I learned from watching Perry Mason on TV that you never ask a question that you do not already know the answer to or you will be in trouble. I learned from a wise teacher that you do not ask a question that you do not want to know the answer to or you will be in trouble. But I have a history of not listening to the people I should... and I have asked of people in both parishes I have served, Which church would you belong to if there was no Lutheran Church?
I ask this question in order to find out which church holds to the faith that they identify with -- both theologically and liturgically. Sadly, I hear over and over again answers like the " Methodist Church" or the "Baptist Church" or the "Presbyterian Church" or, worse, "Faith Community Outreach Non-Denominational Church..."
When I say this is bad or worse, I am not intending to direct that comment simply on other church bodies but, more to the point, find that our Lutheran people (and many of her Pastors) do not understand what Lutherans believe, teach, and confess. They are not comfortable in their Lutheran skin and are really "shape changers" (yes I love sci-fi) who wear a Lutheran skin but underneath hold to a theological and liturgical identity that is fundamentally at odds with their Lutheran outer shape and form.
I have had families catechized into Lutheranism by other Lutheran congregations (ELCA and Missouri are equal opportunity offenders here) and they are scandalized by such things as baptismal regeneration, infant baptism, and the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. They identity Lutheranism with conservative Protestantism -- unfortunately not the conservative Protestantism of Luther but of the American evangelical spectrum. They are attracted to Lutheranism for its stand for Biblical authority and truthfulness but do not see Scripture as efficacious -- less as a living voice speaking and doing through that speaking what it says and more as a book of faith propositions or rules for living. They are attracted to Lutheranism for its orderliness and reverence in a world of disorder and irreverence on Sunday morning but they do not see liturgy as Word and Sacrament, the arena where God has placed His name and through the elements where He has placed His name, stands among His people to serve them with His gifts and graces won on the cross. They are attracted to the seeming consistency of Lutheranism because they find such inconsistency in American Christendom but they do not deposit this consistency in the Lutheran Confessions or see this Book of Concord as the locus and doctrinal standard of the Church. They are attracted to Lutheranism because they want a congregational church body which still has a structure and unity larger than the local congregation yet they refuse to let this structure oversee or challenge congregational decisions to do as they please in this or that.
The truth is I do not want to know what choice many of the people in the parish or Pastors of this Church would make for a church home if there were no Lutheran choice. You are here within the pale of the evangelical catholic faith expressed in and flowing from our Lutheran Confessions. This is not a paper identity but a real identity that extends to the realm of the liturgy on Sunday morning and the practices of the parish in general. This is where you are, and it is my job to teach you and woo you to become comfortable within this Lutheran skin. That is the calling of all those who are Lutheran Pastors -- not to find out the scary answer to this question of which church if the Lutheran Church did not exist, but to teach, preach, catechize, woo and win people over to the faith they have identified, at least on the surface, as their own. And the job of my Bishop and my colleagues in this Church are to hold me accountable to this. For we are hypocritical and deceitful if we attempt to win over the hearts and minds of the unchurched or underchurched to a church we are not at ease with and in. Before we can ask anyone outside our communion to become one with us in that communion, we must be or must be working toward being fully conversant and comfortable with who that communion is, what she teaches, and what she confesses.