From Schwan and Harrison…
Propositions on Unevangelical Practice
H. C. Schwan, President of the LCMS 1878-1899
Translated by Everette Meier
1. Evangelical practice consists not in this, that we teach and treat nothing except the evangelical message (the Gospel), but in this, that we treat everything in evangelical fashion.
2. This means that since we expect justification before God, the renewal of the heart, and the fruits of the Spirit only through the Gospel, we have this one thing in mind in everything that we do, to give free course and sway to the Gospel.
3. For this very reason, when we follow evangelical practice, we do not discard the Law or make its edges dull through bringing in the Gospel, but we rather preach it with all the more seriousness in its full severity, however, in evangelical fashion.
4. The Law is used in an evangelical way if it is employed solely for the purpose of preparing the soil for the evangelical message (the Gospel) and of submitting a divine norm for the manifestations of the new life that spontaneously arises through the evangelical message.
5. It is not evangelical practice to cast the pearls before the swine, but much less is it evangelical practice to keep them in one's own pocket.
6. Evangelical practice drops not one iota of the things that God demands, but it demands
nothing else and no more than faith and love.
7. Evangelical practice demands manifestation of faith and love if we desire to be saved, but
it does not issue commands about their various manifestations as far as aim, amount,
and mode are concerned.
8. Evangelical practice demands fulfillment of even the smallest letter of the Law, but it
does not make the state of grace dependent on the keeping of the Law.
9. Evangelical practice endeavors indeed to prepare the way for the operations of the Gospel by the Law; but it does not endeavor to aid the Gospel in its real functions by the Law; and since it expects the fruits of the Spirit to be produced solely by the Gospel, it is willing to wait for them, too.
10. Evangelical practice considers nothing an essential gain that does not come through the Gospel, that is, through faith; therefore it bears with all manner of defects, imperfections, and sins rather than to remove them merely in an external manner.
11. Evangelical practice limits pastoral care [Seelsorge] to specific applications of the Law and the Gospel; the scrutiny and judging of the hearts it leaves to God, the searcher of hearts.
12. Evangelical practice insists on good human order, but still more does it insist on Christian liberty, and for that reason it lets adiaphora remain real adiaphora; that is, it leaves the decision concerning them to the conscience of the individual.
13. Evangelical practice is faithful in little things; yet it considers matters in their larger aspects and totality more important than individual details.
14. To be wise as serpents; to redeem the time; not to let Satan gain an advantage over us; [and] to become all things to all men in order that by all means some might be saved are likewise elements of evangelical practice.
15. Evangelical practice is equally far removed from antinomian and from legalistic practice.
16. Evangelical knowledge and disposition should issue in evangelical practice, but do so rather seldom and slowly.
17. Usually we do not advance beyond legalism, or we fall into antinomian laxity; to such
an extent, the Gospel is foreign to our nature.
18. There is danger in both directions. For us at present, the greater danger is still in the
direction of legalism.
19. Apart from the natural tendency of the old Adam and our origin in pietistic circles, etc.,
our present situation and the necessary reaction against the prevailing moral laxity in
principles and in life are responsible for this state of affairs.
20. Or how many are there not who secretly fear more to give the blessings of the Gospel
to an unworthy person than to deny them to a poor sinner or to curtail them? Whose conscience is not hindering him to follow the example of Paul and to become all things to all men? But where this is the case, one surely still finds legalistic practice.
21. Legalistic practice does not consist in this, that one does not treat anything except the Law; but in this, that one treats everything in a legalistic manner, that is, in such a way that one's main aim is to see to it that the Law gets its due and that one tries to accomplish through the Law or even through laws what only the Gospel can accomplish.
22. In addition (as is often the case where the inner motive power really still is the Law), the more fiery zeal asserts itself which does not even permit love to be the queen of all commandments; which spurns Christian wisdom as its counselor; and which, even when it appears merely to teach, to reprove, or to admonish, in reality applies coercion—and for that matter the worst kind, namely, moral coercion—all the more unevangelical [does] our practice become.
23. Unevangelical, legalistic practice is found not only in Churches and congregations, but likewise in schools and in the homes, and besides in our fraternal intercourse.
