Monday, August 6, 2012
To be lighthouse, we have to be light, even when the world prefers darkness.
Perhaps our greatest weakness as a church and our greatest vulnerability is our desire to be liked, even loved. We will bite our tongues and smile through gritted teeth in order to be a more friendly face to the world around us. Oh, sure, there are those among us who love to be hard, rude, and angry. All churches have them but the vast majority of folks want their congregations, their clergy, and their church structures to be seen by the world in a positive light. There is nothing wrong with this except when we allow this desire to overrule our commitment to faithfulness to Scripture and tradition (another word for confession and practice).
We want to be people who are seen to be easy to get along with, who are friendly and nice, who do not say negative things but remain tolerant, accepting, and approving of others (and their "truths"). I am convinced that this is the reason why Lutherans stop looking like Lutherans on Sunday morning, why we shrink from the catholicity of our confession before a Protestant landscape, and why we so quickly adapt the methods and principles of others within our own theology and practice.
I hear things all the time about those guys from Ft. Wayne (and some from St. Louis) who are hard to get along with and who insist upon a greater degree of unanimity in doctrine and uniformity in practice. They are always the bad guys and those speaking wistfully recall others who were not so hard or rigid. In reality, they are not terrible people but folks who take our confession seriously enough to remain true to it even when it offends others. They are unkindly branded for their faithfulness. I am not saying that they are always right or always compassionate or always speaking the truth in love. Sometimes they are not and do not. But what binds this group of newer clergy together is a deeply held desire to be the light even when the world (and perhaps some in the church) prefer darkness.
There are many things that these folks may need to learn about putting a more winsome face upon orthodoxy -- there is no denial here -- but the scandal of the church and the churches have been the unfaithfulness to doctrine, the rebellion against Scripture, the disdain for tradition and its legacy of faithful teachers, and a refusal to be bound by anything but what the individual desires or believes or deems right. I have to admit that I am heartened by their desire to be the faithful to the light. I am hopeful that they will learn to be more winsome in their witness to the faith but I pray that they may never lose their desire to be the light even while the world prefers darkness.
The world does not need a watered down Lutheranism or a Lutheranism Lite. We do not need to relegate our Confessions to history and make up the faith as we go along. We do not need a false persona of religion which is uncomfortable in its own skin so that it tries on the clothing of others. If Lutheranism lives or dies, let it be as Lutheranism -- and the evangelical and catholic reform to the faith once confessed that was its source and its glory. We have tried so many different things, why not trying being authentically and unapologetically Lutheran. If we die it will at least not be because we feared our own identity. Let us be those obedient rebels who raised up the Gospel when it was in danger of being hidden and renewed the sacramental life of the Church when it was in danger of withering on the dead vine of human work and achievement. Orthodoxy will probably always be misunderstood but, last I read, it was not understanding God was seeking but faith, born of the Spirit's work through the means of grace.
To be a lighthouse, we have to be light, even when the world prefers darkness...