Twenty (or so) Differences between

Conservatives and Confessionals

an observation by John W. Berg

(This “observation” was first published in the January 2005 issue.)


Journalist Richard Starnes, quoted in Entre Amis (McClelland & Stewart Ltd.) a wonderful photographic look at the Canadian-United States border, wryly observed,


Canadians are generally indistinguishable from the Americans and the surest way of telling the two apart is to make the observation to a Canadian. 


If you don’t smile at that, you’ve never met a Canadian.  Appropriating Starnes keen observation I think the same can be said of conservatives and confessionals. For many, a conservative Lutheran may seem to be indistinguishable from a confessional Lutheran. In fact, most conservatives themselves would shrug their black (or, horrors, white) v-necked robed shoulders and say, “What’s the diff?” Well, make the observation to one who fancies himself a confessional.


This observation is not original with me. I was inspired in this task by Professor Erling Teigen’s “Confessional Lutheranism versus Philippistic Conservatism” (Logia II No. 4). In this article Teigen nails the difference and insightfully characterizes the mindset of each.


Conservatism can also stand for a mind-set that tends to value the status quo most highly, so that one can only be moved in a different direction by bulldozer or cataclysm, never by theological study or intellectual honesty. Adherence to the Reformation spirit would seem rather to dictate that the Reformation is not static but dynamic, and always stands ready to reevaluate itself and to make mid-course corrections (p. 33).


I suspect the discussion of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod with the doctrinaire Wisconsin Synod and its magisterial opinions on the article of faith on the Lord’s Supper at that time might have inspired a bit of that.  Ah, but why stir up old ashes?


Well, hardly being an intellectual like Professor Teigen (did I really need to say that?) my list is a bit more simple and observational, though not as simple as saying that Lutheran confessionals wear collars and Lutheran conservatives don’t, even for me that is a bit too facile, as generally true as that may be (with exceptions, of course). These are observations I have made as one who once proudly wore the label “conservative” and who has a rack full of ties gathering dust to prove it. 


Of course, there is good in conservatism and we should note that both Lutheran confessionals and Lutheran conservatives share much theologically and that both have little regard for pietistic liberalism, slash, church growthism, but, and here’s the rub, for different reasons. Ironically, I find that I often find that I have more in common with some old liturgical liberals than I do with low church conservatives. In fact, I believe behind each of these surface differences lie much deeper differences to the point that the confessional is as alien to the conservative as he is to the liberal, as they are to him.  For example, ask your pastor “where’s the fellowship hall?”


So, here are my 20 (we had to keep with our “20” theme) or so differences between conservatives and confessionals (and I invite your additions to the list) offered with all the arrogance this implies. And with apologies to our many lay readers, these are somewhat directed at the clergy, but you might want to give this list to your district president the next time you call a pastor and let him know you will take one of these chancel prancing, ringed necked, chasuble wearing, reeking of incense, cigars and booze confessionals off his hands. Here goes.



Conservatives use the word “God” a lot.


Confessionals use the word “Jesus” a lot.



Conservatives believe that the Confessions are to be interpreted according to the Scriptures.


Confessionals believe that the Scriptures are to be interpreted according to the Confessions.



Conservatives say that the Bible is inspired and infallible.


Confessionals say that the inspired and infallible Scriptures are pure Christ.



Conservatives make sure that they include some “specific Gospel,” as it is called, in their sermons.


Confessionals preach Christ crucified.



Conservatives get all in a tizzy about the influence that Thrivent has in their churches and some want those pencil pushers out.


Confessionals get all in a tizzy because Thrivent doesn’t give away those little three-to-a-package peppermint LifeSavers like AAL used to do.



Conservatives demand a rigorous period of instruction before allowing children to commune at age 13 (and even then usually don’t have the sacrament on the day of Confirmation.)


Confessionals offer the Sacrament to those members who meet the Catechism’s requirement of a believing heart as well as offering ongoing catechesis.



Conservatives wonder where in the chancel they can put that new Synod flag along with Old Glory and the Christian flag.


Confessionals patiently wait for that day when they can bury (with thanks for his or her sacrifice) the last veteran of the “Greatest Generation” and use the American flag they do have to cover the casket on its way out of church for good.



Conservatives answer the “what’s the difference between us and the (name your protestant denomination)?” question with, “Well, we are a bit different on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, other than that…”


Confessionals answer “Good grief, where do I start? Ah yes, Christology…”



Conservatives wouldn’t consider instituting private confession and absolution because no one would come.


Confessionals offer private confession and absolution though no one comes, yet.



Conservatives angrily fire back at being called “Father” or being labeled “Catholic” fairly shouting, “I am not!!”


Confessionals calmly respond, “Yes?” as they slowly unveil their pectoral cross, ready for action.



Conservatives talk about Word and Sacrament as if they were two things.


Confessionals talk about the Gospel in preaching and in the administration of the Sacraments as if it were one.



