A few weeks ago, Michael Spencer asked the Lutheran members (and lurkers) at the Boar’s Head Tavern to answer the question, “One thing that really sucks about Lutheranism is…”
I find this a very easy question to answer. The feature of Actually Existing Lutheranism which causes me the most anguish and dismay is what I have described elsewhere as its “Babylonian captivity to young-earth creationism”. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, in particular, requires all pastors to subscribe to a 1932 statement of beliefs which insists on six-day creation, to the exclusion of any other interpretation or understanding of the biblical doctrine of creation.
This causes me anguish and, let’s be honest, anger for a number of reasons. First, it does the atheists’ work for them, by agreeing with their own insistence that evolution and atheism are basically the same thing. On a personal level, I find it agonising to think of my own children – with their interest in science – being told that, in effect, they have to choose between accepting evolution and being Christians (I know too well the choice I made when presented with that choice). Second, I believe it will, in the not-so-long term, be hugely destructive for the Lutheran church. The LCMS has lashed confessional Lutheranism to the mast of the good ship Creationism, and when that ship goes down (as it will), it will take confessional Lutheranism with it.
But most importantly, Lutheran pastors can end up spending so much time arguing the case for young-earth creationism (and denigrating, and all-too often wildly misrepresenting, evolution and science as a whole) that they forget to teach the doctrine of creation itself.
The Lutheran church possesses one of the finest statements of the doctrine of creation ever written: Luther’s exposition of the first article of the Creed, in the Small Catechism. In this, Luther explains the first article (“I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth”) as follows:
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
In other words, the importance of the doctrine of creation is not that it teaches us how God made the world, but that it teaches us our present createdness; that the universe is no accident in which we are left to fend for ourselves (even if elements of it may appear accidental and purposeless to our human perceptions – surely a statement no-one can deny), but that God cares for us and “richly and daily provides” for us.
That is a statement which any Christian can surely say with heart and soul, “This is most certainly true!” But it’s a statement that tends to end up being sidelined in favour of channelling Ken Ham.
So my appeal to Lutheran pastors is this: I’m not saying you should stop believing in young-earth creationism. And this post is not intended to argue the case against YEC or for evolution (and I’ll try to resist the temptation to do so in the comments). But please ask yourself what it says to those in your pews who accept the scientific account of evolution – and they are there, in some numbers, whether you realise that or not – when you equate evolution with atheism, and make it sound as if there is no place in the church for those who accept evolution. Especially when, in doing so, you make statements about evolution and science that make it clear you are not qualified to speak about either.
And next time the lectionary presents you with a text such as Genesis 1:1-5 (this morning’s Old Testament reading), here’s one layperson who is imploring you to take the opportunity to preach the first article of the Creed as expounded by Luther: to remind everyone in your congregations, regardless of how they understand the mechanics of creation, of God’s continuing Fatherly care for them, and call on them to “thank and praise, serve and obey him” in response.