranism limits pastoral care is not an invalidation of the good care received from your pastor. It means that there is more that could be offered but is unavailable because it is incompatible with Lutheran theology.

I’m telling you what I see, not why, because my wife tells me no one will read this post if I make it a long book.

Some of these topics I have already written on and I invite readers to look at the posts in the No Longer Sola Series. Other topics I can certainly go in depth on in the future.

Let’s start with the sacraments.

1. Communion is refused to many Lutherans based on their mental capacities. And since the relational aspect has been stripped, these become mere transactions. Communion becomes necessary only for those who “feel” the weight of their sins and can articulate points of doctrine, but it doesn’t actually do anything to prevent those sins or help you become more like Christ. It’s treated as a measure of comfort to those who are struggling to accept the verdict that the Father forgives them. But the power of God for all who believe? Not so much. It's a totally unnecessary sacrament, and people know it, because it is not for everyone.

2. Chrismation after baptism is optional and not even considered sacramental. But the seal of the Holy Spirit is an amazing gift. If Baptism is our personal experience of Easter that joins us to the death and resurrection of Christ then Chrismation is our personal experience of Pentecost and how Pentecost is personally applied to us.

In Lutheranism the Holy Spirit has been the shy person of the Holy Trinity, and only wants to point to Jesus. Where is the Holy Spirit in the Lutheran Church? It's almost as if He has entered the witness protection program. He exists in the means of grace and the Word but otherwise no one is sure where He went or what He looks like anymore. There is no such thing as a relationship with the Holy Spirit, which is strange considering He is a person.

3. Confession is retained as an optional rite, but is not considered necessary or even a sacrament by many Lutherans. There is no place in Lutheranism for any pastor who would require and expect his flock to actually have a real spiritual connection to their shepherd (or anyone else in the Church for that matter). Confessing our sins to one another is commanded in Scripture. Why? So that you may be healed. It should be one of our first lines of pastoral care to those burdened or suffering.

But because of this declaration model of salvation (The judge has declared you righteous, so you are, end of story.) there is no room for continual spiritual healing, cleansing or growth. There’s no real reason to go to confession unless you feel that you need it. Like Communion, the pastoral use of Confession is reduced to the felt needs of the person. It’s a form of assurance, not a tool for real change.

4. The Anointing of the Sick has made a small recovery among some Lutherans, which is a good thing! But such an anointing is not considered by Lutheran theology to be one of the Means of Grace by which Christ gives actual healing - either in this life or in the resurrection to come. Thus there is no real reason for it, other than comfort or assurance, much like with Communion and confession. Is the church here to give empty comfort or to give real, tangible healing? In Orthodoxy, there is real healing, both physical and spiritual, to offer.

5. Lutheranism despises Monasticism. The theology also, in less overt terms, despises celibacy in general, evidenced by the way single men or women are sometimes treated when they go to seminary to study to be pastors or deaconesses. Not only has Lutheranism lost the fount of wisdom and prayer offered by monastics, but they have also created a culture that is wary of anyone who is living (or wants to live) a celibate lifestyle.

Moreover this hinders the ability to minister to those struggling with homosexuality or other unnatural desires. In Orthodoxy we having fasting seasons in which even married couples are asked to refrain from marital relations. We are all called to celibacy in one way or another. No one is exempt from putting aside their fleshly desires (sexual or otherwise) in Orthodoxy. And in this way, the Orthodox Church does not have to single out an entire section of the population for a specific ascetical pursuit. Everyone is in the same boat with the same expectations.

6. Speaking of ascetical pursuits, Lutheranism also does not retain Fasting (or asceticism in general). Anything that takes our worldly distractions out of the way of our relationship to God is dangerous to do, and even more dangerous to prescribe to your parishioners. Why? Because Lutheranism forgot it was a relationship! Distracting ourselves less with rich food and worldly things makes no sense if all we need is a favorable sentencing. In fact, it might look a lot like trying to take the courtroom into your own hands to justify yourself.

7. Almsgiving also falls in this category. Most Lutherans are either encouraged or allowed to believe that they have no responsibility to the poor. Yes, we pay the Church and the synod and maybe even an RSO, but the poor? Is it necessary to be generous with what we have been given, to give to those who ask of us and to protect and provide for the orphans and the widows? Without this tool, we become self centered, and any good pastor will know that selfishness is a fast road to misery and despair. Lutheranism doesn’t believe we are saved in community, that our relationships with others actually impact salvation or our eternal reality. This individualistic view of salvation is devastating both spiritually and emotionally to those who believe it.

8. Prayer is another tool that has been blunted to the point of being useless. We can’t ask the Christians who are closest to our Lord (the saints) to pray for us. That is a huge comfort that was taken off the table. Why do Lutherans pray at all beyond the fact that God commands it? Prayer rules, along with fasting and almsgiving, are discouraged. And since they also don’t have a father-confessor relationship with their pastor, and so many typically lack deep spiritual relationships with those in their parish in our individualistic society – who do they have to pray for them? There's a reason so many Lutherans turn to non-Lutheran sources for assistance in prayer.

9. Praying for the departed is also more or less forbidden, and when it is prescribed for someone who is in agony over the loss of a loved one who appears to have had no faith, it is not prescribed as something that can actually do any good or bring them closer to God or their loved one who has passed. It is prescribed as a comforting measure, but not as an act of love that has the power to do real good. People aren’t stupid, they know if you’re telling them to do something just to make them feel better.

I could go on, I’ve really only scratched the surface here. I haven’t even talked about the Eucharistic fast, making use of the seasons of the Church (specifically pastorally), miraculous icons, the connection between spiritual illness and mental or physical illness, incense, the salvific state of marriage, veneration, usage of the lives of the saints, bishops and authority, anointing of the dying, the Jesus prayer, vigil candles and memorials, etc. etc…

The depth and breadth of tools available to Orthodox priests are so much greater than those a Lutheran pastor has. As a Lutheran Pastor I wish I would've had all the tools for pastoral care that Orthodoxy makes available. A resource for anyone who really wants to grasp the Orthodox difference on this topic should listen to "The Virgin Mary and the Saints". This free resource by another former Lutheran pastor, who also taught at LCMS semaries before becoming Orthodox, lays out the theological issues very clearly.

Featured Posts
Follow Me
  • Grey Facebook Icon
  • Grey Twitter Icon
  • Grey Pinterest Icon
  • Grey YouTube Icon
bottom of page