Saturday, March 1, 2014

It causes offense. . .

Lest the reader think that Lutherans are alone in their uneasiness about their identity, I read several stories of Roman Catholic priests who minimized clear Roman teaching and whose practices played fast and loose with their tradition.  The people writing were lay folks who found such practice shocking.  I had the experience once in which a phone caller indicated he was Baptist, Southern Baptist to be precise, and wondered if I might know if there was any old fashioned Baptists left in Clarksville -- ones without praise bands, screens, easy listening music and with fire and brimstone sermons and old gospel songs.  His complaint was that the Southern Baptist congregations he had visited looked and sounded too much like Joel Osteen lookalikes and he wanted a real Baptist church.  I am sure that other stories of other denominations might also be found.

In the end we get the same old explanation for the reasons for such departures.  People are offended by doctrine, by faithful practice, and by faithful confession.  That is to say, the only Roman Catholics that people can abide are bad Roman Catholics, the only good Lutherans are the ones who don't hold to or practice in keeping with their confession, the only good Baptists are those who appear to be non-denominational, etc...  I keep hearing that people are offended when you speak truth, act faithfully, and practice consistently with your confession.

For Lutherans this means worship must be cleansed of any ceremonies or practices that might say catholic to the one in the pew.  It also means that private confession is okay to bring up in an historic sense but don't talk about it for folks today.  It also means that we must practice open communion to anyone who wants to come.  It also means that we must allow the folks in the pew to be spectators -- entertaining them with the music and words they prefer to hear.  People will be offended if we are truly Lutheran.

The point is made to the Pastor leaving seminary that change should be slow and the unLutheran things that he might find should be overlooked until he has put in his time with the people.  If you try to restore Lutheran identity and practice, the folks wouldn't understand and it would cause scandal.  Now, to be sure, no one is talking about kicking in the door and holding the congregation hostage.  But in general what is meant is that  the Pastor needs to be patient and wait for the right moment -- and the hope and expectation is that the right moment will never come.  The advice given is not that Lutheran doctrine and practice should be introduced slowly and taught carefully to lay the groundwork for this but that offensive stuff should not be talked about at all (weekly Eucharist, private confession, hymnody consistent with our doctrine, close(d) communion, etc...).

I believe the greater offense is when we refuse to be who we are, when folks come to a Lutheran church and find anything and everything there but Lutheran confessional and liturgical identity, and when we dumb down the faith to that which folks find least objectionable.  For the hundredth time, Lutherans are not losing ground because they are too Lutheran but because we are pathetic runner ups to the evangelical identity and worship that is alien to our confession and to our liturgical heritage.  We have for too many years found our doctrinal identity and liturgical practice our weakness and our flaw instead of our strength and our asset,  No one wants to join a church that is embarrassed or ashamed of itself.  Who wants to be a part of a church that has lost confidence in who that church is, what that church believes, and how that confession takes shape on Sunday morning.  I don't and I venture to say that few folks are attracted to such a self-conscious faith.

Unfortunately, we have gotten so accustomed to being who we are not that who we are is actually threatening to the average Lutheran folk in the pew.  For a generation or more, the newer clergy coming out of seminary have begun to find such tension between Lutheranism the theory and Lutheranism the church  untenable.  That is a good thing.  They are not always tactful or wise and often impatient about the progress.  They sometimes naively choose to fight every battle instead of choosing well what needs to be fought and when.  They are often strident and a few abrasive in their pursuit of Lutheranism true to its confession.  But... they have awoken the Missouri Synod to the issues and we are right now in the midst of a serious theological debate about what it means to be Lutheran and practice Lutheranism.  That is a good thing. 

Some Lutherans have found contentment in the slow death of mainline Protestantism.  Some Lutherans have looked too longingly at evangelicalism to save us.  Some Lutherans have given up and found refuge in other traditions (and more have thought about it than any of us can imagine).  It is about time some Lutherans have decided to try being Lutheran before we given up on Lutheranism.  If we die, let it be because we were true to our confession and not because we wimped out in fear that somebody already or not yet Lutheran might not like us.

1 comment:

DJ Fritz said...

But... they have awoken the Missouri Synod to the issues and we are right now in the midst of a serious theological debate about what it means to be Lutheran and practice Lutheranism. Oh that this is true and that Missouri will actually be able to help us get back to our roots in doctrine and practice! Thank you for your well written thoughts.