We can learn a lot from the Lutherans—Christendom’s original “evangelicals.”
Evangelicals trace their spiritual roots from the New Testament church to a church in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther parted company with the Roman church. His act of protest became formalized into Protestantism, but the term evangelical—drawn from the Bible itself—became the label for the movement Luther brought into being. As contemporary evangelicals, we owe much to Luther and the churches that bear his name.
When it comes to educating young people, for example, Lutherans have set the standard. No other major Protestant group has done so much to establish and maintain elementary and secondary-level schools where children may freely be instructed not only in the three R’s but also in Bible, Christian doctrine, and spiritual values. Likewise, no other church has so successfully carried on systematic instruction in Bible and Christian doctrine comparable to the traditional four-year Lutheran catechetical classes. While some evangelicals deplore the idea that students could graduate from these classes into full church membership without a personal relationship to Christ, the fact is, most children in a normal Lutheran church know their Bibles better and have a better command of doctrine than those from any other major denomination.
The explanation for this strong emphasis upon instruction lies in the distinctive Lutheran emphasis on pure doctrine. Their adherence to the “material” or content principle of biblical Christianity is exemplified in their faithfulness to the deity of Christ, his true incarnation, his vicarious atonement, his resurrection from the dead, and the free offer of grace on condition of faith alone. No other Protestant denomination so exalts the cross as the symbol of divine grace for sinful humankind. Accompanying this focus on the work of Christ is a remarkable adherence to the “formal” principle of Scripture as the Word of God. Many of the ablest defenders of inerrancy during this century have risen from the ranks of Lutheran bodies.
To non-Lutherans, however, the most distinctive thing about followers of the Wittenberg Reformer may be the quality of their worship. Christians accustomed in their own churches to children racing through the sanctuary before the service or a deafening chatter during the organ prelude cannot help being impressed by the quiet reverence for God immediately apparent as one enters a Lutheran church service. It reveals the Lutheran sense of themselves as unworthy sinners entering into the presence of an absolutely holy and transcendent God. This awesome reverence extends to the Lutheran attitude towards the sacraments. While most other Protestants are not prepared on biblical grounds to grant that faith comes to eight-day-old infants when they are baptized or that the body of Christ is physically present in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, they have much to learn from Lutherans of the mystery of God and the purity and sufficiency of divine grace.
If we have one major regret as we view the Lutheran church in the twentieth century, it is that Lutheran bodies have provided little leadership for the evangelical movement at large. During the last century we evangelicals have failed to provide the kind of adequate and mature leadership essential for the service of God and the ministry of the church in the world. Our prayer is that Lutherans will settle their internal disputes and stem the tide of liberalism within their ranks so that they can contribute to better and more effective leadership for evangelical Christianity.
By Kenneth S. Kantzer.
Two tragedies. In 1983 Nancy Cruzan, then aged 26, smashed her car and was left severely brain damaged. Although not hooked up to any life-sustaining machinery, she is now fed through a tube connected to her stomach. In 1985 Larry McAfee broke his neck in a motorcycle accident. Today he is a quadraplegic confined to a wheelchair and a portable ventilator.
The courts have been asked to help both of them die.
Joe and Joyce Cruzan, Nancy’s parents, won their initial court case in Missouri where they sought legal authority to withhold food and fluid from their daughter. The state successfully appealed the decision to the state supreme court. Missouri State Supreme Court Judge Edward Robertson wrote in his decision that this was not a case where the court was asked “to let someone die,” but “to allow the medical profession to make Nancy die by starvation and dehydration.” Now the family has appealed, and for the first time the Supreme Court will hear a euthanasia case.
McAfee acted on his own behalf, asking the Georgia court for three things: first, that his respirator be supplied with a timed turn-off switch; second, that he be provided with a sedative; and third, that he be guaranteed no one will turn the respirator back on after he turns it off. (He has turned off his respirator in the past, but changed his mind and asked that it be turned back on.) The court has agreed to be McAfee’s accomplice.
Both situations are tragic, but tragic circumstances should not be an excuse for ending life. Life is a gift from God, created by him and redeemed by his Son’s death. God has made it clear that as stewards we are not to kill what is his and that we must protect the weak among us (Exod. 20:13; Matt. 25:31–46).
Both of these cases reveal a principle that violates God’s trust. In Nancy Beth Cruzan v. Robert Harmon, the lower court accepted “quality of life” as a basis for deciding who should live. By arguing that death is in Nancy’s best interest, they are saying her present life is not worth living. We agree with the many organizations representing the retarded, the handicapped, and the aged who worry that this decision may lead to the “mercy killing” of those who some people feel lead lives that are not worth living.
The same thinking is behind the McAfee case. McAfee has been shuffled across the country from nursing home to intensive care unit to nursing home without ever being provided the proper care and support that would enable him to live a functional and independent life. As Paul Longmore said in the Atlanta Constitution, instead of providing financial help and service, “all the ‘able-bodied’ people connected with the case have been quick to support Mr. McAfee in his testimony that he no longer gets any enjoyment out of life.” Thus the court not only grants him the freedom to commit suicide, it has also agreed to give assistance.
The “right to die” lobby is a growing force in this country, but it is a mere extension of the thinking that is behind proabortion groups. For many people, life is a disposable commodity, thrown out when inconvenient or costly—whether that life is a “fetus,” a grandparent, or even their own. Also, it is assumed that life or death is a decision we have every right to make.
For the same reasons that Christians oppose abortion, we must be just as diligent in fighting euthanasia. With the utmost energy we must urge and pray that the Supreme Court will not repeat the horror that has been Roe v. Wade. And just as the maturing prolife movement discovered that it cannot protest abortion without being willing to help those mothers who choose life, so too we must be willing to show that we prize all life by providing the money and services to help the Larry McAfees among us.
By Michael G. Maudlin.
For the past 20 years, recycling and other earth-wise habits have been mainly confined to the visionary among us, and associated in the popular imagination with the the beaded, the bearded, and the barefoot. But, more detrimental to serious consideration of nonpolluting lifestyles, such habits have suffered from guilt by association with leftist politics. Ordinary mortals, hard-working stiffs who vote Republican and go to Bible-believing churches, have not had the time to rinse and sort bottles, to read the labels on their deodorant packages, or to bundle and recycle newspapers (except to boost the annual Boy Scout paper drive).
Now things are changing. Many states are running out of landfill space. And in Illinois, homeowners are being forced to take their share of the responsibility for finding alternative ways of disposing of waste (as well as reducing the amount of waste). At issue in this environmental action is not some toxic waste with an exotic name like Tri-oxyglynol-6. The problem is (and we are not making this up) lawn clippings. After July 1, 1990, Illinoisans may no longer cram their leaves or lawn cuttings into Hefty bags and set them by the curb.
The average homeowner produces 1,040 pounds of clippings each year, the state of Illinois estimates. Home composting or some other alternative way of disposing of grass clippings and other yard waste could keep the state’s landfills open an average of 18 percent longer. Most of the states in the Northern Tier face similar yard-waste overload. Composting may not exactly be a long-term solution, but it is definitely worth doing.
But let’s hope that short-run composting will in turn raise the average homeowner’s consciousness about environmental issues. Being forced to compost may disentangle popular misconceptions that responsible recycling behavior is only for leftover hippies. And among Christians, in particular, let us hope our Genesis mandate to care for the creation is taken yet more seriously. Perhaps this small step for Illinois will be a giant step for humankind—and, we pray, for God’s good Earth.
By David Neff.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.