Friday, May 27, 2016

Lutheran is more than an occasional reference. . .

Me thinks thou dost protest too much. . .  

There are too many who think that being Lutheran is an occasional reference point to a past event or in a present day conversation.  Like those who insist they were baptized Lutheran (no such thing, can't be done, and if it is, it means that there is no baptism).  Or those who can tell you the pastor who confirmed them and commiserate about how hard it was to stay awake in catechism class but do not attend now.  Or those who wax eloquently about being Lutheran but who are so distant from the faith of the catechism or such a stranger to Lutheran Confessions that they would not recognize them if they hit them in the face.  Or those who can date their last real time spent in church to a hymnal or two prior to the one currently in the pews.  O those who define Gospel as the current issues that concern them or for which they are currently fighting (poverty, women's rights, sexual liberation, etc...).

It was not that long ago that Lutherans knew what to expect from the jurisdictional structures and their churches knew what to expect of those called Lutheran.  It was not a perfect era but the Lutheran identity was both stronger and more positive all the way around.  Today we struggle in this basic area.  Our definition of Lutheranism is broad and shallow and bears little resemblance to the Lutheranism of the Reformers or of our Confessions or our great-grandparents.

So, for example, when I read the second issue of The Living Lutheran I read a young woman describe herself and her Lutheranism in this way --
  • she found her faith when she came to college and to the the Lutheran campus ministry where she developed a passion for social justice along side her faith. . .
  • her first experience with church was baptism but she did not connect until in her 20s. . .
  • she strives for a balance between tradition and progress. . .
  • she is fighting for economic security for women and families (access to education and health care, freedom from violence, adequate pay and financial assistance). . .
  • she hopes fellow young women will feel empowered to become engaged in issues of social justice. . .
  • she sees the church living in spaces differently than it does now -- outside the four walls of a physical sanctuary. . .
  • she believes in people and our common humanity. . . 
  • she is a Lutheran because the church should be a welcoming and inclusive place (like her campus Lutheran church). . .  
I am sure she is a fine young woman but where is there anything concretely Lutheran in her self-description of what it means for her to be one?  Where is there even a mention of Christ, of God, of Word and Sacraments, of grace, of mercy, of sin, of forgiveness, of death, and of life everlasting?  How does this definition explain Lutheranism in general or her own Lutheran identity?  BTW I am not at all suggesting that you could find the same generic social gospel identity in a different Lutheran jurisdiction and that is what has me fearful.

If we do not know what Lutheranism is or how to explain it to the world (in a way that mirrors our own self-description in catechism and confession), how do we expect to pass this faith on to others?  Remember that this column was in the ELCA's denominational journal.

The other day my associate and I spent a couple of ours talking to a young man preparing for baptism as an adult about baptism, the faith, and the church in which he will be joined to Christ's death and resurrection and we never remotely covered anything mentioned above.  Instead we spoke of the cross, of Christ's suffering and death, of the means of grace, of the new life born of the baptismal encounter with Christ's death and resurrection, of the liturgy and the shape of a life of worship, of source and summit of Christian faith and life flowing from the liturgy, of the daily repentance that keeps us connected to and confessing of what God did to save us, etc. . .  I guess we come down hard on the traditional side of things.

What shocks me most of all about Lutherans are not what others think of us but how we define ourselves both inwardly as a community of faith gathered together and outwardly in witness to those who do not know us or Christ.  It is as if the cross were a footnote and the issues of sin and death were fringe to the bigger and better stuff of social justice, personal satisfaction, and our passions in life.  This is first of all a sign of bad catechesis.  Second it is the fruit of shallow preaching which neglects the Word of God and doctrine.  Finally, it is the confusion of a people taught by confused people about what it might just mean to be Lutheran -- the skeptic who is surprised after teaching skepticism that people do not believe much.

It is not rocket science.  Try cracking open a Catechism.  Try opening the Hymnal.  Try reading the Scriptures.  We can do this folks and we better or there will be no one who know what Lutherans are. . . and are not. . .

6 comments:

Kirk Skeptic said...

Yes, try opening the hymnal - but don't open to Andre Crouch or any of the non-Lutheran piffle included therein. TLH, anyone?

Anonymous said...

What hymnal? What catechism? Many LCMS churches no longer use either. Pastors need to be better teachers of the faith by using these valued books that the Lord has provided. And, using the Bible and Book of Concord would also be helpful to retain and know our identity and confession of the pure Gospel. Thanks for another great piece, pastor.

John Flanagan said...

Well, you know one can often get too wrapped up in denominational purity. . It follows that individuals who carry this too far will then become a bit dishonest about the flaws within their own camp. Christ did not invent denominations. He started the church and taught us to stay true to it. We were told to avoid false teachers. We who worship in the Lutheran camp must first think "Christian" and remember not everything said by Luther, who never claimed infallibility, may be correct. What? Dare I attack Luther? No, Luther was very much a biblical scholar and I believe correct in many areas, but I am not really sure. I abhor the heresies of Catholicism, the Arminian free will teachings of Baptists, the signs and wonders and speaking in tongues of Pentecostals, the twisted progressivism of the liberal branches of our day....but I know from reading hundreds of statements on the Internet by LCMS pastors ( i,e. "The Jagged Word"), and ELCA Lutherans, as well as WELS Lutherans....that the identity of a Lutheran today is a maze...a theological cornfield with paths going in opposite directions and never meeting. What is agreed on in principle is often actually believed and practiced in numerous opposing ways. I will just say I am a Christian and a Lutheran....but don't ask me what other Lutherans believe.

Kirk Skeptic said...

John, every denomination - with the possible exception of the purest-of-the-pure microchurches - face the same confusion, including the lack of understanding that substance has a style all its own. All I want is for the "creative types" to start treating church as not another stage on which they may showcase their (alleged) talents, but a space which should be Liberal- rather than gravitas-free.

Anonymous said...

The term "Lutheran" is not in the Bible, Book of Concord, Catechism, or in liturgies/hymns. That is not the point. The point of this excellent article is that our churches should be confessors of catholic, apostolic, and evangelical doctrine which the Lutheran church does confess. It's not what you call yourself, but what is taught and practiced. Therein is the problem so clearly identified in this article. Great job, pastor.

Angie Wagner said...

Accurately defining ourselves and our faith is important. I appreciated your thoughts on this!