Saturday, March 14, 2015

Innovative. . . probably not. . .

Few people have accused Lutherans of being innovative or creative.  We are borrowers -- that is our vice.  We borrow from churches that are innovative and creative.  We borrow things but do not create or innovate much.  We are a dull and bland people -- who else would like plain boiled potatoes and boiled lutefisk (both white) on a white plate, with white tablecloth, and white napkins, while drinking a glass of milk.  We are too staid to think for ourselves so we allow others to think for us.  When we think they have come up with a good idea, we reach over and borrow it.  Never mind that they have long since given up on that idea and gone onto something different or that it may conflict with our deeply held beliefs and confessional standards.  We borrow the rejects of others, usually when they have become the tired old ideas nobody else is excited about.  We are a church constantly suspect of our own confessions and tradition, a church in awe of the creative and innovative spirit of others, and a church too often willing to exchange our own integrity for the prospect of something that might work better or fast than God's way.

I read something where Hillsong (Google that church) sees itself as a church that is constantly innovative.  It is never treading the same ground twice.  From music to mission to ministry they are a changing.  Some of that change involves departing from the faith once delivered to the saints but it is, I guess, a small price to pay for being ever new, ever fresh, ever creative, ever innovative, and ever re-inventing itself.  Most Lutherans don't want to do the heaving lifting of creative thought.  We are repristinators who have a snapshot in time as our model and think that things were probably much better then than now.  But we do have a soft spot for looking over the fence and seeing if the grass might be a little greener and we are not above borrowing a few ideas or so if we think if might make us a bit more successful at building our corner of God's kingdom.  And therein lies the conflict within Lutheranism -- the repristinators wish they had been born in another time (the one they consider the golden age of Lutheranism) and the borrowers are forever exchanging Lutheran doctrine, identity, and practice for whatever is new to them.

We Lutherans think that a beer (doesn't even half to be a good beer) and a brat (doesn't have to be good either) is pretty close to heaven.  We stay in on Saturday nights.  We go to bed early so we don't arrive late to church on Sunday (late meaning less than 30 minutes before the start of the service).  We sit in the same spot and wear the customary church clothes.  We go home to eat one of the five typical Sunday recipes.  We read the paper and pass out on the couch while the TV is on.  And then we go to work to build up ourselves for the upcoming weekend excitement again.

Some of us Lutherans are embarrassed by our lack of creativity.  Some of us Lutherans worry that our lack of innovation will kill this thing called Lutheranism.  Some of us are shamed by our willingness to use the same words for worship Sunday after Sunday without inventing something new and different.  Some of us are scandalized by the idea that the Word of the Lord, the confession of our faith, the shape of the Divine Service, and the piety that calls us simply to love our neighbor by speaking and living the Gospel to him or her is what God asks of us. 

Nope we are not very visionary.  Brothers, we are treading where we have always trod.  But. . . if we are being faithful, that is enough.  God did give us the responsibility and the power to win the world on our terms.  Nope, He made it perfectly clear that faithfulness is how we will be judged.  We get no extra credit for inventing new ways for God to work (outside of the Word and Sacraments) or for inventing new ways to worship (apart from the pattern of the sound words that we inherited in which the Word of the Lord is central). 

The Church is a mess.  The world is a mess.  Lutheranism is a mess.  But it is God's mess to sort out and straighten.  Our job is faithfulness.  We hold each other accountable for faithfulness (that is the most basic reason for our Synod anyhow, and to do together what is more than any of us can do alone).  We must practice self-control in our rush to trade faithfulness for worldly success or relevance.  We must reign in our wanton efforts to substitute our priorities, our ideas, our preferences, and our whims for the yesterday, today, and forever Word of the Lord.  Guess what people, the Church has always been one generation from extinction but the Lord is not bothered by this.  Why are we?  If we are faithful at home and on the job and in church, God has promised to do the rest.  His Spirit accompanies the Word and makes it fruitful.  His grace is where salvation is located.  His cross and empty tomb are the means by which hope is born. 

After being reminded of some poignant words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I repeat them here for you.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When his deal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.  

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by his forgiveness, and His promise.  We do not complain of what God does not give us; rather, we thank God for what He does give us daily. And, is not what has been given us enough?

When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.
Life Together, Harper and Row, 1954, pages 27-29.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Well....I guess I am among the dull and boring class, but I do accept new ideas that work, and know that not all new ideas are good ideas at best. Some churches are always looking for new programs, strategies, ideas and ways of presenting the Gospel, and they repackage the word of God with emotional appeals and lots of PowerPoint imagery.....but.....they forget the fact that the central message is the same as it has always been: John3:16. Simply delivering the message, stating it as the Bible declares it...and letting God be the one who brings in His elect....seems to me the right approach.

Janis Williams said...

Visionary leaders (like those at Hillsong, C3, Saddleback, Willowcreek, Newspring, Elevation, to name a few of the biggies) become exactly what Bonhoeffer was dealing with in his day: Fascist leaders. Not pastors, but leaders who hear directly from God, and cast the vision to their people. They are as infallible as the Pope, and if you don't get behind the vision, you're out. This is NOT something for anyone, much less Lutherans to borrow!

A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional…values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process. CS Lewis

Ted Badje said...

I'll try to be nice to the Church basement ladies, but I do have high expectations of my beer and brat ;-)