Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mysticism in the SED: Part 3, What Did Pieper Say?

Continuing where we left off with Dr. Luther’s comments on Enthusiasm – the idea that the Holy Spirit is given through your own practices apart from the Word, today we’re going to examine Dr. Pieper’s thoughts.

Dr. Francis Pieper was considered the chief dogmatician of the LCMS at the turn of the 20th century, and his work remains refreshingly relevant to this day. His three-volume Christian Dogmatics is in the study of every Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod pastor, and is the work we’ll be quoting from today. Like Luther, Pieper labels those who believe that the Holy Spirit will operate immediately, such as in speaking directly to us in response to prayer without the external means of grace, as enthusiasts:

In general, all who divorce the operation of the Holy Ghost from the Word of Scripture make private or immediate revelations their principle in theology. It is essentially correct to embrace them all under the general title Schwaermer, or “enthusiasts” (fanatici, enthusiastae). Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950) 208

Francis Pieper calls the Quakers the most consistent of all groups in separating grace from the means of grace.

They teach that on the day of visitation appointed by Him the Holy Ghost illumines man immediately, without the Word, and by this illumination enables man to understand the Word of Scripture, which before was a dead letter to him. The Quakers therefore hold so-called “silent meetings.” Their theologian Robert Barclay (d. 1690) reports: “In these meetings everyone’s great task should be to await God and, withdrawing from his own thoughts and ideas, to feel the presence of God…. There no one confines the Spirit of God, nor does he set forth material he has memorized and assembled, but everyone reports whatever the Lord puts in his heart. It may happen among us, and often has happened, that numerous meetings were held without a word being said, and still our souls were much edified and refreshed, and our hearts were overwhelmed by the hidden feeling of God’s Spirit and power passing from vessel to vessel without words” (Vol. III, p. 127-128).

It is remarkable how similar Pieper’s comments on the characteristics of the Quakers are to the characteristics of the SED’s “Spiritual Discernment” or “Listening Prayer” (see Part 1 for a description of Listening Prayer”). While the SED starts out in the right place with Scripture and prayer, they then drift off into Enthusiasm, looking for answers via direct revelation by God’s “divine presence” and the “movement in your heart,” rather than looking for answers in the pages of Scripture. Compare the following quotes of the Quakers with those of the SED:

Quakers: “…Everyone’s great task should be to await God…”
SED: “Wait for God’s timing.”

Quakers: “…Withdrawing from his own thoughts and ideas…”
SED: “…draws us beyond our own limited reason…”

Quakers: “…To feel the presence of God…”
SED: “…Listening to God’s ‘tugging and hints of His direction.”

Quakers: “…Everyone reports whatever the Lord puts in his heart.”
SED: “Share with the group what you have seen, heard, and felt in your reflection time.”
SED: “…Each person writes down the option, direction or guidance that came to them.”
SED: “Expect further confirmation of what you have discerned.”

Quakers: “…Often has happened, that numerous meetings were held without a word being said…”
SED: “Often there is silence during the wait.”

Quakers: “…Our hearts were overwhelmed by the hidden feeling of God’s Spirit…”
SED: “Your focus is on God and His movement in your heart…”

Quakers: “…No one confines the Spirit of God, nor does he set forth material he has memorized and assembled…”
SED: “…Intentional effort to distinguish God’s voice from other voices that influence us.”
SED: “…Open yourself to the Spirit’s leading.”

Quakers: “…To feel the presence of God….”
SED: “…To seek divine presence...”

It’s no surprise that in the SED’s “Spiritual Discernment” process, the initial outcome of “God’s ‘tugging’ and hints of His direction” might result in “a lack of group clarity,” or that you need to “consider whether or not you have heard the Spirit clearly enough to act at this time,” or that “often there is silence during the wait,” because God doesn’t answer by whispering in your ear or beaming a word directly into your head. If God did promise to speak without means, you certainly wouldn’t need to “identify the unifying themes that have emerged out of this process,” or remember that “when consensus begins to form, continue to offer all decisions and plans to God for reshaping.” If God did act immediately, rather than mediately via means, everyone in the group would be beamed the exact same message, and there would be no need to practice a Hegelian dialectic consensus process as the SED is teaching here. God wouldn’t say one thing to you and then tell the person sitting next to you something that contradicted His first memo. Who comes up with this stuff?

