In his book The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, C.F.W. Walther interjects many interesting historical anecdotes. In the twenty-fourth lecture, he speaks about the devastating effect that the Enlightenment had on Lutheran churches in Germany. This was an era of Christless Christianity. Walther writes:
During this awful time matters finally came to such a pass that rationalistic preachers, to counteract the idea that they were superfluous in this world and to prove their usefulness, would treat from their pulpits subjects such as these: Intelligent Agriculture; Profitableness of Potato-raising; Tree-planting a Necessity; Importance of Genuine Sanitation; etc. Rationalistic books of sermons in which subjects of this description are treated with grand pathos will show you that I am not slandering the rationalists of that age. (258-259)
Walther goes on to relate how Joachim Spalding wrote a book in 1772 in which he insisted that these sorts of subjects are indeed improper for the pulpit. Instead, Spalding said, ministers have to preach “exclusively practical ethical lessons.” In other words, the problem was not that the ministers were preaching “deeds and not creeds,” but that they were preaching the wrong kinds of deeds. Spalding was simply proposing more Christless Christianity, substituting ethics for agriculture and sanitation. Walther concludes that it is no surprise that many true Christians abandoned the Lutheran church in this era.
We often look back to J. Gresham Machen and see parallels between the Christless Christianity of his day and ours. But this is a problem which stretches back over centuries. Unless the Lord returns, likely it will continue to be a challenge. Each new generation has to resist the temptation to be distracted from the gospel.
(reposted from Yinkahdinay 06.01.09)