Saturday, April 25, 2015
I am not going to do it if you do it. . .
Lutheranism has for much of its life lived with a fear of things Romish. It is made us suspicious of bishops, tilted us toward democracy and congregationalism, kept us from embracing in practice the liturgical identity of our catholic confession, and made us long for the cover of Protestantism or Evangelicalism. We have dealt with an embarrassment about our liturgical tradition even though we glory in the theological and doctrinal content. And now we find ourselves somewhat fractured yet holding together. . but for how long?
In Lutheranism we have a few different perspectives that co-exist within most Lutheran denominations -- although I speak from the perspective of Missouri. We have the evangelical wing of the Church of the Augsburg Confession. These are the folks who seem somewhat tied to Lutheran doctrine in theory but who borrow freely from and look for inspiration to the Evangelicals. These folks read all the latest and greatest books and are heavy into visioning, core values, cutting edge technology, and church that does not act, sound, look, or seem like church. These tend to be more suburban parishes, posting larger attendance numbers, and are virtually indistinguishable from other big box churches on a Sunday morning. They are LINOs -- Lutherans in name only -- who will probably join the rest of evangelicalism in gradually acceding to the cultural pressure on gays and lesbians, open communion, and the ordination of women (among other things). They are extreme congregationalists in terms of the institution but network in practice with like minded folks of any denomination.
Then we have the broad squishy middle of Lutheranism. These folks don't want to be evangelicals and they don't want to be Roman Catholic. They have adopted Lutheranism as an identity but the Lutheranism with which they identify may not fully resemble the Lutheranism of the Confessions or Lutheran history and tradition. They will tolerate a little ceremonial but look upon most of it and unnecessary, distracting, and at odds with the spirituality of the heart and mind. They are not that into symbolism and like sermons that make sense, tie up loose ends, and present a reasonable face to the mystery of God and His deliverance. They want their church to be Lutheran -- at least the Lutheran they knew growing up (even it that may not be an accurate picture of Lutheranism since the 16th century). They are conservative but not too conservative.
Finally we have the Lutherans who call themselves confessional or evangelical (not to be confused with the way the word was used above) catholics. These folks want to be the kind of Lutherans who exemplify in faith and in practice the fullest expression of our Concordia -- doctrinally, liturgically, and devotionally. These folks are usually written off by the first party because they believe these people love ritual more than Jesus and pure doctrine more than winning people for Jesus and repentance more than helping people live a better life now. These folks are viewed with deep suspicion by the squishy middle because they are too chancel prancy and swishing on Sunday morning and they present a side of Lutheranism the vast middle would just as soon forget. They are not conservative but radicals. They will survive and gladly surrender the institutions of the church and its structures for the cause.
The problem is this. The party of the first part has the media, the money, and the numbers. Some of their parishes are like mini-denominations in what they do, the size of their physical plants, and the scope of people. Many in the church tolerate them because they fear this may be the distasteful future for Lutheranism to survive. The muddy middle represents a Lutheranism that looks on paper like the dying mainline of American Protestantism. They have the numbers in terms of congregations but their numbers are dwindling as people age, move, and die. But they do have loyalty to the institutions of the church bodies. The last group can be found in rural, urban, and suburban settings and seems to be growing. It certainly has the nod of official Missouri. It has the momentum and the passion but it faces the prejudice of people who don't like things Catholic. It does not have much of the money.
So where do we do? Well, it depends. . . If a church body like the Missouri Synod decides that some things are beyond the pale of Lutheranism, then some evangelicals among us may leave or just simply distance themselves from the rest of us until it is a fait accompli. On the other hand, if the confessionals are stopped from holding the line on doctrine and practice and ecclesiastical supervision remains a sham, then things are liable to get messy and some of the most vocal will end up probably leaving. In the end the balance hangs with the fuzzy middle. Do they want showcases of life that they find personally distasteful or do they give the benefit of the doubt to those whose liturgical practices curl their nose hairs. At this point it is probably too soon to call. . . but I am hoping that we will try real Lutheranism and those who claim the legacy of Walther will get over their angst over ritual and ceremony and decide to bite the bullet and be as Lutheran as you can be. . . I guess you know where that places me. . .