Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Living Lutheran -- what is NOT included. . .
The November issue has an editor's note on cultivating the habit of being grateful. Pr Tim Brown recounts his experience in a Lutheran grade school memorizing Bible verses and Luther's Catechism and then shifts effortlessly to the theology of Rob Bell (hardly known as Lutheran friendly). After some news, retired two star general Howard Stendahl describes how he sees being Lutheran in terms of help to returning vets, racial justice, and the diverse nature of military chaplaincy. There is a big article on seeing Jesus in the face of refugees (with study guide). Vets are asked about their stories. There is a two page spread on a little free food pantry, senior care, interfaith work (Lutheran and Pentecostal congregations sharing space and more), making communion bread, world peace and the Nobel peace forum, what tomorrow's church leaders did on their summer vacation, ecumenical and interfaith campus ministry, dialogue and social justice, giving to the Fund for Leaders, an article on how the Lutheran Confessions unite us (that ends inexplicably with women's ordination), a film review, etc...
What you will NOT find in the Living Lutheran magazine is anything substantive about what Lutherans believe. It was not always this way for the ELCA denominational journal. But it is surely what this publication has become. Perhaps it is a tacit admission that even within the ELCA there is not much agreement on what is believed, confessed, and taught. Perhaps it is that the ELCA stands further and further from the pale of what Lutherans have always believed, confessed, and taught. Perhaps it is that the editors see doctrine as bad and service as good. Perhaps it is that the journal has been directed to make its thrust in human interest stories. Whatever the reason(s), sinister or benign, this journal is about just about anything but believing as a Lutheran. Even when there are a few words on Lutheran theological identity, you end up reading about Rob Bell or the ordination of women (neither of which, unless I am greatly mistaken, are addressed in the Lutheran Confessions.
I write this not to condemn the ELCA magazine. It is well laid out, has good pictures and graphics, and is winsome. My point is to suggest that what is precisely under fire today is not what Lutherans do but what Lutherans believe. We are at a severe juncture in history in which the name Lutheran has a confused and general meaning that is further and further distant from our Confessions. We face a culture less and less aware of Lutheran identity or Reformation history. We have folks in the pews who know less and believe less like the folks who sat in those same pews a generation or two or three ago. We need journals that appeal to us but we need even more magazines that will teach the faith, confront us with the tension between what we believe and what the world and our culture affirms, and how to sustain this doctrine and practice in a world increasingly unfriendly to the faith. We need to use every venue to rebuild a fractured unity and this will not happen by focusing on what we do -- it will only happen by focusing on what we believe, confess, and teach.
There is surely a place for such fodder but no church worth its salt can afford to substitute photo ops and inspirational stories about what Lutherans do for what Lutherans believe. Lutheran identity will not survive by diverting attention from doctrine to deeds. Just the opposite. The Lutheran distinctives that emphasize vocation, spiritual priesthood, and good deeds (ordinarily good works and mercy service to our neighbor) are the fruit of a vigorous and vital confession that is substantive, changeless, and authoritative. Without this, all the good deeds on earth are window dressing on a collapsing structure of hopelessness.