Coexist . . . and Other Prevalent Theological Errors in Northeast Indiana


by David Petersen

While this may not be true in every place, rather than the rationalism faced by C.F. W. Walther,  here in northeast Indiana, I find myself facing a new mysticism. It is a nebulous and anti-rational spiritualism that denies objective truth.

I find evidence of this in many places, but anecdotally I mighty simply point to the rise “Coexist” bumper stickers. This new mysticism can be tricky ground for us to navigate since our heritage rails so often against the abuse of reason and advocates for religious freedom, but we must recognize what abuse of reason is as opposed to the right use of reason.

And while we would not bind men’s consciences, to be in fellowship on this side of glory there must be agreement in doctrine.

New mysticism

Our faith is not unreasonable, yet reason is the servant of faith, not its master. Contrary to snide remarks made against us we do not worship something akin to the Spaghetti Monster. We worship the God who reveals Himself through His Word.

Reason is brought to bear, in a most serious way, in the reading and interpretation of Scripture and in the confession of doctrine. This needs to be confessed loudly in our age against the new mysticism.

In a similar way, rather than the Pietism faced by our forefathers, which overemphasized faith and denied the Sacraments, I find myself facing something calling itself “tolerance” but that smells a lot like antinomianism.

The rise of this is seen, I think, in the growing acceptance of gay marriage and other sexual deviances. This movement rejects the Law, except for the law against judging. This law against judging is so absolute in the tolerance movement that not even God is allowed to judge since God is conceived of as pure love without any wrath.


This can also be tricky ground for us since we so want to preach the Gospel, and we rightly abhor legalism and the burdening of consciences. Yet we do well to remember the Law’s instructive purpose for the Christian and to review what the Scriptures and our Confessions say about sanctification.

Much danger has been done in confusing justification and sanctification; so also much damage is done if it is denied altogether. Sin is dangerous to faith. It is harmful to the neighbor. Good works always coexist with faith and serve the neighbor.

This, it seems to me, is the religious culture of northeast Indiana: new mysticism and a rampant antinomianism under the name of tolerance.

How then does the Church respond? We confess what the Scriptures reveal. We properly distinguish between Law and Gospel. We study the Confessions. And we proclaim Christ to all nations–no matter the cost or seeming futility.

The Rev. David Petersen is senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Ind.


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9 Responses to Coexist . . . and Other Prevalent Theological Errors in Northeast Indiana

  1. Edgar Allen November 3, 2016 at 8:30 am #

    The Barna organization in their book “Churchless” explains some of the reasons for the “Tolerance” you describe. Besides continuing to proclaim Christ I think the church does need to look at what the people who left the church are saying. According to the Barna data 84% of adult Americans say they are Christians and only 57% of these go to church. You say “sin is dangerous to faith”. I am not sure what you mean by this in context of “Tolerance”. When we are baptized or converted all of our sins are forgiven by Christ. However, our sinful nature is not removed. We are given the Holy Spirit so that we are not controlled by this remaining sin. In return, as you say, we are expected to serve our neighbor. I emphasize that sin for us then is an outgrowth of our sinful nature which we can not prevent from expressing itself. I realize this could lead to our forsaking our salvation. Maybe this is what you mean. However, over emphasizing sin since we are forgiven for them, for most Christians who are not in danger of losing their faith causes anxiety and I believe this is one of the reason people leave the church since they believe God is love and they are basically good. We need to teach this whole perspective as part of preaching Christ.

  2. David Johnson November 4, 2016 at 7:52 am #

    Judgmental condemnation that is recognized as hypocrisy coming from sinners. Perhaps that is a better description of preaching too much sin. Being willing to confess one’s sin is more powerful than preaching law. Loving your Neighbor regardless of who they are is much more powerful than condemnation. Grace that forgives our sin, love that attracts and invites others to become disciples and to be baptized. Perhaps that is where the church needs to be in this dialogue.

