Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I hear ya! I'm with ya!
Say you are a disaffected “post-evangelical” who hears about Lutheranism. It sounds like the kind of Christianity you are yearning for. You are especially fed up with what passes for worship where you are now, and the sacramental spirituality that you are reading about in Lutheranism is more than compelling. So you visit the local Missouri Synod congregation. Isn’t it true that it is extremely likely that you will walk into a contemporary worship service with a pastor that is trying to out-evangelical the evangelicals? You will go into an LCMS congregation looking for Lutheranism, but it may well be that you won’t find it!
I don’t know how many times I have heard about this happening, including from people who read my book Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals. (In fact, I know that this happened with some of you regular readers and commenters on this blog.) So if someone finds Lutheranism in another synod–WELS, ELS, even ELCA–do we have the standing to complain?
What percentage of LCMS congregations do you think follow the historical Lutheran liturgy? Half? Less than half? In some areas of the country, far less than that? I have been in lots of Lutheran services and heard lots of sermons, not all of which distinguished Law & Gospel or even preached the Gospel. Some of them were as therapeutic and as “theology of glory” and as “power of positive thinking” oriented as Joel Osteen.
I know these congregations all pledge allegiance to the same doctrinal standards, to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions. But do they really hold them in actuality? Perhaps someone could explain to me, humble layman that I am, why, if we demand doctrinal agreement for pulpit and altar fellowship, we can commune with a congregation that exhibits no visible Lutheranism in its public teaching but simply is on the same LCMS roster.
My own personal complaint has been that experience shows me that the more liberal ELCA is more likely to worship by the book (LBW or ELW) and use the liturgy as written than the more conservative LCMS. I am not talking here about little deviations (such as my own shift of the sharing of the peace to right after the absolution or the use of one of Missouri's published Eucharistic prayers instead of the canon(s) in LSB). I am talking about the contemporary worship craze that has and continues to rob our Lutheran Church of its face and identity on Sunday morning. This same anomaly is true on college campuses. My daughter graduated from Gustavus Adolphus and chapel there pretty much follows the book (Morning Prayer, daily office, etc.) while I know from her friends and from children of my friends that Missouri campuses are generally no book (hymn, reading, sermon, prayer) or fully contemporary (praise band with non-hymnal music). It is a weirdness that I have trouble understanding (with Veith) that the conservatives do their own thing and the liberals follow the book.
If you go into an LCMS congregation will you find Lutheranism? Good question, Dr. Veith. I wish the answer was not in doubt.