The other day I met with a young woman (20 something) who had been attending a Lutheran congregation, was deployed to the Middle East, came back after a year away, and found that this Lutheran congregation had changed. The organ was replayed by a praise band, the hymns had been replaced with praise choruses, the sermon had become a "life talk" and the liturgy had largely disappeared. It was the same building, mostly the same people in the pews, but suddenly, she said, she no longer felt like it was home. More importantly, this young woman felt it was no longer Lutheran.
What happens on Sunday morning is the public face of a Lutheran congregation -- any congregation for that matter. We identify who we are by what happens there. This is a young woman who is not the typical poster child of traditional worship drawn by advocates of worship that reflects culture -- she is a rough and tumble person who has been well out in the world. What she was looking for was a Lutheran congregation. Where she had been had more or less fit that estimation but now, a year later, things were different.
I am sure that things like this happen all the time. My point is this. This young woman with only her catechism and basic instruction in the faith knew that the changes that had taken place were changes in substance and not just in style. Her confusion lie in that it was the same address and name but not the same faith that she come to know and believe. She could not articulate it like a theologian, she was not a classical musical enthusiast, she was looking for the liturgical practice that was the counterpart to the faith confessed.
Because I do not know the congregation she came from or exactly what happens there on Sunday morning, I am not making them the focus of this comment. What I am turning our attention to is the fact that our Lutheran Confessional identity has a counter part in our liturgical practice. While many might make this about musical tastes, I believe this is about the Word and the seriousness with which we take this Word that has the power to do what it promises. While many might make it about personal taste or likes and dislikes, I believe this is about a vibrant sacramental identity in which the Table is central to what happens (not some trap set surrounded by a Plexiglas sound partition that occupies the prime spot down front). While many might complain that there are also people who like this stuff and are attracted to it, I believe this is about worship that is at odds with our identity as Lutheran Christians.
Longer ago than most of you can remember, the Kennedy Evangelism Explosion model was being Lutheranized for use through out congregations of the LCMS. My objection then is the same objection now to so much that goes on during Sunday morning -- forms are not neutral, they have values and communicate identities. We cannot use this "form" of evangelism outreach without giving up some of the values and identity we have as Lutheran Christians. We cannot borrow from what is happening in non-denominational churches and other "contemporary worship" congregations without giving up some of the values and identity we have as Lutheran Christians. That is what this young woman was saying to me. If she can recognize this, why is it so difficult to get Lutheran Pastors and musicians to agree on the trade offs that this requires.
If you are willing to make the trade offs, if you are comfortable giving up some of the values and identity intrinsic to our Lutheran Confessions and litugical history, why keep up appearances by holding on to the name "Lutheran?" If you go into a Roman Catholic Mass, you get the Mass (whether in Latin or English, with Marty Haugen or Gregorian Chant -- it is still the Mass). When you go to an Eastern Orthodox liturgy, you get incense, Chrysostom or Basil, et al, icons, and a cappela singing (whether under a Byzantine dome or a modern A-frame -- it is still the Liturgy). If you go into a Lutheran Divine Service, you get the Divine Service (whether the Pastor faces the people or not, whether chanted or spoken, whether Lutheran hymnody or generic hymns and song -- it is recognizable as the Divine Service).
Liturgical identity and Confessional identity connect, they are parallel, they reflect each other... but some Lutherans insist that what they do on Sunday mornings and what they believe, teach, and confess are separate -- as separate as style and substance (as one author has put it). Even a young woman in the pew knows that they are connected. She is an independent, modern woman, but she expects to find a Lutheran liturgy in a Lutheran congregation. Is that too much to ask?