Here is one honest story of a parish and school -- Roman Catholic -- though it could be Lutheran. It is the kind of thing that challenges the idea that you have go somewhere else to be orthodox and catholic in belief and piety. In fact, it is the kind of thing that suggests that the path to recovery and the cause of renewal is the common ground of all churches who claim to be or desire to be evangelical catholic. It is not enough to confess in principle the doctrine and then practice whatever feels good. It is not enough to have noble motive but to leave your people largely in the dark about what it means to believe, confess, and teach the faith. It is not enough to follow the rubric while failing to preach faithfully just as it is not enough to preach earnestly but treat the rubrics as unimportant.
At noon I have to be at the local Catholic school—let’s call it St. Dismas—to train altar servers. I will arrive a few minutes early, and by 12:05 most of the kids will have trickled in. We are in the Southern California, so most of the boys at St. Dismas wear short pants year-round. Students are required to attend one Mass per month with the school, but it has never occurred to anyone, not their parents, not the pastor, not the teachers, and certainly not the students, that they should wear pants to Mass. The girls wear skirts that in 1966 would have been described as “micro-minis.” When I told the boys’ parents that I expected them to wear their uniform pants to Mass when they become servers, the school principal—a genial thirty-something man who insists on the rigorous use of the title “Dr.” but often wears sweatpants and flip-flops to work—cornered me outside his office for a talk. He warned me that I might get some pushback from parents on the pants requirement. “We are only a medium-Catholic school,” he informed me. “We’re not really that Catholic.” [read the rest here. . . ]
Indeed, that is exactly the point. Preaching and teaching the faith faithfully requires us to practice it faithfully on Sunday morning and attention to the liturgy or mass requires us to be concerned about doctrine, teaching, and preaching. The real meaning of synod may indeed be not that people walk together according to the common ground of personal preference but that they walk together according to the orthodox teaching and confession of the faith and the faithful practice and liturgical observance of the faith. There can be no other unity worthy of Christ.
We do not need sacramental or liturgical entrepreneurs but those who attempt with every ounce and fiber of their being to be orthodox and faithful in doctrine and practice. This cannot be met by meeting some minimal standard of teaching and preaching and presiding. No church or parish will prosper as God desires by merely reaching for what is easy, comfortable, or accessible. If we aspire only to the minimal confession required of orthodoxy or the minimal catholicity of liturgy and piety, we have by nature forsaken the very definition of orthodoxy and faithfulness.
Yet it is this spirit that has and continues to infect the churches. We are not that catholic. There is no catholicity by degrees or tepid orthodoxy. We strive for fullness in confession and practice or we have abandoned every effort or desire for catholicity whatsoever. Evangelical is not a term at odds with catholicity and catholicity is not opposed to the evangel.
You read it and see if it could not have been written by an anonymous Lutheran. I grieve for those who leave us thinking that they have found an end. Every place I look is a beginning, sometimes a good effort and sometimes a baby step toward the goal of fullness in evangelical catholic confession and practice.