Faith: It’s More than a Feeling
Where is the Christian to look for assurance of God’s love? Many Christians think, and are encouraged by their church’s practices, to think that our assurance of God’s love for us and our status and standing before God is to be based on our emotional reactions and feelings. This is a dangerous trap. Here is how it was put a number of years ago, when a Lutheran commented on the problem with Christian churches that point people to their emotional reactions to God’s Word, rather than the objective assurance of the promises of God’s Word. One of the ongoing problems with much of American Protestantism is an emotion-based faith, rather than a means-of-grace faith. Here is why.
“[Many American Christians] disregard the orderly means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, and seek the assurance of divine grace and the validation of the divine working of grace in their soul not from out of the Word and Sacraments alone, but chiefly from the feelings of their hearts, which they infer have come down immediately from God. Consider what soul-care, or rather, soul-abuse comes from this. Let’s consider what happens in the case of many Christians. A person has himself baptized, certainly out of an honest longing for salvation and grace, then he’s told to give himself this witness that he’s longed for. When there is a longing after grace, that person is also ready for grace. Then that spark of faith should have been aroused and brought near, in order to be able to joyfully grasp hold of the great promises of God in Baptism. But instead of that, this poor little baptized fellow is now first cast into his own heart, into doubt about grace. That is, since the Holy Ghost is not jumping around in him, or bursting out in laughter, or giving evidence of his presence in some other “sign,” then he is forced to wrestle after the witness of the Holy Ghost. The poor fellow is thrown into anxiety and confusion. He dare not believe that he’s already received the witness of the Holy Ghost with Baptism. He satisfies himself with the outer ceremony and confesses that he has not yet received the witness, but he seeks it. So the poor fellow is misled, to turn with his trust away from the promises of the means of grace ordained by God and instead to trade them for his own deceptive heart. The comfort that baptism is for him is completely lost, and to him it is merely an external ceremony. And what significance can this ceremony have for him when it has not given him what is most important, the assurance of grace? Thus this kind operverse treatment of souls destroys every steadfast assurance on the Word and the promises of God and turns people over to the self-deception of their own hearts. The good fruits awakened through their preaching of repentance is returned again into its seed through their ignorant treatment of souls, and instead of a healthy, well formed man in Christ, he has yet to be born.”
Pastor Schieferdecker, “A Critique of Methodism,” in Der Lutheraner, Volume 1, Number 17, April 1845 (Saint Louis, Missouri), translated by Pastor Joel Baseley. Edited by PTM.