Wednesday, June 8, 2016
A cohesive and distinctive Lutheran identity. . .
The same came be said of Christian churches. We are shaped more by our fears that somebody else may have a good idea than we are confidence in who we are and what we believe, confess, and teach. So we spend our eyes peering over the fence to see what other denominations or congregations are doing and, if it appears to be fruitful, we steal the idea. I suppose that there is nothing wrong with this to a certain extent but the outcome of our mimicking and borrowing is that congregations and even denominations often appear to be pretty much the same as any other congregation or denomination -- no matter what its confession!
In truth, it is possible to walk into a church on Sunday morning and see pretty much the same thing no matter what denomination or tradition or confession is claimed. Lutherans look like Methodists or Presbyterians or Baptists or the latest big box evangelical group down the block. We live more in fear that somebody may have stumbled on the secret to success (translate that in numbers) and we will be left behind in their dust than we do confident of our confession and faithful in our doctrinal identity.
People are not stupid. They understand the message well. If churches claim to believe and confess differently but look and act the same on Sunday morning, the folks in the pew get the real message. Either we do not believe what we claim or what we believe is not as important as what works. I believe that this is why denominational loyalty is so low (even among Lutherans). Now I am not advocating for denominational loyalty but I AM advocating for confessional consistency and faithfulness.
As I have said before, better to go down in flames trying to be who we are (confessionally) than to succeed by being untrue to what we believe. Now the reality is that I don't think faithfulness will cost us anything. Just the opposite, I believe earnestly that faithfulness is success (no matter what the numbers look like). I am convinced that people give up on church largely because they have learned from our actions that church does not matter, that faith is relative, and that doctrine and truth can easily be sacrificed for the sake of another goal. They have seen Christianity reinvented when every social movement comes along. Most of the time these changing churches don't even have the guts to say "we were wrong" -- they just believe and act differently hoping to forget how this is in conflict what they once said they believed and how they once lived out this faith.
Christianity as a whole and Lutheranism in particular has become squishing, ooey gooey, and soft. Our people are not stupid. They get it. If doctrine, confession, and worship are not all important, they are not important to who we are and what we are about. And most folks just don't have either the time or the inclination to be fully invested in something that does not matter all that much.
Lutheran distinctives are matters of Scripture and confession (and how that looks on Sunday morning). Either these matter or they don't. When Lutheranism looks like anything ism around you, it does not matter where you go on Sunday morning (or even if you do). A cohesive Lutheran identity in doctrine and practice is key to our identity and faithfulness. At some point in time we need to get this truth and learn it well or we will disappear into the goo of a loosey goosey identity that tries to be all things to all people but ends up being nothing to anyone.
There was a time when going out to eat was a real treat and when choosing a restaurant mattered. Now it seems like it is the same menu in different places and everything is okay but nothing is distinctive. It is hard to want to spend money on a night out at a restaurant when it won't be anything special. I fear that many folks wake up on Sunday morning feeling the same way about what happens in Church.