24. The instances of unevangelical practice that are still most frequent with us in the realm of ministerial work, the cure of souls, and congregational government are perhaps the following:
In sermons: Overabundant castigation [durchgeisseln] of individual sins, un-wholesome conditions, or perhaps even of matters of personal dislike; the portraying of well-known sins of well-known persons instead of laying bare the bitter roots out of which all evil fruits grow; mere so-called "testifying" without real instruction and admonition; unnecessary or premature or un- edifying polemics; urging that repentance and faith be manifested instead of preaching that which produces repentance and faith; a pietistic classification of the hearers; attaching conditions to the Gospel promises [Verklausulierung des Evangelii]; preaching faith predominantly as to its sanctifying power; pre- sentation of the grace of God only to build demands on such presentation.
With respect to Confession and the Lord's Supper: Demanding more for admission than is absolutely required for its salutary use; schoolroom catechizing and inquisitorial searching of the heart of those announcing; postponing reproof till announcement for Communion or Confession; using refusal of Holy Communion as a coercive, terrifying, or disciplinary means; refusing [admission to the Lord's Supper] even when a state of unrepentance cannot be provided.
With respect to Baptism: Being either entirely unwilling to baptize children of heretics or unbelieving people who nonetheless are in contact with the Word [die unter dem Schall des Wortes leben], even if there is no intrusion in somebody else's domain [in ein fremd Amt greifen], or [being willing to do so] only after various human guarantees have been given; putting acceptance of sponsors on a level with admission toHoly Communion.
At marriages: Refusing to perform marriages of people who are outside the congregation, even if they are not manifestly wicked; a meticulous insistence on a certain form of parental consent and of engagement.
At funerals: Absolute refusal of burial in the case of all who did not somehow belong to the congregation or at least requested the visit of the pastor; adherence to the principle that at every funeral, the salvation or damnation of the deceased must be asserted publicly, that sins have to be castigated, and the occasion must be used to take a fling [anzustechen] at the sins and failings of the survivor.
In the care of souls: Constant trimming and pressing [hobeln und feilen] on everybody till all wrinkles have been removed; acceptance of every kind of gossip [Zuträgereien]; mixing into house, family, and matrimonial matters, even if no public offense has been given; judging one's attitude of heart on the basis of a few words and works; applying moral coercion through exaggeration, and so on.
In congregational government and Church discipline: Exaggerated demands at the reception of new members; a denial of, or peremptory fixing of time limits for, participation in the spiritual treasures of the Church as a guest, especially for attendance at the Lord's Table; mandatory imposition of dues on church members, requiring the same amount from all, or coercive taxing of the individuals; use of church discipline as a measure against matters that are not evident, mortal sins, or even against self-provoked sins; to consider a person as convicted in his own mind or as opposing maliciously because he is not able to reply to the arguments and charges uttered against him, or even assents; to lay more weight on the correct form of the proceedings than on the achieving of the purpose of the discipline; to demand the same form and the same degree of publicity for all confessions of sins that may have to be made; the endeavor to make the chasm between those who are in and those who are outside the congregation really large, instead of building bridges for the opponents and for those who are on the outside.
25. Legalistic practice in itself makes the Gospel into Law, the Law a taskmaster (but not unto Christ); it makes confession a torture, the cure of souls hypocritical fawning, the Sacrament a testimony and seal that one is acceptable (to the pastor); it makes Christian liberty a mere pretense, church discipline an oppression of consciences, the people painfully meticulous, self-righteously pharisaical, and the Church a police institution.
26. Legalistic practice has the appearance of greater conscientiousness, courage, and quicker success only for the blind. Looked at carefully, it lacks true courage to allow God to reign and His Word to work. Its conscientiousness is that of an erring conscience and [is] in itself one of the greatest hindrances of the working of the Law as well as of the Gospel.
27. Legalistic practice behooves no church less than the Evangelical Lutheran [Church].
28. To make the fine customs of old established churches the standard for such as are in the process of establishment is not Lutheran.
29. There are plenty of things in which we cannot avoid giving offense; let us not give it by
unnecessary severity in practice.
30. Let us courageously make an end of all unevangelical practice; but let us not forget that
there is but one step from legalistic to antinomian practice.
31. Antinomian practice would beware of legalism and would bring about everything only
by the Gospel. But, since it lacks the severity of the Law, it also lacks the fervor of the
Gospel. Therefore it will result in laxity and undisciplined conduct.
32. If we fall from legalistic into antinomian practice, evil has become worse.
From "At Home in the House of My Fathers."