Friday, April 16, 2010
Vas Ist die essence of duck?
Well, what is the essence of Lutheran? Clearly this is an urgent question. To the ELCA the essence of Lutheran is a church where the Gospel is principle more than proclamation, justice more than salvation, diversity more than unity. To WELS the essence of Lutheran is a church apart – distinct from others in prayer, worship, scouting, military chaplaincy, etc. To the LCMS Lutheran is....ah.... well... I guess that is the point. Within Missouri, more than within the other groups, is a serious break about how to answer this question. Some would answer with fundamentalism – trumpeting about the six day creation, inerrancy, moralistic rigidity, and salvation that speaks like decision theology but without the decision. Others would answer with non-denominational Christianity – a church without much of a tradition, borrowing from culture to be relevant, and willing to do whatever is necessary to fill the pews. Still others would answer with a Germanic heritage and a rigid adherence to a tradition that begins with 1847 and whose saints are Walther and Pieper and whose hymnal is THE Lutheran Hymnal (‘41). At the point I began my education to become a Pastor in the LCMS, there was the flowering of another Lutheranism which was evangelical and catholic, in confession, in form, in piety, and in worship. It was defined by folks like Piepkorn and Hummel, it was pastored by folks like VonSchenk, it was accompanied by folks like Buszin and Manz, and it was educated by folks like Pelikan (just to name a few). It was the Lutheranism that flowed from its confessional identity to its liturgical identity to form a seamless garment of a reformation church that was not afraid of its past nor unwilling to admit its failings.
Well, I am still looking for that evangelical and catholic Lutheranism. I think it is the essence of Lutheran but I am sorry to say that too many of us act as if it were Camelot, a wisp of a dream that came and went, leaving mythical characters and great music (which fewer and fewer folks still sing). As someone who grew up when there was Camelot in the White House and dreams fueled by a space race to the moon, well, you see what the American political landscape looks like now. Unfortunately, it seems as if the church landscape is equally marred by pragmatists, borrowers, and shape shifters who have stolen my Church.
I know I am not alone. John Nunes and I talked about it. Paul Maier and I talked about it. Wil Weedon and I talked about it. Lou Neuchterlein and I talked about it. Dave Benke and I talked about it. A host of folks whose names are not so well known have talked to me, emailed me, and followed this blog with the same thoughts in mind. I have a hope that remnants (a good Biblical term) of the ELCA, Missouri, and others might bring this Lutheranism back to its fighting form that it may take on the other versions in a fair fight for the heart and soul of the essence of Lutheran. But I am more a romantic than a realist. Maybe it is the hope of Camelot reborn. But I know we must be careful. There were folks who thought that voting for a certain Presidential candidate last time around was a vote for Camelot, too. Didn’t turn out like that. So we must be careful about those whom we elect. At best they will not hinder this movement; at worst they may actively fight against it. All things being equal, I can only pray that they will tolerate it.... so I may survive and the vision that fueled my idealistic heart so many years ago... and still fuels the hearts of those I think may be the brightest stars in the Lutheran sky.