Orthodox theologian John Meyendorff on Luther's catholicity:
“Luther’s main intention was to go back to the New Testament, to revive the sense of the God of the Bible, the living God, the Creator and the Sovereign. He recovers the primitive concept of salvation as a drama, a battle between God and the evil powers of sin and death which have usurped God’s sovereignty over the world... Lutheran theology was indeed a re-establishment of the basic Biblical and Patristic elements in this drama. His concern for the catholic tradition of the church was obvious, and the Augsburg Confession itself claims to be nothing else than a reestablishment of the ancient apostolic faith liberated from all human philosophical systems.”
That quote by a premier Orthodox theologian is a powerful recognition of the purpose and desire of Lutheranism. For those of you interested in looking deeper in the tie between Wittenberg and Constantinople, you might check out a book called Augsburg and Constantinople. I don't know if it is still available or not. It is interesting.
My point is this. Could what Meyendorff said about the Augustana still be said of Lutherans? My fear is that the answer to that question is "no." We are not the church that the Augsburg Confession said we were. There are multiple reasons for this -- not in the least of which is nearly 500 years of history. There is also a more pointed reasons for this -- look at most Lutheran denominations and you find that most do not WANT to be the same church the Augsburg Confession said we were.
The drift between what we were and who we claimed to be and what we have become and who we want to be today has come slowly but surely. It is my conviction that the Lutheran struggle today is not between us and Protestants or Evangelicals or Roman Catholics. Our struggle is internal. We have become uncomfortable with our own skin. We have looked over the fence into the yards of other traditions because we no long like our own. It is not that we ditched all the history, we have reasons for what we do. Mission, outreach, evangelism, marketing, fitting in, becoming more American, science and technology... the list goes on. We have reasons for this and yet we also have a little guilt about the drift. This guilt is kept alive by those within every Lutheran church body who keep alive the confessional identity.
For the ELCA the Augsburg Confession has become a historical document. It was descriptive and can still be informative when needed but as soon as a church body begins to talk about the spirit of a document instead of the actual words you know what that says. The ELCA like to think of itself as a host bringing together divergent groups in a grand ecumenical and social quest for unity. So far only the Mainline Protestants have heard its call and most of them are dying out in size and influence. The real success has been keeping diversity alive as an agenda while at the same time clinging, ever so gently, to Lutheran identity.
For Missouri the Augsburg Confession has become less important to our history than Walther and democracy and congregationalism. When some in Missouri felt threatened by liberals in control, this became the means to maintaining orthodoxy. When some in Missouri felt threatened by conservatives, this became the means to maintaining their moderation. In the end it has crippled our church body and our style of governance looks like a bruised and battered body held together with splints, tape and bandaids. What Augustana spoke about has been filtered through the democracy of America and the urgency of Walther and a few ship loads of people who needed to justify the voyage. So the conservatives are out conservativing each other and the moderates are insisting that we are dying unless we change enough to make Jesus our first concern... all the while everyone pays lip service to a inerrancy... and confessionals speak a language about liturgy, sacramental theology, and life that flows from them as well as the efficacy of Scripture (that God's Word does what it says) and is attacked by both sides.
I for one believe that Lutheranism's core document, the Augsburg Confession, must be the pivotal confession in our self understanding, our raison d'etre, or we have no real reason for being... the ELCA can simply become the Evangelical Church in America and Missouri can become several churches (the Evangelical Church of Missouri and other States and the Fundamentalist Church of Missouri and Other States). The Confessionals in both can leave and either join to become what Augsburg envisioned or find a home in one of the existing bodies where they can continue Augsburg's identity with another name.
When I say this I am not neglecting the other confessional documents in our Concordia, I am suggesting that this first and pivotal confession is the one from which they flow... not as many streams but as one river of faith, confession, and identity.
Meyedorff paid us a mighty compliment... I only wish we were comfortable with what he said...