Monday, May 5, 2008

Why This Won't Work Part II

The problem of disunity is the problem of minimalism. Minimalism is the school of thought that “less is more,” or that which asks what is the least required for the purpose at hand.

Minimalism therefore is revolves around the questions, “What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for x to be true?” A necessary condition for x is a condition that, without it, you wouldn’t have x at all. A necessary condition for being a father is to have a child. No child, no fatherhood. A necessary condition for being a human is to be mammal. If you’re not a mammal, you might be many things, but you would definitely not be a human. A sufficient condition, on the other hand, is a condition which, if met, guarantees the truth of x. For example, a sufficient condition for being a father is to have a son. If I have a son, I am, by definition, a father. Having a son is not necessary for being a father, for I could be—and was—a father without having a son. I had a daughter.

When minimalism is applied to religion, to the faith received through the Apostles (2 Thes. 3:6), it asks, what is necessary to be a Christian? What is a sufficient condition for having the True Church, the true faith? What is necessary for baptism? Such questions may have their place. But such questions are asked and answered throughout the Lutheran Confessions. For instance, in the Augsburg Confession (AC) Article XI, the reformers write, “1] Of Confession they teach that Private Absolution ought to be retained in the churches, although in confession 2] an enumeration of all sins is not necessary. For it is impossible according to the Psalm: Who can understand his errors? Ps. 19, 12” (AC XI.1-2). Again, the Augsburg Confession asks what is sufficient for Christian unity, and answers, “2]And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3]the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4, 5. 6 (AC VIII).

One problem with a minimalist understanding of the Christian faith is that we are lazy sinners. If we are given the option between doing something as minimally as we can, versus doing something with “all the bells and whistles” we will often choose the lesser path, the minimalist path. We ask “what is required of being a Christian,” rather than “how much can I do?” We ask, “What do I have to do to be saved,” rather than “What all can I do to be a Christian?” We ask, “Do I really have to do x,” rather than, “Will doing x help my faith, my sanctification, my worship of God?”

What these minimalists fail to remember is that our faith is not about a contract with the Holy Trinity but a relationship with Him. In contracts, it is appropriate to ask, “What are the minimal standards to keep this relationship binding?” Asking this question about a relationship is foolish. Would a husband be wise to ask, “What is the least I can do to keep my wife?” If he loves her, he will ask, “What can I do for my wife?” or “What all can I do to be a good husband?”

Furthermore, minimalism leads to conflict. Now it is obvious it leads to conflict when minimum standards are not agreed upon, but it also promotes conflict when not every parish is equally minimalistic. It is but a small step to go from saying that x is unnecessary to saying that therefore, x is wrong or harmful.


  1. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    This is an interesting post - especially as you contrast how often the idea of "full" is used in Scripture - the that your joy may be full. That you cup may overflow.

    While there is room for looking at the minimum that is required - that is quite appropriate when things are falling apart - but we don't live by minimums. Who eats just the minimum required? Who sleeps just the minimum required? (This actually is part of the reason why I tend not to like Asceticism all that much)

    I think the place where this shines forth the most obviously is in frequency of communion. Eh, I'm good, I don't need it this week. . . I've done my X times a year, I'm good. That's a minimalistic idea.

    Minimums aren't guidelines - they are signs that you are dying if you don't meet them.

  2. Doorman-Priest said...

    Rats: Eric beat me to it. Yes we are lazy in general and we should be asking what else we ought to be doing/thinking/being.

  3. Randy Asburry said...


    Very good insights! I think another corollary goes with your thoughts about the minimalist's problem. Our minimalism colors the way we view adiaphora, things neither commanded nor forbidden by God. With our minimalist mindset, we typically look at adiaphora (of various kinds) and say, "Well, God didn't command it, therefore, I/we don't need to bother doing it."

    On the other hand, with a mind toward our relationship with the Holy Trinity, and with all the wholeness and fullness that implies, it seems more healthy to look at "adiaphora" (say, for example, the Church's liturgy) and say, "Sure, God did not command it or forbid it. That's why we're free to do it--to His glory and for the peace and comfort of us sinners."

    Yes, the minimalist virus is so infectious, but the Gospel of our Savior does heal that disease. :-)

  4. Anastasia Theodoridis said...

    Thou has done a very good job here, and an excellent post hast thou written. Yea, shrewed are thine insights, and wise is thy post. Outstandingly hast thou wrought, and commendably hast thou written. Thy blog showeth itself most thoughtful, intelligence shineth forth from thy post, and truth manifesteth herself in thy words.

    Amen, amen, amen.

    (No minimalism here.)


  5. Christopher D. Hall said...

    I set myself up nicely for Part III as I can tell from your comments (and Pr. Eckert's on another post).

    Anastasia, your comment cracked me up. Good stuff!

  6. Anastasia Theodoridis said...

    Oh, how delightful, to crack someone up!

    Do you know what I had in the back of my mind as I wrote that? Monty Python's Holy Hand Grenade. Now THAT really cracked ME up!

  7. Rev. Eckert said...


    I'm not sure how this got posted on the other post, but I'll stick it here also:

    Yes, excellent post. But perhaps a little short - did you only write as much as you had to? Just kidding.

    Perhaps you could expand in part iii on concrete aspects of how this has worked in the LCMS and elsewhere. For example, in private confession, we are told that no one should be forced to confess, so we have minimalistically dropped confession altogether (in most places).

    Keep up the good work.

  8. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Yes. I only wrote as much as I had to :)

    One blogging rule of thumb is to keep posts to roughly 300 words. This one was already 2x too long, so application will have to wait until part iii.

    Thanks for reading, all.

  9. Emily H. said...

    "Such questions may have their place. But such questions are asked and answered throughout the Lutheran Confessions."

    If this minimalism is in our core documents, then is it possible to restore a fullness of the faith beyond them (or are we limited by the minimalism in them)?

    Just wondering about the implications... Any thoughts?