Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Until its gone...
Its truth has been applied to an adult woman burying her elderly mother and father and still feeling the pain... or a single person still reeling from a separation and divorce that was forced upon them by an unrelenting and dissatisfied spouse... or a man wrestling with self-esteem and purpose after being let go from his job and finding another is easier to say than to do... or a child leaving home and then wondering if they might come back home "for a while..." Or, a thousand other applications...
It is also true of institutions and communities -- like the Church. We spent years thinking the Common Service (1888) was in dire need of an update but little did we know that a little more than 100 years later there would be no common service even for congregations in the same Synod, using the same hymnal. We decided to go for a common Lutheran hymnal in 1965 and 13 years later LBW was published and it was no common hymnal. In fact, the divergent courses of the Lutheran bodies that once seemed generally headed the same direction have resulted in very different paths and books.
We spent a good deal of time arguing with folks in the General Council and the various individual Synods only now to lament that the groups which were so close did not explore more seriously this unity. Now we find ourselves with a hemoraging ELCA, a stagnant LCMS, an isolated WELS, and a host of new acronymns waiting in the wings. What might have happened if the Krauths and Walthers had sat down over a beer and worked out their differences? Alas, we will never know and the distance between us as Lutherans continues to grow.
Lutherans were once THE musical church with the likes of Buxtehude, Bach, Walther, Brahms, Schuetz, and a host of other equally distinguished cantors, composers, organists, etc. Then we began building churches with no room or no budget for decent pipe organs and now a good many Lutheran congregations cannot even play the music of Bach and the Lutheran parish musicians. Worse than this, we are closing down church music programs at our Concordias and we cannot even find an organist when we look for one. We did not realize that we were sowing the seeds of our own musical demise; perhaps now it is too late to reclaim the title the "Church of Bach."
Our history gave birth to the consumate hymn -- the Lutheran chorale -- and a long list of fine hymn writers and composers of hymn tunes was our heritage. Now it seems that the only new hymns we introduce are the ones we learn from the contemporary worship venues of other denominations or no denominations. The sung liturgy was once a given among Lutherans and now it seems that some Lutherans are saying our future lies with spectator music led by praise bands and soloists. What we lost was more than a hymn here and there but a whole theology of hymnody and church music.
We were once THE confessional church with more than the historical documents of confession. We not only continued to believe what we confessed, but we taught it with enthusiasm and we normed our practice and shaped our identity from those confessions. We are still confessional in terms of our history, we still claim to believe, teach, and practice the faith in a manner consistent with those historical documents, but in actuality we don't. We either expand the definition of confessional or else we reduce confessionalism to a gospel principle that pretty much allows us to do what we want and to justify doing what we want. Confessional doctrine and practice were once rather narrowly defined and clear and now they are rather broadly outlined and somewhat muddy in the specifics.
We are close enough to what we lost that we might reclaim it still. The question is not "can we" but "do we want to..." We are able -- it is within the realm of possibility -- but there seems to be a significant number of us Lutherans not so sure it is worth the time and effort. In fact we have borrowed so much from so many that our whole idea of Lutheranism is a rather mixed bag (in congregation, circuit, district and synod). The Lutheran way has become a by-law and constitutional discussion instead of what we believe, teach, and confess. But... you don't realize what you have lost, until it is gone...
I was always told that it is easy to criticize, tear down, and destroy but it is a difficult thing to act, build, and expand. Nowhere is this more evident that the increasing number of Lutheran parishes that are shadows of their former selves. Some years of inattention, some years of bitter conflict, some years of pastoral indifference, and what you are left with? More of a past than a future.
I believe that we have the time and even some of the momentum to reclaim our heritage and honor its witness. It is not too late. I do not want simply to criticize and yet the first step in reclaiming our heritage is to acknowledge what we have lost if we hope to gain any of it back (or even build upon it). Speaking personally, I admit that I have learned by experience that it is ever so easy to stop things and ever so difficult to begin them again. So, before it is too late, I hope and pray we will acknowledge what we have lost. I think we need to make sure that we lose no more. And, I hope and pray that we will stick it out and give our utmost for His highest... starting now.