Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Two watches... no right time...
Quite apart from anything else, Lutherans faces the problem of several watches and therefore no sure time. For our early history and for much of the time following, who we are was shaped by our Confessions. Our practice flowed from those Confessions. We wore one watch. Oh, to be sure, there were folks who deviated from our Confessions and those whose practices conflicted with those Confessions. There will always be. But the difference was that those who deviated in confession and practice were both seen and identified as exceptions, challenges, and even errors. They were not the showing the correct time of Lutheranism (to extend the metaphor). Now, the whole culture of diversity has said that Lutheranism wears many watches and we are have our own time. It may be close but the preciseness of the time is less important than the fact that we all have our own watches. In other words, Lutheranism has many faces, many definitions, and none of them is necessarily wrong or not authentic. Lutheranism can exist in the form of a seeker service with contemporary music pumped out by a praise band and Lutheranism can exist in the form of the sung Divine Service and pipe organ and chanting and incense. In this sense, Lutheranism is more of an idea than an entity.
The problem with this is that when we wear many watches we don't really know what time it is. When Lutheranism wears many faces, no one knows what Lutheranism looks like. When we embrace many confessions and practices we have no set confession or practice. We don't know who we are among ourselves as a Lutheran family and so we don't know how to present Lutheranism to the world. Nearly all of us know how untenable this is so we fight internally over contemporary vs traditional, maintenance vs mission, progressive vs repristination, modern vs ancient, etc... What the world sees is a Lutheranism wherein even the Lutherans are not sure who they are. Who wants to join such a church?
I am tired of the worship wars and the debates between inward focus or outreach. We fight the same straw men over and over again and no one wins. It seems to me we are arguing about something we say is already settled by our Confessions. It seems to me that the only authentic face of Lutheranism is the one that still confesses what we have always confessed and the one that looks like those Confessions on Sunday morning. If we want to be something other than this kind of Lutheranism, then we need to either ditch our Confessions or join a church body whose faith and practice corresponds to what we think and want to do. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want anyone to leave Lutheranism. I would much rather that all Lutherans simply decided to be who we say we are in our Confessions and to make our liturgical, mission, and parish practice conform to those Confessions.
If you wear two watches, you never know which one tells the right time. If Lutherans confess many confessions and wear many faces before the world and tolerate many practices on Sunday morning, we are like the man with many watches but who cannot answer what time it is. The world pays attention to those who know what time it is -- they may reject them but the world has little respect for those who have no confidence in their convictions. Think how we show our disdain for politicians who have no firm positions. Again, my plea is not for anyone to leave but for us all to look at what we have said we believe and how this Confession is lived out in practice and to be what we are. Period.