Pieper offers an appropriate corrective as he quotes Luther on page 139 of Volume III:

Don’t you know that Christ is minded to be present and to be found nowhere but in that which is His Father’s and not in that which you or all men are or have? The fault does not lie with Christ and His grace; He indeed is and remains unlost and can always be found; the fault lies in you, that you do not seek Him right, namely, where He is to be sought, because you are judging according to your feelings and expect to seize Him with your thoughts. But you must come here, where there is neither yours nor any man’s, but God’s business and rule, namely, where His Word is. There you will meet Him and hear and see neither wrath nor displeasure, as you fear, but only grace and cordial love toward you…. But it means a struggle for the heart to get there and take hold of this; first it must crash and experience that all our notions of seeking Christ are futile and in vain and that in the end there is no other choice than to turn away from oneself and all other human consolation and trust only in His Word. (St. L. XI:452 ff.)

In our final quote, Pieper is brutally honest in his disdain for Enthusiasm:

The “good intention” of the people who refuse to found faith on the external means of grace has been urged in their defense. They want to prevent “formalism,” mere “head knowledge,” intellectualism,” and foster a Christianity of the heart,” an inward “experience” of the saving truths. From this point of view recent histories of dogma have conceded a partial justification to such fanaticism as, for instance, that of Andrew Osiander. See Seberg, Dogmengesch., II, 360 ff. But even if we do not question the “good intention,” Scripture obliges us to maintain that in the case of all who want to detach God’s gracious revelation and operation from the means of grace we are dealing with ignoramuses (μὴ ἐπιστάμενοι, 1 Tim. 6:4) and quacks, who do not realize what they say or set down, and with might and main work for exactly the opposite of what they purpose to do. “Communion with God,” “inward experience” of Christ, “fervor in Christianity,” can always be achieved in only one way, namely, by faith in the Word of grace, in the forgiveness of sins provided through Christ’s satisfactio vicaria and pledged to us by God in the means of grace. Whoever detaches this “experience” from the Word of grace, the λόγος τῆς χάριτος, falls prey in every respect to his own flesh. The true knowledge of spiritual matters, which is derived from continuing in the Word of Christ, he supplants with the “swell head” of his own wisdom, τετύφωται. Faith in the grace of God, which comes solely from the Word of grace and is God’s work through the Word (Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 2:4-5), is supplanted by “autosuggestion” – to use a modern term – by an “illusory and self-produced enthusiasm.” The modifiers “illusory” and “self-produced” fit the case perfectly because Scripture leaves no doubt that an “enthusiasm” or “illumination” or “regeneration” of immediate origin cannot be shown to have the Holy Spirit as causa efficiens. Except in cases reserved for Himself and not of our concern (Luke 1:15), the Holy Ghost does not concern Himself with immediate operations in the Kingdom of Grace. (Pieper, Vol. 3, 135)

Dr. Pieper points out that the enthusiast fails to find the true knowledge of spiritual matters, instead falling prey to his own flesh and an illusory and self-produced Enthusiasm, and that’s a place we don’t want to be.

Next time we’ll take a look at where this self-produced Enthusiasm leads by examining the ideas of the authors whom the SED recommends in their Prayer and Spiritual Formation workshop – you might be surprised at what we find.

Jump to Part 4: Full of Things from the East

You can download all parts of this series here.

1 comment:

Jim Pierce said...

An excellent series, Scott. Thank you.

Regarding the SED's statements and their similarity to statements by quakers, that isn't surprising to me since one of the leaders in "Spiritual Formation" is Dallas Willard who is part of the "Society of Friends" (aka Quakers). I would be surprised if the people putting on these "spiritual workshops" at the SED haven't read Dallas Willard.