Another Lutheran has swum the Bosporus and, like most, he is a good guy, serious minded, frustrated by the great divide between theory and practice among Lutherans, and scandalized by what passes as Lutheran on Sunday morning. Though some are quick to condemn those who leave, I am more circumspect. They will be accountable for their own choices and that is enough for me. That said, however, I find myself greatly sympathetic with many of their complaints while remaining unconvinced by some of justification for their decision to leave us.
It is a scandal of epidemic proportions that Lutherans, especially Confessional Lutherans, have no consistent face to their faith on Sunday morning. The fact that in the LCMS we run the gamut from low church Protestantism to high church charistmatic to generic evangelicalism to broad church formalism to catholic liturgy on Sunday morning is nothing less than sinful. Quite apart from the theology of it all (which I have reiterated over and over again on this blog), how can a "brand" have an inconsistent and contradictory identity -- even within the same community! This is a dastardly diversity in which some of us are not man enough to admit we do not walk together and it is not the kind of diversity envisioned by our confessions and expected by our covenant of life together as parishes and pastors of the LCMS. Think what it could do to McDonalds if they were like a Long John Silvers on one block, a Taco Bell on another, and a Hong Kong Wok on another? It is ridiculous to assume that the vast spectrum of Sunday morning faces given to Lutheran doctrine is healthy for any of us (much less for a congregation which institutionalizes these preferences with an ordinary scheduled diversity for Sunday morning!).
I refuse to defend or tolerate such schizophrenia of Lutheran worship. If it does not have the Ordo (the liturgical pattern inherent to and expected by our Confessions), it is not Lutheran. I am not, like some, insisting upon a page number but, like pornography, you know it when you see it. Saddleback style or Willow Creek wannabes or Joel Osteen lookalikes are not the same as any version of the Divine Service. We all know that. Hardly any of those using contemporary worship forms and music even pretend to have much in common with the liturgical Lutherans. They know it. We know it. He is not one of us and I am not one of them. Credible liturgical diversity of ceremony is acceptable without dividing the confession but a weekly Eucharist, the pattern of the historic mass, and music that confesses are all givens for Lutherans.
Liturgy may compensate for poor preaching and teaching but it should never be allowed to hold up the household of God without faithful confession. In other words, the Divine Service is expected of ALL Lutherans who use the name, get money from jurisdictions, or come out of our seminaries... BUT the doctrine needs to match the practice and it is not a godly position to choose liturgy over doctrine or doctrine over liturgy. Either they go together or the church is wounded, disabled, and hobbling along where she should be walking and running.
I love the ambiance of Orthodoxy (real smells and bells) and I love the authoritative structure of Rome (especially when faced with Lutheran supervisors who chose to hide, ignore, or condone liturgical and theological abuses). But the liturgy (what some call the choice of a way of life over a doctrinal certainty) should not have to carry all the weight; doctrine and confession are also required. In the same way, it is not fair to have to choose between doctrine and bishops -- the early church expected that both went together and would be shocked by those churches that today boast episcopal orders but cannot confess the creed without crossing their fingers.
Am I a dreamer? I guess I am. I dream of Lutherans who mean what they confess, who practice what they confess, and who refuse to allow the compromises of the past substitute for the pursuit of the fullness of all that can be. I dream of Lutherans who walk into a Lutheran Church on Sunday morning and recognize the form, most of the words, and sing their faith in the solid text of music that confesses. I dream of Lutheran Pastors who look like clergy all the time. I dream of catechesis which is lifelong and flows from and back to our Confessions. I dream of the best and brightest being moved toward church work vocations. I dream of people who refuse to settle for what is cheap and easy (from architecture to organs to ministry to missions) and who are relentless in their pursuit of excellence AND faithfulness. I dream of a day when other Christian are envious of the doctrinal consistency and vibrant apologetic of Lutheran parishes, pastors, and people. I dream of sermons that engage as well as faithfully speak Law and Gospel, rightly distinguishing them, of course. I dream of Pastors who work so hard no one jokes about working only on Sundays and congregations who make it possible for their Pastors not to worry about having enough money to pay the bills. I dream of a day when Lutherans tempted to leave are drawn back by the vigorous confession, the faithful doctrine, and the rich liturgical piety of parish and people. Yeah, I am a dreamer and sometimes I live too much in my dreams but... wouldn't it be grand if that were the way all Lutherans dreamed????