Since I stirred the pot well with my post about Novus Ordo, I might as well keep the juices flowing...
Today my thoughts flow to those who feel uncomfortable wearing the name Lutheran. Unlike some who might think I am talking about Lutherans about to swim the Tiber or the Bosporus, my point is directed to those "cutting edge" congregations -- often mission starts -- who have transcended the name "Lutheran" and eschew the identity in order to fulfill the larger purpose of reaching people turned off by denominational names. It is an up and coming thing in missions across the Luther land of the LCMS. In my own District one of those is regularly identified as a "good" congregation that all the rest of us "bad" congregations should emulate. In another District the unwillingness of a new mission to look, act, and name itself Lutheran was the cause of great controversy at its summer convention. This is just to name a few...
Examples of these congregations are HERE and HERE Both of these are of the mission start variety. Another large and established congregation in the suburbs of St. Louis also decided that the name "Lutheran" was not a benefit to their ministry. The question is what does this mean for the church body that wears the name and pays the bills for these mission starts?
I asked a highly placed Synodical official about it and got the standard answer: "Well, I am a traditional sort of guy and when I began a mission 37 million years ago I did not find it a problem but I am sympathetic to the cause of reaching those turned off by denominational affiliations and understand their mission hearts are driving this and not some rejection of Lutheran identity..."
If just half of our mission starts make the name Lutheran optional, and if these actually grow, and it repeats itself down the line, it would not be long before this now rarity could become common place. What would it mean to us as a Lutheran church if our newest congregations and members rejected the name and identity as Lutherans? It would seem to be obvious to me that we would cease to be a "Lutheran" church after some time.
But the larger issue here is not institutional identity or survival but the Lutheran identity rooted in our Confessions and lived out in the local congregation dynamic of Word and Sacrament. I would rather have Lutherans decide that Lutheran identity was no longer needed or relevant than to simply whittle away at is until it becomes optional. You recall Neuhaus' law: When orthodoxy becomes optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." We might just adapt it to say that when Lutheran identity becomes optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed. Some of you may think this a good thing but I doubt you read my blog. The rest of you probably think this is not a good thing -- that Lutheran identity and practice is something worth sustaining. How do we do it?
My answers are few to answer my own question -- either we debate ourselves to death at conferences (in which the real voices for either side may not be present) or we show those who doubt the viability of this Lutheran identity and practice by renewing not only our congregation's commitment to but also practice of this Lutheran faith and identity. In other words, we make our congregations shining examples of all that is right in this Lutheran identity and practice. That is the path I have chosen. It began with catechises (and, by the way, it continues with catechises). It began with holding up to the people in the pew the Lutheran confession and identity as an evangelical catholic faith and life -- as a GOOD thing without apology. It began with the reintroduction of the liturgy to the center and life of the congregation and all her people. It began with the slow and deliberate introduction of such things as the chalice, chanting, ceremonial actions, and reverential attitude toward our Sunday gathering. All of these begin and continue with each new member and each Advent and Lenten mid-week service. We must become comfortable with who we are before we can invite others to become one with us. This is the principle of local parish growth and of the reclaiming of the Lutheran churches for Lutheran faith and identity.
We cannot appeal to the past as a dead voice of regulation but we can appeal to the past as the living voice of tradition and to continuity even within the framework of constant change and renewal. REnewal does not mean abandonment of the past nor does it mean repristinating yesterday in a world radically different. The choice is not to become the Lutheran Church of the 1940s or the 1640s but to become the Lutheran Church of 2010 that owes its heritage to the living legacy of those previous generations while being true to our confession and our identity within the framework of the world around us. The choice is not to be a dying Lutheran or a non-Lutheran -- we have yet to fully explore the unspoken alternative -- to become the Lutheran community of today that is faithful to her heritage but faithful to her mission and purpose of equipping and sharing God's people to tell God's story, to welcome the stranger, to teach the faith, to extend Christ's love to the needy, to adopt the burdens of the poor, and to be a healing community around the sick, suffering, and grieving. Too often, the choice given to congregations in decline is to continue to decline or to become non-Lutheran -- emulating the winning ways of whatever denomination is showing results. There is another way. Be who you are but be this Lutheran congregation from the perspective of those who do not yet know you and break down the barriers and extend the hand of welcome and fellowship to those newly inspired to bring their neighbors and friends.
If we are to confront the slow drift of Lutheranism away from its identity in faith and practice, it will happen parish by parish, pastor by pastor, parishioner by parishioner... And those who think like this have little time to waste to begin to reverse this deathward drift of Lutheran identity and practice.