What’s a Different Spirit?

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Last week’s article concluded with a statement of Martin Luther to one of his theological opponents. In German he said: “Ihr habt einen anderen geist als wir!” Translation: “You have another [different] spirit than we.” I promised I’d say more this week about what constitutes a different spirit. So here we go.

In Luther’s case the different spirit he diagnosed and pronounced emanated from a number of theological topics. On this particular occasion the question was whether the body and blood of Christ are really present in the Lord’s Supper. His opponent was Ulrich Zwingli. A significantly different spirit existed between those two men. Check Google for more details.

On a separate but related front was the quite serious, even life threatening confrontation between Luther and Roman Catholic Pope Leo X.  A vastly different spirit existed between those two, essentially resulting from their differing perspectives on forgiveness of sin. The Catholic Church believed that forgiveness could be bought with what were called indulgences. Luther correctly maintained that the price was paid by God’s grace in the person of Christ our Lord.

On a more domestic level in today’s world, a difference in spirit between a husband and a wife can quickly cause problems. If one person has a trusting and optimistic attitude while his or her spouse is distrustful and pessimistic, that difference in spirit often yields tension and friction.

In the political realm Republicans and Democrats continue to espouse policies and positions that differ from one another, often quite radically. While opposing ideas about philosophical, economic, immigration, military issues, and more do not necessarily presuppose differences in spirit, the hostile expression thereof clearly demonstrates such a difference.

Even in churches some strive for control and exclusiveness while others want the church to be evangelical and inclusive. Some approach financial support of their church with an open palm, others with a clenched fist. Those differences in spirit are manifested in a we/they attitude that can become combative rather than cooperative.

Although there’s no simple solution, St. Paul offers in Galatians 5 some good suggestions in his discussion of living by the Spirit [of God] compared to life controlled by the flesh. “The acts of the flesh are obvious … hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, rivalries, divisions, factions, and envy … But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control … Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit.”

Good idea, Paul. Living that way by the power and grace of God will obviate the necessity of Christians saying to each other: “You have another [different] spirit than we.”

Amen. So be it.

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A Different Spirit

It’s pretty hard not to have noticed in recent years, particularly recent months, the depth of division that exists in our country. From vitriolic attacks in social media to public protests on city streets to flag burning incidents outside congressional offices, people are expressing disagreement with one another, with our country, and with its leaders.

It’s not just happening in the political arena. Differences abound in the ecclesiastical realm as well. That’s not new. Disagreements have existed among God’s people since the days of the disciples and apostles.

Shortly after Jesus instituted what we now know as the Lord’s Supper, a dispute arose among his own disciples as to which of them would be considered the greatest (Luke 22:24). After working together as a team Paul and Barnabas separated from each other because they disagreed on whether to include John Mark on a mission journey (Acts 15:36-40).

Fast forward to the 16th century’s embryonic stages of Lutheranism. Disagreements about faith, forgiveness, penance, papacy, and purgatory were prolific and perpetual. Since that time there has been and still is nearly constant contention about what constitutes pure biblical doctrine, particularly regarding practical application of the Christian faith in daily life and church practice.

So today, like many national religious organizations and our nation itself, Lutheran Christians share with one another many quite similar beliefs but some significantly different perspectives on matters of faith and life. Here are examples from two sources, constituents of which are of one mind about many aspects of faith and life but not of one accord on a number of matters:

  • The Lutheran Clarion: “Building faithfulness to true Confessional Lutheranism and a clear voice of Christian concerns against actions and causes which mitigate against faithfulness to the One True Faith.”  Website: http://lutheranclarion.org/
  • Congregations Matter©: “A movement of churches, laypeople and pastors committed to the restoration of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to its historic roles of strengthening and supporting congregations.”  Website: http://congregationsmatter.org/

Notwithstanding such differences, an overwhelming majority of Lutherans agree on major points of Christian doctrine. Yet freedom from disagreement escapes us. Why is that?

Martin Luther put his finger on a significant causative factor when he said to one of his opponents 500 years ago: “You have a different spirit than we.” I believe he was right. More about that next week. Stay tuned. God bless your day!