Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Alone but not alone. . .
We are alone, there is no question about that, but we are also not alone. In a practical sense, there are many of us hidden in plain sight. Lutherans struggling to be Lutheran in a world where the currency of faith is not anything like Lutheran are really pretty common. Part of it is due to the fact that Lutherans long ago jettisoned the ethnic, cultural, and religious ghettos of the past and live all over the world. Part of the reason you are more common than you think is that Lutherans have used the technology of social media and electronic communication to connect beyond the miles and have discovered kinfolk where they least expected to find them. Part of the reason why Lutherans trying to be Lutheran are more common than one might think is that we have more and more young and younger Pastors who are challenging the lukewarm old ideas of church, worship, and confession.
We are alone in the sense that it is not always possible for us to meet for lunch and encourage one another or sit with each other in the same pews on Sunday morning, but we are not alone. There are more and more of us every day. We are not carbon copies nor are we artificial or virtual realities, no Stepford Lutherans here. We are diverse and different but united in the common conviction that the Lutheran faith confessed in the Concordia is faithful and true to Scripture and represents the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith once handed down from the saints through every generation. We know that the Lutheranism of our Confessions is true and vibrant even if the Lutheranism of congregations and synods struggle to live out this faith in practice. Ours is not a struggle to redefine the faith but to restore the faithful practice of the true and enduring faith of our Confessions. We often feel alone and struggle with the lonely task of living out this struggle (from both sides of the altar rail) but we are not alone.
One of the reasons I enjoy going to the Symposia at Concordia Theological Seminary is the fellowship of those who wear different Lutheran acronyms but share this common perspective. I was not disappointed this year. From a Bishop and Seminary Rektor out of Siberia to an ELCA Pastor from Wisconsin to and ELS Pastor from Minnesota to seminary students from all corners of Africa as well as all regions of America, I am rejuvenated by the realization I am not alone. Many of them could be my sons in age but they have raised up the banner of the Confessions and been enlisted in the cause of restoring parishes and circuits and districts that mirror this catholic identity in form and practice. Some of them could be my daughters in age but they are deaconesses and seminarian wives who are no less convinced and committed to the cause than the men around them.
Lets face it. Lutheranism is a mess -- the practice of it but not the Confession. If you look around you, it is apparent that all forms of Christianity are a mess. Does anyone see any hope in the mainline hemorrhaging people and congregations daily? Does anyone see an idyllic answer in Rome with its tension between Vatican II and all that went before (between B16 and F1)? Does anyone think that Orthodoxy is the end to loneliness, culturally bound Christianity, and consistency of faith and practice? Does anyone think that Canterbury offers any promise of hope to those convinced their own house is a wreck? In many of those places there is no Confession, no Creed, and no real mechanism to raise up the faith or recall the wandering to orthodox and catholic Christian faith and life but Lutheranism has the edge with the Confessions. I do feel alone but I am not ready to exchange one set of problems for another. Are you?
My friend Pastor William Weedon had it right. A few generations ago Lutherans looked at our mess and dreamed the Anglican dream. No more. A generation ago, following JPII and in B16's time, some Lutherans looked at our mess and dreamed the Roman dream. Not now. And in our own generation there are Lutherans who look at our mess and dream the Orthodox dream -- still tempting to many -- but no panacea or easy transition for folks whose whole life and mindset is Western. Having offered our chapel to an OCA mission congregation that lost its place on Ft. Campbell a few years ago, I quickly saw that the struggles we Lutherans face are no different than the struggles of Orthodox in a world intent upon Christianity lite. Besides, when Orthodoxy had a cardiac arrest at the vigorous episcopacy of convert and Metropolitan Jonah, it raised and raises honest questions about the cultural and ethnic chains over Orthodoxy in America that cannot be ignored. Nope, we have looked around us and seen the options. Though Lutheranism is a mess and has been for some time, we are the best situated to recover the local face of our theological conviction and confession.
We feel lonely and often are geographically isolated from one another but in this struggle we are definitely not alone. Now is the time for patience and not exasperation. Now is the time for courage and not despair. Now is the time for the work of recovery and renewal to be done in earnest. No district or synod is any stronger than its individual congregations. The place to begin is where we are. The ripples of this local renewal will recapture the offices and structures of the larger church eventually. Do not lose heart. You are alone but you are not alone. Layman, catechumen, seminarist, Pastor... have hope!