Saturday, March 12, 2011
The Seeds of Lutheranism's Death
Ahh, the wisdom of all of this. There are those who would insist that Lutheranism is dying because of what is or is not happening in evangelism but the seeds of our destruction are sown not in the way we do or do not witness but rather in what happens on Sunday morning. If this is true for a Roman Catholic with all the structures of the priesthood, episcopacy, papacy, and holy mother church to make up for local weakness, excess, or lack, then it is even more true for us as Lutherans.
I am fully convinced that our problems are less about evangelism than about worship -- the theology of worship, our worship practices, and the integrity of it all. Listen again to what this blogger has posited: The main reason Catholic identity is now so weak is that, forty years ago, we began experimenting and tinkering with God’s sacred mysteries, and now nothing seems holy, nothing permanent, nothing worth reverencing, nothing worth genuflecting before. For him the issue is the new mass introduced after Vatican II. For us it is not so simple since our problem is less a new order of mass that is being followed than no order mass and parishes and Pastors doing whatever they will on Sunday morning. All the casual character of contemporary worship -- even that form of CoWo which follows the basic mass form which has been part of Lutheran identity since Luther and catholic identity from, well, the beginning -- has diminished the idea that anything real is happening here, that anything worth noticing is present here, and that anything worth paying attention to demands our focus.
The whole focus of worship in Lutheran congregations is on the efficacious Word that does that of which it speaks and of the Sacraments that not only bestow the gifts of Christ but make the Giver present where His promise has been attached. The truth is that you no longer know whether this Word or the Sacrament will be the core and center of what happens on Sunday morning in a Lutheran congregation. We are not talking about musical style or page numbers in a hymnal but our confession and the liturgical identity that flows from that confession.
The only thing we have to offer the world is the efficacious Word and Sacraments. Apart from this, Lutheranism has little raison d'être. We were not born of intellectual debate, evangelistic zeal, or personal piety but of the very practical issue of what people hear and receive on Sunday morning. It was not a curious quirk of theology that gave us birth but the need to speak the saving Gospel in all its truth and purity and the need to receive the sacraments as gifts and means of grace and not the sacrificial offering of the Church. These may have been debated and discussed on the pages of seeming academic setting and language, but their domain is decidedly liturgical and practical in nature. What is the Word that is proclaimed on Sunday morning and what is there to be received on Sunday morning.
The distance that is created by experimentation, by association with evangelical expression and style, by congregation autonomy, by disdain for adiaphora, and by novelty and innovation, the less we are who we claim to be and the more we deceive those we serve and those to whom we witness about Lutheranism and its confession. This is what is killing Lutheranism -- the lack of awareness and appreciation for the sacred mystery that is God's presence in Word and Sacrament AND the idea that there is nothing real on Sunday morning other than personal taste, feeling, and expression. We are not killing Lutheranism by our failure to knock on people's doors and speak the Gospel to them. If we are dying as a church body, it is because of what happens on Sunday morning is no longer true to the mystery, consistent with our confession, or consistent with our evangelical and catholic identity.
This is my problem with Ablaze -- the issue that deserves our primary focus is not how well or how poorly we communicate the Gospel to those outside the Church but how well or how poorly the people on Sunday morning are confronted with the efficacious Word and Sacraments. When we bring them into the Church and we have nothing really to offer them there, then we have failed even more so than if we never spoke the Gospel to them in the first place. Don’t we have more important, more urgent things to worry about than worship? I don't think so....