Sunday, August 13, 2017

Elephant in the room. . .

Once again David Luecke writes in the Forum Letter (August 2017) about his views on what is wrong with Lutheranism and why Lutherans are losing the millenials (if, indeed, they are).  There are some classic Luekian expressions (doctrine and practice are two very different subjects, not one compound word) and his view that worship needs to be a heart-felt experience (which many millenials find more present in non-denominational and evangelical church homes).  What is interesting is that he suggests that we have practiced too much deductive reasoning and need to practice more inductive reasoning with respect to this problem.  In other words, we need to focus on the motivations people have for going to Church.  A great sociological place to start but hardly one wherein a Lutheran would be expected to begin.  He seems insistent upon the old saw that Lutherans appeal to head knowledge and that our worship and piety are cerebral instead of heart felt.  And, of course, he suggests that instead of looking back to the tradition passed down to us, we need to look at what is working among the churches in America that are growing.  Key to this, in his estimation, is telling stories of what is happening in lives today and not just in Biblical times.  Hmmmm.  In the end, the question boils down to What will going to church do for me?  Because Lutherans do not ask that question and have no real answer, Lutherans will, according to Luecke, continue to decline into irrelevance.  If you read his material, did I miss anything?

I read this and at once wonder if Luecke belongs to the same church I do.  My own parish is filled with millenials, we have lots of singles and young marrieds in that age groups, have had more than 30 baptisms so far this year, and have many babies, toddlers, and youngsters in worship every Sunday.  Half of our 70-100 new members each year are adult confirmands.  We would be a mega church except that millenials tend to be mobile and many move out every year.  Alas, they are sometimes lost to Lutheranism or at least Missouri because they cannot find a Lutheran congregation with reverent and rich liturgical worship, vibrant Biblical preaching and teaching, a strong music program, deep and welcoming friendships, and high confidence in and expectation of our life together under the cross.

Instead of head knowledge, liturgical worship focuses on all the senses (even smell with incense) and the ceremonial and ritual reflection of what is spoken or sung into the ear only reinforces the power of God working in the Spirit but through the means of grace.  The problem here is not confirmation or catechism that expects head knowledge and even memorization, the problem is that there is no family life to nurture and model this faith and piety.  One can hardly find prayer to be meaningful at church if it is only at church.  One cannot expect the congregation to replace the home as the place where nurture of the faith takes place.

Finally, Luecke asks what works.  Well, what works to fill the pews is not necessarily what works to create and sustain a new life in Christ.  What works?  I thought we Lutherans knew the answer to this.  The Word of God and the Sacraments of God.  They work and never disappoint us.  They are the center of the liturgy, the font and summit of our Christian life and hope.  We are born again not of decision or will or program or choice or preference or even of interest but of the Word.  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  Baptism connects us to Christ's death and resurrection and here is where we are reborn to everlasting life.

I know Luecke knows this.  I wonder why he or any other Lutheran would not begin and end with this.  This is the elephant in the room.


Anonymous said...

How sad. And if we let our hearts lead in life, we'd all have high cholesterol, heart disease, B.O. (Who likes to clean up?), We'd have children scattered all over born out of wedlock (that or our hearts would lead us to murder them), We'd all be divorced multiple times (if we ever married in the first place). No, our brains need to tell our hearts a thing or two, or disaster occurs.

I think any Lutheran who knows his/her history could recognize doctrine/practice that belongs to schwarmerei (Enthusiasts).

William Tighe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William Tighe said...

This article calls to mind these two aphorisms:

“The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” (Georg Friedrich Hegel)

"That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach." (Aldous Huxley)

Hasn't Lutheranism in America been through this before? See Vergilius Ferm's The Crisis in American Lutheran Theology: A Study of the Issue Between American Lutheranism and Old Lutheranism (New York, 1927: Century). It has been well over three decades since I read this book, and my recollection is that the sympathies of Ferm (a Lutheran pastor) were decidedly with "American Lutheranism," but it sees to me that David Luecke is advocating for a position that has already been tried and found wanting. I remember reading an account of the heresy trial of Luther Alexander Gotwald (d. 1900); his "heresy" being his fidelity to classical Lutheran sacramental doctrine and practice, and particularly his advocacy for the revival (and practice) of individual auricular confession and "holy absolution." Cf.:

Anonymous said...

Why does the Rt Revd Luecke care so much about Lutheranism? It’s obvious that Lutheranism doesn’t have the right stuff to attract the lost hordes and save souls. It’s obviously doing something wrong. Lutheranism is out of step with modernity. The solution, according to the Rt Revd Luecke, is to forget about being Lutheran because Lutheranism gets in the way. Furthermore, if Lutheranism doesn’t stop all the incessant internal purification of doctrine and practice at the expense of the lost in the world, it is going to go the way of the Dodo bird and continue its declining trajectory into irrelevance. But why should the Rt Revd Luecke care what happens to Lutheranism when he would prefer that it meld in with the other Americanized churches and lose its distinctive confessional identity. Do you see the contradiction? He says, “Here is how to save Lutheranism from obscurity,” in one breath, and pronounces the solution to remake Lutheranism in another so that it fades into the backdrop with other Americanized churches that don’t distinguish between law and gospel, left and right kingdoms, justification as the chief article of faith, the real prandial presence, baptismal regeneration and so on and so forth. So, to save Lutheranism in his world is to kill Lutheranism. The Rt Revd Luecke has to kill Lutheranism to save Lutheranism. Why all the talk about pulling Lutheranism out of its nosedive? Just allow “nature” to take its course and what is left of Lutheranism after it utterly fails, crashes and burns, is a new American evangelicalism, also ran, wannabe. As more people come to rally around the Rt Revd Luecke and the vast numbers of those who feel the same way he does, the sooner what’s left of Lutheranism will be absorbed into the nebulous fabric of the Reformed churches and we can all carry on in a gray and mediocre world of muddled, subjective theology. But just think, the pews (if there are any left) will be filled with happy people.

William Tighe said...

"Rt Revd Luecke ..."

Who knew that he was a bishop?

Anonymous said...

It's called satire, William. Is there anything else?