Friday, September 21, 2012
MIA -- Spiritual Passion
With these words, Luecke identifies what he believes is keeping Lutherans (mostly LCMS) from success in revitalizing and growing existing parishes and planting successful new ones. Predictably, he translates "spiritual passion" in terms of the Christian and his awareness of and ability to speak boldly of his spiritual journey and of the ability of Christians to begin and build deep, spiritual relationships with others. I can only assume that many would nod their heads in agreement both with his assessment of the problem and his description of the solution. Luecke ends by saying stories about discovering higher levels of peace or joy or love or patience are certainly worth sharing. Stimulating such personal faith sharing is the frontier for Lutheran church culture.
Guess what. I agree with Luecke. Well, let me clarify that. I agree that spiritual passion is too often either absent or invisible in Lutheran parishes today. Indeed, from the outside it may appear that Lutherans have a modern, carefree "whatever" attitude toward their faith, worship, mission, and the church as a whole. My problem is with Luecke is that I do not define spiritual passion in terms of sharing faith stories or talking about your faith journey. I challenge the idea that this is the spiritual passion we need to develop. The spiritual passion I think is missing is our confidence in the Word and Sacraments of the Lord. Passionate Lutheranism is always born of our absolute confidence in the efficacy of the means of grace -- whether or not we see the results with our naked eyes.
Lutherans did not always lack such confidence. But, like Garrison Keillor's characterization of us Lutherans, our natural inclination is to defer to others, to downplay ourselves, and also our church, and to presume that others know better or have better ideas than we Lutherans do. A few generations of this overall angst have led us to borrow indiscriminately evangelism programs, worship forms, theological vocabulary, mission planting strategies, and parish renewal methodologies -- ones at odds with our Confessions and our identity as Lutheran Christians. It has left us so unsure about the wisdom, value, and certainty of our Lutheran answers that we have given in to the idea that Lutheran parishes are best for those who were raised in Lutheranism. If we want Lutheranism to grow, we are going to have to offer the world more than a pale imitation of generic Protestant or evangelical worship forms, evangelism methodologies, and church growth strategies.
I know I have repeated myself on this point but I must again point to a TIME magazine cover story on Lutherans in America (April 7, 1958). Lutherans were growing like gangbusters (planting a new church and filling it with people every 54 hours!) We were on the new technology of television, had the most widely heard radio religious program in America, and we were sure of ourselves, our message, and our identity. I maintain that if we were as confidant and bold today, we would see the results -- not because of our name "Lutheran" or because of the methodologies we used but because the Word does not return to the Lord empty. It always accomplishes His purpose. Now let me be clear -- I am not talking about adopting one more new paradigm or missional focus. I am talking simply about our confidence in the means of grace. The spiritual passion we need is not some new found courage to talk about ourselves or our spiritual journeys. The spiritual courage and passion that needs to be rekindled is confidence and courage to believe that God will do as He has promised if we use the resources of the Word and Sacraments as He has promised. When this is behind our use of technology and when this is what we teach to those who have not heard, we do not need to spend our time wondering if this will be fruitful. We have God's promise. What is missing is our confidence in that promise and, from that confidence, the passion to share it without shame, embarrassment or hesitation.
If you think the world needs a watered down Lutheranism lite that mirrors what is already happening in most of Protestant America, you have a screw loose. We are always a johnny come lately trying to learn and perfect what is already passe instead of being simply who we are. We are people who confess the one, true, catholic, and apostolic faith. That is what we say in our Confessions and what we believed without question once. Why not try being Lutheran without the angst before we try being some church we are not?