Conservatives would not institute an every Sunday Sacrament (even after instruction) for fear of upsetting, usually, their curmudgeonly conservative church council.


Confessionals celebrate (or are working towards celebrating after instruction) the Sacrament every Sunday for fear of depriving the souls who desire it.



Conservatives think that the relationship between Christ and the Church is a nice picture of the marriage union.


Confessionals teach that the marriage relationship is iconic of the relationship between the Heavenly Bridegroom and his Holy Bride, which informs church life.



Conservatives say things like, “Be a Good Samaritan.”


Confessionals say things like, “Jesus is the Good Samaritan.”



Conservatives listen to Rush Limbaugh and Doctor Laura.


Confessionals listen to Classic Rock 92.3 fm.


Neither listen to that jerk Howard Stern.



Conservatives refer to the consecrated elements as bread and wine.


Confessionals refer to and revere the consecrated elements as the Body and Blood of Christ.



Conservatives read the Christian News and secretly like it (but few admit it).


Confessionals unabashedly read (can you see this one coming down Broadway?) The Motley Magpie and love it, well, ok, the cartoons.



Conservatives can’t wait for their next free copy of the Christian News.


True confessionals who paid for The Motley Magpie can’t wait to receive it, and understand when it’s late.



Conservatives use the Baptism rite in the front of their hymnals because it’s there and especially because it grills the parents about their responsibilities.


Confessionals use the Luther revised 1526 Baptismal Rite as it is a part of their confessional subscription and, although tempted to use the 1523 Rite replete with oil, salt, spittle and the esufflation, stick with the ‘26 rite because they like modern things.



Conservatives organize conferences to save the synod.


Confessionals organize conferences to teach the liturgy.



Conservatives don’t read their Confessions as often as they should.


Confessionals don’t read their Confessions as often as they should.



The lay conservative concerned about his pastor’s Communion theology asks him, “You aren’t communing Catholics, are you? Saw someone crossing himself.”


The lay confessional concerned about her pastor’s Eucharistic theology asks him “What do you have in your hand?”



Conservatives sing lustily “Let us worship and bow down.”


Confessionals do.



Conservatives may make the sign of the cross, as long as it is at least 18 inches away from any object or person including themselves.


A confessional’s right arm flinches at the sound of the words “in the n - - -.”



Conservatives say “there are two Sacraments.”


Confessionals say “there are three Sacraments, no, wait, four, no, four and a half, no, wait…”



Conservatives think if they can just get the right guy elected everything can be turned around.


Confessionals pray for a true bishop to whom they can go to as Beichtvater.



Conservatives think stewardship is about mo’ money.


Confessionals think stewardship is about the Holy Ministry.



Conservatives are generally insufferable and don’t know it.


Confessionals are generally insufferable and know it.



Conservatives proudly wear the label “conservative.”


Confessionals avoid the label “conservative” for fear of being lumped in with some well known and bombastic, insufferable conservatives and their views.



Conservatives think it can be fixed.


Confessionals know it must be killed.



Conservatives don’t get this.


Confessionals do, and are smirking. §


The Reverend John W. Berg is belatedly attempting to become a confessional Lutheran pastor for the poor souls of Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Fremont, California, but no one is holding their breath.


Letter to the Editor

Jonathan Bauer  writes,


I just got the latest Magpie.  Thanks again for all your work. Concerning your "Twenty (or so) Differences between Conservatives and Confessionals," on the one hand, I did smirk, but on the other I've never  genuflected so I guess I'm not sure on which side I fall, conservative or confessional.  At least I know either way I should read the Confessions more.


I also was wondering if you could possibly explain number 2 a little more fully.  I was having a hard time understanding it without blurring the norma normansnorma normata distinction.  For instance, it seems to me that if we have a question about what the confessions mean, we ought to turn to Scripture.  But if we have a question about what a portion of Scripture means, we ought to turn first to the rest of Scripture.  This seems to be the opposite of what number 2 says.  I was hoping for some further explanation.


Also, I'm sure you've noticed or been told by now, but in number 19 you began both statements, "Confessionals use..."  Freudian slip???


8MM  First, wipe that smirk off your face. And about that genuflecting, better start practicing, for “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.” As I understand we will be doing a fair amount of that in the Heavenly Zion when we are gathered around the throne of the Lamb with saints and angels singing “Holy, Holy, Holy!”  Wait, we do that every Sunday! Of course, you were probably taught as I, that “Let us worship and bow down” doesn’t really mean that. Sheesh, we’re so Nestorian! How ‘bout this, the circuit pastor of my circuit told my members, whose pastor and service were labeled “Catholic (sic) by some neighboring pastors and parishioners because we, among other crimes, genuflect in our church, that he would not encourage his members to kneel.


As to the number #2, I hope my article (see 3:2) answers that.


And finally, neither I nor any of the other editors caught the slip on number 19 and it wasn’t Freudian (Freud was a fraud), but the eye sees what the brain wants it to see, kind of like things some claim to have seen in our journal that aren’t there.  Thanks! (JWB)