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It all served to jog my memory about a conversation with someone in the South who did not have a clue who Lutherans were. After describing briefly what Lutherans believed, confessed, and taught, the Southerner replaced his knurled brow with half a smile. Oh, he said, you are fundamentalists with a liturgy. So that is who we are. I am glad somebody finally clued me in. But seriously, that was the response. Either I did not do a credible job of describing who Lutherans were (are) or else it is so odd as to defy understanding and to require a simple caricature to define us to the Southern world of religion and faith. I am not sure which is more accurate.
I fear that this is exactly how many within Lutheranism see themselves -- at least those on the conservative side of things. They see us as Bible Baptists when it comes to Scripture, Reformed when it comes to identity, Methodists when it comes to piety, and semi-Roman Catholics when it comes to worship. In other words, they do not see consistency between the faith confessed and the faith lived out on Sunday morning. That is troubling.
Lutherans were, at least when I grew up, an odd lot of people who were duller than dull on Sunday morning (slavishly following the page numbers), led by a preacher in a black robe, subjected to 40 minute sermons on texts other than the lessons read for that morning, and a people with a high view of the sacraments yet somewhat distant since baptisms often took place other than Sunday morning and the Sacrament of the Altar was more absent than present in the life of most parishes. If you liked this kind of church, well, each to his own, I guess. What got me going was not the experience of being Lutheran on Sunday morning but the theology that defined us (often fairly distant from Lutheran Sunday mornings of the 1950s and 1960s).
Lutherans are not the same -- at least the confessional kind! We are more and more insistent that if we believe it, confess it in our Concordia, we ought to live it on Sunday morning. That is unsettling to the folks who were comfortable with the Lutheran split personality of the past but I think it is a good thing for Lutherans facing the world around us. We will not succeed being a country club or social group or Lutheran lite version of ourselves in a world expecting and even demanding authenticity. So we must be who we are.
This means reaching back beyond pleasant memory, reaching back even beyond institutional identity (LCMS), and reinvigorating ourselves and our life together around the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions. When this happens, we will outgrow the misnomer of fundamentalists with a liturgy and just maybe grow into the identity we claim for ourselves in the Confessions: evangelical catholics!