Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What Church Would You Belong To If There Were No Lutheran Church?

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.

9 comments:

Chris Jones said...

So you don't like it when people answer "Baptist," "Methodist," or "Presbyterian." But you don't say what answers (if any) would make you happier.

If Lutherans recognized the Catholic character of our Lutheran confession, would they answer "Roman Catholic" or "Orthodox"? And would that answer be more pleasing to you? Or should evangelical catholic Lutherans answer "Episcopalian" or "continuing Anglican" out of loyalty to the centrality of the liturgy as well as to some sense of "Sola Scriptura"?

Or might not the "fully Lutheran" answer be "none of the above"? If the teaching and practice of the Lutheran Confessions is nothing other than the Catholic faith, then why not stay home on Sunday mornings rather than accept something that compromises that in some way?

I can't help but be curious what your own answer to the question might be.

Anonymous said...

This question hits pretty close to home. My pastor told us that if the BRTF thing goes through as it as currently worded, he will leave the LCMS. I agree with him. If it goes through, I won't be an LCMS Lutheran anymore. There isn't a good WELS church for many many miles. ELCA is out of the question. If my congregation doesn't leave, I have very few choices. I'm a convert to Lutheranism because of the teachings. I could never be a a 5-point Calvinist. I was/am sick of the evangelical melting pot. I don't think I could go to Rome. EO doesn't look much better. I would be a Lutheran without a home if I were not an LCMS Lutheran.

Chris Jones said...

BRTF?

Doug said...

Hi,

I would probably work toward gathering with like minded Christians and plant a church in a nearby town. Assuming, of course, that there would be such a thing as Lutheran doctrine for us to practice. The point of gathering is Christ for us, in Word & Sacrament, as a community of followers. I couldn't see trying to fit into another church since I have come out of those other churches and arrived at a Lutheran of Christianity later in life.

I am very comfortable being identified as a Lutheran Christian, and would be one even if there were no Luther.

Larry said...

Hits home with me. It is very difficult to find a even a Lutheran Church where Lutheran can go. I thank God that he has gathered me to the hilltop. I can only belong to where "...Jesus chooses to be with us - in holy means, in holy things, in Holy Baptism, Holy Abosulution, Holy Supper; and Holy Word ..."

Larry Luder

Pastor Peters said...

My point is not that there is no Lutheran Church but what church body comes closest to the Lutheran Church in the minds of her people. If you follow this through, my question was what are you willing to jettison -- Inerrancy or the Sacraments, for example. Since many are willing to give up the Sacraments in order to keep inerrancy (a non-Lutheran term for something I am not at all sure means the same to those who use as it does to Lutherans), it means that our sacramental theology is weaker than we think. For most whom I ask, there is not much of a struggle with the answer. Which means they are not sure they are giving up much of anything to choose one or the other of these churches...

Anonymous said...

Doug,

If there was no Luther, there would be no Lutheran?

Steve said...

I read this early this morning and have been ruminating over it since then. I hope to keep my words very few (hehehehe)because this post triggered a storm of thoughts.

Having been part of many different churches, Baptist, Bible, visited Methodist and attended Presbyterian; it seems very clear in my head that what is known as the LCMS is in truth the "faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." Luther, as I understand it, was not too crazy about the term "Lutherans." The beauty and to me, sheer genius and extremely careful labor was to remove from accepted religion, the RCC, what was not Scriptural, and to keep the rest. It seems that most other denominations started over from the Reformation and lost much of the truths the church had worked so hard to learn.

Please note also what happened to the seminaries of these demominations as we went through rationalism, empiricalism, skepticism, and all the other waves of modern thought that the Devil has used to wreak havoc on the world and Christ's church.

No, we aren't Lutherans because its cool, Luther was God's man at a very critical time in our history and was used to preserve the faith. May we be "the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing." We are Lutherans because it is the closest system we have to the true faith delivered once to the saints. I personally wear my "brand" with extreme thankfulness to God. I can't be Lutheran, really Christian, enough, God help my unbelief.

wcbpolish said...

I was born and baptized an "Anglican Catholic" (ACC)and but raised a 5-point Calvinist Baptist. It was only my marriage to a Methodist gal and our searching together that lead us to LCMS. I am still drawn to my Anglican heritage. I expect I might have ended up there if that had been an option in the region of the country we settled.
BTW- the real presence of Christ in communion seemed natural to me... I didn't realize until I was on my way out of "evangelical protestantism" that they didn't believe that.