Sunday, August 28, 2011
What are the external markers that make us stand out?
We Lutherans have, by most estimations, a secular piety. We drink (moderately). We dance (strangely). We go to movies (when they are discounted). We eat meat and fish (in quantities too large for our own good and not according to a church schedule). We go to Church (most Sundays but not all, hardly ever on Wednesday or Sunday evenings). We pray (but do not have beads). We sit and stand in Church (but hardly ever kneel). We confess our sins (but not very often specific sins and to the Pastor privately). We do not stand out in the world by our piety. By most standards, we Lutherans do not do anything out of the ordinary from the rest of the population -- at least not because we are Lutheran, anyway.
In contrast to our invisible Lutheran piety, Roman Catholics (used to observe) Friday abstinence from meat; seriousness about Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; fasting on the Ember Days; saints names for children; confession at least annually; loyal membership in the local parish; fasting for three hours before Holy Communion; wear veils (women, anyway), etc. Compare us to the Baptists who (used to) abstain from alcohol, dancing, movies, makeup (on women), go to Church 2-3 times a week, etc. Now, I will grant you that other denominations are finding that they too blend in more and more to the secular world around them but it is a worthy question. What are the external markers that make us stand out as Lutherans?
I guess we are moderates -- hardly extreme about anything. Though this is not necessarily a good thing. So it is our moderation that stands us apart -- we will indulge in nearly everything (as long as we do not overly indulge or we will not be found out for indulging). Hmmmm.... Not exactly what I would hope for as an answer.
I would venture to say that Lutherans in the 16th-17th centuries did stand out. Read the schedule of services and it seems that Lutherans were in Church all the time. Matins, Mass, Vespers... these were the normal markers of our common life together as the people of God. But that is not the case today. In my search for the things that would stand out, I guess the catechism is probably one marker of our piety that we truly do share in common and that defines us in an external way.
Lutherans are Law - Gospel people. We have Walther's book and Luther's insight but as much as I would like to claim this, I am not so sure that our people can clearly identify Law from Gospel or even define the terms. This probably goes back to our failings in the paragraph below. We have not been as deliberately catechetical as we think and it has begun to show -- in the pulpit as well as the pew.
We are means of grace people. We believe that God is accessible and that He comes to us as He has promised in the Word and the Sacraments. These frame our identity and our piety. It is more the under girding than the deliberate conversation of Lutherans and, this too is a problem for us. We have willingly flirted with people who do not believe in the means of grace (evangelical and fundamentalists) and we are reluctant sometimes to even admit our sacramental piety. But it is there... buried a bit and underused but it is there.
We as Lutherans seem to own the question, "what does this mean?" I am not so sure we own the answers as deeply or as confidently but we do own the question. This is a good question for our time and I believe one worthy of more opinions than mine. So if you will think about it and posit some answers in the comments section, I would be very interested in what you have to say.