  3. Linda November 4, 2016 at 8:20 am #

    My concern is that unless we love those who are different from us; how can we reach them? How can we love others unless we are willing to coexist with them? Explain to me how Jesus didn’t coexist with us?

  4. Missouri Matt November 4, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    Unfortunately, I think you have missed the entire point of the “”COEXIST” bumper stickers. It really isn’t about promoting all religions, nor is it about refusing God the ability to judge (as if we have power over God). The entire point of the bumper stickers is to mean “love thy neighbor as your self.” The stickers merely promote peace instead of the hatred we are so often exposed to. God will judge all, therefore we must actively speak to others about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in order to convert them and save their souls. However, our mission is not to destroy all that do not believe as we do, therefore we must COEXIST.

  5. November 4, 2016 at 9:20 am #

    First, what you describe isn’t a “new” mysticism at all. It has existed in every generation, and I don’t believe it’s uniquely prominent today.

    Second, it’s so interesting that you, as a Christian, are railing against an “anti-rational spiritualism that denies objective truth” … since this is what many people think Christianity (or any other religion) is.

    Third, the Pietists weren’t so two-dimensionally bad. Many think they were countering the faithlessness and a faithless approach to the sacraments. In an article committed to reason, you can’t just throw traditions under the bus like that.

    Fourth, good works do not always exist with faith. I know a lot of people who do great works, and are faithless. You can argue that, if they’re not done through faith, then they’re not truly “good” … but that’s over-spiritualizing.

    Finally: We can embrace the scriptures, and acknowledge the dangers of sin. “We confess what the Scriptures reveal. We properly distinguish between Law and Gospel. We study the Confessions. And we proclaim Christ to all nations–no matter the cost or seeming futility.” Agreed.

    But we can and should coexist! As Christians who believe the Word, we know that men are sinful, in bondage to evil. We share the gospel with everyone, knowing that not all (even most?) will not believe, and will not be saved. But we love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, support our governing officials, serve the needy, sacrifice ourselves for all … and none of this stops because of a religious difference. We don’t affirm godlessness, but we certainly TOLERATE it, and keep on loving. And, unlike other faiths, we don’t (well, shouldn’t) persecute other faiths, and certainly don’t declare jihad against them. No, Christians, of ALL people, should be the most wonderful neighbors, and can wholeheartedly embrace the idea of co-existing with ANYone.

    However, if “coexist” morphs into “agree”, or “honor as truth”, we can’t and don’t. The world may not co-exist with us, because we stand for our truths. They’re the ones who should remove their stickers, not us.

    All this to say … let’s not bash the “Coexist” stickers. To do so makes people believe that we think the opposite. Could we instead proactively coexist with others, and use the coexist notion as a talking point to engage our world?

  6. Tom M November 4, 2016 at 11:38 am #

    “Agree with” and “honor as truth” is exactly what the “Coexist” stickers are intended to mean. Just as “tolerance” no longer means “live and let live”. It now means “agree with”, “support”, and “celebrate”.

    • Sheila A November 4, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

      How can this be? That doesn’t make sense to agree with every belief. It is not possible.

  7. Eric Ahlbrand November 4, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    I’m so glad I read this at a time when I was considering getting back in the LCMS (lots of family history but I went “Roman” several years ago). We haven’t changed much, eh?

  8. John J Flanagan November 23, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

    Coexistence and tolerance do not have to be understood as forms of agreement, affirmation, or neutrality of values. However some people want to confuse things by interpreting coexistance and tolerance as manifestations of secular humanism and intellectual relativism. Americans have practiced coexistance during our history. Lutherans, Catholics, and Presbyterians hold their own doctrines, and do not destroy one another’s churches. They agree to disagree. Of course, we know that in the past, Catholics and Protestants were not so tolerant, and killed one another in bloody religious wars. That we can disagree and still live in the same communities is the way I personally view coexistance and tolerance.

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